Saturday, December 28, 2013

The 3 - December 29, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3" includes the story of violence on Christmas Day in nation of Iraq.  Also, there was some good news for "Duck Dynasty" fans and Christians who were alarmed when family father and grandfather Phil Robertson was suspended by the cable network carrying the show for his comments on homosexuality.   And, the top story: the celebration of Christmas and the timeless message of God's love for humanity that has been proclaimed to a greater degree throughout the last few weeks.

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 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.

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. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The 3 - December 15, 2013

On this edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3", an update on the efforts being made by the wife of an Iranian-American pastor, who is currently being held in prison in Iran, to set him free.   Also, a judge has ruled that a long-standing veteran's memorial in California that features a large cross must be taken down. And, the top story involves the ongoing confusion over the proper, constitutional expressions of Christmas in public schools.

3 - Imprisoned Iranian-American pastor's wife testifies before Congress

As Christmas approaches, believers continue to be reminded about the plight of Saeed Abedini, a pastor and an American citizen who was born in Iran and returned there to do ministry over a year ago.   He was arrested and has been placed in notorious prisons in the nation, including Evin prison and now the Rajai Shahr prison, where his plight is said to be worsening.

His wife, Naghmeh, testified before a House subcommittee on foreign affairs on Thursday. According to a story on the website, quoting Charisma News, she said that, "Each day that [Saeed Abedini] remains in that dreadful place could mean a death sentence; any day could be execution day."

Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) joined Abedini before Congress. He related that, "The Obama Administration and the U.S. State Department had a historic opportunity to demand Pastor Saeed’s release, along with that of all wrongly detained Americans in Iran, as a precondition to the nuclear negotiations...As Dr. Katrins Lantos Sweet, Vice Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, testified, this would have been an easy ask. Yet, the Obama Administration intentionally chose not to even ask for his release as a precondition to the negotiations, leaving Pastor Saeed behind – malnourished, in increasing pain, and without medication.”

Naghmeh is quoted as saying that, “As Christmas quickly approaches, it is just another painful reminder of life without Saeed for our family. When I ask my children what they want for Christmas, their answer is simple. It’s the same thing they wanted for their birthdays this year. It’s the same thing they want every day. They just want Daddy. They want Daddy home..."
At the website,, which you can access by typing in, you can add your name to an online petition calling for his release.  Over 161,000 people have done that thus far.  The section of the website dealing with Pastor Saeed mentions the nuclear "deal" with Iran, so you might assume that this number has been acquired since that deal, because, previously, over 610,000 signatures were reported to have been collected.  Also, over 193,000 people have written to the President of Iran asking him to release Pastor Saeed.

2 - Mount Soledad cross ordered to be removed

Since 1954, a large cross has stood on Mount Soledad, overlooking the city of San Diego, as a memorial to the sacrifices of veterans.  It is surrounded by 3,000 plaques to memorialize America’s war heroes from the Revolutionary War forward.

CitizenLink reports that a Federal judge has ruled that the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross must be removed from the San Diego site.  Liberty Institute vows to appeal the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — if necessary.

Hiram Sasser, Director of Litigation for Liberty Institute says that, “The judge reluctantly agreed with a previous ruling by 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that this hallowed veterans memorial must be removed." The appeals court had ruled in 2011 that the cross was unconstitutional.

Sasser said he’s confident that the memorial will win on appeal.

The legal proceedings started in 1989 when the ACLU and other groups filed suit saying the 43-foot-tall cross violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Since then many attempts have been made to save the cross.  Congress passed a law in 2004 making the city-owned display a national memorial.

Bruce Bailey, president of the Mt. Soledad Memorial Association, told Fox News: “It is unfortunate that the 9th Circuit left the judge no choice but to order the tearing down of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Cross."  He added that he’s grateful the judge chose to allow the memorial to remain in place while the court challenge continues.

1 -  Christmas clashes occur throughout America

The top story of the week is actually an amalgamation of a number of different stories, all centered around the same issue - the rights of students to have freedom of expression as it pertains to the celebration of Christmas.   We have seen instances throughout the years of school districts who have placed restrictions on the acknowledgement and celebration of this holiday, which is a Federal holiday, and the state of Texas earlier this year attempted to codify the rights of students regarding Christmas by passing the "Merry Christmas" Bill, which was introduced by Texas State Rep. Dwayne Bohac, who says he just wants to inject a little common sense back into the holiday season, according to the website,

The bill amended the education code to allow Texas public school administrators, teachers, students and parents to discuss, use traditional greetings of and display symbols and scenes of “traditional winter celebrations,” generally Christmas and Hannukkah, without proselytizing.

Bohac held a press conference this week in an attempt to remind school districts about this legislation.  In a release announcing the conference, Bohac uses an example given by Rep. Pat Fallon, who said that before Thanksgiving a PTA email distributed through Frisco ISD outlined a list of “winter party rules” that included no references to any religious holiday, no use of red and green colors, and no Christmas trees would be allowed. Fallon contacted the PTA and informed it of the new law.

Bohac said, “With Christmas around the corner, our goal is to educate the public on this new law so that our teachers and students are able to celebrate the upcoming holiday season without fear of retribution or punishment...We also hope by raising awareness this legislation will become a model for others states around the country.”   Religion Today also reports that Missouri overrode a governor's veto to pass a similar law.

CitizenLink ran a story this week on 3 Montana high schools, who faced threats from the ACLU and the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), demanding that choir students not participate in a community Christmas festival at a local church. These schools represented students from 2 districts, who both agreed the show should go on as scheduled.

Student choirs are allowed to voluntarily participate in Christmas events.

The Alliance Defending Freedom wrote to the district superintendents, saying, “We write to commend you for rejecting the ACLU’s and FFRF’s unfounded demands that school choirs be excluded from the community Christmas festival. Such participation fully complies with applicable law...Your school districts were also right to be concerned that only disallowing choir students from singing at community events sponsored by churches would violate the First Amendment.”

Religion Today reported on a recent Rasmussen poll, showing that 75% of American adults believe Christmas should be celebrated in public schools. The pollsters note, “Despite school administrators’ concerns nationwide, Americans strongly believe that Christmas should be a part of public schools. They feel just as strongly that religious symbols should be allowed on public property.”

Widespread public support, however, has not squelched threatened litigation and school policy fights.

Periodically at Faith Radio, we receive calls or e-mails from listeners who relate to us instances where they feel that students' rights of religious expression are being inhibited.  Sometimes, people ask us to whom they could turn to find legal relief.   Earlier in this story, I had mentioned the Alliance Defending Freedom.  They have published a Christmas Memo, outlining the legal ways in which Christmas can be commemorated in a public school setting.   They also have a Fact Sheet about this issue.

Recently, ADF wrote a letter to over 13,000 school districts across the nation about the constitutional celebration of Christmas on school grounds.   This letter was intended, according to ADF, "to explain constitutional protections for religious Christmas carols that some districts have censored due to misinterpretations of the First Amendment. The letter also backs up the legitimacy of schools participating in community service projects sponsored by religious organizations and offers free legal assistance to districts that need help."

Other legal advocacy organizations that are involved in defending the religious rights of students include Liberty Institute (, which defended to so-called "Candy Cane Case", out of Plano, TX, where a student had been prohibited from handing out candy cane pens to his classmates because there was a message attached regarding the legend of the candy cane, which points to Jesus.   That case is still being litigated, apparently.

Liberty Counsel ( is another organization that has actively defended students whose religious expression rights have been limited.   The American Center for Law and Justice ( is also involved in defending students' rights.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The 3 - December 8, 2013

It's time for another edition of my weekly listing of top stories impacting the Christian community, including information, links, and commentary.  I call it "The 3", including 3 stories of relevance.   This week, one item involves action before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding health care - the justices decided not to hear an appeal in a case involving Liberty University and the employer mandate in the health care law, along with other issues.   Another story involves two high-profile pastors and their large-scale book releases this week. And, the top story spotlights opportunities for charities, including ministry organizations, to shine and to raise funding.

3 - Supreme Court rejects Liberty University challenge to Affordable Care Act

The day that President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law - March 23, 2010 - a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Liberty University and two private individuals. They are represented by Liberty Counsel, which stated that the case challenged (1) the entire employer mandate, (2) the forced funding of abortion drugs and devices under the law and as implemented by the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and (3) the forced funding of abortion by individuals under the individual mandate.

The Liberty University case first reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011, and the issue raised by the case, the Anti-Injunction Act, became the subject of the first day of the three-day oral argument in 2012.  In November 2012, the High Court ordered the federal court of appeals to rehear the remaining unresolved issues, including the employer mandate. After the three-judge panel (two of whom were appointed by President Obama) upheld the law, the case again went back to the Supreme Court.  This week, the high court decided not to hear Liberty's appeal in the case.

Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, said, “The High Court has decided to take up the HHS contraception and abortion drug mandate, but it is not ready yet to tackle the entire employer mandate. That challenge will wait for another day...The Liberty University case would make strong arguments that the employer mandate could not be upheld as a tax because the penalties are exorbitantly high and punitive. Deciding the case would have highlighted the absurdity of the Supreme Court’s convoluted decision upholding the individual mandate as a tax. Apparently the Court was not willing right now to venture back into that morass.”

2 - Major pastors Jeremiah, Warren announce new releases

This past week marked the release of 2 major works by 2 of America's highest-profile pastors. The Christian Post reports that in New York City's Madison Square Garden, an crowd packed the 5,500-seat venue to celebrate the release of Dr. David Jeremiah's new Jeremiah Study Bible.

The 72-year-old pastor told his family, friends and ministry supporters, "Tonight, we are celebrating the completion and publication of the Jeremiah Study Bible. This is the culmination of a lifetime of teaching and studying the Word of God...Over these many years I have watched this book and the savior it presents permanently change the lives of people. And it is my prayer that the study Bible introduced on this night, will encourage you to make the study of God's Word a priority in your life." [sic]

The Jeremiah Study Bible: What It Says. What It Means. What It Means for You is in the New King James Version and includes over 8,000 study notes, hundreds of sidebars and more than 60 articles on "Essentials of the Christian Faith."  Dr. Jeremiah is speaker on Turning Point radio and television and Senior Pastor of the Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, had a number of musical guests on hand to mark the release of the Bible: Marshall Hall, Gordon Mote, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Singers, Kari Jobe, and MercyMe.

Also, this week, the Senior Pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California, Rick Warren, took to the airwaves to discuss his new book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, co-written with Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. Mark Hymen.  Media appearances included Piers Morgan Live and CBS This Morning.

According to a story on The Christian Post website, Pastor Warren and members of the church have undergone life-changing weight-loss experiences after collectively realizing three years ago that many of them needed to lose weight. About half of the church reportedly participated in the challenge, resulting in a collective weight loss of more than 250,000 pounds after the first year. Now, Warren aims to go beyond his own congregation and spread the word about living healthy with his new book.

Warren, in an interview with Parade Magazine, said that, "There's a verse in the Bible that says Jesus went into every village preaching, teaching, and healing. I say that preaching is evangelism; teaching is education; and healing is health care."  He added, "Jesus didn't only care about getting people into heaven. He cared about spirit, mind, and body. To me, health care isn't simply helping the sick get well, but helping the well not get sick."

Warren stated that, "People say they want to work on their marriages, their careers, or get their finances in shape. If you can get your energy level up by living healthier, then you can say, 'now I can start working on my marriage, then I can work on my finances or my career or my parenting.' We're really starting at a base level."  He says the Daniel Plan is about spiritual motivation.  There are 5 components: faith, food, fitness, focus, and friends.

1 - Churches, charities use Giving Tuesday to motivate

This past Tuesday marked the second annual Giving Tuesday event, involving thousands of non-profit organizations, including a variety of ministry-related groups.  The Nonprofit Quarterly website reports that according to online donation company Blackbaud, they processed donations worth $19.2 million, an increase of 90 percent over last year. (On Giving Tuesday 2012, the company processed $10.1 million in donations.)

This year there was a dramatic increase both in promotion of the event and in the numbers of nonprofits taking part. Not only were there more social media and email campaigns, there was also much more coverage in print and television.

According to Crain’s New York Business, 10,000 nonprofits participated this year, as compared to 2,500 in 2012.

There was much more infrastructure this year. On the #GivingTuesday webpage, there is a playbook for kickstarting a Giving Tuesday campaign and an article on measuring success.

A new word/hashtag combination was coined: “#unselfies.” An unselfie is a picture of someone marking the act of giving back.

A Christian denomination became involved in the #GivingTuesday concept this year.  According to a report on the Newsday website, the United Methodist church General Board of Global Ministries announced that the first-ever UMC #GivingTuesday generated a record $6.5 million online on December 3.  Nearly 11,000 donors in 34 countries gave more than 16,300 gifts through The Advance to mission and ministries they believe in. Global Ministries matched the first $500,000 received.

The Advance is The United Methodist Church’s giving channel which ensures that 100 percent of each gift supports the project designated by the donor; it is a link that connects the church in mission. The Advance encompasses more than 850 Methodist-related projects and more than 300 missionaries, all of them reviewed and monitored by Global Ministries staff.

In the wake of #Giving Tuesday, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability released some financial giving statistics.  Christianity Today reports that the ECFA revealed that charitable giving to more than 1,600 of its accredited organizations increased 6.4 percent last year. Donations reached $11 billion in 2012, compared to $10.3 billion in 2011.

The organization reports that giving to evangelical churches and ministries outpaced giving to secular charities in 2012. The Chronicle of Philanthropy's recently released giving data for the largest 400 charities in America reflected a giving increase of 4 percent for 2012, compared with 2011. This data most closely correlates with giving to ECFA members with $25 million or more in revenue, which showed a 7.5 percent increase.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The 3 - December 1, 2013

This week's edition of "The 3", which is my week-in-review feature, begins with a story about a court ruling from the previous Friday which has been producing responses since then, as news spread last week.   Also, a major announcement this past week came from the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the mandate forcing employers to provide contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.  And, the top story - giving thanks!

3 - Ministers, Christian organizations ponder ramifications of court decision on housing allowance

A ruling issued on Friday, November 22nd has brought response from a number of Christian organizations. According to Religion News Service, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Crabb ruled that an Internal Revenue Service exemption that allows a clergy housing exemption, in order to reduce their Federal tax burden, is unconstitutional.

The exemption applies to an estimated 44,000 ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and others.  If the ruling stands, some clergy members could experience an estimated 5 to 10 percent cut in take-home pay.

The suit was filed by the Wisconsin-based Freedom from Religion Foundation on grounds that the housing allowance violates the separation of church and state and the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The group’s founders have said that if tax-exempt religious groups are allowed a housing subsidy, other tax-exempt groups, such as FFRF, should get one, too.

CitizenLink quotes Dan Busby, President of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, as saying that, “We find the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s argument to be disingenuous...They indicate that they are harmed by the inability to claim the clergy housing exclusion for their leaders, when they actually never attempted to claim this exclusion.”  ECFA says on its website that, "The district court’s decision on the clergy housing exclusion may be appealed to the Seventh Circuit. Since the case was filed over two years ago, attorneys for the federal government have defended the constitutionality of the clergy housing exclusion and have argued that FFRF lacked legal standing to bring the challenge in the first place."

According to RNS, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Southern Baptist-affiliated GuideStone Financial Resources plan to fight for the exemption.

ERLC President Russell Moore says, “The clergy housing allowance isn’t a government establishment of religion, but just the reverse...The allowance is neutral to all religions. Without it, clergy in small congregations of all sorts would be penalized and harmed.”

2 - U.S. Supreme Court to consider HHS contraception mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hear Hobby Lobby's challenge to the government mandate requiring potential abortion-inducing drugs in employee health plans.  The arts-and-crafts chain, owned by evangelical Christians, filed suit against the Obama administration last year.

CitizenLink reports that in July, a federal court granted Hobby Lobby temporary relief from the mandate. This followed an appeals court order favoring such a reprieve. The administration then asked the high court to hear the case.

Also, the high court will take a case involving a Mennonite-owned business in Lancaster County, PA, Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by the Hahn family. The lower courts ruled against the family.

The Obama administration required for-profit businesses to comply with the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate by August 2012.  Nonprofits - many of which are faith-based - have a so-called safe harbor until January.

More than 80 suits are in play.  According to CitizenLink, as of last Tuesday, courts have granted 32 injunctions, halting the mandate for for-profit businesses; six of these requests have been denied.

1 - Christians celebrate Thanksgiving, ministries demonstrate love of Christ

This past Thursday, people from a variety of faith backgrounds, even those without a faith perspective, participated in the celebration of Thanksgiving.   And, for a believer in Jesus Christ, we have plenty for which to be thankful, and Christians have a large opportunity to show our appreciation for what God has done in our lives by putting His love on display.

A report earlier last week highlighted the work of rescue missions across America, partnering with people in their local communities to reach out to those less fortunate.  A release from the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM), the oldest and largest network of independent, faith-based crisis shelters and rehabilitation centers, estimated that its member-ministries served about 50 million meals annually, with the year-end holidays being one of the busiest times.

John Ashmen, president of AGRM, is quoted in a press release from the Association, posted on the Christian Newswire website: "All are saying the same thing: Volunteers and donations are consistent with that of past years, but the number of people in need seems to have increased substantially."

He also said that, "On behalf of every one of the rescue missions out there, I am extremely thankful for all of the volunteered hours and donated dollars...These gift are making the holidays -- starting with Thanksgiving -- meaningful to so many. But we all must remember that hunger and homelessness are not reserved for November and December. The problem is year-round."

And, in Houston, a number of area churches turned Black Friday into "Bless Friday".  According to its website, since 2010, Houston area churches have provided an alternative to frenzied Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving.  Continuing this tradition, an assortment of churches scheduled community service projects on Friday, November 29. These churches ask families and individuals to celebrate Bless Friday as an alternative to Black Friday.

Chuck Fox, founder of Bless Friday, states, “People get our message that when we focus too much on buying things, we lose sight of the real reason for Christmas – remembering and honoring Christ. We want to begin our Christmas celebration by serving others just as Jesus did.”

Also, best-selling author Karen Kingsbury teamed up with the large Christian retail chain Family Christian Stores to help provide relief for children in Haiti.  According to a Christianity Today piece, Kingsbury, who has adopted three of her five sons from Haiti, said in a recent FCS press release, "Haiti is still recovering from the 2010 earthquake that ravaged the already-destitute nation. As in any crisis, many of those most gravely affected were the most vulnerable—infants and children...This Thanksgiving weekend, Family Christian and its customers will be telling these children that they are not forgotten, they are not abandoned and they are not without hope."

The chain said that it would donate 100 percent of its profits from customer purchases over the three-day holiday weekend to build a neonatal orphanage in Haiti.  Furthermore, it would match any donations made during the period.

And, the Christian Defense Coalition was asking Americans to leave an empty place at their Thanksgiving dinners as a sign of solidarity with Pastor Saeed Abedini and the persecuted church worldwide, according to

Pastor Abedini, an Iranian and US citizen, has been imprisoned in Iran for over a year as a result of his Christian faith. He is serving an eight-year sentence in one of the most notorious prisons in the world, Tehran's Evin prison.