Saturday, March 28, 2015

The 3 - March 29, 2015

In this week's edition of "The 3," my week-in-review feature, I delve into Presidential politics, which is quite relevant, because the first major candidate threw his hat into the ring this week, speaking at a Christian university.  Also, the new religious freedom bill in Indiana is intended to protect people of faith, but there is plenty of misinformation about the intent of the legislation.  Plus, racial reconciliation has been a major theme this week, with two organizations holding special events concentrating on race relations.

3 - First Republican Presidential candidate officially announces, evangelicals look for place to land

The event is being reported as the first official announcement by a Republican candidate for President in the 2016 election.  And, it took place at Liberty University, which is regarded as the nation's largest Christian college.  WORLD reports on the announcement by Texas Senator Ted Cruz:
By declaring his candidacy at Liberty University, the country’s largest Christian college, Cruz took an early stand as a cultural conservative. In videos posted online today, he attempted to connect with immigrants by referencing his Cuban father, women by praising his mother as a computer scientist who “shattered glass ceilings,” and religious believers by showing his family praying around the dinner table. He touted his efforts in the Senate to defund Obamacare and to block President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration. Neither effort worked, but both demonstrated Cruz’s uncompromising values and set him up as a maverick conservative who is unafraid to take on either political party.
Cruz is approaching the office from a strongly evangelical perspective, but just because he belongs to the evangelical community doesn't mean he automatically has that constituency's support.  Consider some of the pro-family credentials that other candidates carry, according to a Baptist Press story:

For instance, former Florida governor Jeb Bush had announced his support of a federal marriage amendment, but has been criticized for a perceived shift in acceptance of gay marriage.  He also attempted to help save the life of Terri Schiavo, who had a brain deficiency and whose husband successfully attempted to remove food and water from her.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson has attracted the attention of evangelicals, is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage, and has chided abortion advocates for saying the pro-lifers are conducting a "war on women," according to

Current New Jersey governor Chris Christie also opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, but dropped his appeal of a court decision legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey. He also signed into law a ban on state-licensed counselors trying to help children reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction. Religion News Service reported that Christie does not believe being homosexual is a sin or a choice.

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is also a former pastor and opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.  I have observed that he is closely identified with Christian causes and activities, and was a featured speaker at this year's National Religious Broadcasters convention.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian-leaning first-term senator from Kentucky, opposes same-sex marriage but says the issue should be settled by state governments rather than the federal government, according to the Washington Post. Paul introduced a bill in the Senate that would declare a fertilized egg a human protected by law. He told a a University of Chicago forum his personal belief that "life begins at the very beginning" does not reflect the views of many Americans.

Rick Perry, former governor of Texas, supported a Texas constitutional amendment defining marriage as "only a union between a man and a woman," but in 2011 he affirmed New York's right under the Tenth Amendment to legalize same-sex marriage.

Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, defends the rights of states to define marriage as between one man and one woman and believes "the right to life outweighs the right to choose an abortion," according to a National Review report.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage.  As I have highlighted, Santorum also heads a Christian film studio that makes films from a Christian worldview perspective.

And, according to that Baptist Press report, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker is a pastor's son who told attendees at the National Religious Broadcasters convention in February he supports "strong marriages" and seeks to protect innocent life, according to an NRB news release.  He signed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to view ultrasound images of their babies. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and has defended Wisconsin's ban of same-sex marriage, Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel reported in October.

So, Cruz may be the first,  but as more candidates enter the race, it will be interesting to see which candidate or candidates may galvanize the evangelical vote in the 2016 Presidential race.

2 - Reaction, overreaction to Indiana's new religious freedom bill

This past week, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into law a Religious Freedom Restoration Act for the state.  According to Ryan Anderson and Sarah Torre of the Heritage Foundation, writing for The Daily Signal website:
This is good policy that protects the fundamental freedom of Indiana citizens from unnecessary and unreasonable government coercion.
The Indiana law is based on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act—a law that has served the American people well for more than 20 years. Passed with 97 votes in the Senate and by unanimous voice vote in the House, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton. This federal law prohibits substantial government burdens on religious exercise unless the government can show a compelling interest in burdening religious liberty and does so through the least restrictive means.
The writers point out that Indiana joins 19 other states that have implemented such laws. Also, they say that eleven additional states have religious liberty protections that state courts have interpreted to provide a similar level of protection.   Anderson and Torre state that, "...Religious Freedom Restoration Acts don’t allow individuals to do whatever they wish in the name of religion. There will be times when the government can show it has a compelling reason for burdening religious expression—to ensure public safety, for instance."  They add:
But Religious Freedom Restoration Acts set a high bar for the government to meet in order to restrict religious freedom. The way we’ve learned to live in a pluralistic society, with diverse religious and moral opinions, is to have a balancing test like the one the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides.
But, there are detractors who say this new RFRA, resembling a Federal law upon which the Hobby Lobby decision was based last year, and similar to laws in 19 other states protecting religious freedom, will license people of faith to discriminate against gays and lesbians.  The Indianapolis Star reports:
Criticism mounted swiftly on Thursday after Pence signed the bill that opponents say allows businesses to discriminate against members of the LGBT community.
Pence and his supporters have denied claims of discrimination, saying the bill only protects business owners from the government burdening them from practicing their religion.
But the website reports the mayor of San Francisco has said he is banning all city-funded trips to the state.  It says:
The San Francisco mayor is joined by other businesses, groups and individuals who have voiced concerns.
Among those are the NCAA, the tech company Salesforce and the gaming convention Gen Con.
 As Sarah Torre writes in another piece on The Daily Signal website:
The media’s gross mischaracterizations of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act ignore the truth: Religious Freedom Restoration Acts prevent government discrimination against religious free exercise and simply provide a way to balance religious liberty with compelling government interests.
And, this is to be pursued, as she points out, "in the least-restrictive means possible."

1 - Racial reconciliation comes into the spotlight with ERLC, Reconciled Church events

This past week, with a heightened opportunity to place an emphasis on race relations because of the anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, Christian leaders gathered to discuss issues surrounding racial reconciliation and how Christians of a variety of backgrounds can work together to better their communities.

In Montgomery, Alabama, a series of follow-up meetings conducted by The Reconciled Church, a consortium of Christian leaders representing a variety of churches and denominations, included a panel discussion on criminal justice reform and another on youth empowerment.  Reconciled Church co-founder Bishop Harry Jackson of the High Impact Leadership Coalition was on hand for the Montgomery events, as well as Jim Liske, President of Prison Fellowship.  That evening, a worship service took place at Fresh Anointing House of Worship featuring a number of local and nationally-known speakers.

The following day in Nashville, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention convened its annual leadership summit, with the theme, "The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation."  A Baptist Press report said about the first day's activities:
The Gospel of Jesus is the solution to America's racial divisions, speakers said on the opening day of a Southern Baptist-sponsored leadership summit.

Black, white and Hispanic pastors and leaders addressed the issue of racial reconciliation Thursday (March 26) at the event...
The report said that longtime civil rights leader John Perkins told the audience of about 500, "I think that we are putting reconciliation back where it belongs -- within the Gospel itself."

Perkins is quoted as saying, in an interview with ERLC President Russell Moore, that people make a "big mistake" in pushing "reconciliation out of the Gospel," out of being a part of conversion that is understood as a Christian is discipled.

Some quotes from various speakers were posted on the ERLC website, including these from Tony Evans:
• "God's not asking me to be like you, or you to be like me, but both of us to be like Him."
• "We've abandoned truth for culture when truth is designed to lead culture"
• "When you take a stand on God's word, racial reconciliation doesn't take long."
Other speakers included Trillia Newbell, Fred Luter, and Trip Lee.

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