World News Report, Week #36, 2014

Written by Editor in Chief on . Posted in World

WORLD News Service – September 19 2014


Single Americans Are Rapidly Multiplying

Loving the Infertile on Mother’s Day

California Colleges Remove Christian Ministry from 19 Campuses

Researchers Rekindle Vaccine-Autism Debate:  New study claims to show a link between widespread use of fetal cell vaccines and an upsurge in autism


Boko Haram Used Schoolgirl as Suicide Bomber:  Congressional hearing discusses kidnapped girls’ fate, other international religious freedom concerns


Christian Rapper Lecrae Finally Gets Mainstream Acceptance

Eagle Shot:  Families of longtime Boy Scouts face tough decisions about whether to go or stay

Goal Keeper:  Ryan Hollingshead put pro soccer on hold to pursue his dream of helping his brother plant a church




Single Americans Are Rapidly Multiplying


By Kiley Crossland

(WNS)--Singles now make up the majority of the adult U.S. population, according to research reported by Bloomberg. 

Roughly 125 million Americans, or 50.2 percent ages 16 years or older, are single, up from 37.4 percent in 1976, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Bloomberg credited Edward Yardeni, a Wall Street economist and market strategist, with identifying the shift by using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ August job-market data. In a private report to his clients, entitled “Selfies,” Yardeni said the “remarkable” trend has “implications for our economy, society, and politics.” 

For example, he noted that singles are more likely to rent than buy. Less marriage also means fewer children, which shifts spending habits. He also said more single-person households exaggerate income inequality. “While they have less household earnings than married people, they also have fewer expenses, especially if there are no children in their households,” Yardeni wrote.

Although the number of divorced, separated, or widowed singles has increased since the 1970s, the larger increase, from 22.1 percent to more than 30 percent, came from a growing number of singles who never marry, Yardeni found. Some argue this increase is the result of more couples deciding to cohabitate instead of marry. 

Other research confirms the trend and its economic implications. According to U.S. Census data, married-couple households are no longer the norm, households are getting smaller, and more people are living alone, especially men. The percentage of U.S. households with married couples dropped more than 20 percent from 1970 to 2012, from 70.6 to 48.7 percent, according to a census report released in August. While the percentage of households with married couples and no children remained virtually the same, the drastic drop came in married households with children under 18. 

The increased flexibility of singles has economic benefits, but more singles can also mean decreasing economic stability, Allison Schrager wrote in an article for Businessweek. With fewer fixed expenses, family ties, mortgages to pay, and kids to put through college, singles are more likely to move for a job or start an entrepreneurial venture. But they also are less stable for the future economy. A lost job, injury, or illness is a major hit for a single-person household. And no children means no new households, no new taxpayers, and a dearth of future caretakers for the current generation when they age. 

A growing number of singles also means people are leaving the suburbs in favor of cities.  “Singles make up more than half of the population in more than 46 of the 51 largest U.S. metros,” Richard Florida wrote in an article for The Atlantic’s CityLab. “If families prefer the suburbs for schools and safety, singles prefer denser urban neighborhoods with more to do and greater opportunities to meet and connect with singles.”

Loving the Infertile on Mother’s Day

(WNS)--“Mother’s Day is the hardest Sunday of the year. It is worse than Christmas,” said Lauren Casper, a 30-year-old blogger and speaker who lives in Lexington, Va.

Casper talked about the stomach punches of sitting in church surrounded by people she loved who didn’t seem to understand the pain induced by her empty womb. Until they adopted their son in 2011 and daughter in 2012, she and her husband John had only two children in heaven to show for their years of infertility: “The people in my family and my circle of friends loved and wanted to support me, but it was really hard because they didn’t understand. ‘Oh, you are young and you have plenty of time,’ they would say.”

She recommends that churches:

Address pain publicly: “During Mother’s Day and the time of prayer or honoring, they could address the women who aren’t moms but want to be.”

Don’t say, You’ll have more children: “There seems to be this idea that kids are replaceable. One of the bigger misconceptions is the idea that they can be replaced or the loss can be erased by the addition of a new life. It’s just not reality.”

Treat her to a feminine outing: After going through months of dehumanizing fertility tests or losing a baby, women often feel their femininity stripped away. Drop off a gift card so she can dress up and go out with her husband, or invite her for a girls’ night out.

Hope in God: Out of compassion, a relative assured Casper she’d get pregnant again, but she never did. Holding out false hope makes the monthly reminder of nonpregnancy even more crushing. Casper says, “The hope is not in the eventual child. Hope is in God and His sovereignty. … The secret is Christ in me not me in a different set of circumstances. The circumstances may or may not change.”

Nate Pyle, lead pastor of Christ’s Community Church in Fishers, Ind., experienced years of infertility with his wife Sarah. He says churches need to learn how to care for hurting couples, and suggests:

Focus on family, not biological family: “There is this emphasis in the church on family—and absolutely family is important,” but not just biological family. “Christians do a great job with adoption, but I think sometimes it is seen as a secondary or a lesser option.”

Turn to Scripture: “The Bible has so many examples of couples who struggled with infertility.” Encourage those in pain with this truth. Turn them to the Bible and pray consistently for their faith and the desires of their heart.

Mark the baby’s life: Extend friendship to hurting mothers by marking this child’s life with a token—a meal, houseplant, or bouquet of flowers. A grieving mother will be comforted that you thought her child’s life significant enough to be remembered.

Help them grieve: Those who suffer the loss of a child would rather you ask how they are months after the miscarriage than feel you have forgotten. These conversations will apply another layer of healing.

California Colleges Remove Christian Ministry from 19 Campuses


By Leigh Jones

(WNS)--Four years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a California university could force Christian groups to accept non-Christian leaders, all of the state’s public universities have adopted the policy, pushing one of the nation’s largest Christian groups off 19 campuses.

Leaders with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship announced this month that all 23 of its affiliated chapters in the California State University System would move off-campus this fall, operating as unofficial student groups.

The change, although not unexpected, is forcing the group to rethink its approach to ministry. New student outreach efforts will include mobile banner stands, interactive displays, social media, and other techniques that aren’t dependent on access to official university channels.

“Our campus-access challenges give this generation of students an opportunity to reinvent campus ministry,” said Greg Jao, InterVarsity’s national field director. “Even as we use new tools and techniques, we remind students that effective ministry is ultimately relational. It’s about students inviting other students to follow Jesus.”

California’s challenge to Christian student groups started with the Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California’s Hastings Law School. Administrators there instituted an “all-comers” policy that required all groups to be open to all students, regardless of beliefs. CLS and other Christian groups, including InterVarsity, ask student leaders to affirm a statement of faith that defines their shared Christian belief.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the policy in a narrow ruling that pertained only to Hastings. Although the California university system has rolled out the policy at all its campuses, conservative legal experts say they’re taking the interpretation too far. At Hastings, the high court ruled a true all-comers policy did not violate students’ Constitutional rights because it was universally applied. But on other campuses, administrators have provided exceptions for gender-based groups like fraternities and sororities, raising questions about whether the policy is as neutral as it claims to be.

The California campuses are not the first from which InterVarsity has had to withdraw in an official capacity. In 2011, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., also adopted an all-comers policy. Rather than sign an agreement pledging to consider non-Christians for leadership positions, InterVarsity’s Graduate Christian Fellowship and about a dozen other Christian groups moved off campus. Other private colleges have followed Vanderbilt’s lead, though not at the pace some campus Christian ministries feared. In May, InterVarsity leaders at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, had to step down because they would not sign a similar policy requiring them to allow lesbian, gay, and other non-heterosexual students to be leaders.

And while Vanderbilt’s policy made ministry more difficult, Christian groups there haven’t disappeared. In a message to InterVarsity donors, Jao said the end of acceptance for Christians on college campuses creates an opportunity.

“Our position will cost us,” he said. “But I think the campus-access challenge gives students an opportunity to say, some might be afraid to pay the price, but not this generation of world changers. … Throughout the country, we’ve found that our staff and student leaders respond to derecognition with greater creativity, boldness, and risk-taking. And, perhaps more importantly, they’ve deepened their convictions as disciples, evangelists, and leaders.”

Researchers Rekindle Vaccine-Autism Debate


New study claims to show a link between widespread use of fetal cell vaccines and an upsurge in autism

By Daniel James Devine

(WNS)--The mysterious childhood developmental disorder known as autism affects hundreds of thousands of U.S. kids, causing social and communication disabilities ranging from mild to severe. It has no available cure, and causes for the condition remain unknown. Multiple studies in recent years seem to have refuted the notion that vaccines might cause autism, but one new study has set out to challenge the consensus.

Published in the online Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology this month, the study found a correlation between the upsurge in cases of autism and the widespread use of vaccines made with fetal tissue cell lines. It is the first study to examine the link between autism and fetal cell vaccines, according to the primary author, Theresa Deisher, a stem cell scientist and the founder of Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute in Seattle.

“We firmly feel that the data is compelling enough that it justifies very immediate and stringent safety studies and analysis,” Deisher told me. “If this were a pesticide, it would already have been banned.”

Deisher and other researchers at Sound Choice used public data to plot the sharp rise of autism prevalence in several countries. The year in which autism rates began to surge upwards in each country is what they referred to as the “change point.”

They found that autism change points in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Australia corresponded with the introduction or increased use of fetal cell vaccines. For example, in the United States, Deisher’s team found that change points marking increased autism diagnoses occurred around 1981, 1988, and 1996. They believe those dates correspond to the introduction of Meruvax II (for rubella) and MMR II (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccines in 1979, the addition of a second MMR II dose in the late 1980s, and the introduction of the Varivax vaccine (for chickenpox) in 1995. They found similar correlations between autism change points and fetal cell vaccines used in the other countries.

The researchers aren’t certain how the fetal cell vaccines might have caused cases of autism, but Deisher said one of two possible mechanisms might be responsible. Fetal cell vaccines contain fragments of human DNA and retroviruses, so one mechanism might be an autoimmune response caused by the foreign DNA.

The second possible mechanism is the process of gene insertion. Cells might accidentally take up the DNA fragments and incorporate them into their own genome, Deisher said. That wouldn’t be expected of many other vaccines that are made using animal, not human cell lines, because DNA is decorated with chemical groups “like the icing on a cake,” Deisher said, and the icing is different for each species: “DNA from a chicken cell will be decorated like DNA from a chicken. And a human gene would never take it up.”

Many vaccines are developed using cell cultures taken from chicken eggs. But the vaccines cited in Deisher’s study were developed with widely-used cell lines taken from aborted fetuses decades ago. Since these cells are self-perpetuating, they don’t involve continued abortions in order to be used in vaccines or other research, but they raise questions among some Christians about moral complicity with evil.

Although Deisher thinks some concerns about the health effects of vaccine ingredients are well-founded, she said she’s not “anti-vaccine.” According to Sound Coice’s website, one of the organization’s goals is to raise consumer awareness about “the widespread use of electively aborted fetal material in drug discovery, development and commercialization.”

WORLD reached out to other autism research groups for comment on the new study, without response.

Although some parents of children with autism have for years worried that childhood vaccines are to blame for their children’s developmental problems, most experts are likely to be skeptical of new claims involving a vaccine-autism link: Multiple studies have searched for an association between vaccines and autism and failed to find one. One well-known study in 1998 claimed a link between measles vaccines and autism, but the British journal The Lancet retracted the paper in 2010, saying the lead author had falsified his data.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children in the United States is affected by autism spectrum disorder, a range of autistic symptoms that varies in severity. The agency says parental age and genetic predisposition appear to be risk factors.

Autism affects boys much more often than girls, and the prevalence of the disorder continues to increase sharply (in 2000 only 1 in 150 children were thought to be affected).

Some people have blamed the increased prevalence on expanded awareness and diagnosis of the problem. Deisher and her colleagues said they did not find any correlation between diagnostic criteria and increased autism in their study. Because the definition of ASD has broadened over the years, they said their study focused only on autistic disorder, the most severe form of ASD.

Boko Haram Used Schoolgirl as Suicide Bomber


Congressional hearing discusses kidnapped girls’ fate, other international religious freedom concerns

By Angela Lu

(WNS)--Terrorist group Boko Haram used at least one of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls as a suicide bomber, a Nigerian human rights lawyer confirmed Thursday at a congressional hearing on international religious freedom.

After a monthlong investigation, Emmanuel Ogebe has “positively identified one of the remains recovered from the site of a school bombing as that of an abducted Chibok schoolgirl,” he wrote in a testimony submitted to the House Subcommittee on National Security. Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 girls after raiding their school in April. A month later, it claimed all the girls had converted to Islam. Many speculated the terrorist group turned the girls into bombers after a string of suicide bombings by young women in northern Nigeria.

Testimony at the hearing tied U.S. national security concerns to the breakdown of international religious freedom and criticized the State Department’s weak handling of the issue. Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, noted he was “hard-pressed to name any countries where United States engagement on international religious freedom has made a measurable impact to lessen the persecution of religious minorities.”

Ogebe urged the State Department to take seriously the threats of Boko Haram and to call religion-fueled terrorism what it is. “There is nothing that ISIS has done in Iraq in the past two months that [Boko Haram has] not done in northern Nigeria in the last three years,” he said, deriding the State Department for not designating Boko Haram as a “foreign terrorist organization” until last year. The State Department had earlier denied that Boko Haram killed mainly Christians in Nigeria for religious reasons.

In the meantime, things have worsened for Nigerian Christians: Last week one Catholic diocese said Boko Haram had killed 2,500 of its members. Ogebe also criticized the State Department for denying the group has attempted to target Americans. He mentioned American lawyer Vernice Guthrie, who WORLD News Group reportedwas in the UN building Boko Haram attacked with a suicide bomb in 2011.

Even with the growing threat of Islamist groups, the State Department still isn’t prioritizing  international religious freedom, said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University. He pointed to the nearly yearlong vacancy of the position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, which the Obama administration only recently nominated Rabbi David Saperstein to fill. Even with Saperstien in place, Farr questioned how many resources the State Department will provide him. The position does not report directly to the secretary of state, unlike others such as the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues.

“You can be sure that this marginalization of the ambassador in U.S. policy is not lost on American diplomats, nor is it lost on foreign governments and those who persecute on the basis of religion,” he said.

The State Department has also neglected to consistently update its report of designated Countries of Particular Concern. During President Barack Obama’s tenure, the list has only been updated twice, once in 2011 and again last July. Karina Lantos Swett, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom stressed the importance of keeping up with the designations as situations change and actually implementing sanctions on the listed countries. She recommended creating a religious freedom advisor in the National Security Council, noting “if you overlay the list of Countries of Particular Concern with the list of countries of particular national security threat to the United States, it’s shocking how closely those two lists mesh.”

In a separate panel, the State Department’s Sarah Sewall, the undersecretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, seemed unfamiliar with the number of Christians killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and deflected the question of whether Christianity was the most persecuted religion in the world, stating she didn’t have the numbers. Instead, she focused on the work the department has done with a regional coalition to fight Boko Haram.

To stop terrorist threats, the United States needs to toughen up against regions that stifle religious freedom, Swett said: “When you have societies that repress, oppress, persecute on the basis of sectarianism and religion, you create the seedbed for extremism, for violence, for instability, and, ultimately, for the export of terrorism.”

Christian Rapper Lecrae Finally Gets Mainstream Acceptance


By Angela Lu

(WNS)--It’s taken a decade, but this week proved definitively that Christian rapper Lecrae Moore cannot be ignored. His album Anomaly hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts, selling 88,000 copies in its first week, and on Thursday night he performed snippets of his new songs with The Roots on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Moore is no stranger to breaking down barriers between the sacred and the secular, as he collaborates with top hip-hop artists while keeping his faith central in his music. After popping onto mainstream hip-hop’s radar in 2011 at the BET Hip Hop Award’s freestyle cypher, he’s appeared on industry staples like 106 & Park, MTV, and XXL Magazine. But most aren’t completely sure what to make of him—a rapper who speaks hip-hop, but from a distinctly reformed Christian worldview.

And that feeling of being different, a deviation from the norm, is the narrative that spans Moore’s latest album, Anomaly. From the opening song, “Outsiders,” the rapper musically and lyrically proves his point–with melodic strings and vocals dropping off to a beat and Moore’s quick rapping about finding freedom in not fitting in. He’s now found others who are “all unashamed and all unafraid to live out what they supposed to be.” Tracks range from social commentary to love songs to his wife, with “Runners” stressing the importances of fidelity and staying away from temptation. In “Nuthin,” Moore expresses his disappointment in hip-hop music focusing on sex and drugs while lacking substance: “I know these people greater than the songs they created.”

Moore turns to more conventional Christian radio fare with “Messengers,” which features Christian pop duo For King and Country, and calls on Christians to reach out to a broken world. The most lyrically powerful song, “Good, Bad, Ugly,” steps into Moore’s personal past of sexual abuse as a child, his history of promiscuity, and his regrets pressuring his girlfriend to get an abortion. The song ends with a declaration of the freedom he’s found in Christ, “I’m out the prison, I know that / I got the power to say no to all of my struggles / God will control that.”

Hip-hop publications have written generally positive reviews of the album, with XXL praising his “engrossing flow that leans heavily on delivery, carried by weighty commentary and a healthy dose of punchlines.” Online magazine HipHopDX called Moore “the most impactful Christian rapper.” Reviewer Jay Balfour, who gave the album 3.5 of 5 stars, continued that “it may not be a label he himself will flaunt, but he became the first Hip Hop artist to win a Grammy for Best Gospel Album last year and has assimilated into the mainstream more fully than any other emcee of his kind.”


Anomaly isn’t the first Christian album to top the Billboard list. Chris Tomlin and TobyMac have also taken home the honors in the past two years, as well as LeAnn Rimes and Bob Carlisle in the 90s. Before the album released Sept. 9, Moore launched a social media campaign asking fans to write out their own countercultural stories and tagging it #Anomaly, gaining responses from NBA stars such as Jeremy Lin. A few of the stories were then posted on a billboard in Times Square in New York.

As Moore continues down this untrodden path, he’s found detractors from both Christians and the hip-hop community upset that he doesn’t fit their mold. “Being a young black man who loves hip-hop and the culture of hip-hop, and yet loves Jesus at the same time makes me an anomaly,” Moore said in his album’s promo video. Still, “I think success is being exactly what God called us to be.”


Eagle Shot


Families of longtime Boy Scouts face tough decisions about whether to go or stay

By Allie Hulcher

(WNS)--Bruce Weatherly’s Eagle Scout rank means more to him than prestige, resumé fodder, or a chance to get a college scholarship. For the 18-year-old, reaching Eagle was about honoring his father’s memory.

His outdoorsy, rock-climbing, woods-hiking, and kayaking father died in 2009. Bruce’s mother Lauri Weatherly wanted her sons still to experience male leadership: “Boy scouting in general would be considered, in my eyes, their father.” 

After the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decided last year to accept openly gay scouts, scouting dissidents created Trail Life USA. With that decision came tension for families, particularly when sons were close to gaining the prestigious Eagle Scout rank, a symbol of ultimate achievement that scouts often list on college applications and use to win scholarships. Six-month-old Trail Life has to contend with that legacy: It offers an “achievement transfer” for boys, but BSA has trademarked the terms “scout” and the names of ranks. BSA has the Eagle Scout; Trail Life has the Freedom Award.

Bruce had written an essay opposing the admission of gay scouts, but he was also two months away from completing his six-month-long Eagle Scout project when his BSA troop in John’s Creek, Ga., disbanded. He had to decide whether to move to another troop and complete his Eagle, or take his Christian principles with him to Trail Life. His mom thought leaving without achieving Eagle rank would be “like dropping out of the race when you see the finish line before you,” but she encouraged Bruce to pray and then make the painful choice. He decided to stay in.

What about others?   

In June, at a Trail Life camp in western North Carolina, troop leaders from North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama sat around a wooden picnic table. Nearly 100 boys attending the camp were on a hunt for one boy in hiding, in a game called “Saving Private Bryan.” Meanwhile, the leaders told me how many of their boys had “rushed” to get the Eagle during the transitional time after the BSA decision. (In 2013, the second-largest number of boys in BSA history became Eagle Scouts.)

Luke Van Cleave, Bruce’s former BSA scoutmaster and now Trail Life Troop 317 leader, said seven of his former scouts moved to another BSA troop: Five of those boys were close to their Eagle, and two were their younger brothers. One Troop 317 boy, 16-year-old Eagle Scout John Jung, stayed in the Boy Scouts while joining Trail Life because of friends and the potential for further leadership roles in BSA. He said in Boy Scouts “they stack you up on merit badges till lunch.” 

Without the “Eagle Scout” designation, Trail Life is emphasizing that its boys will have not sashes but “standards”—wooden staffs that serve as part walking stick, part saber, like what shepherds and bishops and even Moses carried. Trail Life co-founder John Stemberger said a standard is “a little more masculine than a cloth and a patch.” The Trail Life website states the Freedom Award crest includes a “shield of faith,” a “sword of the spirit,” “trinity peaks,” a “mighty stag,” and “crossed keys,” all symbolic and referring to Bible passages.

An Eagle Scout himself, Stemberger said he’s still proud of his Eagle and will pass it on to his sons: “It’s not like I’m going to burn it or send it back or anything like that. Though I respect people who have done that.” Trail Life has to contend with BSA’s 104-year legacy and its iconic place in American culture, evident in Norman Rockwell’s scouting paintings. Stemberger says he has four of these prints hanging in his house: “When I walk by them I feel sad. It’s like part of America died.”

Goal Keeper


Ryan Hollingshead put pro soccer on hold to pursue his dream of helping his brother plant a church

By Andrew Branch

(WNS)--When Ryan Hollingshead spurned money and playing time in Major League Soccer (MLS) in 2013 to plant a church with his brother, outsiders tried to convince him not to waste his opportunity.

Hollingshead took their advice. But for him, the church was that opportunity.

Hollingshead, 23, and his brother Scott, 28, both played varsity soccer at UCLA. Both developed a desire for church-related ministry in their hometown of Sacramento.

When Ryan Hollingshead learned that his brother would start planting a Harvest Bible Fellowship church at the end of Ryan’s 2012 season at UCLA, he decided to forgo the MLS draft—and a top-five projection—and work with his brother instead. It was almost a “no-brainer,” he told me. He wanted to work alongside Scott when it was hardest, not after God had already established the church.

When MLS teams called him regarding the draft, Ryan told them he would probably never play. He spent draft day in Haiti at an orphanage with the woman who is now his wife. But the FC Dallas soccer team drafted him at No. 20 anyway, informing him they knew of his commitment and were willing to take the risk.

Dallas occasionally checked in as Ryan worked a day job in real estate and helped Scott at night. It was easy to get discouraged working 80-hour weeks on meetings that drew six people. Scott says his brother encouraged him when it was hard: “Ryan was always the one to kind of steer me back and be like, ‘No, Scott. The Lord is in this.’” Harvest Bible Chapel Sacramento officially launched in October, and a quickly meshing body relieved the burden on both of them.

Ryan signed with FC Dallas in December after a year with no practice. “Everything was slow,” he said. “My legs were … heavy. My touch was off. My thought process—I never knew what I wanted to do with the ball.” He’s now earning playing time, including his first start Aug. 16 at San Jose in front of Scott and the family. “I’ve got a lot more room to grow,” he said. “That makes me happy.”


Harvest Bible Chapel Sorry for Church Discipline


Three former elders censured publicly say they accept pastor James MacDonald’s apology

By Daniel James Devine

(WNS)--Harvest Bible Chapel, a Chicago-area megachurch with seven campuses and about 100 church plants around the world issued an apology over the weekend for harshly censuring three former elders last year.

James MacDonald, an author and the senior pastor of Harvest, read a statement to the church saying he and the current church elders met last week with the three men and asked for their forgiveness: “I wish to announce that the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel have unanimously agreed to lift all discipline from Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh and Dan Marquardt.”

Last year, as WORLD reported, Harvest excommunicated Phelps and Slabaugh and indirectly censured Marquardt after the three resigned the elder board in protest of what they said was a “culture of fear and intimidation” and a lack of transparency among church leadership. After Phelps, Slabaugh, and Marquardt joined five other former elders in signing a private letter of concern sent to the remaining elder board, the board initiated church discipline: In a video shown at the church’s campuses in September 2013 and posted online for two weeks, the elders said Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh were trying to “discredit and destroy our pastor” and displayed a “persistent spirit of superiority and self-righteousness.” The elders said the two men were no longer welcome at Harvest and asked members to cut off contact: “Avoid these former elders at all costs, lest you incur great detriment to your own soul.” Marquardt, who had already begun attending another church at the time, was indirectly mentioned in the video.

“We immediately realized that we erred in the manner in which it was done and in what it implied,” MacDonald said this weekend of the discipline proceedings, adding he and church leadership had failed to offer a “biblically required restorative component.”

“We met with these three brothers to ask for their forgiveness and seek reconciliation,” he continued. “Specifically we apologized for the harsh language we used to characterize them. We made statements about their character and actions that were hurtful and proved to be untrue.” MacDonald said there were still “differences” of perspective remaining between the church leadership and the three former elders, but said they had “agreed to be at peace with us and with Harvest.”

He concluded: “We urge the members of Harvest Bible Chapel and the Christian community to accept these brothers as valued members of the body of Christ. … We also ask the forgiveness of the wider Christian community that has watched this painful episode unfold.”

The three former elders confirmed to me they had accepted the church’s apology.

After multiple former Harvest members and elders raised questions on a blog called The Elephant’s Debt about the church’s leadership, including questions about MacDonald’s undisclosed salary, Harvest announced several changes aimed at increasing accountability. Last September the church joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, and the elder board also announced this February MacDonald had voluntarily downsized to “a smaller home in Elgin,” Illinois, and had taken a “significant salary reduction,” although it did not state his current salary. The church struggled with a 21 percent decrease in contributions and other revenue between 2011 and 2013.

The current elder board has 33 elders, including MacDonald. Harvest restructured its elder board in 2009 when the board transitioned from a model of about 8-10 men to a larger one that eventually grew to around 30 people. Another restructuring occurred last year, when the church created an “Elder Leadership Team” of half a dozen or so elders.

According to a change in the church’s constitution that Harvest announced last year, the Elder Leadership Team will have “final authority in all matters relating to the church, including compensation, buying or selling property, and accountability of senior staff.” The full elder board approved the constitution change this summer.



Missouri Family Appeals Contraceptive Mandate Ruling


(WNS)--A Missouri state legislator and his wife are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling will prompt a federal appeals court to side with them in their fight against the government’s contraceptive mandate.  Paul and Teresa Wieland filed suit against the Obama administration last year claiming the requirement to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs through their health insurance plan violates their religious beliefs. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case Sept. 8.  “The U.S. Supreme Court rightly honored the religious liberty of business owners by granting an exemption from providing abortion pill coverage to their employees in Hobby Lobby,” said Tim Belz, an attorney with the Thomas More Society representing the Wielands. “The government has no business forcing parents to purchase coverage of abortion drugs and contraceptives for their family in violation of their religious beliefs. The government’s position is a wrecking ball in the cathedral of conscience rights.”

Missouri Lawmakers Override Veto to Enact Abortion Wait Period


(WNS)--The Missouri state legislature enacted a 72-hour wait period for abortions in early September, overriding Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto from earlier this year.  The Democratic governor had previously vetoed the legislation because it didn’t include exceptions for rape and incest. Missouri passed a 24-hour wait period in 2003 that also didn’t include rape and incest exceptions. The governor labeled the new bill “extreme and disrespectful” toward women.  The law places Missouri in second place for most stringent wait-period laws. North Dakota’s 72-hour wait period, the strictest in the country, doesn’t include weekends or holidays. Utah follows Missouri; its 72-hour wait period allows exceptions for rape, incest, and other extreme circumstances. Missouri’s bill passed with bipartisan support, despite an attempted filibuster by Democratic senators. The vote was 117-44 in the House and 23-7 in the Senate.


Air Force Won’t Let Atheist Airman Skip God in Enlistment Oath


(WNS)--The Air Force has given an atheist airman until November to take his enlistment oath, which includes the phrase “so help me God.” If he refuses, he will not be allowed to rejoin his unit. Atheist groups have taken up the unnamed airman’s cause, but he may find himself caught in a battle over the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. The American Humanist Association (AHA) has written to inspectors general for the Air Force and Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, arguing the airman’s constitutional rights have been violated. The airman’s terms of service expire in November, and AHA claims his commanding officers rejected his written re-enlistment oath on Aug. 25 because he crossed out the words “so help me God.”


Man Challenges Belgium’s Euthanasia Law After Mom’s Death

(WNS)--Tom Mortier is taking Belgium to Europe’s highest court for allowing doctors to euthanize his depressed mother and waiting to notify him until the next day.  Euthanasia killings in Belgium and the Netherlands have spiked in recent years, especially for people with mental illness or depression, and the elderly who don’t want to go to nursing homes. Godelieva De Troyer died April 19, 2012, at the hands of an oncologist—not her psychiatrist of 20 years, who refused to say her depression was untreatable.



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