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Christianity Today

  1. World Relief wants clarification over today’s big Supreme Court decision.

    It’s been a tumultuous year for refugee resettlement, and the latest ruling on President Donald Trump’s highly contested travel ban introduces more questions about the prospects for foreigners seeking asylum in the United States.

    After months of holdups in lower courts and declining refugee admittances, today the US Supreme Court partially reinstated Trump’s executive order that bars refugees and travelers from certain Muslim-majority nations from entering the country. The high court will rule on the case this fall.

    Monday’s court decision included some notable exceptions to Trump’s initial ban, including allowing refugees with “bona fide relationships with a person or entity in the United States” to enter the country and allowing such connected refugees into America even after totals reach Trump’s limit of 50,000 this fiscal year.

    World Relief, an arm of the National Association of Evangelicals that serves as one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the US, is waiting to hear more about the new qualifications. How the State Department interprets the decision will determine whether it will halt the flow of refugees or, possibly, allow in even more than planned.

    Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization, said World Relief expects to receive guidance later this week, since the decision goes into effect Thursday.

    Between 50 percent and 75 percent of refugees resettled through World Relief have some sort of tie to family or other contacts living in the US; however, some of these relationships may not meet the government standard for “bona fide relationships.” For example, “close familial relationships”—a term used in the decision—could...

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  2. VidAngel is back. But the jury is still out on its legality.

    What’s Game of Throneslike without the nudity? House of Cards without the cursing? Subscribers to a new app are about to find out.

    VidAngel, the Mormon-owned movie filtering company, announced plans this month to launch a service allowing families to watch customized versions of HBO, Netflix, and Amazon shows and movies for $7.99 a month.

    More than 200,000 fans watched the live video where CEO Neal Harmon declared “VidAngel is back!” and debuted the app. It’s currently available on iOS and Android, and slated to be coming soon to other streaming devices.

    The new project comes as VidAngel continues to fight in court for people of faith to have the right to stream movies “however the bleep” they want, and as competitors continue to clamor for the family-friendly Christian audience.

    The Utah-based company, with 100,000-plus subscribers and the backing of evangelical groups like Focus on the Family, was forced to take down its streaming offerings in January, after studios levied lawsuits based on US copyright and encryption regulations.

    Its old platform relied on a pay-per-rental, Redbox-style setup. The new service, which includes more than 1,600 titles, resembles an unlimited subscription model. Both formats let viewers customize which content they would like removed or bleep, down to the word.

    “Rewatching #StrangerThings via @VidAngel with the boys. They are loving it & it’s great we can edit out the profanity & sexual references,” a dad in Texas tweeted last week.

    The faith-based audience is huge, as evidenced by the success of recent Christian movies like War Room, and eager for more to watch. A 2013 LifeWay Research survey found that evangelicals and born-again Christians...

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  3. But 1 in 5 think conservative Christians are motivated by hate.

    Americans love to fight about sex and religion.

    From shacking up and same-sex marriage to birth control and bathrooms, Americans disagree about what is right and wrong with sex—often based on faith.

    Those disputes can end up in court, in highly divisive and controversial cases. This week, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

    When faith and sexuality clash, which side should prevail? Americans can’t decide.

    About half of Americans (48%) say religious freedom is more important in such conflicts when faith and sexuality clash, according to a new study from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. A quarter (24%) say sexual freedom is more important. A quarter (28%) aren’t sure.

    “It’s clear Americans value religious liberty,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But when it comes to sex, they aren’t sure religion should have the final word. That’s especially true for younger Americans and those who aren’t religious.”

    Religious beliefs, age matter

    LifeWay Research’s study is based on new analysis of a survey of 1,000 Americans. Researchers wanted to get a big-picture look at how Americans view conflicts between religious views and sexuality, McConnell said.

    They found Americans’ views are divided by geography, religious beliefs and demographics.

    Men (30%), those in the Northeast (33%), Hispanic Americans (31%), and those 18 to 44 (30%) are more likely to favor sexual freedom. So are nones, those with no religious affiliation, at 49 percent.

    Southerners (53%), those with evangelical beliefs (90%), Protestants (68%), African Americans (58%) and those 55 and older (55%)...

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  4. It doesn’t matter how grand your vision is if it doesn’t flow with the culture of your community.

    I recently attended my high school class reunion. It was a backyard barbecue with a couple dozen in attendance. As I’m sure most reunions go, the time was spent reminiscing of the glory football days and Saturday night shenanigans. Not a lot has changed, but we are all different. The majority of my class was born and raised in that tiny town (population: 1,500), so being back together just felt like home. We took turns trying to remember each other’s home phone numbers and joked about landlines, party-lines, and how quickly news could travel. There is a unique camaraderie among us. Something that only develops from small town living.

    It’s because of this upbringing that I know I’m wired for rural ministry. A little over a decade ago, I felt the Lord’s prompting to plant a church in western Nebraska. We didn’t have a ‘sending’ church that we could pull volunteers from to partner with us. It was just me, my wife, and our two small children. We raised our own financial support through family and friends. I went to a “Church Planters Intensive” bootcamp where the Holy Spirit began to download a clear vision into my heart for the community.

    I knew it would be a lot of hard work, but there was a fire in my belly and excitement in my bones! I was going to turn this town upside down for Christ! My vision was clear and my mission was established.

    I noticed that the majority of churches in our area had stayed the same over the decades. Nothing had changed within the four walls. I determined that we would be different! We established our Sunday morning service routine that did not include Sunday School. As the congregation grew, so did the argument to start up Sunday School classes....

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  5. Colorado baker faces fines for refusing cakes for same-sex couples.

    As same-sex marriage became legal in more and more states and then across the country, evangelicals and others with religious objections have worried about their obligations to accommodate gay and lesbian couples. After several state-level disputes involving florists, photographers, and bakers, America’s highest court will finally rule on the issue.

    On Monday, the US Supreme Court announced it will take on the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which involves a Christian baker defending his decision to turn down wedding cake orders for same-sex couples.

    The case exemplifies the tension between upholding religious freedom rights and protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination. Americans are evenly split on the issue: about half (49%) say wedding vendors should be required to serve same-sex couples, while nearly as many (48%) say they should be able to refuse on religious grounds, according to the Pew Research Center.

    In a similar PRRI poll, majorities of every major religious tradition, including white evangelicals, said they did not believe small business owners should be allowed to “refuse services to gay and lesbian people.”

    The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) represents Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. The Christian religious freedom group argues that, as a person of faith and as an artist, Phillips has the right to use discretion in the projects he works on—particularly when they oppose his religious beliefs.

    He was found guilty of violating Colorado’s antidiscrimination policy for turning down an order to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception in 2012. Colorado has upheld the penalty, while courts in...

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