Sunday, January 27, 2013

The 3 - January 27, 2012

This latest edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", includes an update on the plight of an American pastor born in Iran, who continued to do ministry in his home country - until he was arrested about 4 months ago...his trial was held this week.   Also, news from the nation's capital is atop the list of stories affecting the Christian community - Christian involvement in the Inauguration at the beginning of the week, and, at week's end, the March for Life, upholding a view of life in the womb consistent with a Biblical perspective.

3 - Iranian pastor's plight continues to confound

Last week, I reported to you about the plight of an American pastor who was born in Iran and had been doing some ministry work in the country.   On his most recent visit, in September, he was arrested on a bus and taken to prison.  The trial for pastor Saaed Abedini began this past Monday, and after two days, the judge in the trial said that he had moved the pastor, presumably for medical reasons.

According to Religion Today, Abedini was sentenced Sunday morning to eight years in prison, citing a Fox News report.  The American Center for Law and Justice said that Abedini was verbally sentenced in Tehran by Iran's infamous "hanging judge" to eight years in prison for threatening the national security of Iran through his leadership in house churches.   He will serve the time in Iran's notorious Evin Prison, known as one of the most brutal.

Saeed's wife, Naghmeh said: "With today's development I am devastated for my husband and my family." "We must now pursue every effort, turn every rock, and not stop until Saeed is safely on American soil."

ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said: "Here's the troubling reality: we have a U.S. citizen, who has been beaten and tortured since his imprisonment last fall, now facing eight years in Evin Prison, one of the must brutal prisons in Iran. A harsh sentence in a notorious prison -- likely facing life-threatening torture and abuse at the hands of the Iranian regime. Simply because of his Christian faith."

According to The Christian Post, it had been unclear about the pastor's whereabouts - the judge in the case had said that he was undergoing medical treatment.  Yesterday, a family friend, who was earlier threatened by officials because he was assisting in obtaining bail for the pastor, went to court to retrieve some documents, a court administrator asked him to tell Saeed's lawyer that he needed to come to court because Saeed would be released soon.

Sekulow has said that Iranian officials cannot be trusted:  "The Iranian government repeatedly has lied about the case...A government that has engaged in physical and emotional torture in Pastor Saeed's case means every comment by the Iranian government must be taken as a grain of salt."

Saeed had told his wife in a letter last month that prison authorities were giving him mixed responses. "This is the process in my life today: one day I am told I will be freed and allowed to see my kids on Christmas (which was a lie) and the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus," Saeed wrote. "One day there are intense pains after beatings in interrogations, the next day they are nice to you and offer you candy."

On Friday, the U.S. State Department and the White House condemned the imprisonment of Saeed, calling on Iran to release him.

Pastor Saeed had appeared in the courtroom on the first day of his trial on Monday. Prosecutors alleged he has a politically subversive influence on young people and therefore poses a threat to national security.  The pastor and his attorney were barred from the court during a hearing on Tuesday, when lay church leaders were reportedly forced to testify against Saeed. 

2 - Inauguration presents opportunities for evangelical involvement

Even though the President highlighted initiatives not broadly supported by evangelical Christians in his Inaugural Address, which a number of experts have termed as unusually partisan in nature, and despite the withdrawal of Passion founder Louie Giglio from the actual Inauguration ceremony on Monday, there was still a significant evangelical presence in Inaugural events.

For instance, North Point Community Church pastor Andy Stanley was one of the speakers featured in a pre-Inaugural service at St. John's Episcopal Church.  Pastor Joel Hunter of Orlando, who has been one of the President's spiritual advisers, was also included.  Hunter had publicly declared his disagreement with the President on the topic of same-sex marriage.  And, in the National Prayer Service the following day at Washington's National Cathedral, the pastor of the largest United Methodist Church in America, Adam Hamilton of Kansas City's Church of the Resurrection, was the featured speaker.  

In the actual inauguration ceremony, a choir from Lee University in Tennessee, as well as the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir from New York City, provided special music.

Apparently, Andy Stanley's comments about Obama being the "Pastor-in-Chief" received quite a bit of reaction, and Mark Galli of Christianity Today spoke with pastor Stanley.   He explained the phrase this way, as he talked about the moment that he saw Obama reaching out to the people of Newtown:

I'm sitting there on my couch watching this, thinking, How is he doing this?  I would be exhausted after a single interaction with a family. All these classrooms. And he sits through all that, and then he gives his speech. I turned to Sandra, and said, "Tonight he is the Pastor in Chief, isn't he?"
[At the pre-inaugural service,] I knew that I didn't want to get up and just launch into a sermon. When you're in an environment where you have no personal connection with anyone in the room—and I certainly didn't—as a speaker, you want to find a personal connection. I thought, Well, here is something that I felt deeply and here we have all these clergy on this stage.
And, regarding the controversy surrounding his good friend Louie Giglio:

Anyone who has respect for our nation or the presidency would have done what Louie did, because at the end of the day, it was the inauguration of the President of the United States. Why would anyone want to do anything to detract from that? That was the honorable thing to do. The group that called Louie out on the message did the very opposite. Whatever you feel about their views, they leveraged their views to detract from the inauguration. They're saying, "Mr. President, how could you invite someone who doesn't believe like we do?" So I just have the utmost respect for Louie's decision. I just hate that it happened the way that it did.
Other church leaders were not especially complimentary toward the President.  Christianity Today, in taking a panoramic look at Christian involvement in the inauguration, said:

Mark Driscoll acknowledged the inauguration with this tweet: “Praying for our President, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know...”

On Facebook, Driscoll’s remark—which is received quite a bit of media attention - had nearly 10,000 "likes" a day later.  CT also said:
John Piper, too, tweeted an Obama critique: “President Obama ‘spiritually blind’ or ‘evil hypocrite’ in claiming MLK and disregarding the weakest,” linking to a Washington Times editorial on the president's stance on abortion.
President Obama, while holding to a worldview that is different than that held by many Christians and advocating policies that many regard as unbiblical, has still chosen to reach out to the religious community.   I would hope that the evangelicals with whom he has made contact will speak the truth and have a profound influence on the President.  And, it's critical - and obedient to Scripture - to be in prayer for our President.

1 - March for Life in DC turns out hundreds of thousands to National Mall 

The week in Washington began with hundreds of thousands of people turning out to the nation's capital to view the Inauguration of President Obama.   The week concluded with hundreds of thousands of people in the same city to stand for life.   While the National Park Service does not estimate crowd size, there are some that have said that the March for Life could have drawn over a half-million people to the National Mall, in less-than-comfortable temperatures.

Dave Andrusko, writing for the National Right to Life website, stated:

...Watching the day’s glorious events, there were two more important conclusions that were as inescapable to me as they were welcomed.

First, we have written dozens and dozens of stories about the influx of massive numbers of young people into the Movement as a whole, and to the March for Life, in particular. As you listened to speakers from the podium, including one 19-year-old, you couldn’t help but smile. It was clear that they saw themselves not as part of the Movement but as the Movement!...

Second, all pro-lifers are aware of (and make use of ) modern technology to spread the gospel of the common humanity of the unborn. It was deeply symbolic at many levels that Pope Benedict XVI, tweeting in nine languages, wrote, “I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life.”

Finally, I would like to join all those hundreds of thousands of pro-lifers in attendance in praising the memory of Nellie Gray. In a Movement filled with unique and strong personalities, she was one of a kind.
We miss her.
Jeanne Monahan, who replaced Nellie Gray as the head of the march, now serving as President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, addressed the crowd, saying, according to a report on the website:  "We are winning with young people. I see it right in front of me today."

Monahan later spoke about her activism in the pro-life movement: “One thing that has continued to resonate with me is that I have people who are close to me and have made an abortion decision and have regretted it profoundly,” she said. “I watch my friends suffer which led me to take the stand that abortion hurts the life of the child but hurts the mom as well.”

At this point, there is terrific passion for the lives of the unborn:  a new generation is embracing the cause, polling data is continuing to show strong pro-life sentiment, the number of abortion clinics in America has declined significantly over the past two decades, and the last 2 years have been significant in the number of pro-life bills that have passed state legislatures.  And, we each have opportunities in our communities to speak out for life, to share the truth about God as the creator of life.

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