Sunday, March 26, 2017

The 3 - March 26, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, I focus on the following three stories of relevance to the Christian community:  there was a bus that was vandalized, which was promoting free speech and a view of gender that squares with the Biblical view.  Also, a New Hampshire military base has agreed to uphold chaplains' free speech rights.  And, a seminary had decided to recognize a well-regarded pastor, only to pull the award due to the views of his denomination on the ordination of LGBT individuals, as well as women.

3 - "Free Speech Bus" vandalized

Last week, the #FreeSpeechBus tour kicked off in New York City at a press conference, according to the National Organization for Marriage website. NOM, CitizenGO and the International Organization for the Family are sponsoring the tour. There is also a petition to stand in solidarity with the purpose of the bus, which is designed to call attention to the truth concerning gender.

A USA Today article quoted Brian Brown of NOM:
"Boys are boys and girls are girls - it's very simple," Brown said of the bus tour's purpose and message. "We don't want men in girl's restrooms. We don't want schools and our law attempting to say that people are bigoted simply because they understand that there's a difference between male and female."
Unfortunately, while those who had ridden the bus to New York were inside the United Nations, the bus was vandalized.  According to USA Today, referring to a report from Brown, the bus "was parked near the UN for a scheduled event when two people approached, scratched it with a key, cracked windows with a hammer, and spray painted slogans such as 'Trans Liberation.'"

2 - Chaplains' right to pray upheld in NH case

The concept of faith expressions in the military and the religious freedom of chaplains have caused confusion and resulted in a number of challenges to the constitutional protection of free expression of religion.  According to the website at First Liberty Institute, in early February, a special interest group sent a letter to Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire, "demanding that the base commander forbid military chaplains from performing invocations at military events held on the base."

First Liberty and the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty responded swiftly, reminding a base official about the rights of chaplains to express their faith.  In a letter to the commanding base office, First Liberty attorneys stated, “The Constitution, federal law, and Department of Defense regulations all support your practice of permitting uniformed chaplains to offer invocations at command functions,” adding, “Moreover, those legal authorities actually forbid military commanders from censoring or prohibiting such invocations."

Recently, First Liberty issued a press release saying that they will continue to allow military chaplains to say prayers during military ceremonies.  

Chaplain (Colonel) Ron Crews, U.S. Army (Retired), Executive Director for the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, responded: “Chaplains and service members have the right to freely exercise their religious beliefs without fear of reprisal.”

1 - Keller rejected for seminary recognition

This year Princeton Theological Seminary was due to award its prize named for theologian Abraham Kuyper, called the Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness, to  Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, according to a piece by Mark Tooley, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, who commented that because Keller belongs to a Presbyterian denomination that does not line up with Princeton's views on the ordination of women, as well as LGBT individuals, the award has been withdrawn.

Tooley states:
Keller, a prolific author and popular speaker, is founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, which has in turn planted many other new churches in New York. The church network is notable for its success in attracting young urban professionals and for its racial diversity.
Tooley adds: "His theology like his denomination’s is orthodox and Reformed, but Keller typically avoids culture war issues and hot button debates."  The article also notes that Keller will speak at the seminary on April 6 for the annual Kuyper lecture.  Tooley also writes:
Wow, historically Presbyterian Princeton won’t honor arguably the most prominent & accomplished Presbyterian pastor of our time.
“The decision to not give this honor to Keller is an example of hyper political correctness prevailing over distinction and merit..."

Monday, March 20, 2017

The 3 - March 19, 2017

This week's edition of The 3 includes a story involving the approach of a large Christian denomination to public policy and a meeting between two denominational leaders.  Also, North Carolina lawmakers are fighting back against two sports governance organizations that have pulled events from the state due to a piece of legislation.  And, proposed Federal government cuts have resulted in responses from Christians about the role of tax dollars in aiding the poor.

3 - Southern Baptists debate public policy approach, principals meet

One could say it is a family squabble, but because of the way that the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm has made the rounds in public media, it becomes an important issue. And, for all Christians, how we approach matters of public policy is critical.

Christianity Today reported on a meeting between Southern Baptist Executive Committee President Frank Page and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore.  Its headline
said, "Russell Moore Still Has a Job, Though 100 Churches Have Threatened to Pull SBC Funds." The article written by Jeremy Weber, referred to a Washington Post story written by former CT staffer Sarah Pulliam Bailey, which contained these words:
[Page] indicated that he would not rule out the possibility that he could ask Moore to resign. He said he hopes Moore and his opposition will agree to pursue efforts toward reconciliation.
The story reports on a joint statement published by Baptist Press by Moore and Page following the meeting, which said: “We deepened our friendship and developed mutual understanding on ways we believe will move us forward as a network of churches..."

Page later clarified for Baptist Press that it was a private meeting to seek reconciliation, and that he had no authority over Moore.  But the CT story also said that these churches who are rethinking their funding of the SBC Cooperative Program, "...represent the most complaints on any issue 'in recent memory,' according to the SBC’s Executive Committee, which is investigating the problem in search of 'redemptive solutions.'"

So, what's all the fuss about?  Consider these words from the Christianity Today story:
Observers have wondered if it was too late to say sorry for Moore after the divisive 2016 election left him on the opposite side of many white evangelicals over how Christians should respond to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
Many evangelicals voted for Trump as a pragmatic bid for a conservative Supreme Court justice and more pro-life victories. (On that front, Trump already granted Moore one of his 2017 wishes.) But Moore argued, for CT and elsewhere, that voting for the lesser of two evils was not an ethical option.
A Townhall.com article by Bethany Blankley from December of 2016 quoted former Arkansas Governor, former pastor, and Arkansas Baptist Convention president Mike Huckabee:
“I am utterly stunned that Russell Moore is being paid by Southern Baptists to insult them. Many of us have faithfully sought to stand for the Biblical definition of marriage, for the sanctity of life, and for meaningful and substantive efforts to help the poor with affordable housing, access to food and employment, and equal education opportunities for minorities. Where was Russell Moore when we were fighting those battles?
Opposition to Moore goes far beyond his opposition to Trump and taking Christians to task for voting for him. An article on Georgia's Christian Index website, written by Will Hall of the Louisiana Baptist Message, stated:
David Hankins, executive director of this fellowship of about 1,650 churches, explained the matter to the Wall Street Journal in terms of Louisiana Baptist pastors’ “frustration” with Moore – growing concerns about policy positions Moore has stated and not just his lack of civility during the presidential election.
2 - North Carolina lawmakers challenge sports bodies' involvement opposing transgender bathroom law

The Legislature in North Carolina, which only recently withstood an attempt to repeal its law upholding privacy in restroom facilities in state buildings, is fighting back against the NCAA, as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference, which pulled athletic championship events from the state.  Baptist Press reports that, "Republican state legislators in North Carolina are alleging the NCAA and the ACC violated their federal tax-exempt status by attempting to provoke a repeal of the Tar Heel State's transgender restroom law."

The article quotes Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, who said the two sports bodies, "have given legislators numerous deadlines by which to repeal the people's privacy law, have engaged in behind-the-scenes discussions with legislators, including those at the highest levels, and have sought to harm the state economically by instituting a boycott of the state until [the transgender restroom law] is repealed."

And North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest was in Texas recently advocating for similar legislation in the Lone Star State.  The Family Research Council website states that Forest...
...was also on hand to debunk the myth that their law -- HB 2 -- devastated the North Carolina economy. Despite the loss of the NBA All-Star Game and other college championships, Forest said the positive gains far outweighed the negative ones. Even if it hadn't, he argued, "I will never trade the privacy, safety, and security of a woman or a child for a basketball ticket. And neither should you."
In another article, the FRC website also stated:
For the second consecutive year, the state was ranked #2 on Forbes’s top states for doing business. The ranking was given late last year, so there would have been ample time to assess the impact of the privacy law on the economy. In fact, more businesses seem to be moving to North Carolina than away from it. Still not convinced? Despite the NCAA and ACC pulling their championship games from the state, tourism was also up.
1 - New open letter attracting high-profile Christians takes aim at Trump budget cuts in foreign aid

Around 100 Christian people, including some pastors and ministry leaders, some of them who could be considered high-profile Christians, have signed on to a letter, released just hours after the Trump Administration unveiled its budget for the next fiscal year, calling for Congress and President Trump not to support, as a Christian Headlines story put it, "drastic cuts to the U.S.’s budget for foreign aid."

The story, referencing a Christianity Today report, said: "The Trump administration released its new budget proposal on Thursday, included in which was a 28 percent cut to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development."

The letter stated, "As followers of Christ, it is our moral responsibility to urge you to support and protect the International Affairs Budget, and avoid disproportionate cuts to these vital programs that ensure that our country continues to be the ‘shining city upon a hill...'"

This really can challenge Christians to examine the role of government and how support of charitable work through taxation should be balanced with the willful giving of people who believe in the work of various ministries and other organizations.  Stuart Shepard and I touched on that overall subject on the Friday, March 17 edition of The Meeting House.

You can find the topic of the respective responsibility for Christians to help the poor through taxation or through generosity being debated on social media.  I have some quotes from the always-wise Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, from The Daily Signal website.  He establishes that...
The government is not free to recreate the family. The government is not free to usurp the authority of parents over the education of their children or adult children over the care of their elderly parents.
The same is true for religious organizations, especially if you believe that your church has a divine origin and a divine creation. This means government is not at liberty to recreate your church, to recreate its authority structure, or to recreate its teaching authority—that your church is something that is entrusted with a stewardship.
As a result, the nature of religious authority places limits on political authority and places duties upon members of the church.
Anderson, who was a speaker at this year's National Religious Broadcasters Convention, writes:
None of this, however, says that the state has no role to play in economic justice, just that it must respect the proper authority of society—a society of societies—as it does so. And this means that it must also respect the proper authority of economic societies—employees and employers, consumers and producers.
But while respecting their authority and the markets that allow them to interact and fulfill their duties, government can perform certain welfare activities, as Friedrich Hayek taught us, without distorting market signals and processes.
Insofar as government programs are intended to ameliorate the forces of globalization and new technologies distort markets, they are likely to simply make matters worse by prolonging the dying process of outdated industries and preventing the necessary transitions.
What a natural law account of social justice would suggest are policies that would empower more people to engage for themselves in the market and flourish.
So, as I see it, government should be a facilitator in the delivery of certain goods and services to poor people, especially on the domestic front, but I believe the main economic engine for this delivery comes from Christians, or more broadly, religious people, who give from the heart and are not shackled by government from having the resources to perform what God has called Him to do. Ultimately, in His compassion, He can provide for all, but we ultimately depend on Him for provision, not government; similarly, God is the provider of rights, not government.

As Marvin Olasky writes on the WORLD Magazine website:
Some historians profile Christian missionaries who did more harm than good, but many others in British colonies ended some forms of forced labor, pursued the rule of law in British colonies, fought the opium trade, and built schools because they wanted people to read the Bible in their own language. In the United States, evangelicals in the 19th century not only built schools and hospitals but effectively fought poverty and abortion. This is the compassionate heritage of the evangelical church, and it's one to be proud of.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The 3 - March 12, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, offering three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a skirmish between China and South Korea missionaries, with China forcing dozens of missionaries to leave their country.  Also, in Kentucky, lawmakers there protected students' right to religious expression. And, the U.S. Supreme Court no longer plans to hear a case considering restroom facility usage based on gender identity.

3 - China forces South Korean missionaries to leave country

In the midst of a tough situation involving North Korea and other countries, China has decided to remove anywhere from 30 to 70 missionaries from South Korea, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.  The story states:
There are about 500 officially registered South Korean missionaries in China, though some say the actual number could be as high as 2,000. Many gather in the northeast, drawn by the poverty of China and the proximity of North Korea. Close to the border, the language and culture are heavily Korean.
The article says there were no reasons given, although there is speculation that South Korea's plan to build an American missile shield, the THAAD radar, could be a factor.  Others said it could have been restrictions on Christians in China that have recently been tightened.

The story pointed out several developments involving North Korea, which just recently launched four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan; also, Malaysia and North Korea are holding one another's citizens because of the assassination of the North Korean leader's half-brother in Malaysia.

The CT story quoted the Korea World Mission Association, which called the group ejection “unprecedented.”

2 - Kentucky lawmakers pass religious freedom bill

The House of Representatives in Kentucky overwhelmingly passed a bill that would uphold students' rights to freedom of religious expression, according to the Kentucky.com website.  The House passed the bill 81-8, and the article says:
Senate Bill 17, sponsored by State Sen. Albert Robinson, R-London, would affirm the constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom, supporters of the bill argued.
“All this legislation does is put into law and recognize those constitutional facts,” said Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington.
The Senate had already passed the bill by a 31-3 margin, so the bill was sent to Governor Matt Bevin to sign.  In the article about the Senate vote, Kentucky.com stated that Senator Robinson...
...said the idea for the measure started in December 2015, when Johnson County school officials prohibited students from reading religious scripture in a school play, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Robinson said his bill also allows religious student groups access to school buildings during non-school hours, allows students to speak at public events to mention religious and political viewpoints, and allows public college students to exercise their freedom of speech on college campuses, especially in outdoor areas.
Senate Bill 17 also would allow a teacher to use the Bible when teaching about religion “without providing religious instruction,” and to teach about religious holidays “in a secular manner.”
1 - Supreme Court sends transgender bathroom law back to lower court

One of the anticipated cases in the upcoming term of the U.S. Supreme Court involved a case out of Virginia, where a female student identifying as male wished to use the boys' restroom facilities.  The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld a lower court ruling against the school district. According to the Family Research Council, the district had offered the student, Gavin Grimm, the option to use a unisex restroom. The case was later accepted by the high court.

But recently, according to the FRC website, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court to reconsider.  Why?  The court wrote: "The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for further consideration in light of the guidance document issued by the Department of Education and Department of Justice on February 22, 2017."

FRC offered this commentary:
Grimm's suit was probably the Left's best crack at rewriting the Title IX sex discrimination laws to include "gender identity." Now, thanks to the Trump administration, those goals will be on hold until at least next year when Neil Gorsuch will almost certainly be on the Supreme Court. Until then, the showdown will be where it belongs: in states and local communities.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The 3 - March 5, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes some good news for a missionary who had been held in prison in Sudan.  Also, the Oregon bakers who had been heavily fined by a government agency finally had a court hearing this past week.  Plus, a matter of concern for Christian parents involves the presence of gay subject material in an upcoming Disney film.

3 - Missionary freed from prison in Sudan

A missionary to Sudan from the Czech Republic, Petr Jasek, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for, according to the website, Faithwire.com, allegedly "spying," as well as inciting "hatred" in the predominantly Muslim country.

The story says that Christian Today reported that "Jasek was arrested after he was stopped in the Sudanese airport in 2015. At the time, he was carrying basic electronics like a computer, cell phone and video camera."

Now, Faithwire reports that:
...the Sudanese foreign minister Ibrahim Ghandour and Czech foreign diplomat Lubomir Zaoralek announced the pardon of Jasek due to “good relations between Sudan and the Czech Republic” in a joint press conference.
However the deal to free the Christian activist wasn’t simple or easy.
After Jasek’s sentence, the Czech government cut ties with the African nation and the only way the two began negotiating over the 53-year-old man’s freedom was through Egypt, a north African nation that acted as a peace broker.
A CitizenGO petition had yielded some 400,000 signatures.

There were two other Sudanese men convicted along with Jasek, but they were not released and reportedly are expected to serve out 12-year prison sentences. 

2 - Oregon bakers (finally) have their day in court

After several years of sparring with a state regulatory agency, the bakers who declined to provide a cake for a gay marriage celebration finally had their day in court.  Aaron and Melissa Klein went before a three-judge panel of the Oregon Court of Appeals this week, according to First Liberty.  Its website reported:
During the oral arguments, the Kleins’ attorneys argued that the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) violated the Kleins’ constitutional rights to religious freedom, free speech, and due process.
“The government should never force someone to violate their conscience or their beliefs,” Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty Institute, says. “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We hope the court will uphold the Kleins’ rights to free speech and religious liberty.”
The website reports that at a press conference following the hearing, Melissa said this:
...I have a strong faith in God, whom I love with all my heart. My whole life is dedicated to living for Him, in the best way that I know how. America is a place where the government can’t force you to violate your religious beliefs or tell you what to believe, but we feel like that is exactly what happened to us. We lost everything we loved and worked so hard to build...
1 - Disney movie announcement sparks concern among Christians

The scheduled release of Disney's live-action movie, Beauty and the Beast, is less than two weeks away, but moviegoers expecting a family-friendly theatrical experience may be disappointed with news that has had awareness on Christian media over the last few days.

The Christian Headlines website has the story about the comments of the film's director, Bill Condon, quoted in the Los Angeles Times.  He discusses the character of LeFou, to be played by Josh Gad. Condon stated: "LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston." He continued: "He’s confused about what he wants," adding, "It’s somebody who’s just realizing that he has these feelings. And Josh makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie."

"Really subtle and delicious?"  An "exclusively gay moment?"  This certainly should cause concern among Christian parents, according to Franklin Graham, who said on Facebook:
Disney has aired a cartoon with same-sex couples kissing. It has also been announced that their new movie "Beauty and the Beast" will feature a gay character in an attempt to normalize this lifestyle. They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children—watch out! Disney has the right to make their cartoons, it’s a free country. But as Christians we also have the right not to support their company. I hope Christians everywhere will say no to Disney. I met Walt Disney when I was a young boy—he was very gracious to me, my father Billy Graham, and my younger brother when we visited. He would be shocked at what has happened to the company that he started.
The Christian Headlines story points out that already, a drive-in theater in Henegar, Alabama has cancelled the film, according to Entertainment Weekly.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The 3 - February 26, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, in which I identify three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a story out of Arkansas, where the Supreme Court there struck down one of these SOGI laws, creating favorable treatment for people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Also, there were developments recently in two states concerning taxpayer funding of abortion.  And, the Trump administration has ended the previous administration's directive forcing schools to allow students to use restrooms and locker rooms based on their declared "gender identity."

3 - AR high court strikes down Fayetteville SOGI ordinance

Across America, you have seen these so-called "sexual orientation, gender identity" laws being passed by municipalities across America. Cities such as Houston, Charlotte, and others have attempted to put people in a special class based on these two elements.  The Texas Supreme Court overturned Houston's protections, which generated controversy there, leading the lesbian mayor to subpeona pastors' sermons.  In Charlotte, the passage of such a law resulted in the state having to pass a law (HB2), preventing municipalities from forging a course that is outside of the state's provisions.

In Fayetteville, Arkansas, a SOGI ordinance had been passed by the city council and overturned by the voters.  The law ended up in court, and according to a Liberty Counsel press release, "the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a city’s ordinance that unlawfully added sexual orientation and gender identity. In the unanimous ruling, the court ruled that the City of Fayetteville violated state law by adding these two categories when state law did not include them."

The release continues:
Arkansas’ civil rights law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. The court ruled that a state anti-bullying law is not related to anti-discrimination laws and does not create newly protected classes. In February 2015, the legislature passed Act 137 that prohibits local governments from adding additional categories that are not included in the state law.
Liberty Counsel will soon be in court arguing against a Virginia county school board's attempt to add these SOGI elements to its policy.  Liberty Counsel says:
Virginia, like Arkansas, requires that non-discrimination categories be uniform and set at the state level. Next week, Liberty Counsel will be arguing before the Virginia Supreme Court where the Fairfax County School Board unlawfully added “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression” to the Board’s policies. Like Arkansas, Virginia law does not include these categories.
2 - VA governor vetoes abortion funding bill, Federal judge in TX continues to block bill reducing funding of abortion 

There is other news out of Virginia to cover...the Democratic governor there, Terry McAuliffe, a long-time supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, has vetoed a bill that would have removed taxpayer funding of abortion.  A story on the WORLD Magazine website states that McAuliffe...
... made good Tuesday on his threat to veto a bill redirecting funds from Planned Parenthood to health centers that do not perform abortions.

McAuliffe vowed to veto both H.B. 2264 and H.B. 1473, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation. The former passed the House 60-33 and the Senate 20-19.
Olivia Gans Turner, president of Virginia Society for Human Life, is quoted as saying that "Planned Parenthood and the abortion lobby can depend on him to abandon the women and unborn children of the Commonwealth,” adding, “He does not care that Virginians do not want our taxes paying for abortion.”

Also, according to the WORLD story, U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks extended an injunction blocking a Texas "law that stripped Planned Parenthood of its $3 million in Medicaid funding." The law has been placed on hold "while Planned Parenthood pursues its lawsuit against the new law."

1 - Trump administration ends previous administration's transgender bathroom directive

As expected, the Trump administration has terminated the directive that the Obama administration had issued allowing students to use restroom facilities corresponding to their so-called "gender identity," according to ChristianHeadlines.com story, which says that:
The Obama administration had issued the directive to schools, based on their interpretation of Title IX which states, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
The Trump administration, however, stated that this is an issue that should be left up to the states to decide individually.
The story, quoting from an ABC News report, says:
A letter sent to schools on Wednesday by the Justice and Education Departments said that while "All schools must ensure that all students, including LGBT students, are able to learn and thrive in a safe environment,” states should take the “primary role” in establishing appropriate policies, according to ABC News.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is quoted in the ABC News story: "Congress, state legislatures and local governments are in a position to adopt appropriate policies or laws addressing this issue," adding, "The Department of Justice remains committed to the proper interpretation and enforcement of Title IX and to its protections for all students, including LGBTQ students, from discrimination, bullying and harassment."

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The 3 - February 19, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, a high-profile Christian organization dealing with immigration and refugees has announced significant cutbacks.  Also, the U.S. Justice Department has stepped back from an appeal by the previous administration on a Federal district judge's order halting progress of implementing an initiative that would have forced schools to base their restroom policy on "gender identity," rather than biology. And, a florist in Washington state received a ruling from the state Supreme Court that could force her to pay stiff penalties for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding celebration.

3 - Christian relief organization announces cutbacks due to refugee settlement cuts

The immigration advocacy organization World Relief made this announcement this week:
As a direct result of the recent decision by the Trump Administration to dramatically reduce the number of refugees resettled in the U.S. throughout fiscal year 2017, World Relief has been forced to make the difficult decision to layoff 140+ staff members across its U.S. Ministry and close local offices in Boise, Idaho; Columbus, Ohio; Miami, Florida; Nashville, Tennessee; and Glen Burnie, Maryland. Collectively, these five offices have resettled more than 25,000 refugees over the past four decades.
But, how draconian are those cuts?  Just after the release of the executive order, David French of National Review stated that...
...the order temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process, then caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year. Outrageous, right? Not so fast. Before 2016, when Obama dramatically ramped up refugee admissions, Trump’s 50,000 stands roughly in between a typical year of refugee admissions in George W. Bush’s two terms and a typical year in Obama’s two terms.
Jerry Johnson of National Religious Broadcasters tweeted out the aforementioned press release, along with this comment: "Is this why @WorldRelief objects to vetting plan for refugees? They lose federal funding, will layoff 140+ staff."  Dr. Johnson had also retweeted a tweet from Dr. Jack Graham, former President of the So. Baptist Convention, who said: "The progressively left leaning National Association of Evangelicals humanitarian arm is World Relief. 75% of dollars are government grants..."

Now World Relief claims to be a Christian organization, an outreach of the National Association of Evangelicals, which has been chided for its leftward drift. World Relief is also an organization that receives money from the Federal government to place refugees in America. Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy wrote at The Stream in 2015:
Since we now know that such murderous jihadis can enter Europe and murder Parisians, there can be little doubt that religious minorities in refugee camps are vulnerable. And it’s not far-fetched to believe ISIS members and other jihadists could come to the United States disguised as refugees, as well. FBI Director James Comey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson have all admitted that Muslim refugees from Syria cannot be properly screened.
In spite of this reality, the Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGs) working with the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement are demonizing members of Congress who are seeking to rectify the situation.
World Relief, who is attempting to lead the charge among evangelicals to scale back further restrictions on refugees, is among a small group of these VOLAGs that, according to McDonnell, "acquire an average of some 70% of their revenue from taxpayer-funded federal grants and contracts. In some estimations, they receive more than $4,000 per refugee resettled."  And the President of that organization does not believe Christians should be prioritized, according to CNN, even though, as that story pointed out, 99% of the almost 12,600 refugees from Syria last year were Muslim.

2 - Justice Department seems to switch sides in transgender bathroom case

By now, you're probably familiar with the letter that was sent out by the Obama Administration last spring that directed school districts to allow students to use the restroom and locker room facilities corresponding to their so-called "gender identity."  That directive was thought to contain an implicit warning that schools violating this new "policy" could lose Federal education funding.

A Federal district judge had issued a nationwide ruling preventing those provisions from taking effect, and as the Family Research Council reported:
Frustrated, the Obama attorneys asked the court to lift its ban in every state except the 13 who sued the government over it. O'Connor refused, insisting:
"It is clear from Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit precedent that this Court has the power to issue a nationwide injunction where appropriate. Both Title IX and Title VII rely on the consistent, uniform application of national standards in education and workplace policy. A nationwide injunction is necessary because the alleged violation extends nationwide," he wrote. "Should the Court only limit the injunction to the plaintiff states who are a party to this cause of action, the Court risks a 'substantial likelihood that a geographically-limited injunction would be ineffective."
The Obama Administration appealed the judge's action, and a court date was scheduled for this past week.  Just days before that court appearance, the Trump Administration indicated it wanted to take another direction. UPI.com reported:
President Donald Trump's administration has asked to withdraw a motion filed by former President Barack Obama seeking to allow transgender students in public schools to use the restroom with which they identify.
In a court filing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Department of Justice on Friday requested to withdraw Obama's motion filed last year that asked a judge to scale back a temporary injunction that blocked the Obama administration's guidance over the transgender bathroom issue.
As FRC said,
"The parties are currently considering how best to proceed," Justice officials wrote. Of course, most Americans hope that "proceeding" includes the formal withdrawal of an edict that's already had a deleterious effect on girls' privacy and safety. From Virginia to Oklahoma, the groundswell of opposition exploded. While some districts may have waffled on the rule, parents refused to take the government's coercion lying down.
1 - WA Supreme Court rules against florist who stood by convictions regarding gay wedding ceremony

The florist in Washington state who politely declined to provide flowers for a gay wedding ceremony received a crushing blow from the state Supreme Court this week.  Family Policy Alliance reports that:
The Washington Supreme Court ruled today that the government can force Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers, to create floral arrangements for same-sex weddings or face heavy penalties.
One of her attorneys, Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, is quoted as saying, "This case is about crushing dissent,” adding, "In a free America, people with differing beliefs must have room to coexist. It’s wrong for the state to force any citizen to support a particular view about marriage or anything else against their will. Freedom of speech and religion aren’t subject to the whim of a majority; they are constitutional guarantees.”

ADF has indicated it will appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its report, Family Policy Alliance states: "The case points out the need for the Trump Administration to make good on its campaign promise to strengthen religious freedom. The President has the opportunity to sign an executive order doing just that, but so far has not done so."  The Alliance is just one of the Christian organizations that is encouraging people who support such an order to sign on online petition.  You can hear a recent conversation on The Meeting House with Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance here.

Back now to David French of National Review, who pointed out that, "Stutzman did nothing illegal. She had always consistently and joyfully served gay clients, including the man who ultimately decided to bring potentially ruinous legal claims against her. On each of those prior occasions, however, she was not using her artistic talents to help her clients celebrate an occasion she considered immoral.

He added, "In other words, she was not discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She was making a decision not to help celebrate an action, a form of expression." And, as he pointed out, the man asking Baronelle to provide the flowers was a regular customer - and she recommended other florists who could provide the products.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The 3 - February 12, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, presenting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is good news out of Georgia, where an employee of the state health department had filed suit after being terminated, apparently because of his religious beliefs.  Also, there was plenty of joy in countries around the world as special needs teens and adults participated in Tim Tebow's "Night to Shine."  And, people opposed to the offensive practices of the nation's largest abortion provider showed up at its centers across America this past weekend.

3 - Georgia health official allegedly fired for religious beliefs settles with state

Dr. Eric Walsh, who had accepted a position as a District Health Director for the State of Georgia, was dismissed not long after his hiring.  It seems the sermons he preached as an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist minister were offensive to his employers.

Walsh was defended by First Liberty Institute, which told the story on its website.  Recently, Walsh settled with the state of Georgia for $225,000 in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit that had been filed by First Liberty in partnership with an Atlanta firm.  Walsh is quoted as saying: “I am pleased this trial finally ended,” adding, “It’s been a long, difficult journey, but it’s worth it to have my name cleared and to ensure that all Georgia government employees know they have religious liberty.”

The story points out that:
Federal law protects Walsh’s right to talk about his faith inside his church or out of it. In particular, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits the government from firing people over their religious beliefs, especially when those beliefs are expressed by a lay minister, outside of work, in a church setting.
Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty ad counsel for Dr. Walsh, stated: "If the government is allowed to fire someone over what he said in his sermons, then they can come after any of us for our beliefs on anything. We must ensure every American has the right to talk about their faith at church without getting fired or being barred from public service.”

2 - Tebow's "Night to Shine" honors people with special needs, partners with churches

This past week, the annual Night to Shine experience, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation, was presented at a number of venues inside and outside the U.S. The Foundation website describes the concept: "Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older. On one night, February 10, 2017, churches from around the world will host Night to Shine for thousands of honored guests..."

The Foundation Facebook page proclaimed: "375 host churches. 50 states. 11 countries. 6 continents. 150,000 volunteers. 75,000 honored guests."  In another post, it said:
It was a night for our honored guests to shine, for the volunteers to shine, for the church to shine and a night for Jesus to shine! We are SO appreciative of everyone who poured out so much effort and love to celebrate our 75,000 kings and queens of the prom.
We are incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such an amazing community who believes in this worldwide movement to celebrate people with special needs!
The Foundation website states:
Following Night to Shine, we have been encouraged to see countless churches develop continued programs for people with special needs.
Through Night to Shine, we hope people with special needs realize that their church can be a place where they are loved and feel welcomed.
1 - Pro-life gatherings at Planned Parenthood centers 

Those taking a stand for life showed up at Planned Parenthood centers across America on Saturday, with over 200 protests planned in 44 states, as well as Washington, DC, according to a report on The Blaze website.

And, the report made reference to a tweet from CBS News that linked to a report that there were counter-protests by pro-abortion forces across the nation.

The Blaze article stated:
The groups behind the nationwide protests — Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Created Equal, the Pro-Life Action League, 40 Days for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List — said that they want to encourage Congress to finally act on redirecting the funds away from Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, a long-held goal of pro-life activists.
And, the story mentioned the trafficking of fetal body parts, Medicaid fraud, and violation of health codes as just some of the offenses committed by Planned Parenthood.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

The 3 - February 5, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there have been some statements and potential developments regarding religious freedom principles that President Trump promised to uphold in his campaign.  Also, the Boy Scouts of America has announced it will now admit "transgender" boys, i.e., girls who say they are male.  And, the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court is getting high marks from a number of Christian leaders and organizations.

3 - Religious freedom watch: topic at National Prayer Breakfast, Administration spokesman voices intent to uphold religious liberties, executive order rumored

The recent National Prayer Breakfast contained a number of references to religious liberty, according to an article on the Baptist Press website, which reported that President Trump, speaking at the event, said that his administration "will do everything in its power to defend and protect religious liberty."

The story quotes the President as saying that he would "get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment," which is described by the website as "a 1954 law that bars churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates."

The Baptist Press piece also reported:
Trump said his high regard for religious liberty motivates his opposition to the Johnson Amendment as well as his immigration policy and his fight against radical Islamic terrorism.

"We will be a country where all citizens can practice their beliefs without fear of hostility or fear of violence," Trump said. "America will flourish as long as our liberty, and in particular our religious liberty, is allowed to flourish."

Immigration policy, Trump said, must secure America's borders against "those who would seek to enter our country for the purpose of spreading violence or oppressing other people based upon their faith or their lifestyle."

Trump called terrorism "a fundamental threat to religious freedom."
And, there was a draft of an executive order that was leaked this week, and, according to the Daily Signal:
The draft of the executive order, reportedly called “Establishing a Government-Wide Initiative to Respect Religious Freedom,” tells federal agencies to accommodate religious practices “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” would no longer require religious employers such as Little Sisters of the Poor to violate their beliefs by providing contraception and abortion-inducing drugs to employees, and prohibits penalizing employees because of personal religious views.
The article says that, "Conservatives and religious groups are calling on President Donald Trump to stand firm" on the order.  This comes in light of the Administration's announcement that it would not rescind an order by then-President Obama protecting so-called LGBTQ "rights" for Federal contractors.

And, in a recent conversation with me, Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance called attention to the response of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in response to a reporter's question about religious liberty being used a "code for discrimination."  This is from the WhiteHouse.gov website:
...We have freedom of religion in this country, and I think people should be able to practice their religion, express their religion, express areas of their faith without reprisal. And I think that pendulum sometimes swings the other way in the name of political correctness.

And I think the President and the Vice President both understand that one of the things that makes our country and this democracy so great is our ability to express our religion, to believe in faith, to express it, and to live by it. And that’s where I think the important part is -- whether it’s a small business owner or employee, he wants to have some degree of expression of faith at the company. And too often those voices get pushed out in the name of political correctness.

So he’s going to continue to make sure that we not only speak up for it, but find ways in which we can keep that line a little less blurred and make sure that the pendulum doesn’t swing against people...
And, in Congress this week, according to another Baptist Press story, a bill called the Free Speech Fairness Act was "introduced Feb. 1, the day before President Trump reiterated his intent to eliminate the so-called Johnson Amendment..."  According to a bill sponsor, it "would free pastors, churches and other tax-exempt entities to intervene on behalf of or against candidates in an election campaign." Sen. James Lankford is sponsoring in the Senate, and Rep. Steve Scalise is the House sponsor.

2 - Boy Scouts to accept transgender "boys"

A stunning, but not necessarily surprising announcement was made recently by the Boy Scouts of America.  Todd Starnes of Fox News wrote this:
On Monday, the BSA announced that girls who identify as boys will now be allowed to join the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts – marking a complete capitulation to the gender and sex revolutionaries.
John Stemberger, who is now chairman of the board of directors for a Christ-centered character-based organization called Trail Life USA, told Starnes that "the BSA decision is 'sad beyond belief.'"

Stemberger also said, that this new direction will “put boys in a state of confusion and does nothing to help normal psychological development.” He added, "Aside from the fact they are now going to confuse literally hundreds of thousands of young men and boys – you are now going to have further youth protection problems."

Starnes also noted:
In a statement released late Monday, Trail Life assured its “members and charter organizations nationwide that we are committed to the biblical traditional values affirmed in our statement of faith and values.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Starnes: "This is Exhibit A of the insatiable demands of those pushing this sexual anarchy."

1 - President nominates Gorsuch for U.S. Supreme Court

This week, President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, currently serving on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to be a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, to fill the open seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia.

The Family Research Council put it this way:
This was excellent news, particularly for the evangelicals that had helped push Trump to victory. Not only had the president made good on his promise to select a nominee from the list of 21 names he had released during his campaign, but Gorsuch was the kind of constitutional originalist that he had promised for the post.
Pro-life groups are getting mobilized to support the nominee. The Susan B. Anthony List website announced the formation of a coalition, represented at prolifecourt.com, "where grassroots activists can send an immediate message to their U.S. Senators, and are planning coordinated email and phone call campaigns to offices, in-state demonstrations targeting key Senators, and a digital advertising campaign."

That website provides this information:
Judge Gorsuch has a strong record of protecting life and religious liberty.
  • Gorsuch wrote a book called “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.” He argues in the book that “human life is fundamentally and inherently valuable” and that “the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
  • Gorsuch ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby in holding that Obamacare’s abortifacient mandate violates the religious beliefs of closely-held corporations.
  • Gorsuch also ruled in favor of the Little Sisters of the Poor, defending the rights of nuns not to be forced to pay for abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.
  • Gorsuch forcefully dissented from a case in which the Tenth Circuit sided with Planned Parenthood and refused to allow the Governor of Utah to defund the abortion business in wake of videos showing its involvement in the selling of baby body parts.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The 3 - January 29, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, my weekly release highlighting three recent news stories of relevance to the Christian community, I discuss the response to President Trump's order on refugees, which highlights an issues that generates a variety of positions from Christians; an issue that forces people to deal with matters of compassion and security.  Also, the U.S. House passed a bill that prevents taxpayer funds from being used for abortions.  And, the March for Life took place in Washington, generating awareness and enthusiasm for the sanctity of life, and perhaps generating more media attention because of the Vice-President's appearance and the chiding of the President.

3 - Trump rethinks refugee programs, announces he will prioritize Christian refugees

There are several spiritual elements related to the action taken by President Trump on Friday. The summary, from USA Today, says:
President Trump suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, banned all immigrants from seven Muslim countries for 90 days and ordered his administration to develop "extreme vetting" measures for immigrants from those countries to keep "radical Islamic terrorists" out of the United States.
The order, signed Friday, also bars all Syrians from entering the U.S., and gives preference in admission to Christians, whom he said are persecuted in majority Muslim countries.
David French of National Review provided some analysis of the tenets of Trump's action:

1) The order "temporarily halts refugee admissions for 120 days to improve the vetting process, then caps refugee admissions at 50,000 per year." French says that, "Before 2016, when Obama dramatically ramped up refugee admissions, Trump’s 50,000 stands roughly in between a typical year of refugee admissions in George W. Bush’s two terms and a typical year in Obama’s two terms."

2) It also "imposes a temporary, 90-day ban on people entering the U.S. from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen." As French points out, these countries are "either torn apart by jihadist violence or under the control of hostile, jihadist governments."

3) The order "puts an indefinite hold on admission of Syrian refugees to the United States" until the President determines that the "admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.;" French says, "This is perhaps the least consequential aspect of his order — and is largely a return to the Obama administration’s practices from 2011 to 2014."

But, Ed Stetzer of Wheaton College and co-host of Breakpoint This Week, is concerned about some aspects of the new policy.  He writes in Christianity Today:
It is not wrong to be wise and cautious. And part of President Trump’s plan is, I think, wise. For example, his call for safe zones in affected areas is good policy. Yet I’m grieved by other parts of the policy.
You see, too much of the policy is driven by unfounded fear of refugees.
Stetzer says, "There is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year chance that you will be killed by a refugee in a given year. If those odds concern you, please do not get in a bathtub, car, or even go outside. And, for contrast, there were 762 tragic murders in Chicago alone last year comparted to 0 people who were killed last year (or ever since the mid-70s) by a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack."

He says that, for Christians, to be pro-life is to be pro-refugee.  Stetzer writes:
There is no more critical time than now for God’s people to instead turn towards the helpless, the homeless, the broken, with open arms and hearts, ready to pour out every ounce of love we can muster.
So, there is the delicate balance here, that Christians are having to deal with, between compassion and security.  There is an analysis of the pros and cons of the new policy at the Clarion Project website. That site summarizes the order:
Far from a being a racist ban on Muslims, the temporary plan is being implemented “in order to protect Americans.” The executive order states, “We must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes toward our country and its founding principles.”
Regarding the prioritizing of Christians who want to come into the United States as refugees, the President told David Brody of CBN News:
“We are going to help them,” President Trump tells CBN News. “They’ve been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian, it was almost impossible and the reason that was so unfair, everybody was persecuted in all fairness, but they were chopping off the heads of everybody but more so the Christians. And I thought it was very, very unfair.”
David French at National Review quoted from a CNS News report:
The Obama administration has resettled 13,210 Syrian refugees into the United States since the beginning of 2016 — an increase of 675 percent over the same 10-month period in 2015.
Of those, 13,100 (99.1 percent) are Muslims — 12,966 Sunnis, 24 Shi’a, and 110 other Muslims — and 77 (0.5 percent) are Christians. Another 24 (0.18 percent) are Yazidis.
David Curry, President of Open Doors USA, is concerned.  He is quoted in a press release as saying:
...Expediting refugee entry for those intentionally targeted by ISIS, like the Yazidis and Christians and some Muslim groups, seems appropriate. However, cherry-picking one religion over another only exacerbates the already severe worldwide trend of religious persecution. We encourage a need-based approach that treats all faiths equally and works toward the comprehensive strengthening of religious freedom around the world."
As USA Today reported, a Federal Judge in Brooklyn on Saturday "granted an emergency stay sought by immigrants’ rights lawyers. The judge’s ruling applies to those who have already arrived in the U.S. and those who are in transit who hold valid visas. Judges in Massachusetts and Virginia also ordered halts." The Department of Homeland Security stated, "...prohibited travel will remain prohibited, and the U.S. government retains its right to revoke visas at any time if required for national security or public safety. It added, "No foreign national in a foreign land, without ties to the United States, has any unfettered right to demand entry into the United States."

2 - U.S. House votes to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to abortion

This past week was a dramatic one for the sanctity of life, and the U.S. House made another strong statement that basically American taxpayers should not have to pay for abortion.

LiveActionNews.org reports that the a bill to make the Hyde Amendment permanent passed 238-183. The article points out that "The Hyde Amendment prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortions through Medicaid."

According to the piece, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, in a statement, said: "This legislation protects the conscience of American taxpayers by ensuring that not a single dollar of their hard-earned money goes to fund abortions. As hundreds of thousands of Americans flock to Washington for the March for Life, we must never forget that defending all of our people – especially the defenseless – must be our top priority if we want to be a good and moral nation.”

Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee is quoted in the article.  She noted that in the Women's March the preceding weekend,  "...there were millions of pro-life women who were explicitly told that they were unwelcome at this event. So today, the people’s House is giving them, and the more than 60% of Americans from all political persuasions who oppose taxpayer funding of abortion, a voice."  Rep. Martha Roby of Alabama is quoted as saying: “It is our enduring responsibility to protect the unborn, and it is imperative we get this right" and that "the one voice not heard today is that of the baby.”

The bill now goes on to the Senate - if it passes there, then it will go to the President for his signature. In light of his support for March for Life and the pro-life executive order preventing tax dollars from paying for abortions internationally, that he would sign this bill.

1 - March for Life attracts multiple thousands and (finally!) media attention

This past Friday, the 44th annual March for Life attracted people from throughout America who marched through the streets of the nation's capital to advocate for the protection of the lives of the unborn.  And as WORLD Magazine pointed out, Vice-President Mike Pence was the highest ranking elected official ever to address the event, and he declared: “Life is winning again in America,” adding, "Compassion is overcoming convenience, and hope is defeating despair."

Presidential advisor Kellyanne Conway was also there, and President Trump tweeted out his support, according to WORLD:
“The #MarchForLife is so important. To all of you marching—you have my full support!” Trump tweeted.
Trump did more than that - earlier in the week, he took ABC News to task for not covering the March.  The Washington Examiner ran a story on Friday, which opened up:
ABC's "Good Morning America" didn't cover the big "March for Life" anti-abortion protest in Washington last year, but it decided to this year, after a very public push from President Trump.

In an interview with ABC News anchor David Muir that aired Wednesday, Trump said that the annual march is ignored by the news media. "They say the press doesn't cover them," he said.
The article noted that the Media Research Center reported that "the march was not covered by ABC at all in 2016, but Friday on 'Good Morning America,' the show gave about 2 minutes of coverage to the event."

And, Breakpoint co-host Eric Metaxas was quoted in a LifeSiteNews.com article on what he said from the stage at the March for Life:
Eric Metaxas blasted the mainstream media at today’s March for Life for its bias against the pro-life movement, punctuating his brief address with the question: “ABC News, are you covering this?”
“Jesus is Lord. ABC News are you covering that? ABC News, are you covering this? You want to see the women of America? Here they are..."
The author and commentator referred to Roe v. Wade as "fake law" and said that the ruling was “anti-science,” adding, “If the DNA of the baby in the womb is different than the DNA of the mother how can it be the mother’s body we’re talking about?”

Monday, January 23, 2017

The 3 - January 22, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, a former student in a Missouri graduate school who would not counsel same-sex couples and was dismissed because of it has reached a settlement with the school.  Also, there is some pro-life news, including the speculation that American taxpayer funding of international abortion would be curbed by the new Administration.  And, there were a number of Christian-related events and speakers surrounding this past week's inauguration activities.

3 - MO school settles with student dismissed for views on homosexuality

Andrew Cash is a former graduate student at Missouri State University, who had alleged that the school dismissed him from its Masters program for counseling because he had objected, on religious grounds, to counseling same-sex couples.  That's according to a Christian Headlines report from WORLD News Service, relating that the lawsuit Cash had filed against the school had been settled.

The settlement was finalized last month but became public recently because the Springfield News-Leader reported on the agreement after an open records request. According to the terms of the settlement, the MSU Board of Governors will pay $25,000 from the state of Missouri legal defense fund; the Board stated that the amount is “the estimated tuition cost for Cash to obtain a master’s degree in counseling from Evangel University or another similar institution.” The university did not admit liability.

Cash had reportedly told the school after starting an internship with a local Christian counseling agency that he, according to the story, "would have to refer gay couples to another counselor due to his religious convictions about homosexuality. He said he would be happy to counsel gay individuals on any other matter—depression or anxiety, for example—but he could not counsel regarding same-sex relationships." After that, he was booted from the program.

2 - Pro-life headlines: amidst speculation that President will renounce U.S. taxpayer funding for international abortions, pro-life groups get cool reception at Women's March

This past Sunday was the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade, and supporters of the right of unborn children to live are gearing up for a big week, culminating in the March for Life in Washington, DC this Friday, which has historically drawn multiple thousands to the National Mall in the nation's capital.  And, local and regional events take place around the time of the Roe anniversary.

And, LifeNews.com published an article that included a report from a pro-abortion publication called, Foreign Policy, that stated:
As one of his first acts in the Oval Office, the Republican president-elect plans to restore the “Mexico City policy” as soon as Sunday, a congressional staffer told Foreign Policy. The timing of the executive order on Sunday would coincide with the anniversary of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.
The LifeNews.com story gave some history on the Mexico City Policy:
The Mexico City Policy covered over $400 million in federal funds, part of which flowed to the abortion businesses International Planned Parenthood and Marie Stopes International for their foreign efforts.
As LifeNews.com reported, the pro-life policy had been in place during the entirety of the Bush administration and Obama rescinded it on his first week in office. Named for a 1984 population conference where President Reagan initially announced it, the Mexico City Policy made it so family planning funds could only go to groups that would agree to not do abortions or lobby foreign nations to overturn their pro-life laws.
Well, on Monday morning, the President did indeed sign the executive order reinstating the Mexico City Policy.  LifeNews.com stated:
Today, Trump restored the Mexico City Policy by executive order.
The Executive Memorandum to reinstate the Mexico City Policy stops taxpayer funding of groups that perform and promote abortions overseas but does not stop non-abortion international assistance. The order ensures U.S. foreign aid will continue to go to health care and humanitarian relief in the millions of dollars. It just will not subsidize abortion overseas.
In an e-mail to the website, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said: "President Trump’s immediate action to promote respect for all human life, including vulnerable unborn children abroad, as well as conscience rights, sends a strong signal about his Administration’s pro-life priorities.”
And, there were women that took to the streets of DC this past Saturday to bring a pro-life perspective to the Women's March on Washington, even though it became clear that the agenda of the march was devoted to so-called "reproductive rights," i.e, the ability of a woman to terminate her pregnancy.  Students For Life of America had a contingent there, which made its way to the front of the gathering.

According to The Blaze, Tina Whittington, the executive vice president of Students for Life, told the publication that their effort was about “making sure the pro-life voice was heard today.” She is quoted as saying, "Abortion is one of the most violent things that can happen to a woman, and one of the main messages of the march was anti-violence, especially violence towards women, and so we wanted to speak for those unborn women who can’t speak for themselves, so being out there in front was important to us."

The Blaze story said: "The pro-life group eventually moved to the side, where some agitated protesters continued to object to their presence. Others said they supported the pro-lifers’ right to protest."

On its Twitter feed, Students for Life quoted a Trump Administration official:
It's a shame that the March for Life, which estimates the same number of marchers in DC (650,000 in 2013) and will be happening next Friday, will not get anywhere near the same amount of coverage that this march got - and those pro-life members were NOT welcome at the Women's March.   The organizers noted that their platform is pro-choice and they revoked partnership status' from pro-life groups.
1 - Faith events surround inauguration

In the midst of overtly Christian events, as well as traditional events containing an evangelical Christian presence, Donald Trump took the oath of office on Friday as the 45th President of the United States.  Here is some material from my Meeting House Front Room blog on Friday:
God will not give America the leader it wants necessarily, but will give us the leader we need - and He speaks and operates through the electoral process.  Throughout the Bible, we see that God chose leaders who are imperfect, some of them downright wicked.  Even David, who was described as a man after God's own heart, had some very apparent flaws.  Nebuchadnezzar enslaved the Jewish people, but God worked in his life.  Some have likened Donald Trump to Cyrus, a secular king who was sympathetic with the cause of God's chosen people.
We don't know what God might do through Donald Trump in the next four years, but I'm thankful that there are Christian leaders who apparently have his ear.  The evangelical advisory board that was active in the campaign will continue to operate during the Administration, as member Dr. Richard Land announced on The Meeting House yesterday.  There were a number of Christian leaders who spoke at the traditional worship service at St. John's Episcopal Church in D.C. this morning. Christian prayers and comments were offered at the Inauguration.   And tomorrow, the customary service at the National Cathedral will feature some voices that have been heard on Faith Radio.
As Christianity Today reports:
The National Prayer Service, hosted at the Episcopal cathedral Saturday morning, will feature two former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, the granddaughter of Billy Graham, and Greg Laurie, the evangelist behind the popular Harvest America crusades, among a total of 26 faith leaders.
Representatives from Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Bahá’í traditions are also participating in the event...
Those two former SBC presidents are Jack Graham and Ronnie Floyd, who are both members of that advisory board, as is pastor David Jeremiah.  Alveda King, Harry Jackson, and Cissie Graham Lynch, daughter of Franklin and granddaughter of Billy Graham, are all on the list of participants.
A piece on the Religion News Service website proclaimed:
Donald J. Trump placed his hand on two Bibles and took the oath of office in a swearing-in ceremony that featured prayers and pronouncements of God’s favor by the largest assortment of clergy in inaugural history.
As the article points out, the President quoted from Scripture, from Psalm 133: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”  He also said in the speech," When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”

According to the President's Facebook page, the speech included these words:
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity. When America is united, America is totally unstoppable. There should be no fear – we are protected, and we will always be protected.
We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement and, most importantly, we are protected by God.
Among the six clergy who spoke at the Inauguration, four made their comments "in Jesus' name." The article says that: "Graham, who has said God allowed Trump to win the presidential election, made brief remarks before reading from 1 Timothy 2. He pointed out that a rain shower fell just as the new president began his inaugural address." He is quoted as saying, "In the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing.”

That passage he read in 1 Timothy 2 includes instruction to pray for leaders, and as Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance pointed out on Friday's edition of The Meeting House, it also includes a reference to the message of the gospel - there is one mediator between God and man: Christ Jesus.

Prior to the President's address, Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference read from Matthew chapter 5.  The RNS story said:
Rodriguez read from Chapter 5 in the Gospel of Matthew, including the Beatitudes and the “city on a hill” passage so central to America’s founding ideal and so popular in U.S. politics.
And instead of the more traditional translation of the opening of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Rodriguez used a different take from the New Living Translation of the Bible: “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 3 - January 15, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, I spotlight a new emergency hospital that has been built in the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq, a historical Christian homeland.  Also, another state is on the books as protecting pre-born life after 20 weeks gestation, but its attorney general has said he won't defend it.  And, a consortium of Christian leaders have signed on to an important religious freedom document that exposes the danger of so-called SOGI laws to freedom of religious expression.

3 - Ministry opens hospital in war-torn area of Iraq

This week, in the city of Mosul in Iraq, a new Samaritan's Purse emergency field hospital was dedicated.  The leader of that relief organization, Franklin Graham, was on hand, and the Samaritan's Purse website reports that "The 50-bed trauma unit is located on the Plains of Nineveh and is designed to treat those injured in the battle between Iraqi and coalition forces and ISIS militants in Mosul."  According to the story, an estimated three thousand people per day are fleeing the region, and some have life-threatening injuries.

Graham, in the dedication ceremony, said: “It’s a privilege to be here,” adding, “As a Christian, I want all people to know about God’s love for them." He also said, “We could not do this without the help of the Iraqi government and the international agencies, and we are so thankful for the cooperation we have received.”

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, Lise Grande said, "We’ve reached out to a number of organizations, asking, begging them to step forward...Dr. Graham, Samaritan’s Purse answered that call. We can’t thank you enough." Grande added, “You built this hospital in record time. Most of all we want to thank you for saving people. Because Samaritan’s Purse is here, thousands—tens of thousands—of people will survive…”

The emergency field hospital was readied in less than a month, and is part of the effort the ministry has undertaken to help people in the region - it has also been involved in helping to provide food, blankets, and tarps.

2 - KY passes new abortion ban, AG says he won't defend it

It is encouraging to see states enact legislation that protects life in the womb.  And, while some states have taken the bold steps to pass laws that forbid abortion past the age at which an unborn child's heartbeat is detected, perhaps 6 or 7 weeks, a number of states have approved legislation that will ban abortion after the time at which the child in the womb can feel pain, thought to be at about 20 weeks.

Baptist Press reports that Kentucky is one of the latest states to pass such legislation.  Recently, the Legislature there met in a rare Saturday session to pass a series of what the article terms "high-priority bills, including two that would curb abortions."  Governor Matt Bevin signed the bills - one is the late-term abortion bill, which "bans the procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases in which the mother's life is in danger. Physicians who violate the measure could have their medical licenses revoked and could be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison."

Also, there was a new ultrasound bill passed and signed.  According to Baptist Press:
...physicians are required to display the images so women can see, though they have the option to avert their eyes if they don't want to see them. Physicians face a $100,000 fine for a first offense and a $250,000 fine for subsequent offenses.
However, the Attorney General of the state, Andy Beshear, says, according to another piece on the Baptist Press website, that he will not defend the law.  He is quoted from a statement: "This law is clearly unconstitutional based on our review of numerous federal appellate rulings..."

But, the Governor says he'll take matters into his own hands.  The article states:
Bevin chastised Beshear for "refusing to do his job" to defend a law that had the support of nearly 80 percent of the state's lawmakers, a portion of them Democrats, and that is widely favored by Kentucky voters.

"AG Beshear would rather pander to his liberal, pro-abortion base than defend the law of Kentucky," Bevin said. "I will, therefore, continue doing it for him by defending these pro-life bills. The citizens of Kentucky demand and deserve no less."
Beshear, by the way, is the son of Bevin's predecessor as governor.

And, there's news out of Virginia, where the Governor there has said that he will veto a proposed abortion ban.  According to National Review, Governor Terry McAuliffe said that a 20-week ban, proposed so far by a Republican member of the state's General Assembly would perhaps bring economic harm to the state, although, as the article says, it's "unclear" how a 20-week restriction would do that.  McAuliffe is quoted as saying: “I can’t sit back and have that sitting out the same time I am traveling the globe recruiting businesses to Virginia."

The article goes on to say:
The Virginia governor is traveling for one such recruiting trip this coming weekend, and thus believed it necessary to condemn the pro-life bill before his meetings. “If there’s something that would be damaging toward business, and to our image around the country and the globe, I’ll veto it, you bet I will.”
Some great statistics from this article:
...the most recent polls reveal that almost two-thirds of Americans favor a 20-week abortion ban, including nearly 80 percent of Millennials. And a poll from last summer showed that 78 percent of people favor limiting abortion in some capacity, in many cases to the first trimester only. If anything, the tide of public opinion is surely turning in favor of abortion limitations.
Those are from surveys from the polling company, inc./Woman Trend and the Knights of Columbus, respectively.   And, an interesting note: the polling company, inc./Woman Trend has been operated by former Trump campaign manager who was recently appointed as Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, who is scheduled to speak at next Friday's March for Life.

1- Christian leaders agree, sign statement: SOGI laws contradict religious freedom

There has been direct conflict between these "sexual orientation, gender identity" laws that have been proposed and/or enacted by states and municipalities across America and the religious freedom rights of individuals who do not believe that the LGBT agenda should have a preferred place in American society.  This was affirmed by a new document initiated by the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

According to its website:
More than 75 prominent religious and thought leaders have come together as charter signatories of "Preserve Freedom, Reject Coercion," a statement that affirms every American’s freedom to peacefully live their lives according to their beliefs and opposes government coercion or censorship of fellow citizens who have different views. These leaders are united by the idea that all laws must respect freedom and promote justice for every citizen, no matter who they are.
The document says that:
SOGI laws empower the government to use the force of law to silence or punish Americans who seek to exercise their God-given liberty to peacefully live and work consistent with their convictions. They also create special preference in law for categories based on morally significant choices that profoundly affect human relations and treat reasonable religious and philosophical beliefs as discriminatory. We therefore believe that proposed SOGI laws, including those narrowly crafted, threaten fundamental freedoms, and any ostensible protections for religious liberty appended to such laws are inherently inadequate and unstable.
Religion News Service reported that a meeting was slated for this past weekend.  The article stated: "Major players in the ongoing battle over religious freedom and LGBT rights will meet at Yale University this weekend to discuss conscience rights, LGBT protections and legislation needed to balance those competing interests."

The article mentions the Colson Center document, but also talks about the so-called "Fairness for All" movement. Robin Fretwell Wilson, director of the family law and policy program at the University of Illinois College of Law and one of the meeting’s organizers said, “We all think … the view that nondiscrimination protections must crowd out every other value is wrong, but we have different visions of the right."  And, there are some in the Christian community who are open to embracing some sort of middle ground.  According to the article:
The National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities saw the value of exploring efforts to balance LGBT nondiscrimination measures and religious liberty.
Over the last 16 months, they’ve met with 200 Christians whose jobs potentially intersect with SOGI policies.
“The goal was to solicit input from and the wisdom of these leaders. We wanted to hear their thoughts and concerns and offer support,” said Shapri LoMaglio, CCCU’s vice president for government and external relations.
Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation has met with leaders who embrace the "Fairness for All" perspective, and is calling for civil debate.  But, as the Religion News Service story says:
He disagrees with the logic of Fairness for All legislation, arguing that now is not the time to turn sexual orientation and gender identity into protected categories under the law.

Instead, policymakers should prioritize passing laws that ensure the rights of traditional marriage supporters, Anderson said.
“In the aftermath of the (same-sex marriage) decision, we don’t need additional laws protecting gay and lesbian Americans. We need laws that protect those who lost,” he said.
This is an approach that is consistent with what Dr. Ben Carson said in his confirmation hearing this past week to become the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, according to a recent LifeSiteNews.com story:
"Of course, I would enforce all the laws of the land,” Carson said. “Of course, I think all Americans should be protected by the law.”
He then added, “What I have said before is I don’t think anyone should get ‘extra rights.’”
Carson made the same point in a 2014 speech at CPAC, a major conservative conference, earning the ire of LGBT and gay “marriage” advocates the year before the June 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage.”
“Of course gay people should have the same rights as everyone else,” he said at the time. “But they don't get extra rights. They don't get to redefine marriage.”