MARCH 16: Referendum officials empty ballot boxes to begin counting votes at a polling station in Simferopol, Ukraine. Crimea’s vote to seek annexation by Russia is unrecognized by both the Ukrainian government and the West.
In the previous issue of WORLD, we made the most grievous error we’ve made in 20 years. It concerns the story headlined “Uncovering alleged abuse: Two Christian colleges remain in the news for ongoing investigations of sexual assault.” This was a story about a story, and the headline that accompanied it promised more than our story actually delivered. All we sought to do was to note the existence of ongoing controversies, but our story added very little new information. We should have held it back and done more reporting before publishing it.
The larger error concerns the photo we carried. Images matter, and by choosing a photo of Mike Farris to accompany this incomplete story, we gave readers the wrong impression that the story was about him before they’d even had the chance to read it.
Good photojournalism emphasizes people, not things, and that fact alone is what drove the decision to use the photo of Farris. Nevertheless, given the sensitivity of the story, as well as the potential for misunderstanding and the consequences of it, we should have chosen more generic campus photos to represent each school discussed in the story. But we don’t have it to do over again, so all we can do is admit the error, try to repair it, and seek Farris’ forgiveness. We begin that process publicly.
In a clear bid to protect vulnerable Democrats facing elections this year, the Obama administration announced it would allow insurers to continue offering individual plans that don’t meet the healthcare law’s new insurance requirements through 2016. Without the additional delay, people with noncompliant plans would have received cancellation notices this fall around election time. The administration estimates that about 1.5 million people currently have noncompliant insurance policies. About 4.7 million policies were canceled last fall. Insurers could still cancel noncompliant plans this fall of their own volition. At a March 12 hearing, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, said there would be no delay of the individual mandate to buy insurance.
According to a document obtained by WORLD, Mars Hill Church paid a book marketing firm $210,000 in 2012 to coordinate sales of Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage so it would land on The New York Times’ bestseller list. Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mars Hill’s Board of Advisors and Accountability issued a statement saying the decision to use the marketing firm ResultSource Inc. was an “unwise strategy,” but defended the strategy as “not uncommon or illegal.”
Bill Gothard, an evangelical pastor and homeschooling champion who is under investigation for allegations of sexual harassment and abuse, resigned as president of the Institute in Basic Life Principles. In the 1970s and ’80s, Gothard filled 20,000-seat auditoriums with evangelical Christians who came to hear his weeklong seminars, which included warnings against rock music and exhortations to stay out of debt. The accusations against Gothard, 79, became public as a result of the work of Recovering Grace, which has statements from 34 women regarding incidents dating back to their youth in the 1970s and thereafter.
A Turkish court freed the five Muslims suspected of the brutal torture and murders of a German Christian missionary and two Turkish Christian converts in 2007, ruling that the five men’s detention while on trial had exceeded the legal limits. Courts also released a defendant in a trial for the murder of Turkish Christian journalist Hrant Dink. Lawyers for the families of the men had called the investigation “sloppy.” The multi-year trials highlighted the feebleness of the Turkish justice system, especially in regard to crimes against Christian minorities.
In the early hours of Saturday morning authorities lost contact with a Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 passengers and crew aboard, heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. With no sign of wreckage in the area where the plane lost contact, what happened was a mystery. Part of the mystery was due to Malaysia’s limited radar capabilities and poor handling of information as it became available. U.S. investigators, who have the most expertise in the world when it comes to plane disappearances and crashes, headed to the area to help after the crash but expressed frustration with Malaysian authorities’ unwillingness to use their expertise. A week after the crash, Malaysian authorities announced that limited satellite data had shown that the plane had flown for seven hours after it cut contact with Malaysian civilian radar, meaning it could have crashed or landed anywhere from the Indian Ocean to as far north as Kazakhstan. Suspicion shifted to the plane’s pilot and co-pilot, because the plane’s transponders had been intentionally switched off before the plane flew in the opposite direction of its intended path—though the pilots could have been under duress. Investigators did not believe any of the passengers had the expertise to fly the Boeing 777, one of the largest passenger jets in the world. Most of the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines flight were Chinese, but the lone American adult on the flight, a Texas businessman named Phillip Wood, was a professed Christian. “My brother, our family, we are Christians,” Wood’s brother, James Wood, told the Associated Press. “Christ above else is what’s keeping us together.”
The string of suicide bombings in an increasingly violent Iraq continued Sunday when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb-laden truck at a checkpoint and killed at least 45 and wounded more than 100. In February, 700 Iraqis were killed in terrorist attacks and related violence. About 8,000 Iraqis were killed last year, according to the UN, the deadliest year for Iraq since 2008. The Shiite-led government has been trying to quell an al-Qaeda-led insurgency since U.S. troops pulled out of the country.
On Sunday night a burglar broke into Lakewood Church, the Houston megachurch led by pastor Joel Osteen, and stole $600,000 in cash and checks from the church safe, along with written credit card numbers. The money, $200,000 in cash and $400,000 in checks, represented the tithes from the weekend. In a statement, Lakewood said the funds were fully insured.
Falls Church finale
Closing the final chapter in years of legal disputes, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case concerning the historic property of The Falls Church, in Arlington, Va. In a now-familiar narrative, the 4,000-member congregation of The Falls Church voted to leave The Episcopal Church over doctrinal differences in 2006 and join the more biblically orthodox Convocation of Anglicans in North America. The Episcopal Church sought to keep The Falls Church’s $40 million property, and won a final ruling from a Virginia state court in 2012. The congregation was evicted and since then has been holding services in school gyms and other local churches.
Spies like us
A rare intraparty dispute tumbled into public when Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused the CIA of hacking the committee’s computers while the committee was investigating the agency’s interrogation and detention practices. Feinstein said the agency may have “violated the separation of powers principles embodied by the United States Constitution.” CIA Director John Brennan denied the agency had accessed the committee’s computers. The committee and the CIA have been in a squabble since the committee obtained internal documents from the agency. Feinstein said the committee obtained the documents properly, but the CIA may have searched the computers to see whether the committee had obtained the documents some other way. The top Republican on the committee, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, didn’t join Feinstein’s accusations, saying, “There’s disagreements as to what the actual facts are.” The Justice Department is investigating both matters.
Dallas Seavey won Alaska’s Iditarod dogsled race, setting a record for the race from Anchorage to Nome of eight days, 13 hours, 4 minutes, and 19 seconds. Racers had trouble with sledding after Alaska’s unusually warm winter left little snow. Seavey was the youngest to win the race in 2012, at 25, and last year his father Mitch Seavey became the oldest person to win, at 53.
Republican David Jolly narrowly beat Democrat Alex Sink to fill a Florida congressional seat after Republican Rep. Bill Young died last year. The race may indicate the political albatross of Obamacare for Democrats–Sink led polls before the election, but she supported Obamacare. Jolly focused his campaign on repealing and replacing Obamacare. Democrats must pick up 17 seats to win control of the House of Representatives this fall.
A gas leak–triggered explosion leveled two five-story buildings in Harlem, killing eight and injuring more than 60. One of the buildings was a longtime neighborhood church, Spanish Christian Church, and many of the victims were members of the church and other churches nearby. One of the victims, Carmen Tanco, was a regular participant in medical missions trips abroad at Bethel Gospel Assembly, a church three blocks from the site. The explosion forced the city to vacate seven buildings around the site, leaving more than 100 homeless, whom the nearby Salvation Army shelter took in.
Iranian doctors refused to treat Iranian American pastor Saeed Abedini and sent him back to prison with internal bleeding, according to his legal representatives. The health of Abedini, a 33-year-old father of two serving an eight-year sentence in Iran because of his ministry, has deteriorated in his 18 months in prison as he has suffered beatings from prison guards. He was taken to a hospital for tests a little over a week earlier, coinciding with a diplomatic visit from the European Union (EU), and returned to the prison without receiving surgery after the diplomat’s departure.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to allow BP to resume bidding for new oil leases from the U.S. government in the Gulf of Mexico after the British company was banned following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest in American history. The accident at a defective BP oil well killed 11 workers and dumped 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf, harming the Gulf economy and the ecosystem. The company has paid $12.3 billion in fines and settlements. BP had filed a suit against the EPA over the ban last year, and the EPA agreed to lift the ban if BP agreed to “safety and ethics improvements.”
Since the internet’s inception, the U.S. government has overseen the administration of domain names and web addresses, but the Commerce Department announced it will relinquish that role amid international complaints of U.S. government control. Until now, the Commerce Department has overseen a contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit which manages domain names. The U.S. government plans to let that contract expire in 2015, and organize international oversight of ICANN. The plan for administration of ICANN isn’t clear yet, but some in the United States were concerned that Russia and China would exert undue control of the internet if an international body like the United Nations gets involved.
Crimea, a semiautonomous peninsula in Ukraine, overwhelmingly voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, although the ballot had no option for remaining as a part of Ukraine. The White House refused to recognize the results, saying the vote was “administered under threats of violence and intimidation from a Russian military intervention that violates international law.” The White House insisted that the Ukrainian government be involved in deciding what happens to its own territories. The day before the referendum, Russian troops advanced into Ukraine proper—furthering speculation that Moscow has its sights set on more than the Russia-leaning Crimea and increasing fears of a full-scale East-West confrontation. “In this century, we are long past the days when the international community will stand quietly by while one country forcibly seizes the territory of another,” the White House said in a statement. Following the vote, President Barack Obama announced economic sanctions against seven Russian officials who were involved in the Crimean invasion, the most concrete U.S. response to the crisis yet. The sanctioned officials, though prominent, are not in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, and are not likely to feel much pain from U.S. sanctions. Obama said the United States was ready to impose additional sanctions.
Let it snow
With spring officially set to arrive in three days, some of the heaviest snows of the winter hit the northeastern United States. The snow, which reached 11 inches in Montgomery County, Md., caused airports to cancel 550 flights and delay another 600. The 4.5 inches that fell on Philadelphia brought this winter’s total to 67.4 inches, the second highest total of winter snow on record for that city.
U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair avoided charges of sexual assault but pleaded guilty to lesser charges as part of a plea deal. Sinclair, who is married and has served in the army for 27 years, admitted to adultery, which is a crime in the military, improper relationships with three subordinate officers, and abusing a government credit card while traveling to visit a mistress.