Sunday, June 21, 2015

The 3 - June 21, 2015

This week on my week-in-review feature, The 3: there was a free speech issue before the U.S. Supreme Court, which yielded a positive outcome for an Arizona church.  Also, Southern Baptists gathered in Columbus, Ohio this week and emphasized spiritual awakening.  And, a tragedy in a church in Charleston, South Carolina left 9 people dead and spurred prayer gatherings to remember the dead and to cry out for a better way forward in the area of race relations.

3 - Supreme Court rules in favor of church in sign case

Good News Community Church is in Gilbert, Arizona.  It doesn't have a permanent building, and sought to notify residents about the church's meeting location by using signs.  According to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website, the town of Gilbert had a "...zoning ordinance that said such a “directional” sign to a religious meeting could only be posted 12 hours before the event, and up until one hour after. That meant the church couldn’t post signs showing directions to its Sunday morning service until after the sun went down the night before. The town regulations also required church directional signs to be no bigger than six square feet, while other political and ideological signs could be much bigger."

The church had filed a lawsuit, and lower federal courts, including the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had ruled against Good News.  This past Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling, said that the regulations violated free speech because, according to WORLD, the government was targeting certain types of speech, which was a “content-based” law.

Clarance Thomas wrote the majority opinion. He said, "On its face, the sign code is a content-based regulation of speech. We thus have no need to consider the government’s justifications or purposes for enacting the code to determine whether it is subject to strict scrutiny.”  The WORLD article stated:
In order for a government regulation to survive strict scrutiny, it must demonstrate it furthers a “compelling government interest” and is “narrowly tailored.” The court ruled the Gilbert ordinance was neither. Because the town allowed unlimited large political and ideological signs, it couldn’t argue the small church signs were particularly distracting to drivers or ruining the town’s aesthetics.
Thomas wrote that the town can still regulate signs for safety and aesthetics, but it must not base its regulations on the signs’ content.

Emily Belz, who wrote the article for WORLD, was a guest on The Meeting House to discuss the ruling.  You can access that conversation here.

2 - Southern Baptists gather in Columbus, Ohio, include prayer emphasis

The Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio this past week, and according to a piece on the Baptist Press website, there were a number of significant aspects of the meeting.  Perhaps the most notable was the emphasis on spiritual awakening. The report says that a Tuesday night prayer gathering led by SBC President Dr. Ronnie Floyd, drew an estimated 7,000 Southern Baptists, who spent two hours asking God for a third Great Awakening in America and the global advance of the Gospel. Also, the gathering was watched by an additional 8,000 people online and broadcast on Daystar television.

In his presidential address, Dr. Floyd called on Southern Baptists to provide spiritual and moral leadership amid a time of crisis in the world that also is "our most defining hour as Southern Baptists."  There was also a resolution on "revival and spiritual awakening" that included language that Southern Baptists "faithfully and fervently plead with our great God to open the windows of heaven and come down among His people with a fresh filling of His Spirit."

There was also a resolution on the "public witness on marriage," which called the Supreme Court to "uphold the right of the citizens to define marriage as exclusively the union of one man and one woman." The resolution said that Southern Baptists will not waver in their defense of traditional marriage regardless of how the court rules. The marriage resolution said, "the religious liberty of individual citizens or institutions should not be infringed as a result of believing or living according to the biblical definition of marriage."  There were two resolutions that spotlighted religious persecution, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC announced it would open an international religious freedom office.

Ethnic diversity was also the topic of a resolution, emphasizing a rededication to the work of racial reconciliation.

This year, there were 5,407 registered messengers, which was up from 5,294 in Baltimore last year. There was also a celebration of nearly 60 missionaries during the first-ever joint missions service of the International and North American Mission Boards.

1 - Churches in Charleston stand together after tragedy

On Wednesday, a young man entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina, which was having a prayer and Bible study meeting.  An hour later, 9 people were dead.  The next day, 21-year-old Dylann Roof was arrested for the tragedy at the Mother Emanuel AME Church.

The Christian Post website reported that Christian leaders and organizations condemned the killing, including the acknowledgement of the "sin of racism" in America, as more than 4,000 residents and leaders of different faiths came together to pray for the city.

A statement from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of Southern Baptist Convention said, "There is hardly a more vivid picture of unmasked evil than the murder of those in prayer." The statement from ERLC President Russell Moore and 3 other leaders of the denomination said, "This act of bloodshed is wicked and more than wicked. It is literally satanic, as our Lord taught us that the devil is a 'murderer from the beginning' (John 8:44)," adding, "Virtually every week we see yet another incident pointing to the sin of racism in American society, from unarmed African-American men and children killed in the streets to worshippers gunned down in their pews...This must end. And the church of Jesus Christ must lead the way."

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also issued a statement, which included these words: "The Charleston massacre once again proves that there exists a war between darkness and light. When hatred and violence emerge to silence peace and love, all Americans, all humanity suffers..." He condemned "all vestiges of hatred and intolerance" and affirmed, "Silence is not an option."

A Meeting House Front Room blog post included some local response. Here is some of the material that I covered, taken from The Post and Courier:
Bursts of loud applause punctuated Thursday’s midday prayer vigil honoring the nine victims of Charleston’s first modern mass shooting. Heartfelt praise and loud singing characterized the evening vigil at Royal Missionary Baptist Church. And at Second Presbyterian Church, worshippers filled the pews for a somber prayer service before marching with tears and flowers to a memorial at the shooting site.
Here are some quotes from a special service at Morris Brown AME Church:
Rt. Rev. Dr. John Richard Bryant, senior bishop of the AME Church, spoke of the resiliency of the faithful. He said, "the young man picked the wrong place," then addressed what he called the elephant in the room: “the growth of senseless violence.”

Mayor Joe Riley said that the Emanuel church was already a sacred place and declared, "And now it’s even more sacred. Sacred because of the lives lost in it while in prayer.” He added, "It isn’t when we fall that counts, it’s how we get up...We will look back on (this tragedy) as a time when love and goodness came together to overcome evil."

Gov. Nikki Haley said, “As all eyes of this country are on our state and our city...what happened in that church is not the people of South Carolina.” She added, "If this can happen in church, we’ve got some praying to do. If there’s one thing we can do in South Carolina it’s pray. ... We are a state of faith, we are a state of prayer, we are a state of love.”
Bishop Harry Jackson, Pastor of Hope Christian Church outside Washington, DC, and co-founder of The Reconciled Church, joined me on The Meeting House to discuss the Charleston shooting and a special prayer motorcade even that had been planned for Baltimore this past Saturday.  You can access that audio here.  Also, Dr. Alveda King, niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Director of African-American Outreach for Priests for Life joined me.   Audio from that conversation will be available soon.

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