Saturday, June 11, 2016

The 3 - June 12, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, highlighting 3 stories of relevance to the Christian community, I highlight a Bible reading proclamation by a Midwestern governor that has attracted some opposition. Also, a new California assisted-suicide law has gone into effect.  And, the Southern Baptist Convention meets this week in St. Louis, and there are several related stories that I will cover.

3 - Iowa governor issues Bible reading proclamation, faces atheist threats

The governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, has signed a proclamation encouraging citizens of the state to read the Bible on a daily basis "each year until the Lord comes" and to take part in a Bible reading marathon, to be held June 30 to July 3 in all 99 counties, according to an article on the Daily Signal website.

That's good - the article reports that during the marathon, Scripture will be read out loud in front of the courthouses in all of Iowa’s counties, according to a piece from the Baptist Convention of Iowa, quoted in that article.  Christian-based groups, including the Iowa Prayer Caucus, are organizing the events.  Some will include prayers every 15 minutes, according to The Des Moines Register.

The Des Moines Register also reported that the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation have criticized the proclamation and are considering suing. The Daily Signal article says that the FFRF sent a letter to Branstad this past Wednesday saying that the proclamation sends a message that “Iowa prefers and endorses the Christian faith over other religions and over nonreligion,” of which the organization says violates the separation of church and state.

Hiram Sasser, deputy chief counsel of First Liberty Institute, is quoted as saying: "The governor has every right to issue this proclamation,” adding, “These types of proclamations have been issued by governors and presidents since the days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Whenever courts are asked to address these proclamations, the courts have routinely thrown the cases out because, since no one is injured by them, no one has standing to sue over them. So Gov. Branstad’s proclamation is beyond judicial question.”  The governor told WHO Radio: “Virtually every president since Abraham Lincoln has signed proclamations encouraging prayers and Bible reading right on through including President Obama."

2 - California implements new assisted-suicide law

California's new assisted-suicide law went into effect this past Thursday.  According to the website, California became the fourth in the U.S. to legalize deadly doctor-prescribed suicides in October, following Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

This past Wednesday, Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a lawsuit, arguing that the California law discriminates against vulnerable people who are terminally ill and may be elderly or disabled.

In a statement, Life Legal said, "The Act decriminalizes physician-assisted suicide and instantly removes criminal law, elder abuse, and mental-health legal protections from any individual deemed terminally ill, despite the inherent uncertainty and frequently inaccurate nature of such a prognosis,” adding, “In contrast, all non-terminally ill Californians enjoy legal protection that makes it a felony to aid, advise, or encourage another to commit suicide."

Clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Hoffman, spokesman for the Coalition Against Assisted Suicide, which has, along with the Patients Rights Action Fund, launched a website to monitor potential abuses, is quoted in the article as saying: “We are deeply concerned that this law, and the entire issue itself has been misrepresented to the public and to lawmakers,” adding, “Senator Monning, the initial author, inserted language into the bill falsely proclaiming that this was somehow NOT ‘assisted suicide,’ and was ‘not suicide,’ though it is inescapably so!”

Life Legal filed the civil rights lawsuit with five California physicians and the American Academy of Medical Ethics. It alleges that the assisted suicide law violates Equal Protection rights for individuals who are labeled terminally ill.  Alexandra Snyder, Executive Director of the Life Legal Defense Foundation, said, "The Act provides virtually no safeguards for labeled individuals who may suffer from untreated mental illness or mood disorders and grants full immunity for doctors to participate in the killing of their most vulnerable patients."

1 - Southern Baptists prepare for meeting in St. Louis

Southern Baptists are preparing for their annual convention in St. Louis this week, and Baptist Press reports on the latest Annual Church Profile report, released this past week.  According to the report, compiled by LifeWay Christian Resources in cooperation with state conventions, the Southern Baptist Convention added more churches in 2015, which the article attributes mostly to church planting efforts. Churches also experienced an increase in total giving.

Other key measures declined, according to the story.  Those included membership, average worship attendance, baptisms and missions giving.

The data shows that the number of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention grew by 294 to 46,793, marking the 17th year in a row the number of SBC churches has grown.  But, reported membership declined more than 200,000, to 15.3 million members - that's a 1.32 percent decrease. Average weekly worship attendance shrunk to 5.6 million worshippers, a 1.72 percent decline.
Baptisms were down 3.3. to 295,212. Frank Page, SBC Executive Committee President and CEO, said, "God help us all! In a world that is desperate for the message of Christ, we continue to be less diligent in sharing the Good News," adding, "May God forgive us and give us a new passion to reach this world for Christ."

In another Baptist Press article, SBC President Ronnie Floyd stated: 

The key question for Southern Baptists is: Are we pushing back on lostness in America? I think we know the answer is no. We are losing our nation spiritually. It comes back to my theme for the last two to three years: The greatest need in America is the next Great Spiritual Awakening. Anyone who denies this needs to adjust their spiritual glasses concerning the spiritual condition of our nation and the need in this hour.  

The ACP report reminds me not only of this, but our deep need for spiritual revival in our churches. It also reminds me of the imperative need to prioritize evangelism in our churches and convention.

ABC News reports that Floyd wrote an article that called on Southern Baptist pastors, churches and laypeople to repent of racism and injustice. It included the words, "Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing."

The article mentioned a "national conversation on racial unity" to take place at the SBC's annual meeting on Tuesday. Rev. Jerry Young, president of the nation's largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. will be addressing the St. Louis gathering that day.

The ABC News article points out:

The fact that the discussion will take place in St. Louis, just down the road from Ferguson, is more than symbolic to Floyd. "It's providential and amazing!" he said, since the meeting place was set years before the fatal shooting of Michael Brown during a confrontation with a Ferguson police officer.

Also, in a matter unrelated to the Convention, but that involves a difference in opinion among Southern Baptists, a Baptist Press article highlights the situation involving two SBC entities, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the International Mission Board, who sided with a New Jersey mosque side in an friend-of-the-court brief, signed by those 2 entities and 16 other groups. The brief was filed in a lawsuit seeking to have building permit denials overturned.

Gerald Harris, editor of Georgia's Christian Index newsjournal, wrote an article criticizing the ERLC and the IMB, arguing Islam "may be more of a geo-political movement than a religion" and may not qualify for all the First Amendment protections granted to religions.

In response, a trio of Southern Baptist professors -- Jason Duesing, provost at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Thomas White, president of Cedarville University; and Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary -- issued an open letter deeming it "inappropriate to question whether Muslims should retain the right freely to practice their religion" even though "granting such rights to some forms of Islam might one day lead to the threatening of Christians in our worship."

ERLC President Russell Moore, wrote, without mentioning Harris by name, in a blog post, "Religious liberty is never an excuse for violence and crime, nor has religious liberty been so construed in American history," adding, "The United States government should fight, and fight hard, against radical Islamic jihadism. But the government should not penalize law-abiding people, especially those who are American citizens, simply for holding their religious convictions, however consistent or inconsistent, true or false, those convictions are."

Harris stated in his editorial: 

..."Muslims around the world and in our own country" have shouted "death to America" on some occasions and that mosques "often promote Sharia Law and become training grounds for radicalizing Muslims." He quoted four commentators who have argued Islam "has a religious component" but, taken to its logical end, seeks to overcome western civilization.

No comments: