Sunday, September 30, 2012

The 3 - September 30, 2012

This week on "The 3", my week-in-review feature, we concentrate on some of the religious implications stated in some of the speeches at the United Nations this past week.   Also, the importance of prayer is underscored through the student prayer event called "See You at the Pole".  Plus, the beginning of numerous prayer efforts in advance of Election Day, November 6th, qualifies as the most impactful story concerning Christians this week.

3 - World leaders invoke spiritual themes

The United Nations convened another General Assembly last week in New York City, and host of world leaders paraded to the stage to address issues of importance to their various nations.
I thought there was a significant religious component to the speeches that were given, including the end-times scenario presented by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Here is the commentary from Joel Rosenberg's Flash Traffic Blog:
Ahmadinejad told the leaders of the world gathered in Manhattan that he had come this time “to voice the divine and humanitarian message…to you and to the whole world.”

“God Almighty has promised us a man of kindness, a man who loves people and loves  absolute justice, a man who is a perfect human being and is named Imam Al-Mahdi,  a man who will come in the company of Jesus Christ, peace be upon Him, and the righteous,” he said. Calling the Mahdi “the Ultimate Savior,” Ahmadinejad said his arrival on earth “will mark a new beginning, a rebirth and a  resurrection. It will be the beginning of peace, lasting security and genuine life.”
According to Rosenberg,
Islamic theologians say Muslim political leaders today are supposed to set into motion the annihilation of Judeo-Christian civilization as we know it and create the conditions of chaos and carnage to hasten the arrival of the Twelfth Imam. Then the Mahdi is supposed to turn all these wars and killings to his advantage and establish justice and peace.
In response to the Iranian President's speech and the threat of Iran's nuclear weapons program, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized it:
“Iran’s apocalyptic leaders believe that a medieval holy man will reappear in the wake of a devastating Holy War, thereby ensuring that their brand of radical Islam will rule the earth. That’s not just what they believe. That’s what is actually guiding their policies and their actions.”
And, Mohamed Morsi, the new President of Egypt, member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which supports a worldwide caliphate and dominance by Islam said, according to the Christian Post:
Morsi, who repeatedly referred to himself as the "first, democratically elected, civilian president of Egypt," said his country respects freedom of expression, but "one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone, one that is not directed toward one specific religion or cult."
Yemen President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, seconded Morsi. "There should be limits for the freedom of expression, especially if such freedom blasphemes the beliefs of nations and defames their figures," he said.
There is a move for so-called blasphemy laws to be implemented by the United Nations - but, of course, you have to be concerned with who will determine what is or isn't considered blasphemy. 

U.S. President Barack Obama also weighed in on matters of religious freedom, saying, according to a report in Christian Today:
Obama, and other administration officials, have continued to blame the recent uprisings on an anti-Islam video produced in the United States.   Others disagree.  Obama repeated the assertion in his U.N. speech.

"I know there are some who ask why we don't just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech," Obama explained. "Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as president of our country, and commander-in-chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views -- even views that we disagree with."
Critics were concerned that the President has taken a such a hard line against the poor-quality, relatively obscure video that is alleged to denigrate Muslims, especially in light of the inexcusable violence which rose up in over 20 nations in the Middle East around the anniversary of 9-11 and was responsible for the loss of life of American officials in Libya.   Obama also reiterated the discredited theory that the video was responsible for the violence, rather than well-organized terrorists.  

It is quite revealing that world leaders enunciated the importance of religion in world politics.   Hopefully, American officials will recognize the spiritual component in so much of the world's unrest and develop an understanding and a strategy to deal with the rising tide of extremism.

2 - Thousands of young people participate in "See You at the Pole"

The annual event known as "See You at the Pole", attracting primarily junior high and high school students to school flagpoles at the start of the school day, took place this past Wednesday, September 26th.  Since the event is observed in some 20 countries, it is difficult to estimate the numbers, and reports range from 1 million to as high as 3 million students.

See You at the Pole started in 1990 when a small group of teenagers gathered in Burleson, Texas, and is described on its website as "simply a prayer rally where students meet at the school flagpole before school to lift up their friends, families, teachers, school and nation to God."   SYATP is student-initiated, student-organized and student-led, although you will find that youth ministers will encourage their students to participate, and even help to facilitate their involvement.

According to a piece in Baptist Press,
"SYATP helps launch teenagers and college students -- in unity -- to minister to their peers," said Daryl Nuss, executive director of the National Network of Youth Ministries, which coordinates promotion of the event.

"See You at the Pole empowers students in prayer at the beginning of the school year to take leadership at their schools. What better way is there to begin a semester than to pray for their friends, community and nation?" Nuss added.
The theme for his year's See You at the Pole gatherings was "Awaken", based on Ephesians 3:14-21, where the apostle Paul encourages the church at Ephesus to pray for a greater awareness of God's love.

1 - Christians prepare for election with 40 days of prayer, America for Jesus draws thousands to Philadelphia 

This past week marked 40 days until Election Day, on November 6th.   I would encourage you to register to vote for this important opportunity to make your voice heard.   One website that has been set up to help you register is  

One of the most, if not the most, important factors leading up to Election Day is prayer.   This past weekend, on historic Independence Mall in Philadelphia, perhaps as many as 10,000 people or more took part in America for Jesus, which blended a number of high-profile Christian leaders who joined together with those who gathered at this historic site to intercede for our nation.   Here is a link to some coverage of the event by The Christian Post.

The event was being billed as a prayer event, not a political or partisan event.  John Blanchard, the executive pastor of Rock Church International in Virginia and national coordinator for the event, was quoted by The Christian Post as saying, "We are praying that God would touch America. We're not Democrats and Republicans. We're Christians."

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins urged the crowd to also pray for President Barack Obama.   FRC is one of the partners in the nationwide "Your Money, Your Values, Your Vote" bus tour, which stopped in Philadelphia for the rally.

There are other national efforts of prayer and fasting for 40 days leading up to the election:
- Eric Metaxas, author and the speaker on Breakpoint, is calling on people to join him in a time of prayer and fasting.  Find out more at
- Max Lucado, author and the speaker on Upwords, has organized "40 Days of Prayer for the USA", and the website is
- America's National Prayer Committee has also launched a 40-day prayer effort; go to to learn more.
- And, a number of high-profile Christian leaders are featured on, with Stephen Arterburn, Henry Blackaby, Vonette Bright, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Anne Graham Lotz, Mike Huckabee, Harry Jackson, and many more participating.

These numerous prayer efforts should challenge us as devoted Christian believers concerned about the future of our nation and desiring God to pour out His Spirit on our land to be on our knees in diligent intercessory prayer.   

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The 3 - September 23, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes a story that has garnered some response in the Christian community - a centuries-old fragment that makes reference to a wife for Jesus.  Also, religious expression is at the heart of a debate over football game banners in Texas.  And, the top story involves more media coverage for a large restaurant chain built on Christian values - and it's more than just commercials featuring cows saying "Eat Mor Chikin".

3 - Fragment reportedly shows a reference to Jesus' wife, Christian leaders respond

There has been quite a bit of coverage this past week, as well as discussion, about an archaeological fragment which contains 12 lines in Aramaic.  In one of those lines, there is a report of Jesus referring to "my wife".   Gary Manning, a professor at Biola University, wrote a compelling background story on The Good Book Blog.   He basically said that even though it's too early to tell whether or not the fragment is authentic, it does point to some of the Gnostic writers of the day.   The discovery was released, in fact, by a modern-day Gnostic writer named Karen King, who teaches at Harvard.

Manning writes:
The Gnostics wrote a number of short collections of sayings that they attributed to Jesus: the Gospel of Philip, Gospel of Judas, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and others. Technically, these are not really gospels, at least when compared with the canonical gospels. The four gospels in the New Testament are full biographies of Jesus, directly tied to eyewitness accounts, and written within 25 to 60 years of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gnostic gospels, in contrast, are short collections of sayings, with little or no biographical material. They are written by people more than a century removed from Jesus, with no connection to the eyewitnesses. Generally, these works are easily identified because they try to make Jesus sound like a Gnostic. This newly discovered fragment has a few lines that sound like the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas, and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene.
A piece on the Religion Today website features commentary by other Christian scholars.   Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary is quoted as saying that, if this papyrus was authentic, it would be the only text among many to suggest that Jesus had a wife.  He said that, "It represents "a very small minority in a much later period than original Christianity...It is a fourth-century text in a fringe gnostic group that is not representative of the larger groups that are [part of] Christianity."

Dr. Joel B. Green of Fuller Seminary said,  "We have no evidence at all of any debate among the earliest followers of Jesus regarding Jesus' martial status. This debate surfaced later. It's important to put this in context. Popular literature (say, from the third and fourth centuries) made all sorts of claims about Jesus ... These claims really don't tell us anything about Jesus of Nazareth, the historical person who lived in the first third of the first century."

And, the Culture and Media Institute of the Media Research Center took the media to task for trying to portray this non-traditional discovery as something more genuine than it has actually been proven to be.   Here is their piece on the coverage.   One of the lines in the piece says that some media outlets failed to mention that there are several places in the New Testament where the church is referred to as the bride of Christ.

What does Gnosticism teach?  According to Watchman Fellowship: 
The Gnostics promoted three basic teachings: 1) matter is evil, and thus Jesus only appeared to be a man; 2) because the Bible teaches that God created matter, the God of the Old Testament Jews is an evil deity who is distinct from the New Testament God, Jesus Christ; and 3) ultimate Truth is a mystery that is available only to those who are initiated into the secret teachings and practices of the Gnostic groups. 
Gnosticism has seen a resurgence since the mid-20th Century with the 1945 Egyptian discovery of the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic writings.  Modern Gnosticism teaches that Truth can be found by combining the beliefs and practices of numerous religions.  Interestingly enough, Karen King has written a book called, What is Gnosticism?

Truth is, there are many today who are attempting to paint a different picture of the Jesus portrayed in Scripture.  That is why it is so important that we as believers in Christ stay grounded in the Scriptures, firm in what we believe, and making sure that we are walking in discernment.

2 -  Texas cheerleaders hold the line on Scripture banners, FFRF faces pushback

The cheerleaders at Hardin County High School in Kountze, Texas have a proud tradition of holding up banners for the football players to run through prior to their games.  Part of that tradition includes the display of Scripture verses, such as Philippians 4:13, on them.   Last week, in response to a letter of complaint by the (you guessed it!) Freedom From Religion Foundation, that appears intent on disrupting time-honored forms of religious expression, especially at school football games, the cheerleaders were told by the school superintendent that they could no longer display those signs.

Response was swift and sizable - a Facebook group was started, that, as of this writing, has almost 42,000 members - it's called "Support Kountze Kids Faith".  (You can request to join it, if you like.)  And, the cheerleaders enlisted the support of attorney David Starnes and legal advocacy group Liberty Institute, which went to court.   On Thursday, a Federal judge handed down a temporary restraining order, allowing the banners for 2 more games and giving the Hardin County Independent School District until October 4th to explain why they have outlawed the banners.   Here is the play-by-play by CBN News.

Liberty Institute President Kelly Shackelford is quoted as saying:
"These government school officials will never learn that students' religious rights are protected"..."We have successfully passed state laws protecting student religious speech and have won restraining orders to final judgments protecting student religious speech."
FFRF has made a practice to contact school officials in a variety of districts about such common practices as prayer before football games and other forms of religious expression.   And, there are just a handful of cases in which they get involved that actually go to court.  In some cases, a school district or government officials will capitulate.   But recently, we've seen where officials have stood strong against their tactics.   Last week, for example, the Chancellor of the University of Tennessee rejected a challenge to pre-game invocations at UT football games.   And, we've seen other instances where school and government officials have realized that attempts to restrict religious expression, primarily by FFRF, are not valid.

Students have a chance to participate in legal, Constitutionally-protected prayer at their school flagpoles this Wednesday, September 26th - it's See You at the Pole, with this year's theme, "Awaken".

1  - Gay activists play media game of "chicken" with Chick-Fil-A

The storyline came so quickly, and a number of media outlets bought the statement out of Chicago, where a group called The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) issued a report that Chick-Fil-A, a company that was founded on Christian principles and continues to operate on those premises today, had issued a statement that included language stating that it would be considerate of all customers, regardless of sexual orientation.  This is actually a position that the company has always held, and was stated even before Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day on August 1st, where thousands visited local restaurants to show support of company president Dan Cathy's views on traditional marriage.  The statement also suggested that Chick-Fil-A would re-evaluate its financial support of organizations that had a political or social agenda.  The coverage began to take a life of its own, and the storyline emerged that CFA would no longer support groups that have been described as so-called "hate groups", such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage.   These are groups that have been supportive of the Biblical definition of marriage.

This story caused quite a stir in the Christian community, who felt that (as some reports suggested) that CFA had "caved" to gay activist groups just to place a restaurant in Chicago.   The problem is that the reports were not true, and Chick-Fil-A moved to issue a statement on Thursday setting the record straight.  Cathy later posted a statement on Mike Huckabee's website saying that "we have made no concessions".

Baptist Press, which closely followed the story of reaction to Dan Cathy's earlier comments on his support of traditional marriage, had an excellent, timely report.   In it, Cathy is quoted as saying:
"There continues to be erroneous implications in the media that Chick-fil-A changed our practices and priorities in order to obtain permission for a new restaurant in Chicago. That is incorrect. Chick-fil-A made no such concessions, and we remain true to who we are and who we have been." 
Chick-Fil-A has also stated its dedicated to supporting marriage enrichment programs through its WinShape  Foundation.

Of course, we recognize that supporting traditional marriage and holding to a Biblical view of homosexuality does not make someone anti-gay, bigoted, or intolerant.    Those are our deeply-held convictions based on our study of the Scriptures.   People are welcome to disagree with those beliefs, and make their case, without resorting to name-calling and distortion, which Chick-Fil-A, as well as a host of Christian ministries, continue to be unfairly subjected to.  Pray for the Cathys and Chick-Fil-A as they navigate through this difficult area of cultural involvement.

CitizenLink, the public policy affiliate of Focus on the Family, covered the story well.   Stuart Shepard of CitizenLink appeared on The Meeting House on Friday, and here is that conversation, including extensive coverage of the Chick-Fil-A flap.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The 3 - September 16, 2012

On this week's edition of "The 3", we begin with the major gathering in Washington, DC that embraces Christian, pro-life, and pro-family values.   Then, it's on to court action taken by a large Christian-owned
chain of craft stores, standing against the attempt by the Federal government to force them to provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs through their health care plans.   And, it's on to the Middle East, where violence is erupting and Christians in various nations are in greater danger.

3 - "Values Voters" join together in D.C.

This past weekend, the annual Values Voter Summit took place in Washington, D.C.   Sponsored by Christian, pro-family organizations such as the Family Research Council's affiliate FRC Action, as well as Liberty Counsel and others, the Summit routinely brings together thousands of conservatives who come to be educated and inspired regarding the issues of the day.

High-profile speakers such as Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, former candidate Rick Santorum, current Senator Rand Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and actor Kirk Cameron were just a few of the host of people who addressed the gathering.   Even Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney participated by video.   Here are some of the elements of the content from

Ryan was forthright in his support for life, saying,  "And in this good-hearted country, we believe in showing compassion for mother and child alike. We don't write anyone off in America, especially those without a voice. Every child has a place and purpose in this world. Everyone counts, and in a just society, the law should stand on the side of life."

Bachmann discussed the crisis in the Middle East.  Representatives James Lankford (R-Okla.), Jeff Fortenberry (R-Nebr.) and Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), spoke on a panel on protecting the family and religious liberties.   Sen. Jim DeMint spoke on the importance of voters not listening to Washington and making a difference and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), in a speech he reportedly rewrote on the way over from Capitol Hill, brought the house down as he spoke passionately on why the values we all share are the reason real change needs to come to Washington.

The Values Voter Summit, which posted record attendance last year, has developed into an event where strong ideas consistent with a Christian worldview perspective are explored, and can be an opportunity for attendees to be encouraged and energized.

2 -  Large evangelical-led company files lawsuit against HHS contraception mandate

So far, there have been almost 30 lawsuits filed by a variety of religious institutions and businesses against the mandate from the Administration that they provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs through their health care plans.   Prior to this week, the only lawsuit filed by a private business, Hercules Industries, resulted in a temporary exemption for the company from participating in the mandate, pending further court action.

Now, the second private company has filed suit, and it's a large one.   Hobby Lobby, a chain of hundreds of craft stores across America, is requesting an emergency injunction to prohibit what it calls the "unconstitutional" Health and Human Services policy from being enforced, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

Hobby Lobby reportedly faces "crippling fines up to 1.3 million dollars per day" if it refuses to comply with the mandate.

Hobby Lobby CEO and founder David Green said in a statement that his company would not "abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate.”

“By being required to make a choice between sacrificing our faith or paying millions of dollars in fines, we essentially must choose which poison pill to swallow,” he said.

In an op-ed piece for USA TodayGreen writes:
I know people will say we ought to follow the rules, that it's the same for everybody. But that's not true. The government has exempted thousands of companies from this mandate, for reasons of convenience or cost. But it won't exempt them for reasons of religious belief. So, Hobby Lobby — and my family — are forced to make a choice. With great reluctance, we filed a lawsuit today, represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, asking a federal court to stop this mandate before it hurts our business. We don't like to go running into court, but we no longer have a choice. We believe people are more important than the bottom line and that honoring God is more important than turning a profit.
My family has lived the American dream. We want to continue growing our company and providing great jobs for thousands of employees, but the government is going to make that much more difficult. The government is forcing us to choose between following our faith and following the law. I say that's a choice no American — and no American business — should have to make.
Well said!   Christians who want to live their lives according to God's principles are collectively saying that they should not have to face opposition from the government in order to live out those beliefs.  We are certainly in an unprecedented time - as the Family Research Council and Liberty Institute remind us in their new study of religious hostility in America (, freedom of religion is facing multiple threats.   It's important that Christians continue to be vigilant, prayerful, and firm in our faith, without resorting to demonstrating hostility ourselves. 

1 - Middle East violence presents challenges for Christians in the region

The Tuesday attacks in Libya and Egypt by Muslim extremists on American embassies in those countries have spread to other nations throughout the Middle East.  Much of the attention has been focused on a little-known film that allegedly insults the prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam.   But, as information continues to emerge, there is speculation that the attacks were premeditated and represented the results of planning and coordination.

The film may have been one of the catalysts, or merely the scapegoat or a straw man, but there is a significant challenge for the current Administration to mitigate the violence, and they are enlisting help from leaders in the affected nations, as well as sending in U.S. personnel to help.  Pray for a reduction and the eventual elimination of this sweeping set of violent attacks.

Republicans are saying that the attacks represent a failure in U.S. policy in the Middle East, while those supporting the Obama Administration state that the policy is not at fault; rather the violence was perhaps instigated by this film - therefore, they have decried that type of expression, as well as the violent reaction.

Unfortunately, the filmmaker is described as a Coptic Christian, who is reportedly living in America.   These Egyptian Christians, while not warmly embraced by the Mubarak regime, are certainly not feeling secure under the Muslim Brotherhood leadership.  

Open Doors USA spokesperson Michael Wood is quoted in a report on its website:

“But it is the unpredictable momentum that suddenly creates a wave of protests and anger. Many of the Muslim fanatics link the U.S. with Christianity. So that puts believers in these hot spots such as Libya and Egypt directly in the line of fire.”

Wood adds that Christians in Egypt, who compose 10 percent of the population, and the small community of believers in Libya need our prayers now more than ever before. “Pray that the violence over this film does not spread to other countries…that is the No. 1 prayer request,” he says.
This is a wave of violence that has strong religious roots and implications.  Whatever the catalyst might be, it demonstrates that there is a significant, and growing, number of radical Islamists who desire to strike back at Americans.   I believe the U.S. represents to them a set of values rooted in Judeo-Christian ideals, which stand at odds with the views of these fundamentalists, who view Jews and Christians as infidels, and the U.S. and Israel as their principal  enemies because these countries symbolize these values.


Sunday, September 09, 2012

The 3 - September 9, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes: a Sunday night event in Charlotte, North Carolina, that is intended to encourage Christians to get involved in voting.  Also, from Charlotte, this week the Democratic National Convention took place there, and there were some "faith moments" at and surrounding the event.   The top story involves some good news in 2 instances in the Middle East where there has been religious persecution:  a pastor in Iran is now free and a teen in Pakistan has been released on bail.

3 - Christian leaders prepare for iPledge Sunday

The Faith and Freedom Coalition reports that 17 million evangelicals sat out the 2008 Presidential election. 

If Christians vote their values, it can make a significant difference in the outcome of elections. 

With that concept in mind, the Family Research Council and American Family Association have teamed up to present an impressive lineup of faith leaders in the iPledge Sunday event, originating from First Baptist Church of Charlotte on Sunday night.  Speakers including Tony Perkins, former Senator Rick Santorum, Bishop Harry Jackson, Kirk Cameron and other key Christian leaders are participating in  a 90-minute event celebrating Christian citizenship and exhorting Christians to rise up on Election Day to make their voices heard.   Hundreds of churches have signed up to be simulcast sites.

The goal is to mobilize Christians across America to pledge to: 
Pray for the upcoming election. 
Prepare by registering themselves and others. 
Participate by voting on November 6.

For more information, you can go to   The website contains links to resources that can help encourage congregation members to get involved.   And, there's a link to a website called,, which offers information on conducting a voter registration drive in your church. 

There is also a voter registration site, which is a joint effort of a number of Christian public policy organizations - it's
2 - God, Jerusalem debated at Democratic convention; other faith elements present

The Democratic National Convention this week in Charlotte had some significant moments for pro-life and pro-traditional marriage Christians, as a litany of speakers affirmed their support for abortion and so-called "women's rights".   This really is a departure from the prevailing attitude of the administration of former President Clinton, who declared that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare".   And, with the newly declared support of same-sex marriage by the Democratic standardbearer and the inclusion of that support for the very first time in the party platform, the national party and its supporters have made an intentional shift.  

On top of those instances, the party platform no longer contained the name of God, as it had in years past.   Party leaders attempted to rectify that by including language about "God-given potential".   And, in the same resolution, language recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was inserted in to the platform.  When the vote was taken, even though audio and video indicated that the numbers were fairly evenly split between those favoring the changes and those not in favor, the person in charge, the mayor of Los Angeles, determined that a two-thirds majority had been gathered in approval.  

The Christian Post headline read, "DNC: Christian Leaders Comment on Night 'Dems Booed God".

Jeff Myers, President of Summit Ministries, is quoted in the article as saying that his first reaction was "shock", and went on to say:

"I have many Democrat friends who believe in God and I guess it was a big wakeup call that the leadership of the party, those selected to be its representatives at the national level, are so anti-God...It answers a lot of questions about why faith-based organizations are receiving such hostility from the administration. People are policy."
LifeWay Research President Ed Stetzer was also quoted:
"Democrats are often seen as anti-faith – the 'God gap' has been widely polled and reported...That DNC floor moment did not help, particularly if the campaign desires to reach out to the evangelical community. They were very aggressive in reaching out to evangelicals in 2008 but much less so now – and this will make it harder."
Stetzer felt it was important to note that the vote to reinstate the position that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel should not be confused with adding the phrase "God-given" back into the text of the Democrats' party platform.

In other news concerning the DNC, the convention concluded with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is regarded as perhaps the nation's highest-ranking Catholic, bringing the closing prayer, as he had done at the Republican Convention.   And, he included language on the sanctity of life and religious liberty.   He said, “Grant us the courage to defend life…waiting to be born, welcomed & protected."  He also prayed that God would, “Renew in all our people a profound respect for religious liberty, the first, most cherished freedom."

Prior to the convention, there was a major faith event in Charlotte, organized by area church leaders.   Some 9,000 people gathered for "Charlotte 7:14", which was intended to call people together to pray for our nation.  

1 - Religious freedom victories:  Iranian pastor, Pakistani teen released

Some major news out of the Middle East regarding religious freedom this week:  Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who had been in prison approximately 1000 days for refusing to renounce his Christian faith, was released over the weekend.    According to WORLD Magazine, quoting the American Center for Law and Justice, the pastor was suddenly acquitted of apostasy charges. 

The ACLJ reported that the pastor had appeared in an Iranian court on Saturday for an almost 6-hour hearing on the charges brought against him.  In the end, his charges were reduced to evangelizing Muslims, and he was released with time served.   There had been a report that new charges might be brought against the pastor, but this weekend's events represent a sudden and welcome change of direction, the answer to thousands of prayers from around the world on Pastor Youcef's behalf and a possible response to international pressure calling for the pastor's release.   For whatever reason, he is now a free man, and there is celebration around the world.

And, there is celebration for the release of a young Pakistani girl who had been imprisoned under Pakistan's blasphemy laws because she had allegedly defaced an Islamic holy book, perhaps a Koran.  Unfortunately, she was released on bail, not unconditionally set free - her bail of over $10,000 in U.S. dollars was paid by a Pakistani advocacy group.  This past week, it was announced that the teenager, who has some sort of mental impairment, was allegedly framed by a local iman, who himself was arrested under the blasphemy laws.

These laws have been roundly criticized by other world governments, saying that they inhibit religious freedom.  Reuters reports that the laws have led to unrest, and even the death of opponents:

Last year, Punjab province governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his bodyguard for suggesting the law be reformed.  Taseer had been defending a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who was jailed on blasphemy charges. She is still in jail on death row.

Two months after Taseer's murder, Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was killed by the Taliban for demanding changes to the law.

In 2009, 40 houses and a church were set ablaze by a mob of 1,000 Muslims in the town of Gojra, in Punjab province. At least seven Christians were burned to death. The attacks were triggered by reports of the desecration of the Koran.

Two Christian brothers accused of writing a blasphemous letter against the Prophet Mohammad were gunned down outside a court in the eastern city of Faisalabad in July of 2010.

These instances underscore the atmosphere that has apparently been created by the enactment of these laws.  But, the events of this week should provide Christians with motivation to be in prayer for those who are facing persecution, and should provide reinforcement for governmental leaders who have been speaking out in favor of religious freedom around the world.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The 3 - September 2, 2012

This week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, includes some "Good News" out of a Federal appeals court concerning a Christian afterschool program.   And, the Republican National Convention had a number of Christian, pro-life, and pro-family leaders attending and participating in events.   The top story involved Christian involvement with people in need along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.

3 - Court favors Christian club meeting after school

Some good news this week out of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Here's the backstory:  Child Evangelism Fellowship offers Good News Clubs, an after-school meeting for children ages 5 through 12.  And, under the law, if a school is offering other clubs the change to meet on school property after school, then under the principle of "equal access", a Christian or religious club can likewise meet on school grounds. 

This has given CEF the opportunity to establish the Clubs on campuses all across America, including the state of Minnesota, where the Minnesota Public Schools Community Partners has allowed the clubs to meet for some 12 years.  However, 3 years ago, an employee of one school district claimed that the club is "proselytizing", according to a report on the CitizenLink web site.   The district had removed CEF from its after-school programs in the 2009-10 school year and CEF had sued the schools for violating its constitutional right to free speech.

A lower court originally ruled that CEF’s message was sponsored by the school district, and therefore could not include prayer. On Wednesday, August 29, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision.   Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying: “The law is crystal clear. Christian viewpoints are constitutionally protected. Public schools must provide equal access for Christian viewpoints and Christian clubs.”  In this case, the Federal court reinforced the law on allowing Christian clubs to meet on school property when other clubs and organizations are given the same access.

2 - Pro-life, faith element present at RNC

The storm-shortened Republican National Convention concluded in Tampa on Thursday night with Mitt Romney's acceptance speech.   And, among those in the Bay region for the Convention were a number of people who support the sanctify of life.  According to The Christian Post, a gathering on Thursday morning, sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List, Concerned Women for America, Americans United for Life Action, and Citizenlink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, honored a number of pro-life women, including New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Lt. Governor Rebecca Clayfish of Wisconsin, and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.    It was called a "Celebration of Pro-Life Women Leaders", and was intended to support life and to make the case, essentially, that to be pro-life is not to show opposition to women, as some would contend.

Bachmann was also among the honorees at a "Treasure of Life" event on Tuesday, hosted by Phyllis Schlafly, founder of Eagle Forum, and Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, recognizing  Rep. Bachmann, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum for their advocacy for the unborn.  The Post had this report.

With a nominee that is committed to protecting the lives of unborn children and with passionate pro-life people among the party faithful, the Republican Party has attempted to position itself in alignment with the majority of the American people, who would be characterized as pro-life.   The Party included a plank in its platform calling for a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, that would ban abortion, except in very rare cases. 

Prior to the convention, there was also a prayer meeting featuring a number of high-profile Christian leaders, according to CitizenLink.  Held at a Tampa church on Sunday afternoon, Bishop Harry Jackson, Tom Minnery of CitizenLink, Pastor Jim Garlow, and others were all part of the event, which was called a "Prayer Rally for America's Future".  More than 2000 people attended to offer prayer for the future of our nation.

1 - Christian ministries respond to Isaac damage

And, across the Gulf while the Republican Convention was progressing in Tampa, there were millions of people who nervously watched a major weather system as it intensified.   Despite the comparisons to Katrina some 7 years ago, Hurricane Isaac was a different sort of storm, and the Southeast Louisiana area, which was believed to be the target of the wrath of Isaac and was the hardest-hit region, was a different sort of area, having learned valuable lessons in storm preparation from the events of that August in 2005.

Southern Baptists from around the South were on standby and mobilized to respond when the storm hit.  According to Baptist Press, Tom Long, the southeast region coordinator for Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief, said:

"I think this truly shows what the Great Commission is all about as far as reaching out to our own communities in our area," Long said. "Then the support we have as Southern Baptists from all across our convention, the gathering together of our workers and teams, has been tremendous. No matter what kind of problem may come up, we're able to respond and respond quickly."
Southern Baptist Disaster Relief was active in helping in the areas of feeding, cleanup, chaplaincy and childcare for the victims of Isaac.   Samaritan's Purse and their sister organization, the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, were also active in the region, where there were just a handful of deaths, but hundreds of thousands left without power, and extensive flooding and widespread damage.

Perhaps hardest hit was Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana, and the Rapid Response Team was deployed there, according to this piece from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website.    Samaritan's Purse is ministering in the Biloxi and New Orleans areas and seeking volunteers at

A crisis gives Christians tremendous open doors to share hope and comfort in Jesus Christ - sometimes it will involve doing some home repairs, often it will involve a listening ear and a compassionate word.    These and so many other Christian organizations, churches, and individuals who are responding in the aftermath of Isaac do so much to share Christ's love and advance God's Kingdom.