The battle over same-sex marriage may be over following the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. But as several justices noted in forceful dissents, the war between religious and Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Trans-sexual (LGBT) rights is far from over. In a landmark opinion, a divided Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, establishing a new civil right and handing gay and lesbian advocates a long-sought victory. President Barack Obama, speaking after the highly anticipated ruling, urged those celebrating to keep in mind that many Americans oppose same-sex marriage “based on sincere and deeply held beliefs.” Those beliefs, he suggested, should remain a protected part of the country’s “deep commitment to religious freedom.”

Still, fierce battles over religious and LGBT rights, like the one fought this spring in Indiana, seem likely to intensify across the country after the court  ruling. While polls show that a majority of religious Americans now support same-sex marriage, many prominent groups — such as the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — do not. Leaders from those groups have pledged to seek legal means to shield their beliefs from state interference. In his sweeping decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote for the majority, briefly mentioned faith groups’ right to object to same-sex marriage.

“The First Amendment ensures that religions, those who adhere to religious doctrines and others have protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths,” Kennedy said. The point bears repeating, the justice said. “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.” But more conservative justices and a number of religious groups chided Kennedy for failing to mention the First Amendment’s “free exercise” clause.

Religious rights (and rites) aren’t limited to preaching and teaching, they argued. They also entail individuals’ and organizations’ “free exercise” of faith, a wide swath of activities that run from sacred ceremonies to performing charitable works and running businesses according to religious principles. “Religious liberty is about freedom of action in matters of religion generally,” Justice Clarence Thomas said in his dissent, “and the scope of that liberty is directly correlated to the civil restraints placed upon religious practice.” He dismissed the majority’s nod toward religious liberty as a “weak gesture,” arguing that the ruling could have “ruinous consequences.”

“In our society, marriage is not simply a governmental institution; it is a religious institution as well,” Thomas said. “Today’s decision might change the former, but it cannot change the latter.”  The Court’s decision makes it “all but inevitable,” the conservative justice said, that competing definitions of marriage will come into conflict. Thomas suggested that pastors and churches will be confronted with demands to participate in and endorse same-sex marriages. There is historical precedent for such demands, Thomas said, citing Virginia laws that once imposed criminal penalties on pastors who presided over mixed-race marriages.

Chief Justice John Roberts said “hard questions” will arise when people of faith exercise their religious liberty in ways that conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage. What happens, the chief justice asked, when a religious college provides student housing only to heterosexual couples? Or a faith-based adoption agency refuses to place children with same-sex spouses? Would both lose their tax exemptions? “There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court,” Roberts continued. “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, in his scathing style, took the argument even further, accusing his colleagues of playing God. The conservative justice said that Friday’s ruling on same-sex marriage “is not of special importance to me.  It is of overwhelming importance, however, who it is that rules me,” Scalia said. “Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.” Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ point-man on religious rights, said the ruling will affect “thousands” of state and local statutes across the country. The archbishop said he could foresee “a lot of legal controversies in terms of the way we organize and run our ministries.”

Most troubling for the Catholic Church, Lori said in a conference call with the media, is that while ruling recognizes religious groups’ right to free speech, it doesn’t acknowledge “the right to follow our teachings when we are intersecting with the broader society.” Evangelicals, too, who make up about 25% of the country’s population, pledged to fight the legal implications of the Court’s ruling. “In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require,” dozens of prominent evangelicals said in a joint statement.

“We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage.” One of the statement’s signees, Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called “religious liberty” the “next front in the skirmish in American life.” The skirmish will likely endure for years, Moore said at a press conference with casualties on both sides. “One of the most tragic results we could possibly see is an unrelenting cultural war from progressives toward those who dissent because of deeply held religious convictions.”

Source: CNN

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The United Nations last week hosted an event regarding the worsening persecution of Christians in the Middle East. The event was called, “Not Peace but a Sword: The Persecution of Christians in the Middle East as a Threat to International Peace and Security.” The event, featured the voices of ambassadors, Christian and Jewish leaders, businessmen and high-ranking military officials, and was held to raise awareness of the persecution of Christians throughout the globe. Each year, 100 million Christians suffer persecution, imprisonment and even death for their sacred religious beliefs. According to The Voice of the Martyrs, “more people have died for their faith in Christ in the last 100 years” than in the previous 19 centuries combined”.

A century ago, Middle Eastern Christians represented about 20 percent of the population. Now they represent about 4 percent. In Iraq in 1990, before the Gulf War, there were about 1.4 million Christians. Now there are about 200,000 and the head of the Catholic Chaldean Church in Kurdistan says Iraqi Christians have “little time left.” We are literally watching the genocide of Jesus’ followers in the Middle East. Recently at an invitation-only international meeting of Christian leaders, leaders from three different Muslim nations were interviewed. They told shocking stories of atrocities they knew personally had happened. Those who attended were shocked and heartbroken.

Later, they were interviewed but for their security no names or nations were mentioned. In the interviews they explained that moderate Muslims are also targets of radical Muslims. They also say many moderate Muslims are friends to Christians. However, the persecution is increasing on many fronts, including things such as churches having more difficulty finding places to rent in big cities for services or not being allowed to find land to build churches. In spite of this the church is growing in many places. Here are a few bullet points on actual persecution these leaders mentioned is happening. They are slightly edited transcripts in their own words:

◦It is dangerous. Christians have been treated as second-class citizens in the Middle East for years. But with the rise of Islamization and fanatic Islam, they face a terrible time being displaced from homes, kidnapped—their homes being destroyed, their churches, their hospitals and their schools.

◦In one week in (my country) we had 85 churches burned—also hospitals, schools and orphanages.

◦Many Christians were kicked out of their villages if they were a minority and had to immigrate to another city or bigger village where there’s a majority of Christians. We have seen people being killed, slain, shocked—everything. 

◦The Christians were being smashed—especially when they are located under the region of ISIS. All the Christians immediately had to flee and escape. So, in general, the Christians are paying a very high price.

◦The radical Muslims are systematically trying to wipe out the Christian community. The terrorists keep attacking. One day, the radical Muslims attacked a village that was mostly Christian. They attacked the Christians, burned their houses, killed them and came with 500 soldiers with all the weapons.

◦Some Christians were cornered into a church building—hundreds of them inside. The Muslims outside surrounded them. They threw grenades and they shot people when they would come out. They killed 211 of them in one day and injured another 140 people.

◦To find safety, some Christians ran away (from the attack above) in a boat with hundreds of Christians on board. The radicals chased the boat and I think they sank it, so the Christians died—all of them.

As you can see, the persecution is serious. These reports are not from journalists. They are from Christian leaders who know what is happening and agreed to speak if their identities were guarded. But there’s another side to this story that is not being reported in secular or Christian media: The persecution is resulting in many Muslims coming to Christ in these countries partly because the Christians are responding with love and forgiveness.

Source: Charisma News

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America’s churches have been responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to recognise same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. With a majority of 5-4, judges held that the 14th Amendment in the U.S. Constitution, which regards equality before the law, enshrines the right of all to marry regardless of their sexuality. Before, 13 of the 50 states had banned gay marriage at a federal level. The Supreme Court’s ruling means they are now no longer allowed to do so and must legally conduct and recognise same-sex as well as heterosexual marriages. Some say marriage is fundamentally for a man and women only, and that states should have the religious freedom to choose whether they allow or recognise same-sex unions or not.

Others say to withhold marriage from gay people is discrimination, and that the institution is open to them as well. Ronnie Floyd, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement: “I deeply believe in biblical and traditional marriage. The court has determined otherwise. Our No 1 concern at this point is that religious freedom is protected in every way, honouring our God-given conscience, and that we not be discriminated against for our biblical and traditional stand. “This decision shows our desperate need for the next Great Awakening and the hope of the Gospel given to all persons. We must rise up like never before with great urgency, to forward the message of Jesus Christ to every person in America and across the world.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement: “The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the ‘integral ecology’ that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.”

Demonstrating the division within some sections of the Church on this issue Katharine Schori, of The Episcopal Church, said in a statement: “I rejoice that the Supreme Court has opened the way for the love of two people to be recognized by all states, and that the Court has recognized that it is this enduring love that extends beyond the grave that is to be treasured by society wherever it exists. “Our society will be enriched by the public recognition of such enduring faithful love in families headed by two men or two women as well as by a woman and a man. The children of this land will be stronger when they grow up in families that cannot be unmade by prejudice or discrimination. May love endure and flourish wherever it is to be found.”

Source: Intercessors for America

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Arabic leaflets have appeared in Jerusalem, purportedly issued by an ISIS-aligned group, telling Christians they must flee Jerusalem by the end of Ramadan [18 July] — otherwise they will be slaughtered. The threat comes as ISIS and Hamas engage in a struggle for the allegiance of Palestinian Muslims. Religious tensions are rising across Israel and Christians are being attacked by Jewish ultra-nationalists and radicalised Muslims, leaving some wondering if Christians have a future in Israel. The Israeli government has condemned the violence against Christians as ‘an attack on us all’ and affirmed Israel’s commitment to religious liberty and rule of law. Please pray for Israel and its Christians.

Please pray that God will:
* guide and assist the Israeli government and security forces, that they will protect Christians from Jewish ultra-nationalists and the far more dangerous ISIS-incited and organised militant Muslims.
* guide, assist, deliver and protect Christians in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, as well as in East Jerusalem and across the whole city, throughout the Palestinian-administered Territories and other Muslim-dominated regions, and in volatile towns such as Nazareth and Bethlehem.
* insert Himself deep into Gaza, where there is no Israeli security presence; may Christians not be left at the mercy of Hamas, but may the Spirit of God guide and assist Christians who, in the event of an eruption of anti-Christian violence, will require hiding places and escape routes.

Source: Religious Liberty Monitoring

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The Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Rev Justin Welby has expressed “deep concern” following the U.S. Episcopal Church’s decision to change the definition of marriage in the canons so that any reference to marriage as between a man and a woman is removed. The move by bishops will allow Anglican churches in the U.S. to use new liturgy to marry same sex couples, however no priest will be forced to perform the ceremonies. The U.S. Episcopal Church has been deeply divided over issues of gender and sexuality in recent years resulting in a split and the formation of the new Anglican Church in North America.

Archbishop Welby is currently overseeing on-going conversations on the issues of sexuality and marriage within the Church of England in light of the government’s decision to legalise same sex marriage in 2014. In response to the change in the U.S., a statement from Lambeth Palace said: “While recognising the prerogative of The Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, Archbishop Justin Welby said that its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships. “He urged prayer for the life of the Anglican Communion  so that in the face of disagreement, Anglicans may still be a force for peace and unity”.

Source: Premier News

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