Saturday, July 14, 2012

The 3 - July 14, 2012

This edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes a controversy involving a pastor in Arizona who began a jail sentence this week for hosting Bible studies on his property - or is he running a church there, as city officials contend?    Another story involves another major mainline Christian denomination that has approved a liturgy that can be used in a same-sex marriage ceremony.   And, the top story - lawmakers took another vote - the latest in a series - on the topic of health care, the first since the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the constitutionality of the law.

3 - AZ pastor begins jail sentence

What constitutes a "church building"?   That is the issue surrounding Michael Salman of Phoenix, Arizona, who began a 60-day jail sentence on Monday, after being found guilty of some 67 code violations regarding tthe use of his property for church services.  He was also fined over $12,000.  At issue, apparently, is a 2000-foot building that he constructed on his property, which city officials contend is being used as a church, and therefore must comply with the local codes.

Salman and his attorney, John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, contend that the city is engaging in religious discrimination.  Read the reaction in The Christian Post.

Whitehead is quoted as saying on Fox and Friends that, "The key is – the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion … the right to assemble and talk to each other wherever you want to be – in public or in your home."

According to a Post report, Michael Salman is an ordained pastor of Church of God in Christ and founder of Harvest Christian Fellowship.  He has argued that he has the right to worship at home on his private property. He and his wife can't understand why they are being targeted for gathering at home for religious purposes when in homes across America, people are gathering for parties, poker nights, and football games. In spite of holding weekly meetings to worship and study the Bible, Salman has maintained that the building used for his gatherings is not a church.

Phoenix officials have countered with a timeline of their own in the tug-of-war with Salman, contending they are attempting to enforce local regulations. 

The concern here is the use of private property.  Whitehead has pointed out that the early church met regularly in homes.   And one has to ask how big a gathering has to be in order to be considered a "church".   Recently, in California, officials fined the leaders of a home Bible study - they sued the city, but withdrew the suit after the city was beseiged by bad publicity, and it agreed to revise its policies.

It is a bit unnerving when a pastor or a Bible study leader has legal action taken against him or her - in America - where freedom of speech and freedom of association are cornerstone principles.   When you read about the tremendous work of God that has taken place in home groups, and how common this type of activity is across America, there could certainly be concern if this type of action is taken by other municipalities.

2 - Episcopal delegates approve ceremony for same-sex marriage

There has been unrest in the Episcopal Church in the United States as the result of the ordination of an openly gay bishop.   Many Episcopals who wished to remain affiliated with the Anglican Communion formed a new entity called the Anglican Church of North America. 

According to Baptist Press, delegates at the U.S. Episcopal Church's triennial convention adopted a provisional liturgy, "Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant", which will debut in December and can be used for commitment ceremonies for same-sex weddings in states where such unions have been declared legal, according to the church. Delegates approved it July 10.

David Virtue, president of Virtue Online, the Anglican communion's largest orthodox Evangelical Anglican online news service, minced no words in describing the vote.

"It's shocking, it's terrible. They're doing something that's never happened in 2,000 years of church history," he said. "They are legitimizing a behavior and offering rites to that behavior that is untenable, unbiblical, unscriptural, theologically unacceptable to both Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical Protestant churches."

The Institute on Religion and Democracy reports that 12 traditionalist Episcopal Church bishops have released a statement dissenting from the actions of the 1.9 million-member U.S.-based church after officials at the governing General Convention certified the "provisional" rite.

"We believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that God's vision for sexual intimacy is that it be exercised only within the context of marriage between a man and a woman," the statement reads in part. The minority report states that the bishops took an oath at ordination declaring scripture "to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation."   The dissenting bishops name the new liturgy as "for all practical purposes same-sex marriage."

This action by the Episcopal Church follows a narrow vote by delegates to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s annual convention to continue to define marriage as one man and one women.  These are certainly disturbing trends in 2 of America's mainline denominations, and reflect a radical departure from the teachings of Scripture concerning the sanctity of marriage.  

1 - House votes to repeal health care law...again

The change in the landscape and language of the health care law resulted in another vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to repeal the massive legislation.   This represents over 30 times that the body has taken a vote to repeal at least some part of the law.   Speaker of the House John Boehner is quoted by CNN as saying, "....we've voted over 30 times to repeal it, defund it, replace it. And we are resolved to have this law go away and we're gonna do everything we can to stop it."   

Supporters of the law say that the Republican leadership should begin to focus on creating jobs.   However, because of concerns over how the new regulations will affect small business, there is a reasonable thought that fewer jobs are being created.   Now that the penalty for not buying health insurance is considered a "tax", one has to think of how it could negatively impact the entire economy.   

The repeal stands almost no chance of passage in the Senate and would definitely be vetoed by the President, but the House vote did get lawmakers on record with respect to health care, which was thought to be a pivotal issue delivering the chamber into Republican hands in 2010.  

Christians continue to be concerned over the amount of their tax dollars that could go to fund abortion.   And, the mandate that health insurers provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs continues to be a sore spot and the source of multiple lawsuits that are in various stages of litigation.   Concern over the size and scope of government, as well as the availability of health care services to the most vulnerable among us are other issues that have motivated a number of Christians to stand in opposition to the plan.

The health care issue will no doubt be a major issue in the Presidential campaign and other races this year.   Elections have consequences, and that is why it's so important that people of faith are active in politics and vote their values in the voting booth.

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