President Donald Trump will bar transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. military, arguing their service brought “tremendous medical costs and disruption”, a conclusion at odds with a report commissioned by the Pentagon last year as part of a comprehensive policy review. “After consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.” The presidential announcement, which left unclear the status of those currently serving in the military, appeared to take many in the Pentagon by surprise.
“The tweet was the first we heard about it,” said a defence official familiar with the matter. Former Defence Secretary Ash Carter, who opened the department to transgender troops said the decision would hurt the military. “I continue to maintain that what matters in choosing those who serve is that they are best qualified,” he said in a statement. “To choose service members on other grounds than military qualifications is social policy and has no place in our military. There are already transgender individuals who are serving capably and honourably. This action would also send the wrong signal to a younger generation thinking about military service.” Some Democratic politicians and civil rights groups criticised the Trump administration’s decision.
Joshua Block, a senior staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT and HIV Project, called the move “outrageous and desperate” and accused Mr. Trump of “trying to score cheap political points on the backs of military personnel who have put their lives on the line for their country.” Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, called the move an “unwarranted and disgraceful attack on men and women who have been bravely serving their country.” He said banning transgender service members “would be ugly and discriminatory in the extreme.” Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Trump’s tweet was “yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” calling the statement unclear.
“Any American who meets current medical and readiness standards should be allowed to continue serving,” Mr. McCain said. “There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military, regardless of their gender identity.” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people, and deserve the best we can do for them. I look forward to getting much more information and clarity from our military leaders about the policy the president tweeted today.” Tony Perkins, president of the social conservative group Family Research Council, praised Mr. Trump’s decision. “The military can now focus its efforts on preparing to fight and win wars rather than being used to advance the Obama social agenda,” he said in a statement.
In June 2016, the Obama administration moved to lift the U.S. military’s longstanding ban on transgender individuals serving openly and began to establish a process for enlisted personnel to undergo treatment while serving. The decision, under then-Defence Secretary Ash Carter, followed the abolition of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy which prohibited gay men and women from serving openly, and came after a move to open more military jobs to women. The 2016 change in military transgender policy applied to those currently serving, while setting a target date of July 1, 2017 for transgender individuals to enlist. In late June, the current defence secretary, Jim Mattis, delayed the start of military enlistment by transgender recruits, until Jan. 1, 2018, citing recommendations from the military services.
The Pentagon said it couldn’t elaborate on the change in transgender policy. “We refer all questions about the president’s statements to the White House,” said a Pentagon spokesman, Capt. Jeff Davis, in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with the White House to address the new guidance provided by the commander-in-chief on transgender individuals serving the military. We will provide revised guidance to the Department in the near future.” The decision to bar transgender troops comes as the services face difficulties recruiting and retaining troops. “Our all-volunteer force is facing a long-term decline both in the number of young Americans qualified to serve, and the propensity of those qualified Americans to serve,” said Phillip Carter, a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, a Washington defence think tank.
Mr. Carter said that welcoming more women and LGBT troops has helped expand the number of potential recruits. “President Trump’s new policy shrinks the recruiting pool at a time when the services are trying to grow, and this policy will likely make it a little tougher for the services to recruit and retain qualified service members,” he said. A report commissioned by the Pentagon on the effects of allowing transgender individuals to serve openly, released in May 2016, found that policy shift would have little to no impact on military cohesion or readiness, and that costs would be negligible. The study, conducted by the Rand Corp., found that between 1,320 and 6,630 transgender individuals now serve in active duty, amounting to about 0.05% of the total U.S. active force. The study pegged the likely estimate at 2,450.
The report estimated that few of those service members would require treatment or surgery and concluded that the cost of implementing the policy would be between $2.4 million and $8.4 million a year. The report also found few problems in foreign militaries that provide for open transgender service. It said 18 countries reviewed in the study “did not report evidence of negative impacts on unit cohesion and readiness.” Two dozen house Republicans with most House Democrats mounted a failed attempt earlier this month to ban the Pentagon from paying for gender reassignment surgery for soldiers. House Speaker Paul Ryan said it was important for Congress to “work closely” with the Pentagon on the issue. “Secretary Mattis is under a review on this right now, and so I want to make sure that what we do is in close co-ordination with them,” he said.
For the first time in centuries, a remote African tribe called the Batwa Pygmies is being introduced to Jesus Christ. “We smoked; we drank; we performed witchcraft,” said Jovanis Nyirakayanje, a Batwa Pygmy. “We were devil worshippers for centuries. We used to live like animals in the jungle,” said Nyirakayanje. Dr. Scott Kellermann, an American physician, is studying the Batwa people. “They are very diminutive,” said Kellermann, who founded The Kellermann Foundation. “They are only four and a half feet in height typically. They hunted with poison-tip arrows or nets, collect fruits from the trees or roots from the ground.” Batwa life revolved around the Bwindi forest of southwestern Uganda. “Actually, they were pre-stone age,” Kellermann explained. “They had no stone implements, so that’s a reason very few records are found of the Batwa.” The Batwa were known as the “keepers of the forest.”
But that all changed in 1992 when the Ugandan government turned their habitat into a national park and World Heritage site for endangered mountain gorillas. There are about 750 mountain gorillas in the world and 350 live within the Bwindi forest. “The result was that the Batwa were evicted from the forest,” said Kellermann. After centuries of living in caves and trees, the Batwa became conservation refugees, with no title to land, no food, no clothing, and no shelter. Thousands of them walked out of the jungle into a world that turned against them. Tugume Gerald and his wife, Barbara, decided to step in and help some of the homeless Batwa. “People would not give them work to do because they thought the pygmies are like animals,” Gerald explained. The couple moved into a new in the small village of Kisoro, located on the edge of the Equatorial jungle, to begin a ministry among the Pygmies.
“I began by preaching the message of hope to the hopeless,” Gerald said. The result was transformational. Hundreds of Batwa Pygmies heard about Jesus for the first time. Nyirakayanje was one of Gerald’s first converts. “It was the first time anyone had ever told us about Jesus,” Nyirakayanje said. “We were servants of the devil, but then we heard Christ died for our sins and that changed our lives!” He joined Gerald’s team as an evangelist of sorts. “Therefore my dear friends and my fellow pygmies, I’m showing you the Christ I received. I was a drunkard. I was a smoker,” Nyirakayanje told a group of Batwa tribes people while sitting on a hillside. Since then, scores of Batwa have been baptized. The Geralds says miracles are also happening among the Batwa. People diagnosed with HIV AIDS are getting healed, including one Pygmy girl on the verge of death, given new life.
“They brought the child here. She was almost dead, and they started praying for her,” recounted Barbara Gerald. “They prayed and prayed, actually, they prayed for five hours! I was there; I couldn’t believe it! The child got healed, I said glory be to God!” It all led to the founding of the first-ever Batwa pygmy church in the region. “At times we get up to 1,000 pygmies who come to attend the church,” remarked Tugume Gerald. He and his wife also run a school for pygmy children. Parents, once animal hunters, are learning to be farmers. But the needs here are still enormous. “If you can imagine poverty, which exists everywhere in the world, yet these are the poorest of the poor,” said Tino Qahoush, a documentary producer and Regent University graduate. After making several trips to southwestern Uganda, Qahoush decided to get involved with the lives of the Batwa people.
He got a handful of churches in Sweden to partner with Batwa Christians, bringing in school supplies, shoes and clothes for the kids. They are also building small homes for the Batwa. “This ministry is being run by the Batwa pygmies themselves; they have formed a board and are caring for their own people,” Qahoush said. “And we just want to empower them and give them resources to stand on their own feet.” No one knows for sure, but it’s estimated that there are still many thousands of Batwa who have yet to hear the name of Jesus. “I believe His message of salvation will change the lives of my tribe,” Nyirakayanje said. In the meantime, Tugume Gerald is welcoming Christians to join him in the adventure of reaching one of the most un-reached people groups in the world. “We need people to stand with us in prayer so that God may use us more to reach as many pygmies as possible,” he said.
LGBT ACTIVISTS FURIOUS AFTER JUDGE OPPOSES SAME-SEX PARENT’S NAMES ON BIRTH CERTIFICATES
Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch issued a blistering dissent to the Court’s decision to allow “spouses” of the same gender to appear on children’s birth certificates. The court’s decision was predicated on the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex “marriage” across the country. Because same-sex “marriage” is now the law of the land, the court reasoned that states must “provide same-sex couples ‘the benefits that the States have linked to marriage.'” In particular, since the Obergefell ruling specifically identified birth and death certificates as two of those rights, states can no longer deny same-sex couples any rights related to birth certificates that are granted to opposite-sex couples. Obergefell v. Hodges laid the groundwork for rulings such as this, going beyond establishing a legal right to same-sex “marriage,” to asserting all rights normally associated with marriage.
Justice Gorsuch said, “Nothing in Obergefell indicates that a birth registration regime based on biology, offends the Constitution. To the contrary, this Court’s precedents suggest just the opposite conclusion. Neither does anything in the opinion purport to identify any constitutional problem with a biology-based birth registration regime.” Gorsuch said. “Given all this, it seems far from clear what here warrants the strong medicine of summary reversal. Indeed, it is not even clear what the Court expects to happen on remand that hasn’t happened already. The Court does not offer any remedial suggestion, and none leaps to mind.” The Supreme Court also took two other actions that provide a fairly clear window into how Gorsuch will handle claims alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“First, the Court announced that it will hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case brought by a baker who claims that religion gives anti-LGBTQ business owners the right to ignore civil rights laws. “Second, the Court reversed an Arkansas Supreme Court decision, thus permitting the state to engage in a subtle form of discrimination against same-sex couples. Taken together, these two cases suggest Gorsuch will join the Court’s right most faction in matters relating to LGBTQ rights.” Justice Gorsuch, who joined the Supreme Court in April, has clearly aligned himself with the court’s conservatives. Gorsuch was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority.
MUSLIM REFUGEE EMBRACES CHRISTIANITY ON HIS DEATHBED AND THEN, A MIRACLE
A Muslim refugee who once believed the Koran was “God’s final word” and Islam was the “final religion eclipsing all preceding ones” embraced Christianity on his deathbed, and was miraculously healed. A ministry director working at a refugee camp in Turkey shared with Christian Aid Mission the story of a Muslim refugee from Raqqa, Syria. The man, in his 70’s, was wary of foreign groups, as many people would come to take photos and videos of the refugees, but never provided any aid. The director met the man at a site where refugees had erected about 100 makeshift tents. The refugee told him, “Everybody comes and takes a picture, makes a video, they register our name, but they never come back. You’re one of them.” Two weeks later, the director returned to the refugee camp with food, clean water, and other relief items.
“He saw me with the boxes we brought for them, and he was crying,” he said. “He came and he hugged me. He said, ‘We really thank you, you are the only man during the last two years that kept his word.'” A short time later, the ministry included a Bible in the aid, and for six months, the refugee talked with the director about Islam and Jesus Christ. The refugee adamantly defended his religion, telling ministry director that Islam is the “final religion eclipsing all preceding ones, and the Koran was God’s final word.” After some months, the refugee fell seriously ill and asked the director to pray for him. While lying on his deathbed on the tent floor, the refugee told him, “I don’t know if I’m going to be alive tomorrow or not, but your message is always in my mind. I want to go to Heaven, but I don’t know how.”
The director told him he had to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and God, and that He would forgive him and take him into the Kingdom of Heaven with Him. “He started crying,” the director said. “He said, ‘I don’t know if I can do that or not.’ I said he could do it, and he called his brother, daughter and sons, and he said, ‘I’m making a decision that I’m having Jesus Christ as God and Saviour. I want you to come with me with that, believe it with me,’ because in the Middle Eastern culture, whatever the fathers do, the rest of the family has to follow it.” The refugee repeated the director’s prayer that Christ died on the cross for his sins, and he received Him as Saviour and Lord. Then, something miraculous happened. “A week later, he became healthy,” the director said. “So he’s always teaching his family the Christian life.”
INCIDENTS OF RELIGIOUS HOSTILITY IN THE U.S. SHOW 76% INCREASE IN 3 YEARS
A Family Research Council report documents dozens of new incidents of government hostility to religion in America in recent years. The updated report, with 69 cases added since 2014, finds a 76% increase in religious freedom violations since the first edition. Council President Tony Perkins drew attention to the increasing incidents of government-based hostility toward religious expression: “The recent spike in government driven religious hostility is not surprising, considering the Obama administration’s antagonism towards Biblical Christianity.” The report supports the legitimacy of actions taken by the Trump administration to end the practices in federal agencies that fan the flames of religious intolerance. The increase in reported cases not only reflects the growing hostility, but also the growing courage of Christians, especially young Christians, to defend their faith and freedoms.
“The report is designed to quantify the threat to our freedom and to challenge Americans to use their God-given freedoms to protect these freedoms. We will continue to advocate and work for our government to return to the proper and healthy understanding of religious freedom, the freedom to believe and live according to those beliefs,” concluded Perkins. Travis Weber, a Director at the Family Research Council, said, “While every section of the report shows an increase in the suppression of religious freedom, the section dealing with human sexuality showed the greatest increase in the level of hostility to religious beliefs. In our society, we must be the guardians of our own freedom. Anyone who desires freedom in the future must take note of what these trends tell us about our freedom right now, relative to where we have come from, in order to protect freedom going forward,” concluded Weber.
AMERICAN RESEARCH REVEALS CHURCH HAS BETTER REPUTATION THAN HIGHER EDUCATION OR MEDIA
The integrity of the media is being questioned frequently these days. Other American institutions, such as colleges, banks, and trade unions have also received criticism recently. One institution that actually has a positive reputation, however, is the church. While the church certainly receives its share of criticism, a report from the Pew Research Centre has actually revealed that the church has a more positive reputation than any of the above-mentioned institutions. Fifty-nine percent of Americans view the church positively. Christianity Today reports that “The church’s positivity ratings are more than twice as high as the lowest-rated institution, the media, which 28 percent of Americans view positively and 63 percent negatively.”
Breaking down the statistics even further, the research revealed that about three-quarters of Republicans and Republican-leaning view the church favourably, while about half of Democrats or Democrat-leaning view the church favourably. Although Americans view the church more favourably than other institutions, there is ample scepticism surrounding ministers. Journalists’ confidence ratings are still lower than pastors, but only 44 percent of Americans said they trust pastors. “For the fourth year in a row, in a nation where religion is an important part of life for three-fourths of the population, less than half of Americans think religious leaders have high ethical standards,” according to a Gallup poll. “Meanwhile, two groups of professionals linked to the bitter political battles of 2016, college teachers and journalists, are at or near their all-time lows, with views split along partisan lines.”