Monday, December 14, 2015

The 3 - December 13, 2015

On this week's edition of my week-in-review feature, The 3, there's some controversy at a large Southern public university about a Christmas celebration that no longer uses that word - yes, Christmas.  Also, Christian leaders are speaking out about how best to deal with the threat of radical Islam, in light of the San Bernardino massacre.  And, football and faith tops our news, with some recent stories about how expressions of faith on the gridiron are being restricted.

3 - Ole Miss eliminates "Christmas" from event title, attempts to explain

A large public university has changed  the name of its "Grand Ole Christmas" event that has been celebrated for the past 6 years - now, the Ole Miss event is called "Hotty Toddy Holidays."

According to a story on the Breitbart website, Kayp Maye, the co-director of special events for the Student Activities Association, in a statement to News Watch 99, said the former name of the event “connoted too much Christianity on campus and so we wanted to have a more inclusive environment for the holidays this year.”

Furthermore, the event will replace traditional Christmas colors with red, blue, and silver in order to “attract a more mature audience” with a Winter Wonderland as opposed to a Christmas theme.

The Breitbart story described how the university attempted to blunt the blow by issuing a statement by vice chancellor of student affairs, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, who said, according to WREG Television “This is a 21-year-old student who wanted to make all students feel welcome and come to this annual event,” adding, “He is very sincere in his wish that he had expressed himself better. It is unfortunate that these reports, including repetition of incomplete information on social media, have misrepresented the nature of the event and his intent as a Christian to welcome people of all faiths and backgrounds. LaBanc is also quoted as saying, "This student organization led a celebration that continued to honor Christmas traditions while welcoming all students to a holiday gathering."

2 - Christian leaders divided on Muslim immigration

The dilemma of how to deal with radical Islam today is a challenging one, and an issue over which Christians are disagreeing.  WORLD story by Jamie Dean highlights the division.  In light of comments made by Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, she writes:

Trump ignited a political firestorm on Monday when he said the United States should stop admitting Muslims into the country “until our representatives find out what’s going on” with radical Islam. He hasn’t said what that process should entail.

She also referred to statements by Franklin Graham:

Graham of the Christian aid agency Samaritan’s Purse defended Trump’s position: “Muslim immigration into the United States should be stopped until we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over.” Graham cited a poll of Muslims living in America released by the Center for Security Policy in June. The group reported that 29 percent of the 600 survey participants said they believed violence against those who insult Muhammad is acceptable.

I would submit that Samaritan's Purse has been involved in significant ministry to Muslims through its relief efforts, as well as through the ministry of Operation Christmas Child, which reaches out to children, including those in Muslim nations, all around the world.

Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission disagreed, saying, according to the WORLD report:

“Anyone who cares an iota about religious liberty should denounce this reckless, demagogic rhetoric.” Moore also noted: “A government that can shut down mosques simply because they are mosques can shut down Bible studies because they are Bible studies. A government that can close the borders to all Muslims simply on the basis of their religious belief can do the same thing for evangelical Christians.”

And, as Dean points out:

Other GOP presidential contenders distanced themselves from Trump’s proposal. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called the statements “offensive and outlandish.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Trump was “unhinged.” Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson called the plan “unconstitutional,” adding, “It’s just not who we are.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said he also disagreed with Trump’s proposal, but he avoided criticizing the party’s front-runner, even as Cruz rises in the polls.

There is polling data that was released this past week about the proposal. Politico reported on an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out Thursday, in which 57% percent of Americans surveyed oppose Trump's  call for a “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.” But 25 percent of those polled support the idea. That poll said that 42% of Republicans support the proposal.

The Hill published a story about a Rasmussen poll that found that 46 percent of likely voters would favor a policy preventing Muslim immigrants from entering the country until tighter screening procedures can be implemented, while 40 percent would oppose such a measure.  Among likely Republican voters, 66 percent would support the ban, while 24 percent would oppose it.  The Hill also reported on a Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies PulsePoll released Wednesday that found that Trump's remarks are backed by 65 percent of likely GOP voters.

Doug Usher of Purple Strategies, said, We believe these numbers are made up of some people who are truly expressing religious bigotry and others who are fearful about terrorism and are willing to do anything they think might make us safer,” "This indicates that, despite some conventional wisdom expressed in the last 48 hours, this is unlikely to hurt Trump at least in the primary campaign."

This past week in Washington, DC, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention held a Capitol Conversations event on the topic of the Syrian refugee crisis. According to a WORLD Magazine report on it by J.C. Derrick, Russell Moore said Christians should remember some people “we may fear may be our future brothers and sisters in Christ.”

You can read my Front Room commentary, encompassing this information, as well as some thoughts on how we as Christians can respond, here.

1 - Football and faith combination causes issues in CO, FL, IL

Football season is now winding down, with most, if not all, high school season completed and many collegians now entering into their bowl stages.  And, the mix of faith and football continues to have some formidable storylines.

Take, for instance, the situation involving players on the Air Force Academy football team. reports that the Academy is investigating the prayer practice of its football team after a complaint from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The MRFF recently contacted the academy in stating that it had been been told by a number of cadets and faculty that the Air Force Academy Falcons have been praying on the field before each game. In fact, it happened during its recent game against San Diego, when they lined up in a row as they took a knee.  Using trademark incendiary language, MRFF President Mikey Weinstein, is quoted as saying, “It’s a putrid example of fundamentalist Christian supremacy, triumphalism and exceptionalism and it has to stop.”

And, in Florida, according to a story from, two Christian schools were playing in a football game in Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium in Florida recently, and were barred from praying over the public address system because the event was held at a facility paid for by public tax money.

Officials with Cambridge Christian School of Tampa and University Christian School of Jacksonville had sent letters to the Florida High School Athletics Association (FHSAA) requesting permission to pray over the loudspeaker, but were denied. Tim Euler, principal of Cambridge Christian School, told Bay News9: “We’ve played 13 football games this year...We’ve prayed before every one of them.”

Euler is quoted as saying that he doesn’t agree with the Athletic Association’s reasoning, but did not fight the denial. He is quoted as saying: “The state legislature opens up every one of their sessions in prayer and that facility is paid for with tax dollars,” adding, “If they can pray there, we can pray here, and I want them to be able to pray there and I want us to be able to pray here. So I think [the association’s] reasoning is flawed at the core of it.”

And, reports on a high school football team in Illinois that is standing by its coach after he was recently told to stop leading players in prayer when the Freedom from Religion Foundation wrote to the Naperville Community Unit School District 203 after photos surfaced of Naperville Central High School coach Mike Stine praying with his team, the Redhawks.

Staff attorney Ryan Jayne, in a letter, said: “Public school coaches must refrain not only from leading prayers themselves, but also from participating in students’ prayers." It continued, “It is unconstitutional for public school employees to participate in the religious activities of their students.”

The district issued a statement this past Thursday, which said: “We are aware that a coach-led prayer is not appropriate,” adding, “The head football coach has been instructed that neither he nor his staff may lead his players in prayer. This message has been communicated to the athletic directors at both high schools to ensure that this expectation is shared with coaches of all sports at all levels.”

Just a note:  the story does not say whether or not Stine was actually leading in prayer, just that the FFRF had received a report that he was.

The team released a statement, saying: "We, as a football team and a family, give Coach Stine our full support...He is the best coach in the state and cares about each and every one of us more than any other coach cares about his players."

It continues: "We are proud that he is willing to stand up for his faith and for the example he sets for us...He is a role model for every one of us in a world where true male role models are becoming few and far between."

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