Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Leaked Trump Rule: Any Religious Employer Can Opt Out of Contraception Coverage

Draft broadens exemptions to controversial Obamacare mandate. But Little Sisters will still sue.

The Trump administration appears to be preparing to follow through on the president’s recent promise to relieve religious employers fighting the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.

A leaked draft reveals plans for a new regulation to allow more companies and organizations to stop covering certain treatments—including birth control pills, emergency contraception, and sterilization—on religious and moral grounds.

The 125-page federal proposal was obtained by Vox, which reports that the document, dated May 23, is under review by the President’s Office of Management and Budget. The regulation would go into effect as soon as it is signed.

“Expanding the exemption removes religious and moral obstacles that entities and certain individuals may face who otherwise wish to participate in the healthcare market,” the draft rule states.

Obamacare initially provided an exemption for churches and other houses of worship, and Hobby Lobby won some private corporations the right to decline coverage for religious reasons in a 2014 Supreme Court case. The new regulation would apply more broadly to “any kind of employer,” including Christian colleges and religious orders, some of whom have been battling the mandate in court for years. Last year, the Supreme Court sent their cases back for more review.

The drafted regulation essentially spells out the case that contraception mandate opponents had been making all along. Officials previously saw the requirement as serving a compelling government interest, according to the new rule, but they now recognize the mandate as “impos(ing) a substantial burden on the exercise of religion” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

“The ...

Continue reading...


The Silver Lining on the Zombie Apocalypse

In his upcoming book, a university professor explores the horror—and the hope—of pop culture’s favorite disaster scenario.

In our current cultural moment, most of us are probably familiar with the myth of the “zombie apocalypse”—the idea of a sudden, widespread uprising of undead that threatens civilization and, more often than not, forces humanity to fight off hordes of shambling corpses to prevent its own extinction. This basic premise has been the starting point for films, TV shows, and other media texts for nearly half a century, from George Romero’s foundational 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead to AMC’s popular series The Walking Dead, which recently concluded its seventh season.

Given the myth’s current ubiquity, it may be tempting to think of zombie-themed media as a passing fad. In his upcoming book, Living with the Living Dead : The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalyse, however, writer and Baylor University professor Greg Garrett argues that our fascination with apocalyptic scenarios filled with undead creatures speaks to many of the anxieties—and, oddly enough, the hopes—of our contemporary world.

Today, we feature an excerpt from Garrett’s book, which examines the surprising silver lining on the dark cloud of the zombie apocalypse.

On the surface of it, the apocalypse seems to be nothing but negative. As a story, it is an acknowledgment that things are going wrong for the world in which we live. At the opening of the film Gravity, astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) says, for the first of many times, “Houston, I have a bad feeling about this mission.” Following as closely as it does on a title that reads “Life is impossible in space,” we are inclined to give that premonition some weight.

Yes, it’s the end of the world. Yes, life is impossible. We ...

Continue reading...


Christians, Repent (Yes, Repent) of Spreading Conspiracy Theories and Fake News—It's Bearing False Witness

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Conspiracy theories are nothing new—they’ve been around for centuries.

People love to speculate on hidden meanings or to jump at the potential of juicy secrets. Unfortunately, when these things are unfounded, lies are told and people are hurt. And most unfortunately, Christians are often involved in perpetuating them.

And, now I noticed that many of the same conservative Christians who shared about #pizzagate have been spreading the #SethRich conspiracy theory. And it’s time to call it out.

Simply put, the spreading of these conspiracies are hurting our witness and making Christians look, yet again, foolish.

And it’s time to repent.

Yes, repent.

You see, spreading the #SethRich conspiracies and fake news directly violates Scripture’s prohibition from bearing false witness against our neighbors. It devalues the name of Christ—whom we believe to be the very incarnation of truth—and it inflicts pain upon the people involved.

As Christians, we need to repent the perpetuation of these falsehoods.

The Seth Rich Conspiracy

Seth Rich was a young employee in the Democratic National Committee who was tragically murdered in July 2016.

Police have announced that he was likely the victim of a failed robbery attempt, and they are still looking for the killers. Others, however, have decided it was a conspiracy related to Democrats and Hillary Clinton—just like #pizzagate. (You can Google—becuase I won’t link—and see the foolishness being spread by people with no regard for the truth.)

Despite the complete lack of credible evidence toward Rich’s involvement, the most popular conspiracy theory is that his death was connected to the DNC email leak of 2016.

Bearing False Witness

In ...

Continue reading...


Why the US Military Wants Fewer Generic Christians

Department of Defense now recognizes 216 religions.

If you’re an evangelical entering America’s military—and about 4 out of 10 service members are—you’re going to have to get more specific than that.

The general categories of “Protestant, no denominational preference” and “Protestant, other churches” have been removed from the Department of Defense (DoD) list of recognized religions as the US military seeks out more detailed designations for its 1.3 million service members.

This spring, the DoD doubled the religious identities that military personnel can declare on official paperwork and dog tags. The list now totals 216 different affiliations [full list below].

About 150 of them are Protestant groups, with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) remaining the most popular individual denomination in the Armed Forces.

Evangelicals without denominational ties can choose from options including Reformed churches, the National Association of Evangelicals, Evangelical Church Alliance, “evangelical churches, other,” and “Christian, no denominational preference.”

The military is also prompting the “nones” to narrow down their beliefs. The religiously unaffiliated are an increasingly significant demographic in the US military, making up between 20 percent to 25 percent of the force. As CT reported, the number of atheists in uniform surpassed the number of Southern Baptists in 2014.

The new list nixes not applicable and no religious preference—among one of the most popular affiliations among service members— and replaces them with a litany of designations. In addition to agnostic and atheist, soldiers can now mark no religion, no preference, none provided, humanist, or heathen.

The government ...

Continue reading...


Texas Adoption Law Could Jumpstart Christian Agencies Again

Some providers paused services out of fear of legal backlash for not placing children with gay couples.

Christian adoption agencies in Texas are awaiting their governor’s signature on a new law safeguarding the option to use faith-based requirements in placing children in adoptive and foster homes.

About a quarter of child welfare providers in the Lone Star State are religiously affiliated groups. But over the past few years, these organizations began to reduce their involvement, fearing legal backlash over policies that restrict prospective parents by faith, sexuality, or marital status. Almost all Catholic Charities offices in the state have stopped taking on children in state custody, as have groups like Buckner International, an evangelical charity based in Dallas.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott’s signature on the law, which passed in the state legislature last week, would give them the go-ahead to resume and expand their efforts.

The Lone Star State would become the second in the country to authorize state-funded agencies to discriminate on the basis of their “sincerely-held religious beliefs,” amid ongoing efforts to balance faith convictions and LGBT rights.

South Dakota passed similar protections in March. Five other states—including Alabama, which adopted its law earlier this month—allow agencies to put forth faith-based restrictions, but not if they receive public dollars.

Texas’ Democratic minority in the state legislature, as well as LGBT advocates, opposed the bill as a means to discriminate against gay and lesbian couples or those from minority religious groups. But supporters hold that such families still have plenty of options for adoption. Texas Representative James Frank, who authored the bill, said agencies who turn away prospective parents would be required to refer them ...

Continue reading...


Moral Outrage in America Is Now for Everybody

Gallup finds record-high liberalism on 10 of 19 issues. Yet moderates and liberals are growing more concerned.

Ask Americans about their personal views on moral issues, and they are more likely than ever to hold a liberal position. Ask them about the country’s moral values, and they’re becoming more and more pessimistic.

The church today finds itself in a precarious position, as an ethical shift pushes public opinion in favor of stances that Christians have traditionally sided against. Meanwhile, Americans from all political and theological stripes have their own reasons to be concerned over moral decline.

In a recent poll, Gallup found a widening embrace for more than a dozen moral issues, including record-high acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy, and physician-assisted suicide.

Of the 19 issues queried about, Americans have become more liberal on 13 of them (with 10 hitting record highs) and stayed consistent on 6—most notably abortion, which 43 percent of Americans and 34 percent of Protestants deem morally acceptable.

Americans have not shifted more conservative on any of the 19 moral issues measured.

“There was a time that basic Christian morality was at least something people were afraid to violate—at least in an answer on a public survey,” said Dan Darling, vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in response. “I am not so sure this is reflective of a moral slide, but of greater honesty.”

In May, both Gallup and LifeWay Research released polls showing about 4 in 5 Americans are worried about the moral state of the country. This year, 77 percent say the country’s values are getting worse, the highest level since Gallup started tracking this topic 16 years ago.

Historically, ...

Continue reading...


ISIS Kills 29 Christians on Church Bus Trip to Popular Monastery

(UPDATED) Egypt cancels Ramadan’s opening celebration as Copts resist revenge.

[Updated at 11:15 a.m. Sunday, May 28]

Terrorists ambushed a Coptic church bus trip on Friday near Minya in Upper Egypt, killing at least 28 and injuring 23, including many children.

Egypt’s interior ministry reported that three vehicles of 8 to 10 gunmen dressed in military uniforms opened fire on the Christian convoy, which was on its way to the fourth-century St. Samuel the Confessor Monastery in Samalout, 140 miles south of Cairo.

Reuters reported that the terrorists boarded the bus, stole jewelry from the women, and filmed the executions. They also left behind leaflets celebrating the start of Ramadan, the month-long observance of Muslim fasting and prayer that began that night.

The attack was later claimed by ISIS, and follows church bombings by its affiliates on Palm Sunday and in advance of Christmas. Last week, Egyptian authorities arrested 48 individuals, securing confessions of belonging to an ISIS-linked terrorist cell.

Survivors of the bus attack reported that the terrorists attempted to force them to say the shahada, the Islamic creed. Some did so, but most did not. Pope Francis, who visited Egypt in late April, tweeted that they did not renounce their faith.

Among the victims was US citizen Muhsin Marcos from Tinley Park, Illinois, and seven of his family members.

“They asked them to switch their religion from Christian to Muslim,” his relative Gerges told Chicago’s ABC affiliate in an exclusive interview. “They said we're not going to leave the Christianity.”

“I am grieving. It is sad and shocking,” said Bishop Thomas of the Coptic Orthodox diocese of Qusia, 75 miles from the monastery. “But at the same time, I know this is not new. I was expecting things ...

Continue reading...