Sunday, May 27, 2012

The 3 - May 26, 2012

On this week's edition of "the 3", my week-in-review feature, a new survey illustrates the continuation of a trend for fewer Americans to declare themselves as "pro-choice" regarding abortion, Memorial Day provides an occasion for a Christian legal advocacy group to launch a campaign to protect religious imagery at memorials, and dozens of Catholic groups file lawsuit against the Federal government regarding an Administration mandate to provide contraception services in violation of deeply-held religious beliefs.

3 - New survey indicates decline in number of pro-choice Americans

There has seemingly been a great deal of momentum in the pro-life movement in the last few years - even though the Administration in Washington has enacted and supported policies that serve to remove restrictions on abortion, in the statehouses of America there has been a strong surge in the amount of pro-life legislation that has been passed.  Pro-life events, such as the March for Life in Washington and others, have enjoyed strong attendance, and polling data has begun to show that America is trending pro-life.

And, that was reinforced by a Gallup poll released this week, showing that the number of Americans self-identifying as "pro-choice" has dropped to 41%, which is a record low.   That represents a 9-point deficit between pro-choice people and the 50% identified as "pro-life".   Here's the story from the Christian Examiner, with a piece from Baptist Press.

Pro-life leaders were encouraged.  Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, said the latest poll "is only the tip of the iceberg. In fact, a growing number of Americans are uneasy with the unfettered, under-regulated and unsavory abortion industry as it exists today."

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony list, cited the effort to require taxpayers to fund abortions as a key reason for the public's move away from the pro-choice position, noting, "Those who would have us continue to fund abortion with our tax dollars are arguing in direct opposition to public opinion."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said that President Obama's "radical abortion agenda is finally putting a face on the 'choice' movement, and it's not pretty...What we're witnessing is the nationwide backlash to three years of Planned Parenthood-style governing," he said. "And led by the next generation, America is on the verge of a social revolution that will ultimately reclaim this nation as a culture of life."

With pro-life people passionately advocating for the unborn and reaching out with compassion to women in crisis pregnancy situations, in addition to the increased information through ultrasound technology regarding the development of pre-born children, there is great momentum for the viewpoint of life consistent with God's Word.

2 -  Legal advocacy group launches Memorial Day campaign

On this Memorial Day weekend, we are reminded of the great sacrifice of the brave men and women who have fought and even given their lives in order to win and preserve our freedom.   And, we can remember the hand of God as He has worked to establish our nation and as He has sustained us.   There are vivid symbols of this symbiotic relationship between deep faith and military strength throughout our land in the form of Christian crosses, Ten Commandments monuments, and other religious symbols that illustrate the dependence on God that has been so vital in the life of our nation.

But, we have seen concerted efforts to remove these displays from the landscape of America, and it its Memorial Day campaign, the Christian legal advocacy group Liberty Institute is standing up for these bold symbols, including the large Veterans' memorial on Mt. Soledad in San Diego that has been in and out of the court system.  Here is a background story from The Christian Post.  

As it stands now, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the cross is unconstitutional, saying that it violates the so-called Establishment Clause of the Constitution.   Liberty Institute is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the veteran's group that has acted as custodians of the memorial, and the U.S. Solicitor General has stepped in on the side of preserving the memorial cross.   Liberty Institute has released a video including a song, "Don't Tear Me Down", that underscores that importance of this case, which could affect how and if religious symbols are used in veteran's memorials and other public monuments.   For more information, you can go to

On this Memorial Day, we can be careful to look for evidence of our Christian heritage through the symbols throughout our land.   It is important that these are preserved.

1 - Dozens of Catholic entities file lawsuits against contraceptive mandate

A new development arose this week regarding the opposition to the mandate by the Federal government that all organizations, including religious entities, must provide free contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization in their health-care plans.   43 Catholic entities, including educational institutions such as Notre Dame and Franciscan University of Ohio, health-care providers, and charities, filed multiple lawsuits against being forced to provide these services, which violate their religious beliefs.   CitizenLink has been following the situation, and had this report.

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), said in a statement.“It is a compelling display of the unity of the Church in defense of religious liberty."   The Conference is not a party in the lawsuit.

This could be the largest religious liberties lawsuit in history, and carries with it some serious implications on the government's right to attempt to force religious institutions, as well as private businesses and others who operate according to Christian principles, to abandon their deeply-held beliefs.  And, as the Catholic Association has pointed out, the President's support among Catholics has dropped significantly since the HHS mandate was issued.   In a nation founded on the premise of freedom of religion, this entire situation has been a troubling series of events.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The 3 - May 20, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3" focuses on a first-grade student's experience with being told she couldn't include a song in his school's talent show because it was "too religious".   Plus, the first religious institution has dropped health insurance because of a government mandate to provide drugs that it finds objectionable.  And, the top story is multi-faceted and includes responses to the nationwide debate over the definition of marriage.

3 - Idaho student allowed to perform Christian song, despite earlier ban by school 

Just in time for the annual debate about students' religious free speech rights centered around graduation, a hopeful outcome emerged for a much younger student, who wanted to perform sign language to Chris Tomlin's song, "We Fall Down", in the talent show at Lena Whitmore Elementary School in Moscow, Idaho.   This first-grade student was told that the content of the song was "too religious", but the school backed off after receiving a letter from the Alliance Defense Fund. 

Here's the story from the Alliance Defense Fund's media site.

ADF Litigation Counsel Matt Sharp is quoted as saying that, “Public schools should encourage, not shut down, the free exchange of ideas. Removing the voice of faith from schools sends a message to all students that religion is something to be ashamed of.”   He went on to say: “The school district is off to a good start in allowing this performance to occur, but it needs to revise its unconstitutional policy so that this doesn’t happen again.”

This makes for great headlines as we are now approaching graduation season, where routinely we find that students' free-speech rights are challenged.   ADF points out the Idaho case that if the presentation is the student's personal expression, then it can't be shut down under the First Amendment.

Regarding the inclusion of religious content in graduation speeches, Liberty Counsel has some helpful information.   In its "Friend or Foe" Graduation Prayer Campaign, the legal advocacy organization is intent on reminding officials that students don't lose their free speech rights when they step to the podium.

2 - Catholic university drops student health insurance 

It was just a matter of time before a religious institution made the announcement that it could not longer offer health insurance because of the government mandate that free contraceptives, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization had to be covered by the insurance companies that are chose by religious organizations, and it has now occurred.   This mandate was the prime factor in the decision by the Catholic university, Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio.   Here's the report from CitizenLink.

The University could have held on for another year under the Health and Human Services provision, but the decision was hurried up because of the economic implications.    Vice-President of Advancement Michael Hernon said, "We may have been able to be grandfathered for a year on our moral objections to the mandate...But the tripwire was the Affordable Care Act’s requirements that take effect later this year that will double, then triple — and more — our costs.”

Hernon said student health policies generally provide limited benefits with a maximum payout of $50,000 per incident.  Under ObamaCare, the school is required to increase the limit to $100,000 per incident this fall, to $500,000 for the 2013-14 academic year, and to begin offering unlimited policies to students in 2014-15.
The school also dropped its requirement for students to have health insurance because administrators don’t want them to buy something “immoral or too expensive,” Hernon said.

So while the health care law promises lower costs, employers are facing a strong economic impact in the other direction.   And, some companies would even rather pay a fine or a fee rather than the escalating premiums under the Act.  

This is, I would anticipate, the first of many religious entities who will no longer provide health insurance under the contraception mandate, which was implemented in a brazen attempt that disregarded the conscience rights of individuals and institutions. 

1 - Ramifications of gay marriage debate show up throughout the nation

The debate over same-sex marriage continues to proliferate across America, as the President continues to stand verbally behind his support for gay marriage and as his Administration continues to enact policies that support gay rights, even at the expense of the conscience rights of military chaplains and others.   A group of African-American pastors have taken issue with the President, as well.   Plus, there have been some recent developments on college campuses regarding the subject of homosexuality or gay marriage.

In a speech this week in New York City, according to CitizenLink, the President openly stated the position to which his officials have held already - that he would like to see the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage as one man for one woman, repealed.  And CNS News reports that the Administration "strongly objects" to provisions in a proposed Defense Authorization Bill that prohibit the use of military property for same-sex “marriage or marriage-like” ceremonies, and protect military chaplains from negative repercussions for refusing to act against their consciences, as, for example, in being ordered to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

The bill apparently has a number of objectionable elements for the White House - it has passed a House committee, and will face debate on the House floor in the coming week. 

And, there is a report from The Christian Post on a group called the Coalition of African-American Pastors, which called on Mr. Obama to renounce his support of same-sex marriage, speaking strongly against the idea of characterizing gay rights as a civil rights issue.

Rev. Bill Owens, the coalition's organizer and a veteran of the civil rights movement who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, was quoted as saying, "The group of black clergy and civil rights leaders say it is time to turn the tide against the 'hijacking' of the civil rights movement..."  A 50-year-old can only read about the struggles and protests of the civil rights era, but some of us who are older have the battle scars to prove it. And the rights we fought so hard to acquire did not include same-sex marriage."  Two days later, the NAACP passed a resolution stating its support for gay marriage.

And, the same-sex marriage debate has yielded some effects on Christian college campuses.  At Biola University, according to the Christian Examiner, a small group of gay students announced its presence, in opposition to the school's official position.   University officials issued a statement clarifying the school's stance on human sexuality and assuring students struggling with same-sex attraction that they are welcome in the Biola community.

University President Barry Corey wrote in a letter to students, faculty and alumni, which started out by saying, "Biola sees this as an opportunity to live out what it means to be a learning community of grace and love...."

Biola students are required to sign a contract affirming their agreement with the university's belief that "sexual relationships are designed by God to be expressed solely within a marriage between husband and wife."  The new statement goes into more detail, looking at God's design for marriage, offering help for those struggling with issues of sexuality, and encouraging discussion on campus.

The statement also says the school is a safe place for those struggling with same sex issues: "We pledge to extend compassion and care, providing accountability and assistance as we support all members of our community — students, staff and faculty — in their desire to live consistently with Christian teaching."

So, the school is showing support for gay students without endorsing their lifestyle, apparently.   And, they are promoting dialogue.   Chris Grace, vice president of Student Development, said that students often come to him and other Biola faculty members about their struggles with same-sex attraction.  He said:
"They struggle in ways like everyone else because of brokenness...When we recognize students who come to us, our hope is to walk alongside them... to help them grow closer to what God intended in their lives." 

So, here is a school that has not capitulated to the gay agenda, but is inviting dialogue and encouraging those struggling with same-sex attraction to feel comfortable in seeking help.   

Another Christian school, in Rome, Georgia, Shorter University, is requiring a "personal lifestyle statement" for its faculty members.  It includes the pledge to “...reject as acceptable all sexual activity not in agreement with the Bible, including, but not limited to, premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.”  The statement also says they will not engage in illegal drug use or drink alcohol in restaurants, stadiums and other public locations. 

Well, over 50 faculty members have either resigned or cited disagreement with either the lifestyle statement or the school's faith statement.   President Donald Dowless is quoted by Religion News Service as saying that there are “strong feelings on both sides” about the new employment rules but the board decided to “reclaim our Christian roots” even if the consequence was a loss of faculty and staff.

“Our University was at a crossroads to either take steps to regain an authentic Christian identity in policy and practice or we would become a Christian University in name only,” he said.  

So, here is a school that is attempting to reaffirm behavior that is consistent with Biblical truth - and half of its faculty has either resigned or is in disagreement.   Sometimes you do have to evaluate your position on issues to make sure that you are lining up, and Shorter is using this moment in its history to run a "plumb line" and reset its standards.    

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The 3 - May 13, 2012

On this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, some new court action regarding the National Day of Prayer (ugh!), communication from a jailed Iranian pastor, and headline-grabbing activity concerning the redefinition of marriage.

3 - Colorado Appeals Court Finds Fault with Governors' National Day of Prayer Proclamations

The National Day of Prayer was celebrated recently, as I outlined for you last week.  The Day had actually faced a legal challenge from the so-called Freedom From Religion Foundation, which has been showing itself to be an organization that is intent on promoting an atheist worldview in the public square.  Since last April, when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed a lawsuit that the Foundation had filed, the interest in the National Day of Prayer has reportedly surged, as the National Day of Prayer Task Force indicates an increase in the number of organized events reported on the Task Force website. 

But, the Freedom from Religion Foundation has certainly not given up, and has been no doubt emboldened by a ruling out of Colorado this week.  Proclamations issued by two Colorado governors between 2004 and 2009 were ruled unconstitutional on Thursday by the state's three-judge Court of Appeals.  The appeals court has also requested a lower court decision on future proclamations and state prayer events.

Here is the story from CitizenLink.

The ruling overturned a 2010 state district court ruling dismissing a lawsuit filed by the FFRF.   A similar lawsuit filed against the state of Arizona by the organization was dismissed by a U.S. District Court judge in December of last year, citing a lack of standing by the FFRF - the Foundation has now appealed that ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Fortunately, last year, the Obama Administration successfully defended the lawsuit against the National Day of Prayer, and Governor Brewer's administration apparently defended the Arizona challenge.   It is unclear on whether or not Colorado's governor and attorney general will defend that suit.

Unfortunately, it seems the FFRF has unlimted resources to file lawsuits against traditional and constitutional expressions of religious faith and heritage. The Foundation has been active in challenging a variety of
types of religious activities regarding government entities, including schools.  Just last week, in Sylvania, Alabama, officials voted to retain a Scriptural reference on the town limit signs in the face of a threat from the Foundation.  And, when you consider that so many school systems and municipalities are strapped for funds, the playing field is definitely slanted in the direction of those who would remove public expressions of religion.  But, prayer and vigilance, in addition to the skill of organizations such as the Alliance Defense Fund and others, can help to level that playing field and to preserve the rights of students, officials, and others to express themselves.

2 -  Jailed Iranian Pastor Writes Letter to Supporters, His Attorney Jailed

Many believers in America and around the world are praying and expressing concern for jailed Iranian pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who reportedly still faces the death sentence for converting to Christianity.   A letter has been released from the pastor, informing believers that he is in "perfect health in the flesh and spirit".   He said in the letter that he has "surrendered myself to God's will".   He acknowledged that churches and officials had asked for his release and that human rights groups worldwide had been standing with him.  He concluded the letter by asking for prayer, "as the holy word has said".

Here is a report from Baptist Press, from the Christian Examiner website.

Pastor Youcef's case has been made more complicated by another recent development.  His attorney, Mohammed Ali Dadkhah, has been convicted and could begin serving a nine-year sentence.  Dadkhah said he was convicted of acting against national security and other charges.   Jordan Sekulow of the American center for Law and Justice, which has been a powerful ally of Pastor Youcef, said, "This development only reinforces the fact that Iran has no regard for basic human rights".  Dadkhah has said that no attorney would be willing to take Youcef's case out of fear of "being imprisoned or disbarred".   He had represented 12 Christians in Iran in April alone who had been charged with several crimes, including apostasy - for leaving Islam.  

This illustrates the pressure that many believers across the Middle East are facing regarding their Christian faith - but even in the midst of great darkness, God's light is shining throughout the region.   Perhaps even this situation can bring an increased motivation for people of faith to intercede for Pastor Youcef, attorney
Dadkhah, and the people of that nation.

1 - NC Voters Affirm Traditional Marriage, President Reverts to Support of Gay Marriage

This week, there was a strange juxtaposition of ideas concerning the institution of marriage.  God established that institution in the book of Genesis, it was affirmed by Jesus, and I believe that our system of laws, based on moral law, is based on the clear assumption that marriage, as recognized and endorsed by government, is the union of one man and one woman.   However, there are those that want to redefine marriage to include the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman - gay marriage picked up an important endorsement this week as President Obama became the first sitting President to say that the institution of marriage should be extended to include gay couples.   He and former President Clinton - yes, the one who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, providing a Federal definition of marriage - were active in opposing an amendment to the state Constitution in North Carolina, but, in the end, the people affirmed traditional marriage, putting that state in line with 29 others and in line with the Biblical definition.  

So, gay marriage dominated the headlines.  Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has affirmed that his belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, reportedly received his largest round of applause at the commencement at Liberty University over the weekend when he stated that belief.   We now have another social issue that has risen to the forefront in the election of 2012 - and it's been introduced, in essence, again by the White House, who also injected the issue of free birth control to be provided for employees of religious institutions into the national debate.   Now, it's same-sex marriage, strategically making the headlines, perhaps to deflect attention away from the economy, maybe to marginalize people of faith, who knows? - but it's an important issue, and I think it gives Christians an opportunity to decide how to respond - are we merely to speak out, stand up, and say no (which is important!)?  Or is perhaps God calling us to do more - to reaffirm traditional marriage, to live out the truth in our own marriages, and to seek ways to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual tendencies, to point them to the grace and power of Jesus Christ, who can enable them to live above gender confusion and to experience a freedom like none other.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The 3 - May 6, 2012

This week on "The 3", my week-in-review feature, an international Christian denomination wrestles with the issue of homosexuality at its General Conference, a Chinese dissident pursues the cause of freedom, which is appealing to hosts of Christians in China, and the National Day of Prayer unites Christians across America, crying out to God for spiritual awakening.

3 - United Methodists keep language on homosexuality the same

At its General Conference, held every 4 years, the United Methodist Church voted to basically re-affirm what it has traditionally held regarding homosexual behavior and the ordination of gays into the ministry.   The Conference was held in Tampa this year, and there were a host of resolutions that dealt with sexuality, many specifically attempting to loosen the church's stance on homosexuality as "incompatible with Christian teaching". In the end, by about a 60-40% margin, the delegates voted to keep the current language.

CitizenLink offered this report.

It has been largely held that if the denomination were to reject changes in its position on homosexuality, that the strength to do so would come from the African delegates, which represent some 30% of the denomination's membership.   The Church in general has about 40% of its membership in overseas countries, where members generally hold to a more conservative view of the Scriptures.

“Thanks to its global membership, United Methodism uniquely is growing in members and rejecting liberal accommodation of secular Western culture, unlike declining U.S. mainline Protestant denominations,” said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, quoted by CitizenLink.

According to church reports, membership in the U.S. fell by 100,000 last year, while African Methodist churches grew by 200,000.

Several other denominational churches have previously changed doctrine to accept homosexuality, including the Episcopal Church in the United States of America,  the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the U.S. Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ.  All those denominations ordain openly homosexual clergy members; the United Church of Christ also condones same-sex marriage.

2 - Chinese dissident who escaped prison apparently headed to America

He's reportedly not a Christian, but he has championed a cause that is of great concern to Christians in China, as well as those who are outside the large nation who are trying to help.   Blind attorney Chen Guangcheng, who has been outspoken in his opposition to China's brutal one-child policy, which includes forced abortion and sterilization, for years has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese government, and has been arrested and reportedly tortured.    About two weeks ago, he decided he'd had enough, and crafted an intricate escape plan from so-called "house arrest".   He sought protection in the U.S. Embassy around the time that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Time Geithner were due in the nation for high-level talks.   Both countries were trying to avoid embarrassment, and ultimately, Chen, who had initially said he would like to stay in China, will apparently leave the nation and study in the United States.

Bob Fu of the Christian organization ChinaAid, stood with Chen and actually reached him by cellphone so he could talk to members of a U.S. House subcommittee this week.   And, members of the underground church are supportive of Chen's actions, according to a piece in the Christian Post:
 "Chen Guangcheng isn't a Christian, but we Chinese Christians pray for all those in pursuit of the truth," Zhang Mingxuan, a house church pastor from central province of Henan, stated, according to the news agency. Activist and lawyer Chen's case, the pastor added, "has been a blow for China's legal and government officials."
The Chinese have been called into question for their human rights record, and there are fears that a crackdown on house churches is underway and may intensify in light of the situation.   And, while U.S. officials stress that they call attention to human rights abuses and religious freedom issues in their conversations with the Chinese, our government, which has borrowed over a trillion dollars from China, has lost leverage to speak to those topics.  So, Chinese Christians continue to suffer, but they continue to thrive and explode numerically.   And, while the Chinese government doesn't want their oppressive tactics on people of faith or their forced abortion policy to be part of the international consciousness, the case of Chen Guangcheng has served to expose the policies of China and its leaders.  

1 - National Day of Prayer encourages Christians to seek God

Thursday, May 3rd was the 61st annual observance of the National Day of Prayer since Congress passed legislation making it an annual event, and directing the President to make a proclamation of it.   The day was cemented on the first Thursday of May during the Reagan administration.    Observances took place from sea to shining sea, as Christians gathered at state capitols, at city halls and county courthouses, and at churches across the land.   A national prayer event took place at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC on Thursday morning, and it was streamed live on the Internet.   That evening, Christian radio stations across America, led by 2 large, influential networks, broadcast a concert of prayer, called the "One Cry Prayer Summit", which featured a variety of Christian leaders offering prayers for our nation and encouraging believers to unite their hearts in seeking God for spiritual awakening in our land.  

And, the work of organizations such as One Cry and the National Day of Prayer Task Force continues, as their desire is for prayer for our nation to be more than a one-day event, but a consistent focus for believers across the nation.  Shirley Dobson continues to lead the Task Force, and the Honorary Chairman this year was Dr. David Jeremiah, Senior Pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego and speaker on the Turning Point radio and television broadcasts.  More information on the observance of the National day of Prayer can be obtained at or