Sunday, June 26, 2011

The 3 - June 26, 2011

Some potent subjects this week on this edition of "The 3" - my week-in-review feature. Included are: NBC's goof-up during its U.S. Open coverage, eliminating the words, "under God", during what was intended to be a heartwarming video vignette. Also, Franklin Graham has undertaken a major outreach to Hispanics in California. And, a closely-watched vote in New York state has legalized so-called "same-sex" marriage.

3 - NBC passes on full Pledge - twice...

So, NBC thought that they could pay tribute to American students, brave military members and the significance of a major golf tournament in the nation's capital during some emotional montages during their Sunday coverage of the U.S. Open...but, unfortunately, they left something out of their presentation, which was built around the Pledge of Allegiance: the words, "under God". After the feature aired Sunday afternoon, the Internet blew up with words of disdain for this omission. Anchor Dan Hicks shared an apology: "It was not done to upset anyone, and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.” NBC issued another apology the next day, as Chris McCloskey, NBC Vice-President of Communications said, "a decision was made by a small group of people to edit portions of the Pledge of Allegiance. This was a bad decision." And he again apologized if the deliberate omission upset anyone.

WORLD Magazine had this report on the controversy.

A number of Christian leaders and groups spoke out. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called for the network to air a Public Service Announcement that includes the entire pledge. There have been calls for the person or persons responsible to be fired.

Here is that video, along with Hicks' apology:

It is no secret that there are many in America that would like to erase the role of Christian faith in the heritage of our nation. But, that aspect of our history cannot be severed. Perhaps during this week leading up to the 4th of July, we can reflect on our nation's history and the role of God's unmistakable hand in the founding of America. For starters, consider this speech before Congress by Rep. Randy Forbes:

Oh, and as I heard Rep. Forbes speak about the Declaration of Independence, which references our Creator, who has endowed us with inalienable rights, I thought back to the comments of our President this past week, who, once again, in a reference to the Declaration, made no mention of "our Creator". This time he was making a statement in response to a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) resolution from the United Nations, recognizing the "rights" of that community.

There are those who would want to rewrite American history, even rewrite the Constitution, if they could, or at least ignore its principles. But, the fact remains that this nation has a rich Judeo-Christian heritage, with a government founded on Biblical principles, and there is plenty of evidence available that can help to reinforce our contention that this nation was established by the hand of God.

2 - Graham conducts first Hispanic Festival

In 1949, Evangelist Billy Graham conducted an 8-week crusade in Los Angeles and spoke to an estimated 350,000 people. This was an incredible milestone in church history and in the ministry of Dr. Graham. This weekend, over 60 years later, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association marked another milestone, as Dr. Graham's son, Franklin, spoke at the Association's first-ever Hispanic crusade, Festival de Esperanza, held at a 27,000-seat indoor soccer stadium in Carson, California.

Hispanics make up some 47 percent of the population in Los Angeles County, and the Association worked through the Hispanic churches of the Los Angeles area. The services of the Festival were also made available via a webcast.

As the Association moves into the next era of its ministry, this shows that it is seeking out ways to broaden its reach for the cause of Christ. We recognize, with the enormous influx of Hispanic people who are coming to America, that there is an unprecedented opportunity for the gospel. Churches have been seizing these opportunities for years, ranging from offering English classes to perhaps even establishing full-fledged Hispanic ministries. God is not only sending Christians to the world, but the world is being brought to America, as well.

1 - Gay marriage legalized in state of New York

Throughout the day on Friday, I traced the progress (or as some reported, the lack thereof) through the New York State Senate of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. In fact, it had been stalled for over a week following its passage in the other chamber (the Assembly) of the state legislature. Over the previous week, there had been little change in the number of Senators who had pledge to support the bill, and the head-counters had said the bill was still one vote short of passage on Friday afternoon. After a lengthy meeting on Friday afternoon involving Republican lawmakers, the fate of the legislation was still seriously in doubt. Then came the word that Governor Cuomo, who had made same-sex marriage a top-drawer legislative priority, had negotiated language that would protect religious organizations who do not support gay marriage from facing any penalty or retaliation. This apparently produced the requisite number of votes needed for passage, and the bill cleared the Senate on Friday night.

New York becomes the sixth state to legalize gay marriage - but, interestingly enough, the sixth state to do so without a vote of the people. In fact, in some 30 states where the issue has been placed on the ballot, the traditional definition of marriage as one man for one woman has been upheld. This includes California, where 52% of the voters in a heated contest approved the definition, but there is a protracted court challenge regarding that amendment to the state's constitution.

One of the legal issues regarding the institution of marriage involves the government's interest to preserve marriage - does the government indeed have a compelling interest? Marriage, because it is ordained by God, is right, for one thing. For another thing, the principle of cause and effect is at play - because you follow God's principles, the outcome is positive. This was underscored in a recent study, by MARRI - the Marriage and Religion Research Insititute - which found that stable, traditional marriages yield healthy economic results.

A Family Research Council study released last month also found that marriage produces economic stability
- stability produces security, and shouldn't the government be interested in protecting marriage, which is a huge contributing factor to that stability?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The 3 - June 18, 2011

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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The 3 - June 11, 2011

Two of the three stories in this week's edition of "The 3" deal with health care, including the skirmish between the Federal & state government in Indiana, which has recently voted to ban taxpayer dollars from going to Planned Parenthood, as well as the hearing in Atlanta at the 11th Circuit on the Federal health care law - 26 state attorneys general are filing suit. The other story deals with some issues receiving publicity this week on a decline in the number of baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention, as it prepares for its annual convention in Phoenix this week.

3 - Group of Senators stands with Indiana on Planned Parenthood law

Recently, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels signed into a law passed by the state's legislature that would prohibit state tax dollars from being used to fund Planned Parenthood, which is the nation's largest abortion provider. The latest development is that Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Donald Berwick stated that Medicaid regulations prohibit the denial of funding to providers, such as Planned Parenthood, based on the services they provide, therefore the state cannot implement its law. Planned Parenthood had immediately filed a lawsuit challenging the law, but a Federal judge had declined to issue any sort of injunction that would prevent the law from being implemented. had this story about the Obama Administration's attempt to supersede a state law.

State officials have indicated they would defy the Administration and move to implement the law. And, this week, 28 U.S. Senators have written a letter to the Administration in support of the law.

Here is a story written for the Christian Post, published on the Susan B. Anthony List website.

The Donald Berwick involved here is the same individual who was placed in his position in a recess appointment, since his confirmation in the Senate was not a foregone conclusion. He had made favorable comments about the British health care system, which has a strong rationing component, and has been quoted as favoring redistributing wealth as a way to effectively fund health care. He, along with Health and Human Services Director Jean Sibelius, are carrying the water for the Obama Administration pertaining to its pro-abortion agenda and the implementation of the health care law, which not only funds abortion, but offers a structure that dramatically increases the size and scope of government, and could deny health care to those who most need it, such as the elderly and those with special needs.

2 - Southern Baptists process new statistics, prepare for Phoenix convention

The Southern Baptist Convention will meet in Phoenix this year, and one of the topics that messengers who will be attending may be talking about is a set of headline-grabbing statistics released this week, citing a small but significant decline in the number of baptisms.

LifeWay Christian Resources, in its Annual Church Profile (ACP), has stated that the number of baptisms in 2010 showed a 5 percent decline. Total membership, at just over 16 million, showed a decline for the fourth consecutive year, with the 2010 decline being .15 percent. Worship attendance also decreased slightly.

LifeWay head Thom Ranier said,
“We must make the Great Commission the heart of all we do and say. These latest numbers should be received with a broken spirit and a God-given determination to reach people for Christ.” Here is LifeWay's report on the survey.

While there may have been a decline in these key areas, nevertheless, with over 16 million Southern Baptists, the denomination is nowhere near life support. And, with an increase in the number of churches and a renewed commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission, the Convention is poised to be used of God to dramatically impact our world for Christ. So, it's important that Southern Baptists don't over-analyze or over-dramatize the statistics, but use them as motivational tools for reaching people.

1 - 11th Circuit hears health care challenge

The national health care law has been under challenge almost since its passage by Congress last year. Recently, oral arguments were held in Richmond, Virginia before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals involving two cases challenging the mandate for individuals to buy health insurance, and this week, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit held oral arguments in an appeal of a district judge's ruling that the law was unconstitutional. Federal District Judge Roger Vinson's ruling had found the law's individual mandate to be unconstitutional, and since it could not be severed from the rest of the law, then he found the entire law to be unconstitutional.

CitizenLink offered this synopsis.

Here we have another instance of the Federal government attempting to impose its will on states, and states are pushing back. 27 states are involved in litigation seeking to have the law struck down. A number of state legislatures have passed "opt out" legislation from the health care law. Some states are seeking waivers from the mandates. And, states are declaring that the state insurance exchanges provided for in the law will not fund abortion.

For Christians, the Federal health care law is a pro-abortion law that increases the reach of government, funds abortion, and could result in the rationing of health care, affecting those that stand in need of health care being denied that care.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The 3 - June 6, 2011

On the latest edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", some important court cases are slotted in 2 of the 3 positions, including a graduation controversy in Texas that resulted in prayer being allowed, and a facilities controversy in New York that kept a church out of a public school building. And, Presidential candidates are attempting to seize on the evangelical vote.

3 - Texas graduation becomes time of celebration

A swirling storm of controversy centered around the Medina Valley High School in Castroville, Texas, where an agnostic student had filed suit against the school district to prevent any prayer in the school's graduation ceremony. A Federal district judge had ordered the school district to actively prevent any prayers (or even the word, "Amen") in the ceremony, even threatening incarceration for school officials who did not take part in this blatant restriction of religious liberties. The order, oddly enough, specifically allows a student to face Mecca or wear ceremonial Muslim clothing, but prevents prayer in the name of Jesus or any other name.

After the judge issued the order, an emergency appeal was filed by the valedictorian, Angela Hildenbrand, as well as the school district and the state Attorney General's office. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency order that basically allowed prayer to proceed at the ceremony.

And, according to The Christian Post, the event was likened to a revival meeting.

This is yet another instance where free expression of religious faith is being restricted because of a misinterpretation of the Constitution. There are those that would characterize any mention of religion or God as being an "establishment" of religion, but that is a definite overreach. When free speech is limited so as not to offend a person or group of people, it ends up offending the group or individual against whom the action is taken. This happens concerning Christians with too great of a rate of regularity, and it is important that judges and governmental officials take a sober view of the Bill of Rights so that the free exercise of religion is not denied.

2 - New York church cannot rent public school building, appeals court says

A 16-year-old court battle reached another milestone, as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school system in New York City could prohibit churches from renting its facilities for worship services. The Bronx Household of Faith had sought to rent a public school building for its weekend worship services - after all, the school district had rented its facilities to other groups. The Court said that the district could effectively refuse to rent to a church.

CitizenLink had this report.

Jordan Lorence of the Alliance Defense Fund indicated that the ruling would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here is another instance of a church being singled out for unequal treatment. The school district was apparently making its facilities available for a wide array of other groups, but because of the fear factor involving the uses of public facilities for church meetings, the district kept the churches out, and amazingly, the 2nd Circuit agreed - a ruling which could affect churches who want to use school facilities for their worship activities, which is a fairly common practice. Again, to keep from offending one group (or in this case, some unnamed group), the school district chose to offend Christians.

1 - Presidential hopefuls eye evangelical vote

The annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference was held at the end of the week in the nation's capital, and the majority of Republican Presidential hopefuls addressed the gathering. Some of the candidates have already announced their intentions to seek the nation's highest office, others are in the process of establishing their candidacies.

Candidates who attempted to underscore their evangelical appeal included former Massachusetts governor and 2008 candidate Mitt Romney, considered by many to be a front-runner. While Romney attracted a significant amount of Christian support in his previous campaign, there are concerns over his Mormonism, which some view as a liability, as well as his high-profile perceived reversals on universal health care and abortion. Another Mormon candidate, who is seemingly the focus of attention in the mainstream media, is former Utah governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who declared his pro-life views at the conference. His support of civil unions, however, will no doubt be a liability for him. Apparently, Romney and Huntsman may bypass the evangelical-rich Iowa caucuses, which were won last year by former Arkansas governor and talk-show host Mike Huckabee, who is not seeking the Republican nomination this year.

Representative Michele Bachmann and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain apparently played well to the "values voters" who were represented in Washington, but their single-digit performances in polls may be obstacles too great to overcome. Rick Santorum, former Pennsylvania Senator, is in the process of getting into the race, and has also been a favorite of evangelicals, even though he might also be considered a second-tier candidate, who didn't win his latest bid for re-election to the Senate.

A couple of examples of coverage of the conference include this Huntsman-heavy piece in the Los Angeles Times. The Christian Post skewed toward Herman Cain in this article.

Others who spoke at the conference include former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who is attempting to gain traction, and Representative Ron Paul, whose fiery brand of libertarianism has typically played well to this type of gathering - Paul, in fact, has performed well in the straw poll at the annual Values Voter Summit, held each fall.

Those not appearing include Sarah Palin, whose bus tour became a dominant news item, even though she intentionally did not attempt to accommodate much of the mainstream media. Also, Newt Gingrich, who has attempted to reach out to the faith community, did not appear, citing a scheduling conflict. While there will probably not be a candidate who will galvanize the evangelical vote, it is important for Christians to examine the candidates' stated views and (wherever possible) their voting records in order to ascertain how their principles coincide with our own.