It has been quite a newsworthy week - so many are grappling with the ups and downs of the stock market and perhaps making some financial adjustments, the identity of the new "supercommittee" to come up with ideas to reduce the national debt has been revealed, and Presidential politics is moving more into national awareness, with a debate in Iowa and the announcement of another Republican candidate. These all affect the Christian community, no doubt, and all could have been included in "The 3" this week. 2 of the stories I selected this week have their foundation in the church, such as the move of God through the notable Harvest Crusade in Southern California and the thought-provoking series of events at the Willow Creek summit. I also thought it would be important to highlight the latest developments in the implementation of the health care reform law, which has been a major discussion topic for many months now, and in some respects, has contributed, I believe, to some of the economic woes the nation has been experiencing. So, here goes...
3 - Harvest Crusade touching thousands in-person, online
For 22 years, Orange County, California pastor Greg Laurie has hosted the annual Harvest Crusade, and thousands flocked again this year to Angel Stadium outside Los Angeles, many of them standing in line to get a choice seat for the event, which opened up with music from the David*Crowder Band (which has announced its retirement at the end of this year) and Kutless. Opening night also included a testimony from Bethany Hamilton, upon whose story of courage and determination the movie, "Soul Surfer", was based.
These Harvest Crusades are an excellent depiction of passion for Christ, as well as compassion for the lost. On the first night, Pastor Laurie encouraged those attending to bring someone to the Crusade who does not know Christ.
Here's the treatment that one of the local media outlets, The Orange County Register, gave to the event.
This is one example of a long-standing evangelistic event that the Lord has used to bring scores of people to Himself. Now, with the online element, the Crusade has another effective avenue through which to communicate the message of Christ.
2 - Starbucks CEO rejects Willow Creek invitation
Each year, Willow Creek Church outside Chicago hosts its Leadership Summit, which is designed to teach leadership principles to Christians and non-Christians throughout the U.S. via satellite, as well as around the world. Not all speakers are professing Christians, but it is hoped that the information that is shared can be used by Christians in their respective spheres of influence. And, it does give an opportunity for those who don't know Christ to come into a church setting and gain valuable information.
This year, Pastor Bill Hybels and the leadership team of the conference invited the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, to address the event. Just days before he was scheduled to appear, it was announced that he would not be speaking. The reason was not immediately clear, but the information emerged that the reason Schultz would not speak was the direct result of a petition posted on Change.org, charging that Willow Creek practiced intolerance toward gay people. Between 700 and 800 people had signed the online petition, quite a stark contrast to the some 150,000 people who viewed the summit at the various host satellite sites. Nevertheless, Schultz withdrew, and was allowed to do so without penalty.
Now, Willow Creek was charged with intolerance due to its relationship with Exodus International, a Christian ministry that has an impressive success rate in helping people overcome unwanted same-sex attractions and to reject homosexuality. However, for whatever reason, Willow Creek had ceased its association with Exodus in 2009 - so the small group of protestors didn't have their facts straight in the first place.
And, Pastor Hybels encouraged those attending to show goodwill, continuing to support Starbucks and to write a kind note to the company letting them know that Schultz is welcome to attend and speak at the Summit at any time. Here, Hybels is showing the leadership of Starbucks that Willow and the Summit are not being closed-minded and intolerant, after all. Now, Pastor Hybels did include in his statement some brief insight into how the church stands on the issue - that Willow supports marriage as one man for one women, and encourages abstinence and purity for those outside of the marriage relationship. The church apparently offers programs for helping those struggling with same-sex attraction and homosexuality.
Here is just one of the multiple articles on the controversy, as reported by Christianity Today.
Apparently, Hybels and his team plan to confront those who started the petition. I do think it was notable that the Pastor lamented the tendency in society to throw stones first and ask questions later. With the abundance of means to share opinion and to incite action, its more important than ever that we as Christians are communicating truth in a manner that engages without provoking. We can be firm in our convictions without driving people away from the heart of the gospel message.
1 - Appeals court rules health care mandate unconstitutional
Opposition to and concern about the new national health care law, also known as ObamaCare, is building in a number of ways. Some states have passed legislation that would exempt them from implementation of the law, others have sought to prevent tax dollars from funding abortion in the new state health exchanges which are established by the law. Corporations, fearing the financial ramifications of providing health insurance for employees (including those who supported Obama in the 2008 campaign) have requested exemptions from some of the aspects of the new plan. And, 26 state attorneys general filed suit in Federal court, contending that the law is unconstitutional because it forces citizens to purchase health insurance.
A number of Christians and Christian groups have spoken out against the health care law for various reasons, including its provision for tax dollars to be used for abortion in the plan, the lack of conscience protection for health care professionals, the framework for rationing that would hurt senior citizens and people with special needs, as well as the law's provisions for growing the size of government.
On Friday, a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the individual mandate was, in fact, unconstitutional. The ruling was 2-1. This was in response to an appeal of a lower court ruling finding that because the individual mandate was not severable from the remainder of the plan, the entire health care law was unconstitutional. The 6th Circuit had ruled that ObamaCare was constitutional, and we are still awaiting word from the 4th Circuit in two cases. Nevertheless, the health care law is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, where it is unclear what the outcome may be.
Here is the report from CitizenLink.
This ruling is significant in that the case was originally filed by over half the states' attorneys general. There is a sense that the Federal government is intent on overreach, as seen in the passage of the health care law, the massive spending that the government continues to engage in, and the overabundance of regulations to which some attribute, at least in part, the chill on the growth of small businesses. I believe that when a governmental entity exceeds the provisions of Romans 13 regarding God's purpose for government, there are some serious implications, and we are seeing those manifest. It's so important that we are praying for our leaders!