Sunday, October 26, 2014

The 3 - October 26, 2014

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is emerging news from the country of Nigeria, where a militant group has apparently kidnapped more young ladies, even though there had been talk of some sort of ceasefire.  Also, there is confusion in the case of 2 Idaho wedding chapel operators who have refused to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.  And, another Federal judge has upheld a law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

3 - Boko Haram abducts 25 more girls against backdrop of possible truce

News has surfaced this week that militants suspected to be part of the Boko Haram terrorist group have reportedly kidnapped at least 25 girls in an attack on a remote town in northeastern Nigeria, even against the backdrop of talks on freeing over 200 other female hostages they seized in April. This is according to a report on the Irish Times website, referenced by ChristianHeadlines.com, which points out that Boko Haram terrorists already have nearly 200 girls in captivity that were abducted from a school in Chibok on April 14.  In this recent attack, the militants reportedly came late in the night and forced all of the women and girls to go with them; the older women were later released but 25 girls were kept captive.

Nearly a week after the government announced a ceasefire deal with Boko Haram, which it said would include the release of the girls kidnapped from the secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria in April, there is still no sign of them being freed.

Talks to release the schoolgirls have been reportedly been taking place in secret between the government and a Boko Haram representative in the capital of Chad, N’Djamena.

John Kwaghe, who witnessed the most recent attack and lost three daughters to the abductors, was quoted as saying that, “We are confused that hours after the so-called ceasefire agreement has been entered between the Federal Government and Boko Haram insurgents, our girls were abducted by the insurgents...We urge the government to please help rescue our daughters without further delay, as we are ready to die searching.”

2 - Wedding chapel operators who refused to do gay wedding may be exempt from city's anti-discrimination law

Even though the Idaho marriage amendment defining marriage as one man-one woman, was struck down by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently, the owners of a wedding chapel in Couer d'Alene refused to marry gay couples, citing their religious beliefs.  Furthermore, it was thought that they could be in violation of a city non-discrimination ordinance.

But, according to ReligionNews.com, things may be going in favor of chapel owners.  This past Thursday, the interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho, Leo Morales, said he won’t pursue legal action because the chapel owned by Donald and Evelyn Knapp, the Hitching Post, only provides religious services and is exempted from the local ordinance. He said the ACLU would reconsider its stance if the chapel were to offer secular services, such as providing flowers or cakes, or holding nonreligious ceremonies.

Alliance Defending Freedom spokesman Greg Scott said that Couer d’Alene police had called the couple on Thursday to investigate a possible violation of the city’s 2013 anti-discrimination ordinance after a complaint from someone who had requested a same-sex ceremony and was refused. ADF filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf the Knapps.

Keith Erickson, a city spokesperson, said, "As a religious organization, they are exempt from our anti-discrimination law. They are for-profit...We’re asking them to dismiss this federal lawsuit. It has no merit because the ordinance doesn’t apply to them.” However, city attorney Mike Gridley had written to the ADF earlier this month saying, “If they are operating as a legitimate not-for-profit religious corporation then they are exempt from the ordinance like any other church or religious association.”

Meanwhile, ADF said the Hitching Post is not a nonprofit religious organization like a church, but rather is a religious for-profit limited liability company like a Bible publisher.  

So, whether or not the Knapps are exempt remains to be seen - one thing that is clear:  the Knapps will not be performing same-sex ceremonies at their wedding chapel.

Recently, Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink discussed this case and other topics.   You can listen to it or download it here.

1 - Puerto Rico Federal judge upholds traditional marriage

This past week, according to the WORLD Magazine website, U.S. District Court Judge Juan Pérez-Giménez upheld the constitutionality of the 1902 Puerto Rico marriage statute defining marriage as one man and one woman, following a challenge by five homosexual couples. The couples’ attorney said they would appeal.

In his opinion, Pérez-Giménez wrote that heterosexual marriage was essential to society and related concern that changing the definition of marriage opens the door to legalizing polygamous and incestuous relationships.  He said, "Ultimately, the very survival of the political order depends upon the procreative potential embodied in traditional marriage...Those are the well-tested, well-proven principles on which we have relied for centuries.”

As WORLD notes, the Puerto Rico judge's decision stands out among others by about two dozen judges on the U.S. mainland who overturned state marriage laws following the 2013 landmark Supreme Court ruling U.S. v. Windsor.  In his opinion, Pérez-Giménez said U.S. judges overturning state marriage laws wrongly interpreted the high court's Windsor decision, which struck down a federal provision that denied some tax, health, and veteran’s benefits to legally married gay couples. The ruling did not, however, declare gay marriage legal on a national scale.  He wrote that Windsor was a bolstering of states’ rights.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The 3 - October 19, 2014

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I focus on some international news, with developments in the ongoing case of the first Christian women to face a death sentence under Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  Also, students across America were being encouraged to bring their Bibles to school this past Thursday.  And, the top story involves the situation in Houston, Texas, where pastors' communications are being subpoenaed.

3 - Pakistani court upholds Asia Bibi's death sentence

Asia Bibi, the first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, had her appeal of her conviction rejected by the High Court in Lahore on Thursday, according to a report on the World Watch Monitor website.

The women, also known as Aasiya Noreen, received the death penalty in 2010 after she allegedly made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman.

However, the Superintendent of Police who investigated Asia’s case, testified in the trial court that the religious argument broke out over drinking water, and not about the Prophet or the Koran. The trial court judge nonetheless convicted her and gave her the death penalty.

The Lahore High Court began hearing the appeal in March this year, but the case kept circulating among several judges who postponed its hearing.  Legal sources told World Watch Monitor that judges were unwilling to decide the case because of fear of reprisal from extremist elements.  Asia Bibi's defense team now has one more opportunity to appeal her case by taking it to Pakistan’s Supreme Court.

Asia Bibi has had some high-profile supporters, the article notes.  Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the Pakistani government for clemency.  The then-Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, went to meet Noreen in prison and prepared a petition for mercy, which he had intended to submit to the President of Pakistan, but he was killed in 2011 because of his support for Asia and his characterization of the blasphemy laws as "black laws."  Two months later, the only Christian member of the cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed.  Bhatti had supported Noreen and sought to reform Pakistan's blasphemy laws, which, according to the article, are often used to settle personal scores and pressure religious minorities.

2 - Students encouraged to participate in "Bring Your Bible to School Day"

This past Thursday, students across the nation were invited to participate in a national effort called Bring Your Bible to School Day, according to a report on the ChristianNews.net website.  The initiative is sponsored by Focus on the Family, in association with the Day of Dialogue.  It is stated to be “designed to empower Christian students who have a heart for sharing Christ’s love and express a Biblical perspective on current-day issues with peers.”

Students participating in the effort were encouraged to not only bring their Bible to school, but to also engage in dialogue with their peers about matters of faith during non-instructional times. 

Candi Cushman, Focus on the Family's education analyst and facilitator of Day of Dialogue, said, "We believe truth rises to the surface when honest conversations and a free exchange of ideas are allowed to happen...It equips the next generation of Christian leaders with confidence that the Gospel of Christ speaks into even the most sensitive cultural issues.” Organizers are quoted as saying that the (Day of Dialogue) event began three years ago with just a few hundred participants, but has now grown to an estimated 18,000 youth observances nationwide.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) issued a legal memo surrounding the observance.   ADF Senior Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco is quoted as saying that, “Christian students don’t abandon their constitutionally protected freedoms at the schoolhouse gate...Their freedom to express their beliefs includes the right to bring their Bible to school, to read it during their free time, and to engage in other activities as part of ‘Bring Your Bible to School Day.’”

1 - Houston pastors under threats from city officials

A fierce debate on a so-called "equal rights ordinance" in Houston reached a whole new level this week.  In June, the city council had passed the ordinance, supported by openly lesbian mayor Annise Parker, which provides for new policies, including allowing those who identify as a gender different than their biological one to use the bathroom of the opposite sex.  A petition drive challenging the law was launched earlier this year, and even though the number of signatures collected was well over the threshold of necessary signatures, city officials claimed that there were not enough valid ones.  A lawsuit was filed to challenge the actions of the city of Houston, and this week, a group of 5 pastors, none of them involved in the lawsuit, were presented subpoenas for various forms of communication, including sermons.

You can read a report from the Alliance Defending Freedom here.

According to a Family Research Council blog post from FRC President Tony Perkins,
Everyone from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to the liberal Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have challenged Parker’s naked abuse of government power.
Writing about a Thursday press conference, Perkins said:
The Mayor “should be ashamed,” Sen. Cruz told reporters before a local press conference this morning. “This is wrong. It’s unbefitting of Texans, and it’s un-American. The government has no business asking pastors to turn over their sermons.”
Perkins points out that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott called out city leaders with the full weight of the state.  In a formal letter to Houston city attorney David Feldman, he wrote: “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment...The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government. Nothing short of an immediate reversal by your office will provide that security.”

In a press conference with Parker, Feldman said, “It’s unfortunate...that our subpoenas have been construed as some effort to infringe on religious beliefs.”  It was widely reported that the mayor did eliminate sermons from subpoenas, but other forms of communication are being sought.  Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defending Freedom is quoted on the FRC blog: "The only way to make this subpoena appropriate and not unconstitutional is to place a giant red X across the whole thing. Otherwise, this is window dressing intended to shield them from public attention, not any real change. There is NO construction of this subpoena that is appropriate. Period.”

A conversation with Kerri Kupec, Legal Communications Director for ADF, from the Friday, October 17 edition of The Meeting House can be found here.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The 3 - October 12, 2014

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes a report on pastors who responded to a call to address political issues, including the approaching stance of candidates on issues from a Christian perspective.  Also, the Supreme Court began its week with inactivity on gay marriage, kicking off a week of significant activity on the topic.  And, the top story - thousands of venues across the land serves as sites for a large evangelistic crusade event originating from a packed arena in Texas.

3 - Pastors speak out on political issues from pulpits

The Alliance Defending Freedom encouraged pastors to address political issues from their pulpits during the seventh annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday initiative, which began on Sunday, October 5th. On its website, ADF reported that, as of Friday, more than 1,800 pastors in all 50 states plus Puerto Rico had participated in the event.  Of those participating, just over 1,500 preached sermons presenting biblical perspectives on the positions of electoral candidates and signed a statement agreeing that the IRS should not control the content of a pastor’s sermon.  An additional 242 pastors signed the statement only, bringing the total number of pastors in support of pulpit freedom to more than 3,800 since 2008.  Pastors can register and participate through Election Day, Nov. 4, so it is expected that the numbers will continue to grow.

The Alliance Defending Freedom website states that, "Pulpit Freedom Sunday gives pastors the opportunity to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to engage in religious expression from the pulpit despite an Internal Revenue Service rule known as the Johnson Amendment, which activist groups often use to silence churches by threatening their tax-exempt status.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley, who heads the Pulpit Freedom Sunday event, is quoted as saying, “The tax-collecting IRS shouldn’t be playing speech cop and threatening a church’s tax-exempt status simply because its pastor exercises his constitutionally protected freedom of speech...Pastors and their churches should decide what is said in church. The IRS shouldn’t be empowered to censor speech, period. A growing movement of pastors is calling for a solution to this very real violation of the First Amendment.”

According to a recent Pew Forum survey, the share of Americans who say churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues is up 6 points since the 2010 midterm elections (from 43% to 49%). The share who say there has been “too little” expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders is up modestly over the same period (from 37% to 41%). And a growing minority of Americans (32%) think churches should endorse candidates for political office, though most continue to oppose such direct involvement by churches in electoral politics.

2 - High court decides not to hear same-sex marriage cases

There was a possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the definition of marriage during its fall term, but on Monday, it made the decision that it would not hear appeals in 7 cases affecting 5 states, in which the traditional definition of marriage had been struck down by Federal appeals courts, opening the door for gay marriage in states covered by those courts, according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website.  According to an updated report on the site, at the beginning of the week, same-sex marriages were legal in 19 states, and now they are legal in 27, and the number will likely rise to 35 when lower courts begin enforcing the circuit courts’ precedents in all the states under the appellate courts’ jurisdiction.

This is due to not only Monday's non-decision, but also legal decisions issued throughout the week. For instance, on Tuesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman in Idaho and Nevada unconstitutional. But on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy halted same-sex marriages in those states in an emergency order.  On Thursday, the high court admitted that Kennedy had meant to only halt same-sex marriages in Idaho.  Nevada officials had decided not to defend their marriage protection law, and private defenders withdrew from the case on Thursday.  Friday, the Supreme Court issued a brief two-sentence order denying a request by Idaho officials for an emergency stay in its marriage protection case, which overrides Kennedy's stay from Wednesday.  Also this week, West Virginia officials announced their intent not to defend that state's marriage law, and a Federal judge found North Carolina's amendment unconstitutional - both of these were a result of the 4th Circuit's ruling against Virginia's marriage law going into effect.

The Supreme Court did not seize the opportunity to rule on gay marriage definitively.   As Emily Belz points out in the WORLD article reviewing the high court's week on gay marriage, "The 5th Circuit and the 6th Circuit have more conservative judges and will rule on marriage cases in the near future. If either of those circuits rule in favor of marriage protection laws, the Supreme Court would be much more likely to take a case. The high court often takes cases when circuit courts disagree on an issue. Justice Kennedy would probably be a swing vote on legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide if it came before the high court, but he seems likely to rule in favor of it."

1 - Harvest America draws tens of thousands at venues across the nation

"All roads lead to God."  That was the declaration by Pastor Greg Laurie during his message at Harvest America, originating from Dallas last Sunday night.  Now, at first glance, that might appear to be a rather universalistic statement, but consider the context of the quote from Pastor Laurie, reported on the The Christian Post website:
"I believe all roads lead to God. I don't care if you're a believer, agnostic or an atheist. I believe whatever road you're on, you will get to God one day and you will stand before God one day. All roads lead to God. But only one road leads to heaven, and that's the road through Jesus Christ."
According to the Christian Post report, with the Scripture John 14:6 displayed at the front of the stage in the arena: "Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," Laurie explained, "Heaven is not the default destination for everyone, but for Christians, the forgiven people."

The Post reports that Pastor Laurie shared his message on God's grace and salvation through Jesus Christ with an overflow crowd of 19,000 at Dallas' American Airlines Center and Victory Park Sunday for his first Harvest America event in Texas.  Along with the overcapacity crowd, a total of 3,900 host venues throughout the country, 1,200 of them churches, watched the live streamed event. Music was provided by MercyMe, Phil Wickham, and for King and Country.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The 3 - October 5, 2014

This week on this edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is news out of Switzerland that has stopped a court move to try to loosen restrictions on physician-assisted suicide.  Also, a Federal appeals court has upheld a law in Texas that established standards for abortion clinics in the state. And, the top story involves a popular Christian family expert who has teamed up with his son to release a brand new set of video resources, including some updated material from a series released decades ago.

3 - Swiss court overturns decision providing for physician-assisted suicide

In a case out of Switzerland, in which the Alliance Defending Freedom had filed a brief, ADF reports that the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights this past Tuesday threw out a case filed against the Swiss government for its refusal to provide suicide drugs to a woman who did not suffer from any fatal disease.

The chamber nullified a ruling by a panel of the Court against Switzerland upon learning that the woman at the center of the lawsuit actually committed suicide in November 2011 and that no one had notified the court or others involved in the lawsuit of her death or of the fact that she committed suicide using the very poison that she was attempting to secure through her lawsuit.

The Grand Chamber had agreed to review the case after an ECHR panel ruled 4-3 that Switzerland’s law banning lethal poison in such circumstances violates Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, regarding the right to respect for private and family life, because the court considered the law vague. That ruling is now null and void.

ADF Legal Counsel Paul Coleman is quoted as saying, “Because the government has an obligation to protect life, not assist in promoting death, we are pleased to see this bad decision thrown out despite the extraordinary circumstances...The lawsuit’s claim that a person should be able to do whatever he or she pleases does not override national laws rightfully designed to protect the weak and vulnerable.”

ADF intervened in the case in March 2012. Switzerland is one of only four European countries to allow doctor-prescribed death in certain circumstances, but individuals can obtain sodium pentobarbital, a drug that can be used to commit suicide, only after a medical examination and prescription by a doctor.  That protocol will remain intact.

The Alliance Defending Freedom pointed out that the case attempted to create a “right” to assisted suicide under the European Convention.  In a very similar case, Haas v. Switzerland, the ECHR in 2011 unanimously rejected the claim that the country had an obligation to assist individuals in committing suicide.

2 - Texas pro-life law upheld by appeals court

In August, a Federal court judge had ruled to be unconstitutional a provision in a Texas law that required abortion facilities to adhere to the same standards of other surgical centers.  This past Thursday, a three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that lower court ruling, according to a report on the ChristianNews.net website.  The passage of the original law had been expected to result in the closure of a significant number of abortion clinics in the state.

The website reported that the Center for Reproductive Rights had filed suit to challenge two regulations imposed by H.B. 2, including the requirement that abortion facilities comply with the standards of surgical centers. Those who opposed the law stated that the requirement would be too costly for the majority of abortionists, in some cases meaning upwards of $1 million dollars in upgrades.

In August, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel declared the regulation unconstitutional, asserting that it was created by “a brutally effective system of abortion regulation that reduces access to abortion clinics, thereby creating a statewide burden for substantial numbers of Texas women.”

The appeals court judge who wrote the majority opinion, Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, wrote, "Without any evidence on these points, plaintiffs do not appear to have met their burden to show that the ambulatory surgical center provision will result in insufficient clinic capacity that will impose an undue burden on a large fraction of women."

The article points out that reports state that seven to eight abortion facilities in Texas will be able to remain due to the ruling, down from the current 19 that are open.

1 - Churches simulcast portion of new Dobson video series 

This week, the video series on which Dr. James Dobson and his son, Ryan, collaborated, was released and included a simulcast of one of the video presentations, which was being shown in an estimated 5000 churches, according to the website, BuildingAFamilyLegacy.com.

According to that site, the simulcast featured a single session entitled Your Legacy.  In the film, Dr. James Dobson takes viewers on a journey of the legacy that was set before him and shared insight on what is most important in leaving a legacy.   The simulcast was designed to be a launch into seven other films, books, and Bible studies.  The titles of the other films are, Bringing Up Boys, Bringing Up Girls, The Strong-Willed Child, Dare to Discipline, Straight Talk to Men, Love For a Lifetime, and Wanting to Believe.

In an interview for The Meeting House at the National Religious Broadcasters convention earlier this year, Ryan Dobson shared how he was inspired by watching his father's Focus on the Family film series from the 70's and how he was intent on re-releasing and updating some of that material.   The Focus on the Family website states that the series has been viewed by more than 90 million people worldwide.

Dr. Dobson also joined me recently to discuss his inspiration and involvement in the project, as well as some of the driving principles.  Both Dr. Dobson and Ryan Dobson have each released a book to coincide with the project.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The 3 - September 28, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I shine the spotlight on hundreds of events this week remembering the tortuous imprisonment of Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini, which has now hit the 2-year mark.  Also, a leadership committee of the Southern Baptist Convention has severed ties with a church for its affirmation of the gay lifestyle.  And, the top story comes from the nation's capital, where thousands gathered to be reinforced in their determination to vote in accordance with their conservative values.

3 - Hundreds of prayer rallies support Pastor Saeed

This past Thursday, to commemorate the completion of two years of imprisonment in Iran for Pastor Saeed Abedini, an estimated 460 prayer vigils were scheduled to take place in 30 countries and territories, according to Christianity Today.   Two years ago, Abedini, a convert from Islam to Christianity, made one of his frequent trips to Iran.   The pastor, an Iranian-American citizen, had been warned by the Muslim nation against his involvement with house churches, so he had returned instead to continue building a government-approved orphanage. While there, Abedini was pulled off a bus, charged with undermining national security, and sentenced to eight years in prison.

During his imprisonment, he has reportedly been tortured and pressured to renounce his Christian faith. His release has been requested by Billy Graham, President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the United Nations.

Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice, the ACLJ, is quoted as saying, “Pastor Saeed has become the face of the persecuted Christian church worldwide, one of many Christians around the world who face imprisonment, beatings and even death for their faith."

The Christianity Today piece points out that in the midst of religious intimidation, Iran is seeing a record number of conversions, according to Elam Ministries, speculating that a crackdown on house churches seems to be making the faith more appealing to Iranians disillusioned with their government.

This week, Elam celebrated a "massive milestone" for the Iranian church: a new translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into Persian.

2 - Southern Baptist leadership committee breaks ties with gay-affirming church

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention voted unanimously on Tuesday, September 23rd to break ties with New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, CA, after determining it was condoning “homosexual behavior.”  That's according to a report on the Religion News Service website, which quotes a spokesman for the group, Roger Oldham, as saying that, “We believe that, following the lead of Pastor Danny Cortez, New Heart Community Church has walked away from the Southern Baptist Convention’s core biblical values.” Oldham said Cortez attended the meeting and indicated that he had officiated at a same-sex wedding.

The article states that the move came less than two weeks after the California Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Board voted unanimously to withdraw fellowship from the congregation because of the announcement by Cortez that he affirmed gays — including his teenage son — and his church had taken a “third way” on homosexuality.

1 - Values Voters gather in DC, call attention to religious freedom, participate in straw poll

Each year, Family Research Council Action, headed by Tony Perkins, invites a number of high-profile pro-family conservatives to speak at its Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC.  This year, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website, religious liberty took center stage.  The winner of this year's Presidential Straw Poll, Senator Ted Cruz, called for a new president who would make freedom a foreign policy priority.  Cruz is quoted as saying, “Oh, the vacuum of American leadership we see in the world...We need a president who will speak out for people of faith, prisoners of conscience.”

Last year’s speakers honed in on what are commonly called, "social issues," but on Friday, FRC Action President Tony Perkins noted, “Without religious freedom, we lose the ability to even address those other issues."

In the straw poll, Cruz won 25 percent of the votes cast by those who attended the event.  Dr. Ben Carson, took 20 percent of the vote, with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 12 percent.

Carson won the vice-presidential poll, with 22 percent of the vote. Cruz took second with nearly 14 percent, and Louisiana Govenor Bobby Jindal took third with nearly 11 percent.

The annual summit draws about 2,000 conservatives to the nation’s capitol to rally around key issues.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The 3 - September 21, 2014

Here is another edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," with three stories of relevance to the Christian community.  This week, the Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death, refused to reject her Christian faith, and was ultimately released by Sudan authorities, spoke out on her ordeal.  Also, an assortment of stories received attention this week dealing with religious expression on or around the football field.  And, the top story: as many had feared, a new report issued this week demonstrated that over 1,000 health care plans included Federal funds, taxpayer funds, being used to pay for abortions.

3 - Meriam Ibrahim speaks out

Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who faced a death sentence and who did not recant her Christian faith, has been back in the U.S. since August 1st, and this week spoke out on Fox News about her ordeal.

On The Kelly File, she said that, "the situation was difficult but I was sure God would stand by my side,” according to a piece on the FoxNews.com website.

She reminded host Megyn Kelly that,“there are many Meriams in Sudan and throughout the world. It’s not just me.”

Ibrahim says her mother was an Ethiopian Christian and her father was a Muslim who abandoned the family when she was a child.  According to the Fox News website, she had told the Sudanese high court that, “I was never a Muslim,” adding, “I was raised a Christian from the start.”

She told Kelly that while she was in prison she was visited by imams from the Muslim Scholars Association who recited parts of the Koran to her.  She is quoted as saying, “My faith was the only weapon that I had in these confrontations with imams and Muslim scholars because that’s what I believe.”

Her husband, Daniel Wani, is a Christian from South Sudan and a U.S. citizen since 2005.  The couple already had a son, and while imprisoned, Meriam gave birth to a daughter.  She is quoted as saying that, “I had to give birth with chains on my ankles,” adding, “It was difficult.”

2 - God on the gridiron: ASU helmet decision reversed, cheerleaders lead Lord's Prayer, RG3 wears Christian t-shirt, coach claims he was fired for supporting prayer

This week, there were several stories that emerged, perhaps one or even none of them which would alone enter "The 3," but rolled into one entry, you can see a compelling storyline - again this season, like others before it, there is a concern about freedom of religious expression on or around the gridiron.

Recently, a story began to circulate about a group of high school cheerleaders in Oneida, Tennessee, who decided that after their school district banned an opening prayer on their home stadium's public address system, they would say The Lord's Prayer.  When they did this at a recent Friday night game, many in the bleachers joined in.  The cheerleaders attracted widespread attention.  WBIR-TV has this story.

Also, on the high school level, TheBlaze.com reports that Gary Weiss, a football coach at Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson, Arizona, claims he was removed from his position because he allowed players to pray before and after games.

According to a KVOA-TV report that was cited, Weiss, formerly a volunteer coach with the district, said that he was given an ultimatum by school officials: tell players to stop praying or lose his position. He refused and opted for the latter option. He told the TV station that, "My concern is the rights of the kids to do what is their right to do."

District administrators said that voluntary prayer is permitted, but that staff members cannot facilitate or promote student invocations. Weiss denied that adults were leading the prayers and he said that that the prayers were inclusive.

Then, there's a follow-up to last week's story about the cross decals that had been placed on the helmets of the players at Arkansas State University. After a local attorney contacted the school saying it was a constitutional violation, the university ordered the decals removed or the design changed so that it no longer resembled a cross. This week, officials decided to allow members of the university’s football team to wear a cross decal on their helmets—as long as the players personally choose to affix them and pay for the stickers themselves.  ChristianNews.net quotes Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser as saying, "The university officials and the Arkansas attorney general did the right thing restoring the religious liberty and free speech rights of the players to have the original cross sticker design if they so choose and we commend them for doing so.”

Finally, there's the story involving NFL Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who showed up at a post-game press conference wearing a shirt displaying, in large letters, the message, "Know Jesus, Know Peace," which offers a play on words, in that the letters "K" and "W" are black, while the others are white, so the message could also read, "No (N-O) Jesus, No Peace."

Fox News reported that Michael Phillips, a reporter from The Richmond Times-Dispatch, posted on Twitter that an NFL uniform inspector made the quarterback turn the shirt inside out. Phillips said that the reason was that it was not a Nike product.

CSN Washington reported that a Redskins spokesperson denied reports that RG3 was forced to flip the shirt by the NFL. The spokesperson said Griffin flipped the shirt on his own to avoid a possible fine. CSN cites NFL bylaws that state a player cannot wear clothing that sends a personal message on game days. Griffin has reportedly been fined in the past for wearing Adidas gear on game days.

Other players, however, were seen at the podium not wearing a Nike shirt, including Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Nike reportedly has a corporate deal with the NFL.

In summary, the cheerleaders found an alternative to the limitation on prayer, the coach is speaking out about what he feels is an unfair characterization of his faith expressions, the university rethought its position on players' freedom of expression, and RG3 faced limitations on what he could wear, especially if it contained a religious message.  These are all instances of public expressions of faith surrounding the football field, several in response to attempts to limit the rights of individuals or teams to demonstrate their faith in a public setting.

1 - Government Accountability Office confirms it: taxpayers fund abortion in Affordable Care Act

In the period of time leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, opponents voiced their concern about the health care reform law including taxpayer funding of abortion.  Already, there has been much attention given to the funding of abortion through the contraceptive and abortion pill mandate, and a new report released this week by the Government Accountability Office confirms the concerns of pro-life people who warned that Federal funds could be used to fund abortion.

According to Concerned Women for America, the GAO report found that all Americans, even in states that have excluded abortion from their exchanges, are being forced to subsidize these services. It also found that when Americans tried to determine whether abortion coverage was included in their plan, that information was not readily available.

Concerned Women for America CEO and President Penny Nance is quoted as saying: “In a joint session of Congress in September 2009, President Obama unequivocally said that under the health care plan he proposed, ‘no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.’"  (Here is a link to the transcript.)

Nance went on to say, "Now we know that at least 1,036 plans cover abortion, and the so-called ‘surcharge’ for abortion coverage is simply an accounting gimmick. For a president who claims to pursue the most transparent administration, he continues to reject calls to shed light on what exactly is in plans on the health care exchange."

She pointed out that, “We deserve to know from our providers just what our insurance plans cover and, even more, we deserve to be assured that we will not be forced to pay for abortions under the guise of health care."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The 3 - September 14, 2014

In this edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I take a look at faith on campus, as one university's football team was told that it was unconstitutional to place crosses on their helmets to honor people associated with the program who had died.   Also, one of America's leading Christian businessmen passed away this past week.  And, Christians gathered to respond in prayer on the anniversary of 9/11.

3 - University removes cross from football team helmets

Faith on campus is a topic area that emerges from time-to-time, and this week, college football players at Arkansas State University had decided to honor the memory to two individuals who passed away during the past year by placing cross decals on their helmets. According to Todd Starnes of Fox News, the cross decals were meant to memorialize former player Markel Owens and former equipment manager Barry Weyer, said athletic director Terry Mohajir.  Weyer was killed in a June car crash. Owens was gunned down in Tennessee in January.

Starnes wrote:
These young men were simply trying to do a good deed. They were standing up for their fallen teammates. It’s really too bad the university could not stand up for the team.
Barry Weyer, Sr., told him that the players and coaches voluntarily decided to memorialize his son and Owens.  He is quoted as saying, "The players knew they were both Christians so they decided to use the cross along with their initials...They wanted to carry the spirits of Markel and Barry Don onto the field for one more season.”

It was a decision that had the full support of Mohajir, who said, "I support our students’ expression of their faith...I am 100 percent behind our students and coaches.”

After the recent televised game between Arkansas State and Tennessee, university counsel Lucinda McDaniel  received a letter from a local attorney complaining about the decal.  McDaniel wrote to Mohajir: “While we could argue that the cross with the initials of the fallen student and trainer merely memorialize their passing, the symbol we have authorized to convey that message is a Christian cross.”

She stated that, “If the bottom of the cross can be cut off so that the symbol is a plus sign (+) there should be no problem...It is the Christian symbol which has caused the legal objection.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation then fired off a letter congratulating the university on cleansing the helmets of the Christian symbol.  According to Starnes, FFRF co-presidents Annie Lauire Gaylor and Dan Barker went so far as to suggest alternative ways for the football players to mourn.

Mohajir is quoted as saying, “I don’t even kinda-sorta care about any organization that tells our students how to grieve...Everybody grieves differently. I don’t think anybody has the right to tell our students how to memorialize their colleagues, their classmates or any loved ones they have.”

Meanwhile, at Penn State University, officials had removed Gideon Bibles from guest rooms because of an FFRF challenge.   According to its media website, Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Thursday to Penn State encouraging it to reverse its decision. ADF recently sent a similar letter to the U.S. Navy, which later reversed its decision to remove Bibles from guest rooms after it also received a complaint from FFRF.

ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham is quoted as saying, "Public universities should understand that the First Amendment does not require them to purge a book from their guest rooms just because it happens to be religious. Rather, the Constitution requires them to accommodate religion...The Bibles can legitimately stay in the guest rooms because they simply represent a discrete way to accommodate the needs of traveling guests, not some sort of government effort to promote religion.”

2 - Chick-Fil-A founder passes away at 93

The founder of Chick-Fil-A, Truett Cathy, died early in the morning on Monday, September 8th at the age of 93.

In an article on the Baptist Press website, Cathy was quoted as having said, "I was not so committed to financial success that I was willing to abandon my principles and priorities...Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business."

Mel Blackaby, senior pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, the site of Cathy's funeral service on Wednesday, described Cathy as "perhaps the most gracious Christian man I have ever known, and it was a privilege to be his pastor."

In a statement to The Christian Index of the Georgia Baptist Convention, he said, "Having taught eighth-grade boys Sunday School class for 52 years, he chose to invest his life in the next generation of leaders...Everywhere I go, I meet leaders with a smile on their face who say, 'I am one of Truett's boys!'

The article points out that more than 1,800 Chick-fil-A restaurants operate in 40 states and Washington, D.C., recording $5 billion in annual sales in 2013 and 47 consecutive years of annual sales increases. Chick-fil-A was listed among the "Top 20 Brands with the Most Loyal Fans on Facebook" in a report by market research firm LoudDoor released in August.

Baptist Press reported that Cathy was a native of Eatonton, GA, who moved to Atlanta with his family at age 4. His key Bible verse was Proverbs 22:1: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold."

Cathy and his brother Ben opened their first restaurant in 1946, a venue so small they named it The Dwarf Grill (later, The Dwarf House). A second suburban Atlanta location opened in 1951 but burned down in 1960. In 1967 Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in a mall, followed in 1986 by the first free-standing Chick-fil-A.

Another quote: "We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed...I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken; we should be a part of our customers' lives and the communities in which we serve."

1 - Prayer gatherings take place across America on 9/11 anniversary in light of terrorist fears, Middle East persecution

Christians marked the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy by gathering in prayer.  One example took place in New York City, according to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website.  Churches there gathered at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association on the Upper West Side planned to pray not for the safety of Manhattan but for the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.   You can hear my recent interview with the writer of the article, Emily Belz, here.

The report states that Diana Mao organized the gathering.  She works for an anti-trafficking organization in the city and attends Times Square Church.  She has a friend working for the UN in Iraq who sends her updates from the ground there. Johanna Cappon, who attends and helps lead worship at Every Nation Church, also helped organize. Both Mao and Cappon have traveled in the Middle East.

Mao said, “When Iraq unfolded I was talking to friends and we were thinking about what we could do...It was hard to hear about all the atrocities that were happening. We want to take action and don’t know where to start. Prayer is a good place to start.”

The women reached out to networks of other big and small evangelical churches in the city: Trinity Grace Church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Baptist churches, and charismatic churches. Mao described the gathering as "...the the body coming together."

Last month, members at churches in the city set up a prayer chain for Iraq. One member from Apostles Church, an evangelical church with multiple parishes in the city, set up a Google spreadsheet of prayer needs and emailed it to his church, and those members forwarded it on to other church email lists throughout the city. People from various evangelical churches—Apostles, Redeemer, Trinity Grace, and others—signed up for 15-minute slots to pray over the course of five days.

Also, the Awakening America Alliance was involved again this year in sponsoring and encouraging Cry Out America gatherings across the nation.   Kay Horner, the Executive Director of the Alliance, wrote this:
Today, as hundreds of thousands are crying out in extraordinary, united prayer for a Christ-awakening in America, we would do well to ask ourselves: “We’ve prayed… now what? What follows the plethora of 9/11 prayers, resonating across our nation?”
She went on to say:
What do you see? What do you dream for America’s awakened church? If today’s dreams awaken tomorrow’s destiny, how will we go forward from our 9/11 prayer gatherings to impact a culture in desperate need for transformation?
We must be consistent and intentional to pursue what God envisions within us. We must do so with holiness, for the One who has called us is holy. We must pursue His harvest with true, not feigned, humility because as we awake, arise, and shine, our shining will be with His reflected glory and not our own. We will be awakened to an unsatiated hunger for more.
It is a reasonable and effective response, as we reflect on the tragedy of 9/11, to call upon the Lord to strengthen our hearts and to ask Him to move in a powerful way upon our nation.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The 3 - September 7, 2014

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," there was some heartening news about traditional marriage from a Federal judge this week, but a Federal appeals court struck down marriage laws in two states.  In another court development, the Administration has backed off on appealing some temporary measures in place preventing the contraception mandate from going to effect in certain cases.   And, news concerning Christians in the Middle East continues to raise concerns, as the growth of the ISIS terror organization is causing alarm.

3 - Federal court upholds LA marriage amendment, Federal appeals court strikes down WI and IN marriage laws

Up until several weeks ago, there was seemingly a fairly significant losing streak of court decisions that stated that marriage amendments in various states defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman were unconstitutional.  Then came a ruling from a district judge in Tennessee upholding that state's definition of marriage.  And, this week, a Federal court judge in Louisiana ruled in support of that state's marriage law.

According to Tony Perkins' Washington Update from the Family Research Council, Federal Judge Martin Feldman said, "he was reluctant to throw away centuries of natural, social science, and legal tradition to satiate a radical fringe."

He wrote, "This Court is persuaded that Louisiana has a legitimate interest... whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of others...in linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents."

Perkins went on to say,
Relying on research -- not the Left's misshapen idea of "rights" -- the Reagan appointee was blunt about the danger of chasing the political and cultural winds. "Public attitude might be becoming more diverse, but any right to same-sex marriage is not yet so entrenched as to be fundamental," he said plainly.
He is quoted as saying, "The state of Louisiana has a legitimate interest under a rational basis standard of review for addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process."

Later in the week, and not unexpectedly, in light of one particular judge's comments in oral arguments, a Federal appeals court ruled against marriage laws in Wisconsin and Indiana.

CitizenLink reports that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down marriage law in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, was quoted as saying that she was disappointed, but not surprised by the decision.  She pointed out that, "We knew we had the most liberal panel of judges on the 7th Circuit...When they denied the state’s request to have the case heard before all ten judges on the court, we pretty much knew what to expect.”

Appling had harsh words for Judge Richard Posner, one of the three who heard the case. She related that she was in the courtroom and said, "I knew then what the outcome was going to be. Judge Posner in particular made his opinion quite clear. His clarity took a backseat only to his sarcasm.”

According to the WORLD Magazine website, Posner said that only “hate” is behind wanting to order society around one-man-one-woman unions and used the phrase “savage discrimination” to describe it.

2 - Government drops appeals in cases involving contraception mandate

The Alliance Defending Freedom reports that in the face of mounting court losses, the Obama administration Wednesday abandoned its appeals in several lawsuits against the contraception and abortion-pill mandate. The ADF press release states that, "The preliminary injunctions that the federal district courts issued in all of the cases where the administration is dropping its appeals will remain in effect until the cases are litigated to conclusion."

As the release points out, "The surrender means that existing court orders which protect family businesses in those cases from violating their religious beliefs will stand while the lawsuits proceed."  This includes the Hobby Lobby case itself.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman is quoted as saying, “The administration was right to abandon its fight against the family businesses involved in these particular cases in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June. In a free and diverse society, we respect the freedom to live out our convictions. For these families, that means not being forced to participate in distributing abortion drugs and devices.”

1 - Christians prepare for threat of ISIS while NATO leaders meet to craft plan to combat the terror group's spread

This week, throughout the Middle East, the threat of ISIS continues to cast a long shadow over the entire region, as NATO leaders met and discussed how their nations would respond to the advancement of this terrorist group.   And, the WORLD Magazine website reported that Christians in Lebanon are now taking steps to protect themselves against the onslaught of the Islamic State.

The report says that,"as Christians flee Syria and Iraq to escape the radical Islamic State, Lebanese Christians are preparing themselves for the possibility of hostilities flowing over their border."  It points out that for the first time since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, Lebanese Christians are arming themselves for self-defense, including deploying on hills surrounding their communities, and even lying in ambush.

Vandals spray-painted the walls of several churches in northern Lebanon this past week with the words, “The Islamic State is coming,” after someone posted a video online of boys burning an Islamic flag in a Christian neighborhood in Beirut.

Meanwhile, WORLD reports that President Obama, at a press conference near the end of a two-day NATO summit in Wales, said ISIS (also called Islamic State or ISIL) has an ideology of “extremist nihilism” and is a “savage organization” that must be stopped.

To that end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders from nine other nations at the NATO summit to forge an international alliance against ISIS. One of the group’s main goals will be to try to cut off the terrorists’ financial resources, the other to provide military support to Iraq as it fights the group. The NATO allies hope to have a plan ready in time for the United Nations’ General Assembly meeting this month.  Issues surrounding fighting ISIS in Syria remain.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 3 - August 31, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I explore the story of a New York couple who was fined for not allowing a same-sex wedding ceremony to be performed at its facility - they have announced that they will no longer host weddings.   Also, a singular Federal judge has ruled against a portion of the Texas abortion law providing for certain standards for clinics. And, a large missions agency has a new leader - a popular author and pastor.

3 - Couple fined for not allowing gay wedding at its facility, will no longer host weddings

In yet another example of a business that refused to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony and has faced consequences from the government, a couple in New York has now made the decision to no longer allow their facility to be used for weddings.

According to a story on the ChristianNews.net website, Robert and Cynthia Gifford own Liberty Ridge Farms, a 50-acre facility that hosts a number of family-friendly attractions.  In 2012, two lesbians contacted the facility to schedule their “wedding” ceremony, as the venue regularly hosts weddings and other outings.  When the Giffords realized that the two were lesbians, they informed the women that they could not be of assistance.

The ladies filed a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights, alleging discrimination.

Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Peres fined Liberty Ridge Farms $13,000, citing “the goal of deterrence” for other businesses who might adhere to their convictions and decline to personally accommodate same-sex celebrations. $1,500 of that amount is be paid to each the lesbians who were turned down by the facility, which also serves as the Giffords' home.

Liberty Ridge Farms was also ordered to provide proof that they have trained their employees not to refuse requests from homosexuals. A poster noting that the business is subject to human rights law was additionally to be displayed prominently at the business.

Because of the order, the Giffords have now decided to close the wedding venue altogether, while keeping other parts of their farm operational, in order to avoid violating their religious beliefs.

Their attorney, James Trainor, told reporters this week that, the Giffords "...have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property (other than the ones already under contract).” He added, “Since the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business in the short run. They will continue to host wedding receptions.”

Also, as previously reported by ChristianNews.net, a Christian-owned trolley company in Maryland likewise decided last year to discontinue its wedding services to avoid any legal entanglements. Matt Grubbs of Discover Annapolis Tours informed the Baltimore Sun that he will lose $50,000 a year because of his decision, but said that he would rather lose money than dishonor God.

2 - Last-minute Federal judge decision puts part of TX abortion law on hold

Just 2 years ago, the state of Texas had 40 abortion clinics in operation, and according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website, in the aftermath of the passage of the new abortion reform law called HB2, now only 19 centers remain in business.  The law has already withstood a legal challenge to the portion of the law that required abortionists to have privileges at a nearby hospital. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March that the privileges requirement did not place an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Now, a lone Federal judge has ruled against another provision of the law, set to go into effect this week. The ruling blocks a requirement that abortion centers in Texas have hospital-like facilities with operating rooms, air filtration systems, and other standards that are typically only mandated in surgical settings. Supporters of the measure said it would protect women’s health, but U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said it created an “impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion.”

The Los Angeles Times points out that the judge also struck down the admitting privileges mandate as it applies to two clinics, one in the Rio Grande Valley, the other in West Texas, regions where women have the least access to abortion services.  As the Times points out, the original bill banned nearly all abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

This ruling is yet another in a series of ruling by Federal judges who see themselves apparently as the protectors of a woman's so-called right to abortion.

1 - Platt named new head of Baptist foreign missions agency

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has a new President - the IMB's Board of Trustees named Birmingham pastor, David Platt, of the Church at Brook Hills, as the new head of the Convention's foreign missions arm.

A Baptist Press report says that the IMB is the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals. More than 4,800 Southern Baptist international missionaries serve worldwide.

Platt succeeds former missionary, pastor and Southern Baptist Convention president Tom Elliff, who had served as President since March 2011.  Elliff asked the agency's trustees earlier this year to begin an active search for his successor.

Baptist Press quotes Platt as saying, "This is not something I saw coming." He said, "I love pastoring The Church at Brook Hills. I love shepherding this local church on mission for the glory of God among the nations and could picture myself doing that for decades to come. At the same time, God has been doing an unusual work in my heart and life. The only way I can describe it is that He's been instilling in me a deeper, narrowing, Romans 15 kind of ambition, where [the Apostle] Paul said, 'I want to see Christ preached where He has not been named.' … He has given me a deeper desire to spend more of my time and energy and resources in the short life He has given me to seeing Christ preached where He's not been named. The concept of unreached peoples -- of nearly 2 billion people who have never heard the Gospel -- is just totally intolerable."

Search committee chairman David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, FL, is quoted as saying, "When we realized his sense of call, whether that meant serving as IMB president or going himself … we realized how passionate, how deeply committed and called he was to the nations." He said the trustees are excited about Platt's influence among thousands of Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders through The Church at Brook Hills, the Radical network and other arenas.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The 3 - August 24, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," features two celebratory events at an Atlanta hospital, as two health care professionals from Christian ministries were released after being treated for the Ebola virus.  Also, new regulations were announced for non-profit organizations and closely-held companies concerning the contraception mandate.   And, a massive turnout in Southern California came out for a long-standing annual evangelistic crusade.

3 - 2 Christian workers released from Emory University hospital after Ebola treatment

Two devoted health care workers who were helping to care for Ebola patients in Liberia have now been released from an Atlanta hospital.  An American doctor, Kent Brantly, who works with Samaritan's Purse, was discharged from Emory University Hospital Thursday. Another American aid worker, Nancy Writebol, of Servants in Mission, or SIM, was discharged Tuesday.

According to a ReligionNews.com article, Brantly, looking gaunt, said at a press conference Thursday that, "God saved my life," at which the room applauded his appearance. He thanked his medical team and the millions of people around the world praying for his recovery. “Please do not stop praying for the people of West Africa.”

Bruce Ribner, the medical director of the hospital's infectious disease unit, said the hospital performed extensive blood and urine tests on both patients and consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before deciding the two missionaries were ready to be released.   He said that neither poses any risk to the public.  Five doctors and 21 nurses cared for Brantly and Writebol during their stay.

SIM press release through Religion News quoted Nancy Writebol's husband David, who, in a statement, said: "Nancy is free of the virus, but the lingering effects of the battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition. Thus, we decided it would be best to leave the hospital privately to be able to give her the rest and recuperation she needs at this time...During the course of her fight, Nancy recalled the dark hours of fear and loneliness, but also a sense of the deep abiding peace and presence of God, giving her comfort..."

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham is quoted in this statement, published on ReligionNews.com:
I know that Dr. Brantly and his wonderful family would ask that you please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola. Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.
We have more than 350 staff in Liberia, and others will soon be joining them, so please pray for those who have served with Dr. Brantly — along with the other doctors, aid workers and organizations that are at this very moment desperately trying to stop Ebola from taking any more lives.

2 - HHS contraception mandate rules changed again

Responding to action from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Obama administration announced yet another revision to the regulations for non-profit organizations who object to the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.

As anticipated, the new regulations follow the guidelines of the recent Supreme Court order granting Wheaton College an injunction against the mandate.

Here's how the new regulations work: an objecting nonprofit can inform the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in writing that it objects to the mandate and be absolved from arranging coverage. But, HHS would then order the nonprofit’s insurer to provide the objectionable drugs to employees at no cost to the nonprofit. If the nonprofit is self-insured, HHS would order the group’s third-party administrator to provide the drugs, which the article points out is a complicated scenario.

HHS also announced a proposal in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case to allow closely held corporations who object to the mandate to use the same accommodation process as objecting nonprofits.

Lori Windham of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty issued this statement:
“Under pressure from hundreds of lawsuits, the government continues to retreat. After three losses in the Supreme Court and dozens of losses in courts below, the government continues to confuse the issues. The government issued over 70 pages of regulations, when all it needed to do was read the First Amendment. We’ll be reviewing this latest attempt with each of our clients.”

The Becket Fund website points out 5 things about the new regulations:

1. This is the 8th retreat the administration has made from their original stance that only “house[s] of worship” receive religious liberty protection.

2. There are a lot of lawsuits against the administration: 102 cases filed including: 28 religious universities (More Protestant than Catholic), 40 religious charities, and 3 Bible publishers.

3. The administration has lost 90% of their cases on this issue – including a decision and two orders from the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Wheaton.

4. The religious charities in these cases serve tens of thousands of people, helping the poor and healing the sick. The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than ten thousand people.

5. This is the first time the administration has acknowledged that families do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. None of the previous seven revisions reached family-owned businesses.

Baptist Press quotes a written statement by Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Dr. Russell Moore:
"Here we go again...What we see here is another revised attempt to settle issues of religious conscience with accounting maneuvers. This new policy doesn't get at the primary problem. The administration is setting itself up as a mediator between God and the conscience on the question of the taking of innocent human life."

1 - Thousands flock to Harvest Crusade in Anaheim

What has been termed as the longest-running evangelistic outreach in U.S. history yielded another sizable crowd to the Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, where more than 116,000 people packed the stands of the famed baseball stadium over three nights to attend the 25th annual Southern California Harvest Crusades with Greg Laurie, which ended on Sunday, the 17th.

All nights of the 2014 SoCal Harvest were broadcast on the Internet, where over 62,700 people from all 50 states and 121 countries around the world watched the outreach.

In a Harvest Crusade press release, Laurie, who preached each night of the Crusade, is quoted as saying, "God can forgive your sin and the guilt that goes along with it. He loves you...Have you heard His voice? After 25 years, I know there's nothing I can say to make you believe in Jesus. All I can do is deliver the news, sharing it with you. You have a choice: you can say yes to Him or you can say no to Him."

By the end of the weekend, almost 12,800 people indicated their faith in Christ at the Southern California Harvest Crusade, including over 11,300 people who walked to the outfield of Angel Stadium, and another 1,425 who made that decision online after viewing the Internet broadcast of the crusade.

The 2014 Crusade concluded with a Sunday night fireworks display that accompanied Chris Tomlin as he sang "God's Great Dance Floor," and a musical medley from Grammy-nominated vocalist Crystal Lewis, who has performed at nearly every Harvest Crusades outreach in Orange County.

Other musical artists throughout the Crusade included NEEDTOBREATHE, Phil Wickham, Skillet, Sidewalk Prophets, and For King and Country.

There were reflections on the past 25 years with video flashbacks and testimonies from past participants who experienced spiritual change after attending a Harvest Crusade event.

Coming up on Sunday, October 5th, Harvest America will take place in Dallas at the American Airlines Arena. The event is scheduled to be simulcast to host locations nationwide. The event will feature Greg Laurie, music by MercyMe, and worship with Phil Wickham.  Learn more at www.harvest.org or www.harvestamerica.com.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The 3 - August 17, 2014

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," an attempt to overturn Houston's ordinance providing for special treatment for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity was turned back by city officials.  Also, in a suburb of St. Louis, churches are involved in trying to bring peace amidst conflict in the aftermath of a police shooting of an 18-year-old man. And, the top story, violence against Christians - as the purge of Christians continues in Iraq, more brutality has been reported in Nigeria, and a humanitarian crisis has ensued after a deadly attack last week.

3 - Attempt to overturn Houston ordinance affording special rights thwarted

One trend that is beginning to emerge regarding special rights for homosexuals and acceptance of same-sex marriage is the passage of municipal ordinances.  For example, cities such as Houston and San Antonio have already passed such policies and the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana turned back such a law this past week.

According to a CitizenLink story, a Texas judge had temporarily halted an equal rights ordinance that would force Houston business owners to allow men to use the women’s restroom — and vice versa.  It was put on hold until this past Friday, pending a hearing on the matter. The ordinance would also force businesses to celebrate same-sex ceremonies.

City council members passed the ordinance in May.   Last month, a coalition, including pastors and other concerned citizens, submitted more than 50,000 petition signatures from Houstonians who want the ordinance to be repealed or placed on the ballot. Then, the mayor and the city attorney threw out more than 30,000 of those.

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action, said people should get to vote. He is quoted as saying, "We will vigorously defend the right of Houstonians to take a timely vote on this dangerous ordinance...The oppressive actions of Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman to throw out at least 30,000 petition signatures — and then delay and distract in court — only shows the desperate lengths they will go to prevent the people of Houston from having their say.”  Mayor Annise Parker is openly gay.

According to the NoUnequalRight.com campaign, which spearheaded the signature drive, the ordinance would place women and children in danger in business restrooms and community-pool changing rooms and locker rooms.

The Houston Chronicle reports that on Friday, opponents of the ordinance dropped their request for a temporary injunction that could have triggered a repeal referendum this November. Their lawsuit is scheduled to be heard January 19 of next year, a trial date that ordinance opponents called "expedited" and among the reasons they agreed to withdraw the request.

The injunction sought by the ordinance foes would have forced City Secretary Anna Russell to certify their petition and sent the issue to an emergency city council vote in order to get the repeal referendum on the November ballot. The group of conservative pastors and activists was also asking the city to suspend enforcement of the ordinance, though Mayor Annise Parker had already agreed to do so until a ruling is issued.

And, Houston's 14th Court of Appeals on Friday denied a separate request from opponents to force the city secretary to certify the signatures on their petition and trigger a referendum.

In Baton Rouge, a so-called equal rights ordinance failed by a vote of 8-4, according to a report on the NOLA.com website.

2 - Christians pray for peace in St. Louis suburb

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri has been pronounced in the aftermath of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last week.  As WORLD reports, riots erupted throughout the week, after police shot and killed Michael Brown. Police reports claim Brown struggled with the officers, while two eyewitnesses have said that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times. In the following days, rioters looted and burned stores, confronted police in the streets, and demanded the name of the officer responsible for Brown’s death.  Thursday, it was announced that the Missouri State Highway Patrol would oversee security in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Gov. Jay Nixon announced the change in light of criticism that the St. Louis County Police Department has been overly confrontational with protesters.  After curfews were placed into effect for the weekend, another wave of protests and violence emerged, and as of Monday morning, the 18th, according to USA Today, Gov. Nixon had deployed National Guard troops to try to restore the peace.

As I wrote about in a recent post on my blog, The Front Room, in the middle of the turmoil, area churches have stepped forward to communicate an air of peace and service.  WORLD interviewed Michelle Higgins, Worship and Outreach Coordinator at South City Church in St. Louis, who said the atmosphere completely changes as day turns to night. Higgins said even though the police are patient and speak politely, “their appearance is so daunting that it creates a tension that does not have to be there.” The night also brings a different type of protester, including frustrated young people from all over the St. Louis area who often ignore community leaders’pleas to keep the protests peaceful.

Pastor Rodrick Burton, an African-American who leads the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, located minutes from Ferguson, said it’s disheartening to see young people who are looking for instant results take matters into their own hands. He's also discouraged to see how people are injecting inaccurate information and their own narratives into an already tragic case. For one, he said, unlike the claims of many reports, the northern suburb of Ferguson, which is two-thirds black and one-third white, actually has “pretty good race relations,” and he worries how the riots will affect the existing relationships.

Baptist Press reports that Missouri Baptists in the area say the tragedy has opened doors for proclaiming a message of reconciliation in Christ. For instance, First Baptist Church in Ferguson opened its doors on Aug. 13 for a citywide prayer service.  First Baptist pastor Stoney Shaw said residents of Ferguson were joined by Missouri Baptists from nearby towns in praying for peace and unity. Among other churches involved in the service were The Gate Church of University City and The Passage Church of Florissant.  The pastor said the interracial prayer service exuded a spirit of reconciliation, with participants recognizing the need to love and understand one another.

The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association also organized an Aug. 13 prayer service hosted by Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in North St. Louis. In addition to praying for Brown's family and for peace in Ferguson, director of missions Jim Breeden said they prayed that God would empower local Christians to transform the greater St. Louis area with the Gospel message.

Some Missouri Baptists have already displayed this message by helping to clean Ferguson storefronts that were damaged by looters in the aftermath of Brown's shooting.  First Baptist of Ferguson issued a statement, which said, in part: "... we pledge to pray diligently for everyone involved...We ask that everyone join us in praying for peace and unity as we go through this difficult time together. And we stand ready to assist our community in any way possible to bring peace in the wake of this horrible tragedy."

1 - Radicals in Nigeria slaughter Christians

The purge of Christians in cities across Iraq and the entrapment of Yazidi people on a mountain in that nations have been sources of concern.  Meanwhile, another extremist Islamist organization, Boko Haram, continues its wave of violence in Nigeria.  And, reports have emerged that members of that organization ravaged the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, Borno State last week, according to the Christian Today website.  Over 100 people were killed in the attack, and many citizens were forced to flee their homes and run into the hills to save their lives, according to a BosNewsLife report.

The Boko Haram members were wearing military uniforms and arrived on motorcycles, in trucks, and in up to 50 vans, and attacked the village with fuel-bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The population of over 276,000 had their homes ransacked for food and other supplies before being burned. Some escaped civilians fled to Cameroon or nearby Adamawa State.

Boko Haram also targeted the predominantly Christian town of Limankara, Borno State, killing Church of Christ in Nations pastor Musa Gaiyo and three of his children.

Human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide condemned the bloodshed.  Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas, in a statement, said, "It is deplorable that the residents of Gwoza have been terrorised for so many months, and are now internally displaced, having lost their homes and livelihoods."

The Guardian Nigeria site quotes Senator Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South in Nigeria's National Assembly, who warned of a humanitarian emergency, who said, "Honestly, our people need help. The only people that are living in Gwoza are those that are either too old to walk or too young to flee..."They have no water to drink because the boreholes are no longer functioning. They also have no food to eat. There are over 50,000 people in Gwoza and more than 270,000 in the local government area but all of them are devastated."  He added, "Something urgent needs to be done."

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 10,000 people had been displaced because of the attack and they were providing assistance to those who had escaped to Maiduguri or Madagali, in neighbouring Adamawa state.

Boko Haram became internationally known after kidnapping over 270 children from an all-girls school in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14. A second mass kidnapping occurred on May 4 in Warabe. Over 200 girls remain missing.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The 3 - August 10, 2014

This week here in my week-in-review feature, "The 3," news from a Federal courtroom in Montgomery, where a judge struck down legislation that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.   Also, a major church in the Northwest has continued to make headlines within the Christian community, and has been removed from membership in a church-planting organization that its pastor founded.  And, the top story involved the continued progression of the militant organization, ISIS, through Iraq, including the conquest of several Christian towns.

3 - Alabama abortion clinic bill struck down by Federal judge

A Federal judge has struck down a law, passed by the Alabama Legislature, that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  It had been reported that, as the result of the bill's provision, three out of the five abortion clinics in the state would have had to close because they could not meet this minimum standard.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued his ruling on Monday in a 172-page decision, which said, in part, according to ChristianNews.net, “The resulting unavailability of abortion in these three cities would impose significant obstacles, burdens, and costs for women across Alabama...The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability.”

Governor Robert Bentley was quoted as saying, "...This law ensures that if a complication arises there is continuity of treatment between doctor and patient. This ruling significantly diminishes those important protections. I will always fight for the rights of the unborn, and support an appeal of today’s decision.”

The bill would be appealed to the 11th Circuit.   The 5th Circuit has already issued two decisions concerning similar bills.  A three-judge panel upheld a Texas law requiring that abortionists have admitting privileges, while another three-judge panel of the same circuit rejected a Mississippi requirement.

2 - Acts 29 church planting network removes church, pastor from membership

Acts 29 is a network of churches who are devoted to planting other churches.   Its website says that, "Over the last ten years Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 500 churches around the world. We want to allow a unifying, uncommon movement of God to happen through Acts 29. Centered on the Gospel, we desire to advance the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. It is our hope to see this leading to millions of lives changed by the power of the Spirit for the glory of God."

The network was founded and led for most of those ten years by an unconventional pastor from Seattle by the name of Mark Driscoll - he is the pastor of Mars Hill Church.  It was announced this week that Pastor Driscoll and Mars Hill Church have been removed from membership in the network.  The website says that:
...Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.
On the WORLD News Group website, Warren Cole Smith reports that a letter was sent to Driscoll by the Board of Directors, which includes Matt Chandler, who became Board Chair after Driscoll stepped down several years ago. Other board members include: Darrin Patrick, Steve Timmis, Eric Mason, John Bryson, Bruce Wesley, and Leonce Crump.  WORLD reports that the board said it wrote the letter “in sadness and hope” and only after waiting to see what Driscoll and the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) would do to resolve what the letter called “countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you.”

But the Acts 29 board’s letter added, “We no longer believe the BOAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.”

Just 2 weeks ago, Warren reported in a piece on the WORLD website that:
Last year, a plagiarism controversy forced Driscoll and his publisher Tyndale House to issue a joint statement admitting “mistakes were made.” This year, WORLD reported Mars Hill Church spent a quarter-million dollars in church funds to put his book Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list. Former staff members have increasingly taken to the internet to voice their grievances with what some have called Driscoll’s overbearing management style.
He went on to write that:
These controversies came to a head in March, when Driscoll made a remarkable public apology. In a letter to his congregation that received national coverage, he said his “angry-young-prophet days are over” and he would take steps to become “a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.” Among the steps Driscoll planned to take included refraining from posting on social media until “at least the end of the year” and to doing few, if any, media interviews.
Apparently, this public apology was not enough, and more information about Driscoll and his activities has continued to come to light.

On his website, Warren Throckmorton, who has been a vocal critic of Driscoll, quoted one of the Mars Hill ex-pastors who has been initiating mediation with the church, Kyle Firstenberg, who had this reaction to Acts 29′s announcement.
I have been greatly discouraged with the response from the BOAA in the charges that both I and others have brought. Years have gone by with what appears as only damage control and not any clear act of love for Mark in holding him accountable as brothers in the faith should.
This action from Matt Chandler and the other members of the board of A29 is one of the most loving acts I have seen in leadership in the Church world in recent years.
Throckmorton does point out that the BOAA did respond to the letter announcing that Mars Hill was being removed.  It was signed by Chairman Michael Van Skaik and Board Member Larry Osborne, saying that, "...I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most."   Van Skaik took the A29 leadership to task for not speaking directly to the Board or Mark Driscoll prior to the announcement.

According to Throckmorton, a group of over 75 members and ex-members have chosen to delay the filing of 53 new charges against the pastor and his Executive Elders.  Apparently, you have had a number of people in the Mars Hill culture who have been involved in the process of confrontation, with the hope of restoration.   Perhaps this A29 action can be a catalyst for healing within a church body that has had and continues to have a real opportunity to impact the world.

1 - ISIS continues conquests, takes over large Christian town

This week, the world's attention has been refocused on the upheaval in the nation of Iraq, where the ISIS army (also known as the Islamic State) continues to make inroads.   This week, American airstrikes against ISIS militants were carried out, and relief supplies were dropped to those fleeing the onslaught.

Religious cleansing and genocide have become the mode of operation for ISIS.  Reports of the brutal treatment of Christians in Mosul have been widely circulated, and this week, the Christian Today website
said that militants pushed back Kurdish troops and then moved in overnight to take over four Christian-majority towns, including Qaraqosh which is home to Iraq's largest Christian community.

The story quotes Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, Joseph Thomas, who confirmed to AFP, "I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants. He said, "It's a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene," and noted, "Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described."

Qaraqosh and the surrounding towns are said to have contained at least a quarter of Iraq's historic Christian population before the insurgents moved in.

In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. There are now thought to be less than 200,000.