Sunday, September 25, 2016

The 3 - September 25, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, includes a story out of Zambia, where a new government position overseeing religious affairs has brought concern from Christian leaders.  Also, news from Washington, DC, this week involves possible contempt charges against an organization that has partnered with Planned Parenthood in trafficking fetal body parts.  And, a Christian legal advocacy organization has recently filed lawsuits on behalf of artists who believe that laws are harming their freedom of expression, forcing them to use their talents to promote same-sex marriage.

3 - Zambian Christian leaders express concern over new proposed government oversight

Protestant and Catholic leaders in the African nation of Zambia are speaking out against actions to create a new government department in that country that could result in the state exercising control over religion, according to a story on the website.

The President of the nation, Edgar Chagwa Lungu Lungu appointed a Pentecostal pastor from the capital of Lusaka, Rev. Godfridah Sumaili, as head of the new ministry of religious affairs last week.

The head of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, Rev. Pukuta Mwanza, is quoted as saying that it would "promote Christian values and give more meaning to the declaration of Zambia as a Christian nation".

However, the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Council of Churches in Zambia, which represents Protestant Churches, have announced their opposition to the initiative. In a joint statement, the entities called for "genuine dialogue", saying: "This requires sustaining a healthy Church-State relationship, with the Government not favouring only those groups that praise every decision it makes and every plan it follows."

Regarding the statement, the article said:

It warned against attempts by the state to control the Church, saying that the Church "derives its authority, mission and structure from God and this must not be confused with temporal order of political governance". Churches, it said, would not be "intimidated" in acting as the conscience of the nation and calling for social justice.

2 - House committee votes to hold participant in fetal tissue trafficking scheme in contempt

The U.S. House Select Committee on Infant Lives voted earlier this week to hold a company called StemExpress and its CEO, Cate Dyer, in contempt for refusing to provide requested information to the committee in its investigation of trafficking of fetal body parts. article said that:

StemExpress, an organ procurement company, was under investigation by the Select Panel due to its financial and professional relationship with Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses. Evidence released by the Center for Medical Progress last year indicated that Planned Parenthood illegally profited financially from the sale of aborted baby remains to StemExpress and other organ procurement organizations.

The efforts by the panel had taken eight months and according the story, requests for accounting documents were responded to by summaries, or the committee was referred to other organizations. The Chair of the Select Panel, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, believes, according to the article, "they have reached an impasse, which is impeding the Panel’s ability to conduct the investigation with which it was tasked."

The contempt resolution will now go to the full Committee on Energy and Commerce.  If approved, it will be referred to the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for certification.  The act of contempt, in this case, would be a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of $100,000.

1 - Colorado graphic designer, Arizona calligraphers challenge laws that force them to promote gay marriage

In news concerning religious freedom, there are two interesting developments recently, involving people in creative professions who do not wish for the artistic expressions to be used to promote so-called "same sex marriage."   In Colorado, according to Alliance Defending Freedom, attorneys filed a "pre-enforcement challenge" on behalf of a website and graphic designer, Lorie Smith, and her studio, 303 Creative, challenging a portion of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act.  According to ADF:

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission has construed CADA to force artists like Smith to create objectionable art even though Smith happily serves everyone and decides what art to create based on the art’s message—not her client’s personal characteristics. The law also prohibits artists from expressing any religious views about marriage that could make someone feel “unwelcome, objectionable, unacceptable, or undesirable” because of their sexual orientation.

As ADF points out, this is the same law that has been used against a baker in Colorado, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop.  He has filed an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Also, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom website, ADF attorneys have filed an appeal asking an Arizona appeals court to temporarily stop the city of Phoenix from "applying an ordinance to an art studio specializing in hand-painting, hand-lettering, and calligraphy for weddings and other events because the ordinance conflicts with free speech."

The attorneys contend that the ordinance forces the two female owners of the studio, which is called Brush and Nib, to use their artistic talents to promote same-sex ceremonies. The ordinance also keeps the studio and its proprietors from, according to ADF, "publicly expressing the Christian beliefs that prevent them from doing so and that require them to create art celebrating only marriages between one man and one woman." A trial court judge already decided not to issue and order preventing the city from enforcing the ordinance on the studio or its owners while the lawsuit continues to move forward.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The 3 - September 18, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, spotlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there was a court victory out of a Federal appeals court, which threw out a case against a Catholic hospital that would not perform an abortion.  Also, there's more pushback against a North Carolina law that was designed to prevent special treatment from those claiming to be transgender, as well as upholding privacy.   And, a Federal commission chair has created a troubling definition of "religious freedom," calling that phrase code for discriminatory acts and ideas.

3 - Appeals court dismisses case against Catholic hospital that would not do abortion

A case against a Catholic hospital has been set aside by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, according to a report on the Christian Examiner website, which reports that the case was filed by a woman named Tamesha Means, along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2013 after she went to Mercy Health Partners in 2010.

The hospital reportedly refused to abort the unborn child because of its adherence to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which govern all Catholic hospitals and health care systems.  The directives are based on the doctrines of the Catholic Church and described in the article as "unabashedly pro-life."  Means delivered the child prematurely on her own, but the child later died.

Last year, a lower court had thrown out the case based on procedural grounds, but it was appealed to the Federal appeals court, which also ruled that the case had no merit.  The court noted, according to the story, "it did not preclude other challenges from being brought in other states."

2 - NCAA, ACC pull championships over transgender law

This past week, the NCAA decided to remove a number of championship events out of North Carolina, including first- and second-round Division I Men's Basketball Championship games in March, according to a Baptist Press story, which reported that two days after the NCAA decision, the Atlantic Coast Conference announced it would move all neutral-site championships for the coming academic year out of North Carolina, including the football conference championship game in December.
The reason is, of course, House Bill 2, which, according to the article, "does not include sexual orientation or gender identity among classes of people designated for antidiscrimination protection. The law also requires individuals in state buildings to use restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates."

Christian leaders were swift to criticize the entities. State legislator Paul Stam, speaker pro tem of the North Carolina House of Representatives and a Southern Baptist, issued an eight-page news release on Tuesday, noting what he called the "breathtaking hypocrisy" of the NCAA, which he wrote, "selectively boycotts North Carolina for policies it claims are unique to our state -- but actually are common throughout the nation -- and for daring to disagree with a sweeping federal mandate by the Obama Administration -- a mandate that is currently being challenged in court by 24 other states."

Stam noted that "state law on discrimination is the same or very similar to that of 28 other states and the statutory law of the federal government." He advised the NCAA to "take a careful look at its activities and those of its thousands of members" in those states as well. He also contends that "The NCAA and its member institutions are not in compliance with the civil rights provision of Title IX as defined by President Obama." For instance, as the article points out:

While the administration instructed colleges and universities to treat students consistently with their perceived gender identities, Stam wrote, NCAA rules prohibit so-called transgender females who are not undergoing hormone therapy from competing on women's teams.

The story reports that Franklin Graham wrote ACC Commissioner John Swofford this week, in which he challenges the conference head, pointing out the "profound hypocrisy of the ACC, the NCAA and other companies and organizations who are making calculated business decisions disguised as moral outrage." Graham said that ACC sponsors like Dr. Pepper and Toyota conduct business in countries where homosexuality is illegal, Graham wrote, asking why the conference does not sever ties with those sponsors.  NCAA policy, he added, requires a male-to-female transgender athlete who is not taking hormone therapy to compete on a team "in accordance with his ... assigned birth gender."  That corresponds to a point also made by Stam.
1 - new Administration report raises concerns on religious freedom

This week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) issued a report called, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” which, according to a Liberty Counsel press release, is "a shocking example of the war against religious freedom in America." Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, is quoted as saying that it "is a shameful anti-American and anti-God document that trashes religious freedom."

According to the release:

Martin Castro, named USCCR chairman by President Obama in 2011, said that the words “religious freedom” and “religious liberty” have become merely code words for intolerance, Christian supremacy, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and therefore must yield before LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, this report also does not support those people who hold to their religious belief of traditional marriage as they provide services such as marriage licenses, photography, cake decorating or flower arranging.

Staver declared that Castro "...and the other members of the Commission who agree with him want to throw out the First Amendment and trash religious freedom whenever faith and practice collides with an intolerant LGBT agenda. The report is a declaration of war against religious freedom. George Washington said anyone who works against the twin pillars of religion and morality cannot be called a ‘Patriot.’ This report is un-American..."

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The 3 - September 11, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, highlighting three stories of relevance to the Christian community, focuses on a football coach who has been called out for facilitating a prayer after a victory in the team's first game.  Also, a new gender identity law in Massachusetts could have some troubling implications for churches.  And, funding to combat the Zika virus is being held up by lawmakers who want money for Planned Parenthood to be part of the package.

3 - Religious freedom watch: West Point coach under fire for post-game prayer

Football season is upon us, and one of the regular rites of the fall season is how expression of faith are handled relative to the gridiron.  The Christian Examiner reports on the action and counteraction involving the coach of the football team at the U.S. Military Academy.

Following the team's win over Temple the first week of the season, in Philadelphia, Coach Jeff Monken asked the players to take a knee.  He then asked another member of the staff to pray for the team.  After the video of the event was posted, it got the attention of the so-called Military Religious Freedom Foundation and its head, Mikey Weinstein, who says the prayer is unconstitutional.

Weinstein said that he expected the coach to apologize and said that the matter will likely be handled without litigation, if the coach admits wrongdoing.  The Academy is reportedly investigating the incident.  It is also reportedly setting procedures in place that will prevent coaches from praying with athletes in the future.

2 - Massachusetts transgender law could apply to churches

A document released by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) on September 1 that explained how a ban on so-called "gender identity discrimination" in public accommodations that adopted in July will be enforced when it takes effect October 1 indicates some negative consequences for churches.

Baptist Press quotes from the document: "Even a church could be seen as a place of public accommodation if it holds a secular event, such as a spaghetti supper, that is open to the general public. All persons, regardless of gender identity, shall have the right to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities and privileges of any place of public accommodation."

The President of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), Andrew Beckwith, told Baptist Press that the document "demonstrates the religious tone deafness of the people drafting these regulations and guidelines."  He is quoted as saying, "Any person of faith knows that we want all of our church functions to be open and welcoming to the general public to bring them in to hear the Good News, the Gospel, to be ministered to," adding, "To say that churches have to sacrifice their religious liberty when they hold an event that's open to the public means the church has to sacrifice all of its religious freedom anytime it operates."
Beckwith says that there is "no provision in the law exempting religious organizations."

1 - Planned Parenthood funding becomes an issue in Zika funding debate

Congress is back in session, and one of the agenda items was to provide funding to fight the Zika virus.  In fact, a bill went to the Senate that would provide $1.1 billion dollars to that end.  According to an article on The Stream website from The Daily Caller News Foundation, the legislation failed to get the votes necessary to progress for the third time because it did not contain a provision to fund Planned Parenthood.  So the needed funds are being held back because you have numerous lawmakers who are intent on using taxpayer funds to go to Planned Parenthood.

There is a definite Planned Parenthood-Zika connection.  The Zika virus has been connected to a birth defect in infants, and Planned Parenthood has stepped in to further its agenda, which includes offering contraception, but not eliminating the possibility of abortion, in its operation in the state of Florida, according to another article on The Stream website.  The article quotes Dr. Donna Harrison, Executive Director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who says that, “The biggest problem is that an accurate estimate of” how Zika will affect unborn children is "not available."

The article reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Zika virus infection during pregnancy is a cause of microcephaly and other serious brain anomalies; however, the clinical spectrum of the effects of Zika virus infection during pregnancy is not yet known.  Harrison cautions that “the best studies show that of all women infected during the first trimester, 98-99 percent of those infants will not have microcephaly." She says, “We have a lot of fear...and very little information at the moment. And fear breeds abortion.”

Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, a network of pregnancy care centers, says, “Women deserve to know the whole truth. A pregnant mother needs to know that Zika and microcephaly are not death sentences for themselves or their precious children.” Godsey adds, “Every life has value and is worth living, regardless of circumstance or the challenges we are called to overcome."

According to, House speaker Paul Ryan has said that his chamber will not put in an earmark for Planned Parenthood.  That article says:

Abortion has become a major issue related to the Zika virus because of a possible link to birth defects. New research suggests the virus may not be to blame for the uptick in birth defects in some areas affected by the virus. Still, abortion advocates have been using the virus as an excuse to push for more abortions of babies with disabilities. Some pro-abortion groups even have been scaring women into aborting their unborn babies without knowing if they have Zika or if their unborn baby has a disability.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

The 3 - September 4, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, I provide an update about Russia's new anti-evangelism law that has already resulted in arrests of Christians.  Also, in Iran, five Christians were recently arrested and taken away from their families; plus, apparently communication with them has been eliminated.  And, the top story involves two recent studies that provide a sobering look at the gay lifestyle and debunks some of the talking points of the gay agenda.

3 - Prosecutions expand in Russia under new law prohibiting sharing faith without a permit

About a month and a half ago, new restrictions that were anticipated to have a chilling effect on Christian evangelism were handed down in Russia.  A Christianity Today story had this explanation:

To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.

A recent Meeting House Front Room blog post highlighted the story of a missionary who was in the process of returning home to the U.S. as the result of his arrest.  I cited a Baptist Press article, which said that police had entered Independent Baptist missionary Donald Ossewaard's Sunday morning Bible study in his home, which had 15 students, arrested him and fined him 40,000 rubles, which is about $600. Ossewaard says that he will leave the country. He has appealed the charges against him. There have also been some veiled threats reported against his life.  His wife, Ruth, has already returned home to Illinois.

That story referred to a story on the Forum 18 website, which said that there had been five others arrested under the law: another Baptist who was fined 5,000 rubles; a Hare Krishna, who was acquitted; a Protestant, fined 50,000 rubles; a Pentecostal, who was to appear in court Aug. 29, and a Seventh-day Adventist, who was awaiting a trial date.

Last week, the Moscow Times reported the story of a Ukrainian religious leader, Sergei Zhuravlyov, who is a representative of the Ukrainian Reformed Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior.  He is accused of spreading hate speech and maintaining ties to an illegal organization. In an Aug. 27 blog post, he said he was arrested while preaching before the St. Petersburg Messianic Jewish community and accused of violating a provision of Russian anti-terrorist legislation that bans illegal missionary activity.

Zhuravlyov was released on bail, and the case was sent to court.

2 - Five Christians arrested in Iran

It was reported last week by the website Middle East Concern that five Iranian Christians were on a picnic with their wives when security officials from the Ministry of Intellegence and Security raided the picnic and separated the men from the women. According to the August 29 report, the Ministry officials took the five men away and family members are unsure about their whereabouts.

One of the men, Amin Nader Afshar, asked to see the arrest warrant, which the officials did not produce.  He was then beaten.  Another of the men, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, is the son of Assyrian Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz, who was arrested in 2014 on the day after Christmas at a Christmas celebration at his home. Afshar was also arrested at the same time.

Victor was charged verbally with “conducting evangelism”, “illegal house church activities” and “Bible printing and distribution”.  He was released on bail on March 1, 2015, and Afshar had been released on bail in February of that year.

According to the report, it is "feared that the aim of the MOIS officials is to force confessions and to extract 'evidence' against the victims of the 2014 Christmas arrests."

1 - New studies released concerning gay behavior

Recently, there have been two reports released regarding homosexual behavior.  One was released by two authors affiliated with Johns Hopkins University and published on The New Atlantis website.  I shared on a Front Room blog post from a summary found on the National Organization for Marriage website, which notes four major findings of the study, according to the editor of The New Atlantis, Adam Keiper:

  • The belief that sexual orientation is an innate, biologically fixed human property—that people are ‘born that way'—is not supported by scientific evidence
  • Likewise, the belief that gender identity is an innate, fixed human property independent of biological sex—so that a person might be a ‘man trapped in a woman's body' or ‘a woman trapped in a man's body'—is not supported by scientific evidence
  • Only a minority of children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood. There is no evidence that all such children should be encouraged to become transgender, much less subjected to hormone treatments or surgery. 
  • Non-heterosexual and transgender people have higher rates of mental health problems (anxiety, depression, suicide), as well as behavioral and social problems (substance abuse, intimate partner violence), than the general population. Discrimination alone does not account for the entire disparity
The Centers for Disease Control has released a study that, according to The Federalist website, finds that, using more than 15,000 respondents and other data, Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual (LGB) students face more bullying, participate in far more relationship abuse, and are more likely to use drugs and drink alcohol.

The CDC relates that 2 percent of students identified as gay or lesbian, while 89 percent said they are heterosexual. Six percent defined themselves as bisexual, and 3 percent were not certain.  According to the story:

The study asked students about more than 100 different activities, from drinking milk to suicide attempts. Key findings on dangerous activities include: students who had engaged in bisexual or same-sex sexual relationships were far more likely to drink alcohol, use drugs, smoke cigarettes, and use hard drugs. They were also twice as likely as heterosexual teens to be threatened or injured on school property by a weapon, and more than twice as likely to miss school for “safety concerns.” More than one-third of LGB students said they faced bullying on school property, as well.

But, the article also points out that relationship violence among those same-sex-attracted teenagers is far higher than violence among heterosexual teens.

And, while the study authors suggest solutions that include policies promoting “school connectedness and a safe, welcoming, and accepting school environment for all students,” including “gay/straight alliances” and the use of “inclusive words or terms,” Catholic University Professor Paul Sullins points out that the study's "main finding is that risky behavior across the board is much more prevalent among LGB youth. They are more likely to engage in risky sex, substance abuse, and violence of all kinds. Less likely to wear seat belts or eat breakfast. More likely to be depressed (feel sad) or attempt suicide.” He concluded: “LGB sexual identity or having same-sex partners is positively correlated with almost every risk behavior measured on the survey."