3 - Churches in Baghdad come under attack on Christmas Day
Tragedy struck in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, on Christmas Day, where militants killed almost three dozen people – most of them Christians – in two bomb attacks, according to BBC News, cited by Open Doors USA. One bomb exploded outside of the St. John’s Catholic Church while worshippers were leaving a Christmas Day service, killing at least 24. Another bomb ripped through an outside market in a Christian neighborhood, killing at least 11 (information updated from BBC website). There were an estimated 60 wounded in the two bombings.
Pastor Tariq (not his real name) told Open Doors recently that “churches are targets for terrorists, especially on Christmas Day. Many Christians stay home because they are too afraid.”
An Open Doors field worker said in an earlier report: “We received documents and threats stating that the aim of Islamist insurgents is to make Iraq a ‘Muslim only’ country. They want Christians out.”
Iraq is No. 4 on the 2013 Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks countries that are the worst persecutors of Christians. In the early 1990's, there were an estimated 1.2 million Christians in the nation, and that number has diminished to an estimated 330,000 Christians left in that nation, as many have fled the country due to violence and persecution.
Dr. David Curry, president/CEO of Open Doors USA, stated that, “There is a concerted effort by extremists to drive Christians out of the Middle East...Iraq not only is a hostile, volatile environment in general, but often the violence is directed specifically towards Christians...
“Only the power of prayer is going to improve the conditions for believers in Iraq and countries such as Syria and Iran. Pray that the families of the victims will feel the embrace of Jesus. Pray that the government of Iraq will do more to protect people of all faiths. And pray that in 2014 Christians will be able to worship the Lord in peace and freedom.”
Curry adds that attacks on Christians during Christmas and New Year’s Eve is a “very disturbing trend.” He cited the bombing of the Two Saints Coptic Church in Alexandria, Egypt on New Year’s Eve and attacks on Christians in Nigeria on Christmas Eve the last three years.
2 - Phil Robertson reinstated to "Duck Dynasty" by A&E
Friday afternoon, the A&E cable network lifted its suspension of Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family featured in the reality show, "Duck Dynasty" In a statement which was quoted by The Hollywood Reporter website, the network said that, regarding comments made about homosexuality which were consistent with the teachings of the Bible:
While Phil's comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the "coarse language" he used and the misinterpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would "never incite or encourage hate." We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article and reiterate that they are not views we hold.
But Duck Dynasty is not a show about one man's views. It resonates with a large audience because it is a show about family … a family that America has come to love. As you might have seen in many episodes, they come together to reflect and pray for unity, tolerance and forgiveness. These are three values that we at A+E Networks also feel strongly about.The channel reportedly had discussions with the Robertson family and consulted with "numerous advocacy groups" prior to their decision to lift what was announced to be an "indefinite" suspension. A&E also said they would launch a public service campaign promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people, "a message that supports our core values as a company and the values found in Duck Dynasty."
In response, Family Research Council (FRC) President Tony Perkins released a statement which said, in part:
The attacks on Phil Robertson revealed to the American people that the push to redefine marriage is less about the marriage altar than it is fundamentally altering America's moral, political and cultural landscape. A&E Network's reversal in the face of backlash is quite telling to the American people who are growing tired of GLAAD and cultural elites who want to silence people and remove God and His word from every aspect of public life.He went on to say:
We've also seen these intimidation tactics used against wedding florists, bakers, photographers who have been hauled into court, fined and even ordered to violate their religious beliefs by participating in same-sex weddings. Where is the fairness there? Where's the tolerance? There is none. This is why hundreds of thousands of Americans had enough and took a stand by signing petitions in support of Phil Robertson and the right of Christians to quote the Bible".
The Hollywood Reporter article also quotes Chris Stone of Faith Driven Consumer, which started the IStandWithPhil.com website, which had generated over 200,000 signatures. He said: "Despite our celebration, we remain uncertain of A&E's true intent. Today, in the network’s statement of their core values – centered on ‘creativity, inclusion, and mutual respect’ - Faith Driven Consumers are left wondering whether A&E considers us to be a part of America's rich rainbow of diversity...Do they also now embrace the biblically based values and worldview held by the Robertson family and millions of Faith Driven Consumers?"
Perkins and Stone both pose good questions. Unfortunately, in the name of "tolerance", the views of Christians based on the teachings of the Scriptures have been marginalized and denigrated. Could this represent a tipping point, where the voices of people of faith may actually be included in the conversations and our views tolerated? Do we still have the freedom of religion in America to be able to express Biblical views without being chastised? People will disagree with one another about a variety of issues, and it is important that we have that freedom to express different views without the threat of being silenced.
1 - Christians celebrate our Savior's birth
Throughout the world, Christians set aside this past Wednesday and the days leading up to it as a time to celebrate our Savior's birth. And, even though a new Pew study shows that about a third of Americans see Christmas as a cultural holiday, over half of those survey (51%) still see Christmas as a religious holiday. 96% of Christians say they celebrate Christmas, and two-thirds of Christians see it as a religious holiday.
And, the indications from this polling data show that over half of Americans attended some sort of Christmas service recently. While about seven-in-ten Americans said they typically attended Christmas Eve or Christmas Day religious services when they were children, 54% said they planned to attend Christmas services this year.
Pew also reports significant generational differences in the way Americans planned to celebrate Christmas this year, with younger adults less likely than older adults to incorporate religious elements into their holiday celebrations. Adults under age 30 are far less likely than older Americans to say they see Christmas as more of a religious than a cultural holiday, they are less likely to attend Christmas religious services, and to believe in the virgin birth.
This is consistent with other research showing that younger Americans are helping to drive the growth of the religiously unaffiliated population within the U.S. But the report on the Pew survey points out that even among Christians, young people are more likely than older adults to view Christmas as more of a cultural than a religious holiday.
It is clear that people are celebrating Christmas differently - there was a difference in the number of people putting up a Christmas tree, in contrast to their childhood. Belief in Santa Claus and the participation in caroling? Respondents indicated a sharp decline over what they did during their childhood years.
But, even though methods and degrees of celebration have changed, the message of Christmas has not changed - God sent his Son, Jesus, into the world, so that the world might receive His love and come into a right relationship with God through salvation in Christ. And, when you consider that even 8-in-10 non-Christians in America still celebrate Christmas, that tells me that there is at least a sensitivity to something special during the season, even though they may not acknowledge the real meaning of it. So, our mission as Christians during the Christmas season is to shine the light of Christ, to recognize that the holiday was established to be centered on the birth of our Savior, and to find ways to communicate that incredible truth to a world that so desperately needs to hear it.