Sunday, April 13, 2014

The 3 - April 13, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, a rejection by the Supreme Court means that a New Mexico photographer will have to pay for its refusal to be involved with a same-sex marriage ceremony, in case with significant religious freedom implications.  Also, a college professor who spoke out in a manner consistent with his Christian views will receive the promotion that he was denied as a result of expressing those views.  And, students all across America were involved in the Day of Dialogue this week, an opportunity to affirm God's plan in relationships.

3 - U.S. Supreme Court decides not to take case of photographer who would not take pictures at gay wedding

There was some hope that the U.S. Supreme Court would take up the case of a New Mexico photographer that had been fined by a state agency for refusing to take pictures at a same-sex ceremony in a state where gay marriage was not legal (at the time). On Monday, the high court declined to hear the case. The photographer, Elane Photography, owned by Jonathan and Elaine Hugenin, had been told by the New Mexico Supreme Court that she must, as “the price of citizenship,” use her creative talents to communicate a message with which she disagrees or suffer punishment, according to a report on the Alliance Defense Fund media website.

This series of events began in 2006, when Elaine was approached with photographing the ceremony. She politely declined to use her artistic expression to communicate a message at odds with her beliefs. The woman who approached Elaine easily found another photographer for her ceremony—and for less money. Nevertheless, the woman filed a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. After a one-day administrative trial in 2008, the commission ruled against the Huguenins and ordered them to pay over $6,600 in attorneys’ fees. The case then made its way through the New Mexico state court system, and the New Mexico Supreme Court upheld the ruling.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence pointed out, “The First Amendment protects our freedom to speak or not speak on any issue without fear of punishment. We had hoped the U.S. Supreme Court would use this case to affirm this basic constitutional principle; however, the court will likely have several more opportunities to do just that in other cases of ours that are working their way through the court system.”   Cases in which ADF are involved include a florist and a cake artist who did not wish to endorse a gay wedding through their participation, as well as a T-shirt printer who did not provide shirts for a "gay pride" event.

Senior Counsel David Cortman added, “Elaine and numerous others like her around the country have been more than willing to serve any and all customers, but they are not willing to promote any and all messages. A government that forces any American to create a message contrary to her own convictions is a government every American should fear.”

2 - College ordered to promote professor who spoke out with Christian views

Dr. Mike Adams is a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  He was hired in 1993 and became an associate professor in 1998.  When he was hired, he was an atheist, but things changed in 2000, according to a report on the ChristianNews.net website.

That year, he became a born-again Christian, and his worldview began to change. He became a columnist for TownHall.com and also appeared on radio and television broadcasts, where he spoke about a broad spectrum of issues, from religion to morality to freedom of speech.

However, Adams’ conversion to Christianity and his outspokenness on current events drew some opposition, as some, including the atheist who was appointed to head the department in which he served, disagreed with his views and manner of presentation.  In 2006, when he was up for consideration of a promotion to full professor status, Adams was denied.

Therefore, in 2007, Adams filed suit, contending that university officials discriminated against him because of his Christian beliefs. In 2010, a District Court ruled against Adams, who then appealed his case to the 4th Circuit. In April of the following year, the court ruled that Adams provided sufficient evidence to warrant a trial, which was held last month.

At the conclusion of the trial, the jury agreed with attorneys for Adams, concluding that he was unjustly denied a promotion because of the views he expressed in print and broadcast media, which were protected by the First Amendment.   This week, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Southern Division, ordered the school to promote Adams and to pay him $50,000 in back pay after the jury's decision.

1 - Students urged to speak out on God's plan for relationships on Day of Dialogue

This week, students across America were scheduled to participate in the Day of Dialogue, a student-led event that encourages young people to enter the conversation about controversial, but important, subjects already being discussed among their peers and promoted in their schools. Focus on the Family sponsors the event.

CitizenLink quotes Candi Cushman, education analyst for Focus on the Family, as saying that, "The student guide has a lot of resources – tips for students on how to have a successful event, a legal section that explains their rights and, of course, the free speech tools...Day of Dialogue helps students give a balanced perspective on the difficult issues of the day.”

She said, “As we have seen from headlines in recent weeks, it does require great courage in this culture of spiritual relativism to acknowledge the existence of redemptive truth."

The Day of Dialogue website says that there are 7 guiding principles for the day.  In the relationships area, the components are: having healthy relationships, developing a healthy identity, and protecting others.   The sexuality area covers experiencing God's best for sexuality and understanding why gender is important.   And, the spirituality principles include: realizing that God cares and having a relationship with God.

What was formerly known as the Day of Truth became the Day of Dialogue in 2011, according to the Focus on the Family website.  At the time, Cushman said that the program's name change reflected a key goal of equipping students with an opportunity to articulate a Christian perspective. She said, "We're trying to raise awareness that more than one side needs to be heard on the issue of homosexuality, and we're helping to ensure Christian students have the chance to express their viewpoint...What is freedom of speech, after all, but a guarantee of the right to have dialogue?"

She was quoted as saying that she believed dialogue is more helpful than staying silent on this meaningful issue, which is what Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's Day of Silence encourages. Day of Silence was held this past Friday, April 11.  Cushman pointed out that, "Silence is a media op, but dialogue is a learning op."

Sunday, April 06, 2014

The 3 - April 6, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, includes a major conference on the West Coast which was designed to inspire and inform leaders.   Also, this week, there has been discussion about the resignation of a high-profile, high-tech CEO who was forced to step down due to his support of traditional marriage.  And, the top story involves a court ruling regarding the right of churches to rent public school buildings in New York City.

3 - High-profile Christian speakers challenge leaders at Catalyst West

According to its website, Catalyst was conceived as a Next Generation Leaders Conference in 1999 by Andy Stanley, Reggie Joiner, John Maxwell, Lanny Donoho and several young leaders. Catalyst was created to meet the felt need that existed within the church leader space for a leadership event that was focused on a new generation of church leaders. Everything within this space seemed built around a forty to sixty year old mindset and medium. This team was convinced that this needed to change.

Since its beginnings with a gathering at North Point Community Church in Atlanta, over 100,000 leaders have made the annual trek to Atlanta to participate in the Catalyst Conference experience, and this October, once again over 12,000 young leaders are expected to gather to experience Catalyst up close. This past week, the Catalyst West conference was held at Mariners' Church in Orange County, California, and another conference will convene in Dallas later this month.

Speakers at the latest event, which drew over 4,000 people, according to a report on the Christian Post website, included Frances Chan, Matt Chandler, Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, Jim Collins, and Jud Wilhite.  

Catalyst President Brad Lomenick is quoted as saying that, "We were praying that for every leader here this would be a bench mark for them or a marker on the road of leadership for them."  He said that he hopes leaders would be able to look back at the conference and say that it was a significant turning point in their lives.

Lomenick also said, "There's so much hope we can still have in the present regardless of circumstances...We love this idea that we should be hopeful leaders, encouraging and more excited about tomorrow, but equally present in today. Part of the reason that we created an environment at Catalyst that is fun and is hopeful is to give people permission to enjoy and find joy in the present."

2 - Christians stand with CEO forced to resign over traditional marriage support

I've been searching the Internet for something that could clue me in to why the recently-appointed CEO of the Mozilla, which is known for the Firefox web browser, gave $1000 in support of Proposition 8, the marriage amendment in California.  That donation raised the ire of a vocal group of people who called for his resignation, which he tendered earlier this week.  Even though I see no identification with a Christian church or organization, the set of circumstances has resonated with some in the Christian community, who are crying foul in this case, where an apparent litmus test was instituted for Brendan Eich, who was appointed to run the company of which he has been a leading participant for many years.

Terry Mattingly over at the Get Religion blog said he was waiting for the "religion shoe to drop."   He says that:
Right now, the framing for this story is that his actions were anti-gay, not pro-something, something doctrinally and legally different.
Over at the normally gay-news-driven New York Times, this story is not receiving major attention. A “Bits” feature in the business pages does provide an interesting summary of the raging debates surrounding this case, including the fact that some liberals — including some in the gay community — are quite upset with the illiberal campaign by many “liberals” to punish Mozilla, while making Eich an untouchable in the highly influential tech world.
He mentions that the article also noted that Eich has consistently stressed, and so far no one has contradicted this, that he was committed to inclusiveness in the Mozilla workplace and had never discriminated.  However, Mattingly points out that Eich has also asked not to be judged for his “private beliefs.”  He says that, "In a way, that is also interesting in that fierce defenders of the First Amendment have long argued for free expression, even in public (with others, yes, having the right to freely protest in return)."

The Get Religion blogger says that over on the other side of the Atlantic, The Telegraph dug a bit deeper and published a few additional facts that have also appeared — with interpretation — in the comments pages on many of the gay-press coverage of Eich’s fall. Here is the crucial passage:
The father of five responded to allegations of homophobia levelled at him over the donation in a blog post refusing to discuss his involvement with the campaign, which was initially passed but later overturned by the US Supreme Court. …
In an interview this week with the Guardian Eich refused to be drawn on his stance on gay rights. “I don’t want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we’ve been going,” he said. “I don’t believe they’re relevant.” He said his donation to the campaign was “personal” and said Mozilla’s code of conduct formalised the principle of “keeping anything that’s not central to our mission out of our office”.
Prior to his short spell as CEO, the Pittsburgh-born programmer studied maths and computer science at Santa Clara University before working on network and operating system code at Silicon Graphics.
Mattingly points out that Santa Clara is a campus in Silicon Valley. It is a Jesuit university, too. Both pieces of that equation many turn out to be relevant in this ongoing story.

Dr. Robert George from Princeton, a co-author of the Manhattan Declaration, wrote this on the First Things website
Now that the bullies have Eich’s head as a trophy on their wall, they will put the heat on every other corporation and major employer. They will pressure them to refuse employment to those who decline to conform their views to the new orthodoxy. And you can also bet that it won’t end with same-sex marriage. Next, it will be support for the pro-life cause that will be treated as moral turpitude in the same way that support for marriage is treated. Do you believe in protecting unborn babies from being slain in the womb? Why, then: “You are a misogynist. You are a hater of women. You are a bigot. We can’t have a person like you working for our company.” And there will be other political and moral issues, too, that will be treated as litmus tests for eligibility for employment. The defenestration of Eich by people at Mozilla for dissenting from the new orthodoxy on marriage is just the beginning.
Isn't it odd that a company that espouses so-called "equality" and "tolerance" did not support its new CEO's rights to express his opinion?

1 - Court ruling allows NYC schools to refuse to lease space to churches

Another chapter in the 20-year struggle for local churches to have the right to lease space in public school buildings in New York City concluded this past week, as a 2-1 decision in the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals said that a policy of prohibiting churches from gathering in schools “was consistent with its constitutional duties.” So the court has spoken that schools in the city can now legally ban churches from holding services in buildings outside of school hours, according to a report on the ChristianHeadlines.com website.

The piece quotes New York Times, which reported that the new policy will allow religious and community organizations to use buildings for programs after hours, but not as a “house of worship.”

In 2012, U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska had ruled against the ban, under the argument that holding a worship service in a school did not associate that establishment with a particular religion; Thursday’s decision overturned Preska’s ruling.

The church involved in the dispute, the Bronx Household of Faith, believes that the policy is in violation of its right to worship freely without government interference, according to a report on the Charisma News site.

Jordan Lorence, attorney to Bronx Household of Faith, was disappointed in the outcome of the decision, but said that the church will now consider appealing to the circuit bench or taking the case to the Supreme Court.

But, just because the court has ruled that schools can refuse to rent to churches, that doesn't mean that they will, and a leading voice against the ban, Councilman Fernando Cabrera is quoted on the Capital website as saying that, "The Mayor with a single swipe of his pen can offer immediate relief to thousands of his fellow New Yorkers who now face the prospect of not knowing if they will have a place to celebrate the Easter or Passover holiday."

This week, according to that website, Mayor Bill de Blasio reiterated his belief that church groups should be able to use school facilities, in the wake of that decision.

After saying his administration's corporation counsel, Zachary Carter, would review the ruling and "assess from there," the mayor sided with religious organizations who have sued for the right to hold services in public schools on weekends.

He said, "I stand by my belief that a faith organization playing by the same rules as any community nonprofit deserves access...They have to go through the same application process, wait their turn for space, pay the same rent, but I think they deserve access."

He said the non-secular groups "play a very, very important role in terms of providing social services and other important community services and I think they deserve that right."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 3 - March 30, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, includes some significant activity of movies with a Bible component that have done rather well at the box office.  Also, 2 companies were before the nation's highest court this week challenging a law that forces them to provide drugs that violate their religious beliefs, in that they could cause abortion.  And, the top story involves a major Christian charity which dramatically changed its employee policy this week to include same-sex married couples, only to reverse the decision 2 days later.

3 - Movies with Biblical components score at box office

There's a new theatrical box office champion, and it's not even close.   The new adaptation of the Biblical story of "Noah" exceeded $40 million over the weekend, according to estimates at BoxOfficeMojo.com. And, in what I would regard as a surprise, another movie with Biblical themes remained in the box office top 5: "God's Not Dead", which apparently came close to equalling its take from last weekend, has now exceeded $20 million.  And, factor in the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey movie, "Son of God", which took in another million and was #2 at the box office just about a month ago, and you have an impressive display of faith-related themes at the box office.

Of course, in the Christian community, there has been plenty of discussion about the "Noah" film from director Darren Aronofsky.   Some Christian leaders are seeing this as a great sign that Hollywood might be paying attention to the faith audience, even with an embellished version of a Biblical narrative.   It is being seen as an opportunity perhaps to open doors about the real story of Noah and its implications regarding salvation and God's mercy.   But, others are put off by the liberties that the filmmakers took with the Biblical story, missing the mark on the real meaning of the narrative.

My wife and I have had plenty of discussion about the film, even though neither of us have seen it.  I'm fascinated by the abundance of opinion that is out there, that can be healthy as long as it doesn't become divisive.  She made me aware of Ed Stetzer's series featuring comments and analysis from Dr. Jerry Johnson, President and CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, who worked with the studio to craft a disclaimer that appeared on promotional materials saying that the film was "inspired" by the Noah story in the Bible.   Here are Dr. Johnson's 5 positives and 5 negatives regarding the film:

5 Positives:


Noah's context among all films is positive.

Noah knows its place among Bible films.
Johnson points out that Aronofsky is known for films that have a maverick and mystic quality, and that "Noah" is no different. 
 
Noah follows the basic plotline of the biblical story.
Human beings have brought much evil on the earth, God judges through a flood, Noah's family is saved from the destruction through the ark, and the human race begins again upon a renewed earth.  Johnson says, "It is nice to see the main lines of the biblical narrative portrayed dramatically.

Noah takes some key Gospel doctrines seriously.
He believes that the concepts of sin and judgment are front and center throughout the whole film. Johnson says that Noah, Methuselah, and the heroic characters of this movie all affirm God as the Creator and just Judge. 

Noah takes some textual elements literally.
He points out that the flood scenes are compelling and appear to represent a global, rather than a local, flood.  He also says that the ark in Noah is a big box measured to biblical specifications, not shaped like a boat as seen in Sunday school literature and so many other evangelical representations. 


Noah's main character does not ring true.
He says that Aronofsky's Noah becomes so disturbed by human sinfulness that he obsesses on the idea that the race should not survive. God must be using the hero's family just to save the animal kingdom and then mankind will die out.

He adds, "The portrayal of Noah during this part of the movie is so dark that you do not want to like him."

The environmental agenda is overdone.
While showing images of war, violence, theft, and sexual sin, the main evil of humankind according to "Noah" is the abuse of the environment, according to Johnson, but the message may have been moderated during the editing process.

The theistic evolution scene will be a concern for many.
This is a reference to Noah's retelling of the creation story to his family, referring to the Creator, but the visuals point to evolution.  However, Johnson says, "That cinematic slight-of-hand notwithstanding, there is a clean break in the cycle when Noah speaks of the first man and woman. They just appear hand in hand, no anthropoid halfling in between."

The Nephilim concept seems convoluted.
Johnson cites what is called a "CliffsNotes" summary: The "Watchers" helped mankind with technology; humans abused it for evil; God cursed the angels for this and turned them into rock giants; these fallen angels help Noah build and defend the ark; when they die in the battle against the bad guys, the mysterious beings go up to heaven.

Secondary biblical details are blurred.

I think this is a great summary of pros and cons, from someone who has worked with Paramount in the marketing of the film to the Christian community.  Again, there are Christian leaders who recommend seeing the film, others who advocate staying away, and it's important that regarding this choice, as well as other choices in our lives, that we exercise spiritual discernment based on God's word, and not allow our differences over this matter to be divisive.

2 - Contraceptive and abortion pill mandate on trial at Supreme Court

Oral arguments were held at the U.S. Supreme Court this week in cases involving two companies owned by Christian families who attempt to run their businesses according to Biblical principles:  Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, who challenged the government's mandate that employers provide free contraceptives in their health care plans that could cause the termination of life in an abortion.

CitizenLink offered coverage about the proceedings before the high court, quoting Matt Bowman of the Alliance Defending Freedom, who is representing the family that owns Conestoga.  He is quoted as saying:
“The justices were extremely concerned that the government’s position is so extreme that it could force families to fund abortion and not even have their day in court, because they object and have sincere religious beliefs against that. We are hopeful and ask for your prayers that the court will protect religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.”
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty represents the Green family, who own Hobby Lobby. Barbara Green, Co-Founder of Hobby Lobby, said the company was “built on our faith and together as a family.”

“We’ve kept that tradition for more than 40 years, and we want to continue to live out our faith in the way we do business,” she said after the hearing. “We are thankful that the Supreme Court has heard our case, and we prayerfully await the justices’ decision.”   Her husband, CEO David Green, said that the company could face crippling fines over $1 million per day if the outcome of the lawsuit is negative.

Cathy Ruse, Family Research Council senior fellow for legal studies, was also in the courtroom.

“After listening to the oral arguments today,” she said, “I am cautiously optimistic that a majority of the court understands that a family’s choice to make a living shouldn’t mean giving up your religious freedom.”

I interviewed David Cortman of ADF and Erin Mersino of the Thomas More Law Center (which has almost 2 dozen clients challenging the mandate), who offered their viewpoints of the proceedings.

1 - World Vision shifts employee policy on gay marriage, the rescinds decision

I would say that many in the evangelical community were stunned at the announcement on Monday that international Christian relief organization World Vision had changed their employee policy to include those who were in same-sex marriage relationships.

WORLD News Group reported that many evangelical leaders lambasted the decision as a severe compromise of the authority of Scripture. Christian author and ministry leader John Piper called the move “a tragic development for the cause of Christ, because it trivializes perdition—and therefore, the cross …”

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission noted that afternoon: “We’re entering an era where we will see who the evangelicals really are, and by that I mean those who believe in the gospel itself. … And many will shrink back.”

But, as WORLD said, by Wednesday afternoon, World Vision had shrunk back from its decision. The ministry announced that it would reverse the new policy, and apologized for the “pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to biblical authority.”

WORLD said that as the development broke, some Christians expressed continued confusion over the massive shift in thinking over the course of 48 hours, and concerns over the judgment of the ministry’s leaders.

In a Thursday morning interview, Moore said those concerns are fair, and that Christians should watch carefully how events unfold: “But we should do that with a hermeneutic of charity—of being willing to take an apology that comes from an organization that says it did something wrong.”   Moore did add that Christians should remain discerning about any organization they support, and the fact that a longtime Christian organization had been “willing to barter away gospel orthodoxy on such a crucial gospel point is a warning signal to us about the kind of culture we live in.”

Assemblies of God general superintendent George O. Wood had urged members of the denomination to begin shifting their support away from World Vision in the wake of the original announcement.  Wood did applaud the group’s reversal and encouraged members to reinstate support to the child sponsorship program.

As World Vision moves forward, it will have to regain the trust of those who are skeptical of the leadership of an organization would make such a decision as the original policy change.   This series of events can also serve to challenge Christians to be discerning about the ministry associations in which they engage.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The 3 - March 23, 2014

This week in my week-in-review feature, "The 3", more court action concerning same-sex marriage, as another singular Federal judge has decided that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional in another state.  Also, a Christian professor who had been denied a promotion, allegedly because of his Christian beliefs, was granted a positive outcome by a jury.  And, the top story involves the progress of pro-life legislation in several states, the week after a pro-life bill was dealt a setback over a week ago.

3 - Another Federal judge rules a state marriage amendment unconstitutional

Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer are two lesbians from Michigan who want to get married. They also wish to adopt one another's children - three children who have special needs. But, they can't jointly adopt each other's children because joint adoption in the state is tied to - marriage. So, they went to court in 2012 to overturn Michigan’s ban on joint adoptions by same-sex couples.   The WORLD website has a report.

Out of that case came a ruling by a Federal judge this week that struck down Michigan's constitutional amendment, approved by 59 percent of voters, that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman released his 31-page ruling exactly two weeks after the rare trial that mostly focused on the impact of same-sex parenting on children. Attorneys for the state said during the trial that the plaintiffs, a Detroit-area lesbian couple, were great parents. Nevertheless, the state urged the judge to respect the results of that 2004 election when the marriage amendment was approved.

Judge Friedman stated that, “Many Michigan residents have religious convictions whose principles govern the conduct of their daily lives and inform their own viewpoints about marriage...Nonetheless, these views cannot strip other citizens of the guarantees of equal protection under the law.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette is quoted as saying that he would immediately ask a federal appeals court to freeze Friedman’s decision and prevent same-sex couples from marrying while he appeals the case.

The Windsor case decision from last summer, overturning a portion of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, has continued to open the door for marriage amendments to be overturned in various states.  Seventeen states and the District of Columbia issue licenses for same-sex marriage. Since December, bans on gay marriage have been overturned in Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia, but those rulings have been put on hold pending appeal.

2 - Jury finds Christian professor experienced discrimination

There was an encouraging court ruling in the area of academic freedom issued this past week, according to a report on the CitizenLink website.

Dr. Mike Adams was hired at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington in 1993 and promoted to associate professor in 1998. He became a Christian two years later. He then began sharing his faith in published columns. After that, he was turned down for a full professorship, despite his exemplary record as a professor.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Allied Attorney Travis Barham said that university officials had "...passed along false and misleading information about his academic record, explicitly considered the content of his protected speech in promotion documents...and — incredibly — allowed a professor who’d filed a false criminal complaint against Dr. Adams to cast a vote against his application.”

In 2011, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that: “No individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.”

Last year, a federal court found sufficient evidence to have a trial. This happened after an appeals court determined the First Amendment protects the views Adams published in opinion columns with which university officials disagreed.

Lead counsel David French with the American Center for Law and Justice praised the jury verdict.

“We’re grateful the jury determined what we have long known to be true — that the university violated Dr. Adams’ constitutional rights when it denied his promotion,” he said. “This is an important victory for academic freedom and the First Amendment.”

1 - States continue to consider limitations on abortion, Federal judge rules AR fetal heartbeat abortion ban unconstitutional

Even though a Federal judge struck down the portion of an Arkansas law over a week ago that provides that an abortion cannot be performed involving an unborn child who has a detectable heartbeat and is at 12 weeks' gestation or greater, there are still provisions of the bill that remain in place.  And, more pro-life legislation is advancing in other states.

LifeNews.com reports that Arkansas may still require testing for a heartbeat before performing abortion and, when a heartbeat is detected, require disclosure to the mother that her unborn child possesses a heartbeat.

In striking down the abortion ban, the court cited U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding viability of the unborn child as the point when the government may prohibit abortion in some cases. This rule is often called the “viability rule.” Viability is not a precise event but usually occurs, in the current state of medical development, around 24 weeks of pregnancy. The Arkansas heartbeat law banned abortions at 12 weeks when a heartbeat was detected. Therefore, the district court ruled that the law violated Supreme Court precedent.

LifeNews.com points out that this ruling is a victory for advocates seeking to protect unborn children by requiring that mothers considering abortion be informed if their unborn babies possess a heartbeat.

In other pro-life news, legislation to stop abortions after the point at which the unborn child can feel pain was introduced in the Minnesota Senate this week. The measure would prohibit the taking of the lives of innocent unborn children at 20 weeks from conception, approximately the point at which scientists have determined that an unborn child can feel pain.

Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), is quoted by LifeNews.com as saying that, “For far too long, Minnesota’s abortionists have been inflicting unconscionable suffering on unborn babies by killing them when they are already extraordinarily developed and pain-sensitive,. “It is illegal to treat animals in such a brutal way; this bill will finally protect unborn children at 20 weeks and older from the torturous pain of abortion.”

And, the website reports that in South Carolina, the House has approved a similar bill that would enact a 20-week abortion ban.  Meanwhile, in Alabama, legislation that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected is still awaiting action before the state Senate, part of a 4-bill package of pro-life bills that have already passed the House.  The Alabama Legislature is in recess this coming week.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The 3 - March 16, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3", includes some news from 2 mainline denominations - a large California church is moving from one Presbyterian denomination to another, and a United Methodist bishop in New York has decided he will not allow church trials for ministers who violate church law and perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.  And, the top story involves news surrounding religious freedom in the military - this time, a cadet leader at the Air Force Academy had a Scripture verse removed from the whiteboard outside his room.

3 - Large California church approved to leave its denomination

A story that has been developing for some time now is nearing its conclusion, as the departure of California's Menlo Park Presbyterian Church from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., has been approved.

It took place on Tuesday, when the Presbytery of San Francisco approved the congregation’s request for dismissal by a voice vote. The church, whose Senior Pastor is noted author John Orterg, will now begin the formal transfer process into another Presbyterian denomination, ECO, according to a press release issued by the church and linked to the website, Layman.org.  

On Sunday, March 2, members of the church voted to request the transfer. About 64% of the church’s members participated in the vote, with 93%, or 2,024 members, voting to approve the motion. There were 158 members who voted to oppose the motion.

Ortberg is quoted as saying, “This has been a spiritual journey of discernment for our church...I’m grateful
for the learning, praying, and engagement of the whole congregation, including those who voted for a different outcome. We are committed to moving forward together in fulfilling our mission as we discern God calling us.”  The church and Presbytery agreed upon dismissal terms of $8.89 million, in order for the church to be dismissed with title to its property.

The church noted that the reasons for its Session’s recommendation to change denomination fell under four key areas: identity, mission, governance and property. As a multisite church seeking to open five new campuses in the next five years, MPPC leaders felt that ECO’s flexible, innovative denominational structure would best help the church achieve its mission.

The Blaze reported that in a document published by Menlo Park last year, leaders described their reasons for seeking a split with the PCUSA, noting that the church’s “evangelical identity around who Jesus is and our understanding of the authority of scripture are increasingly out of alignment” with the denomination as a whole.

Specifically, the church expressed concern that many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) leaders do not believe in the deity of Jesus, nor do they embrace salvation through Christ. The Blaze article points out that these are central tenets of most mainstream Christian churches, leading to a difficult ideological splintering.

2 - United Methodist bishop refuses to hold church trial of minister who performed same-sex wedding

Within the United Methodist denomination, there has been quite a bit of wrestling with the topic of homosexuality, and events this week may cause a heightened level of concern regarding ministers who perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.   According to a report on the Christianity Today website, Bishop Martin McLee of New York committed to end all church trials dealing with ministers who perform such ceremonies, even though they violate the church's Book of Discipline.

McLee wrote in a statement that, "The just resolution provisions of the Book of Discipline are clear in voicing just resolution as the preferred response in Judicial Administration...Church trials produce no winners."   He committed to "a cessation of church trials for conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions or performing same-gender wedding ceremonies and instead offer a process of theological, spiritual and ecclesiastical conversation."

Thomas W. Ogletree, a minister who performed a marriage ceremony for his son and partner in 2002, was set to go on trial.   The cancellation of his and future church trials under this Bishop's jurisdiction was, according to CT, frustrating for those who support the Methodist Book of Discipline, which affirms "the sanctity of the marriage covenant … between a man and a woman."

Randy Paige, one of the pastors who brought the complaint against Ogletree, wrote in a statement, "The impact of this settlement today will be that faithful United Methodists who support the church's teachings will feel ignored and will face their own crisis of conscience, as to whether they can continue to support a church that will not abide by its own rules...Far from avoiding schism, today's settlement increases the probability that schism will take place."

Tom Lambrecht, vice president of the conservative Good News ministry, agreed. "When certain parts of the church decide they can no longer live according to church teachings, you've got an intolerable situation in the church," he told the Boston Globe.

Also this week, according to a report on the Religion News Service website, complaints were filed against retired United Methodist Bishop Melvin Talbert, who officiated at an October 25th ceremony in Birmingham, even after the local bishop and the executive committee of the Council of Bishops urged Talbert not to go ahead with the ceremony.

The denomination’s Council of Bishops had requested complaints be filed against Talbert. According to the complaints lodged with the bishops in the denomination’s Western region, Talbert is alleged to have “violated the sacred trust of his office.”

1 - Controversy at the Air Force Academy over cadet writing Scripture on whiteboard

Questions over religious freedom in the military are continuing to proliferate, and the flame was fanned this week in the aftermath of an incident involving a cadet leader at the U.S. Air Force Academy, who had written the text of Galatians 2:20 on the whiteboard outside his room.   The message was removed, apparently as the result of a complaint filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, according to a report by Todd Starnes for the FoxNews.com website.

The head of the MRFF, Mikey Weinstein, told Starnes, "It clearly elevated one religious faith [fundamentalist Christianity] over all others at an already virulently hyper-fundamentalist Christian institution...It massively poured fundamentalist Christian gasoline on an already raging out-of-control conflagration of fundamentalist Christian tyranny, exceptionalism and supremacy at USAFA."

Starnes reports that exactly two hours and nine minutes after Weinstein complained to Air Force Academy Superintendent Michelle Johnson, the Bible verse was erased from the cadet leader’s whiteboard. Johnson said in a written statement that the verse was removed because there was a “potential perception” problem.

The removal of the Bible verse led what Starnes referred to as "a small uprising among cadets."  At least a dozen posted Bible verses on their personal white boards and some even went so far as to post passages from the Koran. Those verses were not removed, presumably because the cadets were not in leadership positions.

Family Research Council reports that the incident at the Air Force Academy has been aired in the halls of Congress. At a hearing before a House committee, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Walsh were originally scheduled to talk about branch spending until some lawmakers demanded a detailed explanation of the events that unfolded at the Academy. Representatives from Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) to Democrat Mike McIntyre (N.C.) took turns grilling the duo on the incident.

The Restore Military Religious Freedom coalition, a group of two dozen like-minded religious liberty organizations, announced Thursday that they are ready to offer assistance to any Air Force Academy cadet who faces repercussions for writing Bible verses on their hallway whiteboards.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The 3 - March 9, 2014

On this edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, some coverage of the resignation, from the ministry he founded, of a Christian leader who has had millions attend his seminars.  Also, new regulations on religious expression in the workplace have been handed down from a Federal agency.  And, big news this week for a German homeschool family that has been living in America - their case to stay was rejected by the Supreme Court, but in roughly a day's time, they experienced a stunning reveral of circumstances.

3 - Legendary Institute in Basic Life Principles leader suspended, resigns

I remember that when I was teenager, members of the youth group at my church all travelled to downtown Atlanta to hear a gentlemen speak on Biblical principles.  I was stunned to see the old Omni arena full of people coming together for what was then called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts.   I remember the red notebook that was full of principles and black-and-white cartoon drawings.   I am thinking that I returned the following summer, as well.   What an incredible impact the teaching of Bill Gothard has made on so many people!  Through what is now called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, thousands have experienced a deeper walk with Jesus Christ.   More than 2.5 million people are estimated to have attended a Bill Gothard seminar, according to a recent article on the WORLD website, which stated that Mr. Gothard has resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) and from its board and affiliates.

The announcement came Thursday night in a letter to families associated with the IBLP’s Advanced Training Institute from David Waller, ATI’s administrative director.

Gothard’s resignation comes just days after IBLP’s board of directors placed its longtime leader on “administrative leave” while it investigated claims that the 79-year-old years ago engaged in sexual harassment and other misconduct.

The accusations against Gothard became public as a result of the work of Recovering Grace, which has statements from 34 women regarding incidents dating back to their youth in the 1970s and thereafter.

In Waller’s letter, neither Gothard nor the organization admitted wrongdoing. “Mr. Gothard communicated to the Board of Directors his desire to follow Matthew 5:23-24 and listen to those who have ‘ought against’ him,” Waller wrote. “To give his full attention to this objective, Mr. Gothard resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, its Board of Directors, and its affiliated entities. The Board of Directors expects to appoint interim leadership for IBLP in the very near future.”

The apostle Paul writes about the importance of finishing strong.  If the current trajectory continues, that may not be the case for Bill Gothard.  Since the allegations deal with activity dating back to the 70's, there would have been ample opportunity for repentance to occur.  The IBLP statement did not admit that any wrongdoing took place, and I would hope that would be the case.  But, if not, perhaps it is not too late to restore some of the lost reputation of this man and his ministry that has touched so many lives by an admission of wrong, an expression of a desire for restoration, and the necessary steps to help make things right.

2 - EEOC guidelines changed to allow more religious accommodations

The number of complaints and million-dollar settlements for cases of religious workplace discrimination neared record levels in 2013, according to a piece on the Religion News Service website.  Therefore, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued new, detailed new guidelines for employers on religious rights and responsibilities in the workplace.

An EEOC spokesperson, Justine Lisser, said that complaints have more than doubled since 1997.   Lisser also said that representatives of religious groups have asked for more EEOC outreach in this area.  There have been guidelines in the past but the EEOC spelled out workplace rights and responsibilities in a new question-and-answer guide and accompanying fact sheet.

The new guidelines detail how businesses with more than 15 employees must accommodate workers with “sincerely” held religious beliefs — and unbelievers who “sincerely” refuse religious garb or insignia. For instance, businesses cannot refuse to interview a Sikh with a turban or a Christian wearing a cross. Neither can they limit where employees work because of their religious dress.

The guidelines cited multiple examples including three settled in 2013:
Title VII, which is enforced by the EEOC, “defines religion very broadly to include not only traditional, organized religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, but also religious beliefs that are new, uncommon, not part of a formal church or sect, only subscribed to by a small number of people, or may seem illogical or unreasonable to others.”

The rules apply to the sincerely unreligious as well, as long as these views relate to “what is right or wrong that are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.”
This could be viewed as a welcome clarification of religious rights in the workplace.  It will be interesting to see how these will be implemented and if this could lead to more freedom for religious expression in a work setting.

1 - German homeschool family can stay in the U.S. after case rejected by Supreme Court

The week began for the German homeschool family who had been fighting to stay in America by having their case rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.    However, the Romeike family was granted "indefinite deferred status" by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a report in the "Gleanings" section of the Christianity Today website.

The family had fled to the United States from Germany and received asylum in 2010 after being severely penalized for illegally homeschooling their children in their home country. The family was threatened on multiple occasions, fined about $10,000, and had three children forcibly removed from home and driven to school by police, according to the brief.

After they had initially been granted asylum, the Romeikes lost every case after that, eventually ending up at the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court decided against taking the case on Monday, the Home School Legal Defense Association promised not to give up but to look for another way.

Jim Mason, HSLDA attorney, said that even though the Supreme Court thought that the family wasn't entitled to asylum under current law, the Department of Homeland Security apparently doesn't want to send them back to Germany.  He told CT that the organization is working on legislation that would make it possible for others to come to the United States if they're facing similar circumstances. He said that, "The denial of certiorari from the Supreme Court makes it more difficult for other families to come in the same ways the Romeikes did.  He added that the deferred status makes it possible for the Romeikes to stay without worries in the future.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, is quoted as saying, in response to the Supreme Court denial, "Educating one's children according to one's religious convictions is a human right...Sending this family back to Germany is the repudiation of a great American heritage. This should remind us of how imperiled religious liberty is at home and around the world."

Sunday, March 02, 2014

The 3 - March 2, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, a report on yet another Federal judge that has taken a state marriage law to task.  And, news from the movies, where a depiction of the life of Jesus came in a strong second for the opening weekend.  Also, the studio responsible for another movie based on a Biblical story has agreed to place a disclaimer on its marketing materials.  The top story involves a religious freedom bill that came under fire in Arizona and was eventually vetoed by the governor there.

3 - Federal judge rules Texas marriage amendment unconstitutional

The parade of largely conservative states who have had their marriage amendments struck down by aggressive Federal judges continued to march on this week, as Federal Judge Orlando Garcia ruled against the Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The ruling will not go into effect while the case is appealed.

CitizenLink quotes Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz as saying that the ruling by Judge Garcia is “the most egregious form of judicial activism of our generation...This hollow victory and clear attack on morality and the rule of law will not stand in Texas.”

Saenz is quoted as saying that, “This is just the beginning of an epic battle that the Texas people will ultimately win in name of the only true and lawful definition of marriage: one man, one woman.”

And this week, a Federal judge issued an order supporting his declaration over 2 weeks ago that the state of Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Judge John G. Heyburn refused to put his ruling on hold pending an appeal

2 - Faith at the movies: "Son of God" soars, studio adds disclaimer for "Noah"

The initial movie box office indicators are in, and after a close head-to-head race on Friday, the film featuring excerpts from the enormously successful miniseries, "The Bible," on the History Channel, has apparently vaulted over the $25 million mark - "Son of God" will likely finish second for the weekend, a few million dollars behind the new Liam Neeson film, "Non-Stop", according to BoxOfficeMojo.com  At the time of this posting, it appears that "Son of God" will take the #1 slot at the box office for Sunday.  "Non-Stop" opened up the tight box office race with a significantly stronger performance on Saturday.  

"Son of God," produced by reality show producer Mark Burnett and his wife, Roma Downey, who portrays Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the film, was aided by churches who stepped up to buy out entire theaters for showings of the film.   The film opened on well over 3,200 screens across the nation.

Meanwhile, NRB - National Religious Broadcasters - has reached an agreement with Paramount Pictures, the studio responsible for the new "Noah" film, to place an explanatory message in marketing materials.

According to the NRB.org website, the move follows an appeal by Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, President & CEO of NRB, to help audiences better understand that the feature film is a dramatization of the major scriptural themes and not a line-by-line retelling of the Bible story.

Future marketing materials, including a soon-to-be released online trailer, the film’s official website, and 100% of print and radio, as well as a percentage of the film’s online and broadcast, will contain the following explanatory message:
"The film is inspired by the story of Noah.
While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.
The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis."
Paramount Pictures' Vice Chairman, Rob Moore, is quoted as saying that, "We are deeply appreciative of Dr. Johnson’s efforts to bring this idea to us...Our goal has been to take every measure we can to ensure moviegoers have the information they need before deciding to buy a ticket to see the film. We are very proud of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. We think audiences all over the world will enjoy this epic film.”

Adding to that, Dr. Johnson said, "It is a significant and welcome development when a leading Hollywood studio like Paramount makes a major film about a story from the Bible."

1 - Arizona religious freedom bill goes down with governor's veto

On Wednesday this week, at the end of a media firestorm that included alleged misrepresentations of a religious freedom bill that was intended to prevent discrimination against people of faith, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, citing, among other things, the possibility of unintended consequences.  The bill was intended to extend protections under Arizona's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1999, to businesses.

Alliance Defending Freedom had a hand in drafting the bill, and ADF's Kellie Fiodorek, in a piece on the Townhall.com website, stated that the bill, SB 1062, "merely clarifies Arizona’s existing law to protect Arizonans from any attempt by the government to force them to speak or act in ways that violate their religious beliefs. It safeguards freedom by closing loopholes that have allowed other state governments to punish private citizens for living and working according to their convictions."

She points out that, "Despite the simple, commonsense purpose of the bill, its opponents have turned it into something it is not. It would not allow a business owner to refuse someone a meal or a taxi ride. There’s a key distinction between selling someone paint and allowing the government to force you to paint a mural with a message that violates your deepest beliefs. This bill prevents the government from violating people’s dignity by forcing them to act or speak contrary to their religious convictions. It does not grant license for just anything at all."

ADF Senior Counsel Doug Napier said that, “Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed. Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona. Even though the battle has become more difficult, Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend any Arizonan who suffers the indignity of religious discrimination.”

The veto came after eleven prominent law professors from a wide variety of backgrounds sent a letter to Governor Brewer in support of the bill. The group included both Republicans and Democrats and those who both oppose and support redefining marriage, but all of them believe the bill “has been egregiously misrepresented by many of its critics,” their letter says.

Napier explained, “As these legal scholars rightly point out, the misrepresentations about the bill have been egregious...It has nothing to with refusing someone a sandwich. It has everything to do with making Arizona a safe place for people to freely live out their faith. The falsehoods need to be exposed for what they are.”

Some excellent comments about the Arizona religious freedom bill situation can be found in my conversation with Stuart Shepard, of CitizenLink, a public policy partner of Focus on the Family.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The 3 - February 23, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes an annual event sponsored by international relief organization World Vision, where young people go without food in order to identify with those who are hungry around the world.   Also, the Winter Olympic Games have provided excellent venues through which the good news of the gospel of Christ is being shared.  And, the top story involves Christian communicators from around the world coming together to learn, grow, be inspired, and gain a greater connection with others who share in that unique call.

3 - Thousands of young people stand with World Vision in "30 Hour Famine"

More than 60,000 teenagers from some 3,000 churches were expected to rally this past weekend to fight hunger and trafficking through World Vision's 30 Hour Famine and new "Childhood Lost" events, according to a World Vision press release.

The 30 Hour Famine, now in its 23rd year, brings together teens who will devote a weekend to fasting, prayer and service to fight hunger.  The teens forgo food for 30 hours and spend a weekend, usually at a church, learning about the impact of hunger on children around the world and volunteering in their own communities.   They prepare for the Famine by raising money for World Vision food and nutrition programs. Participating teens raised more than $8 million last year to fight hunger through World Vision. Since its start in 1992, teens have raised nearly $170 million through participation in the 30 Hour Famine event.

Leah Swindon, World Vision's national director for youth mobilization, says that, "Youth are an incredibly powerful community...These issues are new to many of them, but they so often respond with passion -- and with action. Every year we see them make the world a bit better because of their commitment to bringing change."

This year, World Vision also launched a new experience event to raise awareness and resources to fight child trafficking around the world. The experience, called "Childhood Lost," will revolve around a series of vigils during which students learn about trafficking around the world and solutions that World Vision is implementing to prevent trafficking before children are forced to become soldiers, laborers and sex workers.

For more information, visit www.30hourfamine.org.

2 - Sochi Olympics bring opportunities to share Christ

With athletes and spectators from all over the world converging on Sochi, Russia, the Winter Olympics provides an opportunity for the love of Christ and the good news of the gospel to be spread.  Not only do Christian Olympians have a tremendous platform through which they can share God's work in their lives, but there were a number of different avenues for ministry in and around the city.

Assist News provided an excellent profile of some of the spiritual activity surrounding the games.
It spotlights the International Christian Information Center, which is presenting daily news and other coverage of Christian and secular events at the Games. The center is run by several evangelical organizations and its team of volunteers is in Sochi for the express purpose of serving the Lord and the visitors to the games.

After church leaders Ivan Chehunov, Richard Page and Vladimir Samoilov, the primary organizers of the Christian Hospitality Center in Sochi, solemnly cut the ribbon at the entrance to the tent on February 7, the Center was open for business.

The ASSIST story mentions that an important aspect of the Olympics is unity, which is especially noticeable not only among athletes and fans but also among Christian churches. The openness of the church to society was spoken about by the senior pastor of the union of churches, Sergey Malinkin who visited the Hospitality Center in Sochi.   There was a special program organized at the Center by SOAR International Ministries and “Wave of Hope” movement.

One of the key ministry outreach tools is the Fun Zone, which is offered on the grounds of one of the local churches.   Wally Kulakoff of Russian Ministries shared with me about this gathering place, where people can come and watch the various Olympic events on large screen televisions.    Their ministry offered various types of literature, as Wally told Mission Network News: “Russian Ministries together with the Gideons International of Canada have provided literature: a magazine called ‘Hope,’ the New Testament in Russian and English, and the Gospel of John in Gospel in Russian and English.”   The Salvation Army also played a part in serving hot drinks.

Terry Veazey, working with International Sports Chaplains, also joined me on my radio show and shared with me about the personal evangelism that was taking place as the chaplains interacted with people on the streets of Sochi.  

So, as the eyes of the world have turned to Sochi, Russia, for the Winter Games, peoples' eyes have been turned toward the Lord Jesus Christ as various ministries reach out in numerous ways.

1 - Religious broadcasters journey to annual convention in Nashville

Beginning this past weekend, thousands gathered in Nashville for the National Religious Broadcasters International Christiian Media Convention. It is billed by NRB as "the world’s largest annual gathering of Christian communicators."

A NRB press release says that, "Convention participants will be exposed to new media insights, connections, resources, and opportunities that will help them and their organizations to advance."  It states that participants will "attend a broad range of educational sessions, network with like-minded individuals and organizations; and be inspired by nationally and internationally known speakers and artists."

Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, who was installed as the new President of the organization on Saturday night explains: "The NRB Convention is a 'must attend' on the calendar of many Christian media and ministry professionals...In the course of just a few days, you can make more strategic connections and gain more knowledge and resources than you might in the course of a year. It's a one-stop venue for what many need to more effectively reach people for Christ.”

The event draws a wide range of participants, including radio and TV station owners and operators, pastors, church media professionals, radio and TV program producers, college educators, students, film producers, web and mobile developers, social media managers, marketing representatives, and ministry staff members.

The Convention offers approximately 40 educational sessions led by professionals addressing topics such as fundraising, marketing, video production, social media, technology, and leadership.  On Friday, the NRB Digital Media Summit covered best practices for an effective social media presence using today's digital media tools.  Dozens of speakers are featured during the course of the Convention, and this year speakers include Ben Carson, Jack Hayford, Bryan Loritts, Eric Metaxas, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, Barbara Rainey, and Todd Starnes.  Musical guests this year include Ginny Owens, GLAD, Michael W. Smith, and Tommy Walker.

Again, this year, Faith Radio has a presence at the Convention.  Members of our ministry team are attending, and we again have a booth on the exhibit hall floor, where I am conducting interviews for The Meeting House program with some of the key speakers as well as others who are attending.   Tune in weekdays between 4 and 6 this week for our special NRB coverage.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The 3 - February 16, 2014

This week here in my week-in-review feature, I want to take a look at a key event that was being promoted to churches in association with Valentine's Day in an effort to celebrate and strengthen marriages.   Also, there was news about same-sex marriage ceremonies being performed by members of a large Christian denomination.  And, there was more news regarding the attempt to redefine marriage as something other than one-man, one-woman.

3 - Art of Marriage events scheduled at churches across America

Since 2011, some 400,000 people have discovered The Art of Marriage, a video resource from the ministry of FamilyLife.  And, this weekend, churches were being encouraged to sponsor events surrounding The Art of Marriage.  The resource has six video sessions, addressing topics such as the purpose of marriage, the drift to isolation, roles, communication, romance and sex, and legacy.  In addition to Dennis Rainey of FamilyLife and his wife, Barbara, noted experts who are featured include Paul David Tripp, who spoke to hundreds recently in a conference in Montgomery, Voddie Baucham, Mary Kassian, Crawford Loritts, his son, Bryan Loritts, and more.   Find out more about how your church can be involved by going to www.theartofmarriage.com.

Valentine's Day also marked the end of National Marriage Week, which is actually an international event that is designed to highlight the benefits of  marriage. It was begun in the the U.K. by Richard and Maria Kane. It has been a collaborative project and has the backing of a number of Christian organizations, according to a report on the Christian Today website. A huge emphasis is given to local events, which is where churches really come into their own running and hosting these and offering support and advice where necessary.

The week also provides churches with opportunities to engage and celebrate with their communities, and to launch other marriage resources and events off the back of it.

The report says that last year one and a half million people attended a Marriage Week event worldwide. Last Saturday, the organizers launched what is called the Big Promise...it was National Marriage Week's World Record attempt to get the most couples renewing their vows simultaneously.

You can learn more about the U.S. effort at the website www.nationalmarriageweekusa.org.

2 - United Methodist clergy violate denomination's ban on same-sex marriage ceremonies

Two United Methodist Church clergy of Washington state were recently suspended for a day for officiating same-sex marriage ceremonies, considered a violation of the denomination's rules, according to a report on The Christian Post website.

It was announced this week that the Rev. Cheryl A. Fear of Bellingham and Rev. Gordon Hutchins of Tacoma were suspended for 24 hours without pay for performing gay marriages in 2012.   The one-day suspensions come instead of a church trial, which would have led to the possibility of being given a heftier punishment by UMC officials.

United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

John Lomperis, the Institute on Religion & Democracy's United Methodist Action Director, told the Post that, "Such flaunting of our denomination's biblical standards is not new for this region, which has operated with a sort of ecclesial anarchy for quite a number of years."  He said, "Thanks to its liberal leadership, the Pacific-Northwest Conference has long been one of the fastest-dying UMC conference, losing a whopping 5.3 percent of its members just within the last reported year."

There's more news concerning gay marriage from the United Methodist Church.  A church trial for retired seminary dean Rev. Thomas Ogletree, set to begin March 10, has been indefinitely postponed.   Ogletree performed a same-sex weeding for his son in New York state.

Last December, Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania was defrocked for officiating his son's gay marriage back in 2007.

And, in October, UMCConnections.org reported on a same-sex ceremony performed by retired Bishop Melvin Talbert in Birmingham, in a state where gay marriage is illegal, despite being requested not to do so by the presiding bishop of the conference.   The couple were legally wed in Washington, D.C. in September.

Despite the talk about the UMC being increasingly divided over the issue, Lomperis told CP that the biblically conservative viewpoint was winning due to changing demographics.  He said, "United Methodists on both sides now admit that given the demographics of our global denomination, no General Conference in the foreseeable future is expected to change our denomination's 'on paper' affirmation of biblical teaching on marriage and sex."

1 - Same-sex marriage rulings prove discouraging for advocates of traditional marriage

Just days after the announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages and give such unions “full and equal protection, to the greatest extent under the law," two Federal judges issued rulings concerning the marriage amendments in two southern states


This week, a Federal judge struck down a part of the state of Kentucky's marriage amendment, approved by 75% of the voters there.  CitizenLink reports that the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Heyburn means Kentucky would have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or countries. He cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that struck down part of the federal marriage law. The court will set a hearing soon to discuss when the order will take effect.

And, ChristianNews.net reports that U.S. District Court Judge Arenda Wright Allen in Norfolk, Virginia struck down the marriage amendment in that state, approved by 57% of the voters. She stated in her opinion that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violated the right to due process and equal protection afforded under the U.S. Constitution.  However, Allen stayed the execution of her order pending appeal.

She asserted, “Government interests in perpetuating traditions, shielding state matters from federal interference, and favoring one model of parenting over others must yield to this country’s cherished protections that ensure the exercise of the private choices of the individual citizen regarding love and family.

There have been 4 court rulings within the past few months concerning states that are generally thought to be socially conservative - Utah, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Virginia.   These have all been handed down by singular Federal judges who are using this opportunity to attempt to redefine an institution that has been a key building block of our society.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

The 3 - February 9, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3" has been quite a challenge to put together, because there is plenty of analysis and viewpoints available.  The National Prayer Breakfast always provides some interesting fodder, and this year, with the President dealing with the topic of religious persecution and freedom of religion, there was material about which people could be gratified, but it did raise questions as you analyze some of the domestic and foreign religious liberty issues relative to the Administration.   Another story deals with the Girl Scouts of the USA, Girl Scout cookies, and the connection of the Girl Scouts to abortion.  And, the top story, of course, is the debate that took place Tuesday night between Ken Ham and Bill Nye on the validity of the creation model to explain our origins.

3 - President calls attention to religious persecution in National Prayer Breakfast speech

The National Prayer Breakfast took place in Washington, DC this week, which features not only the President making a faith-based speech, but also generally a keynote speaker who addresses faith issues.   President Obama's speech centered on religious persecution around the world, and as ChristianNews.net reports, the President called for the release of an American pastor imprisoned in Iran and a U.S. missionary serving hard labor in North Korea. He is quoted as saying that, “History shows that nations that uphold the rights of their people, including the freedom of religion, are ultimately more just and more peaceful and more successful...Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism. So, freedom of religion matters to our national security.”

During the presentation, Obama spoke publicly for the first time about the plight of those two Americans who have been seeking intervention from the U.S. government after they were punished for their Christian faith. He said, “We pray for Pastor Saeed Abedini...He's been held in Iran for more than 18 months, sentenced to eight years in prison on charges related to his Christian beliefs.” He called on the Iranian government to release Abedini, an Iranian-American who was arrested on a trip back into the country. He also said, “Let us pray for Kenneth Bae...His family wants him home, and the United States will continue to do everything in our power to secure his release.”

Bae operates a tourist company in Washington state, and was arrested in North Korea not far from the city of Yanji in November 2012, where some Christian groups provide aid to North Korean refugees.  He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

It was announced this week that Bae has been transferred from a hospital back to a labor camp in North Korea.  His sister, Terri Chung, told CNN on Saturday that her family is "deeply concerned" after learning that the imprisoned American citizen has been moved from a North Korean hospital to a labor camp.  She said, "It's just devastating...We're really discouraged and concerned."  CNN had reported that on Friday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki had said that Washington is "deeply concerned" about Bae's recent move to the labor camp.

The keynote speaker for the prayer breakfast was Rajiv Shah, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.  The Christian Post reported that Shah's speech focused on dealing with "extreme poverty" in the world, noting both the progress being made and the challenges that still remain.  He is quoted as saying, "I want to share an overarching purpose worthy of this room that has come together to follow the teachings of Jesus: Let us work together to end extreme poverty in our lifetime."

In addition to remarks by Shah and President Obama, there was a scripture reading by Bethany Hamilton, subject of the biographical film "Soul Surfer." Musical pieces were performed as well by contemporary Christian singer Steve Green and Grammy Award winning singer Yolanda Adams.

But not all were encouraged by the President's call for religious freedom.   Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council was very direct in calling out the Administration for policies that inhibit freedom of religion:
..."Freedom of religion is under threat... around the world," President Obama warned, neglecting to mention that one of its greatest threats is coming directly from the Oval Office.
When President Obama highlights religious freedom, as he did yesterday, he is doing so as the leader of the most oppressive administration in American history. While he praises religious freedom as a "universal right," more than 90 plaintiffs are in court, fighting the White House over the loss of it under ObamaCare. While he insists that human dignity cannot survive without "the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose," millions of suffering Christians around the world beg the U.S. to intervene on their behalf. While he condemns the people who would use religion to hurt others because of "who they love," the government is forcing Christian businesses to close if they won't participate in same-sex "weddings." While he sends our troops into harm's way to defend this rich legacy, thousands of service members are too worried about the backlash to exercise it themselves.
It was certainly gratifying to hear the President call for the release of Pastor Saeed and Kenneth Bae. Perkins raises valid points concerning how the Administration is pursuing policies that are resulting in Christians being required to act in a manner contradictory to their faith.

2 - Pro-life organizations voice concern over Girl Scouts-Planned Parenthood ties

Let me state at the beginning of this segment that I don't talk a whole lot about boycotts - I seldom mention boycotts on the air, but there are some in the Christian community that believe that to encourage constituents not to buy a certain product or do business with a certain retailer because of a company's position on moral issues can be an effective way to send a message.  

There is an effort that is underway that is continuing to build momentum that I believe is beginning to make inroads within the Christian community, and it's worth talking about.   I devoted quite a bit of coverage last year to the Boy Scouts of America's move away from its traditional values and its leadership voted to allow openly gay members.  That has resulted in the formation of Trail Life USA, a faith- and character-based organization for boys.   Meanwhile, did you know that the Girl Scouts of the USA have developed a rather extensive track record of partnership with the nation's largest abortion provider?

According to LifeSiteNews.com, a website has taken GSUSA to task for recommending pro-abortion role models, connecting girls to “inappropriate sexual content via official Girl Scout social media accounts,” and for sending millions of dollars to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), which the website says “aggressively promotes youth reproductive/abortion and sexual rights, specifically on behalf of its 10 million members.”   WAGGGS and International Planned Parenthood have a long history of working together, according to a piece on the website, SpeakNowGirlScouts.com.  That website also states that the GSUSA official curriculum for girls, used and promoted by every Girl Scout council in the United States, refers girls to abortion advocacy groups as well as resources that contain explicit sexual content.  And, it states that former GSUSA CEO Kathy Cloninger proudly admitted on national television that Girl Scouts "partners with Planned Parenthood," and pro-life Girl Scout concerns were a focus at the 2012 and 2013 National Right To Life Convention. 

One recent event that sparked the pro-life backlash was when GSUSA sent out a tweet last year on its Twitter account that seemed to support honoring pro-abortion politicians Wendy Davis and Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as “Women of the Year” in 2013.

So, all in all, pro-life leaders such as Jill Stanek, Lila Rose, Day Gardner, and Judie Brown have said "enough is enough", and they are joining an effort that I understand was started by an organization out of Waco, Texas called Pro-Life Waco, led by John Pisciotta.  To coincide with the current sale of Girl Scout cookies, these leaders and a variety of organizations are supporting "Cookie Cott 2014", and there is a website called www.cookiecott.com.  There was a Tweetfest that was held this past Thursday, using that hashtag.   There is some important information on that website, as well as a downloadable flier.  It can be informative to current Girl Scouts and their leaders to know that a portion of the proceeds is going to the national organization, which has a documented relationship with the abortion industry.

1 - Ken Ham and Bill Nye debate origins, millions engage with the event

The great debate on the topic of origins took place this past Tuesday night outside Cincinnati at the Creation Museum, which is operated by the ministry Answers in Genesis, headed by Ken Ham, who debated Bill Nye "The Science Guy".   As Dr. Georgia Purdom of AIG indicated on my radio program, there could have been in excess of 5 million people who engaged with the debate either live or in accessing a recording of the debate online.  Not only did Christian media cover the event extensively, but secular media did not ignore this contrast of worldviews and approaches to science.

I want to concentrate on one of the reports that I have seen on the event. Julie Borg provided some analysis of the debate on the WORLD website.   She says that:
Ham was unwavering in his declarations of the Bible’s authority and his arguments for a literal interpretation of Genesis. Though he referred to the Bible frequently, he used direct quotes from biblical texts only a handful of times. He continually focused on science’s weak spot: Science can deal only with what is observable and therefore can’t explain origins because the past can’t be observed.
Nye spent most of the evening offering up what he deems as scientific evidence that the earth is billions of years old: rings in tree trunks, carbon dating, layers in snow ice, layers of fossils and sediments. He asserted that if Noah’s ark came to rest on Mount Ararat in the Middle East, and animal life on the earth was repopulated exclusively from animals on the ark, then there should be some fossil evidence of kangaroos hopping their way from Mount Ararat to Australia.
She pointed out that Nye was trying to cast himself as a “reasonable man,” using the term numerous times. When a member of the audience asked him if science had room for God, Nye replied that God and science are not connected.  He peppered his statements with condescending remarks, such as repeatedly referring to six-day creationism as “Ken Ham’s creation model” or “Ken Ham’s interpretation,” or to the account of the flood as “Mr. Ham’s flood.”  She documented these three instances from the debate where Ham referred to the capability of Scripture to answer questions that "The Science Guy" could not answer:
...When a member of the audience asked Nye how consciousness came from matter, Nye said the nature of consciousness is a mystery—we don’t know. Ham replied, “There is a book out there that does tell us where consciousness comes from. God created us in His image.”
When Nye admitted that science can offer no guess as to what existed before the Big Bang, Ham responded there is a book out there that says God was in the beginning. When Nye admitted he doesn’t know where the laws of logic come from, Ham said there is a book out there that tells us.
Now, there has been criticism of Ham's approach.  He is a young earth creationist, consistent with a view that Gallup says is held by 46% of Americans, according to a 2012 survey.  That is the percentage that agreed with the statement, "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so."  In that same survey, 32% of respondents held to a view that evolution took place, but that God guided the process.  Only 15% believed in evolution without God's involvement.   So, Ham is not a member of some fringe group here.   A significant number see human origins in much the same way that he does.

But, there are those in the intelligent design camp who would rather not get into discussions about age of the earth, rather, they would agree with Ham that secularists have hijacked the scientific community, but their concentration would be more on the fallacies of evolutionary theory and the evidences of design.   Witness a response reported by The Christian Post by a representative of the Discovery Institute, Casey Luskin. He
said since Ham is not a scientist, the great majority of his arguments amounted over and over again to "Because the Bible says so."
Nye's main argument was, "Because the evidence says so," Luskin writes. "While Ham did make a few effective points that you don't have to accept evolution to do good science, the compelling scientific evidence for design in nature got skipped over."
The debate centered on the age of the earth, and therefore "the point was never made that a mainstream scientific view about the age of the earth is totally compatible with an intelligent design view that totally refutes Nye's intolerant, materialist beliefs about the history of life.
With millions watching the debate and hopefully engaged in these questions about our origins, this hopefully can get people thinking more deeply about these matters.  And, as Ham appealed to the authority of Scripture, I believe you can rely on the verse that tells us that God's Word will not return void.   Hopefully, as the result of the seeds planted and subsequent discussions of these matters, hearts can be changed.