Sunday, July 24, 2016

The 3 - July 24, 2016

This edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, include a decision by the NBA to pull its All-Star Game from the state of North Carolina due to its attempt to uphold privacy and safety in public bathrooms.  Also, contrary to church teaching, a region of the United Methodist Church has appointed an openly gay bishop.  And, the Republican convention is over, but the debate over Donald Trump among Christian continues.

3 - NBA pulls All-Star Game from Charlotte

This week, it was announced that the NBA would be relocating its scheduled 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina.  The reason cited is the bill that was passed by the North Carolina legislature that would provide that citizens would use the restroom corresponding to their biological gender in state government buildings.   According to Focus on the Family, citing the North Carolina Policy Council, HB2 was passed in order to:
  1. Rein in a rogue city council in Charlotte that acted beyond its legal authority;
  2. Establish a statewide bathroom privacy and safety law codifying existing state policy; and
  3. Enumerate and clarify existing state policy, as it relates to discrimination in employment and public accommodations.
The piece says that, "The law listed five categories for civil rights protections: race, religion, color, national origin and biological sex. This mirrors the standard in federal law and a majority of states across the U.S."

Kellie Fiodorek, Legal Counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, took the NBA to task, saying:

“The NBA has abandoned common sense and put politics ahead of principle. The North Carolina privacy law, which protects girls and women from being forced to share locker rooms and showers with men, is completely reasonable. Pulling the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte is unreasonable and hypocritical. If the NBA actually believed that there is no difference between men and women, it would merge its two leagues. Twenty years ago, the NBA recognized the innate and obvious biological differences between men and women when it created the WNBA. Today, the NBA hopes no one notices that it properly maintains separate leagues for men and women while it opposes the commonsense law that simply protected the dignity interests and privacy rights of North Carolinians. Twenty-three other states explicitly support the freedom of states to set their own policies and laws regarding locker rooms and restrooms. Even New Orleans, the alternative city often mentioned as a host for next year’s All-Star Game, allows for ‘separate bathroom, restroom, shower or similar facilities for males and females’ in its local ordinance. The NBA should stick to what it does best—showcasing the world’s greatest professional athletes and serving its diverse fan base—rather than showcasing its amateur political posturing and serving the narrow-minded power elite.”

Writing for The Stream, author and commentator Michael Brown said,

Let us not forget that when the NBA decided to bring the All Star game to Charlotte, the laws were just as they are today: Men were expected to use men’s bathrooms and locker rooms and women were expected to use women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

If this was so terrible, why did the NBA agree to bring their annual, weeklong, festive event here? The State legislature simply reversed a radical bill passed by the Charlotte City Council earlier this year, a bill which had effectively rendered all public bathrooms and locker rooms gender neutral.

The State simply put things back to where they were before. Why then the outcry from the NBA? Why punish the state for moving things back to the way they {sic} when everything was fine?

You can access my conversation with Bruce Hausknecht, Judicial Analyst for Focus on the Family, which included content about this development, by clicking here.

2 - United Methodist sector elects openly lesbian bishop

Just weeks after the General Conference of the United Methodist Church decided not to address church policy on sexuality, rather leaving it to a committee to make recommendations about certain issues, including the denomination's view on homosexuality, the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the Church decided to take matters into its own hands and appoint a gay bishop.

John Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, wrote at the IRD website in a piece dated July 16:

United Methodists in the denomination’s liberal Western Jurisdiction have elected the first openly partnered gay bishop in the 13 million-member global church’s history. Pastor Karen Oliveto of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, who is married to another woman, will be consecrated a bishop during a Saturday afternoon service at the regional conference being held outside of Phoenix, Arizona.

After highlighting some of Oliveto's criticism of the ministry of St. Paul, support for the nation's largest abortion provider, and pastoring a church that had served as an illegal medical marijuana dispensary, Lomperis continued:

The United Methodist Church effectively shelved all legislation on sexuality at its recent General Conference. In doing so, the church retained language declaring homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching” in its governing Book of Discipline. The church does not ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” but some bishops have overlooked this restriction on a technicality that some non-celibate lesbian and gay candidates for ordination have not “self-avowed” their sexual practices.

Very importantly, the denomination’s South Central Jurisdiction, which has more than five times as many members, almost immediately voted to petition the Judicial Council, the “supreme court” of the denomination, to review the legality of such actions by the Western Jurisdiction.

After the election, Council of Bishops president Bruce Ough said, according to Religion News Service, that the Council is “monitoring this situation very closely.” He also said the council will continue its work of forming the commission to discuss sexuality.

1 - Evangelicals processing Trump nomination, acceptance speech

The Republican National Convention has come and gone, with the Democratic convention kicking off this week.  And, there is a noted difference of opinion among Christian leaders about the prospect of a Donald Trump Presidency.   After the platform committee developed and delegates to the Cleveland convention approved a life- and traditional marriage-affirming platform, then-presumptive nominee Donald Trump chose a Christian social conservative, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, as his Vice-Presidential running mate.   And, Trump through out some comments to evangelicals during his acceptance speech.  Some examples, according to Baptist Press:

He expressed gratitude to the "evangelical and religious community," saying, "I'll tell you what, the support they've given me -- and I'm not sure I totally deserve it -- has been so amazing and has had such a big reason for me being here tonight..."

Referring to the Johnson Amendment, preventing non-profit organizations, including churches, from endorsing political candidates, he said, "I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans."

He also promised to, as the Baptist Press article put it, "To replace the late conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia with 'a person of similar views, principles and judicial philosophies.'"

The article says that Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a Trump supporter, said on Twitter after the GOP nominee's speech, "Tonight the world witnessed the @realDonaldTrump I've come to know. Strong. Decisive. Compassionate." Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, said that a vote for Trump is a vote for "conservative, pro-life justices to the Supreme Court," Falwell told delegates. He described the billionaire as a "true patriot."

Other Southern Baptist leaders were, well, less impressed:

Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted, "I have heard nothing tonight that would persuade me to change my mind & vote 4 @realDonaldTrump," adding, "The saddest political situation in my life."

Denny Burk, professor at Boyce College said in a blog post, "The party belongs to him, and the GOP as we have known it is officially dead," adding, "If ever the country needed its statesmen to be men of courage, it is right now. ... I ask you not to make your peace with the convention's outcome. You should actively oppose the candidate through the general election."

Christian leaders speaking out in favor of Trump include James Dobson and Tony Perkins.  Those who have expressed opposition to Trump include Max Lucado and Russell Moore.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The 3 - July 17, 2016

This week's edition of The 3 delves into electoral politics, including a couple of developments leading up to the GOP Convention in Cleveland - a platform that affirms life and traditional marriage and a Vice-Presidential nominee who is a professing Christian.  Also, the U.S. House passed a bill that would protect from retaliation health care professionals who don't want to be involved in abortion. And, thousands gathered on a hot day in the nation's capital to be challenged to "reset" their lives through Christ.

3 - Pro-life, pro-traditional marriage proponents influence Republican platform; Trump chooses Christian conservative for VP

Even though there was talk leading up to the meetings to decide on the platform of the Republican Party that there would be a less conservative stance on life and marriage, the final product has been "hailed by many as one of the most conservative in recent memory," according to Conservative Review, which speculated that, "This is due to the strong conservative presence on the committee, fueled in large part by Cruz’s delegate strategy. The platform language is in many ways more evocative of Cruz’s rhetoric than Trump’s. The document is a strong win for constitutional conservatives."  This is welcome news to those Christians that desired for their values to be reflected in the GOP platform.

The analysis, written by Robert Eno, continues:

...In the 1976 Republican platform, the first platform after Roe v. Wade, the abortion language was not strong. Contrasted with the post Obergefell language in this platform on traditional marriage shows the effect that Cruz’s delegates had on the drafting process. The platform states unequivocally that the marriage of one man and one woman is the best model for children. 

Also, as the article points out, presumptive nominee Donald Trump had made it known that he wanted a "softening of platform language on abortion."  The analysis says that, "The final platform language is extremely strong on the protection of life."

And, on Saturday, Trump formally introduced Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential choice, after tweeting it out on Friday.  According to WORLD Magazine:

Trump called Pence “my partner in this campaign” and praised his ability to create jobs in Indiana: “This is the primary reason I wanted Mike—other than that he looks very good, other than he’s got an incredible family, and incredible wife.” Pence referred to himself as “just a small-town boy” and praised Trump as “a good man,” a fighter, a legendary businessman, and a patriotic American. “The American people are tired,” Pence said. “We’re tired of being told that this is as good as it gets. We’re tired of having politicians in both parties in Washington, D.C., telling us we’ll get to those problems tomorrow.”


Describing himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican—in that order,” Pence has a track record on issues as long as Trump’s is short. As a member of Congress, Pence supported a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, opposed same-sex marriage, opposed the No Child Left Behind Act, and led the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. In March, as governor, he signed a bill that prohibits abortion in Indiana based solely on genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome.

But, as Derrick relates:

Last year, Pence angered many when, after signing the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) into law, he approved a “fix” that tried to find a middle ground with the LGBT community and corporate opponents. Conservative critics said the amended bill could expose religious persons to fines or even jail time for living out their beliefs on marriage.

2 - U.S. House passes conscience protection legislation regarding abortion

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday that would provide conscience protection for health care professionals who do not wish to be involved in abortion.  According to the Susan B. Anthony List website, the bill would make the Weldon Amendment permanent law.

The site says:

SBA List and other pro-life groups have been pressing for a vote on this legislation for years, and praised Speaker Ryan for taking swift action following HHS’ decision last month to unilaterally reinterpret the Weldon Amendment in order to allow California to force churches to purchase healthcare plans that cover abortion on-demand.

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said:

For decades, conscience has been an area of public policy consensus. Even those who support Roe used to agree that Americans who object to abortion should not be forced to participate in it or subsidize its costs. That longstanding consensus is now under attack from the Obama Administration and others on the left. Speaker Ryan’s quick action to counter this attack demonstrates exactly the kind of pro-life leadership we are looking for. We thank him for fighting back and offering Americans real protections...

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Matt Bowman is quoted on the Alliance Defending Freedom media website:

“Health professionals should always have the freedom—and indeed, have a right—not to be forced to perform abortions. In addition, every woman should be free to choose a doctor who values the life of her baby. Because the Obama administration has violated pro-life conscience laws so that now even churches, in many instances, must pay for abortion insurance, this bill has become necessary. The House was right to pass this bill to protect the freedom of Americans to practice and choose pro-life health care, and we hope the Senate will take it up as well.”

1 - Thousands join "Together" on the National Mall in Washington

The Together 2016 event took place on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Saturday, July 16, and while thousands attended, emergency officials instructed the event to shut down early due to intense heat in the nation's capital.

Charisma News stated that thousands came to celebrate that "Jesus changes everything." The event was shut down by Emergency Services after medical personnel were overwhelmed with the number of people, reported at more than 400, who were overcome by extreme heat.

Nick Hall of PULSE, which had planned the event, tweeted out: "This event has never been about coming to the Mall. It's about sending a generation out from the mall to share Jesus."

Hall is quoted as saying that they wanted to continue but "just felt like the right thing to do was to show respect and try to listen." The article says that he pointed out that it wasn't a coincidence that the event ended early, encouraging attendees to be witnesses for Christ. Hall said, "There might be somebody that needs Jesus that you're supposed to go talk to. ... God is the one that leaves the 99 to go after the one."

Christian rapper and hip-hop artist Lecrae tweeted out, "I see people as far as my eye can see," adding, "I see people who should be referred to as brothers and sisters...Let's not be a religious community that walks by people who are struggling and hurting. If we're not a healing salve, we contribute to the pain."

Scheduled speakers included Ravi Zacharias, Francis Chan, Josh McDowell, and Tony Evans. Musical artists, in addition to Lecrae, included Hillsong United, Casting Crowns, and Michael W. Smith.

The Religion News Service report on the event said that the program included author Ann Voskamp and poet Amena Brown in a spoken-word segment that featured calls for forgiveness and reconciliation related to racism and privilege.  Voskamp cried, "We will not be the people who turn a blind eye to injustice," and Brown replied, "We will use our voices, our time, our resources to effect change."  

Kirk Franklin prayed, “Let me die for my home, let me die for my community, let me die for a white man, let me die for a black man, let me die for an Hispanic man, let me die for an Asian man,” adding, “Let me get out of the way so you can be God in my life.”

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The 3 - July 10, 2016

Welcome to another edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community.  One of the stories this week involves a new law in Iowa that presents a threat to the freedom of religion of churches.  Also, in Kentucky this week, the massive Ark Encounter theme park, featuring a life-sized Noah's Ark replica, opened to large crowds.  And, violence with racial overtones came to cities across America, representing an opportunity for the Church to respond.

3 - New Iowa civil rights law threatens religious freedom rights of churches

The Alliance Defending Freedom, according to its website, has filed a Federal lawsuit against members of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, among others, to "stop the government from censoring the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and from forcing the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex."

ADF contends that the commission is interpreting a state law to ban churches from expressing their views on human sexuality if they would “directly or indirectly” make “persons of any particular…gender identity” feel “unwelcome” in conjunction with church services, events, and other religious activities.  According to the website, the commission is making conclusions on its interpretation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which also includes a facility use mandate that requires anyone subject to the law to open sensitive areas like locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to persons based on their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.

The Alliance warns that this could prevent churches from making any public comments—including from the pulpit—that could be viewed as unwelcome to persons who do not identify with their biological sex.  This is because the commission says the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a “bona fide religious purpose.” Examples the commission gave are “a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public,” which encompasses most events that churches hold.  The story points out that, "ADF attorneys representing Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines argue in the lawsuit that all events held at a church on its property have a bona fide religious purpose."

According to ADF, there was a minor revision made to a brochure that is associated with the law. Attorney Christiana Holcomb is quoted as saying, "“Cosmetic changes to the alarming language in one brochure won’t fix the unconstitutionality of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without fearing government punishment."

2 - Life-sized Noah's Ark opens in rural Kentucky

This past Thursday, the Ark Encounter, featuring a life-size replica of Noah's Ark, was opened by Answers in Genesis south of Cincinnati, Ohio.  President and CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, tweeted out that as of early Saturday morning, 25,000 people had visited the park, and attendance at the companion site, the Creation Museum, had increased by over 2,000 people per day.

Religion News Service did a feature story on the Ark Encounter, stating that more than 8,000 people showed up for a preview event on Tuesday night.  Ham was quoted as saying that the purpose of the Ark Encounter was to “proclaim God’s word and the gospel.” The story reported:

It’s meant to show — in keeping with Answers in Genesis’ ministry, focused on issues such as creation, evolution, science and the age of the Earth — that the biblical flood account is historic and the Bible is true in regard to history and science.

The story also reported that:

The park’s centerpiece features three decks of exhibits explaining Answers in Genesis’ views of the biblical flood account and life-size figures depicting what life on the ark might have been like for Noah and his family — an extravaganza Ham described as “beyond Hollywood.”

And, the Ark Encounter had a special guest on Friday night - Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," who had debated Ken Ham at the Creation Museum at 2014.  Ham wrote in a blog post on the Answers in Genesis website:

As we walked through the Ark, we had a very passionate discussion. It was like the debate all over again but more intense at times. Though it did get tense due to our differences in worldviews, it was an amicable visit.

Mr. Nye wanted to start his tour on the third deck where we discussed Flood geology and the ice core exhibit, which is part of the larger Ice Age exhibit. This display features a short clip from our debate of Bill Nye referring to ice cores in Greenland as an objection to the young earth view. In our exhibit I answer this objection; we even have a diorama to visually illustrate the answer. As we discussed geology and the Ice Age, our discussion turned toward worldviews. Ultimately, this is the heart of the issue—we have two different worldviews and two different interpretations of the same evidence because of our different starting points.

1 - Calls for prayer and action in the aftermath of shootings with racial elements

This week, there was a series of interrelated incidents that can compel Christian believers to seek to exercise the compassion of Christ and to address areas of tension in our culture.

Two deaths of black men at the hands of white policemen and five deaths of white policemen at the hands of one black man on a mission at a protest can raise plenty of questions, but we know that through Christ and based on His principles, there can be answers for our society.

The LifeZette website reported that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown spoke Friday morning at a press conference after 12 police officers were shot and five died the night before.

The article reports that: "At the end of his statement, Mayor Rawlings asked for one of the few things that can truly help comfort Dallas in the wake of this tragedy: prayer."  He said, "Chief Brown told the victims’ families last night and the police officers that he was a man of faith and I am a man of faith, too,” adding, “And we need prayers and prayer is good.”

He announced that at noon on Friday at Thanksgiving Square in Dallas, there would be "a leadership group of interfaith ministers," who would be leading in prayer.  The mayor said, "I would ask that if you're at your home or at your office or at your school, to join us at noon in that spirit of prayer," adding, "To bring our city together and our country together. To heal wounds, not create them."

The Dallas Morning News reported that this Thursday, local clergy would be meeting to try to work through some of the issues surrounding the tragedy and race relations in the city. Bryan Carter, senior pastor at Concord Church, a mostly African-American congregation in southern Dallas and one of the pastors convening Thursday's meeting, said that the goal of the event is to come up with a practical plan that local religious leaders can follow. He posed the question, "What are some key things we can do in the faith community in Dallas to put a dent in what we are seeing?"

Quoted in the article was Dwight McKissic, Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Arlington, who had invited the local police chief to talk to the mostly black congregation about how to deal with police in ways less likely to provoke confrontation. This was prior to the shootings in Dallas, after which the event's tone changed. McKissic is quoted as saying, "The police persons are uneasy. The citizens are uneasy," adding, "How do we move forward from this uneasiness?"

At an interfaith service on Friday night, Pastor Todd Wagner of the predominantly white Watermark Church explained how he was initially confused by the #blacklivesmatter movement. A black friend enlightened to Wagner, who explained on Saturday, "They weren't saying, 'We don't think white lives matter,'" adding, "'We're saying it feels like nobody else but us cares about black lives.' And that is a scary and a vulnerable place to live."  Wagner said the real solution is theological: "If we don't live in the ongoing truth of the God idea, in the reality of the objective presence of a loving God, the chaos and the crisis will only continue."

Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and speaker on the radio program, The Alternative, issued a statement.  In it, he said:

We, as believers in Jesus Christ, must begin to both model and apply more fervently biblical solutions to our nation’s chaos.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians. One of the real tragedies today is that the church as a whole has failed to advance God’s kingdom light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

Monday, July 04, 2016

The 3 - July 3, 2016

There was plenty of activity impacting areas of life, marriage, and religious liberty this week, and here in this week's edition of The 3, there were three state laws that were blocked by Federal judges - one involving religious freedom and marriage, two others dealing with the abortion issue.  Also, the Air Force has clarified its policy after a retired military member was removed from a retirement ceremony for a recitation that mentioned God.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling. striking down a Texas abortion law and refused to hear a case involving conscience protection for pharmacists who did not wish to dispense drugs that are designed to cause abortion.

3 - Mississippi religious freedom law, Florida and Indiana abortion laws blocked by Federal judges

This past week, Federal courts ruled against laws that had been passed by three states that are consistent with a Christian worldview perspective on religious freedom and life.

Regarding Mississippi, U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that the law that was set to go into effect on Friday, known as the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” or H.B. 1523, is unconstitutional and would “diminish the rights of LGBT citizens," according to a report on the WND.com website.  The story says that it is a bill "that would have protected the religious freedom of clerks and businesses that refuse to participate in same-sex marriages."

Reeves stated, “HB 1523 does not advance the interest the State says it does,” adding, “Under the guise of providing additional protection for religious exercise, it creates a vehicle for state-sanctioned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s not rationally related to a legitimate end.”

Governor Phil Bryant responded by saying: “Like I said when I signed House Bill 1523, the law simply provides religious accommodations granted by many other states and federal law,” adding, “I am disappointed Judge Reeves did not recognize that reality. I look forward to an aggressive appeal.”

Also, another Federal judge blocked a Florida law that was due to go into effect on Friday. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle, according to the Miami Herald, "ordered the state to restore contracts with abortion clinics and to halt plans to inspect abortion records for half of the more than 70,000 patients a year who have the procedure done in Florida."

The law had mandated that no state money would fund non-abortion care at abortion clinics.  The action blocks parts of the law from taking effect, but the judge said he thought that the provisions would be found to be unconstitutional.  Other parts of the law did go into effect, including a requirement that abortion doctors obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or that abortion clinics have transfer agreements in place.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article87086777.html#storylink=cpy

And, LifeSiteNews.com reports that U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt blocked an Indiana law that would protect pre-born babies with conditions such as Down syndrome.

The story points out that while Pratt’s ruling blocked the ban on most abortions based upon disability, as well as gender and race, as well as the requirement to bury the remains of aborted children, certain provisions of the law remain in effect, according to a statement from Indiana Right to Life.

These provisions include a requirement to give the mother information from the Indiana Department of Health about perinatal hospice care if her unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. Also, there is an update to the state's admitting privileges law, mandating that an abortion provider document his or her admitting privileges with the department.

A spokesperson for Governor Mike Pence stated: "While disappointed in today's ruling, Governor Pence remains steadfast in his support for the unborn, especially those with disabilities. The governor will continue to stand for the sanctity of human life in all stages."

2 - Air Force clarifies policies on religious speech in retirement ceremonies after conflict

A video of an Air Force retirement ceremony at Travis Air Force Base in California has raised concerns about religious freedom for military members and resulted in a clarification from the Air Force.  The Christian Examiner tells the story of an incident in April, during which several Air orce personnel forcibly removed retired Senior Master Sgt. Oscar Rodriguez Jr. during a flag folding ceremony at the retirement of Master Sgt. Charles Roberson when he began to recite, at Roberson's request, a flag-folding speech that mentioned God. The struggle was caught on video.

Now, while Air Force regulations say that nothing is to be recited in a flag-folding ceremony, unless it is the prescribed Air Force script, in this case, a civilian was the one that was speaking.  The Air Force has now clarified its policy, according to the Christian Examiner, saying no regulations were violated.  It states: "Since retirement ceremonies are personal in nature, the script preference for a flag folding ceremony is at the discretion of the individual being honored and represents the member's views, not those of the Air Force. The Air Force places the highest value on the rights of its personnel in matters of religions and facilitates the free exercise of religion by its members..."  The Examiner referenced a story from the Air Force Times website.

An investigation has been commissioned, and further clarification has been promised by an Air Force spokesperson.  Not surprisingly, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation is considering a lawsuit.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/health-care/article87086777.html#storylink=cpy

1 - Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic restrictions, refuses to hear case involving pharmacist's religious liberty

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 vote, struck down the provisions of a Texas law that required abortion centers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and that required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.

In essence, Justice Anthony Kennedy cast the deciding vote, and the report said:

The ruling from Kennedy and the liberals—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—said abortion was safer than childbirth, long a talking point of abortion groups like Planned Parenthood. Kennedy’s vote meant that the late Justice Antonin Scalia, had he lived through this term, would not have changed the 5-3 outcome.

The story points out that the Texas legislature had passed the measures in response to the conviction of Pennsylvania abortionist Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of three babies born alive and manslaughter in the death of a patient. Justice Samuel Alito in his dissent, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, said a similar law in Pennsylvania might have shut down Gosnell’s facility before he could commit his crimes. Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, disagreed.

Emily Belz, the writer of the WORLD story, states:

Thomas’ dissent highlights how the court is making up its abortion jurisprudence as it goes along. The decision “perpetuates the court’s habit of applying different rules to different constitutional rights—especially the putative right to abortion.”

In a case involving abortion and religious freedom, the Supreme Court this week refused to hear a case out of Washington state that involved a challenge to a policy in the state that required pharmacists to dispense abortifacient drugs over their conscience objections.  WORLD reported on this development, as well.  The pharmacists challenging the regulation had won in a lower court, but lost at the appeals court level.

Justice Alito offered a dissent regarding the high court's refusal. The report quotes the justice as saying that , “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.” Roberts and Thomas joined in, which means, according to Belz, the writer of that story, as well, that Justice Anthony Kennedy provided the decisive fifth vote to reject the case. The court requires four votes to take a case.

You can hear an interview on The Meeting House about these two cases by clicking here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The 3 - June 26, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, some news out of California involving churches and faith-based organizations being forced to pay for abortions in their health care plans.  Also, the newly-passed religious freedom law in Mississippi underwent some court challenges this week.  And, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, met with evangelical leaders.

3 - Federal government to force churches in California to pay for abortions

In 2014, the California Department of Managed health reclassified abortion as a "basic health service," and ordered all insurance plans in the state to begin covering surgical abortions, according to LifeNews.com.  Even churches were not exempted.

Churches filed a lawsuit, which has been moving through the courts. The plaintiffs also asked the Obama administration to uphold the Weldon Amendment, which is a federal law that protects conscience rights. This week, the HHS Office of Civil Rights released the results of its investigation into the California abortion mandate, stating it found no violation and is closing its investigation of the complaints without further action.

The OCR stated that the Weldon amendment only protects health insurance plans, not the purchasers of such plans, and since insurance companies have not complained, then there has been no violation.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattox commented to LifeNews.com, stating:

“The Obama Administration is once again making a mockery of the law, and this time in the most unimaginable way. Churches should never be forced to cover elective abortion in their insurance plans, and for ten years the Weldon Amendment has protected the right to have plans that do not include coverage for abortion-on-demand. But the state of California has ordered every insurer, even those insuring churches, to cover elective abortions in blatant violation of the law..."

Rep. Chris Smith, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus stated to LifeNews.com: “Nearly two years after California imposed its draconian mandate that requires all insurance companies to pay for abortion the Obama Administration has reached a new low — reinterpreting the Weldon amendment to allow the mandate to continue,” adding, “This means that Californians, including churches, will continue to be forced to pay for elective abortions in their insurance plans.”

2 - Religious freedom law in Mississippi faces court challenges

This week, the bill in Mississippi offering protections for people who object to gay marriage in religious grounds faced several court challenges.  On Monday, the first hurdle was cleared, as
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said, according to WAPT Television, that two gay men who plan to marry each other within the next three years can't prove they would face immediate harm if the bill, House Bill 1523 becomes law July 1. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the couple and it filed papers Tuesday asking Reeves to reconsider that decision.

According to the article, the law lets clerks cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. State attorneys say it's a reasonable accommodation to protect religious beliefs. Another article on the TV station's website says:

The bill protects three beliefs: That marriage should only be between a man and a woman, that sex should only take place within such a marriage and that a person's gender is set at birth.

Another court hearing took place in Jackson on Thursday regarding the law, which is set to go into effect on Friday, July 1.

1 - Evangelicals meet to hear from, question Trump

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, agreed to meet with evangelical leaders on Tuesday in New York City.  A large gathering of an estimated 900 people or so gathered at a Midtown hotel, and it was preceded by a smaller meeting.  National Religious Broadcasters President and CEO Jerry Johnson wrote on the NRB website:

In addition to the hour-long meeting with hundreds of pastors and others, as a member of the Steering Committee, I met with Trump in a smaller gathering of leaders who were able to talk with him about various concerns of evangelicals.

At the larger meeting, Trump emphasized his commitment to religious liberty by vowing to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, who would be vetted by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. He also said he wants to restore the free speech rights of Christians by rescinding the infamous Johnson Amendment, which has limited the political speech of churches and other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt ministries. Additionally, Trump said he wants to encourage the use of the greeting “Merry Christmas” in American culture and government.

Also at the meeting, Trump reiterated his proposal to temporarily halt Muslim immigration to the United States, adding a more nuanced suggestion that he would pause immigration from regions where radical Islamic terrorism is present. He also promised that his judicial appointments would be pro-life.

Also, as Johnson and others have reported, that day Trump announced the formation of an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.

The meeting were closed to the general media, although David Brody of CBN News attended the meeting, and offered some commentary.  Brody wrote:

One theme that Trump kept bringing up is the fact that Christianity in America is under attack. "Government has gotten so involved in your religion,” Trump said. He made the case that evangelicals need to rise to the occasion because their rights are under attack. "You have such power and influence…(but) if you don't band together, you're really not that powerful." That line was met with strong applause.

The CBN journalist also wrote, "Is there work to be done? Yes. But we may look back at this meeting as an important turning point in Trump’s effort to consolidate the evangelical vote."  A subsequent story featured quotes about the meeting from a number of pro-family leaders, including Kelly Shackelford of First Liberty Institute, who was positive about Trump's comments on religious liberty, and Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony list, who lauded Trump's pledge to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.

Brody also quoted Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, as saying: "As it pertains to the evangelical vote and the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, today's meeting may very well be a tipping point."  In yet another CBN story, Brody mentioned African-American leader Bishop E.W. Jackson, who tweeted quotes and videos of Trump's speech throughout the gathering. Brody wrote: "His tweets reveal that Trump placed significant emphasis on the strength of the evangelical Christian vote in the upcoming election. Trump believes he owes his success to evangelicals."

You can also catch my conversation with Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance about the meeting, as well as the California abortion directive adversely affecting churches, at the website, MeetingHouseOnline.info.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The 3 - June 19, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, has information on 2 videographers who had one of two charges against them dropped regarding their videos exposing Planned Parenthood.  Also, this week, Southern Baptists met in St. Louis to conduct business, elect a new president, and pray.  And, the top story involves the tragedy in Orlando and how churches and people of faith have stepped up to help families of the victims and to proclaim hope to the community.

3 - Charges dismissed against pro-life video producers

The dramatic undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress have exposed Planned Parenthood officials, as their own comments indicated their participation in the sale of body parts from unborn babies.  A grand jury in Houston has been convened to investigate this type of activity by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, but in a strange twist, the grand jury ended up indicting the videographers, David Dalieden and Sandra Merritt.

A piece on The Stream website questioned how that could happen.  It goes on to say that after the indictments:

It was quickly revealed that a prosecutor in the Harris County D.A.’s office, Lauren Reeder, is a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast board member. Attorneys for Daleiden would then accuse District Attorney Devon Anderson of colluding with the abortion mill.

Those accusations were confirmed last month, when Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s attorney Josh Schaffer admitted in a sworn declaration that Anderson’s office shared evidence with Planned Parenthood.

The website reports:

On Monday night, Harris County Judge Diane Bull dismissed a misdemeanor charge of attempting to illegally buy human tissue. A similar charge was also dropped against Daleiden’s partner in the sting, Sandra Merritt. A felony charge of tampering with government documents — Daleiden allegedly used a fake ID during his undercover operation — remains. A different judge is hearing that case.

According to the article, the CMP issued a statement, which said, in part:

The dismissal of the first indictment today sends a strong message to Planned Parenthood and their political cronies that colluding to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizen journalists will never work. The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of its investigative journalism work and as more details about Planned Parenthood’s contracts for aborted baby parts come to light, it’s clear that Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress are the ones who are guilty of trafficking in human body parts.

2 - SBC meeting elects new president, passes resolutions

Increased attendance, a contended but amiable Presidential election, prayers for revival, and racial reconciliation were all storylines emerging from this week's Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

In a summary on the Baptist Press website, there was an unofficial total of 7,321 registered messengers, which was up from 5,407 last year.  Memphis-area pastor Steve Gaines, of Bellevue Baptist Church was elected President of the Convention, succeeding Ronnie Floyd.  The election had some drama, because after the first two ballots, no candidate had received a majority.  Gaines' leading challenger, J.D. Greear of Raleigh-Durham, withdrew, leaving Gaines as the lone candidate.

A resolution passed overwhelmingly, calling for the removal of displays of the Confederate Battle flag was seen as a move of racial reconciliation.  Former SBC President James Merritt moved that the convention call believers to "discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters."  He said support of the flag hinders evangelism among African Americans and said, "Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God."

There were twelve resolutions addressing a variety of topics, including the June 12 terrorist attack in Orlando, FL.; biblical sexuality; requiring women to register for the military draft; and ministry to refugees.

The convention also featured a "call to prayer" on Tuesday night, which featured two hours of prayer for awakening in America and around the world. There were brief addresses by a variety of leaders, including former SBC President Johnny Hunt, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie and Jerry Young, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA.

According to SBCAnnualMeeting.net, the SBC meets in Phoenix next year, then Dallas.  In 2019, Birmingham hosts the Southern Baptist Convention.

1 - Churches, faith community respond to Orlando tragedy

The mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub early on Sunday morning, June 12, has brought a range of emotions, from grief, to fear, to outrage.  Around 50 people lost their lives, with more injured.

The topics that have been debated and discussed this past week include: the shooter's connection to radical Islam, the attack's location - at a nightclub catering to the LGBT community, gun control, and overall national security.  You can read some of my early thoughts in a blog post here.

I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a violation of Scripture.  But, that doesn't preclude us from ministering to those who are in the LGBT community.   Jesus died for all, and we can show love to all.  The people who died in Orlando are unique creations of God, and their lives had value - their families, and all families who have lost loved ones, need to see hope.

To that end, a number of ministry organizations took steps to inject the hope of Christ into the desperate situation in Orlando.  The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team took their ministry of presence into the area.  A consortium of area churches and organizations held a prayer vigil at First Baptist Orlando on Tuesday night.  Florida Today quoted Danny de Armas, senior associate pastor with First Baptist, as saying that the event was a collaborative effort of "about a dozen" local churches. He said, "First Baptist Orlando is hosting it and we're allowing our facility here but it's really a cooperative effort on terms of the program."

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was a sponsor of a special meeting Wednesday night.  And, as I reported on the air, using a Huffington Post story, select area churches helped families of the victims by assisting with funeral services.

When tragedy hits, God's people can respond swiftly and compassionately.  Kelly Burke, a chaplain with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, is quoted at BillyGraham.org: “Even if you’re 2,000 miles away from Orlando, you can pray and impact what takes place in Orlando. Pray that God would continue to strengthen and encourage His workers, His children and His churches here. And that He would also continue to soften hearts and get folks ready to receive what He wants to give them.”

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The 3 - June 12, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 stories of relevance to the Christian community, I highlight a Bible reading proclamation by a Midwestern governor that has attracted some opposition. Also, a new California assisted-suicide law has gone into effect.  And, the Southern Baptist Convention meets this week in St. Louis, and there are several related stories that I will cover.

3 - Iowa governor issues Bible reading proclamation, faces atheist threats

The governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, has signed a proclamation encouraging citizens of the state to read the Bible on a daily basis "each year until the Lord comes" and to take part in a Bible reading marathon, to be held June 30 to July 3 in all 99 counties, according to an article on the Daily Signal website.

That's good - the article reports that during the marathon, Scripture will be read out loud in front of the courthouses in all of Iowa’s counties, according to a piece from the Baptist Convention of Iowa, quoted in that article.  Christian-based groups, including the Iowa Prayer Caucus, are organizing the events.  Some will include prayers every 15 minutes, according to The Des Moines Register.

The Des Moines Register also reported that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have criticized the proclamation and are considering suing. The Daily Signal article says that the FFRF sent a letter to Branstad this past Wednesday saying that the proclamation sends a message that “Iowa prefers and endorses the Christian faith over other religions and over nonreligion,” of which the organization says violates the separation of church and state.

Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel of First Liberty Institute, is quoted as saying: "The governor has every right to issue this proclamation,” adding, “These types of proclamations have been issued by governors and presidents since the days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Whenever courts are asked to address these proclamations, the courts have routinely thrown the cases out because, since no one is injured by them, no one has standing to sue over them. So Gov. Branstad’s proclamation is beyond judicial question.”  The governor told WHO Radio: “Virtually every president since Abraham Lincoln has signed proclamations encouraging prayers and Bible reading right on through including President Obama."

2 - California implements new assisted-suicide law

California's new assisted-suicide law went into effect this past Thursday.  According to the LifeNews.com website, California became the fourth in the U.S. to legalize deadly doctor-prescribed suicides in October, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

This past Wednesday, Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit, arguing that the California law discriminates against vulnerable people who are terminally ill and may be elderly or disabled.

In a statement, Life Legal said, "The Act decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide and instantly removes criminal law, elder abuse, and mental-health legal protections from any individual deemed terminally ill, despite the inherent uncertainty and frequently inaccurate nature of such a prognosis,” adding, “In contrast, all non-terminally ill Californians enjoy legal protection that makes it a felony to aid, advise, or encourage another to commit suicide."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, which has, along with the Patients Rights Action Fund, launched a website to monitor potential abuses, is quoted in the article as saying: “We are deeply concerned that this law, and the entire issue itself has been misrepresented to the public and to lawmakers,” adding, “Senator Monning, the initial author, inserted language into the bill falsely proclaiming that this was somehow NOT ‘assisted suicide,’ and was ‘not suicide,’ though it is inescapably so!”

Life Legal filed the civil rights lawsuit with five California physicians and the American Academy of Medical Ethics. It alleges that the assisted suicide law violates Equal Protection rights for individuals who are labeled terminally ill.  Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said, "The Act provides virtually no safeguards for labeled individuals who may suffer from untreated mental illness or mood disorders and grants full immunity for doctors to participate in the killing of their most vulnerable patients."

1 - Southern Baptists prepare for meeting in St. Louis

Southern Baptists are preparing for their annual convention in St. Louis this week, and Baptist Press reports on the latest Annual Church Profile report, released this past week.  According to the report, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with state conventions, the Southern Baptist Convention added more churches in 2015, which the article attributes mostly to church planting efforts. Churches also experienced an increase in total giving.

Other key measures declined, according to the story.  Those included membership, average worship attendance, baptisms and missions giving.

The data shows that the number of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 294 to 46,793, marking the 17th year in a row the number of SBC churches has grown.  But, reported membership declined more than 200,000, to 15.3 million members - that's a 1.32 percent decrease. Average weekly worship attendance shrunk to 5.6 million worshippers, a 1.72 percent decline.
Baptisms were down 3.3. to 295,212. Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee President and CEO, said, "God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News," adding, "May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ."

In another Baptist Press article, SBC President Ronnie Floyd stated: 

The key question for Southern Baptists is: Are we pushing back on lostness in America? I think we know the answer is no. We are losing our nation spiritually. It comes back to my theme for the last two to three years: The greatest need in America is the next Great Spiritual Awakening. Anyone who denies this needs to adjust their spiritual glasses concerning the spiritual condition of our nation and the need in this hour.  

The ACP report reminds me not only of this, but our deep need for spiritual revival in our churches. It also reminds me of the imperative need to prioritize evangelism in our churches and convention.

ABC News reports that Floyd wrote an article that called on Southern Baptist pastors, churches and laypeople to repent of racism and injustice. It included the words, "Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing."

The article mentioned a "national conversation on racial unity" to take place at the SBC's annual meeting on Tuesday. Rev. Jerry Young, president of the nation's largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. will be addressing the St. Louis gathering that day.

The ABC News article points out:

The fact that the discussion will take place in St. Louis, just down the road from Ferguson, is more than symbolic to Floyd. "It's providential and amazing!" he said, since the meeting place was set years before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown during a confrontation with a Ferguson police officer.

Also, in a matter unrelated to the Convention, but that involves a difference in opinion among Southern Baptists, a Baptist Press article highlights the situation involving two SBC entities, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board, who sided with a New Jersey mosque side in an friend-of-the-court brief, signed by those 2 entities and 16 other groups. The brief was filed in a lawsuit seeking to have building permit denials overturned.

Gerald Harris, editor of Georgia's Christian Index newsjournal, wrote an article criticizing the ERLC and the IMB, arguing Islam "may be more of a geo-political movement than a religion" and may not qualify for all the First Amendment protections granted to religions.

In response, a trio of Southern Baptist professors -- Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -- issued an open letter deeming it "inappropriate to question whether Muslims should retain the right freely to practice their religion" even though "granting such rights to some forms of Islam might one day lead to the threatening of Christians in our worship."

ERLC President Russell Moore, wrote, without mentioning Harris by name, in a blog post, "Religious liberty is never an excuse for violence and crime, nor has religious liberty been so construed in American history," adding, "The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, simply for holding their religious convictions, however consistent or inconsistent, true or false, those convictions are."

Harris stated in his editorial: 

..."Muslims around the world and in our own country" have shouted "death to America" on some occasions and that mosques "often promote Sharia Law and become training grounds for radicalizing Muslims." He quoted four commentators who have argued Islam "has a religious component" but, taken to its logical end, seeks to overcome western civilization.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The 3 - June 5, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, which highlights three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a pro-life emphasis to a celebration in China.  Also, a noted evangelist and volunteers were banned from handing out gift cards at a Reason Rally in Washington, but gave the cards to the homeless.  Also, a retired general who is in leadership at a Christian, pro-family advocacy organization has been removed as speaker for a prayer breakfast at an Army facility.

3 - Pro-life message introduced on "Children's Day" in China

This past Wednesday, June 1st, was Children's Day in China, a day marked by children’s events, reduced entrance fees at tourist attractions, and student performances, according to an article on the WORLD Magazine website. For the last past five years, Jonny Fan of Chengdu Early Rain Reformed Church has attempted to place an emphasis on unborn children during the campaign, with his “Don’t Abort on Children’s Day” campaign.

This year, the faith communities' involvement on behalf of unborn children included church members in multiple cities passing out informational flyers and holding signs outside hospitals, as well as an online 40 Days for Life campaign. There was also the first-ever declaration on the sanctity of life by a church group. The article notes that these activities faced little resistance from the government, which could signify that pro-life initiatives are becoming less sensitive in the country, which has a serious aging population crisis.

Fan launched the 40 Days for Life campaign on the Chinese social media site WeChat. It would be difficult to pray on the streets, but believers shared prayers online, and the group grew from 600 to 1,600 by the end of the 40 days, which ended on Children's Day. On that day, Fan encouraged group members to inform their community by passing out flyers or making banners.

Also, the West China Presbytery issued a directive on abortion, which was posted on WeChat Wednesday. The article points out that although in the past, individuals have spoken out against abortion, no church had officially expressed a stance on abortion. The directive had three parts: an affirmation of the sanctity of life, Bible passages supporting life-affirming statements, and actions for churches to take.

2 - Evangelist banned from handing out gift cards at "reason" rally

Noted evangelist Ray Comfort was planning to attend yesterday's Reason Rally in the nation's capital, and planned to hand out Subway gift cards and copies of his new book to attendees of the gathering of atheists in Washington, according to an article on the WORLDNetDaily website, which reported that more than 1,000 Christians had volunteered to help hand out the gifts, which caused his appearance to be nixed by the police.  The book is called, Fat Chance: Why Pigs Will Fly Before America Has an Atheist President 

The event, by its own description, is to “showcase the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and to demand that reason be put at the forefront of our public and political discourse.”  So instead of giving out 5,000 copies of his book and $25,000 in gift cards to the atheists, Comfort declared that the gift cards would go to the homeless.  Comfort was still planning to do some open-air preaching, to take a film crew out to the event, and to give out copies of the book to people he meets. He said volunteers were free to come of their own volition.

Oh, by the way, the Reason Rally attendance apparently didn't meet expectations.  According to Religion News Service:

Organizers had hoped for an attendance of 30,000, higher than the estimated 20,000 at the first Reason Rally in 2012 — when crowds contended with pouring rain. They estimated by mid-afternoon that 15,000 to 20,000 were in attendance on a warm, sunny day. But observers said the numbers seemed strikingly smaller in number than the previous year.

1 - Prayer breakfast featuring retired general cancelled, to be rescheduled without him

Retired Lt. General Jerry Boykin, Executive Vice-President of the Family Research Council, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for an upcoming prayer breakfast at Fort Riley in Kansas, but the breakfast has been cancelled due to the contention that Boykin is "anti-Muslim" and "anti-gay," according to Todd Starnes of FoxNews.com.

His article says that Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein told Army Times that Boykin’s invitation had caused great angst among soldiers at Fort Riley – leading some to break down in tears.

Boykin is quoted as saying, "I sincerely doubt that America can expect to win wars if the people who are tasked to do so are frightened by an old retired general with biblical views and a testimony of faith."

Starnes said that he reached out to Fort Riley, and it was confirmed that the prayer breakfast has been called off. The cancellation was blamed on a scheduling conflict and he was told it would be rescheduled - but with a different speaker.

Chief Public Affairs NCO MSG Mike Lavigne said in a statement: “Lt. Gen. (Ret) Boykin’s credentials as a Soldier and leader speak for themselves and his 36 years of service to our nation are worthy of our respect,” adding, “However, in an effort to ensure everyone in our broad and very diverse community feels welcome at any event on Fort Riley, we will pursue the invitation of a different speaker for the prayer breakfast once it is rescheduled.”

Boykin said that the cancellation is “just another reminder of the incredible discrimination against Christians in our armed forces.” He is quoted as saying, “This should tell you how difficult it is for Christians, and especially chaplains, to live their faith in our military."

Starnes had also reported on how Boykin had been removed from a position at Hampton-Sydney College because of pressure from LGBT activists over some comments (not the best choice of words, in my estimation) he had made to a gathering of conservatives.  The school reinstated Boykin less than six hours later!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The 3 - May 29, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is information about a bill that has been signed into law by South Carolina's governor protecting pre-born children after the 20th week of pregnancy.  Also, states are fighting back against federal overreach regarding bathroom usage.  And, a major Christian university is taking steps to create a safer, more accountable environment for women after scandal has hit its football program.

3 - SC governor signs bill banning abortions after 20th week of pregnancy

There are now 14 states - approaching one-third of all the states in the union, who ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, the point at which scientific research has indicated that an unborn child can feel pain.

And, the decision to sign the bill by South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Republican rising star who has even been mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate, is significant.

According to LifeNews.com, the bill has exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is in jeopardy and when doctors determine that the unborn baby has a fatal defect and cannot survive outside the womb, the report states. The LifeNews.com story says that according to WSOC News 9, doctors who violate the legislation could face fines of up to $10,000 and up to three years in prison.

Carol Tobias, National Right to Life president, is quoted in the article as saying: “South Carolina now joins thirteen other states in recognizing the humanity of the unborn child,” adding, “The smallest and most vulnerable members of our human family need our protection, and South Carolina has taken a vital step to save unborn children who are capable of feeling the excruciating pain of abortion.”

2 - States sue Federal government over transgender bathroom directive

A group of states has filed a lawsuit against the Federal government's directive saying that transgender students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.  FoxNews.com reports that Texas and 10 other states filed suit this past Wednesday against the Obama administration over its directive on transgender student access to public school facilities.

The suit was filed in a Texas federal court in response to the directive. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in announcing the suit, said: “This represents just the latest example of the current administration’s attempts to accomplish by executive fiat what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process in Congress." Joining Texas were: Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona's Department of Education, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.

The lawsuit says: "Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."

1 - Scandal at Christian university results in punishment for officials

Christians should be held to high standards of behavior, and that applies to Christian colleges and universities.

There's a school affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas that, according to an independent investigation, had been granting special privileges to athletes when they committed sexual assault toward women.  And, this past week, leaders at the school faced punishment.

The Board of Regents at Baylor University in Waco, Texas issued an apology to "Baylor Nation," according to Christianity Today, and announced the following actions:  head football coach Art Briles was suspended with intent to terminate.  President and chancellor Ken Starr will lose the presidency but will continue as chancellor and a professor at the law school.  AD Ian McCaw will be sanctioned and put on probation.  Also, a full-time chief compliance officer will be hired and report directly to the president.

In general, the university failed to take appropriate action when it learned of incidents of sexual assault by football players and failed to provide an effective way to address student conduct issues. The report said that, "Actions by university administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault." In general, the culture was found to be inadequate - the article says that the board found that, "There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct."

The CT story said that the board mandated that the university “create and maintain a culture of high moral standards among student-athletes.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The 3 - May 22, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, there is news out of Oklahoma that involves a strong pro-life bill that was vetoed by the governor.  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court made an unusual move of sending the cases dealing with the Obamacare contraceptive mandate back to the lower courts.  And, United Methodists have completed their gathering in Portland, which resulted in no legislative action on issues concerning homosexuality.

3 - OK legislature passes bill that would criminalize abortion, governor vetoes

After the Oklahoma legislature passed a bill making it a felony for physicians to perform abortions, one might assume that outspoken pro-life governor Mary Fallin would have signed the bill.  But, as The Stream reports, on Friday, the governor vetoed the bill, which would have effectively outlawed abortions in the state.

Governor Fallin said that she was rejecting the bill because it is “vague and would not withstand a criminal constitutional legal challenge.”  In her statement, she said: “The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered ‘necessary to preserve the life of the mother.'”

The bill, SB 1522, would have made it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison for a physician to perform an abortion. The bill would exempt physicians who perform abortions to preserve the life of the mother.  Sponsor, Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm, had said the measure was aimed at ultimately overturning Roe v. Wade.  The governor said she wanted to see that court ruling overturned, as well, but that the best way was the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the Supreme Court.

The bill passed the Senate on Thursday with a vote of 33-12 and the House in April by a 59-9 margin. The Oklahoma Legislature can override a veto by two-thirds vote of each house.

2 - U.S. Supreme Court sends contraception mandate cases back to lower courts

The U.S. Supreme Court made an unusual move earlier this week, sending the cases it was considering involving the contraceptive mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services back to the appeals courts from which they came. According to a report on the WORLD website, the high court said that a supplemental briefing indicated that the religious nonprofits and the federal government could work out their differences and find an acceptable accommodation to the mandate, which is part of Obamacare.

As the article pointed out, after the court heard oral arguments in March, it made a highly unusual request: asking the two sides to write briefs explaining an acceptable accommodation to the mandate. That request, according to the article, seemed to be a strategy to avoid a 4-4 tie after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the ruling on Monday, known as a per curiam ruling, the court did not issue an opinion on the merits of the case, which means it did not decide whether the federal government’s current mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A per curiam ruling is an unsigned opinion from the entire court.

Attorneys representing Little Sisters of the Poor and other plaintiffs in the case were encouraged. According to the WORLD story, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters as well as a number of other petitioners, declared the ruling a “win.” Alliance Defending Freedom, also representing some of the plaintiffs, said the court was right to protect nonprofits from fines for the time being and that the group would “look forward to addressing the remaining details.”

Emily Belz wrote the article for WORLD, and you can hear my conversation with her about this case, as well as presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump's list of recommended Supreme Court justices, here.

1 - United Methodists meet in Portland, sexuality issues off the table temporarily

Every four years, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church meets, as delegates from throughout the world gather to decide on church policy.  The church's stance on homosexuality has been an issue at the Conference for decades now, and there was anticipation about whether or not current language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline declaring homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching would be retained.

Religion News Service published a story on the General Conference. It reports that on Wednesday, delegates voted 428-405 to allow the church’s Council of Bishops to appoint a commission to discuss matters related to homosexuality, including whether or not to accept same-sex marriage or ordain LGBT clergy.

According to the article, the bishops said they want the commission to “develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”  Pressure from LGBT activists was very apparent this year - just before the conference, 111 United Methodist clergy came out as LGBT, and during the event, an additional 1,500 clergy expressed support for their colleagues.

But, year after year, conference after conference, the conservative and evangelical position seemingly continued to be in the majority.  There is mixed speculation about whether or not the recommendations of the panel would be brought to the 2020 General Conference or to a specially-called conference.

In examining some comments that have been made, it is clear to me that the denomination has three distinct factions at this point:  the progressives, who will seemingly accept nothing less than a sweeping acceptance of homosexual practice, ordination of gay clergy, and performance of same-sex marriage. There is also a group that seems to be sizable that would like to leave sexuality matters up to local authorities, perhaps on a district or conference level.  Then, there are the conservatives and evangelicals, including many from Africa, who want to hold to the view of marriage as one man for one woman, defining homosexuality as a practice that contradicts Scripture.

There was some good news on the pro-life front.  According to John Lomperis, who is the United Methodist Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  He stated that the denomination...

...overwhelmingly voted to end our denomination’s scandalous 43-year affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), voted by an even larger margin to delete an official UMC resolution expressing appreciation for RCRC, and in other actions, we voted decisively to repeal a 40-year-old official “Responsible Parenthood” resolution very broadly defending abortion and endorsing the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, re-adopted a resolution decrying sex-selective abortion while describing abortion as “violent” and criticizing those done for “trivial reasons,” and allowed the expiration of a 16-year-old official UMC resolution bewailing an alleged “crisis” of some hospitals not offering abortions. 

To access a report from The Meeting House radio program from the President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Mark Tooley, click here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The 3 - May 15, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, spotlight 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, it's graduation time, and seems like we hear consistently about free speech rights being limited concerning graduations ceremonies - find out about a school district in Ohio that will no longer have the singing of The Lord's Prayer in a ceremony.  Also, a ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court indicates that a pre-born child has rights.  And, the big story from this week involves an Obama administration edict stating that transgender students are allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their chosen gender identity, opening the doors to restrooms that are not sufficiently separated by gender.

3 - School board ignites graduation prayer controversy in Ohio 

In East Liverpool, Ohio, the song, The Lord's Prayer, has been a part of the graduation ceremony for the past ten years at a local high school, but after last year's event, the Freedom from Religion Foundation received a complaint and contacted the school district, where officials decided to drop the song from the program to avoid a potential legal battle, according to a story on the ChristianNews.net website.

The article reports that there was never any official vote on the matter nor public meeting about the issue, and the song was not fully discussed among the board until recently when members exchanged emails with each other about the issue. Board member Patricia Persohn, in correspondence obtained by The Review, said, “I am hearing parents threatening to withdraw their students. I was elected to represent the views of the community, and they are screaming,” adding, “I do believe it is just a matter of time before we are engaged in a fight. We need to set this issue aside right now and move on.”

The school board held a meeting recently, but no action was taken regarding the song. The choir director asserted that such songs are not illegal if they have educational value and relayed that her students are disappointed that the Lord’s Prayer will not be a part of the program this year, including one who identifies as an atheist. The superintendent said, "I am a Christian and it hurts me that there is even a question about it, but as superintendent, I have to put that aside. As you said, we can’t make it legal. I’m just sorry this is happening."

This is the time of year where there is a debate about religious expression in graduation ceremonies, and while I have not found a Christian legal advocacy group involved in this matter - yet - you can see where students do have constitutionally-protected free speech rights. The First Liberty Institute website states that: "As long as the valedictorian, salutatorian, president, or other students selected to write speeches are chosen by neutral criteria such as their academic achievements, the students have the right to reference what is important to them in their speeches, including their faith. Students maintain control over the content of their speeches, not the school board."

The site says that according to the U.S Department of Education, “Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, that expression is not attributed to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content.”

2 - Iowa supreme court determines unborn children have same rights as minors

There was an interesting decision about the rights of pre-born children issued by the Iowa Supreme Court recently.  According to a story on the WORLD website, in a case involving the death of a drug addict who was trying to get his addiction under control and died of an accidental overdose, the court found in favor of Brenna Gray, who had sued her husband’s physician and other medical providers. She claimed they failed to monitor her husband’s drug addiction treatment properly.  Even though a jury had cleared the doctor of criminal charges, Mrs. Gray claimed a spousal consortium injury and, on behalf of her then-unborn daughter, a parental consortium injury, which includes the loss of parental “support, companionship, aid, affection, comfort, and guidance.”  The spousal injury case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, but the parental consortium case was allowed to continue.

Borrowing from a pro-life argument, the plaintiff's attorneys pointed out that a ruling against the child “would permit a child who was just seconds old at the time of [her] parent’s death to sue, yet prevent the same suit from a child who was born a second after [her] parent passed away.”  The Iowa Supreme Court, clearing the way for the lawsuit to go forward, ruled the law does apply to preborn children.  In its decision, it wrote, “[A] child conceived but not yet born at the time of [her] parent’s death can bring a parental consortium claim” after she is born.  It said, “Whatever deprivation of consortium O.D.G. is currently experiencing is no less real just because she did not experience it in utero.”  (O.D.G. refers to the child.)

The WORLD report pointed out that the court, using strong language, attempted to sidestep the implication of its decision on the legality of abortion, explaining it ruled for the plaintiff simply because the petition, filed when the child was 3 years old, was “clearly ‘brought on behalf of a minor.’”

Clarke Forsythe, acting president and senior counsel for Americans United for Life, said he wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision.  He is quoted as saying, “The case is not huge and not unprecedented...But it does confirm that the unborn child is a human being in the womb.”

1 - Administration issues sweeping changes allowing transgender access to restrooms opposite of biological gender

This past week, the Departments of Justice and Education issued a letter to every public school district in the nation saying that under Federal law, transgender students must be allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their chosen gender identity, rather than their biological gender. FoxNews.com reported that the letter was signed by officials of the two Federal departments.

As Todd Starnes commented on the FoxNews.com website:

Boys who identify as girls and vice versa must be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and shower stalls of their choosing. They must also be allowed to play on the sports teams of their choosing.

School districts that dare defy the administration’s directives could face lawsuits and lose millions of dollars in federal funding. Resistance, in other words, is futile.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Starnes quoted from Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, who said, "It’s an outrageous attack on our Creator Himself, upon human sexuality and morality and a further advancement of the flagrant attack on religious freedom in our culture."

The FoxNews.com story said that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to fight the administration’s decree, telling a gathering of Republicans, “Obama is turning bathrooms into courtroom issues.”  He added, "Our country is in crisis and Texas must lead the way forward."  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings if the President goes forward with the order.


“The administration’s new guidelines simply reinforce what has been abundantly clear already—that it has a political goal of forcing women to share restrooms and locker rooms with men across the nation and will spread falsehoods about federal law to achieve its aims. This is precisely why we have filed two federal lawsuits, one in Illinois and one in North Carolina, on behalf of students and parents who are understandably concerned about their children. Solutions exist to accommodate everyone without violating anyone’s privacy rights, but the administration won’t entertain those solutions because of its preference to unlawfully impose its political will through threats and intimidation.”