Saturday, May 23, 2015

The 3 - May 24, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, highlights some content from a speech from the president of the Boy Scouts of America calling for gay Scout leaders.  Also, there were two court defeats this past week for non-profit organizations seeking to be released from the HHS contraception mandate.  And, religious freedom was defended by the Governor of Louisiana, and a bill protecting pastors and religious organizations cleared a major hurdle in Texas.

3 - Boy Scouts president announces that homosexual leaders should be allowed

This past Thursday, the president of the Boy Scouts of America, Robert Gates, in a speech at the annual Boy Scouts meeting in Atlanta, said the organization’s ban on homosexual leaders needs to be changed to “deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be,” according to a story on the WORLD Magazine website, which quotes Gates as saying, “the status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”

As Warren Cole Smith, the writer of the WORLD article, pointed out:
When the Boy Scouts decided in 2013 to allow homosexual youth into the program, critics of the change said then the decision was unsustainable. John Stemberger, who ultimately left the Scouts to found a group called Trail Life USA as a Christian alternative to the BSA, said then the new policy “creates a myriad of problems” for the Boy Scouts. Andrew Walker of the Heritage Foundation said the BSA’s 2013 policy of allowing gay boys but prohibiting gay men displayed “willed naiveté on this issue.” Gates himself seemed to agree when he said after becoming president of the BSA in May 2014 that he favored ending the ban on homosexual adult leaders.
As Smith reports, Gates said in his Thursday speech that a decision by a New York BSA council in April to hire the nation’s first openly gay adult leader, Pascal Tessier, was a direct affront to the national policy and posed a potentially damaging legal and reputational threat to the Boy Scouts. While Gates said that he didn't see that coming, the WORLD piece quotes Jeremy Tedesco, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, as saying: "When Alliance Defending Freedom was commenting on this policy change, we told them this is where this policy change would lead,” adding, “You can’t compromise in one area and then expect that compromise won’t have consequences elsewhere.”

2 - Court defeats for non-profit organizations seeking relief from HHS contraception mandate

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of closely-held companies in the Hobby Lobby case, involving the Department of Health and Human Services mandate that forces employers to provide free contraception and potential abortion-causing drugs in their health care plans, two non-profit organizations suffered court defeats this past week in their challenge to being forced to comply with the mandate.

The Washington Times reports that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said a majority of its judges had decided not to rehear the lawsuit from Priests for Life, after a three-judge panel rejected its challenge in November.

That decision was the second ruling in two days against religious nonprofits who have filed suit to be exempted from the mandate.

The newspaper reported that earlier in the week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a preliminary injunction that would shield the University of Notre Dame from the mandate.

The Priests for Life website states:
So now we have 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.
And in the meantime, we need the Appeals court to keep in place the injunction which has protected us from the mandate throughout this litigation.
Priests for Life has been, and remains, the "lead case" for the religious non-profit sector, just as Hobby Lobby was for the business sector.
Our case -- represented by the American Freedom Law Center, and our attorneys Robert Muise and David Yerushalmi -- is farther along in the courts than the others -- even though some have gotten more media. None has gone to the Supreme Court yet on the merits of the arguments. There has been some Supreme Court activity just about preliminary injunctions, while the arguments on the merits of those other cases are being heard in lower courts.

1 - Louisiana Governor issues order for religious freedom protection; Texas Legislature approves protection for pastors

After a religious freedom protection bill, the Marriage and Conscience Act, failed to move forward in the Louisiana Legislature, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an executive order designed to accomplish the same purpose.

The bill was sponsored by Louisiana State Representative Michael Johnson, according to The Christian Post, and sought to protect businesses and individuals who oppose gay marriage from being legally compelled to provide services for said ceremonies.

After the announcement of the defeat of the bill, Governor Jindal said, "We will be issuing an Executive Order shortly that will accomplish the intent of HB 707 to prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman."  He added: "This Executive Order will prohibit the state from denying or revoking a tax exemption, tax deduction, contract, cooperative agreement, loan, professional license, certification, accreditation, or employment on the basis the person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman."

Meanwhile in Texas, a bill referred to as the “Pastor Protection” bill, designed to protect pastors and their churches when refusing to perform a same-sex marriage, passed the Texas House with bipartisan support, according to the Breitbart.com website, which reported that the bill would go immediately to Texas Governor Abbott, who had vowed to sign it.

The vote for passage of the bill was 141-2, with five House members abstaining. The two who voted against the measure were Democrats.

The website reported that Senate Bill 2065, like the essentially identical House Bill 3567, provided that clergy, religious organizations, and employees of religious organizations may not be required to perform a marriage or provide goods, services, or accommodations related to a marriage ceremony, if the action would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The article says that Jonathan Saenz, President of Texas Values Action, provided the following statement to Breitbart Texas:
Texas made an important decision today to specifically protect the religious freedom of our pastors and churches that follow their beliefs on marriage. Government at any level should not be allowed to punish our clergy and churches for following their faith on marriage. We are thankful for the pastors, churches and church leaders from all across the state that have lead in this effort and have demonstrated the very real threats to religious freedom from those seeking to redefine marriage.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The 3 - May 17, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes a report on some of the relief efforts that have been taking place in Nepal, where a second major earthquake struck this week. Also, there is a new survey that shows that the number of people identifying as Christians is down, the number of those who are non-affiliated is up, and evangelicals experienced a slight decline.  And, a major piece of pro-life legislation protecting unborn children at over 20 weeks has passed the U.S. House.

3 - Relief efforts continue in Nepal; 2nd major earthquake hits

This past Tuesday, a powerful new earthquake struck the nation of Nepal, taking lives and sending thousands into the streets, according to a piece on the Baptist Press website, which reported that this week's 7.3-magnitude quake came just 17 days after a massive earthquake killed over 8,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes. Tuesday's tremor set off a series of landslides at the epicenter, Namche Bazar, which is near Mount Everest.

The site reported that Southern Baptist relief teams were already on the ground in Nepal from the earlier quake, and well-positioned to investigate the new damage and emergency needs. The Southern Baptist efforts are being coordinated by Baptist Global Reponse, with whom the International Mission Board partners in disaster response.  It was reported that BGR's Nepal Earthquake Response will continue to help hurting people with basic survival needs -- like water, shelter, food and healthcare -- in the coming days.

Samaritan's Purse is working in the region, as well, providing relief items such as shelter materials, clean water supplies, and hygiene and cooking kits.

And, Reach Beyond's efforts in the country are centered in the remote village of Harmi, which was epicenter of the first quake.  Virtually every structure was destroyed, including the Reach Beyond partner’s radio station.   People there are without housing, food, water and basic necessities.

Here's a report from Gospel for Asia's website:
Gospel for Asia Compassion Services workers are continuing to bring relief to the needy, especially those in rural, hard-to-reach areas, that have not yet received aid. In many of these villages, believers who attend fellowships led by Gospel for Asia-supported pastors are suffering, too: Some have lost homes and no longer have a place to meet to worship. Despite this, believers and pastors have assisted Compassion Services teams as they provide aid.

Mission Network News reports that, "The indigenous ministries in Nepal that Christian Aid Mission assists are well-positioned to help earthquake survivors. With rains and landslides cutting off road access to many areas, local Christian workers know how to get aid to people and how to come alongside shell-shocked survivors in their trauma."  (Here is the link to the Christian Aid website.)

These are examples of how Christian missions and relief organizations are responding to this devastating tragedy.

2 - Pew survey points to decline in Christianity, rise of the non-affiliated, and only slightly lower numbers for evangelicals

This week, the findings of a survey became so pervasive that the results ended up grabbing headlines. The Religious Landscape Study was conducted by Pew Researchand its website said there was a sample size of more than 35,000 Americans, designed to offer a detailed look at the current religious composition of U.S. adults.

Here is a summary of some of the key findings:

1. Christians are declining, both as a share of the U.S. population and in total number. In 2007, 78.4% of U.S. adults identified with Christian groups, such as Protestants, Catholics, Mormons and others; seven years later, that percentage has fallen to 70.6%.

2. Within Christianity, the biggest declines have been in the mainline Protestant tradition and among Catholics.  The percentage of Mainline Protestants dropped from 18.1% in 2007 to 15.7% in 2014.  The Catholic share of the population fell to 20.8% from 23.9% over the same period.  With respect to evangelical Protestants, that percentage only declined about 1 point between 2007 and 2014 (from 26.3% to 25.4%).

3. The decline of Christians in the U.S. has corresponded with the continued rise in the share of Americans with no religious affiliation (religious “nones”).  The survey summary said that people who self-identify as atheists or agnostics, which is about 7% of all U.S. adults, as well as those who say their religion is “nothing in particular,” now account for a combined 22.8% of U.S. adults – up from 16.1% in 2007.

4. The major trends seen in American religion since 2007 – the decline of Christians and rise of the “nones” – have occurred in some form across many demographic groups, including men and women, older and younger Americans, and people with different levels of education and different races and ethnicities.

5. The share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths, such as Islam and Hinduism, has grown modestly.  Interestingly enough, less than 1 percent of the population - .9% - is identified as Muslim, .7 is identified as Hindu.

Another summary on the Pew Research website highlights the relatively small decline in the number of evangelical Protestants.  The report says that, "One big reason evangelical Protestants have not declined at the same rate as other major Christian groups is that they are gaining new converts at a greater rate than they are losing people who were raised in the tradition. While 8.4% of Americans were raised as evangelicals and have since left evangelicalism for another faith (or no faith), even more U.S. adults (9.8%) were raised in another faith (or without a religious affiliation) and have since become evangelicals."

1 - U.S. House passes ban on abortions after 20 weeks

This past Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks' gestation, according to a report on the LifeSiteNews.com website. The bill passed 242-184, largely along party lines.

The bill ended four months of what the article described as "often vitriolic debate" among Capitol Hill Republicans and pro-life activists about the legislation.   The article points out that the passage of the bill came on the second anniversary of the conviction of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, was convicted on three of four charges of murdering babies born alive after failed abortions.

According to LifeSiteNews.com, the bill was originally scheduled to come to the floor for a vote on the day of the March for Life, but a number of female members said they did not support a rape exception that allowed a woman to have a late-term abortion only if she reported the crime to police before aborting her child. Their opposition led to changes in the bill, including the removal of the reporting provision for adults.  Other changes included, based on that report:
  • a requirement that abortionists ensure that rape victims have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling a minimum of 48 hours prior to the late-term abortion, not at the abortion clinic, unless it is in a hospital,
  • the addition of language that requires the presence of a second doctor in the case of such abortions, in case the child is born alive, and 
  • the provision that a child who survives a late-term abortion is to be cared for in the same way as any premature child - a woman can sue if that part of the bill is violated.
Plus, accountability and reporting laws are also enhanced under the bill, and informed consent is required.

LifeSiteNews.com also included a story with response from pro-life leaders, including a number of lawmakers.  It quotes Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican from Gosnell's state of Pennsylvania, who said: "Scientific evidence now shows that unborn babies can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization, and likely even earlier," adding, "A late term abortion is an excruciatingly painful and inhumane act against children waiting to be born and their mothers."  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The 3 - May 10, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature:  3 new Presidential candidates have entered the Republican race, and you could say that there is more identification with the evangelical Christian community. Also, good news from Nigeria, where hundreds of girls have been rescued from captivity, but there are also some concerns.  And, the top story includes prayer across America on the National Day of Prayer.

3 - More candidates enter Presidential race, more identification with evangelicals

Several weeks ago, there were 3 candidates in the Republican field for the 2016 Presidential nomination, and that total has now doubled due to announcements this week, and more identification from candidates with evangelical Christianity.

First out of the gate this week was renowned former neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who began to stir some potential voters after his 2013 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.  But, as a Religion News Service profile points out, that speech slammed political correctness, as well as Obamacare. He's quoted as saying...“The PC police are out in force at all times,” adding, “People are afraid to say ‘Merry Christmas’ at Christmastime. …We’ve got to get over this sensitivity. You know it keeps people from saying what they really believe.”

His faith background is Seventh-Day Adventist, but he told RNS in 1999: “I spend just as much time in non-Seventh-day Adventist churches because I’m not convinced that the denomination is the most important thing." He said, “I think it’s the relationship with God that’s most important.”  Carson is attributed with saying that he prayed before each surgery, and said, "Quite frankly, as a neurosurgeon, there’s a lot of emphasis on technical ability, but I believe that that’s something that can be taught, but wisdom comes from God and I think that it’s something that you have to seek.”

Carson has been identified with evangelicals quite closely, having signed books at last year's Southern Baptist Convention, even though he withdrew from speaking at this year's Pastors' Conference.  Reportedly, that was due to concerns expressed by a group of younger pastors who did not want the Conference to be so aligned with politics, as well as doctrinal concerns.

The following day, a former pastor and governor threw his hat into the increasingly crowded ring, as former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee announced his candidacy.  Another Religion News Service article highlighted his announcement, in which, according to the piece:
He portrayed himself as an economic populist, a protector of Social Security, a defender of Israel and the scourge of Iran. A former Southern Baptist minister and Fox News talk-show host, he also touched on issues that particularly resonate with many conservative Christians, including his opposition to same-sex marriage, his support of religious freedom laws and his concern about the country’s moral standards.
“This country could only be explained by the providence of Almighty God,” he declared, noting he had accepted Jesus as his savior at Bible camp when he was 10. His campaign announcement at the University of Arkansas Community College started with a prayer.
The piece notes that Huckabee "scored a surprising upset in the opening Iowa GOP caucuses by appealing to the state’s evangelical voters..." in 2008, but noted that he will have more company this year.  The articles points out that:
Born-again voters are a powerful part of the Republican electorate, especially in two of the states that hold early contests. In Iowa, about six in 10 GOP caucus-goers identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians in 2008 and 2012. In South Carolina, 65 percent of Republican primary voters were evangelicals.
The faith walk of Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was also highlighted. She announced her candidacy Monday, and says she relied on her faith when her stepdaughter died of a drug overdose. “Without my complete conviction that a loving God had been with Lori, and was with our family as we buried her, I am not sure how I would have coped,” she wrote in “Rising to the Challenge,” a memoir published Tuesday by Sentinel. 

According to another Religion News Service article, she reportedly grew up Episcopalian, and the piece says that at a recent Heritage Foundation event, she said when she was 8 years old her mother, who was also her Sunday school teacher, gave her a plaque that said: “What you are is God’s gift to you and what you make of yourself is your gift to God.”  The article says that according to The New York Times, she told Iowa’s Faith and Family Forum, “It was my husband Frank’s and my personal relationship with Jesus Christ that saved us from a desperate sadness,” referring to her breast cancer battle and her stepdaughter's death.

2 - Good news from Nigeria: hundreds of women, girls rescued

There is word of rescues coming out of Nigeria recently, according to ChristianNews.net.  This past Monday, 260 women and children that had escaped from the grip of Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram were found near Chalawa Village in Adamawa State.  This followed a rescue by the Nigerian army of hundreds in Sambisa Forest.

Unfortunately, a report states that over 200 of the nearly 700 women and girls that were recently rescued from Boko Haram are pregnant, indicating mass rape.

None of those rescued over the past week are believed to be among the Chibok girls that have been missing since 2013.

According to the article, Borno State Governor Kashim Shettima has expressed concern over the large numbers of women and girls who have become pregnant by the Islamic terrorist group, believing that the group is attempting to grow more followers to carry on the group’s mission.

Spokesman Isa Gusau is quoted as saying, “They also believe that whoever does not hold their ideology is an unbeliever that should be killed and rendered homeless and whatever belongs to him or her becomes a legitimate booty recovered from enemies,” adding, “This booty includes women that are then allocated to ranking leaders of the sect as sex slaves.”

The ChristianNews.net piece points out that Boko Haram, which being translated means, “Western education is sinful,” has been seeking to build a caliphate in Northern Africa, a part of the continent that is predominantly Christian. The group has killed thousands since it stepped up its attacks in 2009, often targeting churches and those who are non-Muslim.

1 - Christians across America pray, read God's Word

This past Thursday marked the National Day of Prayer, which was determined by Congress to be observed on the first Thursday of May.  The National Day of Prayer Task Force sponsors a prayer gathering in the nation's capital each year, in the Cannon House Office Building.

This year, the honorary chair of the Task Force was Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of the Prestonwood Baptist Church in the Dallas area.   A Baptist Press report quotes Graham as saying: "We are facing a crisis in America. These are desperate days," adding, "This is a crying time in America. It's a time for tears."

He called for extraordinary prayer, emphasizing the event's theme "Lord, Hear Our Cry," taken from I Kings 8:38. He said, "There's a time for ordinary prayer...But there is a time for what Jonathan Edwards the great revivalist called extraordinary prayer. Uncommon times call for uncommon prayer, and so we cry out to God. We cry out to God."

Graham read a letter from Saeed Abedini, a pastor who is imprisoned in Iran. He wrote: "The National Day of Prayer is a great opportunity for us to come out and use the freedom that we have been given. So many Christians around the world are imprisoned and martyred for their faith in Jesus." He said, "You have the freedom to gather across the United States at your state capitol to pray. Please use this opportunity. Please use your freedom for the Kingdom of God.

Leading up to the National Day of Prayer, the entire Bible was read on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building, which is where, according to a Charisma News report, the President takes his oath of office.  The report states that the U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon began in 1990, the year proclaimed by a Joint Congressional Resolution and Presidential Proclamation by President George H.W. Bush as the International Year of Bible Reading.  The event is intended to honor the Bible, celebrate religious freedom and unite the diverse branches of Christianity around the Bible.  The estimated time to read the entire Bible: 90 hours.

And, in the Faith Radio broadcast area, at least 3 Bible reading marathons took place, including an event on the west side of the State Capitol in Montgomery.   The cities of Troy and Ozark continued their tradition of holding a Bible reading marathon in their downtown areas.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

The 3 - May 3, 2015

This week in The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is good news about a Christian businessman who won a court victory after standing on his faith principles.  Also, there was unrest in Baltimore, but church leaders stepped in to try to bring peace.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments from those who wish to allow same-sex couples to enter into a marriage relationship and those who presented the case for adhering to the traditional definition of the institution.

3 - KY T-shirt printer wins court victory after refusal to print gay pride shirts

Blaine Adamson is a t-shirt printer in Lexington, Kentucky.  His company is called Hands On Originals.  According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, he had been approached by the Lexington Pride Festival, hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization to print shirts promoting the event.  Adamson turned down the business because he did not want to convey the message that would be printed on them, he nevertheless offered to put the festival organizers in touch with another printer that would produce the shirts for the same price.  But, that did not satisfy the GLSO, which filed a complaint with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, which ruled last year that Adamson ruled last year that must print messages that conflict with his faith on shirts that customers order from him.  By the way, festival organizers eventually received the shirts for free from another printer, so they had no problem obtaining their desired goods and services.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Adamson appealed the ruling to the Fayette Circuit Court, which reversed the commission’s decision.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell, who argued before the court in Hands On Originals v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission, is quoted as saying: "The government can’t force citizens to surrender free-speech rights or religious freedom in order to run a small business, and this decision affirms that,” adding, “The court rightly recognized that the law protects Blaine’s decision not to print shirts with messages that conflict with his beliefs, and that no sufficient reason exists for the government to coerce Blaine to act against his conscience in this way.”
As ADF pointed out, the commission’s ruling had the potential to override the conscience rights of all Lexington-area printers regardless of their views, as a GLSO representative admitted at a hearing last year."

Jamie Dean, News Editor for WORLD Magazine, was on The Meeting House recently and in that conversation, she discussed the case involving Blaine Adamson.  You can listen to that conversation by clicking here.   Her original article can be found here.

2 - Baltimore church leaders respond with prayer, action

When there is a situation involving desperation, turmoil, and hopelessness, the church has a unique opportunity to step in and bring hope, healing, and peace.  Such has been the case in American cities in the midst of violence concerning the deaths of young African-American males in conflicts with police officers.

In the most recent incident, the one in Baltimore involving Freddie Gray, who died in police custody, church leaders stepped in to help to provide assistance during the riots and protests that occurred, according to a piece on The Christian Post website, which referred to Michael Crawford, the pastor of Baltimore's Freedom Church who also serves as a church growth strategist for the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network. He was set to board an airplane headed for Florida but said he knew that God was calling him to remain in Baltimore and pray for the well-being of his city.

The articles states that after leaving the airport, Crawford told the Baptist Press that he sent a video message through his phone to other area pastors inviting them to his church to pray in solidarity. He said, "Satan wants our city, and he can't have it," adding, "We were born for this hour and we will fight this right away — on our knees."

On the Monday night after the riots began, Crawford's church hosted three hours of prayer and another meeting the following day.  Crawford is quoted as saying: "Things started calming down in the city. The National Guard was called in to assist. And gang members were meeting with other clergy in the city," adding, "I believe God heard and answered our prayers."

Another Christian Post article described a meeting in Orlando this week leading up to the latest gathering sponsored by The Reconciled Church.  Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Washington, D.C., spoke to a group that night, which also viewed a WBAL TV 11 report showing clergy marching against the violence in Baltimore and praying in the street, creating a barrier between police and angry agitators.

And, according to the BillyGraham.org website, by late Tuesday, 11 Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains were already on the streets in Baltimore with more to be added in the coming days.

Franklin Graham said: “Hurt compounding hurt won’t bring healing...What happened to Freddie Gray was tragic, unacceptable, and needs immediate correction. But what is happening now on the streets of Baltimore isn’t the answer." He added, “Join me in praying for the people of this great city.”

1 - U.S. Supreme Court considers definition of marriage, Christian leaders pledge to stand

This past Tuesday, significant oral arguments took place regarding the definition of marriage, which has been in place for, as Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the hearing, "millennia."  Actually, you can go all the way back to the second chapter of the book of Genesis, when God's expressed definition for marriage was instituted.

There has been much analysis of the questions and answers in the hearing.  On The Gospel Coalition website, Russell Moore and Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention highlighted the top 10 questions they heard during the hearing.  Some of these include:
  • Chief Justice Roberts asked whether expanding marriage to include gay couples would lead to marriage’s redefinition.
  • Justice Kennedy's questioning of whether it was prudent for the Court to step in and change the definition of the institution that has been established for "millennia."
  • Justice Alito observed that while ancient cultures like Greece embraced homosexuality, they still held marriage as distinct. He asked, “So their limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex was not based on prejudice against gay people, was it?”
  • Justice Breyer hinted at perhaps the most important aspect of this particular case: Letting the states decide. He suggested that this debate is working itself out in the states, asking why not “wait and see whether in fact doing so in other states is or is not harmful to marriage?”
  • Referencing Bob Jones University’s wrong and sinful banning of interracial dating, Alito asked whether redefining marriage would eventually pose risks (such as the loss of tax-exempt status) to the religious liberty of religious institutions.
Regarding that question, in their commentary in response to those questions, Moore and Walker wrote:
This was the most shocking moment in the arguments, one that should give people on all sides cause for concern. The Solicitor General said the question of tax exemption might well be an “issue” to be considered later. This demonstrates just how perilous the American principle of recognizing the natural right of religious liberty has become.
Ryan Anderson of The Heritage Foundation, on The Daily Signal website, said:
Tuesday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court were excellent. There were so many good points made about what marriage is and why redefining marriage would cause harms.
This litany of harms stands in stark contrast to the outrageous lower court rulings that had declared no rational basis to state marriage laws defining marriage as it always had been in America: a union of husband and wife.
Most importantly, it was clear that the nine Supreme Court justices do not have any greater insight on ideal marriage policy than do ordinary American citizens. And the Constitution itself is silent about it.
So the justices should uphold the authority of citizens and their elected representatives to make marriage policy in the states.
In advance of the oral arguments, a number of Christian leaders signed on to a Defend Marriage Pledge.  Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel was one of the co-drafters.  At the Liberty Counsel website, you can read that at the recent March for Marriage in Washington, DC, sponsored by the National Organization for Marriage...
Mat Staver, Founder & Chairman of Liberty Counsel, and a diverse group of religious leaders spoke about the importance of natural marriage .“This is a line we cannot, and will not cross,” Staver told the enthusiastic crowd.
The Liberty Counsel website states:
The Defend Marriage Pledge reads in part, “Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.” 
Find out more at DefendMarriage.org.  The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision sometime around late June.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The 3 - April 26 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, a couple who once owned a bakery in Oregon has been fined over a hundred thousand dollars for not providing a cake for a same-sex wedding ceremony.   Also, the Secret Church, which has been conducted for a number of years and has a component of remembering the persecuted church, was forced to originate from an undisclosed location due to threats at the event's scheduled site.  And, another video attributed to the radical Islamic group ISIS features the deaths of over two dozen Ethiopian Christians.

3 - Oregon bakers ordered to pay stiff fines; funding campaign awareness

There continue to be implications of the decision by Aaron and Melissa Klein to not participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony by baking a cake for it.  The Kleins are the owners of the former bakery known as Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Gresham, Oregon.

According to a report on the WORLD Magazine website, the Kleins have been ordered by a judge to pay $135,000 in fines.  This ruling comes almost three months after Administrative Judge Alan McCullough ruled the couple violated an Oregon statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The funds will go to the lesbian couple for “emotional, mental, and physical suffering.”

WORLD reports that a supporter of the Kleins set up a fundraising page at GoFundMe and had raised more than $66,000 when the site decided to shut it down. GoFundMe said the Kleins would be able to access the money raised so far.

Why?  The Kleins were quoted as saying, according to the Sweet Cakes by Melissa Facebook page, “The GoFundMe account that was set up to help our family was shut down by the administrators of GoFundMe because they claimed it was raising money for an illegal purpose,” adding, “We are working to get the account reinstated.”  Samaritan's Purse has set up a special place on its website through which people can donate to the Kleins.

2 - Secret Church threatened; simulcast originates from undisclosed location

When David Platt, now President of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, was the Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, he began an event called "Secret Church."  The Christian Post reports that last year alone, the event, which has been developed into a simulcast distributed to multiple locations, drew almost 61,000 participants, as tens of thousands of Christians from various countries watched the simulcast.

The Post article quotes the Radical website about the event, which says, "Secret Church is a time where we join together to study God's Word and to identify with our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted in countless places around the world..."

When you think of our fellow believers who have to meet in secret locations, isn't it interesting and ironic that this year's Secret Church was held at an undisclosed location?  The Post article quoted the announcement on the ministry website, which said, "Due to security concerns, the elders and leadership at the church have decided to close the church for the simulcast. The simulcast will take place, but not at Brook Hills. If you are a ticket holder, information has been sent to you via email."

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/alabama-megachurchs-secret-church-gathering-receives-threat-moved-to-undisclosed-location-138175/#J0TaWciIcE8VWPoj.99
The article said that the church's communication director, Chris Kinsley told the Yellowhammer website, "We want to ensure the safety of our staff and members, and all those who are going to participate," adding, "We live in a world where our fellow Christians around the world face threats on a daily basis. We're lucky enough to live in a country where that is unusual, but when it does happen we want to take it seriously but also not allow it to cause us to shrink back from the message we have to share."

The Post reported that the staff of Brook Hills and pupils of the preschool were evacuated, and police and fire departments were called to do a sweep of the building hours before the scheduled gathering. Nothing was found.

more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/alabama-megachurchs-secret-church-gathering-receives-threat-moved-to-undisclosed-location-138175/#J0TaWciIcE8VWPoj.99
This year's theme, according to Radical.net, was "Christ, Culture, and a Call to Action."
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/alabama-megachurchs-secret-church-gathering-receives-threat-moved-to-undisclosed-location-138175/#J0TaWciIcE8VWPoj.99

1 - Ethiopian Christians lose their lives at hands of ISIS

Last Sunday, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, as well as Daesh, released another video depicting the execution of Christians.  This time, it was an estimated 28 Ethiopian Christians who lost their lives in Libya, according to Christianity Today, which points out that 20 Coptic (Egyptian) Christians and a sub-Saharan African had lost their lives at the hands of ISIS in Libya.

The CT story quotes Christian Solidarity Worldwide's description of the video.  It states:
The exact numbers of victims in the latest incident cannot be confirmed. The video of the executions, entitled “Until there came to them clear evidence”, switches between a scene on a beach in eastern Libya, where an estimated 15 men in orange boiler suits are beheaded by masked militants in camouflage, and a scene in a desert area in southern Libya where similarly dressed Daesh members execute a similar number of men in black boiler suits by shooting them in the head. A subtitle refers to both groups of victims as "worshippers of the cross belonging to the hostile Ethiopian church."
The CSW report goes on to say that the video includes scenes depicting the destruction of churches in Syria and Iraq.  It also condemns the doctrine of the Trinity as a form of apostasy.   An English-speaking masked narrator dressed in black warns that "the nation of the cross" must either embrace Islam, pay the jizya tax, or face death.  The speaker reportedly made a reference to how Christians in Mosul were told to convert to Islam or pay the jizya. The speaker says, "The Christians never cooperated."

As CT points out, the video was released the same day the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, arrived in Cairo to offer condolences for the previous martyrs in Libya.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The 3 - April 19, 2015

Three more stories of relevance to the Christian community in this edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature:  A story emerged this week regarding an American court's order to pay multiple millions to the family of a missionary who lost his life in prison there.  Also, word has spread about Christians being thrown overboard from a rubber boat full of migrants on the Mediterranean Sea. Plus, another blow to the opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which grants special rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

3 - Court orders North Korea to pay millions to family of missionary

After a ruling on April 9, news spread this past week about a ruling by a Federal district court in Washington, DC, ordering North Korea to pay $330 million in damages to the family of a Presbyterian pastor kidnapped by agents 15 years ago, who died in prison camp.

ChristianityToday.com has reported the story.  Kim Dong Shik was a naturalized US citizen and father of seven, who was kidnapped by North Korean spies while working with refugees in the Chinese border town of Yungi. At the time, he ran shelters and “The School of Love” for handicapped and refugee children whose families had escaped North Korea.

The story said court documents stated that, “The North Korean security service learned of Reverend Kim’s activities on behalf of the defectors and refugees and decided to kidnap him and bring him to North Korea to thwart his work on behalf of those who have escaped."

According to the story, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of Shurat Hadin, the Israeli group that represented Kim’s family, told the Jerusalem Post that the decision is a blow against “state sponsored terrorism.”

The family sued under the “terrorism exception” to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.

Asher Perlin, a lawyer for the Kims, reportedly told the Washington Post that the family will likely try to collect money from North Korean assets that are frozen in the United States.  In the future, North Korea may have to pay up.

2 - Religious conflict at sea: Christians thrown overboard

The news came over the weekend that perhaps as many as 700 migrants who were being smuggled to Europe drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a report on TheGuardian.com website, which said that the accident happened after the migrants saw a merchant ship in the distance and scrambled to attract its attention, over-balancing the fishing boat in which they were travelling.

This incident occurred just days after 400 others drowned last week in a similar incident.

The website reported that the deaths have prompted fresh calls for Europe to reinstate full-scale search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean.  Last October, the EU opted not to replace the Italian-run operation Mare Nostrum, which saved about 100,000 lives last year, amid fears that it was encouraging smugglers and migrants to organize more trips to Europe.

And, in the midst of this overall situation of people migrating from Libya to Europe has come a report that, according to ChristianNews.net, 15 Muslim migrants have been arrested on charges that they threw a dozen Christians off a boat to drown in the Mediterranean Sea.  All 12 are feared dead.

Last Tuesday, 105 passengers boarded a rubber boat to travel from Libya to Italy, where they were seeking asylum as refugees. During the journey, Muslims aboard became agitated when they learned that some passengers professed the Christian faith. They had threatened to abandon the Christians and later began seizing the Christian passengers and throwing them into the water.

The story on the ChristianNews.net website gives some background:
According to reports, there has been an enormous influx of refugees in recent weeks as thousands from the Middle East and Africa have been flocking to Italy in an attempt to escape war and poverty, as well as Islamic terror from groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram. Just over the past week, an estimated 10,000 people—Christians and Muslims alike—have arrived in Italy from Libya.
On Thursday, Italian officials requested help from the European Union with rescuing those who are risking their lives to make the journey to the country.

1 - Houston HERO referendum petition drive falls short, judge says

Last year, the City Council in Houston, Texas passed what is known as the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, creating special rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.   Concerned citizens moved to try to gather signatures on a petition in order to hold a referendum on the ordinance.  Even though opponents of the ordinance thought they had exceeded the required number of signatures, city officials had ruled that the petition drive fell short.  That determination was challenged in court, and the presiding judge has issued a ruling.

According to a WORLD Magazine story, Judge Robert Schaffer had dismissed some of the findings of the jury in the case, which had ruled in favor of the city.  Schaffer established new criteria for determining which voter signatures the court would accept, beginning two months of wrangling over legibility, residency, and the identities of the petition circulators.

In his final ruling, Schaffer found plaintiffs had 16,648 applicable signatures, 585 below the requisite 17,269 but 65 more than the defense allowed in its final judgment.

Andy Taylor, the lone attorney for the Houston Area Pastors' Council, said that the judge's judgment set a dangerous precedent requiring legible signatures on each page of the petition from the people circulating it, a subjective standard with the judge as the final arbiter.  WORLD reports that if the circulator signature on a petition page was not legible, than all voter signatures on that page were disqualified. After Schaffer affirmed that standard in a post-trial ruling, the city’s number of invalid signatures due to circulator illegibility rose to 8,500, Taylor said.  The plaintiffs plan to appeal the decision.

The outcome was different in Springfield, MO, where a seemingly similar ordinance, passed by the City Council, was reversed by the voters by a narrow margin on April 7, according to a piece on the Buzzfeed.com website.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The 3 - April 12, 2015

This week on The 3, my week-in-review feature, the topic of so-called "gay conversion therapy" is in the news, and another state has turned back an attempt to ban this practice, which offers hope for change.  Also, this week, Kansas is the first state to ban a particularly gruesome abortion procedure, and Oklahoma could be joining it as the second.  The top story involves a legal brief filed on behalf of a number of Christian groups and individuals, urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the ruling in favor of traditional marriage in 4 states.

3 - Colorado lawmakers reject a ban on "gay conversion therapy" for young people, President voices support for nationwide ban 

This week, a type of therapy which has been named "gay conversion therapy" is in the news.  Anne Paulk of the Restored Hope Network writes on the organization's Facebook page:
"Conversion Therapy" is a phrase that the gay activists have come up with to describe sexual orientation and identity change efforts. They surely chose that moniker to connect it with negative stereotypes. The current proposed bills in state legislatures have morphed from anti-"reparative therapy" bills into ones seeking to disallow a therapeutic objective chosen by the client who is under 18 years old.
State legislatures have attempted to ban this practice, and as Anne points out, last year 14 such attempts to ban it have failed, and she thinks that attempts this year will be stalled.  As Dr. Michael Brown points out in a piece on CharismaNews.com, "There is a reason that, with the exception of California, New Jersey and the District of Columbia, attempts to outlaw "conversion therapy" have failed, and that is because the truth is trumping the lies."

Colorado is one of the latest states to deflect an attempt to ban this type of therapy.  A CitizenLink.com story opens by stating:
A Colorado senate committee voted to continue to allow people the freedom to choose therapy for unwanted same-sex attractions.  The committee voted down HB 1175 that would have limited a minor’s access to such therapy.
Dr. Brown says, "...there are countless reports of success stories from professional counseling, and many of them have stood the test of time. That means that such therapy often does work."

In the CitizenLink piece, Jeff Johnston, sexuality analyst for Focus on the Family, is quoted as saying that there is a lot of misinformation out there about the therapy. As part of his testimony before the senate committee, Johnston made these points:
  • Counseling is not harmful, in fact, it has helped a lot of people.
  • Good therapy is not coercive – you can’t force someone to change.
  • Banning Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) for minors is a serious intrusion on freedom of speech, religious freedom and parental rights.
This week, as ChristianHeadlines.com reported, President Obama has voiced his support for a White House petition that would ban so-called "conversion therapy" for young people, referring to a USA Today piece.  The petition calls for the government to “Enact Leelah’s Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy.” The proposed law is named for Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen who committed suicide in December 2014 after undergoing conversion therapy.  Senior advisor Valerie Jarrett is quoted as saying, "the overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm..."

Brown discussed some of this research in his piece:
...the alleged damage done by such therapy is often highly exaggerated and sometimes completely manufactured, while scientific studies challenging this are often suppressed by the gay activist lobby in the professional psychological and psychiatric associations. In keeping with this (and as I documented in "A Queer Thing Happened to America"), the media's reporting about the APA's Task Force study on "conversion therapy" was quite inaccurate, also failing to mention that every member of the Task Force was either openly gay (and, for the most, known for gay activist stances) or else a strong gay activist ally. And it is their study that is constantly quoted as "proof" that this professional counseling is negative and harmful.
Paulk states:
The end goal of the gay anti-“conversion,” “reparative, ” and change therapy movement is to stop counselors from being able to help clients work on their goals of change from unwanted same-sex attraction, behavior or identity. The easiest method: to disparage and defame a body of licensed counselors using stories that have not been investigated. In fact, the harms claimed by some would have resulted in licensing removal by state oversight committees already in place.
Why then do we have no official complaints about horrible methodology to the licensing authorities? Knowing this, even Washington State oversight authorities had to admit that they had ZERO complaints lodged against therapists to be investigated. 
Brown says that:
I am certainly not advocating parents forcing their children into some kind of high-pressure, coercive counseling, and I advise every parent with a child who identifies as LGBT to show them their unconditional love.
At the same time, I absolutely support the right of a minor to receive professional counseling for unwanted same-sex attraction or gender-identity confusion...
So, supporters of so-called "gay conversion therapy," or SOCE, are quite confident in the ability of this type of therapy to help people who are struggling with, as Dr. Brown refers to them, "unwanted same-sex attraction or gender-identity confusion."  These success stories provide compelling evidence countering the thought people identified as "gay" cannot change their sexual orientation.

2 - KS bans dismemberment abortions, OK Senate passes ban

Kansas has become the first state in the nation to ban a particularly gruesome type of abortion, which has been named a "dismemberment" abortion.  According to ChristianNews.net, the bill, signed by Governor Sam Brownback, bans dilation and evacuation abortions, which involve dismembering babies during their removal from the womb. The bill passed the Senate 31-9 earlier this year and moved to the House where it likewise was approved 98-26.

The story says that this practice is common among second trimester abortions, which begins as early as 14 weeks. In the procedure, the child’s heart is stopped and then the body is extracted in pieces and arranged on a tray to ensure that all the parts have been removed from the mother.

And, LifeNews.com reports that the Senate in Oklahoma has approved similar legislation, which has been sent to Governor Fallin for her signature, which the website says is expected.

In that story, National Right to Life Director of State Legislation Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., is quoted: “Dismemberment abortion kills a baby by tearing her apart limb from limb,” adding, “Before the first trimester ends, the unborn child has a beating heart, brain waves, and every organ system in place. Dismemberment abortions occur after the baby has reached these milestones.”  The LifeNews.com website reports that model legislation provided by National Right to Life is also under consideration in the legislatures of Missouri and South Carolina.

1 - NRB, religious organizations file friend-of-the-court brief in favor of traditional marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court will be holding oral arguments later this month in the case that has been named, Obergefell v. Hodges, which deals with the subject of so-called same-sex marriage.  National Religious Broadcasters announced this week on its website, NRB.org, the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief on April 2nd by Christian legal advocacy organization Liberty Institute on behalf of a number of religious organizations and Christian leaders.

In the brief, "...the Justices are asked to affirm the Sixth Circuit decision upholding marriage laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee, and to expressly affirm the First Amendment free speech rights of Christian ministers, teachers, and leaders who are compelled by faith and conscience to preach and speak aloud their millennia-old and sincerely held religious view that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman."

According to the NRB website, NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson noted how it became increasingly apparent in recent weeks that “the forces that insist upon changing the definition of marriage are willing to jettison our free speech and religious liberties to do so.”  He stated, "This brief is needed to warn the Court of this danger."

The website quotes Dr. Johnson:  "There is no way a constitutional right to homosexual, so-called, ‘marriage’ can be invented by the courts and enforced without using the police power of the state to impose cooperation by its citizens, and that is in violation of the 1st Amendment,” adding, “For those who think sexual liberty trumps religious liberty, they need to be reminded that the free exercise of religion is explicitly framed into the Constitution. The same is not so for sexual rights, especially not a revolutionary redefinition of marriage."

Signatories of the brief include the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Samaritan's Purse, In Touch Ministries, Pathway to Victory, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and more, in addition to pastors Charles Stanley and Robert Jeffress, as well as other Christian organizations and leaders.

And, this past week the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced its "Pray for Marriage" initiative.  On the ERLC website, ERLC.com, in a special "#PrayForMarriage" section, this sample prayer guide is posted:
  • God designed marriage as a way to prosper creation and to reflect his gospel (Gen. 2; Rom. 13; Eph. 5). Pray that all people, including governing authorities, would honor the institution of marriage.
  • God can turn the hearts and minds of the justices to do his will (Prov. 21:1). Pray for the Supreme Court justices, that they would be receptive to the arguments being made passionately before them.
  • God can guide the mind and speech (Exod. 4:11-12). Pray for lead attorneys who will be arguing on behalf of the states seeking to uphold marriage. Ask God to give them clarity and wisdom, for their arguments to be persuasive, and for God to give them favor before the justices. 
  • God can give understanding to make sound decisions (Prov. 2:6-8). Pray for those who disagree with us, that God would help them understand and respect the opinions of those whose definition of marriage is grounded in the biblical witness.
  • God is sovereign (Gen. 50:20). We ought to pray and hope for the best but plan for what Justice Scalia predicted in 2013: “As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe.” Even in the event of a bad decision, marriage will always be what marriage truly is.
As a Christian, I choose to pray for God's design for marriage and the outcome of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the national definition of marriage.
I choose not to despair. I choose to keep my eyes focused on our Lord, in whom my true hope lies. I choose to remember the Truth about marriage -- that God created it as the union of a man and a woman -- no matter what the Court says.
I will pray for marriage and our nation's families, children and religious freedom.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The 3 - April 5, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, we take a closer look at the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear the latest appeal in the case involving New York City churches renting public school facilities.  Also, a brutal attack in Kenya at a university apparently targeted Christians. And, huge stories from the previous week involved the passage of, then revisions of, religious freedom bills in Indiana and Arkansas.

3 - U.S. Supreme Court allows ban on churches using school facilities stand, mayor indicates that he may lift it

A case that has been in the court system for some 20 years took another turn this past week at the U.S. Supreme Court.   The original lawsuit filed by the Bronx Household of Faith, a church in New York City, contested the city's ban on churches renting public school facilities for the purpose of worship.  This week, according to the ADFMedia.org website of the Alliance Defending Freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to leave in place an appeals court ruling that upheld a city ban on worship services in public school buildings during non-school hours.

ADF says that many eyes are turning to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and it reports that:
The high court did not overturn its precedent that appears clearly to run counter to such policies, but it did decline to disturb a U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruling that upheld the city’s policy. That move leaves the decision squarely in the lap of de Blasio, who has the power to revoke the policy and expressed his disagreement with it immediately after the 2nd Circuit’s ruling.
Jordan Lorence, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which has represented Bronx Household of Faith for 20 years in its legal battle against the city’s policy, is quoted as saying: “Any community group can meet in New York City’s school buildings during non-school hours for any purpose – except for religious groups meeting to worship God. This policy is clearly nothing more than religious segregation – the kind of segregation the mayor has said he opposes."

Last year, after the 2nd Circuit made its ruling, de Blasio said at a press conference, according to ADF, “I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community non-profit deserves access," adding, “You know, they have to go through the same application process, wait their turn for space, pay the same rent – but I think they deserve access. They play a very, very important role in terms of providing social services and other important community services, and I think they deserve that right.”

2 - Christians singled out in attack at a Kenyan university

An attack by a terrorist group at a Garissa University College in Kenya has left some 150 people dead, and apparently Christians were a prime target.  According to a report on the ChristianityToday.com website, in the Gleanings section, a spokesperson for the militant Al-Shabaab group had confirmed to Reuters that the Somali militants had deliberately gone after Christians.

Another Al-Shabaab spokesperson told the AFP that militants had "released the Muslims" but that they were holding others hostage.

Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage is quoted as saying, "Our people are still there, they are fighting, and their mission is to kill those who are against the Shabaab."

On Thursday, WORLD reported that Kenyan officials said they had killed four attackers and ended a hostage standoff at Garissa University College that began early that morning. After the shooting stopped, security personnel reportedly freed dozens of hostages.

CT quotes Christian Solidarity Worldwide as saying:
Al Shabaab attacks in Kenya have increased since October 2011, when Kenya’s army joined international efforts to stabilise Somalia following the cross-border abductions of foreign tourists by the group. It formally aligned itself with al Qaeda in 2012, although reports of foreign fighters amongst its ranks predated this announcement. There have been three attacks in the last two years in which the group has separated hostages according to religious identity and murdered them accordingly; the siege at Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013, the hijacking of a bus travelling from Mandera to Nairobi in November 2014, and the attack on a quarry in Mandera in December 2014.

1 - Religious freedom bills revised in Indiana, Arkansas

Recently, lawmakers in two states - Indiana and Arkansas - passed bills designed to protect religious freedom, consistent with the Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was a key component in the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which found in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties as they sought legal protection from having to comply with a mandate to provide free contraception and drugs that could cause abortion in their health care plans.

The bills passed in those two states were met with strong opposition from the LGBT community, as well as some in the corporate sector.  Governor Mike Pence of Indiana demanded that the state assembly rework the bill as it was passed and as he had signed.  Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, after initially indicating he would sign the bill as it came out of the state legislature, requested a new bill. The main objection: opponents said that the bills would authorize so-called "discrimination" based on sexual orientation or gender identity.   Supporters wanted to protect individuals and businesses from being forced to act by the government in a manner that would violate their religious beliefs.

So, what came out of these state legislatures and what was signed into law by the respective governors?  The outcomes were different in the two states.  The Family Research Council's Washington Update at FRC.org made the distinction.  First of all, regarding the "fix" in Indiana:
After huddling with CEOs and LGBT groups, the legislative leadership unveiled a new law that not only guts the state's newly enacted Religious Freedom Restoration Act but imposes punishing fines on people who follow their beliefs about marriage. While most were expecting some kind of 'clarification,' few expected the proposed law that outrageously contemplates criminal prosecution for business owners who decline to be a party to a same-sex ceremony. The proposal doesn't directly create criminal punishment, but for the first time establishes that if the legislature were ever to adopt criminal penalties in the future, a religious freedom claim would provide NO DEFENSE against imprisonment. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty describes the proposed language as making "specific allowances for criminal prosecution."
FRC states in its Thursday update that:
Meanwhile there was a better outcome in Arkansas in the tussle over their Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This afternoon the legislature approved and Governor Asa Hutchinson immediately held a ceremony where he signed into law an amended RFRA that mirrors the 1993 federal RFRA. "I think it's sending the right signal," said Governor Hutchinson.
The piece goes on to say that:
Arkansas Family Council President Jerry Cox had it right this afternoon when he said, "If the Arkansas General Assembly passes Senate Bill 975, most of what we were trying to accomplish will have been done. The original religious freedom bill, H.B. 1228, was the Rolls Royce of religious freedom laws. S.B. 975, the replacement bill, is a Cadillac."
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, ADF Senior Counsel Kristin Waggoner echoed concerns about the Indiana law, stating:
“The religious freedom law is a good law. It does not pick winners or losers, but allows courts to weigh the government’s and people’s interests fairly and directs judges to count the cost carefully when freedom is at stake. The new proposal unjustly deprives citizens their day in court, denies freedom a fair hearing, and rigs the system in advance. It gives the government a new weapon against individual citizens who are merely exercising freedoms that Americans were guaranteed from the founding of this country. Surrendering to deception and economic blackmail never results in good policy.”

According to the website, ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jim Campbell said regarding the revised law,  “Government should protect people’s freedom to follow their beliefs in their lives and work. We commend the governor’s decision to support a law that does this. Government shouldn’t be able to punish Americans for exercising basic civil rights. Religious freedom laws ensure that freedom gets a fair hearing, and they limit the government’s power to intrude on our liberties. We hope other states join Arkansas and many others in adopting similar laws.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 3 - March 29, 2015

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I delve into Presidential politics, which is quite relevant, because the first major candidate threw his hat into the ring this week, speaking at a Christian university.  Also, the new religious freedom bill in Indiana is intended to protect people of faith, but there is plenty of misinformation about the intent of the legislation.  Plus, racial reconciliation has been a major theme this week, with two organizations holding special events concentrating on race relations.

3 - First Republican Presidential candidate officially announces, evangelicals look for place to land

The event is being reported as the first official announcement by a Republican candidate for President in the 2016 election.  And, it took place at Liberty University, which is regarded as the nation's largest Christian college.  WORLD reports on the announcement by Texas Senator Ted Cruz:
By declaring his candidacy at Liberty University, the country’s largest Christian college, Cruz took an early stand as a cultural conservative. In videos posted online today, he attempted to connect with immigrants by referencing his Cuban father, women by praising his mother as a computer scientist who “shattered glass ceilings,” and religious believers by showing his family praying around the dinner table. He touted his efforts in the Senate to defund Obamacare and to block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Neither effort worked, but both demonstrated Cruz’s uncompromising values and set him up as a maverick conservative who is unafraid to take on either political party.
Cruz is approaching the office from a strongly evangelical perspective, but just because he belongs to the evangelical community doesn't mean he automatically has that constituency's support.  Consider some of the pro-family credentials that other candidates carry, according to a Baptist Press story:

For instance, former Florida governor Jeb Bush had announced his support of a federal marriage amendment, but has been criticized for a perceived shift in acceptance of gay marriage.  He also attempted to help save the life of Terri Schiavo, who had a brain deficiency and whose husband successfully attempted to remove food and water from her.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson has attracted the attention of evangelicals, is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage, and has chided abortion advocates for saying the pro-lifers are conducting a "war on women," according to LifeNews.com.

Current New Jersey governor Chris Christie also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, but dropped his appeal of a court decision legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey. He also signed into law a ban on state-licensed counselors trying to help children reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction. Religion News Service reported that Christie does not believe being homosexual is a sin or a choice.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is also a former pastor and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.  I have observed that he is closely identified with Christian causes and activities, and was a featured speaker at this year's National Religious Broadcasters convention.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning first-term senator from Kentucky, opposes same-sex marriage but says the issue should be settled by state governments rather than the federal government, according to the Washington Post. Paul introduced a bill in the Senate that would declare a fertilized egg a human protected by law. He told a a University of Chicago forum his personal belief that "life begins at the very beginning" does not reflect the views of many Americans.

Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, supported a Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as "only a union between a man and a woman," but in 2011 he affirmed New York's right under the Tenth Amendment to legalize same-sex marriage.

Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, defends the rights of states to define marriage as between one man and one woman and believes "the right to life outweighs the right to choose an abortion," according to a National Review report.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage.  As I have highlighted, Santorum also heads a Christian film studio that makes films from a Christian worldview perspective.

And, according to that Baptist Press report, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is a pastor's son who told attendees at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in February he supports "strong marriages" and seeks to protect innocent life, according to an NRB news release.  He signed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to view ultrasound images of their babies. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and has defended Wisconsin's ban of same-sex marriage, Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reported in October.

So, Cruz may be the first,  but as more candidates enter the race, it will be interesting to see which candidate or candidates may galvanize the evangelical vote in the 2016 Presidential race.

2 - Reaction, overreaction to Indiana's new religious freedom bill

This past week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a Religious Freedom Restoration Act for the state.  According to Ryan Anderson and Sarah Torre of the Heritage Foundation, writing for The Daily Signal website:
This is good policy that protects the fundamental freedom of Indiana citizens from unnecessary and unreasonable government coercion.
The Indiana law is based on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a law that has served the American people well for more than 20 years. Passed with 97 votes in the Senate and by unanimous voice vote in the House, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. This federal law prohibits substantial government burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive means.
The writers point out that Indiana joins 19 other states that have implemented such laws. Also, they say that eleven additional states have religious liberty protections that state courts have interpreted to provide a similar level of protection.   Anderson and Torre state that, "...Religious Freedom Restoration Acts don’t allow individuals to do whatever they wish in the name of religion. There will be times when the government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression—to ensure public safety, for instance."  They add:
But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom. The way we’ve learned to live in a pluralistic society, with diverse religious and moral opinions, is to have a balancing test like the one the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides.
But, there are detractors who say this new RFRA, resembling a Federal law upon which the Hobby Lobby decision was based last year, and similar to laws in 19 other states protecting religious freedom, will license people of faith to discriminate against gays and lesbians.  The Indianapolis Star reports:
Criticism mounted swiftly on Thursday after Pence signed the bill that opponents say allows businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
Pence and his supporters have denied claims of discrimination, saying the bill only protects business owners from the government burdening them from practicing their religion.
But the website reports the mayor of San Francisco has said he is banning all city-funded trips to the state.  It says:
The San Francisco mayor is joined by other businesses, groups and individuals who have voiced concerns.
Among those are the NCAA, the tech company Salesforce and the gaming convention Gen Con.
 As Sarah Torre writes in another piece on The Daily Signal website:
The media’s gross mischaracterizations of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act ignore the truth: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts prevent government discrimination against religious free exercise and simply provide a way to balance religious liberty with compelling government interests.
And, this is to be pursued, as she points out, "in the least-restrictive means possible."

1 - Racial reconciliation comes into the spotlight with ERLC, Reconciled Church events

This past week, with a heightened opportunity to place an emphasis on race relations because of the anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, Christian leaders gathered to discuss issues surrounding racial reconciliation and how Christians of a variety of backgrounds can work together to better their communities.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a series of follow-up meetings conducted by The Reconciled Church, a consortium of Christian leaders representing a variety of churches and denominations, included a panel discussion on criminal justice reform and another on youth empowerment.  Reconciled Church co-founder Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition was on hand for the Montgomery events, as well as Jim Liske, President of Prison Fellowship.  That evening, a worship service took place at Fresh Anointing House of Worship featuring a number of local and nationally-known speakers.

The following day in Nashville, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention convened its annual leadership summit, with the theme, "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation."  A Baptist Press report said about the first day's activities:
The Gospel of Jesus is the solution to America's racial divisions, speakers said on the opening day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored leadership summit.

Black, white and Hispanic pastors and leaders addressed the issue of racial reconciliation Thursday (March 26) at the event...
The report said that longtime civil rights leader John Perkins told the audience of about 500, "I think that we are putting reconciliation back where it belongs -- within the Gospel itself."

Perkins is quoted as saying, in an interview with ERLC President Russell Moore, that people make a "big mistake" in pushing "reconciliation out of the Gospel," out of being a part of conversion that is understood as a Christian is discipled.

Some quotes from various speakers were posted on the ERLC website, including these from Tony Evans:
• "God's not asking me to be like you, or you to be like me, but both of us to be like Him."
• "We've abandoned truth for culture when truth is designed to lead culture"
• "When you take a stand on God's word, racial reconciliation doesn't take long."
Other speakers included Trillia Newbell, Fred Luter, and Trip Lee.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 3 - March 22, 2015

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I turn my attention to President Obama's appeal to the Iranian government for the release of U.S. citizens from prison, including Pastor Saeed Abedini.  Also, a large Protestant denomination has received enough votes from its regional bodies to affirm marriage as the union of two individuals, not just a man and a woman.   And, the top story involves a bill that is intended reduce human trafficking that cannot be passed by the Senate because some lawmakers want an abortion restriction eliminated from the bill's language.

3 - President calls for release of Iranian prisoners, including Pastor Saeed

In association with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, on Friday, President Obama called on Iran to release U.S. citizens believed to be in Tehran's custody, according to a report on the USA Today website.  The President reportedly said that "at this time of renewal, compassion and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home."

The article stated that three U.S. citizens — Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian — are believed to be in prison; a fourth — Robert Levinson — is missing and was last seen in Iran.

The statement comes as negotiations are continuing over Iran's nuclear program.

ChristianNews.net report stated that Mr. Obama described Pastor Saeed: “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs...He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.”

As the website had reviously reported, Abedini, a former Iranian Muslim turned Christian, left Iran in 2005 and moved to the United States with his wife and two children to find religious freedom after facing conflict with authorities for planting house churches in the county. In 2012, he traveled back to Iran to build an orphanage and visit his parents—and was about to return to the states—when he was taken into custody.

The website reported that Pastor Saaed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, requested a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in January as he was scheduled to speak at an area university. She later told reporters that Obama advised her that “getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family.”  Also, she met last month with U.S. Religious Freedom Ambassador David Saperstein to discuss ways to secure Abedini’s release. And, last week, Keith Harper, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, also pleaded on behalf of Abedini before the UN, calling upon Iran to “uphold its religious freedom obligations and release those imprisoned for their religious beliefs, such as Pastor Saeed Abedini, and protect the rights of all individuals to manifest their religious beliefs.”

2 - Large denomination redefines marriage

Last summer, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to change the language in its Book of Order, the denomination’s governing constitution, to define marriage as a "unique commitment between two people," rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman as an act of Christian discipleship, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

After the vote last June, a majority of the PCUSA’s 171 presbyteries also had to approve the measure for it to go into effect. This past Tuesday, the number (86) was reached.

In a statement quoted by CT, the president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) criticized the denomination’s shift. Carmen Fowler LaBerge said, “In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture,” adding that, “Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost."

The amendment reportedly provides an exemption for PC(USA) teaching elders who believe that officiating a same-sex marriage would violate their “discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” Local congregations can also deny the use of church property for same-sex ceremonies.  The new amendment is set to go into effect June 21.


1 - Human trafficking bill stalled in U.S. Senate because of abortion provision

This past week, a bill that was designed to increase penalties for anyone convicted of slavery, human smuggling and sexual exploitation of children was brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate, according to The Christian Post, which reports that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act enjoyed bipartisan support two weeks ago, but on Tuesday failed by five votes to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill.  It cites that USA Today reported that a second vote to end debate on the underlying bill also did not receive the needed amount of votes.

Democrats protested against a provision in the bill that sought to block any funds collected from being used to perform abortions, with the exception in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.

The Post reported said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who changed his vote to "no" to allow him to bring the bill up again later, warned Democrats about going against the bill. He is quoted as saying, "If Democrats actually vote to filibuster a bill to help victims of modern-day slavery, I can't imagine the American people will forget," adding that the filibuster is "a historic mistake."

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn is quoted by LifeNews.com as saying that, “Children are being abused and literally sexually assaulted while, apparently, some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have decided to try to make a political point.” He added, “To our colleagues who are filibustering this legislation, are you prepared to turn your back on the thousands of people living every day in bondage and who are desperately clinging to the hope that someone, someone will lend them a helping hand? Are you prepared to abandon these children and these other victims of human trafficking who deserve a roof over their head, someone to lean on, and somehow, some way to get a fresh start in life?”

LifeNews.com also reported that McConnell said that, as a result of their vote holding up the bill, Republicans will not allow a vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who is noted by the news service as being, "pro-abortion."  McConnell indicated his intention to keep the Senate focused on this human trafficking legislation until its successful completion. Further cloture votes to break the filibuster are expected throughout this week.