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Houston Drops Sermons from Subpoenas

Opponents still question relevance of pastor info to their case.

Update (Oct. 17): New subpoenas issued Friday by the City of Houston do not ask five local pastors for sermon notes, instead limiting their request to instructions regarding a petition to repeal the city's equal rights ordinance.

The word "sermon" has been removed, as well as the requests for pastors' teachings on sexuality and gender identity. The subpoenas still list all speeches, presentations, documents, text messages, emails, and other communication related to the ordinance, the petition, and their campaign to collect signatures.

Mayor Annise Parker tweeted:

City just refilled subpoenas in #HERO. Clarified our intent. No mention of sermons. All about petition process instructions.

Never intended to interfere w/ pastors & their sermons or an intrusion on religion. Our discovery motion now clearly focused on petition.

When the petition against the equal rights ordinance—assembled as part of a citywide, church-led campaign—was dismissed in August, City Attorney Dave Feldman cited issues with signatures. During the subpoena process, he has also brought up concerns over orchestrating political organizing from the pulpit.

The lawsuit against the city alleges that the city secretary is responsible for assessing petitions, and that theirs was subject to additional scrutiny when Feldman himself reviewed it and threw out thousands of pages as invalid.

So opponents are now asking: If we are suing you for mishandling our petition, what does it matter what we said about it?

“The only real question is, ‘Did the right number of people sign the petition?’” said Joe La Rue, legal counsel from Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the five subpoenaed ...

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My Immigration Status: Beloved

In Christ I am more than the crime I committed at age 5.

As proud as I am of my Mexican heritage, there is only one place I can call home: the United States. I belong to the wave of immigrants who arrived in the country as children. All that remains from my early years in Mexico are a few blurry memories, drawn together from what my mother has told me.

My mother lost her first husband in a car accident in 1978. After his death, she traveled for the first time to the States to identify his body and take care of the funeral. She was left to fend for my two older siblings, mourning and under-resourced. About seven years later, she met my father, and I was born. When I was 3, he left our family to marry another woman.

Later, my mother’s love for her oldest son compelled her to travel to the States a second time. She hadn’t seen him since he moved to Orange County at age 14. When my brother learned she was going to leave me with my uncle, he insisted she bring me to keep the family together. Twenty-five years later, here I remain.

We moved into an apartment with my two uncles on Minnie Street in Santa Ana, California, once named the toughest city in the country in which to make ends meet. We faced challenging times. My mom hadn’t been allowed to attend school past the second grade, so she worked mostly babysitting jobs. She wanted to give her children what she had missed: an education. Many times I wished my father had been there to help us financially. The child support was scarcely enough to meet our needs. But more than that, I was hungry for the warmth of a loving father who would protect us and ensure my mother didn’t have to play the role of both parents.

A Profound Wound

As I entered junior high school, I excelled in math and dove into volleyball ...

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Bless This Tackle? Not a Prayer

Christians misguided fight for football devotions isnt working.

After asking a player to lead the team in prayer, a varsity football coach at an Arizona public prep school recently received a two-week suspension. Coach Tommy Brittain’s punishment has become a rallying point for area Christians who view it as another example of secularism crowding out religion in the public square.

Conservative television and radio have fan the flames of discontent, even though the question of whether or not coaches, chaplains, or any other adult may lead public school teams in prayer has long been a settled legal matter. Further challenges have come from atheist groups such as the American Humanist Society (AHS) and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF).

Any football fan knows that religion on football fields and locker rooms is nothing new. Over a half-century before Philadelphia Eagle Heb Lusk kneeled on the field and sent up the first-ever end zone prayer during a 1977 NFL game, a brand of Christianity had already become a familiar fixture in football locker rooms. As far back as 1893, a journalist reported that following its victory over Yale in the great Thanksgiving Day game, the Princeton team, “naked and covered with mud and blood and perspiration,” stood in its locker to sing the Doxology “from the beginning to end as solemnly and seriously, as they ever did in their lives.” Today, prayer in professional football is as predictable as The Star Spangled Banner, so much so that heads are no longer turned when NFL teams meet at the center of the field for prayer after each game.

But religion inserted into games sponsored by public institutions is another matter, destined to raise questions about separation of church and state. Following a series of cases, ...

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Interview: Nancy Writebol: Ebola Is a Spiritual Battle

The missionary nurse who survived the deadly virus says medicine alone won't cure West Africa.

Since the Ebola outbreak began this spring, nearly 10,000 instances of the virus have been recorded—and that number could grow to 1.4 million, says the Centers for Disease Control. (The World Health Organization offers a much more conservative estimate of 151,000.) The threat barely registered on Americans’ radar until SIM nurse Nancy Writebol and Samaritan’s Purse doctor Kent Brantly were both diagnosed in July. This week, the first person diagnosed with Ebola inside the United States died, and five U.S. airports announced they are instating screening procedures for travelers arriving from West Africa.

Writebol, who has previous experience working in Ecuador and Zambia, moved to Liberia with her husband, David, in 2013. Nearly a month into treating infected patients, Writebol learned she herself had contracted Ebola. After she and Brantly failed to improve in West Africa, they were flown back to the United States, where they both were treated with the experimental and controversial ZMapp antibodies. Both recovered fully.

Writebol and David, currently based in North Carolina, spoke with CT editorial resident Morgan Lee about treating Ebola, where God went during her illness, and her thoughts about those who protested her return to the States.

What is a Liberian hospital like during an epidemic?

In many of the hospitals, there was no protective gear, and nurses were working without gloves and masks. We [SIM] had the advantage of being partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, which had flown in everything we needed to protect our healthcare workers. But still there was fear of being in an isolation unit and working with people. It took time before nurses could see that, yes, they could be protected ...

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Commentary: The Rapture Keeps Coming Back

Why are movies about the last days still so popular?

Are Americans more enraptured with the Rapture than ever? Seth Rogen's 2013 apocalypse comedy, This Is the End, poked fun at the concept, while the cinematic "reboot" of Left Behind, starring Nicolas Cage, takes it seriously. The bleak HBO drama The Leftovers, developed by Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost), explores what life would be like for those left behind after a Rapture-esque event.

The Rapture is a relatively recent idea in church history, as well as a minor theme in Scripture: Many Bible scholars argue that it's not there at all, while descendants of 19th-century dispensationalists see it in passages like 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17; 1 Corinthians 15:51–55; and John 14:2–3. But it has become a fixture in U.S. pop culture, showing up unexpectedly like a thief in the night.

Big-Budget Destruction

Pop apocalyptic—the larger genre of disaster movies and end-of-the-world scenarios—has been a big business for a long time. It flourished after World War II and during the cold war. Just as Amish romances have provided an evangelical-friendly niche within the larger genre of romance novels, Rapture media allowed Christians to carve out a space within the larger (and quite profitable) genre of apocalyptic. Whereas Amish romance provides a "safer alternative" to bodice-rippers, however, Christian Rapture fare often seems more intent on upping the terror factor than providing toned-down, family-friendly fun.

Take the 1941 evangelistic film The Rapture, produced by Charles Octavia Baptista. In 11 minutes, the film chillingly depicts the chaos to be wrought on earth when the Rapture occurs. The narrator predicts that "speeding trains will plunge unsuspecting ...

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