Sunday, January 29, 2012

The 3 - January 29, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3" features some well-known Christian leaders who have faced some scrutiny as the result of an event that was intended to explore some different approaches to ministry in an effort to unify and bring understanding. Also, there's a court victory to report in a case involving a student's right to religious expression. And, at the top of the list, pro-life fervor seems to be increasing across our land, and hundreds of thousands expressed their support for the unborn this past Monday.

3 - "The Elephant Room" Round 2 unites, divides evangelical leaders

I think this event needs to be included in our top 3 for the week not only because of the high-profile Christian leaders it attracted and the attention it has received, but also because of the challenge it presents to each of us as Christians to evaluate what we believe and the doctrines that the Bible teachers we listen to believe, as well. We recognize that as believers in Christ, we will have our differences, and it can be informative and even challenging to us as we engage in discussion about what we believe. I have stated before that it's important that each of us develops a "personal theology", so that we can not only know what our foundational beliefs are, but be prepared to express them, even to people that don't know Christ.

In the spirit of exploring some of these theological issues that the enemy could us to divide us as Christians, James MacDonald (heard weekdays at 2pm on Faith Radio) and Mark Driscoll (recent guest on FamilyLife Today) developed this concept called, "The Elephant Room", touting discussions that you might not ordinarily hear about a variety of issues that could be considered controversial - i.e., the proverbial "elephant in the room". It would be the hope that from these discussions of issues that could divide us, that we approach differently, perhaps we could gain a greater sense of unity and understanding.

Round 1 of The Elephant Room last year included: Matt Chandler, Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Greg Laurie, and David Platt, in addition to the hosts. This year, for Round 2, the guests were Furtick, again, as well as Jack Graham, Crawford Loritts, Wayne Cordeiro, and...T.D. Jakes. And, it is the invitation of Bro. Jakes that has raised the most attention. Members of The Gospel Coalition, a group of mainly Reformed pastors who blog regularly and challenge Christians to adhere to the basics of the faith, expressed concern, primarily because of Jakes' background in the so-called "oneness' doctrine, which teaches that God in fact is not the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - they called on MacDonald to dis-invite the bishop, but he refused. As Mark Driscoll questioned Jakes on his current teaching and beliefs, the bishop affirmed his adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity. But, there was such a concern over this invitation that James MacDonald actually pulled out of the Gospel Coalition, of which he was a co-founder.

Here is some insight from Christianity Today.

And, from The Gospel Coalition website, LifeWay's Trevin Wax shares these thoughts

Wax, in fact, wrote these 4 observations about the latest "round":
1. It is good to celebrate minimal agreement on fundamental doctrines, but even better to pursue a robust affirmation of biblical teaching.
2. It is good to celebrate an affirmation of orthodoxy, but even better to affirm the celebration of orthodoxy.
3. It is good to come together in love, but even better when that love leads us sharpen one another in truth.
4. It is good to recognize that we all have errors that need correcting, but even better to pursue the correction of those errors.

In the process of his analysis, he draws a distinction between TER and TGC:
The Elephant Room aligns more with the ethos of contemporary evangelicalism (public platform-sharing with anyone who confesses Christ). The Gospel Coalition aligns more with the ethos of confessional evangelicalism (public platform-sharing with those who share a common theological vision of ministry).
He went on to write:
In the end, I admire James MacDonald’s intention to bring about more civil discourse between believers. We need charity and clarity. But civility is not a love-fest. We will disagree – strongly at times. Why? Because theology matters. The stakes are high. Bad theology hurts people...
So when we engage in conflict, let’s make sure it is out of love for the truth, love for Jesus, love for one another, and love for the people we shepherd. Sometimes we may even stand against a brother on a certain issue, but even when we take an adversarial stance, it ought always to be for the good of that brother and the glory of King Jesus. Let’s take the goal of The Elephant Room seriously and be people who are full of grace and truth.
I think something instructive for us is that we should feel comfortable discussing our deeply-held beliefs with those with whom we disagree - it's good to confront the "elephants in the room", and if we do so promote understanding (the "grace" part) and a relentless pursuit of sound Biblical doctrine (the "truth"), we can all benefit.

2 - Court affirms graduate students First Amendment rights

On Friday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling, finding that the First Amendment free speech rights of a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University could have been violated when the school expelled her from the counseling program in which she was enrolled.

Here is the background story on the case from CitizenLink:

In her graduate-level practicum in 2009, Julea Ward was assigned a client seeking help in reconciling her same-sex relationship in 2009. Ward, who is a Christian, didn’t feel she’d be the best counselor for that case, so she asked her supervisor how to handle it — and her supervisor referred the client to another qualified professional, a standard counseling practice. But afterward, EMU started disciplinary proceedings against her, and ultimately expelled her from the program because of her religious beliefs.

In overturning the lower court’s pre-trial ruling in favor of the university, the 6th Circuit said today that schools cannot force students to violate their religious beliefs, and sent the case back to the lower court for a trial.

Apparently, faculty members who conducted disciplinary hearings had lectured her about her "brand" of Christianity, and she was told that she could only continue earning her degree if she agreed to go through a “remediation” program to change her thinking.

The court said that was unconstitutional. It said:

"Why treat Ward differently? That her conflict arose from religious convictions is not a good answer; that her conflict arose from religious convictions for which the department at times showed little tolerance is a worse answer...A university cannot compel a student to alter or violate her belief systems based on a phantom policy as the price for obtaining a degree.”
A great line from the court: "tolerance is a two-way street"!

So, the 6th Circuit registers a victory for religious expression - the same lower court that ruled in favor of the university will now have to put this case on trial, and the ruling it made prior to a trial has been set aside. Here is another instance where academicians, acting according to their own version of so-called "tolerance", have mistreated yet another Christian student because of her religious beliefs, which they regard as misguided and wrong. But, when you seek to exclude someone's deeply held beliefs from the conduct of their academic work in the name of tolerance, you end up demonstrating intolerance and disrespect, and acting unconstitutionally toward the practice of someone's faith. And, unfortunately, we see this all too often with regard to Christianity - from which the principles upon which this nation was founded were derived.

1 - March for Life attracts hundreds of thousands to the nation's capital

This past Monday, the annual March for Life took place in Washington, DC - in fact, events had been celebrated throughout the country during the preceding weekend. The numbers that are being reported are staggering - between 400 and 500 thousand people came out to stand in solidarity for unborn children whose lives have been and continue to be taken. The energy of people, especially young people who are trending pro-life, in encouraging and contagious. Some 2000 students participated in the Students for Life event on Sunday, and the annual Family Research Council's ProLifeCon attracted high profile speakers to participate in a webcast.

The main event, on the National Mall, featured member of Congress and a number of pro-life advocates who shared their perspective on the sanctity of life. To give some flavor about the March for Life, and surrounding events, check out this digest from

But, the story went largely uncovered in the national media, as The Christian Post highlighted in this article, which includes this analysis from Kristi Hamrick of Americans United for Life:
(Hamrick) told The Christian Post that "there has been a dwindling in the coverage" of these pro-life rallies.

She keeps tabs on the coverage for AUL and said this year "AP barely mentioned what was going on and had a picture of three pro-abortion supporters in their story." She also said The New York Times had no coverage of it except to say that Rand Paul was arrested at the airport on his way to speak at the March for Life.

Hamrick also noted that CBS news did a photo montage of the Washington, D.C., event and, of the 14 pictures posted, half were of the small number of pro-abortion protesters near the march.

Much the same could be said of the coverage of the San Francisco West Coast Walk for Life, which had over 40,000 in attendance, according to press reports. The co-chair of that event said the coverage consisted of one TV story, one radio segment, and a photo and two sentences in the San Francisco Chronicle. By contrast, she said, "In the past 90 days they have published 415 articles on Occupy Wall Street movement." The media may not be carrying the pro-life message of these events, but the participants certainly they come together with like-minded individuals and groups, they are able to go back in to their communities and affirm the sanctity of life, being equipped and motivated to communicate on a grassroots level.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The 3 - January 22, 2012

There are plenty of significant developments this week that are relevant to Christians, and I've selected some news about the leadership in Egypt. And, I have included pro-life activities surrounding the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, and against that backdrop, the President's latest decision regarding life that has inflamed a number of religious organizations. Presidential politics takes the top slot this week, including the effect of the evangelical vote in the South Carolina primary.

3 - Islamic fundamentalists win almost half of Egyptian parliament

With the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, there was plenty of speculation regarding what the government replacing his regime would look like. Even though Islam was commonly practiced in the country, the goverment was not what you would consider an Islamic government, along the lines of an Iran, for instance. With Mubarak out of the way and parliamentary elections scheduled, there were a number of factions vying for power, including the fundamentalist Islamic organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is devoted to instilling the principles of the Koran into the fabric of society.

Mubarak was in power for some three decades, a reputable ally of the United States, and a friend of Israel. But, the U.S. administration was adamant in calling for their friend's resignation - despite the uncertainty about what the next government would look like.

According to The Christian Post, now we have a clearer picture - around 70% of the seats went to pro-Islamist parties. It appears that 47% of the parliament will be representatives associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, who is reportedly toning down its pro-Islam rhetoric in an effort to prevent a backlash in an unstable political climate. Economic issues are foremost in this northern African country, and it will be a primary challenge for the new leadership to address them. In the transition period, there has been a concern over the treatment of the Coptic Christian element, against which there have been instances of violence - and it is unclear how these Christians will fare under the new parliament.
2 - Churches commemorate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, Obama administration makes another pro-abortion decision

Churches across America observed Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on the 22nd, which this year fell on the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, essentially legalizing abortion in America. Since that ruling, an estimated more than 54 million unborn children have lost their lives. Special events have been taking place throughout the weekend, including the Walk for Life West Coast, which drew tens of thousands of life advocates to San Francisco, and the Students for Life gathering in the nation's capital, attracting young people who desire to celebrate life and to be involved in speaking out against abortion. The annual March for Life in Washington is scheduled for Monday, an event in which hundreds of thousands traditionally converge on the National Mall in DC.

Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is designed to provide encouragement for Christians to get involved in speaking out on behalf of unborn children and their families, as well as promoting a culture of life in accordance with a Christian worldview perspective. Some ways you can get involved include:
- praying for God to direct you how you can be involved in promoting a culture of life and praying for those ministries that advocate life,
- volunteering at a local pregnancy resource center as a counselor, or in another type of volunteer role, such as providing needed items for mothers who have experienced an unexpected pregnancy, such as diapers or baby items,
- being an advocate for adoption, perhaps even considering if your family is being called to adopt a child,
- communicating the message with media, using tools such as theatrical releases (such as "October Baby") or DVD's that are available ("Bella" is a feature film that comes to mind, then there's "180" from Ray Comfort, as well as Mike Huckabee's new video, "The Gift of Life"),
- familiarize yourself with websites such as Be a Voice ( from Focus on the Family, that provide tools through which people can gain eye-opening and heart-changing insight, and
- share resources, quotes, and other information through social media.

And, while Christians across America were expressing their support of the unborn and their opposition to abortion, President Obama was affirming Roe vs. Wade. In a statement, he said:
I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right. While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue- no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.
You know, pro-lifers are devoted to those things, but our tactics are quite different...we believe that if abortion was less available and if more information were being given to abortion-minded women, they would make the right choice, a choice for life. And, the Administration contributed to its record of being the most pro-abortion Presidency in history on Friday, when the Secretary of Health and Human Services delivered a blow to religious organizations regarding reproductive issues: According to WORLD magazine:
On Friday the Obama administration announced it would not change the new healthcare law’s requirement that most religious groups provide their employees with coverage for contraceptives, including abortifacients like Plan B and Ella. The only exemption from the requirement is for groups that have the “inculcation of religious values” as their primary mission and who serve and employ people of that faith—which essentially only covers churches.
This becomes an issue of concern to a variety of religious organizations, who will be forced to provide contraceptives that cause abortion. Under the guise of being sensitive to religious liberty issues, the Administration has taken another step to alienate religious organizations, forcing them to take actions that violate their deeply-held beliefs.

1 - Evangelical voters help propel Gingrich to victory in S.C.

A dramatic week in the Republican Presidential race concluded with the victory of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in the South Carolina GOP primary. At the beginning of the week, Mitt Romney seemed to be destined to be the inevitable winner of the contest on the path to the nomination, but by week's end, questions about his tax returns and personal wealth, 2 strong debate performances by Gingrich, including the dramatic on-stage moment when he rebuked the moderator for bringing up his ex-wife's TV interview. And, furthermore, Rick Santorum was emboldened by the declaration that he was the victor in Iowa, and made aggressive statements against both Romney and Gingrich. Two candidates pulled out of the race - Jon Huntsman, who threw his support to Romney, and Rick Perry, who announced his endorsement of Gingrich.

In the end, in South Carolina, it was Gingrich, with 40% of the vote, claiming the prize and traveling on to Florida, where polling data shows Romney well ahead. Romney finished second in South Carolina, with 28%, with Santorum at 17% and Paul at 13. And, evangelicals in South Carolina were a significant force - according to the CNN Belief Blog, 2/3 of the electorate were self-identified evangelicals, and Gingrich took 44% of them. Romney and Santorum had about 21% each.

So why did a thrice-married Catholic do so well with evangelicals? David Brody of CBN had some excellent insight:

For years, Gingrich has been heavily engaged and involved in important topics that evangelicals care deeply about including (in no particular order) the fight against radical Islam and Sharia law; his stand and articulation of the Judeo-Christian principles that this country was founded on; his promises of pro-life Executive Orders once he reaches The White House; his boldness and lack of political correctness which evangelicals LOVE and his denouncing of liberal judges in America.

Let me also point out that Gingrich speaks about all of these issues in such a unique, historical, artful and compelling way so even though other candidates may share these overall views, Gingrich wraps it up so neatly that evangelicals are treated to a history lesson and leave energized.

It’s crucial to understand that Gingrich is NOT just feeding evangelicals a phony line about all these topics just to get their votes. He truly believes all of this as evident by his years of writing and talking about these topics. He has “street cred” with evangelicals on these issues.
And, Gingrich has some strong evangelical leaders in his corner, including George Barna and Don Wildmon, who are chairing the former speaker's faith coalition. Jim Garlow has worked with Gingrich for years, and Mat Staver has also come out strong for Gingrich. Other evangelicals lined up for Newt include: Tim LaHaye, J.C. Watts, and Richard Lee.

What is interesting is that Santorum did not do better than Romney, a Mormon, with the evangelical vote. The South Carolina primary was the first after a group of some 150 faith leaders met in Texas last weekend - 75% of those went for the former Pennsylvania Senator, including James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Gary Bauer. That percentage came on the third vote, and some of those in attendance had left before it was taken. The first vote was much closer, when all the candidates were being considered, and one of the goals of the gathering was to have a two-thirds majority for one candidate - that didn't happen on the second vote, but did take place on the third. Here is the breakdown, with analysis from Kerry Picket of The Washington Times.

Romney isn't without his supporters in the evangelical community - witness Jay Sekulow and his son, Jordan, as well as high-profile Christian PR guy Mark DeMoss.
In fact, there is an "Evangelicals for Mitt" website, founded by David French (associated with the Alliance Defense Fund), and his wife Nancy. And, Ron Paul has his supporters in the faith community, including Texas pastor Voddie Baucham, who wrote a piece this week about Paul's perspective.

I think that endorsements from Christian leaders show that people of faith are intent on bringing new leadership to the Oval Office, and while they may disagree on which candidate is best to do this, they are performing a great service to the Christian community by calling attention to the candidates, their positions on issues, and their capability to lead our nation in a way that will be consistent with our values.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The 3 - January 14, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3" has a diverse lineup, including some tension in the Big Apple over the topic of renting public school buildings to churches, the involvement of evangelical leaders in declaring support for Presidential candidates, and a major Supreme Court ruling that upheld the rights of churches to govern employment decisions.

3 - New York pastors continue opposition to policy banning churches from renting public school buildings

Tension continues to build in New York City regarding a policy that the city has been trying to put into effect for a number of years - that churches cannot meet in public school buildings. That policy had been put on hold because one church, the Bronx Household of Faith, filed suit against the city. A Federal appeals court had agreed with the city, and the U.S. Supreme Court did not hear the case, which in effect upheld the lower court decision. So, the city began to move quickly, giving churches that had been renting the school buildings, generating revenue for the city, until February 12th to find other places to meet.

Local church leaders, including City Councilman and Pastor Fernando Cabrera, have been staging protests and attempting to attract public support for this policy, which would affect some 60 churches in the city. At Mayor Bloomberg's "State of the City" address this past Thursday, hundreds of protestors gathered, and dozens were arrested. Here is the report from CitizenLink.

Cabrera himself was arrested a week prior to this latest protest for blocking the entrance to a government building. Following that event, the city Housing Authority backed off from its previously announced decision to force churches meeting in community centers to find another place. The parties are now engaged in some dialogue about the next step. Cabrera was quoted in a CitizenLink story after he was arrested:
“There was one prayer. There was one song. Immediately after that, we were arrested,” Cabrera said. “The Wall Street occupiers were there for 40 days, and there were some very bad things happening there. But that was tolerated.”
And, this past Thursday, over 40 were arrested after their orderly display. Cabrera makes a compelling case - he points out there does seem to be a double standard: the city put up with Occupy Wall Street for a long period of time, but they were quick to punish church leaders in this instance. And, there was precious little media coverage of the Thursday series of events - in fact, my recent Google search yielded 5 sources: CNN (in its "Belief" blog) and 4 Christian outlets. This seems to be a major instance of a government entity attempting to inhibit religious expression because it is afraid of being charged with "endorsing" religion.

2 - Santorum receives support from majority of evangelical leaders who gather in Texas, Gingrich announces faith leaders' coalition

There was much anticipation of a meeting this past Friday and Saturday involving some 150 evangelical and conservative leaders. While organizers were plain in saying that it was not an "anti-Romney" meeting, there was a sentiment that the gathering would designate one of the GOP candidates, other than Romney, to be some sort of consensus choice for evangelicals. Going in, one of the high-profile leaders, Gary Bauer of American Values, last weekend had declared his support for Santorum. Then, Newt Gingrich's campaign had announced a Gingrich Faith Leaders Coalition, which had invited thousands of pastors to join in a conference call featuring the candidate on Thursday. The co-chairs of the campaign were announced as noted researcher George Barna and American Family Association head Donald Wildmon. Other leaders include San Diego pastor Jim Garlow, who has been a leader in one of Gingrich's organizations, Renewing American Leadership; also, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel is in a leadership role. Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series, also endorsed Gingrich.

The group that gathered at the Texas ranch of Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler conducted a three-ballot vote, and on the third ballot, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum garnered the support of 75% of those present. According to a report in the Christian Post, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, the designated spokesman for the group, said,
“Everyone was invited here under the premise of ‘would you be willing to drop your support for someone if the group is able to reach a consensus on one candidate.’...Given the outcome, I think you see what the answer to that question was for the overwhelming majority of attendees.”
It is unclear what effect this action might have moving forward, but it does highlight for evangelicals some of the policy positions that certain candidates hold. According to Perkins, quoted in the Christian Post, before the third round of balloting was conducted, when Santorum received 85 of 114 votes cast, there was a “vigorous discussion of who can lead our country forward,” with the focal point of the debate centering on the repeal of President Obama’s health care program. Other major issues included reducing the debt ceiling and addressing pro-life issues. However, Perkins noted that only limited discussion involved the social issues of abortion and traditional marriage.

This could be an influential development, and it appears that the evangelical community has at least settled on two candidates - Santorum and Gingrich - even though Rick Perry was originally embraced by evangelicals at the outset, his support has waned, and perhaps his poor showing in the gathering in Texas, his home state, shows that there is little encouragement that he could actually now emerge as the nominee. A big question for Romney concerns how devoted the evangelical support will be if he wins the nomination. The results in the January 21st South Carolina primary will perhaps narrow the field down to four candidates: Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, and Ron Paul.

1 - Supreme Court gives unanimous victory to church regarding employment decisions

Churches and ministries have long enjoyed the freedom to make employment decisions, including who to hire, determining the qualifications and requisite beliefs of those whom they are hiring, and the grounds for which an employee might be terminated or reprimanded. In the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School vs. EEOC, a teacher at a Lutheran school had been fired from her position because the school did not believe she could fulfill her duties due to a sleep disorder. The school, in fact, had offered to pay a portion of her insurance premium in exchange for her resignation, which she refused to submit. She was terminated, and then filed suit against the school. Here is a report on the case from the Christian Examiner, originally filed by Baptist Press.

Churches and religious organizations have long operated under what is called a "ministerial exception", basically saying the First Amendment providing for freedom of religion supersedes employment-discrimination laws. According to Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court has never issued a ruling on it. That changed this week, as the Supreme Court ruled, in a unanimous, 9-0 decision, that the school did have a right to fire the teacher, and that the "ministerial exception" was, in fact, in line with the First Amendment - churches have the right to operate free from government interference in employment matters.

Had the decision gone the other way, this case could have had a devastating effect on churches, removing some of the protections they have traditionally enjoyed with respect to employment practices. This case, as well as an appeals court ruling last year upholding World Vision's requirement of adherence to a statement of faith for its employees, reinforces unique liberties afforded to religious organizations.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The 3 - January 8, 2012

During this first week of 2012, there were a number of notable developments potentially impacting the Christian community, including the effect of the Christian presence in the first votes for President, the release of the latest list of nations who are the worst persecutors of Christians, and the gathering of thousands of young believers in Atlanta that featured a remarkable collection of resources to address slavery worldwide.

3 - Presidential politics: evangelicals help Santorum in Iowa, leaders attempt to unite behind a candidate

For months, the saga of debates and polls has yielded a wide swing of candidates and their rankings in the race for the Republican nomination. That is, except for Mitt Romney's steady status as a frontrunner. But, finally on Tuesday, voters actually lived up to their name - they voted! And in Iowa, the caucus yielded two candidates - #1 and #1a, essentially...Mitt Romney won, edging Rick Santorum by 8 votes. Commentators had been wondering why Santorum had not surged, as other candidates not named Romney had done, or when he would surge. Well, he has basically surged at just the right time, finishing strong in Iowa and, in a Rasmussen poll, closing to within 3 points of Romney in South Carolina, site of a primary later this month.

In Iowa, according to entrance polls, 58% of voters self-identified as evangelical, comparable to 60% in 2008, when Mike Huckabee won the caucuses. Out of the evangelical voters, the nod went to Santorum, who has traditionally been in line with evangelicals on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, emphasizing his commitment to Christian values throughout his political history. Santorum received votes from 32% of evangelicals, compared to 18% for Ron Paul, and 14% each for Romney, Gingrich, and Perry. Blogger Dan Gilgoff had this analysis on the CNN Belief Blog.

While the evangelical vote was splintered in Iowa, there are some that would like that not to be the case moving forward. Reports surfaced this week about a meeting in Texas next weekend among Christian leaders, such as James Dobson, Richard Land, Don Wildmon, John Hagee, and others to discuss the possibility of galvanizing around one candidate, one not named Mitt Romney, whom many feel does not possess deep convictions about issues such as life and marriage, and who follows a faith perspective - Mormonism - that a large majority of Christians view as outside mainstream Christianity. And, over the weekend, Gary Bauer of American Values announced his personal endorsement of Rick Santorum. Whether or not the race could be dramatically altered as a result of evangelical leaders attempting to settle on one candidate remains to be seen, but the fact that it has garnered such coverage indicates the perceived influence that evangelicals have on Republican party politics.

(Supplemental reading, including quotes from evangelical leaders, from the New York Times.)

2 - World Watch List headed by same nation 10 straight years, 9 out of top 10 are Islamic countries

The organization, Open Doors, founded by Brother Andrew, best known for his successful attempts to smuggle Bibles to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, releases a "World Watch List" each year, and the most recent edition is notable because of the consistency among many of the nations on the list, as well as some of the dramatic moves of nations outside the top 10. The List is an indicator of the degree to which nations engage in persecuting Christians.

The top persecutor, for the 10th straight year, is the isolated, authoritarian regime of North Korea, where some 50 to 70 thousand Christians are currently imprisoned for their faith. The timing of the release of the list coincides with the leadership transition that is currently underway there, as power shifts from Kim Jong-Il to his son, Kim Jong-Un. Many of those inside the nation believe that the dominant philosophy will continue, and that hundreds of thousands of Christians there face a very real danger.

Here is the press release announcing this year's List.

9 out of the top 10 nations are considered Islamic-majority countries, some with Islamic governments implementing Sharia, or Islamic, law, others with a majority of the population embracing Islam and some regional governments enforcing laws that punish the practice of Christianity. According to Open Doors,

Afghanistan (2), Saudi Arabia (3), Somalia (4), Iran (5) and the Maldives (6) form a bloc where indigenous Christians have almost no freedom to openly worship. For the first time Pakistan (10) entered the top 10, after a tumultuous year during which the nation’s highest-ranking Christian politician, Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, was assassinated for his attempts to change the blasphemy law.

The rest of the top 10 is composed of Uzbekistan (7), Yemen (8) and Iraq (9). Laos was the lone country to drop from the top 10 list, falling to No. 12 from No. 10.

Outside the top 10, 3 nations made impressive upward moves, all of them with a significant Muslim population and a rise in Muslim extremism: Sudan moved up 19 spots to No. 16 – the biggest leap of any country from 2011. Nigeria rose 10 spots to No. 13. Egypt, where violent protests and upheaval have come about during the Arab Spring, rose four positions to No. 15.
Recognizing that many nations regard the practice of Christianity as illegal, it's important that we are in prayer for believers in those countries who are living their lives and expressing their faith many times in secret, for fear of retribution by the authorities.

1 - Sellout crowd at Passion gives impressive amount of money to help fight human trafficking

For years now, the Passion movement has been an effective tool that God has used to energize young adults, primarily college students, and to train them to be effective in their witness on their campuses and various spheres of influence. This year, the annual gathering in Atlanta moved from its previous home at the Philips Arena to the more spacious Georgia Dome, where some 44,000 seats were made available - every one of them filled. Next year, in fact, the 2013 Passion event will utilize all 70,000+ seats in the Dome.

Here's a report from The Christian Post.

The latest installment of Passion this past Monday through Thursday included not only a stellar speaking lineup, including founder Louie Giglio, as well as Beth Moore, John Piper, and Francis Chan, but also notable worship leaders Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong United, and Christy Nockels. Plus, the final concert of the David Crowder Band was part of the event! And, there was a call to those gathered to give dollars to the cause of fighting human trafficking, which affects some 27 million people worldwide. And, that, interestingly enough, was what attracted the attention of the media, including CNN. The latest total of dollars raised: just over $3 million! These students, I believe, are indicative of their generation, who are determined to make a difference, desiring to live out an authentic faith.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The 3 - January 2, 2012

This New Year's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes an announcement by a major Christian leader that he will soon undergo cancer treatment, new pro-life legislation signed into law by the Governor of Virginia, and a new year bringing new opportunities for Christians to participate in regular Bible study and prayer.

3 - Calvary Chapel founder announces he has lung cancer

Chuck Smith, the Founder of the ministry of Calvary Chapel, based in Costa Mesa, California, announced to his congregation in worship services on January 1st that he had lung cancer and that a plan of treatment will be determined this week.

Here is the story from The Christian Post.

Smith founded the church in 1965, and it now places in the top 100 of churches in terms of weekly worship attendance. The church has been well-known for its contribution to the Jesus movement throughout the late 60's and 70's, giving rise to the genre now know as contemporary Christian music.

After the announcement, Smith's son-in-law and leaders of the congregation gathered to anoint the 84-year-old pastor with oil and pray for his healing.

2 - New VA regulations regulating abortion clinics go into effect

Word out of the state of Virginia is that Governor Bob McDonnell has approved regulations passed by the state Legislature that would place new restrictions on abortions in the state. Here is the story from

Despite the vocal opposition of Planned Parenthood, the measures were approved by the state Board of Health in September, and feature common-sense regulations, such as:

- the treatment of abortion clinics as hospitals instead of physician’s offices,

- licensing of and unannounced inspections of abortion centers,

- requirements that doctors remain on the premises until a woman is actually ready to be discharged,

- improved sanitary conditions,

- emergency equipment for cardiac arrest, seizure, respiratory distress and other critical medical situations, and

- requiring centers to be built, or improved within two years, to standards similar to ambulatory surgical facilities.

The legislation gave the state’s Board of Health 280 days to write new rules for abortion businesses.

Other states have new abortion restrictions that went into effect January 1st. A new law in New Hampshire requires girls seeking abortions to inform their parents or a judge first. A similar law was passed some 8 years ago, but was never enforced due to lawsuits being filed. Regulations are now in effect in Arkansas, where facilities performing 10 or more nonsurgical abortions per month must be licensed by the state health department and be subject to inspections by the department.

1 - New Year's Day brings new church, Christian initiatives on prayer and Bible reading

Most churches held church services on New Year's Day, and individual Christians had numerous opportunities to engage in Bible reading and consistent prayer entering the new year. The phone app,, and the accompanying website, offers a number of Bible reading plan, including The One-Year Bible, as well as a variety of chronological Bible reading plans. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, announced a Bible reading plan called, 40 Days in the Word, intended to engage his congregation in greater Bible study.

The Southern Baptist Convention is encouraging churches and individuals to get involved in prayer for the new year through the SBC Call to Prayer. There are 5 suggested areas of emphasis:

- My Family and Friends. Select a friend or family member and pray that they would come to faith in Christ.

- My Church. Select a church staff member, volunteer or ministry, and pray for them in their efforts to penetrate lostness.

- My Nation. Select a Send North America city and pray for the church planting efforts in that area (

- My World. Select an unreached people group and pray that the Gospel would be advanced among these people (

- My Southern Baptist Convention. Selected a national, state or local leader and pray for guidance in leading the Southern Baptist Convention.

A variety of online resources are available, giving Christians practical guides for their daily Bible study and prayer as we seek to evaluate and to re-focus our time with Him, resulting in spiritual growth.