News Articles

Uzbekistan’s new religion law draws European Baptist protest

HAMBURG, Germany (BP)–A letter protesting Uzbekistan’s new religion law has been sent to the nation’s government from the European Baptist Federation’s general secretary, Karl Heinz Walter, and president, David Coffey, asking the religious freedom of Uzbek citizens be upheld.
Baptists in the former Soviet republic would have trouble meeting the new requirements for registering or re-registering, according to an Aug. 7 report by European Baptist Press Service. The requirements, which Walter and Coffey said could lead to discriminatory treatment of some religious groups, include reporting a church membership of no less than 100 Uzbeks and paying a fee equivalent to $350, EBPS reported.
The letter by Walter, of Germany, and Coffey, of Great Britain, was sent to the Uzbekistan Ministry of Justice.
The law, passed in May, went into effect before groups such as the Baptists had seen it, according to Pavel A. Peychev, president of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of Middle Asia, EBPS reported.
Many evangelical groups are smaller in size than 100 members, the European Baptist leaders noted.
“Membership in Baptist churches is only possible by a personal decision and confession of faith in Jesus Christ and not by birth,” the EBF leaders wrote. “Therefore the number of membership in Baptist churches is relatively small.” By comparison, the former Soviet law allowed registration of churches with 20 or more members, Walter and Coffey wrote.
Concerning the registration fee, smaller groups with members who have low-paying jobs or on pensions would have a hard time getting together such an amount, the EBPS report noted, adding historically evangelicals have been barred from higher education and higher-paying jobs. At the moment, pensioners receive the equivalent of $25 a month, EBPS reported.
Local churches cannot import Christian literature or other materials, or establish schools for Christian education, under the provisions of the new law, EBPS reported. Only religious centers such as unions will be allowed these functions. But the unions must also register or re-register. And to do so, the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists in Middle Asia, for example, must report no fewer than eight congregations in eight different parts of Uzbekistan. Because of the small sizes of the churches and their financial inability to pay registration fees, finding eight churches in eight different areas could be difficult, EBPS reported.
The EBF leaders called on the Uzbek government to make the legal changes needed to ensure religious freedom for all religious groups in Uzbekistan.

Global warming campaign launched
by National Council of Churches
By Art Toalston

WASHINGTON (BP)–Targeting the issue of global warming, 22 member bodies of the National Council of Churches have launched a campaign to push the U.S. Senate to ratify the Kyoto Protocol negotiated last December in a United Nations-sponsored conference in Kyoto, Japan.
The Southern Baptist Convention is not participating in the initiative, an Aug. 15 New York Times article about the NCC campaign noted.
A. William Merrell, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee vice president for convention relations, told The Times, “There is considerable debate in the scientific community on the whole issue of global warming, enough to learn that working scientists are not monolithic on the question.”
Merrell also said, “The convention itself has not taken a position, and in view of the unsettled science, it seems unlikely that we will take such a position.”
The Times also reported, “The National Association of Evangelicals has also largely stayed away from environmental issues, although it is planning a conference to discuss them next March.”
The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, however, has addressed a range of environmental issues, devoting its 1991 national conference to the topic and continuing to make available a number of environmental-related materials in ethics resources offered to Southern Baptist churches.
The NCC participants, in launching their campaign, sent a letter to President Clinton and all members of the Senate Aug. 10 urging ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which, as summarized by The Times, “calls on developed countries to make deep cuts in emissions of heat-trapping gases like the carbon dioxide that comes from burning fossil fuels, with the United States reducing 1990 levels by 7 percent over the next 10 to 15 years.”
In their letter to Clinton and the senators, the NCC leaders described the Kyoto Protocol as “an important move toward protecting God’s children and God’s creation.”
“We continue to be astonished by the widespread failure to understand that climate change affects not only justice for future generations, but justice in the present,” the NCC leaders wrote. “If the emissions causing climate change are calculated back to 1800, the United States is responsible for more than 30% of the total. Yet the least developed nations which have made a much less significant contribution to the problem are already feeling the effects of climate change and will be the most several impacted in the future.
“For this reason alone,” the NCC leaders contended, “the United States has a special responsibility to address the problem of climate change without delay.”
In The Times article, the NCC’s general secretary, Joan Brown Campbell, was quoted as saying the NCC leaders intend for the global warming issue to become “a litmus test for the faith community.” However, Campbell’s comments should have been more accurately reported as, “a litmus test for faith communities’ commitment to stewardship of God’s creation,” said Paul Gorman, executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, in an Aug. 17 interview with Baptist Press.
Gorman volunteered the Southern Baptist Convention, while not participating in the NCC initiative, “has taken care for God’s creation very seriously … addressing it in your own distinctive way.”
Gorman said he hopes SBC leaders will maintain an awareness of the scientific community’s studies of global warming.
The issue, however, has prompted a lively debate in the scientific community.
In April, for example, the National Academy of Sciences’ council disassociated the academy from an initiative by one of its former presidents attacking the scientific conclusions underlying international efforts to control emissions of industrial waste gases believed to cause global warming, according to a New York Times report April 22.
Frederick Seitz, a past academy president and president emeritus of Rockefeller University, had been circulating a petition which backers said had drawn the signatures of 15,000 scientists urging the United States to reject the Kyoto Protocol, The Times reported.
The National Academy of Sciences’ council, however, voted on April 20 to issue a statement that the petition “does not reflect the conclusion of expert reports of the academy.”
Gorman acknowledged differences over “the degree” of threat posed by global warming. How to respond to the issue, he said, “is extremely complex.”
At the least, Gorman said, “The scientific consensus on the long-term danger was sufficiently clear that all the nations of the world meeting in Kyoto recognize that something must be done.”
Among recent books on the subject, Thomas Gale Moore, an economist at the Hoover Institution in California, writes in “Climate of Fear: Why We Shouldn’t Worry About Global Warming:” “The theory is weak and the models on which the conclusions are based cannot even replicate the current climate.”
Meanwhile, S. George Philander, a geoscientist at Princeton University, writes in “Is the Temperature Rising? The Uncertain Science of Global Warming:” “The growth (of greenhouse gases) is exponential, a dangerous situation that calls for action long before there is clear evidence of impending trouble.”
WORLD magazine devoted its Aug. 8 cover article to the issue of global warming and the Kyoto Protocol.
According to a New York Times report Jan. 9 of this year, the earth’s average surface temperature in 1997 was the highest ever recorded. However, The Times reported, “The rise in temperature, measured in minute fractions of a degree to about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, was not great and did not exceed the previous record (1990) by much, and several experts cautioned against making too much of it, given the role of El Nino.” The Times noted experts also pointed out, even without El Nino, the 1997 reading “extended a broad, general trend that has made the 1990’s the world’s warmest decade since people began measuring temperatures with thermometers in the mid-19th century.” On Aug. 11, USA Today reported July was the world’s warmest month on record and 1998 is on track to become “the planet’s hottest known year,” according to data from the National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, N.C.

Prodigal son finds faith
in drug recovery program
By Laurie A. Lattimore

BESSEMER, Ala. (BP)–It is hard for Steve Willmon not to get emotional when he talks about the City of Hope, a Bible-based drug recovery program offered through the Bessemer (Ala.) Rescue Mission.
He sent his two sons WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do”) bracelets. The 12- and 14-year-olds sent him back a card with the words, “We Won’t Judge Dad.”
For the former drug addict who has had a hard time forgiving himself, those words proved to him what God is capable of doing. “God is good; he is a restorer,” Willmon said.
The Alabama native spent his youth in Beirut, Lebanon, growing up a son of Southern Baptist missionaries. Wanting to prove to all the “snotty-nosed rich kids” at his private American boarding school that he was cool, he tapped into the Lebanese drug culture at age 11. When he moved back to the United States at age 19, his life was one of bar-hopping and doping up. He spent a year in jail for drug possession.
Jail didn’t reform Willmon, but it did give him some incentive for working. Starting his own business in sales, he eventually built up an extremely successful fund-raising/marketing corporation that raked in $9 million annually. Married and divorced within a year, his drug addiction just grew deeper, however. When he wanted to shoot up at work, he recounted putting cocaine in a nasal spray bottle and snorting it.
Willmon married again and lived the good life, complete with a great house, snazzy car — the works. But his business could not keep up with his $500-a-day drug habit. He eventually declared bankruptcy.
“I lost everything — the Jag, the pool, the cute wife,” he said. “I stayed in $20 motels, went to a local store and stole cigarettes and booze.” He finally broke down and called his mother sometime last year. She told him she had been saving an article from The Alabama Baptist newsjournal about a rescue mission in Bessemer.
“I came here to do a year,” Willmon said, admitting he looked at it like doing jail time. But his attitude changed quickly.
Now the missionary kid — who went to church because his late father was pastor — has discovered a true relationship with Jesus Christ.
“I have a hard time forgiving myself,” Willmon said, especially when he realizes the time he missed out on being a good parent to his sons, Chase, 14, and Brooks, 12. “But I know God has forgiven me, and that just shows me how much love he has for me.”
Now Willmon is dedicated to putting his business savvy toward helping the place he truly considers to be a rescue mission. Organizing a telemarketing fund-raising campaign, he has new outlook on life. No longer concerned about the image — the cars, the clothes, the money — he is putting all his energy to serving God.
“I never realized how blessed I’ve been,” he said. “This place has been great to me; they’ve got a good thing going.”