These Times

Vol. 26 No. 1 | Nov-Dec 2015

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OBAMA: LGBT RIGHTS TRUMP RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

At the September 2015 Democratic National Committee’s annual LGBT Gala in New York City, US President Barack Obama assured the LGBT community that their rights were clearly a higher priority than were the religious freedoms of Americans.

“We affirm that we cherish our religious freedom and are profoundly respectful of religious traditions,” Obama said. “But we also have to say clearly that our religious freedom doesn’t grant us the freedom to deny our fellow Americans their constitutional rights.”

This “new right” is steamrolling over religious freedom across the US, flattening photographers, bakers, wedding planners, and county clerks who cannot conscientiously participate in same-sex marriages. “There’s no doubt that this change has been a whirlwind…. But we have to recognize…that with change…comes some unease. And as Americans, I think we have to acknowledge that. I think that it’s important for us to recognize that there are still parts of the country that are getting there, but it’s going to take some time,” said Obama.

Same-sex marriage only became a constitutional right in June 2015. One wonders what other “constitutional rights” will be created by future Supreme Court decisions. Polygamy? Polyamory?

“Brave new world: Obama says gay rights trump religious liberty,” The Christian Examiner, September 28, 2015.

The loud and forceful insistence to recognize the special status of the LGBT community should come as no surprise as we approach the last days. Jesus prophesied that conditions before his return would be similar to the days of Lot. Luke 17:28. The men who tried to break into Lot’s house to rape his male guests were angry that he, the “sojourner” suggested they were acting wickedly. “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.” Genesis 19:9.

DEPRESSION ON THE RISE

Depression statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reveal that about 9 percent of American adults suffer from feelings of hopelessness, despondency, and/or guilt that generate a diagnosis of depression and this number is growing. The number is even higher in Australia—at about 14 percent.

Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist, author, and member of the clinical faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, states that “people who have stressors in their life that make them feel hopeless and helpless are more likely to become depressed.” She also states that “depression is anger turned inward toward the self” and that “this anger is self-destructive and therefore harmful to the body.”

Depression is involved in more than two-thirds of the 30,000 suicides that occur annually in the US.

“Stats and Facts about Depression in America,” EverydayHealth.com, January 23, 2013; “The Facts About Depression and Anxiety,” beyondblue.org.au, 2015.

Feeling hopeless and helpless is a good way to describe the mental state of many who Christ described would be living before His return: “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth….” Luke 21:26. Yet those who believe and trust in God when things are out of their control are not likely to be depressed or anxious.

Another great antidote for feelings of depression is serving and blessing others—something not easily found in today’s world. “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:4, 5.

UK PLANS REGISTRY FOR RELIGIOUS LEADERS

Britain plans to open a registry for religious leaders and teachers, and require them to undergo government-specified training in an effort to stem extremism. The controversial proposal comes from a leaked draft of the government’s new counter-extremism strategy, which goes substantially further than previous versions of the document.

The government will establish the minimum level of training and accountability needed to join the new registry; all faiths will be required to maintain a national register of faith leaders that meet the government’s criteria. For now, the registry would only be compulsory for faith leaders who speak at universities, prisons, and other public establishments, but this could change in the future.

The new regulation represents a significant deepening of the government’s involvement in religion. The document defines extremism as “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” Its most radical measure would ban individuals whose behavior “falls below the thresholds in counter-terrorism legislation” but which “undermines British values.”

“For far too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens that as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach,” said Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Catholic Church stated that it was not consulted on the plan and would firmly resist any government monitoring of priests’ activities.

In an ecumenical era, any religious figure that speaks against ecumenism and its entities could be considered as “undermining British values.” Furthermore, the definition of extremism could be expanded to include preachers who teach the Bible principles of prophecy, including the exposure of Antichrist. Proposals like this seem innocuous at first, but could easily expand to include activities not in the public sector. “Britain Plans Registry of Religious Leaders, Will Require Government-specific Training, Security Checks,” National Post, September 14, 2015.

TEPID RESPONSE OF RICH NATIONAL REFUGEE CRISIS

Amnesty International recently gave a scathing report on the current status of refugee resettlement.

-Only 1/10th of the 1.15 million most vulnerable refugees are being resettled.

-86 percent of the world’s 19.5 million refugees are being hosted in developing countries.

-UN refugee appeals are chronically and severely underfunded, especially by wealthy countries.

The disastrous moral failure of world leaders who bicker among themselves while heartlessly leaving millions of people to suffer in catastrophic conditions will be remembered for generations, said Amnesty International while releasing an eight-point plan to address the multiple global refugee crises. Some of the points included providing safe and legal routes for refugees, prioritizing lives not immigration policies, and combatting human trafficking and people smuggling.

“The international refugee protection regime drawn up as a crucial safeguard after World War II risks being left in tatters if world leaders continue in their deplorable failure to protect vulnerable people fleeing war and persecution. Refugees have an international right to seek and enjoy asylum.”

“Catastrophic moral failure as rich countries leave millions of refugees to cruel and uncertain fates,” amnesty.org, October 12, 2015.

Certainly these refugees are among the “least of these” that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 25. May God help each of us to find ways to minister directly or indirectly to these displaced people seeking to rebuild their lives.

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