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Bible challenge draws response from clergy

SoVaNow.com / February 12, 2014
A recent letter from Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools James Thornton concerning the long-time practice of the Gideon Society handing out Bibles in school buildings has drawn a response from local clergy, who are planning a rally to support the Gideons.

Due to the expected snowstorm, the rally, originally scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 13 at New Hope Church in South Hill, is rescheduled to Thursday, Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. at New Hope Church.

Thornton recently notified parents that an organization known as the Freedom from Religion Foundation has questioned the legality of allowing the Gideon Society to leave religious materials on designated tables in the schools for interested students. He wrote, “This organization has given MCPS until Feb. 10, to make a decision as to whether to continue the practice of open distribution for all, or to refrain from allowing any organizations (to include the Gideons and FFRF) from the opportunity to distribute religious related materials in our school buildings. Should the board continue its practice, this organization, along with potentially any others would be able to ‘passively distribute’ materials to our children.”

A meeting set for Feb. 6 during which Thornton said he would hear parental input was subsequently cancelled as the School Board sought additional guidance from its legal counsel.

The reaction from the faith-based community this week was swift, with pastors from South Hill, Boydton, Emporia and Lawrenceville calling for the community to stand together against the Freedom from Religion Foundation challenge.

Anthony Wall, who serves as the youth minister at Olive Branch Baptist Church organized a rally — not a political event, he said, but “a spiritual reawakening” for people who are passionate about their religious beliefs.

“The point of the rally,” said Wall, “is to ensure that our students are free to express themselves and their religious beliefs,” regardless of the setting. “We are not calling for any boycott, but we are asking all those who are passionate in their religious beliefs to make their voices heard” at a meeting of the school board or by direct communication with school officials.

Wall said he and other clergy with whom he discussed Thornton’s letter did not see it as a challenge but as an invitation for self-evaluation. He said, “The greatest threat to our Christian beliefs is not opponents from the outside, it’s apathy from within.”

“Ultimately this [challenge from the Freedom From Religion Organization] is a good thing,” said Wall, explaining that it allows people with deeply held religious convictions to share prayers, and music in celebration of their views. “There will be a love offering for the local Gideon ministry and I hope to be able to give Bibles to people who want them,” said Wall.

Wall’s band, Footstool, will lead the worship and Robbie McMillan will perform Christian contemporary music to close the event.

When it is over, Wall said he hopes the people are “fired up and ready to empower the church.”

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