This week on "The 3", a major denominational organization held its annual meeting, and the news is quite encouraging. Also, 2 more states added their names to the list of those states whose taxpayers will not be funding organizations that perform abortions. And, eyes are on the state of New York regarding the fate of gay marriage there, while the California gay marriage battle faced another key challenge this week.
3 - North Carolina, Wisconsin join trend to defund Planned Parenthood
This year has seen momentum building on the Federal and state levels to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to finance the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood. The U.S. House has taken 2 votes so far during this session of Congress on the matter, and a measure to disallow government funding of Planned Parenthood has passed both times. Even the Senate took a vote on the matter - it failed, but the fact that a vote was allowed at all is encouraging; plus, the discussion about this organization in the public square against the backdrop of concern over government spending levels sends a strong message that there is a problem with voters' dollars being used to fund organizations whose practices are offensive to a large number of people.
Pro-life bills are passing left and right in states all across America, including my home state of Alabama, where the Governor this week signed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, based on research showing that is the time of development where unborn children are capable of feeling pain. Some states are getting involved in the move to prevent tax dollars from funding Planned Parenthood. This week, North Carolina legislators overrode the governor's veto there of a bill calling for public funds to no longer be used for organizations that perform abortions. The Tarheel State follows in the steps of Indiana, which is facing threats from the Federal government to punish the state's Medicaid program as a result of that state's legislative vote to pull the plug on Planned Parenthood funding. Kansas was the first state to pull funding of the abortion provider. And, late Thursday night, Wisconsin's Senate gave its approval to a state budget that did not include Planned Parenthood funding.
Not only are these measures consistent with the significant trend in state legislatures to pass pro-life legislation, but they are indicative of a seemingly growing pro-life sentiment in the country, especially among younger people. The more pro-life legislation that can be brought the floors of the legislative bodies, the higher the level of discussion about the sanctity of preborn children and, most importantly, the greater the numbers of babies whose lives can be saved.
2 - Fight against gay marriage mobilizes from coast to coast
The eyes of Christians and pro-family leaders, as well as gay activists across America, are on the state of New York, where the state Senate is reportedly one vote away from passing legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The legislation has already passed the other chamber of the state legislature.
Thursday, Hispanic ministers representing some 150 churches rallied against same-sex marriage, standing with Senator Ruben Diaz from the Bronx. Diaz is reportedly the only Democrat who plans to vote against the legislation. There are 32 Republicans in the Senate and 30 Democrats.
A grassroots campaign is attempting to mobilize evangelicals, as well as Jews and Catholics, and members of those constituencies are being urged to contact their Senators.
Reportedly, Governor Andrew Cuomo has offered to strengthen "religious" exemptions in the bill, which is believed to be a sticking point for some Republicans. The current bill says that clergy cannot be forced to perform gay marriages, and there are some lawmakers that want the languagestrengthened to prevent any retaliation against religious organizations who do not support same-sex marriage.
Former New York Giants receiver David Tyree, who is a Christian, has entered the fray, saying that gay marriage is dangerous to society and unbiblical.
So, lawmakers left the state capital in Albany for the weekend, with one more week left in the legislative session, and the fate of the bill was certainly unclear. There are 4 Republicans who are believed to be undecided as to how they will vote.
Meanwhile, a challenge to the Federal judge's decision in the Proposition 8 case in California was turned back by the judge that replaced him. Attorneys that are defending the amendment affirming traditional marriage had said the Judge Vaughn Walker should have disclosed that he was in a same-sex relationship. They contend that Walker would benefit from his ruling if he were to marry his partner, therefore constituting a conflict of interest. The succeeding judge, Judge James Ware (who had disclosed that he had performed a same-sex ceremony during that brief period during which such actions were legal in California), disagreed, so that challenge to the case, which is currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was thwarted.
1 - Southern Baptist Convention renews support for fulfilling Great Commission in North America and worldwide
The most recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention was held this week in Phoenix, Arizona, and while it was the smallest such gathering in 67 years, with some 4800 people in attendance, Convention President Bryant Wright of Atlanta told Baptist Press, "I do believe it could prove to be the most spiritually significant convention over the last 50 years."
Perhaps the most notable development over the 2-day meeting was the recommitment of the Convention to evangelism, both in North America, with messengers declaring that they wanted to be part of a church-planting effort, and around the world, as a closing service featured hundreds of messengers who had signed pledge cards for their churches to adopt one of 3800 unreached people groups. With the Convention faced with a membership level that has plateaued, combined with a slight decline in the number of baptisms, those who gathered in Phoenix demonstrated a strong motivation to work together with greater passion and effectiveness to reach people for Christ.
Another theme of the convention was diversity. Not only did the SBC elect its first-ever African-American First Vice-President in New Orleans pastor Fred Luter, but a report issued by the Executive Committee was devoted to placing a priority on ethnic diversity, reflected in the appointments and programs of the Convention.
As you would expect, there were a number of resolutions that were brought to the floor of the convention. The Convention attempted to deal with the immigration issue in the very state where that topic has been a major point of discussion and division. When it was all said and done, the Convention, by an estimated 70 to 80 percent of messengers, according to Baptist Press, ratified a resolution that emphasized ministry to potentially illegal immigrants, as well as secure borders, and a possible path to citizenship. But, leaders stressed they were not encouraging amnesty for illegals, but were not advocating sending illegal immigrants back to their home countries.
A clarifying quote was made by Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics and Public Policy Commission:
"This resolution upholds the rule of law...This resolution upholds the sovereignty of the United States, and this resolution seeks to deal compassionately and fairly and justly with those who are here in an undocumented status, and calls upon us to act as if this is a Gospel issue, which it is."
Here is a report from Baptist Press about the immigration resolution and others that were taken up at the Convention, including a denunciation of the new NIV translation of the Bible because of gender language and a reaffirmation of the traditional Biblical view of hell, in contrast to the view that was put forward in the Rob Bell's book, "Love Wins".
Here is Baptist Press's wrap-up of the convention. Whenever you hear of a large and influential body that announces its intent and strategy to reach the lost, you can be confident that the Holy Spirit will honor that commitment and work through His people to touch hearts and lives.