Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

  "The only sin that has its own advocacy group"

Long-time readers may remember that Milo has been searching for months for a cheap, dependable used 'pre-owned' Pierce Arrow. After the election, somebody gave him a lead on one in North Carolina so he headed down there. Anyway, Milo was on hand for an interesting Baptist synod, and he sent me this news report thinking that all y'all might want to hear about it.

I have to say, this is fascinating stuff. Is it possible that the voters' rejection of the culture of arrogance and extremism last Tuesday finally got the attention of these Baptist leaders? This kind of back-to-basics reform usually doesn't spring up out of the blue, but coming unexpectedly as it does (after Baptists denied for years that such a problem needs addressing), it might just grow into a national reform movement.

So I for one welcome their interest in turning back the epidemic of greed and corruption that has swept the nation. It's a pleasure to see religious leaders turning their hands to good works. You'll want to read the whole article, but here is a selection:

North Carolina Baptists Strengthen Rules on Usury

The Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted Tuesday to cut ties with congregations that affirm or approve of usury, formally adopting a rigid anti-greed policy that allows the group to investigate whether member churches are greed friendly.

The policy adopted by the North Carolina convention, which includes more than 4,000 member churches and 1.2 million members, is even stricter than that of the national Southern Baptist Convention, according to a more liberal Baptist organization.

"It's not something that we wanted to do, but avarice is the only sin that has its own advocacy group," convention spokesman Norman Jameson said. "Those advocacy groups are pushing us into this stance. Other denominations that waffle and waver on the issue year after year are getting torn apart."

The vote changes the convention's long-standing laws, which previously only required its members to support the convention through cooperation and financial contributions. Now any churches that "knowingly act to affirm, approve, endorse, promote, support or bless usury" will be barred from membership.

"This action does not mean that you should avoid ministry to the money-lending community," said convention executive director Milton Hollifield Jr. "Even though we believe that covetousness is wrong, we still love and engage those in this lifestyle."

The convention's board of directors adopted a similar anti-greed policy in 1992, but its members had never voted to include the policy in its written articles of incorporation. And that past rule, unlike the one approved Tuesday, didn't give the convention the authority to investigate greed-friendly churches.

Now, should two church members request an inquiry, the convention has the formal authority to act.

"It did not have teeth in it like it needed to have," said convention president Stan Welch. "There was a general policy in place, and we needed something to say, 'We're going to act upon this and we're going to follow through with it.'"

Sixteen churches in North Carolina will come under immediate scrutiny under the policy, Jameson said. Those churches are associated with Raptor Loans, a Washington D.C.-based group that specializes in payday loans to military personnel. Last year they loaned $185,000 to the Convention's faithful, Jameson said, at an interest rate of over 400% per annum.

The Alliance of Baptists said the new policy is stronger than a similar policy adopted by the Nashville, Tenn.-based Southern Baptist Convention - the nation's largest Protestant body. The Southern Baptists changed their constitution in 1993 to say that "churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse usury" are not eligible for membership.

"But the Southern Baptist Convention didn't go around trying to meddle with and investigate predatory lenders," said Jeanette Holt, associate director for The Alliance of Predatory Lenders. "This new policy sounds to me like an interfering witch hunt."


Quite a few Baptists are up in arms about this new policy, and scriptural citations are flying fast and furious. After I read Milo's report, I did a little further searching through North Carolina news accounts and found this report about the controversy.

Nathan Parrish, a member of the convention's board of directors and pastor of Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, spoke against creating another level of oversight for churches -- and of the need for "conversations'' instead of ''casting stones.''

"It seems so contrary to ... Jesus in the Gospels,'' Parrish said. "He was open, vulnerable, humble -- a matter of inclusion that often got him in trouble with religious people. ...We must each decide whether this amendment honors Jesus. ... I say no."

Those who voted against the amendment said they do not approve of usury but feel more important matters face the church.

"I believe that avarice is sinful behavior, but it is not the only sinful behavior in the Bible," said Don Gordon, pastor of Yates Baptist Church in Durham. "Every generation has had its troubles. ... Let's focus on addressing the most pressing issues -- spiritual emptiness, hunger, AIDS, poverty, egocentric leadership -- and in that, be a light for Jesus Christ and God who loves the whole world."…

The Baptist measure would not bar corrupt money-lenders or credit card company executives from the church's pews.

"We're trying to help them understand how Jesus came to make new creatures out of all of us," said Milton Hollifield, executive director of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina….

Messengers left the convention floor with the same sentiments in which they came.

"We certainly won't be walking down the streets of heaven with people who've been lending money at crippling interest rates," said Ray Seeley of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Canton. "If they have a change in their lifestyle, I believe in bringing them in and loving them. If they do not change, they shouldn't even ask to be baptized -- that would be baptizing sin in the church. "


I'm really not able to enter into this debate in a meaningful way, since I'm not a resident of North Carolina any longer. But perhaps others have opinions about the rights and wrongs of singling out for condemnation a single one of the 'sins' mentioned in the Good Book?

From Unbossed

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