3 - Over 200 Syrian Christians kidnapped by ISIS
The capture of Christians by Islamic State, or ISIS, continues, and this week, it has been reported that over 200 Christians in Syria have been captured by the terrorist organization.
Christian Today reports that around 250 Christians have been abducted in a key strategic town in the province of Homs, Syria. The founder of campaign group A Demand for Action (ADFA), Nuri Kino, confirmed that those missing are all from the Syriac Orthodox or Syriac Catholic churches, and the number known to have been taken is steadily increasing.
The article states that the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said that the kidnapping took place during heavy clashes between ISIS militants and government forces in the town of Al Quaryatayn this week, which ISIS has now taken. It is the group's biggest capture since taking Palmyra in May. Sources told the monitor that they were chosen according to name lists held by ISIS, and some were taken from the Mar Elian monastery, from which two Syriac Catholic monks were kidnapped by masked militants in May. Their whereabouts are still unknown.
Kino said it is difficult to say what exactly has happened, but relatives have been unable to reach those held by phone. Around 1,500 people were able to flee, however, many of them to the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Homs, Hama and Environs.
The bishop, in a letter to churches and human rights organizations, stated: "We received those displaced...and gave them the basic and essential needs because they went out of their houses without taking anything with them neither clothes nor properties; so we are working on providing them with clothing, housing, and medication."
2 - Attempt to stop taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood fails in Senate
As the result of the growing number of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress pointing to activity by Planned Parenthood involving the sale of body parts from aborted children, the U.S. Senate scheduled a vote on whether or not to continue to allow taxpayer funds to go to the nation's largest abortion provider.
According to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website, a procedural vote Monday evening fell short of the 60 votes need to move the bill forward. The final tally was 53-46. But the report says that some GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate have indicated they might attempt to block any spending bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood this fall. Republican Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina has said he expects several dozen GOP lawmakers to object to spending bills with funding for the group.
Mallory Quigley of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) saw some good news in the vote, according to the report. She noted that when the Senate voted on a measure to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011, 42 senators favored the bill. This time, 53 supported the measure, an increase Quigley finds encouraging.
According to WORLD, "Planned Parenthood’s massive destruction of life includes 330,000 abortions a year. The organization’s $1 billion operating budget includes some $500 million of federal funding each year." And, as the article points out, though Democrats claimed defunding Planned Parenthood would keep women from healthcare services like cancer screenings and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, Republicans said the bill would have diverted funding from Planned Parenthood to other healthcare centers offering services to low-income patients.
WORLD quotes the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of SBA, which reports a large number of options around the country for low-income patients at clinics that provide a wide array of healthcare services. The group says there are 13 times more federally qualified health centers - at 9,170 - that do not provide abortions than the 700 Planned Parenthood centers.
1 - Faith, family issues highlighted in Republican Presidential debate
The first Republican debate of the 2016 election is now in the history books, and while a number of story lines have emerged from the encounter involving the top 10 candidates, one of the gratifying aspects for evangelical Christians, I would think, has to be the number of questions about faith and family issues. Baptist Press documented what candidates had to say in these important areas.
The story said that:
Among the reactions of Southern Baptist commentators was approval of at least two explicit mentions of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, prompting Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson to tweet, "Heard more Gospel content in Republican debate than one often hears in some churches."
These included the reference by Ted Cruz to his father's giving his heart to Jesus and Scott Walker's saying that he had been redeemed by the blood of Jesus. Cruz also said that he received a "word from God" every day through the Scriptures.
There were several references to the abortion issue during the debate. As Baptist Press lays out, these include: Walker's claim to have defunded Planned Parenthood of state funds in Wisconsin "more than four years ago, long before any of these videos came out," and Mike Huckabee's statement that the next president should "invoke the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution" to protect unborn life, citing the rights to "due process and equal protection under the law."
Other instances pointed out by Baptist Press include: Jeb Bush saying he did not know that a charity on whose board he served until late 2014 gave tens of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood, but said he is "completely pro-life" and advocated the protection of unborn life and of people nearing the end of life. Also, Marco Rubio denied moderator Megyn Kelly's assertion that he had supported abortion in cases of rape and incest in the past. He is quoted as saying, "Future generations...will look back at this history of our country and call us barbarians for murdering millions of babies who we never gave ... a chance to live." And, Donald Trump claimed to be pro-life, saying he "evolved" on the issue - one factor, he said, was witnessing the life of a child who was nearly aborted and later became "a total superstar."
Two candidates expressed views relative to same-sex marriage: Rand Paul said, "I don't want my marriage or my guns registered in Washington. And if people have an opinion that is heartly [sic] felt, obviously they should be allowed to practice that and no government should interfere with them." John Kasich said that while he believes in traditional marriage, he said he accepts the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage and related that he had attended a gay wedding. He said that issue is one that is "planted to divide us."
Other faith-related moments in the debate, based on the transcript printed on the TIME.com website, included: Kasich, regarding gay marriage, said that "God gives me unconditional love," and Megyn Kelly said that he invoked God when expanding Medicaid in the state of Ohio - he said that everyone had a right to their "God-given purpose."
Other instances included: Ben Carson referring to his philosophy on taxes as being akin to the Biblical view on tithing, Rubio citing God's blessings on the Republican party in fielding good candidates and on the country, Huckabee declaring that America could again be "one nation under God," and Walker discussing the importance of following God's will.
So, there was plenty to listen to and learn from in the Republican debate Thursday night. This event has given Christian voters who will participate in that primary a chance to be more informed. We can all continue to formulate our prayerful choices in the March 1st primary.