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ANALYSIS: 2006 news in review
Posted on Jan 4, 2007 | by Will Hall

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The tragic deaths of 12 and the miraculous survival of one in the Sago coal mining explosion in West Virginia captured the world’s attention to start the news watch of 2006. Other tragedies dominated the year’s reporting, including the death of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, who was fatally pierced in the chest by a stingray while he snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef. However, nothing dominated the 2006 news in the U.S. and abroad like the mounting death toll in the war in Iraq.

WORLD’S WARS

Violence that re-erupted in Lebanon and Israel elevated global concerns for over a month beginning in July when Hamas forces bombed Israel and kidnapped a Jewish settler and an Israeli soldier. The body of the 18-year-old settler was found in Ramallah.

Israel sent troops into Gaza -- a territory it had withdrawn from last year as a concession to the Palestinians -- and bombed targets in Lebanon. The United Nations brokered an August ceasefire between Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Israel. Palestinian groups in Gaza signed a truce with Israel in November, but Israel has said it will not withdraw until the kidnapped soldier is freed. Hamas is using the kidnapped soldier as a bargaining chip to demand Israel free about 1,400 jailed Palestinians, and negotiations are ongoing.

Meanwhile, shortly after conflicts erupted, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert evoked thoughts about biblical prophecy when he proposed an “eternal covenant” between Israel and its neighbors. Many believe the Old Testament book of Daniel heralds Israel’s signing of “a covenant with many” as a precursor to the beginning of End Time events.

Conflict in Sudan continued despite a 2005 peace accord signed between mostly Christian and animist rebels in the south and the mostly Muslim government. However, the bloodshed in Darfur is not because of a religious struggle, but a political clash among Muslims. According to recent estimates, at least 400,000 people have died in the region since early 2003.

The violence brought an unusual alliance between evangelicals such as Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and liberal mainline Christians like Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a self-described “progressive Christian commentary on faith, politics and culture.” Land and Wallis were both part of The Evangelicals for Darfur coalition (EvangelicalsforDarfur.org) that, in October, ran full-page advertisements in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today, among other papers, calling on President Bush to jumpstart the process of dispatching United Nations peacekeepers to the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan.

But no conflict monopolized media coverage during 2006 like the daily insurgent attacks in Iraq.

About 70 percent of the nearly 800 ambushes per week were aimed at Coalition forces, but sectarian violence -- thought to be Sunnis targeting Shias and Iraqi police forces -- became increasingly vicious.

Iraqi civilians have suffered the overwhelming number of casualties (death counts range from about 50,000 to over 600,000) since U.S. combat operations started in 2003. However, in September, the death toll for U.S. military personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan eclipsed the 2,973 individuals killed during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in America. Although multiple free elections have been held, the mounting death toll overshadowed any progress toward democratization in Iraq, and led to sweeping political upheaval in the U.S.

ELECTIONS: AMERICANS PLACE BLAME, TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Iraq was a dominant story in the U.S. throughout the year, but never more strongly than during the politicking and aftermath of midterm congressional elections.

Voters named a number of concerns that shaped how they marked their November ballots -- including corruption and ethics, terrorism, the economy, values and illegal immigration. However, largely as a public referendum on the war in Iraq, Democrats won an impressive majority in the House of Representatives (defeating 27 incumbent Republicans and losing none of their own seats for 232 seats total -- 218 needed) and claimed control of the Senate by one seat (51-vote majority includes two Independents promising to caucus with Democrats).

But the Mark Foley scandal broke (late September) so close to the elections that it also likely contributed to voter discontent with Republicans. The Republican congressman from Florida was exposed for sending sexually explicit e-mails to teenage boys serving as congressional pages, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was blamed for a failure of leadership. Also contributing to the election woes, “faith voters” that Republicans depend on were turned off because of revelations by David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, that Bush officials mocked evangelical leaders behind their backs.

Still, conservatives fared well in key values-oriented state ballot initiatives, although victory was far from complete:

-- Constitutional amendments to protect the traditional definition of marriage passed in eight of nine states, failing only in Arizona, and a Colorado referendum was defeated that would have legalized domestic partnerships for homosexual couples. In Arizona, ballot wording and a campaign that claimed the amendment would limit senior citizens’ Social Security incomes, were named as key factors in its defeat.

-- Pro-marijuana measures were defeated in Colorado, Nevada and South Dakota. Colorado and Nevada would have allowed adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce for personal use, while South Dakota would have legalized medical use.

-- Voters in nine of 11 states rejected the doctrine of eminent domain, rebuking the practice of (primarily local) government confiscation of private property.

-- Gambling was a split decision among five states with voters in Ohio, Rhode Island and Nebraska saying no to gambling measures, despite enormous sums spent by gambling advocates. Voters in South Dakota, however, failed to repeal video lottery, while Arkansas lifted a statewide ban on charitable bingo and raffle games.

-- Perhaps the most stinging loss came in Missouri, where voters passed an embryonic stem cell research initiative that also allows human cloning, largely as the result of support among voters living in and around the state’s two largest urban centers. The measure passed by a razor-thin margin, 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent, but only after proponents outspent opponents $29 million to $1 million.

-- South Dakota’s voters turned back the nation’s most ambitious attempt in the last 33 years to restrict abortion, repealing a ban passed last winter by the state legislature. Meanwhile, parental notification initiatives were defeated in California and Oregon, giving the pro-life movement three key setbacks.

U.S. RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCES: TRIUMPH, TROUBLE & TRAGEDY

Religion in America produced a mix of stories in 2006 -- moral stands, moral failure and tragedy -- that occasionally eclipsed even the war in Iraq to capture national headlines.

Some conservatives defected demonstrably from the American Baptist Churches, USA and the Episcopal Church, USA because of liberalism within their respective mainline denominations.

In May, the American Baptist Churches Pacific Southwest region (California, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona) withdrew from its covenant relationship with the ABC, USA, citing theological differences with the denomination, in particular, the refusal of the national body to discipline churches and regional bodies over acceptance of unrepentant homosexuals as members and even as leaders. Other regions, including West Virginia (reportedly, the ABC,USA’s region with the largest number of churches) and Indiana-Kentucky have expressed discontent with the denomination’s failure to enforce its 1992 position statement on homosexuality.

The ABC, USA is a longtime member of the Baptist World Alliance, a global Baptist fellowship. The Southern Baptist Convention withdrew from the BWA in 2005, in part, after the organization refused to address the issue of the acceptance of homosexuality in the American Baptist churches.

Meanwhile, two of the largest and most historic churches in the Virginia Diocese of the EC, USA joined six others that voted in December to sever ties with the denomination. In California also during December, the Diocese of San Joaquin became the first diocese in the country to vote for separation (a subsequent vote is required before separation takes place). The division within the mainline group follows the 2003 election of V. Gene Robinson in New Hampshire as the church’s first openly homosexual bishop, and the continuing practice by some Episcopal clergy to bless same-sex unions.

Despite the threat of loss of buildings and properties -- typically, congregational property is held in trust for the diocese, and the diocese holds property in trust for the wider church -- at least 21 conservative churches in the U.S. have joined the Episcopal Church of Nigeria through the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, while other congregations have aligned themselves with conservative branches of the Anglican Communion in Rwanda, Uganda and Latin America.

Losses likely will continue to mount with the election of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori this past summer to lead the national church. She has alienated many because of her support of the New Hampshire bishop and her approval of blessing same-sex unions combined with her statements denying that salvation comes through Christ alone. At least seven of 111 dioceses have rejected her leadership.

While conservative Christians made significant progress against the creep of homosexual activism within national bodies, homosexual controversy also rocked conservatives this past year.

Ted Haggard, pastor of the 14,000 member New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, resigned both positions shortly after revelations Nov. 2 on a Denver radio station by a male prostitute that Haggard had purchased sex and drugs from him over a three-year period.

In a letter to his former church, Haggard wrote, “I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem.” Haggard did not elaborate what sins he had committed, but added, “I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I’ve been warring against it all of my adult life.”

Haggard preached that homosexuality is immoral and that those who remained unrepentant about the sin would not be welcome in God's Kingdom. But he was criticized by conservatives for his openness to domestic partner benefits and for pushing the NAE to promote environmental activism, which some described as neo-pagan teachings.

One of the most enduring religion stories from 2006 will be the Oct. 2 shootings of 10 Amish school girls in Nickel Mines, Penn., by a milk truck driver.

Charles Carl Roberts IV took the girls (ages 6-13) hostage, released 15 boys (also, 6-13 years old) and let go several adults. Roberts told the girls he was angry at God (apparently for the 1997 death of his prematurely born daughter) and confessed to his wife that he had molested two female relatives (who were ages 3 and 5) 20 years earlier when he was boy and was tormented by dreams of doing it again.

After shooting all 10 girls, Roberts committed suicide. Five girls survived, each with severe injuries, including one girl who likely will not recover any meaningful independent function.

But perhaps the shootings will be remembered best for the calm and courage of the girls and the loving response of the Amish community to the killer’s family.

Survivors shared that the oldest girl, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, who died, asked that he “Shoot me first,” apparently to buy time for the others. Her sister, 11-year-old Barbie, who survived the shooting, asked that he “Shoot me second.”

Remarkably, victims’ families have voiced forgiveness for the shooter, and the area’s Amish community has reached out to Roberts’ family, attending his funeral and helping to raise money to pay expenses.

MIX OF NEWS IN SBC LIFE

The Southern Baptist Convention grabbed national headlines for a number of developments, celebrating milestones and addressing controversies, primarily regarding issues of cooperation.

Although totals from the evangelistic push to “Witness, Win and Baptize One Million” in a year (Oct. 1, 2005 to Sep. 30, 2006) will not be known until April 2007, the “Everyone Can” campaign launched by Bobby Welch concluded a little over three months after the close of his second and final term as president of the SBC.

Baptisms from 2004 to 2005 dropped about 4.15 percent, or by 16,097, but anecdotal reports from around the country indicate that in 2006 many churches and associations achieved marked increases in the numbers of baptized.

While Southern Baptists await the results of their cooperative effort to intensify evangelism in America, numbers were available to measure collective funding of missions, ministries and theological education.

Although giving by individuals continued to decline as a percentage of ability from 2.6 percent in 2003 to 2.56 percent in 2004 (according to the latest data available from Christian research organization Empty Tomb. Inc.), contributions to national causes through the SBC’s Cooperative Program in 2005-2006 exceeded $200 million for the first time.

The milestone came amid a resurgence of attention about the Cooperative Program.

Messengers to the annual meeting approved a list of nine recommendations, endorsed by state executive directors and SBC Executive Committee members, that included a call for churches “to give an increasing percentage of undesignated receipts through the Cooperative Program” and another that encourages the election of leaders whose churches “systematically and enthusiastically lead by example by giving sacrificially and proportionally through the Cooperative Program.” Both of these statements previously set a 10 percent target, but messengers approved a recommendation from the SBC Executive Committee that removed mention of a specific goal.

This did not stop the 10 percent target from being a factor in the race for SBC president.

In an unusual development for recent SBC history, three candidates’ names were placed in nomination and while each offered slightly different visions for the future of the SBC, the main focus in public discussions surrounded the leadership of each with regard to support of the Cooperative Program, where each varied significantly in how their respective churches gave:

-- Frank Page, pastor of First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C., led his church in 2004-2005 to give $534,683, or 12.4 percent, through the Cooperative Program from total undesignated receipts of $4,297,861. The church’s total mission expenditures were $1,461,950.

-- Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church in Springfield, Ark., presented an alternate approach to funding missions, with his church giving through CP, including both state and national causes, 0.27 percent ($32,000) of undesignated receipts of $11,952,137. FBCS gave another 1.58 percent ($189,000) to SBC causes distributed through the SBC allocation budget (national causes only), and gave through other channels $489,000 to SBC causes, spending about $2,648,000 in total support of missions and evangelism during the budget year, Oct. 1, 2004 through Sept. 30, 2005.

-- Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., offered yet a third model of missions funding, contributing nothing through the CP, but instead designating a combined $183,482 (or 4.47 percent total) in gifts to the state ($73,628) and national ($109,854) conventions to support CP missions from undesignated receipts of $4,104,377. The effect of TRBC’s designated giving to state and national CP causes was to reverse the 60 (state)/40 (national) split the Tennessee Baptist Convention makes with CP monies it collects. The church’s total mission expenditures were $461,604.

Page won the presidency on the first ballot during the June annual meeting, garnering 4,546 votes, or 50.48 percent of the 8,961 votes messengers cast (44 ballots, or 0.49 percent, were disqualified), Floyd was second with 2,247 votes or 24.95 percent, and Sutton third with 2,168 votes or 24.08 percent.

Other factors may have contributed to the mix: Page’s personal ties to Greensboro, N.C., the location of annual meeting, and the high number of messengers from the Carolinas; and messengers’ desire for new leadership (both Floyd and Sutton were endorsed by different longtime SBC leaders). However, Page’s victory proved that “You can’t even spell SBC president without a ‘C’ and a ‘P,’” an endorsing statement made by his nominator, Florida pastor Forrest Pollock.

In addition to reaching a milestone in CP, Southern Baptists set new highs in giving to both national offerings for cooperative missions in 2006.

The International Mission Board reported a record $137.9 million had been collected in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering (although short of the $150 million goal), and the North American Mission Board announced that the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering topped $57 million, a new high that exceeded the 2006 target of $56 million.

Both mission offering records came amid separate controversies that embroiled each entity.

In February, NAMB came under fire for program irregularities after an article published in the Christian Index, the Georgia Baptist Convention state paper (NAMB is located in Alpharetta, Ga.), raised concerns about NAMB’s church planting efforts, missionary count, financial management and evangelism strategy. Bob Reccord, NAMB’s president at the time, was scrutinized also for a substantial number of speaking engagements with non-SBC groups, including his scheduled role as featured speaker at 19 Promise Keeper rallies.

Although trustee chairman Barry Holcomb stated there were “no ethical problems related to Reccord’s leadership of NAMB,” and that Reccord was not asked or forced to resign, Reccord stepped down in April after the March release of a 19-page report, that among other issues questioned Reccord’s potential conflict of interest with a firm that received an outsource contract and noted his “underdeveloped” cooperative relationships with state convention executives.

The report also outlined a plan to develop “Executive Level controls to be used [by Reccord] as a guide.”

Seminary evangelism professor Roy Fish was named interim president while NAMB trustees conduct a nationwide search for a permanent executive.

Controversy erupted around the International Mission Board when trustees voted to recommend the SBC remove trustee Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, after Burleson reported about the January trustee meeting in his online weblog or “blog” (an Internet journal updated with personal views for public reading). He opposed the trustees’ move to narrow parameters for missionary qualification that he said exceeded the doctrinal guidelines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (BF&M).

The trustees adopted missionary personnel policies that: (1) disqualify candidates who practice speaking in tongues or private prayer language, and (2) require candidates be baptized by a church that recognizes believer’s baptism alone, embraces the doctrine of security of the believer and rejects a sacramental or regenerative view of baptism.

Trustees cited issues of “broken trust and resistance to accountability” as the basis for asking that Burleson be removed. The IMB eventually rescinded its vote to remove Burleson but placed some restrictions on his participation as a trustee.

Burleson made a motion at the annual meeting asking the SBC Executive Committee to investigate alleged impropriety by trustees, but he subsequently concurred with the move to refer his motion to the IMB for action instead.

However, the controversy about private prayer language and speaking in tongues did not go away.

Dwight McKissic, an Arlington, Texas, pastor and new trustee of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, became the central figure in an expanding doctrinal discussion after he said in SWBTS chapel services that he spoke in tongues "in his private prayer life." Media outlets picked up the news after the seminary’s president, Paige Patterson, disallowed posting of McKissic’s message online with other chapel sermons. SWBTS trustees subsequently voted not to knowingly endorse contemporary charismatic practices such as a private prayer language nor hire professors who advocate the practice.

Echoing concern about narrowing parameters of cooperation, and mentioning the new IMB policy, McKissic has called for an amendment to the BF&M, saying, “There should always be room in Southern Baptist life for the cessationist, semi-cessationist and continualist viewpoints.”

McKissic hosted a Dec. 5 roundtable attended by 112 people to network and “encourage spiritual renewal, theological and ecclesiastic dialogue, fellowship and mentoring in an environment where diverse viewpoints are welcome.” He plans to hold another doctrinal convocation in April 2007.

STATE CONVENTION HEADLINES

In the fall, 17 states voted on a myriad of actions aimed at increasing the respective percentages each forwards to national causes through the Cooperative Program, showing support at least for the principles of the CP Advance Plan, which encourages such increases for SBC missions.

Several states took action regarding affiliation requirements:

-- California Baptists altered wording on the messenger registration card to identify a cooperating church as one in agreement with the BF&M.

-- Tennessee Baptists affirmed the BF&M 2000 and added a question about the statement of beliefs when nominees are considered for committees and boards, with each nominee’s answer to be provided to messengers.

-- The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina specified that member churches do not support homosexuality and do not allow homosexuals to be members until they repent.

-- Michigan Baptists heard a motion that will be considered next year not to seat messengers from churches that endorse or affirm homosexuality.

-- Missouri Baptists disqualified 19 local churches that held ties to the stridently anti-SBC Cooperative Baptist Fellowship or the state convention’s rival Baptist General Convention of Missouri that is not recognized by the SBC.

-- The Baptist General Association of Virginia received a Georgia Baptist church requesting affiliation across the border.

-- Southern Baptists of Texas Convention messengers referred to the convention’s executive board consideration of a request to receive churches from contiguous states holding membership in Texas Baptist associations.

Some state conventions addressed relationship issues with affiliated institutions:

-- Tennessee Baptists approved funds for a lawsuit in an ongoing dispute with Belmont University. The school’s move to name non-Southern Baptist trustees triggered a 1951 repayment clause regarding more than $55 million ($110 million in 2005 dollars) in Cooperative Program funds allocated to Belmont since its founding.

-- Georgia Baptists finalized their split with Mercer University.

-- North Carolina Baptists voted to escrow funding for the Baptist Retirement Homes until a dispute over the relationship is resolved regarding BRH naming its own trustees. BSCNC-affiliated educational institutions were granted the right to select up to one-third of their trustees who are active Christians but not Baptists, although the convention nominating committee can still reject any nominee. Non-educational institutions, meanwhile, may choose to nominate up to half of their trustees, the BSCNC board of directors can then reduce the Cooperative Program funds allocated to that entity by the same percentage.

Meanwhile, the Baptist General Convention of Texas faced controversy over fraud in its Hispanic church planting program. The BGCT reported it lost $1.3 million over the past six years, but leaders said they would work to recover the money. Criminal prosecution is a possibility.

States also dealt individually with several issues acted upon by messengers at the national annual meeting either in June or in previous years:

-- Nine of 41 state conventions rejected an Exodus Mandate call for an exit strategy for removing children from public schools. The state initiatives followed the example of Southern Baptist messengers over the last three years to call for engaging the culture to effect changes in the public square, rather than withdrawing.

-- Nearly half of state conventions passed resolutions upholding a traditional view of marriage or expressed concern for corporate support of homosexuality. SBC messengers expressed displeasure with U.S. senators who failed to support a constitutional amendment this year defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

-- Eight states addressed various pro-life issues also addressed at the national level, including calling for parental notification requirements for abortion; laws protecting unborn victims of crime; and opposition to destructive embryo research.

WHAT NEWS PORTENDS FOR 2007?

A number of news items from 2006 will continue to capture the public’s interest in the New Year.

In Southern Baptist life, private prayer language figures to continue to be a prominent issue. The practice is not common in SBC churches, but the planned spring convocation and the fact that the issue has embroiled both the IMB and SWBTS in controversy, assure that it will be part of an ongoing discussion about Southern Baptists’ doctrinal beliefs.

But glossolalia (speaking in tongues) will not be the only doctrinal issue that is part of the Southern Baptist dialog.

Questions about the impact of Calvinism within the SBC were raised at the annual meeting. A survey conducted by LifeWay Research found that relatively few (about 10 percent) pastors embrace five-point Calvinism, but the study was not comprehensive. The research did not collect information about the number of seminary professors or students that might hold such beliefs. Nor did the study look at the consequences of Calvinistic beliefs on the local or cooperative missions and ministries of Southern Baptist churches.

One debate was held.

Large crowds listened to a polite discussion between Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president, R. Albert Mohler Jr., and Southwestern Seminary’s president, Paige Patterson, scheduled in conjunction with breakout sessions sponsored by the Pastors’ Conference, which immediately preceded the SBC annual meeting in June.

Another much-anticipated debate was cancelled.

The principals -- Tom Ascol, Founders Ministries director, and Alpha & Omega Ministries Director James White (both decidedly Calvinist), and Liberty Seminary President Ergun Caner and College at Southwestern Dean Emir Caner (both decidedly not Calvinist) -– had exchanged a lengthy series of fiery e-mails during weeks leading up to the event, and clearly-defined opposing sides had formed among Southern Baptists. Even the cause for the cancellation was a basis for dispute.

At the core are competing contentions about what the doctrine of election means to the concept of salvation. In general: Is salvation offered to all and man can accept or reject Christ’s gift? Or is grace restricted as a gift for a few created specifically to receive it?

This centuries-old difference of beliefs likely will be an issue in Southern Baptist life and beyond, enduring for 2007 and beyond.

Illegal immigration will be a bridge issue that spans Southern Baptist life, the broader religious community and politics in America, as an issue of security, safety and stewardship.

There are legitimate fears that porous U.S. borders offer no protection against terrorist intrusion. But statistics show other elements pose a threat, too. While most sides of the debate agree the greatest number of illegal aliens are hard working, a disproportionate number are criminals, composing 17 percent of federal prison inmates, while illegal immigrants make up only about 3 percent of the U.S. population.

There are financial burdens as well, with federal costs of prisons, courts, schools, healthcare and assistance programs estimated to exceed $10 billion more than federal taxes paid by the 15 million or so illegal aliens in America.

Yet, there are moral and ethical considerations that should shape a solution that is both compassionate and fair. More importantly, there are spiritual considerations that demand Christians minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of sojourners, even if they are here illegally.

The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement by Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense holds the potential for changes in Iraq. Already, both sides of the political debate are weighing the strengths and weaknesses of proposals that have been floated about increasing troop levels. However, there are also voices speaking loudly for setting a timetable for withdrawal.

Americans also can expect a shift in priorities in the national legislative agenda, one that reflects the swing in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

During the last 12 years, conservatives have been able to direct the workflow of Congress, determining in large part even what would be discussed or debated. In recent years, liberals have shown at least an awareness of the need to speak the language of faith in order to relate to a significant number of the voting U.S. public who typically align with conservatives. With liberals in a position to direct the order of business in both houses of Congress, what remains to be seen is whether there will only be a new way to talk about unchanged positions or an earnest effort to look at issues seriously from a perspective of faith.

Finally, the deaths of two world leaders brought a close to 2006 but in entirely different fashions. The execution by hanging of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was a stark contrast to the passing on at the age of 93 by President Gerald Ford. Yet both men proved an eternal truth to ring in the New Year: Whether scorned as a brutal killer or hailed as a statesman representing America’s best, “It is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
--30--
Will Hall is the executive editor of Baptist Press.
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