Sunday, July 23, 2017

The 3 - July 23, 2017

On this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is good news, but guardedly so, out of China about a Christian activist who was recently released from prison.  Also, a Federal appeals court has found the prayer practice of a group of North Carolina county commissioners unconstitutional.  Plus, even the revision of that state's privacy law isn't enough for some who are pursuing the gay agenda; and Texas legislators are considering a privacy bill of their own.

3 - China releases Christian activist

A Christian activist in China who has been in prison for four years has been released, but his supporters are concerned he will continue to live under the watchful eye of the Chinese government. The Christian Post website reported that: "A leading lawyer and activist, Xu Zhiyong, who is a Christian, was released by the Chinese authorities Saturday as he completed a four-year prison sentence."

Xu was convicted in 2013 of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order." The Post report said:
Xu had refused to defend himself in court, as he said the trial had been rigged. Foreign diplomats and journalists were not allowed to attend his trial.
 At the end of his trial, Xu gave a speech, in which he also talked about his Christian faith.
"Freedom, justice, and love, these are our core values and what guides us in action," he said in the speech. "You may find my ideas too far-out, too unrealistic, but I believe in the power of faith, and in the power of the truth, compassion and beauty that exists in the depths of the human soul, just as I believe human civilization is advancing mightily like a tide."
Xu is 44 years old, and the article says that those who support him "fear that the authorities will keep him under close watch or effective house arrest, even as some social media posts said security guards and plain-clothed officers barred people from visiting him at his home after his release."

Bob Fu of China Aid had told The Christian Post that "the top leadership is increasingly worried about the rapid growth of Christian faith and their public presence, and their social influence. It is a political fear for the Communist Party, as the number of Christians in the country far outnumber the members of the Party."

2 - Federal appeals court rules against county's prayer policy

It wasn't too long ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayer prior to town meetings in Greece, New York were constitutional.  However, the area of prayer before public meetings has come into question again, and a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may mean that the issue will be back before the high court.

According to the WORLD website, the appeals court declared that the Rowan County, NC board of commissioners was engaging in a prayer practice that was “unconstitutionally coercive.” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in the majority opinion, which included nine other judges: “The prayer practice served to identify the government with Christianity and risked conveying to citizens of minority faiths a message of exclusion..." Five judges dissented. Earlier, a three-judge panel from the 4th Circuit had, according to WORLD, ruled "in favor of the county, as long as the commissioners didn’t pressure audience members to participate." But, the plaintiffs had requested a hearing in front of the entire court.

The distinction between this case and the Greece case? The WORLD report said: "The U.S. Supreme Court has previously ruled in favor of clergy-led public prayer at government meetings, but the Rowan County case raises the issue of prayer offered by public servants. Only the commissioners in Rowan County lead pre-meeting prayers."

1 - Private matters: Challenges to revised privacy law in NC, Texas Legislature deals with privacy bill

The bill in North Carolina that provided for individuals in government buildings to use the restroom facilities corresponding to their biological gender instead of their so-called "gender identity," was revised earlier this year, presumably to get major sports events coming back to the state.  But, while the rewrite was devastating in the arena of privacy, apparently, it didn't go far enough in satisfying the proponents of the LGBT agenda in the state.

The Charlotte Observer reported:
The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights law firm, filed documents in federal court on Friday seeking to amend a lawsuit filed last year against HB2 to center its claims on the law adopted in March to replace it.
The documents contend the law replacing HB2 “discriminates against transgender individuals with respect to one of life’s most basic and essential bodily functions – using the restroom – and, until December 2020, blocks local governments from protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people against discrimination in employment and public accommodations.”
The revised bill contained a moratorium on local "nondiscrimination" ordinances through the year 2020.

Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers have been considering a privacy bill of their own. Family Policy Alliance reports that:
Earlier this year, the Texas Senate passed the Texas Privacy Act that guarded Texans’ privacy in areas such as showers, locker rooms and restrooms. But Speaker Joe Straus blocked the bill from even receiving a vote in the Texas House.
The legislature is in special session, and this bill is back under consideration.  As FPA states, "With Texas only holding legislative sessions in odd-numbered years, it’s paramount that this commonsense legislation is passed now."  The website has an action center for citizens to voice their point of view on this important matter.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The 3 - July 16, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes good news about replacing a Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas.  Also, the rights of churches to select their own leaders was upheld by a Federal appeals court.  Plus, the U.S. House decided to commit billions to gender reassignment surgery for members of our Armed Forces.

3 - Movie company to help restore Ten Commandments monument in Arkansas

Last month, a man drove a vehicle into a 6-foot Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol less than 24 hours after it was installed, according to a story on the ArkansasOnline.com website, which reported that the man apparently live-streamed the act on Facebook.

But an identical monument will be installed on the Capitol grounds, according to Senator James Rapert, who had sponsored the original legislation authorizing the monument, The Hill website reported.  The site said that $55,000 in private donations had been raised, according to the senator. 

That includes $25,000 from Pure Flix, which is a Christian film production company.
ChristianHeadlines.com reported on the company's donation.  The exterior of the Arkansas State Capitol was used as the courthouse housing the courtroom where pivotal scenes took place in the film, God's Not Dead 2, which was a Pure Flix production.

2 - Church's ability to select its own leaders upheld in Federal appeals court

An important decision came out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in the case of Fratello v. Archdiocese of New York, which, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, upheld "the freedom of a church to decide who will serve as its religious leaders."

Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Jeremiah Galus stated:
“The First Amendment plainly protects a church’s freedom to decide who serves as its religious leaders, as the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged only five years ago. The 2nd Circuit correctly recognized that this freedom extends to choosing a religious school’s principal—a position that is perhaps a school’s most important. Governmental inference here would have amounted to nothing less than state control of a religious school—something the First Amendment clearly forbids. ADF was honored to file a friend-of-the-court brief in this case on behalf of the Orthodox Church in America, which supports the foundational constitutional freedom that the Second Circuit upheld.”
The Catholic News Agency, giving some background on the case, stated that the school, St. Anthony's in Nanuet, NY...
...had decided in 2011 not to renew the contract of its then-principal Joanne Fratello because of her alleged “insubordination” shown to the pastor of St. Anthony’s parish.
Fratello later alleged that the contract decision was a case of sex-based discrimination, and she filed a lawsuit against the school and the archdiocese. She said that she had been hired in a lay capacity, and thus the archdiocese would not be exempt from a discrimination lawsuit under the “ministerial exception.”
The “ministerial exception” forbids the government from intervening in the employment of a minister by a church, as part of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
This exception was at the heart of the Hosanna-Tabor ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, and the appeals court found that the exception did apply, which was the position that the archdiocese had taken.

ADF has been in the news recently because of an ABC News story calling it a "anti-LGBT hate group." FoxNews.com stated that this label was applied to the organization after Attorney General Session spoke to it.

Kerri Kupec of ADF is quoted as saying, "Nothing could be further from the truth," and said that the network is "encouraging this lack of civil discourse." ADF has accused ABC of "journalistic malpractice" and has "asked for an apology and retraction of the story."


1 - U.S. House votes to fund sex change surgery for members of the military

Here is some alarming news out the U.S. House of Representatives, which took a vote on a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act.  In a 214-209 vote, our elected lawmakers voted to spend $3.7 billion dollars on gender reassignment surgery for members of the military, according to Family Research Council.

These are the people's representatives, right?  Well, consider this from FRC:
According to the latest Rasmussen polling, only 23 percent of the country agrees with them that opening the doors to the gender-confused is good for the military. Add in the sky-high costs of treatments and lost deployment time, and that number would probably look generous by comparison. Like most service chiefs, Americans don't understand how anyone could justify spending billions on a radical medical procedure when the same amount could buy a Navy destroyer, 22 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Planes, 3,700 tomahawk missiles, or 116 Chinook helicopters.
And there's more on the "transgenders in the military" front:  The Washington Free Beacon reports that even though Defense Secretary Mattis has delayed a proposed policy to integrate transgender soldiers into the military, "hour-long mandatory training" is being conducted on dealing with transgender issues.  The story states:
The Army is still moving forward with its transgender training, which is conducted in the morning in place of physical training, the Federalist reported.
The guidelines reveal that soldiers only need to get a diagnosis from a medical doctor and change their gender in a database before showering with the opposite sex.
The Army's tips for an "inclusive environment" include no gossip.
"Social interactions and developing friendships with peers are what contribute to a positive work environment," the training states. "Maintain an inclusive environment and do not gossip. In accordance with good order and discipline, do not ask a colleague or subordinate for their personal information unless it is mission related."

Sunday, July 09, 2017

The 3 - July 9, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, there is a story about a public university in Oklahoma that attempted to remove religious symbols from its chapel, only to backtrack after there was opposition to the move.  Also, a major, Christian-owned craft store chain that is launching a new Bible museum in the fall, has settled with the government over artifacts that could have been removed illegally from the Middle East.  And, the gripping story of little Charlie Gard continues, as the hospital that was so adamant in keeping Charlie there, only to lose his life, is now perhaps reconsidering it decision to not allow Charlie's parents to seek treatment elsewhere.

3 - State university in OK backtracks on removal of religious symbols

A public university in Oklahoma, East Central University, has apologized for its attempt to remove religious symbols from the campus chapel recently.  According to a story on the Faithwire website:
East Central University officials have received massive backlash for their decision to remove various Christian symbols and icons from the campus chapel last month following legal threats from Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
In a statement posted on East Central’s website, President Katricia Pierson noted that the university is “immediately withdrawing” all efforts to remove religious items, such as Latin crosses and Bibles, from the chapel.
Faithwire states that "Pierson claimed the initial decision to remove Christian items from the chapel was intended to 'show support for all cultures and religious beliefs' and honor 'different perspectives.'"

So the symbols were removed and now have apparently been restored, according to another Faithwire story, which says that the university will form a special “committee of students, faculty, and community members who represent a diversity of viewpoints to study the issue.”

State Attorney General Mike Hunter has apparently studied the issue. The Faithwire report quotes from a Campus Reform story, that stated the AG sent a letter to the school's Board of Regents, in which he said he would "defend the religious freedom of Oklahomans from misleading tactics such as the ones employed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State..."

2 - Hobby Lobby reaches settlement on Middle East artifacts

Later this year, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC will open.  It is being built by the Green family, who own the Hobby Lobby chain of craft stores.

There was a particularly concerning aspect related to this new museum: it has been under Federal investigation related to the obtaining of certain artifacts.  According to Christianity Today, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, who is also chairman of the museum, "has surrendered thousands of cuneiform tablets and seals bought by Hobby Lobby, after federal prosecutors determined the material came from war-torn Iraq and not Turkey or Israel as customs forms had claimed."

The story also states that, "His company also paid a $3 million fine in a settlement, federal officials announced yesterday in district court."

The CT article also says:
According to prosecutors, Hobby Lobby did not adequately check out the purported owner: a dealer based in the United Arab Emirates who sent the materials to its Oklahoma City offices labeled erroneously as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).” Several were intercepted by federal customs officials, who began investigating the company in 2015 over what was initially believed to be a few hundred questionable artifacts.
The story does say that, "The Museum of the Bible, slated to open in Washington, DC, in November, stated that none of the artifacts identified in the settlement belonged to its collection."

1 - Pro-life organizations, Pope Francis, and President Trump stand together for Charlie Gard

The story of 11-month-old Charlie Gard has captured worldwide attention, including from high-profile officials and pro-life leaders.  Charlie has a rare condition, and the British hospital where he is currently staying had decided that it was time to terminate life support.  The hospital had received two favorable court rulings - one British, one European - and even though the parents desired for him to leave that hospital and seek treatment elsewhere, the hospital was unmoved.

Enter Pope Francis and President Trump.  According to Family Research Council:
In a statement on the crisis, the Pope said the parents' rights to treat their son "until the end" should be respected. "To defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all." The White House also stepped in the gap, contacting the family to see what can be done. As Donald Trump tweeted, "If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so." Even 37 members of the European Parliament have demanded the hospital step back. This decision, they write, "infringes [on] Europe's most fundamental values, particularly the right to life, the right to human dignity, and personal integrity."
FRC was one of a number of pro-life organizations that issued a joint statement in the past week.  It was stated in it, according to the FRC website, "In past situations of similar circumstances, the patient or their family has always had the option of finding alternative care and that's exactly what Charlie's parents have done. This is their child and they want to use money they have raised from private donors around the world to provide him access to a treatment option that has had some success with a related condition."

It looks as if the hospital is willing to take a second look. BBC reports that: "Great Ormond Street Hospital has applied for a fresh hearing in the case of Charlie Gard following claims of  'new evidence relating to potential treatment for his condition.'"  The story continued:
It comes after seven medical experts suggested unpublished data showed therapy could improve the 11-month-old's brain condition.
Previously, the High Court said it was unlikely a US doctor offering to treat Charlie would be able to cure him.
GOSH said it would "explore" the data.
Charlie's case will be heard by Mr Justice Francis on Monday at 14:00 BST, according to a High Court listing.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The 3 - June 25, 2017

In this latest edition of The 3, highlighting three relevant stories to the Christian community, there is activity from various courts.  In a Federal district court down south, a judge ordered the removal of a cross from a Pensacola park, enforcing a law he apparently doesn't agree with.  Also, there is new hope for the videographers that have been exposing Planned Parenthood's trafficking in body parts for aborted babies; a court ordered the majority of charges against them dropped.  Plus, a Federal appeals court has paved the way for a Mississippi religious freedom bill to go into effect.

3 - Federal judge says cross must come down, advocates for new religious establishment standard

A Federal court judge has ruled that a cross that has stood in various forms in Bayview Park in Pensacola for the last 75 years must be taken down within the next 30 days, according to a report on the Faithwire website.  The article says:
The decision to remove the 34-foot cross inside Bayview Park came after Senior U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson ruled that its presence on public property is unconstitutional, according to the Pensacola News Journal.
“The Bayview Cross can no longer stand as a permanent fixture on city-owned property,” the judge proclaimed, noting that he was well aware of the broad local support for keeping the cross in place. “The law is the law.”
The American Humanist Association and Freedom From Religion Foundation teamed up to take action against the cross.

But, the judge's ruling contained an interesting twist.  He said, "The law is the law," but indicated he'd like to see the law changed.  The Pensacola News Journal stated:
In his ruling, Vinson cited several legal scholars who have criticized the current state of federal case law on the Constitution's Establishment Clause.
"Count me among those who hope the Supreme Court will one day revisit and reconsider its Establishment Clause jurisprudence, but my duty is to enforce the law as it now stands," Vinson said.
The News Journal reported that the city is weighing its future options, including whether or not to appeal the ruling.  Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeted out that he hoped the city would appeal.

2 - California court strikes down most charges against videographers exposing Planned Parenthood

The work of videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt have exposed the activity of Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, in selling the body parts of aborted babies.  And, the California Attorney General had brought 15 felony charges against the pair for what a piece on the National Review website says, "...recording what he deemed to be confidential communications."

On Wednesday, June 21, the San Francisco Superior Court "tossed out" 14 of the 15 charges brought against Daleiden and Merritt, of the Center for Medical Progress, by AG Xavier Bacerra.  The 15th charge, "conspiring to invade privacy," was brought against Merritt alone.  The National Review piece quotes from Life News"The court ruled that counts 1-14 were legally insufficient. The state has the opportunity to amend if it can plead a more legally sufficient and specific complaint."

The National Review article says:
Aside from being a victory for the freedom of the press, this decision is another big win for the CMP journalists — who were cleared of criminal charges last year in Texas, as well — vindicating them against the frequent claim from pro-abortion activists that they engaged in illegal activity and duplicitous editing of footage to falsely incriminate Planned Parenthood.
Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel, which is defending Merritt, stated:
Sandra Merritt did nothing wrong. The complaint by the California Attorney General is unprecedented and frankly will threaten every journalist who provides valuable information to the public. This final count will also fall,
This is the same attorney general that recently announced that state employees would not longer travel to the states of Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Texas due to laws that he says discriminate against LGBT individuals, according to the website, Kentucky.com.  These laws are designed to protect the religious freedom of people of faith.

1 - Federal appeals court upholds new Mississippi religious freedom law

Last year, Mississippi lawmakers passed HB 1523, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, which, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, "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." Governor Phil Bryant had signed the bill in April of last year, but a federal court had blocked it from going into effect.

The ADF website related this news recently:
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled unanimously on Thursday that those who filed suit to stop a state law protecting Mississippians against government discrimination haven’t shown they have been or will be harmed by the law.
That means the injunction that was blocking the law has been removed.  ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said that the court "did the right thing:"
“The sole purpose of this law is to ensure that Mississippians don’t live in fear of losing their careers or their businesses simply for affirming marriage as a husband-wife union. Those who filed suit have not and will not be harmed but want to restrict freedom and impose their beliefs on others by ensuring dissenters are left open to the government discrimination that has already occurred in states without protective laws like this one.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The 3 - June 18, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance in the Christian community, I highlight another graduation controversy, this one involving a Pennsylvania high school senior whose message including faith statements was rejected by school officials.  Also, a pro-life Congressman suffered the most severe wounds in the recent shooting at a Congressional baseball practice, an event that led members of Congress from both parties to pray together.  And, the Southern Baptist Convention met in Phoenix this past week; a look at some major developments is coming up.

3 - Graduation controversy in PA

That series of weeks toward the end of a student's term in school can bring so much joy and anticipation of the future, but we have seen throughout the years that sometimes graduates have felt the heavy hand of school officials telling students what they can and cannot say, especially when it comes to religious statements.

There was a situation in Beaver, PA, involving senior Moriah Bridges, who wanted to offer thanks to God for her graduating class during her school's graduating ceremony, according to a piece by Todd Starnes on the Fox News website.

Moriah had submitted her planned remarks to the school district, which, according to Starnes, "notified the teenager that her prepared remarks were unlawful, unconstitutional, and therefore, impermissible."

Principal Steven Wellendorf, in a letter to the student, wrote: “The selected students may still address their class and indicate the things that they wish/hop for their class, but they may not do it in the style of a prayer and most certainly may not recite a prayer that excludes other religions (by ending ‘in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ” or “in the matchless name of Jesus...'"

Moriah is quoted as saying: "I was shocked that the school said my personal remarks broke the law and I was saddened that I could not draw upon my Christian identity to express my best wishes for my classmates on what should’ve been the happiest day of high school..."

Starnes spoke with Jeremy Dys, an attorney with First Liberty Institute, who said: "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,” adding, "Because of Dr. Rowe’s instructions, Moriah was muzzled and restrained by school officials on the penultimate day of her high school career."  Dr. Carrie Rowe is the district's superintendent.

And, Starnes a "long-standing policy" of the U.S. Department of Education on free speech rights of students.  The policy reads: "Where students or other private graduation speakers are selected on the basis of genuinely neutral, evenhanded criteria and retain primary control over the content of their expression, however, that expression is not attributable to the school and therefore may not be restricted because of its religious (or anti-religious) content..."

2 - Members of Congress pray after shooting

There was a spiritual reaction to the tragic incident in Alexandria, Virginia, in which U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was critically injured.  According to a TIME Magazine story, Speaker Paul Ryan said, "We do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber," adding, "For all the noise and all the fury, we are one family."

The story stated:
Republican Rep. Martha McSally said Republican and Democratic House members joined hands and prayed after learning of the shooting. "Holding hands and praying together, I haven’t seen a moment like that since I’ve been here," she said. "So perhaps this can serve, even though it was intended for evil, it can serve as a wake up call for all of us to think about how we’re vilifying and engaging with people who disagree with us."
Faithwire reported that: "Doctors say he was at 'immediate risk of death' when he made it to the hospital shortly after getting shot while practicing for a charity softball game..." The article quoted from CBS News, including this from Dr. Jack Sava, director of trauma at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, who said, in a briefing on the congressman’s condition, "When he arrived, he was in critical condition with an imminent risk of death...He will certainly be in the hospital for a considerable period of time, presumably weeks."  Sava stated that Scalise's condition had stabilized and that "an excellent recovery is a good possibility."  According to the report from CBS:
A single bullet traveled across Scalise’s pelvis when he was shot Wednesday, fracturing bones, injuring internal organs and causing severe bleeding, Sava said. He was transported in shock to the medical center.
LifeNews.com reported that:
Congressman Scalise is a prominent pro-life Advocate in Congress with a longstanding record fighting abortion.
He led the effort calling on the Obama Administration to reverse its unconstitutional mandate forcing religious organizations to include drugs that can cause abortion and birth control in the health care plans of their employees.
The website also notes that Scalise, "has also strongly supported efforts to defund the Planned Parenthood abortion business."  He had told LifeNews: “The right to life is our most precious gift from God, and it is offensive and unacceptable that a single cent of taxpayer dollars would be sent to an organization that systematically aborts infants and sells their body parts. House Republicans will continue to promote a culture that respects life at every stage."

1 - Southern Baptists commit to evangelism, show disdain for "alt-right"

The latest Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting occurred in Phoenix, as some 5,000 registered messengers gathered to conduct business and fellowship together.  According to
Baptist Press:
Appointment of a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in evangelism and a resolution decrying "alt-right white supremacy" were among highlights of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix.
The "alt-right" resolution received the most attention - it was submitted to the Resolutions Committee and initially not allowed to go to the convention floor.  Then, it was brought up to the full convention twice and failed to garner the two-thirds required majority.   Finally, the Resolutions Committee asked the full convention to allow the resolution to progress to the floor, and that was granted. The Baptist Press report said that,
A resolution on "the anti-gospel of alt-right white supremacy" decried "every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and pledged to pray "both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived."
Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines of Bellevue Baptist in Memphis was re-elected to another term, and he "recommended creation of the evangelism task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in personal soul winning and evangelistic preaching." The committee will be chaired by legendary Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  There will be 19-members, including Patterson, Gaines, and such Southern Baptist notables as J.D. Greear, Jeff Iorg, and James Merritt.

The article also says that, "The annual Crossover evangelism emphasis and the tandem Harvest America crusade yielded 3,549 professions of faith."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The 3 - June 11, 2017

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting three relevant stories to the Christian community, includes a church denomination in the U.K. that has recently approved same-sex "marriage."  Also, there was a significant vote in the U.S. House on providing relief people who are facing religious persecution in Iraq and Syria.  And, the question on whether or not a Christian is disqualified to serve in a position in government because of his or her beliefs was a central focus in a U.S. Senate hearing.

3 - Scottish church denomination approves same-sex "marriage"

Churches and denominations continue to grapple with the cultural trending toward so-called "same-sex marriage."  And, the first Anglican body in the United Kingdom has made its move in that direction - the Scottish Episcopal Church, according to a story on the Christian Headlines website.

The vote occurred on Thursday, June 8, and it "removed the definition of marriage as being a 'union of one man and one woman' from the church’s doctrinal statement," according to the story, which cited a CBN News report that both clergy and laity took part in the vote.

The proposal needed a two-thirds majority to pass, and 80 percent of the bishops and 67 percent of the laity voted to approved the change in the church's doctrine.

A small consolation is that, "The newly-adopted proposal does, however, allow for exceptions if a clergy member objects to officiating at a same-sex wedding. In a case like this, the Church would not force a clergy member to go 'against their conscience.'"

2 - U.S. House votes to provide relief for Iraqis and Syrians facing persecution and genocide

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Iraq and Syria Genocide Accountability Act, and it now goes on to the Senate for approval. This is a bill that, according to its co-sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith, "is a blueprint for how to assist Christians and other genocide survivors and hold perpetrators accountable," according to a piece on the Family Research Council website.

In a press release, Open Doors USA President and CEO David Curry is quoted as saying:
"Since the United States declared more than one year ago that Christians and Yazidis, among other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, were victims of a genocide perpetrated by ISIS, little has been done to aid them in this unfolding tragedy. This bill is a crucial, necessary response to the terrible situation facing religious minorities throughout the region.
"This tragic situation demonstrates the need for the U.S. government and the United Nations to act on behalf of Christians and other minorities. They deserve rights to equal citizenship, dignified living conditions, and a prominent role in reconciling and rebuilding society in the Middle East. Open Doors USA is advocating for this through our One Million Voices of Hope for the Middle East campaign, asking all Americans to sign on in support of this call to action...
The FRC website also states about the bill:
Among other things, it would jumpstart the asylum process for religious minorities -- but not in a way that would leave the U.S. vulnerable. "Everyone will have to go through a vetting process," the congressman reassured people. FRC also says, "Not only would H.R. 390 speed up the application process, but it would also prosecute those committing war crimes against Christians and fund relief efforts for survivors of Middle East genocide."
1 - Sanders' questioning exposes bias toward Christian government deputy

An alarming exchange took place on Capitol Hill in Washington in a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, the nominee to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.  You wouldn't think there would be a whole lot of fireworks in such a hearing, but Sen. Bernie Sanders made sure that there were.

Faithwire reported on the developments:
As Faithwire previously documented in detail, Sanders’ angst was rooted in a blog post that Vought wrote in January 2016 about the then-furious debate at evangelical school Wheaton College over whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God — a popular, heated and seemingly never-ending dispute in theological circles.
The post, which relied extensively on accurate biblical theology that any scripture-reading Christian with a basic understanding of Jesus’ character would embrace, apparently infuriated Sanders.
“You wrote, ‘Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, his son, and they stand condemned,’” Sanders said to Vought’s [sic] during a hearing. “Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?”
Sanders and Vought then engaged in a "back-and-forth," according to the article, with Vought contending that the statement certainly was not and he "attempted to explain over and over again that he’s a Christian who believes in biblical principles (i.e. that belief in Jesus is essential to inherit salvation). That did little to appease Sanders, though."

Billy Hallowell, who wrote the piece for Faithwire, stated:
It’s troubling that Sanders would essentially create a religious test to target the basic Christian doctrine embraced by a nominee in an effort to try and prevent that person from securing a position.
He contends that, "The person whom Sanders is really at odds with is Jesus, not Vought," and stated:
While initially shocking, none of this should be too surprising. After all, increasing numbers of Americans are falling prey to moral relativism and confusion, specifically when it comes to matters of faith and why people believe what they believe.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The 3 - June 4, 2017

In this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there's a story out of Kentucky, where the governor has introduced a spiritual response to a rising crime rate in one of the cities it the state.  Also, a Michigan farmer's views on marriage has resulted in his being banned from participating in a local farmers' market.  And, there are Christian leaders who have expressed disappointment at the White House delay in moving the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but some have remained hopeful that it will occur.

3 - Kentucky governor calls for prayer to combat crime

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin apparently understands the spiritual underpinnings of crime, and so, in addressing the rising crime rate in Louisville, he brought forth a rather unique plan: pray.  In a crowded meeting Thursday, according to the Courier-Journal:
Bevin urged faith leaders, public officials and residents to take a 10-block span, walk corner to corner, and pray with the community two to three times a week during the next year.
He said later Thursday that the walks are meant to be organic and won't necessarily be led by his office. He didn't specify a start date but suggested that local churches should get involved with the effort.
The article went on to say that at a press conference after the event, "he said there isn’t going to be a particular group or government agency tasked with organizing these block walks and signing up volunteers." Bevin is quoted as saying, "I’m not going to have a commissioner of prayer walks,” adding, "We’re not going to have 1-800 numbers and websites."

Now, the announcement was not without his critics.  Some community leaders were quoted in the article and seemed to find his solution insufficient.  Mayor Greg Fischer wasn't at the meeting, but reportedly said that, according to the story, "solutions to violence 'are many, but a lot of them require resources obviously' from housing to education and health care."  He is quoted as saying, "This is not going to be solved overnight, so if anybody wants to help, we welcome you."  He stated that people are encouraged to get involved with community programs.

2 - Farmer removed from market because of marriage views

The Tennes family owns Country Mill Farm, which is located 22 miles outside of the city limits of East Lansing, Michigan.  According to ToddStarnes.com, the devout Catholic family has sold produce at a farmers' market inside the city...but not any more.

Seems someone had posted a request on Facebook for the farm to host a same-sex wedding.  Starnes wrote:
Tennes told the individual they did not permit same-sex marriages on the farm because of the family’s Catholic belief that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman.
City officials later discovered the Facebook posting and began immediate action to remove Country Mill from the Farmer’s Market – alleging the family had violated the city’s discrimination ordinance.
Oh, and again, the farm is 22 miles outside the limits of the city. Tennes told Starnes, "Whether you are a Jew, Muslim or Christian – people of faith should not be eradicated from the marketplace simply because they don’t share the same thoughts and ideas that the government is choosing to promote..."

The Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a federal lawsuit, as Starnes put it, "alleging East Lansing violated the constitutional rights of the Tennes family." ADF Legal Counsel Kate Anderson said, "All Steve wants to do is sell his food to anyone who wants to buy it, but the city isn’t letting him,” adding, “People of faith, like the Tennes family, should be free to live and work according to their deeply held beliefs without fear of losing their livelihood. If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook—by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people—then no American is free.”

1 - Jerusalem embassy move delay concerns some Christians

Throughout his Presidential campaign, Donald Trump emphasized his solidarity with the nation of Israel.  And, one visible expression of that would be the moving of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which is an act affirming that the city is the capital of the Jewish state.

This week, according to a report on the Religion News Service website, the Trump Administration announced it would delay the move.  The article stated:
The White House said the decision — which includes a six-month waiver on action related to the embassy — should not be considered “in any way a retreat from the President’s strong support for Israel” or his commitment to its alliance with the U.S.
The White House stated, according to the piece, “President Trump made this decision to maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, fulfilling his solemn obligation to defend America’s national security interests,” adding, “But, as he has repeatedly stated his intention to move the embassy, the question is not if that move happens, but only when.”

A number of evangelical leaders expressed disappointment, including Jerry Johnson, President of National Religious Broadcasters. He is quoted as saying, "America’s recognition of the capital city of our foremost and only democratic ally in the Middle East should not be a bargaining chip,” adding, “I am disappointed, but I take the President at his word that this is only a delay in delivering on his promise.”

There were other quotes included in the story, such as this, from a statement from Christians United for Israel: "We are disappointed the President chose at this time to sign the Jerusalem Embassy Act waiver but remain hopeful that he will fulfill his campaign pledge and move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem,” adding, “The President knows that Jerusalem is the eternal and undivided capital of Israel and we strongly believe that the location of our embassy should reflect that reality.”

In a statement, Robert Jeffress, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said: “I trust the Trump Administration to eventually fulfill their commitment to move our embassy to Jerusalem at the most opportune time. ‘Not now’ does not mean ‘never.'”

A press release from Liberty Counsel posed the question: "when will the President fulfill his promise to move the Embassy?" Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of the organization stated: “Jerusalem has been unified for 50 years and the Embassy has remained in Tel Aviv. Fifty years of keeping the Embassy outside the capital of Jerusalem has not brought peace. Not moving the Embassy to Jerusalem when President Trump promised he would move it will be seen as a sign of weakness among the enemies of Israel. It is time to move the Embassy to Jerusalem. Fulfill your promise to move the Embassy to Jerusalem during the 50th anniversary of a united Jerusalem..."

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The 3 - May 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

2 - Another attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt

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

In retaliation, it was reported that the Egyptian military "bombed militant bases affiliated with al-Qaeda in Libya." Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi phoned the country’s Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II and told him, according to WORLD, that the government would not rest until the terrorists responsible for the attack were punished.

Christianity Today reported that many of the victims were children. It stated:
Egypt’s interior ministry reported that three 4x4 vehicles of 8 to 10 gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire on the vehicle, which was on its way to St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Samalout, 140 miles south of Cairo.
1 - President's first foreign trip contains religious elements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The 3 - May 21, 2017

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

3 - Cuban pastor jailed because of homeschooling

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

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

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

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

2 - Substitute teacher who shared Bible with student exonerated

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

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

1 - President expands Mexico City policy

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

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The 3 - May 14, 2017

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

3 - Agriculture head releases religious liberty statement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 07, 2017

The 3 - May 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The 3 - April 30, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The 3 - April 23, 2017

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

3 - Greek Orthodox monastery victimized by ISIS in Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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