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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The 3 - June 14, 2015

In this week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, a look at news emerging from Africa, where dozens of Christians from Eritrea have been kidnapped by Islamic State.  Also, Michigan's governor has signed into law 3 bills designed to protect faith-based agencies that provide adoption services from having to violate their convictions.  And, pro-life legislation from Texas got a boost in a Federal appeals court - the same week that it was announced that a bill that would ban abortions at the stage at which research has proven that an unborn child can feel pain would be taken up by the U.S. Senate,

3 - News spreads of 88 Eritrean Christians kidnapped by ISIS

Earlier this week, on its website, the Christian advocacy organization Open Doors published an article on the plight of 88 Christians in Eritrea who were kidnapped by ISIS.  The organization says that it has been reported that there are numerous children and at least 12 women.

These Christians were reportedly fleeing Eritrea, ranked #9 on the Open Doors World Watch List, due to persecution and human rights violations (as noted by the just released UN report), only to be kidnapped by the Islamic State.   Open Doors is in this region helping believers who are facing the same uncertain and terrifying circumstances that these 88 have fell victim to.   Eritrea is located in northern Africa.

The article also mentions similar events from earlier this year of the kidnapping and later killing of the 21 Egyptian and 28 Ethiopian Christian martyrs.

The website says:

The Islamic State is growing in influence in Libya and throughout this region. Throughout North Africa, the Middle East and even parts of Asia, unprecedented persecution has been occurring. To create a way for you to advocate for those throughout this region, Open Doors has a petition for you to sign, asking President Obama to take action and address the urgent security concerns of believers in this region by appointing a Special Envoy.

According to its Facebook page, in the coming week, Open Doors will be launching a prayer campaign during the month of Ramadan (June 18th - July 17th) to unite Christians around the world in prayer for the persecuted church and for Muslims to have an encounter with Jesus during this time. A prayer guide is available - for more information, go to

2 - New MI law protects religious freedom rights of adoption agencies

This week, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed 3 bills designed to protect adoption agencies in the state from being forced, in opposition to their deeply held religious beliefs, to allow certain couples to adopt.  In a piece on The Daily Signal website from Sarah Torre and Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, they comment:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law three bills protecting the freedom of private adoption agencies to operate in accordance with their beliefs, including that children deserve a married mother and father. This is good public policy. The Michigan law comes on the same day the North Carolina legislature protected the religious liberty of clerks and magistrates in that state over the governor’s veto.

The writers make the point that, "...allowing private adoption providers to operate according to their own values—including declining to place children in unmarried or same-sex households—does not prevent public agencies or other private providers from choosing to do so."  They stress that, "Foster care and adoption policy should seek to increase the number of families willing to foster and potentially adopt children. These agencies should be free to operate according to their values, as they have for decades, especially concerning their reasonable and religiously informed beliefs about marriage."

A report on the website quotes the governor: "The state has made significant progress in finding more forever homes for Michigan kids in recent years and that wouldn't be possible without the public-private partnerships that facilitate the adoption process."  He added, "We are focused on ensuring that as many children are adopted to as many loving families as possible regardless of their makeup."

1 - TX abortion law continues to win in court, US Senate to take up 20-week abortion ban

A 2013 Texas pro-life law, HB 2, survived a court challenge in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this past week.  Baptist Press reported on how contested portions of the law were upheld by the appeals court.  It quotes the Texas Values pro-family organization, which said in a news release that the standards prescribed in the law are “steps to protect women who go into abortion facilities from being less likely to jeopardize their own lives.”  The leader of that organization, Jonathan Saenz, is quoted as saying, "The court’s decision ensures that abortion clinics must uphold basic health standards -- standards that are required of other surgical centers in the state.”

The article noted that a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court noted in their published opinion that many of the ambulatory surgical center (ASC) standards “seem benign and inexpensive."

The piece said that, "The challenged portion of the law upheld in this most recent court decision joins another provision challenged and upheld in court regarding the requirement that doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the location where an abortion is performed."

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill in Washington, CitizenLink reports that:

Sen. Lindsey Graham announced the Senate will take up the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The bill stops abortions after 20 weeks – the time at which preborn babies can feel pain.

Pro-life leaders, including Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, joined Graham at a news conference in support of the bill.

“Right now in our country, a child can be killed in his or her mother’s womb for any reason, at any point, up until the moment of birth,” Dannenfelser explained. “We are one of only seven nations in the world, including China and North Korea, to allow such brutality. We are a better nation than this.”

The Senate is expected the pass the measure, while it is anticipated that the President will veto the bill.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The 3 - June 7, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes news out of North Carolina, where a new pro-life bill expanding a waiting period has been signed into law.  Also, a reality television family known for its Christian values is telling their side of the story involving the admission that their oldest son molested several of his sisters.  And, the top story involves the prospect of new regulations that would force non-profit organizations that receive Federal funds to hire homosexuals and transsexuals.

3 - NC Governor signs abortion waiting period into law

There is more news of out the state of North Carolina this week.  Last week, I reported that Republican Governor Pat McCrory had vetoed a bill that would have protected magistrates in the state from being forced to perform same-sex marriage.  This week, the governor weighed in on the side of pro-life legislation, signing a bill increasing the abortion waiting period in the state from 24 to 72 hours, according to a piece on the WORLD Magazine website.

The article points out that based on experience in the three states that already have 72-hour waiting periods—Missouri, Utah, and South Dakota—there is a likelihood that the legislation would contribute to saving the lives of unborn babies.

Debi Nelson is the director of Arches New Hope Pregnancy Center in Moab, UT, and was quoted in the article.  She has counseled women since 2004, and said many women are still in shock when they visit a pregnancy center and want to take action as soon as possible—but when they receive information and have time to think, they usually find an alternative solution.  According to WORLD, she wants to make sure they are not making hasty decisions, so she educates clients on all their options.

WORLD reports that since 2010, North Carolina abortions have declined by 26 percent, and that proponents of the 72-hour waiting period bill expect the law to continue that trend. Paula McSwain, executive director of the Lincoln County (N.C.) Crisis Pregnancy Center, is quoted as saying: “For somebody that’s on the line, it gives them time to make an informed decision and not just an emotional decision or a quick-fix decision,” adding, “An abortion is not an emergency procedure, so I don’t think there is a big rush to get this done in 24 hours."

2 - Duggars respond to critics in light of son's molestation admission

After the revelations of Josh Duggar's admission of molestation of young girls when he was 14 years old, the Duggar family had made a statement on their Facebook page.  But, that was really the only media that the family used in order to communicate their view of the situation.  That is, until this week, when father and mother Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, as well as sisters Jessa Seewald and Jill Dillard, were interviewed by Megyn Kelly of Fox News.

The Fox News website reported on the interview with the two Duggar sisters, who were victims of inappropriate contact, along with reportedly two of their sisters and a babysitter. Seewald is quoted as saying, “…I can speak out and I can say this and set the record straight here. Like in Josh’s case, he was a boy, a young boy in puberty and a little too curious about girls. And that got him into some trouble. And he made some bad choices, but really the extent of it was mild, inappropriate touching, on fully clothed victims, most of it while girls were sleeping.”

They said they were unaware of what their brother had done to them until he confessed to their parents, prompting their parents to speak to them about their brother’s behavior.  Dillard said, "It wasn’t like we were keeping a secret afraid or something. We didn’t know until Josh explained to my parents what his thought process was, what everything was…”

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar took steps of prevention, and here is some material from the Fox News story about what was related to Kelly in the segment aired Wednesday night:
Jim Bob recalled taking Josh with him to work and punishing him at home. He said they were "keeping an eye on Josh ... all the time and watching his behaviors, watching his attitudes."

But after two more incidents, “we felt we had to get help,” Jim Bob said. Josh was sent to a man in Little Rock for counseling – an experience his father described as “the turning point of his life.”
“As parents we were trying to do the best thing we knew how,” Michelle said. Jim Bob agreed, "Looking back, we did the best we could under the circumstances."

Following his return from Little Rock, his parents took Josh to a local Arkansas State police facility where he described his actions. “We felt it was an important step for Josh to confess to the police,” Jim Bob said.
The Duggar sisters told Megyn Kelly that they believe they are being victimized.  This is also from the Fox News website:
“We’re victims. They can’t do this to us,” a teary-eyed Dillard says of the media attention that has surrounded their story.
Seewald adds, “The system that was set up to protect kids, both those who make stupid mistakes or have problems like this in their life and the ones that are affected by those choices. It’s greatly failed.”
Kelly asked Jim Bob and Michelle if they thought the backlash against them was greater because of their Christian beliefs.  Jim Bob is quoted as saying, "I think, you know what, Christianity is not about being perfect or about being a perfect family, but it’s actually about being forgiven….People on the outside think, ‘well Christians are supposed to be perfect…’ No, you know what, all of us as Christians we struggle every day.”

The Fox News site stated that Seewald said the Duggars are being judged, especially since they are known for their strong Christian beliefs, but they are a family “with challenges and struggles just like anybody else.”

“It’s right to say ‘here’s what I believe, here’s my values,’ even if you’ve made stupid mistakes or failures,” Seewald said. “If you’ve had failures in your past it doesn’t mean you can’t be changed. I think that’s where, I think the real issue is people are making this sound like it happened yesterday.”

1 - Report: religious non-profit organizations who receive Federal funds may have to hire homosexuals, transgender individuals

Reports have emerged over the past week that the Obama Administration will soon require faith-based, charitable groups which receive federal grants to hire homosexuals and transsexuals.

According to a report on the Charisma News website, that information comes from published reports from the Center for Family and Human Rights.

Here is some background from that article:
Last summer, Obama inked an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide what Congress refused to pass, namely civil rights status for sexual behavior or subjective gender identity.

Now Obama is reportedly adding the "sexual orientation and gender identity" mandate to humanitarian groups that receive federal grants as well. 
Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, says that this is the bottom line, according to the piece:  "Not only will Christian youth programs be required to hire homosexuals, the facilities will be required to open housing, locker rooms and restrooms to people of the opposite sex who subjectively say they are the opposite of their obvious biological sex."

Staver charges the President with using funding to force his immoral agenda on religious organizations, just as he has done with the use of state department funding for foreign nations.

This also coincides with speculation about what effect a U.S. Supreme Court ruling purporting to legalize "same-sex" marriage would have on religious organizations, including ministries and schools, who may be faced with being forced to comply with new regulations consistent with that new definition.