Sunday, July 21, 2013

The 3 - July 21, 2013

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", I highlight news out of the United Kingdom involving a new law allowing same-sex marriage.  And, I'm continuing to follow news out of Texas, where the Governor has signed new pro-life legislation and Planned Parenthood has announced the closing of some centers there.  The top headline involves the church's role in the aftermath of the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, acquitted of all charges in the death of Trayvon Martin.

3 - Queen Elizabeth approves same-sex marriage bill

As the result of action taken by Queen Elizabeth II this week, there are now 17 countries in the world that allow same-sex marriage - add England and Wales to the list.  According to Religion News Service, the Queen gave what is called, "royal assent" to a bill that would allow gay men and women to be joined together in civil ceremonies or in church services — although no religious denomination will be forced to carry out such services.

The bill had the support of Prime Minister David Cameron, even though some in his own party, the Conservative Party, opposed it.  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told supporters the new law would ensure lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people felt “recognized and valued and no longer excluded.”

The Roman Catholic Church fought the bill and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales swiftly issued a statement of its displeasure:
“With this new legislation, marriage has now become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family unit, are no longer central. That is why we were opposed to this legislation on principle.”
The Church of England does not allow same-sex marriages.

Separate legislation has reportedly been presented to the Scottish government to make same-sex marriage legal. Debates are expected to begin in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, in October or November.

2 - TX Governor signs pro-life law, Planned Parenthood announces clinic closures

This week, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed into law a bill containing restrictions on abortion, including banning the practice past the 20th week of pregnancy.  The bill also establishes new standards for clinics throughout the state.  

And, a report in WORLD states that this week, on the same day Gov. Perry signed the bill into law, Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast announced that it will be closing three of its centers in East Texas.  That announcement, on Thursday, reportedly came as a result of pro-life legislation passed two years ago.     Budget cuts from the 2011 legislative session finally trickled down to the centers, forcing Planned Parenthood to close those locations, the organization said in a press release.

Two of the centers in rural East Texas - in Huntsville and Lufkin - do not provide abortions and aren’t affected by the new restrictions. But the abortion center in Bryan does conduct abortions. It’s the center where former abortion supporter Abby Johnson worked as director before an ultrasound-guided abortion changed her views. Planned Parenthood said it will close the Bryan center in anticipation of the new law.

And, it is anticipated that more abortion centers will close in the months to come.  WORLD reports that only five of the 42 abortion centers in Texas currently meet the new requirements, so some estimate as many as 37 abortion centers will close because of the law. Centers will have one year to either upgrade their facilities or shut down after the law takes effect in October. The law restricts abortions to surgical centers and requires abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges.

1 - Christians, churches grapple with Zimmerman verdict; FL Governor calls for day of prayer

The nation is continuing to discuss the verdict handed down in Florida last week in the trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.  And, as I pointed out on my radio show, The Meeting House, we as Christians should have a leading voice in these cultural dialogues on such issues as race and justice. We have the open doors to lead the way in prayer in a divisive situation, to keep the peace, and to think and speak more deeply on issues of race and injustice in America. As the body of Christ, we can also demonstrate to the world how we relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of the color of our skin and the cultural background in which we were raised.

Sunday, July 21, was designated as a "Day of Prayer for Unity" in the state of Florida, proclaimed by Governor Rick Scott.  According to Baptist Press, he had met with student protesters who had occupied his office during the day and slept in the hallways of the statehouse by night since July 17.  Protesters told Scott they wanted a special legislative session to address Florida's "stand your ground law." Scott responded by issuing the proclamation acknowledging Martin's death "is a tragedy; and the Martin family, the family of George Zimmerman, and all those affected by Trayvon's death remain in our thoughts and prayers.

After issuing the proclamation, Scott held a telephone conference call with faith leaders from throughout Florida to promote the Day of Prayer for Unity.

Craig Culbreth, lead strategist for the Florida Baptist Convention's missional support group, joined in the call with more than 50 other participants. He is quoted as saying, "I commend our governor for considering prayer as one of the options to help our state. Of course, as church leaders, we should make it a first option...I encourage our churches to have a time of prayer for unity in the state of Florida -- obviously, it’s a very divisive time. Prayer for unity is a good thing."

Pastor Bill Shiell of First Baptist Church of Tallahassee said that as a pastor and parent, he would join with people of faith across the state Sunday to pray that the vision of Isaiah 58 will be fulfilled in Tallahassee.

"My prayer is that we will 'loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, and break every yoke.' That we will call, and the Lord will answer. That our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing will quickly appear and that we 'will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings' (Isaiah 58:6-12)."

In response to the governor's declaration, Cocoa-area pastor Errol Beckford is quoted by Florida Today as saying: “Listen, I’m totally calling for reconciliation. It’s a time for reconciliation and Sunday is a good starting time...If every pastor would spend five minutes to pray and unite around the theme of love, then I believe healing will take place in our cities and nation. The church is a light to the community,” said Beckford, one of the organizers of last week’s prayer vigil in Cocoa that drew several pastors and dozens of participants.
Ed Stetzer put together an insightful assortment of panelists for a piece on Here are some brief excerpts...

From Dr. Christena Cleveland, a social psychologist:
As America grows increasingly diverse, the realities of America are becoming more diverse. No longer can pastors and leaders assume that the people in their communities share their unique cultural experiences. In order to minister effectively, in order to be neighborly, in order to love across differences well, privileged Christians need to practice standing in solidarity with diverse people.
Pastor Victor Montalvo is the lead pastor at Reality Community Church in Sanford, the closest church to the site where Trayvon Martin was killed. He writes on how everyone from the families, to the police, to the media was looking for someone to blame. He says:
It's only when our brothers and sisters of differing races sense true love and acceptance that we begin to truly trust one another. The distrust we experience is because of fear and ignorance. We immediately look to blame others for the pain in this world. So we must also pray for ourselves, that we would recognize the cause of the pain of this world and deal with the sin of our hearts that so deeply distorts everything it encounters.
Stetzer also quoted from the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, Gregory Brewer, who is described by Stetzer as an evangelical with a passion for justice. He had marched in Sanford as part of a crowd that was demanding justice. And, this quote reminds us that we as Christians should be the leading purveyors of justice in our society:
The issue is justice, not merely race . . . Christians should see what can be gleaned from tragedies such as this, particularly when issues like justice and fairness are concerned. While the incident was horrible, there is much we can learn from it.
As followers of Christ, we need a deep understanding that in God's eyes everybody matters—regardless of race, age, education or economics. The compassion that God has for the whole world should be extended through Christians to people around us, not just those we like, or who are like us.
This past Monday, the first of a series of weekly prayer meeting was held in Sanford at New Life Word Church.   This week, the mayor, city manager, and police chief all attended.   The meetings are being sponsored by Sanford Pastors Connecting, which was formed prior to the start of the trial.
There are some big issues that have been raised here, and because the narrative has emerged in that way that it has, then we recognize that we have a chance to respond, with compassion and truth, to people who are uncertain today about the state of race relations in America and the importance of justice. 

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