Sunday, January 13, 2013

The 3 - January 13, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" includes a response, issued this week, to a secularist group's attempt to have prayer removed from certain occasions at West Point.   Also, a Christian pastor who was invited to pray at the inauguration ceremony for President Obama has stepped aside.   And, the top story - an advocacy group that spotlights persecution of Christians has released its annual list of the top countries where Christians are at risk.

3 - Prayer debate underway at West Point

A prayer controversy involving one of the military's premier academies took another step this week, when the Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter this past Wednesday on behalf of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty to the United States Military Academy at West Point.  Americans United for the Separation of Church and State had sent a letter to the school, claiming that invocations at West Point events, including Plebe Parent Weekend, Ring Weekend, Thanksgiving Dinner, the Martin Luther King Award Dinner, and graduation, were unconstitutional and coerce cadets to participate in and endorse religion.

According to an Alliance Defending Freedom website, the letter sent to the Academy stated, “The historical practice of offering prayer, especially at military and university functions at West Point, does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”  ADF mentioned a ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stating that invocations such as the ones offered by West Point chaplains and cadets, “solemnize public occasions, express confidence in the future, and encourage the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society.”

The letter also explains that, contrary to AU's accusations, “West Point does not require cadets to participate in the invocations or even listen to them” and “two federal courts of appeals rejected the notion that prayers at significant public university events coerce attendees to participate in religion.”

This is another case of a traditional practice that has religious significance that has been challenged by a secularist group.   The Chaplain Alliance has wisely and assertively enlisted the efforts of ADF in order to remind officials that the free expression of religion should not be impeded.

2 - "Giglio Imbroglio" raises questions about role of Christians in the public square

Louie Giglio and the work of the Passion conferences to end modern-day slavery in the form of human trafficking caught the attention of President Obama, and Giglio, pastor of the Passion City Church in the Atlanta area was asked to preside over the Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House last April.  According to a story on The Christian Post website, at the recently concluded conference in Atlanta, Giglio recently inspired students to raise $3.5 million to support more than 20 global projects that focus on prevention, rescue, and restoration for the 27 million men, women, and children who are victims of slavery.

So, it was not surprising the Giglio was invited to give the benediction at the President's Inauguration Ceremony on January 21st.   After the announcement, it was discovered that in the mid 90's, he had delivered a sermon enunciating orthodox Christian teaching on the topic of homosexuality.  Sensing that this would be potentially be a controversy that would create a distraction and possibly serve to divert attention from the incredible work of Passion, Giglio agreed to step away from the ceremony.

"Though the President and I do not agree on every issue, we have fashioned a friendship around common goals and ideals, most notably, ending slavery in all its forms," Giglio remarked in a letter sent to the White House earlier this week.   There is speculation that there was some pressure from the inauguration committee for Giglio to step down.

Christian leaders stood with Giglio, such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who said:
"Catholic, Evangelical Protestant, and Orthodox churches all actively proclaim that sexual intimacy within the marriage of one man and one woman is the only biblically-sanctioned human sexual behavior.  Are the scores of millions of Americans who affirm these teachings no longer welcome at the inauguration of our president?
"What is shocking is the intolerance of the Obama team that put such a high priority on forced acceptance of homosexuality that they totally disregard Pastor Giglio's life work combating human trafficking. What we are seeing is the inauguration of a new era of religious intolerance in America.
So, a litmus test has been established - any member of the clergy who is invited to a government-sanctioned event must apparently have a history of not speaking against homosexual behavior.  Honestly, it should not be surprising that an evangelical pastor would hold these views.  Apparently, the President's words about disagreeing agreeably, which he spoke 4 years ago to defend Rick Warren's participation in the inauguration ceremony after Warren faced similar opposition, have vaporized in the wake of his "evolution" on the topic of gay marriage.

1 - Open Doors announces latest list of leading persecutors of Christians

This week, the dynamics of Christian persecution around the world were highlighted as Open Doors released its 2013 World Watch List, which ranks the top 50 countries in terms of their treatment of Christians.   Even though North Korea remained as the country that is the #1 persecutor of Christians, there was significant upward movement by African nations.  According to the Open Doors website, one nation on the continent, Mali, is a newcomer on the list and holds the No. 7 position.  Tanzania (No. 24), Kenya (No. 40), Uganda (47) and Niger (No. 50) also moved onto the World Watch List.  Ethiopia is one of the strongest risers on the list, moving from No. 38 to No. 15.  In addition, the small African country of Eritrea made the Top 10 for the first time at No. 10.   Libya climbed from No. 26 to No. 17.

Fundamentalist variations of Islam have rapidly gained influence on the continent. On the one hand, this was due to focused attacks, such as Boko Haram in Nigeria (No. 13). On the other, the influence of Islam increased through infiltration in different social and economic areas. Open Doors saw a similar pattern in several African countries. 

The top 10 countries on the World Watch List were:
1) North Korea
2) Saudi Arabia
3) Afghanistan
4) Iraq
5) Somalia
6) Maldives
7) Mali
8) Iran
9) Yemen
10) Eritrea.

Syria was just outside the top 10, at #11.

Mali has just undergone a coup, and there is continued unrest in the nation.   Mali was once a French colony, and French troops have moved into the country to try to ease the violence perpetrated by Islamic terrorists.
According to CNN, a new round of French military raids targeted Islamist rebels in Mali on Sunday, and both sides of the battle said they were determined to win.   Islamists control large areas of land and have implemented Sharia law.

The French Defense Ministry said in a statement that, "France's goal is to lead a relentless struggle against terrorist groups...preventing any new offensive of these groups to the south of Mali."

Christians are persecuted in at least 60 countries for their faith. They suffer interrogation, arrest and even death in some of the most dangerous and restrictive countries in the world. For 58 years, Open Doors has supported and strengthened believers worldwide through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development and prayer and presence ministry. 

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