Sunday, May 18, 2014

The 3 - May 18, 2014

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I offer a follow-up to a story that broke last week, involving 2 Christian brothers whose plans for a cable television reality show were suspended, presumably because of their faith perspective.   And, a Sudanese lady faces death for marrying a Christian and refusing to convert to Islam.  The top story involves the continuing story of the hundreds of Nigeria girls who have been kidnapped and some of the efforts to bring their freedom - a story that can bring a greater awareness of Christians in peril around the world.

3 - Benham brothers remain in the news, bank rejection reversed

It appeared a few days ago that the strong faith stands of David and Jason Benham had cost them not only a television program on HGTV, but a relationship with their bank.  On Friday, The Daily Caller reported that SunTrust Banks had pulled all of its listed properties with the Benham brothers’ bank-owned property.

At the time, Jason Benham responded by saying, “If our faith costs us our HGTV show and our business, then so be it." Brother David said that, “Keeping us off television wasn’t enough, now this agenda to silence wants us out of the marketplace.”

Later on Friday, TheDC reported that after an uproar from conservative customers, SunTrust Banks had announced that afternoon that the decision to end its relationship with the Benhams had been reversed.

The bank didn’t go into detail about why they originally cut ties with the Benham brothers, though SunTrust said the decision was made by a third party vendor.  TheDC had reported earlier Friday that the vendor had told a Benham Brothers franchisee that the bank itself made the decision.

SunTrust spokeswoman Beth McKenna said, “We clarified our policies with our vendor and they have reinstated the listings with Benham Real Estate."  She added, “Mid-2013, we consolidated the management of certain residential assets with a third party vendor, which has the relationship with Benham Real Estate...While we do not publicly comment on specific vendor relationships, we don’t make choices on suppliers nor base business decisions on political factors, nor do we direct our third party vendors to do so.”

She added: “SunTrust supports the rights of all Americans to fully exercise their freedoms granted under the Constitution, including those with respect to free speech and freedom of religion.”

After publication of TheDC’s story earlier Friday, the publication stated that conservatives expressed outrage at the bank.

Chris Stone, founder of Faith Driven Consumer, had been quoted by The Daily Caller as saying, “SunTrust Banks appears to have punished David and Jason Benham by taking action against their business purely based on their Christian beliefs...This sends a loud and clear message to people of faith in America, you’re not welcome at SunTrust, take your business somewhere else.”

2 - Sudanese woman faces death penalty for marriage to Christian

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim is a women from Sudan, who was arrested in February and charged and sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death for apostasy, after Sudanese authorities were made aware of her marriage to a Christian man, according to a report on the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) website. CSW reports that the court had given the Christian mother, who is pregnant with her second child, until this past Thursday to convert to Islam, implying that her sentence could be annulled or reduced if she did so.   She is currently detained in Omdurman Federal Women's Prison along with her 20-month-old son, Martin Wani.

In March, Meriam had testified that she is a life-long Christian, producing her marriage certificate where she is classified as Christian as proof of her religion.  Reportedly, three potential witnesses from western Sudan who went to the hearing to testify of Mrs Ibrahim’s lifelong adherence to Christianity were prevented from giving evidence.

After the court confirmed the death sentence, her lawyers asserted their intention to launch an appeal, a process which could take several months.  Her husband, Daniel Wani, has complained that throughout her incarceration his wife has been prevented from receiving visitors and, more seriously, from accessing vital medical treatment. A family member said: "we are concerned for her wellbeing; it is not very safe for her to be in the prison with dangerous criminals."

If the sentence is carried out Mrs Ibrahim will become the first person to be executed for apostasy under the 1991 penal code, prompting concerns that the charge may increasingly be used against anyone who converts from Islam.

CSW’s Chief Operating Officer Andy Dipper said, “CSW continues to call for the annulment the inhumane and unwarranted sentence and for the immediate of Mrs Ibrahim and her son, who is being held in violation of article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  As a Sudanese citizen Mrs Ibrahim is entitled to freedom of religion of belief under the constitution; consequently, this sentence amounts to a violation of the Sudanese Constitution and of international conventions to which Sudan is party, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.”
Christianity Today reports that the sentence is to be carried out two years after her second child's birth later this month.

1 - Nigerian kidnapping crisis continues, persecution of Christians moves front and center

Prayers, diplomacy, and even military assistance are elements bring a solution to the tragic situation involving almost 300 Nigerian girls, most of whom are from a Christian background, who are being held by the terrorist group Boko Haram.   Now, CBN.com is reporting that the Nigerian government could be ready to open a dialog with the terrorist organization in hopes of securing the release of the girls.

Since their kidnapping one month ago, it has been reported that some of the girls have been forced to convert to Islam and some have reportedly been forced to marry.

One Nigerian cabinet official says engaging in talks with the terrorist group could be key in bringing the girls home.

Nigeria's Minister of Special Duties Tanimu Turaki is quoted as saying, "A lot of promises have been made; we are still pursuing those promises."

That news comes one day after Mike Omeri, the director of the government's information agency, said the government will "use whatever kind of action" it takes to free the young women.  He said, "At the moment because all options are open, we are interacting with experts, military, and intelligence experts from other parts of the world...So these are part of the options that are available to us and many more."

Meanwhile, the United States, Israel, and Britain are assisting Nigeria in its rescue efforts. U.S. surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft have already begun flying over the West African nation.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said that, "...this is no small task. But we are certainly bringing resources to bear in our effort to assist the government."

A prayer vigil was held in the nation's capital on Wednesday, according to a report at the ChristianHeadlines.com website.  The vigil was set to feature 276 flowers, one for each of the kidnapped girls. An online stream was scheduled to be offered to the families of the young women.

Vigil organizer Reverend Patrick Mahoney is quoted as saying, “We stand in solidarity with all the kidnapped girls of Nigeria, their families and loved ones. We agree with Dr. Martin Luther King when he says, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,’”

The New York Times reports that the heads of state of five West African countries, including Nigeria, met Saturday with Western officials and agreed to share intelligence and strengthen military cooperation to combat the regional threat from Boko Haram.

At the request of Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, President Fran├žois Hollande of France organized the meeting, which was also attended by the heads of state of Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin, countries that border Nigeria and that have long been suspicious of one another. The borders among the countries are notoriously porous, and Boko Haram’s adherents have easily slipped across them.

This incident is just another example of persecution of Christians at the hands of radical Isalmists.   The subject of Christian persecution has been elevated in the news recently; representatives of a variety of religious organizations held a press conference almost 2 weeks ago calling for assistance to persecuted Christians.  A WORLD News Service piece on the Christian Headlines website states that Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), co-chairs of the Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, hosted the event and urged American believers to pray, give, and advocate on behalf of suffering Christians. They also called on the U.S. Senate to pass legislation to create a State Department special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia, which the House has twice passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.  In this instance, the nations of Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were highlighted.

And, a rally yesterday in Dallas called attention to the persecution of Christians in countries with predominantly Muslim governments, calling for the U.S. to cease funding these nations.   Pastor Stephen Broden organized the rally, and he spoke with me for Friday's edition of The Meeting House.    

These are all reminders of the dangerous world in which we live, and how important it is for believers in Christ to stand with those who are facing persecution for their faith.

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