Saturday, February 04, 2012

The 3 - February 4, 2012

It's Super Sunday, and as this edition of "The 3" looks in the rear-view mirror at the past week of events affecting the Christian community, we're reminded that the Super Bowl is a great venue for the expression of faith, as we can see throughout the events leading up to the big game. That's one of the stories of this past week, in addition to the National Prayer Breakfast and the comments of keynote speaker Eric Metaxas and President Obama. The top story: the largest abortion provider in America got some of its funding cut this week, and maybe restored - or not.

3 - Faith element woven through pre-Super Bowl XLVI activities

Super Bowl XLVI (that's 46, for those playing at home) will be kicking off in Indianapolis not long after I complete this blog, and already during Super Bowl week, there has been a faith element injected into the mix. Christian players, such as David Carr and Chris Canty of the New York Giants or Marcus Cannon of the New England Patriots, wove their faith story into their interview material, as you can see on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.

And, Saturday morning, the Bart Starr Award was presented by Athletes in Action, voted on by NFL players, recognizing one of their own for outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community. This year, Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher was the recipient. Other finalists were Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

Fletcher started the London's Bridge Foundation in 2003 to help underprivileged children in his hometown of Cleveland and other cities, including Washington. He is also involved in other charitable projects. On the Campus Crusade for Christ website, you can read London's testimony. Having accepted Christ in 2004, he says:
I was tired of living the life that I was living. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I felt a fulfillment inside that I had been searching for...
I spent years chasing things I thought would bring me everlasting joy and happiness: chasing Super Bowl rings [I was fortunate to be a part of a Super Bowl with St. Louis in my 2nd year] or a multi-million dollar contract; or a new house, cars and jewelry.

None of those things did for me what Christ did in an instant.

I grew up in a home where my grandmother had us in church. It was more of a routine to go.

I would hear people talk about how Christ changes you, but I was skeptical. Then I felt that on the inside, it was a tremendous thing. I was living in the darkness for so long.

When I accepted Christ, my eyes were open; I wanted to shout and tell the world. I called and told my best friend -- all the friends that I knew -- that I had received Christ. I wanted them to really experience the joy that I felt.
London's testimony and the presentation of the Bart Starr Award can serve to remind us of the platform that Christian athletes have for sharing what Christ has done in their lives, and also remind us to pray for them, because of the enormous pressure that athletes are under.

Also, prior to the Super Bowl, the 13th Annual NFL Super Bowl Gospel Celebration was held. It has been named by USA Today as "One of the Best Three Super Bowl Events to Attend." The event features NFL players and top gospel, contemporary Christian, and mainstream artists together for uplifting music and inspirational messages. The event was hosted by Rev. Run (also known as "Run DMC") and CeCe Winans. Performances included Natalie Grant, Donnie McClurkin, Fantasia, and Hezekiah Walker, as well as the NFL Choir (what's that?), which includes current and former players. Also performing was Verizon's How Sweet the Sound 2011 Overall Winning Choir, from Salvation and Deliverance Church, and surprise guests.

It's a major sporting event, and these events point out that faith is a big part of the life of NFL players, as well as some in the entertainment culture. And, I would not be surprised to see and hear players of both teams give glory to God after the game. (And, you probably will hear more than a passing mention of Tim Tebow in the coverage today.)

2 - National Prayer Breakfast features Bonhoeffer biographer and advocate for life, as well as President using Scripture-laced policy pronouncements

This past Thursday, the Washington Hilton was the site of the annual National Prayer Breakfast in the nation's capital, which brings together thousands in political and religious leadership for a time of prayer and exhortation. The President generally attends and speaks, and this year was no exception. There is also a keynote speaker, and this year, noted author Eric Metaxas, who has written biographies of such notable faith leaders as William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Emily Belz of WORLD Magazine, who has been a guest several times on my radio show, wrote an excellent account of the day's proceedings, including this:

At one point, Metaxas led those in attendance in the singing of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” and the president joined in. The author attacked “phony religiosity,” which he struggled through as an agnostic studying at Yale before he became a Christian...“Jesus was and is the enemy of dead religion,” Metaxas said. “He came to deliver us from that.” Prayer emanates from “real faith in God,” he said, adding that faith in Jesus leads to courageous acts like those of Bonhoeffer and Wilberforce.

He also raised the issue of abortion, in the presence of someone regarded as the most pro-abortion President in history. He noted that the Germans saw some people as less than human and today some see the unborn as less than human. Metaxas said, “Apart from God we cannot see that they are persons as well...Love those that do not yet see that.”

While Eric's speech may not have received a great deal of press coverage, the President's remarks have generated quite a bit of discussion. In it, he attempted to present a Scriptural basis for some of his policy pronouncements. In attempting to justify a tax increase for the wealthiest among us, he said:

"...when I talk about shared responsibility, it's because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it's hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I'm willing to give something up as somebody who's been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that's going to make economic sense.

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus's teaching that 'for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.' It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who've been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others."

He had already introduced the point that presumably redistribution of wealth is somehow related to the Golden Rule, as he said that "...I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God's command to 'love thy neighbor as thyself.' I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -- from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato."

He attempted to reinforce what he sees as government's responsibility to care for the poor:

"I succeed because others succeed with me. And when I decide to stand up for foreign aid, or prevent atrocities in places like Uganda, or take on issues like human trafficking, it's not just about strengthening alliances, or promoting democratic values, or projecting American leadership around the world, although it does all those things and it will make us safer and more secure. It's also about the biblical call to care for the least of these -- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society."

This is not an uncommon use of Scripture to somehow say that government is responsible to fulfill the Biblical mandate to care for the poor. As Carla Garrison wrote in the Washington Times,

Jesus did not teach that wealthy people should give more money to the government or charity than others should. God's covenant with the Hebrews was to give ten percent of all they received to the temple or church. The purpose for this giving to the church was to ensure that the church had the ability to care for widows, orphans and the poor. Jesus came along and preached that every person should give all they have freely to service, and trust that God will take care of their needs - not government.
I believe that the role of government as outlined in Romans 13 is narrowly characterized as keeping order and punishing evil. And, I believe that the role of the church is to care for the poor - historically, people were conditioned to go to the church when there were financial needs. But, as government has stepped in to provide a "safety net" for those less fortunate, it has created a counterculture of people that not only received temporary government assistance, but who ultimately became dependent on the government, and as that mentality became more common, the government started becoming an income source for many, and now we have a bloated bureaucracy of programs that are attempting to do what Jesus called the church to do.

The Scriptures that the President used were not directed at the government, but at the church - if Mr. Obama wants to demonstrate his compassion by giving directly to some of these organizations that he attempted to spotlight in his message or other charities that are better equipped to help the poor than some government agencies, well, great, but he should do it with his own money, not the money of the taxpayers. That's where politicians go wrong - they believe that money for which they are responsible is theirs, to use to fund their pet project or further their own political ideology - that is blatantly incorrect and dangerous for our future. We, as Christians, should be and are commanded to be concerned for the poor among us, but our activity should be according to how God directs us, not mandated by the government through the confiscation of our resources through increased taxation.

1 - Komen Foundation withdraws funding from Planned Parenthood, then appears to reinstate it

This week, it was announced that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had decided to no longer use its grants to fund the work of Planned Parenthood. There were 2 principal reasons given for this decision - one was that Komen's policies prevented it from donating to organizations under investigation. The other was that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, but rather it refers to other facilities. Komen, as an organization devoted to the prevention and cure for breast cancer, would presumably not be efficient in its allocation of funds if it were to continue to support Planned Parenthood, which is the nation's largest abortion provider. However, while the move was laudable, it did not indicate to me that Komen had moved into a more pro-life posture.

Well, in a startling turn of events on Friday morning, Komen appeared to reverse its course. This comes on the heels of an enormous firestorm generated by Planned Parenthood and its supporters in Congress and the media. Here are some excerpts from Komen's statement:

"We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives."
I think that Komen's real apology should go to the numerous pro-life people who desired to affirm Komen's decision by sending them a donation. And what about the lives of pre-born children whose lives are routinely taken by Planned Parenthood centers across America?

The statement went on:
"Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair."
One of the reasons given for the withdrawal of funds was that organizations under investigation should not be considered. Planned Parenthood is under investigation on numerous fronts, as pointed out by pro-life blogger Jill Stanek:
“If Planned Parenthood is found guilty of criminal investigations, several of which are ongoing around the states (Medicaid fraud in Texas and California; fraudulent reporting and illegal abortions in Kansas, and yes, the federal Congressional investigation, etc.), Komen’s criteria will still disqualify Planned Parenthood from receiving grants, as it should...This is Komen’s attempt to get the abortion mafia off their backs. Planned Parenthood and its thugs have engaged in typical shakedown: Give us money or we will destroy you.”
Komen said that, "We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities." So if Planned Parenthood is considered to be eligible, but how will the requests be met? Can Komen justify sending money to an organization that admittedly does not do mammograms, the cornerstone of breast cancer prevention work? I think that Jill Stanek is right, and she has this on her blog.

I think this series of events shows the hostility that pro-abortion advocates can generate for those who dare to limit or eliminate their complicity with their efforts. Even though over half of Americans indicate that they are pro-life, that is certainly not the view espoused by the media and many in Congress, and their collective voices can be persuasive.

Whether it's a cutback in Federal government funding of abortion through its support of Planned Parenthood, which nears 1/2 of a billion dollars a year, or a reduction or elimination by state and municipal governments or private organizations like Komen, these activities remove the luster off the organization and have the potential to call greater scrutiny to a very suspect entity.

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