|EDITOR'S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each week from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today's BP Ledger contains items from:
World News Service
Aquilla Smith, former WMU state executive director, dies
By Shannon Baker
SPARTANBURG, S.C. (BP) -- Aquilla Ann Brown Smith, a former Woman's Missionary Union state executive director for Maryland/Delaware, New Mexico and South Carolina, died Feb. 7. She was 70.
Smith retired on medical disability at the end of 2005 after serving the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware for a decade as a consultant for the WMU as executive director, missions education, special education, coordinator of On Missions Celebration (World Missions Conference), Women's Enrichment Ministry, advisor to the Maryland/Delaware support staff and director/treasurer for Camp Wo-Me-To, a camp in Jarrettsville, Md., owned and operated by WMU.
She also served 18 years in the New Mexico Convention and four and a half years in the South Carolina Convention.
Smith, who is the wife of Lonnie L. Smith and daughter of the late Frank and Aquilla Wilkins Brown, was introduced to missions at an early age.
"Missions is in my blood and it has been from the time missionaries came and spoke at our church and stayed in our house when I was a child," Smith told BaptistLIFE at her retirement. "My parents set the example. They didn't have a whole lot materially, but Mama and Daddy shared with people who needed things such as food and clothing. They also supported the special missions offerings like Annie Armstrong, Lottie Moon and State Missions, as well as the South Carolina Children's Home, in addition to tithing."
Smith was raised in the rural community of Goucher in Gaffney, S.C. She made a confession of faith when she was nine years old at an August revival service at her church, Goucher Baptist Church in Gaffney. Later she graduated from Limestone College in Gaffney and did graduate work at the University of South Carolina, Spartanburg, in special education and counseling.
She spent two years in Guatemala, Central America, as one of the Foreign Mission Board's (now IMB) first missionary journeymen group where she taught missionary children. She also taught history and special education in South Carolina before becoming the director of Baptist Women (now Women on Mission) for the South Carolina's Woman's Missionary Union. In 1978, she became executive director of WMU for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. She was called to Maryland in 1996.
Since beginning to work professionally with WMU in 1973, Smith had the privilege to serve with five state executive directors and five division directors. In New Mexico and Maryland, in particular, she was a transition person seeing many changes in the organization of WMU: most notably, younger women serving on the WMU Executive Board and in other places of leadership.
Gayla Parker, who followed Smith in her ministry at the BCM/D, noted, "One of the hardest things in ministry is to follow someone who so passionately gives her all to a ministry. As soon as I arrived in Maryland I knew that I was following a woman who had given her life passionately to the cause of missions and missions education through WMU."
Parker added, "Every where I went I heard stories about Aquilla; how she gave, how she worked, how she lead, and how she inspired. When I finally met her for the first time I met a gracious, humble and very kind woman. She was a spiritual giant that will be greatly missed but her legacy will live on through the women and girls who learned to live out their faith from Aquilla Smith."
Smith enjoyed working in all the churches, with church plants and with language churches. Smith said she enjoyed providing training, planning events, setting up mission trips and especially making new friends.
She was a member of First Baptist Church in Laurel, Md., while in Maryland.
Surviving in addition to her husband is a sister, Mildred Wilson and husband, Don, of Shelby, N.C.; a nephew, George Wilson and wife, Susan, of Shelby; a niece, Margaret Bradshaw and husband, Dan, of Hillsborough, N.C.; two great-nephews. She was preceded in death by a brother, Basil Brown.
The family will receive friends from 12 until 1 PM on Saturday, February 9, 2013 at Goucher Baptist Church. Funeral services will immediately follow at 1 PM at the Church with Rev. Norman Gardner officiating. Interment will be in the Goucher Baptist Church Cemetery. An online guest register is available at www.blakelyfuneralhome.com.
Memorials may be made to: Baptist Family and Children's Services of Maryland, Inc., 7161-A Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, MD 21046.
With reporting by Sharon Mager. BaptistLIFE is a publication of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware
Joint worship prompts church reprimand
By Whitney Williams
NEWTOWN, Conn. (World News Service) -- A Lutheran pastor in Newtown, Conn., apologized Feb. 7 for taking part in an interfaith vigil after December's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The Rev. Rob Morris' apology came after The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod reprimanded him, for giving the closing benediction at a Dec. 16 service that included Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders, among others. His participation inadvertently gave the impression he was involved in joint worship with clergy from other religions, the church said. The denomination bars joint worship because it doesn't want to appear to mix its beliefs with those of other faiths.
In a statement posted Feb. 1 on a denominational blog, the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Pastor Matthew Harrison, said Morris took "specific and commendable" steps to avoid violating the church's constitution: Morris requested an announcement before the event that participating clergy were not endorsing each other's views, and he read from Scripture.
However, Harrison concluded the event amounted to joint worship since other clergy wore their vestments and the vigil included prayers and religious readings.
"There is sometimes a real tension between wanting to bear witness to Christ and at the same time avoiding situations which may give the impression that our differences with respect to who God is, who Jesus is, how he deals with us, and how we get to heaven, really don't matter in the end," Harrison wrote.
Though Morris does not believe he engaged in joint worship, he has apologized, Harrison said, adding, "I accept his apology."
Morris responded by saying he did not intend to endorse false teaching and apologized to those who took it that way.
"I did not believe my participation to be an act of joint worship, but one of mercy and care to a community shocked and grieving an unspeakably horrific event," he said. "However, I recognize others in our church consider it to constitute joint worship and I understand why."
This is not the first time the 2.3 million-member denomination, separate from the larger, liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has reprimanded one of its leaders for "unionism." A Missouri Synod pastor, Rev. David Benke, was suspended for a time after participating in an interfaith service soon after the Sept. 11 attacks. About two dozen pastors and a few congregations complained about Benke's involvement.
While some may view the church's stance as petty and isolationist, others question the value of interfaith events at a time when so many theological differences separate even Christian denominations. As evangelical speaker and author, Dr. Ray Pritchard says, "What's the point?"
"In what meaningful sense can evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, liberal protestants, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims come together for an 'interfaith' service?" he asked following President Barack Obama's first inauguration, which included leaders from a variety of faiths. "We aren't praying to the same God. We don't even share the same conception of God."
CHINA: Should religious freedom be a "core interest"?
By Magda Hornemann, Forum 18 News Service
What might lead to an improvement in China's freedom of religion or belief record? Are there any long-term factors that would influence China's new political leaders to improve the situation - or indeed to go in the opposite direction? Any analysis of such long-term prospects must take into account macro political factors, given that China's political establishment views religious freedom and related human rights through the lens of their perception of their political interests.
Increasingly, China's leaders have been stressing what they see as China's "core interests". If these interests are as important for the leadership as they say they are, the future of religious freedom in China is deeply connected to the relationship between this freedom and these core interests. In fact, it appears that religious freedom violations sponsored by the state are undermining China's core interests. If so, it will be in the interest of China's leaders to take effective measures to promote religious freedom.
Recent freedom of religion and belief violations
Dramatic improvements in the religious freedom of - for example - Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetan Buddhists, and Uighur Muslims, will be required before it can be said that there are very significant improvements in China's religious freedom conditions. Unfortunately, the religious freedom situation in 2012 demonstrates that such improvements have yet to be achieved.
Among numerous 2012 violations, a Christian Chinese-Canadian businesswoman was detained for visiting the Shouwang Church in the capital city of Beijing and another house church in Shanxi Province, while from January
2012 government officials were appointed to manage Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in place of "loyal" monks (see F18News 20 March 2012 ).
In June, officials of China's State Security Ministry forced a Hong Kong-registered religious non-governmental organization (NGO) to halt a scheduled training camp for mainland Chinese students (see F18News 12 July
Catholic Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was placed under house arrest after he resigned from the state-approved Catholic Patriotic Association (see F18News 26 November 2012 ). In December he was stripped of his title by the state.
Furthermore, in a sign of the Chinese government's refusal to engage with the international community on the issue of religious freedom, it denied a request by the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom to visit China in February 2012.
Explanations for freedom of religion or belief violations
Different explanations have been offered for why such religious freedom violations continue.
The most commonly cited explanation is communist ideology. Diehard believers in communism find repugnant any belief that is not atheism. But communism has a declining number of real believers in today's China. Even many Communist Party of China (CPC) members do not believe in communism, given the evidence that senior state officials often engage in "superstitious" practices. Indeed, members of the banned Falun Gong movement originally included government officials and CPC members. Even though the CPC remains China's ruling party, communism exists in China mainly in name only (see F18News 20 March 2012 ).
A related explanation is that such violations occur because of the absence of the rule of law, which also affects other areas of Chinese society such as NGOs (see F18News 12 July 2012 ). This reflects the fact that the communist party-state is above the law and employs laws and regulations to serve state interests.
Other explanations are that such violations are the result of wider state policies. Thus, the state's wish to control the economy - also including the financial aspect of religious sites - promotes conflicts involving officials and religious communities (see F18News 12 September 2012 ). Similarly, the state's control of the media to limit popular knowledge of religious beliefs, and curtail criticism of the state, seems to promote a climate of hostility to freedom of religion or belief (see F18News 21 May 2012 ). State control of the internet also limits the ability of Chinese citizens to advocate for religious freedom (see F18News 29 November 2012 ). Continued...