Monday, August 18, 2014

The 3 - August 17, 2014

In this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, "The 3," an attempt to overturn Houston's ordinance providing for special treatment for individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity was turned back by city officials.  Also, in a suburb of St. Louis, churches are involved in trying to bring peace amidst conflict in the aftermath of a police shooting of an 18-year-old man. And, the top story, violence against Christians - as the purge of Christians continues in Iraq, more brutality has been reported in Nigeria, and a humanitarian crisis has ensued after a deadly attack last week.

3 - Attempt to overturn Houston ordinance affording special rights thwarted

One trend that is beginning to emerge regarding special rights for homosexuals and acceptance of same-sex marriage is the passage of municipal ordinances.  For example, cities such as Houston and San Antonio have already passed such policies and the city of Baton Rouge, Louisiana turned back such a law this past week.

According to a CitizenLink story, a Texas judge had temporarily halted an equal rights ordinance that would force Houston business owners to allow men to use the women’s restroom — and vice versa.  It was put on hold until this past Friday, pending a hearing on the matter. The ordinance would also force businesses to celebrate same-sex ceremonies.

City council members passed the ordinance in May.   Last month, a coalition, including pastors and other concerned citizens, submitted more than 50,000 petition signatures from Houstonians who want the ordinance to be repealed or placed on the ballot. Then, the mayor and the city attorney threw out more than 30,000 of those.

Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values Action, said people should get to vote. He is quoted as saying, "We will vigorously defend the right of Houstonians to take a timely vote on this dangerous ordinance...The oppressive actions of Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman to throw out at least 30,000 petition signatures — and then delay and distract in court — only shows the desperate lengths they will go to prevent the people of Houston from having their say.”  Mayor Annise Parker is openly gay.

According to the campaign, which spearheaded the signature drive, the ordinance would place women and children in danger in business restrooms and community-pool changing rooms and locker rooms.

The Houston Chronicle reports that on Friday, opponents of the ordinance dropped their request for a temporary injunction that could have triggered a repeal referendum this November. Their lawsuit is scheduled to be heard January 19 of next year, a trial date that ordinance opponents called "expedited" and among the reasons they agreed to withdraw the request.

The injunction sought by the ordinance foes would have forced City Secretary Anna Russell to certify their petition and sent the issue to an emergency city council vote in order to get the repeal referendum on the November ballot. The group of conservative pastors and activists was also asking the city to suspend enforcement of the ordinance, though Mayor Annise Parker had already agreed to do so until a ruling is issued.

And, Houston's 14th Court of Appeals on Friday denied a separate request from opponents to force the city secretary to certify the signatures on their petition and trigger a referendum.

In Baton Rouge, a so-called equal rights ordinance failed by a vote of 8-4, according to a report on the website.

2 - Christians pray for peace in St. Louis suburb

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri has been pronounced in the aftermath of the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown last week.  As WORLD reports, riots erupted throughout the week, after police shot and killed Michael Brown. Police reports claim Brown struggled with the officers, while two eyewitnesses have said that Brown had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times. In the following days, rioters looted and burned stores, confronted police in the streets, and demanded the name of the officer responsible for Brown’s death.  Thursday, it was announced that the Missouri State Highway Patrol would oversee security in Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis. Gov. Jay Nixon announced the change in light of criticism that the St. Louis County Police Department has been overly confrontational with protesters.  After curfews were placed into effect for the weekend, another wave of protests and violence emerged, and as of Monday morning, the 18th, according to USA Today, Gov. Nixon had deployed National Guard troops to try to restore the peace.

As I wrote about in a recent post on my blog, The Front Room, in the middle of the turmoil, area churches have stepped forward to communicate an air of peace and service.  WORLD interviewed Michelle Higgins, Worship and Outreach Coordinator at South City Church in St. Louis, who said the atmosphere completely changes as day turns to night. Higgins said even though the police are patient and speak politely, “their appearance is so daunting that it creates a tension that does not have to be there.” The night also brings a different type of protester, including frustrated young people from all over the St. Louis area who often ignore community leaders’pleas to keep the protests peaceful.

Pastor Rodrick Burton, an African-American who leads the New Northside Missionary Baptist Church, located minutes from Ferguson, said it’s disheartening to see young people who are looking for instant results take matters into their own hands. He's also discouraged to see how people are injecting inaccurate information and their own narratives into an already tragic case. For one, he said, unlike the claims of many reports, the northern suburb of Ferguson, which is two-thirds black and one-third white, actually has “pretty good race relations,” and he worries how the riots will affect the existing relationships.

Baptist Press reports that Missouri Baptists in the area say the tragedy has opened doors for proclaiming a message of reconciliation in Christ. For instance, First Baptist Church in Ferguson opened its doors on Aug. 13 for a citywide prayer service.  First Baptist pastor Stoney Shaw said residents of Ferguson were joined by Missouri Baptists from nearby towns in praying for peace and unity. Among other churches involved in the service were The Gate Church of University City and The Passage Church of Florissant.  The pastor said the interracial prayer service exuded a spirit of reconciliation, with participants recognizing the need to love and understand one another.

The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association also organized an Aug. 13 prayer service hosted by Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church in North St. Louis. In addition to praying for Brown's family and for peace in Ferguson, director of missions Jim Breeden said they prayed that God would empower local Christians to transform the greater St. Louis area with the Gospel message.

Some Missouri Baptists have already displayed this message by helping to clean Ferguson storefronts that were damaged by looters in the aftermath of Brown's shooting.  First Baptist of Ferguson issued a statement, which said, in part: "... we pledge to pray diligently for everyone involved...We ask that everyone join us in praying for peace and unity as we go through this difficult time together. And we stand ready to assist our community in any way possible to bring peace in the wake of this horrible tragedy."

1 - Radicals in Nigeria slaughter Christians

The purge of Christians in cities across Iraq and the entrapment of Yazidi people on a mountain in that nations have been sources of concern.  Meanwhile, another extremist Islamist organization, Boko Haram, continues its wave of violence in Nigeria.  And, reports have emerged that members of that organization ravaged the predominantly Christian town of Gwoza, Borno State last week, according to the Christian Today website.  Over 100 people were killed in the attack, and many citizens were forced to flee their homes and run into the hills to save their lives, according to a BosNewsLife report.

The Boko Haram members were wearing military uniforms and arrived on motorcycles, in trucks, and in up to 50 vans, and attacked the village with fuel-bombs and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The population of over 276,000 had their homes ransacked for food and other supplies before being burned. Some escaped civilians fled to Cameroon or nearby Adamawa State.

Boko Haram also targeted the predominantly Christian town of Limankara, Borno State, killing Church of Christ in Nations pastor Musa Gaiyo and three of his children.

Human rights organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide condemned the bloodshed.  Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas, in a statement, said, "It is deplorable that the residents of Gwoza have been terrorised for so many months, and are now internally displaced, having lost their homes and livelihoods."

The Guardian Nigeria site quotes Senator Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South in Nigeria's National Assembly, who warned of a humanitarian emergency, who said, "Honestly, our people need help. The only people that are living in Gwoza are those that are either too old to walk or too young to flee..."They have no water to drink because the boreholes are no longer functioning. They also have no food to eat. There are over 50,000 people in Gwoza and more than 270,000 in the local government area but all of them are devastated."  He added, "Something urgent needs to be done."

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said 10,000 people had been displaced because of the attack and they were providing assistance to those who had escaped to Maiduguri or Madagali, in neighbouring Adamawa state.

Boko Haram became internationally known after kidnapping over 270 children from an all-girls school in Chibok, Nigeria on April 14. A second mass kidnapping occurred on May 4 in Warabe. Over 200 girls remain missing.

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