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Springfield | Ten years ago, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee sponsored a privately funded display depicting the birth of Jesus Christ at the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol. The first display of its kind in any state Capitol, the nativity scene has become a Springfield tradition in the decade since, and has been followed by similar displays in 15 other states.

Julie Zanoza, Chair Woman of the SNSC, opened this year’s ceremony Nov. 28 by reminding the audience of the two-fold purpose of SNSC’s mission: “We want to be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as demonstrate the constitutional right we have to publicly meet and celebrate his birth.”

Several other guests spoke at the dedication, representing the Thomas More Society, a law firm specializing in religious liberty issues; the Catholic Diocese of Springfield; and Hope Chapel, a Nazarene congregation in Lincoln. State Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview) also addressed the hour-long gathering attended by around 50 people.

Greg Wooten, pastor of Hope Chapel, described the manger scene as too small for a savior. But, he said, “In a weirdly wonderful point of view, God made that small little stable big enough for the whole world to come to Jesus.”

Bernie Lutchmann, president of Business Men in Christ of Springfield, opened the gathering in prayer after reading the biblical account of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1.

“We had very good attendance this year,” Lutchmann said after the ceremony, “But we’re even more excited that 15 other states have adopted our idea too….And we hope that someday, the nativity scene will be displayed in all 50 of our U.S. State Capitols.”

-Story and photos by Andrew Woodrow

THE BRIEFING | Meredith Flynn

Ronnie SmithAn American killed in Libya Dec. 5 once served on staff at a Southern Baptist church, Baptist Press reports. Ronnie Smith, who was shot while on a morning run in Benghazi, worked from 2009 to 2011 as director of equipping and resources at The Austin Stone Community Church, affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Smith, 33, moved to Libya 18 months ago with his wife, Anita, and their young son to teach high school chemistry at the International School Benghazi. It’s still unknown why Smith was killed and who is responsible.

“Ronnie was a brother in Christ and a faithful servant of this church for many years,” reads a statement on Austin Stone’s website. “Although we grieve because we have lost a friend, a husband, and a father, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has a greater purpose than we can imagine right now.”

Go to austinstone.org/Ronnie for more information, or to order a copy of Smith’s book “The History of Redemption.” Proceeds will support his family.

Warren stands firm on marriage
Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren told CNN’s Piers Morgan that he doesn’t see a day in the future when he will espouse same-sex marriage.

“I fear the disapproval of God more than I fear your disapproval or the disapproval of society,” Warren said in front of a studio audience, a few of whom applauded.

The pastor of Saddleback Church also talked about tolerance in the Dec. 6 interview, saying the word “used to mean we treat each other with mutual respect even if we have major disagreements.

“Today, tolerance has been changed to mean all ideas are equally valid. Well, that’s nonsense.”

Morgan told Warren they would keep talking about the topic for years to come and, “eventually, I’ll beat you down,” the host said with a smile.

Warren laughed and replied, “Oh, ye of little faith.”

Watch the video at CNN.com.

Satanists want capitol statue
An ongoing dispute over a Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma state capitol got a new wrinkle this month, when a group called the Temple of Satan lobbied to get their own statue. “We feel like the Satanic Temple has a very strong argument to say that, if the state allows one religious monument, you have to allow others,” Brady Henderson of the American Civil Liberty Union told CNN. The ACLU currently is fighting for the removal of the Ten Commandments monument approved by Oklahoma lawmakers in 2009. Read more on CNN’s Belief blog.

Rice to keynote Judson forum
Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will speak at Judson University’s 2014 World Leaders Forum. The event March 19 is the fourth in a series that has featured George W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Tony Blair. Read more at judsonu.edu.