Sunday, August 14, 2016

The 3 - August 14, 2016

This week on The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there's a decision from the U.S. military's highest court regarding a former Marine who had posted signs in her workplace containing a Scripture verse.  Also, a California law that threatened the religious freedom of faith-based schools has been amended.  And, the Olympics are a big news story; there is a faith element that has emerged, in which you have seen athletes publicly express their faith.

3 - Highest U.S. military court rules against former Marine in religious liberty case

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest court in the U.S. Military, has ruled against a former Marine who posted Scripture verses in her workplace.  According to an article on the WORLD website, in a 4-1 decision, the court decided to uphold a lower court ruling against Lance Cpl. Monifa J. Sterling, who had contested the order by her superiors to remove the signs. The personalized signs were based on Isaiah 54:17, which reads, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper."

The court found that Sterling failed to inform her superiors that the posting of the signs was “religiously motivated” and failed “to establish that the orders to remove the signs constituted a substantial burden on her exercise of religion” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The judges noted in the majority opinion that because the lance corporal did not indicate until during her trial that the signs had any religious significance to her, the words on the signs could have been interpreted as being “combative in tone.” They concluded the order to remove the signs was valid.

Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, which represents Sterling, responded by saying, “A few judges decided they could strip a Marine of her constitutional rights just because they didn’t think her beliefs were important enough to be protected. If they can court-martial a Marine over a Bible verse, what’s to stop them from punishing service members for reading the Bible, taking about their faith, or praying?”  First Liberty plans to take the appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

2 - Christian leaders among signers of letter opposing proposed California law removing protections for religious schools, sponsor announces revisions

A bill that would have limited religious liberty protections for faith-related colleges and universities has been amended, resulting in a mild victory for opponents of SB1146.  Christianity Today reported that:

Earlier versions of Senate Bill 1146 would have prevented colleges that received state funds from enforcing codes of student conduct reflecting a college’s religious beliefs about sexual identity, including teaching that marriage is between a man and woman and limiting bathrooms to biological gender. Traditionally, California’s religious schools have received a religious exemption from non-discrimination laws. This bill would have limited it to students who were preparing for a religious career, such as ministry.

Under the amended version of the bill, sponsored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, schools would have to "disclose if they have an exemption and report to the state when students are expelled for violating morality codes,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Just a day before this action, a group of religious leaders had released an open letter, "calling on California to protect religious liberty in higher education," according to the CT story.  Andrew Walker, director of policy studies at the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the President of which, Russell Moore, had signed on to that open letter: "SB1146 is still bad, because it has the disclosure (public shaming) element, but this, for now, is good.”

1 - Faith on display at Olympics

The Olympic Games attract a worldwide audience, and a number of athletes who profess to be Christians have displayed their faith to the masses.

One is U.S. Olympic swimmer Simone Manuel.  The Christian Examiner reports that Simone became the first African-American woman to win a medal in an individual swimming event Thursday night, winning the women's 100-meter freestyle.

After the victory, she told NBC, fighting back tears, "All I can say is all glory to God. It's definitely been a long journey these past four years. I'm just so blessed to have a gold medal ... I'm just so blessed."

Also in the water last week, American divers David Boudia and Steele Johnson won a silver medal in the men's synchronized 10-meter platform.  After the event, Boudia said on NBC, according to the Christian Examiner, "There's been an enormous amount of pressure. I've felt it," adding, "It's just an identity crisis. When my mind is on this [diving], and I'm thinking I'm defined by this, then my mind goes crazy. But we both know that our identity is in Christ, and we're thankful for this opportunity to be able to dive in front of Brazil and in front of the United States. It's been an absolutely thrilling moment for us."

Johnson said, "The way David just described it was flawless – the fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace ... and it let me enjoy the contest." He went on to say, "If something went great, I was happy. If something didn't go great, I could still find joy because I'm at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor – just one of the best people to be around. God's given us a cool opportunity, and I'm glad I could come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first-ever event."

And, the Christian Examiner reports that Michelle Carter, also known as "Shot Diva," won gold in the shot put event. She wrote on Twitter and Facebook, "Thank you Jesus!!!" and added the hashtag "#ThrowingByFaith." She told NBC, "I knew I had to bring my A-game, and all I could do was pray and ask the Lord: 'Lord come on, You told me that I had the victory.' I came through on that last throw, and it was amazing."

There have also been numerous faith statements from other athletes, including the five members of the U.S. gymnastics team who won gold; not all were necessarily Christian.  Swimmers Maya DiRado and Katie Ledecky have also been outspoken about their faith.

With the world coming to Rio, it also gives Christian ministries the opportunity to follow Christ and go to the world, in a sense.  I've featured a conversation with Terry Veazey, who is doing ministry with International Sports Chaplains.  Mission Network News recently highlighted what Athletes in Action, the sports arm of Cru, is doing.  Some of the staff there are serving as chaplains in the Olympic village.  Tim Pilcher is quoted as saying: "They’re here to be able to minister to the athletes from their country or their language group and really try through some initiative evangelism to be able to meet with them, resource them, so if they go back home, they’re going to have copies of God’s Word that they can get through security and customs that a normal missionary might not."

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