Sunday, August 31, 2014

The 3 - August 31, 2014

On this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I explore the story of a New York couple who was fined for not allowing a same-sex wedding ceremony to be performed at its facility - they have announced that they will no longer host weddings.   Also, a singular Federal judge has ruled against a portion of the Texas abortion law providing for certain standards for clinics. And, a large missions agency has a new leader - a popular author and pastor.

3 - Couple fined for not allowing gay wedding at its facility, will no longer host weddings

In yet another example of a business that refused to participate in a same-sex wedding ceremony and has faced consequences from the government, a couple in New York has now made the decision to no longer allow their facility to be used for weddings.

According to a story on the website, Robert and Cynthia Gifford own Liberty Ridge Farms, a 50-acre facility that hosts a number of family-friendly attractions.  In 2012, two lesbians contacted the facility to schedule their “wedding” ceremony, as the venue regularly hosts weddings and other outings.  When the Giffords realized that the two were lesbians, they informed the women that they could not be of assistance.

The ladies filed a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights, alleging discrimination.

Administrative Law Judge Migdalia Peres fined Liberty Ridge Farms $13,000, citing “the goal of deterrence” for other businesses who might adhere to their convictions and decline to personally accommodate same-sex celebrations. $1,500 of that amount is be paid to each the lesbians who were turned down by the facility, which also serves as the Giffords' home.

Liberty Ridge Farms was also ordered to provide proof that they have trained their employees not to refuse requests from homosexuals. A poster noting that the business is subject to human rights law was additionally to be displayed prominently at the business.

Because of the order, the Giffords have now decided to close the wedding venue altogether, while keeping other parts of their farm operational, in order to avoid violating their religious beliefs.

Their attorney, James Trainor, told reporters this week that, the Giffords "...have decided to no longer host any wedding ceremonies on their property (other than the ones already under contract).” He added, “Since the order essentially compelled them to do all ceremonies or none at all, they have chosen the latter in order to stay true to their religious convictions, even though it will likely hurt their business in the short run. They will continue to host wedding receptions.”

Also, as previously reported by, a Christian-owned trolley company in Maryland likewise decided last year to discontinue its wedding services to avoid any legal entanglements. Matt Grubbs of Discover Annapolis Tours informed the Baltimore Sun that he will lose $50,000 a year because of his decision, but said that he would rather lose money than dishonor God.

2 - Last-minute Federal judge decision puts part of TX abortion law on hold

Just 2 years ago, the state of Texas had 40 abortion clinics in operation, and according to a report on the WORLD Magazine website, in the aftermath of the passage of the new abortion reform law called HB2, now only 19 centers remain in business.  The law has already withstood a legal challenge to the portion of the law that required abortionists to have privileges at a nearby hospital. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March that the privileges requirement did not place an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

Now, a lone Federal judge has ruled against another provision of the law, set to go into effect this week. The ruling blocks a requirement that abortion centers in Texas have hospital-like facilities with operating rooms, air filtration systems, and other standards that are typically only mandated in surgical settings. Supporters of the measure said it would protect women’s health, but U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel said it created an “impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion.”

The Los Angeles Times points out that the judge also struck down the admitting privileges mandate as it applies to two clinics, one in the Rio Grande Valley, the other in West Texas, regions where women have the least access to abortion services.  As the Times points out, the original bill banned nearly all abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

This ruling is yet another in a series of ruling by Federal judges who see themselves apparently as the protectors of a woman's so-called right to abortion.

1 - Platt named new head of Baptist foreign missions agency

The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention has a new President - the IMB's Board of Trustees named Birmingham pastor, David Platt, of the Church at Brook Hills, as the new head of the Convention's foreign missions arm.

A Baptist Press report says that the IMB is the largest denominational missionary-sending body among American evangelicals. More than 4,800 Southern Baptist international missionaries serve worldwide.

Platt succeeds former missionary, pastor and Southern Baptist Convention president Tom Elliff, who had served as President since March 2011.  Elliff asked the agency's trustees earlier this year to begin an active search for his successor.

Baptist Press quotes Platt as saying, "This is not something I saw coming." He said, "I love pastoring The Church at Brook Hills. I love shepherding this local church on mission for the glory of God among the nations and could picture myself doing that for decades to come. At the same time, God has been doing an unusual work in my heart and life. The only way I can describe it is that He's been instilling in me a deeper, narrowing, Romans 15 kind of ambition, where [the Apostle] Paul said, 'I want to see Christ preached where He has not been named.' … He has given me a deeper desire to spend more of my time and energy and resources in the short life He has given me to seeing Christ preached where He's not been named. The concept of unreached peoples -- of nearly 2 billion people who have never heard the Gospel -- is just totally intolerable."

Search committee chairman David Uth, pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, FL, is quoted as saying, "When we realized his sense of call, whether that meant serving as IMB president or going himself … we realized how passionate, how deeply committed and called he was to the nations." He said the trustees are excited about Platt's influence among thousands of Southern Baptists and other evangelical leaders through The Church at Brook Hills, the Radical network and other arenas.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The 3 - August 24, 2014

This week's edition of "The 3," features two celebratory events at an Atlanta hospital, as two health care professionals from Christian ministries were released after being treated for the Ebola virus.  Also, new regulations were announced for non-profit organizations and closely-held companies concerning the contraception mandate.   And, a massive turnout in Southern California came out for a long-standing annual evangelistic crusade.

3 - 2 Christian workers released from Emory University hospital after Ebola treatment

Two devoted health care workers who were helping to care for Ebola patients in Liberia have now been released from an Atlanta hospital.  An American doctor, Kent Brantly, who works with Samaritan's Purse, was discharged from Emory University Hospital Thursday. Another American aid worker, Nancy Writebol, of Servants in Mission, or SIM, was discharged Tuesday.

According to a article, Brantly, looking gaunt, said at a press conference Thursday that, "God saved my life," at which the room applauded his appearance. He thanked his medical team and the millions of people around the world praying for his recovery. “Please do not stop praying for the people of West Africa.”

Bruce Ribner, the medical director of the hospital's infectious disease unit, said the hospital performed extensive blood and urine tests on both patients and consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before deciding the two missionaries were ready to be released.   He said that neither poses any risk to the public.  Five doctors and 21 nurses cared for Brantly and Writebol during their stay.

SIM press release through Religion News quoted Nancy Writebol's husband David, who, in a statement, said: "Nancy is free of the virus, but the lingering effects of the battle have left her in a significantly weakened condition. Thus, we decided it would be best to leave the hospital privately to be able to give her the rest and recuperation she needs at this time...During the course of her fight, Nancy recalled the dark hours of fear and loneliness, but also a sense of the deep abiding peace and presence of God, giving her comfort..."

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham is quoted in this statement, published on
I know that Dr. Brantly and his wonderful family would ask that you please remember and pray for those in Africa battling, treating and suffering from Ebola. Those who have given up the comforts of home to serve the suffering and the less fortunate are in many ways just beginning this battle.
We have more than 350 staff in Liberia, and others will soon be joining them, so please pray for those who have served with Dr. Brantly — along with the other doctors, aid workers and organizations that are at this very moment desperately trying to stop Ebola from taking any more lives.

2 - HHS contraception mandate rules changed again

Responding to action from the U.S. Supreme Court, the Obama administration announced yet another revision to the regulations for non-profit organizations who object to the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate, according to a report on the WORLD News Group website.

As anticipated, the new regulations follow the guidelines of the recent Supreme Court order granting Wheaton College an injunction against the mandate.

Here's how the new regulations work: an objecting nonprofit can inform the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in writing that it objects to the mandate and be absolved from arranging coverage. But, HHS would then order the nonprofit’s insurer to provide the objectionable drugs to employees at no cost to the nonprofit. If the nonprofit is self-insured, HHS would order the group’s third-party administrator to provide the drugs, which the article points out is a complicated scenario.

HHS also announced a proposal in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby case to allow closely held corporations who object to the mandate to use the same accommodation process as objecting nonprofits.

Lori Windham of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty issued this statement:
“Under pressure from hundreds of lawsuits, the government continues to retreat. After three losses in the Supreme Court and dozens of losses in courts below, the government continues to confuse the issues. The government issued over 70 pages of regulations, when all it needed to do was read the First Amendment. We’ll be reviewing this latest attempt with each of our clients.”

The Becket Fund website points out 5 things about the new regulations:

1. This is the 8th retreat the administration has made from their original stance that only “house[s] of worship” receive religious liberty protection.

2. There are a lot of lawsuits against the administration: 102 cases filed including: 28 religious universities (More Protestant than Catholic), 40 religious charities, and 3 Bible publishers.

3. The administration has lost 90% of their cases on this issue – including a decision and two orders from the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters of the Poor, and Wheaton.

4. The religious charities in these cases serve tens of thousands of people, helping the poor and healing the sick. The Little Sisters of the Poor alone serve more than ten thousand people.

5. This is the first time the administration has acknowledged that families do not lose their religious freedom when they open a family business. None of the previous seven revisions reached family-owned businesses.

Baptist Press quotes a written statement by Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Dr. Russell Moore:
"Here we go again...What we see here is another revised attempt to settle issues of religious conscience with accounting maneuvers. This new policy doesn't get at the primary problem. The administration is setting itself up as a mediator between God and the conscience on the question of the taking of innocent human life."

1 - Thousands flock to Harvest Crusade in Anaheim

What has been termed as the longest-running evangelistic outreach in U.S. history yielded another sizable crowd to the Angel Stadium of Anaheim in California, where more than 116,000 people packed the stands of the famed baseball stadium over three nights to attend the 25th annual Southern California Harvest Crusades with Greg Laurie, which ended on Sunday, the 17th.

All nights of the 2014 SoCal Harvest were broadcast on the Internet, where over 62,700 people from all 50 states and 121 countries around the world watched the outreach.

In a Harvest Crusade press release, Laurie, who preached each night of the Crusade, is quoted as saying, "God can forgive your sin and the guilt that goes along with it. He loves you...Have you heard His voice? After 25 years, I know there's nothing I can say to make you believe in Jesus. All I can do is deliver the news, sharing it with you. You have a choice: you can say yes to Him or you can say no to Him."

By the end of the weekend, almost 12,800 people indicated their faith in Christ at the Southern California Harvest Crusade, including over 11,300 people who walked to the outfield of Angel Stadium, and another 1,425 who made that decision online after viewing the Internet broadcast of the crusade.

The 2014 Crusade concluded with a Sunday night fireworks display that accompanied Chris Tomlin as he sang "God's Great Dance Floor," and a musical medley from Grammy-nominated vocalist Crystal Lewis, who has performed at nearly every Harvest Crusades outreach in Orange County.

Other musical artists throughout the Crusade included NEEDTOBREATHE, Phil Wickham, Skillet, Sidewalk Prophets, and For King and Country.

There were reflections on the past 25 years with video flashbacks and testimonies from past participants who experienced spiritual change after attending a Harvest Crusade event.

Coming up on Sunday, October 5th, Harvest America will take place in Dallas at the American Airlines Arena. The event is scheduled to be simulcast to host locations nationwide. The event will feature Greg Laurie, music by MercyMe, and worship with Phil Wickham.  Learn more at or

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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The 3 - August 10, 2014

This week here in my week-in-review feature, "The 3," news from a Federal courtroom in Montgomery, where a judge struck down legislation that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.   Also, a major church in the Northwest has continued to make headlines within the Christian community, and has been removed from membership in a church-planting organization that its pastor founded.  And, the top story involved the continued progression of the militant organization, ISIS, through Iraq, including the conquest of several Christian towns.

3 - Alabama abortion clinic bill struck down by Federal judge

A Federal judge has struck down a law, passed by the Alabama Legislature, that would have required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.  It had been reported that, as the result of the bill's provision, three out of the five abortion clinics in the state would have had to close because they could not meet this minimum standard.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued his ruling on Monday in a 172-page decision, which said, in part, according to, “The resulting unavailability of abortion in these three cities would impose significant obstacles, burdens, and costs for women across Alabama...The evidence compellingly demonstrates that the requirement would have the striking result of closing three of Alabama’s five abortion clinics, clinics which perform only early abortions, long before viability.”

Governor Robert Bentley was quoted as saying, "...This law ensures that if a complication arises there is continuity of treatment between doctor and patient. This ruling significantly diminishes those important protections. I will always fight for the rights of the unborn, and support an appeal of today’s decision.”

The bill would be appealed to the 11th Circuit.   The 5th Circuit has already issued two decisions concerning similar bills.  A three-judge panel upheld a Texas law requiring that abortionists have admitting privileges, while another three-judge panel of the same circuit rejected a Mississippi requirement.

2 - Acts 29 church planting network removes church, pastor from membership

Acts 29 is a network of churches who are devoted to planting other churches.   Its website says that, "Over the last ten years Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 500 churches around the world. We want to allow a unifying, uncommon movement of God to happen through Acts 29. Centered on the Gospel, we desire to advance the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. It is our hope to see this leading to millions of lives changed by the power of the Spirit for the glory of God."

The network was founded and led for most of those ten years by an unconventional pastor from Seattle by the name of Mark Driscoll - he is the pastor of Mars Hill Church.  It was announced this week that Pastor Driscoll and Mars Hill Church have been removed from membership in the network.  The website says that:
...Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.
On the WORLD News Group website, Warren Cole Smith reports that a letter was sent to Driscoll by the Board of Directors, which includes Matt Chandler, who became Board Chair after Driscoll stepped down several years ago. Other board members include: Darrin Patrick, Steve Timmis, Eric Mason, John Bryson, Bruce Wesley, and Leonce Crump.  WORLD reports that the board said it wrote the letter “in sadness and hope” and only after waiting to see what Driscoll and the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability (BOAA) would do to resolve what the letter called “countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you.”

But the Acts 29 board’s letter added, “We no longer believe the BOAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.”

Just 2 weeks ago, Warren reported in a piece on the WORLD website that:
Last year, a plagiarism controversy forced Driscoll and his publisher Tyndale House to issue a joint statement admitting “mistakes were made.” This year, WORLD reported Mars Hill Church spent a quarter-million dollars in church funds to put his book Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list. Former staff members have increasingly taken to the internet to voice their grievances with what some have called Driscoll’s overbearing management style.
He went on to write that:
These controversies came to a head in March, when Driscoll made a remarkable public apology. In a letter to his congregation that received national coverage, he said his “angry-young-prophet days are over” and he would take steps to become “a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father.” Among the steps Driscoll planned to take included refraining from posting on social media until “at least the end of the year” and to doing few, if any, media interviews.
Apparently, this public apology was not enough, and more information about Driscoll and his activities has continued to come to light.

On his website, Warren Throckmorton, who has been a vocal critic of Driscoll, quoted one of the Mars Hill ex-pastors who has been initiating mediation with the church, Kyle Firstenberg, who had this reaction to Acts 29′s announcement.
I have been greatly discouraged with the response from the BOAA in the charges that both I and others have brought. Years have gone by with what appears as only damage control and not any clear act of love for Mark in holding him accountable as brothers in the faith should.
This action from Matt Chandler and the other members of the board of A29 is one of the most loving acts I have seen in leadership in the Church world in recent years.
Throckmorton does point out that the BOAA did respond to the letter announcing that Mars Hill was being removed.  It was signed by Chairman Michael Van Skaik and Board Member Larry Osborne, saying that, "...I told the lead pastors at the recent annual retreat that we are making real progress in addressing the serious reconciliation and unhealthy culture issues that have been a part of Mars Hill Church for way too long. And we are. I also told them that more opposition would undoubtedly be coming, and it has. Friendly fire always hurts the most."   Van Skaik took the A29 leadership to task for not speaking directly to the Board or Mark Driscoll prior to the announcement.

According to Throckmorton, a group of over 75 members and ex-members have chosen to delay the filing of 53 new charges against the pastor and his Executive Elders.  Apparently, you have had a number of people in the Mars Hill culture who have been involved in the process of confrontation, with the hope of restoration.   Perhaps this A29 action can be a catalyst for healing within a church body that has had and continues to have a real opportunity to impact the world.

1 - ISIS continues conquests, takes over large Christian town

This week, the world's attention has been refocused on the upheaval in the nation of Iraq, where the ISIS army (also known as the Islamic State) continues to make inroads.   This week, American airstrikes against ISIS militants were carried out, and relief supplies were dropped to those fleeing the onslaught.

Religious cleansing and genocide have become the mode of operation for ISIS.  Reports of the brutal treatment of Christians in Mosul have been widely circulated, and this week, the Christian Today website
said that militants pushed back Kurdish troops and then moved in overnight to take over four Christian-majority towns, including Qaraqosh which is home to Iraq's largest Christian community.

The story quotes Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, Joseph Thomas, who confirmed to AFP, "I now know that the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population and are now under the control of the militants. He said, "It's a catastrophe, a tragic situation. We call on the UN Security Council to immediately intervene," and noted, "Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described."

Qaraqosh and the surrounding towns are said to have contained at least a quarter of Iraq's historic Christian population before the insurgents moved in.

In 2003, there were around 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. There are now thought to be less than 200,000.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The 3 - August 3, 2014

This week here in "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I highlight a court decision on the pro-life law in Mississippi that would have closed the state's only abortion clinic because it could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital.  Also, a physician working with a Christian relief organization, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus while treating those suffering with it in Liberia, has reached the U.S., and a hygienist also working on the mission field will be heading to America soon.  And, the top story:  President Obama has appointed a new religious freedom ambassador and the State Department has released its annual report on religious freedom around the world.

3 - Appeals court strikes down Mississippi pro-life law

Mississippi's only abortion clinic will continue to operate, based on a 3-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the state's abortion law requiring those doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital placed an undue burden on women.

According to, the appellate court upheld a lower court injunction suspending the law, though it narrowed the scope of the stay to apply only to the parties in the case — namely the lone Mississippi abortion facility, Jackson Women's Health Organization.   That facility could not obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital and would have been forced to close out of noncompliance with the law.

The appeals court said the fact that women would have to travel out of state for an abortion was an "undue burden," so the law can’t stand.

Writing for the majority, Judge E. Grady Jolly stated: “Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state. Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of the constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism—applicable to all fifty states—to accept the burden of the non-delegable duty of protecting the established federal constitutional rights of its own citizens.”

The three-member panel that heard arguments had indicated that closing Mississippi’s last abortion clinic might be difficult due to concerns that crossing state lines for abortions might create a different set of legal issues.

Paul Eldridge Barnes, who argued for the State of Mississippi, noted that already thousands of Mississippi women cross state lines every year for abortions in neighboring states.

In fact, last April, a different three-member panel of the Fifth Circuit found that a nearly similar provision in Texas’ HB2 abortion law created no “undue burden” on women seeking abortion and allowed the state to enforce it. That has resulted in the closure of numerous Texas abortion clinics.

2 - 2 missions workers contract and fight deadly Ebola virus

Over the weekend, a plane carrying Dr. Kent Brantly, a physician working with international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse, landed outside of Atlanta.   Dr. Brantly had contracted the deadly Ebola virus while working with patients in the African nation of Liberia.  According to the Samaritan's Purse website, after landing in the U.S., he was then transported to Emory University Hospital.   Emory has an isolation unit set up in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to treat patients who are exposed to certain serious infectious diseases.  He had been working with the Samaritan's Purse medical team responding to the Ebola crisis in Liberia.

American Nancy Writebol, a hygienist working with the missions organization SIM, who also contracted Ebola in Liberia, is expected to arrive in Atlanta within the next few days.

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham is quoted as saying, “We thank God that they are alive and now have access to the best care in the world...We are extremely thankful for the help we have received from the State Department, the CDC, the National Institute of Health, WHO and, of course, Emory Hospital.”

This past week, Samaritan’s Purse was currently working to evacuate all but the most essential personnel to their home countries. Samaritan’s Purse is taking precautions that exceed the standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

According to Graham, “An experimental serum arrived in the country, but there was only enough for one person. Dr. Brantly asked that it be given to Nancy Writebol...However, Dr. Brantly received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care. The young boy and his family wanted to be able to help the doctor that saved his life.”

1 - State Department issues new religious freedom report, new ambassador appointed

There were some developments concerning U.S. government efforts to address religious freedom issues this week.  Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by the new nominee for the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein, announced the release of the State Department's annual report on religious freedom.  There are now 9 "Countries of Particular Concern" with regard to the area of religious freedom. Turkmenistan has been added to the State Department’s list of worst religious freedom offenders, according to a report on the Religion News Service website.

The State Department’s “Countries of Particular Concern” list had remained static since 2006, when eight countries — Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan — were designated as CPCs.

Justifying the addition of Turkmenistan, Kerry cited reports of people detained, beaten and tortured for their beliefs, prohibited from wearing religious attire and fined for distributing religious materials.

Kerry called the report “a clear-eyed objective look at the state of religious freedom around the world,” adding “it does directly shine a light in a way that makes some countries – even some of our friends – uncomfortable.” He called for the CPC designations to be grounded in real action that can help change reality on the ground.

The report says, "In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory...In almost every corner of the globe, millions of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others representing a range of faiths were forced from their homes on account of their religious beliefs. … Communities are disappearing from their traditional and historic homes and dispersing across the geographic map. In conflict zones, in particular, this mass displacement has become a pernicious norm.”

In a report on the Saperstein nomination, Religion News Service reported that:
The choice of Saperstein will appeal to many who advocate for religious freedom for his staunch work in the area, and for his lifelong commitment to social justice. 
RNS points out:
...his generally liberal views may concern some from the more conservative side of the political spectrum. Though he helped pass RFRA, the law considered by the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case decided last month, Saperstein decried the court’s decision, arguing that the justices had overstepped when they ruled that the craft store chain could cite religious objections in not providing contraception coverage in its insurance plan.
Concerning Saperstein, Baptist Press relates that, "He has advocated positions opposite those of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and other pro-life and religious liberty organizations."  It reports that Saperstein backs abortion rights and that, "He stood at Obama's side as the president signed an executive order July 21 to extend workplace protections among federal contractors to homosexual, bisexual and transgender status."

In a statement, ERLC President Russell D. Moore said, "While we strongly disagree with Rabbi Saperstein on many issues regarding domestic policy such as the recent Hobby Lobby ruling and issues related to the sanctity of unborn life, we are hoping that he will articulate a robust view of religious freedom around the world as he answers these questions in his Senate confirmation hearings."