Saturday, February 21, 2015

The 3 - February 22, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, there is news emerging out of Iran, where a pastor was released and another was able to visit for an extended period of time and worship with his father.  Also, a Washington florist has been found to have violated state law by refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding ceremony and faces the possibility of personal money being used to pay the penalty.  In other religious freedom news, the former Atlanta fire chief has filed a lawsuit against the city.  And, 21 Egyptian Christians lost their lives recently, and a group of church leaders has announced a multi-faceted response.

3 - Iranian house church pastor released; Pastor Saeed worships in prison

An Iranian Christian pastor, considered to be a leader in Iran's house church movement, has been released from prison, according to a report on the Christian Today website, which says that Pastor Rasoul Abdollahi was first arrested in December of 2010 as part of a widespread crackdown on Christian activity.  He was detained and interrogated for more than two months before being released on bail.

He was then tried in court and imprisoned in December of 2013. But he has now been pardoned and released, and will be able to return to his wife and children.

A source, who must remain anonymous for security reasons, told Christian Today that Iran's judiciary seems to be encouraging Christians that are arrested to leave the country before standing trial.

Meanwhile, an Iranian-American pastor, Saeed Abedini, remains in prison in Iran.

The website reports that Pastor Saeed was permitted to visit with his father in prison for an extended amount of time this week, a rare blessing for the pastor who has been imprisoned for his Christian faith for over two years.  Abedini’s wife Naghmeh wrote on her Facebook page that the father and son were able to talk, pray and worship God.

Quoting a Charisma News story, the article said that prison guards watched the visit, but did not force Abedini and his father to end the time of fellowship.  Naghmeh related that, "They were allowing them to pray and worship together,” adding, "The normal 20-minute visit turned into 40 minutes, which turned into an hour, which turned into a few hours. Saeed and his father were shocked the amount of time that they were allowed. The presence of the Lord was so strong that the guards did not want to intervene and end the visit! Praise the Lord!"
2 - Religious freedom watch: Washington florist found guilty of discrimination, Atlanta fire chief files lawsuit against city

Baronelle Stutzman, the florist in Washington state who declined to provide flowers for a wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, was found to have violated state law, and she must provide must provide full support for wedding ceremonies that are contrary to her faith, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom Media website. 

After the ruling, according to ADFAttorney General Bob Ferguson, who had contended that Stutzman violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination and its Consumer Protection Act for acting consistent with her Christian faith, made an offer to Stutzman that he would drop his lawsuit if she would pay $2,001 and agree to give up her religious freedom.

She sent a letter to the Attorney General Bob Ferguson on Friday to decline the settlement offer.  In it, she said:
Your offer reveals that you don’t really understand me or what this conflict is all about.... It’s about freedom, not money. I certainly don’t relish the idea of losing my business, my home, and everything else that your lawsuit threatens to take from my family, but my freedom to honor God in doing what I do best is more important…. You chose to attack my faith and pursue this not simply as a matter of law, but to threaten my very means of working, eating, and having a home. If you are serious about clarifying the law, then I urge you to drop your claims against my home, business, and other assets….
The Alliance Defending Freedom had reported that the court had ruled recently that both the state and the same-sex couple, who each filed lawsuits against her, may collect damages and attorneys’ fees not only from her business, but from Stutzman personally. That means the 70-year-old grandmother may not only lose her business, but also her home and savings because she lives her life and operates her business according to her beliefs.
Also, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom Media site, ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city and mayor of Atlanta for their termination of Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran because of his Christian faith and beliefs. At a news conference Wednesday, ADF and Cochran announced the lawsuit, which comes on the heels of an administrative complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last month.

ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman is quoted as saying that, “Americans are guaranteed the freedom to live without fear of being fired because of their beliefs and thoughts...The city of Atlanta is not above the Constitution and federal law. In America, a religious or ideological test cannot be used to fire a public servant.”

The website reported that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed had first suspended Cochran for 30 days and announced that he would have to complete “sensitivity training” after activists who don’t agree with the fire chief’s Christian views on sex complained about a men’s devotional book Cochran had written on his personal time.   Biblical sexual morality is mentioned only briefly in the 162-page book.  ADF reported that after an investigation that included interviews with employees found Cochran did not discriminate against anyone, the mayor fired him anyway – citing as his basis, ironically, the need to tolerate diverse views.

1 - More ISIS violence: Egyptian Christians beheaded by ISIS, victims' remembered in prayer 

There has been swift and passionate response to the video released by the Islamic terror group showing the murder of the 21 Egyptian Christians.  Baptist Press, in an article on a response by Christian leaders to the attack, said that the text that accompanied the ISIS video is addressed to "The people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church," according to news reports. It quotes a Wall Street Journal report that the terrorists in the video are identified with a Libyan group that allied itself with the Islamic State last year.

A coalition of Christian leaders representing a variety of ministries and denominations issued a call for a moment of silence on Sunday, February 22, followed by prayer for the families of the 21 Egyptians who lost their lives in the brutal attack.

The coalition includes Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, Mathew Staver, of the Liberty University School of Law; Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership and Conference; television producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey; James Robison of LIFE Outreach International; Doug Beacham of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church; and Glenn Burris of the Foursquare Church.

The Baptist Press piece reports that in addition to calling for prayer, the coalition is urging President Obama and Congress to do more in addressing the persecution of Christians by ISIS and other Islamic extremists. Additionally, the Christian leaders are calling the United Nations to convene a summit on Christian persecution around the world, according to a press release from A. Larry Ross Communications.

Rodriguez said that as Christians, "We stand convicted and convinced that terror and intolerance cannot, and will not, extinguish the light of God's grace, truth and love," adding, "We hope leaders around the world will join us in honoring those who have lost their lives, praying for those suffering and repudiating all acts of terror."

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