Sunday, July 10, 2016

The 3 - July 10, 2016

Welcome to another edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community.  One of the stories this week involves a new law in Iowa that presents a threat to the freedom of religion of churches.  Also, in Kentucky this week, the massive Ark Encounter theme park, featuring a life-sized Noah's Ark replica, opened to large crowds.  And, violence with racial overtones came to cities across America, representing an opportunity for the Church to respond.

3 - New Iowa civil rights law threatens religious freedom rights of churches

The Alliance Defending Freedom, according to its website, has filed a Federal lawsuit against members of the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, among others, to "stop the government from censoring the church’s teaching on biblical sexuality and from forcing the church to open its restrooms and showers to members of the opposite sex."

ADF contends that the commission is interpreting a state law to ban churches from expressing their views on human sexuality if they would “directly or indirectly” make “persons of any particular…gender identity” feel “unwelcome” in conjunction with church services, events, and other religious activities.  According to the website, the commission is making conclusions on its interpretation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act, which also includes a facility use mandate that requires anyone subject to the law to open sensitive areas like locker rooms, showers, and restrooms to persons based on their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.

The Alliance warns that this could prevent churches from making any public comments—including from the pulpit—that could be viewed as unwelcome to persons who do not identify with their biological sex.  This is because the commission says the law applies to churches during any activity that the commission deems to not have a “bona fide religious purpose.” Examples the commission gave are “a child care facility operated at a church or a church service open to the public,” which encompasses most events that churches hold.  The story points out that, "ADF attorneys representing Fort Des Moines Church of Christ in Des Moines argue in the lawsuit that all events held at a church on its property have a bona fide religious purpose."

According to ADF, there was a minor revision made to a brochure that is associated with the law. Attorney Christiana Holcomb is quoted as saying, "“Cosmetic changes to the alarming language in one brochure won’t fix the unconstitutionality of the Iowa Civil Rights Act. Churches should be free to communicate their religious beliefs and operate their houses of worship according to their faith without fearing government punishment."

2 - Life-sized Noah's Ark opens in rural Kentucky

This past Thursday, the Ark Encounter, featuring a life-size replica of Noah's Ark, was opened by Answers in Genesis south of Cincinnati, Ohio.  President and CEO of Answers in Genesis, Ken Ham, tweeted out that as of early Saturday morning, 25,000 people had visited the park, and attendance at the companion site, the Creation Museum, had increased by over 2,000 people per day.

Religion News Service did a feature story on the Ark Encounter, stating that more than 8,000 people showed up for a preview event on Tuesday night.  Ham was quoted as saying that the purpose of the Ark Encounter was to “proclaim God’s word and the gospel.” The story reported:

It’s meant to show — in keeping with Answers in Genesis’ ministry, focused on issues such as creation, evolution, science and the age of the Earth — that the biblical flood account is historic and the Bible is true in regard to history and science.

The story also reported that:

The park’s centerpiece features three decks of exhibits explaining Answers in Genesis’ views of the biblical flood account and life-size figures depicting what life on the ark might have been like for Noah and his family — an extravaganza Ham described as “beyond Hollywood.”

And, the Ark Encounter had a special guest on Friday night - Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," who had debated Ken Ham at the Creation Museum at 2014.  Ham wrote in a blog post on the Answers in Genesis website:

As we walked through the Ark, we had a very passionate discussion. It was like the debate all over again but more intense at times. Though it did get tense due to our differences in worldviews, it was an amicable visit.

Mr. Nye wanted to start his tour on the third deck where we discussed Flood geology and the ice core exhibit, which is part of the larger Ice Age exhibit. This display features a short clip from our debate of Bill Nye referring to ice cores in Greenland as an objection to the young earth view. In our exhibit I answer this objection; we even have a diorama to visually illustrate the answer. As we discussed geology and the Ice Age, our discussion turned toward worldviews. Ultimately, this is the heart of the issue—we have two different worldviews and two different interpretations of the same evidence because of our different starting points.

1 - Calls for prayer and action in the aftermath of shootings with racial elements

This week, there was a series of interrelated incidents that can compel Christian believers to seek to exercise the compassion of Christ and to address areas of tension in our culture.

Two deaths of black men at the hands of white policemen and five deaths of white policemen at the hands of one black man on a mission at a protest can raise plenty of questions, but we know that through Christ and based on His principles, there can be answers for our society.

The LifeZette website reported that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown spoke Friday morning at a press conference after 12 police officers were shot and five died the night before.

The article reports that: "At the end of his statement, Mayor Rawlings asked for one of the few things that can truly help comfort Dallas in the wake of this tragedy: prayer."  He said, "Chief Brown told the victims’ families last night and the police officers that he was a man of faith and I am a man of faith, too,” adding, “And we need prayers and prayer is good.”

He announced that at noon on Friday at Thanksgiving Square in Dallas, there would be "a leadership group of interfaith ministers," who would be leading in prayer.  The mayor said, "I would ask that if you're at your home or at your office or at your school, to join us at noon in that spirit of prayer," adding, "To bring our city together and our country together. To heal wounds, not create them."

The Dallas Morning News reported that this Thursday, local clergy would be meeting to try to work through some of the issues surrounding the tragedy and race relations in the city. Bryan Carter, senior pastor at Concord Church, a mostly African-American congregation in southern Dallas and one of the pastors convening Thursday's meeting, said that the goal of the event is to come up with a practical plan that local religious leaders can follow. He posed the question, "What are some key things we can do in the faith community in Dallas to put a dent in what we are seeing?"

Quoted in the article was Dwight McKissic, Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Arlington, who had invited the local police chief to talk to the mostly black congregation about how to deal with police in ways less likely to provoke confrontation. This was prior to the shootings in Dallas, after which the event's tone changed. McKissic is quoted as saying, "The police persons are uneasy. The citizens are uneasy," adding, "How do we move forward from this uneasiness?"

At an interfaith service on Friday night, Pastor Todd Wagner of the predominantly white Watermark Church explained how he was initially confused by the #blacklivesmatter movement. A black friend enlightened to Wagner, who explained on Saturday, "They weren't saying, 'We don't think white lives matter,'" adding, "'We're saying it feels like nobody else but us cares about black lives.' And that is a scary and a vulnerable place to live."  Wagner said the real solution is theological: "If we don't live in the ongoing truth of the God idea, in the reality of the objective presence of a loving God, the chaos and the crisis will only continue."

Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas and speaker on the radio program, The Alternative, issued a statement.  In it, he said:

We, as believers in Jesus Christ, must begin to both model and apply more fervently biblical solutions to our nation’s chaos.

Gone must be the days of only pointing fingers at others to fix what they may never fix. Our nation’s ills are not merely the result of corruption or racism, although these are evil. Our troubles can also be traced directly to ineffective Christians. One of the real tragedies today is that the church as a whole has failed to advance God’s kingdom light, equity, love and principles in our land in order to be a positive influence and impact for good in the midst of darkness, fear and hate.

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