Sunday, December 04, 2016

The 3 - December 4, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes information on the state of the church in Cuba against the backdrop of the death of Fidel Castro.  Also, a pro-life center in New Mexico experienced an intentional fire just before Thanksgiving.   And, a Christian couple with a popular television show is facing scrutiny because of its church's stance on homosexuality.

3 - Castro's death and the church in Cuba

The recent death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, regarded as a brutal dictator who held a tight rein on power in the Communist nation since 1959, power that has shifted toward brother Raul, gave Christianity Today an opportunity to reflect on the role and influence of the church in that island nation.  The publication noted that:
Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival. It sparked around the time that the Soviet Union’s collapse left Cuba scrambling to right itself. The period of crippling economic depression in the 1990s also began a time of church growth and evangelism.
The article reported that there are more than 3,000 Assemblies of God churches, and Eastern Baptist churches number more 1,200. The story said that "Seminaries are racing to keep up with the pastor shortage."

Christianity Today had reported on the 50th anniversary of the Fidel Castro revolution:
Since the 1959 Revolution, Castro's Communist government has placed numerous restrictions on religious expression in Cuba—a reality illustrated by most sources' requests for anonymity. Yet the Cuban church is thriving despite its limitations, and its leaders ask that their church not be used as a geopolitical pawn.
The recent article said that, "Between January and July this year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded more than 1,600 religious freedom abuses, perpetrated primarily by the Cuban government and its Office of Religious Affairs."  CSW reports that about 2,000 Assemblies of God churches were declared illegal and marked for seizure by the government in 2015.

The CT article points out that, "Some credit the Catholic Church and its popes with influencing Cuba’s slow turn from Marxism."  Christmas was reinstated by Castro in 1988, one day after Pope John Paul II visited.  Also, Pope Benedict visited in 2012, and soon afterward, Good Friday observances were allowed.  Plus, this year in Havana, Pope Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill.  This was the "first meeting between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox heavyweights since the Christian church split into West and East in 1054."

2 - Albuquerque pro-life clinic fire determined to be arson

A pro-life ministry in Albuquerque was damaged as the result of an apparent arson the night before Thanksgiving, and according to a report on the Christian Examiner website, the FBI and the Albuquerque Fire Department asked for the public's help in who may have been involved in setting fires which "erupted in multiple locations."

According to the article, the director of client services at the ministry, Project Defending Life (PDL), told LifeSiteNews, "We will just have to be a little more creative and flexible. We know God has a plan for us, and I see our organization prospering now more than ever. The prolife community in Albuquerque and across the country has shown us so much support," adding, "It's beautiful to see the body of Christ taking care of each other." Other ministries have stepped in to help PDL, including a mobile medical unit provided by one center, as well as office space from another.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, is quoted as saying, "The domestic terrorists who committed this heinous act must be found and brought to justice. Planned Parenthood of ABQ and other pro-abortion forces must denounce this act immediately. Violence has no place in our society, regardless of whether it is committed upon the most defenseless preborn child or a peaceful pro-life office."

1 - Manufactured news: Fixer Upper stars criticized because of their church's Biblical beliefs on sexuality

One of the recent significant stories in Christian media actually deals with what another media outlet published - a story about Chip and Joanna Gaines of the Fixer Upper TV series on HGTV.  A Baptist Press article stated that the Gaines "were the subjects of a Nov. 29 article on the news and entertainment website BuzzFeed which classified their pastor and Waco, Texas, church as holding a 'severe, unmoving position ... on same-sex marriage.'"  The Baptist Press report mentioned that the BuzzFeed story writer, Kate Aurthur had asked HGTV and the Gaines' company Magnolia if the couple would feature a same-sex couple on the show.

Aurthur wrote that there was not a response, so she said, "It's worth looking at" the beliefs of the church the Gaines attend, Antioch Community Church, and pastor Jimmy Seibert. Cosmopolitan followed suit in an article the next day, saying that BuzzFeed had "uncovered something many fans will likely want an explanation for."
BuzzFeed also reported, according to Baptist Press, that an HGTV spokesperson stated in an e-mail: "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."

Todd Starnes of Fox News interviewed Pastor Seibert.  Starnes wrote:
The pastor told me he was surprised by the controversy surrounding a message he delivered more than a year ago pointing out that people from all different walks of life attend the church.
“For us – our heart has always been to love Jesus, preach the word of God and help people in their journey,” he said.
But what about the church’s position on same-sex marriage?
Our definition is not the definition we made up. It’s straight from the Scripture,” the pastor said. “One man, one woman for life. That’s how God created us. That’s what he has for us.”
“The main reason for the sermon is for the confused middle – the majority of America. People don’t know what the Bible says anymore on issues of sexuality,” he added.
“People don’t know what God says on homosexuality or any other issue. I felt the need to say we are all a mess – but the fixed points were set by God – not us.”
Even the Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee, weighed in on the controversy:
Reports from around the nation Thursday indicate that millions of American citizens were still reeling from the revelation that a prominent Christian couple holds a historically Christian position.
“We’re not saying people can’t be Christians,” a Seattle woman said in a Facebook comment. “This is a free country, after all. But when Christians decide to actually have Christian beliefs about things—I’m sorry, that’s just too far.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

The 3 - November 27, 2016

In the latest edition of The 3, spotlighting three recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a story about a Christian governor who has faced opposition due to allegations concerning comments relative to Islam.  Also, a Federal labor law concerning overtime pay that would have affected non-profit organizations has been placed on hold by a judge.  And, I place some attention on election results that have a direct connection to people involved in religious freedom issues.

3 - Unrest in Indonesia in light of accusations against Christian governor

The first Christian to serve as governor of the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, has come under fire because of comments about Islam that have been interpreted as being provocative, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is popularly known as “Ahok,” was appointed in 2014 after the election of Joko Widodo as president of the nation. The article points out that Ahok is a key ally of the president.

Ahok presumably used a verse from the Koran when speaking to a group of fishermen in September. He reported said, "Do not believe everything that people say," adding, “because often you are deceived by using 51st of Surah Al Maidah."  That is the fifth chapter of the Qur‘an. According to the article, "The verse warns Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as allies; some read it to mean that Muslims are not to vote for those of other faiths."

Ahok apparently apologized after his words were posted on Facebook, leaving out a key word. Nevertheless, thousands of protesters marched against him and police reportedly accused Ahok of blasphemy.  And, The Christian Post reports that over 10,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta Saturday, the 19th in support of Ahok.  The story says that at least 100,000 Muslims had protested the governor earlier this month.

2 - Federal judge puts overtime rule on hold

The Obama Administration issued a regulation doubling the income threshold determining which employees would be eligible to receive overtime pay.  According to Baptist Press, 4.2 million more workers would qualify to receive extra pay beyond 40 hours weekly.   The story says that employers would have the option to either pay the overtime, increase salaries to reach the new threshold, or restrict employees to 40 hours a week.

On Tuesday, a Federal judge in Texas, Amos Mazzant, issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing enforcement of that regulation, which was scheduled to take effect on Thursday, December 1.

The regulation had been challenged by 21 states, the Chamber of Commerce, and other business organizations,  The article points out that nonprofit organizations are not exempt from overtime rules, so they also would have been affected by the new policy.

Samuel W. (Dub) Oliver, president of Union University in Jackson, TN, is quoted as saying: "While Union University was fully prepared to adhere to the new regulations beginning Dec. 1, they certainly would have been burdensome to us as an institution and to our employees." He expressed hope that Congress would take action on "such important issues," instead of "sweeping changes being mandated by executive order."
Michael Whitehead, who is an attorney and nonprofit organization advocate, said: "Time will tell if the injunction will be made permanent, but for now, the overtime rule has been overruled. This is great news for many ministry organizations, including Baptist institutions, that might have suffered severe financial impact because of this onerous rule." Whitehead's son, Jonathan, "suggested ministries might not want to reverse the plans they had scheduled for Dec. 1. Instead, they may want to seek legal counsel on what adjustments are reasonable in the new legal situation..."

1 - Religious freedom and the election: OR labor commissioner loses bid for higher office; NC governor in midst of hotly contested campaign

The election has had some interesting tie-ins involving religious freedom issues.  Here's a good news-bad news scenario from Oregon, where, according to WORLD Magazine, the state's labor commissioner, Brad Avakian, who took action against cake bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein for their choice not to provide a product for a gay couple "wedding" ceremony, was defeated in his bid to become secretary of state.  The Kleins had been fined $135,000 as the result of their refusal.

That might seem like good news, but on the flipside, Avakian will now continue in his position as labor commissioner.  The WORLD story refers to a Forbes report, which says that "Avakian 'acts as if rules are only for other people.' He used his job as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) to promote his secretary of state campaign, gave bonuses to employees from his campaign fund, and redacted hundreds of events from his official calendar, breaking state law. He also gave himself and other BOLI employees significant raises."

And, another matter relative to religious freedom was impacted by the election - this time from North Carolina, where the State Legislature had passed a commonsense law to override the extreme position of the Charlotte City Council.  This law would have required people to use restrooms in state facilities corresponding to their biological gender, rather than "gender identity."   Governor Pat McCrory had supported and signed the legislation, and really became the face of this new law.

The governor trails in his very close re-election bid, and according to a piece on the Family Policy Alliance website, a candidate in one of North Carolina's counties has filed a protest, that alleges that fraudulent absentee ballots were cast for McCrory's opponent, Ray Cooper. Now, similar protests "are being filed in 10 other counties," according to the Alliance's website, which reports that McCrory's campaign says that "the protest alleges a 'massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots, perpetrated by and through the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.'"

John Rustin of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, is quoted as saying, "The right to vote in our country is fundamental,” adding, “and the confidence of the voters in the electoral process is essential to the proper working of our American form of government. Every legitimate vote must be counted, and any and all efforts to defraud the system must be eliminated, no matter how long it takes.”

On Wednesday (November 23), The Washington Times reported that McCrory "formally requested a recount Tuesday after filing more than 50 challenges alleging voter fraud as the latest tally showed him trailing his Democratic rival, Attorney General Roy Cooper, by anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 votes." The article points out that, "A recount would go into effect if the candidates are separated by fewer than 10,000 votes after all ballots are tabulated in a race with nearly 4.7 million votes cast."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The 3 - November 20, 2016

This week on The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there was a development this week regarding a florist in Washington state who would not furnish flowers for a same-sex "wedding" ceremony.  Also, thousands of Christians in Iraq gathered to pray late last week to pray for their nation and triumph over ISIS.  And, a legislative body in Mexico has turned back the nation's President's proposal authorizing so-called same-sex marriage."

3 - Christian florist in Washington state goes before state Supreme Court

The florist in Washington state who declined to provide flowers for a gay marriage ceremony was in court earlier this week, according to a story on the CBN News website.   Two gay men had filed suit against Barronelle Stutzman, as did the state's attorney general.  The two men had been customers of her business, Arlene's Flowers, and she says that the conversation, in which she explained why she did not want to provide flowers for the wedding, went well.   Stutzman told CBN News, "When Rob left the shop we hugged each other, and left as friends, and we didn't think there was a problem."

A lower court had found that Ms. Stutzman violated a state anti-discrimination law.  This week, the Supreme Court in Washington state heard the case. According to CBN News:
A huge crowd gathered outside the courthouse holding signs with supportive messages for the florist such as, "Justice for Barronelle" and "Freedom to Create."
Earlier, the state had offered Barronelle a settlement, and the story points out that she had told a gathering in Washington, DC: "I wasn't offered a settlement. I was offered an ultimatum: 'Either you will do as I tell you to do; you will think the way I think; you will perform the way I think you should perform and create..."

Stutzman is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorney, Kerri Kupec, is quoted as saying, "The heart of the case is this, should creative professionals and artists like Baronelle be forced by the government to create custom work for a religious ceremony that specifically violates their religious beliefs under threat of severe punishment..."

 2 - Thousands of Iraqi Christians gather to pray for peace

This past Friday, an estimated crowd of over 20,000 people gathered in the Iraqi city of Erbil to pray for their nation and for victory against ISIS in an event called "Christ Day," according to a Christian Today story, quoting from CBN News.  The event was broadcast over the Christian satellite network, SAT-7.

According to the Christian Today article, the event coincides with an offensive by Iraq and its allies to retake the captured city of Mosul. The piece quotes Fabian Greche, the co-founder of the Mesopotamia House of Prayer in northern Iraq, who said he believes God is far from finished with the Middle East.  Greche said, "We easily get affected by darkness around us. It affects us, but if we look at Jesus and at His Word we see that God wants to pour out His Spirit. He's coming back for a Bride and He will have one in the Middle East."

The article says that:
The six-hour prayer event marked the end of the participants' 50 days of fasting, with many of them expressing hope that they would soon be back in their land, living peaceful lives without ISIS.
Standing together in the shape of a cross, the participants released balloons with prayers in them "as a symbol of raising prayer on behalf of the whole nation," according to George Makeen, SAT-7 ARABIC's programming director.
1 - Same-sex marriage measure rejected in Mexico

Just weeks after Australian lawmakers decided to reject so-called same-sex "marriage," a group of legislators in Mexico took similar action.  According to a piece on the Christian Examiner website, a committee in the national Chamber of Deputies has voted 19-8 against a proposal by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to amend the country's constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
More than half of those voting against the amendment were members of the president's political party.

Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last year that bans on same-sex marriage implemented by states throughout Mexico were unconstitutional.   The story reports that now, the National Front for the Family, which includes more than 1.000 pro-family groups, has said it is ready to stand behind a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

According to the report, the proposed change to the country's constitution was unpopular among "traditionalists" in the country; not only because it would allow same-sex marriage, but would also possibly become a gateway to same-sex adoptions.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The 3 - November 13, 2016

This week, I want to call your attention to a baptism ceremony involving Iranians and Afghans, as we rejoice about what God is doing in the Muslim world.  Also, voters went to the polls this past Tuesday, and not only were candidates for President and Congress and other offices on the ballot, but there were referendum votes on a number of issues; I'll relate information about some of those.  And, the election of Donald Trump as President is challenging Christians to consider the way forward.

3 - God is working in Muslim world; Iranian and Afghan believers baptized

I really do believe, based on information I've received, that one of the remarkable areas in which God is working is in the midst of the so-called "Muslim world," as reports are common of people who are followers of Islam coming to Christ, including some who receive Jesus as the result of dreams and visions.

ChristianToday.com has the story of how God is working among people in the vicinity of a nation that not only has a significant Muslim population, but has a government that is steeped in Muslim law - that is, the nation of Iran. The report is that recently, over 200 Iranians and Afghans were baptized in a location just outside Iran, according to the Elam Ministries.  People from eight different Persian-speaking churches attended the service, in which the newly-baptized Christians shared about how Jesus changed their lives.  One man said that he had been suicidal, but Jesus intervened and brought him new hope.  Another shared: "I never thought I would find freedom from my past, but Jesus has set me free."

The article makes mention that the growth of Christianity in Iran has been described as "spectacular." Website God Reports says that several statisticians noted that the Iranian church may be the fastest growing church in the world.

Mark Howard of Elam Ministries is quoted as saying, "Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2,000-5,000 believers in Iran," but now, he says "the conservative estimate" is that there are 300,000 to 400,000 Muslim-background believers in Iran.  Others say the number could be as high as one million.

2 - Ballot measures include assisted suicide in CO; marijuana in several states; a number of gambling measures fail

On the 2016 election ballot coast-to-coast, there were not only contests for President, one-third of the U.S. Senate, and all of the U.S. House, but there were gubernatorial races in some states, and some ballot measures.

Marijuana was a popular topic across several states.  WORLD Magazine reports that:
On ballot measures, seven states expanded the legality of marijuana. California, Nevada, and Massachusetts legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota legalized it for medicinal use.
The story also stated, "And in one of the most significant voter decisions, Colorado legalized assisted suicide."

John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said in a Breakpoint commentary:
...A close read of Tuesday’s results, beyond the presidential race, shows that the cultural trends we’ve been talking about on BreakPoint for years continue unimpeded. 
The saddest example is Colorado voters’ approval of doctor-assisted suicide by a two-to-one margin. I warned on this broadcast that so-called “right to die” invariably becomes a duty to die. I reminded my fellow Coloradans that in a state currently in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicide, approving doctor-assisted suicide sends the wrong message.
But it didn’t matter. The siren song of unlimited personal autonomy and self-definition proved irresistible to a large majority of Coloradans.
Stonestreet added, "And a similar dynamic was at work in the various ballot initiatives concerning marijuana."

The news was better on the gambling front.  The organization, Stop Predatory Gambling reported that New Jersey voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot question to expand casinos in the northern part of the state, and an effort to bring a slot machine parlor into greater Boston was also turned back by voters.  Also, Arkansas residents rejected a measure to allow casinos into the state.

1 - Evangelicals play key role in election; Christians ponder way forward

With the election of Donald Trump as President being powered, in part, by evangelical voters, there has been much discussion about the role of the Church not only in the election but in the way forward.  On a Front Room commentary this week, I quoted from a Christianity Today analysis of the results:
Despite reservations expressed by many evangelical and Republican leaders, white born-again/evangelical Christians cast their ballots for the controversial real estate mogul-turned-politician at an 81 percent to 16 percent margin over Hillary Clinton.
Evangelicals of color—who represent 2 in 5 evangelicals, but aren’t segmented out in most national political polls—largely preferred Clinton leading up to the election. But she ultimately underperformed among Hispanics and African Americans compared to President Barack Obama before her.
I also quoted from the article, which pointed out that, "White evangelicals made up 1 in 4 of all voters in the 2016 election," and it said:
Americans who attend religious services weekly also favored Trump, but by a narrower 56 percent to 40 percent margin over Clinton. Monthly worshipers also broke for Trump more narrowly, 49 percent to 46 percent.
I pointed out that Trump won with Catholic voters, 52-45% and that Obama had won the Catholic vote the previous two elections.  I also included a quote from the First Things website by Biola University professor Daniel Patrick Guerra who wrote, "...70 percent of the electorate said that the composition of the Supreme Court was the most important or an important factor in their vote for president. Trump won these voters, 50 percent to 46 percent. Among those to whom the Court mattered little, Trump lost by ten percentage points. The composition of the Court thus was a major factor in the election’s outcome, and religious voters seemed to emphasize it in debates over whether or not to support Trump."

While a number of Christians were put off by some of the statements by Trump during the campaign (and before), some Christian leaders see the billionaire's victory as an opportunity to address some of the actions over that last eight years which have represented an affront to religious freedom.   Writing for The Stream website, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and FRC Action, said:
...After the spectacular failures of Obamacare, the demoralization of our military, the explosion of lawlessness, tolerance of corruption and obsession with social engineering, Americans finally have the opportunity to rebuild the country they once knew. But the election is just the starting gun. Donald Trump may open the door to America’s solutions, but he was never meant to be the solution. The true transformation of a society starts in the hearts and minds of men. And under an administration with no interest in continuing the eight-year war on the First Amendment, we may finally see what the Church is capable of. In the meantime, one thing about this historic uprising is clear: Americans are looking for leaders of conviction. And as the results of the race for president show, they will accept no substitutes.
Todd Starnes of Fox News reported that, "Nearly 6 in 10 Trump voters were impacted by the pro-life, pro-religious liberty planks of the Republican Party, according to a post-election poll commissioned by Family Research Council."

I would say that the Church should be careful to never gloat about this electoral outcome.  I agree with Tony that this is only a beginning; there is potential to change culture for the better, and the political system does play a part, but it is only one component.  The outcome of the election should be accepted as a sovereign act of God, in accordance with Daniel 2, and we continue to have a sovereign opportunity to allow the Lord to use the body of Christ, as the Church is willing to pray and be a voice before our political leaders.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The 3 - November 6, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, includes a decision by the Washington, D.C. city council on the matter of assisted suicide.  Also, a law school at a Christian university in Canada has won a major court victory.  And, I want to conclude with some information and comments regarding Election Day this Tuesday.

3 - District of Columbia council passes assisted suicide bill

Recently, the City Council for Washington, D.C. approved a law called the "Death With Dignity" law, according to a report on the CBN.com website, which reported that the law "would allow doctors to prescribe deadly, oral medication to people suffering from terminal diseases."

The article points out that "physician-assisted suicide" is also legal in California, Washington state, Vermont, and Montana.

An assisted-suicide measure is on the ballot this year in Colorado, and there are indications that it stands a good chance of passage.

The CBN report said that:
The hotly contested measure in D.C. was vehemently opposed by religious groups who believe in the sanctity of life and say only God should determine when a person dies.
Other opponents who fought against the passage of the measure for non-religious reasons say its language is vague and therefore vulnerable to abuses.
The final vote was 11 to 2 in favor of the law.  Among other components, the law pertains to those with six months or less to live.

2 - Canadian law school wins legal battle over accreditation

Trinity Western University, which is located in British Columbia, has been seeking accreditation for its proposed law school.  According to a piece on the Alliance Defending Freedom website, the Law Society of British Columbia had denied this accreditation. It had originally voted to accept graduates of the school, but then changed that decision in October 2014 due to, as ADF says, "the university’s biblical beliefs on appropriate sexual behavior."

The University challenged that denial in August 2015. The province's Supreme Court ruled "that the Law Society’s first decision, which approved the academic qualifications of TWU graduates, should be restored." Now, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the highest court in the province, upheld that ruling. The Court stated, "A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society—one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.”

The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon, and Nova Scotia have already agreed to recognize TWU’s law graduates. The university has appealed a court decision against it in Ontario.

1 - Final considerations for election in advance of Tuesday vote

Tuesday is Election Day, and there is plenty of importance that is being attached to this day.  Of course, the major news story is the Presidential election, and there has been much discussion in the evangelical community about who will be selected as President.  Evangelicals can break down into four categories:  those who will vote for Donald Trump, those who will vote for Hillary Clinton, supporters of candidates who do not represent the two major parties: so-called "third party" candidates or write-ins, and those who will not vote for any candidate.

Christianity Today just published a summary of polling data from LifeWay Research indicating evangelical support for the candidates.  According to the survey:
45% of Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump
31% plan to vote for Clinton
23% plan to vote for a third-party candidate, or haven’t decided
Break that down by race or ethnicity and you'll see a divide:  65% of white Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump, with 10% for Clinton.  62% of African-, Hispanic-, or Asian-Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Clinton and 15% plan to vote for Trump.

Regarding the arguments for and against Trump and Clinton in the evangelical community, it seems, for me, a summary would be this:  Neither candidate offers strong appeal to the Christian community, but with regard to issues, such as Supreme Court nominees, abortion, and religious freedom, Trump is a better fit for evangelicals on these issues.  However, that LifeWay survey, as I have noted, shows that the top issues for evangelicals are the economy, national security, and personal character.  Only 10% of those surveyed, for instance, regarded Supreme Court nominees as their most important issue.

Some evangelicals are willing to overlook some of Trump's character flaws because he is closer to their own values on important issues.  However, there are a number of #NeverTrump evangelicals who will not support him due to character, but, likewise they will also not support Hillary Clinton. So, those voters, as a matter of personal conscience will either vote for someone like Evan McMullin, who is mounting a third-party bid, or write-in a candidate, perhaps sitting out the top of the ballot while voting in the down ballot races.

Whatever you do, I want to share these thoughts with you from a recent Front Room commentary:
First of all, I believe that voting, at the risk of sounding overly spiritual, but I believe it - voting is an act of worship. So, take that attitude with you as you go to vote. We have the incredible right and opportunity to speak into our society and select the leaders who will govern us. It matters to God, and it matters to our country.

Also, I challenge you to take your worldview into the voting booth. Select candidates who best reflect your own Biblical perspective. Determine the issues that are important to you, consistent with that worldview, and allow the Holy Spirit to direct your choice. But, you need to be, as I say often, prayerful and informed. You need the information, good information, so that you can make that choice about the candidate who lines up the best with those Biblically-informed issues.

Finally, there's something not to take into the voting booth - worry. Do not worry about the outcome. I will speak more to this in the coming days. We recognize the sovereignty of God, and He will work through whatever leaders are placed in the position. A President or other lawmaker may have an adverse view or set of views on issues we hold dear and champion policies that we find offensive, but even in the midst of adversity, we can continue to trust in Almighty God to work His purposes.
And, I would say, above all - PRAY!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The 3 - October 30, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, a major Christian retailer has pulled resources by a famous author due to her stated beliefs on so-called "same-sex marriage."  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court will be getting involved in a case involving transgender rights.  And, a lay minister in Georgia who lost his job in the state health department is refusing to give up sermons that have been requested in connection to his lawsuit after his firing.

3 - Major Christian retailer pulls author's books due to her stance on gay marriage

One would think just a short time ago that author Jen Hatmaker was on her way to quite the elevated status among Christian Bible teachers.  Her book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, was a bestseller, and her family has been featured HGTV reality series, My Big Family Renovation. She was one of the featured speakers on the national tour called, Belong.

But, her view of tolerating those in the LGBT lifestyle has now resulted in her resources being pulled from LifeWay stores.  According to Baptist Press, LifeWay spokesperson Marty King said, "In a recent interview, [Hatmaker] voiced significant changes in her theology of human sexuality and the meaning and definition of marriage -- changes which contradict LifeWay's doctrinal guidelines," adding, "As a result, LifeWay has discontinued selling her resources."  The 7 book was published by B&H, which is a publishing arm of LifeWay.

This removal apparently stems from an interview with Hatmaker published at Religion News Service, which was conducted by Jonathan Merritt. The Baptist Press article reports:
In an Oct. 25 Religion News Service (RNS) article, Hatmaker said she affirms gay marriage from both civil and spiritual perspectives, and advised the church to embrace members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who profess Christianity.

"Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ," Hatmaker said in the RNS question and answer column. "They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn't treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better."
When asked whether an LGBT relationship can be "holy," she replied:
"I do (believe an LGBT relationship can be holy). And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it's hard to nail down in one sitting," she said. "I've seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here."
2 - High court agrees to hear case of school district's restroom policy

The transgender bathroom issue has become quite a visible one, and the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that it will enter the fray.  The high court announced this week, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, that it would hear a case out of Virginia, involving a "school district’s policy of maintaining separate restrooms for members of each sex while providing individual, private facilities for students uncomfortable with using a facility that corresponds to their sex."

According to a report by Emily Belz at WORLD Magazine...
...the case began when Gavin Grimm (“G.G.” in court documents), who was born female but now identifies as male, sued the school board after requesting access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms. Fielding parental complaints, the board declined Grimm’s request, but offered to build unisex restrooms instead. Grimm considered that response discrimination.
A Federal District Court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the school board, but the Supreme Court issued a stay on those rulings, allowing the school's restroom and locker room policy to continue until resolved by the Supreme Court.

And, according to WORLD, the Federal directive to schools throughout America concerning transgender bathroom usage will come into play. The story says, "In January 2015, a Department of Education official sent a letter telling the Gloucester County School Board that under Title IX the board must treat transgender students 'consistent with their gender identity' in locker rooms and restrooms. The agency sent a directive similar to the Gloucester County letter to all federally funded schools in May."

1 - Former GA health official and lay minister, who had filed suit because of religious discrimination, refuses to release sermons

The case of a public health director in Georgia who was a lay minister has raised concerns over the government's authority over church-related matters.  According to the website of First Liberty Institute, Dr. Eric Walsh was hired in 2014 by the State of Georgia. The website says, "...when the state found out that Walsh was also a lay minister and preached sermons on the weekends, they obtained copies of his some of his sermons, divided them among state officials, reviewed the sermons, and then fired Walsh­—informing him of the termination via voicemail."

First Liberty says that even though the state claims its abrupt termination of Walsh was not related to his religious beliefs, "evidence would suggest otherwise."

In April of this year, First Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of Walsh. In September, the Georgia state government issued a Request for Production of Documents. As First Liberty points out: "Fulfilling the request would force Walsh to produce all his previous sermons, sermon notes and transcripts for government review and investigation."

Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty stated, "The government wants a pastor to hand over copies of all of his sermons, including notes and transcripts, with absolutely zero limitations,” adding, "This is an excessive display of government overreaching its authority.”

A press conference, including Dr. Walsh, was held in Atlanta Wednesday. Pastor Dave Welch from Houston was there - he was one of the "Houston Five" whose communication had been subpoenaed in the lawsuit there involving an ordinance involving sexual orientation and gender identity, said:
"This is worse than the Houston Five for multiple reasons. This is coming from a whole state—the Georgia attorney general—not one city. And they are demanding more material: sermons, sermon notes, all documents. It could even include margin notes in this pastor’s preaching Bible. It’s almost as if they are ransacking the pastor’s study. This sweeping demand is unacceptable in America, and is a warning to every pastor, every church, every denomination, and every American."
First Liberty also pointed out that last year, Governor Nathan Deal, under intense pressure from corporate interests, vetoed a mild religious protection bill that would have protected pastors.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The 3 - October 23, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, there is a look at the plight of Christian refugees in certain areas of the world.  Also, a Federal judge has taken his order concerning the Administration's directive on transgender bathrooms to a national level.  And, a group of evangelical leaders has signed on to a letter urging bishops to not depart from Biblical teaching on marriage.

3 - Christian refugees in danger

The plight of Christians who are fleeing countries in the Middle East continues to be a significant development.  For instance, there was a story on the Christian Headlines website recently that cited a report from the organization Open Doors, saying that Muslim refugees had attacked some 743 Christian refugees while they were living in camps in Germany, according to a report on the Christian Post website.  Officials of Open Doors say there could be even more cases that have not been reported.

A major survey published by Open Doors Germany in October, which represented a number of organizations, is quoted as saying, "The documented cases confirm that the situation of Christian refugees in German refugee shelters is still unbearable. As a minority they are discriminated against, beaten up by and receive death threats from Muslim refugees and partly by the Muslim staff (securities, interpreters, volunteers) on grounds of their religion..."
There refugees have fled from Syria and other countries, and even encountered violence in the supposed safety of refugee camps, according to the story.

Also, thousands of Christians who have fled Iraq are finding adverse conditions in Turkey, according to another Christian Headlines story, quoting from a Christian Today piece, that says that about 45,000 of those refugees fleeing Iraq are living in poverty in Turkish refugee camps and are being discriminated against by their Muslim neighbors.

Juliana Taimoorazy, president of the Iraqi Christian Relief Council and a senior fellow with the Philos Project, shared that those Christians cannot reveal their faith because of fear of their Muslim neighbors. She added that these refugees want to come to the U.S. or another country where they would be free to fearlessly practice their faith, but the U.S. State Department is slow to take any action to help them.

2 - Federal judge expands ruling against Administration's directive on transgender bathrooms

There is a new development surrounding the Obama Administration's directive that school districts allow students to use the restroom or locker room facility corresponding to their so-called "gender identity," rather than their biological gender.  Aimed at creating rights for transgendered students, the directive, according to the Liberty Counsel website, "allowed males to use restrooms, dressing rooms, showers and locker rooms assigned for females. In the public school context, these directives would also allow boys to demand they sleep with girls during overnight off-campus trips."  School districts face a possible loss of funding for non-compliance.

A Federal district judge had initially issued an order in response to a lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General, who was joined by over 20 other states in opposing that directive.  This past week, he expanded that order.  As Liberty Counsel reported:
Judge Reed O’Connor again affirmed that his order bars the Obama administration from enforcing its unlawful LGBT agenda on public schools, federal agencies, municipalities and private employers. The ruling applies nationwide and specifically states that federal agencies must stop enforcing illegal guidelines which interpret the word “sex” as “gender” in federal statutes such as Title VII and Title IX.
Liberty Counsel also notes that the Government Services Administration (GSA) had issued a regulation declaring that transgender employees and visitors must be allowed to use the bathrooms that match their so-called “gender identity.”

Also, a recent article posted at TheStream.org said that as the result of a 5th-grade student identifying as “transgender” being denied access to the girls’ restroom at a school on a U.S. Air Force base in Germany, the American Military Partner Association, which is largest group of LGBT U.S.military families, said the Department of Defense Education Activity is discriminating against a male-to-female transgender student.  The student is at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, according to an NBC News report.  The article says that apparently, a Department of Defense official intervened and reversed the decision of the school’s principal, allowing the child to use the female restroom.

1 - Anglican leaders cautioned to follow the Bible's teaching on same-sex "marriage"

The Church of England's General Synod is scheduled for next February, and in advance of this gathering, which is expected to address the issue of so-called "same-sex marriage," a letter has been issued, according to the Christian Headlines website, signed by 88 evangelical leaders, which cautions bishops of the Church of England not to depart from the Bible’s teaching regarding same-sex marriage.

The article quotes from a piece at The Christian Institute website, and says that the letter states that “the Bible is clear” about marriage being defined as between one man and one woman and that this should not be regarded as being of “secondary importance.”  The letter also warns that embracing gay marriage would be “a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine.”

The Christian Headlines article states:
Western Anglican churches, along with the Anglican Church of South Africa, tend to be more lenient regarding same-sex marriage, but Anglican churches in other areas of the world--which make up the majority of Anglicans--tend to take a more conservative view.

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 ChristianHeadlines.com 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 UMC.org, 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 ChristianToday.com 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.

LifeNews.com 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 LifeNews.com, 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.