3 - President calls for release of Iranian prisoners, including Pastor Saeed
In association with the Iranian holiday of Nowruz, on Friday, President Obama called on Iran to release U.S. citizens believed to be in Tehran's custody, according to a report on the USA Today website. The President reportedly said that "at this time of renewal, compassion and understanding, I reiterate my commitment to bringing our citizens home."
The article stated that three U.S. citizens — Saeed Abedini, Amir Hekmati and Jason Rezaian — are believed to be in prison; a fourth — Robert Levinson — is missing and was last seen in Iran.
The statement comes as negotiations are continuing over Iran's nuclear program.
A ChristianNews.net report stated that Mr. Obama described Pastor Saeed: “Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho has spent two and a half years detained in Iran on charges related to his religious beliefs...He must be returned to his wife and two young children, who needlessly continue to grow up without their father.”
As the website had reviously reported, Abedini, a former Iranian Muslim turned Christian, left Iran in 2005 and moved to the United States with his wife and two children to find religious freedom after facing conflict with authorities for planting house churches in the county. In 2012, he traveled back to Iran to build an orphanage and visit his parents—and was about to return to the states—when he was taken into custody.
The website reported that Pastor Saaed's wife, Naghmeh Abedini, requested a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in January as he was scheduled to speak at an area university. She later told reporters that Obama advised her that “getting Saeed out is a top priority and he is working very hard to get Saeed home back to our family.” Also, she met last month with U.S. Religious Freedom Ambassador David Saperstein to discuss ways to secure Abedini’s release. And, last week, Keith Harper, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council, also pleaded on behalf of Abedini before the UN, calling upon Iran to “uphold its religious freedom obligations and release those imprisoned for their religious beliefs, such as Pastor Saeed Abedini, and protect the rights of all individuals to manifest their religious beliefs.”
2 - Large denomination redefines marriage
Last summer, the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to change the language in its Book of Order, the denomination’s governing constitution, to define marriage as a "unique commitment between two people," rather than a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman as an act of Christian discipleship, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.
After the vote last June, a majority of the PCUSA’s 171 presbyteries also had to approve the measure for it to go into effect. This past Tuesday, the number (86) was reached.
In a statement quoted by CT, the president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) criticized the denomination’s shift. Carmen Fowler LaBerge said, “In terms of the PCUSA’s witness to the world, this vote demonstrates a complete accommodation to the prevailing winds of our culture,” adding that, “Any prophetic voice that the denomination may have once had to speak truth and call people to repentance is now lost."
The amendment reportedly provides an exemption for PC(USA) teaching elders who believe that officiating a same-sex marriage would violate their “discernment of the Holy Spirit and their understanding of the Word of God.” Local congregations can also deny the use of church property for same-sex ceremonies. The new amendment is set to go into effect June 21.
1 - Human trafficking bill stalled in U.S. Senate because of abortion provision
This past week, a bill that was designed to increase penalties for anyone convicted of slavery, human smuggling and sexual exploitation of children was brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate, according to The Christian Post, which reports that the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act enjoyed bipartisan support two weeks ago, but on Tuesday failed by five votes to reach the 60-vote threshold needed to advance the bill. It cites that USA Today reported that a second vote to end debate on the underlying bill also did not receive the needed amount of votes.
Democrats protested against a provision in the bill that sought to block any funds collected from being used to perform abortions, with the exception in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother's life is in danger.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn is quoted by LifeNews.com as saying that, “Children are being abused and literally sexually assaulted while, apparently, some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have decided to try to make a political point.” He added, “To our colleagues who are filibustering this legislation, are you prepared to turn your back on the thousands of people living every day in bondage and who are desperately clinging to the hope that someone, someone will lend them a helping hand? Are you prepared to abandon these children and these other victims of human trafficking who deserve a roof over their head, someone to lean on, and somehow, some way to get a fresh start in life?”
LifeNews.com also reported that McConnell said that, as a result of their vote holding up the bill, Republicans will not allow a vote on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, who is noted by the news service as being, "pro-abortion." McConnell indicated his intention to keep the Senate focused on this human trafficking legislation until its successful completion. Further cloture votes to break the filibuster are expected throughout this week.