Sunday, November 23, 2014

The 3 - November 23, 2014

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there has been response among Christian leaders in response to the President's announced action on immigration this week, a continuation of faith-based groups and leaders speaking about the issue.  Also, thousands have been speaking out in support of a large family who are featured in a long-running reality show.  And, the top story:  a major gathering on the topic of marriage recently concluded at the Vatican, and evangelical Christian leaders were among the assortment of representatives from a variety of faith groups who attended and spoke.

3 - Christian leaders respond to President's executive action on immigration

As expected, this past week, President Obama announced that he would be taking executive action regarding immigration.  According to a report on the ChristianityToday.com website, the President said that:
1. "We’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over."
2. "I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed."
3. "We’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country."
Of course, as the report points out, that third area, which could affect up to 5 million illegal immigrants in the nation, is continuing to prompt debate.

The President relied on a Biblical reference in his announcement.  He said, "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger—we were strangers once, too...My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."

Jenny Yang of World Relief is quoted as saying, "Congress should see the President’s actions as impetus to pass immigration reform that will supersede executive action as soon as possible..."

Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said that the President's action was "not the preferable delivery mechanism," but described it as a "merciful action" because it "initiates a reconciliatory prescription necessary in addressing a defacto humanitarian crisis within our borders: millions of God's children created in his image living in the shadows."

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention disagreed with the unilateral action and said, "My hope is that the Republicans in Congress will not allow the President's actions here as a pretext for keeping in the rut of the status quo." He is also quoted as saying, "More importantly, I pray that our churches will transcend all of this posing and maneuvering that we see in Washington. Whatever our agreements and disagreements on immigration policy, we as the Body of Christ are those who see every human life as reflecting the image of God.”

Noel Castellanos, CEO and President of the Christian Community Development Association, applauded the President for "making good on his promise to give relief."  He said that he has long "urg[ed] Congress to fix our broken immigration system based on the biblical principles of love for neighbor and human dignity."  He said that, "Now it is time for Congress to finish the job by passing comprehensive immigration reform."

The Washington Times featured a report with a number of Christian leaders, including Penny Nance, chief executive and president of Concerned Women for America, who said that their stance on immigration is that “we must secure our borders and enforce the law” — and “we do not believe the president has constitutional authority to give temporary amnesty without congressional approval.”

She added, “I think it’s important to note that the president and others have been using dog whistles to [call] evangelicals, by saying that undocumented workers must ‘get right with the law...It’s true and it’s clever, in that it appeals to our core belief in redemption and restoration.”

But the question is whose idea can make that happen, Ms. Nance said. “Eleven million people are God’s children and we must choose wisely and justly. But we must also be cognizant of national security and sovereignty.”

Among religious leaders, views on immigration reform are likely to not only continue, but harden, said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a Christian think-tank and religious watchdog organization.

You can read more about the positions of Christian leaders on the issue, including a new LifeWay Research survey of pastors on it, by going to a recent edition of my other blog, The Front Room.

2 - Petition drive to remove Duggars' program countered 

LifeSiteNews.com reports that as of this past Saturday, after just two days, a petition in support of the Duggar family was poised to overtake a separate petition on Change.org attacking the family for their conservative beliefs.  The original petition drive was launched in September, and it was highlighted this week by several mainstream media outlets.   The original petition grew and was up to over 140,000 signatures by Saturday after it received that flurry of media coverage.

LifeSiteNews launched its counter-petition on Thursday, and over 2 days, it had risen to over 120,000 signatures.

The anti-Duggar petition criticizes Michelle Duggar, the mother of the large Christian family featured in TLC's "19 Kids and Counting," for opposing a "transgender" bill in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and demands that TLC yank the Duggars from the air.

Among high-profile Christians supporting the pro-Duggar petition are the Benham Brothers, whose proposed reality TV show on HGTV was cancelled after gay activists launched a campaign highlighting their traditional Christian views. They said that the effort to remove the Duggars waas part of "the same intolerant agenda that attacked our family." The brothers say that agenda "is now demonizing one of the most wholesome families in America...The Duggars have always been an example of Christian love for each other and society. It’s time for Americans to stand with them against this latest manifestation of anti-Christian bullying."

1 - Variety of church leaders, including evangelicals, address marriage at Vatican conference

This past week, 28 speakers from 14 religious traditions and 23 nations spoke at an ecumenical conference on marriage at the Vatican.  Included in the assortment of speakers were two evangelical leaders:  Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and Rick Warren of Saddleback Church, which is a Southern Baptist congregation.
According to a story on the website, ChristianExaminer.com, Moore gave a message on the importance of marriage and emphasized the spiritual harm that comes from "jettisoning" the very relationship that represents Christ's relationship with His Church.  Warren offered a plan of action and charged the audience to "never give up!"
In opening the conference, Pope Francis is quoted as saying, "We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment...This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings..."

In the closing address, Warren shared these comments, according to the Christian Examiner website:
"In Hebrews 13:4 we are given this clear command: Marriage is to be honored by everyone," Warren preached. "Sadly today, marriage is now dishonored by many."
"It is dismissed as an archaic, manmade tradition, discouraged as a career-limiting choice, denounced as an enemy of women, demeaned in movies and television and delayed out of fear that it will limit one's personal freedom," he said.
"Today marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected, and even redefined."
"What are we to do about this?"
Saying there is too much at stake, he urged "The church cannot cower in silence!"
Using Mark 10:6-9, Warren presented five convictions he said "the Owner's Manual on Marriage" gives:  1) Gender is God's idea, 2) Marriage is God's idea, 3) Sex was created for marriage, 4) Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and 5) Marriage is to be permanent.   He concluded by saying that they should "...never give up and never give in!"  He observed, "The church cannot be salt and light in a crumbling culture if it caves in to the sexual revolution and fails to provide a counter-culture witness."

The Examiner story reported that Moore spoke on Tuesday, saying people should defend one-man/one-woman marriage for the common good, but also for the sake of the Gospel.   It referred to a Baptist Press article quoting Moore as saying, "Marriage is a common grace, and we should speak...of why jettisoning normative marriage and family is harmful...Marriage 'is grounded in the natural order, bearing rights and responsibilities that were not crafted by an human state and cannot thus be redefined by any human state.'"

As the Christian Examiner pointed out, the conference was a year in the making, but coincidentally came just a month after a Vatican bishop's council stirred speculation about softening of official Catholic views on marriage, homosexuality and the family.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The 3 - November 16, 2014

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I explore a halt to new regulations and a halt to new churches being registered in the African nation of Kenya.  Also, a Federal appeals court has upheld the housing allowance extended to clergy in the U.S. tax code.  And, Christians stood in prayer with persecuted believers in an annual observance recently.

3 - Kenya bans new churches

Church leaders in the nation of Kenya are crying foul in the face of proposed new regulations directed at churches in the wake of a scandal involving a minister who was allegedly selling miracles.

Standard Digital News reports that the Chairman of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, Bishop Mark Kariuki, and others alleged that the move by the Attorney General Githu Muigai to stop registration of new churches and his proposal to introduce regulations amounted to persecuting the church.

Kariuki addressed journalists ahead of a meeting with the Attorney General on Friday to discuss proposed regulations.  He is quoted as saying that, “We see this as persecution of the Church and we call on all Christians to support us and stand with us. When it comes to matters of faith, people are willing to die for the faith and we will stand firm with the church.”

Christianity Today, which had referenced a link to the Standard story, reported that the government response came after TV station KTN's Jicho Pevu and Inside Story broadcast a "Prayer Predators" exposé of preacher Victor Kanyari, whom the station claimed had been making money from his followers by asking them for advance payment for prayers and miracles.  Kanyari, who preaches at Salvation Healing Ministry, continued holding services but hired security to screen out visiting journalists, according to the Standard.

Kanyari admitted he coached members of his church to give false testimonies, but said many people had been “healed and blessed in many ways” by his ministry. He will be investigated for obtaining money by false pretenses, according to Kenya's director of public prosecutions.


The Standard reported that the AG has directed existing religious organizations to file details on their current status and financial returns with the Registrar of Societies. Details that organizations are required to provide would include: a copy of Kenya Revenue Authority’s personal identification number, full name of the organization, a registration number, date of registration, details of office bearers, copies of their identification cards and their passport size photographs.

During the press briefing, Kariuki reportedly argued that there is no need for the church to be punished for the sins of one person.

2 - Appeals court upholds clergy housing allowance

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an important decision this week in a case involving the clergy housing allowance - it ruled that the federal tax code provision that treats church-provided housing allowances to ministers as income tax-free must stand, according to a report on the website of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, or the ECFA.  The allowance had been challenged by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

The ECFA piece states:
In doing so, the appeals court overturned a previous decision by a lower district court in favor of the atheist group, Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF). The district court had found that the exclusion is an unconstitutional benefit in favor of religious groups...
The appeals court determined that the FFRF and its leaders were not proper parties to challenge the law in federal court because they had not suffered any concrete, personal injury—a critical element to establish standing.

The ruling stated, regarding the atheist organization's challenge, "This argument fails, however, for a simple reason: the plaintiffs were never denied the parsonage exemption because they never asked for it. Without a request, there can be no denial."

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley is quoted as saying:
The government isn’t subsidizing something when its money is not even involved...The atheists who filed this suit may have an axe to grind against religion, but as the 7th Circuit found, that doesn’t give them sufficient standing to challenge a tax benefit for which it has never applied and that has been provided to pastors for decades. The allowance many churches provide to pastors is church money, not government money. It is constitutional and should continue to be respected and protected.
1 - Christians unite in prayer for persecuted church, release of Kenneth Bae celebrated

The first two Sundays of November are set apart to remember and pray for the persecuted church, through the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP), according to its website.

It states that, "Today’s greatest untold story is that more than 100 million Christians worldwide face persecution for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Daily Christians in countries such as Eritrea, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Sudan and Sri Lanka face imprisonment, violence and even death."

The IDOP is a designated time, this year set aside on either November 9th or even the 2nd, when Christians around the world who are suffering persecution are remembered in prayer.  The website, idop.org, featuring resources helpful in observing the day and in standing with the persecuted church, is a project of the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance.

This week, a piece ran on the Christian Today website reporting that Christian missionaries have vowed to continue their work in North Korea and China with more caution, despite the crackdown on Christianity in the region after the imprisonment of American missionary Kenneth Bae.

Bae was released recently from labor camp and returned to America after serving two years of his 15-year sentence for his Christian faith. North Korea and neighboring China have reportedly both increased their surveillance on Christian activities since his sentence.

"We are getting more nervous," Kim Seung-eun, a missionary from South Korea that often travels to North Korea, told Reuters. "We have to come up with a strategy to avoid another case like Kenneth Bae's."

Bae and another man held in North Korea, Matthew Todd Miller, were released from North Korea on Saturday, November 8 and arrived on U.S. soil later that day, according to NBC News.

Jeffrey Fowle is another Christian, who is from Ohio, who was detained for several months in North Korea. According to Christian Today, he was arrested after he had left a Bible in a public place, which he later explained in an interview that he planned to give to North Korea's underground church. Fowle told CBN that it was clearly against the nation's law but, as he said, "...being a Christian believer, I was trying to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, saying 'carry the Gospel to all corners of the Earth."

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The 3 - November 9, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," features the celebration of the birthday of one of America's most revered evangelists and a new evangelistic video released to coincide with it.  Also, a Federal court ruling was handed down in favor of marriage (traditional marriage).  And, the top story involves pro-life candidates who were swept into the U.S. Senate this past Tuesday night.

3 - Billy Graham celebrates birthday, new video released

Last year, the My Hope America with Billy Graham effort mobilized churches and their members to invite people to come into homes and other locations to view a video presentation from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and to hear event hosts share about their salvation through Jesus Christ.

Last year, in observance of Dr. Graham's 95th birthday, a video featuring a new message from the renowned evangelist, The Cross, was made available.  This year, in honor of Dr. Graham's 96th birthday, the extended My Hope initiative released a new video featuring material from Billy Graham called, Heaven.

On its website, BillyGraham.org, the Association states:
As the release of a new video message from Billy Graham kicks off My Hope 2014, churches in all 50 states, Canada and the United Kingdom have plans to share the Gospel with friends and neighbors in English and Spanish.
Heaven, the latest short film from Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s My Hope outreach, features a never-before-seen message from Billy Graham, coupled with the true stories of a Nevada woman who lost her father to murder and a California firefighter who nearly lost his life battling a fire.
The piece includes snapshots of how local communities are incorporating the new material.   One of those is from Prattville, Alabama, where, "The community has rallied around a veteran firefighter who is fighting for his life after falling from a ladder earlier this month. Now a local pastor is inviting firefighters from surrounding counties to his church on Sunday, Nov. 9 to pray for the injured firefighter, honor first responders and watch the My Hope video Heaven. The video is largely focused on a firefighter who nearly lost his life when he fell through a roof into a raging inferno."

WSFA reported that last Wednesday night, firefighters from across the region gathered at the White City Volunteer Fire Department, whose chief, Lowell Strock, fell nearly 20 feet from a ladder while performing maintenance on a station heater.

In the hospital, his fellow firefighters stood watch at his bedside around the clock.

Prayers chains have been started at fire departments throughout Alabama. At a conference in Gulf Shores for the Fire Marshal's Association of Alabama, everyone stopped to pray for Strock, who is a 24-year veteran of the Prattville Fire Department.  A moment of silence also went over the scanners Wednesday night for him.

Churches are capitalizing on this new material to invite people to creative events where a video will be shown.  My Hope is an outreach that continues to galvenize believers across the nation and has been producing fruit around the world.

2 - Federal appeals court upholds traditional marriage laws

In an end to a string of court victories for proponents of so-called "same-sex marriage," a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld natural marriage laws in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.   Liberty Counsel filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, and according to a report on its website, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote, “Of all the ways to resolve this question, one option is not available: a poll of the three judges of this panel, or for that matter all federal judges, about whether gay marriage is a good idea. Our judicial commissions did not come with such a sweeping grant of authority, one that would allow just three of us—just two of us in truth—to make such a vital policy call for the thirty-two million citizens who live within the four states of the Sixth Circuit.”

Sutton continued, “A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, or not all, or our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of states.”

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reportedly upheld the law based on the case, Baker v. Nelson, stating that it was still good law.   Liberty Counsel reports that in the Baker decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that a law defining marriage as one man and one woman did not violate the U.S. Constitution, and the United States Supreme Court ruled that there was no federal question, and Baker became precedent.

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying, "Marriage is not merely a creation of any one civilization or its statutes, but is an institution older than the Constitution and, indeed, older than any laws of any nation. Marriage is a natural bond that society or religion can only ‘solemnize.'"  He also said, "With a divide in the appeals court rulings, the Supreme Court will likely take up the issue."

1 - Pro-life candidates are victorious in U.S. Senate races

A significant number of candidates who spoke on the pro-life issue were victorious across the nation in the mid-term elections last week.

As I reported on my blog, The Front Room, and on The Meeting House last ThursdayBaptist Press quoted Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission as saying that the election illustrates that "the pro-life issue persists and can win," which he deemed the "most important aspect" of Election Day 2014.

In a written statement, Moore said: "Candidates who articulated explicitly their commitment to life won, and those who expected to use abortion as a 'wedge issue' to benefit the 'pro-choice' cause lost…"

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said the "overwhelming victory for pro-life candidates signals the fact that the bottom has fallen out of the abortion-centered 'war on women' strategy."

The National Right to Life News website reported on Wednesday that:
Through the work of the National Right to Life Political Action Committee and the National Right to Life Victory Fund, the right-to-life movement scored big gains in yesterday’s mid-term elections. National Right to Life’s political committees were actively involved in 74 races. As of this morning, 53 (72%) of the pro-life candidates in those races prevailed, including pro-life Senate candidates in Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Two of the Senate races in which National Right to Life was actively involved are still outstanding. In Alaska, pro-life Dan Sullivan has what appears to be an insurmountable lead over pro-abortion Sen. Mark Begich, and in Louisiana, pro-life Rep. Bill Cassidy is considered the frontrunner in a December run-off election against pro-abortion incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu.
The NRLC piece touted 12 Senate races, including all 7 in which the pro-life, Republican candidate won a seat previously held by a Democrat.  NRLC, Susan B. Anthony List, and CitizenLink are just 3 of a number of pro-life, pro-family organizations who were actively involved with informing voters of the positions of candidates.   As Dr. Moore is quoted as saying: "We should pray now that the newly elected Congress and the president will be able to work together for just policies that protect and promote human dignity, family stability and religious liberty."

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The 3 - November 2, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review blog feature, I take a look at North Carolina judges who would rather resign than to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.   Also, the institution of traditional marriage in a culture that has been more accepting of homosexual behavior and same-sex unions was upheld in a conference attracting church leaders to Nashville.  And, the top story involves the mayor of Houston withdrawing subpoenas for a variety of types of their communication.

3 - Judges resign rather than perform gay "marriage" ceremonies

With the U.S. Supreme Court refusing, at least temporarily, to get involved in appeals court decisions against marriage laws in a variety of states, that has led to a number of states seeing their laws upholding traditional marriage being nullified.  North Carolina is one.

ChristianHeadlines.com reports that at least 6 North Carolina magistrates are resigning from their roles after gay marriage was legalized there.  Reportedly, those resigning include: Rockingham County magistrate John Kallam Jr., Gaston County magistrate Bill Stevenson, Graham County magistrate Tommy Holland, Union County magistrate Gayle Myrick and Jackson County magistrate Jeff Powell.  Also, Swain County magistrate Gilbert Breedlove had resigned from his post last week.

These officials have said they do not believe in marrying same-sex couples and that is a violation of their faith.

Stevenson, from Gaston County, told WCNC-TV that, “It was something I had to do out of conscience. I felt like to perform same sex unions would be in violation of the Lord’s commands so I couldn’t do that.”  He added, "I hate to wax so biblical, but it says what good is it for a man to gain the whole world but lost his own soul, so that’s the stakes I put on this."

Myrick, from Union County, said, “For me to do what the state said I had to do, under penalty of law, I would have to go against my convictions, and I was not willing to do that. I want to honor what the word says.”

2 - Conference in Nashville highlights the sanctity of marriage in the midst of culture

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held an event in Nashville this week entitled "The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage," intended to, as Baptist Press put it, help "a capacity crowd of more than 1,300 people bolster marriage within the church and protect marriage outside it."

Another Baptist Press article quoted Dr. Russell Moore, ERLC President, as saying that evangelicals cannot repeat the "same old mistakes" in which they "slowly adapted to a sexual revolution that is now ravaging our churches and our culture."

He said that instead, "we contend for marriage and we contend for family and we contend for holiness, but we do this in the context of the Gospel of Jesus Christ." If evangelicals make the same mistakes, Moore told attendees, "we won't just lose a marriage culture; we will lose the Gospel itself."

Other speakers included International Mission Board President David Platt, who pointed attendees to the missiological implications of marriage and singleness. He said that both portray the gospel: "The purpose of marriage is for the display of the gospel and a demonstration of the glory of our God." He added that, "Today's cultural climate provides a huge opportunity for gospel witness."

Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, urged the audience to follow the New Testament directives for Christians to love and act kindly toward those who oppose them on the marriage issue. He is quoted as saying, "If you want to fight the culture, you're not going to win the culture. You've got to persuade the culture." He added, "We are soaked in an ocean of His grace, and we don't want to give a cup to anybody."

According to another Baptist Press report, speakers on the final day included J.D. Greear, lead pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC.  Greear related that Christians need not adopt the two-option narrative -- "affirmation or alienation" -- offered by American culture in regards to homosexuality. He said that Jesus provides another alternative -- "full of grace and truth" – that calls for courageous proclamation of God's Word and compassionate outreach to human beings.

Dennis Rainey, president of FamilyLife, told attendees the church has "an unprecedented opportunity" at this cultural moment. He said that Christians need the rallying cry of "a family reformation."  He is quoted as saying, [F]or many Americans, the unmet thirst for a good marriage, a solid family represents a need we must address as followers of Jesus Christ."  He added that in order to have a family reformation, the church must "set its sights on becoming the marriage and family equipping center in their community."

1 - Houston mayor retracts subpoenas, Christian leaders express continued concerns

Another development took place this week in the ongoing story involving Houston pastors who had a variety of forms of their communication subpoenaed regarding a lawsuit filed by proponents of a petition drive to get the city's controversial gay rights ordinance put on the ballot for a referendum vote.  Christianity Today reported that Houston mayor Annise Parker announced Wednesday morning that she was directing city officials to rescind subpoenas issued to five local pastors.

She had met with Houston pastors and clergy leaders from across the country who have defended the subpoenaed pastors’ religious freedom. She is quoted as saying, "It was never our intention to interfere with clergy and their congregants...I don't want to have a national debate on freedom of religion when my purpose is to defend ... a city ordinance."

According to Parker, the subpoenas—once modified to exclude sermons—are “legal, valid, and appropriate," but unintentionally pushed the city into a broader religious debate that wasn’t good for the city or its efforts to defend its new ordinance. She said, “This is not about silencing my critics; this is about doing the right thing."

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley responded, saying: "We are gratified that the First Amendment rights of the pastors have triumphed over government overreach and intimidation. The First Amendment protects the right of pastors to be free from government intimidation and coercion of this sort."

But he went on to say that, "...the subpoenas were only one element of this disgraceful episode. The scandal began with another abuse of power when the city of Houston arbitrarily threw out the valid signatures of thousands of voters. The city did this all because it is bent on pushing through its deeply unpopular ordinance at any cost."

Grace Church in Houston, pastored by Steve Riggle, who was one of the 5 Houston pastors receiving subpoenas, was scheduled to be the sight of the "I Stand Sunday" national simulcast on Sunday night, November 2nd, sponsored in part by the Family Research Council. 

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.