Saturday, June 25, 2016

The 3 - June 26, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, some news out of California involving churches and faith-based organizations being forced to pay for abortions in their health care plans.  Also, the newly-passed religious freedom law in Mississippi underwent some court challenges this week.  And, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, Donald Trump, met with evangelical leaders.

3 - Federal government to force churches in California to pay for abortions

In 2014, the California Department of Managed health reclassified abortion as a "basic health service," and ordered all insurance plans in the state to begin covering surgical abortions, according to  Even churches were not exempted.

Churches filed a lawsuit, which has been moving through the courts. The plaintiffs also asked the Obama administration to uphold the Weldon Amendment, which is a federal law that protects conscience rights. This week, the HHS Office of Civil Rights released the results of its investigation into the California abortion mandate, stating it found no violation and is closing its investigation of the complaints without further action.

The OCR stated that the Weldon amendment only protects health insurance plans, not the purchasers of such plans, and since insurance companies have not complained, then there has been no violation.

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Casey Mattox commented to, stating:

“The Obama Administration is once again making a mockery of the law, and this time in the most unimaginable way. Churches should never be forced to cover elective abortion in their insurance plans, and for ten years the Weldon Amendment has protected the right to have plans that do not include coverage for abortion-on-demand. But the state of California has ordered every insurer, even those insuring churches, to cover elective abortions in blatant violation of the law..."

Rep. Chris Smith, Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus stated to “Nearly two years after California imposed its draconian mandate that requires all insurance companies to pay for abortion the Obama Administration has reached a new low — reinterpreting the Weldon amendment to allow the mandate to continue,” adding, “This means that Californians, including churches, will continue to be forced to pay for elective abortions in their insurance plans.”

2 - Religious freedom law in Mississippi faces court challenges

This week, the bill in Mississippi offering protections for people who object to gay marriage in religious grounds faced several court challenges.  On Monday, the first hurdle was cleared, as
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves said, according to WAPT Television, that two gay men who plan to marry each other within the next three years can't prove they would face immediate harm if the bill, House Bill 1523 becomes law July 1. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the couple and it filed papers Tuesday asking Reeves to reconsider that decision.

According to the article, the law lets clerks cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. State attorneys say it's a reasonable accommodation to protect religious beliefs. Another article on the TV station's website says:

The bill protects three beliefs: That marriage should only be between a man and a woman, that sex should only take place within such a marriage and that a person's gender is set at birth.

Another court hearing took place in Jackson on Thursday regarding the law, which is set to go into effect on Friday, July 1.

1 - Evangelicals meet to hear from, question Trump

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, agreed to meet with evangelical leaders on Tuesday in New York City.  A large gathering of an estimated 900 people or so gathered at a Midtown hotel, and it was preceded by a smaller meeting.  National Religious Broadcasters President and CEO Jerry Johnson wrote on the NRB website:

In addition to the hour-long meeting with hundreds of pastors and others, as a member of the Steering Committee, I met with Trump in a smaller gathering of leaders who were able to talk with him about various concerns of evangelicals.

At the larger meeting, Trump emphasized his commitment to religious liberty by vowing to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, who would be vetted by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. He also said he wants to restore the free speech rights of Christians by rescinding the infamous Johnson Amendment, which has limited the political speech of churches and other 501(c)(3) tax-exempt ministries. Additionally, Trump said he wants to encourage the use of the greeting “Merry Christmas” in American culture and government.

Also at the meeting, Trump reiterated his proposal to temporarily halt Muslim immigration to the United States, adding a more nuanced suggestion that he would pause immigration from regions where radical Islamic terrorism is present. He also promised that his judicial appointments would be pro-life.

Also, as Johnson and others have reported, that day Trump announced the formation of an Evangelical Executive Advisory Board.

The meeting were closed to the general media, although David Brody of CBN News attended the meeting, and offered some commentary.  Brody wrote:

One theme that Trump kept bringing up is the fact that Christianity in America is under attack. "Government has gotten so involved in your religion,” Trump said. He made the case that evangelicals need to rise to the occasion because their rights are under attack. "You have such power and influence…(but) if you don't band together, you're really not that powerful." That line was met with strong applause.

The CBN journalist also wrote, "Is there work to be done? Yes. But we may look back at this meeting as an important turning point in Trump’s effort to consolidate the evangelical vote."  A subsequent story featured quotes about the meeting from a number of pro-family leaders, including Kelly Shackelford of First Liberty Institute, who was positive about Trump's comments on religious liberty, and Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony list, who lauded Trump's pledge to appoint pro-life justices to the Supreme Court.

Brody also quoted Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, as saying: "As it pertains to the evangelical vote and the candidacy of Donald J. Trump, today's meeting may very well be a tipping point."  In yet another CBN story, Brody mentioned African-American leader Bishop E.W. Jackson, who tweeted quotes and videos of Trump's speech throughout the gathering. Brody wrote: "His tweets reveal that Trump placed significant emphasis on the strength of the evangelical Christian vote in the upcoming election. Trump believes he owes his success to evangelicals."

You can also catch my conversation with Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance about the meeting, as well as the California abortion directive adversely affecting churches, at the website,

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The 3 - June 19, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, has information on 2 videographers who had one of two charges against them dropped regarding their videos exposing Planned Parenthood.  Also, this week, Southern Baptists met in St. Louis to conduct business, elect a new president, and pray.  And, the top story involves the tragedy in Orlando and how churches and people of faith have stepped up to help families of the victims and to proclaim hope to the community.

3 - Charges dismissed against pro-life video producers

The dramatic undercover videos produced by the Center for Medical Progress have exposed Planned Parenthood officials, as their own comments indicated their participation in the sale of body parts from unborn babies.  A grand jury in Houston has been convened to investigate this type of activity by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, but in a strange twist, the grand jury ended up indicting the videographers, David Dalieden and Sandra Merritt.

A piece on The Stream website questioned how that could happen.  It goes on to say that after the indictments:

It was quickly revealed that a prosecutor in the Harris County D.A.’s office, Lauren Reeder, is a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast board member. Attorneys for Daleiden would then accuse District Attorney Devon Anderson of colluding with the abortion mill.

Those accusations were confirmed last month, when Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast’s attorney Josh Schaffer admitted in a sworn declaration that Anderson’s office shared evidence with Planned Parenthood.

The website reports:

On Monday night, Harris County Judge Diane Bull dismissed a misdemeanor charge of attempting to illegally buy human tissue. A similar charge was also dropped against Daleiden’s partner in the sting, Sandra Merritt. A felony charge of tampering with government documents — Daleiden allegedly used a fake ID during his undercover operation — remains. A different judge is hearing that case.

According to the article, the CMP issued a statement, which said, in part:

The dismissal of the first indictment today sends a strong message to Planned Parenthood and their political cronies that colluding to suppress the First Amendment rights of citizen journalists will never work. The Center for Medical Progress follows all applicable laws in the course of its investigative journalism work and as more details about Planned Parenthood’s contracts for aborted baby parts come to light, it’s clear that Planned Parenthood and their business partners like StemExpress are the ones who are guilty of trafficking in human body parts.

2 - SBC meeting elects new president, passes resolutions

Increased attendance, a contended but amiable Presidential election, prayers for revival, and racial reconciliation were all storylines emerging from this week's Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis.

In a summary on the Baptist Press website, there was an unofficial total of 7,321 registered messengers, which was up from 5,407 last year.  Memphis-area pastor Steve Gaines, of Bellevue Baptist Church was elected President of the Convention, succeeding Ronnie Floyd.  The election had some drama, because after the first two ballots, no candidate had received a majority.  Gaines' leading challenger, J.D. Greear of Raleigh-Durham, withdrew, leaving Gaines as the lone candidate.

A resolution passed overwhelmingly, calling for the removal of displays of the Confederate Battle flag was seen as a move of racial reconciliation.  Former SBC President James Merritt moved that the convention call believers to "discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity with the whole Body of Christ, including our African American brothers and sisters."  He said support of the flag hinders evangelism among African Americans and said, "Southern Baptists are not a people of any flag. We march under the banner of the cross of Jesus and the grace of God."

There were twelve resolutions addressing a variety of topics, including the June 12 terrorist attack in Orlando, FL.; biblical sexuality; requiring women to register for the military draft; and ministry to refugees.

The convention also featured a "call to prayer" on Tuesday night, which featured two hours of prayer for awakening in America and around the world. There were brief addresses by a variety of leaders, including former SBC President Johnny Hunt, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, California pastor and evangelist Greg Laurie and Jerry Young, President of the National Baptist Convention, USA.

According to, the SBC meets in Phoenix next year, then Dallas.  In 2019, Birmingham hosts the Southern Baptist Convention.

1 - Churches, faith community respond to Orlando tragedy

The mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub early on Sunday morning, June 12, has brought a range of emotions, from grief, to fear, to outrage.  Around 50 people lost their lives, with more injured.

The topics that have been debated and discussed this past week include: the shooter's connection to radical Islam, the attack's location - at a nightclub catering to the LGBT community, gun control, and overall national security.  You can read some of my early thoughts in a blog post here.

I believe that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a violation of Scripture.  But, that doesn't preclude us from ministering to those who are in the LGBT community.   Jesus died for all, and we can show love to all.  The people who died in Orlando are unique creations of God, and their lives had value - their families, and all families who have lost loved ones, need to see hope.

To that end, a number of ministry organizations took steps to inject the hope of Christ into the desperate situation in Orlando.  The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team took their ministry of presence into the area.  A consortium of area churches and organizations held a prayer vigil at First Baptist Orlando on Tuesday night.  Florida Today quoted Danny de Armas, senior associate pastor with First Baptist, as saying that the event was a collaborative effort of "about a dozen" local churches. He said, "First Baptist Orlando is hosting it and we're allowing our facility here but it's really a cooperative effort on terms of the program."

The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference was a sponsor of a special meeting Wednesday night.  And, as I reported on the air, using a Huffington Post story, select area churches helped families of the victims by assisting with funeral services.

When tragedy hits, God's people can respond swiftly and compassionately.  Kelly Burke, a chaplain with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team, is quoted at “Even if you’re 2,000 miles away from Orlando, you can pray and impact what takes place in Orlando. Pray that God would continue to strengthen and encourage His workers, His children and His churches here. And that He would also continue to soften hearts and get folks ready to receive what He wants to give them.”

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.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The 3 - June 5, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, which highlights three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a pro-life emphasis to a celebration in China.  Also, a noted evangelist and volunteers were banned from handing out gift cards at a Reason Rally in Washington, but gave the cards to the homeless.  Also, a retired general who is in leadership at a Christian, pro-family advocacy organization has been removed as speaker for a prayer breakfast at an Army facility.

3 - Pro-life message introduced on "Children's Day" in China

This past Wednesday, June 1st, was Children's Day in China, a day marked by children’s events, reduced entrance fees at tourist attractions, and student performances, according to an article on the WORLD Magazine website. For the last past five years, Jonny Fan of Chengdu Early Rain Reformed Church has attempted to place an emphasis on unborn children during the campaign, with his “Don’t Abort on Children’s Day” campaign.

This year, the faith communities' involvement on behalf of unborn children included church members in multiple cities passing out informational flyers and holding signs outside hospitals, as well as an online 40 Days for Life campaign. There was also the first-ever declaration on the sanctity of life by a church group. The article notes that these activities faced little resistance from the government, which could signify that pro-life initiatives are becoming less sensitive in the country, which has a serious aging population crisis.

Fan launched the 40 Days for Life campaign on the Chinese social media site WeChat. It would be difficult to pray on the streets, but believers shared prayers online, and the group grew from 600 to 1,600 by the end of the 40 days, which ended on Children's Day. On that day, Fan encouraged group members to inform their community by passing out flyers or making banners.

Also, the West China Presbytery issued a directive on abortion, which was posted on WeChat Wednesday. The article points out that although in the past, individuals have spoken out against abortion, no church had officially expressed a stance on abortion. The directive had three parts: an affirmation of the sanctity of life, Bible passages supporting life-affirming statements, and actions for churches to take.

2 - Evangelist banned from handing out gift cards at "reason" rally

Noted evangelist Ray Comfort was planning to attend yesterday's Reason Rally in the nation's capital, and planned to hand out Subway gift cards and copies of his new book to attendees of the gathering of atheists in Washington, according to an article on the WORLDNetDaily website, which reported that more than 1,000 Christians had volunteered to help hand out the gifts, which caused his appearance to be nixed by the police.  The book is called, Fat Chance: Why Pigs Will Fly Before America Has an Atheist President 

The event, by its own description, is to “showcase the presence and power of the nonreligious voting bloc, and to demand that reason be put at the forefront of our public and political discourse.”  So instead of giving out 5,000 copies of his book and $25,000 in gift cards to the atheists, Comfort declared that the gift cards would go to the homeless.  Comfort was still planning to do some open-air preaching, to take a film crew out to the event, and to give out copies of the book to people he meets. He said volunteers were free to come of their own volition.

Oh, by the way, the Reason Rally attendance apparently didn't meet expectations.  According to Religion News Service:

Organizers had hoped for an attendance of 30,000, higher than the estimated 20,000 at the first Reason Rally in 2012 — when crowds contended with pouring rain. They estimated by mid-afternoon that 15,000 to 20,000 were in attendance on a warm, sunny day. But observers said the numbers seemed strikingly smaller in number than the previous year.

1 - Prayer breakfast featuring retired general cancelled, to be rescheduled without him

Retired Lt. General Jerry Boykin, Executive Vice-President of the Family Research Council, was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for an upcoming prayer breakfast at Fort Riley in Kansas, but the breakfast has been cancelled due to the contention that Boykin is "anti-Muslim" and "anti-gay," according to Todd Starnes of

His article says that Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein told Army Times that Boykin’s invitation had caused great angst among soldiers at Fort Riley – leading some to break down in tears.

Boykin is quoted as saying, "I sincerely doubt that America can expect to win wars if the people who are tasked to do so are frightened by an old retired general with biblical views and a testimony of faith."

Starnes said that he reached out to Fort Riley, and it was confirmed that the prayer breakfast has been called off. The cancellation was blamed on a scheduling conflict and he was told it would be rescheduled - but with a different speaker.

Chief Public Affairs NCO MSG Mike Lavigne said in a statement: “Lt. Gen. (Ret) Boykin’s credentials as a Soldier and leader speak for themselves and his 36 years of service to our nation are worthy of our respect,” adding, “However, in an effort to ensure everyone in our broad and very diverse community feels welcome at any event on Fort Riley, we will pursue the invitation of a different speaker for the prayer breakfast once it is rescheduled.”

Boykin said that the cancellation is “just another reminder of the incredible discrimination against Christians in our armed forces.” He is quoted as saying, “This should tell you how difficult it is for Christians, and especially chaplains, to live their faith in our military."

Starnes had also reported on how Boykin had been removed from a position at Hampton-Sydney College because of pressure from LGBT activists over some comments (not the best choice of words, in my estimation) he had made to a gathering of conservatives.  The school reinstated Boykin less than six hours later!