This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes some activity from the nation's highest court with respect to employment policies of religious organizations, 2 activities that attracted thousands of women over the weekend, and an event that drew the leading Presidential candidates, making their appeals to "values voters".
3 - Ministry employment before the high court: World Vision retains freedom to hire and fire, Lutheran school case has major implications
The fall session of the U.S. Supreme Court convened earlier this week, and a couple of cases dealing with religious organizations' employment policies have attracted some attention - one case that the high court did not rule on, but allowed a lower court ruling to stand, and another in which the high court held oral arguments on Wednesday.
The case the court did not hear was Sylvia Spencer et. al. vs. World Vision, a case where 3 former employees of the large Christian missions organizations claimed their employment was wrongly terminated because of their refusal to sign a statement of faith. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld World Vision's position, and its President Richard Stearns was relieved, saying: "Today's action by the U.S. Supreme Court represents a major victory for the freedom of all religious organizations to hire employees who share the same faith--whether Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or any other religion." He went on to say that, "I am pleased, relieved and gratified with the court's action. After four years of litigation, we at World Vision U.S. may now put this matter behind us, and continue our policy of hiring Christians."
Here's a report from Christianity Today.
And, this past Wednesday, the court held oral arguments in the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC. This is a complicated case that deals with something called the "ministerial exemption", basically exempting churches and ministry organizations from some aspects of employment law. A number of Christian and religious groups have sided with the school in this case, fearing that a ruling against the school could open ministries up to potentially detrimental intrusion by the Federal government. The case centers around a former teacher at the Hosanna-Tabor school who developed some health issues and was dismissed. She believes her dismissal was unfair based on the Americans with Disabilities Act, but the school did not believe that she was performing her duties capably due to these health limitations, therefore in her case, they exercised a "ministerial exemption", which allowed the school to circumvent the ADA restrictions and terminate her employment. The government is arguing that the teacher does not qualify for such an exemption.
Here is an excellent summary from The Christian Post.
Again, this case could test the limits of how far the government might intervene in the employment policies of a religious organization.
2 - Women gather coast-to-coast to worship and grow - Sarah Palin headlines conference at Liberty, Women of Faith stops in Portland
It was quite the weekend for conferences, including 2 high-profile Christian events oriented toward women. One of those took place at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, where some 10,000 women, a sellout crowd, attended one of the extremely popular Extraordinary Women conferences (also known as "E-Women"). The President of E-Women is Julie Clinton, wife of the President of the American Association of Christian Counselors, Dr. Tim Clinton, and the E-Women conferences are staged at a variety of venues each year.
The Lynchburg event had as its keynote speaker a rather familiar name in American politics and evangelical Christianity, former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who announced definitively this past week she would not be seeking the Presidency. Here is a report from the website NewEraProgress.com, of Amherst, Virginia.
According to a press release, "The 2011 Extraordinary Women 'Everlasting Hope' tour also includes New York Times best-selling authors Lysa TerKeurst and Donna VanLiere, and noted Bible teachers Jennifer Rothschild and Carol Kent, along with inspiring music from awarding-winning Christian artists, Michael O'Brien, Meredith Andrews, Jeremy Camp, and Female Vocalist of the Year, Francesca Battistelli."
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Portland, Oregon, scores of women flocked to the Rose Garden arena to attend another in the 2011 series of Women of Faith conferences. Women of Faith has built a solid reputation for offering women high-quality speakers and passionate worships, and this year, attendees heard from Patsy Clairmont and Marilyn Meberg, two of the longstanding WOF speakers, as well as Sandi Patty, Brenda Warner, wife of former NFL star Kurt Warner, and former "Facts of Life" star Lisa Welchel, along with music from Mandisa, Selah, and the Women of Faith worship team.
Not only were women congregating at large venues in the U.S. this weekend, but some 13,000 Christian leaders were treated to high-profile speakers such as Andy Stanley and Mark Driscoll at the annual Catalyst conference in Atlanta. Here's a report from The Christian Post.
1 - Values Voter Summit encourages, equips, and informs
And while tens of thousands of Christians spent time in arenas over the weekend, the event that received the most coverage in the mainstream media was no doubt the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Family Research Council and its partner organizations. The purpose of the Summit annually has been to inform and equip people who desire to have a greater voice in the public square and even the political arena, and while a number of speakers and workshops helped to facilitate that goal, the most significant aspect of the Summit, which enjoyed its largest attendance in history this year, at over 3000 people, was the presence of 7 GOP Presidential candidates.
And, attendees to the Summit participate in a Presidential Straw Poll. Interestingly enough, Ron Paul, the Republican with strong Libertarian leanings, won his first-ever Summit Straw Poll, with 37% of the overall vote this year. In second place, with 23% of the vote, was Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum had 16%. Mitt Romney, who finished third last year - behind Rep. Mike Pence and Mike Huckabee - finished with only 4% of the votes cast. According to CBS News, FRC President Tony Perkins was somewhat skeptical of Paul's strong finish, citing some 600 tickets that were purchased by Paul supporters, who left after their candidate spoke. Perkins told a press conference, "Let me just take you back four years to this event, when we had a straw poll. Mitt Romney won that straw poll...I think people are still in the process of deciding where they want to go."
The candidates were joined by a number of other high-profile speakers to compile a motivational lineup, underscoring the importance of casting ballots and communicating boldly with respect to the values upon which this nation was built - values consistent with Biblical truth.
And, there was a bit of a sideshow at the Summit, when the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Dr. Robert Jeffress, who introduced Texas Governor Rick Perry, basically said to the media that Mormonism is not considered a branch of Christianity, that Mormonism is considered a "cult", and that evangelicals should not support Mitt Romney. This has put the other candidates in a difficult position, especially those, like Perry, Cain, and Bachmann, who are considered to be the evangelicals in the race, as they were asked if they agreed with the pastor's position, which is actually held by a significant number of mainstream Christians. Here is a story from The Christian Post on the controversy. But, I think this is an issue that Christians will have to deal with - if someone believes Mormonism is a cult, which many Christians do - then can that person in good conscience support Mitt Romney as a candidate? And, if you hold to the belief that voting is a God-given right, and you face a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, what will we do? If we believe that Obama has an agenda that stands in such stark contrast to our deeply-held Christian values, then would and could we support anyone else, no matter what their religious beliefs? Just a few questions that I believe that many, including myself, are pondering at this time...