Sunday, January 15, 2017

The 3 - January 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 06, 2017

The 3 - January 8, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there's news out of the entertainment world relative to the LGBT agenda and the practice of the Christian faith.  Also, the Alabama Supreme Court has issued a ruling stating that an unborn child is a human being.  Plus, an eleventh-hour ruling out of Texas preserved the freedom of conscience for health professionals who do not wish to perform gender transition surgery.

3 - LGBT agenda alert: Burrell booted for comments on Biblical view of homosexuality; Gaines speaks out on controversy

Gospel singer Kim Burrell was scheduled to make an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show this past Thursday to perform a duet with Pharrell Williams on a song from the movie, Hidden Figures. That appearance was cancelled.  Why?

Well, according to CBN News, a video surfaced of Burrell speaking at the Love & Liberty Fellowship Church.  She said in her message that, "The perverted homosexual spirit, and the spirit of delusion and confusion, it has deceived many men and women."

On Facebook Live after the video was released, Burrell "referred to unspecified "enemies" for spreading only a portion of her speech." She is quoted as saying that she has never discriminated against gays and lesbians. She said, "I love you and God loves you...But God hates the sin."

Meanwhile the views of the church attended by Fixer Upper television stars Chip and Joanna Gaines were trotted out in a BuzzFeed article over a month ago.  According to Faithwire, in a blog post, Chip was more direct about the controversy than he had been in some previous tweets.  The article states that:
Chip wrote that he and his wife wouldn’t be baited, encouraged people to extend love to their ideological opponents and implored readers to reject the “lie” that disagreement is “the same thing as hate.”
He wrote, "This past year has been tough. In my lifetime, I can’t recall humanity being more divided,” adding, "Plenty of folks are sad and scared and angry and there are sound bites being fed to us that seem fueled by judgement, fear and even hatred.”

  2 - In a ruling AL Supreme Court justices uphold humanity of unborn children 

In a case before the Alabama Supreme Court called, Stinnett v. Kennedy, the high court, in a unanimous decision, said that the case can proceed, stating that unborn children are human beings and are entitled to legal protection, according to a press release found on the Liberty Counsel website. The case is a wrongful death lawsuit, and the Supreme Court found that a lower court made an error by "dismissing Alabama resident Kimberly Stinett’s claim alleging the wrongful death of her unborn baby and granting summary judgement in favor of Karla Kennedy, M.D., on lack-of-proof-causation grounds."

The Liberty Counsel release said that the high court "largely based its decision on an amendment in Alabama’s Homicide Act, which “changed the definition of a ‘person’ who could be a victim of homicide to include ‘an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability.”

In a concurring opinion, Associate Justice Tom Parker wrote, "Unborn children, whether they have reached the ability to survive outside their mother’s womb or not, are human beings and thus persons entitled to the protections of the law—both civil and criminal. Members of the judicial branch of Alabama should do all within their power to dutifully ensure that the laws of Alabama are applied equally to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, both born and unborn."

1 - Court halts government mandate for health care professionals to perform transgender surgeries 

A new government mandate was scheduled to go into effect on January 1st, but the intervention of a Texas court prevented the 362-page regulation from beginning.  The Daily Signal reports that:
The court ruling came after eight states, an association of almost 18,000 doctors, and a Catholic hospital system challenged a new federal regulation that requires doctors to perform gender transition procedures on children, even if the doctor believes the treatment could harm the child.
A website has been set up about the court case, TransgenderMandate.org, and provides some research on the issue.  Some of that research indicates, according to the story that "up to 94 percent of children with gender dysphoria will grow out of their dysphoria naturally and live healthy lives without the need for surgery or lifelong hormone regimens."

The Daily Signal story also pointed out that:
The government itself does not require its own military doctors to perform these procedures. It also does not require coverage of gender transition procedures in Medicare or Medicaid—even for adults—because the government medical experts that oversee those programs did not believe medical research demonstrates that gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes, with some studies demonstrating that these procedures were in fact harmful.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The 3 - January 1, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, some details on faith leaders who will be part of the Inauguration of Donald Trump as President.  Also, there is concern over the U.N. resolution condemning construction of housing in the West Bank region of Jerusalem.  Plus, there continues to be hope for Christians in the Nineveh Plains region of Iraq - troops in Mosul killed almost 100 ISIS fighters on Christmas Day.

3 - Faith leaders to speak, pray at inauguration announced

The lineup of faith leaders who will be part of the Inauguration Ceremony for President-elect Donald Trump has been set, and Christian Headlines listed the six people who will "pray and give readings during Trump’s inauguration," according to Relevant Magazine.  They are "Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Rabbi Marvin Hier, Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, Rev. Franklin Graham, and Pastor Paula White."  The story states that:
They each represent a different religious group. Dolan is a Catholic, Hier a Jewish rabbi, Jackson a spokesman for African-American Christians, Rodriguez the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, Graham a well known Christian evangelist and head of humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, and White a televangelist who has prayed over Trump a number of times during his campaign.
The article relates that Committee Chairman Tom Barrack said in a statement, according to ChristianNews.net. “Since the first inaugural ceremony, our leaders have paid tribute to the blessings of liberty that have been bestowed upon our country and its people,” “I am pleased to announce that a diverse set of faith leaders will offer readings and prayers at the swearing-in of President-elect Trump and honor the vital role religious faith plays in our multicultural, vibrant nation.”

The Christian Headlines story notes that, "A few of these individuals, particularly White and Graham, were instrumental in carrying Trump to victory on Election Day."  Graham noted on Facebook this past week:
It is a privilege to be asked to take part in the inauguration of the next President of the United States. I am very thankful that prayer and reading from God's Holy Word will be a part of this important ceremony as the world watches. We need God's blessing and favor on this nation and our new president, Donald J. Trump. I'm praying for that--will you?
2 - Christian leaders voice concern over U.N. Israel resolution

Recently, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution that condemned Israel for constructing housing for its people in the region known as the West Bank.   Even though the resolution passed overwhelmingly, the United States abstained in the vote, rather than vote against the resolution.

According to CBN.com:
The resolution says Israel’s settlements (Jewish communities in biblical Judea and Samaria, including eastern Jerusalem) aka the West Bank, which they consider Palestinian territory, have “no legal validity” and demands a halt to “all Israeli settlement activity.”
The resolution says Israel's settlements on Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, have "no legal validity." It demands a halt to "all Israeli settlement activities," saying this "is essential for salvaging the two-state solution."
“The Obama administration not only failed to protect Israel against this gang-up at the UN, it colluded with it behind the scenes,” Netanyahu said.
Not unexpectedly, you have Christian leaders, who believe that standing with Israel is important, who have weighed in on the vote.  Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines tweeted out: "I strongly disagree with President Obama & John Kerry in the way they've come against America's ally - Israel."  And, former SBC President Bryant Wright sent out a tweet, which said: "Obama-Kerry to Israel,"Don't worry-Be happy-we know what's best for you" The naivette of elite progressives to evil & anti-semitism is sick."  Wright also tweeted out a link to a Washington Post op-ed piece by Charles Krauthammer, with the headline, Obama's final, most shameful, legacy moment.

Gary Bauer of American Values, wrote on Facebook:
In an administration that has moved from one low to the next when it comes to foreign policy and our role in the world, Obama set a new low last weekend as Jews and Christians were preparing to celebrate their most holy days. If you are confused about how damaging last week's U.N. Security Council vote is, all you need to know is that decent people on the left and right are condemning it, while Hamas and Islamic Jihad are dancing in the streets.
In condemning the action, recent guest on The Meeting House on Faith Radio, Laurie Cardoza-Moore, President of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and United Nations Special Envoy for the World Council of Independent Christian Churches, said, in part, in a press release:
But once again, the member states of the UN Security Council have proven their blind hatred of Jews and Israel and the double standard applied to Israel is unquestionable. To deny the Jews legal, archeological, historical and biblical rights to their entire ancient homeland is despicable.
CNN reports that:
Republicans are looking to bring up a non-binding House resolution condemning a recent United Nations security council vote that has caused intense blowback from Israel. That resolution pronounced Israeli settlements in the West Bank "had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security."
Congressional Republicans denounced the vote and the US move to abstain and are threatening additional action targeting the UN, such as suspending funding.
Some top Democrats on Capitol Hill have also criticized the Obama administration's handling of the matter and the resolution is likely to pass with significant bipartisan support.
1 - Battle for Mosul continues: almost 100 ISIS fighters killed on Christmas

For some months now, a group of forces, including an estimated "90,000 Iraqi, Kurdish Peshmerga, tribal militia and coalition forces have banded together in the battle to retake Mosul," according to a report on The Blaze, which said that 97 Islamic State militants were killed on Christmas Day by coalition troops, as reported by Iraq's Joint Military Command.

WORLD Magazine had reported back in October:
Ground operations to retake the city and Nineveh Plains commenced Oct. 16. As darkness spread over the vast plains—a 1,600-square-mile expanse that forms the historic Christian heartland of Iraq—coalition airstrikes combined with heavy shelling to soften ISIS (or Islamic State) targets. By daybreak Kurdish forces had advanced more than 6 miles along the 600-mile front line they had staked against ISIS since August 2014.
That WORLD story added, "For the approximately 200,000 Iraqi Christians driven from this area that summer, the prospect of returning home is real again."

A story on the British website, The Telegraph, opened by saying "Mosul’s Christians are celebrating their third Christmas in exile, but this year there is new hope that the beleaguered community will soon be able to return home for the first time in two and a half years." The article reported that on Christmas Eve, "displaced Christians" were scheduled to "hold a torch-lit procession through Erbil, the capital of the nearby Kurdistan Region," and Christmas morning, a mass was scheduled at the Mar Youhanna church in Qaraqosh, a city that had been liberated toward the beginning of the offensive to retake Mosul.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The 3 - December 25, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, focusing in on three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, includes the story of a Turkish pastor who is being held in prison and an effort to free him.  Also, two congressional committees have referred Planned Parenthood and some of those aligned with it for criminal prosecution.  And, an attempt to repeal North Carolina's so-called "bathroom law" failed in a special legislative session.

3 - Christian organization involved in appeal for release of missionary in Turkey

Andrew Brunson is an American pastor who had led a congregation in Turkey for 23 years prior to being detained in early October - he was sent to prison in early December, according to a story on the Christianity Today website, which states that Brunson was "jailed on erroneous allegations amid a crackdown on evangelicals in Turkey."  Also, the story says that "several fellow expatriate pastors have been deported."

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which now represents Brunson’s family, is quoted as saying, “As we approach Christmas—a season of hope and promise—we know that people around the world will stand with Pastor Andrew—will be Pastor Andrew’s voice—supporting his fight for freedom, and will join us in urging Turkey to release him immediately."

Brunson was put in prison because of allegations of being tied to the Gülen movement, whose followers are blamed by the Turkish government of a July 15 coup attempt.  After that failed coup, the government has attempted to prosecute those supporting the movement. According to the CT story, the Christian group Middle Eastern Concern reports that more than 40,000 people, "including opposition party politicians, military personnel, journalists, and teachers, have been arrested since July."   Multiple pastors have been accused of being "a threat to national security.”

2 - Congressional committees direct criminal charges to be filed against Planned Parenthood 

This month, two Congressional committees have recommended that criminal charges be filed against the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.  According to LifeSiteNews.com, on Tuesday, December 13, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, announced that "several Planned Parenthood affiliates, fetal tissue companies, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America" were referred to the FBI and Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution. The recommendation was part of a "massive" report on its findings.

This follows an announcement on Thursday, December 1 that, according to LifeSiteNews, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, "announced that following their investigation into the abortion giant and its fetal body parts partners, the Panel made nine criminal and regulatory referrals. These were against Planned Parenthood, other abortion businesses, universities, and fetal tissue companies."

Lila Rose, President of Live Action, is quoted in the article as saying, "The evidence is overwhelming, from multiple findings of illegal profiting from the sale of body parts to violations of privacy laws so that certain vulnerable women could be targeted for their babies’ organs. Planned Parenthood must be prosecuted, and the over half a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies that are propping up this absolutely corrupt and potentially criminal enterprise must be cut off immediately."

David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress wrote: "...The Committee’s report shows Planned Parenthood and their baby body parts business partners are totally unaccountable and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and Planned Parenthood’s barbaric abortion empire must no longer be subsidized by taxpayer funds."

1 - North Carolina lawmakers leave transgender bathroom bill, HB 2, in place

The battle continued this past week over the state of North Carolina's law that requires all individuals to use government restroom facilities corresponding to their biological gender.  Earlier in the week, after a second attempt, the city of Charlotte rescinded its transgender rights ordinance that had been passed, setting off the Legislature's response in the form of what is known as HB 2.

Outgoing Governor Pat McCrory called a special session, and it looked as if some sort of deal had been reached that if Charlotte were to withdraw its ordinance, the state would drop HB2.  But, things rapidly fell apart once the Legislature convened, according to the North Carolina Family Policy Council, which reported on its website:
The NC General Assembly adjourned its fifth special session of the year this evening without repealing House Bill 2. After four days of rumors that a deal had been reached between leaders on both sides of the aisle and that the City of Charlotte would roll back the provisions that started the entire HB2 roller coaster, no agreement was reached.
The stalemate followed an intense day of discussion, debates and deliberations from which state lawmakers could find no ultimate resolution, leaving HB2 intact.
NC Family President John L. Rustin said during meetings prior to today’s session, it appeared there was little to no hope that HB2 would not be struck down. “We are grateful to all the good people of North Carolina who spoke out on this issue this week and who prayed for their legislators throughout the day. We applaud the members of the NC General Assembly who continued to stand strong in defense of safety, privacy and dignity of all of our citizens.”
State Senate leader Phil Berger, according to the Charlotte Observer, had proposed a bill "which would have coupled HB2’s repeal with a months-long moratorium on city ordinances like the one Charlotte passed and repealed..." That bill was voted down by the Senate, and the special session was adjourned. Incoming governor Roy Cooper had encouraged Democrats to vote against the bill, saying that "Republican leaders 'broke the deal' to fully repeal HB2 in return for Charlotte’s action."  The Observer story implied that trust had been broken with legislative leaders:
Asked if he hadn’t agreed to repeal HB2 if Charlotte rescinded the ordinance, Berger cited the fact that Charlotte took two votes.
“We were expecting Charlotte to repeal it and when they failed to do so, the deal was gone,” he said. “The moratorium was not there until we saw what they had done.”
But, as the Observer pointed out:
Many Republican lawmakers still support HB2 as a stand for traditional values and protection of women and children from predators. Conservative groups prodded them to stand firm.
“No economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in a statement before the session. “It will always be wrong for men to have access to women’s showers and bathrooms. If HB2 is repealed, there will be nothing on the books to prevent another city or county to take us down this path again.”

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 3 - December 18, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is some news relative to President Obama's signing of a bill designed to protect religious freedom internationally.  Also, a Texas judge has sided with a school nurse's aide who displayed a poster about the true meaning of Christmas from a famous television show.  And, while Ohio's governor signed a pro-life bill this week, there are some that do not feel he went far enough in protecting life, vetoing a more restrictive bill against abortion.

3 - International Religious Freedom Act signed by the President

On Friday, President Obama signed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which had been approved by the U.S. House the preceding Tuesday, just three days after the Senate approved an amended version of the bill, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.   The amended bill had been approved by the House and Senate without opposition.

The bill is named for the Frank R. Wolf, a former Congressman from Virginia who championed the cause of religious freedom.  The bill, according to the Christianity Today story, would promote religious liberty, by, among other things:

  • Requiring the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to report directly to the secretary of State;
  • Establishing an "entities of particular concern" category—a companion to the "countries of particular concern" classification used for nearly 20 years by the State Department—for non-government actors, such as the Islamic State (IS) and the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram.
  • Instituting a "designated persons list" for individuals who violate religious freedom and authorizing the president to issue sanctions against those who participate in persecution.

This newly passed and signed bill updates a 1998 bill establishing a religious freedom office in the State Department, as well as an independent panel, called the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Wolf sponsored that bill.

Paul Coleman, deputy director of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, is quoted as saying that the bill "demonstrates that the US is serious about the importance of religious freedom both for those who are suffering and for all those who love freedom in general." Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Smith noted, "From China and Vietnam to Syria and Nigeria, we are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence and terrorism, with dire consequences for religious believers and for US national security." He added, "Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are on the verge of extinction and other religious minorities in the Middle East face a constant assault from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria."

2 - Judge orders Charlie Brown Christmas poster does not have to be removed

A Texas judge has ruled in favor of - Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas - in a recent row involving the state's Killeen Independent School District. Well, in a sense. Todd Starnes reported on his website that the judge issued a temporary restraining order against the district, which had backed a principal's decision that a door-length poster that was created by Dedra Shannon, an aide in Patterson Middle School’s nurses office, had to come down.

The poster featured Linus, the famous Christmas tree from the iconic television program, and Linus' famous words: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Starnes reported that the school district had said, "...employees are not permitted to impose their personal beliefs on students.” The judge did say that the poster did have to include these words: “Ms. Shannon’s holiday message,” according to a report by the Killeen Daily Herald News.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton contended that the position of the school district violated the Texas "Merry Christmas" law, which was passed in 2013. Starnes says that law "stipulates that no school official in Texas can silence a Biblical reference to Christmas." Paxton did not mince words in a statement, in which he said: “Religious discrimination towards Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups,” adding, “I am glad to see that the court broke through the Left’s rhetorical fog and recognized that a commitment to diversity means protecting everyone’s individual religious expression.”

1 - OH Governor Kasich signs one pro-life bill, vetoes stronger ban on abortion

Ohio Governor John Kasich apparently had the choice to sign one or two pro-life bills recently, and he chose to join a host of other states in restricting abortion to under 20 weeks, rather than the approximately 6 weeks gestation provided for in the other.

According to LifeNews.com, Kasich made this statement: “I agree with Ohio Right to Life and other leading, pro-life advocates that SB 127 (a 20-week ban) is the best, most legally sound and sustainable approach to protecting the sanctity of human life..."

Ohio Right to Life thanked the governor and stated, "Ohio Right to Life supports Governor Kasich’s decision to bypass the heartbeat legislative approach at this time. While it must have been difficult, the current make-up of a radically pro-abortion Supreme Court required the Governor to exercise great restraint. Further, filling the current vacancy on the Court by our next President will still leave the court with a pro-abortion majority...”

But, Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk took the governor to task for not signing the more stringent bill.  He is quoted on his website as saying:
I want to congratulate the Ohio legislature for passing the 'Heartbeat Bill' and I commend their commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of the unborn.
Now, I join with millions of Evangelicals and Catholics in condemning Gov. John Kasich's veto of the bill. This was a cowardly and shameful action. Signing the bill would have been the constitutionally correct thing to do; it would have also been morally correct to do. Governor Kasich has sent a message to voters in Ohio–and across the nation–that the Governor isn't as committed to life as he professes to be.
Dobson called on the Speaker of the House in Ohio to immediately call for a vote to override the governor's veto of the "Heartbeat Bill."  LifeSiteNews.com reports that a coalition of pro-life organizations in the state are echoing that call for a veto override.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The 3 - December 11, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news of a historical monument on a college campus in New England that could be facing the prospect of removal. Also, eight Christians have had charges against them dropped in Nepal, after being charged under the country's new constitution.  And, an attack at a Cairo Copic Christian church has left over two dozen dead.

3 - Haystack Monument in danger of removal

A monument on the campus of Williams College in Massachusetts is facing the possibility of being removed, according to a story on the Christian Examiner website.  The monument commemorates the establishment of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which took place in 1810. The monument was built in 1867.

The story relates that five students at the college who were all New England Congregationalists, inspired by the already-occurring Second Great Awakening, made the decision to launch the missions sending agency after gathering to discuss a treatise by William Carey.  During the meeting, a thunderstorm occurred and the students sought refuge under a haystack. They prayed that a sending agency would be formed, and four years after the so-called "Haystack Prayer Meeting," the ABCFM was established.

Now, the college is considering removing the monument, according to the Christian Examiner story, relating information from The College Fix.   A committee is reviewing a number of items concerning their cultural "appropriateness to modern times and impact on today's campus climate."  According to that website, this marks the second instance this year that the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History at Williams has taken a look at so-called "controversial works of art" at the school.

2 - Charges dropped against group of Christians in Nepal 

Last year, the Asian nation of Nepal approved a new constitution.  One of the provisions is that anything perceived as evangelism is outlawed, according to a story on the Christianity Today website, which reports that a court in that nation has dropped a case against eight Christians.  This marks the first religious freedom dispute since the new constitution was put in place last year.

According to the story, seven men and one woman had been "charged with proselytizing after giving out a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school while helping children through the trauma following the 2015 earthquake."

Five of those arrested were staff members of the Christian teacher-training program Teach Nepal, while the other two are school principals. The pastor of Charikot Christian Church, Shakti Pakhrin, was detained a few days later.  The article notes that "Nepali Christian leaders have welcomed their acquittal."

1 - Tragedy at Cairo Coptic Cathedral

At least 27 people are reported to be dead and dozens injured in a blast at a Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, which occurred at a chapel adjacent to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo on Sunday. ChristianHeadlines.com published a report from World Watch Monitor, that said, "All but three of those who died were women and children."

The Monitor reported, "A woman carrying a heavy bag walked into the church, sat on the women’s side and put her bag on the floor. After a few minutes, she stood up and walked out, leaving the bag behind. A few minutes later there was a huge explosion."

The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has declared a three-day period of national mourning.

Christianity Today pointed out that "this Sunday was also a national holiday, as Egyptian Muslims celebrated the birthday of Muhammad."  CT also reported:
Al Azhar, the leading religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, condemned the attack. 
“Targeting houses of worship and the killing of the innocents are criminal acts that violate Islamic principles,” the Cairo-based institution stated, expressing full solidarity with the Egyptian church and Egyptian Copts.
Egypt has been facing an Islamist insurgency since the 2013 removal of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi. Retaliatory attacks have damaged or destroyed dozens of churches throughout the country.
Also, it's being widely reported that some 160 worshippers have been killed in a church in Nigeria after a roof collapsed.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The 3 - December 4, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes information on the state of the church in Cuba against the backdrop of the death of Fidel Castro.  Also, a pro-life center in New Mexico experienced an intentional fire just before Thanksgiving.   And, a Christian couple with a popular television show is facing scrutiny because of its church's stance on homosexuality.

3 - Castro's death and the church in Cuba

The recent death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, regarded as a brutal dictator who held a tight rein on power in the Communist nation since 1959, power that has shifted toward brother Raul, gave Christianity Today an opportunity to reflect on the role and influence of the church in that island nation.  The publication noted that:
Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival. It sparked around the time that the Soviet Union’s collapse left Cuba scrambling to right itself. The period of crippling economic depression in the 1990s also began a time of church growth and evangelism.
The article reported that there are more than 3,000 Assemblies of God churches, and Eastern Baptist churches number more 1,200. The story said that "Seminaries are racing to keep up with the pastor shortage."

Christianity Today had reported on the 50th anniversary of the Fidel Castro revolution:
Since the 1959 Revolution, Castro's Communist government has placed numerous restrictions on religious expression in Cuba—a reality illustrated by most sources' requests for anonymity. Yet the Cuban church is thriving despite its limitations, and its leaders ask that their church not be used as a geopolitical pawn.
The recent article said that, "Between January and July this year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded more than 1,600 religious freedom abuses, perpetrated primarily by the Cuban government and its Office of Religious Affairs."  CSW reports that about 2,000 Assemblies of God churches were declared illegal and marked for seizure by the government in 2015.

The CT article points out that, "Some credit the Catholic Church and its popes with influencing Cuba’s slow turn from Marxism."  Christmas was reinstated by Castro in 1988, one day after Pope John Paul II visited.  Also, Pope Benedict visited in 2012, and soon afterward, Good Friday observances were allowed.  Plus, this year in Havana, Pope Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill.  This was the "first meeting between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox heavyweights since the Christian church split into West and East in 1054."

2 - Albuquerque pro-life clinic fire determined to be arson

A pro-life ministry in Albuquerque was damaged as the result of an apparent arson the night before Thanksgiving, and according to a report on the Christian Examiner website, the FBI and the Albuquerque Fire Department asked for the public's help in who may have been involved in setting fires which "erupted in multiple locations."

According to the article, the director of client services at the ministry, Project Defending Life (PDL), told LifeSiteNews, "We will just have to be a little more creative and flexible. We know God has a plan for us, and I see our organization prospering now more than ever. The prolife community in Albuquerque and across the country has shown us so much support," adding, "It's beautiful to see the body of Christ taking care of each other." Other ministries have stepped in to help PDL, including a mobile medical unit provided by one center, as well as office space from another.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, is quoted as saying, "The domestic terrorists who committed this heinous act must be found and brought to justice. Planned Parenthood of ABQ and other pro-abortion forces must denounce this act immediately. Violence has no place in our society, regardless of whether it is committed upon the most defenseless preborn child or a peaceful pro-life office."

1 - Manufactured news: Fixer Upper stars criticized because of their church's Biblical beliefs on sexuality

One of the recent significant stories in Christian media actually deals with what another media outlet published - a story about Chip and Joanna Gaines of the Fixer Upper TV series on HGTV.  A Baptist Press article stated that the Gaines "were the subjects of a Nov. 29 article on the news and entertainment website BuzzFeed which classified their pastor and Waco, Texas, church as holding a 'severe, unmoving position ... on same-sex marriage.'"  The Baptist Press report mentioned that the BuzzFeed story writer, Kate Aurthur had asked HGTV and the Gaines' company Magnolia if the couple would feature a same-sex couple on the show.

Aurthur wrote that there was not a response, so she said, "It's worth looking at" the beliefs of the church the Gaines attend, Antioch Community Church, and pastor Jimmy Seibert. Cosmopolitan followed suit in an article the next day, saying that BuzzFeed had "uncovered something many fans will likely want an explanation for."
BuzzFeed also reported, according to Baptist Press, that an HGTV spokesperson stated in an e-mail: "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."

Todd Starnes of Fox News interviewed Pastor Seibert.  Starnes wrote:
The pastor told me he was surprised by the controversy surrounding a message he delivered more than a year ago pointing out that people from all different walks of life attend the church.
“For us – our heart has always been to love Jesus, preach the word of God and help people in their journey,” he said.
But what about the church’s position on same-sex marriage?
Our definition is not the definition we made up. It’s straight from the Scripture,” the pastor said. “One man, one woman for life. That’s how God created us. That’s what he has for us.”
“The main reason for the sermon is for the confused middle – the majority of America. People don’t know what the Bible says anymore on issues of sexuality,” he added.
“People don’t know what God says on homosexuality or any other issue. I felt the need to say we are all a mess – but the fixed points were set by God – not us.”
Even the Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee, weighed in on the controversy:
Reports from around the nation Thursday indicate that millions of American citizens were still reeling from the revelation that a prominent Christian couple holds a historically Christian position.
“We’re not saying people can’t be Christians,” a Seattle woman said in a Facebook comment. “This is a free country, after all. But when Christians decide to actually have Christian beliefs about things—I’m sorry, that’s just too far.”

Monday, November 28, 2016

The 3 - November 27, 2016

In the latest edition of The 3, spotlighting three recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a story about a Christian governor who has faced opposition due to allegations concerning comments relative to Islam.  Also, a Federal labor law concerning overtime pay that would have affected non-profit organizations has been placed on hold by a judge.  And, I place some attention on election results that have a direct connection to people involved in religious freedom issues.

3 - Unrest in Indonesia in light of accusations against Christian governor

The first Christian to serve as governor of the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, has come under fire because of comments about Islam that have been interpreted as being provocative, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is popularly known as “Ahok,” was appointed in 2014 after the election of Joko Widodo as president of the nation. The article points out that Ahok is a key ally of the president.

Ahok presumably used a verse from the Koran when speaking to a group of fishermen in September. He reported said, "Do not believe everything that people say," adding, “because often you are deceived by using 51st of Surah Al Maidah."  That is the fifth chapter of the Qur‘an. According to the article, "The verse warns Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as allies; some read it to mean that Muslims are not to vote for those of other faiths."

Ahok apparently apologized after his words were posted on Facebook, leaving out a key word. Nevertheless, thousands of protesters marched against him and police reportedly accused Ahok of blasphemy.  And, The Christian Post reports that over 10,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta Saturday, the 19th in support of Ahok.  The story says that at least 100,000 Muslims had protested the governor earlier this month.

2 - Federal judge puts overtime rule on hold

The Obama Administration issued a regulation doubling the income threshold determining which employees would be eligible to receive overtime pay.  According to Baptist Press, 4.2 million more workers would qualify to receive extra pay beyond 40 hours weekly.   The story says that employers would have the option to either pay the overtime, increase salaries to reach the new threshold, or restrict employees to 40 hours a week.

On Tuesday, a Federal judge in Texas, Amos Mazzant, issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing enforcement of that regulation, which was scheduled to take effect on Thursday, December 1.

The regulation had been challenged by 21 states, the Chamber of Commerce, and other business organizations,  The article points out that nonprofit organizations are not exempt from overtime rules, so they also would have been affected by the new policy.

Samuel W. (Dub) Oliver, president of Union University in Jackson, TN, is quoted as saying: "While Union University was fully prepared to adhere to the new regulations beginning Dec. 1, they certainly would have been burdensome to us as an institution and to our employees." He expressed hope that Congress would take action on "such important issues," instead of "sweeping changes being mandated by executive order."
Michael Whitehead, who is an attorney and nonprofit organization advocate, said: "Time will tell if the injunction will be made permanent, but for now, the overtime rule has been overruled. This is great news for many ministry organizations, including Baptist institutions, that might have suffered severe financial impact because of this onerous rule." Whitehead's son, Jonathan, "suggested ministries might not want to reverse the plans they had scheduled for Dec. 1. Instead, they may want to seek legal counsel on what adjustments are reasonable in the new legal situation..."

1 - Religious freedom and the election: OR labor commissioner loses bid for higher office; NC governor in midst of hotly contested campaign

The election has had some interesting tie-ins involving religious freedom issues.  Here's a good news-bad news scenario from Oregon, where, according to WORLD Magazine, the state's labor commissioner, Brad Avakian, who took action against cake bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein for their choice not to provide a product for a gay couple "wedding" ceremony, was defeated in his bid to become secretary of state.  The Kleins had been fined $135,000 as the result of their refusal.

That might seem like good news, but on the flipside, Avakian will now continue in his position as labor commissioner.  The WORLD story refers to a Forbes report, which says that "Avakian 'acts as if rules are only for other people.' He used his job as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) to promote his secretary of state campaign, gave bonuses to employees from his campaign fund, and redacted hundreds of events from his official calendar, breaking state law. He also gave himself and other BOLI employees significant raises."

And, another matter relative to religious freedom was impacted by the election - this time from North Carolina, where the State Legislature had passed a commonsense law to override the extreme position of the Charlotte City Council.  This law would have required people to use restrooms in state facilities corresponding to their biological gender, rather than "gender identity."   Governor Pat McCrory had supported and signed the legislation, and really became the face of this new law.

The governor trails in his very close re-election bid, and according to a piece on the Family Policy Alliance website, a candidate in one of North Carolina's counties has filed a protest, that alleges that fraudulent absentee ballots were cast for McCrory's opponent, Ray Cooper. Now, similar protests "are being filed in 10 other counties," according to the Alliance's website, which reports that McCrory's campaign says that "the protest alleges a 'massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots, perpetrated by and through the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.'"

John Rustin of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, is quoted as saying, "The right to vote in our country is fundamental,” adding, “and the confidence of the voters in the electoral process is essential to the proper working of our American form of government. Every legitimate vote must be counted, and any and all efforts to defraud the system must be eliminated, no matter how long it takes.”

On Wednesday (November 23), The Washington Times reported that McCrory "formally requested a recount Tuesday after filing more than 50 challenges alleging voter fraud as the latest tally showed him trailing his Democratic rival, Attorney General Roy Cooper, by anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 votes." The article points out that, "A recount would go into effect if the candidates are separated by fewer than 10,000 votes after all ballots are tabulated in a race with nearly 4.7 million votes cast."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The 3 - November 20, 2016

This week on The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there was a development this week regarding a florist in Washington state who would not furnish flowers for a same-sex "wedding" ceremony.  Also, thousands of Christians in Iraq gathered to pray late last week to pray for their nation and triumph over ISIS.  And, a legislative body in Mexico has turned back the nation's President's proposal authorizing so-called same-sex marriage."

3 - Christian florist in Washington state goes before state Supreme Court

The florist in Washington state who declined to provide flowers for a gay marriage ceremony was in court earlier this week, according to a story on the CBN News website.   Two gay men had filed suit against Barronelle Stutzman, as did the state's attorney general.  The two men had been customers of her business, Arlene's Flowers, and she says that the conversation, in which she explained why she did not want to provide flowers for the wedding, went well.   Stutzman told CBN News, "When Rob left the shop we hugged each other, and left as friends, and we didn't think there was a problem."

A lower court had found that Ms. Stutzman violated a state anti-discrimination law.  This week, the Supreme Court in Washington state heard the case. According to CBN News:
A huge crowd gathered outside the courthouse holding signs with supportive messages for the florist such as, "Justice for Barronelle" and "Freedom to Create."
Earlier, the state had offered Barronelle a settlement, and the story points out that she had told a gathering in Washington, DC: "I wasn't offered a settlement. I was offered an ultimatum: 'Either you will do as I tell you to do; you will think the way I think; you will perform the way I think you should perform and create..."

Stutzman is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorney, Kerri Kupec, is quoted as saying, "The heart of the case is this, should creative professionals and artists like Baronelle be forced by the government to create custom work for a religious ceremony that specifically violates their religious beliefs under threat of severe punishment..."

 2 - Thousands of Iraqi Christians gather to pray for peace

This past Friday, an estimated crowd of over 20,000 people gathered in the Iraqi city of Erbil to pray for their nation and for victory against ISIS in an event called "Christ Day," according to a Christian Today story, quoting from CBN News.  The event was broadcast over the Christian satellite network, SAT-7.

According to the Christian Today article, the event coincides with an offensive by Iraq and its allies to retake the captured city of Mosul. The piece quotes Fabian Greche, the co-founder of the Mesopotamia House of Prayer in northern Iraq, who said he believes God is far from finished with the Middle East.  Greche said, "We easily get affected by darkness around us. It affects us, but if we look at Jesus and at His Word we see that God wants to pour out His Spirit. He's coming back for a Bride and He will have one in the Middle East."

The article says that:
The six-hour prayer event marked the end of the participants' 50 days of fasting, with many of them expressing hope that they would soon be back in their land, living peaceful lives without ISIS.
Standing together in the shape of a cross, the participants released balloons with prayers in them "as a symbol of raising prayer on behalf of the whole nation," according to George Makeen, SAT-7 ARABIC's programming director.
1 - Same-sex marriage measure rejected in Mexico

Just weeks after Australian lawmakers decided to reject so-called same-sex "marriage," a group of legislators in Mexico took similar action.  According to a piece on the Christian Examiner website, a committee in the national Chamber of Deputies has voted 19-8 against a proposal by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to amend the country's constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
More than half of those voting against the amendment were members of the president's political party.

Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last year that bans on same-sex marriage implemented by states throughout Mexico were unconstitutional.   The story reports that now, the National Front for the Family, which includes more than 1.000 pro-family groups, has said it is ready to stand behind a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

According to the report, the proposed change to the country's constitution was unpopular among "traditionalists" in the country; not only because it would allow same-sex marriage, but would also possibly become a gateway to same-sex adoptions.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The 3 - November 13, 2016

This week, I want to call your attention to a baptism ceremony involving Iranians and Afghans, as we rejoice about what God is doing in the Muslim world.  Also, voters went to the polls this past Tuesday, and not only were candidates for President and Congress and other offices on the ballot, but there were referendum votes on a number of issues; I'll relate information about some of those.  And, the election of Donald Trump as President is challenging Christians to consider the way forward.

3 - God is working in Muslim world; Iranian and Afghan believers baptized

I really do believe, based on information I've received, that one of the remarkable areas in which God is working is in the midst of the so-called "Muslim world," as reports are common of people who are followers of Islam coming to Christ, including some who receive Jesus as the result of dreams and visions.

ChristianToday.com has the story of how God is working among people in the vicinity of a nation that not only has a significant Muslim population, but has a government that is steeped in Muslim law - that is, the nation of Iran. The report is that recently, over 200 Iranians and Afghans were baptized in a location just outside Iran, according to the Elam Ministries.  People from eight different Persian-speaking churches attended the service, in which the newly-baptized Christians shared about how Jesus changed their lives.  One man said that he had been suicidal, but Jesus intervened and brought him new hope.  Another shared: "I never thought I would find freedom from my past, but Jesus has set me free."

The article makes mention that the growth of Christianity in Iran has been described as "spectacular." Website God Reports says that several statisticians noted that the Iranian church may be the fastest growing church in the world.

Mark Howard of Elam Ministries is quoted as saying, "Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2,000-5,000 believers in Iran," but now, he says "the conservative estimate" is that there are 300,000 to 400,000 Muslim-background believers in Iran.  Others say the number could be as high as one million.

2 - Ballot measures include assisted suicide in CO; marijuana in several states; a number of gambling measures fail

On the 2016 election ballot coast-to-coast, there were not only contests for President, one-third of the U.S. Senate, and all of the U.S. House, but there were gubernatorial races in some states, and some ballot measures.

Marijuana was a popular topic across several states.  WORLD Magazine reports that:
On ballot measures, seven states expanded the legality of marijuana. California, Nevada, and Massachusetts legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota legalized it for medicinal use.
The story also stated, "And in one of the most significant voter decisions, Colorado legalized assisted suicide."

John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said in a Breakpoint commentary:
...A close read of Tuesday’s results, beyond the presidential race, shows that the cultural trends we’ve been talking about on BreakPoint for years continue unimpeded. 
The saddest example is Colorado voters’ approval of doctor-assisted suicide by a two-to-one margin. I warned on this broadcast that so-called “right to die” invariably becomes a duty to die. I reminded my fellow Coloradans that in a state currently in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicide, approving doctor-assisted suicide sends the wrong message.
But it didn’t matter. The siren song of unlimited personal autonomy and self-definition proved irresistible to a large majority of Coloradans.
Stonestreet added, "And a similar dynamic was at work in the various ballot initiatives concerning marijuana."

The news was better on the gambling front.  The organization, Stop Predatory Gambling reported that New Jersey voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot question to expand casinos in the northern part of the state, and an effort to bring a slot machine parlor into greater Boston was also turned back by voters.  Also, Arkansas residents rejected a measure to allow casinos into the state.

1 - Evangelicals play key role in election; Christians ponder way forward

With the election of Donald Trump as President being powered, in part, by evangelical voters, there has been much discussion about the role of the Church not only in the election but in the way forward.  On a Front Room commentary this week, I quoted from a Christianity Today analysis of the results:
Despite reservations expressed by many evangelical and Republican leaders, white born-again/evangelical Christians cast their ballots for the controversial real estate mogul-turned-politician at an 81 percent to 16 percent margin over Hillary Clinton.
Evangelicals of color—who represent 2 in 5 evangelicals, but aren’t segmented out in most national political polls—largely preferred Clinton leading up to the election. But she ultimately underperformed among Hispanics and African Americans compared to President Barack Obama before her.
I also quoted from the article, which pointed out that, "White evangelicals made up 1 in 4 of all voters in the 2016 election," and it said:
Americans who attend religious services weekly also favored Trump, but by a narrower 56 percent to 40 percent margin over Clinton. Monthly worshipers also broke for Trump more narrowly, 49 percent to 46 percent.
I pointed out that Trump won with Catholic voters, 52-45% and that Obama had won the Catholic vote the previous two elections.  I also included a quote from the First Things website by Biola University professor Daniel Patrick Guerra who wrote, "...70 percent of the electorate said that the composition of the Supreme Court was the most important or an important factor in their vote for president. Trump won these voters, 50 percent to 46 percent. Among those to whom the Court mattered little, Trump lost by ten percentage points. The composition of the Court thus was a major factor in the election’s outcome, and religious voters seemed to emphasize it in debates over whether or not to support Trump."

While a number of Christians were put off by some of the statements by Trump during the campaign (and before), some Christian leaders see the billionaire's victory as an opportunity to address some of the actions over that last eight years which have represented an affront to religious freedom.   Writing for The Stream website, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and FRC Action, said:
...After the spectacular failures of Obamacare, the demoralization of our military, the explosion of lawlessness, tolerance of corruption and obsession with social engineering, Americans finally have the opportunity to rebuild the country they once knew. But the election is just the starting gun. Donald Trump may open the door to America’s solutions, but he was never meant to be the solution. The true transformation of a society starts in the hearts and minds of men. And under an administration with no interest in continuing the eight-year war on the First Amendment, we may finally see what the Church is capable of. In the meantime, one thing about this historic uprising is clear: Americans are looking for leaders of conviction. And as the results of the race for president show, they will accept no substitutes.
Todd Starnes of Fox News reported that, "Nearly 6 in 10 Trump voters were impacted by the pro-life, pro-religious liberty planks of the Republican Party, according to a post-election poll commissioned by Family Research Council."

I would say that the Church should be careful to never gloat about this electoral outcome.  I agree with Tony that this is only a beginning; there is potential to change culture for the better, and the political system does play a part, but it is only one component.  The outcome of the election should be accepted as a sovereign act of God, in accordance with Daniel 2, and we continue to have a sovereign opportunity to allow the Lord to use the body of Christ, as the Church is willing to pray and be a voice before our political leaders.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The 3 - November 6, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, includes a decision by the Washington, D.C. city council on the matter of assisted suicide.  Also, a law school at a Christian university in Canada has won a major court victory.  And, I want to conclude with some information and comments regarding Election Day this Tuesday.

3 - District of Columbia council passes assisted suicide bill

Recently, the City Council for Washington, D.C. approved a law called the "Death With Dignity" law, according to a report on the CBN.com website, which reported that the law "would allow doctors to prescribe deadly, oral medication to people suffering from terminal diseases."

The article points out that "physician-assisted suicide" is also legal in California, Washington state, Vermont, and Montana.

An assisted-suicide measure is on the ballot this year in Colorado, and there are indications that it stands a good chance of passage.

The CBN report said that:
The hotly contested measure in D.C. was vehemently opposed by religious groups who believe in the sanctity of life and say only God should determine when a person dies.
Other opponents who fought against the passage of the measure for non-religious reasons say its language is vague and therefore vulnerable to abuses.
The final vote was 11 to 2 in favor of the law.  Among other components, the law pertains to those with six months or less to live.

2 - Canadian law school wins legal battle over accreditation

Trinity Western University, which is located in British Columbia, has been seeking accreditation for its proposed law school.  According to a piece on the Alliance Defending Freedom website, the Law Society of British Columbia had denied this accreditation. It had originally voted to accept graduates of the school, but then changed that decision in October 2014 due to, as ADF says, "the university’s biblical beliefs on appropriate sexual behavior."

The University challenged that denial in August 2015. The province's Supreme Court ruled "that the Law Society’s first decision, which approved the academic qualifications of TWU graduates, should be restored." Now, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the highest court in the province, upheld that ruling. The Court stated, "A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society—one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.”

The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon, and Nova Scotia have already agreed to recognize TWU’s law graduates. The university has appealed a court decision against it in Ontario.

1 - Final considerations for election in advance of Tuesday vote

Tuesday is Election Day, and there is plenty of importance that is being attached to this day.  Of course, the major news story is the Presidential election, and there has been much discussion in the evangelical community about who will be selected as President.  Evangelicals can break down into four categories:  those who will vote for Donald Trump, those who will vote for Hillary Clinton, supporters of candidates who do not represent the two major parties: so-called "third party" candidates or write-ins, and those who will not vote for any candidate.

Christianity Today just published a summary of polling data from LifeWay Research indicating evangelical support for the candidates.  According to the survey:
45% of Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump
31% plan to vote for Clinton
23% plan to vote for a third-party candidate, or haven’t decided
Break that down by race or ethnicity and you'll see a divide:  65% of white Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump, with 10% for Clinton.  62% of African-, Hispanic-, or Asian-Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Clinton and 15% plan to vote for Trump.

Regarding the arguments for and against Trump and Clinton in the evangelical community, it seems, for me, a summary would be this:  Neither candidate offers strong appeal to the Christian community, but with regard to issues, such as Supreme Court nominees, abortion, and religious freedom, Trump is a better fit for evangelicals on these issues.  However, that LifeWay survey, as I have noted, shows that the top issues for evangelicals are the economy, national security, and personal character.  Only 10% of those surveyed, for instance, regarded Supreme Court nominees as their most important issue.

Some evangelicals are willing to overlook some of Trump's character flaws because he is closer to their own values on important issues.  However, there are a number of #NeverTrump evangelicals who will not support him due to character, but, likewise they will also not support Hillary Clinton. So, those voters, as a matter of personal conscience will either vote for someone like Evan McMullin, who is mounting a third-party bid, or write-in a candidate, perhaps sitting out the top of the ballot while voting in the down ballot races.

Whatever you do, I want to share these thoughts with you from a recent Front Room commentary:
First of all, I believe that voting, at the risk of sounding overly spiritual, but I believe it - voting is an act of worship. So, take that attitude with you as you go to vote. We have the incredible right and opportunity to speak into our society and select the leaders who will govern us. It matters to God, and it matters to our country.

Also, I challenge you to take your worldview into the voting booth. Select candidates who best reflect your own Biblical perspective. Determine the issues that are important to you, consistent with that worldview, and allow the Holy Spirit to direct your choice. But, you need to be, as I say often, prayerful and informed. You need the information, good information, so that you can make that choice about the candidate who lines up the best with those Biblically-informed issues.

Finally, there's something not to take into the voting booth - worry. Do not worry about the outcome. I will speak more to this in the coming days. We recognize the sovereignty of God, and He will work through whatever leaders are placed in the position. A President or other lawmaker may have an adverse view or set of views on issues we hold dear and champion policies that we find offensive, but even in the midst of adversity, we can continue to trust in Almighty God to work His purposes.
And, I would say, above all - PRAY!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The 3 - October 30, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, a major Christian retailer has pulled resources by a famous author due to her stated beliefs on so-called "same-sex marriage."  Also, the U.S. Supreme Court will be getting involved in a case involving transgender rights.  And, a lay minister in Georgia who lost his job in the state health department is refusing to give up sermons that have been requested in connection to his lawsuit after his firing.

3 - Major Christian retailer pulls author's books due to her stance on gay marriage

One would think just a short time ago that author Jen Hatmaker was on her way to quite the elevated status among Christian Bible teachers.  Her book, 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, was a bestseller, and her family has been featured HGTV reality series, My Big Family Renovation. She was one of the featured speakers on the national tour called, Belong.

But, her view of tolerating those in the LGBT lifestyle has now resulted in her resources being pulled from LifeWay stores.  According to Baptist Press, LifeWay spokesperson Marty King said, "In a recent interview, [Hatmaker] voiced significant changes in her theology of human sexuality and the meaning and definition of marriage -- changes which contradict LifeWay's doctrinal guidelines," adding, "As a result, LifeWay has discontinued selling her resources."  The 7 book was published by B&H, which is a publishing arm of LifeWay.

This removal apparently stems from an interview with Hatmaker published at Religion News Service, which was conducted by Jonathan Merritt. The Baptist Press article reports:
In an Oct. 25 Religion News Service (RNS) article, Hatmaker said she affirms gay marriage from both civil and spiritual perspectives, and advised the church to embrace members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who profess Christianity.

"Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ," Hatmaker said in the RNS question and answer column. "They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn't treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better."
When asked whether an LGBT relationship can be "holy," she replied:
"I do (believe an LGBT relationship can be holy). And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it's hard to nail down in one sitting," she said. "I've seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here."
2 - High court agrees to hear case of school district's restroom policy

The transgender bathroom issue has become quite a visible one, and the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that it will enter the fray.  The high court announced this week, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, that it would hear a case out of Virginia, involving a "school district’s policy of maintaining separate restrooms for members of each sex while providing individual, private facilities for students uncomfortable with using a facility that corresponds to their sex."

According to a report by Emily Belz at WORLD Magazine...
...the case began when Gavin Grimm (“G.G.” in court documents), who was born female but now identifies as male, sued the school board after requesting access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms. Fielding parental complaints, the board declined Grimm’s request, but offered to build unisex restrooms instead. Grimm considered that response discrimination.
A Federal District Court and the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the school board, but the Supreme Court issued a stay on those rulings, allowing the school's restroom and locker room policy to continue until resolved by the Supreme Court.

And, according to WORLD, the Federal directive to schools throughout America concerning transgender bathroom usage will come into play. The story says, "In January 2015, a Department of Education official sent a letter telling the Gloucester County School Board that under Title IX the board must treat transgender students 'consistent with their gender identity' in locker rooms and restrooms. The agency sent a directive similar to the Gloucester County letter to all federally funded schools in May."

1 - Former GA health official and lay minister, who had filed suit because of religious discrimination, refuses to release sermons

The case of a public health director in Georgia who was a lay minister has raised concerns over the government's authority over church-related matters.  According to the website of First Liberty Institute, Dr. Eric Walsh was hired in 2014 by the State of Georgia. The website says, "...when the state found out that Walsh was also a lay minister and preached sermons on the weekends, they obtained copies of his some of his sermons, divided them among state officials, reviewed the sermons, and then fired Walsh­—informing him of the termination via voicemail."

First Liberty says that even though the state claims its abrupt termination of Walsh was not related to his religious beliefs, "evidence would suggest otherwise."

In April of this year, First Liberty filed a lawsuit on behalf of Walsh. In September, the Georgia state government issued a Request for Production of Documents. As First Liberty points out: "Fulfilling the request would force Walsh to produce all his previous sermons, sermon notes and transcripts for government review and investigation."

Jeremy Dys, Senior Counsel for First Liberty stated, "The government wants a pastor to hand over copies of all of his sermons, including notes and transcripts, with absolutely zero limitations,” adding, "This is an excessive display of government overreaching its authority.”

A press conference, including Dr. Walsh, was held in Atlanta Wednesday. Pastor Dave Welch from Houston was there - he was one of the "Houston Five" whose communication had been subpoenaed in the lawsuit there involving an ordinance involving sexual orientation and gender identity, said:
"This is worse than the Houston Five for multiple reasons. This is coming from a whole state—the Georgia attorney general—not one city. And they are demanding more material: sermons, sermon notes, all documents. It could even include margin notes in this pastor’s preaching Bible. It’s almost as if they are ransacking the pastor’s study. This sweeping demand is unacceptable in America, and is a warning to every pastor, every church, every denomination, and every American."
First Liberty also pointed out that last year, Governor Nathan Deal, under intense pressure from corporate interests, vetoed a mild religious protection bill that would have protected pastors.