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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: A Strange Twist at ASLAN International Ministries, and the Definition of “Inclusive” Just Got More Exclusive

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Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be. 

Finally, An Arrest – And A Strange Twist.  Two Christian ministry leaders in Florida have been arrested for their part in fraudulently obtaining COVID relief funds totaling over $8 million.

Father and son, Evan and Josh Edwards respectively, were taken from their home in New Smyrna Beach on December 14.

MinistryWatch has been reporting on this story for months.  In fact, I appeared on a segment of NBC News highlighting this case.  If you’ve been following that coverage, you will recall that back in September 2020, the federal government seized over $7.6 million in assets from ASLAN International Ministry as part of a civil asset forfeiture proceeding by the United States Secret Service for money laundering and bank fraud offenses in September 2020.

The ministry, started in 2005 by Evan Edwards and moved from Ohio to Orlando in 2018, claimed in its loan applications to have over 480 employees, and an average monthly payroll of $2,764,438.  These claims are easily refuted, and the fact that the loans were issued is an indication of how lax the oversight of the Payroll Protection Program was.  MinistryWatch is reporting on a near-weekly basis about ministries and churches – or at least organizations who claim to be ministries and churches – who have engaged in the fraudulent acquisition of COVID relief funds.

And, by the way, there’s been a late-breaking update to this story:  NBC News is reporting that Evan Edwards missed his first court appearance due to apparent medical issues.  His son Josh appeared in court but was uncommunicative.  The judge ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Josh Edwards.

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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.  The Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization seeking to preserve and promote “the family in Virginia as God’s foundation upon which all free and thriving societies are built.”

And I should say, by way of disclosure, that the president of that organization, Victoria Cobb, is a long-time friend.

So of course I noticed when the group was denied service at Metzger Bar and Butchery, a restaurant in Richmond, this month on the basis of their stances regarding abortion and same-sex marriage.

While the reservation had been booked for weeks, The Family Foundation, which is a vocal opponent of abortion and the Respect for Marriage Act, encouraging voters to cast ballots for conservative candidates, was informed by Metzger about 90 minutes before the event was set to take place that their reservation had been canceled.

Metzger Bar and Butchery said, ironically, that it prided itself on being an inclusive environment for people to dine in.  I guess “inclusive” means “people who believe like we do.”

Victoria Cobb responded: “We believe most Virginians are happy to not only serve those with differing political or religious viewpoints but even dine with and engage in conversation with them as well.  However, more and more, we’re seeing Christians being canceled for their convictions.”

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Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.