From Death to Life
An FBI agent in Texas recently apprehended a criminal in a bribery scheme and then led him to Christ.
In an undercover operation entitled Operation Cobra Nest special agent Don Sherman secured the conviction of four people for defrauding a Savings and Loan of $18 million. Despite the operation's success, however, Sherman reports that his life fell apart in the midst of the stressful operation. In search of answers, Sherman received Christ at a Zig Ziglar motivational seminar. He was subsequently baptized "undercover" in a private room before a group of ten witnesses rather than risk blowing his cover by being baptized before the 3,500-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas.
Defendant Roger Hoffman, who accepted a plea bargain in the Operation Cobra Nest case, said his life, like Sherman's, fell apart, in the midst of the ordeal. Hoffman recounts that Sherman was the only person who proved to be a friend. And after accepting a plea bargain, Hoffman gave his life to Christ under the mentorship of his former nemesis.
"It was a rough time for me. I was really alone, but Don was there, and we'd talk about things involved in my life and his," Hoffman told the Dallas Morning News. "I didn't see this crazed, vengeful guy trying to get everybody. I don't remember hating him for catching me."
ReligionToday News, November 27, 2000
Teens, Alcohol, and Drugs
In the annual Monitoring the Future survey, researchers at the University of Michigan have found that illicit drug use remains prevalent among U.S. teenagers for the fourth year in a row. The survey of 45,000 students in 435 randomly chosen schools nationwide relayed mostly good news, reporting drops in alcohol, tobacco, and drug use among eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders. Researchers found that the percentage of high school seniors who used cocaine in the past year fell from 6.2 percent in 1999 to 5 percent in 2000. In the same time period, the use of crack fell from 2.7 percent to 2.2 percent. Among high school seniors, past year use of hallucinogens dropped from 9.4 percent in 1999 to 8.1 percent in 2000.
The survey also found, however, that use of the drug ecstasy increased for the second year in a row. Just over 8 percent of seniors said they had used ecstasy in the past year, up from 5.6 percent in 1999. Additionally, the number of high school seniors using heroin hit its highest point since the survey began in 1975.
Further examining the use of specific drugs the survey discovered that 36.5 percent of high school seniors had used marijuana in the past year. For tenth-graders, it was nearly as high - 32.2 percent, and for eighth-graders, 15.6 percent. Alcohol abuse remained widespread, though largely unchanged, with nearly three in four high school seniors drinking at least once in the past year. Two in three tenth-graders reported drinking in the past year, and just over 40 percent of eighth-graders. A smaller but still significant number of teens reported binge drinking at least once in the two weeks prior to the survey. Thirty percent of twelfth-graders, 26.2 percent of tenth-graders and 14.1 percent of eighth-graders said they had binged, defined as consuming five or more drinks in a row.
Three-year trends in the Monitoring the Future survey reveal that general drug use has decreased among eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-graders. For eighth-graders, use of any drug fell from 22.1 percent to 19.5 percent. For tenth-graders, it fell from 38.5 percent to 36.4 percent, and for twelfth-graders, it fell from 42.4 percent to 40.9 percent.
CNN.com, December 14, 2000
The Demise of Evolution
The theory of evolution seems to be disappearing from the curriculums of some Canadian public schools. Though most schools have taught the theory of evolution in the past, they are under increasing pressure from religious groups to equally emphasize creationism. Christian Week reports that as a result, many schools have removed teachings about the origin of life altogether from their classes. Christian Week reveals that in Ontario, educators are developing a new "value-neutral" curriculum to avoid the creation/evolution debate in the future. The new curriculum is said to concentrate on the facts of biological systems, and teachers say that with so much important science to discuss there is no time to consider the theory of evolution.
The issue of science curriculums is particularly heated in Prince Edward Island where the provincial government has assured a group of parents that there is no teaching of evolution in any public school course.
ReligionToday News, November 30, 2000
Recognizing The Standard
The Washington Times reports that most Americans believe the Bible is more factual than their daily newspaper. An independent market survey commissioned by Zondervan Publishing House reveals that most adults trust that the Bible got "its facts straight" more than newspapers or even history books. More than eight in ten Americans told the survey that the Bible speaks to modern issues and can solve "most or all" of life's problems. Respondents to the Zondervan survey also said that the Bible's great value is in teaching children right and wrong.
Eighty percent of respondents, however, agree that the language of the Bible can be "confusing," citing the creation account as the most difficult passage to understand. The Zondervan survey reveals that while Americans recognize the Scripture's moral usefulness, belief that the Bible is "literally true" has dropped from 65 percent of U.S. adults to 33 percent over the past forty years.
Despite this ambivalence toward the Bible's historical accuracy, Gallup polls report that belief in its divine "inspiration and authority" stays at more than 80 percent. Additionally, a third of respondents to the Zondervan poll say they "feel comfortable and safe" when a Bible is around, and 20 percent see someone holding a Bible as a "good person."
Washington Times, December 11, 2000
Recent reports out of Turkmenistan reveal that four Christians have been subjected to severe torture and oppressive fines for carrying a box of Christian videos. Three men and an American Christian were traveling with the videos in their trunk when their car overturned on November 22. Police investigating the accident discovered the videos and quickly arrested Batir Nurov, Babamurat Gaebov, Umit Koshkarov, and their pastor, Shokhrat Piriyev.
The men were then subjected to "repeated sessions of beatings, electric shock, and suffocation to the point of blacking out," a witness told Compass Direct News Service. Upon the completion of their torture, a judge ordered the men to pay excessive fines, demanding that they turn over the deeds to their cars and homes. Police later summoned the Christians back to the station for additional torture and interrogation. One of the men adds, "We have been promised more of the same."
Turkmenistan only recognizes the Russian Orthodox Church and Sunni Islam as legal religions. Protestants are severely persecuted. Turkmen-language Bibles and other Christian materials are illegal.
ReligionToday News, December 5, 2000
When Good is Evil and Evil is Good
"It's a bankrupt approach. These are public schools; it's the government endorsing religion. And their endorsement of religion here is very damaging to teenagers."
- Cornell Law Professor Gary Simson arguing against the use of abstinence-based sex education curricula in public schools.
Simson and recent Cornell Law graduate Erika Sussman argue in a recent issue of The Southern California Review of Law and Women's Studies that abstinence-based sex education in public schools violates the First Amendment clause requiring separation of church and state. The scholars claim that when government funded schools advocate sexual abstinence prior to marriage they are promoting the agenda of the religious right. Such an action, say Simson and Sussman, is a clear violation of the separation of church and state. "The conformity to the Religious Right position is too much to be an accident," declared Simson. "That's one of the telling proofs of a religious agenda in the curriculum."
Simson and Sussman argue that the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment prohibits the government from passing laws endorsing religion - or those that have the effect of doing so. According to the scholars, the establishment clause forbids government laws that have the effect of supporting religion and not just those whose primary purpose is to promote a religious agenda. Simson continued, "We make an argument that, even if the court finds that (religion) is not the only purpose, that adopting a program of this sort has the effect of communicating government support of religion."
The team of Cornell lawyers specifically takes issue with the most widely-used abstinence-based lesson plan entitled, "Sex Respect." The lesson attempts to deter teens from premarital sex, abortion, and homosexual behavior by highlighting the moral and medical downsides and risks. "If premarital sex came in a bottle," the workbook says, "it would probably have to carry a Surgeon General's warning ... There's No Way To Have Premarital Sex Without Hurting Someone." In lieu of abstinence-based sex education, Simson advocates a more comprehensive curriculum - a curriculum presenting abstinence as one option among many.
Proponents of the abstinence message, however, say the legal minds have used faulty logic to arrive at their conclusions. According to Simson's logic, abstinence proponents say, anything teachers say that carries a message of goodness or morality should be prohibited because of possible connections with Christianity or other religions.
Catherine Weiss, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union agrees with this assessment, saying, "The Supreme Court has been tolerant of the overlaps between the religious message and the secular message condemning sex outside of marriage. They view chastity as a secular value." Weiss says that the Supreme Court typically only finds a law to be in violation of the establishment clause if its dominant purpose is to support religion.
FoxNews.com, December 5, 2000
Censoring David and Goliath
The Egyptian government has censored the story of David and Goliath from a children's cassette tape. The tape included one song based on the biblical narrative designed to teach Christian children moral principles. The Egyptian Audiovisual Censorship Authority, however, banned the song, saying it was inappropriate at a time when Egypt and other Arab states have accused Israel of excessive use of force in confronting Palestinians. Madkour Thabet, head of the Audiovisual Censorship Authority, says, "Presenting this subject now is not in line with the Egyptian social and political stance on the Palestinian uprising."
Egypt's Coptic Christian Church had approved the material on the album. However, Thabet claims that while the church may issue an opinion on the religious content of the album, the government must ultimately judge its political and social appropriateness.
Although the story of David and Goliath is common to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the Egyptian government says that it cannot permit children to hear stories that refer to Israel's superiority given the current political climate of the Middle East. The popular Egyptian weekly magazine Rose El-Youssef applauded the censors' decision, saying they "prevented a scandal."
Yahoo! News, December 16, 2000
Still Going at 96
by Stacey Hamby
He has been an interim pastor at least twenty times in the past twenty-four years. He preaches twice a month at a nursing home and visits folks in hospitals regularly, all the while sharing the gospel one-on-one with people.
S.S. Borum of Cape Girardeau, Mo., does all of this at the age of 96.
"He would work 99 percent of pastors under the table with his visitations alone," said Daniel Hale, pastor of First Baptist Church, Millersville. Borum was interim pastor there before Hale arrived twelve years ago.
"Retirement doesn't exist in his vocabulary; he says he's just changing gears."
Borum completed his third interim pastorate for Iona Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau this summer. His last official duty was to baptize a six-year-old girl he had known all her life. Jalana Johnson, now seven, was baptized on July 16.
Her grandmother, Joann Leadbetter of Iona Baptist Church, said Borum was a big influence in the girl's decision to become a Christian.
"It was a great feeling to be able to baptize Jalana," Borum said. "It thrilled me when she asked me to baptize her."
The youngster and Borum met because Leadbetter has been his driver in recent years. Leadbetter has known Borum since she was a child; her father and Borum were both pastors.
Borum retired as full-time pastor of First Baptist Church, Perryville, in 1976. Since then, he has kept a busy schedule of preaching and visiting hospitals and nursing homes, including the one he and his late wife, Beulah, founded in Perryville. He encourages other senior citizens to be active in ministry.
"Just keep on going and don't let up," he said. "Forget yourself and keep on going as the Lord leads you. That's what I'm going to do, Lord willing."
Borum has two living children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A United Nations official reports that trafficking women and children into slavery and prostitution, an atrocity condemned by Southern Baptists in a 2000 resolution, is the second largest money-producing venture for organized crime worldwide. Pino Arlacchi, executive director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, told a forum in Sicily, "It is painful to contemplate that, unlike illegal drugs, women and children are often sold again and again. Their abuse and pain are multiplied as the transactions increase." Arlacchi continued, "Trafficking in people is the fastest growing transnational criminal activity ... Never before has there been so much opportunity for criminal organizations to exploit the system."
According to a review of figures from governments and non-governmental organizations, between 700,000 and two million women and children are victims of trafficking each year. The London-based organization Anti-Slavery International estimates that more than 200 million people worldwide are now reduced to slavery, many of whom have been trafficked across borders. Arlacchi says that the traffickers of people realize approximately 7 billion dollars annually from the global market in prostitution alone.
A large share of trafficking humans involves criminal groups exploiting migrants who want to be smuggled into foreign countries to begin new lives. The migrants are transported to the new country but then forced to work for the criminal groups in order to pay back the cost of the journey. Jobs assigned to these migrants include sweatshop labor, domestic service, and sexual slavery. Frank Loy, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Global Affairs, says that tens of thousands of people each year are victims of such trafficking in the United States. Reuters news service reports that in Italy, criminals operate an extensive and elaborate ring that lures Nigerian women into the country on the pretext of getting work. They are then sold to pimps for about $12,000 each. U.N. documents reveal that similar schemes operate in Southeast Asia where the Japanese Mafia is heavily involved in trafficking humans.
Arlacchi concluded that trafficking of people is "the biggest violation of human rights in the world" and said that while profits to transnational crime groups are still bigger in the illegal drug trade, the gap is narrowing.
The 2000 Southern Baptist Convention resolution, "On Condemning the Trafficking of Women and Children for Sexual Purposes" can be found at www.sbc.net.
CNN.com, December 14, 2000