Monday, November 28, 2016

The 3 - November 27, 2016

In the latest edition of The 3, spotlighting three recent stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is a story about a Christian governor who has faced opposition due to allegations concerning comments relative to Islam.  Also, a Federal labor law concerning overtime pay that would have affected non-profit organizations has been placed on hold by a judge.  And, I place some attention on election results that have a direct connection to people involved in religious freedom issues.

3 - Unrest in Indonesia in light of accusations against Christian governor

The first Christian to serve as governor of the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta, has come under fire because of comments about Islam that have been interpreted as being provocative, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who is popularly known as “Ahok,” was appointed in 2014 after the election of Joko Widodo as president of the nation. The article points out that Ahok is a key ally of the president.

Ahok presumably used a verse from the Koran when speaking to a group of fishermen in September. He reported said, "Do not believe everything that people say," adding, “because often you are deceived by using 51st of Surah Al Maidah."  That is the fifth chapter of the Qur‘an. According to the article, "The verse warns Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as allies; some read it to mean that Muslims are not to vote for those of other faiths."

Ahok apparently apologized after his words were posted on Facebook, leaving out a key word. Nevertheless, thousands of protesters marched against him and police reportedly accused Ahok of blasphemy.  And, The Christian Post reports that over 10,000 people took to the streets of Jakarta Saturday, the 19th in support of Ahok.  The story says that at least 100,000 Muslims had protested the governor earlier this month.

2 - Federal judge puts overtime rule on hold

The Obama Administration issued a regulation doubling the income threshold determining which employees would be eligible to receive overtime pay.  According to Baptist Press, 4.2 million more workers would qualify to receive extra pay beyond 40 hours weekly.   The story says that employers would have the option to either pay the overtime, increase salaries to reach the new threshold, or restrict employees to 40 hours a week.

On Tuesday, a Federal judge in Texas, Amos Mazzant, issued a nationwide temporary injunction preventing enforcement of that regulation, which was scheduled to take effect on Thursday, December 1.

The regulation had been challenged by 21 states, the Chamber of Commerce, and other business organizations,  The article points out that nonprofit organizations are not exempt from overtime rules, so they also would have been affected by the new policy.

Samuel W. (Dub) Oliver, president of Union University in Jackson, TN, is quoted as saying: "While Union University was fully prepared to adhere to the new regulations beginning Dec. 1, they certainly would have been burdensome to us as an institution and to our employees." He expressed hope that Congress would take action on "such important issues," instead of "sweeping changes being mandated by executive order."
Michael Whitehead, who is an attorney and nonprofit organization advocate, said: "Time will tell if the injunction will be made permanent, but for now, the overtime rule has been overruled. This is great news for many ministry organizations, including Baptist institutions, that might have suffered severe financial impact because of this onerous rule." Whitehead's son, Jonathan, "suggested ministries might not want to reverse the plans they had scheduled for Dec. 1. Instead, they may want to seek legal counsel on what adjustments are reasonable in the new legal situation..."

1 - Religious freedom and the election: OR labor commissioner loses bid for higher office; NC governor in midst of hotly contested campaign

The election has had some interesting tie-ins involving religious freedom issues.  Here's a good news-bad news scenario from Oregon, where, according to WORLD Magazine, the state's labor commissioner, Brad Avakian, who took action against cake bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein for their choice not to provide a product for a gay couple "wedding" ceremony, was defeated in his bid to become secretary of state.  The Kleins had been fined $135,000 as the result of their refusal.

That might seem like good news, but on the flipside, Avakian will now continue in his position as labor commissioner.  The WORLD story refers to a Forbes report, which says that "Avakian 'acts as if rules are only for other people.' He used his job as commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industry (BOLI) to promote his secretary of state campaign, gave bonuses to employees from his campaign fund, and redacted hundreds of events from his official calendar, breaking state law. He also gave himself and other BOLI employees significant raises."

And, another matter relative to religious freedom was impacted by the election - this time from North Carolina, where the State Legislature had passed a commonsense law to override the extreme position of the Charlotte City Council.  This law would have required people to use restrooms in state facilities corresponding to their biological gender, rather than "gender identity."   Governor Pat McCrory had supported and signed the legislation, and really became the face of this new law.

The governor trails in his very close re-election bid, and according to a piece on the Family Policy Alliance website, a candidate in one of North Carolina's counties has filed a protest, that alleges that fraudulent absentee ballots were cast for McCrory's opponent, Ray Cooper. Now, similar protests "are being filed in 10 other counties," according to the Alliance's website, which reports that McCrory's campaign says that "the protest alleges a 'massive scheme to run an absentee ballot mill involving hundreds of ballots, perpetrated by and through the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC.'"

John Rustin of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, is quoted as saying, "The right to vote in our country is fundamental,” adding, “and the confidence of the voters in the electoral process is essential to the proper working of our American form of government. Every legitimate vote must be counted, and any and all efforts to defraud the system must be eliminated, no matter how long it takes.”

On Wednesday (November 23), The Washington Times reported that McCrory "formally requested a recount Tuesday after filing more than 50 challenges alleging voter fraud as the latest tally showed him trailing his Democratic rival, Attorney General Roy Cooper, by anywhere from 7,000 to 9,000 votes." The article points out that, "A recount would go into effect if the candidates are separated by fewer than 10,000 votes after all ballots are tabulated in a race with nearly 4.7 million votes cast."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The 3 - November 20, 2016

This week on The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there was a development this week regarding a florist in Washington state who would not furnish flowers for a same-sex "wedding" ceremony.  Also, thousands of Christians in Iraq gathered to pray late last week to pray for their nation and triumph over ISIS.  And, a legislative body in Mexico has turned back the nation's President's proposal authorizing so-called same-sex marriage."

3 - Christian florist in Washington state goes before state Supreme Court

The florist in Washington state who declined to provide flowers for a gay marriage ceremony was in court earlier this week, according to a story on the CBN News website.   Two gay men had filed suit against Barronelle Stutzman, as did the state's attorney general.  The two men had been customers of her business, Arlene's Flowers, and she says that the conversation, in which she explained why she did not want to provide flowers for the wedding, went well.   Stutzman told CBN News, "When Rob left the shop we hugged each other, and left as friends, and we didn't think there was a problem."

A lower court had found that Ms. Stutzman violated a state anti-discrimination law.  This week, the Supreme Court in Washington state heard the case. According to CBN News:
A huge crowd gathered outside the courthouse holding signs with supportive messages for the florist such as, "Justice for Barronelle" and "Freedom to Create."
Earlier, the state had offered Barronelle a settlement, and the story points out that she had told a gathering in Washington, DC: "I wasn't offered a settlement. I was offered an ultimatum: 'Either you will do as I tell you to do; you will think the way I think; you will perform the way I think you should perform and create..."

Stutzman is being represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorney, Kerri Kupec, is quoted as saying, "The heart of the case is this, should creative professionals and artists like Baronelle be forced by the government to create custom work for a religious ceremony that specifically violates their religious beliefs under threat of severe punishment..."

 2 - Thousands of Iraqi Christians gather to pray for peace

This past Friday, an estimated crowd of over 20,000 people gathered in the Iraqi city of Erbil to pray for their nation and for victory against ISIS in an event called "Christ Day," according to a Christian Today story, quoting from CBN News.  The event was broadcast over the Christian satellite network, SAT-7.

According to the Christian Today article, the event coincides with an offensive by Iraq and its allies to retake the captured city of Mosul. The piece quotes Fabian Greche, the co-founder of the Mesopotamia House of Prayer in northern Iraq, who said he believes God is far from finished with the Middle East.  Greche said, "We easily get affected by darkness around us. It affects us, but if we look at Jesus and at His Word we see that God wants to pour out His Spirit. He's coming back for a Bride and He will have one in the Middle East."

The article says that:
The six-hour prayer event marked the end of the participants' 50 days of fasting, with many of them expressing hope that they would soon be back in their land, living peaceful lives without ISIS.
Standing together in the shape of a cross, the participants released balloons with prayers in them "as a symbol of raising prayer on behalf of the whole nation," according to George Makeen, SAT-7 ARABIC's programming director.
1 - Same-sex marriage measure rejected in Mexico

Just weeks after Australian lawmakers decided to reject so-called same-sex "marriage," a group of legislators in Mexico took similar action.  According to a piece on the Christian Examiner website, a committee in the national Chamber of Deputies has voted 19-8 against a proposal by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to amend the country's constitution to allow same-sex marriage.
More than half of those voting against the amendment were members of the president's political party.

Mexico's Supreme Court ruled last year that bans on same-sex marriage implemented by states throughout Mexico were unconstitutional.   The story reports that now, the National Front for the Family, which includes more than 1.000 pro-family groups, has said it is ready to stand behind a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

According to the report, the proposed change to the country's constitution was unpopular among "traditionalists" in the country; not only because it would allow same-sex marriage, but would also possibly become a gateway to same-sex adoptions.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The 3 - November 13, 2016

This week, I want to call your attention to a baptism ceremony involving Iranians and Afghans, as we rejoice about what God is doing in the Muslim world.  Also, voters went to the polls this past Tuesday, and not only were candidates for President and Congress and other offices on the ballot, but there were referendum votes on a number of issues; I'll relate information about some of those.  And, the election of Donald Trump as President is challenging Christians to consider the way forward.

3 - God is working in Muslim world; Iranian and Afghan believers baptized

I really do believe, based on information I've received, that one of the remarkable areas in which God is working is in the midst of the so-called "Muslim world," as reports are common of people who are followers of Islam coming to Christ, including some who receive Jesus as the result of dreams and visions.

ChristianToday.com has the story of how God is working among people in the vicinity of a nation that not only has a significant Muslim population, but has a government that is steeped in Muslim law - that is, the nation of Iran. The report is that recently, over 200 Iranians and Afghans were baptized in a location just outside Iran, according to the Elam Ministries.  People from eight different Persian-speaking churches attended the service, in which the newly-baptized Christians shared about how Jesus changed their lives.  One man said that he had been suicidal, but Jesus intervened and brought him new hope.  Another shared: "I never thought I would find freedom from my past, but Jesus has set me free."

The article makes mention that the growth of Christianity in Iran has been described as "spectacular." Website God Reports says that several statisticians noted that the Iranian church may be the fastest growing church in the world.

Mark Howard of Elam Ministries is quoted as saying, "Twenty years ago, everyone thought there were 2,000-5,000 believers in Iran," but now, he says "the conservative estimate" is that there are 300,000 to 400,000 Muslim-background believers in Iran.  Others say the number could be as high as one million.

2 - Ballot measures include assisted suicide in CO; marijuana in several states; a number of gambling measures fail

On the 2016 election ballot coast-to-coast, there were not only contests for President, one-third of the U.S. Senate, and all of the U.S. House, but there were gubernatorial races in some states, and some ballot measures.

Marijuana was a popular topic across several states.  WORLD Magazine reports that:
On ballot measures, seven states expanded the legality of marijuana. California, Nevada, and Massachusetts legalized marijuana for recreational use, while Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota legalized it for medicinal use.
The story also stated, "And in one of the most significant voter decisions, Colorado legalized assisted suicide."

John Stonestreet, President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, said in a Breakpoint commentary:
...A close read of Tuesday’s results, beyond the presidential race, shows that the cultural trends we’ve been talking about on BreakPoint for years continue unimpeded. 
The saddest example is Colorado voters’ approval of doctor-assisted suicide by a two-to-one margin. I warned on this broadcast that so-called “right to die” invariably becomes a duty to die. I reminded my fellow Coloradans that in a state currently in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicide, approving doctor-assisted suicide sends the wrong message.
But it didn’t matter. The siren song of unlimited personal autonomy and self-definition proved irresistible to a large majority of Coloradans.
Stonestreet added, "And a similar dynamic was at work in the various ballot initiatives concerning marijuana."

The news was better on the gambling front.  The organization, Stop Predatory Gambling reported that New Jersey voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot question to expand casinos in the northern part of the state, and an effort to bring a slot machine parlor into greater Boston was also turned back by voters.  Also, Arkansas residents rejected a measure to allow casinos into the state.

1 - Evangelicals play key role in election; Christians ponder way forward

With the election of Donald Trump as President being powered, in part, by evangelical voters, there has been much discussion about the role of the Church not only in the election but in the way forward.  On a Front Room commentary this week, I quoted from a Christianity Today analysis of the results:
Despite reservations expressed by many evangelical and Republican leaders, white born-again/evangelical Christians cast their ballots for the controversial real estate mogul-turned-politician at an 81 percent to 16 percent margin over Hillary Clinton.
Evangelicals of color—who represent 2 in 5 evangelicals, but aren’t segmented out in most national political polls—largely preferred Clinton leading up to the election. But she ultimately underperformed among Hispanics and African Americans compared to President Barack Obama before her.
I also quoted from the article, which pointed out that, "White evangelicals made up 1 in 4 of all voters in the 2016 election," and it said:
Americans who attend religious services weekly also favored Trump, but by a narrower 56 percent to 40 percent margin over Clinton. Monthly worshipers also broke for Trump more narrowly, 49 percent to 46 percent.
I pointed out that Trump won with Catholic voters, 52-45% and that Obama had won the Catholic vote the previous two elections.  I also included a quote from the First Things website by Biola University professor Daniel Patrick Guerra who wrote, "...70 percent of the electorate said that the composition of the Supreme Court was the most important or an important factor in their vote for president. Trump won these voters, 50 percent to 46 percent. Among those to whom the Court mattered little, Trump lost by ten percentage points. The composition of the Court thus was a major factor in the election’s outcome, and religious voters seemed to emphasize it in debates over whether or not to support Trump."

While a number of Christians were put off by some of the statements by Trump during the campaign (and before), some Christian leaders see the billionaire's victory as an opportunity to address some of the actions over that last eight years which have represented an affront to religious freedom.   Writing for The Stream website, Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council and FRC Action, said:
...After the spectacular failures of Obamacare, the demoralization of our military, the explosion of lawlessness, tolerance of corruption and obsession with social engineering, Americans finally have the opportunity to rebuild the country they once knew. But the election is just the starting gun. Donald Trump may open the door to America’s solutions, but he was never meant to be the solution. The true transformation of a society starts in the hearts and minds of men. And under an administration with no interest in continuing the eight-year war on the First Amendment, we may finally see what the Church is capable of. In the meantime, one thing about this historic uprising is clear: Americans are looking for leaders of conviction. And as the results of the race for president show, they will accept no substitutes.
Todd Starnes of Fox News reported that, "Nearly 6 in 10 Trump voters were impacted by the pro-life, pro-religious liberty planks of the Republican Party, according to a post-election poll commissioned by Family Research Council."

I would say that the Church should be careful to never gloat about this electoral outcome.  I agree with Tony that this is only a beginning; there is potential to change culture for the better, and the political system does play a part, but it is only one component.  The outcome of the election should be accepted as a sovereign act of God, in accordance with Daniel 2, and we continue to have a sovereign opportunity to allow the Lord to use the body of Christ, as the Church is willing to pray and be a voice before our political leaders.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

The 3 - November 6, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, includes a decision by the Washington, D.C. city council on the matter of assisted suicide.  Also, a law school at a Christian university in Canada has won a major court victory.  And, I want to conclude with some information and comments regarding Election Day this Tuesday.

3 - District of Columbia council passes assisted suicide bill

Recently, the City Council for Washington, D.C. approved a law called the "Death With Dignity" law, according to a report on the CBN.com website, which reported that the law "would allow doctors to prescribe deadly, oral medication to people suffering from terminal diseases."

The article points out that "physician-assisted suicide" is also legal in California, Washington state, Vermont, and Montana.

An assisted-suicide measure is on the ballot this year in Colorado, and there are indications that it stands a good chance of passage.

The CBN report said that:
The hotly contested measure in D.C. was vehemently opposed by religious groups who believe in the sanctity of life and say only God should determine when a person dies.
Other opponents who fought against the passage of the measure for non-religious reasons say its language is vague and therefore vulnerable to abuses.
The final vote was 11 to 2 in favor of the law.  Among other components, the law pertains to those with six months or less to live.

2 - Canadian law school wins legal battle over accreditation

Trinity Western University, which is located in British Columbia, has been seeking accreditation for its proposed law school.  According to a piece on the Alliance Defending Freedom website, the Law Society of British Columbia had denied this accreditation. It had originally voted to accept graduates of the school, but then changed that decision in October 2014 due to, as ADF says, "the university’s biblical beliefs on appropriate sexual behavior."

The University challenged that denial in August 2015. The province's Supreme Court ruled "that the Law Society’s first decision, which approved the academic qualifications of TWU graduates, should be restored." Now, the British Columbia Court of Appeal, the highest court in the province, upheld that ruling. The Court stated, "A society that does not admit of and accommodate differences cannot be a free and democratic society—one in which its citizens are free to think, to disagree, to debate and to challenge the accepted view without fear of reprisal. This case demonstrates that a well-intentioned majority acting in the name of tolerance and liberalism, can, if unchecked, impose its views on the minority in a manner that is in itself intolerant and illiberal.”

The provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, the Yukon, and Nova Scotia have already agreed to recognize TWU’s law graduates. The university has appealed a court decision against it in Ontario.

1 - Final considerations for election in advance of Tuesday vote

Tuesday is Election Day, and there is plenty of importance that is being attached to this day.  Of course, the major news story is the Presidential election, and there has been much discussion in the evangelical community about who will be selected as President.  Evangelicals can break down into four categories:  those who will vote for Donald Trump, those who will vote for Hillary Clinton, supporters of candidates who do not represent the two major parties: so-called "third party" candidates or write-ins, and those who will not vote for any candidate.

Christianity Today just published a summary of polling data from LifeWay Research indicating evangelical support for the candidates.  According to the survey:
45% of Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump
31% plan to vote for Clinton
23% plan to vote for a third-party candidate, or haven’t decided
Break that down by race or ethnicity and you'll see a divide:  65% of white Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Trump, with 10% for Clinton.  62% of African-, Hispanic-, or Asian-Americans with evangelical beliefs plan to vote for Clinton and 15% plan to vote for Trump.

Regarding the arguments for and against Trump and Clinton in the evangelical community, it seems, for me, a summary would be this:  Neither candidate offers strong appeal to the Christian community, but with regard to issues, such as Supreme Court nominees, abortion, and religious freedom, Trump is a better fit for evangelicals on these issues.  However, that LifeWay survey, as I have noted, shows that the top issues for evangelicals are the economy, national security, and personal character.  Only 10% of those surveyed, for instance, regarded Supreme Court nominees as their most important issue.

Some evangelicals are willing to overlook some of Trump's character flaws because he is closer to their own values on important issues.  However, there are a number of #NeverTrump evangelicals who will not support him due to character, but, likewise they will also not support Hillary Clinton. So, those voters, as a matter of personal conscience will either vote for someone like Evan McMullin, who is mounting a third-party bid, or write-in a candidate, perhaps sitting out the top of the ballot while voting in the down ballot races.

Whatever you do, I want to share these thoughts with you from a recent Front Room commentary:
First of all, I believe that voting, at the risk of sounding overly spiritual, but I believe it - voting is an act of worship. So, take that attitude with you as you go to vote. We have the incredible right and opportunity to speak into our society and select the leaders who will govern us. It matters to God, and it matters to our country.

Also, I challenge you to take your worldview into the voting booth. Select candidates who best reflect your own Biblical perspective. Determine the issues that are important to you, consistent with that worldview, and allow the Holy Spirit to direct your choice. But, you need to be, as I say often, prayerful and informed. You need the information, good information, so that you can make that choice about the candidate who lines up the best with those Biblically-informed issues.

Finally, there's something not to take into the voting booth - worry. Do not worry about the outcome. I will speak more to this in the coming days. We recognize the sovereignty of God, and He will work through whatever leaders are placed in the position. A President or other lawmaker may have an adverse view or set of views on issues we hold dear and champion policies that we find offensive, but even in the midst of adversity, we can continue to trust in Almighty God to work His purposes.
And, I would say, above all - PRAY!