Monday, December 26, 2016

The 3 - December 25, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, focusing in on three stories of relevance impacting the Christian community, includes the story of a Turkish pastor who is being held in prison and an effort to free him.  Also, two congressional committees have referred Planned Parenthood and some of those aligned with it for criminal prosecution.  And, an attempt to repeal North Carolina's so-called "bathroom law" failed in a special legislative session.

3 - Christian organization involved in appeal for release of missionary in Turkey

Andrew Brunson is an American pastor who had led a congregation in Turkey for 23 years prior to being detained in early October - he was sent to prison in early December, according to a story on the Christianity Today website, which states that Brunson was "jailed on erroneous allegations amid a crackdown on evangelicals in Turkey."  Also, the story says that "several fellow expatriate pastors have been deported."

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which now represents Brunson’s family, is quoted as saying, “As we approach Christmas—a season of hope and promise—we know that people around the world will stand with Pastor Andrew—will be Pastor Andrew’s voice—supporting his fight for freedom, and will join us in urging Turkey to release him immediately."

Brunson was put in prison because of allegations of being tied to the G├╝len movement, whose followers are blamed by the Turkish government of a July 15 coup attempt.  After that failed coup, the government has attempted to prosecute those supporting the movement. According to the CT story, the Christian group Middle Eastern Concern reports that more than 40,000 people, "including opposition party politicians, military personnel, journalists, and teachers, have been arrested since July."   Multiple pastors have been accused of being "a threat to national security.”

2 - Congressional committees direct criminal charges to be filed against Planned Parenthood 

This month, two Congressional committees have recommended that criminal charges be filed against the nation's largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood.  According to LifeSiteNews.com, on Tuesday, December 13, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, announced that "several Planned Parenthood affiliates, fetal tissue companies, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America" were referred to the FBI and Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution. The recommendation was part of a "massive" report on its findings.

This follows an announcement on Thursday, December 1 that, according to LifeSiteNews, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, "announced that following their investigation into the abortion giant and its fetal body parts partners, the Panel made nine criminal and regulatory referrals. These were against Planned Parenthood, other abortion businesses, universities, and fetal tissue companies."

Lila Rose, President of Live Action, is quoted in the article as saying, "The evidence is overwhelming, from multiple findings of illegal profiting from the sale of body parts to violations of privacy laws so that certain vulnerable women could be targeted for their babies’ organs. Planned Parenthood must be prosecuted, and the over half a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies that are propping up this absolutely corrupt and potentially criminal enterprise must be cut off immediately."

David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress wrote: "...The Committee’s report shows Planned Parenthood and their baby body parts business partners are totally unaccountable and must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and Planned Parenthood’s barbaric abortion empire must no longer be subsidized by taxpayer funds."

1 - North Carolina lawmakers leave transgender bathroom bill, HB 2, in place

The battle continued this past week over the state of North Carolina's law that requires all individuals to use government restroom facilities corresponding to their biological gender.  Earlier in the week, after a second attempt, the city of Charlotte rescinded its transgender rights ordinance that had been passed, setting off the Legislature's response in the form of what is known as HB 2.

Outgoing Governor Pat McCrory called a special session, and it looked as if some sort of deal had been reached that if Charlotte were to withdraw its ordinance, the state would drop HB2.  But, things rapidly fell apart once the Legislature convened, according to the North Carolina Family Policy Council, which reported on its website:
The NC General Assembly adjourned its fifth special session of the year this evening without repealing House Bill 2. After four days of rumors that a deal had been reached between leaders on both sides of the aisle and that the City of Charlotte would roll back the provisions that started the entire HB2 roller coaster, no agreement was reached.
The stalemate followed an intense day of discussion, debates and deliberations from which state lawmakers could find no ultimate resolution, leaving HB2 intact.
NC Family President John L. Rustin said during meetings prior to today’s session, it appeared there was little to no hope that HB2 would not be struck down. “We are grateful to all the good people of North Carolina who spoke out on this issue this week and who prayed for their legislators throughout the day. We applaud the members of the NC General Assembly who continued to stand strong in defense of safety, privacy and dignity of all of our citizens.”
State Senate leader Phil Berger, according to the Charlotte Observer, had proposed a bill "which would have coupled HB2’s repeal with a months-long moratorium on city ordinances like the one Charlotte passed and repealed..." That bill was voted down by the Senate, and the special session was adjourned. Incoming governor Roy Cooper had encouraged Democrats to vote against the bill, saying that "Republican leaders 'broke the deal' to fully repeal HB2 in return for Charlotte’s action."  The Observer story implied that trust had been broken with legislative leaders:
Asked if he hadn’t agreed to repeal HB2 if Charlotte rescinded the ordinance, Berger cited the fact that Charlotte took two votes.
“We were expecting Charlotte to repeal it and when they failed to do so, the deal was gone,” he said. “The moratorium was not there until we saw what they had done.”
But, as the Observer pointed out:
Many Republican lawmakers still support HB2 as a stand for traditional values and protection of women and children from predators. Conservative groups prodded them to stand firm.
“No economic, political or ideological pressure can convince me that what is wrong is right,” Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said in a statement before the session. “It will always be wrong for men to have access to women’s showers and bathrooms. If HB2 is repealed, there will be nothing on the books to prevent another city or county to take us down this path again.”

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 3 - December 18, 2016

In this week's edition of The 3, with three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is some news relative to President Obama's signing of a bill designed to protect religious freedom internationally.  Also, a Texas judge has sided with a school nurse's aide who displayed a poster about the true meaning of Christmas from a famous television show.  And, while Ohio's governor signed a pro-life bill this week, there are some that do not feel he went far enough in protecting life, vetoing a more restrictive bill against abortion.

3 - International Religious Freedom Act signed by the President

On Friday, President Obama signed the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act, which had been approved by the U.S. House the preceding Tuesday, just three days after the Senate approved an amended version of the bill, according to a report on the Christianity Today website.   The amended bill had been approved by the House and Senate without opposition.

The bill is named for the Frank R. Wolf, a former Congressman from Virginia who championed the cause of religious freedom.  The bill, according to the Christianity Today story, would promote religious liberty, by, among other things:

  • Requiring the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom to report directly to the secretary of State;
  • Establishing an "entities of particular concern" category—a companion to the "countries of particular concern" classification used for nearly 20 years by the State Department—for non-government actors, such as the Islamic State (IS) and the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram.
  • Instituting a "designated persons list" for individuals who violate religious freedom and authorizing the president to issue sanctions against those who participate in persecution.

This newly passed and signed bill updates a 1998 bill establishing a religious freedom office in the State Department, as well as an independent panel, called the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). Wolf sponsored that bill.

Paul Coleman, deputy director of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) International, is quoted as saying that the bill "demonstrates that the US is serious about the importance of religious freedom both for those who are suffering and for all those who love freedom in general." Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Smith noted, "From China and Vietnam to Syria and Nigeria, we are witnessing a tragic, global crisis in religious persecution, violence and terrorism, with dire consequences for religious believers and for US national security." He added, "Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are on the verge of extinction and other religious minorities in the Middle East face a constant assault from the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria."

2 - Judge orders Charlie Brown Christmas poster does not have to be removed

A Texas judge has ruled in favor of - Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas - in a recent row involving the state's Killeen Independent School District. Well, in a sense. Todd Starnes reported on his website that the judge issued a temporary restraining order against the district, which had backed a principal's decision that a door-length poster that was created by Dedra Shannon, an aide in Patterson Middle School’s nurses office, had to come down.

The poster featured Linus, the famous Christmas tree from the iconic television program, and Linus' famous words: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Starnes reported that the school district had said, "...employees are not permitted to impose their personal beliefs on students.” The judge did say that the poster did have to include these words: “Ms. Shannon’s holiday message,” according to a report by the Killeen Daily Herald News.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton contended that the position of the school district violated the Texas "Merry Christmas" law, which was passed in 2013. Starnes says that law "stipulates that no school official in Texas can silence a Biblical reference to Christmas." Paxton did not mince words in a statement, in which he said: “Religious discrimination towards Christians has become a holiday tradition of sorts among certain groups,” adding, “I am glad to see that the court broke through the Left’s rhetorical fog and recognized that a commitment to diversity means protecting everyone’s individual religious expression.”

1 - OH Governor Kasich signs one pro-life bill, vetoes stronger ban on abortion

Ohio Governor John Kasich apparently had the choice to sign one or two pro-life bills recently, and he chose to join a host of other states in restricting abortion to under 20 weeks, rather than the approximately 6 weeks gestation provided for in the other.

According to LifeNews.com, Kasich made this statement: “I agree with Ohio Right to Life and other leading, pro-life advocates that SB 127 (a 20-week ban) is the best, most legally sound and sustainable approach to protecting the sanctity of human life..."

Ohio Right to Life thanked the governor and stated, "Ohio Right to Life supports Governor Kasich’s decision to bypass the heartbeat legislative approach at this time. While it must have been difficult, the current make-up of a radically pro-abortion Supreme Court required the Governor to exercise great restraint. Further, filling the current vacancy on the Court by our next President will still leave the court with a pro-abortion majority...”

But, Dr. James Dobson of Family Talk took the governor to task for not signing the more stringent bill.  He is quoted on his website as saying:
I want to congratulate the Ohio legislature for passing the 'Heartbeat Bill' and I commend their commitment to protecting the constitutional rights of the unborn.
Now, I join with millions of Evangelicals and Catholics in condemning Gov. John Kasich's veto of the bill. This was a cowardly and shameful action. Signing the bill would have been the constitutionally correct thing to do; it would have also been morally correct to do. Governor Kasich has sent a message to voters in Ohio–and across the nation–that the Governor isn't as committed to life as he professes to be.
Dobson called on the Speaker of the House in Ohio to immediately call for a vote to override the governor's veto of the "Heartbeat Bill."  LifeSiteNews.com reports that a coalition of pro-life organizations in the state are echoing that call for a veto override.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The 3 - December 11, 2016

On this week's edition of The 3, featuring three stories of relevance to the Christian community, there is news of a historical monument on a college campus in New England that could be facing the prospect of removal. Also, eight Christians have had charges against them dropped in Nepal, after being charged under the country's new constitution.  And, an attack at a Cairo Copic Christian church has left over two dozen dead.

3 - Haystack Monument in danger of removal

A monument on the campus of Williams College in Massachusetts is facing the possibility of being removed, according to a story on the Christian Examiner website.  The monument commemorates the establishment of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, which took place in 1810. The monument was built in 1867.

The story relates that five students at the college who were all New England Congregationalists, inspired by the already-occurring Second Great Awakening, made the decision to launch the missions sending agency after gathering to discuss a treatise by William Carey.  During the meeting, a thunderstorm occurred and the students sought refuge under a haystack. They prayed that a sending agency would be formed, and four years after the so-called "Haystack Prayer Meeting," the ABCFM was established.

Now, the college is considering removing the monument, according to the Christian Examiner story, relating information from The College Fix.   A committee is reviewing a number of items concerning their cultural "appropriateness to modern times and impact on today's campus climate."  According to that website, this marks the second instance this year that the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History at Williams has taken a look at so-called "controversial works of art" at the school.

2 - Charges dropped against group of Christians in Nepal 

Last year, the Asian nation of Nepal approved a new constitution.  One of the provisions is that anything perceived as evangelism is outlawed, according to a story on the Christianity Today website, which reports that a court in that nation has dropped a case against eight Christians.  This marks the first religious freedom dispute since the new constitution was put in place last year.

According to the story, seven men and one woman had been "charged with proselytizing after giving out a pamphlet about Jesus in a Christian school while helping children through the trauma following the 2015 earthquake."

Five of those arrested were staff members of the Christian teacher-training program Teach Nepal, while the other two are school principals. The pastor of Charikot Christian Church, Shakti Pakhrin, was detained a few days later.  The article notes that "Nepali Christian leaders have welcomed their acquittal."

1 - Tragedy at Cairo Coptic Cathedral

At least 27 people are reported to be dead and dozens injured in a blast at a Coptic cathedral in Cairo, Egypt, which occurred at a chapel adjacent to the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mark in Cairo on Sunday. ChristianHeadlines.com published a report from World Watch Monitor, that said, "All but three of those who died were women and children."

The Monitor reported, "A woman carrying a heavy bag walked into the church, sat on the women’s side and put her bag on the floor. After a few minutes, she stood up and walked out, leaving the bag behind. A few minutes later there was a huge explosion."

The President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has declared a three-day period of national mourning.

Christianity Today pointed out that "this Sunday was also a national holiday, as Egyptian Muslims celebrated the birthday of Muhammad."  CT also reported:
Al Azhar, the leading religious institution in the Sunni Muslim world, condemned the attack. 
“Targeting houses of worship and the killing of the innocents are criminal acts that violate Islamic principles,” the Cairo-based institution stated, expressing full solidarity with the Egyptian church and Egyptian Copts.
Egypt has been facing an Islamist insurgency since the 2013 removal of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi. Retaliatory attacks have damaged or destroyed dozens of churches throughout the country.
Also, it's being widely reported that some 160 worshippers have been killed in a church in Nigeria after a roof collapsed.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The 3 - December 4, 2016

This week's edition of The 3, my week-in-review feature, includes information on the state of the church in Cuba against the backdrop of the death of Fidel Castro.  Also, a pro-life center in New Mexico experienced an intentional fire just before Thanksgiving.   And, a Christian couple with a popular television show is facing scrutiny because of its church's stance on homosexuality.

3 - Castro's death and the church in Cuba

The recent death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, regarded as a brutal dictator who held a tight rein on power in the Communist nation since 1959, power that has shifted toward brother Raul, gave Christianity Today an opportunity to reflect on the role and influence of the church in that island nation.  The publication noted that:
Despite the tension between church and state in Cuba, Christianity there has been undergoing an improbable and impressive revival. It sparked around the time that the Soviet Union’s collapse left Cuba scrambling to right itself. The period of crippling economic depression in the 1990s also began a time of church growth and evangelism.
The article reported that there are more than 3,000 Assemblies of God churches, and Eastern Baptist churches number more 1,200. The story said that "Seminaries are racing to keep up with the pastor shortage."

Christianity Today had reported on the 50th anniversary of the Fidel Castro revolution:
Since the 1959 Revolution, Castro's Communist government has placed numerous restrictions on religious expression in Cuba—a reality illustrated by most sources' requests for anonymity. Yet the Cuban church is thriving despite its limitations, and its leaders ask that their church not be used as a geopolitical pawn.
The recent article said that, "Between January and July this year, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recorded more than 1,600 religious freedom abuses, perpetrated primarily by the Cuban government and its Office of Religious Affairs."  CSW reports that about 2,000 Assemblies of God churches were declared illegal and marked for seizure by the government in 2015.

The CT article points out that, "Some credit the Catholic Church and its popes with influencing Cuba’s slow turn from Marxism."  Christmas was reinstated by Castro in 1988, one day after Pope John Paul II visited.  Also, Pope Benedict visited in 2012, and soon afterward, Good Friday observances were allowed.  Plus, this year in Havana, Pope Francis met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill.  This was the "first meeting between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox heavyweights since the Christian church split into West and East in 1054."

2 - Albuquerque pro-life clinic fire determined to be arson

A pro-life ministry in Albuquerque was damaged as the result of an apparent arson the night before Thanksgiving, and according to a report on the Christian Examiner website, the FBI and the Albuquerque Fire Department asked for the public's help in who may have been involved in setting fires which "erupted in multiple locations."

According to the article, the director of client services at the ministry, Project Defending Life (PDL), told LifeSiteNews, "We will just have to be a little more creative and flexible. We know God has a plan for us, and I see our organization prospering now more than ever. The prolife community in Albuquerque and across the country has shown us so much support," adding, "It's beautiful to see the body of Christ taking care of each other." Other ministries have stepped in to help PDL, including a mobile medical unit provided by one center, as well as office space from another.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, is quoted as saying, "The domestic terrorists who committed this heinous act must be found and brought to justice. Planned Parenthood of ABQ and other pro-abortion forces must denounce this act immediately. Violence has no place in our society, regardless of whether it is committed upon the most defenseless preborn child or a peaceful pro-life office."

1 - Manufactured news: Fixer Upper stars criticized because of their church's Biblical beliefs on sexuality

One of the recent significant stories in Christian media actually deals with what another media outlet published - a story about Chip and Joanna Gaines of the Fixer Upper TV series on HGTV.  A Baptist Press article stated that the Gaines "were the subjects of a Nov. 29 article on the news and entertainment website BuzzFeed which classified their pastor and Waco, Texas, church as holding a 'severe, unmoving position ... on same-sex marriage.'"  The Baptist Press report mentioned that the BuzzFeed story writer, Kate Aurthur had asked HGTV and the Gaines' company Magnolia if the couple would feature a same-sex couple on the show.

Aurthur wrote that there was not a response, so she said, "It's worth looking at" the beliefs of the church the Gaines attend, Antioch Community Church, and pastor Jimmy Seibert. Cosmopolitan followed suit in an article the next day, saying that BuzzFeed had "uncovered something many fans will likely want an explanation for."
BuzzFeed also reported, according to Baptist Press, that an HGTV spokesperson stated in an e-mail: "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."

Todd Starnes of Fox News interviewed Pastor Seibert.  Starnes wrote:
The pastor told me he was surprised by the controversy surrounding a message he delivered more than a year ago pointing out that people from all different walks of life attend the church.
“For us – our heart has always been to love Jesus, preach the word of God and help people in their journey,” he said.
But what about the church’s position on same-sex marriage?
Our definition is not the definition we made up. It’s straight from the Scripture,” the pastor said. “One man, one woman for life. That’s how God created us. That’s what he has for us.”
“The main reason for the sermon is for the confused middle – the majority of America. People don’t know what the Bible says anymore on issues of sexuality,” he added.
“People don’t know what God says on homosexuality or any other issue. I felt the need to say we are all a mess – but the fixed points were set by God – not us.”
Even the Christian satire site, The Babylon Bee, weighed in on the controversy:
Reports from around the nation Thursday indicate that millions of American citizens were still reeling from the revelation that a prominent Christian couple holds a historically Christian position.
“We’re not saying people can’t be Christians,” a Seattle woman said in a Facebook comment. “This is a free country, after all. But when Christians decide to actually have Christian beliefs about things—I’m sorry, that’s just too far.”