EDITOR'S NOTE: Culture Digest will not be published during the Easter weekend but will resume Friday, April 5.
NASHVILLE (BP) -- International evangelist Luis Palau, a native of Argentina, vouched for the character of his personal friend Pope Francis and described the pope's faith in an interview with Christianity Today.
"He's a man of strong convictions. He isn't swayed by the powers that be of any kind, even political," Palau said in CT March 14. "He's very strong on moral issues."
Palau, who is roughly the same age as the pope, said that in their conversations through the years, Francis was "always especially concerned for the young people."
"Every time we talked about the state of Christianity in the world, he would bring up secularization and the distancing of the church from the young generation," Palau said. "... said, 'Give those young people the Gospel. ... They need to hear the pure Gospel.' And he knows what he is saying when he says the Gospel."
As the Roman Catholic Church's pope, Palau acknowledged "there are issues that need to be talked about, prayed about, looked at the Bible about" regarding differences in doctrine, though Palau expects Francis to work closely with the evangelical community during his time as pope.
The financial manager for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires, where Francis served as cardinal, is an evangelical Christian, Palau told CT. Francis believed he could trust the man, and they would spend hours reading the Bible and praying and drinking mate, an Argentine green tea.
Regarding the new pope's faith, Palau said, "You know he knew God the Father personally. The way he prayed, the way he talked to the Lord, was of a man who knows Jesus Christ and was very spiritually intimate with the Lord. It's not an effort to pray. He didn't do reading prayers; he just prayed to the Lord spontaneously."
When asked about his leadership style, Palau said Francis is "a very Bible-centered man, a very Jesus Christ-centered man." He added, "Personally, he is more known for his personal love for Christ. He's really centered on Jesus and the Gospel, the pure Gospel."
GOSNELL 'SNIPPED' MANY VIABLE NEWBORNS, JURY TOLD -- A former abortion clinic worker told a jury March 19 she "couldn't give you a number" of how many times Kermit Gosnell killed babies outside the womb by cutting their spinal cords.
Adrienne Moton's testimony came in the trial of Gosnell, 72, who has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of viable children who were killed after delivery and a count of third-degree murder in the death of a Virginia woman who died during a 2009 abortion.
The babies were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at Gosnell's Women's Medical Society clinic in West Philadelphia, a grand jury reported in 2011. After delivery, Gosnell -- or another staff member in his absence -- would jab scissors into the back of a baby's neck and cut the spinal cord, according to the grand jury. Gosnell called the killing of these children "snipping."
He destroyed most of the files, limiting prosecution to only seven cases, the grand jury reported.
Moton, 35, had undergone two abortions from Gosnell as a teenager before she began working at the clinic in 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. He trained her to conduct ultrasounds, administer anesthesia and assist with abortions, though she had only a high school education.
He also taught her the practice of "snipping," Moton testified.
When asked how many times she cut a live baby's spinal cord, Moton said, "I could remember a good 10 times that I did it."
Moton said she quit her clinic job in 2008 after seeing the body of a dead boy. "I see this big baby boy laying there," Moton said tearfully, according to The Inquirer. "He had that color of a baby. I didn't feel as though he had a chance."
Medical records showed the boy's mother was 29 weeks pregnant.
In an opening statement March 18, Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore said, "If a baby is born alive, it's alive, and no one has the right to take some solution to kill it."
Gosnell practiced "high-volume, high-profit" late-term abortions that were illegal and "almost guarantee a live birth," she told the jury.
Pescatore described Gosnell as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who "used and abused desperate women," The Inquirer reported.
Defense attorney Jack McMahon charged prosecutors with seeking to force "Mayo Clinic" standards on a clinic that served the poor for more than three decades. "If you want Mayo Clinic standards, then you go to the Mayo Clinic," he said.
McMahon also said prosecutors are making medical complications appear as if they are murder. "It fits their needs, this elitist, racist prosecution, to make this a homicide," he said, according to the newspaper.
Gosnell, who is African American, could receive a death sentence if he is found guilty of a first-degree murder charge. Initially charged with first-degree murder, Moton agreed to testify against Gosnell. Prosecutors reduced the charge to third-degree murder, The Inquirer reported.
A February 2010 raid of the clinic found deplorable conditions, which resulted in its closing and Gosnell's medical license being suspended.
'LOVE WINS' AUTHOR ROB BELL AFFIRMS GAY MARRIAGE -- Rob Bell, the pastor who distanced himself from evangelicals when he refuted the reality of eternal damnation, affirmed gay marriage while speaking at an Episcopal church March 17.
"I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man," Bell said during a question-and-answer session at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, according to an audio tape on the church's website. "I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs ... to affirm people wherever they are."
Bell participated in a 55-minute Q&A with Jane Shaw, pastor of the church which is the Episcopal Cathedral of the Diocese of California. His appearance was included in his tour for his latest book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God."
At Grace Cathedral, Bell theorized that society is witnessing the death of socially conservative evangelicalism.
"I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn't work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, evangelical subculture that was told, 'we're gonna change the thing' and they haven't. And they actually have turned away lots of people," Bell said at the church. "And I think that when you're in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it's very painful. You sort of die or you adapt."
Bell is author of 2011's "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived," in which he presented hell as a state of living apart from God in daily life and refuted the punishment of eternal damnation. He further alienated many Christians when he termed all churches that teach otherwise "misguided and toxic."
Many Southern Baptists have publicly refuted Bells' controversial Love Wins.
Jeff Iorg, president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, put it succinctly in a March 2011 Baptist Press article: "Doctrinal error, no matter how glibly presented, is still error. Universalism denies the Christian faith. Redefining heaven and hell to explain away the reality of God's judgment contradicts clear biblical teaching affirmed by orthodox Christians for centuries. Making the Gospel more understandable in our culture is a worthy goal. Amending the Gospel to make it more palatable is not."
N.D. OKS FIRST 'GENETIC ADNORMALITY' ABORTION BAN -- North Dakota legislators have approved two abortion bans, including reportedly the first in the country to outlaw the procedure in the case of a genetic irregularity in the unborn child.
Acting March 15, the North Dakota Senate voted 28-15 to prohibit abortion solely on the basis of a "genetic abnormality" in the unborn baby or on the basis of the sex of the child. On the same day, senators approved a ban on abortion when a heartbeat can be detected in the baby, which could be as early as six weeks gestation. The Senate voted 26-17 for the "heartbeat" bill.
The House of Representatives already had passed both bills.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, has not announced whether he will sign the measures into law.
Republican Rep. Bette Grande, who sponsored both bills, said, according to Fox News, "Why would a heartbeat not be considered life? It makes so much sense; we all relate life to a heartbeat, and here we have a heartbeat, so isn't it life?"
Abortion rights advocates decried passage of the bills. "In a race to the bottom, these anti-choice politicians won't be happy until they send the women of North Dakota back to the days of back-alley abortions," said Ilyse Hogue, the new president of NARAL Pro-choice America.
The "genetic abnormality" ban covers "any physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, Down syndrome, albinism, amelia, or any other type of physical or mental disability, abnormality, or disease," according to the bill's text.
Exceptions to the prohibitions are provided for a threat to the life of the mother or risk of "substantial and irreversible" damage to a "major bodily function" of the mother.
COUPLE CHARGED FOR LYING ABOUT ABORTION ON PRE-TEEN DAUGHTER -- West Virginia State Police have arrested a married couple for felony child neglect after having their then-12-year-old daughter undergo an abortion and lying to doctors about it.
Child Protective Services learned of the girl's pregnancy in February 2011 and removed her from the home of Michael and Amanda Adkins, The Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch reported. Her step-mother, Amanda Adkins, took her March 1 to Charleston, W.Va., where she underwent an abortion, a State Police spokeswoman said.
Amanda Adkins took her step-daughter to her normal doctor March 16, 2011 and reported she was showing signs of a miscarriage. After an exam confirmed the girl was no longer pregnant, the doctor performed a D & C procedure, which is commonly done after a miscarriage.
Michael Adkins was aware of both the abortion and the D & C, and both his wife and he lied to physicians, CPS staff and police for nearly eight months, the State Police spokeswoman told The Herald-Dispatch.
The State Police spokeswoman did not identify the father of the aborted child. Other charges could be forthcoming, police told the newspaper. The Adkinses were arrested nearly a year after the D&C was performed.
MANY EXPRESS DESIRE TO ADOPT ABANDONDED TEXAS NEWBORN -- Dozens of people are seeking to adopt a baby girl found abandoned in a plastic bag in the Houston metropolitan area.
Baby Chloe, as she was named by the nurses who cared for her at Texas Children's Hospital, is healthy after being born Feb. 19 at 4 pounds, 12 ounces, according to KTRK, the Houston ABC television affiliate. She apparently was newly born when she was discovered in a bag near an apartment complex in Cypress, which is about 20 miles northwest of downtown Houston. She was taken to a foster home after her care at the hospital.
Authorities are seeking to identify Baby Chloe's biological parents. In the meantime, a judge ruled March 4 Baby Chloe would remain in the custody of Child Protective Services and stay with the foster family already caring for her, KTRK reported.
MORE THAN 470 BABIES SPARED SO FAR, 40 DAYS REPORTS -- A March 20 update from 40 Days for Life showed 473 unborn babies have been spared from abortion during its latest campaign.
The spring campaign which began Feb. 13 concludes March 24.
Volunteers in the latest effort are participating at 261 locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, England, Poland, Spain and for the first time, Russia, Nigeria, South Africa and Wales.
The semiannual outreaches, which focus on peaceful, pro-life prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, started as a nationwide effort in 2007.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Erin Roach and Diana Chandler of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
Copyright (c) 2013 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net
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