Saturday, May 27, 2017

The 3 - May 28, 2017

This week's edition of The 3 includes a story line that has become all too common this time of year: a student that has been prevented from making a graduation speech due to its faith content.  Also, dozens died in an attack in Egypt on a bus carrying Coptic Christians to a monastery.  Plus, there were quite a few spiritual implications during the first few days of the President's recent foreign trip.

3 - Student kept from delivering graduation speech because of faith content

It seems like every year about this time, you hear or read a story or two or more of graduating students who have had their free speech rights limited because they wanted to include mentions of God or faith in them.  Todd Starnes reports on his website that a 13-year-old student in Akin, IL, Seth Clark, had planned to share about his faith journey in a graduation speech at Akin Grade School, only to have school officials tell him he could not.  Starnes writes that Clark was...
...mighty proud of that speech. He referenced God and quoted from the Bible and even mentioned his Christian faith.
But just hours before graduation, Seth was told that he would not be permitted to deliver his remarks.
“As a public school, it is our duty to educate students, regardless of how different they or their beliefs may be,” Supt. Kelly Clark wrote in a prepared statement to the Benton Evening News.
“While students are welcome to pray or pursue their faith without disrupting school or infringing upon the rights of others, the United States Constitution prohibits the school district from incorporating such activities as part of school-sponsored events, and when the context causes a captive audience to listen or compels other students to participate,” her statement read.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, I believe, would disagree with that assessment. In a piece on the organization's website, he is quoted as saying: "The key is that public schools should remain neutral towards any expression of a religious view, including graduation prayer. The school is allowed to neither command nor prohibit religious language..."

The website points out that:
In Adler v. Duval County School Board, Liberty Counsel successfully defended the right of students to pray or give religious messages at graduation. The case established the legal principle that public schools are free to adopt a policy that allows students or other speakers to present secular or religious messages, including prayer, at commencement ceremonies.
Well, the Seth Clark story doesn't end with the restriction on his speech.  Starnes reports that once residents of Akin learned it that "a neighbor of the Clark’s owned a house across from the school and he invited Seth to deliver the speech on his property."  Becky Clark told Todd: "When it came time for the valedictorian and the salutatorian to deliver their speeches, they invited the audience to join them across the street at the house,” adding, “It was not mandatory.”  

So, people went across the street to hear Seth's speech.

2 - Another attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt

Early Friday, at least 29 Copic Christians in Egypt lost their lives when they were attacked while on a bus to a monastery.  According to the WORLD Magazine website, Islamic State took credit for the attack, carried out by its "soldiers."

In retaliation, it was reported that the Egyptian military "bombed militant bases affiliated with al-Qaeda in Libya." Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi phoned the country’s Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II and told him, according to WORLD, that the government would not rest until the terrorists responsible for the attack were punished.
Christianity Today reported that many of the victims were children. It stated:
Egypt’s interior ministry reported that three 4x4 vehicles of 8 to 10 gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire on the vehicle, which was on its way to St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Samalout, 140 miles south of Cairo.
1 - President's first foreign trip contains religious elements

The President's recent trip to the Middle East had plenty of spiritual overtones.  Mr. Trump addressed over 50 Arab leaders, challenging them to take it upon themselves to curb radical Islamic terrorism. He then traveled to Israel, where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; he also went to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Christian Today article included coverage of the President's visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The story quotes the President:
"Yesterday, I visited the Western Wall, and marveled at the monument to God's presence and man's perseverance – I was humbled to place my hand upon the wall and to pray in that holy space for wisdom from God," he said in a speech at the Israel Museum.
Christian Today notes that "Trump is the first American president to visit Judaism's holiest site while in office. Prior to going the Western Wall, he visited one of Christianity's most sacred sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which some believe is the place where Jesus was crucified. The trip to Jerusalem was the second stop on Trump's first international trip as president."

The President then went to the Vatican to meet with Pope Francis.

The Guardian reports that the two met for a little under a half-hour.  The website stated that:
The discussion was described as cordial in a statement by the Holy See, which said “satisfaction was expressed” for the good US relationship with the Vatican and their “joint commitment in favour of life, and freedom of worship and conscience”.

“It is hoped that there may be serene collaboration between the state and the Catholic church in the United States, engaged in service to the people in the fields of healthcare, education and assistance to immigrants,” the statement said.
The President gave the Pope some books written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the pontiff gave Trump some of his own writings, as well as medallion containing an olive branch, referred to as a "symbol of peace."  Trump reportedly said, "We can use peace."  Following the visit, the President tweeted out: "Honor of a lifetime to meet His Holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world."

Also, according to AOL.com, "Following her meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Wednesday, first lady Melania Trump confirmed a fact that many were unfamiliar with -- she is a practicing Catholic."  The article points out that the President has referred to his "Presbyterian faith," and that the couple were married in an Episcopal church, where their son, Barron, was baptized later.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The 3 - May 21, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, focusing on three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news about a Cuban pastor who has been put in prison - why?  Because he dared to homeschool his children.  Also, a substitute teacher in New Jersey has been reinstated after being removed from his position because he discussed faith with and handed a Bible to a student.  And, in another pro-life move, the President has broadened a policy preventing U.S. tax dollars from funding abortions in other countries.

3 - Cuban pastor jailed because of homeschooling

The imprisonment of a Cuban pastor for homeschooling his children has had reverberations in America, according to a report on the Faithwire website. Pastor Ramon Rigal, described as a "Cuban evangelical pastor" has been given a one-year prison sentence, and his wife is facing a sentence of a year of house arrest because they removed their children from the Cuban school system in order to homeschool their children.

This past Thursday, there was a protest about the decision in front of the Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., as those gathered "demanded political asylum" for the pastor and his family.

The Faithwire story states:
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which is working on the Rigals [sic] behalf, the pastor and his wife chose to homeschool their children after they began to face indoctrination and backlash for their faith in the Marxist-friendly schools.
The article reports that Mike Donnelly of HSLDA "told the Christian Post that the Cuban government’s decision to jail Rigal is inhumane and violates the tenets of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by the island nation in 2008 and 'recognizes the role of parents having the ability to conform the education of their children to their religious beliefs and philosophical convictions.'"

The story also says that those who were at the embassy "were attempting to deliver the CitizenGo petition" that was set up by HSLDA, which has received around 31,000 signatures, but "they were turned away by officials."  The report states that, "While the Rigals hope to stay in Cuba and continue serving their congregation, they are also open to coming to the United States should it prove to be the only option."

2 - Substitute teacher who shared Bible with student exonerated

Walt Tutka was a substitute teacher in Philipsburg, New Jersey, and in 2013, according to a report on the Family Policy Alliance website:
After hearing Tutka say “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first,” a student asked him about the quote, then asked more about the Bible, and ultimately asked if he could have one. Tutka, a member of the Gideons, gave him a pocket New Testament.
Tutka was removed from his position, and recently, he was exonerated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  The EEOC found that he was discriminated against by the school "on the basis of religion."  He has been reinstated.  Hiram Sasser of First Liberty Institute is quoted as saying: “We always knew Walt complied with all school district policies and federal laws,” adding “The EEOC agreed, and now Walt is returning to his service to the community in Philipsburg.”

The Family Policy Alliance article also pointed out that "The young man in the case had his religious freedoms violated as well."  The article also points to a bill that has passed the Indiana Legislature providing religious freedom protection for students.

1 - President expands Mexico City policy

Early in his Presidency, Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy, which prevents U.S. taxpayer dollars from going to fund abortion in foreign countries.  Now, the Susan B. Anthony List reports that recently, the President has issued an Executive Order, which "modernized" the policy. According to its website:
The administration modernized the policy to cover all foreign health assistance provided by government agencies including the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, and the Department of Defense. Previously the policy only covered family planning funds.
Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser is quoted in a statement: “By modernizing this important policy and expanding it to include $8.8 billion in foreign aid, President Trump is continuing Ronald Reagan’s pro-life legacy. This executive order does not cut a single penny from U.S. aid, rather it simply ensures our hard-earned tax dollars are used by other health care entities that act consistently to save lives, rather than promoting and performing abortion. Abortion is not health care.”

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The 3 - May 14, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, including three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a story about a statement released by a federal agency head about religious liberty.  There was also a court victory recently for a Kentucky t-shirt printer who would not provide products for an LGBT event.  And, hundreds gathered in Washington for a meeting on Christian persecution.  

3 - Agriculture head releases religious liberty statement

It will be interesting to see how the ramifications of the President's executive order on religious freedom play out.  The order provided instructions to various federal officials to develop policies ensuring that religious liberty is protected.

And, recently, the Secretary of Agriculture, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, has a statement on respecting religious liberty, according to a report on the Family Research Council website, which provided quotes from the statement, which said: "Today, I want to reestablish this Department's commitment to safeguarding every American's First Amendment rights, particularly the right to free speech and the right to free religious exercise. USDA is committed to protecting both..."

This is especially relevant in light of an incident involving the USDA inspection of a meat processing plant in Michigan.  The FRC site said:
Don Vander Boon, owner of West Michigan Beef Company, was threatened by inspectors to shut him down -- not because of the meat he was processing, but because they had a beef with the conservative materials on the break room table. That case is yet to be resolved, but hopefully, Perdue's unequivocal statement will lead to unequivocal actions to protect and preserve religious freedom.
2 - Kentucky t-shirt printer wins appeals court victory 

There is encouraging news on the religious freedom front in a case involving a t-shirt printer in Kentucky, who had declined to provide shirts for a Gay Pride parade in Lexington.  According to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, the Kentucky Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the printer, Hands On Originals, owned by Blaine Adamson.

The site reports:
In 2014, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission ruled that Blaine Adamson of Hands On Originals must print messages that conflict with his faith when customers ask him to do so. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys appealed the order to the Fayette Circuit Court, which reversed the commission’s ruling and affirmed Adamson’s freedom to live according to his faith. The commission then appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals in Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission v. Hands On Originals.
ADF says that in the opinion, Chief Judge Joy A. Kramer "explained that no evidence demonstrates that Hands On Originals 'refused any individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations it offered to everyone else because the individual in question had a specific sexual orientation or gender identity.'"

ADF went on to say that, "Adamson regularly does business with and employs people who identify as LGBT."  Senior Counsel Jim Campbell said, "Today’s decision is a victory for printers and other creative professionals who serve all people but cannot promote all messages. It is also a victory for all Americans because it reassures us all that, no matter what you believe, the law can’t force you to express a message in conflict with your deepest convictions.”

This case bears watching, because the track record of creative professionals defending their right to decline to provide products and services for events with which they disagree based on conscience has not been good.  We are still waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court hears the appeal of a cake baker in Colorado who declined to service a gay wedding.  The high court declined to hear the appeal of a New Mexico photographer who had faced negative court rulings.  And, a Washington florist's case received a ruling against her in the state supreme court.

1 - Persecuted church front and center in high-profile conference

This week in Washington, DC, the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians was convened by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  According to an article at BillyGraham.org, over 130 countries were represented there.  BGEA President and CEO Franklin Graham spoke on opening night, saying: “Nobody knows exactly how many Christians are killed or imprisoned for their faith,” adding, “But it’s safe to say over a hundred thousand a year.” He said, “It’s the equivalent of Christian genocide.”

The article points out that...
...By one report—Open Doors USA’s 2017 World Watch List—approximately 215 million Christians in the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian experience “high, very high or extremely high persecution.”
Vice-President Mike Pence addressed the gathering on Thursday morning, and according to BillyGraham.org, he said to the 600-plus people who attended: "...I’m here on behalf of the president as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and frankly all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world." He also said, "The Bible tells us all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” adding, “And those who are gathered here today are emblematic of millions across the world.”

He stated, referring to the Scripture in Jeremiah 29:11: “Know that America stands with you and will labor alongside,” adding, “But be confident, because in the midst of it all, He knows the plans He has for us. And even, as history records, even in times of persecution, this Church has prospered. It’s grown. It’s had hope. And a future.”

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The 3 - May 7, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, I provide an update on some recent instances of persecution of Christians in China.  Also, the health care bill passed by the U.S. House on Thursday contained a provision to limit funds going to Planned Parenthood.  And, Thursday was proclaimed as the National Day of Prayer by President Trump, a day on which he signed a religious freedom executive order.

3 - China detains church members, incidences of religious persecution reported

Even as the United States seeks to retool its working relationship with China, especially with regard to North Korea, Christians in that country are continuing to face instances of persecution.  A story on the Christian Headlines website from WORLD News Service opens up by stating:
Amid increasing attempts to suppress religious activities, Chinese authorities have detained, fined, and imprisoned Christians for public worship, buying and selling devotionals, and group Bible study.
The article mentioned several occurrences.  In one, according to the story, "a court in Xinjiang convicted five Protestants who attended a Bible study in 2016, charging them with 'gathering a crowd to disrupt social order,' Asia News reported."  In another, authorities raided a Christian concert, according to China Aid, which also reported that more than 80 people were arrested earlier this year in Xinjiang as a network of house churches was targeted.  And, a Christian human rights lawyer Li Heping has been convicted for "subverting state power."  He stays out of prison if he doesn't do it again.

And, recently, according to the China Aid website, just this week:
Police officers raided a house church meeting in China’s southern Guangdong province on Wednesday evening, detaining 30 of the members in attendance including the pastor and an American couple with two children.
The story also states that:
Because an American couple and their two children in attendance at the meeting, authorities accused the church of “accommodating foreigners” and “illegally gathering” because the church was not a registered meeting place.
By the way, beginning this Wednesday, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association will host a summit in Washington, DC concerning the persecuted church.

2 - How to defund Planned Parenthood - health care revision best

It was a lengthy process, although not as long as the time period it took for the original Affordable Care Act to pass.  The American Health Care Act offers revisions in that legislation, also known as Obamacare, and passed by a slim 217-213 margin in the U.S. House of Representatives.  It now goes on to the Senate, where wholesale changes are expected.

Pro-life advocates were pleased that this bill contained a provision to defund Planned Parenthood. According to Live Action News, "the U.S. House voted to strip Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funds for one year. The year will begin immediately on the day President Trump signs the bill, if the Senate also passes it."  The report also states:
Since the defunding is coming through a reconciliation bill, 51 votes will be needed for passage in the Senate. The defunding will redirect approximately 80 percent of the abortion chain’s taxpayer funding and send it to the comprehensive health care centers around the nation that outnumber Planned Parenthood by the thousands.
Disappointment had been expressed because the omnibus budget bill that was passed last week continued to fund Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.  But, as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had pointed out and the Family Research Council agreed, the Obamacare route was a more practical path, because it only required 51 votes in the Senate, rather than the 60 that it would take for the funding to be eliminated in the omnibus bill. an FRC post said, "When people blasted House leaders for not defunding Planned Parenthood in the omnibus, he [Ryan] reminded them that the reconciliation bill -- the same one that rewrites Obamacare -- is our best hope for that."  The piece included a quote from Ryan that the Hyde Amendment riders continued to be in the omnibus budget bill.

1 - Administration declares support for religious liberty in prayer proclamation, executive order

The greatly anticipated executive order on religious freedom was signed by President Trump on the National Day of Prayer Thursday.  And, in the evangelical community, there has been a wide variety of opinion, from enthusiastic embraces to expressions of disappointment.  In reading a number of quotes, I would say that even some who were critical of the order saw it as a "first step."

The order included language that stated an overall pledge of support for religious liberty, relief from punishment under the Johnson Amendment, which limits what pastors can say in the pulpit about political candidates, and relief for religious organizations suffering under the HHS contraceptive mandate.  The order stopped short of protecting business people who do not wish to participate in activities that do not align with their values, such as florists or cake bakers who decline to provide products or services for gay marriage ceremonies, which is what many were looking for.

Paul Weber, President and CEO of Family Policy Alliance is quoted on the organization's website:
“The previous Administration’s hostility toward the right to freely live out one’s faith was no secret,” he explained. “American employers and even faith-based charities were forced to choose between their faith and contributing to the good of our country’s economy and welfare.
“President Trump must continue to work to protect religious freedom. Family Policy Alliance and our network of 40 state-based family policy councils will work with families across the country to restore a nation where religious freedom flourishes.”
The article described the order as a "first step."  That article also called attention to the President's National Day of Prayer Proclamation, and included these words from it:
“We are also reminded and reaffirm that all human beings have the right, not only to pray and worship according to their consciences, but to practice their faith in their homes, schools, charities, and businesses – in private and in the public square – free from government coercion, discrimination, or persecution. Religion is not merely an intellectual exercise, but also a practical one that demands action in the world. Even the many prisoners around the world who are persecuted for their faith can pray privately in their cells. But our Constitution demands more: the freedom to practice one’s faith publicly.”
To hear analysis from Stuart Shepard, Executive Producer of Creative Communications for the Alliance, when he appeared on The Meeting House on Faith Radio on Friday, you can go to FaithRadio.org.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 3 - April 30, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, I point to a new report on religious freedom issued by a commission affiliated with the State Department.  Also, an assortment of pro-life groups placed thousands of socks on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building to call attention to the huge numbers of children who lost their lives in an abortion just last year.  Plus, a committee of the United Methodist Church has ruled against a lesbian bishop, but she gets to keep her position.

3 - New religious freedom reports highlights puts Russia in top tier of concerning countries

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is an arm of the State Department which reports on countries that violate religious freedom, has released its annual report, according to Christianity Today.  And, among the 16 countries who are considered Tier 1 "Countries of Particular Concern," Russia has made the list for the first time in the almost 20-year history of the Commission.

The article states that...
The report dedicated seven pages to its problematic policies, from the “persecution of religious minorities in the occupied areas of Crimea and Donbas” to recent moves against non-Orthodox Christians in its heartland.
And, the article points out that, "Last week, Russia’s Supreme Court officially banned Jehovah’s Witnesses nationwide after several years of blacklisting their materials and shutting down regional centers."  The CT piece also says that...
...the commission wants to see more pressure put on Russian officials over repressive application of other laws, including its “foreign agents” law—which restricts missionary activity—and a 2016 anti-evangelism regulation (known as the “Yarovaya law”)—which keeps non-Orthodox Russians from sharing their faith outside official church buildings.
According to the article:
The full list of Tier 1 countries of particular concern includes: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, with the addition of Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam this year.
The countries on the Tier 2 list are: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Laos, Malaysia, and Turkey.
2 - Pro-life group displays socks on U.S. Capitol grounds

Nearly 200,000 baby socks were displayed on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol recently, a demonstration led by Students for Life for America, according to a WORLD Magazine piece. Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, stated, “These socks represent all the women betrayed by the abortion industry and their preborn babies who will never be able to wear the baby socks because of Planned Parenthood,” and added, “This generation wants to defund Planned Parenthood. They expect our elected officials to keep the promises they made during the election.”

The article reported that Planned Parenthood aborted almost 324,000 babies just last year. Students for Life had set out to collect enough socks to represent each of those babies, and once they exceeded half their goal, the socks were transported via moving trucks.  The article also points out that Planned Parenthood "receives around $500 million of annual federal funding."

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, along with representatives of pro-life groups, including the Susan B. Anthony List and Americans United for Life, were there for the event. The Senator, referring to the number of abortions performed by Planned Parenthood, said: "It’s just a devastatingly large number, and we need to have images like this so that people start to reflect on the magnitude of the suffering that’s happening out there.”

1 - United Methodist body finds lesbian bishop breaks church rules, but allows her to stay in position

Last year, the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church ordained a lesbian bishop, and this week, the denomination's Judicial Council ruled that the consecration of Karen Oliveto as a bishop violated church law, according to an article on the ChristianToday.com website.

However, the council did not remove Oliveto from her position. The article states that, "the bishop 'remains in good standing,' the Judicial Council said until an administrative or judicial process is completed."  The article reported that:
The court – which decided against her by 6-3 – declined to remove her as a bishop, sending that decision back to the jurisdiction that elected her. However, it said that an openly homosexual and partnered bishop may be charged with disobedience to church law, along with other bishops and clergy who consecrated her.
Jeff Lomperis of the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported on the Juicy Ecumenism blog that in separate decisions, "the Council invalidated a resolution from the Northeastern Jurisdiction promoting disobedience to the church’s sexuality standards and ruled that the even liberal-leaning regional conferences like New York and Northern Illinois must make 'full examination' of ordination candidates to screen out those unwilling to abstain from homosexual practice, adultery, or pre-marital sex."

Lomperis stated, "I celebrate that these landmark rulings should now make it significantly easier to bring accountability for pastors who choose to violate biblical standards for sexual self-control. We are slowly but increasingly strengthening biblical accountability in our church." But, he added he was disappointed that Oliveto was not removed from her position.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The 3 - April 23, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news out of Egypt - again - regarding ISIS and terror, as a Greek Orthodox monastery faced a recent ISIS assault.  Also, a Christian holding the principal leadership role in Indonesia's capital has been defeated in his bid for another term.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments just this week in a key religious liberty case.

3 - Greek Orthodox monastery victimized by ISIS in Egypt

The extreme terrorist organization ISIS is continuing to wreak havoc, and while its involvement in high-profile targets, such as the attack in Paris this past week, seems to garner headlines, you can still keep in mind that ISIS is committed to carrying out attacks on Christians.

Just two weeks after the deadly Palm Sunday attacks on two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt, a Greek Orthodox monastery suffered an attack, with the responsibility claimed by ISIS, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.  The attack occurred at the ancient monastery of St. Catherine on the southern Sinai peninsula.  The article states:
One policeman was killed and four injured during an exchange of gunfire at a checkpoint about half a mile from the monastery entrance. Police were eventually able to gain control and force the militants to flee, according to the Ministry of Interior as reported by Ahram Online.
A Coptic tour guide, Ibrahim Morgan, is quoted as saying, “Of course if you hit the Sinai and St. Catherine’s, tourists will stay away,” adding, "But I think this is a message also for the pope.”  Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Egypt in the coming week.

The CT article notes that St. Catherine's was named for a fourth-century martyr from Alexandria, and states: 
In the mid-19th century, the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus was discovered in St. Catherine’s ancient library, at the time the oldest near-complete text of the Bible. The library boasts more than 8,000 early printed books, and is considered second only to the Vatican in collection of early biblical manuscripts.
2 - Christian governor in Indonesia defeated

Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is the first Christian governor of the city of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. His effort to win a second term, however, was unsuccessful, as he was defeated by his Muslim opponent, Anies Baswedan, according to a report on the Mission Network News website.

Basuki was reportedly leading throughout much of the election season, but he had been accused of blasphemy by radical Muslim groups. He will be facing a trial in Indonesia on blasphemy charges.

The MNN article states:
...analysts say this recent election may signal a growing confidence in the use of religion as a political weapon by the Muslim-majority population. And a local news outlet calls this latest election in Indonesia the “dirtiest, most polarizing and most divisive the nation has ever seen.”
Basuki had been accused of speaking against Islam as the result of his words apparently being incorrectly related.  An earlier report on the AsiaNews.it website, which had been linked to on the Christianity Today site, stated that;
Buni Yani, communications professor at the London School of Central Jakarta, is accused of having manipulated the words of the Christian governor of the capital to make them offensive to Islam. He defended himself by saying I did it "by mistake", but public opinion has it that it opened an investigation.
1 - U.S. Supreme Court hears major religious liberty case; is another on horizon?

The U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments this past week in the case of a church that wished to participate in a Missouri program that offers opportunities for non-profit organizations to obtain resurfacing materials made from recycled tires.  The church, even though it apparently qualified, was denied from benefiting from it because it was a religious organization.

The church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, MO, filed a lawsuit and was turned back at the Federal district and appeals court level.  So, the high court took up the case.

WORLD Magazine has a report on Wednesday's hearing.   The article opened this way:
Supreme Court justices on both sides of the ideological spectrum seemed concerned about the state of Missouri’s decision to exclude a church from a neutral government subsidy program, a positive sign for religious liberty advocates watching today’s oral arguments. But the justices also suggested the case might be moot due to recent state policy changes, leaving court-watchers uncertain about whether the justices will rule at all.
Those new developments?  The new Republican governor of Missouri has enacted a change in policy that prevents religious groups from being omitted from the program.  But, David Cortman of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the church, according to WORLD:
...told the justices there is no assurance the state will retain its new policy after Greitens leaves office. He said this new policy, which Greitens announced on Facebook, can just as easily be switched back when the political winds shift. Since the Missouri Supreme Court already ruled against Trinity, someone is sure to challenge the new policy, he added.
One of the elephants in the room regarding this term of the U.S. Supreme Court, at least in the eyes of the SCOTUS Blog, seems to be the case of a Colorado cake baker who declined to provide products for a same-sex wedding.  At the beginning of April, the site reported:
The justices have now considered the petition for review in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission at five consecutive conferences without acting on it. The custom-cake business owned by Jack Phillips, who describes himself as a “cake artist,” argues that Colorado’s public accommodations law violates the First Amendment by requiring Phillips to create custom wedding cakes for same-sex weddings, in violation of his religious beliefs. As is their practice, the justices have not explained why they have not yet ruled on Phillips’ petition. The electronic docket for the case has not yet been updated, but if – as expected – the case is once again scheduled for consideration at the justices’ next conference, on April 13, we could hear something on Monday, April 17.
Make that seven conferences, apparently, since the high court passed on the case on the 13th and met on Friday, April 21 in another conference, but did not accept any new cases. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

The 3 - April 16, 2017

This week on The 3, there is story from Alabama that has made national impact, about a governor, who was a former Baptist deacon, who speaks the faith language, but was forced from office in the wake of a scandal.  Also, two new appointees from President Trump are signals of his continued commitment to surround himself with people who embrace a perspective consistent with Scripture. And, the President signed his first piece of pro-life legislation this week, the same week that Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch, who was widely supported by pro-life groups, was sworn in.

3 - Christians respond to Bentley resignation

The words were full of Scriptural principles:
With the strength that God gives me every day, with the blessed assurance that I have in my salvation in Jesus Christ, I have worked hard to move beyond any of my past mistakes. And especially this time of year at Easter, I am grateful that I serve a loving and forgiving God who loves me, and he loves each and every one of us unconditionally.
That was taken from a WHNT Television story.  Former Alabama governor Robert Bentley was speaking on April 7, just 4 days before his resignation, saying that he would not resign and calling on people to halt the exposure of personal details of his activity.  The Alabama Ethics Commission had announced just days before that it had found "probable cause" that Bentley had violated ethics laws, and a the same day that an expansive House Impeachment Committee report was released.  He went on:
Last year, I got to a point where I recognized and I realized I could not carry these burdens on my own. I got to the point where I knew I could not do this by myself. That day last May, I asked God to take these struggles and to help me carry these burdens. And I found freedom in that, and I completely gave him all of me, and I dedicated myself to depending on him. And with the prayer and opportunity God gives me, I’ve worked hard trying to restore and reconcile with my family, especially my boys who I love with all my heart.
Now, you can hope and pray that what he declared - walking in forgiveness and reconciliation - would indeed take place.

Baptist Press featured an article that included quotes from a variety of Alabama Southern Baptist leaders.  State convention president John Thweatt responded: "More than anything, we need to pray for Gov. [Robert] Bentley," adding, "Pray for his family. Pray for our new governor [Kay Ivey], lifting her up and asking God to give her direction and give her wisdom."  The article continues:
Thweatt, pastor of First Baptist Church in Pell City, Ala., said moral failures among politicians are "especially devastating for us when it's a person who claims to be a believer." He added Christians should condemn the former governor's sin but not become judgmental.

"There is an expectation of holiness for the child of God," Thweatt said. Because all believers are susceptible to sin and moral failure, "we've got to take steps to make sure we're walking in sanctification."
The article pointed out that Bentley is a former deacon chair at First Baptist Church of Tuscaloosa.

So, legislatively speaking, how will new Kay Ivey, govern, especially related to social issues. The Susan B. Anthony list tweeted out: "@GovernorKayIvey is a #prolife, pro-woman champion. She's a longtime friend of SBA List. And now she is Governor of Alabama!"

With regard to gambling, Ivey seems to favor a statewide vote on gambling.  According to a WIAT Television story:
When asked about the future of gambling in Alabama, she says it’s a complex issue.
“Just a pure simple lottery, that would probably have some merit, but there is no such thing as a pure simple lottery,” Ivey said. “Section 65 I have the constitution, I believe it is, forbids the lottery, so if we are going to have a lottery, we have got to repeal that, and if he [sic] repeal that, it opens the door for all types of gambling.”
During her brief campaign for governor in 2010, before she decided to run for lieutenant governor, Ivey had said, according to WBRC Television:
Monday morning on Good Day Alabama, Ivey called for a simply worded referendum: "Do you support the legalization of casino gambling, yes or no?"
Ivey says the current legal and legislative battle over e-bingo in the state has been distracting. She believes if a simple referendum passed, it would be followed up by a vote to detail how gambling would operate in the state.
Governor Bentley had set up a committee to "study" the issue of gambling.  A report had been expected by the end of the legislative session.

2 - Trump nominees contrast with previous administration's agenda

A number of the President's actions thus far have contained plenty for which Christian conservatives can be grateful.  Some of the high-profile people with whom Mr. Trump has surrounded himself  are people who have displayed strong faith, such as Vice-President Pence, Attorney General Sessions, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and Education Secretary DeVos.

Now, there is word that people have been nominated by the new administration who can be expected to pursue an agenda that is more in line with traditional values than some in the previous administration.

Take, for instance, Roger Severino.  He is described by LifeSiteNews, which reported:
President Trump has appointed social conservative Roger Severino to head the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a choice celebrated by pro-family advocates and condemned by pro-LGBTQ leftists.
Severino, a Harvard Law School graduate who served as director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the conservative Heritage Foundation, has written and published extensively against leftist “gender ideology” and the Obama administration’s promotion of transgenderism in the military.
Ken Blackwell of Family Research Council said, according to the article that...
...HHS Secretary Price is “building a team” and “has a game plan” to “attack the administrative state,” which includes dismantling the far-reaching tentacles of Obama’s pro-LGBT agenda across the federal government’s bureaucracy.
And, then there is the appointment of Mark Green to be the next Secretary of the Army.  Again, from LifeSiteNews:
President Trump has chosen a Tea Party, pro-life conservative Christian and former U.S. Army flight surgeon as Secretary of the Army in a move that LGBTQ activists denounced, according to news sources.
If approved by the Senate, Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green, a Clarksville Republican, would fill the spot occupied by Eric Fanning, who was appointed in 2016 by former President Obama as the first “out” homosexual to hold the post.
Open homosexuality was not allowed in the Armed Forces until Obama signed a bill ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2011. As LifeSiteNews reported, Fanning was a leading pro-“transgender” advocate in the military and a key player behind Obama’s policy change allowing gender-confused individuals to serve openly.
The article also points out that:
Donald Trump campaigned for president as one who would strongly defend religious liberty, and his reported appointment of Dr. Green as Army Secretary could further that objective.
Under Obama, politically correct, pro-secular military actions that effectively stripped servicemembers of their free-conscience rights proliferated. The anti-religious-freedom cases only slowed after successful legal challenges from groups like First Liberty, which specializes in defending military conscience rights.
1 - President signs resolution allowing states to refuse to fund Planned Parenthood

Another pro-life victory under the Trump administration was recorded this past week, as the President signed into law his first pro-life piece of legislation, according to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website.

The article, released on Thursday, states:
Trump signed the Congressional Review Act today, which blocks a last minute order President Barack Obama issued in the waning days of his presidency. The Obama order banned 13 conservative states from redirecting Planned Parenthood’s Title X funding to community health centers that do not offer abortion. This is the first piece of pro-life legislation Trump has signed into law and the first time the U.S. Senate has successfully passed a pro-life bill in more than eight years.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List, is quoted: "The resolution signed today simply ensures that states are not forced to fund an abortion business with taxpayer dollars,” adding, “Rather, states have the option to spend Title X money on comprehensive healthcare clinics that better serve women and girls.”

The WORLD piece noted that, "About 25 percent of all Title X grants currently go to Planned Parenthood and its affiliates. In total, Planned Parenthood receives about $500 million in federal funds each year."  Title X grants are set aside for family planning services, and 13 states had been shifting money away from Planned Parenthood, but were then blocked by the Obama administration. This restores those states' ability to direct such funds to clinics that do not perform abortions.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

The 3 - April 9, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting stories of relevance to the Christian community, find out about one of the Trump administration's latest pro-life moves.  Also, there's a disturbing ruling out of a Federal appeals court that provides protection from Federal discrimination laws based on sexual orientation.  And, the first nominee by President Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court has been confirmed.

3 - Trump administration changes policy on U.N. population control initiative

This week, the Trump administration made another pro-life decision, announcing that it would no longer use U.S. taxpayer dollars to contribute to China's population control policy through the United Nations.  The Susan B. Anthony List website announced that the administration had invoked the Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which "gives the President the authority to determine whether an organization should be de-funded because it 'supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.'"

SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser is quoted as saying, “The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has a long history of supporting China’s oppressive population control activities, including forced abortions,” adding, “We should all be able to agree that forced abortions are a horrific violation of human rights. It is sickening to think of our tax dollars supporting such abuse of women and children. We commend President Trump for standing up for women and protecting taxpayers from funding forced abortions.”

The SBA website stated that according to a determination by the U.S. State Department, "UNFPA put together their program in 'close consultation with the [Chinese] Government' and calls for implementation through government agencies. Specifically, 'the NHFPC, which is responsible for implementing and enforcing China’s program of forced abortion and involuntary sterilization, appears in [the current UNFPA China program] as a UNFPA partner in anticipated family planning-related outcomes.'  Even though China has modified its one-child policy to allow two children, there are still a variety of coercive elements, according to the SBA List.

2 - U.S. circuit court issues ruling classifying "sexual orientation" as protected

In a shocking Federal court decision that runs counter to rulings in other circuits, as Mandi Ancalle, General Counsel for Government Affairs for the Family Research Council pointed out on The Meeting House this past Friday, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided to make "sexual orientation" a protected class under Federal discrimination laws, broadly interpreting the word "sex" to include orientation.

The Family Research Council website pointed out:
For years, liberals have tried to pass legislation making "sexual orientation" a protected category under the Civil Rights Act -- first with ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) and then with the "Equality Act." The House and Senate rejected them every time. They recognized, as we do, that sexual orientation wasn't on the minds of legislators 53 years ago when it was trying to weed out prejudice -- and more importantly, it wasn't in the text of the law that passed! No bother, liberals said. We'll just rewrite the policy through our activist courts.
And Tuesday, the 7th Circuit was more than willing to comply. "For many years," Chief Judge Diane Wood admitted, "the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation." So by her own admission, there's absolutely no justification for rewriting the law. Still, she goes on, it's the court's responsibility to take a "fresh look" at its position. And in doing so, she writes, "we conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."
So, while the chief judge was advocating for a "fresh look," dissenting judge Diane Sykes said, "We are not authorized to infuse the text with a new or unconventional meaning or to update it to respond to changed social, economic, or political conditions."  Sykes showed a proper understanding of the separation of powers when she wrote: "The Constitution assigns the power to make and amend statutory law to the elected representatives of the people. However welcome today's decision might be as a policy matter, it comes at a great cost to representative self-government."

Since now you have Federal circuits that have issued conflicting rulings on this matter, it has perhaps increased the probability that the matter will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, the newest member of which has been confirmed.

1 - Gorsuch confirmation well-received by a number of Christian organizations

On Friday, Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was confirmed as the newest Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.  The confirmation process was not without its expected drama, as the Senate allowed debate to be ended by a vote of 51 Senators, rather than the 60 that had customarily been the threshold for votes concerning judicial nominations - that was ended for judges on all Federal levels, except for the Supreme Court, several years ago.

Gorsuch had attracted the support of a number of Christian pro-life and pro-family organizations. Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life, appeared on Friday's edition of The Meeting House program on Faith Radio.  MFL issued a congratulatory statement, saying, in part:
...We were pleased to support Judge Gorsuch’s nomination, as were our grassroots activists from across America who sent thousands of messages to their Senators in support of his nomination. We thank Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for remaining steadfast throughout this process and President Trump for keeping his promise to the American people in nominating a pro-life Justice to the Supreme Court. November exit polls showed that 1 in 5 Americans prioritized the Supreme Court nomination when casting their vote, and with a majority of 57% of those voters casting a vote for Donald Trump, it is clear that the majority of American voters wanted a strict constructionist.
Mancini had written an op-ed piece that appeared in TIME Magazine in March.  In it, she wrote, as referenced on the March for Life website:
Whether recognizing the HHS Mandate as oppressive to the many consciences it violates in both Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters v. Burwell, or affirming that even a stillborn baby’s rights deserve protection in Pino v. United States, Judge Gorsuch consistently affirms that, as an originalist, respect for all life is of the utmost priority.
As it was pointed out in a Religion News Service piece regarding his involvement in two cases involving religious liberty and the sanctity of life:
In both cases, religious organizations — a Catholic order of nuns and the evangelical owners of a craft store chain — sought exemptions from providing birth control under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. “All of us face the problem of complicity,” he wrote in support of Hobby Lobby. Government should not force those with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to comply with “conduct their religion teaches them to be gravely wrong.”
That article also referenced what the latest Justice on the high court had written in a book
“All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong,” he wrote. “The law … doesn’t just apply to protect popular religious beliefs: it does perhaps its most important work in protecting unpopular religious beliefs, vindicating this nation’s long-held aspiration to serve as a refuge of religious tolerance.”

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The 3 - April 2, 2017

This week's edition of The 3 features several flashpoints in what is described as the "culture war," which, by the way, is not over, and should not be withdrawn from by people of faith.  Federal regulations concerning sexual orientation and gender identity have come to the fore recently, as new policy issued by the Trump administration seems to overturn an Obama-era directive that force Federal contractors to give consideration SOGI.  Also, 2 videographers who have been exposing Planned Parenthood face over a dozen felony charges in California.  Plus, North Carolina lawmakers, in attempting to appease LGBT activists, a misguided sports oversight body, and the misinformed business community, have rescinded key parts of the state's transgender bathroom law.

3 - Executive order reportedly repeals favorable treatment regarding sexual orientation for Federal contractors

Earlier this year, there was concern in the Christian public policy community about the Trump administration requiring Federal contractors to recognize sexual orientation and gender identity in its hiring practices.  As a story on the NBCNews.com website pointed out, this came around the time that there was a rumored executive order coming on religious freedom, which never materialized.

Well, according to that NBC story, the Trump administration may have relaxed the rules left over from the previous administration about recognizing the so-called "rights" of those in the LGBT community.

The story states that:
With little fanfare on Monday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that LGBTQ advocates say rolls back lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and breaks a promise to that community not to make such changes to existing policy.
The executive order revokes key components of the Obama administration's previous executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or identity, gay rights advocates say.
The article also said:
LGBTQ advocates say they were particularly rattled by Trump's Monday signing, since revoking the compliance requirement would appear to make existing protections against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination meaningless.
The White House denies this is the case, but it is worth watching.

Oh, and LGBTQ advocates are also up in arms because the Trump administration has changed some announced plans to include questions on sexual orientation in the 2020 Census.  But FoxNews.com reports:
But never before have there been questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, not so long ago, the LGBT community probably would have seen such inquiries as an invasion of privacy.
But during the Obama era, a number of federal agencies, as well as congressional Democrats, wanted to add such questions. And a preliminary draft for the 2020 Census released earlier this week suggested there might be some.
The final draft sent to Congress from the Census Bureau did not feature such questions. John Thompson, head of the Census Bureau—which is part of the Department of Commerce--explained in a letter that they’d investigated if there was a “legislative mandate” to collect such data and determined there was “no federal data need to change the planned census.”
2 - Videographers exposing Planned Parenthood arrested in CA, Planned Parenthood is not

The Center for Medical Progress videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing how they obtain and sell the parts from unborn babies have brought far-reaching implications, including increased scrutiny of the nation's largest abortion provider.  But, in a stunning turn of events, according to the LiveActionNews.org website, "David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, the undercover investigators behind the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos exposing the trafficking of baby body parts and other potentially illegal activities at Planned Parenthood, have been charged with 15 felony counts of invasion of privacy in the state of California."

Live Action President Lila Rose responded:
Using state power to attack citizen journalists who expose crimes against the defenseless is a severe miscarriage of justice.
She said that Daleiden and Merritt "should be lauded for their brave work, not punished."  Referring to the current AG, Xavier Becerra, and his predecessor, now-Senator Kamala Harris, she stated:
California’s last two pro-abortion attorneys general have yet to investigate Planned Parenthood after two congressional committees found significant evidence that it may have broken the law with its baby parts trafficking scheme. Similar charges against David and Sandra were dropped in Texas months ago, yet Mr. Becerra insists on punishing them and putting his political agenda ahead of the laws that he was sworn to uphold.
1 - North Carolina lawmakers cave on transgender bathroom law

The "all-or-nothing" strategy of those pushing the LGBT agenda was on full display, as organizations devoted to forcing all people to accept their unbiblical view of sexuality did a "full-court press" against a legislative compromise that was designed to appease them.  Didn't work in the case of HB2 in North Carolina, a state that faced potentially retaliative action by, of all organizations, the NCAA! At the Family Research Council website, FRC.org, the analysis went like this:
In the "deal" struck by State Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and House Speaker Tim Moore (R), North Carolina rushed to pass a modified version of HB 2 in hopes of wooing the college sports association back to the state. What the measure has succeeded in doing is revealing the definition of compromise for LGBT agitators – total surrender of those who oppose their radical agenda.
According to FRC, "What the LGBT agitators don't like is that in places like government buildings and schools, the state would reset its policy to the pre-HB 2 standard (which is still gender-specific)." The compromise also puts into place a three-year moratorium on municipalities, like Charlotte, revising their laws to accommodate SOGI demands.

As the Council states the conservatives...
...are frustrated that the state is even trying to appease these cultural bullies. As anyone who's tried to negotiate with LGBT activists knows, they won't be satisfied until conservatives have unilaterally surrendered. There's no need to give even the appearance of compromise on what a majority of Americans believe are common-sense protections. Especially not now, when Texas and 12 other states are on the verge of solidifying their own privacy laws. "This... will not solve anything!" said our friends at the N.C. Family Policy Council and N.C. Values Coalition. And ironically, the NCAA, who this whole "deal" was meant to placate, wouldn't even comment on whether it supported the idea.
Another FRC piece points out that NCAA President Mark Emmert said, "We've tried to do a number of analyses, laying them all side by side, and it very quickly becomes very, very difficult. What distinguished North Carolina was, as you pointed out, there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill. They've removed some of those now but now, as you point out, not all of them. And the question the board will be debating [is]: If you remove two or three of them, is that enough-- relative to other states?"

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, consistent with a Biblical perspective, 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.