Sunday, September 14, 2014

The 3 - September 14, 2014

In this edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I take a look at faith on campus, as one university's football team was told that it was unconstitutional to place crosses on their helmets to honor people associated with the program who had died.   Also, one of America's leading Christian businessmen passed away this past week.  And, Christians gathered to respond in prayer on the anniversary of 9/11.

3 - University removes cross from football team helmets

Faith on campus is a topic area that emerges from time-to-time, and this week, college football players at Arkansas State University had decided to honor the memory to two individuals who passed away during the past year by placing cross decals on their helmets. According to Todd Starnes of Fox News, the cross decals were meant to memorialize former player Markel Owens and former equipment manager Barry Weyer, said athletic director Terry Mohajir.  Weyer was killed in a June car crash. Owens was gunned down in Tennessee in January.

Starnes wrote:
These young men were simply trying to do a good deed. They were standing up for their fallen teammates. It’s really too bad the university could not stand up for the team.
Barry Weyer, Sr., told him that the players and coaches voluntarily decided to memorialize his son and Owens.  He is quoted as saying, "The players knew they were both Christians so they decided to use the cross along with their initials...They wanted to carry the spirits of Markel and Barry Don onto the field for one more season.”

It was a decision that had the full support of Mohajir, who said, "I support our students’ expression of their faith...I am 100 percent behind our students and coaches.”

After the recent televised game between Arkansas State and Tennessee, university counsel Lucinda McDaniel  received a letter from a local attorney complaining about the decal.  McDaniel wrote to Mohajir: “While we could argue that the cross with the initials of the fallen student and trainer merely memorialize their passing, the symbol we have authorized to convey that message is a Christian cross.”

She stated that, “If the bottom of the cross can be cut off so that the symbol is a plus sign (+) there should be no problem...It is the Christian symbol which has caused the legal objection.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation then fired off a letter congratulating the university on cleansing the helmets of the Christian symbol.  According to Starnes, FFRF co-presidents Annie Lauire Gaylor and Dan Barker went so far as to suggest alternative ways for the football players to mourn.

Mohajir is quoted as saying, “I don’t even kinda-sorta care about any organization that tells our students how to grieve...Everybody grieves differently. I don’t think anybody has the right to tell our students how to memorialize their colleagues, their classmates or any loved ones they have.”

Meanwhile, at Penn State University, officials had removed Gideon Bibles from guest rooms because of an FFRF challenge.   According to its media website, Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter Thursday to Penn State encouraging it to reverse its decision. ADF recently sent a similar letter to the U.S. Navy, which later reversed its decision to remove Bibles from guest rooms after it also received a complaint from FFRF.

ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham is quoted as saying, "Public universities should understand that the First Amendment does not require them to purge a book from their guest rooms just because it happens to be religious. Rather, the Constitution requires them to accommodate religion...The Bibles can legitimately stay in the guest rooms because they simply represent a discrete way to accommodate the needs of traveling guests, not some sort of government effort to promote religion.”

2 - Chick-Fil-A founder passes away at 93

The founder of Chick-Fil-A, Truett Cathy, died early in the morning on Monday, September 8th at the age of 93.

In an article on the Baptist Press website, Cathy was quoted as having said, "I was not so committed to financial success that I was willing to abandon my principles and priorities...Our decision to close on Sunday was our way of honoring God and of directing our attention to things that mattered more than our business."

Mel Blackaby, senior pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Jonesboro, the site of Cathy's funeral service on Wednesday, described Cathy as "perhaps the most gracious Christian man I have ever known, and it was a privilege to be his pastor."

In a statement to The Christian Index of the Georgia Baptist Convention, he said, "Having taught eighth-grade boys Sunday School class for 52 years, he chose to invest his life in the next generation of leaders...Everywhere I go, I meet leaders with a smile on their face who say, 'I am one of Truett's boys!'

The article points out that more than 1,800 Chick-fil-A restaurants operate in 40 states and Washington, D.C., recording $5 billion in annual sales in 2013 and 47 consecutive years of annual sales increases. Chick-fil-A was listed among the "Top 20 Brands with the Most Loyal Fans on Facebook" in a report by market research firm LoudDoor released in August.

Baptist Press reported that Cathy was a native of Eatonton, GA, who moved to Atlanta with his family at age 4. His key Bible verse was Proverbs 22:1: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold."

Cathy and his brother Ben opened their first restaurant in 1946, a venue so small they named it The Dwarf Grill (later, The Dwarf House). A second suburban Atlanta location opened in 1951 but burned down in 1960. In 1967 Cathy opened the first Chick-fil-A in a mall, followed in 1986 by the first free-standing Chick-fil-A.

Another quote: "We live in a changing world, but we need to be reminded that the important things have not changed...I have always encouraged my restaurant operators and team members to give back to the local community. We should be about more than just selling chicken; we should be a part of our customers' lives and the communities in which we serve."

1 - Prayer gatherings take place across America on 9/11 anniversary in light of terrorist fears, Middle East persecution

Christians marked the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy by gathering in prayer.  One example took place in New York City, according to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website.  Churches there gathered at the Metropolitan New York Baptist Association on the Upper West Side planned to pray not for the safety of Manhattan but for the persecuted Christians in the Middle East.   You can hear my recent interview with the writer of the article, Emily Belz, here.

The report states that Diana Mao organized the gathering.  She works for an anti-trafficking organization in the city and attends Times Square Church.  She has a friend working for the UN in Iraq who sends her updates from the ground there. Johanna Cappon, who attends and helps lead worship at Every Nation Church, also helped organize. Both Mao and Cappon have traveled in the Middle East.

Mao said, “When Iraq unfolded I was talking to friends and we were thinking about what we could do...It was hard to hear about all the atrocities that were happening. We want to take action and don’t know where to start. Prayer is a good place to start.”

The women reached out to networks of other big and small evangelical churches in the city: Trinity Grace Church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Baptist churches, and charismatic churches. Mao described the gathering as "...the the body coming together."

Last month, members at churches in the city set up a prayer chain for Iraq. One member from Apostles Church, an evangelical church with multiple parishes in the city, set up a Google spreadsheet of prayer needs and emailed it to his church, and those members forwarded it on to other church email lists throughout the city. People from various evangelical churches—Apostles, Redeemer, Trinity Grace, and others—signed up for 15-minute slots to pray over the course of five days.

Also, the Awakening America Alliance was involved again this year in sponsoring and encouraging Cry Out America gatherings across the nation.   Kay Horner, the Executive Director of the Alliance, wrote this:
Today, as hundreds of thousands are crying out in extraordinary, united prayer for a Christ-awakening in America, we would do well to ask ourselves: “We’ve prayed… now what? What follows the plethora of 9/11 prayers, resonating across our nation?”
She went on to say:
What do you see? What do you dream for America’s awakened church? If today’s dreams awaken tomorrow’s destiny, how will we go forward from our 9/11 prayer gatherings to impact a culture in desperate need for transformation?
We must be consistent and intentional to pursue what God envisions within us. We must do so with holiness, for the One who has called us is holy. We must pursue His harvest with true, not feigned, humility because as we awake, arise, and shine, our shining will be with His reflected glory and not our own. We will be awakened to an unsatiated hunger for more.
It is a reasonable and effective response, as we reflect on the tragedy of 9/11, to call upon the Lord to strengthen our hearts and to ask Him to move in a powerful way upon our nation.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The 3 - September 7, 2014

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," there was some heartening news about traditional marriage from a Federal judge this week, but a Federal appeals court struck down marriage laws in two states.  In another court development, the Administration has backed off on appealing some temporary measures in place preventing the contraception mandate from going to effect in certain cases.   And, news concerning Christians in the Middle East continues to raise concerns, as the growth of the ISIS terror organization is causing alarm.

3 - Federal court upholds LA marriage amendment, Federal appeals court strikes down WI and IN marriage laws

Up until several weeks ago, there was seemingly a fairly significant losing streak of court decisions that stated that marriage amendments in various states defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman were unconstitutional.  Then came a ruling from a district judge in Tennessee upholding that state's definition of marriage.  And, this week, a Federal court judge in Louisiana ruled in support of that state's marriage law.

According to Tony Perkins' Washington Update from the Family Research Council, Federal Judge Martin Feldman said, "he was reluctant to throw away centuries of natural, social science, and legal tradition to satiate a radical fringe."

He wrote, "This Court is persuaded that Louisiana has a legitimate interest... whether obsolete in the opinion of some, or not, in the opinion of linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents."

Perkins went on to say,
Relying on research -- not the Left's misshapen idea of "rights" -- the Reagan appointee was blunt about the danger of chasing the political and cultural winds. "Public attitude might be becoming more diverse, but any right to same-sex marriage is not yet so entrenched as to be fundamental," he said plainly.
He is quoted as saying, "The state of Louisiana has a legitimate interest under a rational basis standard of review for addressing the meaning of marriage through the democratic process."

Later in the week, and not unexpectedly, in light of one particular judge's comments in oral arguments, a Federal appeals court ruled against marriage laws in Wisconsin and Indiana.

CitizenLink reports that the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down marriage law in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Julaine Appling, president of Wisconsin Family Action, was quoted as saying that she was disappointed, but not surprised by the decision.  She pointed out that, "We knew we had the most liberal panel of judges on the 7th Circuit...When they denied the state’s request to have the case heard before all ten judges on the court, we pretty much knew what to expect.”

Appling had harsh words for Judge Richard Posner, one of the three who heard the case. She related that she was in the courtroom and said, "I knew then what the outcome was going to be. Judge Posner in particular made his opinion quite clear. His clarity took a backseat only to his sarcasm.”

According to the WORLD Magazine website, Posner said that only “hate” is behind wanting to order society around one-man-one-woman unions and used the phrase “savage discrimination” to describe it.

2 - Government drops appeals in cases involving contraception mandate

The Alliance Defending Freedom reports that in the face of mounting court losses, the Obama administration Wednesday abandoned its appeals in several lawsuits against the contraception and abortion-pill mandate. The ADF press release states that, "The preliminary injunctions that the federal district courts issued in all of the cases where the administration is dropping its appeals will remain in effect until the cases are litigated to conclusion."

As the release points out, "The surrender means that existing court orders which protect family businesses in those cases from violating their religious beliefs will stand while the lawsuits proceed."  This includes the Hobby Lobby case itself.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman is quoted as saying, “The administration was right to abandon its fight against the family businesses involved in these particular cases in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June. In a free and diverse society, we respect the freedom to live out our convictions. For these families, that means not being forced to participate in distributing abortion drugs and devices.”

1 - Christians prepare for threat of ISIS while NATO leaders meet to craft plan to combat the terror group's spread

This week, throughout the Middle East, the threat of ISIS continues to cast a long shadow over the entire region, as NATO leaders met and discussed how their nations would respond to the advancement of this terrorist group.   And, the WORLD Magazine website reported that Christians in Lebanon are now taking steps to protect themselves against the onslaught of the Islamic State.

The report says that,"as Christians flee Syria and Iraq to escape the radical Islamic State, Lebanese Christians are preparing themselves for the possibility of hostilities flowing over their border."  It points out that for the first time since the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990, Lebanese Christians are arming themselves for self-defense, including deploying on hills surrounding their communities, and even lying in ambush.

Vandals spray-painted the walls of several churches in northern Lebanon this past week with the words, “The Islamic State is coming,” after someone posted a video online of boys burning an Islamic flag in a Christian neighborhood in Beirut.

Meanwhile, WORLD reports that President Obama, at a press conference near the end of a two-day NATO summit in Wales, said ISIS (also called Islamic State or ISIL) has an ideology of “extremist nihilism” and is a “savage organization” that must be stopped.

To that end, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with leaders from nine other nations at the NATO summit to forge an international alliance against ISIS. One of the group’s main goals will be to try to cut off the terrorists’ financial resources, the other to provide military support to Iraq as it fights the group. The NATO allies hope to have a plan ready in time for the United Nations’ General Assembly meeting this month.  Issues surrounding fighting ISIS in Syria remain.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 3 - August 31, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I explore the story of a New York couple who was fined for not allowing a same-sex wedding ceremony to be performed at its facility - they have announced that they will no longer host weddings.   Also, a singular Federal judge has ruled against a portion of the Texas abortion law providing for certain standards for clinics. And, a large missions agency has a new leader - a popular author and pastor.

3 - Couple fined for not allowing gay wedding at its facility, will no longer host weddings

In yet another example of a business that refused to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony and has faced consequences from the government, a couple in New York has now made the decision to no longer allow their facility to be used for weddings.

According to a story on the website, Robert and Cynthia Gifford own Liberty Ridge Farms, a 50-acre facility that hosts a number of family-friendly attractions.  In 2012, two lesbians contacted the facility to schedule their “wedding” ceremony, as the venue regularly hosts weddings and other outings.  When the Giffords realized that the two were lesbians, they informed the women that they could not be of assistance.

The ladies filed a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights, alleging discrimination.

Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Peres fined Liberty Ridge Farms $13,000, citing “the goal of deterrence” for other businesses who might adhere to their convictions and decline to personally accommodate same-sex celebrations. $1,500 of that amount is be paid to each the lesbians who were turned down by the facility, which also serves as the Giffords' home.

Liberty Ridge Farms was also ordered to provide proof that they have trained their employees not to refuse requests from homosexuals. A poster noting that the business is subject to human rights law was additionally to be displayed prominently at the business.

Because of the order, the Giffords have now decided to close the wedding venue altogether, while keeping other parts of their farm operational, in order to avoid violating their religious beliefs.

Their attorney, James Trainor, told reporters this week that, the Giffords "...have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property (other than the ones already under contract).” He added, “Since the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business in the short run. They will continue to host wedding receptions.”

Also, as previously reported by, a Christian-owned trolley company in Maryland likewise decided last year to discontinue its wedding services to avoid any legal entanglements. Matt Grubbs of Discover Annapolis Tours informed the Baltimore Sun that he will lose $50,000 a year because of his decision, but said that he would rather lose money than dishonor God.

2 - Last-minute Federal judge decision puts part of TX abortion law on hold

Just 2 years ago, the state of Texas had 40 abortion clinics in operation, and according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website, in the aftermath of the passage of the new abortion reform law called HB2, now only 19 centers remain in business.  The law has already withstood a legal challenge to the portion of the law that required abortionists to have privileges at a nearby hospital. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March that the privileges requirement did not place an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Now, a lone Federal judge has ruled against another provision of the law, set to go into effect this week. The ruling blocks a requirement that abortion centers in Texas have hospital-like facilities with operating rooms, air filtration systems, and other standards that are typically only mandated in surgical settings. Supporters of the measure said it would protect women’s health, but U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said it created an “impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion.”

The Los Angeles Times points out that the judge also struck down the admitting privileges mandate as it applies to two clinics, one in the Rio Grande Valley, the other in West Texas, regions where women have the least access to abortion services.  As the Times points out, the original bill banned nearly all abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

This ruling is yet another in a series of ruling by Federal judges who see themselves apparently as the protectors of a woman's so-called right to abortion.

1 - Platt named new head of Baptist foreign missions agency

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has a new President - the IMB's Board of Trustees named Birmingham pastor, David Platt, of the Church at Brook Hills, as the new head of the Convention's foreign missions arm.

A Baptist Press report says that the IMB is the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals. More than 4,800 Southern Baptist international missionaries serve worldwide.

Platt succeeds former missionary, pastor and Southern Baptist Convention president Tom Elliff, who had served as President since March 2011.  Elliff asked the agency's trustees earlier this year to begin an active search for his successor.

Baptist Press quotes Platt as saying, "This is not something I saw coming." He said, "I love pastoring The Church at Brook Hills. I love shepherding this local church on mission for the glory of God among the nations and could picture myself doing that for decades to come. At the same time, God has been doing an unusual work in my heart and life. The only way I can describe it is that He's been instilling in me a deeper, narrowing, Romans 15 kind of ambition, where [the Apostle] Paul said, 'I want to see Christ preached where He has not been named.' … He has given me a deeper desire to spend more of my time and energy and resources in the short life He has given me to seeing Christ preached where He's not been named. The concept of unreached peoples -- of nearly 2 billion people who have never heard the Gospel -- is just totally intolerable."

Search committee chairman David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, FL, is quoted as saying, "When we realized his sense of call, whether that meant serving as IMB president or going himself … we realized how passionate, how deeply committed and called he was to the nations." He said the trustees are excited about Platt's influence among thousands of Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders through The Church at Brook Hills, the Radical network and other arenas.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The 3 - August 24, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," features two celebratory events at an Atlanta hospital, as two health care professionals from Christian ministries were released after being treated for the Ebola virus.  Also, new regulations were announced for non-profit organizations and closely-held companies concerning the contraception mandate.   And, a massive turnout in Southern California came out for a long-standing annual evangelistic crusade.

3 - 2 Christian workers released from Emory University hospital after Ebola treatment

Two devoted health care workers who were helping to care for Ebola patients in Liberia have now been released from an Atlanta hospital.  An American doctor, Kent Brantly, who works with Samaritan's Purse, was discharged from Emory University Hospital Thursday. Another American aid worker, Nancy Writebol, of Servants in Mission, or SIM, was discharged Tuesday.

According to a article, Brantly, looking gaunt, said at a press conference Thursday that, "God saved my life," at which the room applauded his appearance. He thanked his medical team and the millions of people around the world praying for his recovery. “Please do not stop praying for the people of West Africa.”

Bruce Ribner, the medical director of the hospital's infectious disease unit, said the hospital performed extensive blood and urine tests on both patients and consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before deciding the two missionaries were ready to be released.   He said that neither poses any risk to the public.  Five doctors and 21 nurses cared for Brantly and Writebol during their stay.

SIM press release through Religion News quoted Nancy Writebol's husband David, who, in a statement, said: "Nancy is free of the virus, but the lingering effects of the battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition. Thus, we decided it would be best to leave the hospital privately to be able to give her the rest and recuperation she needs at this time...During the course of her fight, Nancy recalled the dark hours of fear and loneliness, but also a sense of the deep abiding peace and presence of God, giving her comfort..."

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham is quoted in this statement, published on
I know that Dr. Brantly and his wonderful family would ask that you please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola. Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.
We have more than 350 staff in Liberia, and others will soon be joining them, so please pray for those who have served with Dr. Brantly — along with the other doctors, aid workers and organizations that are at this very moment desperately trying to stop Ebola from taking any more lives.

2 - HHS contraception mandate rules changed again

Responding to action from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Obama administration announced yet another revision to the regulations for non-profit organizations who object to the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.

As anticipated, the new regulations follow the guidelines of the recent Supreme Court order granting Wheaton College an injunction against the mandate.

Here's how the new regulations work: an objecting nonprofit can inform the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in writing that it objects to the mandate and be absolved from arranging coverage. But, HHS would then order the nonprofit’s insurer to provide the objectionable drugs to employees at no cost to the nonprofit. If the nonprofit is self-insured, HHS would order the group’s third-party administrator to provide the drugs, which the article points out is a complicated scenario.

HHS also announced a proposal in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case to allow closely held corporations who object to the mandate to use the same accommodation process as objecting nonprofits.

Lori Windham of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty issued this statement:
“Under pressure from hundreds of lawsuits, the government continues to retreat. After three losses in the Supreme Court and dozens of losses in courts below, the government continues to confuse the issues. The government issued over 70 pages of regulations, when all it needed to do was read the First Amendment. We’ll be reviewing this latest attempt with each of our clients.”

The Becket Fund website points out 5 things about the new regulations:

1. This is the 8th retreat the administration has made from their original stance that only “house[s] of worship” receive religious liberty protection.

2. There are a lot of lawsuits against the administration: 102 cases filed including: 28 religious universities (More Protestant than Catholic), 40 religious charities, and 3 Bible publishers.

3. The administration has lost 90% of their cases on this issue – including a decision and two orders from the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Wheaton.

4. The religious charities in these cases serve tens of thousands of people, helping the poor and healing the sick. The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than ten thousand people.

5. This is the first time the administration has acknowledged that families do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. None of the previous seven revisions reached family-owned businesses.

Baptist Press quotes a written statement by Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Dr. Russell Moore:
"Here we go again...What we see here is another revised attempt to settle issues of religious conscience with accounting maneuvers. This new policy doesn't get at the primary problem. The administration is setting itself up as a mediator between God and the conscience on the question of the taking of innocent human life."

1 - Thousands flock to Harvest Crusade in Anaheim

What has been termed as the longest-running evangelistic outreach in U.S. history yielded another sizable crowd to the Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, where more than 116,000 people packed the stands of the famed baseball stadium over three nights to attend the 25th annual Southern California Harvest Crusades with Greg Laurie, which ended on Sunday, the 17th.

All nights of the 2014 SoCal Harvest were broadcast on the Internet, where over 62,700 people from all 50 states and 121 countries around the world watched the outreach.

In a Harvest Crusade press release, Laurie, who preached each night of the Crusade, is quoted as saying, "God can forgive your sin and the guilt that goes along with it. He loves you...Have you heard His voice? After 25 years, I know there's nothing I can say to make you believe in Jesus. All I can do is deliver the news, sharing it with you. You have a choice: you can say yes to Him or you can say no to Him."

By the end of the weekend, almost 12,800 people indicated their faith in Christ at the Southern California Harvest Crusade, including over 11,300 people who walked to the outfield of Angel Stadium, and another 1,425 who made that decision online after viewing the Internet broadcast of the crusade.

The 2014 Crusade concluded with a Sunday night fireworks display that accompanied Chris Tomlin as he sang "God's Great Dance Floor," and a musical medley from Grammy-nominated vocalist Crystal Lewis, who has performed at nearly every Harvest Crusades outreach in Orange County.

Other musical artists throughout the Crusade included NEEDTOBREATHE, Phil Wickham, Skillet, Sidewalk Prophets, and For King and Country.

There were reflections on the past 25 years with video flashbacks and testimonies from past participants who experienced spiritual change after attending a Harvest Crusade event.

Coming up on Sunday, October 5th, Harvest America will take place in Dallas at the American Airlines Arena. The event is scheduled to be simulcast to host locations nationwide. The event will feature Greg Laurie, music by MercyMe, and worship with Phil Wickham.  Learn more at or

Monday, August 18, 2014

The 3 - August 17, 2014

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," an attempt to overturn Houston's ordinance providing for special treatment for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity was turned back by city officials.  Also, in a suburb of St. Louis, churches are involved in trying to bring peace amidst conflict in the aftermath of a police shooting of an 18-year-old man. And, the top story, violence against Christians - as the purge of Christians continues in Iraq, more brutality has been reported in Nigeria, and a humanitarian crisis has ensued after a deadly attack last week.

3 - Attempt to overturn Houston ordinance affording special rights thwarted

One trend that is beginning to emerge regarding special rights for homosexuals and acceptance of same-sex marriage is the passage of municipal ordinances.  For example, cities such as Houston and San Antonio have already passed such policies and the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana turned back such a law this past week.

According to a CitizenLink story, a Texas judge had temporarily halted an equal rights ordinance that would force Houston business owners to allow men to use the women’s restroom — and vice versa.  It was put on hold until this past Friday, pending a hearing on the matter. The ordinance would also force businesses to celebrate same-sex ceremonies.

City council members passed the ordinance in May.   Last month, a coalition, including pastors and other concerned citizens, submitted more than 50,000 petition signatures from Houstonians who want the ordinance to be repealed or placed on the ballot. Then, the mayor and the city attorney threw out more than 30,000 of those.

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action, said people should get to vote. He is quoted as saying, "We will vigorously defend the right of Houstonians to take a timely vote on this dangerous ordinance...The oppressive actions of Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman to throw out at least 30,000 petition signatures — and then delay and distract in court — only shows the desperate lengths they will go to prevent the people of Houston from having their say.”  Mayor Annise Parker is openly gay.

According to the campaign, which spearheaded the signature drive, the ordinance would place women and children in danger in business restrooms and community-pool changing rooms and locker rooms.

The Houston Chronicle reports that on Friday, opponents of the ordinance dropped their request for a temporary injunction that could have triggered a repeal referendum this November. Their lawsuit is scheduled to be heard January 19 of next year, a trial date that ordinance opponents called "expedited" and among the reasons they agreed to withdraw the request.

The injunction sought by the ordinance foes would have forced City Secretary Anna Russell to certify their petition and sent the issue to an emergency city council vote in order to get the repeal referendum on the November ballot. The group of conservative pastors and activists was also asking the city to suspend enforcement of the ordinance, though Mayor Annise Parker had already agreed to do so until a ruling is issued.

And, Houston's 14th Court of Appeals on Friday denied a separate request from opponents to force the city secretary to certify the signatures on their petition and trigger a referendum.

In Baton Rouge, a so-called equal rights ordinance failed by a vote of 8-4, according to a report on the website.

2 - Christians pray for peace in St. Louis suburb

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri has been pronounced in the aftermath of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last week.  As WORLD reports, riots erupted throughout the week, after police shot and killed Michael Brown. Police reports claim Brown struggled with the officers, while two eyewitnesses have said that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times. In the following days, rioters looted and burned stores, confronted police in the streets, and demanded the name of the officer responsible for Brown’s death.  Thursday, it was announced that the Missouri State Highway Patrol would oversee security in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Gov. Jay Nixon announced the change in light of criticism that the St. Louis County Police Department has been overly confrontational with protesters.  After curfews were placed into effect for the weekend, another wave of protests and violence emerged, and as of Monday morning, the 18th, according to USA Today, Gov. Nixon had deployed National Guard troops to try to restore the peace.

As I wrote about in a recent post on my blog, The Front Room, in the middle of the turmoil, area churches have stepped forward to communicate an air of peace and service.  WORLD interviewed Michelle Higgins, Worship and Outreach Coordinator at South City Church in St. Louis, who said the atmosphere completely changes as day turns to night. Higgins said even though the police are patient and speak politely, “their appearance is so daunting that it creates a tension that does not have to be there.” The night also brings a different type of protester, including frustrated young people from all over the St. Louis area who often ignore community leaders’pleas to keep the protests peaceful.

Pastor Rodrick Burton, an African-American who leads the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, located minutes from Ferguson, said it’s disheartening to see young people who are looking for instant results take matters into their own hands. He's also discouraged to see how people are injecting inaccurate information and their own narratives into an already tragic case. For one, he said, unlike the claims of many reports, the northern suburb of Ferguson, which is two-thirds black and one-third white, actually has “pretty good race relations,” and he worries how the riots will affect the existing relationships.

Baptist Press reports that Missouri Baptists in the area say the tragedy has opened doors for proclaiming a message of reconciliation in Christ. For instance, First Baptist Church in Ferguson opened its doors on Aug. 13 for a citywide prayer service.  First Baptist pastor Stoney Shaw said residents of Ferguson were joined by Missouri Baptists from nearby towns in praying for peace and unity. Among other churches involved in the service were The Gate Church of University City and The Passage Church of Florissant.  The pastor said the interracial prayer service exuded a spirit of reconciliation, with participants recognizing the need to love and understand one another.

The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association also organized an Aug. 13 prayer service hosted by Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in North St. Louis. In addition to praying for Brown's family and for peace in Ferguson, director of missions Jim Breeden said they prayed that God would empower local Christians to transform the greater St. Louis area with the Gospel message.

Some Missouri Baptists have already displayed this message by helping to clean Ferguson storefronts that were damaged by looters in the aftermath of Brown's shooting.  First Baptist of Ferguson issued a statement, which said, in part: "... we pledge to pray diligently for everyone involved...We ask that everyone join us in praying for peace and unity as we go through this difficult time together. And we stand ready to assist our community in any way possible to bring peace in the wake of this horrible tragedy."

1 - Radicals in Nigeria slaughter Christians

The purge of Christians in cities across Iraq and the entrapment of Yazidi people on a mountain in that nations have been sources of concern.  Meanwhile, another extremist Islamist organization, Boko Haram, continues its wave of violence in Nigeria.  And, reports have emerged that members of that organization ravaged the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, Borno State last week, according to the Christian Today website.  Over 100 people were killed in the attack, and many citizens were forced to flee their homes and run into the hills to save their lives, according to a BosNewsLife report.

The Boko Haram members were wearing military uniforms and arrived on motorcycles, in trucks, and in up to 50 vans, and attacked the village with fuel-bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The population of over 276,000 had their homes ransacked for food and other supplies before being burned. Some escaped civilians fled to Cameroon or nearby Adamawa State.

Boko Haram also targeted the predominantly Christian town of Limankara, Borno State, killing Church of Christ in Nations pastor Musa Gaiyo and three of his children.

Human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide condemned the bloodshed.  Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas, in a statement, said, "It is deplorable that the residents of Gwoza have been terrorised for so many months, and are now internally displaced, having lost their homes and livelihoods."

The Guardian Nigeria site quotes Senator Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South in Nigeria's National Assembly, who warned of a humanitarian emergency, who said, "Honestly, our people need help. The only people that are living in Gwoza are those that are either too old to walk or too young to flee..."They have no water to drink because the boreholes are no longer functioning. They also have no food to eat. There are over 50,000 people in Gwoza and more than 270,000 in the local government area but all of them are devastated."  He added, "Something urgent needs to be done."

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 10,000 people had been displaced because of the attack and they were providing assistance to those who had escaped to Maiduguri or Madagali, in neighbouring Adamawa state.

Boko Haram became internationally known after kidnapping over 270 children from an all-girls school in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14. A second mass kidnapping occurred on May 4 in Warabe. Over 200 girls remain missing.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The 3 - August 10, 2014

This week here in my week-in-review feature, "The 3," news from a Federal courtroom in Montgomery, where a judge struck down legislation that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.   Also, a major church in the Northwest has continued to make headlines within the Christian community, and has been removed from membership in a church-planting organization that its pastor founded.  And, the top story involved the continued progression of the militant organization, ISIS, through Iraq, including the conquest of several Christian towns.

3 - Alabama abortion clinic bill struck down by Federal judge

A Federal judge has struck down a law, passed by the Alabama Legislature, that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  It had been reported that, as the result of the bill's provision, three out of the five abortion clinics in the state would have had to close because they could not meet this minimum standard.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued his ruling on Monday in a 172-page decision, which said, in part, according to, “The resulting unavailability of abortion in these three cities would impose significant obstacles, burdens, and costs for women across Alabama...The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability.”

Governor Robert Bentley was quoted as saying, "...This law ensures that if a complication arises there is continuity of treatment between doctor and patient. This ruling significantly diminishes those important protections. I will always fight for the rights of the unborn, and support an appeal of today’s decision.”

The bill would be appealed to the 11th Circuit.   The 5th Circuit has already issued two decisions concerning similar bills.  A three-judge panel upheld a Texas law requiring that abortionists have admitting privileges, while another three-judge panel of the same circuit rejected a Mississippi requirement.

2 - Acts 29 church planting network removes church, pastor from membership

Acts 29 is a network of churches who are devoted to planting other churches.   Its website says that, "Over the last ten years Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 500 churches around the world. We want to allow a unifying, uncommon movement of God to happen through Acts 29. Centered on the Gospel, we desire to advance the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. It is our hope to see this leading to millions of lives changed by the power of the Spirit for the glory of God."

The network was founded and led for most of those ten years by an unconventional pastor from Seattle by the name of Mark Driscoll - he is the pastor of Mars Hill Church.  It was announced this week that Pastor Driscoll and Mars Hill Church have been removed from membership in the network.  The website says that:
...Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.
On the WORLD News Group website, Warren Cole Smith reports that a letter was sent to Driscoll by the Board of Directors, which includes Matt Chandler, who became Board Chair after Driscoll stepped down several years ago. Other board members include: Darrin Patrick, Steve Timmis, Eric Mason, John Bryson, Bruce Wesley, and Leonce Crump.  WORLD reports that the board said it wrote the letter “in sadness and hope” and only after waiting to see what Driscoll and the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) would do to resolve what the letter called “countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you.”

But the Acts 29 board’s letter added, “We no longer believe the BOAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.”

Just 2 weeks ago, Warren reported in a piece on the WORLD website that:
Last year, a plagiarism controversy forced Driscoll and his publisher Tyndale House to issue a joint statement admitting “mistakes were made.” This year, WORLD reported Mars Hill Church spent a quarter-million dollars in church funds to put his book Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list. Former staff members have increasingly taken to the internet to voice their grievances with what some have called Driscoll’s overbearing management style.
He went on to write that:
These controversies came to a head in March, when Driscoll made a remarkable public apology. In a letter to his congregation that received national coverage, he said his “angry-young-prophet days are over” and he would take steps to become “a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.” Among the steps Driscoll planned to take included refraining from posting on social media until “at least the end of the year” and to doing few, if any, media interviews.
Apparently, this public apology was not enough, and more information about Driscoll and his activities has continued to come to light.

On his website, Warren Throckmorton, who has been a vocal critic of Driscoll, quoted one of the Mars Hill ex-pastors who has been initiating mediation with the church, Kyle Firstenberg, who had this reaction to Acts 29′s announcement.
I have been greatly discouraged with the response from the BOAA in the charges that both I and others have brought. Years have gone by with what appears as only damage control and not any clear act of love for Mark in holding him accountable as brothers in the faith should.
This action from Matt Chandler and the other members of the board of A29 is one of the most loving acts I have seen in leadership in the Church world in recent years.
Throckmorton does point out that the BOAA did respond to the letter announcing that Mars Hill was being removed.  It was signed by Chairman Michael Van Skaik and Board Member Larry Osborne, saying that, "...I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most."   Van Skaik took the A29 leadership to task for not speaking directly to the Board or Mark Driscoll prior to the announcement.

According to Throckmorton, a group of over 75 members and ex-members have chosen to delay the filing of 53 new charges against the pastor and his Executive Elders.  Apparently, you have had a number of people in the Mars Hill culture who have been involved in the process of confrontation, with the hope of restoration.   Perhaps this A29 action can be a catalyst for healing within a church body that has had and continues to have a real opportunity to impact the world.

1 - ISIS continues conquests, takes over large Christian town

This week, the world's attention has been refocused on the upheaval in the nation of Iraq, where the ISIS army (also known as the Islamic State) continues to make inroads.   This week, American airstrikes against ISIS militants were carried out, and relief supplies were dropped to those fleeing the onslaught.

Religious cleansing and genocide have become the mode of operation for ISIS.  Reports of the brutal treatment of Christians in Mosul have been widely circulated, and this week, the Christian Today website
said that militants pushed back Kurdish troops and then moved in overnight to take over four Christian-majority towns, including Qaraqosh which is home to Iraq's largest Christian community.

The story quotes Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, Joseph Thomas, who confirmed to AFP, "I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants. He said, "It's a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene," and noted, "Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described."

Qaraqosh and the surrounding towns are said to have contained at least a quarter of Iraq's historic Christian population before the insurgents moved in.

In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. There are now thought to be less than 200,000.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The 3 - August 3, 2014

This week here in "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I highlight a court decision on the pro-life law in Mississippi that would have closed the state's only abortion clinic because it could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Also, a physician working with a Christian relief organization, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating those suffering with it in Liberia, has reached the U.S., and a hygienist also working on the mission field will be heading to America soon.  And, the top story:  President Obama has appointed a new religious freedom ambassador and the State Department has released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.

3 - Appeals court strikes down Mississippi pro-life law

Mississippi's only abortion clinic will continue to operate, based on a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the state's abortion law requiring those doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital placed an undue burden on women.

According to, the appellate court upheld a lower court injunction suspending the law, though it narrowed the scope of the stay to apply only to the parties in the case — namely the lone Mississippi abortion facility, Jackson Women's Health Organization.   That facility could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and would have been forced to close out of noncompliance with the law.

The appeals court said the fact that women would have to travel out of state for an abortion was an "undue burden," so the law can’t stand.

Writing for the majority, Judge E. Grady Jolly stated: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

The three-member panel that heard arguments had indicated that closing Mississippi’s last abortion clinic might be difficult due to concerns that crossing state lines for abortions might create a different set of legal issues.

Paul Eldridge Barnes, who argued for the State of Mississippi, noted that already thousands of Mississippi women cross state lines every year for abortions in neighboring states.

In fact, last April, a different three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit found that a nearly similar provision in Texas’ HB2 abortion law created no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and allowed the state to enforce it. That has resulted in the closure of numerous Texas abortion clinics.

2 - 2 missions workers contract and fight deadly Ebola virus

Over the weekend, a plane carrying Dr. Kent Brantly, a physician working with international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, landed outside of Atlanta.   Dr. Brantly had contracted the deadly Ebola virus while working with patients in the African nation of Liberia.  According to the Samaritan's Purse website, after landing in the U.S., he was then transported to Emory University Hospital.   Emory has an isolation unit set up in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases.  He had been working with the Samaritan's Purse medical team responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

American Nancy Writebol, a hygienist working with the missions organization SIM, who also contracted Ebola in Liberia, is expected to arrive in Atlanta within the next few days.

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham is quoted as saying, “We thank God that they are alive and now have access to the best care in the world...We are extremely thankful for the help we have received from the State Department, the CDC, the National Institute of Health, WHO and, of course, Emory Hospital.”

This past week, Samaritan’s Purse was currently working to evacuate all but the most essential personnel to their home countries. Samaritan’s Purse is taking precautions that exceed the standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

According to Graham, “An experimental serum arrived in the country, but there was only enough for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol...However, Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care. The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”

1 - State Department issues new religious freedom report, new ambassador appointed

There were some developments concerning U.S. government efforts to address religious freedom issues this week.  Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by the new nominee for the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein, announced the release of the State Department's annual report on religious freedom.  There are now 9 "Countries of Particular Concern" with regard to the area of religious freedom. Turkmenistan has been added to the State Department’s list of worst religious freedom offenders, according to a report on the Religion News Service website.

The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list had remained static since 2006, when eight countries — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — were designated as CPCs.

Justifying the addition of Turkmenistan, Kerry cited reports of people detained, beaten and tortured for their beliefs, prohibited from wearing religious attire and fined for distributing religious materials.

Kerry called the report “a clear-eyed objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world,” adding “it does directly shine a light in a way that makes some countries – even some of our friends – uncomfortable.” He called for the CPC designations to be grounded in real action that can help change reality on the ground.

The report says, "In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory...In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”

In a report on the Saperstein nomination, Religion News Service reported that:
The choice of Saperstein will appeal to many who advocate for religious freedom for his staunch work in the area, and for his lifelong commitment to social justice. 
RNS points out:
...his generally liberal views may concern some from the more conservative side of the political spectrum. Though he helped pass RFRA, the law considered by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case decided last month, Saperstein decried the court’s decision, arguing that the justices had overstepped when they ruled that the craft store chain could cite religious objections in not providing contraception coverage in its insurance plan.
Concerning Saperstein, Baptist Press relates that, "He has advocated positions opposite those of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life and religious liberty organizations."  It reports that Saperstein backs abortion rights and that, "He stood at Obama's side as the president signed an executive order July 21 to extend workplace protections among federal contractors to homosexual, bisexual and transgender status."

In a statement, ERLC President Russell D. Moore said, "While we strongly disagree with Rabbi Saperstein on many issues regarding domestic policy such as the recent Hobby Lobby ruling and issues related to the sanctity of unborn life, we are hoping that he will articulate a robust view of religious freedom around the world as he answers these questions in his Senate confirmation hearings."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The 3 - July 27, 2014

This week on my week-in-review feature, "The 3," news emerging that a government agency may be checking on churches, looking for violations on regulations governing political speech and activity.  Also, the President issued an executive order that could limit free expression of religion by employees, forcing those who do business with the Federal government to accept homosexuals in the workplace.  The top story is a cause for celebration: the exit of Meriam Ibrahim from Sudan after being released from prison on charges of apostasy (wouldn't recant Christian faith) and adultery (married a Christian man).

3 - Internal Revenue Service reportedly tells atheist group it will investigate churches

The Alliance Defending Freedom discovered this week that the Internal Revenue Service had apparently reached an agreement with the Freedom From Religion Foundation, where the IRS pledged to the atheist group that it would begin to investigate churches and pastors, exercising what they regard as their free speech rights to endorse candidates and relate other political content.

For years now, ADF has been involved in trying to go to court to overturn the Johnson Amendment, which it views as unconstitutional because of its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.On its website, the Alliance Defending Freedom states that the Johnson Amendment authorizes the IRS to regulate sermons and requires churches to give up their constitutionally protected freedom of speech in order to retain their tax-exempt status. To that end, for a number of years, ADF has been encouraging pastors to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, on which they would preach politically-oriented sermons which could violate the Amendment.

This week, ADF asked the IRS to release all documents related to its recent decision to settle the lawsuit with FFRF, which claimed the IRS has adopted new protocols and procedures for the investigation of churches. The atheist organization had accused the agency of failing to investigate churches the way the atheist group would like, according to ADF.

Christiana Holcomb, ADF Litigation Counsel, stated, “Secrecy breeds mistrust, and the IRS should know this in light of its recent scandals involving the investigation of conservative groups...We are asking the IRS to disclose the new protocols and procedures it apparently adopted for determining whether to investigate churches. What it intends to do to churches must be brought into the light of day.”

The Alliance states that currently, the IRS claims it is temporarily withholding investigations of all tax-exempt entities because of congressional scrutiny of its recent scandals, but no one knows when it will decide to restart investigations based on any new or modified rules that it develops.

This year's Pulpit Freedom Sunday is October 5, 2014.

2 - President issues order saying Federal contractors cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity

On Monday, President Obama issued an Executive Order requiring that Federal contractors, companies and organizations that do business with the Federal government, grant, as a piece on the Family Research Council website puts it, "special treatment to the politically-charged categories of 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' in the workplace."  This was an apparent attempt to partially institute the provisions of the so-called Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which has failed to pass Congress year after year. This year, the Senate passed a version of ENDA that included a religious exemption.  A number of religious leaders had asked the President to include a religious exemption in his order, but that request was rejected.

Peter Sprigg, Family Research Council's Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, issued a statement, which said, in part:
"President Obama has ordered employers to put aside their principles, and practices in the name of political correctness. This level of coercion is nothing less than viewpoint blackmail that bullies into silence every contractor and subcontractor who has moral objections to homosexual behavior. This order gives activists a license to challenge their employers and, expose those employers to threats of costly legal proceedings and the potential of jeopardizing future contracts."
He went on to say that:
"Religious faith is not simply a matter of intellectual affirmation but of active practice. A religious organization which is denied the power to require its employees to conduct their lives in a way consistent with the teachings of their faith is an organization which is being denied the right to exercise its religion, period. People with deeply held convictions regarding the morality of certain types of sexual behavior should not be bound by the dictates of President Obama's agenda."
Tony Perkins, President of FRC, in his daily Washington Update, said that, "The President is placing at risk not only faith-driven employers but religious groups such as relief organizations which sometimes put government dollars to work in uniquely effective ways."  He went on to point out that the American people are not overwhelmingly convinced that this type of policy is the right way to go.  Perkins cited that "a Huffington Post poll that finds only 50% of Americans support an ENDA-type law, which gives preference to homosexuals and transgenders in the workplace."

Sarah Torre, Policy Analyst in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, provided some analysis on this Order by the President in a recent interview on Faith Radio for The Meeting House.  You can listen to or download the audio here.

Ryan Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society for the Heritage Foundation, highlighted on the Heritage website 4 reasons why the Order was problematic. In summary, those are: 1) The order undermines our nation’s commitment to reasonable pluralism and reasonable diversity, as it disregards the consciences and liberties of people of goodwill who happen not to share the government’s opinions about issues of sexuality, 2) its conscientious judgments about behavior as if they were insidious acts of discrimination akin to racism or sexism, 3) it does not contain a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification (BFOQ) exemption, allowing employers to make employment decisions so long as those decisions are honestly related to job qualifications, and 4) it is unnecessary, because voluntary market forces are already eliminating true discrimination.  Anderson also highlights that a bill has been introduced into both houses of Congress that will protect religious liberty and the rights of conscience.

1 - Meriam Ibrahim, Sudanese woman once under a death sentence, who would not renounce her Christian faith, leaves Sudan

This week, the diplomatic process ramped up and Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who faced the death sentence for apostasy and would not recant her Christian faith, was permitted to leave the country.  She had been released from prison several weeks ago, but was rearrested at the airport due to a passport issue.  The family had travelled to the U.S. Embassy in Sudan, and the last word prior to this week was that they were in an unidentified safe place.

This past Wednesday, according to a story on the WORLD News Group website, Sudanese authorities gave Meriam her passport and she was told she could leave.   Shortly afterward, Lapo Pistelli, Italy's deputy minister for foreign affairs, arrived in Sudan to accompany her to Italy.  Earlier, the U.S. House of Representatives had held a hearing on Meriam's plight.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is quoted as saying, “This is a day of celebration.” He welcomed the family at the airport in Rome on Thursday. On Thursday morning, the family met with Pope Francis at his residence at the Vatican.

WORLD had also spoken with an American pastor, Bill Devlin, who had traveled to Sudan last week to urge Sudanese officials to release the mother and her family.  He also met with Ibrahim, her husband, and their two children in a conference room at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, where the family had lived since Ibrahim was re-arrested at the airport in June. In a phone interview on Wednesday (before news of her release broke), Devlin said the family was eager to leave Sudan but seemed healthy and in good spirits.  He also said a pediatrician had advised Ibrahim’s infant daughter appeared healthy, although the baby would need further tests to assess her health.  After her release from prison, Ibrahim said she feared the baby might be disabled due to the circumstances of her birth.

What's next for the family?  The WORLD piece speculates that they may soon travel to the United States. Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is an American citizen and a long-time resident of Manchester, NH.

Earlier in July, after Ibrahim's re-arrest at the airport, I spoke with Jamie Dean, News Editor of WORLD Magazine - here is a link to that conversation.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The 3 - July 20, 2014

This week in my week-in-review feature, "The 3," a Christian college in Massachusetts has encountered some retaliation because of its president's stand on Biblical principles.  Also, a brazen attempt to take legislative action against the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision occurred in the U.S. Senate this week. And, there was more court action regarding state marriage amendments this week.

3 - Christian college faces ramifications for upholding Biblical standards

A Christian college is under fire because its President signed a letter requesting a religious exemption from a proposed new policy to be implemented by President Obama that would prohibit "discrimination" on the basis of sexual orientation. reports that Kimberley Driscoll, mayor of Salem, MA, recently sent a letter to Michael Lindsay, the president of Gordon College, advising that the school could no longer manage the Old Town Hall because it opposes sexual activities between those of the same gender.

She stated that her main concern was over the college’s behavioral standards policy, which prohibits staff and students from engaging in homosexual behavior. The policy also forbids fornication, drunkenness, profanity, blasphemy, lying and other behaviors that are inconsistent with Biblical principles.

She said that Gordon College’s policies “fly in the face” of Salem’s non-discrimination law, which bars the city from working with entities that “discriminate” against others.

She told reporters recently that she made the decision to cancel the contract, which was to have expired later this year, when she discovered that Lindsay was among those who signed that letter to Mr. Obama.
In an online message to Gordon College students and staff, Lindsay explained that, “My sole intention in signing this letter was to affirm the College’s support of the underlying issue of religious liberty, including the right of faith-based institutions to set and adhere to standards which derive from our shared framework of faith, and which we all have chosen to embrace as members of the Gordon community...”

According to CitizenLink, without an exemption, Gordon College — and other Christian colleges — could lose federal funding, student financial aid and accreditation. CitizenLink has initiated a petition drive in order that people can show support for President Lindsey and the Biblical principles which the college is attempting to uphold.

2 - Bill to reverse Hobby Lobby decision fails to advance in Senate

This past week, the U.S. Senate, moving with uncharacteristic swiftness, voted on a bill that, if it had passed there and been approved by the House, which would have been highly unlikely, would have essentially overruled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.  RFRA is the law the Supreme Court cited when it ruled the federal government cannot force a family-owned business to provide contraceptive coverage that goes against its religious beliefs.   The bill also would have required employers to cover all forms of contraception and other healthcare mandated in the Affordable Care Act, regardless of conscience objections.

The Senate on Wednesday afternoon fell short of the 60 votes needed to move forward with the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, in a 56-43 vote on bringing the measure to the floor. Republican Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, who voted against moving the measure forward, said, “The federal government doesn’t have the right to force Americans to violate their faith...The bill put forward by Senate Democrats is nothing more than a political charade, designed to falsely suggest to the American people that employers can deny their employees access to birth control.”  3 Republicans joined 51 Democrats and 2 Independents in voting for the bill.

WORLD reports that Republicans have introduced legislation that would “clarify” the high court’s decision, noting it didn’t prevent anyone from accessing any kind of birth control, including abortifacient drugs.

As the WORLD article states, House Republicans have excoriated Senate Democrats for not moving faster to take up legislation, but in this case, the Senate showed it is capable of moving at remarkable speed. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties on June 30, Senators Patty Murray or Washington and Mark Udall of Colorado unveiled their legislative response on July 9. Only one week, later the Senate voted on cloture, or ending debate.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, is quoted as saying that lawmakers have much more pressing issues they should be focused on: “The world is falling apart, along with the U.S. economy, and yet Senate Democratic leaders think the future of the free world hinges on employers being forced—under the threat of crippling fines—to provide drugs that have the potential to kill an unborn child.”

1 - Court action on marriage amendments continues

More action was taken this week by courts on state amendments defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.   The Alliance Defending Freedom reported that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit issued a 2-1 decision Friday in Bishop v. Smith to strike down Oklahoma’s voter-approved constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

ADF Senior Counsel Byron Babione is quoted as saying, "“Every child deserves a mom and a dad, and the people of Oklahoma confirmed that at the ballot box when they approved a constitutional amendment that affirmed marriage as a man-woman union. In his dissent, Judge Kelly correctly noted that ‘any change in the definition of marriage rightly belongs to the people of Oklahoma, not a federal court.’" He goes on to say that, "Ultimately, the question whether the people are free to affirm marriage as a man-woman union will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court remains consistent with what it held in its Windsor decision, the states will ultimately be free to preserve man-woman marriage should they choose to do so.”

As I reported last week, a state court judge in Colorado made the brash move of ruling that state's marriage amendment unconstitutional.   This week, a county judge in Florida did the same.  The Florida Family Policy Council reports that Monroe Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia ruled that Florida's marriage amendment was unconstitutional.  Furthermore, he did not stay his action pending appeal.   Same-sex couples who wish could be granted marriage licenses as soon as this Tuesday, July 22nd.

Council President John Stemberger is quoted as saying,
Today’s ruling by Judge Garcia, in the Florida Keys, is a stunning act of legal arrogance and raw judicial activism. With one stoke of a pen, a mere trial judge has attempted to overthrow an act of direct democracy by five million Floridians who defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Judge Garcia has ignored the constitution, ignored the will of the people, and has asserted his own personal views over the rule of law. This ruling is precisely what voters were trying to prevent when they overwhelmingly defined marriage in the Florida Constitution in 2008 by a 62% vote. Judge Garcia’s reliance on the Windsor decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 is wrong sided and completely misplaced. Windsor was a state’s rights decision and affirmed that each state has the right to define marriage. Instead of relying on the constitution, Garcia joined the judicial stampede of other lower federal judges who have tried to override marriage laws based on no precedent other than their own political agendas.
So, from the Federal appeals level to the local level, judges are assuming this posture.   As Babione pointed out, the Windsor decision left questions of marriage legality to the states.   So, it would seem that the will of the majority, as expressed in the passage of these amendments, would be upheld.   It will be interesting to see when and if one or more of these cases will reach the high court, which passed on its opportunity to provide clarity by not issuing a definitive ruling in the Proposition 8 case out of California.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The 3 - July 13, 2014

This week, in my week-in-review feature, "The 3," more news on the same-sex marriage front, as rulings were issued in court cases involving people who issue same-sex marriage licenses.  Also, faith leaders have protested the President's reported plan to issue an executive order prohibiting Federal contractors from "discrimination" based on sexual orientation.  And, the crisis involving thousands of children on the border continues to build, and apparently the help of faith groups and individuals has been rejected, so far.

3 - Judges make decisions regarding clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Another week, another judge stepping in to rule a marriage amendment unconstitutional...this time, it's for Colorado.  This time, according to a report on the CitizenLink website, it was a county judge in that state, Adams County Judge C. Scott Crabtree, who made that determination, putting the ruling on hold pending an appeal to avoid “instability and uncertainty.”

The following day, a judge ruled that a county clerk in Boulder could continue to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. CitizenLink reported that Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall took it upon herself to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples on June 25, the same day a federal appeals court struck down Utah’s constitutional marriage amendment. Colorado Attorney General John Suthers filed a motion last week seeking to stop Hall from issuing the licenses.  In his ruling, Boulder District Judge Andrew Hartman said Hall must keep a record of the licenses.  He also said she must let couples know that the validity of the licenses depends upon higher court rulings.  Also, reportedly Colorado county clerks in Denver and Pueblo announced that they will also begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers said Hartman’s order claims that even if the licenses are invalid, the “state suffers no irreparable harm from their issuance.” Suthers also issued a statement underscoring the need for rulings — on both of these cases — from the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, a Pennsylvania county clerk had appealed a Federal District judge's ruling overturning that state's law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, according to another CitizenLink story. Theresa Santai-Gaffney, Schuylkill County clerk, had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and halt same-sex marriage in the state while a court case moves forward.  That appeal was turned back by the high court.

2 - Faith leaders challenge "non-discrimination" policy 

President Obama has proposed an executive order that would ban so-called "discrimination" based on sexual orientation for contractors with the Federal government. A debate has moved forward among faith leaders about whether or not the order should contain a religious exemption.  This order would essentially be a mini-version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prevent sexual orientation from being a factor in employment practices.  Charisma News provides a timeline.

On June 25, more than 150 mostly evangelical leaders signed a letter urging Obama to "protect the rights of faith-based organizations that simply desire to utilize staffing practices consistent with their deep religious convictions." They suggested specific language that was similar to the Senate version of ENDA.   That request followed an earlier letter from 90 organizations asking the Obama administration to end the Bush-era policy of permitting federally funded religious groups to hire and fire based on a person's faith.   A copy of the June 25 letter can be found at the International Religious Freedom Alliance website.  The letter includes signatories Franklin Graham, President and CEO of Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; Stanley Carlson-Thies, President of the IRFA; Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals; Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Christian Hispanic Leadership Conference; and Dan Busby, President of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

Also, Charisma News reported on a July 1 letter that was sent to the President, signed by three former advisory council members and his former chief liaison to evangelicals, asking the President to include an exemption for religious groups. They wrote, "A religious exemption would simply maintain that religious organizations will not be automatically disqualified or disadvantaged in obtaining contracts because of their religious beliefs." Among those signing that letter were Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter; the Rev. Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA; and the Rev. Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association; as well as former evangelical liaison Michael Wear

And, just this week, more than 100 religious leaders, including four former members of the President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, signed on to a letter saying there should be no religious exception.  They wrote, "An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora's Box inviting other forms of discrimination." Signatories to that letter included more liberal theologians, such as, Harry Knox, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and Metropolitan Community Churches Moderator Nancy Wilson.

More ENDA news now from this week: The effort is facing a major setback after a coalition of gay rights groups and civil liberties groups pulled their support because of an exemption for religious groups, according to

The American Civil Liberties Union and four gay rights groups said they can no longer support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case over contraception coverage, which allowed some businesses to claim a religious exemption in following federal law.  Laura Murphy, the director of the ACLU's Washington legislative bureau is quoted as saying that, “Federal legislation to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination is way beyond overdue, but Congress has no place giving religiously affiliated employers a license to discriminate against LGBT workers...We can no longer support a bill that treats LGBT discrimination as different and somehow more legitimate than other forms of discrimination.”

1 - Christians attempt to intervene in immigration crisis

Certainly, the buildup at the border of children seeking refuge in America is developing into a political and a humanitarian crisis, and there are indications that people of faith are being prevented from being involved.

That's the report of Todd Starnes of Fox News, who states that:
Pastors and churches have been banned from helping the thousands of illegal immigrant children housed in border detention facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, clergy in Texas and Arizona tell me.
Starnes quotes Kyle Coffin, a Tucson, Arizona pastor, who said, “Border Patrol told us pastors and churches are not allowed to visit...It’s pretty heartbreaking that they don’t let anybody in there -- even credentialed pastors.”

A public affairs officer for the Border Patrol confirmed that ministers and church groups have been banned from the Nogales Placement Center.

Starnes reported that people of faith in San Antonio had a similar experience. One professional counselor at a camp run by BCFS, an organization previously known as Baptist Child and Family Services, said there were no clergy at all.

Apparently, a question was raised to President Obama in a meeting in Dallas this week. reported that Chris Liebrum of the Baptist General Convention and Arne Nelson of Catholic Charities asked the President if the ban on Christians volunteering at overwhelmed detention camps would be lifted. Christian groups bringing toys, blankets and food to the gates of the camps were reportedly turned away.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The 3 - July 6, 2014

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, there is news of more violence directed at Christians in the country of Nigeria.  Also, marriage amendments are continuing to be challenged - a judge ruled against Kentucky's amendment, and Florida's amendment was in court this week.  And, the top story is from the nation's highest court - relief for family-owned businesses who do not wish to provide, in their health care plans, forms of birth control that they find objectionable due to religious convictions.

3 - More violence against Christians in Nigeria

Militants are continuing their attacks against Christians in Nigeria, and on their day of worship, members of four churches were victims of violence.  According to Christian Today, gunmen fired at worshippers gathered in Kwada village just 6 miles from Chibok in Borno state on Sunday, where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped and taken hostage on April 14.

The militants then set fire to the buildings, which included the Protestant Church of Christ in Nigeria and the Pentecostal Deeper Life Bible Church, before heading to nearby Kautikari village where they continued their rampage; shooting local civilians and setting fire to their homes. More than 30 people reportedly lost their lives.

President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in Muslim-majority Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in May 2013 and has authorized an increased military presence in an attempt to combat extremism.  However, Boko Haram – whose name translates as 'Western education is forbidden' – continues to wreak devastation across northern Nigeria. Members are thought to be responsible for at least 2,000 deaths so far this year alone.

More violence took place on Tuesday.  The website,, reports that a car bomb explosion in Maiduguri exploded, causing dozens of deaths, according to witnesses.  Boko Haram is being blamed for that act of violence, as well as a series of previous bombings in the region.

The bombing took place just hours after it was announced that Nigerian authorities arrested a "key figure" in relation to the abduction of the over 200 schoolgirls on April 14, according to a report.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that the military arrested a businessman named Babuji Ya'ari - known to be a Boko Haram ringleader - along with two female operatives who work for the extremist group.

In addition to leading a violent Boko Haram cell, Ya'ari is said to have "participated actively" in the abductions of April 14 that resulted in global outrage and an international campaign to bring the girls to safety. 219 of the young women, mostly aged between 16 and 18, however, are still missing - sparking fears that they have been sold into slavery.

2 -  Federal judge strikes down Kentucky marriage amendment, Florida amendment in court

Earlier this year, a Federal district judge ruled that Kentucky must recognize so-called same-sex marriages performed in other states.  This past week, that same judge, U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II, an appointee of George W. Bush, ruled against Kentucky’s constitutional amendment that sought to protect marriage as being between one man and one woman and banned so-called marriage between members of the same-sex, according to a report on the website.

In his decision, Heyburn took a shot at those who hold to the historical and biblical belief that marriage comes from and is defined by God and those who voted for the amendment, expressing that such beliefs do not rise above the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Heyburn declared, “In America, even sincere and long-held religious beliefs do not trump the constitutional rights of those who happen to have been out-voted."

Heyburn also criticized Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) for arguing that the ban preserves the state’s birth rate, and therefore contributes to the economic stability of Kentucky.

Heyburn has stayed his ruling pending an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

Meanwhile, in Florida, a judge in Miami this week began to hear arguments on a challenge to that state's marriage amendment.  According to the website, a lawsuit challenging the ban was filed by six same-sex couples from South Florida in January.   The suit reportedly contends that the amendment is discriminatory and violates guarantees of equal protection.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office is contending that one judge should not overturn the 2008 amendment. Attorneys for her office also argue the U.S. Supreme Court has left marriage definitions to the states.

1 - U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties in challenge to contraception mandate

The greatly anticipated ruling in the combined challenge to the government mandate that employers provide contraception, including abortion-inducing drugs, in their health care plans was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.   Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities, two family-owned businesses, had challenged the mandate, and their cases were combined before the high court.

The website had an assortment of reactions from Christian leaders.  Here are a few:

Becket Fund for Religious Liberty attorney Lori Windham, who represented Hobby Lobby in the suit, is quoted as saying that Americans “don’t give up their rights to religious freedom just because they open a family-run business. This is a landmark decision for religious freedom.”

Barbara Green, co-owner of Hobby Lobby, along with husband Steve Green, said, “Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision…The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”

Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention quoted scripture as he commented on the case writing, “‘Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a coverup for evil, but living as servants of God.’ (1 Peter 2:16). Let’s fight for religious freedom, for everybody. And let’s preach the gospel with power. We must be about both: persuasive proclamation and the guarding of the freedom to disagree with us. That’s what Jesus taught us. So let’s hold onto freedom and let’s pray, for liberty and Jesus for all.”

Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God said, “The court should be commended for recognizing that individuals do not surrender their religious freedom rights when they incorporate as a closely held, for profit business. A family-owned business...has religious freedom rights because members of the family do.”

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, in expressing thankfulness for the ruling, is quoted as saying, “The unfair HHS mandate gave family businesses two non-choices: either violate your deeply held moral beliefs and comply by paying for drugs and services to which you object, or pay crippling fines of up to $100 per day, per employee, for non-compliance. This mandate threatened the jobs, livelihood and healthcare of millions of Americans and forced those who stood up for their conscience, like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, to either comply or be punished.”

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum said, “The Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare’s contraception mandate is a tremendous victory for our freedom of conscience. I’m proud of the Green and Hahn families for holding true to their core convictions and standing up to Obamacare’s intrusive contraception and abortion coverage mandate. The Hobby Lobby and the Conestoga Wood Specialties businesses were built on people living out the American dream, and their owners should not have to check their religious beliefs at the door.”

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Dr. Samuel Rodriguez offered this word of caution in commending the decision, "For people of faith, this decision requires both celebration and a renewed commitment to vigilance, as today’s complacency is tomorrow’s captivity.”
Also, the Becket Fund reported that Wheaton College received last minute relief from the Supreme Court this week, protecting the College’s right to carry out its religious mission free from crippling IRS fines.

The Court’s order states that Wheaton “need not use the form prescribed by the Government” under the HHS Mandate, and it prohibits the government “from enforcing against [Wheaton] the challenged provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and related regulations pending final disposition of appellate review.” The order gives Wheaton the same relief that the Supreme Court gave to the Little Sisters of the Poor in January and came just days after Hobby Lobby and Eternal Word Television Network won similar victories at the Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit, respectively.

The Becket Fund reports that there have been a total of 49 for-profit lawsuits filed against the contraception mandate.  Of the 41 cases with rulings touching on the merits of the cases, the scorecard is 40-6.  There have been 51 non-profit lawsuits filed, and the scorecard is 30 injunctions granted and only 3 denied.