Monday, March 30, 2020

The 3 - March 29, 2020

In this week's edition of The 3, there are concerns about religious freedom during this time of unprecedented government action on combating the Coronavirus.  Also, a large Christian university has allowed certain students back on campus, which has drawn strong reaction against it, but the university claims strong reasons.  And, another large Christian denomination has announced it will be cancelling its scheduled meeting later this year.

Church gatherings face restrictions in face of Coronavirus

During this time, in which governmental authorities are enacting emergency regulations in response to the Coronavirus, it is important that Constitutional protections continue to be in force, including First Amendment guarantees of religious freedom.  The Christian legal advocacy organization, First Liberty, issued three recommendations for ensuring religious freedom is preserved.  They are:

1. Religious institutions should continue to serve their local communities.
2. Temporary, evenly applied restrictions may be permissible.
3. Extraordinary state action to limit the peaceful gathering of American citizens must be temporary.

CNS News released a story about new Virginia guidelines that raised concerns about the religious freedom rights of churches.  The story opens up by saying:
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order on Monday that is aimed at stopping the new coronavirus — and, in the process, makes it a criminal offense to hold a church service attended by more than 10 people.
Yes, his order makes it a crime for more than 10 people to gather in a church.
The writer of the article, Terry Jeffrey, who saw that churches were not specifically mentioned in the article, reached out to the governor's office, and received this response from a spokesperson: "The Governor's EO 53 bans assemblies of more than 10 people, statewide. That includes gatherings at private schools, private clubs, parties, as well as any other social get-together, and religious services."  Jeffrey points out:
Virginians now live in a state where holding a church service attended by 11 people has been unilaterally declared a crime by the governor.
The same executive order that creates this church-attending crime also declares that Virginia's state-owned liquor stores are "essential retail businesses" that "may remain open during their normal business hours."
By contrast, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, Governor Ivey's ban on certain "non-essential" businesses does not include churches.  The article says:
Faith institutions are not included in the non-essential business closures. However, non-work related gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Non-work related gatherings of any size that "cannot maintain a consistent six-foot" distance between people are prohibited.

It is a near-unanimous recommendation from medical professional and public health officials to avoid communal gatherings like religious services.
And, like Virginia, Alabama's liquor stores continue to operate.

Christian Post article from this past Thursday states:
Authorities in countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Greece have evacuated church services and arrested pastors in recent days as governments have prohibited large gatherings in an attempt to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.
As governments across the globe have taken measures to ensure that citizens engage in social distancing so that they don’t spread a virus that has already killed at least 21,000 people worldwide as of Thursday, some religious leaders have continued to hold worship services anyway.
Liberty University opens to some students while complying with law

During this crisis, it's important to get your information from trusted sources, and to be able to discern when a particular agenda is being pursued.  Take, for instance, the recent reporting on Liberty University opening its facilities to some students.  There are people who are hostile to President Jerry Falwell, Jr. because of his seemingly close relationship with President Trump.  And, that, I believe was reflected in the reporting on Liberty's recent actions.

Baptist Press told the story:
Liberty University (LU) students began returning to campus Monday (March 23) from spring break while the school transitioned most classes to online instruction to deter the coronavirus (COVID-19). But certain classes will still convene on campus, LU said on its website.

Students, employees, prospective students and their families, and those doing business with LU are allowed on campus, but others are met with "no trespassing" signs, according to a story posted at liberty.edu.
Why would Liberty take such action? The article relates:
Keeping residence halls open allows LU to accommodate hundreds of international students unable to return home, a university spokesperson told BP. Also, the university worked to accommodate commuter students unable to break leases at residences they occupy while attending LU.

According to the story on the school's website, signs have been posted "in the academic buildings, computer labs, and throughout the social gathering areas on campus ... to take certain seating out of service so students follow social distancing guidelines." The story added that "members of Liberty's student leadership team are also helping to enforce the new rules along with faculty and staff."
There, of course, was plenty of criticism online for Falwell, including an editorial published by Religion News Service criticizing his actions.  The aforementioned Governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, also criticized the university, to which the school responded:
The Governor was quoting scripture today about Christian duty to protect our students. That's exactly what Liberty has been laboring tirelessly to do over the last couple of weeks. We really think it's un-Christian to turn students away and push any problems off on someone else. Most of our residential campus students are not in the Lynchburg area. Only about 10 percent of our residential students are currently here on campus. Many of those are international students who did not leave the country on Spring Break and have nowhere else to go. The Governor should understand that.
These students are in their living spaces attending classes and convocations online, not in classrooms or the Vines Center. They are getting their dining plan food by takeout instead of eating in the dining halls. The campus is fairly spacious and uncrowded, so they are spread out and observing social distancing. They are not working out in our fitness centers, not bowling in our bowling alley, not skating in the ice rink, and not engaging in our sports, intramurals, or student organization activities. Touchpoints across campus are being sanitized several times a day.

The Central Virginia Health District came to Liberty yesterday, Tuesday, March 24, for an unannounced inspection, and they did not find Liberty in violation of any of the State of Virginia's Executive Order 53 – the Governor's order that placed temporary restrictions on restaurants, businesses and gatherings.
A manager at the health district stated, "All operations appeared to be in compliance with the Governor's emergency order..."

Southern Baptists cancel annual meeting in Orlando

I had reported that the greatly-anticipated United Methodist General Conference, scheduled for May in Minneapolis had been cancelled due to restrictions that were put in place by the venue due to the Coronavirus.  At that meeting, delegates were expected to approve a plan to create a new denomination that would uphold traditional Biblical teaching on homosexuality, while the existing denomination would be allowed to change its stance and perhaps pursue a path to ordain gay clergy and to allow clergy to perform same-sex weddings.  That action will have to wait.

Now, another large denomination has announced it will cancel its planned meeting this year. The Southern Baptist Convention has cancelled its 2020 annual meeting in Orlando in June.  The convention's website states:
In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic which we believe constitutes a grave emergency, it is in the best interest of the SBC to cancel the Annual Meeting—for the first time in 75 years—out of a deep concern for the health and safety of messengers and attendees.
We are calling on all Southern Baptists to pray for an end to this global pandemic and that God will bring His Church together at this time to sharpen our focus like never before.
This is not a time for Southern Baptists to shrink back in timidity and fearfulness or be paralyzed with uncertainty. This is not the time to retreat. This is a time for us to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in every town, every city, every state and every nation.
Officers and committee members will remain in place until the next annual meeting, presumably in Nashville in 2021. This may represent a "cooling-off" period for Southern Baptists, who in the past year have sparred on a variety of topics. These range from the controversial Resolution 9, passed at last year's convention, which has been criticized for failing to completely renounce the theories of Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, to the formation of a new Conservative Baptist Network to call the denomination back to a Biblical foundation on issues such as Resolution 9, and the launching of an investigation by the SBC Executive Committee into actions and viewpoints of ithe SBC's public policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  Those have allegedly resulted in some churches withholding funds from the denomination's Cooperative Program.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The 3 - March 22, 2020

This week's edition of The 3 features three stories related to the Coronavirus, including a dramatic rise in the number of people watching online services over the first weekend of the crisis over one particular platform.  Also, while so many "non-essential" services are being curtailed, the abortion industry continues to take the lives of unborn children.  And, Chinese authorities are reportedly using the crisis to enact further destruction of church facilities.

Churches move to online only services and studies, online interaction way up

This past Sunday was actually the first Sunday in which you had practically a nationwide limit on churches meeting together, opting, when possible, for online services.  And, I would dare say that the availability of online content has proliferated within the past week. Christian Headlines reports on an example of how the number of people accessing online church content spiked last week:
The Church Online Platform, operated by Life.Church, saw a total of 4.7 million devices streaming church services Sunday, four times the average attendance for a typical weekend.
The platform has seen more than 6,000 new churches sign up during the past week and serves more than 20,000 churches worldwide. It allows churches to stream their own services with chat and one-on-one prayer features.
As the article states:
President Trump on Monday issued new guidelines urging Americans to avoid groups of more than 10 people for 15 days. The recommendations are a companion to CDC guidelines that recommend “mass gatherings” with 50 or more people be canceled or postponed for eight weeks.
Abortion agenda advances during virus emergency

Last week, I reported to you about the attempt to use legislation designed to provide relief in the Coronavirus crisis to circumvent the Hyde Amendment, which prevents Federal taxpayer money from being used to fund abortion.  Even though government authorities are trying to prevent the loss of life from the virus, abortion advocates are trying to keep the loss of life for unborn babies continuing.  This comes even as citizens are being asked, in some cases, and mandated in others, to postpone "elective" surgeries.

One state attorney general decided that he would do something about that.  According to the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost has told abortion clinics to cease providing abortions.  The article says:
In his letter to abortion providers, Yost said, “You and your facility are ordered to immediately stop performing non-essential and elective surgical abortions. Non-essential surgical abortions are those that can be delayed without undue risk to the current or future health of a patient.
“If you or your facility do not immediately stop performing non-essential or elective surgical abortions in compliance with the (health director’s) order, the Department of Health will take all appropriate measures.”
Planned Parenthood is adamant in continuing to provide abortions in the state.  Good insight was provided by Aaron Baer, president of Citizens for Community Values, who e-mailed a statement, saying: “Abortion is not health care, and abortionists shouldn’t be using valuable life-saving medical equipment to destroy life. Attorney General Yost is standing up for our most vulnerable during this crisis and saving countless lives.”

Meanwhile, LifeSiteNews reported:
A statement released earlier this week by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the Society of Family Planning, and a number of other medical professional member organizations has called on fellow medical professionals “to ensure abortion access is not compromised” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The article pointed out the hypocrisy in this declaration, stating:
Earlier this week, many of the same organizations said the pandemic “is a public health crisis that requires the full attention and resources of our health care systems” and have called on hospitals to suspend elective surgeries.
LifeSiteNews also reported on how some abortion activists are demanding that the government allow so-called "webcam" abortions during this time of crisis.  And, some are questioning why abortion clinics are still allowed to operate, but churches are having to close to public worship services.

While China faces criticism re: Coronavirus, mistreatment of churches continues in the open

With the worldwide spread of the Coronavirus from its apparent origins in China, authorities there have been attempting to curb the impact on its people, with reported success.  But, the Chinese government has also seemingly leveraged the virus into cracking down further on churches, according to a Faithwire article, which surmises, "...the shuttering of churches to stem coronavirus infections has presented the state with a key opportunity to ransack sanctuaries and strip worship centers of their Christian symbolism."

Case in point: "On March 13, and with residents in self-isolation, a church in Guoyang County, Anhui Province, had its cross removed in broad daylight...Though the church usually has around 40 people attending Sunday service, authorities reportedly exploited the nationwide shutdown by heading into the church and removing the cross while it was empty."

The article also says that, "China Aid’s Bob Fu shared shocking footage of a church in Yixing city, Jiangsu, being razed to the ground. 'Religious persecution continues even in the midst of #WuhanVirus,' he wrote."

Faithwire states:
According to International Christian Concern, most of the country’s churches — underground or state-approved — have been meeting online since the shutdown began. There is a worry, however, that the government will roll out a brutal crackdown on these virtual gatherings as soon as the virus response begins to settle down.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The 3 - March 15, 2020

This week's edition of The 3 includes responses to the Coronavirus, including calls to prayer from the President and a major Christian denominations.  Plus, amidst action by Congress to get something done regarding legislation to help combat the virus, there was at attempt to insert language that would permit Federal funding of abortion.  And, minors in the state of New York can now change the gender designation on their birth certificates.

Church services impacted by the Coronavirus; Americans called to pray

I don't think that you could completely say that the Church was closed on Sunday, but it was uniting people in certainly a different way, as especially large congregations across the nation indicated they would not be meeting at their facilities; a number of churches went to online gatherings.  God's Word was faithfully preached, and His people were united, albeit in a virtual way.  Some areas restricted gatherings to certain sizes or at least there were recommendations; for instance, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey had suggested that people avoid gatherings of more than 500 people.

There were also calls to pray in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis. President Trump called for a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, March 15.  According to CBN.com, he tweeted out:
"It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer," the President tweeted. "We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these....
The President also tweeted, "....No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!"
The President also tweeted out that he had tested negatively for the virus and that he would be watching the Free Chapel worship service online on Sunday morning; that's the church pastored by Jentezen Franklin, who was a recent guest on The Meeting House and prayed for Mr. Trump in a much-publicized evangelical gathering in Miami several months ago.

Plus, CBN reported that Southern Baptist leaders had earlier called for Sunday to be a Day of Prayer.  Leaders had encouraged prayer in several areas:
  • Ask God, in His mercy, to stop this pandemic and save lives—not only in our communities but around the world, particularly in places that are unequipped medically to deal with the virus. (Isaiah 59:1-2)
  • Pray for President Donald Trump and other government leaders—international, federal, state, and local—to have the wisdom to direct us in the best courses of action for prevention and care. (Romans 13:1–4)
  • Scripture says—teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts. Pray that the Lord will give us wisdom in this moment of fear as the foundations of what we know are shaken, that others would realize how fragile life is and how real eternity is, and they would see their need to turn to God. (Psalm 90:12)
House speaker attempts to insert abortion into Coronavirus bill

The Coronavirus has caused great concern around the world, and U.S. citizens have depended on governmental officials to provide direction and resources to lessen the risk to Americans and to curb the spread of the virus.

So, it is troubling when you have some officials who use a piece of legislation designed to control a public health crisis to promote one of their political agenda items, such as...abortion.  Focus on the Family's Daily Citizen website reports:
According to The Daily Caller, senior White House officials allege that, “while negotiating the stimulus with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Pelosi tried to lobby for ‘several’ provisions that stalled bipartisan commitment to the effort. One was a mandate for up to $1 billion to reimburse laboratory claims, which White House officials say would set a precedent of health spending without protections outlined in the Hyde Amendment.”
The article says that, "The Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision that prohibits federal funds from directly paying for abortions." It includes a quote from a tweet from Texas Representative Kevin Brady, in which he stated, "This is disgraceful even for Pelosi! Dems are holding bill to deal with the Wuhan Virus hostage unless they get permanent new funding free from Hyde Amendment protections,” adding, “This will mean direct, government funding of abortions. Extremists sinking to new low.”

The Coronavirus aid package is set to pass Congress laterlast week.  Plus, President Trump, by declaring a state of emergency, loosened up Federal funds to help combat the spread of the virus.

Minors in NY can now change sex on their birth certificates

In the state of New York, children and teens ages 16 and younger can apply to have their gender changed on their birth certificates, according to a ChristianHeadlines.com story that states:
According to the office of the New York Attorney General Letitia James, the new policy will allow individuals under the age of 16 to apply for their sex to be changed on their birth certificates without the need for a medical affidavit.
Now, they will need parental permission. The article says: "The rule's goal is to allow transgender or nonbinary individuals to alter the sex marker on their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity." It also states:
The change in policy came in the wake of a lawsuit filed by a native transgender New Yorker who now resides in Houston, Texas. The plaintiff in the case, M.H.W., identifies as a boy but is biologically female, The Christian Post Reports.
“This is awesome,” M.H.W., who uses he/him pronouns, asserted. “Now all my identity paperwork matches, and I can go forward not having to worry about legal documents conflicting with who I am again. I get to just go on being me.”
That Christian Post article also relates:
In an interview with The Christian Post last January about New York City's allowance of a third gender marker on birth certificates, philosopher Daniel Moody, author of The Flesh Made Word, stressed that the purpose of a birth certificate is to capture truth in language, thereby connecting persons to laws — not only for the sake of the individual but for society as a whole.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

The 3 - March 8, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there has been another court development on Coach Joe Kennedy's way back to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also, West Virginia lawmakers have passed a bill protecting abortion survivors.  Plus, the Coronavirus has resulted in the quarantine of some Christian leaders and a tour group.

More court action regarding football coach who prayed after games

A high school football coach in Washington state suffered another court defeat recently, but the attorneys representing him have promised to appeal.

Joe Kennedy is the Bremerton, WA coach who, after every game for seven years, went to the 50-yard line and bowed in prayer.  His school district ultimately suspended him, and First Liberty Institute joined to file court action against the district.

First Liberty's website has information on Coach Kennedy and his motivation.  The website reported on Friday, March 6:
Yesterday, federal district court judge Ronald Leighton granted the Bremerton (WA) School District’s motion for summary judgement in the case of Coach Joe Kennedy. Bremerton School District fired the longtime football coach because he took a knee in brief, silent prayer after football games. Kennedy’s case attracted nationwide attention from the media, Hall of Fame coaches and players, and even President Trump. In January, President Trump invited Coach Kennedy to the Oval Office as he announced new actions to protect religious freedom in America’s public schools.
As the legal advocacy group pointed out, "Last January, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to reverse a previous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding Kennedy’s 2015 firing." But, there was a ray of hope, as First Liberty points out: "in a separate statement filed by Justice Alito and joined by Justices Thomas, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh, the justices explained that the Court needed more information in order to resolve the matter." They wrote, “the Ninth Circuit’s understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers is troubling and may justify review in the future.”  It was sent back to the district court level, which issued the decision.  As The Christian Post reports, that is the same judge that issued the original court decision against the coach.

West Virginia legislators protect abortion survivors

The West Virginia Legislature passed, and Governor Jim Justice has signed a bill that would protect babies who survive abortion attempts in the state, according to Liberty Counsel, which reports:
HB 4007, known as the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, requires physicians to use “reasonable medical judgment” to preserve the life and health of the child as given to any other child born alive at the same gestational age, including immediate transportation to a hospital and mandatory reporting of violations.
The governor is quoted as saying: “This is an absolute no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. I’ve said for a long time, even back before I took office as Governor, that I would support measures like this because every human life – born or unborn is precious and truly a gift from God..."

This bill, as Liberty Counsel points out, is "very similar" to the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act that failed to get the 60 votes necessary to move forward in the U.S. Senate, thanks to 41 Democrat Senators who voted against it. A consortium of Christian organizations representing over 30,000 medical professionals stated that under the circumstances, "There is no scientific or legal reason to distinguish between human beings born after an attempted abortion and human beings born after attempted live birth...There is no medical reason to intentionally kill that fetal human being.”

Pastors exposed to Coronavirus in quarantine

The Coronavirus continues to be a menace, and while Christians are told in Scripture not to fear, it is important to be aware and take necessary precautions, heeding instructions from governmental officials and medical authorities.  According to the Religion News website, as of last Wednesday, March 4, Life.Church pastor Craig Groeschel and Bobby Gruenewald, another leader in the church, attended a conference "...which had about 7,400 attenders..." It was "cut short after one presenter became ill with COVID-19, according to organizers. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus."

The article reports:
“Pastor Craig and I are at home and healthy,” Gruenewald, innovation leader for Life.Church, told Religion News Service in a statement. “While en route home from Germany, we were made aware of the situation at the conference. We immediately notified health authorities and have followed every recommendation. Out of an abundance of caution, we have been isolated in our homes the entire time, even limited from interaction with our families. We have no symptoms, and someone is checking on us regularly.”
And, Baptist Press reports on an Alabama connection, involving a church group that had traveled to Bethlehem.  The article relates:
Pastor Chris Bell and 12 members of 3Circle Church based in Fairhope, Ala., were tested with nose swabs for COVID-19 Friday (March 6) and expect results within a day, he told Baptist Press. They have been quarantined since Thursday at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala after a hotel resident tested positive for the virus.

"It is impossible for me to believe that God does not have a plan for this," Bell told BP, "because how in the world could we end up in the hotel where the epicenter of this thing takes place?

"And we are convinced -- we don't like it, we don't want it -- but we're convinced God's going to use this. We're convinced that He knows exactly where we are, and He has not forgotten us. And we believe that deeply."
The article says that "Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd contacted White House and U.S. State Department officials Friday to ensure they are aware of Bell's situation, Floyd told BP."  Baptist Press relates that "Floyd had scheduled a conference call for Monday, March 9 to 'discuss best practices and prevention strategies, and to pray for churches, communities and the U.S.'"

Sunday, March 01, 2020

The 3 - March 1, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, includes how Christians and Christian organizations are responding to the Coronavirus.  Plus, U.S. Senators failed to move two pro-life bills forward this week.  Meanwhile, a Federal appeals court has allowed an Administration regulation to go into effect that would prevent abortion provides from receiving family-planning funds from the government.

Christian organizations respond to Coronavirus

As the Coronavirus continues to generate worldwide concerns, there is an effect on churches and church organizations.

South Korea has been the nation with the most Coronavirus cases outside of China.  According to Christian HeadlinesSouth Korean’s Culture Minister Park Yang-woo addressed church gatherings, stating: “I earnestly ask [such groups] to refrain from any religious services and gatherings for a while in order to prevent further coronavirus infections and the extension of the situation..."  The article went on to say:
Seoul’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, considered the largest church in the world by membership (approximately 800,000), suspended public services and said it would launch online services for members, Yonhap News reported.
Seoul’s Myungsung Church — a Presbyterian congregation with 80,000 members — suspended services after two members, including a pastor, came down with coronavirus.
The Christian Post reported:
A Bible school and Christian holiday center in the United Kingdom has quarantined six students and a teacher who returned from a trip to Italy, which is suffering an outbreak of coronavirus. Several schools in the country are closing or sending pupils home over fears of infection.
Capernwray Hall in Lancashire said it was nothing more than a precautionary measure as the students and the teacher came back after working with a partner church in Milan, which is 40 miles from the lockdown areas in northern Italy.
And, Southern Baptists are crafting a response to the Coronavirus.  Baptist Press reports "...the International Mission Board announced Friday (Feb. 28) a coronavirus task force to address implications for IMB personnel and partners, including church volunteer mission teams." The article goes on to quote a press release from IMB President Paul Chitwood, who said: "We recognize the concern that coronavirus is causing, and we are grateful for individuals and churches who are praying for IMB personnel and for people around the world directly affected by the virus," adding, "We are continually monitoring the global situation and remain in frequent contact with our missionaries to take the best precautions possible related to their health and safety."

The article also states:
Southern Baptists ministering in certain high risk areas have reported a rising receptivity to the Gospel, Chitwood said Thursday during a luncheon address at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"The reality of death sets in on us in a way that is so undeniable," SWBTS quoted Chitwood. "So we're praying for a great movement of the Holy Spirit; for more and more people to be saved."
Senators reject two pro-life bills

U.S. Senators had an opportunity to pass two pro-life bills this past week, but the Senate was unable to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to move either bill forward.  Disrn.com reported:
Forty-one Democratic senators successfully blocked the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act on Tuesday, filibustering the legislation to prevent it from receiving a final vote. The bill would have required doctors to provide medical care to newborn infants who survive abortion procedures.
Three Democrats supported the legislation and three did not vote because they were campaigning for President, but they had voted against a similar bill last year.

Disrn.com also reported:
The Senate voted on whether to stop the Democrats' filibuster on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on Tuesday, falling just seven votes short of taking the bill up for debate. The bill would have banned abortions after 20 weeks and highlights how unborn babies feel pain during abortions.
Court upholds Administration's "Protect Life" rule

The Trump Administration had implemented a regulation that would prevent Federal Title X family-planning funds from being distributed to abortion providers under what is called the "Protect Life" rule. Life Site News reported:
The Trump administration may continue to enforce a rule mandating that recipients of federal planning funds, such as Planned Parenthood, separate themselves from abortion activities, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.
The article gives some background:
The administration’s Protect Life Rule requires “clear financial and physical separation between Title X-funded projects and programs or facilities where abortion is a method of family planning” and bans “referral for abortion as a method of family planning.” The abortion lobby has responded with multiple lawsuits, and Planned Parenthood chose to withdraw from Title X rather than comply with the new conditions. Abortion proponents have dubbed the rule a “gag rule.”

Friday, February 21, 2020

The 3 - February 23, 2020

This week's edition of The 3 features good news for a tall cross in Pensacola, Florida, which a Federal appeals court has allowed to stand.  But, there's some bad news for delivery drivers in South Carolina who have been told they cannot pray with other employees in their facility's parking lot.  And, a Christian professor who filed a lawsuit after a student complaint for not using the proper pronouns has been denied his day in court.

Cross in Pensacola park can stay, according to appeals court

Back in 2018, a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rendered a decision that a 34-foot cross in Pensacola's Bayview Park had to be removed due to Establishment Clause concerns. The Christian Post reports that a panel of the same circuit, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court finding that a large veterans memorial cross in Maryland was constitutional, has agreed to allow the Pensacola cross to stand.

The Post article notes that, "In September 2018, a three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit unanimously ruled against the cross, with the panel stating that they were 'constrained' by legal precedent."  The Maryland case has apparently removed those constraints and resulted in a positive decision for the cross.

The article notes:
Becket, a religious liberty law firm that represented Bayview in the litigation, celebrated the new opinion, giving credit to the Supreme Court for their Bladensburg ruling.
“The Supreme Court has now made clear that religious symbols are an important part of our nation’s history and culture,” said Luke Goodrich, vice president and senior counsel at Becket, in a statement released Wednesday.
Prayer meetings in UPS parking lot create difficulties for drivers

Religious freedom is an issue in the bizarre case of United Parcel Service, or UPS, drivers who have found themselves at odds with their employer or without a job as the result of - prayer. Liberty Counsel reports on a story out of Myrtle Beach, SC:
In July 2019, approximately 40 UPS drivers started voluntarily praying together each morning in the parking lot prior to their shifts. The group has since grown to between 50 and 60 drivers.

Employees reported to Liberty Counsel that the center manager told a driver on January 16, 2020 that the drivers “cannot pray anymore on company property because someone else may feel discriminated against.” Then January 20, the manager told a second driver that the drivers “could no longer pray on company property because it violates others’ religious rights.” The following week, the drivers met, but did not pray. Some bowed their heads in a simple moment of silence.
Then, after a social media post that was viewed by over a thousand people, according to Liberty Counsel, "several drivers with many years’ experience who regularly participated in the prayer meetings have been fired for what appears to be pretextual reasons. Other drivers are afraid of speaking out in the wake of this firing."

The website states:
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “An order that employees refrain from voluntarily praying together violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees based on religion. These UPS drivers may voluntarily gather for prayer in the parking lot before they clock in for work. UPS must permit the drivers to continue praying together and reinstate the jobs of any who were fired,” said Staver.
Court drops suit filed by Christian professor over pronouns

Nicholas Meriweather is a professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio.  In 2018, a male student identifying as a female demanded that the professor use his transgender pronoun, i.e. refer to him as a woman, according to a report at The Federalist website.  Meriweather refused, the student filed a complaint, the school supported the student, and the professor went to court.  He was assisted by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

According to the article, "The court dismissed the professor’s suit for failing to effectively prove he faced discrimination for his beliefs." The article linked to the ruling from a Federal district court. The article went on to say:
The court determined, “Plaintiff’s refusal to address a student in class in accordance with the student’s gender identity does not implicate broader societal concerns and the free speech clause of the First Amendment under the circumstances of this case,” reasoning that the use of titles is not considered speech, but is conduct in violation of the university’s anti-discrimination policies. The court further determined the professor was not compelled to use speech he morally opposed, as the university gave him the option of either removing all gendered language from his classroom or addressing each student according to his or her individual preference.
The Federalist points out that:
The court rejected the professor’s religious objections, saying the reasonable-person standard would not consider using preferred pronouns as unreasonable and that the anti-discrimination policy is “neutral” and therefore not specifically affecting any religious group or belief. Most shockingly, the court upheld the university’s position that it could not accommodate the professor due to his religious objection, as it would then be required to make similar accommodations for racist or sexist views as well.
And the article also stated: "Strangely, the court determined Meriwether faced no form of discrimination for his religious beliefs after his superior openly laughed at his concerns during their meeting and compared his views to those of racists."

Sunday, February 16, 2020

The 3 - February 16, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, features the bold stance of a Virginia pastor who prayed in accordance with Scripture at one of the state's chief legislative bodies and was met with resistance.  Also, the remains of thousands of aborted babies were laid to rest recently in Indiana.  And, a new network of Southern Baptists calling the denomination to a renewed emphasis on evangelism and the teachings of Scripture has been launched.

Virginia lawmakers walk out on pastor's fiery prayer

Dr. Robert M. Grant Jr. is the pastor of The Father’s Way Church in Warrenton,VA, and recently was invited by a state representative, Michael Webert, to give the opening prayer of the state's House of Delegates, according to the Virginia Mercury.

The pastor included references to issues about which the Bible speaks plainly, and he was met with resistance, according to the website, which reported:
Democrats walked off the floor of the House of Delegates Tuesday morning as the pastor invited to give the opening prayer delivered stinging remarks condemning abortion and gay marriage and said God would bring his “wrath” against those who don’t follow biblical principles.
The article went on to say:
Speaking to reporters afterward, Grant stood by his remarks and called the Democratic response “unprofessional.”
“I think that the statehouse belongs to all the citizens. And all the citizens have a voice,” Grant said. “If it’s my turn to have a voice, and I am a pastor, what do you expect from me? If you don’t want to hear what a pastor has to say, then don’t invite one.”
According to LifeNews.com, Grant included these words in his prayer:
“I pray that you may understand that all life is precious and worthy of a chance to be born,” Grant said. “God is the giver of life and people have no right or authority to take life. The unborn have rights and those rights need to be protected. They should never be denied the right to exist, the right to develop or the right to have a family.”
Franklin Graham was impressed; the article said that he wrote on Facebook, "Here’s a guy who’s got guts for Jesus...They didn’t want to hear the truth. But what Pastor Grant said was truth. He’s right—these are crucial times. He urged lawmakers to honor God’s laws and be aware of His judgment.”

Star Parker, President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education, or CURE, is quoted by the Christian News Journal as saying, “Liberal Delegates in the Virginia House of Delegates treated Rev. Grant with contempt. A black pastor had the courage to stand for he believes in a legislative body that supports abortion, infanticide, and the limiting of our God-given Constitutional liberties. Rev. Grant is correct that these are crucial times, and he is right to remind liberal Delegates about how far their extreme agenda has gone.”

Bodies of thousands of aborted babies memorialized in Indiana

The remains of over 2,400 aborted babies were buried in South Bend, Indiana this past week, and the following day, there was a moment of silence observed by the U.S. House of Representatives, according to LifeSiteNews.com.  The remains had been stored at the home of the late abortionist Ulrich Klopfer for "nearly two decades," according to the article.

Republican Congresswoman Walorski said. “Such callous disregard for human life should shake us to the core,” adding, “These children deserved justice and dignity. Madam Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in observing a moment of silence for the thousands of innocent victims that were laid to rest yesterday.” Walorski added, according to the article, "To make sure this never happens again, the House must pass the Dignity for Aborted Children Act to build on Indiana’s law, upheld by the Supreme Court, that requires dignified treatment of aborted fetal remains..."

The Daily Caller reported that Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill spoke at the ceremony.  The article states:
The attorney general also said that in burying the “unborn children,” “we fulfill our obligation as a state pursuant to law and conscience to the unborn babies whose lives were terminated in clinics in Fort Wayne, Gary and South Bend.”
Conservative Southern Baptists announce new network

This past Friday, a new network of Southern Baptists rolled out.  It's called the Conservative Baptist Network, and according to a press release on its website:
A significant number of Southern Baptists are concerned about the apparent emphasis on social justice, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and the redefining of biblical gender roles. Many fear that these issues have received more attention than evangelism and spiritual renewal – the emphases that helped to make Southern Baptists the largest evangelical denomination in the nation.
Two noted occurrences were mentioned in that press release:

One has to do with messengers who tried to have Vice-President Pence removed from speaking at the 2018 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas.  After that effort failed, some messengers walked out on Pence.  The CBN says: "The insolence and disrespect demonstrated by those who walked out on the Vice President of the United States was foreign to what the Bible teaches about respecting those in authority in I Peter 2:11-17."

Another occurrence is the passage of Resolution 9 at the 2019 SBC in Birmingham. The press release says:
In defending the resolution, the chairman insisted that Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality are simply analytical tools. However, they are far more than just tools; they are ideologies that have their roots in Neo-Marxist, postmodern worldviews. While the committee may have meant well in presenting the resolution, many messengers left Birmingham confused about Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, and others left feeling that they had been misled or deceived.
Brad Jurkovich, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bossier City, LA and the lead spokesman for the new movement, is quoted as saying, “We are concerned about the current road our Southern Baptist family is traveling. It is a road that is twisting what God’s Word is saying about things like human sexuality, biblical racial reconciliation and socialistic justice.” He also asked, "As Southern Baptists can we not love both Jesus and America? Is it no longer okay to be a pastor and a patriot?”

Baptist Press released a story on the formation of this network and included a quote from SBC Executive Committee President and CEO Ronnie Floyd, who said: "Since I arrived at the EC, I have worked diligently on moving us towards a clear, concise, and compelling unified Great Commission vision," adding, "The Southern Baptist Convention is at her best when churches are partnering together for mission and standing on the inerrant, infallible, sufficient Word of God. Regardless of our secondary affiliations or networks, we must continue to uphold the Baptist Faith and Message, cooperating with one another for the purpose of seeing every person reached for Jesus Christ in every town, every city, every state and every nation."

The article says that:
The network has the support of Chuck Kelley, president emeritus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and various leaders of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, Tenn.
Over the weekend, the CBN's Twitter feed indicated over 2,000 had already joined the network.  A cursory look at social media indicates enthusiasm about the new movement, even though there are some that are questioning the need for it and some even resorting to harsh language to denigrate their brothers and sisters in the Lord. 

Sunday, February 09, 2020

The 3 - February 9, 2020

In this most recent installment of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, I spotlight:
* a march by millions Nigerian Christians protesting sectarian violence in that nation
* the first meeting of a new consortium of nations devoted to fighting for religious freedom
* a California college that is changing its policies as the result of a court ruling in favor of a pro-life group's lawsuit claiming that the school was showing favoritism toward certain views.

Millions of Nigerians march in opposition to continued persecution

Enough!  That's the cry of solidarity from Christians in Nigeria to the continued taking of lives throughout the nation, and according to the website, Evangelical Focus, on the first Sunday of February, approximately 5 million people went into the streets of cities throughout over three-quarters of the 36 provinces of the African nation to protest the deaths of Christians.

One of the most recent high-profile deaths is that of pastor Lawan Andimi, who was beheaded by Boko Haram terrorists in January, according to another Evangelical Focus piece.

The article states:
During the march, organised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as the final event of a three-day fast, participants brought posters which read: “Nigerian Christians are under attack. Buhari acts now”, and “Our values and way of life will prevail, the killings will not”.
Buhari is the President of Nigeria. The World Evangelical Alliance also condemned attacks on Christians in the nation.  The article relates:
Through a statement signed by its Secretary General, Ephraim Tendero, the WEA recalled that “in 2019, Nigeria accounted for some 45% of Christians killed for their faith globally, approximately 1,350 out of 3,000 deaths”.
“We urge President Buhari and the Nigerian government to put an end to these attacks, to decisively combat the prevailing impunity for killings, and to ensure institutional accountability”, it added.
Nations formally join together and pledge to fight for religious freedom

The United States is continuing to take a leadership role in the preservation of religious freedom in countries around the world.  This past week, a total of 27 countries, according to an article at the Religion News Service website, were represented at a meeting in Washington.

The article traces the history of this new Alliance, stating that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo...
...announced plans for the creation of the alliance at the conclusion of the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in July. He and Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback have called it a “first-ever” global group to focus on religious freedom.

President Donald Trump also cited the alliance at a September event on religious freedom at the United Nations, where he described it as “an alliance of likeminded nations devoted to confronting religious persecution all around the world.”
At the National Prayer Breakfast, the President made reference to the Alliance, according to the transcript on the White House website, and then stated: "All of us here today reaffirm these timeless truths: Faith keeps us free. Prayer makes us strong. And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace."

The RNS article said that:
The State Department issued a list of principles for the alliance that included a commitment to “the right to hold any faith or belief, or none at all, and the freedom to change faith.” The new organization’s priorities include challenging blasphemy laws and the denial of registration to nonreligious and religious groups and advocating for people who are imprisoned or otherwise persecuted due to their religion or beliefs.
At this week's meeting, it was announced that Warsaw, Poland would be the site of the next
Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.

Pro-life students gain right to assemble at California college campus

In a resounding victory for a pro-life student group at California State University-San Marcos, the university agreed to pay almost a quarter of a million dollars and to revise its student fee policy, according to the website of Alliance Defending Freedom, which filed a lawsuit against the school after unfair treatment was alleged by the campus group, Students for Life, which is one of over 100 recognized student groups on the campus.

The website states:
The university funded the Gender Equity and the LGBTQA Pride Center with almost $300,000 in mandatory fees while denying Students for Life $500 in funding to host a visiting speaker on “Abortion and Human Equality” to provide a contrasting view.
This was during the 2016-17 academic year.  The website goes on to say:
In August 2019, a federal district court struck down the CSU–San Marcos policy of “back room deliberations” that lead to unequal treatment of student groups and directed both sides to reach an agreement on the policy issues raised in the lawsuit.
That ruling resulted in the school's recent actions. ADF Legal Counsel Caleb Dalton is quoted as saying, “We’re grateful the district court rejected the university’s unfair, secretive, and discriminatory policy, and that the university has agreed to allocate student fees only in a viewpoint-neutral manner, instead of picking favorites. The university system’s policy changes don’t simply benefit our clients but also benefit any student with a minority viewpoint and every citizen who cares about dialogue and intellectual freedom within our public colleges and university communities.”

This court action is reminiscent of a statement made by the President at the recent National Prayer Breakfast, according to the Family Research Council website: "...I also recently took executive action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to colleges and universities that spread the poison of anti-Semitism and bad things about Christianity. We are upholding the sanctity of life. And we are doing that like nobody has ever done it before from this position." 

Sunday, February 02, 2020

The 3 - February 2, 2020

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, features a controversy over the rejection of a Super Bowl ad that presents survivors of abortion.  Plus, Tennessee now has a new law that offers protection to faith-based adoption agencies who uphold the "religious or moral convictions" of the agencies regarding placement of children.  And, evangelical organizations are expressing concern from an education official in Spain regarding parental rights.

Another Super Bowl, another ad controversy

It's not the first time, but there has been another controversy surrounding the message of a Super Bowl ad.  You may remember there was the tension over Focus on the Family running an ad featuring Tim Tebow a while back.  Not too long after that, Birmingham-based Fixed Point Foundation had submitted a John 3:16 ad to be run during the big game - rejected!

This year, an organization called Faces of Choice wanted to run an ad featuring abortion survivors and contacted Fox, the network that is broadcasting this year's game.  According to LifeSiteNews,
Faces of Choice, a new non-profit whose ad featuring 14 survivors of abortion was shown at the March for Life, say they have been “given the runaround” by the network for six months.
The ad, which features the faces and stories of abortion survivors, is designed to raise awareness of the survivors of abortion who all univocally make it clear that they are persons and not a "choice." Faces of Choice applied to run a 30-second version of the ad. The ad doesn’t mention abortion. Faces of Choice says it has been carefully produced so that it is appropriate for the Super Bowl audience.
According to the article, the storyboard had been approved, but Fox's legal department kept asking questions.  Apparently, the ad was never cleared.

Meanwhile, The Blaze reported about an ad that a number of viewers, especially Christian viewers, would find objectionable.  It states...
...news broke that two former contestants from "RuPaul's Drag Race" would appear in a Super Bowl commercial this Sunday, marking the first time that drag queens are to be featured in an ad for the big game. 
The same will apparently not be true for abortion survivors.
The website reports that:
Bob Witeck, a marketing expert for LGBTQ audiences, said that the ad is "revolutionary."
“For queer audiences, [drag] is an art form and an 'outsiders' language," he explained.
“Reaching the Super Bowl means taking our language into every home in the nation and millions around the world."
The Christian Post quoted Dr. James Dobson about the commercial, for Sabra hummus:
"So there you have it. Fox has said ‘yes’ to drag queens and ‘no’ to abortion survivors,” Evangelical leader James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, said in a statement. “Celebrating sexual fantasy while denying the value of every life... could the soul of America be any more lost?”
Dobson accused Fox Sports of transforming the Super Bowl from a “family-friendly event into an opportunity to promote a gender ideology that goes against the most basic biological realities.”
The article also related:
...a Fox spokesperson told The Washington Times in a statement that the network was "unable to accommodate" Faces of Choice and other advertisers because they “sold out at a record pace this year.”
And, another ad sure to please the gay community is an Amazon Alexa ad that features talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and her "partner," Portia de Rossi.

TN Governor signs new law protecting faith-based adoption agencies from being forced to violate convictions

A bill that would have protected the conscience rights of faith-based adoption agencies has now been signed into law in Tennessee by Gov. Bill Lee, according to FoxNews.com, which reported on January 26:
The governor of Tennessee signed a controversial law Friday that allows adoption agencies within the state to refuse to place children in homes that "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies.”

The measure, signed by Republican Gov. Bill Lee, was widely condemned by members of the LGBTQ community for providing legal protections to agencies that reject foster care or adoption applications from same-sex homes. It also prohibits the state from denying agencies licenses or grants for public funding because they have a religious objection to placing a child in a certain home.
The article notes that: "This comes after the Trump administration proposed a new rule in November that would allow faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to continue receiving federal money even if they turn away same-sex couples on the basis of the agencies' religious beliefs."

The Fox story relates that Governor Lee's spokesman, Gillum Ferguson, told the Tennessean newspaper, “The governor believes that protection of rights is important, especially religious liberty," adding, "This bill is centered around protecting the religious liberty of Tennesseans and that’s why he signed it.”

Anti-parental rights statement by government official challenged in Spain

Recently, I reported about a group of New Jersey parents who are protesting a mandate that so-called "LGBTQ history" be taught in schools there.  Those protesting see it as a matter of parental rights.

There are evangelical Christians in Spain who have expressed concerns about an education official's comments demonstrating contempt for parental rights.  The story, from ChristianNews.net, links to the website, EvangelicalFocus.com, which reports that...
...Education Minister Isabel Celáa said in a press conference that “no one should commit the mistake of thinking that children belong to their parents”.
The article goes on to say that:
In the first public appearance after the conformation of the new government, Social Democrat Celáa announced that the central Spanish government would bring the Region of Murcia (South-east Spain) to the courts after its regional government allowed parents to decide whether their children would attend talks and other special activities which could collide with their moral and ethical views.
According to the story, these "classes include sex education and workshops on LGBT issues given by external speakers."  Shortly after Celáa's comments, the "Equality Minister," Irene Montero, described the actions in Murcia as “censorship and sexism.”

Three evangelical organizations responded:
The Spanish Evangelical Alliance (AEE) denounced that “a code of values charged with ideology is being imposed on our children, which presents ideological dogmas as if they were absolute truths, creating a kind of ‘lay religion’”.
The article goes on to say that:
Meanwhile, the Evangelical Council of the Region of Murcia, also expressed its “deep concern and disagreement” with Celáa’s words. The evangelical body in that region underlined that “parents have the right to educate children according to their ethical and moral convictions, this being a Constitutional right, which cannot be subject to changing policies or ideological proposals”.
Finally, the Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain (FEREDE), called to end what they believe to be “a false debate” because “it hurts us all, especially the children”.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The 3 - January 26, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is are two pro-life stories: one involves the first President of the United States to address the March for Life in Washington in the almost-50-year history of the event.  Plus, a Federal agency has deemed a California law forcing insurance plans to cover abortion is a violation of Federal law.  And, the Church of England has provided comments relative to so-called "mixed-sex" civil partnerships.

Trump becomes first President in history to address March for Life in person

In 47 years, up until this past Friday, no American President had addressed the March for Life in person.  Not Reagan, not either Bush.  But, as WORLD Magazine reports:
President Donald Trump on Friday became the first sitting president to address in person the annual gathering of pro-life advocates in the nation’s capital. He touted his administration’s pro-life policies such as withholding Title X family planning funding from abortion centers and protecting conscience rights for pro-life doctors and nurses.
The article included several phrases from the speech: “Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God...,” “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House...,” as well as, “And as the Bible tells us, each person is wonderfully made.”

WhiteHouse.gov published the transcript of the speech, and the speech is available through the White House YouTube channel.  The President also shared, according to the transcript:
We are protecting pro-life students’ right to free speech on college campuses. (Applause.) And if universities want federal taxpayer dollars, then they must uphold your First Amendment right to speak your mind. And if they don’t, they pay a very big financial penalty, which they will not be willing to pay. (Applause.)
Sadly, the far-left is actively working to erase our God-given rights, shut down faith-based charities, ban religious believers from the public square, and silence Americans who believe in the sanctity of life.
Administration determines California law violates Federal law by forcing organizations, including churches, to fund abortion

A division of a Federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services has determined the state of California broke the law by requiring insurance plans in the state to cover abortion, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website.  It points out that: "The federal Weldon Amendment prohibits states which receive federal funding from compelling healthcare plans to fund abortion."

ADF had filed lawsuits against this legislation on behalf of four churches in the state who were being coerced to pay for abortion in their insurance plans.  Friday, it was announced that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights had made the determination that the California law did indeed violate Federal law.  ADF Legal Counsel Denise Harle said:
“No one should force a church or any other employer to participate in funding abortion. For years, California’s Department of Managed Health Care has demonstrated hostility to churches by forcing them to pay for elective abortions. The agency has unconstitutionally targeted religious organizations, repeatedly collaborated with pro-abortion advocates, and failed to follow the appropriate administrative procedures to institute its unprecedented mandate. We commend the Trump administration and HHS’s Office for Civil Rights for investigating and taking corrective action against the state of California for its flawed policies, persistent violation of federal law, and its willful disregard for the civil rights and conscience rights of its citizens.”
Church of England declares support of sex between a man and woman, and only in marriage

Substitutes for marriage are certainly a trend, it seems, and in the United Kingdom, couples who cohabit can actually enter into a legal arrangement, called a "civil partnership," akin to what homosexuals sought after in this country prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's recognition of counterfeit homosexual marriage as something called, "marriage." 

Now, according to The Guardian website, bishops in the Church of England, while apparently not explicitly condemning any sort of civil partnership - homosexual or heterosexual - bishops did say that sexual activity should only be pursued in the context of one-man, one-woman marriage.  The website reports:
Bishops have issued pastoral guidance in response to the recent introduction to mixed-sex civil partnerships, which says: “For Christians, marriage – that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”
The church “seeks to uphold that standard” in its approach to civil partnerships, and “to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships” within such partnerships.
It adds: “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”
The Church's director of director of mission and public affairs, the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, is quoted as saying: “Civil partnership is not the same as marriage, which is founded on the taking of solemn public vows and is recognised in the church’s teaching as the only proper context for sexual relationships." He added, “So, as with same-sex civil partnerships, there is no formal service or blessing but clergy will, as always, be encouraged to respond pastorally to couples wishing to formalise their relationship in this way.” The bishops did say, according to the article that members of the clergy in the Church of England “should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership."

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The 3 - January 19, 2020

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, there was a recent announcement of Federal action concerning religious freedom.  Plus, parents in New Jersey are taking action in opposition to a mandate to teach so-called LGBTQ history.  Also, protests have been occurring in India regarding a tall statue of Jesus, slated to be built on private land.

President announces initiatives to guarantee religious freedom

This past Thursday, January 16, was Religious Freedom Day, and the President announced a series of new guidelines that would preserve religious freedom rights.  According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, there were "three major actions" that were proclaimed:
1. Ensuring Religious Organizations Are Treated the Same as Secular Ones
2. Requiring Public Schools to Respect Students’ Rights to Express Their Faith
3. Ordering That Federal Grant Programs Cannot Discriminate Against Religious Schools or Organizations
CBN.com published an article about students' right to pray in schools and pointed out that the President had "previewed" that announcement in the "Evangelicals for Trump" rally in Miami earlier this month.  The article says:
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos explained the new rules protect students' right to pray, but they also go beyond that to protect faith-based student groups and much more: "The Department's efforts will level the playing field between religious and non-religious organizations competing for federal grants, as well as protect First Amendment freedoms on campus and the religious liberty of faith-based institutions."
The U.S. Department of Education, according to the article, "is sending letters to officials in all 50 states to ensure students and teachers don't face discrimination for practicing their right of religious freedom."  As the article notes, "The bottom line is this: Public schools now risk losing federal funds if they violate students' rights to religious expression."

Faith Radio programmers were quoted in the article: David Jeremiah said that, "Our public schools ought to be places where people of faith feel free to be who they are, and -of course- no one really believes doing so constitutes enforcing one's personal faith on another." Tony Perkins related, "Some school officials are willing participants in the secularists' intimidation campaign while others fear the lack of funding to fight threatened lawsuits. Now the tables are turned."

In another CBN.com article, James Dobson is quoted as saying, "We should celebrate the administration's vital efforts to protect our religious freedom. But such work is in vain if we don't seize the opportunity to live out our faith and thereby transform the heart of this nation."

New Jersey parents express concern over new LGBTQ-friendly curriculum

There is certainly trouble in the state of New Jersey over a disturbing new law that requires the teaching of so-called LGBTQ history, according to an article published at The Stream from The Daily Signal.  The article reports that the bill was signed by Democrat governor Phil Murphy on January 31 of last year, making New Jersey the nation's second state to pass such a requirement (California was first).  The piece states:
The New Jersey measure says the state board of education “shall include instruction on the political, economic and social contribution of persons with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in an appropriate place in the curriculum of middle school and high school students as part of the district’s implementation of the New Jersey Student Learning Standards.”
Parents' right leaders gathered on January 4 to mobilize. The article quotes from Victoria Jakelsky, described as "state director of a grassroots group called Protect Your Children, or Team PYC..." The article notes that, according to Jakelsky, Protect Your Children was formed last summer and "is affiliated with ParentalRights.org, and includes evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Coptic Christians, and other concerned citizens."

ParentalRights.org has a number of high-profile Christian leaders on its board, including former Alabama and NFL star Shaun Alexander, parenting expert John Rosemond, gospel music legend Marvin Winans, and Michael Smith of the Home School Legal Defense Association. ParentalRights.org was founded by Michael Farris, formerly of HSLDA, who is now President and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom.

Jakelsky stated, "We are highly concerned that the LGBT history will teach lifestyles and life choices that stand 100% against our family values, our deeply held religious views, and the way we practice our faith.”

Two mayors who are professing Christians are quoted in the article:
Mayor Ed McKelvey, a Republican from Alloway Township in Salem County and an ordained pastor who has attracted media attention for speaking out against the LGBT curriculum, said it is a matter of right and wrong.
“God never calls you to do something that does not line up with his word, even if what he calls you to do doesn’t always make natural sense,” McKelvey told audience members.
Also...
Mayor Alfonso Cirulli of Barnegat Township in Ocean County called on Christians from across denominations to unite in an effort to reform New Jersey laws that undermine biblical teachings.
Cirulli, a Republican, has been widely quoted for saying that the LGBT curriculum mandates could “indoctrinate” students.
“This is a spiritual battle,” he said. “We have the Lord behind us.”
Team PYC members plan to be active in the days to come. The article says:
A dozen members of Team PYC are scheduled to meet Jan. 30 with Lamont Repollet, New Jersey’s commissioner of education.
Group members also plan to testify at school boards across the state in February and March, and to hold “prayer and policy meetings” in some counties.
In the midst of increasing persecution, Indians protest statue of Jesus

Again this year, the nation of India is in the top 10 of the Open Doors World Watch List, identifying the countries who are the leading persecutors of Christians worldwide.  There is an article at The Christian Post website that highlights an instance of hostility to Christianity in the Ramanagara district in the southern part of the country.  The article states:
Hundreds of hardline Hindus gathered to protest a planned Jesus statue that will rival Rio de Janeiro's "Christ The Redeemer" for its size, claiming the structure will go “against the spirit of communal harmony.”
Here is a description of the scene:
Carrying saffron flags as around 1,000 police stood by, protesters demanded that the state government reverse its decision to allot land for the proposed 114 foot Jesus statue or face further demonstrations.

The Jesus statue is expected to stand atop a hillock named Kapalabetta in Harobele, a village of 3,500 where Christians form a majority. The land is owned by the Archdiocese of Bangalore.
A local representative of the archdiocese said that state officials have said they would become involved in the conflict.  The article also notes that:
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2019 report warned that religious freedom conditions in India “continued a downward trend” in 2018.
The commission warned against “the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives” that facilitate campaigns of violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindu minorities and lower-caste minorities from both public and private actors.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The 3 - January 12, 2020

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news out of China about a prison sentence handed down to a pastor, while the nation continues its attempts to clamp down on religious freedom.  Also, an infant girl in Texas is continuing to be kept alive after a positive court decision. And, the role of religion in the 2020 election will continue to be an ongoing subject, as evangelical supporters of the President gathered in Miami for rally.

Chinese pastor sentence, country announces more stringent religious regulations

In late 2018. Pastor Wang Yi of Early Rain Covenant Church in China, was arrested by governmental authorities, according to a December 30 report from China Aid, which states:
Wang was taken into custody on Dec. 9, 2018, along with 100 other members of his church. On Dec. 26, 2019, he was tried suddenly and secretly. Today, officials handed him a nine-year sentence along with three years of denied political rights and a 50,000 yuan [$7,000 USD] fine.
The report says:
Wang, who is the pastor of Early Rain Covenant Church, was found guilty of “inciting subversion of state power” and “illegal business operations.” Both charges were given to him because of his position within the church.
Dr. Bob Fu, Founder and President of China Aid, stated, “This is a pure case of unjust religious persecution against a peaceful preacher of a Chinese reformed church...This grave sentence demonstrates Xi’s regime is determined to be the enemy of universal values and religious freedom. We call upon the international community to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party and hold this evil regime accountable.” He called on high-ranking U.S. officials to "condemn and take immediate action" regarding these measures, which he termed, "barbaric."

Meanwhile, the continued absorption of religious practice in China into the activities of the state continues, with CBN News reporting that "the Chinese government announced it will soon require all religious personnel of any faith to support total submission to the Chinese Communist Party."  This will go into effect February, according to an Asia News report referenced in the article, which relates:
Under the new measures which consist of six chapters and 41 articles dealing with everything involving religious communities – from gatherings to annual and daily projects – are subject to the approval of the government's religious affairs department. All religious personnel will also be required to support, promote and implement total submission to the Chinese Communist Party among all of the members of their faith communities.
CBN also says that, "International Christian Concern, a persecution watchdog group, warns "with these latest measures in place, the government will use them as a legal tool to further tighten space for religious groups.'"

Texas court says that baby can be kept on life support

The infant girl at the center of a controversy in Texas is 11 months old and is named Tinslee Lewis, according to a WORLD Magazine report that says that Tinslee "...was born prematurely on Feb. 1 and has remained hospitalized with a rare heart defect, chronic lung disease, and severe high blood pressure." She ceased to breathe on her own back in July, and has received special treatment, including being sedated. The story relates that...
Her mother said that despite her sedation, Tinslee smiles, stares, and squeezes her hand. Doctors do not think those actions are purposeful and said Tinslee is in constant pain and will never recover. But her mother said she wants to be the one to decide whether to remove her from life support.
The hospital had wished to remove the treatment keeping her alive, and has a judge's ruling to support it.  Yet, according to WORLD, "The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ...ordered Cook Children’s Medical Center to keep Tinslee Lewis alive until it can make a final ruling in an appeal brought by Tinslee’s mother, Trinity Lewis." Texas Right to Life has supported the Lewis family, and Kimberlyn Schwartz of the organization said, "This gives us so much hope for Tinslee,” adding, “This is a prayer answered.”

President's evangelical supporters gather in Florida

It is clear by digesting media, including social media, that Christians are divided, in some cases, deeply so, regarding their position on President Trump - and his support varies in intensity, I think: from being ambivalent, to being a Trump voter, to being a strong supporter, and a vocal supporter, and everywhere in between.  You'll find opposition in varying levels.  And, the strongest of both extremes seem to be the most vocal - and offensive.  And, there is plenty of criticism of evangelical Christians who support the President...by their fellow Christians.  The level of division and mean-spiritedness on social media is disturbing, and some of the most provocative voices are actually those who are characterizing fellow believers who support Trump as malicious.

But, the President, no doubt, has strong support in the evangelical community, and a rally at a Miami church that occurred the first weekend of January featured a number of strong evangelical supporters on the stage.  Tony Perkins of Family Research Council, in a piece that ran on The Stream website, provided a reminder about why Christians support the President, and it's not because of personality necessarily, but of policy.  Perkins wrote:
When he tweeted, in classic Trump fashion, that no president had ever done more for Christians than his administration, it was true. From the unborn to judges, international religious freedom to Israel, this White House has earned the support it’s getting.
Christians, the president repeated, “have never had a greater champion — not even close — than you have in the White House right now. Look at the record,” Trump urged. “We’ve done things that nobody thought was possible. We’re not only defending our constitutional rights, we’re also defending religion itself, which is under siege.” That’s important, he argued, because “America was not built by religion-hating socialists. America was built by churchgoing, God-worshiping, freedom-loving patriots.”
At this Evangelicals for Trump rally, the President drew the contrast between his policy positions and those who whoever will be his opponent. Perkins states that the President told the crowd, “every Democrat candidate running for president is trying to punish religious believers and silence our churches and our pastors. Our opponents want to shut out God from the public square so they can impose their extreme anti-religious and socialist agenda on America.” Not all will agree with the President, even in the faith community, and there are a number of faith-based groups that are attempting to change the calculus of the 2020 election.  Prayer and searching the Scriptures are necessary components for a making an informed and Spirit-led choice in this year's elections.