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Actress Patricia Heaton celebrates being free from alcohol for 3 years

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Christians in Pakistan Suffer Court Setback in Child Marriages/Conversions

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Over 18,000 sign petition urging Pope Francis to reverse restrictions on traditional Latin mass

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General Secretary to US Bishops Resigns amid Misconduct Allegations

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'I'm Extremely Blessed': Giannis Antetokounmpo, Guided by Faith, Wins 1st NBA Title

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2 Georgia churches leave United Methodist Church over LGBT stance, announce merger

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Pro-Choice New Mexico Senator Says He Was Denied Communion Because of His 'Political Office'

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Christianity in Saudi Arabia

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Pakistani woman reveals how God showed Himself on death row, transformed an ‘ordinary Christian’

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'God is Real, He Knows Us': Actor Jon Voight Says a Divine Encounter Got His Life Back on Track

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Appeals Court Says Univ. of Iowa Discriminated Against Religious Groups, Violated First Amendment

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Pastor's Wife Released from Jail with No Charges after Fatally Shooting Husband by Accident

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Number of Canadian Christian Churches Vandalized, Set on Fire Rises as Terror Campaign Continues

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Chinese Pastors Forced to Include Xi's Speech in Sermons to Celebrate CCP'S Centennial

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Christianity in the United Arab Emirates

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Faith groups launch curriculum to help churches combat ‘idolatrous’ Christian nationalism

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School Can Require Christian Teacher to Use Transgender Pronouns and Names, Judge Rules

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Billy Graham's family home up for sale to help pay for granddaughter’s medical treatments

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Pope Francis leaves hospital 10 days after intestinal surgery

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Professor resigns from Harvard University over 'spiritual rot,' blasts 'superficial diversity'

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The Church of England will formally apologize for the banishment of Jews from medieval Britain

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Mother Sues London School for Requiring Son to Participate in Pride Parade

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Boris Johnson: ‘Christianity is a superb ethical system ... I would count myself a very bad Christian’

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Rise of the 'nones,' decline of 'white Christian America' slows in US, new survey shows

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Catholic parish can fire gay music director under ministerial exception, appeals court rules

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Nigeria: Christian schools ordered to close amid spate of kidnappings

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'I Was Able to See Demons': Forced into Satanism as a Little Girl, Tormented Woman Finally Finds Peace in Christ

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Church of England bishops criticized for living ‘lavish lifestyles’ as churches struggle to survive

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Pope Francis Makes First Appearance Since Intestinal Surgery

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21 Attorneys General Warn: Biden Administration Ignoring Religious Liberty in LGBT Push

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Religious freedom commission demands Biden hold India accountable for priest’s death

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'God Bless Abortions': Christ of the Ozarks statue vandalized by activists

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Myanmar Christians face increased persecution under military rule since coup, experts say

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Parents sue Catholic school to nullify $1.35M donation pledge over ‘woke’ culture

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Prison Fellowship partners with Moody Bible Institute to give daily devotionals to 100K inmates

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'Taking America Back for God': Evangelist Nick Vujicic Co-Founds ProLife Bank to Fight Back against Abortion

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Haiti’s Pres. Jovenel Moïse assassinated months after bishops urged him to step down

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'Begging God to Show Us Mercy': Parents of 121 Kidnapped Nigerian Children Pray For Their Return

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Megachurch pastor heartbroken as 125 test positive for Delta variant of COVID-19 after camp

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Pope Francis in Hospital for Scheduled Intestinal Surgery

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Iranian authorities deny early release for Christian convert imprisoned for reading the Bible

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Presbyterian Church in America takes first vote on banning ordination of openly gay men

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India: Christians celebrate first Indian Christian Day, feast of St. Thomas

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Bishop of Liverpool: Church of England Should Bless Same-Sex Unions by Adopting a 'Gender-Neutral Marriage Canon'

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LinkedIn deletes account of mRNA vaccines inventor for warning about risks of COVID-19 shots

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Supreme Court rejects appeal by Christian grandma florist fined for refusing same-sex wedding

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Muslim father beats, poisons daughter for putting faith in Christ after ‘miraculous healing’

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Supreme Court Says State Can't Force Christian Groups, Charities to Disclose Donor Names

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Evangelical Covenant Church Joins List of Protestant Denominations Rebuking Doctrine of Discovery

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UK-based Methodist Church votes to approve gay marriage, recognize cohabitating couples

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Pakistani court upholds life sentence of Christian man accused of blasphemous text messages

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Catholic Bishops Won't Bar Pro-Choice Politicians from Communion following Document Vote

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Pastor Calls Biden 'Demon-Possessed,' Claims There Are Child-Trafficking Tunnels in D.C.

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IRS Ruling Threatens Tax Status of 'Thousands of Christian Churches,' Members of Congress Warn

IRS Ruling Threatens Tax Status of 'Thousands of Christian Churches,' Members of Congress Warn

More than a dozen members of Congress are warning the IRS that the tax-exempt status of churches is jeopardized by a recent ruling against a Texas faith-based organization


More than a dozen members of Congress are warning the IRS that the tax-exempt status of churches is jeopardized by a recent ruling against a Texas faith-based organization.

The IRS, in a May ruling, denied a request by the organization Christians Engaged for 501(c)(3) non-profit status, saying the group works “for the private interests” of the Republican Party by promoting issues such as the sanctity of life and the traditional definition of marriage.

The organization says its purpose is to encourage Christians to pray, vote and engage the culture.

“We urge you to personally review this determination, and remove the individual, or individuals, responsible for the blatantly biased, discriminatory, and flawed reasoning that led to the determination,” the letter, signed by three senators and 12 representatives, says. It was addressed to the IRS commissioner.

The IRS told Christians Engaged: “You educate Christians on what the Bible says on areas where they can be instrumental, including the areas of sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, biblical justice, freedom of speech, defense, and borders and immigration, U.S. and Israel relations.”

Further, the IRS said, “The bible teachings are typically affiliated with the [Republican] party and candidates. This disqualifies you from exemption.”

Among the members of Congress who signed the letter were GOP Sens. Marco Rubio (Florida), Ted Cruz (Texas) and Michael S. Lee (Utah), and Rep. Chip Roy (Texas).

“These issues have always been at the core of Christian belief and classifying them as inherently political is patently absurd,” the letter from members of Congress says. “If the IRS applied this interpretation broadly, it would jeopardize the tax-exempt status of thousands of Christian churches across the country.

Millions of Americans, the letter says, “draw deeply from their religious beliefs to inform how they vote and many religious organizations conduct get out the vote efforts.”

“In fact, President Biden himself campaigned alongside church leaders during the 2020 presidential race,” the letter says.

The IRS, the letter says, must “objectively analyze applications for tax-exempt status and cannot allow political biases to creep into its decisions.”

“We urge you to immediately review Christians Engaged’s application for 501(c)(3) status personally, and terminate the IRS staff involved in the flawed and politically motivated reasoning behind the determination,” the letter concludes.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, June 30, 2021 9:38am
 
Pastor Calls Biden 'Demon-Possessed,' Claims There Are Child-Trafficking Tunnels in D.C.

A controversial Tennessee pastor called President Biden “demonic” and promoted a debunked QAnon conspiracy theory during a sermon

A controversial Tennessee pastor called President Biden “demonic” and promoted a debunked QAnon conspiracy theory during a sermon Sunday that has received widespread attention on social media.

Greg Locke, the pastor of Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet, Tenn., told his congregation, “I don’t care what you think about fraudulent ‘Sleepy Joe.’ He’s a sex-trafficking, demon-possessed mongrel. He’s of the Left. He ain’t no better than the Pope [Francis] and Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks and the rest of that wicked crowd. God is going to bring the whole house down! … He’s going to expose all these bunch pedophiles.”

Later, Locke added, asking himself a question, “Do you honestly believe, Pastor Locke, that the military uncovered tunnels beneath the capitol building and beneath the White House? … Do you really believe they found kids? Yes. Both live ones and dead ones.”

Locke also said that Trump “is the legitimate president of the United States of America.”

A clip of the sermon has received more than 3 million views on Twitter.

Locke was promoting elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which alleges that well-known politicians and Hollywood figures are worshipping Satan and are running a child sex trafficking ring – and that former President Trump was elected to stop it.

In 2016, a supporter of QAnon fired a weapon inside a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant, falsely believing it was a front for a child sex trafficking ring. The conspiracy was dubbed “pizzagate.”

Locke said he plans on suing CNN and Newsweek for their coverage of him.

Locke’s comments were condemned by Christians on social media.

“It would be one thing if this person was ranting to nobody, but he has 2.2 million followers on Facebook,” David French tweeted. “... More Christians need to speak up against this garbage.”

“This is just horrible,” another person tweeted. “We are to steer clear of ‘pastors’ like this, false prophets. And this man was one my sister posted a video of saying God was going to miraculously give Trump the election.”

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, June 30, 2021 1:12pm
 
Catholic Bishops Won't Bar Pro-Choice Politicians from Communion following Document Vote

After much speculation that pro-choice politicians would be denied Communion

After much speculation that pro-choice politicians would be denied Communion, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has clarified that no such ban will occur.

Several weeks ago, the USCCB approved a draft document on the Eucharist during its General Assembly from June 16-18.

At the time, the document was opposed by Catholic House Democrats, who saw it as a means to bar pro-choice Catholic politicians, such as President Joe Biden, from receiving Communion. As Christian Headlines previously reported, one House Democrat, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA), even warned that the Catholic Church could lose its tax-exempt status for the document's approval.

Last week, however, the USCCB published a question-and-answer document, which included a statement clarifying that "the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot," The Christian Post reports.

"The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons," the statement says. "It will include a section on the Church's teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate," it added.

Additionally, the body of bishops asserted that "... bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Communion."

The bishops further contended that "There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church's teachings to bring heightened awareness of the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life [H]e wants for us."

Despite refraining from banning pro-abortion politicians from participating in Holy Communion, the Q&A document implored all Catholics to support pro-life policies.

"Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teachings," the document read.

When asked why the USCCB decided to clarify the meaning of the Eucharist at this time, the group explained that "For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful."

For that reason, the bishops have launched a "multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project," with the document on the Eucharist as the groundwork for the effort.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, June 30, 2021 3:46pm
 
Pakistani court upholds life sentence of Christian man accused of blasphemous text messages

A woman holds a placard during a rally protesting the killing of the Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan on January 8, 2011. Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, who was apparently incensed by the politician's opposition to the blasphemy law, in Islamabad on January 4, 2011. | Reuters/Mohsin Raza
A woman holds a placard during a rally protesting the killing of the Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan on January 8, 2011. Taseer was shot dead by one of his guards, who was apparently incensed by the politician's opposition to the blasphemy law, in Islamabad on January 4, 2011.

A Pakistani Christian’s life sentence for allegedly sending blasphemous text messages was reportedly upheld by a court in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, last week despite his attorney’s claim the prosecution’s evidence was manipulated and his client was framed for the crime.

Fifty-six-year-old Zafar Bhatti will continue to serve a life sentence, which is 25 years in Pakistan, for violating Section 295-C of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, Morning Star News reported.

The sentence for violating Section 295-C usually is death, but the attorney said he was given a life sentence since there was not enough evidence for the death penalty.

Bhatti continues to deny the charge that he allegedly sent text messages derogatory toward Islam’s prophet.

Bhatti said police tortured him into confessing the blasphemy crime he did not commit, according to religious persecution watchdog International Christian Concern.

He was initially arrested in 2012 and sentenced on May 3, 2017.

Bhatti and his attorney claim he was wrongfully accused of sending the messages from an unregistered number, possibly connected with a woman named Ghazala Khan, who passed away in 2016 from Hepatitis C.

Bhatti’s attorney believes the judge was under pressure to deliver a sentence.

“The trial court judge gave this verdict under immense pressure because the complainant was an office-bearer of the Islamist extremist outfit Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat,” Bhatti’s attorney, Tahir Bashir, told the nonprofit persecution news outlet Morning Star News. “I believe the verdict delivered this time was also under pressure because there’s no direct evidence against Bhatti.”

Bashir alleges the evidence was tampered with to frame Bhatti for sending the “blasphemous” text messages through a SIM card and audio recordings.

“When someone calls the cellular company for activation of the SIM card, their voices are recorded,” Bashir said. “In this case, the SIM used in the alleged offense was activated thrice – the first two times by some people related to Ms. Khan, and the third time by the woman herself. Bhatti never possessed the SIM, but his phone set was mysteriously used to send those blasphemous text messages.”

“It’s quite clear that the convict was trapped in the case through his phone,” the attorney said, citing “evidence manipulation.”

Bhatti’s attorney remains hopeful the Lahore High Court will eventually accept Bhatti’s appeal and order his acquittal, despite the “disappointing verdict,” according to Morning Star News.

The Pakistani government is aware its blasphemy laws are misused and often lead to false accusations. Still, little has been done to achieve reform in this area despite calls from the international community.

Human rights activists have advocated for decades to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws that disproportionately charge religious minorities due to prejudices and are often based on false accusations, according to the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom.

“Vague provisions” found in sections 295 and 298 of Pakistan’s Penal Code criminalize any speech or act “insulting a religion or belief or defiling the Quran, the [Islamic] prophet Muhammad, a place of worship, or religious symbols,” USCIRF reported.

A Pakistani couple on death row for false accusations of blasphemous text messages were recently acquitted after nearly eight years behind bars.

International persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks Pakistan fifth on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face persecution.

With a population of over 208 million people, there are only about 4 million Christians in Pakistan.

Pakistani Christians face persecution due to an “extreme” level of Islamic oppression. Pakistan is also listed by the U.S. State Department as a "country of particular concern" for tolerating in or engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom.

False accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan, mainly targeting Christians and other minority faiths, are widespread and often fueled by religious hatred or personal vendettas.

Under Pakistan's blasphemy laws, people accused of insulting Islam or its prophet Muhammad can face life in prison, a death sentence or vigilante violence and threats from the community.

Blasphemy accusations can also lead to mass protests and mob violence.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, June 30, 2021 4:45pm
 
UK-based Methodist Church votes to approve gay marriage, recognize cohabitating couples

Two bride figurines adorn the top of a wedding cake during an illegal same-sex wedding ceremony in central Melbourne August 1, 2009. Gay activists staged mock weddings across Australia on Saturday as the governing Labor Party voted against changing its ban on gay marriage. | (Photo: Reuters/Mick Tsikas)
Two bride figurines adorn the top of a wedding cake during an illegal same-sex wedding ceremony in central Melbourne August 1, 2009. Gay activists staged mock weddings across Australia on Saturday as the governing Labor Party voted against changing its ban on gay marriage.

The Methodist Church of the United Kingdom passed resolutions to approve the blessing of same-sex unions and recognize cohabitating couples.

The London-based Methodist Conference announced Wednesday that it has voted to confirm the resolutions at its gathering held in Birmingham.

“A report on marriage and relationships, ‘God in Love Unites Us’, was received by the Conference in 2019 and the local District Synods were asked to consider the provisional resolutions and report back to this year’s Conference,” a statement detailed.

“The Conference received a report on the results of the local conferring which showed that 29 out of the 30 Synods confirmed support for the provisional resolutions.”

The conference voted 256-45 to allow its ministers to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies and for churches to be locations for such services.

The Rev. Sonia Hicks, the conference's new president, said in a statement that the debate over the resolutions “has been conducted with grace and mutual respect.”

“As we move forward together after this historic day for our Church, we must remember to continue to hold each other in prayer, and to support each other respecting our differences,” Hicks said.

Regarding cohabitation, the conference approved a resolution stating that it “recognises that the love of God is present” either “through informal cohabitation or a more formal commitment entered into publicly.”

“As a Church we wish to celebrate that the love of God is present in these circumstances, even if that grace is not responded to or even discerned by the people concerned,” continued the resolution.

“The Church has an important calling, therefore, to point to the presence of God’s love within such relationships, and to encourage people to respond to it in the renewing and deepening (by whatever means) of their commitment.”

The Rev. David Hull, chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together, a group that opposed the resolutions, called it “a very sad day for the Methodist Church.”

“It's heartbreaking really to see where we've come and the way in which we've got here, and many of us have wept over it,” Hull said in an interview with Premier.

“In spite of these votes, there are many, many Methodists who still believe that Jesus offers a unique vision for life — one that is rooted deeply in the Bible, that is better than the world has ever known, better than the world will ever know and that includes this teaching on marriage and relationships.”

Others have taken to social media to voice their support of the resolutions.

"I am absolutely thrilled that the Methodist Conference has overwhelmingly voted to allow same-sex marriage in their churches," Jayne Ozanne, a gay Anglican evangelical activist and founder of the Ozanne Foundation, tweeted. "This reflects the significant shift that there has been amongst Christian attitudes in England."

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 01, 2021 2:50pm
 
Evangelical Covenant Church Joins List of Protestant Denominations Rebuking Doctrine of Discovery

The Evangelical Covenant Church became the latest Protestant denomination in the United States to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery

The Evangelical Covenant Church became the latest Protestant denomination in the United States to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery, the theological justification that allowed the discovery and domination by European Christians of lands already inhabited by Indigenous peoples.

Delegates at the Covenant Annual Connection voted overwhelmingly (84%) on Friday (June 25) to approve a resolution acknowledging the damage done to Indigenous peoples in the Americas by taking their land and rights and lamenting the church’s complicity in the continuing effects of that history.

“After 125 years, the healing is beginning in the Evangelical Covenant Church, and I’m grateful to be starting this journey with you today,” the Rev. TJ Smith, president of the Indigenous Ministers Association, said in an emotional speech after the vote was taken.

While the Evangelical Covenant Church has been working on its resolution for the past five years, its action came the day after the Cowessess First Nation announced it had found indications of at least 751 unmarked graves near the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

Weeks earlier, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation had used ground-penetrating radar to confirm the remains of 215 children as young as 3 years old on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. Kamloops was opened by the Roman Catholic Church in 1890 and became the largest school in Canada’s Indian Affairs residential school system, with enrollment peaking at 500 students in the early 1950s, according to the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.

Smith, who is Lakota, and others drew a line from the Doctrine of Discovery to what were known as Indian residential schools in Canada and Indian boarding schools in the U.S.

“Please understand this isn’t just Canada,” he said.

The Doctrine of Discovery began as a series of 15th-century papal edicts and later was enshrined in the 1823 Supreme Court decision Johnson v. M’Intosh, which established that the U.S. government, not Native American nations, determined ownership of property.

That doctrine led to practice, including the “violent assimilation of Native children in Indian boarding schools,” added Lenore Three Stars, a Lakota speaker and public theologian who shared remarks with the Evangelical Covenant Church gathering by video. Those children were removed from their homes to attend boarding schools operated under the motto “kill the Indian, save the man.”

“Over time, practice affected institutionalized injustice, which persists today,” Three Stars said.

It’s important for the church to know and lament that history, said Curtis Ivanoff, an Inupiat and superintendent of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Alaska Conference.

“That its beginnings can be traced to papal decrees means the church had a direct hand in launching this belief and practice. For this reason alone, it serves us well to shine light on this history, to not only remember, but as fellow ambassadors of Jesus, who has given us the ministry of reconciliation, to renounce such evil,” Ivanoff said.

In 2015, Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission released a report on the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system, which came after six years of investigation.

One of the commission’s accompanying calls to action asked the pope to come to Canada within the year to apologize to Indigenous peoples there for the Catholic church’s role in administering residential schools.

“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools,” it read.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated that call for an apology in Canada from Pope Francis.

But, Smith told delegates at the Evangelical Covenant Church’s annual meeting, “In the U.S., we haven’t done that. We’re invisible. They don’t even care enough to know.”

Canada operated more than 130 residential schools and has an idea how many children attended them, he said. Meanwhile, the U.S. operated 367 boarding schools.

Repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery is an important first step toward healing and solidarity, Smith said.

In recent years, several mainline Protestant denominations have taken similar actions, including the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, the Community of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. They’ve been joined by the World Council of Churches and a number of Religious Society of Friends (Quaker) meetings.

And U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is Laguna Pueblo, recently announced a Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative to look into the history of boarding schools in the U.S.

The latest resolution by the Evangelical Covenant Church sets the table for Indigenous people to be seen and their stories heard, Smith said.

“With the passing of this resolution, you’ve advanced the Evangelical Covenant Church as a place where we as Indigenous people and populations are seen and welcomed. We’re accepted and acknowledged as who we are and who we are created to be,” he said.

“With the passing of this resolution, we can now participate and learn from you and you can learn from us what the creator has for us.”

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Posted by Temmy
Fri, July 02, 2021 3:09pm
 
Supreme Court Says State Can't Force Christian Groups, Charities to Disclose Donor Names

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided with a Christian legal group in striking down California’s requirement that nonprofit organizations disclose the identities of their major donors

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided with a Christian legal group in striking down California’s requirement that nonprofit organizations disclose the identities of their major donors.

The case was watched closely by Christian and religious liberty organizations, who argued that such a requirement can discourage charitable giving, especially if the donations in question are made to groups that take sides in hot-button cultural issues.

At issue is a California law that requires nonprofits to disclose to the state attorney general the names and addresses of their major donors found on IRS Schedule B (to Form 990). Although the information is intended to remain confidential, it has in the past accidentally become public.

The court, in a 6-3 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, said the law violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court’s conservative bloc formed the majority.

The Thomas More Law Center, a Christian legal group, brought the case alongside the Americans for Prosperity Foundation.

“The upshot is that California casts a dragnet for sensitive donor information from tens of thousands of charities each year, even though that information will become relevant in only a small number of cases involving filed complaints,” Roberts wrote. “California does not rely on Schedule Bs to initiate investigations, and in all events, there are multiple alternative mechanisms through which the Attorney General can obtain Schedule B information after initiating an investigation.”

California was one of only three states with the requirement, Roberts wrote.

The disclosure requirement “creates an unnecessary risk of chilling” in violation of the First Amendment, Roberts added.

“The petitioners here, for example, introduced evidence that they and their supporters have been subjected to bomb threats, protests, stalking, and physical violence,” Roberts wrote. “Such risks are heightened in the 21st century and seem to grow with each passing year, as ‘anyone with access to a computer [can] compile a wealth of information about’ anyone else, including such sensitive details as a person’s home address or the school attended by his children.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the Thomas More Law Center, applauded the decision.

“The Supreme Court has confirmed that every American is free to peacefully support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or intimidation,” said ADF senior counsel John Bursch. “Public advocacy is for everyone, not just those able to weather abuse. Forced donor disclosure is a threat to everyone and discourages both charitable giving and participation in the marketplace of ideas. The court correctly upheld the First Amendment’s promise of the freedom to associate with like-minded groups, which includes the right to donor privacy.”

First Liberty Institute also applauded the ruling. It filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Citizen Power Initiatives for China.

“The freedom to associate with others of like mind is indispensable to freedom,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute. “Again today, the Supreme Court recognized that the disclosure of names and addresses of citizens simply for belonging to a cause is chilling to the freedom of association. Cancel culture is bad enough without the government forcing organizations to reveal the names of their donors so they can be attacked.”

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Fri, July 02, 2021 4:28pm
 
Muslim father beats, poisons daughter for putting faith in Christ after ‘miraculous healing’

A church bell hangs from a tree branch outside a Catholic church and a school in Odek village, Uganda. | REUTERS/JAMES AKENA
A church bell hangs from a tree branch outside a Catholic church and a school in Odek village, Uganda.

A 38-year-old mother of three is recovering in a hospital in eastern Uganda after her Muslim father and other relatives attacked her with a blunt object and forced her to drink poison in her pastor's house, where she had been taking refuge since her conversion to Christianity following a “miraculous healing.”

The father of the woman, identified as Hajat Habiiba Namuwaya from Namakoko village in Nangonde Sub-County of Namutumba District, and her other relatives arrived at her pastor's home on the morning of June 20, the victim recalled from her hospital bed, according to Morning Star News.

“He started beating and torturing me with a blunt object, inflicting bruises on my back, chest and legs, and finally forced me to drink poison, which I tried to resist but swallowed a little of it,” Namuwaya, a former Islamic teacher, was quoted as saying.

“My father, Al-Hajji Mansuru Kiita, recited many Quranic verses cursing and denouncing me as no longer one of the family members,” she added.

The pastor’s neighbors heard her cries for help and that’s when the Muslim relatives fled the scene.

“The pastor was not around when the attackers arrived, but a neighbor telephoned him,” said Namuwaya, who accepted Christ in February. “He feared to come immediately but later came and found me fighting for my life. I was rushed to the nearby clinic for first aid, and later I was taken to another place for treatment and prayers.”

She said she was “restless with continuous pain in my stomach.”

The victim has found shelter at an undisclosed site and has not filed a police complaint, fearing retaliation from her relatives, including the possibility that they might file a false case against her or the church.

Namuwaya put her faith in Christ on Feb. 24 after the pastor prayed for her and reportedly healed her from breast cancer.

“My mother warned me that the family was planning to kill me,” she was quoted as saying. “I shared my fears with the pastor, and the pastor together with his family accepted to host me, and freely I openly shared my new life in Christ with friends on WhatsApp, which landed me in trouble.”

A text message about her staying at the pastor's home reached her father, who then mobilized other relatives to track her down.

While most people in Uganda are Christian, some eastern and central regions have higher concentrations of Muslims.

The Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project shows that about 11.5% of Uganda’s population is Muslim. Muslims in Uganda are primarily Sunni. The murder of and attacks on converts are not uncommon in the region.

“Radical Islam’s influence has grown steadily, and many Christians within the majority-Muslim border regions are facing severe persecution, especially those who convert from Islam,” a Voice of the Martyrs factsheet explains.

“Despite the risks, evangelical churches in Uganda have responded by reaching out to their neighbors; many churches are training leaders how to share the Gospel with Muslims and care for those who are persecuted after they become Christians.”

Last December, a mob of Muslim extremists in Uganda reportedly killed 41-year-old former imam Yusuf Kintu a week after he converted to Christianity.

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Sat, July 03, 2021 11:09pm
 
Supreme Court rejects appeal by Christian grandma florist fined for refusing same-sex wedding

Barronelle Stutzman, surrounded by supporters, speaks with the media after appearing for the Washington Supreme Court at Bellevue College on Nov. 15, 2016. | Screenshot: Facebook/Alliance Defending Freedom
Barronelle Stutzman, surrounded by supporters, speaks with the media after appearing for the Washington Supreme Court at Bellevue College on Nov. 15, 2016.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the appeal of a Christian florist from Washington state fined refusing to make a floral arrangement for a same-sex wedding because she felt it went against her religious beliefs about marriage.

In doing so, the Washington Supreme Court ruling against the Christian florist remains intact. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch each said the court should have taken the case.

Though the case dates back to 2013, religious liberty legal organization Alliance Defending Freedom said the fight to defend Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene’s Flowers and Gifts in Richland, Washington, for standing for her beliefs is not over.

“Barronelle Stutzman kindly served a gay customer for YEARS before declining to make art for a ceremony that's sacred in her religion. She was sued & persecuted for acting on deeply held beliefs,” ADF tweeted after Friday’s decision.

“SCOTUS' decision not to hear this case is disappointing –– but our fight isn't over,” ADF continued.

As a Southern Baptist, Stutzman denied making the floral arrangement for the wedding of Rob Ingersoll and Curt Freed because she holds the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

In 2015, she was fined by a county court just over $1,000. She is liable to pay upwards of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled against Stutzman in February 2017. It argued she violated the state's anti-discrimination laws protecting based on sexual orientation when she refused to make floral arrangements for the same-sex wedding.

The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the Washington court’s 2017 decision in 2018, sending Arlene's Flowers, Inc. v. Washington et al. back to the court for further consideration.

Citing the 7-2 ruling in favor of Colorado Christian baker Jack Phillips in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the Supreme Court asked the Washington high court to consider whether or not there was any animus against the florist’s religious beliefs.

In Phillips’ case, the court found the Colorado government showed hostility against the baker’s Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality.

The Washington court unanimously upheld its 2017 decision when it heard Stutzman’s case again in June 2019, contending that Stutzman discriminated based on sexual orientation.

“We, therefore, hold that the conduct for which Stutzman was cited and fined in this case — refusing her commercially marketed wedding floral services to Robert Ingersoll and Curt Freed because theirs would be a same-sex wedding — constitutes sexual orientation discrimination under the [state law],” the ruling reads.

Stutzman was sued by the same-sex couple, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“After Curt and I were turned away from our local flower shop, we cancelled the plans for our dream wedding because we were afraid it would happen again,” Ingersoll said in a statement. "We had a small ceremony at home instead. We hope this decision sends a message to other LGBTQ people that no one should have to experience the hurt that we did.”

ACLU attorney Ria Tabacco Mar said that the court's decision "confirmed that LGBTQ people should receive equal service when they walk into a store."

"No one should walk into a store and have to wonder whether they will be turned away because of who they are," she said in a statement. "Preventing that kind of humiliation and hurt is exactly why we have nondiscrimination laws. Yet 60 percent of states still don’t have express protections for LGBTQ people like the kind in Washington State. Our work isn’t over yet.”

Kristen Waggoner, Stutzman's lawyer from ADF, called the court’s decision "tragic.

"[T]he critical work of protecting the First Amendment freedoms of all Americans must continue," Waggoner said, according to CNN. "No one should be forced to express a message or celebrate an event they disagree with."

Waggoner said the right to hold to religious beliefs is constitutionally protected.

“We are confident that the Supreme Court will eventually join those courts in affirming the constitutionally protected freedom of creative professionals to live and work consistently with their most deeply held beliefs,” she said, according to NBC News.

Six out of the nine justices, the majority of the court, were appointed by Republican presidents.

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Sat, July 03, 2021 11:15pm
 
LinkedIn deletes account of mRNA vaccines inventor for warning about risks of COVID-19 shots

Dr. Robert Malone, who helped develop mRNA vaccine technologies, speaks out about his concerns of vaccinations for young adults and kids during a June 23, 2021 interview with Tucker Carlson. | Fox News Tucker Carlson Tonight Screenshot
Dr. Robert Malone, who helped develop mRNA vaccine technologies, speaks out about his concerns of vaccinations for young adults and kids during a June 23, 2021 interview with Tucker Carlson.

The professional networking platform LinkedIn has deleted the personal account of Dr. Robert Malone, who helped create some of the mRNA technology used in the COVID-19 vaccine, after he raised questions over the possible risks involved in administering it to individuals younger than 18.

“My business pays for LinkedIn premium. I have been deleted,” Malone announced in a recent tweet. “Purchased a service from linked in to promote my company. This is very different from the YouTube or Twitter terms.

The scientist added that the action taken is “arbitrary and capricious” and has “damaged our business, and we deserve to be compensated.”

“He was given no notice, no warnings,” Just The News quoted his wife, Jill Malone, as saying. “He has a 10-15-year-old account — has never even had a warning. 6,000 followers.”

In his Twitter thread on Wednesday, Malone added, “The historic record of what I have done, stated, figured out (and when) etc. over time is a key part of establishing my credibility and track record as a professional. And that has been erased completely and arbitrarily without warning or explanation.”

Last week, Malone had cautioned adolescents about being vaccinated as many public and private universities are mandating vaccines for the next school year and reports have emerged linking the vaccine to heart inflammation.

A representative from Microsoft-owned LinkedIn told Malone that his account had violated its user agreement by posting “misleading or inaccurate information” about vaccines and COVID-19, according to The Epoch Times.

“[O]ne of my concerns are that the government is not being transparent with us about what those risks are. And so, I am of the opinion that people have the right to decide whether to accept vaccines or not, especially since these are experimental vaccines,” Malone said on Fox News' “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on June 23.

He emphasized that the vaccines are not officially approved by the FDA but are administered under emergency use authorization.

“This is a fundamental right having to do with clinical research ethics,” he continued. “And so, my concern is that I know that there are risks. But we don't have access to the data and the data haven't been captured rigorously enough so that we can accurately assess those risks. And therefore … we don't really have the information that we need to make a reasonable decision.”

Google-owned YouTube also recently deleted a video showing a podcast where Malone and others discussed concerns with the COVID-19 vaccines.

Malone said he has a “bias that the benefits probably don’t outweigh the risks” for younger Americans receiving the vaccine, but said the risk-benefit analysis is not being done.

Malone said there is a “pretty good chance” that the risk-benefit ratio for those 18 years old and younger “doesn’t justify vaccination in these very young adults.”

Malone said his understanding is that the CDC is “overwhelmed” and waiting on data from other countries to come in before making its decisions.

“I think that what we have is a structural problem in how the databases were built and how they are being analyzed,” he continued.

Data show that children who have COVID-19 are very unlikely to suffer heavily or require hospitalization, though the CDC recommends everyone who is eligible and older than 12 get the vaccine because “widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic.”

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Sat, July 03, 2021 11:20pm
 
Bishop of Liverpool: Church of England Should Bless Same-Sex Unions by Adopting a 'Gender-Neutral Marriage Canon'

The Bishop of Liverpool is calling on the Church of England to permit the blessing of same-sex unions

The Bishop of Liverpool is calling on the Church of England to permit the blessing of same-sex unions by calling for a "gender-neutral marriage canon."

On Saturday, Bishop Paul Bayes spoke to a national conference for revisionists activists in the Church of England, saying: "I want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon, such as they have in the Episcopal Church (in the U.S.) or in the Scottish Episcopal Church."

"And as a necessary but not sufficient first step, I want to see conscientious freedom for the Church's ministers and local leaders to honor, recognize and, yes indeed, to bless same-sex unions whether civil partnerships or civil marriages," he contended.

According to The Christian Post, the group Bayes addressed was the Movement of Supporting Anglicans for an Inclusive Church (MoSAIC), which was created in February.

"The movement aims to have a presence in each diocese of the Church of England, where it will work with local clergy and laity on projects that promote inclusion for all those who are currently marginalized by the Church of England — whether that be due to race, ability, sexuality, gender or gender identity," the group said in a press release.

"I want to see an abolition of the foolishness that sees the call to ordained ministry as a call to a state morally higher than that of the baptized, as though baptism called us to a lesser holiness," Bayes said at the national conference.

He asserted: "I want to see an end to LGBTQ+ people hiding who they are for fear of being exposed to conversion therapy or to being forbidden to minister in churches. I want to see an end to the inquisition of ordinands about their private lives."

Bishop Bayes' controversial call for the gender-neutral canon comes ahead of elections for the Church of England's governing body, the General Synod, where evangelicals are seeking to increase evangelical representation in order to protect the church's "orthodox beliefs and practices."

Last year, the Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) released a pamphlet in preparation for the 2021 elections at the General Synod, which will be held in July.

"If you believe that it is important to maintain the historic, orthodox beliefs and practices of the Church, then the General Synod is very relevant to you and your parish," the group noted at the time. "It is vital that this voice is clearly heard in the forthcoming elections in 2021, as the future of our Church might well be decided in the five years after 2021."

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Sat, July 03, 2021 11:26pm
 
India: Christians celebrate first Indian Christian Day, feast of St. Thomas

Catholic devotees wear face mask attend the Holy Mass at the Saint Joseph's Church on the first day after the reopening of religious services after the government eased restrictions imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Hyderabad on June 8, 2020. | NOAH SEELAM/AFP via Getty Images
Catholic devotees wear face mask attend the Holy Mass at the Saint Joseph's Church on the first day after the reopening of religious services after the government eased restrictions imposed as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Hyderabad on June 8, 2020.

As it was Apostle Thomas who brought the Gospel to India and was martyred near the southern city of Chennai in 72 AD, Christians from all major denominations in the country celebrated July 3, the day he was killed, as the first Indian Christian Day amid rising persecution which is premised on the propaganda that Christianity is a foreign religion.

In India, July 3 was thus far observed as Saint Thomas Day to celebrate Saint Thomas who came to India in 52 AD with the message of Jesus. From this year onwards, it will also be celebrated as Indian Christian Day, according to Asia News.

“It’s a grassroots initiative, it is non-political and seeks no political patronage,” Fr. Cedric Prakash, a Gujarat-based priest and social activist, wrote in a letter addressed to all churches in the country prior to the day’s observance, The Quint reported.

“In recent years, there has been increased misinformation about the historicity of the message of Jesus in India; besides from certain quarters there are efforts to discredit the Christians with falsehoods and half-truths,” Prakash added.

“By marking it in 2021 and every year henceforth, we, as followers of the Lord Jesus, can preserve our identity within India’s cultural heritage, while uniting with all those who wish to celebrate it, irrespective of language, custom, creed, region or religion,” the promoters of the event said.

Christians are estimated to make up about 2.3% of India’s population.

Attacks on Christians have been on the rise since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won the 2014 national elections.

“Since the current ruling party (Bharatiya Janata Party) took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors’ World Watch List last year, which ranked India as the 10th worst country for Christians.

“The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian. Also, converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities,” Open Doors said at the time.

Several Indian states have “anti-conversion” laws, which presume that Christian workers “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.

While these laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.

Some of these laws state that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as “inducement.”

A recent report from Human Rights Watch warned that "prejudices embedded in the government" of the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have “infiltrated independent institutions,” such as the police and the courts, “empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass and attack religious minorities with impunity.”

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Sun, July 04, 2021 6:26pm
 
Presbyterian Church in America takes first vote on banning ordination of openly gay men

The Presbyterian Church in America has voted to change a rule in its governing document that would disqualify all gay men

The Presbyterian Church in America has voted to change a rule in its governing document that would disqualify all gay men from serving in its ministry.

The resolution to change the rule, “Overture 23,” was passed 1,400-400 at the denomination’s 48th annual convention in St. Louis, Missouri, last week.

“Officers in the Presbyterian Church in America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘gay Christian,’ ‘same-sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to, same-sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office,” the amended rule states.

The amended rule will go to local church bodies for a vote before the second round of convention balloting next year following which the language would be placed in the PCA’s “Book of Church Order.”

The Washington Times quoted Chris Norris of the Calvary Presbytery as saying during the debate: “Sanctification begins with one’s identity as a new creation in Christ. … Taking a gay identity flies in the face of the new creation.”

The denomination also affirmed “Overture 37,” which refers to pastoral candidates.

“…Careful reflection must be given to his practical struggle against sinful actions, as well as to persistent sinful desires,” it states.

“The candidate must give clear testimony of reliance upon his union with Christ and the benefits thereof by the Holy Spirit, depending on this work of grace to make progress over sin. … While imperfection will remain, he should not be known by reputation or self-profession according to his remaining sinfulness (e.g., homosexual desires, etc.), but rather by the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ Jesus,” it adds.

During the annual convention, the PCA also endorsed Lifeline Children’s Services as its “preferred adoption and orphan care ministry” due to its “commitment to the sanctity of life” and not Bethany Christian Services, which recently announced it would be offering its services to LGBT couples.

The endorsement of Lifeline came three months after the Michigan-based group Bethany, which is the nation’s largest Protestant adoption and foster agency, announced it would begin placing children with adults who identify as LGBT.

In a statement to The Christian Post at the time, Nathan Bult, senior vice president of the historically evangelical organization, said that faith in Jesus is at the “core” of their mission,” but they were “not claiming a position on the various doctrinal issues about which Christians may disagree.”

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Sun, July 04, 2021 6:33pm
 
Iranian authorities deny early release for Christian convert imprisoned for reading the Bible

Christians in Iran. | Reuters/Raheb Homavandi
Christians in Iran.

An Iranian convert to Christianity who has served over one-third of a 10-year prison sentence for reading the Bible and allegedly taking part in missionary activities was told that his plea for early release has been denied.

The Tehran prosecutor’s office informed Nasser Navard Gol-Tapeh through a handwritten letter last month that his request for release wasn’t approved, Article 18 reported, adding that no explanation was given to the convert.

Nasser, who will turn 60 in August, had been assured several times by prison authorities in recent months that his request would be accepted. He is eligible for parole as he has served over one-third of his sentence for “actions against national security” because of his membership in a Tehran house church.

The convert was hoping to be reunited with his elderly mother, for whom he was the primary caregiver before he was arrested on June 24, 2016, while he was attending a Christian gathering.

After a few months of interrogation by government officials, Nasser was convicted in May 2017 on charges of “acting against national security through the formation and establishment of an illegal church organization in his home,” according to the Jubilee Campaign.

He has been in the notorious Evin Prison since January 2018 and had appealed his detainment and conviction, which was rejected.

Nasser has written open letters to the Iranian authorities, questioning his conviction.

“Would it even be possible for a committed Christian — who was born and raised in Iran and whose forefathers lived in this land for thousands of years, and who is a servant to the God who has called him to a ministry of reconciliation — to act against the national security of his own country?” he wrote in August 2018, according to World Watch Monitor.

“As the charges against me in my indictment states: ‘Action against national security through establishment of house churches,’ is the fellowship of a few Christian brothers and sisters in someone’s home, singing worship songs, reading the Bible and worshiping God acting against national security?” he continued.

“Isn’t it a clear violation of civil and human rights, and an absolute injustice, to receive [a] 10-year prison sentence just for organizing ‘house churches,’ which is a sanctuary sanctified as a place to praise and worship God due to closure of churches in Iran?”

The Iranian government uses Articles 489, 499 and 500 of the country’s Penal Code to prosecute Christians for their peaceful religious activities. The country has consistently been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for egregious violations of religious freedom.

Christians in Iran witnessed an unprecedented wave of raids on “house churches” toward the end of 2018, when more than 100 Christians were arrested, according to Article 18. Most of them were released after a few hours after they wrote down details of their Christian activities and were ordered to have no more contact with other Christians.

Last January, a 21-year-old Iranian Christian convert, Fatemeh Mohammadi, who prefers to go by the name “Mary” since her spiritual conversion, was arrested during an anti-government protest in Tehran.

The Human Rights Activists News Agency reported that Mary was detained near Azadi Square in Tehran, where protests occurred after the Iranian military shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane and killed 176 people. She published a series of tweets on the day she was arrested, saying that the Iranian people faced “soft repression” in Iran as the regime creates “false beliefs through selective coverage of the news.”

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Mon, July 05, 2021 2:31pm
 
Pope Francis in Hospital for Scheduled Intestinal Surgery

Pope Francis went to a Rome hospital on Sunday for scheduled surgery on his large intestine, the Vatican said. The news came just three hours after Francis had cheerfully greeted the public in St. Peter’s Square and told them he will go to Hungary and Slovakia in September.

Pope Francis went to a Rome hospital on Sunday for scheduled surgery on his large intestine, the Vatican said. The news came just three hours after Francis had cheerfully greeted the public in St. Peter’s Square and told them he will go to Hungary and Slovakia in September.

The brief announcement from the Holy See’s press office didn’t say exactly when the surgery would be performed at the Gemelli Polyclinic, a Catholic teaching hospital, but said there would be an announcement when the surgery is complete.

The Vatican said the 84-year-old pope had been diagnosed with “symptomatic diverticular stenosis of the colon,” a reference to a narrowing in the large intestine. The surgery was to be performed by Dr. Sergio Alfieri, the director of Gemelli’s digestive surgery department.

A week earlier, Francis had used his same Sunday appearance to ask the public for special prayers for himself, which, in hindsight, might have hinted at the planned surgery.

“I ask you to pray for the pope, pray in a special way,” Francis had asked the faithful in the square on June 27. “The pope needs your prayers,” he said, adding his thanks and saying “I know you will do that.”

Francis is in generally good health but did have part of one lung removed as a young man. He also suffers from sciatica, occasionally having painful bouts of the condition in which a nerve affects the lower back and leg. That has forced him at times to skip scheduled appearances.

The pope had a particularly demanding set of appointments last week, including celebrating a Mass on Tuesday to mark the Catholic feast day honoring Saints Peter and Paul and later in the week, presiding at a special prayer service for Lebanon. On June 28, he also had a long private audience at the Vatican with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Throughout all those engagements, Francis appeared to be in good spirits.

Gemelli doctors have performed surgery before on papal patients, including on Pope John Paul II, who had a benign tumor in his colon removed in 1992.

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Mon, July 05, 2021 2:50pm
 
Megachurch pastor heartbroken as 125 test positive for Delta variant of COVID-19 after camp

Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of the multisite Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas. | YouTube/Clear Creek Community Church
Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of the multisite Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas.

Bruce Wesley, lead pastor of Clear Creek Community Church, a multi-campus megachurch headquartered in League City, Texas, says he's heartbroken after more than 125 youth and adults who attended a student ministry camp tested positive for what health experts suspect is the Delta variant of COVID-19.

According to Yale Medicine, the Delta variant of COVID-19 is "a highly contagious and possibly more severe strain" of the virus. It was first identified in India in December and since and then Great Britain, infecting and killing many.

“More than 125 people reported to the church that they tested positive for COVID-19 after camp. And all who were sick came home and exposed their families to COVID. I’m aware of a number of families where everyone got sick after camp and obviously, that’s horrible. That breaks our hearts. We’ve been diligent to follow strict safety protocols for over a year as a way of loving our neighbors and loving one another,” Wesley said in a video statement posted on YouTube Sunday.

More than 400 people participated in the camp designed for youth between the sixth and 12th grades. Wesley explained in a letter to congregants that in consultation with the Galveston County Health District, the church canceled services for July 4 and again on July 7. They hope to reopen on July 11.

Dr. Phillip Keiser, Galveston County Health District authority, told KHOU that they weren't sure how many people have been infected, but because of how rapidly it has spread they suspect it might be the Delta variant.

“We’re testing it for the Delta variant, to see if that’s the cause for it spreading so rapidly among that group,” Keiser said. “Individual church members have been talking to the pastor and they think that maybe 120, 130, so we don’t have firm numbers on that yet.”

Keiser is encouraging anyone who might have been exposed to get tested and quarantine. He further noted that if the youth group is found to have been infected with the Delta variant it will be an opportunity for researchers to study it.

“We knew that there were going to be breakthroughs, but this is going to be a real opportunity for us to learn more about the Delta variant because we have a group of people who have just been exposed,” Keiser said. “If it turns out to be the Delta variant, we know when they were exposed, and we can see how well they’ve done, and see how many people are breaking through.”

Inci Yildirim, a Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist and vaccinologist, explained that the Delta variant of COVID-19 has been shown to spread more among the young.

“A recent study from the United Kingdom showed that children and adults under 50 were 2.5 times more likely to become infected with Delta,” Yildirim told Yale Medicine.

“As older age groups get vaccinated, those who are younger and unvaccinated will be at higher risk of getting COVID-19 with any variant, but Delta seems to be impacting younger age groups more than previous variants,” she added.

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Wed, July 07, 2021 10:29am
 
'Begging God to Show Us Mercy': Parents of 121 Kidnapped Nigerian Children Pray For Their Return

Praying and crying, the parents of 121 Nigerian students abducted by armed bandits at Bethel Baptist High School in Damishi, Kaduna state

Praying and crying, the parents of 121 Nigerian students abducted by armed bandits at Bethel Baptist High School in Damishi, Kaduna state, gathered in their school on Tuesday waiting for news about their children.

According to Reverend Ishaya Jangado, head of the Kaduna Baptist Conference that manages the school, the kidnappers made contact with him on Tuesday.

He was allowed to talk with some students who confirmed that they were unharmed, and that the number of pupils abducted was 121.

Jangado added that 28 students had escaped, some by hiding in the school and others running away during the assault on the institution on Monday.

He said that they met with members of the government who promised to work to rescue the students and bring them back home.

The desperation of some parents was palpable as they cried to God to hear their prayers.

A group of gunmen stormed the school in Damishi town early Monday, at around 2 a.m., shooting sporadically as they kidnapped dozens of students, police said.

It's the fourth abduction of students in Kaduna state in the past six months.

There have been seven mass kidnappings of students in Nigeria so far this year.

The abductions are being carried out by armed groups who want ransoms.

Many schools have been forced to close as authorities are unable to adequately protect them.

The spate of mass abductions from schools in Nigeria has grown significantly since 2014 when members of the jihadi rebels Boko Haram abducted 276 female students from a government school in Chibok in northeastern Borno State.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 07, 2021 2:52pm
 
Haiti’s Pres. Jovenel Moïse assassinated months after bishops urged him to step down

Kelly Craft, Jovenel Moïse Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and the late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse (R) in 2020. | Public Domain
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and the late Haitian President Jovenel Moïse (R) in 2020.

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated Wednesday, and his wife was injured months after religious leaders called on him to step down as the country faces what some describe as a “descent into hell” amid rising political tensions and violence. He was 53.

Interim Premier Claude Joseph told The Associated Press that Moïse was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday, which he described as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act.”

The late president’s wife, first lady Martine Moïse, was also shot and is currently hospitalized.

“The country’s security situation is under the control of the National Police of Haiti and the Armed Forces of Haiti,” Joseph said. “Democracy and the republic will win.”

In a message to the people of Haiti, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in an interview with CNN Wednesday that Moïse’s assassination “is a tragic tragedy.”

“It’s a horrific crime and we’re so sorry for the loss that they are all suffering and going through as many of them are waking up this morning and hearing this news," she said. "And we stand ready and stand by them to provide any assistance that’s needed."

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among the first world leaders to react to the killing of the Caribbean country’s head of state. He called the assassination “abhorrent.”

“I am shocked and saddened at the death of President Moïse. Our condolences are with his family and the people of Haiti. This is an abhorrent act and I call for calm at this time,” Johnson said in a statement on Twitter.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a statement that the assassination “is a stain on Haiti” and a “sorrowful time” for the Caribbean.

“This morning the world awoke to the shocking and tragic news of the assassination of Haiti’s President His Excellency Jovenel Moïse. I have met and spoken with President Moise many times and in all my interactions with him, particularly within the context of CARICOM, I found him to be a man committed to seeing Haiti take her place in the world,” Holness said. “This heinous act is a stain on Haiti and a sorrowful time for the region. May God be a special covering over his family and over the people of Haiti during this dark time in the nation’s history.”

Members of the Haitian police and forensics patrol the area as they look for evidence outside of the presidential residence on July 7, 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Haiti President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and his wife wounded in an attack at their home. | AFP via Getty Images/ Valerie Baeriswyl
Members of the Haitian police and forensics patrol the area as they look for evidence outside of the presidential residence on July 7, 2021 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after Haiti President Jovenel Moise was assassinated and his wife wounded in an attack at their home.

Moïse was killed as he pursued an aggressive agenda that included rewriting the country’s Constitution, The New York Times reported. It was not a move that was supported by the United States or some local religious leaders. Critics feared that he was setting the country down a path toward authoritarian rule and threatened the nation's democracy.

Moïse was reportedly pushing for a Constitution that would grant Haiti’s leader immunity for any actions taken while in office. However, many Haitians felt a need for a new Constitution even if they were critical of Moïse's proposal.

“We need a system that works,” Moïse told The New York Times in March. “The system now doesn’t work. The president cannot work to deliver.”

The Bishops' Conference of Haiti said the proposed changes to the country’s Constitution while in the middle of a national socio-political crisis were not wise, Vatican News reports. In a Feb. 2 statement, the conference argued that violence had escalated under Moïse’s rule, and the Haitian people were bearing the brunt of it.

“The daily life of the Haitian people is reduced to death, murders, impunity and insecurity,” the Haitian Bishops' Conference wrote, according to Fides News Agency. “Discontent is everywhere, in almost all areas.”

In March, the Haitian Conference of Religious echoed the alarm raised by the country's bishops and called on Moïse to step down as his political opposition claimed that his five-year term had expired on Feb. 7.

"No serious decisions have been taken to alleviate the suffering of the people or to protect them from aggression," the CHR argued in the letter. “The only thing that seems to be of concern to you, is to carry out your so-called mandate at all costs, against the legitimate request of an entire people."

“One wonders, what is the point of clinging to power even illegitimately or illegally when more than half the population lives in conditions of chronic food insecurity?” they asked.

By April, the Catholic Archdiocese of Port-au-Prince said Haiti was facing a “descent into hell” after 10 people, including seven clergy members, were abducted by kidnappers demanding a $1 million ransom.

“For some time now, we have been witnessing the descent into hell of Haitian society,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

“The public authorities who are doing nothing to resolve this crisis are not immune from suspicion. We denounce complacency and complicity wherever it comes from,” the statement added.

Despite the calls for him to step down, Moïse maintained that his term would not expire until February 2022 because he wasn't sworn in until 2017.

A provisional president ruled Haiti for one year following controversial elections clouded by fraud allegations. Moïse had called for legislative and presidential elections to be held on Sept. 19, with a runoff scheduled for Nov. 21, Vatican News said. The government has been acting through continuous decrees.

In February, the U.S. State Department said that a new Haitian president should only take power once Moïse's term ends in February 2022.

In 2019, Haitians took to the streets to demand Moïse resign in light of allegations that the government misappropriated billions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction following a catastrophic earthquake in 2010 that killed 300,000 people and left between 1.5 million and 2 million people homeless.

With a Gross Domestic Product per capita of $1,149.50 and a Human Development Index ranking of 170 out of 189 countries in 2020, Haiti's economic and social development is hindered by political instability, governance issues and fragility, according to the World Bank. Haiti is the poorest country in the Latin America and Caribbean region and among the poorest countries in the world.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 08, 2021 10:14am
 
'Taking America Back for God': Evangelist Nick Vujicic Co-Founds ProLife Bank to Fight Back against Abortion

Australian American Evangelist and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic has co-founded a pro-life bank after realizing that many major banks in the U.S. support abortion clinics

Australian American Evangelist and motivational speaker Nick Vujicic has co-founded a pro-life bank after realizing that many major banks in the U.S. support abortion clinics.

"Most banks — 90%, in fact — give philanthropically toward abortion," Vujicic told The Christian Post, adding that a substantial amount of "God's money" has been used to conduct abortions.

In response to this discovery, Vujicic has collaborated with Betsy Gray, his "spiritual mother" – the executive director of Network Medical Women's Center, a primary care medical clinic in Santa Barbara, California – to found ProLife Bank.

He explained that Prolife will be a "for-giving" bank instead of a for-profit bank, noting that 50 percent of the bank's net profits will be donated to "Judeo-Christian-aligned-nonprofit organizations to further the Kingdom of God."

Likening the effort to the biblical story of Noah's ark, Vujicic asserted that the new bank will save lives."

"It's based on the understanding that God wants to take back His role and redistribute it through His faithful students," he added.

Vujicic, 38, was born with tetra-amelia syndrome, a rare disorder characterized by the absence of arms and legs. Yet his disability did not prevent him from making something of his life. Vujicic began trading options and stocks as a teenager, and at just 19 years old, Vujcic bought his first house as an investment. He later graduated from college at 21 with a Bachelor of Commerce, completing the degrees for both financial planning and investments and accounting.

Vujicic currently serves as the founder and CEO of Life Without Limbs, a nonprofit ministry and has published several books, including Life Without Limits: Inspiration for a Ridiculously Good Life, which has been translated into over 30 languages.

When Gray first presented the idea of a pro-life bank to Vujicic, he was intrigued but asked her to give him three months with his wife to pray about the decision. Vujicic, a father of four, explained to The Christian Post that the three-month period was met with spiritual assault.

"My world turned upside down," he recalled. "We had a grenade at our house; I had a false article published in a gay magazine that I fired someone for being gay. I had a lawsuit threat against me by somebody internationally. I had a spy drone above my house, and I got kicked out of a bank, all within a matter of 16 weeks after that prayer."

"It was evident to me that this is an issue close to the Lord's heart," Vujicic continued. "The last 20 years of my life was sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to millions around the world. The next 20 years will be, preach where I can, but also bring change, tangibly."

Vujicic went on to note that there have been nearly 77 million abortions in America alone.

"In America, there have been 77 million abortions — that's 23% of our population. And one in three Christians has had an abortion. I'm doing my part to rattle the cages of the Church to say, 'You can't afford not to tell people that half the abortions in America are done by a Christian," he said.

Vujicic believes that Roe v. Wade will ultimately be overturned and noted that at the present time, there are 12 sanctuary cities in the nation that restrict abortions. He urged Christians to actively participate in city councils, school boards and other local political committees in using their voice in "taking America back for God."

"We're not far from cities realizing that it's just enough of us to go on a school board and bring the Bible back to school systems, city per city," he stressed. "That is how we take back America. The way that America has been stolen and the way that America will be, half of Americans will never agree with me. And we are being forced in this cancel culture to choose one side or the other."

"We lost the war, and we're going to pay for it. But the remnant will hold," Vujicic concluded.

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Thu, July 08, 2021 10:25am
 
Prison Fellowship partners with Moody Bible Institute to give daily devotionals to 100K inmates

Four incarcerated men study The Life Recovery Bible distributed by Prison Fellowship during the COVID-19 pandemic. | Prison Fellowship
Four incarcerated men study The Life Recovery Bible distributed by Prison Fellowship during the COVID-19 pandemic.

America’s largest evangelical prison ministry organization, Prison Fellowship, recently partnered with Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute to create new daily devotionals to be distributed to over 100,000 inmates across the United States.

The two 120-day devotionals, which are based on Moody’s Today in the Word daily devotional, contain readings on all four holy Bible gospels and include Bible studies, discussion questions and a series of Christian testimonies from previously incarcerated Christians who found God while in prison. While one devotional is crafted for incarcerated men, the other is geared for incarcerated women.

The partnership has been described as one of the largest outreach efforts in Prison Fellowship’s 45-year history. Prison Fellowship chaplains began distributing the Bibles to inmates on July 1.

“We are thrilled to have partnered with Moody Bible Institute and we cannot wait to see so many lives changed through these devotionals,” Prison Fellowship Vice President of Field Programs Dan Kingery told The Christian Post.

The devotionals are handheld books written by professors and staff of Moody Bible Institute, an evangelical Bible college with campuses in Illinois, Michigan and Washington state. The books have been ordered by many prisons throughout the U.S. They will be distributed to inmates who choose to receive copies.

The women’s devotional differs from the men’s devotional because it contains chapters that focus on how to heal after facing trauma. Both devotionals encourage incarcerated individuals to lead Bible-centered and goal-oriented lives.

“Many women have suffered tremendous trauma who are in prisons, and men and women go through different walks and experiences in prison,” Kingery, 60, said. “So, we wanted to create two devotionals specifically designed to pinpoint key issues each gender primarily faces. And we hope these books remind both men and women that Jesus is there and that Jesus has extended an invitation that says, ‘Come to me if you are weary and need help.’”

Kingery said that people in prison face the “same kinds of spiritual struggles” that people outside prison face. However, the spiritual struggles “may be heightened for inmates” due to a lack of access to friends and family and having no alone time.

He added that while inmates are often in very crowded prisons, they can feel very lonely because they are not near their close friends or family.

The mission of Prison Fellowship is to restore those impacted by crime and incarceration.

“It’s not like the people who are in prisons can just go to get a coffee with their best friends or see their family members or relatives,” Kingery said. “We want to encourage those in prisons to have the pattern of thinking daily about what they think about. And we hope to encourage them to think about what the truth is, where the truth comes from. And this will then allow them to apply truth to their everyday thinking and actions.”

Jamie Janosz, managing editor of Today in the Word, who helped write the devotionals, said she has always had a heart for men and women in prison.

Employed at Moody Bible Institute for 31 years, she said she was naturally inclined to participate in creating a devotional. Janosz hopes the books will bless many.

Seeing the completed devotional is a dream come true, she said, because it’s been her dream since childhood to play a role in teaching others about the love of Jesus and find hope in Jesus.

“The bigger picture is to show others how the word of God is applicable to their daily lives, and to show those in prisons how to read a scripture passage and reflect and pray while modeling what it looks like to live out a Gospel-centered life through the testimonies in the books,” Janosz detailed. “We wanted to make the devotionals understandable for the inmates so they could live out what they read.”

Sam Choy, the five-year chief marketing officer at Moody Bible Institute, stressed that the Gospel should be available to “every person” and that “folks that are in prison should be no different.”

“We are proud of how many people we know will be blessed by these two devotionals and we have been blessed to work alongside Prison Fellowship,” Choy stated.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 08, 2021 4:38pm
 
Parents sue Catholic school to nullify $1.35M donation pledge over ‘woke’ culture

A Florida couple has filed a lawsuit against a Catholic school, claiming that the academic institution has a “woke” climate

A Florida couple has filed a lawsuit against a Catholic school, claiming that the academic institution has a “woke” climate at odds with its claims of being a Catholic entity and wants their $1.35 million donation pledge voided.

Anthony and Barbara Scarpo filed the complaint last month against the Academy of the Holy Names of Tampa and its leadership.

Adam S. Levine, a law professor and attorney for the Scarpos, provided The Christian Post with a copy of the complaint filed in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court of Hillsborough County.

The complaint charges the academy with several counts of breach of contract related to the family’s belief that the school provides “the antithesis of a Catholic education by focusing solely on the new, politically correct, ‘woke’ culture.”

“Defendant Academy used Plaintiffs names, images, and personal relationships to raise funds including 1.35 million dollars from Plaintiffs where 1 million dollars was a testamentary pledge and $350,000.00 was a cash gift pledge,” stated the complaint.

“Plaintiffs here sue Defendants seeking further declaration that their 1.35-million-dollar gift pledge be held null and void, that all pending testamentary and cash gift pledges be cancelled, that any already paid funds be returned, and that tuition be refunded and donated to Tampa Bay Catholic Charities designated by Plaintiffs.”

In an interview with CP Friday, Levine said that the Scarpo family wanted to provide a Catholic education for their two daughters at the Academy of the Holy Names.

“They were promised a Catholic Education. The Scarpos became enamored with the school and ultimately pledged $1.35 million when a capital campaign was announced,” Levine explained.

“The President, Art Raimo then asked the Scarpos to lead the campaign. The Scarpos became the face of the school’s fundraising campaign.”

According to Levine, the Scarpos had a change of heart when the school invited “a radical-left speaker” for a school assembly. The speaker reportedly “told the students that they were too white and essentially that they should be guilty because their parents could afford to send them to the Academy.”

“The Scarpos tried over the course of two years to resolve the Academy’s dramatic shift towards its virtue-signaling of being ‘woke.’ And the president and board all refused to meet with them claiming, as they do now, that they provide a Catholic education,” he continued.

“Neither the Scarpos nor I care not about publicity or building a brand. … Rather the Scarpos seek to require the school to either adhere to its Catholic name and educate its students in Catholicism or cease advertising itself as a Catholic school.”

The lawsuit states that at some point during the Scarpo children's tenure at the academy, "the Academy lost its way." The complaint argues that the school is "embracing the new, politically
correct, divisive and 'woke' culture where gender identity, human sexuality, and
pregnancy termination among other 'hot-button issues,' took center stage ..."

"... Catholicism and the Catholic Catechism were relegated to what was billed as an
unfortunate past deserving of its Students guilt for not having been 'woke' sooner," the lawsuit claims.

The academy's communications director, Emily Wise, told CP on Friday that while the school could not comment on the litigation, they consider the allegations to be “false and unsubstantiated.”

“The Academy’s curriculum is, and always has been, based on Catholic values and rigorous academic standards. Our graduates have earned admittance to many of the best colleges and universities in America and matriculate prepared for rich and rewarding lives,” Wise stated.

“The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the school’s founding order, are dedicated to the full development of the human person through education, social justice, contemplation and the arts.”

Wise provided CP with a copy of a letter sent in late June on behalf of the school by Tampa lawyer Gregory A. Hearing, contending that the lawsuit was “a publicity stunt." The letter expressed plans to file a motion to dismiss.

Hearing added that “for a court to delve into whether the substance of matters taught by a Catholic school are consistent with a Catholic education would entangle the court excessively in religious matters, and thereby violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

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Posted by Temmy
Fri, July 09, 2021 9:51pm
 
Myanmar Christians face increased persecution under military rule since coup, experts say

Ethnic Kayaw people walk out after a mass at the catholic church at Htaykho village in the Kayah state, Myanmar, September 13, 2015. | Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
Ethnic Kayaw people walk out after a mass at the catholic church at Htaykho village in the Kayah state, Myanmar, September 13, 2015.

Christian and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar face even greater danger since the southeastern Asian country fell under the Tatmadaw military rule due to the Feb. 1 coup that toppled the civilian government and initiated a wave of violence, experts warned this week.

United States-based international religious persecution watchdog International Christian Concern hosted a panel discussion Thursday focusing on the increased hardships Christians endure. Panelists discussed ICC's new report, “Caught in the Crossfire: Myanmar's Christian Minorities Under Tatmadaw Rule.”

"Violent incidents are escalating, with airstrikes and ground fighting spreading to various regions around the country. Tens of thousands have fled, and many more are sure to follow in the months ahead," the report explains. "Instability, food shortages, and great loss of life threaten the Burmese people — especially its vulnerable minorities."

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is home to several Christian minority groups, including those within the Kachin, Chin, Rohingya and Karen communities. The report also touches on Christians in the Wa state, ethnic Indian and Chinese Christians and Karenni Christians in Kayah State.

Myanmar is predominately Buddhist, while Christians make up around 6.2% of its 54 million population. Buddhism is recognized as the state religion.

Christians, however, are not the only group persecuted by the Tatmadaw military, as many minority groups are suffering from religious freedom violations.

“No ethnoreligious minority has been safe from persecution or discrimination," Nadine Maenza, chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said during the panel discussion. "Since the Feb. 1 coup, the situation, however, has deteriorated significantly."

Maenza urged the international community to pay attention and act against the atrocities religious minorities suffer in Burma as it struggles as a democracy.

Despite an election last November, the Tatmadaw military refuses to accept the result and has alleged voter fraud. The military declared a yearlong state of emergency and put its civilian leaders under house arrest.

The military-led Feb. 1 coup has led to widespread violence, protests and worsened conditions for religious minorities.

In recent months, churches have been damaged or destroyed by military shelling as thousands of displaced individuals have taken shelter in churches when their villages have come under attack.

Last month, the United Nations estimated that as many as 100,000 people were displaced due to increased fighting in the Kayah state, including "indiscriminate attacks by security forces against civilian areas." The international body expressed concern over the “rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation” in the Kayah state and other areas in southeast Myanmar.

"The increased attacks on churches show the hostilities the Tatmadaw has towards Christianity and its disregard for human lives," the ICC report reads.

David Eubank of Free Burma Rangers is on the ground in Burma serving in ministry.

He offered a glimpse into the crisis unfolding and the constant danger. He shared a recent story of being shot at by the military while attempting to plant rice.

Eubank said direct humanitarian assistance, political recognition from the international community and intervention are needed in Myanmar.

The country is ranked No. 18 on Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. The persecution level in Myanmar is “very high” due to the religious nationalism that places increasing emphasis on Buddhism.

Due to the deteriorating condition of Burma’s democracy and its lack of peace, human rights activist Benedict Rogers, the East Asia team leader of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the response to Burma’s worsening situation must be long-term.

“The type of pressure needs to be as intense and targeted as possible," Rogers advised. "But it also should be as sustained as possible, recognizing that this is probably going to be a long, strong struggle or a long new chapter in Burma’s ongoing struggle. So it is going to be both intense but also sustained."

ICC’s report offers recommendations to the international community to impose sanctions, create a cohesive bloc, support the National Unity Government and pressure the Tatmadaw’s allies.

“The protection of Myanmar’s many ethnic and religious minority groups, long persecuted by the Tatmadaw, is a critical matter and one that must rank high on the international community’s list of priorities,” the report states.

ICC Regional Manager for Southeast Asia Gina Goh, one of the authors of the report, warns that the "chaos caused by the coup is not likely to cease for the next few months or even years."

“We have already witnessed the targeting of churches and religious leaders in states such as Chin and Kayah by the Tatmadaw,” she said in a statement. “As the resistance forces fight on, there could be tens of thousands more IDPs who direly need humanitarian aid and medical help. We should not stand idle.”

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Posted by Temmy
Fri, July 09, 2021 10:16pm
 
'God Bless Abortions': Christ of the Ozarks statue vandalized by activists

Indecline activists hung a
Indecline activists hung a "God Bless Abortions" banner on a 65-foot-tall statue of Jesus in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, on the night of July 8, 2021.

A political activist art group hung a 45-foot banner reading “God Bless Abortions” on the 65-foot tall Christ of the Ozarks statue that “stands as a symbol of hope” in northwest Arkansas on Thursday night.

Members of the activist art collective called Indecline disguised themselves as construction workers to sneak onto the property and used pulleys and climbing gear to hang the banner on the Christ of the Ozarks statue in Eureka Springs that was erected in 1966.

Kent Butler, director of operations at The Great Passion Play, the Christian organization that manages the Christ of the Ozarks statue, told The Christian Post that he hopes the political message Indecline tried to portray will instead turn people's attention to Jesus.

“It was all about [Indecline] getting attention to expand their platform, but our pivot really is that it’s about Jesus,” Butler told CP on Saturday. “This whole place exists to lift up Jesus. And at times what was intended for evil, in Genesis 50, it says ‘what was intended for evil God used for good.’ And I think it’s important that the attention be given to work that’s going on in the Passion Play rather than the political environment that they’re trying to impact.”

Butler said the activist group used the Christ of the Ozarks statue as a “vehicle for political speech” and a “publicity stunt.”

"The project, entitled ‘God Bless Abortions,’ is in direct response to the dramatic attempts being made in Arkansas and throughout the South, to ban abortion services to women in need," the art collective said Friday, Fox News reported.

Passion Play staff did not yet know the pro-abortion banner had been displayed until they were notified by a news outlet that Indecline had sent a statement.

“It’s extremely difficult when we’re doing the work of the Passion Play and we’re sharing Jesus’ story and anything that detracts or distracts from that is difficult to deal with,” Butler shared. “Every day we have between 1,000 and 1,500 people that will view the Christ statue and they’re coming to the Passion Play as a place to experience hope, love and peace and publicity stunts like that make it difficult.”

A local tree service helped remove the large banner from the seven-story statue of Jesus pro-bono.

Removing the banner from the freestanding statue not meant to be load-bearing was a dangerous feat, Butler said. It was windy the morning it was removed, and the 45-foot banner unfurled like a flag once one side was detached, putting the tree service workers’ lives at risk.

“I think that’s where [Indecline got] it wrong that everyone’s life is precious and sacred, all lives,” Butler said. “I think they were not cautious with their own lives in doing what they did.”

A statement from the activist group said they treated the statue like a billboard since it is visible from miles away. Indecline called abortion a “miracle worth celebrating,” saying it “saves lives.”

“In Arkansas, there is only one 65-foot statue of Jesus. There is also only one abortion clinic,” the activist group wrote on Instagram on Friday. “No professional sports teams. Just a bunch of angry men with no outlets, writing outrageous laws about vaginas. That, and the second highest rate (by state) of infant mortality. It’s hard to see how ‘pro-life’ can be so myopic in its vision of what life is.”

The Great Passion Play staff responded to Indecline in an email obtained by CP. The staff’s email acknowledged the “drop cloth” would be used in their mission trip program and shared with Indecline the message of Jesus and an invitation to the Passion Play performance.

The Great Passion Play said it would not accept additional donations from the Indecline organization.

“We wanted to acknowledge and give notice of the 45’ drop cloth to be used in our mission trip program (GreatPassionPlay.org/mission-trips),” the email to Indecline read. “You trespassed on our property and hung this drop cloth from the Christ of the Ozarks memorial statue and put your lives at risk as well as the people’s lives who took it down. You used our statue to further your platform, but we are thankful for the opportunity to share our mission. The Passion Play is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to lifting up the miraculous life, sacrificial death, burial, and ultimately the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

“We pray those who hung this banner are able to come and see Jesus hung on the cross in a production that has been seen by over 8 million people now,” the email continued. “Performances are on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturday nights through the end of October. Security is now stationed overnight at the Christ of the Ozarks as well. We will not accept additional donations from your organization.”


Butler said the statue now requires around-the-clock security to protect it from another incident like this from happening.

The inscription at the bottom of the seven-story statue of Jesus with His arms open wide forming the shape of a cross reads, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).

Christ of the Ozarks is maintained by The Great Passion Play, which is also home to a Bible museum, art museum, history museum, a Holy Land tour, buffet restaurant and 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

More than 500,000 people visit the Christ of the Ozarks Statue overlooking Eureka Springs each year, its website said. “The Great Passion Play,” which is "America's No. 1 Attended Outdoor Drama" that creates an “epic drama of Jesus Christ's last days on earth.”

Indecline is not new to defacing Christian elements to add a pro-abortion message and has used vandalism to portray political messages in the past.

In March, the group vandalized a Christian billboard about Jesus and changed the wording to promote abortion.

The billboard originally said, “Worried? Jesus offers security,” and the group changed it to read, “Worried? Planned Parenthood offers abortions.”

The group has also vandalized other billboards to promote social messages, changing one billboard in April to read, “F*** those killer cops! Justice for George Floyd.”

The group also changed Republican and pro-Trump billboards during the 2020 election to promote a pro-Biden message.

The activist art collection founded in 2011 consists of graffiti writers, filmmakers, photographers and “full-time rebels and activists” and focuses on social, ecological and economical injustices carried out by the government.

The Indecline group is now selling T-shirts showing the Christ of the Ozarks statue holding the pro-abortion sign.

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Posted by Temmy
Sun, July 11, 2021 3:29pm
 
Religious freedom commission demands Biden hold India accountable for priest’s death

Fr. Stan Swamy | Khetfield59
Fr. Stan Swamy

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the Biden administration to “hold the Indian government accountable” for the death of 84-year-old Jesuit priest and human rights defender Fr. Stan Swamy.

Condemning “in the strongest terms the deliberate neglect and targeting by the government of India that led to the death of” the priest, USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza urged “the United States to hold the Indian government accountable and to raise religious freedom concerns in the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.”

Swamy died Monday, days after suffering a cardiac arrest at Tajola Central Prison in May. He was later put on a ventilator at a private hospital in western Mumbai city due to his deteriorating health.

The priest was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and had contracted COVID-19 in pre-trial detention.

“Despite international concern and urgent pleas for bail on medical grounds, Indian officials and the courts denied Swamy bail and timely medical care,” USCIRF said.

He was arrested last October and charged under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, or UAPA, for suspicion of ties to organizations accused of instigating violence in Maharashtra state in 2018. Officials “used UAPA and other statutes to detain advocates, the media, and academics, including religious minorities.”

Fr. Jerome Stanislaus D’souza, the president of Jesuits in India, issued a statement.

“Stan worked to light the world and do away with injustice. The government may have succeeded in snuffing his life out, but his spirit will continue to inspire,” D’souza said, according to The Washington Post.

Swamy had cited the inhumane treatment he was receiving in prison, including being denied a sipper to drink water, in the several letters he wrote.

“His arrest by the NIA, without proper evidence, his bail pleas that were repeatedly denied despite his deteriorating health, and the inhumane treatment he received while in prison are all reminders of the shocking violations of basic human rights that remain a regular occurrence in India,” Scot Bower, chief executive of the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said in a statement.

CSW quoted Fr. Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest and human rights activist in India, as saying that Swamy championed the cause of the indigenous people.

“He did all he could to ensure that the natural resources (water, forest and land) which are rightly theirs, which are being exploited by the powerful, the rich and the mining mafias, were not illegally snatched away from them," said Prakash. "Because of this, he paid the price. I personally believe that Father Stan will never die. He has finished his pilgrimage here on Earth, but he will continue to live in the hearts of thousands of people and we will see many more Father Stans springing up for the sake of India.”

The Washington Post noted that India’s anti-terror law, amended in 2019, allows the government to designate an individual as a terrorist and detain people for up to six months without producing any evidence. Further, the accused can subsequently be imprisoned for up to seven years. “Critics have called the law draconian, and accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of using it to mute dissent.”

Church groups and civil society leaders in India protested against the Jesuit priest's arrest on charges of being a Maoist or extreme Marxist. The Catholic Church in India said he was being punished for protecting the rights of aboriginal people.

Two days before his arrest, Swamy had said in a video message posted on YouTube that he feared he would be arrested because he fought against the government's indiscriminate arrest of thousands of young aboriginal people and local settlers who question big business projects that take away their land.

“During the past three decades I have tried to identify myself with the Adivasi (aboriginal) people and their struggle for a life of dignity and self-respect,” Swamy said. “As a writer, I have tried to analyze the different issues they are faced with. In this process, I have clearly expressed dissent with several policies, laws enacted by the government in light of the Constitution.”

The Indian government is increasingly being seen as heavy-handed.

Last June, New Delhi denied entry visas to representatives of the USCIRF who had planned to investigate reports of persecution of Muslims and Christians following the release of its report that designated India as a “Country of Particular Concern.”

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Posted by Temmy
Sun, July 11, 2021 3:37pm
 
21 Attorneys General Warn: Biden Administration Ignoring Religious Liberty in LGBT Push

A coalition of 21 state attorneys general warned in a new letter that recently enacted Biden administration policies on sexual orientation and gender identity

A coalition of 21 state attorneys general warned in a new letter that recently enacted Biden administration policies on sexual orientation and gender identity will threaten federally protected religious liberty and free speech rights.

The coalition sent a letter to President Biden dated July 7 asserting that two recent actions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Education “threaten to impose unlawful regulatory guidance upon nearly every employer and educational facility in our states and throughout the country.”

The Biden administration’s actions, the attorneys general say, exceed what is required under the Supreme Court’s Bostock v. Clayton County decision. In that 2020 decision, the justices ruled that federal law prohibits discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The EEOC recently released a guidance document explaining how it interprets Bostock, while the Department of Education issued a Notice of Interpretation explaining how it will enforce its interpretation of Bostock.

The attorneys general letter charges that the EEOC guidance “appears to ignore” two of three “protections provided to religious employers.” Those two are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which has “express statutory exception for religious organizations” and the First Amendment’s protections of “the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers,” the letter says.

The Supreme Court’s Bostock ruling, the letter says, is “a statutory decision and cannot overrule the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty.”

Meanwhile, the letter asserts the EEOC infringes on free speech by placing restrictions on pronouns. A Q&A on the EEOC website says that “use of pronouns or names that are inconsistent with an individual’s gender identity” can be “considered harassment” in “certain circumstances.”

“To be unlawful,” the EEOC says, “the conduct must be severe or pervasive when considered together with all other unwelcome conduct based on the individual’s sex including gender identity, thereby creating a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or offensive.”

The attorneys general say the EEOC policy is an overreach.

“Bostock did not provide any basis for a claim that using biologically accurate pronouns could violate the law. To the contrary, the First Amendment protects the right to ascribe pronouns to others based on their sex,” the letter says, quoting an opinion by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “... With respect to pronouns, the EEOC’s guidance comes across as an effort to leverage the authority of the federal government to chill protected speech disfavored by your administration.

“In addition, some gender dysphoric or transgender individuals prefer novel pronouns to the traditional masculine or feminine pronouns,” the letter says, referencing such “pronouns” as fae/faer/faers/faerself, per/per/pers/perself, ve/ver/vis/verself, xe/xem/xyr/xyrs/xemself and ze/hir/hirs/hirself. “... Nothing about Bostock’s reasoning suggests that an employer would violate Title VII by refusing to adopt an employee’s nontraditional pronouns.”

The letter also accuses the Department of Education of violating federal law related to sports and the usage of locker rooms and restrooms.

“As the chief legal officers of our states, Attorneys General have an obligation to represent the interests of our citizens and their institutions,” the letter says. “The recent actions by the EEOC and ED flout required procedures and the rule of law and serve only to sow confusion among regulated entities – including the employers and schools that operate in our communities. We look forward to working with you to resolve these matters and appreciate your attention to the concerns presented here.”

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Sun, July 11, 2021 3:45pm
 
Pope Francis Makes First Appearance Since Intestinal Surgery

Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance since major intestinal surgery last week, greeting well-wishers as he stood for 10 minutes on a hospital balcony

Pope Francis on Sunday made his first public appearance since major intestinal surgery last week, greeting well-wishers as he stood for 10 minutes on a hospital balcony, offering hearty thanks for all the prayers for his recovery and calling health care for all a “precious” good.

Francis, 84, has been steadily on the mend, according to the Vatican, following his July 4 scheduled surgery to remove a portion of his colon which had narrowed due to inflammation. But it hasn’t said just when he might be discharged. On the morning after his surgery, a Holy See spokesperson said his hospital stay was expected to last seven days, “barring complications.”

At first, the pontiff’s voice sounded on the weak side as he began his remarks after stepping onto a balcony outside his special suite at Gemelli Polyclinic at noon (1000 GMT; 6 a.m. EST).

That is the hour when traditionally he would have appeared from a window at the Vatican overlooking St. Peter’s Square. Exactly a week earlier, in his noon remarks, he had given no hint that in a few hours he would have entered the hospital for surgery that same night.

“I am happy to be able to keep the Sunday appointment,” this time at the hospital, the pope said. “I thank everyone. I very much felt your closeness and the support of your prayers,″ Francis said. “Thank you from my heart!” exclaimed the pontiff.

Standing on the balcony with him were some children who are also hospitalized at the polyclinic, a major Catholic teaching hospital on the outskirts of Rome. The crowd below clapped often, in encouragement.

Reading from prepared remarks, he kept one or both hands on a lectern for support, including when he raised an arm in blessing.

Francis described his hospitalization as an opportunity to understand “how important a good health service is, accessible to all, as it is in Italy and other countries.”

Although he stayed at a nonpublic hospital, Italy has a national public health service, and residents can often receive treatment at private hospitals, with the costs reimbursed by the government.

“We mustn’t lose this precious thing,” the pope said, adding his appreciation and encouragement for all the health care workers and personnel at hospitals.

As he usually does on Sundays, Francis spoke of current events and of issues close to his heart. In his balcony remarks, he reiterated his closeness to Haiti’s people, as he recalled the assassination last week of its president and the wounding of the first lady. Francis prayed that the people of Haiti could “start going down a path of peace and of harmony.”

The world’s environmental fragility has been a major theme of his papacy since it began in 2013. On Sunday, as countless people vacation at the shore, Francis urged them to look after “the health of seas and oceans.” “No plastic in the sea!” the pope pleaded.

Without citing specific issues, he also voiced hope that “Europe may be united in its founding values,” a possible reference to tensions between the European Union leaders and member Hungary over LGBTQ rights crackdowns. Francis noted that Sunday marked the feast of St. Benedict, patron saint of the continent.

Francis ended with his usual invitation to faithful.

“Don’t forget to pray for me,” drawing rousing applause.

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Posted by Temmy
Sun, July 11, 2021 4:37pm
 
Church of England bishops criticized for living ‘lavish lifestyles’ as churches struggle to survive

Members of the clergy enter York Minster before a service to consecrate Reverend Libby Lane as the first female bishop in the Church of England, in York, northern England, January 26, 2015. | Reuters/Phil Noble
Members of the clergy enter York Minster before a service to consecrate Reverend Libby Lane as the first female bishop in the Church of England, in York, northern England, January 26, 2015.

Financial data released by the Church of England, which shows that each bishop costs the denomination more than $166,000 a year excluding their stipends, is drawing criticism for the “opulence at the top” of the church.

The CofE spends at least $166,000 a year on each of its 42 diocesan bishops in maintaining their houses and paying their expenses, in addition to $64,000 each bishop is given per year as a stipend, according to the data that was released ahead of the sitting of General Synod, which began Friday and will end on Monday.

“As a member of General Synod for over a decade I have questioned the cost of bishops’ lavish lifestyles, and opulence at the top while parishes up and down the country struggle to meet their bills, and even close their door,” said Sam Margrave, a lay member of General Synod and a former local councilor, in a written statement submitted ahead of the conference, The Telegraph reported.

The denomination spends, on average, nearly $98,000 on the ongoing maintenance of each bishop’s house, and 26 bishops live in houses that have more than six bedrooms, the data showed. Mony is also spent on chauffeurs and gardeners.

“The Church of England as things currently stand is in danger of being one of the country’s largest pyramid schemes. If we are to maintain a presence in every community and have a bias to the poor, we need to change the way money is shared out. … Bishops should be helping the poor, not helping themselves,” Margrave added.

The average annual amount spent per bishop for expenses or hospitality was $74,000 in 2019, and it amounts to a total of more than $3 million, an increase of $663,000 compared with 2015, The Times reported, referring to the same data.

“It’s time bishops ... stopped living like kings or queens while the Church of England goes bankrupt,” Margrave was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, evangelicals in the General Synod, the Church’s legislative body, are trying to protect the doctrine of the Church amid calls to allow clergy to bless same-sex relationships through a “gender neutral marriage canon.”

“I want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon, such as they have in the Episcopal Church (in the U.S.) or in the Scottish Episcopal Church,” the Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes, said at a national conference of the CofE last Saturday. “And as a necessary but not sufficient first step I want to see conscientious freedom for the Church’s ministers and local leaders to honor, recognize and, yes indeed, to bless same-sex unions whether civil partnerships or civil marriages.”

The Evangelical Group of the General Synod (EGGS) has been working hard this last year to increase evangelical representation. Elections for members of the General Synod are due to take place in the fall. The five-yearly elections were postponed from 2020 due to the Covid crisis.

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Posted by Temmy
Mon, July 12, 2021 9:57am
 
'I Was Able to See Demons': Forced into Satanism as a Little Girl, Tormented Woman Finally Finds Peace in Christ

It's a deeply disturbing story about the darkest type of evil, but Patricia was only a kindergarten-aged girl

It's a deeply disturbing story about the darkest type of evil, but Patricia was only a kindergarten-aged girl when she was forced into a Satanic cult.

Starting from when she was a little child, she was tortured and tormented, all in the name of the Devil himself. Now, decades after enduring this living nightmare, she's breaking her silence.

"The people you trust the most who are supposed to take care of you and protect you from harm actually did the harm," she recalls. When Patricia was five years old she says she was initiated into this secret, satanic cult through a series of sick and abusive rituals.

"I was whisked away by family members to take part in a ceremony, a ritual," she says. "In the basement, there was an altar that was made out of wood. And on the floor of the concrete was a pentagram painted with red paint. Then there was family members and also occult members around in a circle around the altar. They were chanting in some unknown language. I just remember being pinned down, strapped down and then a ritual performed on me."

Patricia says she was raped and pledged to Satan. But the horror didn't stop there. Satanic rituals and animal sacrifice continued throughout her childhood. "We were forced to drink the blood. We were forced to eat eyes and if we didn't, we were tormented until we did. And the eyes were to give us power to see into the spirit realm."

For Patricia, there was no safe place. Unable to process the abuse, she suppressed her memories.

"The night terrors would continue and the dreams. My brain was trying to sort it all out, work it all out. You know, it's a nightmare. It's an absolute nightmare. I felt like I was living a constant, a horror movie. A horror movie. That's how I describe it. A horror movie on Halloween."

At thirteen years old she ran away from home. But the darkness she'd grown up with followed her. In her teens and twenties, Patricia read tarot cards and communicated with spirits. All the while she lived in constant fear and darkness.

"I was able to see demons and spirits, ghosts. And as I got older I had spiritual guides. I wanted power. I wanted to have complete power over my life because I didn't have any power over my life when I was younger. Any time that I went, tried to get healing from the occult, the first thoughts that would come to my mind was to kill myself, which I tried many times to do. Whether it be slicing my wrists or taking an overdose of pills. Ending up in the hospital, ending up in psychiatric ward."

She longed for freedom but didn't know where to turn. "I wanted peace. I wanted to be happy but I didn't know how to get it, because I was afraid of God. I hated God. I didn't - wanted nothing to do with Him. I was searching to be safe. I was searching for peace. I was searching to be loved."

Desperate, Patricia went to church with a Christian friend. As the church worshiped, she felt the love of Jesus for the first time. Then she says she felt something else.

"Everybody was praising the Lord and I wanted to do what everybody was doing. I wanted to feel what they were feeling. I needed the freedom. So I raised my hands and a dark presence came up behind me and literally jerked my shoulder. I wasn't budging though. I said, 'No. I'm not going. No, I'm not leaving.' This is where I'm staying. And I continued and I just kept crying, 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.' And then it started lifting and lifting and lifting."

Patricia became a Christian and began a long journey to freedom and wholeness with Jesus.

"I got on my face and I said, 'I want to feel you moving in my life, I want to feel release from these strongholds. I want to feel peace.' When I got off the floor, He was there with me. And I started reading every Scripture about Him. The woman at the well, the woman who touched His garment, I was those women, the woman who was about to be stoned. I was all those women in one, who needed Him. I needed Him to gradually show me that I could trust Him. And that's what He did."

Through intense Christian counseling and prayer, Patricia finally found the freedom and peace she had always wanted in Christ.

"Now I walk daily with joy and I never forget to thank Him every day for what He's done in my life. Never forget to thank Him. And I enjoy life so much more you know it's later in my life but he's given me back all those years the Devil stole from me. If He can take someone like me, who was involved in all of that darkness, and oppressed by it, and set me free, and give me a whole new life, if He can take someone like me, who was into the occult so deep, into that darkness so deep, who was trapped by the enemy, and pull her up out of that hole, that pit of hell and bring her into the light, He can do that for anyone. Anyone. I don't care how deep they are into the occult, He can pull you out. It just takes just a few words, Jesus help me. Or Lord, help me. And He will be there. He will be there to help pull you out."

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Posted by Temmy
Mon, July 12, 2021 2:12pm
 
Nigeria: Christian schools ordered to close amid spate of kidnappings

Released students gather at the Government House with other students from the Government Science Secondary school, in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina State, Nigeria, upon their release on December 18, 2020. More than 300 Nigerian schoolboys were released on Thursday after being abducted in an attack claimed by Boko Haram, officials said, although it was unclear if any more remained with their captors. | KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images
Released students gather at the Government House with other students from the Government Science Secondary school, in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina State, Nigeria, upon their release on December 18, 2020. More than 300 Nigerian schoolboys were released on Thursday after being abducted in an attack claimed by Boko Haram, officials said, although it was unclear if any more remained with their captors.

After more than 140 students were abducted from a Christian boarding school in the Kaduna state in northwestern Nigeria, authorities have ordered the closure of schools in the area, identifying them as “vulnerable.”

The head of the Kaduna State Schools Quality Assurance Authority sent a letter last week to 13 schools in the state, most of which are run by Christian groups. The letter ordered the schools to halt all classes temporarily, the United Kingdom-based nonprofit Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports.

The letter stated that the decision to close the schools was made at a “meeting with the National Association of proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS) and some key stakeholders.”

Among the schools identified for closure are Deeper Life Academy in Maraban Rido, Evangelical Church Winning All Secondary School in Ungwar Maje, St. Peter’s Minor Seminary in Katari and Bethel Baptist High School, which was the latest target.

Kaduna state has become an epicenter for abductions in Nigeria, where four kidnapping incidents took place within 24 hours last week.

Last Monday, the day senior students were scheduled to take their final exams at Bethel Baptist High School in the Chikun local government area, armed assailants barged into the compound and abducted at least 140 of them.

The head of Kaduna's Baptist conference said at least 28 students had been reunited with their families. A teacher has also reportedly been rescued while the search continues for remaining hostages.

The abductors promised the parents that their children would not starve if they provided rice, beans, palm oil, salt and stock cubes. They said a ransom demand would follow, Reuters reported.

Video footage released by Christian Solidarity Worldwide shows distressed mothers and fathers crying out to God and praying on the school grounds for the release of their children.

Terrorist groups with a foothold in the region, like Boko Haram, have carried out mass kidnappings in recent years, including kidnapping over 200 girls from a school in Chibok in 2014.

Dede Laugesen, the executive director of Save the Persecuted Christians, told The Christian Post in a previous interview that terrorists will often kidnap boys and brainwash them to become jihadis.

Kidnappings are also carried out by other criminals seeking ransom payment.

After Last Monday’s abduction incident, Seun Bakare of Amnesty International told Voice of America that the dropout rate is already high due to the dangers of going to school.

“We risk the loss of a generation if these attacks on schools and attacks on education continue,” Bakare was quoted as saying. “It is so shameful that on one hand, bandits and Boko Haram are attacking children and their right to education, on the other hand, the government’s only response is to shut down schools. The government's response is also an attack on education and this is completely unacceptable.”

Last Monday’s abduction was the 10th mass kidnapping in northwest Nigeria since December, according to Reuters.

Many Nigerians have raised concerns about what they perceive as the government’s inaction in holding terrorists accountable for the rising number of attacks and kidnappings.

In an earlier interview with CP, Emeka Umeagbalai of the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, said kidnappings of Christians happen for various reasons.

Some terrorists, like Boko Haram, the Islamic State West Africa Province and radical Fulani militants are motivated by money while others are motivated by Islamic radicalism.

Security analysts say kidnapping for ransom is becoming a lucrative industry in Nigeria. Weapons are becoming readily available to militants in Nigeria thanks to war-torn Libya.

Christian persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA ranks Nigeria No. 9 on its 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. Nigeria is also recognized as a "country of particular concern" by the U.S. State Department for tolerating or engaging in severe violations of religious freedom.

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Mon, July 12, 2021 4:53pm
 
Catholic parish can fire gay music director under ministerial exception, appeals court rules

An appeals court has ruled that an Illinois Catholic parish and its archdiocese could legally fire a music director

An appeals court has ruled that an Illinois Catholic parish and its archdiocese could legally fire a music director because he had entered a same-sex marriage, as his relationship conflicted with Church teaching.

In a 7-3 en bacn ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit decided last Friday to reject an employee harassment claim by Sandor Demkovich against St. Andrew the Apostle Parish and the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The decision vacated an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit and sent the case back to a lower court with instructions to dismiss the lawsuit against the archdiocese and parish.

Circuit Judge Michael Brennan, a Trump appointee, authored the majority opinion. He concluded that the “ministerial exception” for religious employers does apply to “hostile work environment claims based on minister-on-minister harassment.”

“The contours of the ministerial relationship are best left to a religious organization, not a court. Within a religious organization, workplace conflict among ministers takes on a constitutionally protected character,” wrote Brennan.

“Just as a religious organization need not proffer a religious justification for termination claims, a religious organization need not do so for hostile work environment claims.”

Brennan concluded that the court weighing in on the plaintiff's hostile work environment claims would be problematic since “what one minister says in supervision of another could constitute stern counsel to some or tread into bigotry to others.”

“How is a court to determine discipline from discrimination? Or advice from animus?” continued Brennan. “These questions and others like them cannot be answered without infringing upon a religious organization’s rights.”

Circuit Judge David Hamilton authored a dissenting opinion, arguing that the majority had focused “too little on counterarguments” and reached a decision “at the expense of the rights of employees.”

“In each of these types of cases, there is some risk of burdening religious liberty and entangling civil and religious affairs. But the First Amendment does not categorically defeat any of them,” wrote Hamilton, an Obama appointee.

“In this case, however, the majority adopts a broad exception for any hostile environment claims by ministerial employees. That produces an oddly arbitrary line.”

Hamilton believes the majority opinion “departs from a long practice of carefully balancing civil law and religious liberty.”

Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket, a religious freedom legal nonprofit that joined the litigation on behalf of the Archdiocese, celebrated the ruling. He said that the court's ruling that the government can't interfere in the ministerial relationship between a church and worship leaders is "common sense."

“Worship is sacred. That’s why worship leaders who select and perform elements of worship are ministers of the faith, conveying its teachings to the faithful,” Blomberg said in a statement.

“That’s also why the church — not the state — gets to make sure that its music ministers are directing its congregation in a way that’s faithful to its beliefs.”

In 2016, Demkovich filed a lawsuit against the archdiocese and the parish, accusing them of workplace harassment and unlawful firing when he was dismissed in 2014 for marrying a man.

Demkovich, who suffers from metabolic syndrome and other health issues, also accused the parish of creating a hostile work environment based on disability.

A district court judge ruled against his sexual orientation claim but allowed his disability claim to move forward. In August of last year, a three-judge panel ruled in favor of Demkovich for both the disability and sexual orientation claims.

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 13, 2021 9:19am
 
Rise of the 'nones,' decline of 'white Christian America' slows in US, new survey shows

Young adults worship at The Porch, a young adult community founded by Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas. | Watermark Community Church
Young adults worship at The Porch, a young adult community founded by Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas.

A new survey reveals that the share of Americans who identify as religiously unaffiliated has declined slightly. However, more Americans still describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated than affiliate with any particular religious tradition.

The Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute released its first-ever Census of American Religion Thursday, which provided detailed information about the religious demographics of the United States.

The survey was part of PRRI’s 2020 American Values Atlas, based on phone interviews with 50,334 Americans throughout 2020.

A statement from the research firm alleges that the Census of American Religion “provides the most detailed estimates of American religious affiliation since the U.S. Census Bureau last collected religious data in 1957.” Data was compiled based on more than 400,000 responses to PRRI’s American Values Atlas dating back to 2013.

One of the biggest takeaways from the survey is that “the Rise of the ‘Nones’” has slowed.

The term “nones” describes Americans who do not identify with a particular religion and includes atheists and agnostics.

For several years, the PRRI and Pew Research Center have reported on the growth of the religiously unaffiliated American population, which corresponds with a drop in the share of Americans who identify as Christians.

As noted by data compiled in the Census of American Religion, 16% of Americans identified as religiously unaffiliated in 2006. That number rose to a high of 25.5% in 2018 before declining to 24% in 2019 and 23.3% in 2020. Even with this slight decline, religiously unaffiliated Americans constitute a larger share of the American public than the three most prominent religious groups in the U.S.

White mainline Protestants made up just over 16% of the population in 2020, followed by white evangelical Protestants (14%) and white Catholics (12%.) All other religious groups accounted for less than 10% of the U.S. population as a whole, including Christians of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists.

As the survey reported, “The increase in proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has occurred across all age groups but has been most pronounced among young Americans.”

Even as the share of religiously unaffiliated Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 declined from 38% in 2018 to 36% in 2020, religiously unaffiliated young Americans outnumbered their white mainline Protestant counterparts 3-to-1.

The religiously unaffiliated constitute smaller pluralities of Americans between the ages of 30-49 and 50-64. At 14%, the religiously unaffiliated were the fourth largest group among Americans 65 and older. White evangelicals made up a plurality (22%) of the oldest age bracket, followed by white mainline Protestants (20%) and white Catholics (15%).

The slight decrease in the percentage of “nones” comes as the Census of American Religion found that “the decline of white Christian America” has also slowed.

After the share of Americans who identified as white Christians reached a low of 42% in 2018, the percentage of white Christians increased to 44% in 2020.

While the percentage of white mainline Protestants increased slightly in 2020, the share of white evangelical Protestants in the population continues to decline.

Twenty-three percent of Americans identified as white evangelical Protestants in 2006. But that figure shrunk to 14% in 2020 after remaining constant at 15% for the three previous years.

The new survey results illustrate a noticeable relationship between a person’s faith and their political affiliation. White Christians made up 68% of the Republican Party compared to just 39% of the Democratic Party.

Although religiously unaffiliated Americans make up an increasing share of both political parties, the “nones” comprise a higher share of the Democratic Party’s coalition (23%) compared to the Republican Party’s (13%).

According to data collected by Pew Research Center in 2006, just 4% of the Republican Party consisted of religiously unaffiliated Americans, while the “nones” accounted for 13% of the Democratic Party’s coalition at that time.

In 2020, the religiously unaffiliated made up a plurality of the Democratic Party’s membership (23%), followed by white mainline Protestants (16%), white Catholics (13%) and black Protestants (13%). Meanwhile, the “nones” were the fourth-largest religious group in the Republican Party in 2020 (13%). At 29%, white evangelicals constituted a plurality of the Republican Party, followed by white mainline Protestants (22%) and white Catholics (15%).

Overall, most religiously unaffiliated Americans identify as independents (46%) and Democrats (35%). Majorities of Hindus (79%), Buddhists (77%), Muslims (82%), Jews (75%), Hispanic Catholics (83%), and Hispanic Protestants (75%) identified as either independent or Democrat. An outright majority of black Protestants (65%) aligned themselves with the Democratic Party.

The religious groups most likely to favor Republicans were white evangelicals (51%) and members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints (39%). White mainline Protestants were evenly split between Democrats (35%) and Republicans (33%), while a plurality of white Catholics (38%) identified with the Democratic Party.

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 13, 2021 10:37am
 
Boris Johnson: ‘Christianity is a superb ethical system ... I would count myself a very bad Christian’

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with ITV News' politics editor Robert Peston in an interview in Cornwall, England, on June 12, 2021. | ITV News
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with ITV News' politics editor Robert Peston in an interview in Cornwall, England, on June 12, 2021.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who recently got married in Westminster Cathedral and quoted from the Psalms in a media interview weeks later, hailed Christianity as “a superb ethical system” but added that he would count himself “as a kind of very, very bad Christian.”

In a lengthy biographical piece published in The Times on Saturday, British writer Tom McTague prodded him further on his faith.

A friend of the prime minister reportedly told several news outlets that he suspected that Johnson believed in a “pre-Christian morality system with a multitude of gods and no clear set of rules.”

So when The Times put this to Johnson, he responded, “Christianity is a superb ethical system and I would count myself as a kind of very, very bad Christian. No disrespect to any other religions, but Christianity makes a lot of sense to me.”

McTague also noted that the prime minister’s “ability to invite underestimation seems to shield him from the usual rules of politics.”

“There’s a magic to Boris that allows him to escape some of the political challenges that he’s had since he became prime minister,” the writer quotes Frank Luntz, an American pollster who was friends with Johnson at Oxford, as saying. “People are more patient with him, they are more forgiving of him, because he’s not a typical politician.”

Last month during the G7 summit in England when ITV’s Robert Peston asked Johnson whether he was now a practicing Roman Catholic, the prime minister initially sought not to respond by saying, “I don’t discuss these deep issues, certainly not with you.”

The reporter then told Johnson that Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer had said he didn’t believe in God. The prime minister then quickly quoted Psalm 14: “The foolish man has said in his heart there is no God.”

While the prime minister was baptized a Catholic, he twice married as an Anglican before his third marriage with Carrie Symonds in May.

The question of his faith as Britain’s first Catholic prime minister (while in office) became a serious issue last month because, as a Catholic, Johnson can no longer send the names of Church of England bishops to Queen Elizabeth.

Instead, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland “will send the names of new Church of England bishops to the queen, after a warning that the prime minister could be banished from office if he keeps doing so himself,” The Telegraph reported.

An unnamed source at No. 10 told the publication that the rule is “incredibly anachronistic” because a Jewish or Muslim prime minister could nominate a bishop but not a Catholic.

In response to questions about Johnson’s Christian faith and conversion to Catholicism, one senior Tory reportedly said earlier that the prime minister “does not have a religious bone in his body.”

Johnson’s great-grandfather, Ali Kemal, was a Turkish Muslim journalist and politician who was brutally murdered by a mob that supported Ataturk. He knew England well, and when the British occupied Constantinople for four years at the end of World War I, he collaborated with them.

In the BBC series “Who Do Think You Are,” Johnson talked about his great-grandfather having memorized the entire Quran as a young boy. And it was in that interview that Johnson also mentioned that, as a student, he had won a Scripture knowledge prize.

As part of a Bible reading project for the King James Bible Trust, in which a reading of the entire Bible was posted on YouTube, Johnson read from Isaiah Chapter 11. He called the King James version the “single most beautiful and influential work of English literature.”

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 13, 2021 5:59pm
 
Mother Sues London School for Requiring Son to Participate in Pride Parade

A Christian mother is taking a London-based school to court for allegedly forcing her four-year-old son to partake in a gay pride parade

A Christian mother is taking a London-based school to court for allegedly forcing her four-year-old son to partake in a gay pride parade back in 2018.

According to Christian Today, Izzy Montague says she was told by the headteacher of Heavers Farm Primary School in Croydon, England, that her son could not back out of the pride event, despite the family's Christian beliefs.

Montague, who has since withdrawn her son from the school, is now taking the matter to court for direct and indirect discrimination, victimization and breaches of statutory duties under the Education Act 1996 and the Human Rights Act 1998.

She added that the school did not take her concerns seriously and became "antagonistic" towards her after she asked to withdraw her son.

Montague's case will be heard by Central London County Court from 14 to 21 July. The case will examine religious freedom, the rights of parents to opt their children out of ideological education and the school's duty to be politically neutral.

The Christian mother asserted ahead of the hearing that she was not trying to stop the Pride event but just wanted her child to "receive an education, rather than indoctrination."

"I am taking this stand to raise awareness amongst parents as to what is happening in our primary schools," she explained. "I do not want other parents to go through what I have in the months and years ahead."

Montague will be supported by the Christian Legal Centre, a legal organization in the U.K. that provides legal support for Christians facing religious discrimination.

"This case epitomises the chaos we can expect to see in the next academic year in our schools and is another example of the 'totalitolerance' that has become so prevalent in our society," Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said. "Those who preach tolerance and diversity the loudest do not appear to be interested in practising it."

She added, "A particular agenda is being forced onto children inside the school gates, and parents are being given no means to ensure that their children are being taught in line with their religious and philosophical beliefs."

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 13, 2021 6:58pm
 
The Church of England will formally apologize for the banishment of Jews from medieval Britain

The Church of England will formally apologize for the banishment of Jews from medieval Britain

The Church of England will formally apologize for the banishment of Jews from medieval Britain.

The Telegraph reports church leaders on Monday revealed plans to offer an "act of repentance." Jewish groups welcomed the action by the church, saying it's "better late than never."

To the casual observer, the history of the ouster of English Jews from the British Isles mirrors images from Nazi Germany in the early 1930s.

During the Middle Ages, the church endorsed legislation restricting Jews in the country, forcing them to wear identifying badges and banning them from certain professions. This led to the nationwide expulsion of Jews in the 13th century, according to the newspaper.

Jews were also forbidden to own land, and could not pass on any inheritance to their children. Instead, all monies or land went to the Crown.

According to the English history of the time, hundreds of Jews were arrested, hanged, or imprisoned.

King Edward I passed the Edict of Expulsion against Jews in 1290. The law expelling all Jews from the country remained in place throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages.

It wasn't overturned until 1657 when Oliver Cromwell allowed Jews to return to the island nation.

Even though the Church of England did not come into existence until several hundred years later (1541) during the rule of King Henry VIII, church leaders have apologized for the role the church has played throughout English history and its part in pushing anti-Semitism.

The Rt Revd Dr. Michael Ipgrave OBE, Bishop of Lichfield and chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, said: "In 2019 the Church of England published God's Unfailing Word, which included a historic expression of repentance for the Christian church's participation and collusion in over a thousand years of anti-Judaic thinking and practice in England.

"This key teaching document mentioned the possibility of local churches modeling such repentance within specific acts of Christian worship," Ipgrave said.

"The 800th anniversary of the Synod of Oxford is one such opportunity for a local expression of repentance. This is currently being explored in partnership with the Council of Christians and Jews," he continued.

The archbishop also said the church is looking at the idea of holding a symbolic service on the anniversary of the 1222 Synod of Oxford, "the 'Magna Carta' of English canon law which implemented some of the most egregious anti-Semitic decrees."

In response, Dave Rich, director of policy at the Community Security Trust (CST), a charity which provides security to the UK's Jewish community and which records anti-Semitic incidents, told the Telegraph: "The phrase 'better late than never' is truly appropriate here."

"The historic trauma of medieval English anti-Semitism can never be erased and its legacy survives today – for example, through the persistence of the 'blood libel' allegation that was invented in this country," Rich noted.

"But at a time of rising anti-Semitism, the support and empathy of the Church of England for our Jewish community is most welcome as a reminder that the Britain of today is a very different place," he said.

The CST said from May 8 to June 7 of this year, 460 incidents (316 offline and 144 online) of anti-Semitism were reported to the charity. It is the highest monthly total of incidents reported in the United Kingdom since record-keeping began in 1984.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 14, 2021 1:16pm
 
Professor resigns from Harvard University over 'spiritual rot,' blasts 'superficial diversity'

College professor Cornel West arrives for the Time 100 Gala in New York, May 5, 2009. | (Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
College professor Cornel West arrives for the Time 100 Gala in New York, May 5, 2009.

Notable academic and progressive African American philosophy professor Cornel West has announced his resignation from his position at Harvard University in Massachusetts, citing what he called “spiritual rot.”

West posted a copy of his letter of resignation to his official Twitter account on Monday, getting 70,000 likes and more than 13,000 retweets as of Tuesday morning.

“This is my candid letter of resignation to my Harvard Dean. I try to tell the unvarnished truth about the decadence in our market-driven universities! Let us bear witness against this spiritual rot,” tweeted West, the grandson of a Baptist minister and democratic socialist civil rights activist.

In the June 30 letter, West cited numerous issues he had with Harvard Divinity School. Those include the “disarray of a scattered curriculum, the disenchantment of talented yet deferential faculty, and the disorientation of students.”

“With a few glorious and glaring exceptions, the shadow of Jim Crow was cast in its new glittering form expressed in the language of superficial diversity,” he wrote.

West also cited alleged anti-Palestinian bias, a dispute over whether to give him tenure and an inadequate response from the Ivy League institution to the passing of his mother.

His comments about the disrespect for the pro-Palestinian movement likely stem from a recent report by The Harvard Crimson that the school invests approximately $200 million in companies said to be tied to Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.

In March, West had already openly expressed his plans to leave Harvard for Union Theological Seminary of New York City due to the dispute over granting him tenure.

“There are wonderful people at Harvard; we know that,” West told The Boycott Times in an interview at the time. “But I discovered that I can only take so much hypocrisy. I can only take so much dishonesty.”

“Harvard has actually done very well in terms of bringing different peoples of different colors and gender at a high level into the administration. But it does not yet translate on the ground in terms of faculty.”

West was previously a tenured professor at Harvard but left the school in 2002 and returned to a non-tenured position with Harvard in 2017.

A prolific author and philosopher, West is known for his public debates and dialogue with conservative Catholic political philosopher and Princeton University law professor Robert P. George. The two are an "ideological odd couple" that have teamed up to promote tolerance in an increasingly divided America. They have spoken out against efforts to silence free speech on college campuses.

Last November, the two spoke during a Museum of the Bible event in Washington, D.C., centered on the issue of showing honesty and civility, even during times of intense political polarization.

During his remarks, given virtually, West discussed the importance of loving enemies, noting that “even the biggest gangsters among us” know to show “tender loving care” for their loved ones.

“I try to remind people of that in terms of brother [Donald] Trump himself,” said West. “What looks like so often he just doesn’t have this love, and he doesn’t have this empathy, doesn’t have this concern, doesn’t have this sensitivity.”

“Yes, I believe there is a lot of evidence for that. That’s why I have called him a ‘gangster.’ But I was a gangster before I met Jesus," West continued. "And now I am a redeemed sinner with gangster proclivities. Because he, like me, made in the image of the same God and therefore has the possibility of going another way.”

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 14, 2021 1:54pm
 
Pope Francis leaves hospital 10 days after intestinal surgery

A car leaves Gemelli hospital carrying Pope Francis after recovering from surgery in Rome, Italy, July 14, 2021. GUGLIELMO MANGIAPANE/REUTERS
A car leaves Gemelli hospital carrying Pope Francis after recovering from surgery in Rome, Italy, July 14, 2021.

Pope Francis was seen leaving the hospital on Wednesday, 10 days after undergoing planned surgery to remove half his colon. A car carrying Francis, 84, left Rome's Gemelli Polytechnic hospital on Wednesday morning. The pope asked for his car to stop on the way back to Vatican City so he could greet police officers standing guard.

Francis had half of his colon removed for a severe narrowing of his large intestine on July 4, his first major surgery since he became pope in 2013. It was a planned procedure, scheduled for early July when the pope's audiences are suspended anyway and Francis would normally take some time off.

Pope Francis visits the pediatric cancer ward at Rome's Gemelli Polytechnic hospital, where he was recovering from surgery to remove part of his colon, on July 13, 2021, in a photo provided by the Holy See press office. HOLY SEE PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT
Pope Francis visits the pediatric cancer ward at Rome's Gemelli Polytechnic hospital, where he was recovering from surgery to remove part of his colon, on July 13, 2021, in a photo provided by the Holy See press office.

Francis will have several more weeks to recover before beginning to travel again in September. There are plans for him to visit Hungary and Slovakia in a September 12-15 trip, and then make a quick stop in Glasgow, Scotland, in November to participate in the COP26 climate conference. Other possible trips are also under review.

The Vatican had originally said Francis could be discharged last weekend, but later said he would stay a few days extra for further recovery and rehabilitation therapy.

The pope appeared for the first time in public since the surgery on Sunday, looking in good form as he delivered his weekly prayer from the 10th floor hospital balcony, surrounded by young cancer patients. He used the occasion to call for free health care for all.

On Tuesday afternoon, the eve of his release, he visited the pediatric cancer ward, which is located on the same floor as the papal hospital suite.

The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed when he was a young man but has otherwise enjoyed relatively robust health.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 14, 2021 2:16pm
 
Billy Graham's family home up for sale to help pay for granddaughter’s medical treatments

The Graham family at their home in Montreat, North Carolina, in an undated photo. | Courtesy of Single Point Media
The Graham family at their home in Montreat, North Carolina, in an undated photo.

The original home of the late evangelist Billy Graham and his wife, Ruth, is now for sale as their daughter is raising funds to pay for her daughter’s medical treatments.

The original home of the Grahams, a wooden cottage, is on the market for the first time. The house is listed at $599,000. The cottage, still owned by the family, was where the renowned minister lived with his wife and children while Graham traveled to share the Gospel in the most pivotal years of his ministry.

“The charming cottage has a storied history — it was the family’s residence during the time the evangelist became a household name," a press statement reads. "Located at 198 Mississippi Road, the four-bedroom, two-bath home is being marketed exclusively by Brian Etheridge of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty’s Asheville office."

The couple's daughter Ruth said her parents purchased the home in the late 1940s.

“It was selected because it was right across the street from my grandparents,” the younger Ruth Graham said in a statement shared with The Christian Post. “I was born during the time my family lived in the house. The Los Angeles Crusades and [my father’s] tour of England happened during those years. … it is where it all began.”

This four-bedroom house at 198 Mississippi Road in Montreat, North Carolina, was Billy and Ruth Graham’s first home. | Courtesy of Single Point Media
This four-bedroom house at 198 Mississippi Road in Montreat, North Carolina, was Billy and Ruth Graham’s first home.

The Grahams moved from the house in 1957 but remained in Montreat, Ruth Graham told the Ashville Citizen-Times. She said she is selling the home to help pay for her daughter’s medical costs as she suffers from Lymphangioleiomyomatosis.

The multisystem disorder affects different areas of the body, such as lungs, kidneys and the lymphatic system.

“My youngest daughter was diagnosed with a very rare disease that attacks women of childbearing age and there will be some significant medical bills in her future," she said, according to WCNC Charolette. “I am so grateful that I have this provision that I can make like any mother who would move Heaven and earth when your child needs you.”

The third of the reverend's five children revealed that her daughter had the “diagnosis for about three or four years."

"And they say from that time forward, you have six to eight years," she explained. "So the time is growing close."

Ruth Graham, who owns the home, reportedly notified her siblings of the sale and asked them first if they wanted to buy the house. She did not speak with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. But a spokesman for the organization told The Citizen-Times that the Graham siblings “love each other deeply and support each other.”

The home has been used as a vacation rental in recent years. Guests of the home were given access to experience the Grahams' young family life through the cottage’s original furnishings, books, photos and mementos. The two-story home is still in pristine condition and is surrounded by several picturesque walking trails and streams.

Several offers have already been received.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 14, 2021 3:28pm
 
School Can Require Christian Teacher to Use Transgender Pronouns and Names, Judge Rules

On Monday, a federal judge ruled against a Christian teacher who claimed he was forced out of his job

On Monday, a federal judge ruled against a Christian teacher who claimed he was forced out of his job because he declined to use the preferred names and pronouns of transgender students.

John Kluge taught music for four years within the Brownsburg (Ind.) Community School Corporation but claimed he faced religious discrimination due to his religious beliefs about gender and sexuality. He was forced to resign in the spring of 2018, even though he believed he had reached a compromise to use only the last names of students.

Judge Jane E. Magnus-Stinson ruled in a 52-page decision that the school could not accommodate "religious beliefs without sustaining undue hardship" on the school, students and faculty.

The controversy began at the end of the 2016-17 school year, when the faculty heard a presentation on "what it means to be transgender and how teachers can encourage and support transgender students," Magnus-Stinson wrote.

In May 2017, Kluge and three other teachers called a meeting with the principal, during which they "presented a signed letter expressing their religious objections to transgenderism and other information supporting their position that BHS should not 'promote transgenderism.'"

"The letter specifically asked that BCSC faculty and staff not be required to refer to transgender students using their preferred pronouns and that transgender students not be permitted to use the restrooms and locker rooms of their choice," wrote Magnus-Stinson, who was nominated by President Obama.

Although the three other teachers eventually accepted the new policy – which required teachers to use a student's preferred name and pronouns – Kluge did not.

Kluge and school officials initially reached a compromise that allowed Kluge to use the last names of all students while avoiding first names and pronouns. But after several months, the principal, Bret Daghe, told Kluge that the compromise was creating "tension" among students and that teachers would be required to use students' preferred first names and pronouns. Daghe asked Kluge to resign by the end of the year.

Magnus-Stinson noted that Kluge is a Christian who believes that "God created mankind as either male or female, that this gender is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual's feelings or desires."

But the school district had demonstrated it could not "accommodate Mr. Kluge's religious belief" about transgenderism "without incurring undue hardship," the judge wrote.

"Continuing to allow Mr. Kluge an accommodation that resulted in complaints that transgender students felt targeted and dehumanized could potentially have subjected BCSC to a Title IX discrimination lawsuit brought by a transgender student," she wrote. "Whether such lawsuit would ultimately have been successful is not for the Court to decide at this juncture, as it is sufficient that the state of the law during Mr. Kluge's employment created a risk of liability, and BCSC considered that risk in determining how to resolve Mr. Kluge's objections to the policies concerning transgender students."

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 14, 2021 5:47pm
 
Faith groups launch curriculum to help churches combat ‘idolatrous’ Christian nationalism

Fran Flynn (C) prays during the 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry as they await the arrival of President Donald Trump on January 3, 2020, in Miami, Florida. | Getty Images/Joe Raedle
Fran Flynn (C) prays during the 'Evangelicals for Trump' campaign event held at the King Jesus International Ministry as they await the arrival of President Donald Trump on January 3, 2020, in Miami, Florida.

Faith-based advocacy organizations have launched a curriculum aimed at helping evangelical pastors combat Christian nationalism within their congregations.

Christians Against Christian Nationalism, Vote Common Good and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty announced the creation of the three-lesson curriculum last week.

According to a statement, the curriculum defines Christian nationalism as “a framework of thinking” that “seeks to merge Christian and American identities, distorting both the Christian faith and America’s constitutional democracy.”

Baptist Joint Committee Executive Director Amanda Tyler told The Christian Post that the curriculum was created in response to a webinar in January that CACN hosted titled “Democracy and Faith Under Siege: Responding to Christian Nationalism.” CACN was launched in 2019 by the Baptist Joint Committee.

“Christians Against Christian Nationalism received many requests from pastors and lay leaders for additional resources to use with their congregations to better understand and respond to Christian nationalism in their communities and churches,” said Tyler.

“We developed the curriculum this spring and released it this summer as churches are planning their fall activities, many returning to in-person programming.”

Tyler believes Christian nationalism is “at odds with the core tenet of Christianity — that is, that Jesus Chris is Lord” and is “pervasive throughout American society.”

“Christian nationalism demands ultimate loyalty to political power rather than God. And therefore can become idolatrous,” she continued.

“The curriculum relies on Biblical passages and core Christian theology to differentiate the Christian religion and tenets of Christianity from the ideology of Christian nationalism.”

Tyler hopes that churches that use the curriculum will learn “a basic understanding of what Christian nationalism is and how racism feeds into Christian nationalism” and “ways to respond to Christian nationalism that are grounded in Scripture and Christian understanding.”

Content for the curriculum is free to download on the CACN website and includes discussion questions for video clips tied to the January webinar.

Panelists involved in the webinar included Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, head of The Episcopal Church; Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Andrew Whitehead, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

According to the groups, dozens of evangelical pastors have already agreed to use the curriculum for their congregations, with Vote Common Good planning various means of expanding that number.

Vote Common Good is a progressive evangelical grassroots organization that held rallies during the 2020 presidential election encouraging Christians not to vote for former President Donald Trump.

“Vote Common Good plans to get the curriculum in front of evangelical pastors through educational pamphlets, outreach to Christian schools and more,” Vote Common Good Executive Director Doug Pagitt, a Minnesota pastor, said in a statement emailed to CP.

“… we are also considering paid ads, and will tap into our growing network of Pastors and Christian leaders nationwide to push for its implementation.”

One of the pastors planning to utilize the curriculum is the Rev. Michael Mills of Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. His congregation has been a longtime supporter of the Baptist Joint Committee, an education and advocacy organization supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and over a dozen other Baptist organizations.

Mills told CP that his church wanted a way to better talk about "the merging of a Christian and an American identity," believing that the curriculum "equips our people with the tools to identify it when we see it and to know how to talk about it with others."

"Because we are not a large congregation, we can gather as one to work through the curriculum and discuss it," he explained. "This enables us to have the same conversation, to hear from and learn from one another, and to share a common experience."

While many evangelical leaders have condemned Christian nationalism, others have expressed concern that the term is used to bash conservative Christians.

In a column by John Stonestreet and Timothy D. Padgett published by CP in January, the two authors argued that Christian nationalism is used as “a scare label to dismiss any policy or person more conservative than whoever is using the term.”

They pointed to a recent article by the United Kingdom-based publication The Guardian quoting experts saying proposed pro-life legislation was “Christian nationalist” in nature.

“As seen in The Guardian, we’re all but guaranteed for the near future that anything vaguely traditional or moral, and any appeal to anything higher than the latest cultural fad, will be smeared with this label. It’s silly. Even more, it’s dangerous,” they wrote.

“Even so, Christians must not abandon the public square just because people say mean things about us.”

Professor and author Owen Strachen wrote a column published earlier this month in which he critiqued critics' concern that "a militantly racist body of extremist 'white' fundamentalists waits just beyond the city gates to take back America." He called the idea "downright silly."

"... supporting conservative politicians does not make you .... a 'white Christian nationalist.' Over and over, Christians who want their country to flourish have been labeled in such terms for voting for candidates of a Republican or conservative bent," wrote Strachen.

"The vast majority of Christians I know supported such candidates in past days because they are ardently pro-life, pro-religious liberty, anti-big government, anti-progressive agenda, and pro-free market. They do not have anything close to an evil vision of America that would ruin the lives of people of color. Nor do they wish to impose a ferocious theocracy on any who dare disagree with them. Instead, they want people of all kinds to be free, prosperous and able to worship God."

Regarding the criticism leveled by some, Pastor Mills of Agape Baptist told CP that "whenever the Church has become cozy with the state, things have not gone well for the Church."

"In our present context, those that seek to promote and benefit from Christian nationalism have targeted socially conservative Christians," said Mills.

"I believe there is a legitimate pathway to adhere to conservative values without the heavy hand of the state being involved. That pathway needs to be recovered, or socially conservative Christians will lose all credibility in the public sphere."

Mills added that "challenging Christian nationalism" is not "a smear campaign" against conservative Christians but rather "a call for us to be better."

"Because the undoing of Christian nationalism will result in more faithful Christians and more faithful Americans," he concluded.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 15, 2021 11:31am
 
Christianity in the United Arab Emirates

According to many historians, the Christian presence in the United Arab Emirates dates back to the first centuries of Christianity

According to many historians, the Christian presence in the United Arab Emirates dates back to the first centuries of Christianity, as it spread in various countries of the Arabian Peninsula and the Arabian Gulf.

In 1992, in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the remains of an ancient monastery dating back to the seventh century AD were discovered. Abu Dhabi authorities took the initiative to preserve the remains and turned them into Christian monuments and tourist attractions, Emirati news agencies report.

These antiquities were discovered on Sir Bani Yas Island, opposite the western shores of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It includes the main nave, side wings, temple, plaster, burial, tower and prayer house, some rooms for monks and the abode of the abbot of the monastery.

THE CURRENT PRESENCE OF CHRISTIANS IN THE EMIRATES
On the land of the UAE live residents of about 200 nationalities, including Christians. Like others, Christians in the UAE enjoy a decent life, respect and equality, values that have been established by the state, which has become a leading example of tolerance and cultural pluralism.

The first church in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi was built in 1962, though it wasn't officially dedicated until 1965, on a plot of land donated by the Emirate, which bore the name St. Joseph the Catholic.

The first mass in the Emirate was organized in 1958 at Qasr al-Hosn. In the neighboring emirate of Dubai, the first church was built in 1967 and bore the name St. Mary.

Before the construction of churches, specifically in the fifties, priests would come to the homes of Christians to pray in them.

The opening of churches, however, gave Christians more space to practice their religion in complete freedom, including after the United Arab Emirates was established in 1971 and the eventual arrival of expatriates in the country.

In various parts of the country today, the Emirates embraces churches of different Christian denominations, such as Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Copts, Armenians, evangelicals and Anglicans.

Among the most prominent churches in the UAE capital of Abu Dhabi are St. Joseph Church, St. Paul Church, the Evangelical Church, the Armenian Church, St. Nicholas Church, St.Elias Orthodox Cathedral, St. Andrew's Church, St. George's Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church.

In all, there are 45 churches in the United Arab Emirates.

The most recent church to be inaugurated in Abu Dhabi was the Cathedral of St. Elias in the Mussafah area in early 2018, on a plot of land granted by the President of the UAE, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The gift of the land was to serve as an example of Khalifa's tolerance and respect for the other.

This donation was not unique. Since the era of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late founder of the Emirates, sheiks of the Emirates have donated lands to Christian denominations in order to build churches on them.

CHRISTIAN NUMBERS
The UAE is inhabited by 800,000 Christians, the majority of whom are Catholics. Catholics make up about 10 percent of the population. There are also many thousands of members of the Greek Orthodox sect in various parts of the Emirates and two Greek Orthodox churches in Abu Dhabi. The first Greek Orthodox church was opened in 1975 and bears the name of the Church of "St. Nicholas." A new church was opened in the same emirate in 2018.

Christians also have a church called "Our Lady of the Annunciation" in the complex of churches in the Jebel Ali area of Dubai. It was opened in 2009 after Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum donated a plot of land for its construction.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 15, 2021 11:37am
 
Pastor Apologizes for Issuing 'One-Piece Swimsuit Ultimatum' to Girls in Viral Post

A Washington youth pastor's Facebook post is receiving viral attention after he apologized

A Washington youth pastor's Facebook post is receiving viral attention after he apologized for having told his female students to wear only one-piece swimsuits.

Bryce Brewer, who has served at multiple churches in Washington state, posted the remarks on June 11. It has been shared 45,000 times and has received 16,000 comments. The Today Show's website interviewed him.

Brewer said he came to the conclusion after shopping with his fiancé and her 10-year-old daughter for a swimsuit.

"I wandered with them through several department stores and through Target trying to find a cute-but-appropriate one-piece bathing suit and they're very, very difficult to find," Brewer told Today Parents. "I watched a frustration build with both of them, almost a dejection."

"I wondered, how many young ladies did I subject to this event over 20 years of ministry?" Brewer added. "Times when, because of me, they were desperately searching for a one-piece bathing suit and couldn't find one?"

Brewer posted the comments as the wider Christian community is having a discussion about modesty. In June, Matthew West took down a music video for his "Modest Is Hottest" spoof song. Soon thereafter, singers John Cooper and Alisa Childers defended the song and the concept of modesty.

Brewer didn't use the word "modest" in his post, although he did say he's "still a fan of the 'No Produce Rule' – No buns, bananas, or breasts need to be seen."

"But why are stomachs overtly sexual?" Brewer asked in his post. "Why is a little cleavage sinful? Why are women meant to feel they are responsible for men's actual sin of lust? So I am sorry to all the students, especially female, that we subjugated to our rules. I am sorry to my female students as [they] desperately tried to search for a swimsuit in the days leading up to camp. I am sorry if you felt sexualized by us telling you to cover up. I am sorry I didn't teach boys to be men, and laid that responsibility on young women."

Brewer said he's been a youth pastor "on and off for over 20 years" and always issued an "ultimatum" to female students to wear only one-piece swimsuits.

His apology included five points:

- "I am sorry that I didn't teach boys to control themselves.

- "I am sorry I laid the weight of purity on a girls' swimsuit while she was swimming, and not on the boys' responsibility to not be gross.

- "I am sorry to all the girls that frantically searched for an appropriate one piece so that some male youth pastor could deem them appropriate ... story here – I accompanied my fiancé and her daughter as we desperately looked for a cute one piece that would be appropriate for camp ... it was hard, and it sucked.

- "I am sorry that we have deemed a young women's body as something that 'needs to be covered' and let young men's bodies be ok to be seen.

- "I am sorry I ever let this be an item of discussion, usually lead by men, at any youth leader meeting ... this must have been awful for my female leaders and students to be part of."

"While my heart may have been in the right place," he told Today.com, "I missed the boat in this area."

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 15, 2021 11:49am
 
Chinese Pastors Forced to Include Xi's Speech in Sermons to Celebrate CCP'S Centennial

Image Source: AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Pastors in China's Three-Self Churches were ordered to adjust their sermons to include parts of a speech made by President Xi Jinping on July 1, celebrating the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Bitter Winter reports that members of the government-controlled Protestant church, known as the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, and the China Christian Council met during a conference to discuss how pastors could integrate elements of Xi's speech into their lectures and Bible study groups.

Wu Wei, chairman of China Christian Council, said pastors should focus on the fact that "the Chinese Communist Party has never changed its original intention to put the people first, establish an extensive patriotic united front, unite the citizens' hearts, gather strength, and continue to explore and innovate."

Wei added that pastors should also direct Christians in "thanking God for putting us in this great era" and "continuing to learn the spirit of General Secretary Xi's speech."

Sermon's should include the following components from Xi's speech:


  • Xi and the CCP recognize the renewal of the Chinese nation.

  • Christians should routinely say "Long live the great, glorious, and correct Chinese Communist Party! Long live the great, glorious, and heroic Chinese people!"

  • The roots and blood of the CCP are in the people. It is the people's own party.

  • The CCP has accomplished "four great achievements": a Socialist revolution, the construction of a Socialist society under Chairman Mao, a Socialist reform under Deng Xiaoping, and a Socialism with Chinese characteristics under Xi Jinping.

  • Under President Xi, the CCP has developed the "five civilizations" of material, political, spiritual, social, and economical.

  • The CCP has brought "six common values" to the people including peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom.

  • Christians should trust the CCP because it has over 70 years of experience in successfully ruling the country.

  • Like the CCP, Christians should tell foreign hostile powers that "the era when the Chinese nation was slaughtered and bullied is gone forever!"

  • Christians should advocate for the leaders of the CCP as "only Socialism can save China."



The Chinese government has ramped up extreme measures over the last few years to crack down on religious groups in the country.

President Xi has ordered that all religions must "Sinicize" to ensure they are loyal to the officially atheistic party. China's Christians say it is the worst persecution against them since Chairman Mao Zedong.

The Chinese government also continues to take steps toward removing religious materials from the hands of Christians as the Communist regime strives to eliminate the faith community.

As CBN News reported in May, the communist government has taken Christian WeChat accounts offline.

Users received the following message when they attempt to gain access:

"(We) received report that (this account) violates the 'Internet User Public Account Information Services Management Provisions' and its account has been blocked and suspended."

Additionally, Bible Apps have been eliminated from China's App Store and hard copy versions are no longer able to be purchased online.

Last year, hundreds of crosses were removed from church buildings in just one province over a period of four months.

A government official in the eastern province of Shandong barged into the home of a Christian and posted portraits of Zedong and Xi, then said, "These are the greatest gods. If you want to worship somebody, they are the ones."

The CCP has even gone as far as indoctrinating children by telling them that Christianity is a dark religion.

China is ranked 17th on Open Doors' 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christians suffer the most persecution.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 15, 2021 6:23pm
 
Number of Canadian Christian Churches Vandalized, Set on Fire Rises as Terror Campaign Continues

An apparent ongoing anti-Christian campaign in Canada has resulted in a total of 45 churches being attacked

An apparent ongoing anti-Christian campaign in Canada has resulted in a total of 45 churches being attacked with some of the buildings being burned to the ground.

As reported, terrorists are responsible for the attacks against mainly Roman Catholic churches serving indigenous congregations.

The crimes stem from far-left terrorists with a Marxist ideology whose sole purpose is to strike fear in Canadians for practicing their faith.

"Burning down churches is not in solidarity with us indigenous people. As I said we do not destroy people's places of worship," said Jenn Allan-Riley, an assistant Pentecostal minister at Living Waters Church during a press conference last week.

"We're concerned about the burning and defacing of churches bringing more strife, depression, and anxiety to those already in pain and mourning," she said.

Seventeen of the 45 church buildings attacked have suffered fire damage or completely burned to the ground.

Counter Signal.com reports the fires and the vandalism span six provinces and the Northwest Territories. Some of the attacks have been in the heartland of First Nation's territory.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said they are investigating the church fires to see if they are connected.

As CBN News reported, terrorists have also targeted other churches not affiliated with the Roman Catholic church. Last week, the building housing the House of Prayer Alliance Church in Calgary was set on fire.

Battalion Chief Keith Stahl told CBC News the fire was mostly confined to the outside of the building, but the interior did have heavy smoke damage. Police believe the fire was intentionally set, but have no suspects.

The congregation of 230 people has been unable to meet in the building due to the fire damage.

Keean Bexte tweeted CounterSignal.com's interview with the church's pastor.

"We are refugees. We escaped from Vietnam to come here to get more freedom, to live, and we think it was a good country – and now it happened to our church," Pastor Nguyen said. "Maybe it is not safe to be here in Canada compared to Vietnam."

The church fires were reported across Canada following the recent discoveries of unmarked graves on the sites of former boarding schools for Indigenous children, many of which were run by churches. The remains of nearly 1,000 bodies have been found so far, most of them Indigenous children.

The schools weren't just in Canada. The American Magazine, a Jesuit journal, reports by 1926 there were 357 schools in 30 states with more than 60,000 children. Catholic religious orders in the United States administered 84 of the schools. Jesuits managed four of them.

Since Catholic orders carried out similar missions in the U.S., and U.S. funding was even given to them, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has now ordered an investigation into the history of these schools and a search for graves of children who may have perished at them.

On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his "heart breaks" after the discovery of more unmarked graves on the grounds of an Indigenous residential school in the southern Gulf Islands off the British Columbia coast.

The Penelakut Tribe says more than 160 undocumented and unmarked graves have been found on the site of the former Kuper Island Indian Industrial School.

"I recognize these findings only deepen the pain that families, survivors, and all Indigenous peoples and communities are already feeling as they reaffirm the truth that they have long known," Trudeau said during a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa.

"To members of the Penelakut Tribe, we are here for you. We cannot bring back those who are lost but we can and will continue to tell the truth," Trudeau said.

CBN News has contacted the RCMP for an update on its investigation. We'll update this story as soon as we hear back from them.

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Posted by Temmy
Fri, July 16, 2021 10:18am
 
Pastor's Wife Released from Jail with No Charges after Fatally Shooting Husband by Accident

siren light

A California church is mourning the loss of their pastor after his wife allegedly shot him by accident after he entered their home, resulting in his death.

Noah Shepherd, 29, who was the pastor of San Diego Reformed Presbyterian Church (RPC), was shot to death by his wife, 26-year-old Gabriella Rose Shepherd, inside their Lemon Grove home on Monday evening.

According to Gabriella, she told 911 dispatchers that she shot him by accident after he walked into their house through the back door. Despite being initially arrested by police, the pastor's wife has been released from jail without facing any charges.

"We are not filing charges at this time," District Attorney's Office spokesperson Tanya Sierra has said, according to Christian Today. "The investigation is ongoing, and we will review the case as we get more information."

Last week, the San Diego RPC issued a statement acknowledging their pastor's death.

"We will remember Rev. Shepherd for the hope of the gospel message he not only preached but believed," the statement reads. "We mourn, not as those without hope, but as those eagerly awaiting eternal life."

"This was Noah's hope, and we rejoice that he is with his crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ, whom he loved and proclaimed," the church continued.

In a statement on Facebook, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America Pacific Coast Presbytery said that there is not sufficient evidence to hold Gabriella accountable for her actions.

"Our primary role here as Presbytery representatives is to care for the congregation in San Diego, of which Gabby is a member. At this time, we have no evidence to contradict her account of the tragic events on Monday evening."

Shephard, a graduate from Westminster Seminary California, was ordained at San Diego RPC last November. In 2016, Noah and Gabriella got married and had two children together, Samuel and Joel.

Erik O'Dell, a friend who attended seminary with Noah, told NBC San Diego that he was "numb" after hearing the tragic news.

"There are no words," he said. "There was just no indication that anything was other than good. They just welcomed their second boy not too long ago."

"This man adores his wife, and she adores him," another friend, Colin Samul, said. "This is completely unexpected. He was a godly man, he was humble, he cared about people."

Katy Wilson, the Shepherds' next-door neighbor, was in her backyard at the time of the shooting, but she initially thought that Noah was hammering something.

"I said, 'Oh, I guess he's hammering,' because there were three more shots, I guess, and then quiet, and I thought, 'Oh, I guess he fixed whatever he was hammering,'" Wilson said.

"No screaming, no fighting, no nothing," she noted. "It's very mysterious."

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Posted by Temmy
Mon, July 19, 2021 4:26pm
 
Appeals Court Says Univ. of Iowa Discriminated Against Religious Groups, Violated First Amendment

lady walking in university of iowa campus

An appeals court ruled Friday that the University of Iowa discriminated against Christian student groups over the methods used to select group members and leaders.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and Intervarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit against UI after school administrators deregistered them. The groups said the university targeted them for requiring student leaders to sign a statement of faith.

"What the university did here was clearly unconstitutional," according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. "It targeted religious groups for differential treatment under the human rights policy while carving out exemptions and ignoring other violative groups with missions they presumably supported."

The court determined that UI and other defendants, including former UI President Bruce Harreld and former UI Vice President of Student Life Melissa Shivers, "turned a blind eye to decades of First Amendment jurisprudence or they proceeded full speed ahead knowing they were violating the law."

Circuit Judge Jonathan A. Kobes wrote that he was "hard-pressed to find a clearer example of viewpoint discrimination."

Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel at Becket law firm noted that, "Schools are supposed to be a place of free inquiry and open thought, but the school officials here punished opinions they didn't like and promoted ones they did - all while using taxpayer dollars to do it."

In an email, UI spokeswoman, Anne Bassett, said the university "respects the decision of the court and will move forward in accordance with the decision."

The ruling is one of several cases against universities that have been sued for discrimination against religious student clubs.

CBN News reported in April that a federal court ruled against Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan for violating the rights of the school's religious students, including InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

The court found that the school's actions to force religious groups to accept leaders "who may be hostile to their religious tenets" was wrong and a "strike at the heart" of the First Amendment: "No religious group can constitutionally be made an outsider, excluded from equal access to public or university life, simply because it insists on religious leaders who believe in its cause."

Because the university's actions were "obviously odious to the Constitution," the court held the school's administration officials personally liable for violating the rights of the school's religious students.

And in March, a federal appeals court found UI responsible for kicking a Christian student club off campus because of its faith.

Business Leaders in Christ, or BLinC, a student group at the school, said the university took aim at them simply for requiring student leaders to affirm the Christian faith.

The university claimed this was a violation of its nondiscrimination policy, even though it allowed other religious groups to select faith-compliant leaders and openly encouraged other groups—like fraternities and sororities—to select leaders based on certain characteristics covered by the nondiscrimination policy.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled in favor of the BLinC, recognizing the selective enforcement of the school's policy violated the First Amendment.

"The good news is that they've been held accountable, and school officials nationwide are on notice," said Blomberg. "We are optimistic that in the future, colleges will pursue policies of accommodation, not discrimination when it comes to religious exercise on campus."

He added, "Religious groups should be able to have religious leaders. Government officials don't get to tell Christians, Muslims, or Sikhs who will lead their prayers or their worship. That's not just bedrock constitutional law, it's also common sense. And now the University of Iowa knows it."

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Posted by Temmy
Mon, July 19, 2021 4:34pm
 
'God is Real, He Knows Us': Actor Jon Voight Says a Divine Encounter Got His Life Back on Track

actor jon voight speaking

Long-time actor Jon Voight recently shared details about a time in his life when things weren't going so well, but after an encounter with God, he began to rethink his sense of purpose.

"I was in a lot of trouble at one point. I had some problems and I was really suffering for many reasons," Voight said during an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson. "My career was in flux at that time and lots of things were going on at the time. My relationship to my kids and my wife."

Voight explained, "I was on the floor, I found myself on the floor saying, 'It's so difficult. It's so difficult'... I said it out loud. And I heard in my ear, 'It's supposed to be difficult.'"

The 82-year-old said that he got up and briefly reflected on the incident, describing it as "a voice of wisdom, kindness, clarity ... it has so much resonance, this voice."

"At that time I knew what it meant. I'm not alone. Everything is known ... I am known. That's what it meant to me. I felt this tremendous energy," he said. "Somebody's rooting for me. It's like, don't give up. There's a purpose here. You've got a ways to go son. And I felt great."

Voight continued, "I'm not a person who really prays with the idea that anybody's listening - up to that moment. Now I know that we're covered. Everything we think, everything we say ... everything, you're known. Like they say God knows every bird that falls, this is us too. We all are known. We're being observed and helped and loved. And we're expected to get up and do battle, do something, do what's right ... whatever it is.

"There's a purpose here and the purpose is to learn our lessons and grow. And what's the big deal? To give to each other. To be here to be of help. The next morning I got up and said, 'What have You got for me today?'"

Voight said he turned on the radio and heard the lyrics to the song "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," which he sang during the interview: "I'll build a stairway to paradise with a new step every day."

He explained that more unusual incidents occurred over the next few days.

"Things were happening to me and then I was drawn to certain things from that point on and I've had many, many experiences but that was the beginning. God is real, He knows us and is on our side."

And he believes the implications from that experience were for him to "straighten out."

He explained, "If I'm going to be a vessel for God, I better be cleaner than I was ... I've got to be a righteous fellow."

Voight stated that he has always had good role models throughout his life and praised both of his parents.

"My dad was a very righteous man, my mother and I've had many good people in my life. I just got off track a little bit and I realized it at that time. So I worked since then to be a better fellow."

Hearing God's voice inspired Voight to get back on track and be a better person.

"I have fear of the Lord ... I got it. I am afraid of offending God. Because God is everything. God is love. God is all these beautiful things, beauty, everything. And how can I live up to that? I need a lot of help. I think that is the fear of the Lord. It keeps you on track," he revealed.

Lastly, Voight pointed out that his fear of God is shaped by the desire to be an honest and upstanding Christ-follower that lives up to the standards set forth by our Heavenly Father.

"It's a fear of not living up to ... a fear of doing the wrong thing, making a terrible mistake. So all of that, but I've been a happier fella. It may not look like it, but I'm happy.

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Posted by Temmy
Mon, July 19, 2021 4:59pm
 
Pakistani woman reveals how God showed Himself on death row, transformed an ‘ordinary Christian’

asia bibi posing during a photo session in paris
Asia Bibi from Pakistan, poses during a photo session in Paris, on February 25, 2020.

A Pakistani Christian woman imprisoned on death row for over eight years based on trumped-up blasphemy charges recounted how that experience helped her “grow strong in faith.”

In an address to religious freedom advocates at the annual International Religious Freedom Summit, Asia Bibi, aided by a translator, described how her experience in prison transformed her from an “ordinary Christian” into a passionate defender and believer of the faith.

Bibi's ordeal began when Muslim field workers accused her of contaminating their water supply by drinking from the same water container, rendering it "impure" because Christians are viewed as unclean. An argument ensued between Bibi and the women that escalated into a criminal complaint after the women publicly accused her of committing blasphemy by insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a charge that brings a sentence of life in prison or death by hanging.

During a police investigation into her alleged crime, Bibi was beaten up in her home and arrested. In 2009, she was convicted and sentenced to death under section 295-C of Pakistan's blasphemy law.

She was acquitted on Oct. 31, 2018, and later granted asylum in Canada on May 8, 2019, after other countries, including England, decided not to offer her asylum amid concerns over a potential uprising among their fundamentalist Muslim populations.

Bibi, who never wavered from declaring her innocence of the charge, was among several persecuted religious minorities to address the three-day summit in Washington last week.

“I was doing fine with my family prior to 2009 when the incident occurred,” Bibi said Thursday, the last day of the summit. After facing the allegation of blasphemy, she was interrogated at a police station and began “weeping.” She explained that “public pressure” played a role in her charges and sentencing. Initially, she was incarcerated for four years in a jail near her home.

Patrick Sookdeho of the Barnabas Fund, a Christian aid agency and one of several advocacy groups that sponsored the summit, explained that Pakistan's blasphemy law “has been used by those who are unhappy with Christians or [used against] a particular Christian as a weapon” to “settle scores.”

He cited an example of a shopkeeper who wanted to put a Christian competitor out of business, noting that all he had to do was accuse him of blasphemy because “the mere accusation by a Muslim of insulting Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, means automatic arrest and trial.”

Bibi’s imprisonment on a charge of blasphemy is just one example of how such an accusation can be leveraged against Christians and religious minorities in Pakistan. Bibi, who was born Aasiya Noreen, attributed the blasphemy allegation that led to her imprisonment for nearly a decade to a “tension” between her family and “the leader of that village” where she was residing at the time with her husband and children. She believes that the leader “planted” the blasphemy charge against her.

She felt “totally broken" after being sentenced to prison. But she soon faced a reversal of fortune, she said.

“After a week of continued weeping and crying out to [the] Lord, one of the early mornings I [saw] one of the bird visited … nearby the same area where I was [imprisoned], and it was looking like somebody is talking to me.”

“At first, I was really astonished when I saw [that] some bird is looking at me. I thought, ‘what happened?’” she said. Bibi then determined that the bird proved that her father’s assertion that “sometimes, God reveals [Himself] to someone in different ways” was true.

Bibi then began talking to the bird. “I don’t know why this word came out from my mouth, but I said, ‘peace be upon you.’ … I was talking to a bird.”

Even as she faced the death penalty for false charges of blasphemy, Bibi’s encounter with the bird enabled her to see a silver lining: “That situation lifted me up, and my hope started. So this practice carried on for [the] next three years. At the same time, at 4 a.m., the same bird visited me, and that lifted me up.”

Bibi, who had previously characterized herself as an ordinary Christian, said the morning visits from that bird as a sign from God “led me to grow strong in faith.”

At the first jail where she was housed, she began a routine of feeding that bird with what little provisions she had to spare. What she did, she said, “was doing this practice to have a pot of water and some kind of food for that bird that really came to [visit] me every day.”

“They transferred me from that jail where I was, where … the bird was visiting me, to another jail,” she continued. “My prison changed from one area to [the] other area, but the bird [kept] on visiting me in that jail also. So I started keeping up the same practice [of] feeding them … and that’s also .... giving me courage to grow more in my faith. … I was sharing my faith even with those birds also, and that has led me to be more strong in faith.”

In addition to crediting visits from the bird for giving her strength and faith, Bibi rejoiced about the advice she received from her father during her imprisonment: “'Don’t worry about your life, if you are going to be killed, but never compromise on your faith and be strong.'”

She also thanked nongovernmental organizations and churches for taking care of her family while she was in prison. When Bibi’s children visited her in jail, she said they told her that “the people are praying for me.”

Their prayers were answered, Bibi declared, because she was released from prison in a development she described as a “miracle.”

She stressed that her fate would not have been possible “without God’s intervention.” Channeling her father’s advice, the persecuted Pakistani prisoner-turned-activist concluded her remarks by urging Christian “children, youth and the families in Pakistan” to “grow in their faith” and “stay strong in their faith.”

In his remarks, Sookdeho elaborated on the extent of blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

“In Pakistan today, there are at least five Christians on death row for blasphemy," he explained. "There are 20 Christians in prison on blasphemy charges.” He further reported that “Since 1990, at least 15 Christians have been murdered because of blasphemy allegations, often before trial has begun.”

Sookdeho stressed that the allegations of blasphemy and the harsh treatment and discrimination that Christians in Pakistan experience “does not come from the government, perse, but rather from the institutions of society.”

He also praised the current government of Pakistan for working to eliminate the “discriminatory practices” against Christians. But he contended that as long as the religious establishment remains “resistant to change,” Christians will continue to find themselves disadvantaged and “at the bottom” of the country’s rigid social structure.

In her testimony at the summit, Bibi expressed a desire to “be a voice” for her “Christian brothers and sisters.”

After reiterating that she wanted to “be a voice for Christian people, Christians in prison and in difficulties,” the activist called on Christians worldwide to “join hands and stand together so we can be a voice for our Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering and help them out of their situations like the Lord has done for me.”

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 20, 2021 10:51pm
 
Christianity in Saudi Arabia

map of saudi arabia

Some regions of the Arabian Peninsula were populated by a large number of Christians before the advent of Islam in the Seventh Century AD. Arab merchants who traveled to the Levant for trade purposes were able to hear the Gospel in the countries of the Levant like Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, which were under Roman rule around AD 100. Christians have now lived in the Middle East for some two thousand years, with the appearance of Christ in Israel, Palestine, and also areas that are now a part of the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia).

The people of the Najran region in Saudi Arabia were Christian until the Seventh Century AD, and later most of the population converted to Islam or fled the area.

MORE THAN 1.2 MILLION CHRISTIANS LIVE IN SAUDI ARABIA
Ancient Arab Christianity is considered to have largely disappeared from Saudi Arabia, though more than 1 million Christians are said to live in the Middle Eastern country today. The current Christian communities in the Gulf countries are relatively new; the oil industry led to the emigration of millions of foreign workers, among them are many Christians.

There is no reliable population data on the size of the Christian denominations in the region, but there are believed to be some 3.5 million Christians living in Persian Gulf states.

Reuters reported in 2010 that the number of Christians is about 3.5 million immigrants to the countries of the "Gulf Cooperation Council."

It is difficult to accurately determine the demographic structure in terms of religion in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. All citizens are Muslims by the state, but at least 1.2 million Christians are believed to live in the country. There is also an estimate 12.6 million expatriates living in Saudi Arabia.

The Christian community in Saudi Arabia is made up of more than one million Roman Catholics. Most of them are Filipino expatriates who are allowed to work in the country, but are not considered Saudi Arabian citizens.

SAUDI ARABIA IS THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD THAT REFUSES TO BUILD CHURCHES
On Friday and Saturday of each week, Christian churches are crowded with their followers in the small Gulf states. Unlike Saudi Arabia, where churches are not permitted to be built, in Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the Emirates and Oman the construction of churches and Christian clergy work are allowed.

Although Saudi Arabia allows Christians to enter the country as foreign workers for temporary work, it does not allow them to practice their religious rituals publicly. There are no official churches in Saudi Arabia, although there is an ancient church in the Jubail region. Use of it, however, is prohibited by the government.

Non-Muslim clerics are also not permitted to enter Saudi Arabia to build churches for the purpose of performing religious ceremonies. On 9 July 2006, police arrested two Ethiopians and two Eritrean church leaders in a private place of Christian worship in Jeddah.

According to a 2019 report from the U.S. State Department, Saudi Arabia prohibits religious publications related to any other religion than Islam. This includes anything baring a supposed religious symbol, Gospels, crosses, statues, and sculptures.” For this reason, most Christians practice their worship in their homes or via Internet chat rooms and private meetings. Christians and other non-Muslims are prohibited from entering the cities of "Makkah Al-Mukarramah and Al-Madinah Al-Munawwarah", which are considered the holiest cities in Islam.

60,000 MUSLIMS IN SAUDI ARABIA CONVERTED TO CHRISTIANITY
The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – the country's religious police – prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam. Converting from Islam to another religion is considered “apostasy,” a crime punishable by death if the "apostate" does not retreat.

With the exception of foreign Christian immigrants, there are no official Saudi Christians. To gain Saudi citizenship one must also convert to Islam.

A study from 2015 estimates that there are about 60,000 Muslims in Saudi Arabia who have converted to Christianity between the years 1960 to 2015, but the study does not specify whether all of these people are Saudi citizens or people from other nationalities.

In 2012, a Saudi court charged two men, a Lebanese Christian and a Saudi, with persuading a woman to convert to Christianity and flee Saudi Arabia. The court sentenced the former to six years in prison and 300 lashes. The Saudi man was sentenced to two years in prison and 200 lashes.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s openness to the Western world, religious freedom and the practice of non-Islamic religious rights remain very limited, with Christians and other religious minorities being granted none, Open Doors USA reports.

With the arrival of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, there have been some improvements and openness, however, these improvements remain very limited, and it requires Saudi Arabia to work more on human rights as well as religious freedoms.

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 20, 2021 11:08pm
 
Pro-Choice New Mexico Senator Says He Was Denied Communion Because of His 'Political Office'

communion bread and wine cup on a table

A pro-choice Democratic New Mexico state Senator is claiming that his bishop denied him Communion because of his political office.

In a tweet on Saturday, Sen. Joe Cervantes (D-NM) alleged he was denied communion "last night by the Catholic bishop here in Las Cruces and based on my political office."

"My new parish priest has indicated he will do the same after the last was run off. Please pray for church authorities as Catholicism transitions under Pope Francis." he continued.

According to The Daily Caller, Bishop Cervantes was apparently referring to Bishop Peter Baldacchino of Las Cruces.

In his tweet, Cervantes, who is pro-abortion, did not specify why he was denied Communion.

On Monday, Christopher Velasquez, director of communications for the Diocese of Las Cruces, told Catholic News Agency that the diocese privately warned Cervantes against taking Communion because of his support for a pro-abortion bill.

"It did not happen on the spur of the moment," Velasquez said regarding the denial of Communion.

"In terms of the diocese, we regret the decision of Senator Cervantes to politicize this issue," he added.

Earlier this year, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed Senate Bill 10, which repealed a 1969 law that criminalized abortions.

The law has not been enforced since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe V. Wade, which legalized abortion across the nation. Supporters of SB 10, however, warned that the law could go back into effect if Roe were to be overturned.

Velasquez asserted that Cervantes' denial of taking Communion had "nothing to do with his office or politics," but on his support for SB 10 and "what it entails."

The question of whether pro-abortion Catholic Democratic politicians, such as President Joe Biden, should be allowed to partake in Holy Communion has been an issue of contention within the Catholic church as of late.

Last month, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved to draft a document on the Eucharist during their general assembly meeting. Many believed the USCCB would decide to deny Communion to politicians who endorse abortion.

At the time, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) warned that the church could lose its tax-exempt status if the document included such a measure.

"If they're going to politically weaponize religion by 'rebuking' Democrats who support women's reproductive choice, then a 'rebuke' of their tax-exempt status may be in order," Rep. Jared Huffman tweeted last month.

The USSCB, however, later clarified that the document will not bar pro-choice politicians from Communion despite calling for all Catholics to endorse pro-life policies.

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 20, 2021 11:26pm
 
2 Georgia churches leave United Methodist Church over LGBT stance, announce merger

stage view of the united methodist church during a general conference
View of the stage during the United Methodist Church's special session General Conference inside the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.

Two congregations in Georgia have left the United Methodist Church over the denomination’s opposition to homosexuality and merged into one church.

Asbury Memorial Church and Wesley Oak Church, both based in Savannah, recently voted to disaffiliate from the UMC South Georgia Conference.

Asbury, which averaged 287 attendees in weekly worship in 2019, finalized its process of disaffiliation last fall. Meanwhile, Wesley Oak, which averaged 29 attendees, finalized disaffiliation earlier this month.

Asbury Memorial Pastor Rev. William Hester told The Christian Post on Monday that the decision to leave came soon after the 2019 special session of the UMC General Conference.

Delegates at the special session voted to reaffirm the theologically conservative stance of the UMC regarding homosexuality, rejecting a compromise proposal that would have allowed more regional variance.

Hester explained to CP that "it became clear after this event that the denomination was not heading in the direction we had hoped."

"Since we disaffiliated last year, Asbury Memorial is a nondenominational, independent church continuing to be rooted in Wesleyan theology," said Hester.

Regarding the merger with Wesley Oak, Hester noted that the two churches have a long history of fellowship and agreed to combine their ministries once Wesley Oak left the UMC.

"When both congregations felt called to disaffiliate, we both recognized that our ministries would be more effective if we combined our efforts and resources," the pastor said.

At present, Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak retain their respective church properties, though each church holds Sunday morning worship at a different time.

The Rev. David Thompson, the conference's coastal district superintendent, told CP that he was part of conversations between the regional body and the two departing congregations.

“We are never happy to see local churches depart from our fellowship, but understand their desire to do so and pray for their future ministry,” Thompson said. He described the process as being “gracious” in nature.

“Even though changes in church status and connection can occur, we are still bound together in the body of Christ, and I am thankful for the ministry Asbury Memorial and Wesley Oak have done and will do in the name of Christ.”

For decades, the UMC has debated its stance on LGBT issues, as the mainline Protestant denomination officially labels homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching,” bars non-celibate homosexuals from being ordained and prohibits the blessing of same-sex marriages.

After failed efforts to reach a compromise between theological liberals and conservatives within the UMC, many congregations have decided to leave the denomination.

These include conservative churches who dislike the open defiance to UMC rules by many liberal leaders and progressive churches who do not believe the denomination will ever change its official position.

Next year, the UMC will hold a general conference, which many believe will see the approval a measure to allow conservative churches to amicably separate from the denomination.

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Posted by Temmy
Tue, July 20, 2021 11:37pm
 
'I'm Extremely Blessed': Giannis Antetokounmpo, Guided by Faith, Wins 1st NBA Title

giannis antetokounmpo smiling with the cup

An NBA star who began playing basketball as a teenager with the goal of helping his family escape poverty won his first NBA title Tuesday night, displaying the humility that has drawn the respect of basketball fans worldwide.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 50 points to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA title-clinching 105-98 victory over the Phoenix Suns in front of 17,000 fans inside Fiserv Forum and 65,000 on the street outside the arena who were watching on a giant screen. Antetokounmpo claimed the Finals MVP award after averaging 35 points in the Finals. He won the NBA’s regular-season MVP award in 2019 and 2020.

Known as the "Greek Freak," Antetokounmpo was born in Athens, Greece as the son of Nigerian parents who immigrated to the country in search of a better life. His family, though, struggled with poverty. As a child, Antetokounmpo and his brother hawked watches and other items on the streets of Athens in order to support the family. He didn’t begin playing serious basketball until the age of 13 – and only did so with the hopes he would make money for his parents.

"I started playing basketball just to help my family," he told reporters.

Antetokounmpo, who is Greek Orthodox, hasn't forgotten his origins.

"I'm extremely blessed," he said, holding the Finals trophy and the Finals MVP trophy. "Even if I never have the chance to sit at this table ever again, I’m fine with it."

Reflecting on his championship and his life story, he added, "I hope this can give everybody around the world hope."

His humility has stood out amidst the sports world's chest-beating culture. During the playoffs, a clip of him explaining how he stays humble went viral. "When you focus on your past, that's your ego," he tells reporters in the clip. "... When I focus on the future, that’s my pride. … I kind of like to try to focus in the moment, in the present. That’s humility." That mentality, he says in the clip, is his "mindset."

Antetokounmpo, 26, was drafted in 2013. He credited God after he won his first NBA MVP in 2019.

"First of all, I want to thank God for blessing me with this amazing talent, for putting me in the position that I am today," he said in 2019, according to Sports Spectrum. "Everything I do, I do through Him. I’m extremely blessed."

He began his 2020 MVP acceptance speech by thanking God: "I always thank God for giving me the opportunity to do what I love."

In a 2015 blog, he said his motto was "Walk by Faith, NOT by sight" – a reference to 2 Corinthians 5:7.

He was baptized in the Greek Orthodox church in 2012, according to Ethnos newspaper.

"I don't remember him ever complaining or having a sense of being wronged by life and being aggressive towards society," Antetokounmpo's childhood priest, Father Evangelos Ghanas, told Ethnos. "He may be flying on the court, but in real life, I think he stands firmly on his feet."

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 21, 2021 7:57pm
 
General Secretary to US Bishops Resigns amid Misconduct Allegations

priest carrying a bible with open palms and rosary

Citing “improper behavior,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced the resignation of its general secretary, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, in a statement released on Tuesday (July 20).

“On Monday, we became aware of impending media reports alleging possible improper behavior by Msgr. Burrill,” read the statement, signed by the president of the bishops’ conference, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles.

The USCCB’s statement said the information the conference received “did not include allegations of misconduct with minors.”

According to the statement, Burrill resigned from his post “effective immediately” to not disrupt the ongoing work of the USCCB. The bishops’ conference said it would “pursue appropriate steps” to address the allegations of misconduct.

The USCCB is currently studying the creation of a document addressing the Eucharist, which stirred controversy in light of several bishops’ view that U.S. President Joe Biden, who is Catholic, should desist or be denied from taking the sacrament in light of his policies on abortion and LGBTQ issues.

Burrill was elected general secretary of the USCCB in November 2020. The position oversees administrative and staff matters in the conference. He held numerous positions at the North American College in Rome and later served as a pastor in a Wisconsin diocese.

The Rev. Michael Fuller, currently associate general secretary of the USCCB, will serve as interim general secretary until the bishops elect a new one, according to the statement.

“I ask for your prayers for Monsignor, and for the Conference staff during this difficult time. We also pray that all those affected might find strength and comfort in our merciful Lord,” the statement concluded.

In an article published Monday, the EWTN-owned Catholic News Agency said it had received an offer in 2018 from individuals who claimed to have access to technology capable of tracking priests who download dating apps. While the news organization said it declined the proposal at the time, it warned in Monday’s article that “there are reports this week that information targeting allegedly active homosexual priests may become public.” The article did not mention Burrill.

The USCCB statement did not make reference to the CNA article nor elaborate on what alleged improper behavior Burrill was accused of.

Shortly after the statement by the USCCB, the Catholic news outlet The Pillar published an article reporting acts of “sexual misconduct” by Burrill. The article said it acquired the information from a third party that tracked Burrill’s mobile device. The data allegedly shows Burrill using the gay dating app Grindr “on a near-daily basis” in periods between 2018 and 2020, and suggests he visited gay clubs.

The article does not report that Burrill did anything illegal, but homosexual acts are considered a sin according to Catholic teaching and ordained priests are required to make a vow of celibacy.

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Posted by Temmy
Wed, July 21, 2021 9:50pm
 
Over 18,000 sign petition urging Pope Francis to reverse restrictions on traditional Latin mass

Saints Peter and Paul Church Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco
Saints Peter and Paul Church is a Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, directly across from Washington Square.

More than 18,000 people have signed a petition urging Pope Francis to withdraw his apostolic letter imposing restrictions on the celebration of the traditional Latin mass, warning that it will cause “further division and hurt among the faithful,” achieving the opposite effect of its stated purpose.

On Friday, Pope Francis published an apostolic letter called Traditionis Custodes, which lays out guidelines “on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970.” Beginning in 1970, Catholic Churches across the world began to conduct masses in the local vernacular as opposed to in Latin, which Catholic masses had been conducted in for hundreds of years. This reform came about as a result of the Second Vatican Council, which reformed many of the Catholic Church’s longstanding traditional practices.

However, some Catholic Churches still conduct masses in Latin even a half century after the reform of 1970. As the pope wrote in Traditionis Custodes, “In order to promote the concord and unity of the Church, with paternal solicitude towards those who in any region adhere to liturgical forms antecedent to the reform willed by Vatican Council II, my venerable predecessors, Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, granted and regulated the faculty to use the Roman Missal edited by John XXIII in 1962” when conducting mass.

“In this way they intended ‘to facilitate the ecclesial communion of those Catholics who feel attached to some earlier liturgical forms,” he added. Citing a desire to “press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion,” meaning church unity, Francis explained that he wanted to take a different course when it came to regulating the practice of the traditional Latin mass going forward.

The apostolic letter illustrated the responsibilities of bishops who lead dioceses where “there exist one or more groups that celebrate according to the missal antecedent to the reform of 1970.” Specifically, bishops are “to designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups may gather for the eucharistic celebration (not however in the parochial churches and without the erection of new personal parishes.)” This suggests that at some time, traditional Latin masses may no longer be permitted within church facilities.

Additionally, the letter instructed bishops to “take care not to authorize the establishment of new groups” that celebrate the traditional Latin mass. Current and future priests will need permission from their bishops to continue or begin celebrating masses in Latin.

Many Catholics did not approve of Traditionis Custodes and a petition to “Show Pope Francis the Latin Mass will survive any suppression” was published on LifePetitions just three days later. As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 18,400 people had signed onto the letter, which was addressed to Francis.

“As lay people dedicated to Christ and His Church, we urge you to reconsider your unjust and scandalous treatment of the Traditional Latin Mass,” the petition reads. “We URGE you to have regard for the many souls who benefit spiritually from the Ancient Rite.”

“The Traditional Latin Mass has been a source of unity for the Catholic Church for more than 1500 years, producing great saints, repentant sinners, and souls won for Christ across the world,” it continued. “To attempt to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass as a new generation are rediscovering the treasures of God’s Church will inevitably cause further division and hurt among the faithful, risking the loss of some souls who will regretfully turn away.”

The petition concluded by urging the pontiff to “reinstate the Mass of the Ages to its proper place in the Catholic Church.” As Francis alluded to in Traditionis Custodes, his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI “regulated the faculty to use the Roman Missal edited by John XXIII in 1962.”

In 2007, the retired pontiff published an apostolic letter of his own called Summorum Pontificum, giving wide discretion for the use of the Traditional Latin Mass. In the letter, Benedict described the Roman Missal blessed by Pope Paul VI in 1970, which was “translated into various languages throughout the world” as the “ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite.”

At the same time, he characterized the Roman Missal edited by John XXIII in 1962, used at Traditional Latin Masses, as “an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage.” According to Benedict, “These two expressions of the Church’s lex orandi will in no way lead to a division in the Church’s lex credendi (rule of faith); for they are two usages of the one Roman rite.”

In Traditionis Custodes, Francis expressed disagreement with that assertion, describing the liturgical books translated into vernacular as “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.” While he gives bishops “exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese,” the aforementioned restrictions were imposed on the celebration of the traditional Latin mass.

According to an article in the Jesuit publication America, many Catholic dioceses across the United States will continue to allow Latin masses to take place as they process the implications of the pope’s new apostolic letter. These dioceses include St. Paul and Minneapolis, Baltimore, Oklahoma City and San Francisco.

At the same time, diocesan parishes in the Diocese of Little Rock have been informed that they can no longer offer a traditional Latin mass. The bishop of Springfield, Illinois, informed two parishes in his diocese that celebrate the traditional Latin mass that “Eucharistic celebrations are permitted at these locations using the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint John XXIII in 1962 on any and all days of the year.”

According to the website Latin Mass Directory, which contains a list of venues that celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, there are 658 such venues in the U.S. There are nine venues offering a Traditional Latin Mass for every one million American Catholics.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 22, 2021 1:58pm
 
Christians in Pakistan Suffer Court Setback in Child Marriages/Conversions

pakistan flag

Efforts to end the abduction and forced conversion/marriage of minor Christian girls suffered a setback when the Supreme Court of Pakistan last week declined to intervene in the issue, sources said.

Supreme Court Justice Mushir Alam on Wednesday (July 14) rejected an appeal by a senior church leader for a constitutional petition to protect Christian girls from forcible conversion to Islam and marriage to Muslims.

“We had pinned our hopes on the Supreme Court for addressing this longstanding genuine grievance of the Pakistani Christians, but we are deeply disappointed and saddened by this decision,” Bishop Azad Marshall, moderator bishop of the Church of Pakistan and president of the National Council of Churches in Pakistan (NCCP), told Morning Star News. “The court has, however, stated in the order that it will take this issue up if we bring a specific case before it.”

Filed by renowned human rights lawyer Saif Ul Malook on behalf of Marshall, the petition stated that Pakistan accords a degree of permanence to the abduction and forcible conversion of Christian girls by allowing them to marry Muslims without ascertaining the pressures coming to bear on girls when they make declarations of consent before trial and high courts, nor taking into account their intellectual, emotional and social maturity. The petition asserted that courts fail to consider whether declarations of consent are voluntary or result from threats, psychological abuse and conditioning and fear of social stigma and rebuke.

The petition also asked the court to recognize the difference between Pakistani penal laws and sharia (Islamic law), as the latter is one of the major causes behind the exploitation of Christian girls.

Marshall said the petition was filed under the Pakistani constitution’s Article 184(3), under which the Supreme Court has “original jurisdiction in matters of public importance with reference to the enforcement of any of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan.”

The court’s objection that the petition improperly invoked Article 184(3) by failing to address an individual grievance, Marshall said, “in our opinion, is not sustainable because the matter is not restricted to an individual case; rather, it relates to the entire Christian population in Pakistan and violation of their fundamental rights.”

Child marriages are criminal under Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint laws. While Pakistani law recognizes intercourse with a girl below 16 years of age with or without her consent as rape punishable by death, courts have repeatedly held that marriage of an underage Muslim girl cannot be termed invalid because Islamic law holds that a consenting girl who has reached puberty can marry.

“This principle has been repeatedly invoked by judges in the trial courts and high courts while handing over custody of Christian girls to their Muslim abductors,” Marshall said. “Ironically, this Islamic principle is often ignored while deciding cases of minor Muslim girls, and they are returned to their families instead of their abductors/husbands!”

The senior church leader said that he and others have repeatedly reached out to Islamic scholars and government ministers to set parameters for religious conversion, but that there has been no sincere effort from the government to resolve the issue.

“The government officials are not willing to accept the fact that forced conversion and marriage of minor Christian girls is in reality a bid to cover abduction and rape of the girl child,” he told Morning Star News. “The police and lower judiciary are facilitating child marriages and conversions. Police officials deliberately avoid adding sections related to seduction of a child, abduction and rape in FIRs [First Information Reports] while the trial courts, and even high courts, rely solely on the victim child’s statement that they are adults and have converted to Islam willingly.”

Kidnapped Christian girls commonly face threats that they or their family members will be killed if they do not testify in court that they converted and married of their own free will, rights activists and church leaders say.

Marshall said he would approach the court again with a specific case as stated in the court’s order.

“We are now filing an appeal in the Supreme Court against the Lahore High Court’s decision to send a Christian teen with her abductor,” he said. “The child, Nayab Gill, is barely 14 years old but both the trial court and the high court have rejected her official birth documents and accepted her verbal claim in court that she’s over 18 years old.”

The child’s parents earlier ignored an offer from the bishop and other Christians for legal assistance in the high court, but they have since sought their help, he said. Malook will represent the parents in court, Marshall said.

GOVERNMENT OPPOSITION
A parliamentary panel on minorities earlier this year forwarded key legislation to the government on curbing forced conversions of minority girls, recommending that only adults should be allowed to change religion and only after appearing before a senior district judge.

The government of Prime Minister Imran Khan, however, has strongly opposed the legislation.

The Stymie Forced Religious Conversion Bill includes recommendations for validating conversion, stating, “Any person who is not a child and able and willing to convert to another religion will apply for a conversion certificate from the additional sessions judge of the area where the person ordinarily resides.”

The bill calls for an application form that would include conversion candidates’ current religion, age, gender, national identity number, reason for conversion and details of parents, siblings, children and spouse if any. The parliamentary committee suggested that the additional sessions judge shall set a date for an interview within seven days of receipt of the application for conversion.

“On the date provided, the person shall present himself/herself before the additional sessions judge who shall ensure that the conversion is not under any duress and not due to any deceit or fraudulent misrepresentation,” the bill states.

The additional sessions judge may, upon the conversion candidates’ request, arrange his/her meeting with religious scholars of the religion the person wishes to convert to, according to the draft. A clause also empowers the additional sessions judge to grant 90 days to the person to undertake a comparative study of the religions and return to the office of the judge.

“Only after satisfaction, the additional sessions judge may issue the certificate of change of religion,” the draft legislation states.

Federal Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, however, has categorically stated that the government is opposed to a restriction on religious conversion before the age of 18 years.

“If someone aged 14 years wishes to convert to some other religion, they could not be stopped,” the minister commented during a meeting of the Senate parliamentary committee on minorities’ rights on Wednesday (July 14), the same day the Supreme Court rejected Marshall’s appeal.

“There are several incidents where someone expresses the wish to convert their religion out of their own choice before the age of 18. There are several examples in Islam of religious conversion before 18,” Qadri was quoted as saying during the meeting. He added that if someone wished to change their religion before reaching age 18, it was their choice, and that “a Nikah [Islamic marriage] or marriage before 18 was another discussion.”

The minister said that a proposal for setting the minimum age limit for marriage had been sent to the Council of Islamic Ideology, according to media reports.

'CHRISTIAN WORLD UNITING'
Regarding the minister’s statement, Marshall said it showed that the government was not interested in stopping abductions and rape of Christian girls.

“Whenever an attempt has been made to bring legislation for protection of the minorities, certain vested interests oppose it tooth and nail,” Marshall told Morning Star News. “We are not opposed to religious conversions by adults, but why is it so that only underage girls from minority communities change their religion and not boys?”

Marshall said that he had reached out to church leaders across the world seeking support for the Pakistani church’s fight against forced conversions.

“I’ve received positive response from various church leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Cantuar. The archbishop has assured his full support and will be writing letters to Pakistani officials, including Prime Minister Imran Khan, in this regard,” he said, adding that the Pakistani church will continue its struggle until the government ensures protection of its Christian citizens.

Pakistan leads the world in forced marriages, with about 1,000 Christians married against their will to Muslims from November 2019 to October 2020, according to Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List report. In terms of abductions, the report listed Pakistan as fourth with an estimated 100 kidnappings.

The U.S. State Department in December re-designated Pakistan among nine other “Countries of Particular Concern” for severe violations of religious freedom. Previously Pakistan had been added to the list on Nov. 28, 2018.

Pakistan ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors 2021 World Watch list of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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Posted by Temmy
Thu, July 22, 2021 2:57pm
 
Actress Patricia Heaton celebrates being free from alcohol for 3 years

patricia heaton smiling
Patricia Heaton teams up with World Vision for the Opportunity Collection, 2019.

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton took to social media to celebrate three years of freedom from alcohol and offered encouragement to others looking for support.

In a recent video post, the "Everybody Loves Raymond" actress said that July is not only the month where America commemorates independence, it's also when she celebrates her sobriety.

"It's July where we celebrate our nation's freedom," she said. "Also, celebrating three years of freedom from alcohol for me. I just wanted to share that with you.”

Heaton, who is outspoken about her Christian faith, offered encouragement to others struggling with addiction.

“Message me if any of you are thinking about doing that, any of you are doing that now and need some encouragement,” she said.

In an interview with Parade magazine last year, the 63 year old revealed she decided to stop drinking after consuming alcohol became routine for her.

"I miss it terribly, but at the end of the day, I feel better," she confessed. "I noticed that I was looking forward every night to cocktails. And if I happened to go to lunch, I might have a glass of wine or Prosecco. There's an actual statistic that women who were moderate drinkers in their 30s and 40s often become alcoholics in their 50s and 60s."

"You're a little bit at sea, and so you reach for the bottle to dull the uncertainty," she added. "I sensed that a bit with myself. And as your hormones change, you can't really process alcohol the same way you did when you were younger. I've stopped, and my life has improved significantly."

The mother of four and author of Your Second Act: Inspiring Stories of Reinvention also told People that she believes she's in her “second act” of life. She credited her devotion to God for helping her change her life for the better.

A professing Catholic, Heaton regularly shares Bible verses with her nearly 200,000 Instagram followers.

One of her latest posts, which highlighted her humanitarian work with World Vision, featured Philippians 4:8. The verse says: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things."

“What’s putting a smile on your face today?” she captioned the post.

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Posted by Temmy
Fri, July 23, 2021 4:23pm
 
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