Sunday, October 16, 2016

The 3 - October 16, 2016

This week in my feature, The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, major studios are squaring off against a streaming service that filter movies.  Also, a new California law forcing pro-life centers to promote abortion has been upheld by a Federal appeals court.  And, under one-tenth of the girls kidnapped from Chibok, in Nigeria, have been released.

3 - Family-friendly movie filtering service facing opposition; one studio taken to task for allowing trademark characters in porn

Have you heard of a streaming service called VidAngel?  Well, according to the Christian Examiner website, VidAngel "allows families to watch mainstream movies without the coarse language, sexuality or violence."

But, apparently, there are large studios that don't care for this service. The article says:
Four studios -- Disney, Warner Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, and Lucasfilm – sued the young company to try and shut it down. That could happen on Oct. 31, when a U.S. district court in California will hear arguments from the studios, who are requesting a preliminary injunction to prevent VidAngel from operating. The studios argue that VidAngel is operating without a streaming license, but VidAngel says current law – specifically, the Family Movie Act – allows it to operate legally without one. A DVD hard copy exists in VidAngel's library for each movie it streams.
More than two dozen leaders, including a number of Christian leaders, submitted declarations to the court in September, supporting VidAngel.  Those include: Tim Winter of the Parents Television Council, Bob Waliszewski of Focus on the Family's Plugged In, Gary Bauer of American Values, and Ted Baehr of Movieguide.

In his declaration, Winter wrote that, "...Hollywood's effort to impede in VidAngel's lawful business is consistent with their efforts to similarly impede in every other business or regulatory effort that would allow a viewer's ability to filter out harmful or explicit content."

According to another Christian Examiner story, another leader who submitted a declaration against attempts to shut down VidAngel, Donna Rice Hughes of Enough is Enough, indicated that Disney had a double standard, allowing pornographers to use their licensed characters without any action taken against them.  According to the story, Hughes said that "she has tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to get Disney to shut down websites that use its famous characters in pornographic videos. Her organization fights to make the Internet safer for families and children."

It was reported that she wrote in a Washington Examiner column that she went public about her communication with Disney only after the company filed a lawsuit to try and shut down VidAngel.

2 - Federal circuit court upholds law forcing California pregnancy resource centers to promote abortion

A new bill in California signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown last year, forcing pro-life pregnancy centers with ultrasound machines to make women aware of abortion, was upheld this week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  According to Pregnancy Help News:
...the act went into effect Jan. 1, 2016, but has been largely unenforced while municipalities waited out a series of lawsuits challenging the law’s alleged infringement on free speech rights guaranteed by the Constitution’s First Amendment. This is the fifth time a challenge has been turned away by the courts, starting last December.

The law specifies that 75 pro-life pregnancy centers offering ultrasounds—all of which are state-licensed entities that operate completely free of taxpayer funds—post or disseminate a state-mandated disclaimer notifying women in unexpected pregnancies of state-covered abortions and contraception offered through Medi-Cal.
The article goes on to say that: "Most urgently, the clinics are required to violate their deeply held religious beliefs by giving their patients the phone number of a county social services agency where they can obtain an abortion—a requirement the centers say amounts to an abortion referral. Matt Bowman, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, is quoted on that organization's website as saying:
“It’s bad enough if the government tells you what you can’t say, but a law that tells you what you must say—under threat of severe punishment—is even more unjust and dangerous. In this case, political allies of abortionists are seeking to punish pro-life pregnancy centers, which offer real hope and help to women. Forcing these centers to promote abortion and recite the government’s preferred views is a clear violation of their constitutionally protected First Amendment freedoms. That’s why other courts around the country have halted these kinds of measures and why we will be discussing the possibility of appeal with our clients.”
1 - Some of the girls kidnapped in Nigeria released

Around two-and-a-half years ago, 275 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from the Chibok area by the terrorist organization Boko Haram, and now, according to a report posted on the website, 21 of the girls were released earlier this week. The story, which was from World Watch Monitor, says, "They were freed before dawn on 13 Oct. in the north-eastern town of Banki, near the border with Cameroon. They were then transported to the capital, Abuja, where they met the Vice President."

The article said that an aide to the president of Nigeria noted that the release of the girls was the "outcome of negotiations between the administration and the Boko Haram brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government."  There had been an initial report from AFP, quoting a local source saying that four Boko Haram prisoners had been exchanged for the girls, but the information minister of the country denied that.

According to the Nigerian government, talks with the radical Islamic group will continue.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

The 3 - October 9, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, offering three stories of relevance to the Christian community, explores some new regulations for a consortium of Christian institutions of higher learning, stemming from controversy in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's ruling on so-called "same-sex marriage."  Also, a large Christian ministry that is oriented toward college student has been in the news recently regarding its affirmation of a Biblical view of marriage as one man for one woman.  And, a large group of United Methodists have met to affirm a Biblical view of sexuality.

3 - Body representing Christian colleges and universities revises membership policies

In attempting to resolve a controversy that was set in motion following the U.S. Supreme Court's Obergefell decision, the Council on Christian Colleges and Universities, which was formed, according to an article on the Baptist Press website, "four decades ago in common commitment to Christ-centered education and to preserve their right to hire only professing Christians," has issued new guidelines for membership.

The policy, proposed by a membership task force, includes six criteria that will be used by the Council to place schools in one of three categories: governing membership, associate membership, or collaborative partnership.  Those in the governing membership category, which are the only ones who can vote, are those who hold to six tenets, according to the article: "Christian mission, institutional type and accreditation, cooperation and participation (dues), institutional integrity (financial ethics), employment policies, and Christian distinctives and advocacy."  In that final area, there are four sub-points: "a required belief in God as Earth's creator (and a sustainability mandate), marriage as between a man and a woman, the worth of every human being, and the need for racial reconciliation."

The story states that, "Associate members must meet all requirements except for the second one -- meaning the category is for seminaries, Bible colleges, non-accredited schools, and undergraduate institutions without a full curriculum in the arts or sciences."  Finally, collaborative partnerships must meet the first four criteria, but not the last two, so that type of schools will be allowed to change hiring practices to include people in same-sex marriages.
Board chairman Charles Pollard, president of John Brown University, wrote to CCCU presidents: "We believe that this document rightly articulates both the core and the breadth of the CCCU in a way that will make us the most effective witness and advocate for Christian higher education."

2 - Large Christian ministry affirms its support for Biblical views on sexuality

There have been some confusing developments over the criteria for employment of those who work for a large Christian organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, USA.  A story on the WORLD Magazine website attempts to clear up the confusion, which was exacerbated by a TIME Magazine report that said that employees of InterVarsity were being fired for not adhering to Biblical beliefs on traditional marriage.

The ministry had released a document that affirmed its beliefs on a variety of areas concerning sexuality.  According to the article, a policy paper was developed four years ago from students’ questions on the biblical perspective on homosexuality. The story says, "...InterVarsity leadership recognized that first step was insufficient and began work on the current document, which, Jao said, encompasses the whole of God’s design for human sexuality. In addition to the issue of same-sex attraction, the policy paper addresses premarital sex, divorce, sexual abuse, and more." "Jao" refers to Greg Jao, vice president and director of campus engagement for IVCF.

This policy statement is essentially a reaffirmation of beliefs on sexuality, according to Jao:
“We have always expected employees to reflect the ministry’s theological beliefs,” Jao said in a press release. “We recognize employees who disagree, or whose beliefs have changed over time, will leave employment because we have reiterated our beliefs.”
He also pointed out that the TIME story was incorrect, since it had reported that employees were being fired for holding beliefs contrary to the policy.

Ed Stetzer, who holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, and who is co-host of Breakpoint This Week, is quoted as saying, "But why is it news that evangelicals think their ministry staff should hold mainstream evangelical beliefs?” He added, “It’s because there is a new orthodoxy, and the old one just won’t do for many. The new orthodoxy says that you have to bend your beliefs to fit it. But InterVarsity has a different view—the mainstream evangelical view. And, such views do cost you today.”

1 - Well over 1,000 United Methodists meet and address sexuality issues

More than 1,700 United Methodists gathered in Chicago this past Friday in the inaugural meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which, according to, is a new evangelical group of United Methodists, which "urged bishops and other church leaders to find a way to hold clergy accountable on matters of sexuality or prepare for a denominational split."

The article said that the "Association affirmed a statement by saying 'Amen' en masse."  Some came to observe and did not vote.

The story states:
The association’s statement is addressed to the Commission on the Way Forward, which the Council of Bishops is still forming to review church polices on homosexuality and work toward church unity.
“We believe it is imperative for the commission to propose a plan that calls for accountability and integrity to our covenant, and restores the good order of our church’s polity,” the association’s statement said.
If the commission decides such a plan is impossible, the association says the group “should prepare a plan of separation that honors the consciences of all the people of the church and allows them to go forward in peace and good will.”
The UMC's Book of Discipline continues to state that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."  However, when you look at the timeline, you can see that there are some in the denomination who do not respect that standard.  The article outlined several flashpoints just this year:

Multiple conferences and two jurisdictions in the United States, which this summer passed non-binding resolutions urging United Methodists to ignore the Book of Discipline’s bans on same-sex unions and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.

Also, in June, the New York Conference commissioned and ordained four openly gay clergy.

And, bishops in the U.S. Southeastern Jurisdiction described such of acts of noncompliance as “divisive and disruptive.”

Plus, the Western Jurisdiction elected an openly gay bishop who is "married" to a deaconess.

The identity of who will serve on the Commission on the Way Forward, which was announced at this year's General Conference, in lieu of a vote to continue to affirm the Book of Discipline's statement on homosexuality, could be known soon, according to the article, which said, "The Council of Bishops executive committee announced Oct. 5 that it is notifying eight bishops, 13 other clergy and eight laity of their nomination to serve on the commission."

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The 3 - October 2, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, focuses on the suspension of Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore for the remainder of his term.  Also, a bill has been introduced into Congress that would give pastors more leeway in their political content from the pulpit.  And, China seems intent to enact greater restrictions on religion.

3 - Alabama Chief Justice suspended for remainder of term

This past Wednesday, a trial was held in Alabama in the Court of the Judiciary concerning charges brought against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, dealing with an administrative order that he had written in January of 2016.  In that order, he had reminded probate judges in the state that the Alabama Supreme Court had not ruled in response to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell, about so-called "same-sex marriage."

A ruling was handed down on Friday, the 30th, and the Chief Justice was suspended without pay for the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2019, according to the website of Liberty Counsel, the legal advocacy group defending the Chief Justice.  The website states:
Today the Court of the Judiciary (COJ) issued a decision on the charges against Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. The Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) requested that he be removed from the bench. Under the COJ rules, removal requires a unanimous 9-0 vote by the members of the COJ, which is made up of judges, a lawyer and laypeople. Absent a 9-0 unanimous vote, the COJ cannot remove a judge from the bench. But today, in an unbelievable violation of the law, the COJ suspended without pay Chief Justice Moore for the remainder of his term, which runs through January 2019. When his term expires, he will be ineligible to run for election as judge again because of his age. So the suspension until the end of his term is a de facto removal from the bench.
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying, “To suspend Chief Justice Moore for the rest of his term is the same as removal. The COJ lacked the unanimous votes to remove the Chief, so the majority instead chose to ignore the law and the rules."

A Liberty Counsel press release indicates that it "is filing an appeal of the decision with the Alabama Supreme Court. A new panel of judges will need to convene to hear the case and all the sitting Justices should be recused."

2 - Bill to free pastors to make political endorsements introduced

The Free Speech Fairness Act has been introduced into Congress, sponsored by sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana, and Rep. Jody Hice, Republican from Georgia.  According to a Family Research Council press release, FRC President Tony Perkins has endorsed the newly introduced bill.

That release states:
The Free Speech Fairness Act would address the shortcomings of the Johnson Amendment which in 1954 was inserted into the tax code by Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson, (D-Texas) without floor or Committee debate. The Johnson amendment prohibits churches and non-profits from engaging in any activity that might be interpreted as participating in, or intervening in a campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office, including a simple oral or written statement. The legislation reflects the newly adopted Republican Party platform language which criticizes the Johnson Amendment for restricting the “First Amendment freedoms of all nonprofit organizations by prohibiting political speech.”
Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Erik Stanley stated, according to the ADF website:
“The IRS has no business acting as the speech police of any non-profit organization, as its many scandals over recent years have made clear. This bill corrects an unconstitutional restriction put in place in 1954 that was never intended to affect churches and other non-profit groups but has been used to intimidate them ever since. By removing the threat of an IRS investigation and potential penalties based simply, for example, on what a pastor says from the pulpit, this bill brings the law into conformity with the First Amendment...
Alliance Defending Freedom has been involved in promoting Pulpit Freedom Sunday," commemorated on Sunday, October 2 this year.

1 - Chinese officials express desire for stiffer religious regulations

Recently, government officials in China released a number of amendments to its regulations on religious affairs.  According to World Watch Monitor, these amendments were released in early September for a "consultation period" of a month, and "includes guidelines on religious education, the types of religious organisations that can exist, where they can exist and the activities they can organise."
The report says that Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, "emphasised the need for provincial officials to have a better overall understanding of religion, so that they are better able to resist 'foreign' religions."

Thomas Muller, analyst at Open Doors’ World Watch Research unit, is quoted as saying, “This all fits into the current government’s efforts to ‘Sinicize’ every aspect of Chinese life – be it culture, news or religion”, and comes after China's broadcasting regulator announced " it is planning to curb all social and entertainment news that promotes Western lifestyles."

The World Watch Monitor article pointed out that over the past three years...
...over 1,500 crosses have been removed from churches in the south-eastern province of Zhejiang – known as the “Jerusalem of the East” because of its strong Christian presence. Meanwhile, some churches were labelled “illegal structures” and demolished. Those who have resisted have faced physical abuse, detention and criminal charges.
The report also states:
David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said he “remained concerned” about the situation. “We really encourage them to ease the restrictions all across the country and allow religious freedom and religious institutions to flourish and function without the kind of constraints that they face – that are so pervasive,” he said.
China remained a “Country of Particular Concern” in the US State Department’s latest annual report.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The 3 - September 25, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a story out of Zambia, where a new government position overseeing religious affairs has brought concern from Christian leaders.  Also, news from Washington, DC, this week involves possible contempt charges against an organization that has partnered with Planned Parenthood in trafficking fetal body parts.  And, a Christian legal advocacy organization has recently filed lawsuits on behalf of artists who believe that laws are harming their freedom of expression, forcing them to use their talents to promote same-sex marriage.

3 - Zambian Christian leaders express concern over new proposed government oversight

Protestant and Catholic leaders in the African nation of Zambia are speaking out against actions to create a new government department in that country that could result in the state exercising control over religion, according to a story on the website.

The President of the nation, Edgar Chagwa Lungu Lungu appointed a Pentecostal pastor from the capital of Lusaka, Rev. Godfridah Sumaili, as head of the new ministry of religious affairs last week.

The head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, Rev. Pukuta Mwanza, is quoted as saying that it would "promote Christian values and give more meaning to the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation".

However, the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Council of Churches in Zambia, which represents Protestant Churches, have announced their opposition to the initiative. In a joint statement, the entities called for "genuine dialogue", saying: "This requires sustaining a healthy Church-State relationship, with the Government not favouring only those groups that praise every decision it makes and every plan it follows."

Regarding the statement, the article said:

It warned against attempts by the state to control the Church, saying that the Church "derives its authority, mission and structure from God and this must not be confused with temporal order of political governance". Churches, it said, would not be "intimidated" in acting as the conscience of the nation and calling for social justice.

2 - House committee votes to hold participant in fetal tissue trafficking scheme in contempt

The U.S. House Select Committee on Infant Lives voted earlier this week to hold a company called StemExpress and its CEO, Cate Dyer, in contempt for refusing to provide requested information to the committee in its investigation of trafficking of fetal body parts. article said that:

StemExpress, an organ procurement company, was under investigation by the Select Panel due to its financial and professional relationship with Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses. Evidence released by the Center for Medical Progress last year indicated that Planned Parenthood illegally profited financially from the sale of aborted baby remains to StemExpress and other organ procurement organizations.

The efforts by the panel had taken eight months and according the story, requests for accounting documents were responded to by summaries, or the committee was referred to other organizations. The Chair of the Select Panel, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, believes, according to the article, "they have reached an impasse, which is impeding the Panel’s ability to conduct the investigation with which it was tasked."

The contempt resolution will now go to the full Committee on Energy and Commerce.  If approved, it will be referred to the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for certification.  The act of contempt, in this case, would be a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of $100,000.

1 - Colorado graphic designer, Arizona calligraphers challenge laws that force them to promote gay marriage

In news concerning religious freedom, there are two interesting developments recently, involving people in creative professions who do not wish for the artistic expressions to be used to promote so-called "same sex marriage."   In Colorado, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, attorneys filed a "pre-enforcement challenge" on behalf of a website and graphic designer, Lorie Smith, and her studio, 303 Creative, challenging a portion of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.  According to ADF:

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has construed CADA to force artists like Smith to create objectionable art even though Smith happily serves everyone and decides what art to create based on the art’s message—not her client’s personal characteristics. The law also prohibits artists from expressing any religious views about marriage that could make someone feel “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable” because of their sexual orientation.

As ADF points out, this is the same law that has been used against a baker in Colorado, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop.  He has filed an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, ADF attorneys have filed an appeal asking an Arizona appeals court to temporarily stop the city of Phoenix from "applying an ordinance to an art studio specializing in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events because the ordinance conflicts with free speech."

The attorneys contend that the ordinance forces the two female owners of the studio, which is called Brush and Nib, to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies. The ordinance also keeps the studio and its proprietors from, according to ADF, "publicly expressing the Christian beliefs that prevent them from doing so and that require them to create art celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman." A trial court judge already decided not to issue and order preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance on the studio or its owners while the lawsuit continues to move forward.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The 3 - September 18, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there was a court victory out of a Federal appeals court, which threw out a case against a Catholic hospital that would not perform an abortion.  Also, there's more pushback against a North Carolina law that was designed to prevent special treatment from those claiming to be transgender, as well as upholding privacy.   And, a Federal commission chair has created a troubling definition of "religious freedom," calling that phrase code for discriminatory acts and ideas.

3 - Appeals court dismisses case against Catholic hospital that would not do abortion

A case against a Catholic hospital has been set aside by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, according to a report on the Christian Examiner website, which reports that the case was filed by a woman named Tamesha Means, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2013 after she went to Mercy Health Partners in 2010.

The hospital reportedly refused to abort the unborn child because of its adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which govern all Catholic hospitals and health care systems.  The directives are based on the doctrines of the Catholic Church and described in the article as "unabashedly pro-life."  Means delivered the child prematurely on her own, but the child later died.

Last year, a lower court had thrown out the case based on procedural grounds, but it was appealed to the Federal appeals court, which also ruled that the case had no merit.  The court noted, according to the story, "it did not preclude other challenges from being brought in other states."

2 - NCAA, ACC pull championships over transgender law

This past week, the NCAA decided to remove a number of championship events out of North Carolina, including first- and second-round Division I Men's Basketball Championship games in March, according to a Baptist Press story, which reported that two days after the NCAA decision, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it would move all neutral-site championships for the coming academic year out of North Carolina, including the football conference championship game in December.
The reason is, of course, House Bill 2, which, according to the article, "does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among classes of people designated for antidiscrimination protection. The law also requires individuals in state buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates."

Christian leaders were swift to criticize the entities. State legislator Paul Stam, speaker pro tem of the North Carolina House of Representatives and a Southern Baptist, issued an eight-page news release on Tuesday, noting what he called the "breathtaking hypocrisy" of the NCAA, which he wrote, "selectively boycotts North Carolina for policies it claims are unique to our state -- but actually are common throughout the nation -- and for daring to disagree with a sweeping federal mandate by the Obama Administration -- a mandate that is currently being challenged in court by 24 other states."

Stam noted that "state law on discrimination is the same or very similar to that of 28 other states and the statutory law of the federal government." He advised the NCAA to "take a careful look at its activities and those of its thousands of members" in those states as well. He also contends that "The NCAA and its member institutions are not in compliance with the civil rights provision of Title IX as defined by President Obama." For instance, as the article points out:

While the administration instructed colleges and universities to treat students consistently with their perceived gender identities, Stam wrote, NCAA rules prohibit so-called transgender females who are not undergoing hormone therapy from competing on women's teams.

The story reports that Franklin Graham wrote ACC Commissioner John Swofford this week, in which he challenges the conference head, pointing out the "profound hypocrisy of the ACC, the NCAA and other companies and organizations who are making calculated business decisions disguised as moral outrage." Graham said that ACC sponsors like Dr. Pepper and Toyota conduct business in countries where homosexuality is illegal, Graham wrote, asking why the conference does not sever ties with those sponsors.  NCAA policy, he added, requires a male-to-female transgender athlete who is not taking hormone therapy to compete on a team "in accordance with his ... assigned birth gender."  That corresponds to a point also made by Stam.
1 - new Administration report raises concerns on religious freedom

This week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) issued a report called, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” which, according to a Liberty Counsel press release, is "a shocking example of the war against religious freedom in America." Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying that it "is a shameful anti-American and anti-God document that trashes religious freedom."

According to the release:

Martin Castro, named USCCR chairman by President Obama in 2011, said that the words “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” have become merely code words for intolerance, Christian supremacy, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and therefore must yield before LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, this report also does not support those people who hold to their religious belief of traditional marriage as they provide services such as marriage licenses, photography, cake decorating or flower arranging.

Staver declared that Castro "...and the other members of the Commission who agree with him want to throw out the First Amendment and trash religious freedom whenever faith and practice collides with an intolerant LGBT agenda. The report is a declaration of war against religious freedom. George Washington said anyone who works against the twin pillars of religion and morality cannot be called a ‘Patriot.’ This report is un-American..."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 3 - September 11, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, focuses on a football coach who has been called out for facilitating a prayer after a victory in the team's first game.  Also, a new gender identity law in Massachusetts could have some troubling implications for churches.  And, funding to combat the Zika virus is being held up by lawmakers who want money for Planned Parenthood to be part of the package.

3 - Religious freedom watch: West Point coach under fire for post-game prayer

Football season is upon us, and one of the regular rites of the fall season is how expression of faith are handled relative to the gridiron.  The Christian Examiner reports on the action and counteraction involving the coach of the football team at the U.S. Military Academy.

Following the team's win over Temple the first week of the season, in Philadelphia, Coach Jeff Monken asked the players to take a knee.  He then asked another member of the staff to pray for the team.  After the video of the event was posted, it got the attention of the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its head, Mikey Weinstein, who says the prayer is unconstitutional.

Weinstein said that he expected the coach to apologize and said that the matter will likely be handled without litigation, if the coach admits wrongdoing.  The Academy is reportedly investigating the incident.  It is also reportedly setting procedures in place that will prevent coaches from praying with athletes in the future.

2 - Massachusetts transgender law could apply to churches

A document released by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) on September 1 that explained how a ban on so-called "gender identity discrimination" in public accommodations that adopted in July will be enforced when it takes effect October 1 indicates some negative consequences for churches.

Baptist Press quotes from the document: "Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation."

The President of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), Andrew Beckwith, told Baptist Press that the document "demonstrates the religious tone deafness of the people drafting these regulations and guidelines."  He is quoted as saying, "Any person of faith knows that we want all of our church functions to be open and welcoming to the general public to bring them in to hear the Good News, the Gospel, to be ministered to," adding, "To say that churches have to sacrifice their religious liberty when they hold an event that's open to the public means the church has to sacrifice all of its religious freedom anytime it operates."
Beckwith says that there is "no provision in the law exempting religious organizations."

1 - Planned Parenthood funding becomes an issue in Zika funding debate

Congress is back in session, and one of the agenda items was to provide funding to fight the Zika virus.  In fact, a bill went to the Senate that would provide $1.1 billion dollars to that end.  According to an article on The Stream website from The Daily Caller News Foundation, the legislation failed to get the votes necessary to progress for the third time because it did not contain a provision to fund Planned Parenthood.  So the needed funds are being held back because you have numerous lawmakers who are intent on using taxpayer funds to go to Planned Parenthood.

There is a definite Planned Parenthood-Zika connection.  The Zika virus has been connected to a birth defect in infants, and Planned Parenthood has stepped in to further its agenda, which includes offering contraception, but not eliminating the possibility of abortion, in its operation in the state of Florida, according to another article on The Stream website.  The article quotes Dr. Donna Harrison, Executive Director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who says that, “The biggest problem is that an accurate estimate of” how Zika will affect unborn children is "not available."

The article reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other serious brain anomalies; however, the clinical spectrum of the effects of Zika virus infection during pregnancy is not yet known.  Harrison cautions that “the best studies show that of all women infected during the first trimester, 98-99 percent of those infants will not have microcephaly." She says, “We have a lot of fear...and very little information at the moment. And fear breeds abortion.”

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of pregnancy care centers, says, “Women deserve to know the whole truth. A pregnant mother needs to know that Zika and microcephaly are not death sentences for themselves or their precious children.” Godsey adds, “Every life has value and is worth living, regardless of circumstance or the challenges we are called to overcome."

According to, House speaker Paul Ryan has said that his chamber will not put in an earmark for Planned Parenthood.  That article says:

Abortion has become a major issue related to the Zika virus because of a possible link to birth defects. New research suggests the virus may not be to blame for the uptick in birth defects in some areas affected by the virus. Still, abortion advocates have been using the virus as an excuse to push for more abortions of babies with disabilities. Some pro-abortion groups even have been scaring women into aborting their unborn babies without knowing if they have Zika or if their unborn baby has a disability.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

The 3 - September 4, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, I provide an update about Russia's new anti-evangelism law that has already resulted in arrests of Christians.  Also, in Iran, five Christians were recently arrested and taken away from their families; plus, apparently communication with them has been eliminated.  And, the top story involves two recent studies that provide a sobering look at the gay lifestyle and debunks some of the talking points of the gay agenda.

3 - Prosecutions expand in Russia under new law prohibiting sharing faith without a permit

About a month and a half ago, new restrictions that were anticipated to have a chilling effect on Christian evangelism were handed down in Russia.  A Christianity Today story had this explanation:

To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.

A recent Meeting House Front Room blog post highlighted the story of a missionary who was in the process of returning home to the U.S. as the result of his arrest.  I cited a Baptist Press article, which said that police had entered Independent Baptist missionary Donald Ossewaard's Sunday morning Bible study in his home, which had 15 students, arrested him and fined him 40,000 rubles, which is about $600. Ossewaard says that he will leave the country. He has appealed the charges against him. There have also been some veiled threats reported against his life.  His wife, Ruth, has already returned home to Illinois.

That story referred to a story on the Forum 18 website, which said that there had been five others arrested under the law: another Baptist who was fined 5,000 rubles; a Hare Krishna, who was acquitted; a Protestant, fined 50,000 rubles; a Pentecostal, who was to appear in court Aug. 29, and a Seventh-day Adventist, who was awaiting a trial date.

Last week, the Moscow Times reported the story of a Ukrainian religious leader, Sergei Zhuravlyov, who is a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior.  He is accused of spreading hate speech and maintaining ties to an illegal organization. In an Aug. 27 blog post, he said he was arrested while preaching before the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community and accused of violating a provision of Russian anti-terrorist legislation that bans illegal missionary activity.

Zhuravlyov was released on bail, and the case was sent to court.

2 - Five Christians arrested in Iran

It was reported last week by the website Middle East Concern that five Iranian Christians were on a picnic with their wives when security officials from the Ministry of Intellegence and Security raided the picnic and separated the men from the women. According to the August 29 report, the Ministry officials took the five men away and family members are unsure about their whereabouts.

One of the men, Amin Nader Afshar, asked to see the arrest warrant, which the officials did not produce.  He was then beaten.  Another of the men, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, is the son of Assyrian Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who was arrested in 2014 on the day after Christmas at a Christmas celebration at his home. Afshar was also arrested at the same time.

Victor was charged verbally with “conducting evangelism”, “illegal house church activities” and “Bible printing and distribution”.  He was released on bail on March 1, 2015, and Afshar had been released on bail in February of that year.

According to the report, it is "feared that the aim of the MOIS officials is to force confessions and to extract 'evidence' against the victims of the 2014 Christmas arrests."

1 - New studies released concerning gay behavior

Recently, there have been two reports released regarding homosexual behavior.  One was released by two authors affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and published on The New Atlantis website.  I shared on a Front Room blog post from a summary found on the National Organization for Marriage website, which notes four major findings of the study, according to the editor of The New Atlantis, Adam Keiper:

  • The belief that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property—that people are ‘born that way'—is not supported by scientific evidence
  • Likewise, the belief that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex—so that a person might be a ‘man trapped in a woman's body' or ‘a woman trapped in a man's body'—is not supported by scientific evidence
  • Only a minority of children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood. There is no evidence that all such children should be encouraged to become transgender, much less subjected to hormone treatments or surgery. 
  • Non-heterosexual and transgender people have higher rates of mental health problems (anxiety, depression, suicide), as well as behavioral and social problems (substance abuse, intimate partner violence), than the general population. Discrimination alone does not account for the entire disparity
The Centers for Disease Control has released a study that, according to The Federalist website, finds that, using more than 15,000 respondents and other data, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) students face more bullying, participate in far more relationship abuse, and are more likely to use drugs and drink alcohol.

The CDC relates that 2 percent of students identified as gay or lesbian, while 89 percent said they are heterosexual. Six percent defined themselves as bisexual, and 3 percent were not certain.  According to the story:

The study asked students about more than 100 different activities, from drinking milk to suicide attempts. Key findings on dangerous activities include: students who had engaged in bisexual or same-sex sexual relationships were far more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, and use hard drugs. They were also twice as likely as heterosexual teens to be threatened or injured on school property by a weapon, and more than twice as likely to miss school for “safety concerns.” More than one-third of LGB students said they faced bullying on school property, as well.

But, the article also points out that relationship violence among those same-sex-attracted teenagers is far higher than violence among heterosexual teens.

And, while the study authors suggest solutions that include policies promoting “school connectedness and a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all students,” including “gay/straight alliances” and the use of “inclusive words or terms,” Catholic University Professor Paul Sullins points out that the study's "main finding is that risky behavior across the board is much more prevalent among LGB youth. They are more likely to engage in risky sex, substance abuse, and violence of all kinds. Less likely to wear seat belts or eat breakfast. More likely to be depressed (feel sad) or attempt suicide.” He concluded: “LGB sexual identity or having same-sex partners is positively correlated with almost every risk behavior measured on the survey."

Monday, August 29, 2016

The 3 - August 28, 2016

On this edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a victory for an Air Force officer who had faced a complaint for having a Bible on his desk. Also, recently there was a baptism service involving almost 5,000 South Korea soldiers.  And, a Federal court judge has halted an Administration directive regarding transgender restrooms.

3 - Air Force officer OK'd to have Bible at his desk

Air Force Maj. Steve Lewis, who is a supervisor at the Reserve National Security Space Institute, had placed a Bible on his desk. Not surprisingly, according to Todd Starnes' website, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint against the major, accusing him of "harboring and encouraging a truly abhorrent example of First Amendment civil rights violations." 

The major voluntarily removed his Bible pending a military review, according to Starnes, who spoke with a public affairs spokesman, Lt. Col. David Fruck, who is quoted as saying, "We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred."  Starnes reported that Fruck said "both the workplace environment and the major's behavior were well within the provisions governing the free exercise of religion and religious accommodation."

2 - Thousands baptized in South Korea

Recently, almost 5,000 Korean soldiers gathered at the Korea Army Training Center (KATC) in Nonsan for a baptism service and ceremony organized by FEBC Korea in celebration of its 60th anniversary, according to the National Religious Broadcasters website,

NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson joined around 40 Korean local church leaders and 22 American Christian leaders and military chaplains in conducting the baptisms in the center’s swimming pool. Dr. Johnson also delivered a message on baptism before the soldiers went out to be baptized. He explained, “When you become a Christian, your life changes,” adding, “You’re showing today that you’re dying to an old way of life, and you’re living a new kind of life.”

Also on hand were Dr. Billy Kim, Chairman of FEBC Korea; Ed Cannon, President & CEO of FEBC USA; and the Rev. Chad Hammond, Director of Asian Affairs at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

1 - Federal court blocks Administration's directive on transgender bathrooms in schools

A little more than a week ago, a Federal judge in Texas ruled against a directive from the Obama administration to school districts across the nation to allow transgender students to use the restroom or locker room facility of their choice, according to a story on the Religion News Service website, which reported that a 38-page order by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor stated that "federal agencies exceeded their authority under the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools."

Concerning that law, known as Title IX, the judge wrote, “Without question, permitting educational institutions to provide separate housing to male and female students, and separate educational instruction concerning human sexuality, was to protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of
their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.”

The case was filed originally by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and was joined by 12 other states, including Alabama. They argued that the guidance from the administration came with an "implicit threat that federal education funds could be withheld if school districts refused to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity." The story says that the injunction is in effect nationwide.

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, 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.