Sunday, December 22, 2013

The 3 - December 22, 2013

This week in my week-in-review feature, "The 3":  What's being described as an early Christmas gift was extended to 180 ministries who receive health benefits from a organization of the Southern Baptist Convention - temporary relief from having to comply with the HHS contraception mandate.   Also, same-sex marriage had 2 positive court rulings this week - one from the New Mexico Supreme Court, another from a Federal court judge in Utah.  And, of course, the top story involves comments made by Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson about homosexuality and the Biblical view of it.

3 - Judge gives relief to 180 evangelical ministries from HHS mandate

There continues to be news about the progress of lawsuits involving the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services requiring that employers provide free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs as part of their health care plans. Christianity Today reports a positive outcome, albeit temporary, in one of two class-action lawsuits filed against the mandate, as The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced that an Oklahoma judge granted GuideStone Financial Resources a temporary injunction against the Affordable Care Act requirement.

CT cited a Baptist Press piece that reported that GuideStone had sued on behalf of 180 evangelical ministries affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Becket writes:
These evangelical organizations only object to four out of twenty FDA-approved contraceptives—those like the "morning after pill" and the "week after pill" that may cause early abortions. The court's order is an early Christmas gift that came just days before the January 1, 2014 deadline that would have forced the ministries to choose between following their religious beliefs about the sanctity of life and paying thousands of dollars a day in fines.
Becket had said that the class, represented by Reaching Souls International and Truett-McConnell College, includes over 100 ministries that currently receive conscience-compliant health benefits through GuideStone. None of the ministries that comprise the class qualify for HHS' narrow "religious employer" exemption, and they all face enormous fines if they do not comply with the government's mandate by January 1, 2014.

"The very purpose of the GuideStone plan is to provide ministry organizations with employee health benefits according to Biblical principles," said O.S. Hawkins, GuideStone's President and Chief Executive Officer. "The government shouldn't prohibit us from continuing in that ministry."

2 - Same-sex marriage rulings: New Mexico Supreme Court, Utah Federal judge 

This week, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in the state.

According to a CitizenLink report, state marriage laws, enacted in 1961, do not clearly define the institution. There are sections for a “male” and “female” on its marriage applications. It also includes the words “husband” and “wife.” Activists claim the ambiguous laws open the door for same-sex marriage. Many attorneys and legal analysts disagree.

Earlier this year, the ACLU sued the state, claiming that because the state Constitution does not exclude same-sex marriage, that it should, therefore, issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This summer, six of the state’s 33 county clerks began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Shortly after, a judge ordered a Santa Fe clerk to issue the licenses. State Attorney General Gary King refused to take any action against the clerks.

Jim Campbell of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) responded to the ruling, saying, “The New Mexico Supreme Court ignored that time-tested understanding of marriage and replaced it with the recently conceived notion that marriage means special government recognition for close relationships.”

And, this week, a Utah Federal judge, Robert Shelby ruled that the state's voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman, was unconstitutional. Byron Babione of ADF said, 
“The government’s purpose for recognizing marriage is to bring together one man and one woman as husband and wife to be a father and a mother to any children their union may produce. The ruling in this case ignores that time-tested and rational understanding of marriage--affirmed by 66 percent of Utah voters--and replaces it with the recently conceived notion that marriage means special government recognition for close relationships. A court should not impose this shortsighted, novel view of marriage on the people of Utah. We encourage the state to appeal this decision.”
This comes just days after another Federal judge in Utah ruled that a portion of the law banning polygamy in the state was unconstitutional.   A CitizenLink story relates that judge, Clark Waddoups, found in favor of the family of Kody Brown of the TLC reality series, Sister Wives. Judge Waddoups claims the part of the law making cohabitation illegal violates the Constitution.

1 - Duck Commander comments unleash controversy

This week, an article was published on the website for GQ, which featured Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the Robertson family featured in the A&E hit television series, Duck Dynasty.   His comments on sin, and specifically homosexuality, resulted in a predictable reaction by groups such as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).   Basically, Robertson took the traditional teaching of the Bible and the church and enhanced it in his own unique way.

Regarding sin, he said, according to FOX411:

“Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong... Sin becomes fine,” he said. “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

Paraphrasing [1st] Corinthians he added: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Wilson Cruz of GLAAD stated:  "Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil's lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe...He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans – and Americans - who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples. Phil's decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families."
Robertson responded firmly to the critics, releasing a statement that said:
“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior.

“My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together.

"However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

Well, in less than a day, A&E took action.  FOX411 quotes a statement from the network:
"We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson's comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty...His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely."
Who knows what that means, but the family was none too pleased at the reaction of the network, for whom they have made a large sum of money.   And, the family released a statement on Thursday and posted it on its website:
We want to thank all of you for your prayers and support. The family has spent much time in prayer since learning of A&E's decision. We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word. While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of Duck Dynasty. Again, thank you for your continued support of our family.
And, Todd Starnes of FOX reported that Cracker Barrel announced the removal of some Duck Dynasty merchandise from its store shelves.   The chain of stores released this statement on its Facebook page:
“Cracker Barrel’s mission is Pleasing People. We operate within the ideals of fairness, mutual respect and equal treatment of all people. These ideals are the core of our corporate culture. We continue to offer Duck Commander products in our stores. We removed selected products which we were concerned might offend some of our guests while we evaluate the situation. We continually evaluate the products we offer and will continue to do so.”
Starnes said that Cracker Barrel's statement led to confusion among some customers who wondered if the restaurant was removing Duck Dynasty products owned by A&E or products owned by the Robertson family's Duck Commander business.

Well, Sunday morning, Cracker Barrel posted on its Facebook page that it was reversing that decision:
"When we made the decision to remove and evaluate certain Duck Dynasty items, we offended many of our loyal customers. Our intent was to avoid offending, but that's just what we've done. You told us we made a mistake. And, you weren't shy about it. You wrote, you called and you took to social media to express your thoughts and feelings. You flat out told us we were wrong. We listened. Today, we are putting all our Duck Dynasty products back in our stores. And, we apologize for offending you. We respect all individuals' right to express their beliefs. We certainly did not mean to have anyone think different. We sincerely hope you will continue to be part of our Cracker Barrel family."
And, this illustrates a point that has been regularly made in areas of religious liberty and freedom of expression of Christian values:  in an attempt to appease certain segments of the population that do not embrace Biblical principles or respect Christian values, who do you end up offending?   The Christians! At least Cracker Barrel admitted they were wrong and apologized for offending their customers.

What's next?  Who know - I believe A&E made this "suspension" to buy time and let things die down.  It's still disturbing that they felt the need to capitulate to GLAAD and similar groups, which represent a small percentage of the population.  A new season is about to launch after the first of the year, and I just have a hunch they won't be editing all (if any) of Phil's appearances out. 

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