Saturday, June 18, 2016

The 3 - June 19, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, has information on 2 videographers who had one of two charges against them dropped regarding their videos exposing Planned Parenthood.  Also, this week, Southern Baptists met in St. Louis to conduct business, elect a new president, and pray.  And, the top story involves the tragedy in Orlando and how churches and people of faith have stepped up to help families of the victims and to proclaim hope to the community.

3 - Charges dismissed against pro-life video producers

The dramatic undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress have exposed Planned Parenthood officials, as their own comments indicated their participation in the sale of body parts from unborn babies.  A grand jury in Houston has been convened to investigate this type of activity by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, but in a strange twist, the grand jury ended up indicting the videographers, David Dalieden and Sandra Merritt.

A piece on The Stream website questioned how that could happen.  It goes on to say that after the indictments:

It was quickly revealed that a prosecutor in the Harris County D.A.’s office, Lauren Reeder, is a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast board member. Attorneys for Daleiden would then accuse District Attorney Devon Anderson of colluding with the abortion mill.

Those accusations were confirmed last month, when Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s attorney Josh Schaffer admitted in a sworn declaration that Anderson’s office shared evidence with Planned Parenthood.

The website reports:

On Monday night, Harris County Judge Diane Bull dismissed a misdemeanor charge of attempting to illegally buy human tissue. A similar charge was also dropped against Daleiden’s partner in the sting, Sandra Merritt. A felony charge of tampering with government documents — Daleiden allegedly used a fake ID during his undercover operation — remains. A different judge is hearing that case.

According to the article, the CMP issued a statement, which said, in part:

The dismissal of the first indictment today sends a strong message to Planned Parenthood and their political cronies that colluding to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizen journalists will never work. The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of its investigative journalism work and as more details about Planned Parenthood’s contracts for aborted baby parts come to light, it’s clear that Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress are the ones who are guilty of trafficking in human body parts.

2 - SBC meeting elects new president, passes resolutions

Increased attendance, a contended but amiable Presidential election, prayers for revival, and racial reconciliation were all storylines emerging from this week's Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

In a summary on the Baptist Press website, there was an unofficial total of 7,321 registered messengers, which was up from 5,407 last year.  Memphis-area pastor Steve Gaines, of Bellevue Baptist Church was elected President of the Convention, succeeding Ronnie Floyd.  The election had some drama, because after the first two ballots, no candidate had received a majority.  Gaines' leading challenger, J.D. Greear of Raleigh-Durham, withdrew, leaving Gaines as the lone candidate.

A resolution passed overwhelmingly, calling for the removal of displays of the Confederate Battle flag was seen as a move of racial reconciliation.  Former SBC President James Merritt moved that the convention call believers to "discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters."  He said support of the flag hinders evangelism among African Americans and said, "Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God."

There were twelve resolutions addressing a variety of topics, including the June 12 terrorist attack in Orlando, FL.; biblical sexuality; requiring women to register for the military draft; and ministry to refugees.

The convention also featured a "call to prayer" on Tuesday night, which featured two hours of prayer for awakening in America and around the world. There were brief addresses by a variety of leaders, including former SBC President Johnny Hunt, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie and Jerry Young, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA.

According to SBCAnnualMeeting.net, the SBC meets in Phoenix next year, then Dallas.  In 2019, Birmingham hosts the Southern Baptist Convention.

1 - Churches, faith community respond to Orlando tragedy

The mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub early on Sunday morning, June 12, has brought a range of emotions, from grief, to fear, to outrage.  Around 50 people lost their lives, with more injured.

The topics that have been debated and discussed this past week include: the shooter's connection to radical Islam, the attack's location - at a nightclub catering to the LGBT community, gun control, and overall national security.  You can read some of my early thoughts in a blog post here.

I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a violation of Scripture.  But, that doesn't preclude us from ministering to those who are in the LGBT community.   Jesus died for all, and we can show love to all.  The people who died in Orlando are unique creations of God, and their lives had value - their families, and all families who have lost loved ones, need to see hope.

To that end, a number of ministry organizations took steps to inject the hope of Christ into the desperate situation in Orlando.  The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team took their ministry of presence into the area.  A consortium of area churches and organizations held a prayer vigil at First Baptist Orlando on Tuesday night.  Florida Today quoted Danny de Armas, senior associate pastor with First Baptist, as saying that the event was a collaborative effort of "about a dozen" local churches. He said, "First Baptist Orlando is hosting it and we're allowing our facility here but it's really a cooperative effort on terms of the program."

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was a sponsor of a special meeting Wednesday night.  And, as I reported on the air, using a Huffington Post story, select area churches helped families of the victims by assisting with funeral services.

When tragedy hits, God's people can respond swiftly and compassionately.  Kelly Burke, a chaplain with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, is quoted at BillyGraham.org: “Even if you’re 2,000 miles away from Orlando, you can pray and impact what takes place in Orlando. Pray that God would continue to strengthen and encourage His workers, His children and His churches here. And that He would also continue to soften hearts and get folks ready to receive what He wants to give them.”

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The 3 - June 12, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 stories of relevance to the Christian community, I highlight a Bible reading proclamation by a Midwestern governor that has attracted some opposition. Also, a new California assisted-suicide law has gone into effect.  And, the Southern Baptist Convention meets this week in St. Louis, and there are several related stories that I will cover.

3 - Iowa governor issues Bible reading proclamation, faces atheist threats

The governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, has signed a proclamation encouraging citizens of the state to read the Bible on a daily basis "each year until the Lord comes" and to take part in a Bible reading marathon, to be held June 30 to July 3 in all 99 counties, according to an article on the Daily Signal website.

That's good - the article reports that during the marathon, Scripture will be read out loud in front of the courthouses in all of Iowa’s counties, according to a piece from the Baptist Convention of Iowa, quoted in that article.  Christian-based groups, including the Iowa Prayer Caucus, are organizing the events.  Some will include prayers every 15 minutes, according to The Des Moines Register.

The Des Moines Register also reported that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have criticized the proclamation and are considering suing. The Daily Signal article says that the FFRF sent a letter to Branstad this past Wednesday saying that the proclamation sends a message that “Iowa prefers and endorses the Christian faith over other religions and over nonreligion,” of which the organization says violates the separation of church and state.

Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel of First Liberty Institute, is quoted as saying: "The governor has every right to issue this proclamation,” adding, “These types of proclamations have been issued by governors and presidents since the days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Whenever courts are asked to address these proclamations, the courts have routinely thrown the cases out because, since no one is injured by them, no one has standing to sue over them. So Gov. Branstad’s proclamation is beyond judicial question.”  The governor told WHO Radio: “Virtually every president since Abraham Lincoln has signed proclamations encouraging prayers and Bible reading right on through including President Obama."

2 - California implements new assisted-suicide law

California's new assisted-suicide law went into effect this past Thursday.  According to the LifeNews.com website, California became the fourth in the U.S. to legalize deadly doctor-prescribed suicides in October, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

This past Wednesday, Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit, arguing that the California law discriminates against vulnerable people who are terminally ill and may be elderly or disabled.

In a statement, Life Legal said, "The Act decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide and instantly removes criminal law, elder abuse, and mental-health legal protections from any individual deemed terminally ill, despite the inherent uncertainty and frequently inaccurate nature of such a prognosis,” adding, “In contrast, all non-terminally ill Californians enjoy legal protection that makes it a felony to aid, advise, or encourage another to commit suicide."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, which has, along with the Patients Rights Action Fund, launched a website to monitor potential abuses, is quoted in the article as saying: “We are deeply concerned that this law, and the entire issue itself has been misrepresented to the public and to lawmakers,” adding, “Senator Monning, the initial author, inserted language into the bill falsely proclaiming that this was somehow NOT ‘assisted suicide,’ and was ‘not suicide,’ though it is inescapably so!”

Life Legal filed the civil rights lawsuit with five California physicians and the American Academy of Medical Ethics. It alleges that the assisted suicide law violates Equal Protection rights for individuals who are labeled terminally ill.  Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said, "The Act provides virtually no safeguards for labeled individuals who may suffer from untreated mental illness or mood disorders and grants full immunity for doctors to participate in the killing of their most vulnerable patients."

1 - Southern Baptists prepare for meeting in St. Louis

Southern Baptists are preparing for their annual convention in St. Louis this week, and Baptist Press reports on the latest Annual Church Profile report, released this past week.  According to the report, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with state conventions, the Southern Baptist Convention added more churches in 2015, which the article attributes mostly to church planting efforts. Churches also experienced an increase in total giving.

Other key measures declined, according to the story.  Those included membership, average worship attendance, baptisms and missions giving.

The data shows that the number of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 294 to 46,793, marking the 17th year in a row the number of SBC churches has grown.  But, reported membership declined more than 200,000, to 15.3 million members - that's a 1.32 percent decrease. Average weekly worship attendance shrunk to 5.6 million worshippers, a 1.72 percent decline.
Baptisms were down 3.3. to 295,212. Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee President and CEO, said, "God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News," adding, "May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ."

In another Baptist Press article, SBC President Ronnie Floyd stated: 

The key question for Southern Baptists is: Are we pushing back on lostness in America? I think we know the answer is no. We are losing our nation spiritually. It comes back to my theme for the last two to three years: The greatest need in America is the next Great Spiritual Awakening. Anyone who denies this needs to adjust their spiritual glasses concerning the spiritual condition of our nation and the need in this hour.  

The ACP report reminds me not only of this, but our deep need for spiritual revival in our churches. It also reminds me of the imperative need to prioritize evangelism in our churches and convention.

ABC News reports that Floyd wrote an article that called on Southern Baptist pastors, churches and laypeople to repent of racism and injustice. It included the words, "Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing."

The article mentioned a "national conversation on racial unity" to take place at the SBC's annual meeting on Tuesday. Rev. Jerry Young, president of the nation's largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. will be addressing the St. Louis gathering that day.

The ABC News article points out:

The fact that the discussion will take place in St. Louis, just down the road from Ferguson, is more than symbolic to Floyd. "It's providential and amazing!" he said, since the meeting place was set years before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown during a confrontation with a Ferguson police officer.

Also, in a matter unrelated to the Convention, but that involves a difference in opinion among Southern Baptists, a Baptist Press article highlights the situation involving two SBC entities, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board, who sided with a New Jersey mosque side in an friend-of-the-court brief, signed by those 2 entities and 16 other groups. The brief was filed in a lawsuit seeking to have building permit denials overturned.

Gerald Harris, editor of Georgia's Christian Index newsjournal, wrote an article criticizing the ERLC and the IMB, arguing Islam "may be more of a geo-political movement than a religion" and may not qualify for all the First Amendment protections granted to religions.

In response, a trio of Southern Baptist professors -- Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -- issued an open letter deeming it "inappropriate to question whether Muslims should retain the right freely to practice their religion" even though "granting such rights to some forms of Islam might one day lead to the threatening of Christians in our worship."

ERLC President Russell Moore, wrote, without mentioning Harris by name, in a blog post, "Religious liberty is never an excuse for violence and crime, nor has religious liberty been so construed in American history," adding, "The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, simply for holding their religious convictions, however consistent or inconsistent, true or false, those convictions are."

Harris stated in his editorial: 

..."Muslims around the world and in our own country" have shouted "death to America" on some occasions and that mosques "often promote Sharia Law and become training grounds for radicalizing Muslims." He quoted four commentators who have argued Islam "has a religious component" but, taken to its logical end, seeks to overcome western civilization.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The 3 - June 5, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, which highlights three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a pro-life emphasis to a celebration in China.  Also, a noted evangelist and volunteers were banned from handing out gift cards at a Reason Rally in Washington, but gave the cards to the homeless.  Also, a retired general who is in leadership at a Christian, pro-family advocacy organization has been removed as speaker for a prayer breakfast at an Army facility.

3 - Pro-life message introduced on "Children's Day" in China

This past Wednesday, June 1st, was Children's Day in China, a day marked by children’s events, reduced entrance fees at tourist attractions, and student performances, according to an article on the WORLD Magazine website. For the last past five years, Jonny Fan of Chengdu Early Rain Reformed Church has attempted to place an emphasis on unborn children during the campaign, with his “Don’t Abort on Children’s Day” campaign.

This year, the faith communities' involvement on behalf of unborn children included church members in multiple cities passing out informational flyers and holding signs outside hospitals, as well as an online 40 Days for Life campaign. There was also the first-ever declaration on the sanctity of life by a church group. The article notes that these activities faced little resistance from the government, which could signify that pro-life initiatives are becoming less sensitive in the country, which has a serious aging population crisis.

Fan launched the 40 Days for Life campaign on the Chinese social media site WeChat. It would be difficult to pray on the streets, but believers shared prayers online, and the group grew from 600 to 1,600 by the end of the 40 days, which ended on Children's Day. On that day, Fan encouraged group members to inform their community by passing out flyers or making banners.

Also, the West China Presbytery issued a directive on abortion, which was posted on WeChat Wednesday. The article points out that although in the past, individuals have spoken out against abortion, no church had officially expressed a stance on abortion. The directive had three parts: an affirmation of the sanctity of life, Bible passages supporting life-affirming statements, and actions for churches to take.

2 - Evangelist banned from handing out gift cards at "reason" rally

Noted evangelist Ray Comfort was planning to attend yesterday's Reason Rally in the nation's capital, and planned to hand out Subway gift cards and copies of his new book to attendees of the gathering of atheists in Washington, according to an article on the WORLDNetDaily website, which reported that more than 1,000 Christians had volunteered to help hand out the gifts, which caused his appearance to be nixed by the police.  The book is called, Fat Chance: Why Pigs Will Fly Before America Has an Atheist President 

The event, by its own description, is to “showcase the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and to demand that reason be put at the forefront of our public and political discourse.”  So instead of giving out 5,000 copies of his book and $25,000 in gift cards to the atheists, Comfort declared that the gift cards would go to the homeless.  Comfort was still planning to do some open-air preaching, to take a film crew out to the event, and to give out copies of the book to people he meets. He said volunteers were free to come of their own volition.

Oh, by the way, the Reason Rally attendance apparently didn't meet expectations.  According to Religion News Service:

Organizers had hoped for an attendance of 30,000, higher than the estimated 20,000 at the first Reason Rally in 2012 — when crowds contended with pouring rain. They estimated by mid-afternoon that 15,000 to 20,000 were in attendance on a warm, sunny day. But observers said the numbers seemed strikingly smaller in number than the previous year.

1 - Prayer breakfast featuring retired general cancelled, to be rescheduled without him

Retired Lt. General Jerry Boykin, Executive Vice-President of the Family Research Council, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for an upcoming prayer breakfast at Fort Riley in Kansas, but the breakfast has been cancelled due to the contention that Boykin is "anti-Muslim" and "anti-gay," according to Todd Starnes of FoxNews.com.

His article says that Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein told Army Times that Boykin’s invitation had caused great angst among soldiers at Fort Riley – leading some to break down in tears.

Boykin is quoted as saying, "I sincerely doubt that America can expect to win wars if the people who are tasked to do so are frightened by an old retired general with biblical views and a testimony of faith."

Starnes said that he reached out to Fort Riley, and it was confirmed that the prayer breakfast has been called off. The cancellation was blamed on a scheduling conflict and he was told it would be rescheduled - but with a different speaker.

Chief Public Affairs NCO MSG Mike Lavigne said in a statement: “Lt. Gen. (Ret) Boykin’s credentials as a Soldier and leader speak for themselves and his 36 years of service to our nation are worthy of our respect,” adding, “However, in an effort to ensure everyone in our broad and very diverse community feels welcome at any event on Fort Riley, we will pursue the invitation of a different speaker for the prayer breakfast once it is rescheduled.”

Boykin said that the cancellation is “just another reminder of the incredible discrimination against Christians in our armed forces.” He is quoted as saying, “This should tell you how difficult it is for Christians, and especially chaplains, to live their faith in our military."

Starnes had also reported on how Boykin had been removed from a position at Hampton-Sydney College because of pressure from LGBT activists over some comments (not the best choice of words, in my estimation) he had made to a gathering of conservatives.  The school reinstated Boykin less than six hours later!

Monday, May 30, 2016

The 3 - May 29, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is information about a bill that has been signed into law by South Carolina's governor protecting pre-born children after the 20th week of pregnancy.  Also, states are fighting back against federal overreach regarding bathroom usage.  And, a major Christian university is taking steps to create a safer, more accountable environment for women after scandal has hit its football program.

3 - SC governor signs bill banning abortions after 20th week of pregnancy

There are now 14 states - approaching one-third of all the states in the union, who ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, the point at which scientific research has indicated that an unborn child can feel pain.

And, the decision to sign the bill by South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a Republican rising star who has even been mentioned as a vice-presidential candidate, is significant.

According to LifeNews.com, the bill has exceptions in cases where the mother’s life is in jeopardy and when doctors determine that the unborn baby has a fatal defect and cannot survive outside the womb, the report states. The LifeNews.com story says that according to WSOC News 9, doctors who violate the legislation could face fines of up to $10,000 and up to three years in prison.

Carol Tobias, National Right to Life president, is quoted in the article as saying: “South Carolina now joins thirteen other states in recognizing the humanity of the unborn child,” adding, “The smallest and most vulnerable members of our human family need our protection, and South Carolina has taken a vital step to save unborn children who are capable of feeling the excruciating pain of abortion.”

2 - States sue Federal government over transgender bathroom directive

A group of states has filed a lawsuit against the Federal government's directive saying that transgender students should be able to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.  FoxNews.com reports that Texas and 10 other states filed suit this past Wednesday against the Obama administration over its directive on transgender student access to public school facilities.

The suit was filed in a Texas federal court in response to the directive. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in announcing the suit, said: “This represents just the latest example of the current administration’s attempts to accomplish by executive fiat what they couldn’t accomplish through the democratic process in Congress." Joining Texas were: Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona's Department of Education, Maine Gov. Paul LePage, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah and Georgia.

The lawsuit says: "Defendants have conspired to turn workplaces and educational settings across the country into laboratories for a massive social experiment, flouting the democratic process, and running roughshod over commonsense policies protecting children and basic privacy rights."

1 - Scandal at Christian university results in punishment for officials

Christians should be held to high standards of behavior, and that applies to Christian colleges and universities.

There's a school affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas that, according to an independent investigation, had been granting special privileges to athletes when they committed sexual assault toward women.  And, this past week, leaders at the school faced punishment.

The Board of Regents at Baylor University in Waco, Texas issued an apology to "Baylor Nation," according to Christianity Today, and announced the following actions:  head football coach Art Briles was suspended with intent to terminate.  President and chancellor Ken Starr will lose the presidency but will continue as chancellor and a professor at the law school.  AD Ian McCaw will be sanctioned and put on probation.  Also, a full-time chief compliance officer will be hired and report directly to the president.

In general, the university failed to take appropriate action when it learned of incidents of sexual assault by football players and failed to provide an effective way to address student conduct issues. The report said that, "Actions by university administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault." In general, the culture was found to be inadequate - the article says that the board found that, "There are significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of student athlete misconduct."

The CT story said that the board mandated that the university “create and maintain a culture of high moral standards among student-athletes.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The 3 - May 22, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, there is news out of Oklahoma that involves a strong pro-life bill that was vetoed by the governor.  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court made an unusual move of sending the cases dealing with the Obamacare contraceptive mandate back to the lower courts.  And, United Methodists have completed their gathering in Portland, which resulted in no legislative action on issues concerning homosexuality.

3 - OK legislature passes bill that would criminalize abortion, governor vetoes

After the Oklahoma legislature passed a bill making it a felony for physicians to perform abortions, one might assume that outspoken pro-life governor Mary Fallin would have signed the bill.  But, as The Stream reports, on Friday, the governor vetoed the bill, which would have effectively outlawed abortions in the state.

Governor Fallin said that she was rejecting the bill because it is “vague and would not withstand a criminal constitutional legal challenge.”  In her statement, she said: “The bill is so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered ‘necessary to preserve the life of the mother.'”

The bill, SB 1522, would have made it a felony punishable by up to three years in prison for a physician to perform an abortion. The bill would exempt physicians who perform abortions to preserve the life of the mother.  Sponsor, Republican Sen. Nathan Dahm, had said the measure was aimed at ultimately overturning Roe v. Wade.  The governor said she wanted to see that court ruling overturned, as well, but that the best way was the appointment of a conservative, pro-life justice to the Supreme Court.

The bill passed the Senate on Thursday with a vote of 33-12 and the House in April by a 59-9 margin. The Oklahoma Legislature can override a veto by two-thirds vote of each house.

2 - U.S. Supreme Court sends contraception mandate cases back to lower courts

The U.S. Supreme Court made an unusual move earlier this week, sending the cases it was considering involving the contraceptive mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services back to the appeals courts from which they came. According to a report on the WORLD website, the high court said that a supplemental briefing indicated that the religious nonprofits and the federal government could work out their differences and find an acceptable accommodation to the mandate, which is part of Obamacare.

As the article pointed out, after the court heard oral arguments in March, it made a highly unusual request: asking the two sides to write briefs explaining an acceptable accommodation to the mandate. That request, according to the article, seemed to be a strategy to avoid a 4-4 tie after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the ruling on Monday, known as a per curiam ruling, the court did not issue an opinion on the merits of the case, which means it did not decide whether the federal government’s current mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. A per curiam ruling is an unsigned opinion from the entire court.

Attorneys representing Little Sisters of the Poor and other plaintiffs in the case were encouraged. According to the WORLD story, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the Little Sisters as well as a number of other petitioners, declared the ruling a “win.” Alliance Defending Freedom, also representing some of the plaintiffs, said the court was right to protect nonprofits from fines for the time being and that the group would “look forward to addressing the remaining details.”

Emily Belz wrote the article for WORLD, and you can hear my conversation with her about this case, as well as presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump's list of recommended Supreme Court justices, here.

1 - United Methodists meet in Portland, sexuality issues off the table temporarily

Every four years, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church meets, as delegates from throughout the world gather to decide on church policy.  The church's stance on homosexuality has been an issue at the Conference for decades now, and there was anticipation about whether or not current language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline declaring homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching would be retained.

Religion News Service published a story on the General Conference. It reports that on Wednesday, delegates voted 428-405 to allow the church’s Council of Bishops to appoint a commission to discuss matters related to homosexuality, including whether or not to accept same-sex marriage or ordain LGBT clergy.

According to the article, the bishops said they want the commission to “develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.”  Pressure from LGBT activists was very apparent this year - just before the conference, 111 United Methodist clergy came out as LGBT, and during the event, an additional 1,500 clergy expressed support for their colleagues.

But, year after year, conference after conference, the conservative and evangelical position seemingly continued to be in the majority.  There is mixed speculation about whether or not the recommendations of the panel would be brought to the 2020 General Conference or to a specially-called conference.

In examining some comments that have been made, it is clear to me that the denomination has three distinct factions at this point:  the progressives, who will seemingly accept nothing less than a sweeping acceptance of homosexual practice, ordination of gay clergy, and performance of same-sex marriage. There is also a group that seems to be sizable that would like to leave sexuality matters up to local authorities, perhaps on a district or conference level.  Then, there are the conservatives and evangelicals, including many from Africa, who want to hold to the view of marriage as one man for one woman, defining homosexuality as a practice that contradicts Scripture.

There was some good news on the pro-life front.  According to John Lomperis, who is the United Methodist Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  He stated that the denomination...

...overwhelmingly voted to end our denomination’s scandalous 43-year affiliation with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), voted by an even larger margin to delete an official UMC resolution expressing appreciation for RCRC, and in other actions, we voted decisively to repeal a 40-year-old official “Responsible Parenthood” resolution very broadly defending abortion and endorsing the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, re-adopted a resolution decrying sex-selective abortion while describing abortion as “violent” and criticizing those done for “trivial reasons,” and allowed the expiration of a 16-year-old official UMC resolution bewailing an alleged “crisis” of some hospitals not offering abortions. 

To access a report from The Meeting House radio program from the President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Mark Tooley, click here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The 3 - May 15, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, spotlight 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, it's graduation time, and seems like we hear consistently about free speech rights being limited concerning graduations ceremonies - find out about a school district in Ohio that will no longer have the singing of The Lord's Prayer in a ceremony.  Also, a ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court indicates that a pre-born child has rights.  And, the big story from this week involves an Obama administration edict stating that transgender students are allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their chosen gender identity, opening the doors to restrooms that are not sufficiently separated by gender.

3 - School board ignites graduation prayer controversy in Ohio 

In East Liverpool, Ohio, the song, The Lord's Prayer, has been a part of the graduation ceremony for the past ten years at a local high school, but after last year's event, the Freedom from Religion Foundation received a complaint and contacted the school district, where officials decided to drop the song from the program to avoid a potential legal battle, according to a story on the ChristianNews.net website.

The article reports that there was never any official vote on the matter nor public meeting about the issue, and the song was not fully discussed among the board until recently when members exchanged emails with each other about the issue. Board member Patricia Persohn, in correspondence obtained by The Review, said, “I am hearing parents threatening to withdraw their students. I was elected to represent the views of the community, and they are screaming,” adding, “I do believe it is just a matter of time before we are engaged in a fight. We need to set this issue aside right now and move on.”

The school board held a meeting recently, but no action was taken regarding the song. The choir director asserted that such songs are not illegal if they have educational value and relayed that her students are disappointed that the Lord’s Prayer will not be a part of the program this year, including one who identifies as an atheist. The superintendent said, "I am a Christian and it hurts me that there is even a question about it, but as superintendent, I have to put that aside. As you said, we can’t make it legal. I’m just sorry this is happening."

This is the time of year where there is a debate about religious expression in graduation ceremonies, and while I have not found a Christian legal advocacy group involved in this matter - yet - you can see where students do have constitutionally-protected free speech rights. The First Liberty Institute website states that: "As long as the valedictorian, salutatorian, president, or other students selected to write speeches are chosen by neutral criteria such as their academic achievements, the students have the right to reference what is important to them in their speeches, including their faith. Students maintain control over the content of their speeches, not the school board."

The site says that according to the U.S Department of Education, “Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, that expression is not attributed to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content.”

2 - Iowa supreme court determines unborn children have same rights as minors

There was an interesting decision about the rights of pre-born children issued by the Iowa Supreme Court recently.  According to a story on the WORLD website, in a case involving the death of a drug addict who was trying to get his addiction under control and died of an accidental overdose, the court found in favor of Brenna Gray, who had sued her husband’s physician and other medical providers. She claimed they failed to monitor her husband’s drug addiction treatment properly.  Even though a jury had cleared the doctor of criminal charges, Mrs. Gray claimed a spousal consortium injury and, on behalf of her then-unborn daughter, a parental consortium injury, which includes the loss of parental “support, companionship, aid, affection, comfort, and guidance.”  The spousal injury case was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, but the parental consortium case was allowed to continue.

Borrowing from a pro-life argument, the plaintiff's attorneys pointed out that a ruling against the child “would permit a child who was just seconds old at the time of [her] parent’s death to sue, yet prevent the same suit from a child who was born a second after [her] parent passed away.”  The Iowa Supreme Court, clearing the way for the lawsuit to go forward, ruled the law does apply to preborn children.  In its decision, it wrote, “[A] child conceived but not yet born at the time of [her] parent’s death can bring a parental consortium claim” after she is born.  It said, “Whatever deprivation of consortium O.D.G. is currently experiencing is no less real just because she did not experience it in utero.”  (O.D.G. refers to the child.)

The WORLD report pointed out that the court, using strong language, attempted to sidestep the implication of its decision on the legality of abortion, explaining it ruled for the plaintiff simply because the petition, filed when the child was 3 years old, was “clearly ‘brought on behalf of a minor.’”

Clarke Forsythe, acting president and senior counsel for Americans United for Life, said he wasn’t surprised by the court’s decision.  He is quoted as saying, “The case is not huge and not unprecedented...But it does confirm that the unborn child is a human being in the womb.”

1 - Administration issues sweeping changes allowing transgender access to restrooms opposite of biological gender

This past week, the Departments of Justice and Education issued a letter to every public school district in the nation saying that under Federal law, transgender students must be allowed to use the restroom corresponding to their chosen gender identity, rather than their biological gender. FoxNews.com reported that the letter was signed by officials of the two Federal departments.

As Todd Starnes commented on the FoxNews.com website:

Boys who identify as girls and vice versa must be allowed to use the bathrooms and locker rooms and shower stalls of their choosing. They must also be allowed to play on the sports teams of their choosing.

School districts that dare defy the administration’s directives could face lawsuits and lose millions of dollars in federal funding. Resistance, in other words, is futile.

“There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said.

Starnes quoted from Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd, who said, "It’s an outrageous attack on our Creator Himself, upon human sexuality and morality and a further advancement of the flagrant attack on religious freedom in our culture."

The FoxNews.com story said that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott vowed to fight the administration’s decree, telling a gathering of Republicans, “Obama is turning bathrooms into courtroom issues.”  He added, "Our country is in crisis and Texas must lead the way forward."  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings if the President goes forward with the order.


“The administration’s new guidelines simply reinforce what has been abundantly clear already—that it has a political goal of forcing women to share restrooms and locker rooms with men across the nation and will spread falsehoods about federal law to achieve its aims. This is precisely why we have filed two federal lawsuits, one in Illinois and one in North Carolina, on behalf of students and parents who are understandably concerned about their children. Solutions exist to accommodate everyone without violating anyone’s privacy rights, but the administration won’t entertain those solutions because of its preference to unlawfully impose its political will through threats and intimidation.”

Monday, May 09, 2016

The 3 - May 8, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a number of Christian schools who have been highlighted because of their policies regarding sexuality.  Also, Alabama's Chief Justice is under fire because of his actions consistent with a Biblical worldview on sexuality.  And, the Federal government issued an ultimatum on the North Carolina transgender bathroom law.

3 - U.S. Department of Education releases list of colleges and universities seeking exemption from LGBT-friendly policies

In 1972, the Federal government enacted what is known as Title IX, that was intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, according to a WORLD Magazine story, which points out that for years, the law was used primarily to give women equal access to intercollegiate sports.  But, in 2014, without a Congressional action, the Department of Education expanded the definition to include gender identity.   As a result, schools need to accommodate men who identify as women—granting them access to female housing or even permission to compete on female sports teams if they choose.

And, this past week, the U.S. Department of Education publicly released a list of Christian schools who are seeking Title IX exemptions over their views on transgenderism, as the WORLD piece says, "placing the spotlight on each college and university seeking to hold true to a biblical worldview on gender and sexuality."  Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University, one of the schools on the list, is quoted as saying: “Yes, we filed for the exemption and we are proud of it,” adding, "nothing will change for us. We are compliant with a biblical worldview and to do anything else would be false advertising for our students."

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), which represents 152 North American institutions, responded by saying that the list merely affirms which schools are taking advantage of provisions already laid out by lawmakers. In a statement, the CCCU said, "The real story is why some are trying to penalize religious colleges for simply following the law."

The Christian Post reports that as of April 1, as many as 232 colleges have obtained exemption from Title IX while 31 requests are pending, according to the list posted on the education depaartment's website on Friday, April 29.  The article reports that, "The religious exemption states: 'Title IX does not apply to an educational institution that is controlled by a religious organization to the extent that application of Title IX would be inconsistent with the religious tenets of the organization.'"  The article points out that an exemption is automatic for any school which requests it.

2 - Alabama chief justice faces charges from commission over gay marriage actions

The Judicial Inquiry Commission of the State of Alabama, which was, according to the state judiciary's website, "created under the provisions of the Alabama Constitution, is charged with investigating complaints of misconduct or professional wrongdoing on the part of judges," has filed a complaint against Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, according to a press release from Liberty Counsel, which is representing the Chief Justice.  The website states that:

The charges focus solely on his Administrative Order issued in January 2016, in which he wrote that the 2015 orders of the Alabama Supreme Court remained in effect until the Court further indicates otherwise. Chief Justice Moore did not participate in the 2015 orders, which ruled that the Probate Judges must uphold the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Act.

The Liberty Counsel website quotes Chief Justice Moore as saying, "The Judicial Inquiry Commission has no authority over the Administrative Orders of the Chief Justice of Alabama or the legal injunction of the Alabama Supreme Court prohibiting probate judges from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. We intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail.".

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel said that "the JIC has once again veered from its duty and now seeks to resolve a legal dispute that can only be resolved by the Alabama Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court."  Staver, who called the Commission's action, "outrageous," pointed out that, "Earlier this year a federal Court of Appeals and three federal District Courts rendered the same opinion as Chief Justice Moore about how to apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage opinion."

1 - Department of Justice issues ultimatum to North Carolina about bathroom law

The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is taking aim at North Carolina's new transgender bathroom law, HB2.  The Christian Examiner reports that in a letter to Governor Pat McCrory, the DOJ claims the state and the governor are in breach of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which, according to the letter, prohibits discrimination against transgenders.

The letter charges that, "the State is engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against transgender state employees and both you [the governor], in your official capacity, and the State are engaging in a pattern or practice of resistance to the full enjoyment of Title VII rights by transgender employees of public agencies."

The DOJ also gave the state a deadline: "Please advise the Department, therefore, no later than close of business on May 9, 2016, whether you will remedy these violations of Title VII, including by confirming that the State will not comply with or implement H.B. 2, and that it has notified employees of the State and public agencies that, consistent with federal law, they are permitted to access bathrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity."

The governor issued a statement in response, saying, in part, that the Obama administration claims "one part of House Bill 2, which requires state employees in public government buildings and students in our universities to use a restroom, locker room and shower facility that match their biological sex, is now in violation of federal law."  He accused the administration of staking out a position for not only North Carolina, but for all states, universities, and most employers in the U.S. He added, "The right and expectation of privacy in one of the most private areas of our personal lives is now in jeopardy."  At the time, McCrory said the state would review the law and determine its next steps.  The state could lose federal funding if it does not act.

And, just as in the Title IX situation mentioned earlier, the article points out that the definitions section of Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not include "gender identity" as a class, but in the regulations adopted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, extra-legal non-discrimination protections were extended to transgenders.  So "gender identity" has been added as a class not by action taken by Congress, but by the discretion of a Federal agency.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The 3 - May 1, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories impacting the Christian community, spotlights a new Tennessee law protecting counselors who do not wish to offer counseling that would violate their deeply-held beliefs.  Also, there has been a development in a disturbing story out of China involving the destruction of a church facility, an action that resulted in the pastor's wife losing her life.  And, free speech is on leave at a large public university in North Carolina, where a campus Christian group has found its religious expression stymied.

3 - TN governor signs bill to allow counselors to opt out of counseling situations they find objectionable; counseling student expelled from MO university

Just days after vetoing a bill that would have made the Bible the state book of Tennessee, Governor Bill Haslam signed a bill that, according to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website, protects Christian counselors who don’t want to advise people in same-sex relationships.  Senate Bill 1556 states, "No counselor or therapist providing counseling therapy services shall be required to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with the sincerely held principles of the counselor or therapist."

In a statement, the governor said that, "The substance of this bill doesn’t address a group, issue or belief system," adding, "Rather it allows counselors—just as we allow other professionals like doctors and lawyers—to refer a client to another counselor when the goals or behaviors would violate a sincerely held principle."  As WORLD points out:

In other words, if a gay couple comes to a Christian counselor for relationship advice, the counselor can refer the couple to someone who won’t advise them to break up—without the threat of a lawsuit. Or an atheist counselor could refer a Christian client to someone more understanding of their faith.

As the article points out, this development came after a lawsuit was filed earlier in the week by Andrew Cash, a former Missouri State University student expelled from a degree program for a masters in counseling because of his views on same-sex relationships.  According to another WORLD story, Cash had "told administrators he would counsel homosexuals suffering from depression and anxiety, but not couples and not regarding their homosexual relationships. Instead, he would refer them to another counselor who did not share his views." Jason Craddock of the Thomas More Society, which filed the suit, is quoted as saying, "That still wasn’t good enough for the university."

2 - After Chinese church demolished and pastor's wife buried alive, government admits the church owns the land

There continues to be a determined effort by the Chinese government to eliminate Christian symbols, and in a recent case, a church building, this instance involving the Beitou Church in Zhumadian.   According to a Christianity Today story, a local business had wanted to take over the property that the church sat on, and a government-backed demolition crew was sent to destroy the church. The pastor, Li Jiangong, and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stepped in front of a bulldozer, and it didn’t stop.

The story says that China Aid reported both the tragic incident and the ensuing legal victory, and the organization contended that a member of the demolition team said, “Bury them alive for me,” adding, "I will be responsible for their lives.”  The couple was shoved into a pit and covered in dirt - the pastor dug his way out, but his wife did not survive.

The demolition team has been detained, criminal charges are still pending, and a government investigation has concluded that the land belongs to the church. China Aid stated, “This is a definite legal victory for the church,” adding, “The task force concluded the investigation [by] stating … that pastor Li Jiangong's church has the sole authority for the usage of the land as a religious site and should belong to the church for use. It rules no individual or other organization should claim the land from the church.”

China Aid's president Bob Fu expressed concern that justice for the pastor's family has not been brought about.  

As the Christianity Today story points out, at a long-awaited national conference on religion, held April 22-23 in Beijing, China’s president Xi Jinping called on leaders to take the initiative in reasserting Communist Party of China (CPC) control over religion.  It states:

Xi’s speech, his first specifically on religion since coming to power in 2012, delineates a clear hierarchy in which religion is subordinate to state interests. According to Xi, uniting all believers under CPC leadership is necessary to preserve internal harmony while warding off hostile foreign forces that may use religion to destabilize the regime.

1 - Students at NC State told to obtain permits in order to discuss faith

It seems that college campuses have become laboratories where students are attempting to protect themselves from speech that they find offensive.  When you witness the identification of "safe spaces," micro-aggressions, and trigger mechanisms, it seems that there is a heightened level of sensitivity out there, and not in a positive way.

Todd Starnes - FOX News reports on a situation at North Carolina State University, where apparently, as the columnist says, "A permit is required before students can talk about Jesus at North Carolina State University," And, a lawsuit has been filed against that requirement in federal court.

Grace Christian Life, a registered student group at NC State, filed suit over a policy requiring a permit for any kind of student speech or communication anywhere on campus – including religious speech.

Here's some of the backstory:

In September 2015, the student group was told that without a permit, they must stop approaching other students inside the student union to engage in religious discussions or invite them to attend group events.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Tyson Langhofer told Starnes, “Public universities are supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, not places where students need a permit just to exercise their constitutionally protected freedoms.”  Starnes reports that the university's rules were so draconian that the Christians were not even allowed to step from behind their table in the student union.  The lawsuit contends that, "The University has not restricted the ability of other students and student groups to engage in expressive activity," and, "Grace has witnessed other students, student groups and off-campus groups handing out literature either without a permit or outside of the area reserved by their table permit."

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The 3 - April 24, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting recent developments impacting the Christian community, shines the spotlight on the state of Oklahoma, where voters will get to decide on whether or not a 10 Commandments monument will return to the capitol grounds.  Also, in Georgia, a public health official has lost his job because of content of sermons he preached in his capacity as an ordained minister.  And, the issue of restroom facilities for transgender individuals took center stage on a number of fronts this week.

3 - Oklahoma residents to vote on restoring 10 Commandments Monument

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has added its approval to a Senate Joint Resolution that would send an amendment to the state Constitution to the voters - that amendment could lead to restoring the 10 Commandments Monument to the grounds of the state capitol.

KFOR Television reports that the action by the House will allow voters the option of removing a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution, which was cited in a ruling that led to the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state capitol grounds, according to a press release.   The state Supreme Court had ordered the monument's removal last June.

The resolution would remove a section of the Oklahoma State Constitution that provides “public money or property cannot be used directly or indirectly for any sect, church, denomination or system of religion.”

House Speaker Jeffrey Hickman is quoted as saying, "Oklahomans overwhelmingly supported the placement of the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the state capitol, and they will now be given the opportunity to address the issue in our constitution which the Supreme Court cited in ordering the removal of the Ten Commandments monument.”

Rep. John Paul Jordan, who brought the resolution, said that, “The new interpretation of this provision can potentially make our state hostile to religion and have damaging impacts on our counties, cities and school districts,” adding, “This impact has already been felt in Johnston County, where the ACLU filed a lawsuit based solely on this section of the state constitution and forced the removal of their Ten Commandments monument."  The amendment could be on the ballot in November.

2 - GA health official fired because of sermon content at his church files lawsuit

Another public official in Georgia has lost his job because of his religious beliefs, that he expressed apart from this work.  Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran was fired because of his views on sexuality, including the sinfulness of homosexuality, which he related in a book that he had written.  Now, according to the First Liberty Institute website, a District Health Director for the Georgia Department of Public Health has been terminated - this time, because of sermon content.  The site states:

Dr. Eric Walsh is an expert in public health with multiple advanced degrees. He has served as the director of the City of Pasadena’s Public Health Department, was appointed to President Obama’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDs and also served as an associate pastor for his church. In May 2014, the State of Georgia’s Department of Public Health hired Dr. Walsh as a District Health Director. But soon after Dr. Walsh accepted the offer, state officials asked him to submit recordings of his sermons for their review. After inspecting his sermons, they fired him. First Liberty Institute filed a lawsuit against the State of Georgia on behalf of Dr. Walsh because no one should be fired from his job for something he said in a sermon.

Walsh is an ordained Seventh-Day Adventist Minister. His sermon topics included following Christ, having compassion on the poor, health, marriage, sexuality, world religions, science, creationism, and more.

In September, First Liberty (then known as Liberty Institute), along with co-counsel, filed an official charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Dr. Walsh’s behalf. The complaint charged the State of Georgia Department of Public Health with religious discrimination and retaliation for firing Walsh over the content of his sermons. This week, First Liberty filed a lawsuit against the Department.


1 - Transgender bathroom developments: Federal court strikes down VA school policy, Target declares using bathroom of opposite gender is OK

This has been quite a week with respect to the LGBT agenda, especially the "T" component, which stands for "transgender."  While lesbians and gays want people to believe that they were born as homosexual, transgenders have the opposite approach to sexuality - they believe that they were not born with a particular gender; rather they were assigned a gender, which could be different than their "true" one.  Some embrace a concept that gender is fluid - it can fluctuate dependent on feelings.

So, the issue of which restroom to use in public becomes an issue.  The state of North Carolina believes restroom usage should be determined by biological gender, a commonsense approach that has brought criticism to the state.  Just this week, there were several reports I heard or read that involved people going into the bathroom of the opposite gender and committing acts that led to them being charged with crimes.  When you begin to mix genders in public restrooms, it opens the door to trouble.

Just this week, a Federal appeals court struck down a school district's restroom policy in the case of a transgender student - it ruled the district should allow the transgender individual, identifying as a girl, to use the boy's restroom facilities.   A large retailer, Target, reiterated its support of people using whichever restroom they choose.

In the Virginia case, the Christian Examiner reports that a policy preventing transgender student, Gavin Grimm, from using a boys restroom at his Virginia high school is discriminatory, according to a Federal appeals court, which overturns a prior decision to reject Grimm's discrimination claim. Grimm had filed a sex discrimination claim when barred from using the bathroom at the high school after the school received complaints and adopted a policy requiring students to use restrooms corresponding with their biological gender.  Grimm was born female but now identifies as a male.

The article points out that the ruling "may set a precedent for transgender-bathroom related lawsuits in other states, including North Carolina."

The Christian Examiner also ran an article from The Christian Post, which stated that retail chain Target announced this week that transgender people are free to use the bathrooms and fitting rooms in their stores that match the gender they identify with, not their sex.   Target stated on its corporate website:

"In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."

The issue became a topic on the Presidential campaign trail, with Donald Trump voicing opposition to the North Carolina bathroom bill, which John Kasich had earlier indicated he would not have signed as a governor.  Ted Cruz fired back at Trump by sharing concern over grown men going into ladies' restrooms.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The 3 - April 17, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting recent news and information impacting the Christian community, shines the spotlight on a decision not to replicate the entrance to a pagan temple in 2 major cities.  Also, there's a tribute to POW's and MIA's that features the Bible; and some military facilities have removed the Bible from their displays.  And, there will be a language change in the citizenship test that more accurately reflects the expression of faith.

3 - Plans to build replica of entrance to Baal Temple in New York & London scrapped

In a recent Front Room blog post, I shared information about plans to erect replicas of the arched entrance to the Temple of Baal from Palmyra, Syria in New York and London.

ChristianHeadlines.com had reported this, along with other news sites, and that website now relates that those plans have been suddenly--and rather inexplicably--cancelled.

The story says Charisma News writer Michael Snyder suggests that the sudden change in plans is perhaps due to the large amount of negative feedback the plans received when they were reported on news sites.  Snyder also submits that the “prayers of God’s people” were likely a driving force in the new plan not to make a replica of the Temple of Baal arch either in New York or in London.

Snyder says that the British news outlet, the Telegraph, has confirmed that no arch will be built in New York City, while an arch that is a replica of the Arch of Triumph in ancient Rome will be built in London in place of the arch of the Temple of Baal.

In my earlier blog post, I had quoted a CBN News report that the reproduction of the entrance to the Temple would be erected as a tribute to the original structure, which was 2,000 years old and destroyed by ISIS last year in Palmyra, Syria.  The story said that the reproductions would be made using a 3-D printer, producing a life-size model of the temple's entrance.

Roger Michel, executive director for the Institute for Digital Archaeology, had said, "We hope it is viewed as a constructive response to what has happened there." The Institute had expressed hope to build around 1,000 versions of the arch around the world.

2 - Bibles taken out of "Missing Man" displays remembering POW's 

The Missing Man table is solemn reminder of those who were Prisoners of War or Missing in Action, and was established during the Vietnam era, according to a story by Todd Starnes at FoxNews.com, which says that the tables are typically displayed on military bases and VA clinics – and feature empty chairs for each of the five services, a red rose, an inverted glass, a yellow ribbon, salt sprinkled on a plate, a lemon slice, a candle – and a Bible. The official ceremony script says that, “The Bible represents the strength gained through faith to sustain us and those lost from our country, founded as one nation under God."

But Veterans' Administration officials in Youngstown and Akron, Ohio removed the Bible from displays at clinics in those locales, under pressure from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which, according to Starnes, believes the Bible’s presence on the Missing Man table represents a violation of the law."  The story points out that MRFF also reports that a VA clinic removed the Bible from a display in Houston, Texas.

And, in a separate incident, the Bible was also removed from a display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

A letter has been sent to Robert McDonald, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, urging him to reinstate the Bible to the Missing Man displays. It was signed by representatives of Family Research Council, First Liberty Institute, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Liberty Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom, and others. The article on FoxNews.com offered these quotes from the letter:
“The removal of the Bible not only violates the integrity of these displays, but insults those returned POWs who gained daily strength from their faith in the prisons of our enemies,”
and...
“When a governmental agency such as the VA removes any part of the display, it is a grave insult to the nation’s veterans who often gather together to honor those who have not returned, while also interfering with the message being expressed.”
1 - Citizenship test will reflect wording change, back to "freedom of religion"

There has been an ongoing discussion about the difference between the concept of "freedom of worship" and "freedom of religion."  There are those who would say that "freedom of worship" implies the activity that takes place inside a church building or house of worship, whereas "freedom of religion" refers to religious practice in a broader sense, throughout society.

The ChristianExaminer.com website reports that back in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) made a slight change in wording to the citizenship exam given to potential Americans, but that change had enormous political implications – it removed the phrase "freedom of religion" and replaced it with "freedom of worship," which the department deemed more inclusive.

The change in those testing materials was picked up by Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford, who, after he was elected to the Senate in 2014, asked why the language had been changed. A little over a week ago, the senator's office announced DHS had made the decision to revert to the phrase "freedom of religion" in its testing and education materials.

León Rodriguez, director of the DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote in a letter to Lankford, "We are in the process of revising our test study materials and Web content to reflect the change. Approximately 40 different internal and external Web-based and printed publications will be revised as a result of this decision."

Sen. Lankford is quoted in the Christian Examiner article as saying, "I applaud the Department of Homeland Security for listening to me and deciding to change their material to reflect our First Amendment right of freedom of religion," adding, "At first glance, it appears like a small matter, but it is actually an important distinction for the Constitution and the First Amendment. The 'freedom of religion' language reflects our right to live a life of faith at all times, while the 'freedom of worship' reflects a right simply confined to a particular space and location." He continued, "We live in a great nation that allows individuals to live out their faith, or have no faith at all. To protect freedom and diversity, we must carefully articulate this right throughout the federal government."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The 3 - April 10, 2016

It's time for another edition of The 3, highlighting 3 recent stories of relevance to the Christian community.  This week, the TN legislature passed a bill that would make the Bible the official state book.  Also, recently, the nation of Canada closed its religious freedom office.  And, this week, the governor of Mississippi signed a new religious freedom bill into law.

3 - Tennessee legislature recognizes Bible as state book

The Legislature in Tennessee has passed a bill that would make that state the first in the nation to name the Bible as its official state book.  The Christian Examiner reports that this past Monday, the state senate passed the bill by a 19-8 vote. Republican State Sen. Steve Southerland, who is an ordained minister, sponsored the bill. He was quoted in the article as saying that he wants to see the bill passed because of the Bible's "great historical and cultural significance in the state of Tennessee as a record of the history of Tennessee families that predates some modern vital statistical records," according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The Examiner quotes Republican Senator Kerry Roberts, who said: "The very founding of our nation — the very form of government that we have today — was put forth by men of faith, based on their faith, based on what they read in Holy Scripture."

The ACLU of Tennessee and the state's attorney general oppose the measure, mostly on the grounds that the bill violates the First Amendment, according to the Christian Examiner article, which reports that the Tennessee ACLU Executive Director Hedy Weinberg told The Tennessean newspaper: "Lawmakers' thinly veiled effort to promote one religion over other religions clearly violates both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions, as our state attorney general has already pointed out."

Republican Governor Bill Haslam has voiced concerns over the bill - it is unclear whether or not he would sign it.

2 - Canada closes Office of Religious Freedom

Here is some news out of Canada that has gained more widespread attention this week.  The country's Office of Religious Freedom has been shut down, as of March 31st, according to a story on CBNNews.com.  Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper had pushed for an office that had the goal of promoting international religious freedom, and it opened in February 2013.

The report says that Canadian conservatives had moved on March 21 to keep the office open, but liberals defeated the motion, 225 to 90. The new administration, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau says it will instead focus on worldwide issues of human rights.  Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion said the decision to close the Office does not mean Canada is unsympathetic to religious freedom, according to WORLD News Service, quoted in the CBN piece, which quoted from Katrina Lantos Swett, commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, who told WORLD News Service, "We now have one less strong partner and one less voice for religious freedom," adding, "This is a very unfortunate message to send out to the rest of the world at this time."

Doug McKenzie, CEO for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, told CBN News, "I'm very disappointed, and we believed in the Office very much," adding, "We were supportive of it to our constituents and asked people to pray for the Office." McKenzie also said, "We believe there couldn't be a worse time -- that there's a need right now for our nation, and I would say it's probably true of yours -- to be focused on things which are eternal and which take us beyond the temporal and beyond a lot of the tension which has been built up around religious ideologies that are taken to the extreme."

1 - Mississippi governor signs religious freedom legislation

This week, the Republican governor of the state of Mississippi signed the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act.  The Baptist Press website had a story on the new legislation, including this from Governor Phil Bryant.  He said in a statement, "I am signing HB 1523 into law to protect sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions of individuals, organizations and private associations from discriminatory action by state government or its political subdivisions, which would include counties, cities and institutions of higher learning," adding, "This bill merely reinforces the rights which currently exist to the exercise of religious freedom as stated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution."  The Baptist Press article outlined some of the provisions of the bill - it:

-- Forbids state government from taking "any discriminatory action" against an individual who declines on religious grounds to provide photography, floral arrangements or other wedding services for a same-sex marriage ceremony.

-- Forbids state government discrimination against any person who establishes, on religious grounds, "sex-specific standards or policies" concerning access to restrooms or locker rooms.

-- Permits any person authorized to license or perform marriages to seek recusal from same-sex weddings on religious grounds. At the same time, the bill requires state representatives "to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal."

-- Forbids state government discrimination against adoption agencies that decline, based on religious convictions, to allow same-sex couples to adopt.

-- Forbids state government discrimination against religious organizations that decline to solemnize same-sex marriages or make employment decisions based on religious beliefs concerning marriage.

The Baptist Press article quotes Roger Severino of The Heritage Foundation, who predicted Mississippi's law will spur other states to adopt similar religious liberty protections.

In a news release, he stated, "The Mississippi law prevents discrimination in a manner that is balanced and clear...which left little room for ideological opponents to make wild hypothetical accusations against the bill as they had done with Indiana's religious freedom proposal last year."

Sunday, April 03, 2016

The 3 - April 3, 2016

This week on my week-in-review feature, The 3, I call attention to a deadly incident in Pakistan, in which Islamic extremists targeted and killed Christians, and they ended up actually killing Muslims, as well.  Also, the bill passed by the North Carolina Legislature that set statewide standards for transgender individuals' use of public restrooms and struck down the city of Charlotte's outrageous action of a few weeks ago has continued to have its detractors, including the state's attorney general, who refuses to defend the bill.  And, religious freedom has been in the news this week, as Georgia's governor vetoed a mild religious freedom bill and Mississippi legislators passed a bill that extended protection to business owners.

3 - Islamic radicals target Christians in Easter Sunday massacre

Over 70 people lost their lives in an Easter Sunday bombing in a park in Lahore, Pakistan.  The Los Angeles Times reports that "Officials raised the death toll in the Sunday evening bombing to 72 people, including at least 25 children. The explosion occurred as the park was packed with families celebrating Easter, among them members of Lahore’s Christian minority, although the vast majority of casualties were Muslims. About 300 more were injured."

The newspaper reports that a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban militant federation claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it targeted Christians, who make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s population of 182 million.  The Times reported that officials said at least 14 Christians were among the dead.

Morning Star News reported that the dead included at least 45 Christians and 25 Muslims, including women and children, according to unofficial reports.

A spokesman for the militant organization, Ehsanullah Ehsan, said a suicide bomber deliberately targeted the Christian community. He is quoted as saying "We claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter. He added that the attack had been carried out under an operation code-named Saut Ul Raad (Sound of Lightning), “which will continue throughout this year.”

“It was part of our annual martyrdom attacks we have started this year,” Ehsan said, adding that “we had been waiting for this occasion … We want to convey to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the prime minister that we have arrived in Punjab and we will reach you.”

Morning Star reported that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “condemned the Easter bombing in the strongest terms and assured justice to the mourning families,” and the country’s powerful army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, ordered intelligence and security services to “arrest the perpetrators of the attack.” However, Islamist extremist groups continued to mock the state’s declarations.

2 - North Carolina governor, lawmakers face corporate backlash for bathroom ordinance, Attorney General refuses to defend the new law

During the final full week of March, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.  It was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, according to a story at WND.com, which reported that the law bans local governments from passing “anti-discrimination” ordinances and requires transgender people to use the public restrooms that align with their biological gender.  The legislation overturns a Charlotte ordinance that allowed transgender people to be free to choose the restroom that they wished.

The Legislature's bill immediately came under fire from LGBT activists, according to WND, and North Carolina’s Democrat attorney general, who is running against McCrory for governor, refused to defend the law against legal challenges from the ACLU and others.  Governor McCrory called the opposition to the new law a “vicious nationwide smear campaign” and rebuked Attorney General Roy Cooper for refusing to defend the law. In a five-minute YouTube video, the governor said that by getting professional sports leagues, the Hollywood film industry and corporate America to line up against the law the political left has been able to turn a common-sense privacy issue into an economic issue.

And, a Christian legal advocacy firm has announced that it would be willing to defend the law.  The article reports that Mat Staver, founder and chair of Liberty Counsel, sent a letter Thursday to North Carolina lawmakers stating that his organization will defend the new North Carolina law free of charge. The ACLU has already sued the state on behalf of two transgender people and a lesbian professor.

1 - Religious freedom bill passes Mississippi Legislature, Georgia governor vetoes religious freedom bill

States are continuing to strengthen religious liberty protections, and the latest is the state of Mississippi, whose Legislature on Friday, according to The Stream, passed a bill that would prohibit the government from punishing businesses, social workers, religious groups and public employees for denying services based on “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The state's House of Representatives approved the Senate version of the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” by a vote of 69-45.

The report referred to stories from CNN and NBC News.  According to the NBC report, the government would not be permitted to prevent those of faith from, among other things: refusing to marry a same-sex couple, firing an employee whose "conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization," or blocking the adoption of a child because of religious beliefs.

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, a strong supporter of the bill, is quoted as saying, “In the wake of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, many Mississippians including pastors, wanted protection to exercise their religious liberties,” adding. “This bill simply protects those individuals from government interference when practicing their religious beliefs.” The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, who hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the legislation.  But, he did tell WLBT recently he didn’t think the bill was discriminatory.

Meanwhile, the Georgia General Assembly passed a religious discrimination bill that provided protection for pastors and religious organizations from facing punishment for refusing to take part in certain activities that violate their beliefs, such as performing a same-sex wedding ceremony or lease their facilities for such a purpose, without any protection for small business owners who wished to opt out of certain activities.  Another piece published on The Stream, a commentary from Breakpoint, including these comments by John Stonestreet:

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal vetoed HB757, saying the bill “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of our people.” Deal, despite his insistence otherwise, was the latest governor to cave to the well-orchestrated pressure from the NFL, Disney, Salesforce and the LGBT lobby.

That would be disturbing enough if this were the same type of religious freedom bill that caused so much trouble in Arizona and Indiana. But as Ryan Anderson notes at the Daily Signal, this bill offered no protections for florists, photographers, bakers or other wedding-related professionals to live by their religious convictions. This bill would have only protected the freedoms of ministers from officiating same-sex ceremonies, for faith-based organizations from hiring employees whose views undermined their mission, and for protecting churches and their ministries from state government-level discrimination.

Stonestreet observed:

...The Indiana Religious Freedom Act firestorm a year ago showed us that “religious freedom,” an idea as American as baseball and apple pie, was no longer considered to be a cultural “good.” When many, many people in our country hear “religious freedom,” what they really hear is “license to discriminate.”

The Georgia governor’s words and actions this week prove just how far that redefining of religious freedom has gone. Apparently, not even pastors should be able to hold religious convictions that violate the new orthodoxies our culture has embraced.

You can hear my interview with Mike Griffin, Public Affairs Representative for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, on this legislation and the governor's veto, by clicking here.