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CULTURE DIGEST: ‘See You at the Pole’ is in 15th year

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–As teenagers gather around flagpoles Sept. 15 to intercede for their leaders, schools and families, they will be marking the 15th year of the grass-roots prayer event called “See You at the Pole” that began in Texas.

Over the years, millions of young people worldwide have come together for this national day of student prayer, asking God to ignite a spiritual awakening on their campuses and in their countries.

Last year, more than 2 million teenagers met for See You at the Pole in all 50 states, according to a news release from the National Network of Youth Ministries. Many prayed about the United States’ involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Students in other countries such as Australia, Canada, Brazil, Japan and Nigeria also observed the time of prayer.

This year will also mark the fifth anniversary of the tragedy at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 15, 1999. Four youth and three adults were killed during a See You at the Pole-related service at the church when Larry Gene Ashbrook broke into the rally, wielding two pistols and a pipe bomb. He killed seven and injured seven before taking his own life.

SCHROCK STEPS DOWN — U.S. Rep. Edward L. Schrock, R.-Va., has announced his retirement amid rumors he is a homosexual. Schrock has been an outspoken opponent of gays in the military and a supporter of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex “marriage,” so the development was a shock to many constituents in his conservative district, which includes Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

Schrock, 63, cited unspecified allegations in a statement released Aug. 30 signaling he will not seek a third term in Congress. Claims that the congressman is a homosexual were posted on a Web log Aug. 19 by Michael Rogers, who said his goal is to expose “hypocrites” in Congress, according to a report by the Associated Press.

In his statement, Schrock said the claims “have called into question my ability to represent the citizens of Virginia’s Second Congressional District.”

A retired Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, Schrock and his wife are considered active members of Atlantic Shores Baptist Church, an independent Baptist congregation in Virginia Beach.

Thelma Drake, a member of the Virginia state House’s conservative GOP majority, has been tapped to replace Schrock on the November ballot.

DOCUMENTARY HIGHLIGHTS BUSH’S FAITH — In response to Michael Moore’s controversial documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” Grizzly Adams Productions is releasing a 70-minute investigative piece called “George W. Bush: Faith in the White House.”

“[The documentary] reveals a positive side of President Bush never reported by the news media through interviews with people who have encountered Bush in a faith-based way,” David W. Balsiger, the film’s producer, said in a news release. “Our documentary reveals this is the most faith-based presidency since Abraham Lincoln.”

Balsiger said his documentary is a striking contrast to Fahrenheit 9/11, which has been described by reviewers as “Bush-bashing, incendiary and manipulative.”

Faith in the White House is based on two books about Bush’s faith — David Aikman’s “A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush” and Tom Freiling’s “George W. Bush on God and Country” — and on testimony from critics and presidential contacts. Critics featured in the film include Susan Jacoby and Robert Sheer of the Los Angeles Times; Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner’s magazine; actor Richard Gere; presidential candidate Ralph Nader; and Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, according to the release.

The documentary was unveiled in New York City Aug. 31, coinciding with the Republican National Convention, and is set for release on DVD Oct. 5, the same day Fahrenheit 9/11 hits stores. The possibilities of a network TV debut and a fall theatrical release also have been mentioned.

Grizzly Adams Productions has created more than 500 family-friendly television specials and series for NBC, CBS, Discovery, The Learning Channel and other networks.

SERMONS VIA VIDEO GROWING POPULAR — A growing number of churches are employing a new, cost-effective method for reaching a generation raised on video games and computers: sermons via video. But some say the concept defeats the purpose of the local church.

In an atmosphere that feels like a coffeehouse, worshipers sit around tables sipping tea and coffee and eating muffins between hymns, according to a feature by the Washington Post Sept. 5. After the live music, a sermon, often preached at a nearby church, is delivered on a video screen.

The Post said this combination of technology and religion is taking off at congregations across the country as an attractive option to the young.

“Most people would say, ‘Well, that’s crazy. Why would you want something on a screen when you can see someone live?'” Walter Jones told the Post. “But my son plays a lot of video games, he goes online, he does his schoolwork on the computer, so he’s used to it. It’s very relaxing for him.”

Such leaders in the contemporary church movement as Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., are pushing the video concept, the Post said. And Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Ill., has no preaching pastor on staff and instead utilizes a videotape library of sermons from other top preachers in the state. The church has grown from 100 members to 3,000 in six years.

Many churches consider video-based preaching a method to save money that would otherwise go to paying a preaching pastor’s salary. It’s an easy way to start branch churches, some say.

But is the concept biblically-based?

“The New Testament image of the body of Christ is a fellowship of believers where I am known at church and if I’m not there I’m missed,” Eddie Gibbs, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., said in the Post.

“It’s a cold medium…. It can feed a celebrity image,” he said. “You can build a sort of celebrity focus, and the pastor becomes a celebrity because [he] is distanced from the congregation…. Pastors should know the people they are preaching to.”

GATES PUSHES EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH — Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corporation, has donated $400,000 to a campaign trying to win approval of a measure that would allow California to sell $3 billion in bonds over 10 years to fund embryonic stem cell research, according to Bloomberg.com.

Embryonic stem cell research results in the killing of a human embryo. Adult stem cell research extracts cells from bone marrow, umbilical cord blood and other non-embryonic sources.

Supporters of embryonic stem cell research claim that this line of study has the most potential for creating cures, but that is not evident in the priorities of the multi-billion dollar biotechnology industry, which has invested many times over more in adult stem cell research. Also, while embryonic stem cell research has experienced multiple failures, including the worsening of Parkinson’s symptoms in one test group, adult stem cell research already has produced over 40 treatments including the repair of damaged livers and remedies for heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries. Recent research promises a cure for arthritis.

The campaign for forced government spending on embryonic stem cell research has raised $12 million so far, and if the ballot measure passes, California would become the largest source of state funding for studies using stem cells. A campaign against the measure has raised $15,000.

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  • Erin Curry