Sunday, November 30, 2014

The 3 - November 30, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, begins with the actions of a Christian legal advocacy organization that is taking a step to inform school districts regarding the rights of students to celebrate Christmas.  Also, in the aftermath of the grand jury decision regarding the fatal shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, churches in that area and Christian leaders nationwide are responding.  And, the top story: giving thanks - while that activity is something that Christians are called to participate in year-round, we can be especially challenged to express the love of Christ during this special time.

3 - Alliance Defending Freedom sends letters to school districts

As we enjoy the celebration of the Christmas season, we also recognize that the coming of this season tends to present some problems for school districts who will sometimes limit the right of free expression of the season by students.  This year, Christian legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom sent out a legal memo and myth and fact sheet Wednesday to more than 13,000 public school districts nationwide to explain the constitutionality of recognizing Christmas, participating in Christmas-related events, and allowing various forms of Christmas expression. The letter also offers free legal assistance to districts that need help.

In the memo, ADF explains that, " officials across our nation – whether intentionally or from being misinformed – have denied students and teachers their constitutional rights of religious speech and expression under the guise that the Constitution requires them to do so.”

ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot said, “No court has ever ruled that the Constitution requires school officials to censor Christmas carols, eliminate all references to Christmas, or silence those who celebrate Christmas...On the contrary, school officials tread on dangerous legal ground if they stifle the religious expression of students with regard to Christmas. As in previous years, we hope the materials we are providing to school districts will clear up the misinformation that has existed about this for far too long.”

Examples cited by ADF of incorrect responses by school districts include a South Carolina charter school that reportedly cancelled its participation in Samaritan Purse’s Operation Christmas Child after a humanist group threatened the school with legal action. School districts in Wisconsin and South Carolina that wrongly censored Christmas carols in school productions changed their positions in response to public outcry and letters from ADF explaining that the inclusion of religious carols is permissible.

2 - Churches respond to the Ferguson grand jury decision 

Across the country, strong response to the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown stirred up emotions, which erupted in violence in Ferguson and protests across the nation.  And, not surprisingly, churches in the Ferguson area stood together to offer peace and relief.

According to an article on the website, Ferguson area churches were standing strong to respond.  For example, Pastor Rodrick Burton drove to New Northside Missionary Baptist Church to pick up the church van and a few cleaning supplies. He told his congregants it was time to help their neighbors: cleaning up businesses damaged by the riots and helping transport people who felt unsafe out of the area in the church van.

At South City Church, worship and outreach coordinator Michelle Higgins kept soup warm and the church doors open for anyone—including protesters, off-duty police, fearful community members—to find a space for prayer and rest. The church was stocked with medics, sleeping bags, hot dinner, and prayer services, but some just needed a moment to sit in silence as the jury’s decision “spoke deep, deep hurt to their souls,” Higgins said.  Other churches in the city similarly prepared for the aftermath of the grand jury decision by creating care centers.

Burton, who, like Higgins, is African-American, said that while he doesn’t know what compelled Wilson to shoot, “I do know that Christ is consistent in that we are supposed to pray for our enemy and we are suppose to forgive. The clergy don’t even dare bring that sentiment forward to the table, and when they do, it’s from a position that we are more righteous than them.”

In the discussions and meetings he’s participated in during the last 100 days, Burton said he saw pastors egging on the “idolatry of protest.”   He pointed out that this resulted in businesses being destroyed in Ferguson after the grand jury decision was announced.

Higgins believes the church has the responsibility to “model the unity to which we are all bound, always striving to be that family you wish everyone else would be, and that means worshiping and repenting together.”

And, while the Christians in the Ferguson community and the St. Louis area are attempting to spread the love of Christ in an explosive situation, a number of Christian leaders are speaking out on the grand jury decision and the aftermath of it.  I think that Christians can agree that this situation can provide teachable moments, opportunities for dialogue, and a heightened capacity for understanding.

1 - Thanksgiving brings a time for ministry

During the Thanksgiving season, we have the opportunity to not only spend time in fellowship with family and friends and take time to reflect on God's blessings, but also, as an act of worship to God, to reach out to others and spread the love of Christ.  This is definitely in action during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, as events across America were focused on helping those less fortunate.

According to the website of the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, AGRM President John Ashmen is quoted as saying, “A greater number of people are discovering the deep satisfaction that comes through face-to-face encounters with invisible neighbors in need, and more so, the joy of giving to folks who will never be able to pay you back.” He points to an increase in volunteer involvement in rescue missions across the country, a trend that becomes evident during the holiday season—the busiest time of the year for feeding the hungry and homeless in America.  But, he also points out that help doesn’t always dry up after the holidays anymore.

Some of the events that the website highlighted this year:

Omaha, Nebraska: Open Door Mission was scheduled to engage 600 volunteer drivers to help deliver some 5,000 “Turkey ‘n’ Fixins” food boxes to at-risk families the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving.  Food box contents for this “Drumsticks on Wheels” event were funded through community donations from both businesses and individuals, featuring a shopping event to raise food box funds at a regional chain of grocery stores. 

Boise, Idaho: Rescue Mission Ministries was slated to serve more than 3,000 Thanksgiving meals to men, women and children at its annual Great Thanksgiving Banquet, held the day before Thanksgiving.  The mission also planned to distribute some 2,000 family food boxes for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bridgeport, Connecticut:  Bridgeport Rescue Mission asked for volunteers to conduct drives to collect some 3,000 turkeys and 15,000 winter coats for Thanksgiving distribution. The Bridgeport Mission has also set a goal to deliver 4,000 holiday food boxes to area families in great need.

Columbus, Georgia: Valley Rescue Mission expected to serve up to 1,000 holiday meals “in-house,” and also plan to deliver holiday meals to shut-ins and the elderly in their community.

Also, one of the trends across America is the presence of a large Thanksgiving Day-related run.  For instance, in my hometown of Marietta, Georgia, the MUST Ministries Gobble Jog has grown to be the 7th largest Thanksgiving Day race in America.  In some instances, these types of events combine health and fitness with an outreach to the needy.

For a Christian, these types of events can serve as examples to challenge us to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to extend our faith and express our thanks.

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