Sunday, May 11, 2014

The 3 - May 11, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, includes an apparent U-turn by a cable network regarding a planned series featuring 2 evangelical Christians.  Also, tragedy in the nation of Nigeria, where a militant group has apparently kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls, many of them Christian.  And, the top story includes a Supreme Court decision involving the right of people to pray before governmental meetings according to the dictates of their conscience.

3 - House flippers flipped out of new cable series

This fall, HGTV - Home and Garden Television - had planned for a show called "Flip It Forward," starring twin brothers David and Jason Benham.    According to a report on the Baptist Press website, each episode was to feature the brothers finding a "fixer-upper" house and remodeling it for a family with limited financial resources.

On Wednesday, May 7, the cable network tweeted out that, "HGTV has decided not to move forward with the Benham Brothers' series."  There is speculation that the cancellation of the series came after a report on the website, quoting one of the Benhams as opposing gay marriage and abortion and allegedly saying that Christianity is superior to Islam.

The brothers reportedly told CNN they believe HGTV was pressured into its decision.

David Benham was quoted as saying that he felt HGTV was bullied.  He said, "There's an agenda that's out in America right now that demands silence, especially from men and women who profess Jesus Christ and hold to His standards."

The Benhams wrote in a statement on their website that they would choose their faith over a television show if those were the alternatives.

They wrote, "We were saddened to hear HGTV's decision...With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principles, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show then so be it."

The Christian advocacy group Faith Driven Consumer launched a petition drive asking HGTV to reinstate "Flip It Forward" to its fall lineup. The petition, available at, garnered more than 8,500 signatures by May 9.

David Benham said on CNN May 8 that he and his brother have never practiced discrimination.   He is quoted as saying, "We love all people. I love homosexuals. I love Islam, Muslims, and my brother and I would never discriminate. Never have we -- never would we."  He added, "Never have I ever spoken against homosexuals, as individuals, and gone against them...I speak about an agenda. And that's really what the point of this is -- that there is an agenda that is seeking to silence the voices of men and women of faith."

Jason Benham told Baptist Press that HGTV vetted the brothers a year and a half ago, saw some of the material unearthed recently by Right Wing Watch and spoke with the twins about it.

"They got to know us a little better and then they made a judgment call, recognizing that David and I have no hate in our heart for anyone," Jason Benham told CNN. "We've been running a successful real estate company for the last 11 years and we help all people. There is no discrimination."

2 - Hundreds of Nigerian girls, including multiple Christians, kidnapped by militant group

There is great concern over the kidnapping of hundreds of girls from Nigeria, most of them Christians, by the Boko Haram militant group.   According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a disturbing video was released last Monday, in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said the kidnapped girls were “slaves” and that he would sell them “in the market”, claiming: “it is Allah that says I should sell human beings” and “instructed us [to] soak the ground of Nigeria with Christian blood and so-called Muslims contradicting Islam.”

The total number of children kidnapped on April 15 from the Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) in Chibok remains unclear. Some sources state that over 300 were abducted and around 276 are still missing. Last weekend, the Borno State Police Commissioner said 276 girls were captured by the group and 53 had managed to escape.

Christianity Today reports that the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) recently released the names of 165 Christian girls and 15 Muslim girls it says were kidnapped from Chibok. Many are affiliated with the Church of the Brethren. 

Also, CSW reports that this past Monday, Boko Haram gunmen abducted eight more girls aged between 12 and 15 during an attack that included house to house searches of Warabe Village in Borno State, which is located close to Sambisa Forest where the group has a stronghold.   On the same day Boko Haram militants are reported to have destroyed most of Gamboru Town in Borno State, killing at least 250 people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon is quoted as saying that, “the targeting of children and schools is against international law and cannot be justified under any circumstances.” The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights warned there is no statute of limitations for grave international crimes such as slavery and sexual slavery, pointing out the sale of the girls could constitute a crime against humanity. France, the United States and the United Kingdom are providing specialist assistance, while the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls went viral, drawing support from a host of celebrities and resulting in protests on behalf of the missing girls in cities throughout Nigeria and across the world. 

And, the leading mosque in Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar Mosque, said: “this action does not relate to the noble teachings of Islam in any way.”  CSW points out that given that it is one of the oldest Sunni institutions and is highly respected throughout the Islamic world and particularly in Africa, Al-Azhar’s intervention constitutes an authoritative and significant riposte to Boko Haram’s claims of divine sanction.

1 - U.S. Supreme Court upholds right to prayers before governmental meetings, including explicitly Christian prayers

A long-time tradition in the city of Greece, New York, had been challenged in court - the practice of inviting volunteers from a variety of churches in the area to pray before the town council's meetings.  CitizenLink reports that after more than five years of legal battles, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday in favor of public prayers — including those “in Jesus’ name” — before government meetings.

Thomas Hungar, an allied attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which represented the town, is quoted as saying, “The Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the practice of prayer before legislative bodies is firmly embedded in the history and traditions of this nation...Americans should be free to speak and act consistently with their own beliefs.”

The court affirmed that as long as the prayers are respectful, those praying may say essentially what they like. It also affirmed that if one prayer should wander outside what’s proper, that alone is not a reason to stop public prayers. And because most of the congregations in Greece are generally Christian, it’s acceptable for most of the people who pray to be Christians—no need to go outside the community to bring some unattainable sense of “balance” to what’s said in the prayers.
In the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy underscored the rights of Americans:
From the earliest days of the Nation, these invocations have been addressed to assemblies comprising many different creeds. These ceremonial prayers strive for the idea that people of many faiths may be united in a community of tolerance and devotion. Even those who disagree as to religious doctrine may find common ground in the desire to show respect for the divine in all aspects of their lives and being. Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.
CitizenLink points out that the Supreme Court’s ruling will likely affect similar cases still in progress in lower courts, according to ADF. Attorneys with the group plan to resolve those cases in light of the decision.

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