Monday, August 29, 2016

The 3 - August 28, 2016

On this edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a victory for an Air Force officer who had faced a complaint for having a Bible on his desk. Also, recently there was a baptism service involving almost 5,000 South Korea soldiers.  And, a Federal court judge has halted an Administration directive regarding transgender restrooms.

3 - Air Force officer OK'd to have Bible at his desk

Air Force Maj. Steve Lewis, who is a supervisor at the Reserve National Security Space Institute, had placed a Bible on his desk. Not surprisingly, according to Todd Starnes' website, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a complaint against the major, accusing him of "harboring and encouraging a truly abhorrent example of First Amendment civil rights violations." 

The major voluntarily removed his Bible pending a military review, according to Starnes, who spoke with a public affairs spokesman, Lt. Col. David Fruck, who is quoted as saying, "We have concluded that no abuse of liberties has occurred."  Starnes reported that Fruck said "both the workplace environment and the major's behavior were well within the provisions governing the free exercise of religion and religious accommodation."

2 - Thousands baptized in South Korea

Recently, almost 5,000 Korean soldiers gathered at the Korea Army Training Center (KATC) in Nonsan for a baptism service and ceremony organized by FEBC Korea in celebration of its 60th anniversary, according to the National Religious Broadcasters website,

NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson joined around 40 Korean local church leaders and 22 American Christian leaders and military chaplains in conducting the baptisms in the center’s swimming pool. Dr. Johnson also delivered a message on baptism before the soldiers went out to be baptized. He explained, “When you become a Christian, your life changes,” adding, “You’re showing today that you’re dying to an old way of life, and you’re living a new kind of life.”

Also on hand were Dr. Billy Kim, Chairman of FEBC Korea; Ed Cannon, President & CEO of FEBC USA; and the Rev. Chad Hammond, Director of Asian Affairs at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

1 - Federal court blocks Administration's directive on transgender bathrooms in schools

A little more than a week ago, a Federal judge in Texas ruled against a directive from the Obama administration to school districts across the nation to allow transgender students to use the restroom or locker room facility of their choice, according to a story on the Religion News Service website, which reported that a 38-page order by U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor stated that "federal agencies exceeded their authority under the 1972 law banning sex discrimination in schools."

Concerning that law, known as Title IX, the judge wrote, “Without question, permitting educational institutions to provide separate housing to male and female students, and separate educational instruction concerning human sexuality, was to protect students’ personal privacy, or discussion of
their personal privacy, while in the presence of members of the opposite biological sex.”

The case was filed originally by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and was joined by 12 other states, including Alabama. They argued that the guidance from the administration came with an "implicit threat that federal education funds could be withheld if school districts refused to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their chosen gender identity." The story says that the injunction is in effect nationwide.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The 3 - August 21, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, identifying three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is information about Christian churches and ministries getting involved in helping flood victims in Louisiana.  Also, the Supreme Court in India is offering more relief to Christian victims of religious violence in an uprising from a number of years ago.  And, Target has made a decision to install single-stall private bathrooms in all its stores, in light of the uproar over its transgender bathroom policy, an announcement made after financial figures for the retail giant were released.

3 - Christian organizations respond to flooding in Louisiana

The devastating floods in Louisiana have taken their toll, resulting in thousands of people having to evacuate their homes and scores of homes and businesses damaged.  And, a variety of churches and Christian ministries are taking up the mantle to help the victims.  Christian Headlines reported on two sister ministries:  Samaritan's Purse and the Rapid Response Team of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.  Samaritan's Purse sent disaster relief team members to Louisiana and Mississippi - advance members went in to canvass hard-hit areas and to prepare to get relief to the victims of the historic flooding, caused by after more than 30 inches of rain within a week.

Baptist Press report quotes Staff Sgt. Chad McCann, a member of Union Baptist Church in Deville, LA, who was aboard a Black Hawk helicopter rescuing flood victims in south Louisiana.  He said that, "It is way worse … more widespread" than even Hurricane Katrina.

The story relates that over 20 Louisiana Baptist churches were "serving as mobile feeding centers; hosting disaster relief volunteers; serving as shelters for evacuees; responding to mud-out requests for areas where waters have receded; distributing food, water, clothing and other essentials to sustain families displaced by the flooding; providing mobile shower units; and performing training for "walk-up" volunteers." The first wave of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams came alongside Louisiana Baptists for immediate crisis as well as long-term recovery response - from Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Tennessee.   And, the North American Mission Board was helping to coordinating assistance with the Southern Baptist Convention.

John Hebert, the Louisiana convention's missions director, is quoted as saying that it is "an opportunity to restore lives" -- "but also to win souls." He urged prayer that "the lost will see Christ in us and allow us to share the Gospel with them."

2 - Indian Supreme Court says that government response to anti-Christian attacks was inadequate

Back in 2008, according to an article on the Christianity Today website, in the Kandhamal district of the eastern coastal state of Odisha in the nation of India, there was the death of a Hindu priest, which set off violence against Christians at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists, who blamed Christians in the region for the death.  Around 100 Christians were killed, 300 churches attacked, 6,000 Christian homes damaged, and 50,000 people displaced.

This month, the India Supreme Court ordered the Odisha government to reinvestigate the trials of perpetrators “where acquittals were not justified on facts.” There were 827 criminal cases that were registered, but 315 were not even pursued. Plus, in the 362 cases where a verdict was given, only 78 resulted in conviction. There were almost 6,500 people arrested, but only 150 cases continue.

Two justices, including the Chief Justice, ruled that the compensation that the state government offered was not enough. The offers ranged from $150 to $750 for destroyed homes and $7,500 per family who lost a member.

The Court offered some additional compensation for the widows and children of the 39 victims, as well as some additional money for damaged homes, as well as injuries.

The amounts were less than requested for families suffering loss of loved ones or property damage by Archbishop Raphel Cheenath, who had filed the lawsuit - he passed away on August 14 at the age of 82.

Activist John Dayal says it's not enough: “We are disappointed that Christian traders, NGOs, and others who lost their businesses to arson and violence have not been compensated,” adding, "The economic strength of the Christians in the district had been severely impacted in the violence—by design. But they have not been paid any compensation at all.”

Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Fides news agency, according to the Christianity Today story, quoting from, that the ruling by Chief Justice Thakur is “a step forward in justice for the victims of Kandhamal." He added, “It is a positive sign that the Supreme Court of India recognized as unjust compensation paid. The justice procedure is slow and inadequate, but this is a sign of hope.”

1 - Major retailer to spend millions to construct single-stall bathrooms in aftermath of transgender bathroom policy implementation

Target has announced that it will spend $20 million dollars to construct single-stall bathrooms at its stores.  But, if you think those private restrooms are for transgendered individuals, who have been placed at the center of the recent controversy in which Target is involved, think again.  This new restroom arrangement seems to be designed for those who may have been offended by the policy. That's consistent with comments made by Stuart Shepard of Family Policy Alliance about this new construction on a recent edition of The Meeting House.

Christian Daily reports that:

On Wednesday, Target CFO Cathy Smith acknowledged some of their customers' objections to their transgender bathroom policy, which allows transgender customers and employees to use the bathroom designated for the gender they identify with. Despite the support the company has gained from some of its customers, Smith said they have decided to install a third, single-toilet bathroom in all of their branches, CNN Money reports.

The website reports that Target spokesperson Katie Boylan said, "We put that in motion for some time prior to the [June] shareholders meeting," who added, "At the end of the day, Target is all about inclusion. We want everyone to feel comfortable in our stores."

That same day, Target had reported that its stock decreased because of its low sales. Also, the company lowered its sales forecast as a result of their performance.  The article says that Smith denied that the #BoycottTarget movement had anything to do with the 7 percent drop in their sales. 

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."

Sunday, August 07, 2016

The 3 - August 7, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, pastor Saeed Abedini is back in the news relative to reports about cash paid to the Iranian government around the time he and three others were released from prison.  Also, a new after-school club sponsored by the Satanic Temple is receiving attention.  And, the U.S. Supreme Court has placed a lower court ruling on hold regarding transgender people and bathrooms.

3 - Saeed Abedini back in news after reports of money paid to Iran to secure his release

The Iranian-American pastor who had been released from prison earlier this year is back in the news, because he was one of the prisoners who was freed around the same time as a $400 million payment the U.S. made to Iran.

According to a Baptist Press story, Saeed Abedini told the publication that when asked if that payment was to be considered ransom, he said: "I prefer ... the politicians answer that, because so many things are involved and those who were in charge, they know better than me." In a Fox Business interview, Saeed said that the night he was freed, he and the others waited a full night in the airport.  According to police, they were waiting for another plane to arrive.  They slept at the airport and did not leave until 10:00 the next morning.  The Fox Business report says:

When asked whether he believes the U.S. paid the Iranian government a ransom for his release, Abedini said he has his suspicions, but “they didn’t’ talk about money.”

“We call them terrorists and I don’t believe they are going to use this money for building orphanages, which I was arrested for, but I prefer that the politicians answer this question.”

He used that occasion to call attention to the conditions of other prisoners in Iraq.

In the Baptist Press article, he related that he is concerned that Iran continues to persecute Christian converts there, that it has initiated active legal cases against about 1,000 members of the church he founded, and that Iran has executed at least two prisoners whom he led to Christianity while he was held captive (a three-and-a-half year period).
He is quoted as saying on August 4: "After this deal the human rights situation got worse in Iran. Some of my friends in prison two nights ago got execution and they hanged them up in prison, which I know them personally."

2 - After-school club sponsored by the Satanic Temple receives pushback

News has been circulating about a new after-school club being sponsored by the Satanic Temple. But, the head of Liberty Counsel says it's a sham.  Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of the legal advocacy organization says that: "The so-called Satanic Temple group is a handful of atheists masquerading as so-called Satanists. This group is not legitimate. Its only reason to exist is to oppose the Good News Clubs. The Good News Clubs teach morals, character development, patriotism and respect from a Christian viewpoint. Public schools welcome these clubs because they improve the behavior of the students and the Supreme Court has sided with these clubs." He goes on to say that, "Schools do not have to tolerate groups which disrupt the school and target other legitimate clubs..."

Just like the Good News Clubs, which are sponsored by Child Evangelism Fellowship, the Satanic club requires a parental permission slip.  In 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Good News Clubs have a First Amendment right to meet on campus after school. Liberty Counsel represents CEF nationwide and has never lost a CEF case.

Douglas Messner, co-founder and spokesperson of the Satanic Temple, who goes by the name Lucien Graves, told The Christian Post that there was a need for a "counter-balance in the extracurricular options."  He said the clubs would focus on "arts projects and education with no religious opinion inserted."

1 - U.S. Supreme Court puts VA transgender bathroom law on hold

This past Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would put on hold a ruling out of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that directed a local school district to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify (rather than their biological one).

WORLD Magazine reported that the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia had asked the high court to put the appeals court ruling on hold as school begins this fall and its attorneys prepare a full appeal of the lower court ruling.

The WORLD story stated that, "gay rights groups noted the court’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as an indication of what it might do in the future with challenges to policies requiring schools and businesses to open restrooms based on gender identity and not biology." It went on to say:

Three of the justices—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan—would have left the lower court ruling in place, indicating how they might vote when the case eventually comes before them. Justice Stephen Breyer sided with the justices willing to put the order on hold, but only “as a courtesy.” Court-watchers already speculate Breyer would side with the liberal justices to uphold transgender-friendly restroom policies.

The Gloucester County case involves Gavin Grimm, who is biologically female but identifies as male. Grimm had filed suit against the school board over its policy requiring students to use the restrooms that correspond to their biological sex. As the article points out, Grimm had filed the lawsuit prior to the Obama administration directive to every school district in the country saying Title IX, a federal law to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex for federally funded education programs, included gender identity and schools needed to update their policies to reflect the new interpretation. So far, 23 states have filed suit against the order.