Is Religious Freedom Flourishing in Cuba?
Tuesday, October 28, 2014, 2:52 PM

A number of years ago, I spoke on a panel at a large church near Chicago regarding the persecution of Christians in other countries.  Seated to my right was a young pastor from Cuba, a refugee to the United States, who had been imprisoned for “abusing religious freedom” in the socialist paradise.  He spoke powerfully about the tortures many Christians faced on the island prison of Cuba.  Today, more than 55 years since the establishment of the Western Hemisphere’s first revolutionary socialist state, religious freedom remains deeply suppressed in Cuba.  After Fidel Castro, Cuba’s dictator, seized power in 1959, all Christian broadcasts were canceled.  The next year, all Christian publications were halted, and all Christian schools, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, or non-denominational, were closed.  Ordinary Christians and their leaders were labeled “social scum” and jailed in Cuba’s notorious labor camps.  Even Christmas and Easter were abolished, with Christmas replaced with a secular holiday.  Even as late as December 1995, regulations were enacted that forbid the sale of paper, ink, typewriters, computers, and mechanical parts for photocopiers and printing presses to religious organizations.  Technicians who helped churches repair their machinery risked losing their jobs.  And yet, in spite of all the imprisonment, regulation, and persecution, today the churches in Cuba are flourishing, and are filled to overflowing.  At the International book Fair in Havana in recent years, the Bible has been the best-selling book by far.

In advance of St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba in 1998, relations between the officially atheist government and the Roman Catholic Church began to improve slightly.  The government revived observance of Christmas (which was always celebrated by the people), and in fact, Castro allowed masses and homilies to be broadcast on Cuban state media.  The Cuban Communist Party also dropped a ban on church membership for its members that had been adopted after the 1959 revolution.  However, the new relative “freedom” did not extend to non-Roman Catholic churches.

On Monday, Cuban government authorities announced that they would allow the construction of the country’s first new Roman Catholic church in 55 years.  The new church, funded by donations from Roman Catholics in Tampa, Florida, will be built in Sandino, a small town in the western province of Pinar del Rio.  It is expected to hold 200 people.  Enrique Lopez Oliva, a professor of the history of religions at the University of Havana, was quoted, “The construction of a church is a clear demonstration of a new phase, of an improvement, in relations between the church and the state.”  Of course, it is a small positive step.  But I thought about the many militant non-Christians who complain about the pervasive nature of Christian thought and expression in the United States.  I wonder how much happier they might be living in a revolutionary socialist workers paradise of Cuba.  For me, I continue to support an embargo on Cuba until all of its people, including all Christians, are truly free.

Mere Links 10.28.14
Tuesday, October 28, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Softer Face of Calvinism
Interview with Kevin P. Emmert, Christianity Today

Reformed theology is more irenic and diverse than you think, says theologian Oliver Crisp.

Top Anglican calls for lifting seal of confessional in child abuse cases
Trevor Grundy, Religion News Service

Anglican priests should no longer be bound by the centuries-old principle of confidentiality in confessions when they are told of sexual crimes committed against children, the Church of England’s No. 2 official said.

I Lost My Daughter to Suicide: A Nurse’s Response to Brittany Maynard’s Campaign for Assisted Suicide
Nancy Valko, Public Discourse

Do assisted suicide supporters really expect doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on their ethics or their empathy? Do they realize that this reduces the second patient’s will to live to a mere personal whim—one that society may ultimately see as selfish and too costly?

Contraception Won’t Fix Fatherlessness
Willis L. Krumholz, The Federalist

No program has reversed the disincentive for marriage among the poor caused by America’s current welfare programs. Contraception won’t, either.

Mere Links 10.27.14
Monday, October 27, 2014, 10:00 AM

Pope Francis calls for abolishing death penalty and life imprisonment
Francis X. Rocca, Catholic News Service

Pope Francis called for abolition of the death penalty as well as life imprisonment, and denounced what he called a “penal populism” that promises to solve society’s problems by punishing crime instead of pursuing social justice.

How to Survive a Cultural Crisis
Mark Dever, 9Marks Blog

In all this, Christians are tempted to become panicked or to speak as alarmists. But to the extent we do, to that same extent we show we’ve embraced an unbiblical and nominal Christianity.

UK: One in 50 clergy don’t believe in God
Ruth Gledhill, Christian Today

One in 50 Anglican clergy in the UK believes God is merely a human construct, according to a new survey today.

Three Views: Do the Common Core Education Standards Endanger Religious Freedom?
Kevin Theriot, Karen Swallow Prior, Kristen Blair, Christianity Today

Why a nationwide standard for classrooms may cause concern.

Lagniappe – The Bulgarian National Choir
Sunday, October 26, 2014, 7:00 AM

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! ~ Psalm 118:24

The Lord’s Prayer

Sacred Music Colloquium
Saturday, October 25, 2014, 12:09 PM

Although the Church these days is everywhere beset with difficulties, it is the light of Christ on earth, and it shall never go out. There may be fewer Christians in the future, but I believe they will be stronger in faith and more committed in practice. One indication of this hope is the growth of several movements within the church—liturgical, artistic, musical—to re-affirm the role of the Transcendental in Church experience, to bring back Beauty. Beauty, more than reason, quickens the soul towards God.

This documentary from the Church Music Association of America speaks from a Roman Catholic perspective, but it contains several universal ideas about the practice of church music.

Mere Links 10.24.14
Friday, October 24, 2014, 10:00 AM

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Reformed Theology
Corrie Mitchell, On Faith

Is Calvinism the cold, rigid approach to Christianity it’s made out to be?

You’re Alive Today Because of this 19th Century Doctor
Brantly Millegan, Aleteia

Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer led the movement to enact pro-life legislation in the 19th century and in so doing saved millions, including your ancestors, explains Frederick Dyer in his interview with Aleteia.

Culture War, Spiritual War
Peter Leithart, First Things

So now we’re debating whether or not two men or two women can get married. How, over the course of less than two decades, did we become blind to something as obvious as the difference between friendship and marriage?

How Cars Created the Megachurch
Adam Graber, Leadership Journal

Of the 150 or so acres making up Willow Creek Community Church’s main campus, a full 8 acres are devoted to buildings. Parking lots cover more than 28. That ratio demonstrates just how important cars are to most churches today.

Puerto Rico Affirms Traditional Marriage
Thursday, October 23, 2014, 2:22 PM

Ada Conde Vidal and Ivonne Alvarez Velez, two women, were married in Massachusetts.  They then moved to Puerto Rico, where they became Puerto Ricocouple 300x177 Puerto Rico Affirms Traditional Marriage’s first married lesbian couple.  However, their “marriage” is not recognized in Puerto Rico.  That is because, since 1999, an amendment to Puerto Rico’s civil code declared that Puerto Rico does not recognize same sex “marriages.”  This includes those “marriages” performed in other jurisdictions.  Ms. Conde, a lawyer by training, filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth seeking to put an end to the same-sex “marriage” ban.  She said that she would be barred from making medical decisions regarding an ailing daughter.  (Of course, whether she is married to a man or woman, or not, has no bearing on medical decisions regarding her daughter, but I digress.)  Last March, Ms. Conde said in an interview with the Washington Blade, described on its website as “celebrating 45 years as America’s gay news source,” “If [my daughter] dies, I want my marriage legally recognized.  If I am not recognized, I will not have any rights to request her estate.”  (Sounds a bit crass, but you know how some lawyers can be.)

On October 21, 2014, Federal District Court Judge Juan M. Perez-Gimenez, a Carter appointee,  issued his ruling in which he upheld Puerto Rico’s ban on same-sex marriage and dismissed the legal challenge by Ms. Conde and Ms. Alvarez, and three other “couples.”  Lawyers for the plaintiffs immediately made plans to appeal the judge’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which has yet to rule on a challenge to a state’s power to prohibit same-sex “marriages.”  In his opinion, Judge Perez-Gimenez wrote the following in pertinent part:

The plaintiffs have brought this challenge alleging a violation of the federal constitution, so the first place to begin is with the text of the Constitution.  The text of the Constitution, however, does not directly guarantee a right to same-gender marriage, for “when the Constitution was adopted the common understanding was that the domestic relations of husband and wife and parent and child were matters reserved to the States.”  [Citations omitted.]  Without the direct guidance of the Constitution, the next source of authority is relevant Supreme Court precedent interpreting the Constitution.  On the question of same-gender marriage, the Supreme Court has issued a decision that directly binds this Court.  The petitioners in Baker v. Nelson were two men who had been denied a license to marry each other.  They argued that Minnesota’s statutory definition of marriage as an opposite-gender relationship violated due process and equal protection – just as the plaintiffs argue here.  The Minnesota Supreme Court rejected the petitioners’ claim, determining that the right to marry without regard to gender was not a fundamental right and that it was neither irrational nor invidious discrimination to define marriage as requiring an opposite-gender union.  [Citation omitted.]  . . . A clear majority of courts have struck down statutes that affirm opposite-gender marriage only.  In their ingenuity and imagination they have constructed a seemingly comprehensive legal structure for this new form of marriage.  And yet what is lacking and unaccounted for remains: are laws barring polygamy, or, say the marriage of fathers and daughters, now of doubtful validity?  Is “minimal marriage”, where “individuals can have legal marital relationships with more than one person, reciprocally or asymmetrically, themselves determining the sex and number of parties” the blueprint for their design?  [Citation omitted.]  It would seem so, if we follow the plaintiffs’ logic, that the fundamental right to marriage is based on “the constitutional liberty to select the partner of one’s choice.”  For now, one basic principle remains: the people, acting through their elected representatives, may legitimately regulate marriage by law.  This principle is impeded, not advanced, by court decrees based on the proposition that the public cannot have the requisite repose to discuss certain issues.  It is demeaning to the democratic process to presume that the voters are not capable of deciding an issue of this sensitivity on decent and rational grounds . . . Freedom embraces the right, indeed the duty, to engage in a rational, civic discourse in order to determine how best to form a consensus to shape the destiny of the Nation and its people.  [Citation omitted.] . . . For the foregoing reasons, we hereby GRANT the defendants’ motion to dismiss.  The plaintiffs’ federal law claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

Emphasis added.  In response to Judge Perez-Giminez’ opinion, Alliance Defending Freedom Litigation Counsel Caleb Dalton stated the following:

The people of Puerto Rico – and the people of every U.S. state and territory – should be free to affirm marriage as the union of a man and a woman.  The district court in this case was right to conclude, as the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in its Windsor decision last year and in its previous Baker decision, that marriage law is the business of the states.  Echoing last month’s decision from a Louisiana federal district court that affirmed the states’ authority over the definition of marriage, the court said that “[i]t takes inexplicable contortions of the mind or perhaps even willful interpret Windsor‘s endorsement of the state control of marriage as eliminating the state control of marriage.”

Indeed it does.  I am reminded of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor who stated in a speech, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”  It seems to me that Judge Perez-Giminez, a wise Latino, could be even better suited for our nation’s Supreme Court.

Mere Links 10.23.14
Thursday, October 23, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Bishops’ Fateful Decision Respecting the Unborn
Mark Gallagher, Crisis Magazine

This required the election of presidents who would nominate Supreme Court justices not interested in creating constitutional rights to legal abortion, and the election of pro-life members of Congress to confirm the justices, and to propose a constitutional amendment. Elections were the key. How were the bishops to proceed?

Archbishop of York ‘wholehearted’ apology to abuse victims
Caroline Wyatt, BBC

The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu has apologised to victims of sexual abuse by a former cathedral dean.

70 Years Ago Today: The Conversion of J. I. Packer
Justin Taylor, The Gospel Coalition

He entered the doors of the church a dead man walking and was to leave later that night as a resurrected man, knowing himself to belong to Christ.

Unicef: Violence kills child every five minutes

A child is killed by violence every five minutes in the world, a leading charity says, calling for new targets to end all forms of abuse by 2030.

Mere Links 10.22.14
Wednesday, October 22, 2014, 10:00 AM

Francis Must Correct Synod Distortions
Dr. William Oddie, Crisis Magazine

The presentation of the so-called “mid-term report” of the extraordinary synod of bishops on the family (the Latin headline of which, relatio post disceptationem, may seem to the unenlightened to give it an authority it doesn’t in fact possess) aroused a predictable level of interest in both the Catholic and the non-Catholic media.

China’s One-Child Policy: Massive Crimes against Women, Supported by the Obama Administration
Chris Smith, Public Discourse

Under the Obama Administration, the United States is breaking its own law by giving taxpayer money to the United Nations Population Fund, which supports the One-Child Policy. It is also failing to implement immigration and visa bans for those who have been complicit in forced abortions and sterilizations.

Razed by Terror Attacks, a Church Will Rise Anew
Alex Vadukul, New York Times

Thirteen years ago, a small Greek Orthodox church with a ringing rooftop bell offered a reprieve from the city’s furious financial nerve center, until it was crushed when the World Trade Center’s south tower collapsed on Sept. 11. On Saturday, church officials blessed the ground where the new St. Nicholas church would rise.

Pope Francis Beatifies an Earlier Reformer, Paul VI
Elisabetta Povoledo, New York Times

Pope Francis on Sunday beatified Pope Paul VI, who died in 1978 after shepherding the church through a period of internal reform amid an era of social and political change and growing challenges to the church’s traditional teachings.

Mere Links 10.21.14
Tuesday, October 21, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Vatican Backpedals on Support for Gays and Divorcees
Allen McDuffee, The Atlantic

A much-discussed report from the Catholic Church’s synod on the family turned out to be very different in its final form.

When a Pastor Resigns Abruptly
John Ortberg, Leadership Journal

Yesterday a well-known pastor resigned from a high-profile church. I don’t know enough about that situation to comment on it one way or another. But I find myself—as many of us will today—reflecting on my own life, and on the state of our little evangelical world.

Transgenders and Theology
Judy Valente, PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

We report from Chicago on how churches are responding to transgender people, especially as they become more and more visible in popular culture. At the Urban Village Church in Hyde Park, Rev. Emily McGinley’s ministry reaches out to transgender individuals.

Houston Narrows Subpoenas, But Pastors Say Not Enough
Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

The city of Houston, Texas announced yesterday that it has filed narrowed subpoenas against five pastors in a lawsuit against it challenging rejection of referendum petition signatures. At issue is an attempt by opponents of the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance to obtain its repeal.

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