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Leaders address issues facing evangelicals

LYNCHBURG, Va. (BP)–Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has no illusions about the critical tasks confronting evangelicals in the Third Millennium. Baptists who are “quoting the Bible by the yard and living it by the inch,” he says, are not going to be the people who will get the job done.

As one of a cohort of national evangelical leaders speaking April 15-16 at the Freedom Federation’s “The Awakening 2010,” Land helped lay out the mission of a growing, multi-generational, multi-ethnic coalition of culture-transforming evangelicals.

The ERLC’s fourth regional pastors’ briefing, held in conjunction with “The Awakening” events on the Liberty University/Thomas Road Baptist Church campuses, was one of several sessions in which Land called on Southern Baptists to look beyond old barriers as they focus on being a force for a biblically inspired, prayer-fed cultural reformation.

Land cited biblical and historical precedence in reminding those assembled that “revival that starts with God’s people getting right through prayer” is the door to awakening and reformation.

“I think there is evidence of revival under the radar all across the country,” Land said. He believes the pro-life seeds that could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in his lifetime have been sown, in fact. That 1973 Supreme Court opinion legalized abortion throughout the country.

“The largest pro-life voting bloc in America [is] people under the age of 37, people who have been born since Roe,” Land said. He pointed to a large pro-life demonstration he recently attended in which he estimated 80 percent of participants to be under the age of 30. They were carrying signs that said, “We survived Roe, but Roe won’t survive us.”

In addition to focusing on issues related to abortion, speakers at the two-day event addressed today’s culturally and politically correct threats to religious freedom, marriage, health care, national security, economic growth and education.

Those key themes resonated as Land moderated a panel discussion on “Politics and People of Faith.” In his opening remarks, he called a tradition of attempting to spread the Gospel while not being controversial “an oxymoron.”

“The Gospel, by its essence and nature, is controversial,” he said. “And it will offend all fallen flesh sooner or later.”

Health-care reform, Land said, has occupied much of the ERLC’s agenda for about the last 18 months. At the forefront of concerns for many Christians, it was a lively topic of discussion at “The Awakening.” Land and Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, believe the health care law is ripe for repeal within the next four years.

“Virtually everyone in this room will live a shorter life than you would have otherwise, if Obamacare stays the law of the land, and you will experience more pain and suffering before you die,” Land said.

“Mr. Obama clearly means it when he says he is willing to be a one-term president,” Land said. “It just so happens, I think, that what he believes is right is horrendously destructive to the country.” He said the health care law is “like applying a tourniquet to the neck.”

Land pointed to what he said are many troubling mandates in the new law, as well as a common thread of what he termed “pro-euthanasia rhetoric.” Like many Southern Baptists, he is most exercised by the law’s provision that federally subsidizes health care plans that cover elective abortions. Land referred to the ERLC’s website, where its 15 points for biblical health-care reform (http://erlc.com/article/erlc-offers-fifteen-principles-for-successful-health-care-reform) are posted.

On day two of “The Awakening,” Land participated in two breakout sessions, the first examining options for a just U.S. immigration policy. Panelists included Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Harry Mihet, an attorney and first-generation Romanian immigrant to the U.S. whose pastor-father was a friend of well-known Romanian dissident and preacher Richard Wurmbrand.

All three men agreed the United States can and must seek ways to provide a reasonable path to citizenship for productive, law-abiding, illegal immigrants who, as Land said, are “breaking the law to work rather than not to work” and are being exploited by wage-stingy employers in the process. That plan, they said, should include fixing the “broken” visa system and formulating a guest-worker program.

“We cannot deport 12 million people,” Land said, using the government’s conservative estimate of suspected illegal aliens living in the United States. Most immigration experts believe the number is considerably higher — 20 million or more — based on U.S. Border Patrol estimates of border crossings from Mexico alone.

“Do we deport the revitalization of Christian America?” Rodriguez rhetorically asked, alluding to the high percentage of faith-driven social conservatives in the large Hispanic-American population.

Mihet, citing America as a true “promised land” for him and his family members who managed to flee from formerly Communist Romania, said, “America must continue to shine as a beacon of freedom.”

Land later joined fellow panelists Rick Joyner (Morning Star Ministries, The Oak Initiative) and Rick Scarborough (Vision America) in a session called “Pastors and Political Activity.” The panel addressed practical, biblical and historically effective methods for pastors to inspire their congregations to vote their evangelical values and beliefs and influence the culture for Christ and His Kingdom, rather than continuing to allow the culture to encroach on the church.

“Our country has fallen to one of the lowest states of depravity in the Scriptures a nation can fall to … when we call ‘good evil and evil good,’ when we ‘honor the dishonorable man and dishonor the honorable man,” Joyner said.

Scarborough, who spoke at length about the arc of his own involvement as a pastor in the public square, noted Christians can be “so busy building the church, we forget to be the church.”

Leaders standing shoulder to shoulder at “The Awakening” made it clear they will not shrink from the challenges facing this country and its churches. In fact, Land sees some encouraging trends in Southern Baptist pastoral leadership.

“I have tremendous hope for the future based upon young people,” he said. “We are suffering the results of a generation and a half of theological malformation in our seminaries. So, there is a dearth of leadership in the 35-55 age group. I believe the graduates of the last 10 years and the next 10 years are going to lead us to the greatest days the Southern Baptist Convention has ever seen.”
Debbie Thurman is a writer in Monroe, Va.

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