Sunday, February 07, 2016

The 3 - February 7, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, I relate news about more violence in Nigeria at the hands of terrorists there.  Also, the Iowa caucuses have come and gone, and the evangelical vote was key on the GOP side.  Plus, the President spoke at the annual National Prayer Breakfast this week, the day after he spoke at a mosque.

3 - Reports emerge of brutality toward children in Nigerian village

The brutality of the terrorist organization Boko Haram in Nigeria was on display just over a week ago, according to WORLD Magazine, which reported that even children were burned alive in an attack.  Boko Haram, in fact, had spent four days last week brutalizing villages across northern Nigeria. The article says that by last Sunday afternoon,  Nigerian workers had collected 86 bodies from Dalori village, which is around three miles from the city of Maiduguri.  Boko Haram terrorists had invaded the Muslim village on Saturday night, throwing firebombs into homes and gunning down fleeing victims.

These attacks came just three days after suspected Boko Haram militants reportedly entered the Christian village of Chibok, disguised as women carrying babies on their backs. The terrorists carried bombs and set off multiple explosions that killed 18 people in the village, from which terrorists kidnapped some 200 girls from a school there nearly two years ago.

WORLD reports that the Nigerian military has made Maiduguri its headquarters for fighting Boko Haram, but soldiers initially couldn’t thwart the assault on the nearby villages. The article points out that the attacks "underscored Boko Haram's ongoing vendetta against Muslims who don’t embrace the group’s deadly agenda."

2 - Evangelical vote is critical in Iowa caucuses

The Iowa caucuses are now history, and even though he was trailing Donald Trump in polls leading up to the event, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz won the Iowa caucuses, with Trump in second and a surging Sen. Marco Rubio in third.

There were two pieces of data in the entrance polls that can illustrate what helped Cruz to win. According to a piece at the National Review website that cited the data, from Edison Research, caucus-goers were asked: What quality is most important to you in a candidate? Respondents had options — “Can win in November,” “Shares my values,” “Tells it like it is,” and “Can bring needed change.” 42 percent said, "Shares my values.” Ted Cruz won 38 percent of those voters, followed by Marco Rubio at 21 percent, Ben Carson at 15 percent, and Rand Paul at 7 percent.

With regard to evangelical turnout, the National Review piece stated that the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics survey before the caucuses projected that just 47 percent of GOP participants would be Evangelical. But, the entrance polls showed that 62 percent of Republican caucus-goers considered themselves Evangelical or born-again Christians, compared to just 38 percent who didn’t — that was a net increase of eight points from 2012. Among that group, Cruz won easily, earning 33 percent of the vote while Trump and Rubio took 21 percent apiece.
1 - President visits mosque; speaks at National Prayer Breakfast

Just a day after addressing Muslim-Americans at a controversial mosque in Baltimore, President Obama took the stage at the National Prayer Breakfast and offered a message about fear, saying, according to a report on the Christian Examiner website: "Like every president, like every leader, like every person, I've known fear, but my faith tells me that I need not fear death – that the acceptance of Christ promises everlasting life and the washing away of sins."

The President said that he has spent time over the past year reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7.  That Scripture says that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

The Christian Examiner points out that:

The president's address to the gathering this year took on a decidedly Christian tone compared to previous years, and especially to last year when he focused on the suffering caused by the Catholic Church during the Crusades. His mention of the centuries old crusades and failure to mention the rise of radical Islamism (ISIS and Al Qaeda) was widely criticized as both pandering to the Muslim community and patronizing to the Christian community.

The President also devoted a portion of his address to Christian persecution in the Middle East, saying that Pastor Saeed Abedini, who has now been released and is back home, had been imprisoned by Iran "for no other crime than holding God in his heart."

The day before the prayer breakfast, the President addressed the Islamic Society of Baltimore and, according to the article, called for greater acceptance and dialogue between Muslims and Christians. In that address, he said religious liberty guarantees Muslims the right to practice their faith, but he also called for the Muslim community to distance itself from Islamic extremism.

WorldNetDaily had reported that the mosque was affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America, which, according to the  report, was started by members of the international Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s. The Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, is banned in many countries as an extremist organization.  Investigative Project on Terrorism founder and executive director Steve Emerson told WND his organization was told by FBI sources that Obama was presented the evidence against the Islamic Society of Baltimore.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The 3 - January 31, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is good news regarding participation in a tax rebate program for a theme park under construction in Kentucky featuring a life-sized replica of Noah's Ark.  Also, faith was a thread of the latest Republican debate in Iowa this past week.  And, a grand jury in Texas that was supposed to be considering indictments against Planned Parenthood turned the tables on 2 video producers who had exposed the organization's involvement in the sale of fetal body parts.

3 - Court rules that Ark Encounter can participate in tax incentives

Tickets are now on sale for the new Ark Encounter theme park, which is being built outside Cincinnati by the ministry of Answers in Genesis.  According to an Ark Encounter press release, the $92 million dollar first phase is scheduled to open July 7 in Williamstown, Kentucky, and tickets for the Ark's first forty days and nights of opening went on sale January 19. The park’s centerpiece is a massive, full scale, 510-foot-long recreation of Noah’s Ark.

According to the release, Answers in Genesis had applied to be part of the Kentucky Tourism Development Program, which has allowed many other tourist-attraction developers to qualify for a gradual rebate of a portion of the new state sales taxes their projects generate, But, AiG had been blocked by state officials from participating because, as the ministry claims: 1) the Ark project’s religious messaging; and 2) the possibility of AiG exercising its right as a religious organization to use religious preferences in hiring at the Ark.

Answers in Genesis filed a Federal lawsuit, and this week, a Federal judge issued a ruling finding, “that the Commonwealth’s exclusion of AiG from participating in the program for the reasons stated – i.e., on the basis of AiG’s religious beliefs, purpose, mission, message, or conduct, is a violation of AiG’s rights under the First Amendment to the federal Constitution”.  The judge ordered the state to move forward in processing AiG’s application for the available tax rebate incentives that would become effective once the Ark Encounter is open and operating.   The judge also said that the ministry may “utilize any Title VII exception for which it qualifies concerning the hiring of its personnel.”

2 - Emphasis on faith in latest Republican debate

Republican candidates took to the stage just days before the Iowa caucuses to discuss a variety of issues, and there was significant mention of faith in the latest GOP debate.  Tony Perkins wrote in an FRC Action e-mail release:

...If you ask me, there was one clear winner: evangelicals. Sure, a lot in the field held their own -- but it was the emphasis on God, faith, and values that carried the day. Of course, no one can be sure what impact Donald Trump’s absence had, but we do know that the seventh contest of the 2016 race was a substantive one on key issues. Among them, life, religion, and family. Chris Wallace made sure of that, bringing up the hefty influence of evangelicals, which, as he reminded people, make up 60 percent of Republican caucus-goers. Pointing to the influence of the movement in the primaries, he opened an entire line of questioning to values issues.

Perkins noted that, "With the exceptions of Senator Ted Cruz (Texas), Governor Jeb Bush (Fla.) and Dr. Ben Carson, candidates were asked pointed questions about how their beliefs square with their policies on abortion (Senator Rand Paul, Ky.), religious liberty (Governor Chris Christie, N.J.), big government (Governor John Kasich, Ohio), and the notion of America as a Christian nation (Senator Marco Rubio, Fla.)."

Baptist Press referenced a number of the faith statements that were related in the debate, including Marco Rubio's response to a questioner's mention of a TIME magazine article proclaiming him as "the Republican savior." He said, "Let me be clear about one thing: there's only one Savior, and it's not me," adding, "It's Jesus Christ, who came down to earth and died for our sins."

According to BP, Rand Paul said America's continued liberty "requires a virtuous people," citing George Washington and Christian social commentator Os Guinness. He also said he believes "abortion is always wrong" and proposed state and federal measures to protect unborn babies, including federal legislation stating the constitutional right to life begins at conception.

Chris Christie took aim at taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood by the Federal government, saying he banned taxpayer funding in New Jersey. He also responded to a question about Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who was jailed last year for refusing to allow her office to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He said that Davis should not personally have been required to issue the licenses, but "the person who came in for the license needed to get it."

John Kasich referred to the Bible in an answer to a question about caring for the mentally ill: "When I study Scripture,"he said, "I know that people who live in the shadows need to have a chance. ... The time has come to stop ignoring the mentally ill in this country and begin to treat them and get them on their feet, along with, of course, treating the drug-addicted."

In his closing statement, Ted Cruz said, as he attempted to emphasize trust: "Who do you know will defend life, marriage and religious liberty? Examine our records, pray on it and I will be honored if you and your family will come caucus for us on Monday night."

Baptist Press also reported that, "The candidates spoke on several occasions about how to balance religious liberty with security concerns related to radical Islam."

1 - Planned Parenthood undercover video makers indicted, no charges for Planned Parenthood

Just months after voters in Houston, Texas turned back an ordinance (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO) that would have granted preferential treatment based on sexual orientation and so-called, "gender identity," the area is at the center of a controversy about a deeply-held Christian value, this time pertaining to the sanctity of life.

This week, as the Liberty Counsel website reported, a grand jury in Houston indicted David Daleiden and Susan Merritt of the Center for Medical Progress for allegedly “tampering with governmental record” “with intent to defraud and harm” Planned Parenthood.  Liberty Counsel is representing Ms. Merritt, and as the site pointed out, "the jury was supposed to investigate Planned Parenthood but is now charging the whistleblowers. Liberty Counsel will defend Susan against both efforts to silence her."

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, who will be a guest on The Meeting House on Faith Radio on Tuesday (February 2), “Planned Parenthood is the “Corrupt Organization” here, and the Texas indictment is outrageous,” adding, “The fact that our client has been indicted and Planned Parenthood was not is mind-blowing.” Staver said, "Anyone who has watched Planned Parenthood employees sort through dismembered baby parts and heard the Planned Parenthood officials attempt to sell them knows that Planned Parenthood is the criminal, not our client.”

And, the Christian Examiner reports that a spokesman for the Houston Area Pastor Council said in a emailed statement this past Thursday that hundreds of pastors throughout the city had reviewed the indictments of the two investigative journalists and were "profoundly disturbed" at the district attorney's presentation of the case.

Rev. Dave Welch, who represents the council, said: "We highly respect the nature and process of our justice system when it works justly; however, often it falls prey to the private agendas and philosophies of individuals and we are very disturbed by the appearance of that in this case. To spin an investigation around one hundred eighty degrees from scrutinizing Planned Parenthood's documented trafficking of baby body parts to 'shooting the messenger' is breathtaking."

The pastors had objected to the fact that a Planned Parenthood board member was working in the DA's office. Welch said, "District Attorney Devon Anderson personally assured me at the beginning of the investigation into Planned Parenthood regarding the trafficking of human body parts that the assistant DA who is on the board of Planned Parenthood would be 'walled off' and have no role in the investigation," but added, "I am confident that DA Anderson made good on that promise: however, the results raise serious questions."  

Welch was one of the pastors whose sermons and other communication were subpoenaed by city officials, an action related to the so-called Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO).

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The 3 - January 24, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, highlights how churches are responding in a crisis - this time, the water contamination crisis in Michigan.  Also, Iranian-American pastor Saeed Abedini is back in the U.S.  And, the March for Life united pro-life people in the nation's capital this week.

3 - Religious groups respond to Michigan water crisis

A number of religious organizations, including Christian groups, have responded to the water crisis in the city of Flint, MI, where the water has been poisoned, according to a report on the Christian Headlines website.  The organizations are also focused on a goal of making sure the impoverished city, where President Obama last weekend declared a state of emergency over its poisoned water, is never so neglected again.

Bob Bruttell, chairman of the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, said this past Tuesday, according to the website, “The most important role the church can have is to be the ethical watchdog for the welfare of the community." The report says that religious people — from black congregations within the majority African-American city to evangelicals hundreds of miles away — have responded with time, money and other donations to alleviate the water crisis threatening Flint, where officials had long declared its discolored water safe to drink.

The Detroit Free Press published an article about the ways that churches are getting involved. It quotes Pastor Eric Bogan of Harris Memorial Church in Flint, who quoted from the Bible to explain why his congregation is helping, from Matt 25:45: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty and did not help you? He will reply, whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me.”

2 - Pastor Saeed returns to U.S.

Pastor Saeed Abedini, an Iranian-American pastor recently released from prison in Iran, is back on American soil, and, according to the Samaritan's Purse website, Franklin Graham, who has been advocating for the pastor's release and encouraging prayer for him and his family, welcomed Pastor Saeed back to America.   He returned to the States this past Thursday.

The website says that Franklin Graham, who leads Samaritan's Purse, shared several photos of the pastor's reunion with his parents and sister on his Facebook page Thursday night.  A smile spread wide across Abedini’s face as he deplaned. On Facebook, Graham said, "Pastor Saeed Abedini is safely back and will be a guest at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina, as he reacclimates and spends time with his family."

Baptist Press reported that the recently-freed pastor has has been resting with his parents and sister since arriving there from Berlin, Germany.   Meanwhile, his wife, Naghmeh, changed earlier plans to fly with the children to meet her husband in Germany, where he was receiving medical treatment, after the couple determined he needed more time to heal psychologically.  She is quoted as saying, "When I spoke to him he didn't seem to be in a good state of mind, and so we just had to give it time before our family reunited, especially with the kids," adding, "I had a quick conversation with the German doctor and he said overall he was healthy, he was pretty healthy [physically]."

Naghmeh Abedini and their children Rebekkah and Jacob are scheduled to arrive in Asheville early Monday afternoon to spend at least a week with Saeed before returning as a family to their home in Boise, Idaho, she told Baptist Press. At the Cove, they will rest and receive counseling, she said.

1 - Despite freezing temperatures and blizzard threat, March for Life events go on

On the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade, and the legalization of abortion in America, people have been gathering on the mall in Washington, DC to celebrate life, to decry the taking of unborn life in the womb, and the remember those who have lost their lives to abortion.

LifeNews.com began a report by saying:
Thanks to a massive snowstorm threatening to dump at least two feet of snow on the nation’s capital, the March for Life did not break any attendance records this year, but the tens of thousands of pro-life people who braved the cold and snow proudly stood for life.
The report says that "many sounded a hopeful theme for a pro-life future and think the decision will eventually be reversed."  It pointed out that, "As with other recent marches, the number of young adults and high school and college students impressed organizers and provided another reason to be optimistic."

This year, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Focus on the Family teamed up this year to sponsor an event called Evangelicals for Life, which began on the day before the March for Life and featured a variety of speakers.

WORLD reported on the March for Life, and quoted Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, who said that following the Roe decision, “Evangelicals were not ready for an abortion culture."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, is quoted by WORLD as saying: “Defunding Planned Parenthood is at the center of the debate for the first time in 40 years,” adding, “Now our folks are on offense. … This is one of those causes that you cannot stop.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The 3 - January 17, 2016

On this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, I offer a look at a significant action taken by leaders of Anglicans worldwide.  Also, the leading nations persecuting Christians are highlighted in a new report released by the organization Open Doors.  And, four Americans, including an Iranian-American pastor, have been released from imprisonment in Iran.

3 - Episcopal Church USA excluded from Anglican Communion

The Episcopal Church USA has been suspended from committees and decision-making in the worldwide Anglican Communion for three years, according to a report on the ChristianityToday.com website.

Meeting in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral in England, the majority of the Communion's 38 primates voted to suspend the denomination for voting last summer to allow its clergy to perform same-sex marriages. The primates' statements read, in part: “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching."  The vote passed by a two-thirds margin.

According to the article, the Church will no longer be able to represent the Anglican Communion at ecumenical or interfaith gatherings, be appointed or elected to internal standing committees, or take part in decisions relating to doctrine or polity.

The senior bishops of the Anglican Communion later released a statement, noting their "unanimous decision ... to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ." Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby emphasized at a press conference that the action "is not a sanction. It's a consequence."

CT also points out the full participation of the leader of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a new conservative body, among the leaders of the communion's 38 provinces. The church leaders noted that ACNA "would raise significant questions of polity and jurisdiction" if it were to apply for full membership as an Anglican province.

2 - Nations which are leading persecutors of Christians identified

For the 14th consecutive year, North Korea is in the number one position on the World Watch List, issued by the organization Open Doors, according to a report on the Christian Post website.

Open Doors CEO David Curry told The Christian Post in an interview on Thursday that even though Islamic extremism generally stole news headlines throughout 2015, there are very good reasons why North Korea still has not moved from the top spot on persecution.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/isis-open-doors-report-north-korea-top-persecutor-christians-over-islamic-state-terrorists-155069/#VWbetLSHPSqjHfWt.99
Open Doors CEO David Curry told The Christian Post in an interview on Thursday that even though Islamic extremism generally stole news headlines throughout 2015, there are very good reasons why North Korea still has not moved from the top spot on persecution.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/isis-open-doors-report-north-korea-top-persecutor-christians-over-islamic-state-terrorists-155069/#VWbetLSHPSqjHfWt.99
Religion News Service notes that Iraq is in second place on list, which it describes as a ranking of the top 50 most dangerous places in the world to be a Christian and is the first of 35 countries on the list where Islamic extremism “has risen to a level akin to ethnic cleansing,” said the Open Doors report, which was released Wednesday.

The top 10 on the list are:
  • North Korea
  • Iraq
  • Eritrea, leading several sub-Saharan African nations on the list
  • Afghanistan
  • Syria
  • Pakistan
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Iran
  • Libya, which appeared on the list for the first time
According to RNS, at a press conference introducing the new report, Open Doors CEO David Curry gave a world tour of murder, exile, terror, detention and destruction. The militant groups Boko Haram and al-Shabab, he added, are the “sinister” power behind persecution in four African countries. Curry said, "The level of exclusion, discrimination and violence against Christians is unprecedented, spreading and intensifying."

1 - Iranian-American pastor freed from prison in Iran

It has been announced that Pastor Saeed Abedini and three other Americans have been freed from an Iranian prison.  The American Center for Law and Justice confirmed the news, saying, "This is a major victory. We are incredibly grateful to the more than 1.1 million people who have joined us in fighting across the globe for Pastor Saeed’s freedom."

According to the Be Heard Project website, which has hosted a petition drive for Saeed to be released:

On 28 July 2012, during a visit to Tehran to visit family and to finalize the board members for an orphanage he was building in Iran, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard detained Saeed, asserting that he must face criminal charges for his Christian faith. After intense interrogations, Saeed was placed under house arrest and told to wait for a court summons. On 26 September 2012, instead of receiving a summons telling him where to appear, five members of the Revolutionary Guard raided Saeed’s parents’ home in Tehran, confiscated many of Saeed’s belongings, and took him to an unknown location. After four days the Revolutionary Guard informed the family that Saeed was in solitary confinement in the notorious Evin Prison.

The website said that during his imprisonment, Saeed has spent several weeks in solitary confinement and had been subject to abusive interrogations.  He also had been denied medical treatment for infections that resulted from beatings.

Pastor Saeed’s wife Naghmeh, responded, according to the ACLJ:

“This has been an answer to prayer. This is a critical time for me and my family. We look forward to Saeed's return and want to thank the millions of people who have stood with us in prayer during this most difficult time.”

CNN reported that Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was also one of the prisoners released. The story said that senior U.S. administration officials confirmed the release as part of a prisoner swap involving seven Iranians held on sanctions charges. The deal comes after more than a year of secret negotiations, the officials said.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The 3 - January 10, 2016

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, there are more developments regarding the professor at Wheaton who contends that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Also, a bill that would have defunded Planned Parenthood was passed by the House and vetoed by the President.  And, Franklin Graham launched his series of prayer meetings that will be scheduled in all 50 states.

3 - Wheaton professor may be terminated for comments about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God

Christianity Today reported on Tuesday that Wheaton College has begun termination proceedings against Larycia Hawkins related to her public statements of solidarity with Muslims.  The website said that Hawkins, a professor at the school, had posted on her Facebook and Twitter statements, including “I stand in human solidarity with my Muslim neighbor,” “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” and an assertion that Christians and Muslims “worship the same God.” Those statements were part of Hawkins's explanation for why she was pledging to wear a hijab during Advent in support of her Muslim neighbors. The college said that the hijab wasn’t the reason she was suspended in December.

It had been reported that talks between Hawkins and the school had reached an impasse just before Christmas.  According to WORLD, school officials had issued a statement that Tuesday that “Extremely frank conversation and communication have taken place in recent days,” adding, “The college’s perspective is that additional theological clarification is necessary before Dr. Hawkins may resume her full duties. Regrettably, Dr. Hawkins has clearly stated her unwillingness to further participate in clarifying conversations.”

Hawkins is now saying that she thought matters had been resolved.  According to Christianity Today, Hawkins met with the press this past Wednesday, flanked by roughly three dozen clergy, along with Wheaton faculty and alumni. She recounted a conversation with Wheaton provost Stanton Jones, in which she says Jones asked her if she affirmed the school’s statement of faith and told her that if her theological statements were sufficient, no further conversation would be necessary. She delivered a statement that, according to Hawkins, Jones told her would be accepted by the faculty personnel committee “with little to no revision.”

Her response can be found on her website.  CT reported that Hawkins said that Jones cited her with not providing “reasonable assurances in line with the statement of faith” in his recommendation for termination.

WORLD published a story on Friday that quoted a statement from Wheaton administrators, which says, "While Wheaton College disagrees with some of the facts presented in the press conference, the college admires Dr. Hawkins’ commitment to caring for our Muslim neighbors...As previously stated, at issue are the theological implications of Dr. Hawkins’ statements and requested explanation. The college will continue the internal review process set in place for tenured professors.”

2 - Senate-passed bill to defund Planned Parenthood passes House, vetoed by President

A historic vote took place in the U.S. House of Representatives this past week, as the House voted 240-181 in favor of legislation that would have cut funding to Planned Parenthood and repealed key parts of the Affordable Care Act, according to a report on the ChristianNews.net website. Last month, the Senate voted 52 to 47.

At a press conference following the passage of what is known as the reconciliation bill, House Speaker Paul Ryan said, "It’s up to the president to decide if he wants to side with the people whose health care costs have skyrocketed out of control, or the abortion industrial complex whose profits have skyrocketed out of control.” He added: “Congress is holding President Obama accountable.”

The President did veto the bill Friday, declaring: “Rather than fighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle-class families, and create new jobs.”  

Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee took the President to task. She is quoted as saying: "He spent this week discussing the need to ‘protect innocent people’ and ‘save more lives’ yet he callously vetoed a bill to protect the most innocent and vulnerable among us from the heinous abuses of Planned Parenthood.”

Casey Mattox of the Alliance Defending Freedom is quoted in the article as saying: "All he has done is kill an historic bill that would have redirected existing funding from the scandal-plagued Planned Parenthood to thousands of better, low-cost community health care providers that serve women and families far more comprehensively."

1 -  Franklin Graham's 50-state tour launches in Iowa

Last year, Franklin Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and President of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, announced that he would be hold prayer rallies in all 50 states in 2016.   On Tuesday, he launched the Decision America tour in Des Moines, Iowa.

BillyGraham.org reported that 2,500 people braved 30-degree weather, navigating snow banks and icy steps to gather at the Des Moines, Iowa, Capitol building.

The website reported that at the beginning of the prayer rally, Graham said, "Our country is in trouble,” adding, "It's in big-time trouble. The moral and political walls of our nation are crumbling.

“The most important thing we can do as Christians is pray.”

After a time of worship music and prayer and 30 minutes of Franklin Graham sharing his heart for this country, his ending was similar, but with a significant and optimistic tone of returning to “one nation under God."

The prayer rally ended with an opportunity to make the Decision America Tour pledge—via text message or at DecisionAmericaTour.com—to both God (to honor God at home, in public and at the ballot box) and America (to pray, vote and consider running for office).

Franklin Graham told the crowd that an estimated 20 to 30 million Christians stayed home in the 2012 election. He wondered what our country would look like if city councils, school boards and mayor seats were filled by believers in the next two or three elections.

The next Decision America tour date is this Tuesday, January 12th at the State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida.  The Georgia rally is coming up on Wednesday, February 10th in Atlanta at Liberty Plaza. And, the date for Alabama is Thursday, April 14th at the State Capitol.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The 3 - January 3, 2016

This week's edition of The 3 includes news of the exoneration of players at the U.S. Air Force Academy who wished to pray before games.  Also, it's a new record for Operation Christmas Child in the number of shoebox gifts collected.  And, the couple who would not bake a cake for a gay wedding ceremony has paid their fine, but their fight is not over.

3 - Air Force Academy turns away complaint about players' prayer before football games

There was concern expressed recently about players on the Air Force Academy football team gathering to pray before their games.   According to CBN.com, the Academy investigated the complaint, but said players are allowed to follow their own religious beliefs.

The complaint came from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which called the prayers illegal and unconstitutional. MRFF President Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy alumnus and former military lawyer, had called the practice of Christian cadets assuming a posture of prayer on one knee a "disgrace" and a "putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism."

2 - Samaritan's Purse announces record number of shoeboxes collected in 2015

Operation Christmas Child, the ministry outreach of Samaritan's Purse, in which shoebox gifts are distributed to needy children around the world in the name of Jesus, has set a record in shoebox collections for 2015.  The Christian Post reports that Operation Christmas Child will distribute gift-filled shoeboxes to needy children in as many as 130 countries across the world in the coming year.

After 10.5 million gift-filled shoeboxes were donated worldwide in 2014, Operation Christmas Child Domestic Director Randy Riddle told The Christian Post that as of Tuesday, over 11.2 million shoeboxes have been donated in 2015, which sets a new operation yearly record.
Riddle added that the organization also surpassed its goal of receiving 8.6 million donated shoeboxes from people in the United States in 2015. The remaining three-plus million gift boxes came from donors in Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/franklin-graham-operation-christmas-child-delivers-11-million-shoeboxes-children-worldwide-153661/#gfQ0OLCio9dtWCqH.99
After 10.5 million gift-filled shoeboxes were donated worldwide in 2014, Operation Christmas Child Domestic Director Randy Riddle told The Christian Post that as of Tuesday, over 11.2 million shoeboxes have been donated in 2015, which sets a new operation yearly record.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/franklin-graham-operation-christmas-child-delivers-11-million-shoeboxes-children-worldwide-153661/#gfQ0OLCio9dtWCqH.99
Operation Christmas Child Domestic Director Randy Riddle told the Post that as of this past Tuesday, over 11.2 million shoeboxes have been donated in 2015, which sets a new operation yearly record.  This contrasts with 10.5 million shoeboxes filled in 2014.

Riddle added that the organization also surpassed its goal of receiving 8.6 million donated shoeboxes from people in the United States in 2015. The remaining three-plus million gift boxes came from donors in Australia, Finland, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Spain and the United Kingdom.

1 - Bakers fined for not providing cake for lesbian wedding ceremony pay under duress

Perhaps you've been following the saga of Aaron and Melissa Klein of Oregon.  Because, based on their faith convictions, they chose not to provide a cake for a gay marriage ceremony, they were fined $135,000 by Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Well, recently, it was reported that the Kleins had paid the judgment, plus interest - almost $137,000, according to a story on the WORLD Magazine website.   The report says that just weeks before Christmas, the state labor commissioner who brought the case against them seized their bank accounts.  The article cited a piece on the Fox News website from Todd Starnes, which said that the confiscation wiped out nearly $7,000 of the family’s funds.  Melissa Klein told Starnes: "It was like my breath was taken away," adding, "I panicked. Everything was gone."

Money raised through donations to help pay the fine was held in a separate account.  WORLD had reported in July that the Kleins had raised $390,000 through a crowdfunding site called, Continue to Give, after another effort with GoFundMe had been shut down.

Attorney Tyler Smith, who represents the Kleins, said in a prepared statement: "The least expensive option to stay in compliance with the law was to pay the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries funds that will be kept in a separate account until they prevail in their court appeal."

Monday, December 28, 2015

The 3 - December 27, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes an announcement by a leading Christian evangelist, that he will no longer affiliate with a particular political party.   Also, the co-founder of a large Christian ministry went home to be with the Lord this past week.  And, the new governor of Kentucky issued an order that county clerks' names no longer have to appear on marriage licenses.

3 - Christian evangelist announces departure from GOP

Evangelist Franklin Graham, who heads the organization that his father, Billy Graham, founded, as well as the relief agency, Samaritan's Purse, made a bold statement regarding his affiliation with the Republican party.  On his Facebook page, he wrote:

Shame on the Republicans and the Democrats for passing such a wasteful spending bill last week. And to top it off, funding Planned Parenthood! A Huffington Post article called it “a big win for Planned Parenthood.” I call it a big loss for America. After all of the appalling facts revealed this year about Planned Parenthood, our representatives in Washington had a chance to put a stop to this, but they didn’t. There’s no question—taxpayers should not be paying for abortions!

Graham called abortion "murder in God's eyes."  He continued by saying: "Nothing was done to trim this 2,000 page, $1.1 trillion budget. This is an example of why I have resigned from the Republican Party and declared myself Independent. I have no hope in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or Tea Party to do what is best for America. Unless more godly men and women get in this process and change this wicked system, our country is in for trouble."  He challenged Christians to consider running for office.  He also mentioned the Decision America tour, in which he will be travelling state-by-state to hold prayer rallies.  The first is in Des Moines, Iowa, site of the nation's first Presidential caucuses.  The Franklin Graham event there is January 5.   Learn more at decisionamericatour.com.

2 - Co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru in the U.S.) home for Christmas

Vonette Bright, who, along with her late husband Bill Bright, founded Campus Crusade for Christ, which is now known as Cru in the U.S., died earlier this week from acute leukemia at the age of 89. Christianity Today published a story on her death.

The Brights had met when they were very young, lost touch, and then reconnected when he was in seminary.  They became engaged, but there was something standing in the way. The CT story says that although Vonette had grown up in church, she wasn’t serious about her faith. She felt Bill was too serious. She later wrote, according to the Cru website, “I decided Bill had become a religious fanatic and that somehow he must be rescued from this fanaticism,” adding, “At the same time, Bill was beginning to think that perhaps I was not a Christian. He knew he could not marry me until there was a change in my spiritual life.”

She did give her life to the Lord, they married in 1948, and in 1951, on the campus of UCLA, they founded Campus Crusade for Christ. Now, the organization reports having more than 25,000 staff members and 300,000 volunteers working in 173 countries. Vonette was involved in prayer ministry, including the organization of a national prayer rally in preparation for Explo ’72, a national Campus Crusade conference that drew a reported 80,000 students to the Cotton Bowl in 1971. The prayer rally itself drew 7,000 women. Later, she would host a series of events known as the Great Commission Prayer Crusade, would serve on the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and would be a chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

1 - New Kentucky governor removes clerks' names from marriage licenses

Newly-elected Kentucky governor Matt Bevin issued an executive order this past week that removes the names of all County Clerks from marriage licenses. According to Liberty Counsel's website, this action "protects the religious rights and freedoms of Kim Davis and all other clerks in Kentucky. This action is a fulfillment of a campaign promise by Gov. Bevin and is directly what our client Kim Davis has been requesting for months. This promise will enable her and other clerks to do their jobs without compromising religious values and beliefs."

Liberty Counsel has represented Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  A Federal judge placed her in jail for almost a week.  Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, stated, "...What former Gov. Beshear could have done but refused to do, Gov. Bevin did with this executive order. We are pleased that Gov. Bevin kept his campaign promise to accommodate the religious rights of Kim Davis. We will notify the courts of the executive order and this order proves our point that a reasonable accommodation should have been done to avoid Kim having to spend time in jail."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The 3 - December 20, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes coverage of a meeting of a group of evangelical leaders this week to discuss the refugee crisis.  Also, taxpayer funding of the nation's largest abortion provider continues in the new massive budget bill approved this week by Congress. And, a professor at a Christian college is now on leave because of comments she made related to Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.

3 - Faith leaders meet to discuss refugee crisis

A group of over 100 evangelical leaders met earlier this week in Chicago to discuss a Biblical response toward Syrian refugees who are seeking to come to America.  A report on the Baptist Press website says that those gathered issued a joint declaration on caring for refugees in the midst of a humanitarian crisis affecting nearly 60 million displaced persons worldwide.

Those gathered discussed the statement on Thursday at the Great Commandment, Great Commission Summit (GC2) at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) at Wheaton College in Chicago.
The statement reads, "In light of this crisis, we commit ourselves and our churches to actively care for and minister to global refugees with mercy and compassion, both here and abroad, based on God's compelling concern for all people in need and especially refugees."  The "Christian Declaration on Caring for Refugees: An Evangelical Response" affirms six key beliefs:
  • Refugees possess the image of God and, as such, are infinitely valuable to God and to us.
  • We are commanded to love our neighbor, and it is our privilege to love refugees.
  • As Christians, we must care sacrificially for the refugee, the foreigner, and the stranger.
  • We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees.
  • We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others.
  • Christians are called to grace-filled and humble speech about this issue.
There will be a follow-up live-streamed summit at Wheaton on January 20, 2016.

Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research, in a teleconference announcing the statement is quoted as saying, regarding the public rhetoric in general, that it "has often been demeaning and dehumanizing, and we think that refugees need to be spoken of in ways that are appropriate for people created in the image of God."

2 - Spending bill passes Congress, Planned Parenthood funding intact

Last Friday, the $1.1 trillion bill known as the omnibus spending bill, sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Daily Signal reports that the vote was 316-113.  Ninety-five Republicans split with House GOP leadership to vote against the spending billAnother 150 Republicans supported it, while just 18 Democrats opposed it.  The website reports that the budget vote in the Senate was 65-33.

The Daily Signal also reports that the budget was slated to continue to allow hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, from both discretionary funding under Title X and from Medicaid reimbursements, to flow to Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates, despite the videos that have been released over the past few months that show Planned Parenthood personnel involved in selling parts from aborted babies.

The website says:

The funds currently flowing to Planned Parenthood affiliates should be redirected to health centers that offer comprehensive health care without entanglement in abortion on demand. Members of Congress had the opportunity with the year-end funding bill to end both mandatory and discretionary federal funding of Planned Parenthood and end taxpayer entanglement with the largest abortion provider in the country, but they failed to do so.

The Daily Signal also pointed out that, "While long-standing pro-life riders are included in the omnibus, a much-needed policy to address serious conscience violations is missing from the spending bill."

1 - Professor at Christian college suspended due to comments about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God

Larycia Hawkins is a political science professor at Wheaton College near Chicago.  To show solidarity with Muslims during Advent, she announced she would begin to wear a headscarf, or hijab. But, she also made a theological statement that resulted in her being placed on administrative leave by the university, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

The report said that in a Facebook post on December 10, she wrote, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” adding, “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Also, Hawkins tweeted in response to her critics. “A holy kiss to you who disavow the idea that Muslims & Christians worship the same God: I love you. Peace & respect..."

A statement by the university said, "Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity,” adding, “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The college said that the disciplinary action was taken not because Hawkins was wearing a hijab, but "in response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that [Hawkins] made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam." Hawkins will receive “the full review to which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member,” the college stated.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The 3 - December 13, 2015

On this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, there's some controversy at a large Southern public university about a Christmas celebration that no longer uses that word - yes, Christmas.  Also, Christian leaders are speaking out about how best to deal with the threat of radical Islam, in light of the San Bernardino massacre.  And, football and faith tops our news, with some recent stories about how expressions of faith on the gridiron are being restricted.

3 - Ole Miss eliminates "Christmas" from event title, attempts to explain

A large public university has changed  the name of its "Grand Ole Christmas" event that has been celebrated for the past 6 years - now, the Ole Miss event is called "Hotty Toddy Holidays."

According to a story on the Breitbart website, Kayp Maye, the co-director of special events for the Student Activities Association, in a statement to News Watch 99, said the former name of the event “connoted too much Christianity on campus and so we wanted to have a more inclusive environment for the holidays this year.”

Furthermore, the event will replace traditional Christmas colors with red, blue, and silver in order to “attract a more mature audience” with a Winter Wonderland as opposed to a Christmas theme.

The Breitbart story described how the university attempted to blunt the blow by issuing a statement by vice chancellor of student affairs, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, who said, according to WREG Television “This is a 21-year-old student who wanted to make all students feel welcome and come to this annual event,” adding, “He is very sincere in his wish that he had expressed himself better. It is unfortunate that these reports, including repetition of incomplete information on social media, have misrepresented the nature of the event and his intent as a Christian to welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds. LaBanc is also quoted as saying, "This student organization led a celebration that continued to honor Christmas traditions while welcoming all students to a holiday gathering."

2 - Christian leaders divided on Muslim immigration

The dilemma of how to deal with radical Islam today is a challenging one, and an issue over which Christians are disagreeing.  WORLD story by Jamie Dean highlights the division.  In light of comments made by Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, she writes:

Trump ignited a political firestorm on Monday when he said the United States should stop admitting Muslims into the country “until our representatives find out what’s going on” with radical Islam. He hasn’t said what that process should entail.

She also referred to statements by Franklin Graham:

Graham of the Christian aid agency Samaritan’s Purse defended Trump’s position: “Muslim immigration into the United States should be stopped until we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over.” Graham cited a poll of Muslims living in America released by the Center for Security Policy in June. The group reported that 29 percent of the 600 survey participants said they believed violence against those who insult Muhammad is acceptable.

I would submit that Samaritan's Purse has been involved in significant ministry to Muslims through its relief efforts, as well as through the ministry of Operation Christmas Child, which reaches out to children, including those in Muslim nations, all around the world.

Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission disagreed, saying, according to the WORLD report:

“Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric.” Moore also noted: “A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”

And, as Dean points out:

Other GOP presidential contenders distanced themselves from Trump’s proposal. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the statements “offensive and outlandish.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Trump was “unhinged.” Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson called the plan “unconstitutional,” adding, “It’s just not who we are.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he also disagreed with Trump’s proposal, but he avoided criticizing the party’s front-runner, even as Cruz rises in the polls.

There is polling data that was released this past week about the proposal. Politico reported on an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Thursday, in which 57% percent of Americans surveyed oppose Trump's  call for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.” But 25 percent of those polled support the idea. That poll said that 42% of Republicans support the proposal.

The Hill published a story about a Rasmussen poll that found that 46 percent of likely voters would favor a policy preventing Muslim immigrants from entering the country until tighter screening procedures can be implemented, while 40 percent would oppose such a measure.  Among likely Republican voters, 66 percent would support the ban, while 24 percent would oppose it.  The Hill also reported on a Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies PulsePoll released Wednesday that found that Trump's remarks are backed by 65 percent of likely GOP voters.

Doug Usher of Purple Strategies, said, We believe these numbers are made up of some people who are truly expressing religious bigotry and others who are fearful about terrorism and are willing to do anything they think might make us safer,” "This indicates that, despite some conventional wisdom expressed in the last 48 hours, this is unlikely to hurt Trump at least in the primary campaign."

This past week in Washington, DC, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held a Capitol Conversations event on the topic of the Syrian refugee crisis. According to a WORLD Magazine report on it by J.C. Derrick, Russell Moore said Christians should remember some people “we may fear may be our future brothers and sisters in Christ.”

You can read my Front Room commentary, encompassing this information, as well as some thoughts on how we as Christians can respond, here.

1 - Football and faith combination causes issues in CO, FL, IL

Football season is now winding down, with most, if not all, high school season completed and many collegians now entering into their bowl stages.  And, the mix of faith and football continues to have some formidable storylines.

Take, for instance, the situation involving players on the Air Force Academy football team. ChristianNews.net reports that the Academy is investigating the prayer practice of its football team after a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The MRFF recently contacted the academy in stating that it had been been told by a number of cadets and faculty that the Air Force Academy Falcons have been praying on the field before each game. In fact, it happened during its recent game against San Diego, when they lined up in a row as they took a knee.  Using trademark incendiary language, MRFF President Mikey Weinstein, is quoted as saying, “It’s a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism and it has to stop.”

And, in Florida, according to a story from ChristianNews.net, two Christian schools were playing in a football game in Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium in Florida recently, and were barred from praying over the public address system because the event was held at a facility paid for by public tax money.

Officials with Cambridge Christian School of Tampa and University Christian School of Jacksonville had sent letters to the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) requesting permission to pray over the loudspeaker, but were denied. Tim Euler, principal of Cambridge Christian School, told Bay News9: “We’ve played 13 football games this year...We’ve prayed before every one of them.”

Euler is quoted as saying that he doesn’t agree with the Athletic Association’s reasoning, but did not fight the denial. He is quoted as saying: “The state legislature opens up every one of their sessions in prayer and that facility is paid for with tax dollars,” adding, “If they can pray there, we can pray here, and I want them to be able to pray there and I want us to be able to pray here. So I think [the association’s] reasoning is flawed at the core of it.”

And, ChristianNews.net reports on a high school football team in Illinois that is standing by its coach after he was recently told to stop leading players in prayer when the Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote to the Naperville Community Unit School District 203 after photos surfaced of Naperville Central High School coach Mike Stine praying with his team, the Redhawks.

Staff attorney Ryan Jayne, in a letter, said: “Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers." It continued, “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students.”

The district issued a statement this past Thursday, which said: “We are aware that a coach-led prayer is not appropriate,” adding, “The head football coach has been instructed that neither he nor his staff may lead his players in prayer. This message has been communicated to the athletic directors at both high schools to ensure that this expectation is shared with coaches of all sports at all levels.”

Just a note:  the story does not say whether or not Stine was actually leading in prayer, just that the FFRF had received a report that he was.

The team released a statement, saying: "We, as a football team and a family, give Coach Stine our full support...He is the best coach in the state and cares about each and every one of us more than any other coach cares about his players."

It continues: "We are proud that he is willing to stand up for his faith and for the example he sets for us...He is a role model for every one of us in a world where true male role models are becoming few and far between."

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The 3 - December 6, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, I explore a possible religion-oriented conflict that could have been at play in the San Bernardino shootings this past week.   Also, an "inclusion and diversity" office at a major Southern university has offered some concerning comments about making sure that holiday parties are "inclusive."  And, the U.S. Senate has passed a significant pro-life bill that would halt most taxpayer funding of the nation's largest abortion provider.

3 - Some Christians lose lives in San Bernardino attack

As the information continues to emerge and a clearer picture of what may have led up to the shootings on Wednesday at a San Bernardino, California, center for disabled people, some spiritual content has become known.

WORLD Magazine reported on Christians who were among the 14 who lost their lives in the incident. A Messianic Jew named Nicholas Thalasinos, had engaged in a heated discussion about the nature of Islam with his colleague Syed Farook two weeks before Farook and presumed wife Tashfeen Malik opened fire that day. In that discussion, the San Bernardino County restaurant inspectors argued about whether Islam is a peaceful religion—Thalasinos said it isn’t, and Farook disagreed, saying Americans don’t understand Islam, according to a friend who overheard the debate.

The wife of Nicholas Thalasinos, Jennifer, said Thursday her husband became born again two years ago and was always evangelizing. She is quoted as saying: “He wanted to serve the Lord and bring more people to the Lord.” He also was a passionate defender of Israel and his other conservative political and religious views. She believes her husband was “martyred for his faith and beliefs.”

Other victims include Bennetta Betbadal, a county health inspector who was 18 when she fled Islamic extremism and persecution of Christians after the Iranian Revolution. Also, the wife of Michael Raymond Wetzel, a environmental health specialist, posted Psalm 61:2 on Facebook after her husband's death.

GetReligion.org asked some questions about the nature of the relationship between Thalasinos and Farook:

One question leads to another. Was this workplace violence? Was he provoked, somehow? In his mind, was he on a mission from Allah? Was Farook planning an even larger act of violence against unbelievers and crusaders, but something at that office party made him fly into action on this day?

From the beginning, I have been curious to know more details about the "holiday party" that Farook briefly attended, before leaving (some witnesses said in anger) and returning with his wife Tashfeen Malik to slaughter his co-workers.

News coverage has mentioned that the room contained Christmas trees and other decorations.

Writer Terry Mattingly then offers this analysis:

Yes, there is a chance that the First Amendment is going to take a hit in discussions of his massacre, since there was an evangelical Christian present – a Messianic Jew, to be precise – who had previously talked about politics and faith with Farook. To make matters worse, Thalasinos may have criticized Islam and suggested that Farook needed to convert to Christianity.

So, when you have an alleged perpetrator who had recently pledged support to ISIS, whose "husband" had apparently become radicalized, one can only suppose, based on previous ISIS behavior, that Christians could have been targets.   As more information is reported, we shall see, but there is a troubling element here that indicates that at least one of the victims could have been targeted because of his faith. As Mattingly writes, "From the beginning, I have been curious to know more details about the "holiday party" that Farook briefly attended, before leaving (some witnesses said in anger) and returning with his wife Tashfeen Malik to slaughter his co-workers."

2 - University chancellor under fire for Christmas party comments

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion at my alma mater, the University of Tennessee is at it again. The office had received some flak earlier this year for posting these gender-neutral pronouns on its website, which were later removed.  Now Todd Starnes of Fox News reports that the office recently released an “unofficial” edict calling for the campus to host holiday parties that do not emphasize religion or culture.

Thee organization warned in an online document titled, "Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace," to "Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise."

The so-called "Best Practices" is "...a list of suggestions for inclusive celebrations,” they stated, adding, “We recognize that our campus community is diverse and its members observe various religious and faiths.”

The statement went on to point out they "honor Christmas as one of the celebrations of the season and the birth of Jesus and the corresponding Christmas observance is one of the Christian holidays on our cultural and religious holidays calendar."

A suggestion that is made is that, "Holiday parties should not play games with religious or cultural themes," singling out "Dreidel" and "Secret Santa."

The recommendations have drawn the ire of alumni – including Rep. John Duncan, who told Starnes: "The people I represent are disgusted by this," adding, "People from all over the country are sick and tired of all this political correctness."  Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is quoted as saying, "While the advisory makes clear it is not university policy, these ‘suggestions’ call into question what purpose university offices of diversity serve."

The Tennessean reports that Ramsey, in a Facebook post Friday morning, said if UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek approved the post, he should resign. If not, Ramsey said, "the entire staff of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion should be dismissed." The newspaper also states that Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, called for Cheek's resignation on Thursday, and Rep. Sheila Butt said voters should urge lawmakers to cut UT's diversity funding during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

1 - U.S. Senate passes bill to drastically reduce Planned Parenthood funding and weaken Obamacare

The U.S. Senate, using a method called "reconciliation" that only requires 51 votes in order to pass a bill, rather than to achieve a 60-vote threshold to cut off debate, has approved a bill that, according to LifeNews.com, would block, for one year, most federal payments to Planned Parenthood. At least 89% of federal funding of Planned Parenthood would be blocked by the bill.

The reports says that the bill would repeal a number of major components of the Obamacare health law, including two of the major provisions that will lead to rationing of lifesaving care — the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” and the “excess benefits tax.”  The vote was 52-47.

The LifeNews story points out that the bill now goes back to the House and will head to President Barack Obama once the House approves the measure. Though Obama will veto the bill, the vote makes it clear that, under a pro-life president, Congress can get a de-funding bill approved with a majority vote that the president would sign into law.

Leading pro-life groups that also support the reconciliation bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood include Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life, Family Research Council, March for Life, Concerned Women for America, Students for Life, Priests for Life, Operation Rescue, and American Life League, among others.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The 3 - November 29, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there are developments at a VA hospital in Virginia that attempted to restrict expressions of Christmas.  Also, pro-life groups are responding in light of the shooting at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado last Friday.  And, there were developments recently concerning the admitting privileges of abortionists at local hospitals.

3 - Compromise reached about Christmas expressions at Virginia VA hospital 

A controversy at a Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Salem, Virginia originated with an e-mail sent by officials to employees banning Christmas trees in public areas, according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website, which said that the e-mail stated: “Trees (regardless of the types of ornaments used) have been deemed to promote the Christian religion and will not be permitted in any public areas this year." The e-mail also noted that religious decorations could be used in employees' “personal work areas,” but any music playing out loud had to be secular and non-religious. And, administrators warned visitors hoping to entertain with Christmas carols about the new rules. John Sines, is quoted in the WORLD piece. He is pastor of Rock Pick Baptist Church, and told Fox News an official informed him he could only sing “holiday songs.”

WORLD referenced a report from NBC that management held a private lunch meeting on Friday, November 20, with about 150 employees and administrators, and agreed to allow Christmas trees in public areas as long as the spaces included Kwanzaa and Hanukkah decorations, as well.  Decorations were not to be purchased with government funds.

The Center posted a “Happy Holidays” memo on its webpage last Tuesday. The opening statement read like an invitation to all religious groups: “May your organization or church group visit VA hospitals over the holiday season to sing Christmas carols for our veterans? Sure. What about the Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths? You are welcome. May you donate cards and gifts if they have a religious message? Of course.”

The memo said the Department of Veterans Affairs desires to protect the First Amendment freedoms of an “increasingly diverse” nation, including its citizens’ expanding religious affiliations and belief systems.

Also, on Tuesday, according to its website, the Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to the medical center, taking issue with the Christmas memo that said employees were only “permitted to engage in private religious expression in their personal work areas that are not regularly open to the public” in an effort to extend “a happy holiday season in a manner that is welcoming to all.” ADF contends that the wording of the memo leaves open the possibility that employees could be punished for Christmas decorations or “merry Christmas” greetings to veterans except in personal workstations that are out of public view.

The letter explains that, “It is a fundamental principle of constitutional law that government officials may not censor speech simply because the speech is religious or contains a religious perspective…In Tucker v. State of California Department of Education, for example, the federal court struck down as unconstitutional a policy that prohibited government employees from displaying any religious artifacts, tracts, or materials outside their offices or cubicles, and also prohibited any oral or written religious advocacy in the workplace.”  ADF also points out in its letter that the U.S. Supreme Court has noted that a Christmas tree is not a religious symbol.

2 - Pro-life groups respond after Planned Parenthood shooting, officer/pastor loses life

Pro-life groups are denouncing the violent incident at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs last Friday.  LifeNews.com reports that the suspect, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear appears to have no association with the pro-life movement and those who know him say he is an awkward man who never discussed religion or abortion. The profile they paint is far from a caricature of a pro-life activist who has an issue with the Planned Parenthood abortion business and more of a loner or renegade who may have a mental health issue or issues and, at a minimum, is a bit “off.”

Three people died in the rampage, including police officer Garrett Swasey.  NBC.com reports that he was a six-year veteran of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs police force and an elder at Hope Chapel, as well as an accomplished former U.S. figure skater.  The story quotes a statement from his family, which said that: "His greatest joys were his family, his church, and his profession," adding, "Helping others brought him deep satisfaction and being a police officer was a part of him."

The LifeNews story indicates that Dear has a previous arrest record with arrests for animal cruelty and as a “peeping Tom,” according to BuzzFeed. Also, the story states that The Blaze reports that Dear also has domestic violence charges and a DUI charge on his record.

LifeNews quoted from a variety of pro-life leaders, including David Daleiden, who produced the shocking videos showing Planned Parenthood abortion clinics selling aborted babies and their body parts. He is quoted as saying: “The Center for Medical Progress does not support vigilante violence against abortion providers. There are people at Planned Parenthood who I still consider friends and my thoughts and prayers are with them at this time for no one to be injured.”

National Right to Life, in condemning the shooting, said: "...The pro-life movement works to protect the right to life and increase respect for human life. The unlawful use of violence is directly contrary to that goal.”

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life issued a statement saying: "As leaders in the pro-life movement, we call for calm and pray for a peaceful resolution of this situation." He added,"...nobody jump to conclusions regarding the connection between this violence and the controversy over abortion and Planned Parenthood, and we ask that people do not use this situation to inflame emotions on either side of the abortion issue."

A Brietbart report also said that a law enforcement official pointed to a comment made by Dear to the effect of “no more baby parts,” and made clear that Dear said other things as well. NBC News reported it this way: “Sources stressed that Dear said many things to law enforcement and the extent to which the ‘baby parts’ remark played into any decision to target the Planned Parenthood office was not yet clear.”

1 - Cases involving admitting privileges at hospitals in WI, MO

As the U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider whether or not a Texas law providing for regulations on abortion clinics, such as admitting privileges at a local hospital, is constitutional, a Columbia, Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic will no longer be offering abortions because a local hospital there has rescinded admitting privileges.

ChristianNews.net reports that Planned Parenthood of Columbia ceased providing medical abortions last Monday because the University of Missouri Health Care has decided to discontinue the privileges. Effective this Tuesday, December 1, abortionist Colleen McNicholas cannot legally provide abortifacients at the location. The hospital had voted in September to no longer offer the “refer and follow” privileges, which allowed Planned Parenthood to obtain permission from the state health department to offer medical abortions. Without those privileges, the center loses any authority to offer abortifacients to mothers.

Meanwhile, a Wisconsin pro-life law, according to ChristianNews.net, has been struck down by a Federal appeals court.  The website had reported that Gov. Scott Walker approved SB206 in July 2013, which called for increased health standards at abortion facilities, including a requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union immediately filed a lawsuit against the state, and in March of this year, a Federal district judge declared that a woman’s desire to obtain an abortion “is substantially outweighed by the burden this requirement will have on women’s health outcomes due to restricted access to abortions in Wisconsin.”

That opinion was appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision 2-1 on Tuesday, according to ChristianNews.net. Judge Richard Posner, who was nominated to the bench by then-President Ronald Reagan, wrote for the majority, stating, “What makes no sense is to abridge the constitutional right to abortion on the basis of spurious contentions regarding women’s health — and the abridgment challenged in this case would actually endanger women’s health..."

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The 3 - November 22, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, how to respond Biblically to the Syrian refugee crisis in light of the Paris attacks has been a focus for a number of Christian leaders and organizations.  Also, the National Bible Bee finals were held this week in San Antonio.  And, it was announced this week that the U.S. Senate could be taking up a House-passed bill that would prevent taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood.

3 - Christians debate Syrian refugees, number of Christian refugees from Syria is small

There has arisen a debate within the Christian community about how best to deal with refugees from the nation of Syria.  While there are no doubt some Syrians who are escaping persecution at the hands of ISIS, there is a reasonable concern that terrorists could be coming into America in the wave of refugees that could be allowed into the country.

Based on this type of concern, the U.S. House passed a bill on Thursday that, according to TheHill.com, requires new screening requirements on refugees from Syria and Iraq before they can enter the United States. The bill passed by a veto-proof 289-137 margin and now goes on to the Senate.

Over half of the nation's governors have indicated they would not take Syrian refugees in their states, and Christian leaders on both sides of the issue have been speaking out.

And, who would you say would be the most oppressed group of the Syrians leaving that war-torn nation?  How about Christians fleeing the tangible threat from ISIS?

Well, ChristianityToday.com reports that roughly 18 percent of Syria’s estimated 4 million refugees are Christians. The publication asks the question, "So why have only less than 3 percent of the 2,184 Syrian refugees resettled in the United States from 2011 until now been Christians?"

Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy is quoted - she wrote for The Stream that American Christians are “curious, and somewhat concerned, that there appear to be no Christian refugees in sight.” She faults the Obama Administration.  Also, according to the article, Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says that Christian refugees need special treatment because the United Nations refugee processing system “disproportionately excludes them,” according to a piece she wrote at the National Review website.

Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization for World Relief, The humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), said that Syrian Christians perhaps had waited longer to seek resettlement because they felt protected by the Assad regime.  He also pointed out Christian refugees tend to be wealthier, so they seek escaping through a tourist visa, then applying for asylum.

Two high-profile Southern Baptist leaders are among those speaking out on the issue.  Baptist Press quotes Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, who is quoted as saying, "there's a lot of confusion among Christians on the right response to Syrian refugees because many people do not understand that while we as Christians have one responsibility individually, government has another responsibility."

Individuals, Jeffress said, must "show compassion for these refugees," support relief organizations and call on government to combat the terrorist group ISIS. "But government has another responsibility, and that is to secure our borders."
Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Christians "to remember human dignity" without neglecting appropriate border security. In written comments, he told Baptist Press that, "The screening of refugees is a crucial aspect of national security, and we should insist on it," adding, "At the same time, evangelicals should be the ones calling the rest of the world to remember human dignity and the image of God, especially for those fleeing murderous Islamic radical jihadis. We should remember the history of the 20th century, of Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and refuseniks from the Soviet Union who were largely ignored by the world community."

2 - National Bible Bee finals take place in San Antonio

The National Bible Bee competition took place this past week in San Antonio, as the 360 highest-scoring Bible Bee contestants from across the nation demonstrated Scripture knowledge and memorization, according to the National Bible Bee website. The top winners were to be awarded more than $270,000, every contestant was scheduled to be encouraged and recognized for their Biblical excellence.

This year's winners were:

In the Primary division (7-10 years old): 1st Place/Jediael Chintha of Hanover Park, IL; 2nd/Seth Ross of Mission Viejo, CA; 3rd/Emma Fernandez of Haslet, TX

In the Junior division (ages 11-14): 1st Place/Taylor Bontrager of Kalona, IA; 2nd/Grace Wanliss of Fountain Inn, SC; 3rd/Everett Chew of La Palma, CA

In the Senior category (15-18 years old): 1st/Delie Moss of Bells, TN; 2nd/Bethany Xiques of Miami Springs, FL; 3rd/Emily Hamilton of Tehachapi, CA.

The Bible Bee is sponsored by the Shelby Kennedy Foundation, a nonprofit ministry established to encourage children and youth to grow in Christ through study of the Bible and Scripture memorization. Shelby died of cancer in 2005 at the age of 23.

1 - Pro-life bill proposed in Senate

Senate Republican leaders this week announced their intention to bring a bill to the floor of the U.S. Senate that would prevent taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, and it is structured in such a way that it only needs 51 votes to pass, not the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority that we have seen in past fights on that and other issues.

LifeNews.com reports that:

...the Senate will vote on a reconciliation bill the House passed at the end of October that will use the reconciliation process to de-fund the abortion company caught selling the body parts of aborted babies. There had been question about whether the Planned Parenthood de-funding provisions could be included in the bill, but the Senate parliamentarian has indicated they can remain.

This will be the third attempt since the summer in which Senate lawmakers have attempted to defund the nation's largest abortion provider.

LifeNews.com reports that in August, Republicans were unable to secure 60 votes on a bill that would accomplish a vote on that issue, only amassing 53 votes to shut off debate.  In September, another vote was taken, and the Senate voted 52-47 against cutting off debate.

Can the Republicans gather the now-51 votes needed to pass this bill and deliver it to the President? There are three Republican senators, who LifeNews.com reports have balked at defunding Planned Parenthood, are Susan Collins of Maine, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Take those 3 votes away, and you still have 52 potential Republican votes - enough for passage.

However, three pro-life Republicans have indicated they may vote against the bill cause they don't think it goes far enough in repealing Obamacare. Two of them are Presidential candidates: Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. The other is Mike Lee of Utah. All three have said they want the reconciliation bill to repeal Obamacare in its entirety rather than repealing portions of it, so they may oppose the bill.

So, if these three hold to their positions, that brings the number to 49.  So, in order to pass the bill, 2 Democrats or 2 more Republicans would have to vote in favor of the bill, or one of lawmaker of each party would have to change the presumed position.

As a WORLD Magazine article points out:

The opposition aligns Cruz, Lee, and Rubio with Heritage Action, the lobbying partner of the Heritage Foundation, but at odds with the many other conservative groups that back the bill, including Americans for Tax Reform, Americans for Prosperity, and the Family Research Council. Supporters say it achieves their most important goals.

Susan B. Anthony List and National Right to Life are two pro-life groups who support the bill.

Tony Perkins of Family Research Council is quoted as saying: "The reconciliation bill strikes a serious blow to Obamacare," adding, "This alleviates federal coercion of Americans who are forced to purchase health insurance they may object to because it contains elective abortion coverage and removes the threat of punishing fines on employers who decline to violate their deeply held beliefs."