Vol. 5 No. 12




  The Jesse Mercer Plaza
  Mercer University, Macon Campus 

Produced by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University
A Monthly EMagazine, Bridging Baptists Yesterday and Today


Walter B. Shurden, Executive Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Bruce T. Gourley, Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin

Wil Platt, Associate Editor, The Baptist Studies Bulletin


The Center for Baptist Studies wishes all our subscribers
A Blessed Advent, A Merry Christmas,
and A Happy New Year.



Visit The Center for Baptist Studies' Web Site at

Table of Contents



I Believe . . . : Walter B. Shurden

         "Should We Swear Congressman Ellison in on the Qur'an?"

The Baptist Soapbox: Jim Somerville

         "Advent for the Liturgically Challenged"
Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church
Kay Shurden

         "Prayer Shawl Ministry, First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia"

Baptists and Peacemaking: Glen Stassen

         "The Need for International Cooperation in the Middle East"

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole

         "A Difficult Question, a Necessary Struggle"
In Response To . . .
: Bruce T. Gourley

         "In Response to . . . Fear, War, Forgiving and Giving"
Dates to Note

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I Believe

"Should We Swear Congressman Ellison in on the Qur'an?"
By Walter B. Shurden

I believe . . .
that we Christians have a hard time understanding that the United States of America is NOT a Christian nation but a constitutional republic that allows religious freedom for all its citizens. The issue surfaces again in the controversy over Minnesota Congressman-elect Keith Ellison’s desire to be sworn in by placing his hand on the Qur'an rather than the Bible. Should he be able to do that? YOU BET! Should Jews be able to use the Hebrew Bible? YOU BET! If Mormon faithful Mitt Romney is elected the president of the United States in 2008, should he be able to use the Book of Mormon? YOU BET!  If an atheist wants only to swear on the Constitution of the United States, should she be able to do that? YOU BET!
          Of all peopleOF ALL PEOPLEwe Baptists ought to understand and endorse Ellison’s call for free expression of religion! Our ancestors went to jail for that kind of freedom! Our ancestors suffered idiotic indignities for that kind of freedom. Our ancestors struggled for a century and a half in this country for that kind of freedom!! Some of our ancestors suffered physical abuse for that kind of freedom.
          Do we Baptists not remember any of our history at all? Have we really forgotten the sorry saga of Roger Williams being chased out of Massachusetts by Christian zealots and his subsequent heroic founding of Rhode Island where religious freedom could flourish? Have we forgotten the sad tale of Baptist fathers John Clarke, Obadiah Holmes, and John Crandall being jailed for conducting a worship service in a blind man’s house in Lynn, MA? Have we forgotten Obadiah Holmes' bloody whipping on the streets of Boston? Do we not remember that long list of jailed Baptist ministers in eighteenth century Virginia?
          But even if we were not Christians and even if we were not Baptists, if we were only good citizens of this republic with no religious faith at all, we ought to understand that call for religious freedom that Congressman Ellison wants. Article VI of The Constitution of the United States says, “The Senators and Representatives . . . shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States (bold mine).”
           Christmas may be the best of opportunities for Christians to act Christianly toward persons of minority religions or no religion in the United States. Give yourself a very expensive Christmas gift during this season. Paste the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States to your computer and read it daily:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  Those are forty-five very expensive words.
           Thank God for that amendment, birthed partially because of the hard work of our Baptist ancestors. Let that noble idea of freedom find a place to lay its fragile head on your Christian, Baptist, and American heart this Christmas. Let’s be more than good citizens this Christmas; let’s try to be good Baptist Christians.

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Baptist Soapbox

The Baptist Soapbox: Invited guests speak up and out on things Baptist (therefore, the views expressed in this space are not necessarily those of The Baptist Studies Bulletin, though sometimes they are). Climbing upon the Soapbox this month is Dr. Jim Somerville, pastor of First Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.

"Advent for the Liturgically Challenged"
By Jim Somerville

            I can still remember the First Sunday in Advent, 1996. 
            One of the families in our church had come forward and gathered around the wreath to light the first candle of the season.  A litany was read from the pulpit, and then the oldest son (who must have been about twelve at the time) struck one of those big, wooden kitchen matches and lit the candle of Hope.  Afterwards, he held the match up to his lips and blew it out, blowing out the flame of the candle at the same time.  There was an awkward pause before he realized his mistake and corrected it by striking another match and lighting the candle again, and then blowing out the match—and the candle—again. 
            We Baptists aren’t all that good at liturgy.  This year, on the First Sunday in Advent at First Baptist, Washington (“a church of Baptist tradition and ecumenical perspective”), I handed a brass taper to a new member who comes from the Anglican tradition and asked him if he knew how to use it.  A taper, as I’m sure you know, is the proper name for one of those fancy candle-lighting thingamajigs.  “Oh, yes,” he said with a smile.  And then I asked if he would be interested in serving as our regular “candle consultant” (remembering the near-disaster of All Saints’ Sunday a few weeks before when we had tried to light candles for all those we had loved and lost and nearly lost a few more in the process). 
            We’re not all that good at liturgy, but one of the reasons First Baptist, DC, has an “ecumenical perspective” is that there is much to be learned from the larger household of the Christian faith. 
            This matter of observing the seasons of the Christian year, for example, holds the promise of making every worship experience richer.  At First Baptist we wait with breathless anticipation for the coming of Christ in Advent; we walk with Him, trembling, toward the cross in the season of Lent; we crash cymbals and blow trumpets in celebration of His resurrection at Easter.  Along with those broad themes are the colors and sounds and smells of the seasons.  Advent begins in darkness, with the flame of Hope sputtering on its charred wick.  We sing our hymns in minor keys.  We drape the church in purple.  But as the other candles are lit in the weeks that follow—peace, and joy, and love—the sense of expectancy is heightened, and when the Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve, the mood shifts suddenly and dramatically.  The house lights come up.  Deep purple is replaced by dazzling white and gold.  The minor key modulates into the major and suddenly it is nothing but joy to the world, for the Lord is come!
            It is entirely possible that in the nearly two thousand years Christians have been practicing their faith they’ve learned a thing or two, and if we Baptists aren’t too proud to ask (relative newcomers that we are), we might learn a thing or two ourselves.
            Like how to light candles.

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Remember the Neediest

"Remember the Neediest."  These three short words appear throughout the print edition of the New York Times during the month of December.  They are a sobering reminder of the responsibility we have toward those less fortunate.  May each of us be intentional about remembering the neediest this holiday season.

Local Church

Creative Ministries in the Local Baptist Church:  This series highlights local churches who are intentionally creative in their approach to ministry.  This month's featured local church ministry emphasis focuses on the Prayer Shawl Ministry of First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia.  Kay Shurden, retired professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Mercer University School of Medicine, is a lay leader at First Baptist.

"Prayer Shawl Ministry, First Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia"
By Kay Shurden

In January of 2006 Baptists Today ran a front-page article on the Prayer Shawl Ministry of Weatherly Heights Baptist Church in Huntsville, AL.  Several women working in the Crisis Closet of First Baptist Church in Macon, GA,  read the article and discussed it with interest during a lull in their work.   All agreed that they could bring their knitting when they came to work on the Crisis Closet and fill in the slow time  knitting prayer shawls.  They found a website online, talked to the woman who was featured in Baptists Today, and a new ministry began.
            The procedure at First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon for beginning new ministries is to present a proposal to the New Ministries Initiative Committee so the church can know about and give approval to all ministries begun in their name.  When the proposal for this ministry came before the committee, they approved and suggested that this new ministry initiative could work very well with another ministry called Tender Loving Care (TLC).  The TLC ministry involved teams of church members visiting the homebound, the hospitalized, and those going through treatment for serious illness.  The connection between prayer shawls and people in difficult times who needed prayer was a natural one.  The two ministries linked.
            A Prayer Shawl Ministry provides comfortable, knitted prayer shawls for people who are unable to come to church but need to be reminded of the love and prayers of their community of faith.   Those who knit pray for the recipients as they knit and include a prayer of blessing when they give the shawl to someone who needs it.  Each shawl contains a tag that reads, “Made with Love by First Baptist Church.”
            The ministry has given 20 shawls to people in need, both church members and others in the community who came to the attention of the knitters.  The ministry also moved beyond prayer shawls to knit scarves for high school graduates leaving the church community for further education.  Each graduate received a scarf knitted in the colors of their college of choice.  The thought behind the gift was that as they moved on to the next stage of their lives, the prayers of the church would go with them.  Each scarf is a blessing from First Baptist Church.
            A further extension of the ministry is planned to include blankets for newborns in the church and warm hats for the people who seek aid from the Crisis Closet.   For those who don’t already know how to knit but would like to participate in the ministry, a “Knit Night” is held one Wednesday night a month so that knitters already involved in the ministry can teach others who want to learn.
            Creating something beautiful and useful is a way to participate in the work of God in the world.  Helping people in need is a Christ-following ministry.  The Prayer Shawl ministry does both.  Knitting is  an ancient art which can be a spiritual practice when combined with prayer. Prayer shawls enfold, comfort and remind both those who knit shawls and those who wear them that God is present in their time of illness and that their church family has not forgotten them.

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"Growing Generous Churches, Growing Generous Christians"
Mercer University, Macon, Georgia
April 16, 2007

The stewardship theologian for Mennonite Mutual Aid of Goshen, Indiana, Miller is a graduate of Wilmington (Ohio) College and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. He is the author of the Herald Press books Firstfruits Living and Just in Time, as well as The Power of Enough: Finding Contentment by Putting Stuff in it Place.  Miller travels extensively to help congregations and individuals see their roles as stewards in being God's offering to a lost world.

Co-Sponsored by The Center for Baptist Studies, Mercer University; Congregational Life, Cooperative
Baptist Fellowship; CBF Foundation and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia

The Conference is Free.  Make Your Plans to Attend!
Reservations and Information.


Baptists and Peacemaking: A noted theologian and ethicist, Glen Stassen is the Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.  Prior to his current position, he taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for 20 years.  He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard University, Duke University and Columbia University.

"The Need for International Cooperation in the Middle East"
By Glen Stassen

            Former President Jimmy Carter was here in Pasadena at our local bookstore Monday night. 2,000 persons came to get him to sign his new book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid. He's getting big support. I had to stand in line for two hours. I got him to sign it, and also his Our Endangered Values. I gave him a copy of my Just Peacemaking book, and signed it for him too.
            In Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, Carter concludes: "Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens—and honor its own previous commitments—by accepting its legal borders [with negotiated adjustments] …. The United States is … intensifying global anti-American terrorism by unofficially condoning or abetting the Israeli confiscation and colonization of Palestinian territories."
            The Iraq Study Group Report agrees with President Carter: 1) "The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict." 2) The solution is "a two-state solution" with agreed borders. 3) "The only lasting and secure peace will be a negotiated peace such as Israel has achieved with Egypt and Jordan." (It was Jimmy Carter at Camp David who got them to achieve that negotiated peace.)
            To solve Iraq, they write, the United States also needs to talk with Iran and Syria and the other neighbors, and seek economic and military assistance from non-neighboring Muslim nations. They spell out several reasons why Arab and Muslim nations have interests in a stable and peaceful Iraq, so it makes sense that they might help if the United States were not the dominating, occupying nation.
            I do not think the main question about Iraq is how soon we get out. The main question is how soon we change from go-it-alone domination and occupation, and instead shift to international cooperation. International cooperation requires that Arab and Muslim countries take leadership in working out a peaceful Iraq. That takes some unaccustomed U.S. humility, some acknowledgment of error, and most especially some newfound will for international cooperation. 
           Go-it-alone policies have been disastrous, not only in Iraq, but in North Korea, Iran, Palestine, and Lebanon. The U.S. still refuses to talk with Iran unless Iran first gives in to the U.S. position. What kind of talk is that? Refusal to talk is failing. Once Arab nations see Iran succeeding in getting nukes, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and others may follow their example.
           In the almost forty years since the Nonproliferation Treaty in 1968, international cooperation has succeeded in persuading other nations not to go nuclear. The only exceptions have been Pakistan and India. We have talked, given incentives, promised not to attack, and persuaded Brazil, Argentina, Libya, South Korea, and South Africa to reverse course and scrap their programs to develop nukes. But this administration has refused to talk, has refused to sign promises of nonaggression, attacked Iraq, and threatened North Korea, and Iran—which concluded they need a nuclear deterrent. Spurning international cooperation has been a disaster.
           President Carter was in the nuclear navy. I began as a nuclear physicist and worked for the Naval Research Lab. We both have strong awareness of the huge danger of these weapons, and we both are deeply concerned. I hope you all are too.  Pray for learning from error, for repentance, and for a shift to international cooperation. God gives rain and sunshine to all nations; love your enemies and include them in the neighborhood of consultation and cooperation, not war and threats of war.

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Bible and Poor

Baptists, the Bible, and the Poor: Charles E. Poole is a Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi where he delights in ministering alongside the poor. "Chuck" Poole, a provocative preacher and servant pastor, served Baptist churches for twenty-five years. Among the churches he has served are First Baptist Church, Macon, GA, First Baptist Church, Washington, DC, and Northminster Baptist Church, Jackson, MS.

"A Difficult Question, a Necessary Struggle"
By Charles E. Poole

          This month concludes my three year stint as a monthly contributor to the Baptist Studies Bulletin.  My assignment has been to write an essay for each issue on the subject, “Baptists, The Bible and the Poor.”  I’m certainly no scholar of either Baptists, the Bible or poverty, but I am heavily involved with all three, so I am grateful to editors Shurden and Gourley for an assignment that has helped me to think carefully about my spiritual home (Baptists), our main Book (the Bible), and the persons alongside whom I serve each day (those who live in poverty, as least as poverty is defined in 21st century  North America).
          More than once in these three years worth of monthly essays, I have quoted a sentence from Stanley Hauerwas, “Theology is the delicate art of helping the church keep its story straight.”  I keep returning to that observation because thinking about the church, the Bible and the poor sometimes makes me think that we have failed to keep our story straight.  If you believe that Jesus is the Lord of the church, then that means the church’s story is the Jesus story.  And the Jesus story is, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, a story of active compassion and compassionate action in response to the needs of the poor, the blind, the hungry, the prisoner, the deaf and the disabled.  That’s our story.  So that should be the story that determines what we do as the church of Jesus. 
           But there is another story that has assumed a more dominant role in our lives.  That story is capitalism. Capitalism, as far as I know, is the best way to run an economy and a nation.  It produces wealth that, in many cases, is used to bless and lift and transform the lives of these who suffer and struggle.  So, out in the marketplace, capitalism is fine.  But the gospel is very different from capitalism. Capitalism is about institutional advancement and growth.  The gospel is about what Henri Nowen once called “downward mobility,” giving your self away in the name and spirit of the Christ who, “though he was rich, became poor for our sakes.”  Our problem in the church is that we have a Lord who calls us to give ourselves away, but the dominant story that shapes our lives, capitalism, makes it difficult for us to think that way.  So we come to church thinking that institutional advancement is the real sign of success and we equate institutional success with the blessing of God, which is a sign of how tangled up the church’s story has become with the dominant story of our culture.  The practical result of that is that, since money eventually runs out, our congregational choices to advance the institution mean less money to spend on the needs Jesus actually talked about.
           I don’t have the answer to all that.  It leaves me with what William Faulkner once described as “The human heart in conflict with itself.”  I think that is the perpetual struggle of many serious Christians:  How do we balance the needs of the church with the needs of the world? It’s a difficult question, but a necessary struggle, for Baptists who care about the Bible and the poor.

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The Baptist Studies Bulletin Recommends

THE BAPTIST RIVER, edited by W. Glenn Jonas, Jr.
and recently published by Mercer University Press.

Learn of the "diversity of the Baptist movement in North America as it has developed over the past few centuries." Includes such groups as Primitive Baptists, Freewill Baptists, Seventh-Day Baptists, American Baptists, Southern Baptists, North American Baptists, and Independent Baptists, each of which shares some basic Baptist principles.


In Response To ...

In Response to . . . Fear, War, Forgiving and Giving:  The Associate Director of the Center for Baptist Studies, Bruce previously served as a campus minister and professor of Church History.  In addition, he is an Internet entrepreneur and photographer, and is ABD in his doctoral studies in American History at Auburn University. 

By Bruce T. Gourley

           Advent season is well underway, yet in our nation and world peace may well be at its lowest ebb since the dark days of World War II.
           Iraq is in utter chaos, plagued by a botched invasion and ensuing civil war that has claimed the lives of over 600,000 Iraqis and thousands of U.S. troops.  The result of trumped up “evidence” thrust upon the American public by an administration seeped in eschatological visions of the Religious Right, the hell-hole that America created in Iraq has cast down political strongholds in America, spread war and anarchy throughout the Middle East, provided a powerful platform for religious fundamentalists to terrorize the world, and raised the bar of suspicion, fear and even hatred among religions of the world to unprecedented levels. 
           Even as the deadly Iraq effect ripples around the world, millions upon millions of persons are dying from genocide, starvation, malnutrition, natural disasters, AIDS, lack of sanitation and preventable diseases … even as the
disparity between the wealthy and impoverished grows ever greater.  The richest 1% of the world’s population owns 40% of the world’s assets, while the poorest half of the world’s population owns 1% of the world’s assets.  And the gap continues to grow.  
           And yet this Advent season most of us will live insulated from the distant chaos of terror-fueled warfare, the tragedy of untimely death and the signs of impending collapse that characterize much of our planet.  In our church sanctuaries we are comfortable.  In our homes we are insulated.  A few moments each week we contemplate the Christ child.  A few dollars we send to missionaries, or perhaps to a local charity or a worldwide relief agency.  But most of our time is preoccupied with purchasing meaningless gifts for those who have no worldly needs, attending a steady stream of holiday parties, gorging on an abundance of rich foods that harm the body and feed not the soul, and racking up credit card debt in order that we might live beyond our already abundant means.  Consumed with ourselves, we make the rich richer and seal the untimely fate of millions.  
           But what can we do otherwise, we ask?
           Perhaps the Amish, the descendants of Anabaptists, the early cousins of Baptists, can teach us a lesson.  When a gunman murdered five young Amish girls in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania earlier this autumn, the Amish community did something remarkable in those darkest of days: they forgave the killer, and even prayed for his family.   
           When is the last time we extended forgiveness to someone who harmed us in such a way that it devastated our lives?  When is the last time we prayed for an Iraqi family who lost a loved one to the atrocities of war and terror?
           Last month the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took a remarkable step.  Rejecting the teachings of Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon regarding the right of government authorities to punish teachings deemed theological heresy, the ELCA apologized for Lutheran persecution of 16th-century Anabaptists.  In their statement of apology, the ELCA declared, “the situation of the 16th century no longer applies in the 21st century.” 
           This Advent season is marked by overwhelming wrongs in the world, wrongs of which we are complicit.  Jesus came into this world and gave of himself to begin the work of correcting the wrongs in the world, an ongoing task he entrusted to his followers.  Is there any better way to honor the Christ of yesterday and tomorrow than by rededicating ourselves to the task of correcting the wrongs in our personal lives and the world at large?  Can we be so bold as to work for the resolving of today’s ills so that healing and forgiveness may take place on the morrow?  Will we, in short, do our part as believers to bear Christ’s message of hope to a world in need of redemption?   
           May it be so, Lord Jesus.

Visit Bruce's personal website at

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Recommended Online Reading for Informed Baptists
Compiled by Bruce Gourley

Charity Navigator
Your Guide to Intelligent Giving

"Charity Navigator, America's premier independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America's largest charities."

Top-Rated Charities
American Institute of Philanthropy

Another site that evaluates the effectiveness of charitable organizations.

Summit Calls Global Church to Bring Justice to AIDS Crisis
Associated Baptist Press

"When 5,500 people die of AIDS every day, the need is not for charity but for justice, says Bono, and the church must do something about it. “That’s a lot of our brothers and sisters to be losing for no good reason,” the activist and front man for megaband U2 told the crowd at the 2006 Global Summit on AIDS and the Church. "

Dates to

Dates to Note

December 29, 2006 - January 2, 2007, Antiphony, "Call and Response." Hyatt Regency, Atlanta, Georgia.  For more information, visit

February 7-10, 2007, Current Retreat, "Let Justice Roll." First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas.  Registration cost is $100 for ministers and lay leaders, $55 for seminary students.  Click here for more information.

February 19-20, 2007, Self Preaching Lectures, McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.  Speaker: Tom Long.  For more information, email Diane Frazier.

February 20-21, 2007, Harry Vaughan Smith Lectures, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.  Speaker: Dr. Renita J. Weems.  Click here for more information.

February 23-24, 2007, Mainstream Baptist Network Convocation, "Voices of Hope: Why I am Still a Baptist."  Dallas, Texas.  The featured speakers will be Bill Underwood, President of Mercer University, Macon, GA; Tyrone Pitts, General Secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.; Scott Walker, pastor, First Bapitst Church, Waco, Texas; Suzii Paynter, Director, Christian Life Commission, Baptist General Convention of Texas; and Joe Lewis, Pastor, Virginia.  Click here for more information.

February 26-27, 2007, The Walter and Kay Shurden Lectures on Religious Liberty and Separation of Church and State, Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennessee.  Speaker: Dr. James Dunn.

March 5-7, 2007, True Survivor VII, Scarritt-Bennett Center, Nashville, Tennessee.  For more information click here.

For a full calendar of Baptist events, visit the Online Baptist Community Calendar.

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