Saturday, February 24, 2018

The 3 - February 25, 2018

This week's edition of The 3 spotlights the death of legendary of evangelist Billy Graham, including some words of tribute from his son, Franklin.  Also, people have been sharing their faith in Christ with those attending the Winter Olympics in South Korea.  And, a teenager in Pakistan is at the center of protests due to allegations related to that country's blasphemy laws.

3 - Pakistani teen arrested under blasphemy laws

Pakistan's blasphemy laws are front and center again in a disturbing story, according to Morning Star News.  An 18-year-old, Patras Masih, was taken into custody.  The report states:
Patras Masih was accused of posting a blasphemous image on a group Facebook page from his phone on Jan. 16, but his father said his son’s cell phone has been in a repair shop since December.
His son told him that a friend had posted a sacrilegious photograph on a Facebook group from his ID a month ago, and that he had no intention of hurting religious sentiments, he said. Under Pakistan’s widely condemned blasphemy laws, intent must be shown for conviction.
His father, Indreyas Masih, stated: “My son is illiterate and works as sweeper at a private bank,” adding, “He has never been involved in any religious dispute with any Muslim in the village. I’m unable to understand why he has been trapped in this case.”

Patras was taken into custody in the midst of strong protests by Muslims in the region. The Morning Star report said that, "Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in a village near Lahore, Pakistan," and that,"The protesters threatened to burn down the homes of at least 700 poor Christian families, area residents said."  Police dispersed a crowd blocking a main highway by assuring protesters that Patras had been arrested. A local police official is quoted as saying, "“We have deployed some 400 police personnel in Dher village to protect the local Christian community,” adding, “The situation was brought under control late on Monday night when we informed the protest leaders that the accused boy has been arrested and charged with blasphemy.”

2 - Thousands converge on Olympics to share faith

On Thursday's edition of The Meeting House on Faith Radio, I featured a conversation with evangelist Terry Veazey, in South Korea ministering with the International Sports Chaplains organization.  The evangelistic outreaches surrounding the games were featuring in a Religion News Service article appearing on the ChristianHeadlines.com website.  The article estimated some 2,000 missionaries were on hand during the Games - from a variety of faiths.

The article relates:
There is no reliable count of missionaries at Olympics past. But the number of local missionaries here far exceeds previous games, said Marty Youngblood, leader of the Georgia Baptist Convention mission team, who is at his fifth Olympics this year.
South Korea, which is 29 percent Christian, and among whom Protestants predominate, enjoys high levels of religious tolerance. Buddha’s birthday and Christmas are both national holidays.
The report also says:
Myungsu No, a campus minister in Seoul, says his students from the Baptist Student Union use pin trading — a pastime at this and previous Olympics — to spread the gospel. While athletes and spectators trade pins that typically depict a certain country, sport or team, mission groups give away a “More Than Gold” lapel pin, borrowing the slogan a consortium of missionary groups adopted in the 1990s to brand their Olympic outreach.
Veazey had told me that his team was also involved in pin trading.  The story at the ChristianHeadlines.com site also said:
The first weekend of the Olympics, mission groups passed out Christian literature in the Olympic park unimpeded.

Then Olympic park officials posted signs informing visitors that passing out religious material in the park was banned, and any materials found would be confiscated.

Youngblood, of the Georgia Baptist Convention, said he is not concerned. His missionaries are also using the pin trading and only give pamphlets to those who want to learn more.
1 - The world responds to the death of Billy Graham

World-renowned evangelist Billy Graham went home to be with the Lord on Wednesday of this past week.  He was 99 years of age.  Tributes were shared from throughout the world.   Over the weekend, a motorcade carried the earthly body of Mr. Graham from the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove near Asheville to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, where the body will lie in repose Monday and Tuesday.

The body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday and will be brought back to Charlotte for a funeral service on Friday.

During these times of public viewing, the body will be in a pinewood casket, according to the BillyGraham.org website, that was "crafted in 2006 by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, is lined with a mattress pad. On top rests a simple wooden cross the prisoners nailed into place."  The story says:
The plain wooden caskets caught Franklin Graham’s eye during a 2005 preaching engagement at Angola. That’s when he saw the inmates hard at work crafting them, and he soon learned why. The initiative began when then-warden Burl Cain discovered many of the poorer inmates were being buried in cardboard boxes.
As a result, Cain had the inmates construct plywood caskets for themselves and others who couldn’t afford one. In addition to making the caskets, the prisoners—many of them former hardened criminals who are now committed Christians—also pray over them.
Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham, wrote a tribute to his father that appeared on the USA Today website, as well as on the BillyGraham.org website, entitled, Billy Graham's New Home.  He wrote:
Since 1947, some 215 million people at more than 400 crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies heard my father tell them, “The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life’” (John 3:16). Today, he is experiencing what he devoted a lifetime to telling others they could experience if they placed their trust in Jesus Christ.
Franklin recounted a time in his life when he was struggling and not walking with God and how his father had challenged him to surrender his life to Christ, which ultimately Franklin did.  He now heads the ministry that bears his father's name.  Franklin writes that following the Flushing Meadows crusade in New York in 2005, his father wrote a piece at the end of a book that contained the text of the three sermons he preached there.  Franklin writes, "...the purpose of Billy Graham’s life is captured in a single paragraph found at the end of a little book a number of years ago."
“No matter what your problem is,” he wrote, “if you and I could sit down and talk, I would want to tell you one great truth: God loves you, and He can make a difference in your life if you will let Him.
“God loves you so much that He sent His Son into the world to die for your sins. When we open our hearts to Christ, He forgives our sins and comes to live within us by His Holy Spirit. He also gives us strength for the present and hope for the future. This is the message of the Gospel—and this is the message you have read in this book.”
Franklin Graham stated, "If my father could speak or write to us today, he would say the same thing. It was what he lived and breathed—until his very last breath."  

The DeMoss publicity agency reports that, "More than 22 million people have made a commitment to Jesus Christ through a Billy Graham or Billy Graham Evangelistic Association outreach effort."

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The 3 - February 18, 2018

This week on The 3, there is the story of a well-known Christian speaker whose invitation to speak at a public university in Oklahoma was withdrawn, then reinstated.  Also, a Michigan church is under fire for offering Biblical hope to young people confused about their gender identity.  Finally, the Vice-President has responded to negative comments about his practice of Christianity on a recent network television show.

3 - Ham back on the menu at a Oklahoma university

Earlier this month, the University of Central Oklahoma reversed a decision to have Ken Ham, the President of Answers in Genesis, speak on its Edmund, OK campus.  The Answers in Genesis website stated:
UCO has reneged on a contract it signed that allowed Ken to give a talk on March 5. Ken’s presentation in the school’s Constitution Hall, titled “Genesis and the State of the Culture,” was objectionable to a campus LGBT group, which put heavy pressure on the UCO Student Association (UCOSA) to cancel Ken’s speaking engagement. In his proposed talk at UCO , Ken would have discussed the two different worldviews and their starting points when interpreting scientific evidence, as he did in his classic evolution/creation debate with Bill Nye “the Science Guy” four years ago.
That was published on Tuesday, February 6.  Just days after that announcement, the school announced it has reversed course again.  The AiG website said last Thursday, February 15:
Today, UCO President Don Betz has invited the AiG president to give his talk, “Genesis and the State of the Culture,” on the Edmond campus.
Ham said, "UCO officials have definitely heard from many concerned state legislators, several local residents, and alumni about the denial of our right to free speech."  He added, "Furthermore, by moving my talk from the evening to the afternoon, we now have the opportunity to reach even more UCO students during the school day. UCO is a commuter campus, and many of its students might not have been able to attend in the evening."  Ham also stated, "I’m thankful for the many Oklahomans who stood up for our constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion."

The website, NewsOK.com did report that:
In his letter on Thursday, Betz said UCO will conduct a presentation on the First Amendment on the morning of Ham's presentation on March 5. The First Amendment session will be at 10 a.m. and Ham will speak at 3 p.m.
Betz said UCO will present a discussion on the contemporary processes of scientific inquiry and evolution on March 6, along with a panel discussion on freedom of expression and freedom of speech "as appropriate to UCO as a teaching and learning institution.
So, Ken speaks, but it does seem the school might be a bit too devoted to try to "balance" out Ham's Biblical views by having these other presentations.  Wonder if UCO would invite someone with a Christian worldview perspective if the university were allowing an atheist lecture.  Or, perhaps to invite a creationist to counter a speaker's Darwinist perspective? Probably not.

2 - Michigan church under fire from lawmakers for Biblical sexuality conference

If a young person is struggling with his or her gender identity, what better place than a church where that person can go to get help, right?  Obviously, that's not the attitude by some in Michigan, where lawmakers have demanded an investigation over what is being called "conversion therapy."

The News Herald states:
A Downriver pastor whose church has come under fire for sponsoring conversion therapy workshops is asking state legislators to withdraw demands for an investigation into his church.
In a news conference held Thursday afternoon in Lansing, Pastor Jeremy Schossau joined other pastors in urging State Reps. Adam Zemke (D-Ann Arbor) and Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Twp.) to withdraw their demands for an investigation into Schossau’s church for offering a workshop that provides biblical answers on identity and sexuality.
The church is called Metro City Church, and the website article stated that it would be holding "a six-session program titled 'Unashamed Identity Workshop.'" The article says:
Hosted by the church, in partnership with Forge Ministries, the workshop is for those born as girls, between the ages of 12 and 16, who are struggling with thoughts that they’re transsexual, bisexual, gay or any other orientation.
Protestors have shown up at the church, which has been receiving threats.  The News Herald article also says:
Randy Wilson, Family Research Council’s national field director for Watchman on the Wall, said during the news conference that he views the church as increasingly coming under attack.
“I want to thank Pastor Jeremy Schossau for his leadership,” Wilson said. “Metro City Church is a place that is governed by the precepts and principles of God’s word and is compelled by the love of God.”
Schossau said people have always gone to their spiritual leaders for advice.
“Pastors have always done this and we will continue to do this,” he said. “And, we don’t need the government to tell us what we can and cannot say. And, we do not need the government to tell us what kind of advice we need to give, or a license to give that advice.”
At the Family Research Council website, the pastor is quoted as saying: "This is all coming from a tolerant loving community? An open-minded community that seeks to be understood and wants to understand others?" He added, "That is crazy."

FRC has posted a "petition demanding that Rep. Camilleri and Rep. Zemke withdraw their call for an investigation and respect the church's freedom to teach what the Bible says about sexuality."

1 - Vice-President responds to negative comments about his Christianity

To put the recent squaring off between the ABC television program The View and the Vice-President of the United States into perspective, I want to go back to a story at the Huffington Post website featuring a video from the Oprah Winfrey Network.  The featured topic of the article was Omarosa Manigault Newman, formerly of the Donald Trump TV show, Celebrity Apprentice, former a White House staff member, and a contestant most recently on Celebrity Big Brother. The article says:
As Omarosa’s fame grew, so did her opportunities, allowing her to travel the world doing missionary work. One of her stops, West Africa, is where her life changed.
“I found myself alone in an orphanage… There was a child there, and she had HIV/AIDS and she was dying,” Omarosa recalls. “And it was at that moment, looking into the face and the eyes of this dying child that I received my call to ministry.”
How does she know she received a call to ministry?  I would say that such a call would indicate a clear direction of the Holy Spirit.  After all, as she says, referring to her critics, "They underestimate the power of God’s ability to transform a person’s life...In the blink of an eye, God can come into your situation and turn your life around.”

Now, fast forward to her comments on Celebrity Big Brother a few days ago, and I quote from a Todd Starnes article on FoxNews.com:
"As bad as you think Trump is, you would be worried about Pence --- everyone that is wishing for impeachment might want to reconsider their life," Omarosa said in a clip from "Celebrity Big Brother."
"I am Christian. I love Jesus, but he thinks Jesus tells him to say things," Omarosa told her fellow contestants.
Starnes writes, "Well, that bit of news was more than Behar and the other gals on 'The View' could stomach."  Co-host Joy Behar said, "It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you." That’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct, hearing voices..."

What?  So, there is a stream of thought that God doesn't speak to or direct His people by His Spirit.  I have a hunch we're not talking audible voices here.

Well, Behar did backtrack a bit, according to Starnes, saying, "I think Mike Pence, say what you want about him and his religiosity. I don’t think he’s mentally ill. Even though he is saying he hears voices I don’t think he’s that crazy..."

On C-SPAN, Pence stated: “To have ABC maintain a broadcast forum that compared Christianity to mental illness is just wrong,” adding, “It is simply wrong for ABC to have a television program that expresses that kind of religious intolerance.”

Starnes also wrote:
Pence said on C-SPAN that his faith is the most important thing in his life.
“My faith sustains me in all that I do,” he said.
The vice president said “The View” hosts insulted the “vast majority of the American people who cherish faith.”
“It demonstrates how out of touch some in the mainstream media are with the faith and values of the American people that you could have a major network like ABC permit a forum for invective against religion like that,” he said.
Now, Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center has written a letter to the President of ABC News, which appears on the Newsbusters website.  He also took View co-host Sunny Hostin to task, saying that she had called the Vice-President's Christianity "dangerous."  He cited other examples of ABC programming that exhibited a bias against Christians.  Bozell stated:
But now you, Mr. Goldston, have the opportunity to right this wrong. Apologize on behalf of ABC. Require Ms. Hostin and Ms. Behar as individuals to apologize. Bigotry against any group is hateful and ugly. Unfortunately, anti-Christian bigotry seems to be the last acceptable bigotry. A simple unqualified apology will go so far. Our country is so divided right now, why make things worse? By apologizing you have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The 3 - February 11, 2018

The most recent edition of The 3, featuring three relevant stories to the Christian community, contains the story of an island nation that has reversed its legalization of same-sex "marriage."  Also, a baker in California who did not wish to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding received a positive court ruling from a state court recently.  And, the Ohio Supreme Court has upheld the state's law requiring abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with local hospitals in case of emergencies.

3 - No more legalized same-sex marriage in Bermuda

That holy grail of political correctness and tolerance, same-sex marriage, may be beginning to tarnish.  Last week, I commented on a recent survey that showed that the comfort level for non-LGBT people around those identifying as LGBT has waned a little bit.

Now, according to Liberty Counsel, an island nation that once legalized same-sex marriage has now reversed course.  The legal advocacy organization's website states:
The governor of Bermuda signed a law that reverses an earlier ruling and the nation will no longer recognize marriage between two people of the same sex. The law, known as the “Domestic Partnership Act 2017,” passed the legislature by a 2-1 margin in both the Bermuda House and Senate. It will allow domestic partnerships for same and opposite sex couples, but will no longer permit same-sex couples to be married. The Bermuda Supreme Court in May 2017 issued an opinion in favor of same-sex “marriage,” but that opinion was met by opposition.
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said, “The people of Bermuda recognize the folly of redefining marriages and reversed the ruling of their Supreme Court..."

2 - California baker receives positive court ruling in case of gay wedding cake

The track record of artistic business owners going to court to defend their right to refuse to provide services for a same-sex wedding or ceremony has not been very encouraging, and currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering the case of a Colorado baker who, based on his religious convictions, declined to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding celebration.

So, it is somewhat surprising that a judge in California has ruled in a favor of a baker in that state who was in a position to do what Jack Phillips did in Colorado and Aaron and Melissa Klein did in Oregon. According to a Baptist Press story:
Tastries Bakery owner Cathy Miller's freedom of speech "outweighs" the state of California's interest in ensuring a freely accessible marketplace, Judge David R. Lampe said in his decision in the Superior Court of California in Kern County, one of the state's 58 trial courts.
According to the article:
Lampe, in his decision, wrote that both freedom of speech and a nondiscriminatory marketplace are laudable and necessary but said the facts of the case favor Miller. The state's complaint, based on the Unruh Act, which prohibits discrimination based on both religion and sexual orientation, lacks the merit to succeed, Lampe said.
Baptist Press stated that the judge wrote, "The State asks this court to compel Miller to use her talents to design and create a cake she has not yet conceived with the knowledge that her work will be displayed in celebration of a marital union her religion forbids," adding, "For this court to force such compliance would do violence to the essentials of Free Speech guaranteed under the First Amendment..." 

The story says that, "The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing had sought a preliminary injunction to force Miller to either bake wedding cakes for homosexual couples or stop selling wedding cakes..."

1 - Ohio Supreme Court upholds state law requiring abortion clinics to have transfer agreement with local hospital

There's good news on the pro-life front from the state of Ohio, where the state Supreme Court ruled against two abortion clinics who wished to be exempted from a state law that required clinics to have a transfer agreement in place with an area hospital within 30 miles driving distance, in case of a complication from the procedure.

The Dayton Daily News reported on the story:
In a 5-2 ruling, the court determined that Capital Care Network of Toledo violated the rule, and that the Ohio Department of Health was within its rights to revoke the clinic’s operating license.
“Now that this issue is settled, Ohio Right to Life expects that this abortion clinic in Toledo will be closed immediately by the Ohio Department of Health,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis said in a written statement.
In the second case, according to the article, "Preterm Cleveland, Inc. versus Kasich, the court ruled in a 5-2 decision that the clinic did not have standing to challenge the state’s decision to embed abortion restrictions into the state budget bill adopted in 2013. "  As the story pointed out, the clinic failed to show that it had "suffered harm."

The article gave some background on the regulations:
The 2013 state budget bill included restrictions that require abortion clinics to have written transfer agreements with local, private hospitals, and that doctors determine if there is a detectable fetal heartbeat — and inform the woman — before performing an abortion.
Staff counsel for Americans United for Life, Rachel Busick, joined me on The Meeting House on Friday to share insight and analysis.  You can listen to or download the interview here.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

The 3 - February 4, 2018

This week in The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there are over a dozen house church leaders in China who are apparently in the custody of the government there.  Also, there was a brave faith statement made by an abused former gymnast.  And, the U.S. Senate failed to approve a bill that would protect unborn children at 20 weeks from being aborted.

3 - Chinese house church leaders apparently in government custody

The organization ChinaAid reports that 14 house church leaders in China have apparently been apprehended and imprisoned, according to a press release on the Christian Newswire website. Bob Fu, the President of ChinaAid, is quoted as saying, "This massive, enforced disappearance of 14 peaceful church leaders shows the Communist Party has no regard to rule of law and its citizens' religious freedom rights. The Chinese government should be absolutely held accountable for this incident and immediately disclose the whereabouts to the families and their churches."

These house church leaders have "vanished" from the Zhejiang province, where, according to the press release, "Christians have faced harsh persecution and discrimination in the past few years, as the province has been the focal point of a cross demolition movement and a follow-up surveillance camera installation movement."

As of last Thursday, there had been no announcement of what the charges are.

2 - Christian perspective on display in Nassar trial

John Stonestreet said in a recent Breakpoint testimony, "It was the most amazing courtroom testimony I’ve ever heard. And if you haven’t heard it yourself, you need to."

He was speaking of the words spoken in court by Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was abused by a physician named Larry Nassar. Stonestreet said, "A year and a half ago, Rachael bravely filed a police complaint that has ultimately led to his conviction on sexual assault charges and a prison sentence of 40 to 175 years."

I quoted from an article from Esther O'Reilly of The Stream in a recent Front Room commentary - the article quoted these words from Denhollander as she issued a statement against her abuser, the final courtroom statement.  Rachael said to Nassar:
Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt, so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.
Christianity Today article from which I quoted featured a Q&A with Rachael about her involvement in speaking out on behalf of sexual abuse victims in the Church.  She had mentioned in her victim impact statement that she had "lost her church," and she elaborated:
The reason I lost my church was not specifically because I spoke up. It was because we were advocating for other victims of sexual assault within the evangelical community, crimes which had been perpetrated by people in the church and whose abuse had been enabled, very clearly, by prominent leaders in the evangelical community. That is not a message that evangelical leaders want to hear, because it would cost to speak out about the community. It would cost to take a stand against these very prominent leaders, despite the fact that the situation we were dealing with is widely recognized as one of the worst, if not the worst, instances of evangelical cover-up of sexual abuse. Because I had taken that position, and because we were not in agreement with our church’s support of this organization and these leaders, it cost us dearly.
Rachael Denhollander represents someone who has delivered a powerful, thought-provoking message and set a strong example for the Church, challenging Christian believers to seek to minister effectively to those who have been abused.

1 - 20-week abortion ban defeated in Senate

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, which is affiliated with the Susan B. Anthony List, shares these observations about the development of an unborn child at 20 weeks after fertilization:
Babies as young as 20 weeks post-fertilization can survive and thrive with appropriate care and treatment...
Unborn babies are treated as patients by fetal surgeons, and receive pain medication...
Unborn babies can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization or earlier.
Despite this medical evidence that has shown that a child at 20 weeks can feel pain in the womb, 46 U.S. Senators voted against a bill that would prevent a child at that stage of development from being aborted.  51 voted in favor, but that fell short of the 60 necessary to move the bill forward.

Penny Young Nance, President and CEO of Concerned Women for America, stated:
“The United States calls itself a champion of human rights but is one of only seven nations to allow abortion after 20 weeks when it has been proven that babies feel extreme pain. Today, we continue to align ourselves with countries such as China, North Korea, and Vietnam."
As Penny acknowledged on a recent Meeting House program, Alabama Senator Doug Jones voted against the bill.  On the CWA website, she said:
“Senators like Doug Jones (D-Alabama), Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), and Claire McCaskell (D-Missouri), who represent states where voters overwhelmingly support life, will have much to answer for in their next election. 
“Today, these senators had a chance to stand for life. They chose to vote against life. They had a chance to defend the dignity of both children and their mothers. Instead, they voted without regard for the most vulnerable among us."

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The 3 - January 28, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes an update on the situation in Bolivia involving limitations on religious freedom.  Also, scores of Christians have lost their lives at the hands of militants in Nigeria.  And, a Bible study on Capitol Hill has attracted the attention of a large atheist group.

3 - UPDATE: Bolivian President supports halting of constitution changes 

Last week, I shared a story about changes to the law in Bolivia greatly limiting religious liberty to the extent of making it illegal to evangelize.  There is good news emerging from that South American country, according to ChristianityToday.com, the same source I used last week.

According to the website:
President Evo Morales Ayma announced that he will tell the South American nation’s Legislative Assembly to repeal the entire penal code in the wake of recent changes that, among other tweaks, introduced severe restrictions on religious freedom.
Last Sunday was proclaimed to be a day of prayer and fasting in response to the new regulations. The article states that one group, the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance, "sent out a prayer alert encouraging readers to ask God that Morales’s government would withdraw the new penal code provision and 'protect and promote religious freedoms in Bolivia.'"

In a tweet, Morales said:
“We are going to listen to the proposals of all the sectors that observe the code. The National Government will never approve norms against the Bolivian people.”
2 - Significant death toll in religious violence in Nigerian province

Over 80 Christians have been killed since the beginning of the new year in one region of the nation of Nigeria, according to ChristianHeadlines.com, which has a report from International Christian Concern.  These deaths took place in Benue State, and according to the article:
These attacks took place less than two months after the state of Benue enacted an anti-open grazing bill, which prevents the Fulani from nomadically moving their cattle throughout all of Nigeria. Benue passed this law in an attempt to end the violence that has been plaguing its people, but it has failed thus far.
The Fulani is a group of militants, primarily Muslim in nature, according to Britannica.com.  The Christian Headlines story stated: "even those who were not from the area, but who were just trying to help others escape, were at the mercy of the Fulani attackers."

The article says:
ICC's Regional Manager, Nathan Johnson, stated, "This ongoing crisis is devastating the Christian communities of Nigeria. They are unfairly being targeted for their land and faith. The government must do more to ensure the community's safety, property, and welfare. They must put an end to the Fulani scourge and hold those in charge of these attacks accountable."
1 - Capitol Bible study attracting attention of atheist group

It has been reported that a number of Cabinet secretaries meet for prayer and Bible study.  Apparently, this study is hosted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is led by Dr. Ben Carson.  CBNNews.com reports that, "Cabinet secretaries who attend the Capitol Ministries Bible Study include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, HUD Secretary Ben Carson and Energy Secretary Rick Perry."

Not surprisingly, the atheist group, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, is not fond of this gathering, and has teamed with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to sue HUD, according to CBN.  Its report says:
The group has issued Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to agencies led by Cabinet secretaries who attend the Bible study to see if government resources are being used or if agency staffers feel "coerced into organizing or even participating in the religious event," according to a press release.
Study leader Ralph Drollinger says that a lawsuit is not necessary.  CBN News reports:
Drollinger responded on Facebook, saying, "Rather than sue, the FFRF can simply go to www.capmin.org and check out copies of the Bible studies I write and teach the Cabinet, Senate and House members every week. There's nothing secret to this – and all related Bible study expenses are paid by Capitol Ministries, a 501(c)3 organization."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The 3 - January 21, 2018

This week's edition of The 3, containing three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes the story of a Nigerian student who was arrested by local authorities after converting to Christianity.  Also, in Bolivia, new laws there threaten religious freedoms.  And, in the week of the March for Life, there were several developments regarding the pro-life cause.

3 - Nigerian student arrested after becoming a Christian

It's not illegal to convert from Islam to Christianity in Nigeria, but apparently there are governmental officials that have made some arrests in the case of a student in the country who in fact did become a Christian.

Christian Today reports, based on a World Watch Monitor story, that:
The young woman who was arrested last week is Nabila Umar Sanda, 19, a student at Bingham University in Karu, in the central state of Nasarawa. The university is owned by one of Nigeria's major churches, Evangelical Church Winning All.
While studying there she became friends with Simput Dafup, a 33-year-old Christian, who invited her to meet a local church leader, Jeremiah Datim, after she expressed an interest in the faith.
It was reported that Datim contacted local Muslim authorities, which has become "customary," according to the story, which states that "Datim claimed that later that day – 8 January – detectives from the Department of State Security Services 'stormed my house, assaulted my wife, daughter and eight-month-old baby, and took Nabila away'."  Datim had told the Muslims that Nabila was in his "possession." Datup was also arrested.

Apparently, Nabila's father became involved, and told officials that his daughter was "abducted" and "brainwashed."

2 - Bolivian government adopts stance outlawing evangelism

Christianity Today reports that this past Sunday, evangelical churches in Bolivia conducted a day of prayer and fasting related to new provisions in the South American country's laws.  The website states:
Article 88 of the mountainous South American nation’s new penal code, authorized December 15, states that “whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom, or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalized 5 to 12 years of imprisonment,” according to a translation by Evangelical Focus, a media initiative of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance.
There were also new expansions on abortion, as well as new punishments for instances of 'recklessness, negligence, malpractice' in all careers."

The CT story also quotes from the National Association of Evangelicals in Bolivia, or ANDEB:
“It is deplorable that Bolivia becomes the first Latin American country to persecute the rights of freedom of conscience and of religion, which are protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the declaration of San José de Costa Rica, and our Constitution..."
1 - Abortion funding, conscience rights, abortion survivors' protection, and Presidential address components of March for Life week

The 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe vs. Wade, is celebrated on Monday, January 22 this year, and this past Friday, thousands gathered in Washington, DC to stand in solidarity with pre-born children in the annual March for Life.

On this significant week in the pro-life movement, there were four major developments:

Preservation of conscience rights.  According to the Susan B. Anthony List website, "...the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the creation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division under the Office for Civil Rights. The new division is tasked with addressing discrimination against health care providers who do not want to participate in abortion."

Blocking of Medicaid funding for abortions.  Also, as LifeSiteNews.com reports that, "The Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced...that it is rescinding a warning issued by the Obama administration to state governments stating that they cannot deny Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood on the grounds that they are abortion providers."

The website does point out that "it is unclear if the rescinding of the guidance will enable states to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood..." For instance, a Federal court ordered Louisiana to "restore Medicaid funding" to Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.

And, in Congress, the U.S. House passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which, according to the SBA List website, "strengthens legislation passed in 2002 that extended legal protection to infants born alive during a failed abortion."

Finally, for the first time in U.S. history, the President of the United States addressed the March for Life live via satellite.  LifeSiteNews.com reported on President Trump's speech from the Rose Garden at the White House, in which the President said, according to the article:
“As you all know, Roe versus Wade has resulted in some of the most permissive abortion laws anywhere in the world,” Trump told the crowd in a speech live streamed from the White House Rose Garden.
The United States is “one of only seven countries to allow elective late term abortions along with China, North Korea and others,” he said.
“It is wrong, it has to change.”
Trump also is quoted as saying, "Americans are more and more pro-life, you see that all the time,” adding, “In fact, only 12 percent of Americans support abortion on demand at any time.” And, here are two more quotes from the report: “The March for Life is a movement born out of love, you love your families you love your neighbors, you love our nation,” as well as, “And you love every child, born and unborn, because you believe life is sacred, that every child is a precious gift from God.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The 3 - January 14, 2018

This week on The 3, exploring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a section of United Methodism in America that has strongly voice its opposition to gay ordination and allowing clergy to perform so-called "same-sex" weddings.  Also, a Federal appeals court has upheld a pro-life constitutional amendment in the state of Tennessee.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court has chosen not to accept a challenge to Mississippi's religious freedom law.

3 - Alabama United Methodist conference overwhelmingly indicates maintaining current church policy on homosexuality and gay ordination

After deciding not to tackle matters of sexuality in the 2016 General Conference, the United Methodist Church will be convening in 2019 and "will seek to settle some key questions about human sexuality in the UMC," according to a report at the Juicy Ecumenism blog from the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

And, one of the "conferences," or geographical area of the denomination, has polled its members regarding issues to be considered by the Way Forward Commission, which will attempt to lead the way for the denomination to deal with matters of sexuality.  This is from the North Alabama Annual Conference.

The blog post stated:
Of clergy and lay leaders who responded, an overwhelming proportion (82 percent) said their congregations supported maintaining the Discipline and not ordaining persons in homosexual relationships. Only 18 percent said their congregations disagreed with this position. Regarding the prohibition against UMC clergy officiating same-sex weddings, 80 percent of those who responded said their congregations agreed with the Discipline and only 20 percent disagreed.
The word, Discipline, refers to the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline, which says that homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teaching.  The post, written by Joseph Rossell, stated:
So what does this survey signify for the broader United Methodist Church? It’s true that the North Alabama Annual Conference is part of the Southeastern Jurisdiction, which tends to be more theologically conservative. But the North Alabama Annual Conference is far from the most conservative in the jurisdiction. So it’s likely that many other United Methodists in the Southeastern Jurisdiction feel similarly.
He also points out the United Methodist membership is shifting to southern areas of the U.S., as well as part of Africa.  Rossell contends, "... the Way Forward Commission would do well to recall that the vocal minority of activists advocating for changing the Discipline do not speak for most United Methodists, at least those in the fastest growing parts of the denomination."

2 - Tennessee pro-life law upheld by Federal appeals court

A 2014 vote in the state of Tennessee allowing the state to enact restrictions on abortions, which were in place in other states, was challenged in court, and according to a report on the Baptist Press, a Federal appeals court has upheld the vote on that constitutional amendment.

Brian Harris, President of Tennessee Right to Life, called the ruling "a vindication of the state's amendment process and victory for thousands of pro-life Tennesseans who sacrificed to see Amendment 1 passed." He also said, "The voices of Tennessee's voters have been heard and, as a result, public policy decisions on the matter of abortion can be rightly debated and determined by the people's representatives..."

The article stated:
Because of Tennessee's lack of restrictions prior to the vote on Amendment 1 in 2014, the state had become an "abortion destination," ranking third in the nation in the number of out-of-state abortions.
Baptist Press also reported:
Amendment 1, which added language to the state constitution that said, in part, "nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to an abortion," was approved by 53 percent of the vote in 2014.

Pro-abortion supporters challenged the vote, claiming how the votes were counted was unconstitutional, The Tennessean reported.
So, the pro-abortion challengers were attempting to essentially overturn the vote on a technicality, saying that the provision that only those voting in the governor's race could vote on the amendment was unconstitutional, according to The Tennessean.  While a lower Federal court agreed, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not.

1 - Mississippi religious freedom law can now go into effect, due to U.S. Supreme Court action

There was good news for religious freedom out of the U.S. Supreme Court recently, as the result of the high court's inaction - deciding not to hear a challenge to Mississippi's relatively new religious freedom law, which had been placed on hold by a lower court.  The Alliance Defending Freedom website contained a report on this latest development.  The site stated that:
The Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, HB 1523, protects citizens, public servants, businesses, and religious institutions from government reprisal for operating publicly according to their belief that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman, that sexual activity is intended only for married couples, and that one’s biological sex cannot change.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had "concluded in June of last year that the law’s opponents didn’t demonstrate they have been or will be harmed by the law," according to ADF, which was part of the legal team; its Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot is quoted as saying: “The 5th Circuit was right to find that those opposing this law haven’t been harmed and, therefore, can’t try to take it down. Because of that, we are pleased that the Supreme Court declined to take up these baseless challenges, which misrepresented the law’s sole purpose of ensuring that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union.”

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The 3 - January 7, 2018

This week's edition of The 3 includes a new list issued by the U.S. State Department of countries who are the biggest violators in the arena of religious freedom.  Also, Baltimore pro-life pregnancy resource centers can breathe a little easier as the result of a Federal appeals court decision that keeps them from having to notify visitors that they do not perform abortion or provide birth control. And, churches and non-profit organizations will be able to receive Federal disaster aid as the result of an Administration reversal in policy.

3 - State Department releases list of countries who most inhibit religious freedom

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act provides for the State Department to designate Countries of Practical Concern, or CPC's regarding religious persecution, according to a WORLD Magazine article which outlines this year's designated countries.

The same 10 CPC's were designated for 2017 as for 2016, countries that, according to the article, "violate global religious freedom standards." The countries are: Burma (also known as Myanmar), China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. There was one addition - that of Pakistan being added to a "special watch list" "for severe violations of religious freedom."

The WORLD article does note that:
In August, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended the addition of the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam to the list of CPCs, but the State Department decided to ignore the recommendation to avoid damaging diplomatic relations with those countries.
2 - Baltimore law requiring pro-life centers to refer for abortion struck down

The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has delivered a ruling that is favorable toward pro-life pregnancy resource centers in Baltimore.  According to the Liberty Counsel website, the court struck down an ordinance that forced the centers to notify visitors that "they do not provide nor refer women for abortions or birth control services."

The Liberty Counsel website says:
The Fourth Circuit found that the ordinance violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment. In contrast to decisions by the Ninth Circuit which validated a similar law in California, the Fourth Circuit found that the Baltimore ordinance was not commercial or professional speech. The court said, “The compelled speech at issue here raises particularly troubling First Amendment concerns. At bottom, the disclaimer portrays abortion as one among a menu of morally equivalent choices. While that may be the city’s view, it is not the center’s.”
The site points out that the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing a case brought by a pregnancy resource center in California regarding that state's mandate that centers violate their deeply held beliefs. 

1 - New administration policy allows churches to receive FEMA aid

One of the "Top 10 Topics of 2017" from The Meeting House involved the U.S. Supreme Court's decision that a church was wrongly prohibited from participating in a program involving playground resurfacing, simply because it was a religious organization.  The 7-2 decision has borne some fruit in the instance of churches being denied Federal disaster aid by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, according to a Washington Times report that FEMA recently announced a change in policy, which "would allow houses of worship to apply for and receive disaster relief funds."

The article states:
Three Texas churches sued after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in August, seeking federal assistance to rebuild.

They appealed to the Supreme Court after being denied the disaster relief and Justice Samuel A. Alito requested FEMA issue a response.
But before the court’s deadline, FEMA issued the Public Assistance and Policy Guide, “clarifying that private nonprofit houses of worship will not be singled out for disfavored treatment.”
A press release stated that "FEMA’s change allows private non-profit organizations, including churches, to receive financial assistance if they suffered damage on or after Aug. 23, or if they have applications currently pending as of that date..."

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The 3 - December 31, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, examining three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is good news out of Indonesia for thousands of Christians in prison who have had their sentences lessened.  Also, violence struck another church in Egypt, in the midst of a heightened effort to protect Coptic churches in that country.  And, the Oregon bakers who declined to provide a cake celebrating so-called "same-sex marriage" have received a negative court ruling.

3 - Thousands of imprisoned Christians in Indonesia receive shorter sentences

Over nine thousand Christians in the country of Indonesia received a reduction in their sentences on Christmas Day, according to an article on the ChristianHeadlines.com website, which stated that:
According to Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Ministry cut down the sentences of 9,333 Christian prisoners.

“Of the total, 175 inmates were freed upon receiving remissions,” a Law and Human Rights Ministry official told reporters.
The changes in sentences came because of administration considerations and consideration for the type of crimes jailed for.
The Christian Headlines report, which included information from a Christian Post story, said that one of the Christians receiving a sentence reduction, albeit only 15 days, was former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, "who was sentenced to two years in prison after he was falsely accused of blasphemy in 2016."

2 - At least ten die in attack on Coptic Christian church in Egypt

Ten people lost their lives in a bombing at a Coptic Christian church in Egypt, according to CBN News.com, which reported that...
...the deadly terror attack on Cairo’s Coptic Church of Mar Mina could have been much worse. A senior government official confirmed one of the attackers wore “an explosive belt.” However, Egyptian police prevented the terrorist from detonating the suicide belt.
The article says that, "Two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside the church..."  At least eight were Coptic Christians, six of them worshippers, according to ChristianityToday.com, which reported that another victim was a Muslim police officer who stood guard at the church and who was "hailed as a martyr." The report says that:
One week earlier, Egypt’s Minister of Islamic Endowments declared the guarding of churches to be “a legitimate and national duty.” Those who die defending Christian houses of worship are to be considered martyrs.
That is according to Egypt Today.  The minister, Mokhtar Gomaa, stated, “In our war against terrorism...there’s no difference between Muslims and Christians.”

The Christianity Today article pointed out that:
Last month, 300 people were killed in a terrorist attack on a mosque in the Sinai, where Christians have fled violence.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi praised the police effort against the “vicious” attack, and urged heightened security. Two weeks ago, Egypt assigned more than 230,000 police to guard churches in advance of the Christmas holidays.
1 - Christian couple fined for not baking cake for gay wedding lose appeal

I have been following and reporting on the plight of Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon, a couple that had declined to provide a cake for a gay wedding ceremony.  They had been found to be discriminatory in their actions and fined $135,000.  They appealed this ruling to the state's Court of Appeals in March, and finally, a three-judge panel issued a ruling this past week, according to the legal advocacy group, First Liberty Institute.  The organization's website stated, "The court ruled against the Kleins, upholding a decision by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) that resulted in a $135,000 penalty and led to the closure of the family-run bakery."

Kelly Shackelford, President and CEO of First Liberty, stated, "Freedom of expression for ourselves should require freedom of expression for others. Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech,” adding, “In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs. We are disappointed that the court ruled against the Kleins.”

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The 3 - December 24, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories relevant to the Christian community, there is the story of the reversal announced in the case of a memo strongly limited Christmas and holiday expressions at a university in Minnesota. Also, a Federal judge has blocked a Trump administration policy from taking effect, a policy that protects organizations from having to provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.  And, the Atlanta fire chief, even though he was fired from his job due to his Christian beliefs, received exoneration from a court recently, which ruled against the city relative to its handling of the chief's case.

3 - University of Minnesota pans anti-Christmas memo

There was a bizarre memo that was issued at the University of Minnesota recently that presumed to restrict what should be displayed regarding Christmas celebrations.  According to The Federalist website:
Officials at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences has deemed images of Santa, Christmas trees, dreidels, and nativity scenes inappropriate.
The dean’s office encouraged students and faculty to “consider neutral-themed parties such as a ‘winter celebration'” instead of Christmas or Chanukah-themed parties.
The article also said that: "Ironically, the pamphlet discouraging displays of religious symbolism was distributed at an event entitled 'Respective Religious Diversity' on campus earlier this month. Some religious freedom advocates say this is a perverse misunderstanding of religious diversity."

Well, the University stepped in and discredited the memo, saying, according to Liberty Counsel that...
it was an “ill-advised” memo from “one individual that was not distributed broadly.” The University has clarified and distanced itself from this holiday memo.
A spokesman is quoted in a Liberty Counsel press release as saying:
The document in question was created by one individual as part of a session for a segment of employees within one area of the University. It was not provided by, reviewed by, or approved by the University of Minnesota; the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; or the University’s Office of Equity and Diversity.
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said: "Public universities may acknowledge and even celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah along with secular aspects of the holiday season,” adding, "I am glad to see the University distance itself from this bizarre holiday memo. I agree with the University official that any distribution of this memo was ‘ill-advised...'"

2 - New court ruling strikes down Administration's regulation on contraceptive mandate

The debate over whether or not organizations can refuse to provide contraception or abortifacient drugs in their health care plans continued.  Earlier this year, the Trump administration, according to the Susan B. Anthony List website, issued a temporary rule "protecting employers who have religious or moral objections to providing abortion-inducing drugs and devices to their employees. The class of conscientious objectors includes employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor, as well as groups like Susan B. Anthony List."

The organization reports that a Federal district judge in Pennsylvania issued a ruling blocking that Administration rule from taking effect.  Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA List President, called the ruling "shameful," and said: “Why should Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans? Moreover, moral objectors like my own pro-life organization, SBA List, should not have to pay for life-ending drugs that are antithetical to our mission. There is absolutely no ‘compelling state interest’ in forcing pro-life employers to violate their consciences to provide abortion-inducing drugs."

WORLD Magazine reported:
The rule, issued in October, allowed more employers to claim a religious objection to paying for the drugs. California, Washington, Massachusetts, Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Virginia all sued to block the rule from taking effect. U.S. District Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia issued the first injunction against it.
That ruling was issued on Friday, December 15.  And, on Thursday, the 21st, a Federal judge in California also blocked the administration's rule.  USA Today reported:
A second federal court Thursday blocked the Trump administration from letting employers with religious or moral objections deny women insurance coverage for contraceptives.

The ruling from District Judge Haywood Gilliam in the Northern District of California accused the administration of abandoning the federal government's pledge in 2016 to ensure access to contraceptive coverage.
Gilliam said the Trump administration's decision in October to change rules implemented by the Obama administration represents "a reversal of their approach to striking the proper balance between substantial governmental and societal interests."
1 - Policy resulting in firing of Atlanta fire chief found unconstitutional

Perhaps you're familiar with the unfortunate story involving former Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran - he was suspended, then fired from his job, all because of a book that he wrote espousing Christian principles regarding manhood.  Well, even though the Chief no longer has his job, he did receive a court victory recently.

Alliance Defending Freedom reports on its website that:
A federal district court ruled Wednesday that city of Atlanta rules which led to the termination of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran are unconstitutional. The court found that the city’s policies restricting non-work speech, like a book for Christian men that Cochran wrote, are too broad and allow city officials to unconstitutionally discriminate against views with which they disagree.
ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot is quoted as saying, "The government can’t force its employees to get its permission before engaging in free speech," adding, "...as the court found, the city can’t leave such decisions to the whims of government officials. This ruling benefits not only Chief Cochran, but also other employees who want to write books or speak about matters unrelated to work. Atlanta can no longer force them to get permission or deny them permission just because certain officials disagree with the views expressed.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The 3 - December 17, 2017

This week's edition of my weekly blog post of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, features some recent encouraging news about the Department of Justice investigating Planned Parenthood.  Also, the Luis Palau Association has ministered on three continents over the past two months.  And, the 2017 special U.S. Senate election for the open Alabama seat yielded an outcome that many thought unlikely just two months ago.

3 - Department of Justice investigating Planned Parenthood

In light of video information indicating that the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, was involved in trafficking body parts from aborted babies, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced that it is investigating the organization.

LifeSiteNews.com stated that Fox News reported that it had "obtained a letter from Justice Department Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs Stephen Boyd to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. This letter asked for unredacted documents from that committee, which had been investigating Planned Parenthood."

The LifeSiteNews story quotes David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress that had released a series of videos exposing Planned Parenthood's activity, as saying: "It is time for public officials to finally hold Planned Parenthood and their criminal abortion enterprise accountable under the law..."

The article included a review of Congressional committees:
The Senate Judiciary Committee announced in 2016 that it recommended the FBI and DOJ investigate and possibly prosecute Planned Parenthood, some of its affiliates, and companies involved in the trafficking of young human body parts.
The U.S. House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives also made 15 criminal referrals against abortion companies including Planned Parenthood, universities, and fetal tissue companies.
2 - 1 organization, 2 months, 3 continents of ministry

Over the last 60 days, the Luis Palau Association has been involved in ministry on three different continents, according to a news release from the association, posted at the Christian Newswire website.

The release states:
Evangelist Andrew Palau just returned from Beijing and Huai'an City, China, serving local churches to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to the region through special Christmas events. Working directly with local churches and approval from authorities, Palau was met with great openness and joy as he shared the clear message of hope through Jesus Christ with thousands of individuals and distributed 9,000 copies of his Gospel-centered book What is Christmas?.
In October, Palau headed up an evangelistic outreach drawing 65,000 people in the African nation of Ivory Coast, and in November, he preached to 47,500 people in two Argentine cities.

Andrew Palau, the son of evangelist Luis Palau, said: It's been an immense blessing to experience so many different cultures in such a short amount of time," adding, "The beauty of the Church is the diversity and uniqueness of expressions coupled with the unwavering source of Truth that runs through each community of believers. It was wonderful to see the creativity of God in so many ways these past two months and it's been a tremendous honor for us."

The Association will be starting a three-year initiative called, 2020: Blessing the Nations.
 
1 - Moore defeat provokes question of role of faith in election

The race for the U.S. Senate seat from Alabama, to fill the unexpired term of now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, attracted national attention.  A WORLD Magazine website analysis states:
Over the next year, the 49.9 percent to 48.4 percent victory that Democrat Doug Jones gained over Republican Roy Moore will force Republican senators to work with the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, 51-49.
But, the analysis by WORLD editor-in-chief Timothy Lamer, also said:
But in the November elections, they won’t have to defend Moore or deflect attention away from him at a time when public anger is focused on powerful men sexually abusing younger women. Democrats won’t be able to make Moore the public face of Senate Republicans in 2018.
He also pointed out:
It was a close-run race, but the closeness belies a massive swing away from Republicans. Jones won by 1.5 points in a state that Donald Trump won by 28 points in 2016, meaning the state swung 29.5 points in one year. But Jones, a conventional liberal Democrat, didn’t win over Republicans. Moore lost them.
He pointed to lower turnout in Republican areas across the state.

There was polling data that showed the demographic keys to Jones' victory.  According to a Fox News analysis:
Jones carried the day by rolling up strong margins among blacks (93-6 percent), younger voters (62-36 percent), and women (55-43 percent).
Men went for Moore by 10 points (54-44 percent). His greatest areas of strength were working class whites (32-67 percent for a 35-point margin), white men (33-65 percent and a 32-point margin), and white evangelicals (21-77 percent, 56-point margin).
Also, according to this research, 95% of black women and 89% of black men voted for Jones.  CNN exit poll data showed the number at 98% of black women and 93% of black men voting for Jones.

With regard to the impact of allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of Moore, Fox stated: "by a narrow margin, Alabama voters believed the women – by a 49-44 spread. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) said the allegations were important to their vote – and those voters went overwhelmingly for Jones."  The number was over two-thirds of those voters choosing Jones.

I had written in a blog post last Wednesday:
The main struggle for Christian voters, I believe, was the reputation of Moore vs. the validity of the allegations against him. Jones' support of abortion rights made that a non-starter for a number of Christian voters, and saw Moore as more aligned with their position. But, there was no doubt hesitancy when considering the allegations. It certainly became a matter of prayer and critical thinking.
Christianity Today stated, with regard to the evangelical vote:
According to exit polls, 44 percent of Alabama voters Tuesday were white born-again or evangelical Christians (self-identified). In the last two elections with state-level exit polling, 2008 and 2012, their share was 47 percent—making them “the only group showing slight signs of slippage,” according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The 3 - December 10, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is the story of the United States now recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Also, the Parliament of Australia has decided to legalize gay marriage.  And, the case of a baker who would not provide a customized cake for a ceremony celebrating a gay wedding went before the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

3 - U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as capital of Israel

This week, President Trump announced that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  A piece on The Stream website stated the Trump...
...instructed the State Department to begin preparations to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv. The historic announcement fulfills both his own campaign promise as well as the promise America made with 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. That Act, passed with broad bipartisan support, recognized Jerusalem and declared the U.S. would move its Embassy there within four years. However, presidents from Clinton to Obama have signed waivers stopping the move. President Trump did so himself six months ago.
According to the article, in his announcement, the President said:
After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result.
Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Columnist for The Stream, Michael Brown wrote:
Jerusalem is the historic capital of the Jewish people, going back to roughly 1,000 BC. Jews face Jerusalem when they pray and synagogues in the West face East. Every year at Passover, the hopeful prayer is recited, “Next year in Jerusalem!” And in terms of functional reality, Jerusalem is the capital of the nation. There’s nothing to discuss or debate. As the President said, that’s reality, plain and simple.
Brown also believes that God will bless the President for what he calls a "bold and courageous move." He gives four reasons:
  1. On doing so the president is blessing Israel. God still blesses those who bless His covenant nation, despite that nation’s sins.
  2. Out of all the cities on the earth, the Bible only calls us to pray for the welfare of Jerusalem (see Psalm 122; Isaiah 62:1-8).
  3. The tremendous resistance to the president’s decision gives evidence to the intensity of the spiritual battle over this city.
  4. There are prophetic scriptures that speak of a Jewish Jerusalem welcoming back the Messiah. So the decision to fortify the unity of the city is in explicit harmony with those Scriptures (see especially Zechariah 12 and 14).
2 - Australian Parliament approves gay marriage

Gay marriage is now legal in Australia, as the result of votes in both chambers of the nation's Parliament, following a mail-in survey that occurred a few weeks ago.  According to Life Site News, the bill passed the lower house of Parliament "almost unanimously," after having passed the Senate.

The report states:
The new law deletes “the union of a man and a woman” from the definition of marriage and inserts “the union of two people” in its place. Australia already had “equality” laws giving special status to homosexuals in the workplace, and for government benefits and tax laws.
Significantly, none of the promised amendments protecting freedom of conscience, religious liberty, and parental rights were allowed. All opposition concerns were defeated, including the right of parents to opt out of homosexual or transgender indoctrination in schools.
The story also points out, based on an earlier article on the site:
The path to legalization came via a referendum sent through the mail to all registered voters. Nearly 62 percent of returned forms favored gay “marriage.”
Although the postal referendum was an end-around after 22 legislative attempts to legalize homosexual “marriage” failed, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the popular vote was the best avenue for a country to take.
The Life Site story quotes from current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said, according to The Hill: “This is Australia: fair, diverse, loving and filled with respect,” adding, “For every one of us this is a great day.”

1 - Baker's case goes before high court

This past Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court held oral arguments on the Masterpiece Cakes case, which involved a Colorado cake baker named Jack Phillips, who declined to provide a customized cake for a ceremony celebrating a gay marriage.  He was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom and the U.S. Department of Justice had entered the case on his side.

Issues at stake in the case were framed by Emily Belz of WORLD Magazine, who made these comments about the conflict at hand:
Would providing an accommodation to religious bakers like Phillips undermine civil rights laws? Was it compelled speech to require him to put out a cake that conveys a certain message? Is a wedding cake a form of speech, and what counts as speech? Is a wedding hair stylist using expression in hairdos?
Belz writes:
Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kristen Waggoner, arguing her first Supreme Court case, had clearly prepared for an array of hypotheticals. A premade cake is not speech (“it’s already been placed in a stream of commerce”), so Christian cake bakers should sell any generic wedding cakes off the shelves to gay couples. A hairdo is not speech. Other forms of participation in a wedding ceremony, like delivering a cake in the event, would fall under a free exercise claim.
Justice Breyer stated: "We want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law..." Waggoner contended, according to WORLD, that the "test was whether the objection is to a message (as she argues was the case with Phillips) or the person."

Ultimately, the case could come down to Anthony Kennedy, who has been sympathetic to religious freedom issues, but also wrote the majority opinion in the Obergefell decision legalizing so-called "same-sex marriage."  Belz points out that Kennedy said to the Solicitor General of Colorado: “Tolerance is essential in a free society, and tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’ beliefs.”

As Belz said, "Kennedy was also critical of one commissioner’s remarks about Phillips’ religious freedom claims as 'despicable,' hinting that that might count as viewpoint discrimination."

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The 3 - December 3, 2017

This week on The 3, there are three legal cases worth noting:  one involves restrictions of free speech by pro-lifers on an Ohio campus.  Another deals with ads proclaiming the true meaning of Christmas that a religious group wanted to place on public transportation in the nation's capital.  And, there's a legal victory in a case involving a Pennsylvania high school senior who was not allowed to include a prayer in a graduation speech.

3 - Miami (OH) campus officials nix pro-life display, organization files suit

A pro-life display that had been erected at Miami University's Hamilton campus in Ohio faced new restrictions this year, and the group responsible for the display has filed a lawsuit, according to the 
Alliance Defending Freedom website.

Students for Life at the campus, according to the site, "has regularly conducted its Cemetery of the Innocents display on the campus’s Central Quad. The display features small crosses placed in the ground to commemorate the lives lost to abortion, along with an explanatory sign." Earlier this year, the chapter president sent an e-mail to request permission for the display. ADF states:
The official responded by saying that the group could conduct the display only if it placed signs around campus warning people about its content. She justified this warning sign requirement by saying she feared that the pro-life display might cause “emotional trauma” for those who might view it and because she wanted to help them “better protect and manage their emotional reactions to the display.” Additionally, she offered to meet with the group to discuss “less harmful” ways of expressing its pro-life views.
ADF has now filed a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the Students for Life group. The ADF site says, "The lawsuit challenges the university’s policies that give officials broad powers to determine whether an exhibit can occur and what it can say—powers that officials used in Hamilton to impose a 'trigger warning' on the local Students for Life chapter."

The national Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins, is quoted as saying, “The unnecessary obstacles students experienced at Miami University of Ohio in Hamilton sadly is all too common on campuses across the country,” adding, “Students peacefully trying to hold an exhibit that inspires conversation with fellow students about their love and concern for preborn infants and their mothers should be protected.”

2 - Christmas ads deemed too "religious" for DC busses

A Christmas ad proposed for public transportation in Washington, DC, was described at ToddStarnes.com in this way:
The advertisement depicted silhouettes of three shepherds walking at night with tall canes and sheep beneath a shining North Star. Emblazoned across the ad is the phrase: “FIND THE PERFECT GIFT.”
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority rejected the ad, and the group that wished to place it, the Archdiocese of Washington has filed suit, saying that the authority "violated the U.S. Constitution by rejecting the ad."

In a statement, spokesman Ed McFadden said: “To borrow a phrase from a favorite Christmas story, under WMATA’s guidelines, if the ads are about packages, boxes or bags…if Christmas comes from a store…then it seems WMATA approves,” adding, “But if Christmas means a little bit more, WMATA plays Grinch.”

The Transit Authority banned the ads based on a 2015 policy which prohibits, "issue-oriented advertising, including political, religious and advocacy advertising."

The story says that, "The transit authority might have reconsidered its ban on the Catholic Church’s advertisement had they been selling goods and services, the lawsuit alleges."

In a statement, general counsel Kim Fiorentino said: “We believe rejection of this ad to be a clear violation of fundamental free speech and a limitation on the exercise of our faith..."

1 - School district changes policy after blocking graduation prayer

In June, I reported to you about a high school senior in Pennsylvania who was told she could not include a prayer in her scheduled speech for graduation.

The First Liberty website tells the story about Moriah Bridges of Beaver, PA, who "prepared her remarks, but was then forced to 'edit' her comments, removing any faith-based content after receiving an email from the school superintendent explaining that her remarks could not be religious and, 'most certainly may not recite a prayer that excludes other religions.'”

First Liberty sent a letter to the school district in June.  The website quotes from the letter:
First Liberty’s letter stated, “In short, school officials—in violation of the First Amendment—forced Moriah to censor her personal remarks during the closing exercise of her commencement ceremony merely because of the religious viewpoint of her remarks.”First Liberty attorney Jeremy Dys pointed out that Moriah’s words were her own “private speech, not government speech,” and as such, could not violate the Establishment Clause. Instead, private, religious student speech like Moriah’s “is entitled to full First Amendment protection.”
The website announced a victory in the case: the school district "has enacted a new policy explicitly stating the expressions of students and/or other private speakers at future graduation ceremonies 'shall not be restricted because of religious, anti-religious, or non-religious content.'" The website also states that:
In addition to the new policy, the superintendent of BASD apologized to Moriah for the lack of clarity under the previous policy. The action by the BASD comes soon after a meeting between Moriah, members of the BASD, and First Liberty Institute attorneys.