This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes information on the state of the church in Cuba against the backdrop of the death of Fidel Castro. Also, a pro-life center in New Mexico experienced an intentional fire just before Thanksgiving. And, a Christian couple with a popular television show is facing scrutiny because of its church's stance on homosexuality.
3 - Castro's death and the church in Cuba
The recent death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, regarded as a brutal dictator who held a tight rein on power in the Communist nation since 1959, power that has shifted toward brother Raul, gave Christianity Today an opportunity to reflect on the role and influence of the church in that island nation. The publication noted that:
Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival. It sparked around the time that the Soviet Union’s collapse left Cuba scrambling to right itself. The period of crippling economic depression in the 1990s also began a time of church growth and evangelism.The article reported that there are more than 3,000 Assemblies of God churches, and Eastern Baptist churches number more 1,200. The story said that "Seminaries are racing to keep up with the pastor shortage."
Christianity Today had reported on the 50th anniversary of the Fidel Castro revolution:
Since the 1959 Revolution, Castro's Communist government has placed numerous restrictions on religious expression in Cuba—a reality illustrated by most sources' requests for anonymity. Yet the Cuban church is thriving despite its limitations, and its leaders ask that their church not be used as a geopolitical pawn.The recent article said that, "Between January and July this year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded more than 1,600 religious freedom abuses, perpetrated primarily by the Cuban government and its Office of Religious Affairs." CSW reports that about 2,000 Assemblies of God churches were declared illegal and marked for seizure by the government in 2015.
The CT article points out that, "Some credit the Catholic Church and its popes with influencing Cuba’s slow turn from Marxism." Christmas was reinstated by Castro in 1988, one day after Pope John Paul II visited. Also, Pope Benedict visited in 2012, and soon afterward, Good Friday observances were allowed. Plus, this year in Havana, Pope Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill. This was the "first meeting between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox heavyweights since the Christian church split into West and East in 1054."
2 - Albuquerque pro-life clinic fire determined to be arson
A pro-life ministry in Albuquerque was damaged as the result of an apparent arson the night before Thanksgiving, and according to a report on the Christian Examiner website, the FBI and the Albuquerque Fire Department asked for the public's help in who may have been involved in setting fires which "erupted in multiple locations."
According to the article, the director of client services at the ministry, Project Defending Life (PDL), told LifeSiteNews, "We will just have to be a little more creative and flexible. We know God has a plan for us, and I see our organization prospering now more than ever. The prolife community in Albuquerque and across the country has shown us so much support," adding, "It's beautiful to see the body of Christ taking care of each other." Other ministries have stepped in to help PDL, including a mobile medical unit provided by one center, as well as office space from another.
Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, is quoted as saying, "The domestic terrorists who committed this heinous act must be found and brought to justice. Planned Parenthood of ABQ and other pro-abortion forces must denounce this act immediately. Violence has no place in our society, regardless of whether it is committed upon the most defenseless preborn child or a peaceful pro-life office."
1 - Manufactured news: Fixer Upper stars criticized because of their church's Biblical beliefs on sexuality
One of the recent significant stories in Christian media actually deals with what another media outlet published - a story about Chip and Joanna Gaines of the Fixer Upper TV series on HGTV. A Baptist Press article stated that the Gaines "were the subjects of a Nov. 29 article on the news and entertainment website BuzzFeed which classified their pastor and Waco, Texas, church as holding a 'severe, unmoving position ... on same-sex marriage.'" The Baptist Press report mentioned that the BuzzFeed story writer, Kate Aurthur had asked HGTV and the Gaines' company Magnolia if the couple would feature a same-sex couple on the show.
Aurthur wrote that there was not a response, so she said, "It's worth looking at" the beliefs of the church the Gaines attend, Antioch Community Church, and pastor Jimmy Seibert. Cosmopolitan followed suit in an article the next day, saying that BuzzFeed had "uncovered something many fans will likely want an explanation for."
BuzzFeed also reported, according to Baptist Press, that an HGTV spokesperson stated in an e-mail: "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."
Todd Starnes of Fox News interviewed Pastor Seibert. Starnes wrote:
The pastor told me he was surprised by the controversy surrounding a message he delivered more than a year ago pointing out that people from all different walks of life attend the church.
“For us – our heart has always been to love Jesus, preach the word of God and help people in their journey,” he said.
But what about the church’s position on same-sex marriage?
Our definition is not the definition we made up. It’s straight from the Scripture,” the pastor said. “One man, one woman for life. That’s how God created us. That’s what he has for us.”
“The main reason for the sermon is for the confused middle – the majority of America. People don’t know what the Bible says anymore on issues of sexuality,” he added.
“People don’t know what God says on homosexuality or any other issue. I felt the need to say we are all a mess – but the fixed points were set by God – not us.”Even the Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee, weighed in on the controversy:
Reports from around the nation Thursday indicate that millions of American citizens were still reeling from the revelation that a prominent Christian couple holds a historically Christian position.
“We’re not saying people can’t be Christians,” a Seattle woman said in a Facebook comment. “This is a free country, after all. But when Christians decide to actually have Christian beliefs about things—I’m sorry, that’s just too far.”