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The Briefing

China to rewrite Bible, force churches to sing Communist anthems
The Chinese government is supervising a 5-year plan to make Christianity more compatible with socialism. These plans include a “rewrite” of the Bible, singing Communist songs before worship in churches, and including pictures of Communist leaders inside church buildings. China’s crackdown on religion has seen many house churches demolished and represents the highest degree of persecution for independent faith groups the country has seen in decades, The Christian Post reports.

Bible translators complete 1,000th translation
Wycliffe Bible Translators completed its 1,000th full translation of the Bible in South Sudan. The major milestone was achieved in August, though accounts for only 10% of the world’s languages. Some of the remaining 90% have incomplete translated Bibles at various stages, but an ambitious project hopes to have Bible translation efforts underway in every language of the world by 2025.

IMB transitions from Platt to Meador
International Mission Board trustees heard a final address from outgoing president David Platt and approved Clyde Meador as interim president during their Sept. 26-27 meeting near Richmond, Va. Trustees also appointed 66 new fully funded personnel to take the gospel to unreached people and places.

Black men reverse gender split on religion
A study by the Pew Research Center released Sept. 26 found that while black men are less religious than black women, they are more religious than white women and white men. Hispanic women are equally as likely as African-American men to be what Pew considers “highly religious,” followed by white women, then Hispanic men. White men trail in last place with less than half being “highly religious.”

New Jersey schools usurp parents on guidelines for transgender students
New Jersey’s Department of Education has instructed schools to use the preferred names and pronouns of transgender students without the need for parental consent. In keeping with a state policy signed into law last year, schools must also give students access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers that match their gender identity, not their sex. 

Sources: Christian Post (3), Baptist Press, Religion News

 

The Briefing

Wheaton College wins battle against birth control mandate
Wheaton College has won a five-year battle in not having to provide services like the week-after pill and abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plans. A district court judge has ruled that the government would violate federal civil rights laws if it forced the Illinois-based Christian liberal arts college to provide some services against its religious beliefs. The decision permanently protects Wheaton from any current or future version of the mandate, according to the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represented the college.

DE schools push for kids to choose own race, gender
Children as young as five would be permitted to choose their own race and gender-identity —without approval from their parents — under a controversial new policy proposed in Delaware. Drafted by the state Department of Education, “Regulation 225 Prohibition of Discrimination” would require schools to provide access to facilities and activities consistent with a student’s gender identity — regardless of the child’s sex at birth or age, even if their parents object.

US Embassy in Jerusalem to open in May
The United States plans to open its new embassy in Jerusalem in May 2018, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declared independence following the Arab-Israeli War, U.S. officials said. Most U.S. diplomatic staff will continue to operate from Tel Aviv.

Christians in India: ‘Most traumatic’ persecution in years
As Christian persecution continues to rise in India under the governance of a Hindu nationalist party, a report by an evangelical group describes the year 2017 as “one of the most traumatic for the Christian community” in 10 years. About 100 Christians were killed and thousands of Christian homes were burned down or destroyed, says the Annual Report on Hate Crimes against Christians in India in 2017.

US puts Iranian Christians at risk of persecution
The Trump administration has denied asylum to more than 100 Iranian Christians and other refugees who face possible persecution in their home country. The group of refugees, mostly Christians along with other non-Muslims, have been stranded in Vienna for more than a year, waiting for final approval to resettle in the United States. Now they face possible deportation back to Iran, where rights advocates say they face potential retaliation or imprisonment by the regime in Tehran for seeking asylum in the United States.

Sources: The Christian Post (3), The Times of Israel, Foreign Policy, Christianity Today

The Briefing

Housing allowance ruling allows 180 days for appeals
A federal district court judge in Wisconsin, as expected, has entered a final order declaring the minister’s housing allowance unconstitutional. The Dec. 13 order, however, has been stayed for 180 days after all appeals are exhausted, meaning it currently does not have any impact. Observers expect the government to appeal the order by Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin, who issued her ruling on Oct. 6 following a 2013 ruling she issued that was overturned.

New HHS abortion/contraception mandate rules blocked
In a Dec. 15 ruling, a federal court in Philadelphia blocked enforcement of the Trump administration’s new rules that exempt from the controversial requirement those employers that object based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions. The new regulations issued Oct. 6 by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provided relief from a rule that requires employers to provide their workers with coverage for contraceptives, including those with mechanisms that can potentially induce abortions.

Johnson Amendment repeal removed from final tax bill
President Donald Trump’s biggest religious freedom policy promise to evangelicals—repealing the Johnson Amendment—will no longer take place via Republican tax reform. Senator Ron Wyden (D) announced Dec. 14 that the repeal included in the House version of the tax bill, which would allow churches and other nonprofits to endorse candidates without losing their tax-exempt status, was removed during the reconciliation process with the Senate version, which did not include a repeal.

Transgender teen suing Palatine school
Eighteen-year-old Nova Maday filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court Nov. 30, claiming that Township High School District 211 in Palatine has in the past denied the transgender teen use of the girls’ locker room during physical education class and more recently restricted Maday to an “unspecified private changing area within the locker room,” where no one else is required to dress.

Chick-fil-A performs works of necessity for stranded travelers
Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A answered the call from the city’s mayor and came to the rescue Sunday night to help feed thousands of stranded travelers at powerless Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The Christian-owned fast-food chain is known for observing the Sabbath by closing its restaurants on Sunday, but it also recognizes that sometimes it is called to perform “works of necessity and mercy” on the Lord’s Day.

Sources: Baptist Press (2), Christianity Today, Chicago Tribune, World Magazine

The Briefing

TX church holds first Sunday service since attack
After an emotional sermon held outdoors under a massive white tent, congregants and the public were invited to return to the church for the first time since the tragedy. A chilling memorial set up inside First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs included 26 white chairs bearing each victim’s name painted in gold. Pastor Frank Pomeroy shared his personal heartache and a message that the community bound together by faith can move past the evil that attacked the church seven days earlier. The service was held in a massive white tent erected in a baseball field.

Missionaries assist Muslims amid humanitarian crisis
Renewed clashes between Rohingya militants and security forces in Myanmar have created a massive new humanitarian crisis, resulting in more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee into Bangladesh since Aug. 25. The government of Myanmar faces accusations of ethnic cleansing and international condemnation. Myanmar and its Muslim neighbor Bangladesh have largely been closed off to Christian missionaries, but Christian aid groups are now in Bangladesh to help the Rohingya.

Supreme Court to weigh anti-abortion speech restrictions
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Nov. 13 to take up a fight over a California law that requires pregnancy counseling centers, including those run by churches, to tell their patients that subsidized abortions are available elsewhere. Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015, the law says the centers must post or distribute a notice that says in part “California has public programs that provide immediate free or low-cost access” to such services as contraception and abortion. It was immediately challenged by religiously affiliated clinics that argue the law is worse than censorship, compelling them to communicate a message offensive to their beliefs.

Teacher removed after calling transgender student a ‘girl’
A Christian math teacher in the United Kingdom has been removed from the classroom for referring to a biologically female transgender student as a girl. Joshua Sutcliffe, a 27-year-old who teaches 11 to 18-year-olds at a school in Oxfordshire, has been removed from his teaching capacity and is facing a disciplinary hearing after a parental complaint that he discriminated against a female-born transgender student by stating “well done, girls” when addressing the student’s small group during class. The student in question self-identifies as male and Sutcliffe reportedly had not been instructed formally that she was to be referred to as a boy.

Museum of the Bible officially opens this week
The new Museum of the Bible – a project seven years in the making – officially opens its doors this week. In the heart of Washington, D.C., it’s the first museum solely dedicated to God’s holy word. With a $500 million investment and global cultural and scholastic partnerships, the Museum of the Bible hopes that its mission translates into more people reading and appreciating the best-selling book of all time.

Sources: Religion News Service, World Magazine, NBC News, The Christian Post, CBN News

The Briefing

15 attorneys general oppose transgender military ban
Fifteen state attorneys general, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, filed a brief Oct. 16 in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia arguing that banning transgender individuals from the military is unconstitutional and against the interest of national defense and that it harms the transgender community.

Air Force punishes colonel over marriage views
U.S. Air Force officials have suspended a decorated officer and revoked his recommendation for promotion to brigadier general because he would not sign an unofficial document affirming a retiring subordinate’s same-sex marriage.

Study: Congress should end IRS oversight of sermons
In the 1950s, Congress banned charitable nonprofits–including churches — from endorsing candidates or otherwise intervening in elections. Any nonprofit that violated the ban could run afoul of the IRS. Churches risked losing their tax-exempt status if the preacher endorsed a candidate in a sermon. It’s time for that to change, most Protestant pastors say in a new survey from LifeWay Research.

Col. baker asked to make ‘Birthday Cake’ for Satan
Lawyers for “cake artist” Jack Phillips say someone e-mailed a request for him to design and bake a cake celebrating the birthday of Satan. Phillips, a Christian who owns Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, is headed to the Supreme Court in December after declining to make a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding.

Bill Hybels names male, female co-pastor team as his successor
Bill Hybels, the founder and Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, announced the names of two leaders who will take on new roles to replace the role of senior pastor as he transitions out of the church leadership next year. Heather Larson, currently executive pastor, will step into the role of Lead Pastor over all Willow Creek locations, and Pastor Steve Carter, currently teaching pastor, will become Lead Teaching Pastor.

 Sources: Chicago Tribune, Baptist Press (2), Daily Signal, Christian Post

The Briefing

Illinois family killed in ISIS attack in Egypt
An Illinois man and several of his relatives, including two sons and a grandchild, were among 29 killed during an ISIS attack on a church bus in Egypt. Family members say the bus was full of Christians on their way to a remote Egyptian monastery when they were attacked by members of the Islamic state.

Illinois House approves transgender ID change bill
The Illinois House has endorsed a plan to make it easier for transgender people to change their birth certificates. The bill would allow transgender citizens to change their gender designation with authorization from a medical professional confirming they have undergone medically appropriate treatment. Current law requires proof of a surgical operation.

Evidence against Planned Parenthood disappears from YouTube
Last week, lawyers for The Center for Medical Progress released more footage of abortionists discussing late-term abortions at National Abortion Federation conventions. The video, along with other footage under temporary injunction after a civil suit filed by the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and Planned Parenthood, disappeared from YouTube after U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered it taken down.

TX governor signs bill to ‘shield’ pastors’ sermons
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has signed legislation that prohibits Texas government agencies from subpoenaing the sermons of religious leaders. Four of the five Houston pastors whose sermons became the target of a sweeping 2014 subpoena “fishing expedition” by City of Houston attorneys and then-Mayor Annise Parker joined the signing ceremony.

Christian school bans pregnant teen from graduation
Despite a public outcry and growing pressure from national antiabortion groups to reconsider, Heritage Academy in Hagerstown, Maryland says that senior Maddi Runkles broke the school’s rules by engaging in intimate sexual activity. In a letter to parents Tuesday evening, school principal David R. Hobbs said that Runkles is being disciplined, “not because she is pregnant but because she was immoral. … The best way to love her right now is to hold her accountable for her morality that began this situation.”

Sources: News Channel 20, US News, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Washington Post

The Briefing

Has Trump found religion in the Oval Office?
President Donald Trump has increasingly infused references to God into his prepared remarks — calling on God to bless all the world after launching strikes in Syria, asking God to bless the newest Supreme Court justice, invoking the Lord to argue in favor of a war on opioids. Language like that has the Christian conservatives who helped lift Trump to the White House nodding their heads in approval. But others who have long followed Trump are skeptical that the president has found religion in the Oval Office.

Study: Evangelicals left churches over Trump
A number of Christians left their churches following last November’s election won by President Trump, including 10% of evangelicals who reported leaving their houses of worship before last December, a new study has found. The study found those most likely to leave their churches were Trump supporters who felt their clergy didn’t support him and those who opposed Trump and believed their church leaders strongly supported the billionaire real estate mogul.

Sounding the alarm on transgender regret
Robert Wenman was four years into being a “full-time” transgender woman in Ontario, Canada, when a police officer asked him: “You got all your legal rights by now. Why don’t you just enjoy life as a woman?” The question left the then-LGBT activist stuttering: Here he was, training a group of law enforcers on transgender rights, yet he couldn’t answer a basic question: Why? Why was he still campaigning, still fighting?

‘Bible Answer Man’ converts to Orthodoxy
On Palm Sunday, Hank Hanegraaff and his wife entered into Orthodox Christianity at St. Niktarios Greek Orthodox Church in Charlotte, NC. The former Protestant is well known among evangelicals as the Bible Answer Man. Since 1989, Hanegraaff has been answering questions on Christianity, denominations, and the Bible on a nationally syndicated radio broadcast.

Anticipation growing for SBC Phoenix 2017
Apparent interest in the Southern Baptist Convention’s upcoming annual meeting has necessitated an increase in hotel room availability for attendees the second consecutive year. The SBC Executive Committee has reserved an additional 500 rooms for the 2017 meeting June 13-14 in Phoenix. The previously reserved block of rooms was fully booked as early as March.

Sources: Politico, The Christian Post, World Magazine, Christianity Today, Baptist Press