Monday, December 28, 2015

The 3 - December 27, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes an announcement by a leading Christian evangelist, that he will no longer affiliate with a particular political party.   Also, the co-founder of a large Christian ministry went home to be with the Lord this past week.  And, the new governor of Kentucky issued an order that county clerks' names no longer have to appear on marriage licenses.

3 - Christian evangelist announces departure from GOP

Evangelist Franklin Graham, who heads the organization that his father, Billy Graham, founded, as well as the relief agency, Samaritan's Purse, made a bold statement regarding his affiliation with the Republican party.  On his Facebook page, he wrote:

Shame on the Republicans and the Democrats for passing such a wasteful spending bill last week. And to top it off, funding Planned Parenthood! A Huffington Post article called it “a big win for Planned Parenthood.” I call it a big loss for America. After all of the appalling facts revealed this year about Planned Parenthood, our representatives in Washington had a chance to put a stop to this, but they didn’t. There’s no question—taxpayers should not be paying for abortions!

Graham called abortion "murder in God's eyes."  He continued by saying: "Nothing was done to trim this 2,000 page, $1.1 trillion budget. This is an example of why I have resigned from the Republican Party and declared myself Independent. I have no hope in the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, or Tea Party to do what is best for America. Unless more godly men and women get in this process and change this wicked system, our country is in for trouble."  He challenged Christians to consider running for office.  He also mentioned the Decision America tour, in which he will be travelling state-by-state to hold prayer rallies.  The first is in Des Moines, Iowa, site of the nation's first Presidential caucuses.  The Franklin Graham event there is January 5.   Learn more at

2 - Co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru in the U.S.) home for Christmas

Vonette Bright, who, along with her late husband Bill Bright, founded Campus Crusade for Christ, which is now known as Cru in the U.S., died earlier this week from acute leukemia at the age of 89. Christianity Today published a story on her death.

The Brights had met when they were very young, lost touch, and then reconnected when he was in seminary.  They became engaged, but there was something standing in the way. The CT story says that although Vonette had grown up in church, she wasn’t serious about her faith. She felt Bill was too serious. She later wrote, according to the Cru website, “I decided Bill had become a religious fanatic and that somehow he must be rescued from this fanaticism,” adding, “At the same time, Bill was beginning to think that perhaps I was not a Christian. He knew he could not marry me until there was a change in my spiritual life.”

She did give her life to the Lord, they married in 1948, and in 1951, on the campus of UCLA, they founded Campus Crusade for Christ. Now, the organization reports having more than 25,000 staff members and 300,000 volunteers working in 173 countries. Vonette was involved in prayer ministry, including the organization of a national prayer rally in preparation for Explo ’72, a national Campus Crusade conference that drew a reported 80,000 students to the Cotton Bowl in 1971. The prayer rally itself drew 7,000 women. Later, she would host a series of events known as the Great Commission Prayer Crusade, would serve on the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and would be a chair of the National Day of Prayer Task Force.

1 - New Kentucky governor removes clerks' names from marriage licenses

Newly-elected Kentucky governor Matt Bevin issued an executive order this past week that removes the names of all County Clerks from marriage licenses. According to Liberty Counsel's website, this action "protects the religious rights and freedoms of Kim Davis and all other clerks in Kentucky. This action is a fulfillment of a campaign promise by Gov. Bevin and is directly what our client Kim Davis has been requesting for months. This promise will enable her and other clerks to do their jobs without compromising religious values and beliefs."

Liberty Counsel has represented Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  A Federal judge placed her in jail for almost a week.  Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, stated, "...What former Gov. Beshear could have done but refused to do, Gov. Bevin did with this executive order. We are pleased that Gov. Bevin kept his campaign promise to accommodate the religious rights of Kim Davis. We will notify the courts of the executive order and this order proves our point that a reasonable accommodation should have been done to avoid Kim having to spend time in jail."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The 3 - December 20, 2015

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes coverage of a meeting of a group of evangelical leaders this week to discuss the refugee crisis.  Also, taxpayer funding of the nation's largest abortion provider continues in the new massive budget bill approved this week by Congress. And, a professor at a Christian college is now on leave because of comments she made related to Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God.

3 - Faith leaders meet to discuss refugee crisis

A group of over 100 evangelical leaders met earlier this week in Chicago to discuss a Biblical response toward Syrian refugees who are seeking to come to America.  A report on the Baptist Press website says that those gathered issued a joint declaration on caring for refugees in the midst of a humanitarian crisis affecting nearly 60 million displaced persons worldwide.

Those gathered discussed the statement on Thursday at the Great Commandment, Great Commission Summit (GC2) at the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism (BGCE) at Wheaton College in Chicago.
The statement reads, "In light of this crisis, we commit ourselves and our churches to actively care for and minister to global refugees with mercy and compassion, both here and abroad, based on God's compelling concern for all people in need and especially refugees."  The "Christian Declaration on Caring for Refugees: An Evangelical Response" affirms six key beliefs:
  • Refugees possess the image of God and, as such, are infinitely valuable to God and to us.
  • We are commanded to love our neighbor, and it is our privilege to love refugees.
  • As Christians, we must care sacrificially for the refugee, the foreigner, and the stranger.
  • We will motivate and prepare our churches and movements to care for refugees.
  • We will not be motivated by fear but by love for God and others.
  • Christians are called to grace-filled and humble speech about this issue.
There will be a follow-up live-streamed summit at Wheaton on January 20, 2016.

Ed Stetzer, Executive Director of LifeWay Research, in a teleconference announcing the statement is quoted as saying, regarding the public rhetoric in general, that it "has often been demeaning and dehumanizing, and we think that refugees need to be spoken of in ways that are appropriate for people created in the image of God."

2 - Spending bill passes Congress, Planned Parenthood funding intact

Last Friday, the $1.1 trillion bill known as the omnibus spending bill, sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives.  The Daily Signal reports that the vote was 316-113.  Ninety-five Republicans split with House GOP leadership to vote against the spending billAnother 150 Republicans supported it, while just 18 Democrats opposed it.  The website reports that the budget vote in the Senate was 65-33.

The Daily Signal also reports that the budget was slated to continue to allow hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, from both discretionary funding under Title X and from Medicaid reimbursements, to flow to Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates, despite the videos that have been released over the past few months that show Planned Parenthood personnel involved in selling parts from aborted babies.

The website says:

The funds currently flowing to Planned Parenthood affiliates should be redirected to health centers that offer comprehensive health care without entanglement in abortion on demand. Members of Congress had the opportunity with the year-end funding bill to end both mandatory and discretionary federal funding of Planned Parenthood and end taxpayer entanglement with the largest abortion provider in the country, but they failed to do so.

The Daily Signal also pointed out that, "While long-standing pro-life riders are included in the omnibus, a much-needed policy to address serious conscience violations is missing from the spending bill."

1 - Professor at Christian college suspended due to comments about Muslims and Christians worshipping the same God

Larycia Hawkins is a political science professor at Wheaton College near Chicago.  To show solidarity with Muslims during Advent, she announced she would begin to wear a headscarf, or hijab. But, she also made a theological statement that resulted in her being placed on administrative leave by the university, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

The report said that in a Facebook post on December 10, she wrote, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” adding, “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.” Also, Hawkins tweeted in response to her critics. “A holy kiss to you who disavow the idea that Muslims & Christians worship the same God: I love you. Peace & respect..."

A statement by the university said, "Wheaton College faculty and staff make a commitment to accept and model our institution’s faith foundations with integrity, compassion, and theological clarity,” adding, “As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage in and speak about public issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s evangelical Statement of Faith.”

The college said that the disciplinary action was taken not because Hawkins was wearing a hijab, but "in response to significant questions regarding the theological implications of statements that [Hawkins] made about the relationship of Christianity to Islam." Hawkins will receive “the full review to which she is entitled as a tenured faculty member,” the college stated.

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."

Sunday, December 06, 2015

The 3 - December 6, 2015

This week in my week-in-review feature, The 3, I explore a possible religion-oriented conflict that could have been at play in the San Bernardino shootings this past week.   Also, an "inclusion and diversity" office at a major Southern university has offered some concerning comments about making sure that holiday parties are "inclusive."  And, the U.S. Senate has passed a significant pro-life bill that would halt most taxpayer funding of the nation's largest abortion provider.

3 - Some Christians lose lives in San Bernardino attack

As the information continues to emerge and a clearer picture of what may have led up to the shootings on Wednesday at a San Bernardino, California, center for disabled people, some spiritual content has become known.

WORLD Magazine reported on Christians who were among the 14 who lost their lives in the incident. A Messianic Jew named Nicholas Thalasinos, had engaged in a heated discussion about the nature of Islam with his colleague Syed Farook two weeks before Farook and presumed wife Tashfeen Malik opened fire that day. In that discussion, the San Bernardino County restaurant inspectors argued about whether Islam is a peaceful religion—Thalasinos said it isn’t, and Farook disagreed, saying Americans don’t understand Islam, according to a friend who overheard the debate.

The wife of Nicholas Thalasinos, Jennifer, said Thursday her husband became born again two years ago and was always evangelizing. She is quoted as saying: “He wanted to serve the Lord and bring more people to the Lord.” He also was a passionate defender of Israel and his other conservative political and religious views. She believes her husband was “martyred for his faith and beliefs.”

Other victims include Bennetta Betbadal, a county health inspector who was 18 when she fled Islamic extremism and persecution of Christians after the Iranian Revolution. Also, the wife of Michael Raymond Wetzel, a environmental health specialist, posted Psalm 61:2 on Facebook after her husband's death. asked some questions about the nature of the relationship between Thalasinos and Farook:

One question leads to another. Was this workplace violence? Was he provoked, somehow? In his mind, was he on a mission from Allah? Was Farook planning an even larger act of violence against unbelievers and crusaders, but something at that office party made him fly into action on this day?

From the beginning, I have been curious to know more details about the "holiday party" that Farook briefly attended, before leaving (some witnesses said in anger) and returning with his wife Tashfeen Malik to slaughter his co-workers.

News coverage has mentioned that the room contained Christmas trees and other decorations.

Writer Terry Mattingly then offers this analysis:

Yes, there is a chance that the First Amendment is going to take a hit in discussions of his massacre, since there was an evangelical Christian present – a Messianic Jew, to be precise – who had previously talked about politics and faith with Farook. To make matters worse, Thalasinos may have criticized Islam and suggested that Farook needed to convert to Christianity.

So, when you have an alleged perpetrator who had recently pledged support to ISIS, whose "husband" had apparently become radicalized, one can only suppose, based on previous ISIS behavior, that Christians could have been targets.   As more information is reported, we shall see, but there is a troubling element here that indicates that at least one of the victims could have been targeted because of his faith. As Mattingly writes, "From the beginning, I have been curious to know more details about the "holiday party" that Farook briefly attended, before leaving (some witnesses said in anger) and returning with his wife Tashfeen Malik to slaughter his co-workers."

2 - University chancellor under fire for Christmas party comments

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion at my alma mater, the University of Tennessee is at it again. The office had received some flak earlier this year for posting these gender-neutral pronouns on its website, which were later removed.  Now Todd Starnes of Fox News reports that the office recently released an “unofficial” edict calling for the campus to host holiday parties that do not emphasize religion or culture.

Thee organization warned in an online document titled, "Best Practices for Inclusive Holiday Celebrations in the Workplace," to "Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise."

The so-called "Best Practices" is "...a list of suggestions for inclusive celebrations,” they stated, adding, “We recognize that our campus community is diverse and its members observe various religious and faiths.”

The statement went on to point out they "honor Christmas as one of the celebrations of the season and the birth of Jesus and the corresponding Christmas observance is one of the Christian holidays on our cultural and religious holidays calendar."

A suggestion that is made is that, "Holiday parties should not play games with religious or cultural themes," singling out "Dreidel" and "Secret Santa."

The recommendations have drawn the ire of alumni – including Rep. John Duncan, who told Starnes: "The people I represent are disgusted by this," adding, "People from all over the country are sick and tired of all this political correctness."  Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is quoted as saying, "While the advisory makes clear it is not university policy, these ‘suggestions’ call into question what purpose university offices of diversity serve."

The Tennessean reports that Ramsey, in a Facebook post Friday morning, said if UT-Knoxville Chancellor Jimmy Cheek approved the post, he should resign. If not, Ramsey said, "the entire staff of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion should be dismissed." The newspaper also states that Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Dolores Gresham and Senate Government Operations Committee Chairman Mike Bell, called for Cheek's resignation on Thursday, and Rep. Sheila Butt said voters should urge lawmakers to cut UT's diversity funding during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

1 - U.S. Senate passes bill to drastically reduce Planned Parenthood funding and weaken Obamacare

The U.S. Senate, using a method called "reconciliation" that only requires 51 votes in order to pass a bill, rather than to achieve a 60-vote threshold to cut off debate, has approved a bill that, according to, would block, for one year, most federal payments to Planned Parenthood. At least 89% of federal funding of Planned Parenthood would be blocked by the bill.

The reports says that the bill would repeal a number of major components of the Obamacare health law, including two of the major provisions that will lead to rationing of lifesaving care — the “Independent Payment Advisory Board” and the “excess benefits tax.”  The vote was 52-47.

The LifeNews story points out that the bill now goes back to the House and will head to President Barack Obama once the House approves the measure. Though Obama will veto the bill, the vote makes it clear that, under a pro-life president, Congress can get a de-funding bill approved with a majority vote that the president would sign into law.

Leading pro-life groups that also support the reconciliation bill to de-fund Planned Parenthood include Susan B. Anthony List, National Right to Life, Family Research Council, March for Life, Concerned Women for America, Students for Life, Priests for Life, Operation Rescue, and American Life League, among others.