Southern Baptists Experience Drop in Baptisms While Giving and Membership Grow
 
BY RUSS RANKIN                                                                                                                 © 2006 Baptist Press

ecently compiled statistics for the Southern Baptist Convention show that baptisms-–which rebounded in 2004 after a four-year decline-–slumped again in 2005, according to LifeWay Christian Resources President and CEO Thom S. Rainer.
 
According to the Annual Church Profile (ACP), information gathered by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, baptisms last year dropped from 387,947 to 371,850, or -4.15 percent.
 
“Southern Baptists should view this report as a wakeup call,” Rainer said, noting that the totals for baptisms dropped to the lowest since 1993. “We must focus our efforts, prayers and resources on reaching people for Christ. Baptism is the outward act of obedience that pictures God’s work of redemption in a believer’s life, and so for Southern Baptists the ACP figures indicate we are faltering in our efforts to reach a lost world.”
 
There was growth in some areas, however. The ACP showed a net increase of 234 churches established in 2005 for a total of 43,699, up from 43,465 in 2004. Total membership increased slightly to reach 16,270,315, and total receipts and missions expenditures were up.

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Navy Asks Chaplains to Practice `Nonsectarian' Religion in Public
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service 

A new U.S. Navy policy has become another point of contention in an ongoing battle over the appropriate role of religion in military ranks.
 
The Feb. 21 "instruction" from the secretary of the Navy has prompted protests at recent Washington events hosted by evangelical Christians and in a letter from a Virginia-based legal firm known for defending religious rights.
 
"I am a Navy chaplain and I pray in Jesus' name," said Navy Chaplain (Lt.) Gordon James Klingenschmitt, drawing a standing ovation at a "War on Christians" conference in Washington in late March.
 
While the Norfolk, Va.-based chaplain interprets the new rules as preventing him from praying as he wishes outside worship services, others say the rules justifiably call for greater inclusiveness under some circumstances.
 
Outside chapel services, "religious elements for a command function, absent extraordinary circumstances, should be nonsectarian in nature," reads the instruction. It adds that "religious elements" included in such cases will occur under "the commander's guidance."
 
Klingenschmitt disagrees with the notion that military officials should be making such decisions. "That's not the commanding officer's job," said the chaplain, who is affiliated with a small evangelical denomination called the Evangelical Episcopal Church. "It's the civilian bishop's job and I answer to my civilian bishop."
 
Lt. William Marks, a Navy spokesman, said of the new regulation, "There's nothing in that new instruction anywhere that forbids anyone from praying to Jesus or praying in Jesus' name."
 
But Marks said when chaplains give an invocation at a ceremony marking a promotion or retirement, "we ask that they be inclusive." The regulation notes that chaplains have the right to conduct worship services "according to the manner and forms" of their religious organizations.
 
Klingenschmitt was joined by former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a March 30 press conference outside the White House to criticize the new rules. "What has been issued is an unlawful order," said Moore, whose defiance about his placement of a Ten Commandments monument in a state courthouse led to his ouster from the bench.
 
In a letter to Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter, Rutherford Institute President John Whitehead said the new rules interfere with the free exercise of religion. "Interpreted broadly, this policy prohibits Navy chaplains from using sectarian language in prayers in most situations other than formal worship settings," Rutherford wrote in a March 29 letter. "Furthermore, the policy places the responsibility for determining what is and is not appropriate in such prayers on Navy commanders."
 
Others who worry that a cultural war is being waged within military ranks say the call for inclusivity outside worship services is appropriate. The Rev. Herman Keizer Jr., chairman of the National Conference on Ministry to the Armed Forces, notes that a Department of Defense directive calls for chaplains to agree to serve in a religiously diverse environment. "There ... is a changing demographic within the military that makes us acknowledge the fact that we have to attend more to the differences that we have and if we can find neutral language for our prayers that is not offensive, we can make the choice to use those," he said.
 
 
Gallup: Church of Christ Members Have Highest Attendance Rate
 
BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                                                        © 2006 Religion News Service 

A new analysis by the Gallup Organization finds that Church of Christ members and Mormons are most likely to attend worship services often.
 
Pollsters found that 68 percent of Church of Christ members said they attend services at least once a week or almost every week, followed by 67 percent of Mormons who said they followed the same practice.
 
The Princeton, N.J.-based research organization, which released its results on April 14, analyzed worship attendance by looking at more than 11,000 Gallup Poll interviews conducted between 2002 and 2005.
 
It found that churches known for conservative or evangelical theology have higher reported attendance than those that traditionally considered mainline denominations. For example, 60 percent of Southern Baptists reported attending church at least once a week or almost every week compared to 44 percent of Methodists.
 
The research also showed that Catholics are close to the average percentage of people who worship once a week or almost every week—44 percent. Forty-five percent of Catholics reported such attendance in the interviews between 2002 and 2005.
 
That demonstrates a shift in attendance patterns from decades ago. Gallup data from 1971 showed that 57 percent of Catholics said they had attended church "within the last seven days," compared to 37 percent of Protestants.
 
Among the lowest percentage of service attenders between 2002 and 2005 were Episcopalians, with about a third reporting regular attendance, and Jews, with 15 percent reporting regular synagogue attendance.
 
The breakdown for some specific denominations was as follows:
    Church of Christ: 68 percent
    Mormon: 67 percent
    Pentecostal: 65 percent
    Southern Baptist: 60 percent
    Nondenominational Protestant: 54 percent
    Catholic: 45 percent
    Methodist: 44 percent
    Presbyterian: 44 percent
    Lutheran: 43 percent
    Episcopal: 32 percent
    Jewish: 15 percent.
 
 
Poll: Majority of Americans Don't Believe in Evolution
 
BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                                                             © 2006 Baptist Press

Once again, a nationwide poll shows that Americans are prone not to believe in evolution--even if academic leaders and media members do.
 
The CBS News poll, conducted April 6-9, asked two subgroups of adults different questions about man's origins. Although their answers varied depending on the question, in each instance they rejected secular evolution -- that is, the belief that God was not involved at all in the process:
 
-- In the first subgroup, 53 percent of adults agreed that "God created human beings in their present form." Twenty-three percent believed that "human beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years, but God guided the process," and 17 percent believed that human beings evolved but "God did not directly guide" it. The subgroup included 468 adults.
 
-- In the second subgroup, 44 percent agreed with the statement that "God created human beings in their present form within the last ten thousand years." The rest of the question was identical to the one posed to the first subgroup. In this instance, 30 percent believed that God guided evolution, and 17 percent believed in secular evolution. This subgroup included 431 adults.
 
The debate over evolution has divided Americans since at least the late 1800s, and that divide deepened after the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial" in Tennessee in 1925.

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