Archives For religion

Multiple pregnancy resource centers are suing Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner over a new law they say prohibits free speech and requires them to voice a message about abortion that is directly contrary to their mission.

On Feb. 9, 18 pregnancy resource centers filed for an injunction to avoid being forced to comply with an amendment to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act that was approved by the Illinois General Assembly last year and went into effect January 1. The amendment requires pregnancy centers and pro-life physicians to discuss abortion as a legal treatment option, to talk about its “benefits,” and, if asked, to refer clients to abortion providers, said Attorney Thomas Olp of the Thomas More Society, one of the legal organizations working with pregnancy care centers to fight enforcement of the new law.

“It’s an interfering by the government with their ability to communicate feely about an important moral issue,” Olp said. The law also constitutes “viewpoint discrimination,” he added, in that it only regulates the speech of people with a particular viewpoint.

Olp said the government has to have a compelling interest in order to enforce such a law, and the view of the Thomas More Society is that it doesn’t, because information about abortion is readily available. Therefore, the government doesn’t have to compel people to talk about it.

Pregnancy resource centers have already felt the effects of the measure, Olp said. “Some of them have decided not to do sonograms because that’s a medical procedure that clearly is covered by the new law.” Hope Life Center in Sterling, one of the centers represented by the Thomas More Society in a separate lawsuit filed Feb. 2, suspended its medical services at the beginning of the year. Debbie Case, the center’s executive director, posted on its website about the change in operations.

“We see any compliance with this law as morally abhorrent and have determined to obey God rather than man,” Case said. “The law is unclear on what the penalties are for non-compliance (and even what constitutes compliance), but it’s reasonable to expect that if a complaint is filed against our organization we will be fined $10,000 per violation and (even more troubling) our medical personnel will be subject to the scrutiny of the state licensing board and may even lose their licenses.”

Last December, several pro-life health care providers won an injunction against enforcement of the law. Olp said they hope for a hearing and decision on the current case within a month; an injunction would stay the law until resolution of the lawsuit, which could take another year or so, he said.

Because the pregnancy centers are not willing to comply with the law, they won’t be able to continue to operate if the lawsuit isn’t resolved in their favor, Olp said. Which is exactly what proponents of the bill want, he added.

“It’s a pro-abortion law that wants to stymie and eliminate pregnancy resources centers’ message to women who are considering abortion.”

There are more than 90 pregnancy resource across Illinois.

Publicly-funded abortions
Lawmakers could vote any time on Illinois House Bill 40, which would allow taxpayer dollars to be used to pay for abortions. If approved, the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago), would provide abortions for women covered by Medicaid for any reason at any point in their pregnancy. Current state law only allows Medicaid coverage for “medically necessary” abortions or those in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the life of the mother.

Emily Troscinski, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, estimates that if HB 40 is approved, it could increase the number of abortions in Illinois by 12,000 a year.

The bill also makes wider, more sweeping provisions about abortion, including:

  • Removing language from Illinois that states “the unborn child is a human being from the time of conception…and is entitled to the right to life from conception,” and
  • Making the provision that should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade, abortion would still be legal in Illinois.

-Meredith Flynn

Trump to be sworn in on Lincoln, family Bibles
When President-elect Donald Trump takes his oath of office on Inauguration Day, his hand will rest on his family Bible and the President Abraham Lincoln Bible, used most recently as part of President Barack Obama’s first and second inauguration ceremonies. Trump’s Bible, a revised standard version, was presented to him in 1955 by his mother upon graduation from Sunday Church Primary School in New York.

Pence to be sworn in with Reagan Bible, hand on 2 Chronicles
The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Vice President Elect Mike Pence will be the first public office holder since the 40th president to be sworn into office using the Reagan Family Bible.During the oath, the Bible will be opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which is the same passage that was used during Reagan’s inaugurations. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas will deliver the oath to Pence during the ceremony.

FBC Dallas’ Jeffress preaching prayer service
First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, will preach at a private service held at St. John’s Episcopal Church before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 300 people, including Vice President-elect Mike Pence, are expected to attend. Jeffress noted the title of his sermon in a tweet: “When God Chooses a Leader.”

The religious leaders praying at the inauguration
Six religious leaders — including a rabbi, a cardinal, and a diverse group of Protestant preachers — will participate, more than for any previous president, said Jim Bendat, an author and historian of inaugural ceremonies. Each will have 60 to 90 seconds to offer a reading or lead a prayer.

Moore: Pray for Trump no matter how you voted
With the inauguration of a new president of the United States, now is a time to pray for President Trump and to remember our obligation as Christians to pray for all those who are in civil authority. The Apostle Paul charges us to offer prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings for “all people,” and includes in that list “kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Tim. 2:2). This very act of praying is itself a counter-cultural act.

Sources: The Tennessean, Christian Post, Dallas News, Washington Post, NY Times, Washington Post

Prince of Peace

ib2newseditor —  December 19, 2016
12-5-16-statehouse-nativity

In the crèche at the Illinois Capitol building, a baby Jesus figurine reaches out with the promise of hope to passersby who mostly keep moving to get their business done.

In a world of chaos, we need peace to reign again. How is it possible?

Henry was despondent. His country was divided. His countrymen were at odds. Angry arguments had led to all-out war. And his son had joined the Army.

“In despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, describing the depth of his anguish. “There is no peace on earth,” he said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Perhaps it wasn’t unusual at the time for a man to express himself in verse, but with a son in battle and his wife recently deceased, it seems an odd time to opine on peace. But that’s what Henry did.

“It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent,” he wrote of the breadth of the national suffering. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not in his America. This great angry gash “made forlorn the households born Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

So much for the forefathers’ intended peace.

Loyal to the Union, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ascribed this national violation to Southern aggression in a verse not included in our hymnals today:

“Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow’s poem, written at Christmas in 1863, became an anthem for people who desperately needed an understanding of their wartime devastation. Was it to be to be attributed to human failure? Unbridged aggression? The natural consequence of sin? Or was it the judgment of God? The people took sides, brother against brother, and a nation at war with itself, in the middle of moral downfall, wondered, Where is this peace we were promised—our constitutional commitment and our biblical hope? Where is God in this unrestrained, unprecedented mess?

The poet drew images in sharp contrast: the ringing of cast-iron bells in church belfreys and the roaring of cast-iron cannons on farms-turned-battlefields. If the poem ended there, there would be no hope, for Longfellow or for us.

An uneasy peace
Thanksgiving 2016 may go down as the holiday that almost wasn’t (and similarly we fear for Christmas). Psychologists were advising families to avoid discussion of politics after the tumultuous and divisive election. The foment that was reported from workplaces and universities and city streets was likely to spill over into family gatherings as political debate became festering, destructive argument. Every family has at least one person who voted for the “wrong” candidate. Those who managed to keep their mouths shut at work would have little reason to hold back with their relatives. “Just don’t talk about it,” the Dr. Phil’s warned, for the sake of the peace.

But peace, by definition, demands reconciliation. A truce only promises a cessation of aggression, but that may not necessarily produce long-lasting, attitude-transforming, life-preserving peace.

Can there be peace after Clinton, peace past Trump? And beyond American politics, in this troubled year will there be peace in Latin America after Castro’s half-century grip on his nation (and ours)? For Aleppo divided down the middle by a narrow demilitarized zone that draws fire from both sides? For Syrian refugees still fleeing ISIS and Assad and for war zones in West Africa? And for persecuted believers in China, North Korea, Indonesia, and all corners of the world?

The fabled Christmas truce of 1914 seems so attractive right now.

Pope Benedict XV recommended in early December of that year that fighting be stopped to observe Christmas. Though the Great War was only five months old, French and German soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and at many locations, it is told, entered the no-man’s land between their battle lines calling “Merry Christmas!”

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours,” British rifleman William Graham later wrote, “until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing—two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

Enemy soldiers swapped packets of cigarettes and plum puddings, played soccer together in at least one location, and generally enjoyed a day of peace. In all, up to 100,000 troops, about two-thirds of the battle forces, participated in this “short peace in a terrible war” as summarized in a Time magazine account. Some troops used the day to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades and give them a proper burial.

The next day, the shooting resumed.

If we may borrow Longfellow’s words, “The world revolved from night to day…” in the stanza that precedes the poet’s headlong plunge into desolation, but there was no voice, no chime, no chant sublime, only the tinny rat-a-tat of gunfire—in cities across France a century ago, as in Paris and elsewhere with recent terrorist attacks, as in Mosul, Chicago, Englewood, Urbana, and Springfield.

So much for a cease fire.

Come, Lord Jesus
The world Jesus entered as a baby experienced a false peace. It was enforced by dictatorship and military oppression. It was threatened by zealots, terror cells, and constant fear of revolt by the masses. And yet, the era was called Peace.

The Peace of Rome. The Pax Romana lasted for about 200 years, but it came at a high price. The Caesars were cruel and nervous men, as were their henchmen, the regional governors such as the paranoid Herods. Herod the Great would do anything to keep peace with Rome, and thereby keep his throne, even if it meant slaughtering a town’s entire population of boy babies.

The prophets predicted the coming of young king who would specialize in peace,

“…one who is to be ruler in Israel…..

And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great

to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:2, 4-5a).

But the people who read the prophets understood how this peaceful monarchy would (of necessity) follow turmoil. Micah opened his sweet messianic prophecy with this arch salutation:

“Now, daughter who is under attack,

you slash yourself in grief;

a siege is set against us!” (Micah 5:1).

Even Isaiah, who gave the reassuring pronouncement that a Prince of Peace would be born, said honestly that saving the world is bloody business.

“For the yoke of his burden,

and the staff for his shoulder,

the rod of his oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:4-5).

All this talk of peace comes with this honest admission: The Prince of Peace enters a world in chaos and bring his own chaos with him. The emergence of the Kingdom of God at the natal moment is not peaceful. Birth is not peaceful. It is bloody—and loud and painful. Birth brings its own chaos.

And the One born does not sleep in heavenly peace for long. “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes…” and the carol writer Anonymous assures us “no crying he makes.”

Dream on, Anonymous.

That Baby cried in his first minute of existence outside his mother’s womb. His birth announcement was a plaintive wail, and nothing has been the same since. Kingdom burst into existence and crashed into conflict with this sin-stained world. It should not surprise us that we still long for peace, we still wait for peace, even after the Prince of Peace has come. His transforming work is not done.

Our American culture in its religious naivety loves Jesus as a baby, treating him as an amulet against bad things—like Annelle, the misguided hair stylist in Steel Magnolias, who decorated her front door with a score of tiny mangers.

“I went to the fire sale at the Baptist Book Store in Shreveport last month,” she said in a drawl appropriate to her bayou setting. “They were selling mismatched manger scenes at incredibly low prices, and I cleaned them out of Baby Jesuses…”

If only a score of ‘Baby Jesuses’ could ward off our national ills and personal fears.

A meeting with Jesus this year comes with the realization that the supposedly tow-headed youngster in the cradle is but a hint at the reign of peace to come, and that the coming of the Prince of Peace into this world first creates crisis.

“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus warned his followers in Matthew 21:34. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And in John 14:27, his definition of peace apparently differs from our expectations: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”

His holiness collides with our sin—and by God’s grace overcomes it at Calvary. His peace confronts our warring—and the victory must first be won in our hearts.

The Prince of Peace himself is confirmation of God’s promise that peace will come to the earth. At his second coming, he will usher in peace forevermore. Until then, his peace will reign in believing hearts, even if peace seems remote in a decidedly unpeaceful world.

“Do not be afraid!” the angel told the shepherds on a green patch outside a farming village. One commentator pointed out recently that statement could rightly be translated, “There’s no reason for you to be afraid.” And the angel choir affirms this good news: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, Peace on earth to people he favors” (Luke 2:9, 14 HCSB).

The peace this year may not be political. It is certainly not pervasive. But it is providential. And it is deeply personal. In a world of chaos, the Prince of Peace reigns first and foremost in the heart.

In this time of uncertainty and unrest, we are reminded like Longfellow, who

“thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along Th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

The BriefingChurches are open for Christmas
Nearly 9 out of 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold services on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as both fall on a Sunday, according to LifeWay Research. Small churches and large churches are slightly less likely to be open for Christmas. Pastors in the Midwest (92%) and South (89%) are more likely to say their church will be open on Christmas.

Hark! The herald hipster sings
For those that have wondered what it would be like if Jesus was born in 2016 or what a modern day wise man would look like — hint: he wears skinny jeans — the folks at Modern Nativity have the answer. The company has created a hipster version of the classic nativity scene featuring a young Mary and Joseph taking a selfie with baby Jesus in a solar-paneled stable.

Macy’s ends Planned Parenthood gifts
Macy’s Inc.’s latest 990 tax form verifies that the retail giant no longer includes the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in its community contributions, the research group 2ndVote said, describing the news as the latest “miracle on 34th Street.”

Compassion International out of India
Compassion International, a Christian nongovernmental organization (NGO) that aids 145,000 impoverished Indian children, has three weeks left in the country unless officials give it a reprieve. It is the largest humanitarian presence in the second most populated country in the world—providing $50 million in annual relief funds. But India is cracking down on foreign NGOs based on fears that groups are using humanitarian work to mask evangelization efforts.

Graffiti welcomes Muslims in MO
At a time when reports of anti-Muslim sentiment are rising, an Islamic Center in Missouri has received a different message. Kamel Ghozzi, imam at the Islamic Center of Warrensburg, says “Welcome” and “Thank you for choosing our community” were written in chalk on the center’s sidewalk during the weekend.

Sources: Facts and Trends, CNBC, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News

The BriefingCastro death unlikely to halt revival or spur liberty
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, who died at age 90, is being remembered as both an unwitting catalyst of revival and an opponent of religious liberty. His death, said Southern Baptists with ties to Cuba, is unlikely to yield significant increases in religious liberty for the island nation until the fall of the communist government he inaugurated 57 years ago.

3 dead, 5 sickened after church’s Thanksgiving dinner
Three people have died and five more were sickened after eating Thanksgiving dinner at an event organized by a church in the San Francisco Bay Area, health officials said. Sutter Delta Medical Center said it received eight patients with probable symptoms of foodborne illness Friday and Saturday. Three of the patients died, four patients were treated and released and one remains hospitalized. It remains unclear exactly what caused the illness.

Violent Thanksgiving weekend in Chicago
Chicago saw one its most violent Thanksgiving holidays in years, with eight people killed and 62 others wounded. The toll towers over the number of shootings in the previous two Thanksgiving holiday weekends, according to data kept by the Tribune.

Why Jerry Falwell Jr. turned down Trump’s Cabinet position
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. believes that Donald Trump “will become America’s greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.” But that wasn’t enough to persuade him to accept Trump’s offer to become secretary of education. Falwell told RNS the decision was due to concerns for the health of his family and the university he leads.

Pope challenged by conservative cardinals
Four senior Catholic cardinals went public with a private letter they sent to Pope Francis, asking him to state plainly whether he is liberalizing Church practice on divorced, remarried Catholics. The letter also questions whether the Pope is relaxing traditional and biblical standards on morality in general. Francis refused to respond so, the cardinals published their letter on various Catholic news sites.

Sources: Baptist Press, Fox News, Chicago Tribune, Religion News, CNN

The BriefingAmericans most thankful for family & health
When Americans count their blessings at Thanksgiving, God will get most of the credit. And money might be the last thing on their minds. Most Americans are thankful for family (88%), health (77%), personal freedom (72%) and friends (71%). Fewer give thanks for wealth (32%) or achievements (51%), according to a new study from LifeWay.

Top Bible verse, topics of 2016 election
On Election Day, more people were searching the Bible for topics involving the end times than for praying for government. And the top Bible verse of the 2016 presidential election: 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Christian colleges grapple with election, views on women & minorities
Exit polls suggest 81% of white evangelicals voted for President-elect Donald Trump. But support for him may have been less decisive on Christian college campuses, where most students are also white evangelicals. Internal polls from some Christian colleges before the general election showed weaker Trump support than among the evangelical community at large. At Wheaton College in Illinois, 43% of respondents said they would vote for Clinton.

University: Religious volunteering doesn’t count
Two students are suing a Wisconsin university for denying them mandatory community service credits for work they did with a local church. The university claims their service projects violate a policy excluding hours that involve certain religious activities. The students, who filed a lawsuit in federal court, argue the policy is viewpoint discrimination and unconstitutional.

Protests at FBC Dallas draw spotlight
Protesters picketing First Baptist Church in Dallas will have no effect, pastor Robert Jeffress. “Look, these people, these protesters, aren’t opposing me or our church,” he said of the 50 or so protesters who picketed the church because of the pastor’s apparent public support of Trump during the contentious presidential campaign. “When I see these protesters, it kind of reminds me of a flea striking its hind leg against Mount Everest, saying I’m going to topple you over.

Sources: Facts & Trends, Christianity Today, Religion News, World Magazine, Baptist Press

Religious leaders slam Clinton campaign over e-mails
Catholic and evangelical groups slammed Hillary Clinton’s campaign in a statement over comments revealed in the WikiLeaks emails hack between two high-level campaign officials. Dozens of religious leaders who signed the statement expressed their “outrage at the demeaning and troubling rhetoric used by those within Secretary Clinton’s campaign.”

Pro-lifers grieve Planned Parenthood’s 100th anniversary
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) observed its centennial with an event at the City Hall of New York and the launch of #100Years Strong, a year-long celebration marked by more than 150 community events around the world. PPFA’s affiliates perform more than 320,000 abortions a year at the same time the organization and its affiliates receive about $550 million annually in government grants and reimbursements

Court rules against pregnancy centers
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled California law AB 775, which compels Christian, pro-life pregnancy centers to advocate for abortion, doesn’t impede their First Amendment right to exercise their religious beliefs.

Churches sue over state’s ‘anti-bias’ law
Four Massachusetts churches and their pastors filed a pre-emptive lawsuit in October in an attempt to halt application of a newly amended state law requiring pastors to temper their speech and churches to allow transgender persons to use the bathroom of their choice.

CoverGirl introduces its first Cover Boy
CoverGirl announced James Charles Dickinson as its latest ambassador —the first young man to receive such an honor. It’s the first major drugstore makeup brand to choose a male for its brand ambassador.

Sources: CNN, Baptist Press, The Federalist, Baptist Press, Yahoo