Monday, August 22, 2016

The 3 - August 21, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, identifying three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is information about Christian churches and ministries getting involved in helping flood victims in Louisiana.  Also, the Supreme Court in India is offering more relief to Christian victims of religious violence in an uprising from a number of years ago.  And, Target has made a decision to install single-stall private bathrooms in all its stores, in light of the uproar over its transgender bathroom policy, an announcement made after financial figures for the retail giant were released.

3 - Christian organizations respond to flooding in Louisiana

The devastating floods in Louisiana have taken their toll, resulting in thousands of people having to evacuate their homes and scores of homes and businesses damaged.  And, a variety of churches and Christian ministries are taking up the mantle to help the victims.  Christian Headlines reported on two sister ministries:  Samaritan's Purse and the Rapid Response Team of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Samaritan's Purse sent disaster relief team members to Louisiana and Mississippi - advance members went in to canvass hard-hit areas and to prepare to get relief to the victims of the historic flooding, caused by after more than 30 inches of rain within a week.

Baptist Press report quotes Staff Sgt. Chad McCann, a member of Union Baptist Church in Deville, LA, who was aboard a Black Hawk helicopter rescuing flood victims in south Louisiana.  He said that, "It is way worse … more widespread" than even Hurricane Katrina.

The story relates that over 20 Louisiana Baptist churches were "serving as mobile feeding centers; hosting disaster relief volunteers; serving as shelters for evacuees; responding to mud-out requests for areas where waters have receded; distributing food, water, clothing and other essentials to sustain families displaced by the flooding; providing mobile shower units; and performing training for "walk-up" volunteers." The first wave of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams came alongside Louisiana Baptists for immediate crisis as well as long-term recovery response - from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Tennessee.   And, the North American Mission Board was helping to coordinating assistance with the Southern Baptist Convention.

John Hebert, the Louisiana convention's missions director, is quoted as saying that it is "an opportunity to restore lives" -- "but also to win souls." He urged prayer that "the lost will see Christ in us and allow us to share the Gospel with them."

2 - Indian Supreme Court says that government response to anti-Christian attacks was inadequate

Back in 2008, according to an article on the Christianity Today website, in the Kandhamal district of the eastern coastal state of Odisha in the nation of India, there was the death of a Hindu priest, which set off violence against Christians at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists, who blamed Christians in the region for the death.  Around 100 Christians were killed, 300 churches attacked, 6,000 Christian homes damaged, and 50,000 people displaced.

This month, the India Supreme Court ordered the Odisha government to reinvestigate the trials of perpetrators “where acquittals were not justified on facts.” There were 827 criminal cases that were registered, but 315 were not even pursued. Plus, in the 362 cases where a verdict was given, only 78 resulted in conviction. There were almost 6,500 people arrested, but only 150 cases continue.

Two justices, including the Chief Justice, ruled that the compensation that the state government offered was not enough. The offers ranged from $150 to $750 for destroyed homes and $7,500 per family who lost a member.

The Court offered some additional compensation for the widows and children of the 39 victims, as well as some additional money for damaged homes, as well as injuries.

The amounts were less than requested for families suffering loss of loved ones or property damage by Archbishop Raphel Cheenath, who had filed the lawsuit - he passed away on August 14 at the age of 82.

Activist John Dayal says it's not enough: “We are disappointed that Christian traders, NGOs, and others who lost their businesses to arson and violence have not been compensated,” adding, "The economic strength of the Christians in the district had been severely impacted in the violence—by design. But they have not been paid any compensation at all.”

Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Fides news agency, according to the Christianity Today story, quoting from Persecution.in, that the ruling by Chief Justice Thakur is “a step forward in justice for the victims of Kandhamal." He added, “It is a positive sign that the Supreme Court of India recognized as unjust compensation paid. The justice procedure is slow and inadequate, but this is a sign of hope.”

1 - Major retailer to spend millions to construct single-stall bathrooms in aftermath of transgender bathroom policy implementation

Target has announced that it will spend $20 million dollars to construct single-stall bathrooms at its stores.  But, if you think those private restrooms are for transgendered individuals, who have been placed at the center of the recent controversy in which Target is involved, think again.  This new restroom arrangement seems to be designed for those who may have been offended by the policy. That's consistent with comments made by Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance about this new construction on a recent edition of The Meeting House.

Christian Daily reports that:

On Wednesday, Target CFO Cathy Smith acknowledged some of their customers' objections to their transgender bathroom policy, which allows transgender customers and employees to use the bathroom designated for the gender they identify with. Despite the support the company has gained from some of its customers, Smith said they have decided to install a third, single-toilet bathroom in all of their branches, CNN Money reports.

The website reports that Target spokesperson Katie Boylan said, "We put that in motion for some time prior to the [June] shareholders meeting," who added, "At the end of the day, Target is all about inclusion. We want everyone to feel comfortable in our stores."

That same day, Target had reported that its stock decreased because of its low sales. Also, the company lowered its sales forecast as a result of their performance.  The article says that Smith denied that the #BoycottTarget movement had anything to do with the 7 percent drop in their sales. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The 3 - August 14, 2016

This week on The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there's a decision from the U.S. military's highest court regarding a former Marine who had posted signs in her workplace containing a Scripture verse.  Also, a California law that threatened the religious freedom of faith-based schools has been amended.  And, the Olympics are a big news story; there is a faith element that has emerged, in which you have seen athletes publicly express their faith.

3 - Highest U.S. military court rules against former Marine in religious liberty case

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest court in the U.S. Military, has ruled against a former Marine who posted Scripture verses in her workplace.  According to an article on the WORLD website, in a 4-1 decision, the court decided to uphold a lower court ruling against Lance Cpl. Monifa J. Sterling, who had contested the order by her superiors to remove the signs. The personalized signs were based on Isaiah 54:17, which reads, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper."

The court found that Sterling failed to inform her superiors that the posting of the signs was “religiously motivated” and failed “to establish that the orders to remove the signs constituted a substantial burden on her exercise of religion” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The judges noted in the majority opinion that because the lance corporal did not indicate until during her trial that the signs had any religious significance to her, the words on the signs could have been interpreted as being “combative in tone.” They concluded the order to remove the signs was valid.

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, which represents Sterling, responded by saying, “A few judges decided they could strip a Marine of her constitutional rights just because they didn’t think her beliefs were important enough to be protected. If they can court-martial a Marine over a Bible verse, what’s to stop them from punishing service members for reading the Bible, taking about their faith, or praying?”  First Liberty plans to take the appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

2 - Christian leaders among signers of letter opposing proposed California law removing protections for religious schools, sponsor announces revisions

A bill that would have limited religious liberty protections for faith-related colleges and universities has been amended, resulting in a mild victory for opponents of SB1146.  Christianity Today reported that:

Earlier versions of Senate Bill 1146 would have prevented colleges that received state funds from enforcing codes of student conduct reflecting a college’s religious beliefs about sexual identity, including teaching that marriage is between a man and woman and limiting bathrooms to biological gender. Traditionally, California’s religious schools have received a religious exemption from non-discrimination laws. This bill would have limited it to students who were preparing for a religious career, such as ministry.

Under the amended version of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, schools would have to "disclose if they have an exemption and report to the state when students are expelled for violating morality codes,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Just a day before this action, a group of religious leaders had released an open letter, "calling on California to protect religious liberty in higher education," according to the CT story.  Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the President of which, Russell Moore, had signed on to that open letter: "SB1146 is still bad, because it has the disclosure (public shaming) element, but this, for now, is good.”

1 - Faith on display at Olympics

The Olympic Games attract a worldwide audience, and a number of athletes who profess to be Christians have displayed their faith to the masses.

One is U.S. Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel.  The Christian Examiner reports that Simone became the first African-American woman to win a medal in an individual swimming event Thursday night, winning the women's 100-meter freestyle.

After the victory, she told NBC, fighting back tears, "All I can say is all glory to God. It's definitely been a long journey these past four years. I'm just so blessed to have a gold medal ... I'm just so blessed."

Also in the water last week, American divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver medal in the men's synchronized 10-meter platform.  After the event, Boudia said on NBC, according to the Christian Examiner, "There's been an enormous amount of pressure. I've felt it," adding, "It's just an identity crisis. When my mind is on this [diving], and I'm thinking I'm defined by this, then my mind goes crazy. But we both know that our identity is in Christ, and we're thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It's been an absolutely thrilling moment for us."

Johnson said, "The way David just described it was flawless – the fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace ... and it let me enjoy the contest." He went on to say, "If something went great, I was happy. If something didn't go great, I could still find joy because I'm at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor – just one of the best people to be around. God's given us a cool opportunity, and I'm glad I could come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first-ever event."

And, the Christian Examiner reports that Michelle Carter, also known as "Shot Diva," won gold in the shot put event. She wrote on Twitter and Facebook, "Thank you Jesus!!!" and added the hashtag "#ThrowingByFaith." She told NBC, "I knew I had to bring my A-game, and all I could do was pray and ask the Lord: 'Lord come on, You told me that I had the victory.' I came through on that last throw, and it was amazing."

There have also been numerous faith statements from other athletes, including the five members of the U.S. gymnastics team who won gold; not all were necessarily Christian.  Swimmers Maya DiRado and Katie Ledecky have also been outspoken about their faith.

With the world coming to Rio, it also gives Christian ministries the opportunity to follow Christ and go to the world, in a sense.  I've featured a conversation with Terry Veazey, who is doing ministry with International Sports Chaplains.  Mission Network News recently highlighted what Athletes in Action, the sports arm of Cru, is doing.  Some of the staff there are serving as chaplains in the Olympic village.  Tim Pilcher is quoted as saying: "They’re here to be able to minister to the athletes from their country or their language group and really try through some initiative evangelism to be able to meet with them, resource them, so if they go back home, they’re going to have copies of God’s Word that they can get through security and customs that a normal missionary might not."

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The 3 - August 7, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, pastor Saeed Abedini is back in the news relative to reports about cash paid to the Iranian government around the time he and three others were released from prison.  Also, a new after-school club sponsored by the Satanic Temple is receiving attention.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court has placed a lower court ruling on hold regarding transgender people and bathrooms.

3 - Saeed Abedini back in news after reports of money paid to Iran to secure his release

The Iranian-American pastor who had been released from prison earlier this year is back in the news, because he was one of the prisoners who was freed around the same time as a $400 million payment the U.S. made to Iran.

According to a Baptist Press story, Saeed Abedini told the publication that when asked if that payment was to be considered ransom, he said: "I prefer ... the politicians answer that, because so many things are involved and those who were in charge, they know better than me." In a Fox Business interview, Saeed said that the night he was freed, he and the others waited a full night in the airport.  According to police, they were waiting for another plane to arrive.  They slept at the airport and did not leave until 10:00 the next morning.  The Fox Business report says:

When asked whether he believes the U.S. paid the Iranian government a ransom for his release, Abedini said he has his suspicions, but “they didn’t’ talk about money.”

“We call them terrorists and I don’t believe they are going to use this money for building orphanages, which I was arrested for, but I prefer that the politicians answer this question.”

He used that occasion to call attention to the conditions of other prisoners in Iraq.

In the Baptist Press article, he related that he is concerned that Iran continues to persecute Christian converts there, that it has initiated active legal cases against about 1,000 members of the church he founded, and that Iran has executed at least two prisoners whom he led to Christianity while he was held captive (a three-and-a-half year period).
He is quoted as saying on August 4: "After this deal the human rights situation got worse in Iran. Some of my friends in prison two nights ago got execution and they hanged them up in prison, which I know them personally."

2 - After-school club sponsored by the Satanic Temple receives pushback

News has been circulating about a new after-school club being sponsored by the Satanic Temple. But, the head of Liberty Counsel says it's a sham.  Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of the legal advocacy organization says that: "The so-called Satanic Temple group is a handful of atheists masquerading as so-called Satanists. This group is not legitimate. Its only reason to exist is to oppose the Good News Clubs. The Good News Clubs teach morals, character development, patriotism and respect from a Christian viewpoint. Public schools welcome these clubs because they improve the behavior of the students and the Supreme Court has sided with these clubs." He goes on to say that, "Schools do not have to tolerate groups which disrupt the school and target other legitimate clubs..."

Just like the Good News Clubs, which are sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, the Satanic club requires a parental permission slip.  In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Good News Clubs have a First Amendment right to meet on campus after school. Liberty Counsel represents CEF nationwide and has never lost a CEF case.

Douglas Messner, co-founder and spokesperson of the Satanic Temple, who goes by the name Lucien Graves, told The Christian Post that there was a need for a "counter-balance in the extracurricular options."  He said the clubs would focus on "arts projects and education with no religious opinion inserted."

1 - U.S. Supreme Court puts VA transgender bathroom law on hold

This past Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would put on hold a ruling out of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that directed a local school district to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify (rather than their biological one).

WORLD Magazine reported that the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia had asked the high court to put the appeals court ruling on hold as school begins this fall and its attorneys prepare a full appeal of the lower court ruling.

The WORLD story stated that, "gay rights groups noted the court’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as an indication of what it might do in the future with challenges to policies requiring schools and businesses to open restrooms based on gender identity and not biology." It went on to say:

Three of the justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—would have left the lower court ruling in place, indicating how they might vote when the case eventually comes before them. Justice Stephen Breyer sided with the justices willing to put the order on hold, but only “as a courtesy.” Court-watchers already speculate Breyer would side with the liberal justices to uphold transgender-friendly restroom policies.

The Gloucester County case involves Gavin Grimm, who is biologically female but identifies as male. Grimm had filed suit against the school board over its policy requiring students to use the restrooms that correspond to their biological sex. As the article points out, Grimm had filed the lawsuit prior to the Obama administration directive to every school district in the country saying Title IX, a federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex for federally funded education programs, included gender identity and schools needed to update their policies to reflect the new interpretation. So far, 23 states have filed suit against the order.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The 3 - July 31, 2016

This week's edition of The 3 include a decision by an Alabama school official to allow a local high school band to play Amazing Grace in a halftime show after initially announcing it would be removed.  Also, atheists are crying foul at grant money that is being given to a ministry in support of a large denomination's convention in Kansas City.  And, charges in Texas have been dropped against two videographers who had released videos about the nation's largest abortion provider's sale of body parts from unborn children.

3 - The band plays on: "Amazing Grace" greenlighted

Perhaps you have heard about the controversy in Elmore County, AL, where the band at Holtville High School had planned to play Amazing Grace as part of a halftime show.  There had been an inquiry about the song's inclusion received by the county Board of Education, and the Superintendent, Andre Harrison, made the decision to pull the classic, traditional hymn from the program.

According to WSFA Television, the superintendent said that he consulted with legal counsel and received what he said to be an "admittedly conservative" recommendation.  The song was removed - temporarily.

The television station reports that last Sunday, July 24, Harrison posted an update on Facebook that said he had been contacted by many concerned parents regarding the decision to pull the song.  He said that he asked counsel to do further research on the issue and to see if there was an option that would keep the district in legal compliance, but permit the performance of "one of the most iconic songs in the history of our nation." The additional research led the superintendent to reverse the earlier decision.

On his Facebook page, Franklin Graham, who had called attention to the situation earlier on the page, said:

If Christians had remained silent, this change would most likely not have occurred. I applaud the parents and community members who let their voices be heard. People even came out and gathered in front of the high school to show their concern and support for the band. We all have to take a stand for our religious freedoms while we still can.

2 - Lawsuit challenges city's assistance to upcoming denominational convention

The National Baptist Convention will be holding its annual meeting in Kansas City in September, and a group of atheists is up in arms about some grant money that is flowing to a ministry associated with the event.

Baptist Press reports that the Kansas City Council approved a grant from the Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund to a ministry called John Modest Miles Ministries, which is a community nonprofit arm of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church in Kansas City. The ministry plans to use the money to support tourism during the Convention's national meeting in Kansas City.  The article quotes from the Kansas City Star, which reported that Miles said the money would be used for transporting convention delegates and other visitors.

A lawsuit has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri by American Atheists Inc. and two of its Kansas City members, seeking to block the grant allocation and have it declared unconstitutional.

The Neighborhood Tourist Development Fund was established in 1989, according to the Kansas City government website, to support "non-profit organizations through contracts for services ... to help promote Kansas City's distinct and diverse neighborhoods through cultural, social, ethnic, historic, educational and recreational activities in conjunction with promoting the city as a premier convention, visitor and tourist center."

1 - Charges dropped against pro-life videographers

The pro-life videographers with the Center for Medical Progress who had produced the videos documenting Planned Parenthood's sale of body parts from unborn children had the final charges against them in Houston dismissed this past week.  According to a WORLD Magazine story, Harris County District Court Judge Brock Thomas dismissed the final indictment stemming from David Daleiden’s undercover work exposing Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the fetal tissue trade at the request of the county District Attorney's office, which admitted that the charges brought against him, as well as Sandra Merritt, were invalid due to irregularities.

This case begin after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to investigate allegations of profiteering by Planned Parenthood. But after the completion of the grand jury investigation, jurors indicted Daleiden and Merritt instead.

Charges dismissed included trying to purchase fetal remains and tampering with a government document (falsifying their drivers’ licenses).  According to WORLD, attorneys for Daleiden and Merritt argued that the indictments "demonstrated a bias against their clients and pointed to the grand jury investigation and its flawed procedures as evidence."

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The 3 - July 24, 2016

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

3 - NBA pulls All-Star Game from Charlotte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 - United Methodist sector elects openly lesbian bishop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 - Evangelicals processing Trump nomination, acceptance speech

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

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

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

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

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

Other Southern Baptist leaders were, well, less impressed:

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

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

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

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The 3 - July 17, 2016

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

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

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

The analysis, written by Robert Eno, continues:

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

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

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

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


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

But, as Derrick relates:

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

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

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

The site says:

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

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The 3 - July 10, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story also reported that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 04, 2016

The 3 - July 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The 3 - June 26, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 - Religious freedom law in Mississippi faces court challenges

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

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

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

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

1 - Evangelicals meet to hear from, question Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The 3 - June 19, 2016

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

3 - Charges dismissed against pro-life video producers

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

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

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

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

The website reports:

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

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

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

2 - SBC meeting elects new president, passes resolutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 - Churches, faith community respond to Orlando tragedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The 3 - June 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 - California implements new assisted-suicide law

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

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

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

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

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

1 - Southern Baptists prepare for meeting in St. Louis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ABC News article points out:

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

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

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

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

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

Harris stated in his editorial: 

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