Friday, September 30, 2011

The 3 - October 1, 2011

This week's edition of "The 3" reminds us of the persecution that Christians are facing in various nations of the world, including a number of Middle Eastern nations, one of which is the home of a pastor who faces death because of an apostasy charge. Also, military chaplains continue to face pressure in light of the reversal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and new guidelines allow for chaplains to perhaps perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. And, the top story involves a new film from a church in Georgia that is making its entry on over 1100 screens across America.

3 - Iranian pastor faces death sentence

Another high-profile religious persecution instance is attracting national attention, as an Iranian pastor faces the death sentences on charges of apostasy.

According to
The Christian Post, pastor Youcef
was arrested on Oct. 13, 2009, after protesting the government's decision to force all children, including his own Christian children, to read the Quran.

He was initially charged for protesting but the charges were later changed to apostasy and evangelism to Muslims. In 2010, he was sentenced to death and the ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court of Iran this year.

The Iranian government's official news agency is disputing reports about the pastor facing the death sentence, basically charging Western journalists with distorting the facts. The agency, Fars, is now saying the pastor was involved in extortion and even rape. However, Youcef's attorney says that he has been defending the pastor against the apostasy charge only, and is unaware of any other charges. This week, the pastor reportedly had refused to recant his faith in order to avoid the death sentence.

Christian leaders are speaking out against the threat to the pastor, which is being whitewashed by the state-controlled media in Iran. For instance, Franklin Graham is quoted as saying:
It is unfathomable to most thinking people that a person in the 21st Century can be put to death simply for espousing a faith that differs from that of his nation's ruling powers.
Iran is listed as the 2nd worst persecutor of Christians, according to Open Doors USA's World Watch List. And, as news about this case continues to disseminate, it reminds us that the reckless actions of the Iranian government, from placing pressure on Christians and other non-Muslims to developing weapons of mass destruction, call for stern international response.

2 - Military makes allowances for same-sex marriage ceremonies

The consequences of the lifting of the military's ban on openly gay behavior are continuing to unfold. We may have had a glimpse into things to come when it was announced earlier this year that the U.S. Navy had offered guidelines for hosting on-base same-sex marriage ceremonies. Opponents of this action cited that it would be a violation of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the military relented...then.

Now, the Pentagon has announced new guidelines, similar to what the Navy announced and then withdrew a few months ago, which would allow same-sex marriage ceremonies to be performed on military bases and allow military chaplains to perform such ceremonies on- or off-base. According to the Family Research Council, this not only contradicts DOMA but so-called "military DOMA" language found in the Defense Authorization Bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The ceremonies must not be official Defense Department events and can't be held in violation of local laws.
So, what the Department of Defense is apparently saying is that in states where gay marriage is allowed, these ceremonies could be performed. And, DOD officials are saying the guidelines don't mention "marriage" specifically. I have to ask, if a military base is considered to be Federal property, wouldn't the Federal Defense of Marriage act would be in effect, trumping the state law for these matters?

The agenda is clear, and it was underscored by none other than President Obama in his speech to leading gay activist group, the Human Rights Campaign, on Saturday night, calling for a "big America", as he continued his month-long effort to mobilize and energize constituencies that have been loyal to him in the past. Here is the Politico report.

In the name of tolerance, the full-court press to legitimize the gay lifestyle is being carried out in the political and economic arenas, where there is an attempt to marginalize those that hold to the view of traditional marriage that is consistent with the truth of the Bible - one man for one woman.

1 - "Courageous" scores on over 1,000 screens

The initial box-office estimates have been posted for the latest film from Sherwood Pictures, "Courageous", and Box Office Mojo puts it like this:
Sherwood Pictures' Courageous scored $8.8 million from just 1,161 theaters for a strong per-theater average of $7,580. That's up from the studio's last movie Fireproof ($6.8 million), though the average was off just a bit. The opening ranks fifth all-time for a Christian movie, and only trails The Passion of the Christ and the three Narnia movies. Courageous scored a rare "A+" CinemaScore, and the audience was 53 percent female and 77 percent over the age of 25.
Made outside of Hollywood without any major stars, Courageous managed to fly under most radars (including my own) until very recently. It's unfair to ignore the vast majority of church-going Americans for whom typical Hollywood fare isn't of great interest, though, and Sherwood Pictures has impressively found a way to mobilize this subset of the population. It will be interesting to see if Courageous can hold as well as Fireproof did when it went on to earn $33.46 million, or nearly five times its opening weekend, in 2008.
I actually went back and looked at Fireproof's opening weekend and did a little comparison of competition - Fireproof was the lone family-friendly offering that placed in the Top 10 that weekend in 2008. And, that is not to diminish the feat of finishing fourth on its opening weekend. The #1 movie that weekend was Eagle Eye, and other releases that weekend included Nights in Rodanthe and Igor.

With respect to Courageous, who would have thought that The Lion King would continue to shine at the box office, especially with the Blu-Ray release coming up on Tuesday? The family-friendly Dolphin Tale vaulted into first place this weekend - a film that has actually seen some marketing to the Christian audience. It's quite incredible that 3 out of the top 5 this weekend were family-oriented films (yes, I would definitely put Courageous in that category, even though the violence involved in the police melodrama yielded a PG-13 rating).

Locally, several churches bought out entire theaters (including my home church, with whom I saw the film for the third time today). There were reports of showings being sold out at the local theater, and the local action squad partnered with a local Chick-Fil-A restaurant to have a tent and display area outside the theater where moviegoers could place their comments on a display board and find out about resources available in order to follow up on the film. A local church also had a tent where first responders could receive a free voucher for 2 people, along with popcorn and a drink. All in all, Courageous has become a unique opportunity to communicate Biblical truth, to share some sobering facts about the importance of a godly father, and to challenge those who would see it to evaluate their lives and relationships with their family members.

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