3 - Thousands converge on downtown Atlanta for Christian Retail Show
The annual event sponsored by CBA: The Association for Christian Retail (formerly known as the Christian Booksellers Association), the International Christian Retail Show, drew thousands to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta this week. The annual gathering brings together publishers, authors, filmmakers, retailers, and others who are involved in marketing a variety of Christian products.
According to a report on the Christian Retailing website, the industry is seeing significant cultural shifts in consumer shopping habits and fluctuations in church attendance, especially among millennials, ages 18 to 33. Reaching that critical group was a focus of this year’s show for Christian retailers and ministry leaders.
The initial reports are that attendance was roughly the same as last year, when ICRS was held in St. Louis. Christian Retailing reported that attendance numbered slightly higher than last year, while buyers rose by 2.4%. The Publishers Weekly site headline said that attendance was flat - at just over 3,700, slightly under last year in St. Louis. That report said that the CBA cited a 2% increase in professional attendance, from 1,485 in 2013 to 1,520 in 2014. Both reports indicated that after next year's Orlando gathering, there may be some changes in the presentation of the show.
This was my fourth consecutive year attending ICRS, and the second time I have attended the show in Atlanta. After two years in which attendance was approaching 5,000 people (Atlanta, then Orlando), according to Christian Retailing, attendance dropped sharply last year.
Curtis Riskey, CBA President, visited with me near the beginning of the show, and discussed some of the challenges in Christian retailing, as well as opportunities to be involved in community activities. CBA modeled that this year by hosting the Change a Life Festival to benefit a local Christian ministry. You can access my conversation with Curtis here.
I benefited again from having the Faith Radio/Meeting House broadcast center near the exhibit hall entrance, and I was able to interview close to 3 dozen people - authors, filmmakers, and others who are communicating gospel truth. You can check out conversations from the show by visiting the Meeting House download center at MeetingHouseOnline.info.
2 - U.S. Supreme Court issues second pro-life, free speech decision in as many weeks
Coming on the heels of a decision in favor of a national pro-life organization whose free speech rights were affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the high court issued another ruling in favor of pro-life free speech this week. In a unanimous ruling this week, the justices struck down a Massachusetts law that limited pro-lifers from talking to people entering abortion facilities.
CitizenLink has this report.
The law was signed in 2007, requiring a 35-foot “buffer zone” around abortion sellers. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed suit a year later on behalf of a group of pro-lifers. The group, many of whom are grandparents, reportedly wanted to simply provide information on abortion alternatives, and offer support to those who want it.
Attorney Mark Rienzi is quoted as saying, “Americans have the freedom to talk to whomever they please on public sidewalks...The Supreme Court has affirmed a critical freedom that has been an essential part of American life since the nation’s founding.”
ADF petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case after a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the law.
In the ruling, the court underscored pro-lifers’ constitutional rights to share their ideas in public:
It is no accident that public streets and sidewalks have developed as venues for the exchange of ideas. Even today, they remain one of the few places where a speaker can be confident that he is not simply preaching to the choir…. In light of the First Amendment’s purpose “to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail…,” this aspect of traditional public fora is a virtue, not a vice.
1 - Sudanese Christian woman now reportedly free and safe
As of Friday morning, Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death on charges of apostasy and punishment on charges of adultery because she married a Christian man, was reportedly in the safety of the U.S. Embassy in Sudan. The WORLD website reported that after Meriam had been released from prison earlier this week, she, her husband, and children were re-arrested at the airport on suspicion of forging travel documents. After being released, the family fled to the embassy for protection. U.S. officials told the Associated Press they were working to get the family out of the country. Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Meanwhile, it was reported that Ibrahim's family members, who had filed the complaint against her in the first place, had threatened to carry out the death sentence that had been removed by the court earlier in the week. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported Ibrahim's lawyers had also received death threats and extremist groups attempted to pressure the court to carry out her sentence.
As WORLD points out, Ibrahim was freed from prison on Monday and had been sentenced to die for refusing to recant her Christian faith. After an international outcry, a judge commuted her sentence. Her lawyer, Eman Abdul-Rahim, said the family was trying to get on a plane bound for the United States when they were detained at the international airport in Khartoum. Daniel Wani, Ibrahim’s husband, is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Her release apparently came after U.S. Representatives Chris Smith, Frank Wolk, Mark Meadows, and Joe Pitts met with Maowia Khalid, the Sudanese ambassador to the United States.
Smith called Ibrahim’s release a “huge first step,” but said he would reserve the right to convene a hearing until Ibrahim and her family are “on a plane and heading to the United States.”
Smith, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, had scheduled a hearing on Ibrahim’s case for Tuesday, but he agreed to postpone the proceeding based on assurances he received at that meeting.