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Offline eyeshaveit

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #90 on: February 09, 2017, 10:32:45 AM »
Moral Factors to Take into Account if You’re Considering IVF

"I can only imagine the struggles you might be facing as you try to conceive a child. Infertility is a reality for many and can be unimaginably painful. We need God’s grace to help us walk through such pain. In addition, we need God’s truth to help us navigate the possible road ahead. It’s true that modern technology has increased the number of reproductive technologies available to us, but we shouldn’t use them indiscriminately. As Christians, we need to think very carefully about the moral implications of these technologies, and there are several significant moral factors to take into account if you are seriously considering in vitro fertilization (IVF).

"In IVF, a woman is given fertility drugs that enable her to produce more eggs than normal in a given cycle. The eggs are extracted from her body and fertilized by the man’s sperm in a test tube or Petri dish, thereby producing embryos. Those embryos are then transferred into the woman’s uterus. First, you need to realize that IVF may produce additional embryos that will not be transferred to the woman. When you put sperm and egg together in a Petri dish, no one knows just how many embryos will actually be produced. Standard IVF practices call for the fertilization of all the eggs produced. Typically, they are transferred more than one at a time, and then leftover embryos are either disposed of or stored indefinitely.

"The first option, disposing of the embryos, is the moral equivalent of taking the life of an innocent human being. The embryo is a living, distinct, human organism in the embryonic stage. Those three characteristics of the embryo demonstrate that it is a member of the human family. Thus, the embryo is valuable because of the kind of thing it is, namely an innocent human being. Certainly the embryo undergoes developmental changes after conception, but it experiences no substantial change or change in nature. The human embryo grows into a human fetus, which grows into a human infant, and so forth. Through each stage of development, it remains a valuable member of the human family. Therefore, the embryo is not a potential human, but a human with great potential, and disposing of it is not an option open to us.

"The second option, storing the embryos indefinitely, also raises some concerns. Oftentimes, couples don’t realize their ambivalence toward their leftover embryos. Couples are probably ambivalent because they intuitively know that disposing of an embryo is not equivalent to the disposing of property that is owned. Their intuitions surface as they observe the continuity of personal identity between an embryo and a child they hold in their arms. As a result, many couples end up paying to store their leftover embryos indefinitely. And this is a problem.

"When an embryo is created through IVF, an intrinsically valuable human life comes into existence. Thus, every human embryo brought into existence acquires the right to life and is owed the chance to mature into a fully developed human person. Therefore, storing them indefinitely would prevent them from having the opportunity to develop and would constitute a sin of omission. The only viable option for leftover embryos once they’ve been created is to adopt them out to other infertile couples.

"As if that did not provide you with enough factors to consider, there is one more problem that may arise in IVF. Sometimes, implantation is very successful, resulting in multiple children. If the woman’s health is at risk, the doctor will recommend selective reduction, which would selectively terminate the lives of one or more of the unborn children. In order to avoid this scenario, a couple can limit the number of embryos transferred to the amount of children a woman can safely carry or the amount of children the couple can handle at once.

"If you consider IVF, please do so in light of the fact that the embryos created are part of your family from the beginning—they are your children from conception. Just because they are a small “clump of cells” at this level of human development, that does not disqualify them from the right to life and an opportunity to fully develop."

Brett Kunkle - Bio-Ethics Blog Post - Stand To Reason - February 7, 2017.

Offline eyeshaveit

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #91 on: February 10, 2017, 10:27:01 AM »
Free pastors from the Johnson Amendment

"President Trump is doing something relatively rare in American politics – he is fulfilling his campaign promises. One of the several promises made by candidate Trump was to eliminate the problems for churches and religious leaders caused by the Johnson Amendment. Exactly what is the Johnson Amendment? How has it been used? And how should it be fixed?

"In essence, the Johnson Amendment prohibits tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations from engaging or speaking on matters related to political campaigns. In 1954, then-Sen. Lyndon Johnson wanted to weaken organizations politically opposed to him — so he conditioned all such organizations’ tax-exempt status on their remaining silent in political matters. Since that time, the amendment has been used to muzzle anything remotely perceived as political speech from tax-exempt organizations, religious and nonreligious, on both sides of the aisle. This overly broad muzzling has included comments of pastors speaking from the pulpit about candidates as well as policy matters. Simply put, the Johnson Amendment has been used to censor speech — something that should never have occurred.

"To address these concerns, the Free Speech Fairness Act was introduced in the House of Representatives last year by Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La. It has been reintroduced in the 115th Congress with a companion Senate version sponsored by Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla. The bill allows speech from the pulpit even if it touches on political matters. Indeed, it allows all tax-exempt organizations to engage in speech during their ordinary activities, as long as they don’t spend money on such speech. These provisions address the problematic censoring of speech, while leaving in place the restrictions on tax-exempt organizations from using their funds for political activities.

"Pastors will decide differently how and if they will engage on political issues. That is not the point of this legislation. The point is to ensure that those who wish to engage in such speech are free to do so. They would be under the Free Speech Fairness Act.

"Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out forcefully from the pulpit on political matters that required change, and we are all glad he did so. It benefits us all to have such change agents speak freely from the pulpit.
Since the birth of our nation, pastors and churches have been at the forefront of shaping public debate and our choice of public servants. What would America look like today had King or the Rev. Lyman Beecher, a leading abolitionist, been muzzled by the IRS?

"King once wrote: “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.” The church should not have to gain its authority or approval to speak from the government because doing so reduces it to a servant of the state.

"More free speech for advocates in the public square should be something that everyone can get behind, whether Democrat or Republican. All pastors will be able to speak more freely, regardless of the party affiliation of the policies they are backing. And nonreligious nonprofits will have more freedom to speak, whether on political solutions to an environmental problem, a health care issue or anything else of concern to them. In addition to the practical reasons for change, the current IRS guidance restricting the speech of pastors and others is very likely unconstitutional.

"For all these reasons and more, we are hopeful that the Free Speech Fairness Act can find the broad and bipartisan support it deserves. All nonprofits stand to gain from this legislation. If we can find the support to pass this legislation, President Trump — who wants to eliminate the problems with the Johnson Amendment — will sign it. Please join me in supporting more free speech for all Americans and back the Free Speech Fairness Act."

Tony Perkins - Religious News Service - February 9, 2017.

Offline eyeshaveit

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #92 on: February 11, 2017, 11:37:47 AM »
Thailand Officials Using Jehovah’s Witnesses Publications To Address Social Issues

"This year marks three years since Thai Government officials started using publications by Jehovah’s Witnesses as part of the national initiative to educate the public officials on how to address some key social issues. These issues include prevention of domestic violence, effective parenting, and improving physical and mental health.

"Jehovah’s Witnesses Publications Are Being Used To Address Social Issues in Thailand

"These government’s national education initiatives are orchestrated and implemented at over 8,700 regional Community Learning Centers that are spread across the country. The government has also set up 11 Community Development Learning Centers (CDLC), whose main focus is to train the community leaders.

"The director of CDLC in Nakhon Nayok province Chaiwat Saengsri, says the goal of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very clear and aims at helping the people and communities get to know their Creator. This is the same goal that CDLC has; assisting the community in raising their standards in the quest for peace and better quality life.

"Mr. Chaiwat also requested the Jehovah’s Witnesses make their publications available during the SMART Leader seminar. This seminar seeks to bring together 20 instructors and 100 community leaders from 28 provinces, who will receive training on community building and leadership.

"The spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses in Thailand Anthony Petratyotin says, “We are happy to know that community leaders are making such good use of the Bible-based advice found in our publications. We will continue to make our literature available to officials, along with our primary means of distribution—our public ministry.”

"Some of the publications that have been used include the Awake! Magazine article, “How to Avoid Hurtful Speech”. This article was used to teach the community leaders on how to handle conflict in marriage without unleashing a torrent of hurtful words whenever a conflict arises.

"The publication seeks to explain why conflict in a marriage happens, and what can be done to end it without necessarily using words that will end up hurting the spouse. Some of the suggested ways to avoid using hurtful words include showing empathy, being respectful, reviving the feeling the couple once shared, avoiding verbal attacks, postponing a discussion when tempers begin to flare.

"Another article, “An End to Domestic Violence” helps the participants in dealing with domestic violence by understanding the prevalence of domestic violence cases, why this happens, and what can be done to stop it.
 
"The publication offers practical advice that can help violent spouses change their behavior. The education has helped many spouses replace violence with kindness and respect. Violent spouses learn how to treat their better half, and eventually become witnesses that domestic violence can stop. The publication teaches about honor, mildness, and self-control, and condemns abusive speech in marriage."

Alison Lesley - World Religious News - February 10, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #93 on: February 12, 2017, 08:13:26 AM »
The Absurdity of Time and The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

"A few years ago, I was studying history at the University of Mississippi. I was in a class on Latin American history. As we discussed ancient history, I made the observation that we couldn’t prove any of this happened. “Time is a relative construct.” Immediately, I took it a step further and further declared, “I’m not even sure we can prove that we exist.” For historians, such observations are a declaration of war. Historians believe that the past can be proven with proper evidence. I believe that the past can be proven with proper belief. Since it is possible that there is no past, we construct our own past. After about ten minutes of arguing the benefits of such deconstruction with the entire room, my professor lost it and screamed out, “Goddamn it! This is not the f**king Matrix Jeff!!!” After that, my professor cleared the room. Immediately, he turned to me and demanded, “What the f**k was that?” “The deconstruction of history.” “Well, don’t do it again in my classroom.” “Time is an absurd concept.” “Not in my classroom.” Throughout the existence of humanity, there is no fundamentalism stronger than the idea of time. If we think deeply, we quickly realize that time is not real. Time is absurd. The only thing that is real is what we believe.
 
We have always assumed that time is real. I believe we have assumed wrongly. The clock keeps time because we believe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. Instead of the past, maybe we are going into the future. Instead of growing older, maybe we are growing younger. Perhaps, death is a rebirth. I could go on and on. The point is that we think we know much more than we do. Time exists because we believe it exists. If we didn’t believe in time, time would not exist. The absurdity of time is that it has tricked us into believing that time is real. Time doesn’t change the world. Our beliefs do.
 
One question frames Christian theology, “Did Jesus rise from the dead?” If you answer in the affirmative, you are called conservative or orthodox. If you answer in the negative, you are called liberal or revisionist. The conservatives argue that there is much evidence to prove that Jesus rose from the dead.

I am skeptical of such evidence. The liberals are certain that people just don’t rise from the dead. I am skeptical of such certainty. While these descriptions are simplistic, I think they capture the often-dichotomous debate on a general level. The problem with these positions is that they’re too simplistic. I think they’re both wrong. Neither position takes into account the absurdity of time. If travel to different places in different dimensions became a possibility, what would we find at the tomb of Jesus? Would we find what is or what we believe is? I believe that belief shapes perception. Time is relative to belief. If we believe, our wildest thoughts will be true. Time is not truth. Our beliefs are. Then again… What is truth?"

Jeff Hood - Patheos - February 9, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #94 on: February 13, 2017, 08:46:09 AM »
On Defining Religion

"Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said that President Donald Trump's 90-day ban on immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries is "a religiously based ban," and "if they can ban Muslims, why can't they ban Mormons." This has become the position of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, which has influenced not only the American public but has convinced the majority of the world that America is "bad." How can we blame the world, and even a good segment of American citizens, for hating America when such disingenuous and misleading claims are aired to the world from US officials and broadcast by American television channels?

"The majority of the world does not understand that much of the American media is in a propaganda war against the Trump Administration simply because he names Islamic jihad and would prefer to see a strong and prosperous America as a world leader, rather than to see a dictatorship -- secular or theocratic -- as a world leader. He ran as a Republican; meanwhile, Democrats and the mainstream media refuse to engage in respectful and legitimate debate on the most vital threat to Western civilization in the twenty-first century: Islam. Truth has become irrelevant; people seem to prefer a political game of tug-of-war to sway public opinion against the Trump Administration, and, presumably, to elect Democrats forever. That is how the system is set up.

"Political discussions on television have become extremely frustrating; they have turned into shouting matches and name-calling at the least informative levels. Television hosts often become instigators and participants in the shouting matches. The thinking is apparently that the louder they get, the more attractive the program will be. Meanwhile everyone is talking at once; the viewer cannot hear anyone, so the program could not be more boring.

"Under the US Constitution, freedom of religion is protected. and Islam has been welcomed inside the West on that basis as one of the three Abrahamic religions. According to Western values and the Western understanding of the word, "religion" is supposed to be a personal relationship with God, where free will is of utmost importance; the believer has authority only over himself or herself when it comes to religious laws or punishing sins (such as leaving the religion or committing adultery) -- quite different from criminal laws intended to protect society. Western values also allow followers of a religion the freedom to proselytize, but never by resorting to government enforcement.

"Bottom line, the Western definition of religion is in harmony with the Biblical values of the human rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that all human beings are created equal under the law. It is considered a basic Western value to view God, family and country as a top priority.

"Now let us compare these values to Islamic values:

"1 - Muslim citizens have the right to punish other citizens with humiliating, severe, cruel and unusual punishments such as death, flogging and amputation, for sinning against Allah, the Quran or Islam. Those "crimes" include leaving Islam, being a homosexual, or committing adultery. And if the Islamic government does not enforce such punishments, any Muslim on the street has the right to apply the punishment against another Muslim and not be prosecuted. That is why apostates, such as myself, cannot visit any Muslim county; the fear is not only from Islamic governments but from anyone on the street.

"2 - Being a Muslim is not a personal relationship with God, as it is under the Bible, but is enforced by the state at birth. When a child is born in Egypt to a Muslim father, the birth certificate is stamped "Muslim" and all government-issued documents as well. A child must learn Islamic studies in school and practice Islam throughout his life. In Egypt, the twin sons of a Christian divorced mother were forced to take Islamic studies and become Muslim just because their originally-Christian father converted to Islam. Today, in Egypt, I am still considered Muslim and such a status could never change if I ever lived there again.

"3 - Islamic law and leaders rely on government enforcement -- under penalty of death -- to keep Muslims within Islam and to convert the minority Christian population into Islam. Islamic sharia law, obliges Islamic states to enforce religious law, and if the Muslim head of state refuses to follow religious law, sharia permits the public to use force to remove the head of state from office.

"4 - Islam claims to be an Abrahamic religion, but in fact Islam came to the world 600 years after Christ, not to affirm the Bible but to discredit it; not to co-exist with "the people of the book," Jews and Christians, but to replace them -- after accusing them of intentionally falsifying the Bible. Islam was created as a rebellion against the Bible and its values, and relies on government enforcement to do so.

"The tenets above are just a few of the differences in values between Islam, the Bible and the Western concept of religion. What the West does not understand is that Islam admits that government control is central to Islam, and Muslims must demand to live under an Islamic government sooner or later. That might explain the reason for the eternal violence in nearly all Muslim countries, between government being in the hands of a religious theocracy or of the military. Islam, as it is practiced today, has violated all Western definitions of religion and values."

Nonie Darwish - Galestone Institute -  February 12, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #95 on: February 14, 2017, 08:22:40 AM »
What Makes Christianity Different

"Quick, name the practice that most sets Christianity apart from the non-Christian world. Respect for human life? Not really. Religions such as Jainism have, if anything, an even more uncompromising prohibition against harming any living things.

"Sexual morality? Again, there are religions—Orthodox Judaism and Islam immediately come to mind—that place an even higher premium on sexual purity than Christianity. If you doubt this, ask yourself when was the last time you saw a Christian woman in a burqa.

"The answer to this question is forgiveness. No other belief system has the equivalent of forgiving your brother seventy times seven, i.e., every time—much less commands you to love your enemies, and bless those who persecute you.

"The radical nature of Christian forgiveness is so startling, so overwhelming, that it made the CBS Evening News. The story began in 2005 in the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan. On that day, Jameel McGee was, in his words, “minding his own business,” when he was stopped by a policeman, Andrew Collins. The encounter did not go well for McGee. Collins accused him of selling drugs and arrested him. At the time, McGee insisted that the charges were “all made up.” As CBS noted, “Of course, a lot of accused men make that claim,” and the outcome in McGee’s case was pretty much the same as in other such cases: He wound up serving four years in prison. In McGee’s words, “I lost everything.”

"Making matters infinitely worse was that McGee was telling the truth: He was in fact an innocent man. We know this because the policeman, Collins, was subsequently “caught, and served a year and a half for falsifying many police reports, planting drugs and stealing.” Among the falsified police reports was the one concerning Jameel McGee.

"While exoneration is sweet, it doesn’t make up for the four years spent behind bars. As McGee told CBS, “My only goal was to seek him when I got home and to hurt him.” He appeared to have gotten his chance when both McGee and Collins ended up working at a café run by Mosaic Christian Community Development Center. As CBS put it, the “bad cop and the wrongfully accused man had no choice but to have it out.”

And that brings me back to what I said about Christianity’s unique emphasis on forgiveness. Collins told McGee “Honestly, I have no explanation, all I can do is say I’m sorry.” McGee’s response, “That was pretty much what I needed to hear.” But McGee did not stop there: He befriended the man who wronged him, so much so that he eventually told Collins that he loved him. As Collins tells the tale, “I just started weeping because he doesn’t owe me that. I don’t deserve that.”

"Thankfully, forgiveness, and the healing it brings in its wake, has nothing to do with “deserve.” As McGee, a Christian, understood, we forgive one another because, as Paul told both the Ephesians and the Colossians, God in Christ has forgiven us.

"The power of forgiveness transcends personal relationships. Think of the reaction to the Amish forgiving the man who killed ten young girls back in 2007. There was a power at work there that even the most hardened skeptic could not deny.

"Today, McGee and Collins share their story with others. At least one person seems to have taken its message to heart. The CBS reporter ended with the following question: “If these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?” The answer, especially for the Christian, is “none.”"

Eric Metaxas - Breakpoint - February 10, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #96 on: February 15, 2017, 07:30:14 AM »
50 Biblical Proofs That Jesus is God

"Jesus is God the Son. He is the eternal, all-powerful, all-loving, self-existent Creator God. We apologists hear every fable, myth, and tall tale regarding theology that anyone could ever imagine. I've heard for over thirty years that “the Bible never says that Jesus is God.” In fact, one of my first research projects in the early 80s, after I started taking up apologetics (back in my evangelical days), was to collect biblical passages that provide evidence for the Holy Trinity and deity, or divinity of Jesus Christ.

"I've compiled this information in one of my books, called Theology of God (if anyone is looking for a handy guide on the issue). Presently, I'd like to highlight a few of the more obvious, undeniable, plain passages, in order to counter those who make such negative claims.

"John 1:1, 14 (RSV) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . [14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
This is one of the most well-known “proof texts”. Jesus is eternal (here, “beginning” means “eternity past”). He was with God the Father, and is God the Son. To make sure that the reader has no misunderstanding, John (v. 14) reiterates that the “Word” referred to is the Son, and notes that He “became flesh” (the incarnation). Only the Son has a body. The Word = Jesus = God.

"John 10:30 I and the Father are one.
Jesus' hearers, unbelieving Jews, certainly understood His intent in saying this, because they tried to stone Him, as the next verse informs us, since they didn't believe His claim, which, if indeed untrue, would be intolerable blasphemy. 10:33 informs us that they tried to stone Him because (in their words) “you, being a man, make yourself God.”

"John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
This had to do with the famous “Doubting Thomas” incident. Thomas didn't believe Jesus had risen, so Jesus appeared for His sake and told him to touch the wound in His side. Then Thomas believed and said this. If it were untrue, Jesus would have corrected him, but He didn't; He commended Thomas because he “believed.”

"Colossians 1:19 For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell,
In context, it is the Son Who is being described (1:13); He is eternal (1:15, 17-18), the Creator (1:16), and the unifying principle of the universe (1:17; cf. Heb 1:3): all attributes true only of God. Paul makes the notion even more explicit in the next chapter:

"Colossians 2:9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

"2 Peter 1:1 . . . our God and Savior Jesus Christ:
St. Paul uses the same phrase in Titus 2:13 as well.

"Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son he says, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom.”
This is a remarkable passage, in which God the Father calls His Son “God.” It is a reference to the Old Testament passage, Psalms 45:6-7.

"In Hebrews 1:6, God the Father also says that all the angels should worship God the Son. Worship can only be rightly applied to God, as we know from Exodus 34:14 and Deuteronomy 8:19. Yet Jesus accepted worship of Himself on many occasions (e.g., Mt 14:33; 28:9) and stated that He should be honored equally with the Father (Jn 5:23). In Revelation 5:8, 12-13 and Colossians 2:6-7, we find that Jesus is worshiped in every way that the Bible specifically describes worship of God the Father, with all the same words used (see: Rev 4:9-11, 5:13; 7:11-12, and Rom 11:33).

"Jesus is omnipotent (possesses all power):
Philippians 3:20-21 . . . the Lord Jesus Christ, [21] who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.

"He's omniscient (all-knowing):
Colossians 2:2-3 . . . Christ, [3] in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

"He's omnipresent (present everywhere):
Ephesians 1:22-23 the church, [23] which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all. (cf. Col 3:11)

"Another astonishing passage along these lines is one where Jesus speaks about historical events described as being done by God the Father in the Old Testament. He casually applies them to Himself (what might be called “the Divine 'I'”):
Matthew 23: 34, 37 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, . . . [37] O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

"Many attributes that are said to belong only to “God” are applied to Jesus in Scripture. God the Father said, “besides me there is no savior” (Is 43:11; cf. 1 Tim 4:10). Yet Jesus is called the “savior” of mankind in passages like Luke 2:11 and many others.

"God the Father stated, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (Is 45:23). The same exact description is also applied to Jesus (Phil 2:10-11).

"The Bible teaches that “God” is judge (1 Sam 2:10; Ps 50:6; Ecc 12:14; many others). But so is Jesus (Jn 5:22, 27; 9:39; Acts 10:42; 2 Tim 4:1). Therefore He is God.

"God the Father sits on His throne in heaven (1 Ki 22:19; Ps 11:4; 47:8). Jesus is on the same throne, too (Rev 7:17; 22:1, 3).

"At every turn in the Bible, only one conclusion is possible, to make sense of all these statements, taken together as a whole: Jesus is God the Son. He is the eternal, all-powerful, all-loving, self-existent Creator God."

Dave Armstrong - National Catholic Register - February 12, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #97 on: February 16, 2017, 08:09:50 AM »
Educate Religious Leaders & Circumcise the HIV AIDS Epidemic Away

"Educating the world's religious leaders could encourage millions more men to undergo circumcision and reduce the rate of new HIV infections, according to research printed in the Lancet medical journal. Circumcision can lower a man's risk of getting HIV by up to 60 percent, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which recommends it as an effective intervention in countries gripped by an HIV epidemic.

"In Tanzania alone, the education drive could lead to more than 1.4 million new circumcisions, which could in turn prevent 65,000 to 200,000 new HIV infections, the research showed. In 2011, the WHO set a target of 20.8 million new circumcisions across 14 sub-Saharan countries by 2016. By the end of 2015, just 10 million men had been circumcised, the study said. Previous research had suggested that a low uptake may be influenced by religious tradition and fears that circumcision could be an attempt to convert Christians to other religions.

"Circumcision is widely practiced by Jews and Muslims, and is carried out by some Christians. The practice predates Islam and Judaism and was depicted in ancient Egyptian tombs and wall paintings. Aside from religious reasons, it is often carried out for health reasons or as a rite of passage in childhood or puberty. When religious leaders are highly respected in their communities, they can use this influence to convince more men to get circumcised and therefore help to prevent new HIV infections, said the study, which was published late Tuesday.

"The researchers studied 16 villages in Tanzania where the country's health ministry carried out a circumcision campaign. In villages where religious leaders attended seminars about the procedure, 23 percent more men were circumcised compared to villages that only received information from the ministry. More than 30 percent of men cited discussions in church as the reason for their decision to undergo the procedure.

"We equipped religious leaders with information and education, and then they could teach their congregations as they saw fit," Jennifer Downs, of Cornell University and the lead author of the report, said in a statement. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of the virus that causes AIDS, accounting for about 70 percent of the 36.7 million people living with the virus worldwide, according to the WHO. Nearly 1.4 million people were newly infected with HIV in the region in 2015.

"The research said educating religious leaders about the role of circumcision in HIV prevention should be extended to other sub-Saharan countries. They could also be involved in promoting other healthy behaviors, it said. The study took place from June 2014 to December 2015.

Voice of America - February 15, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #98 on: February 17, 2017, 09:21:49 AM »
ISIS Suicide Attack at Sufi Shrine Kills 72

"A suicide bomber attacked a crowded Sufi shrine in southern Pakistan, killing at least 72 people and wounding dozens more in the deadliest of a wave of bombings across the South Asian nation this week. A spokesman for medical charity Edhi said the attacker appeared to have targeted the women’s wing of the shrine, and around 30 children accompanying their mothers were died in the Thursday (Feb. 16) blast. Islamic State, the Middle East-based militant group which has a small but increasingly prominent presence in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack, the group’s affiliated news agency AMAQ reported.

"Senior police officer Shabbir Sethar told Reuters from a local hospital that the death toll was likely to rise. “At least 72 are dead and over 150 have been injured,” Sethar said by telephone. Television footage from the famous Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine in the town of Sehwan Sharif showed army and paramilitary medical teams reaching the site and injured people being taken to nearby hospitals in ambulances and a military helicopter.

“We were there for the love of our saint, for the worship of Allah,” a wailing woman told the Dawn News television channel outside the shrine, her headscarf streaked in blood. “Who would hurt us when we were there for devotion?” The attack comes as the Pakistani Taliban and rival Islamist militant groups carry out their threats of a new offensive. The violence has shattered a period of improving security, underscoring how militants still undermine stability in the nuclear-armed country of 190 million people.

"The high death toll at the shrine makes it one of the worst attacks in Pakistan in recent years. In August last year, at least 74 people, mostly lawyers, were killed in a suicide bombing of a hospital in the southwestern city of Quetta. In November, an explosion claimed by Islamic State ripped through a Muslim shrine in southwestern Pakistan, killing at least 52 people and wounding scores. Sindh Sufis. At a crossroads of historic trade routes, religions and cultures, the southern province of Sindh where the shrine is located has always been a poor but religiously tolerant region, helping to shield it from much of the Islamist violence more common in other parts of Pakistan.

"The country’s powerful military, which has cracked down on insurgent groups in recent years leading to a sharp drop in militant violence, vowed a swift, decisive response. “Each drop of nation’s blood shall be revenged, and revenged immediately. No more restraint for anyone,” Army Chief Qamar Bajwa said in a statement.

"Shortly after the blast, the army announced it was closing the border with Afghanistan with immediate effect for security reasons. Insurgents operate on either side of the neighbours’ long and porous frontier. Different militant groups, often trying to outdo each other, say they are responsible for the bombings. In the case of the Quetta hospital blast, both a faction of the Pakistani Taliban – Jamaat-ur-Ahrar – and Islamic State claimed responsibility. Jamaat also said it was responsible for a bombing in the eastern city of Lahore earlier this week that killed 13 people.

"In a separate incident late on Thursday, gunmen on a motorbike killed three policemen and one civilian in the city of Dera Ismail Khan.

"The bomber entered the shrine as crowds massed on Thursday, a statement from the Sindh police spokesman said. Rescue officials said dozens of wounded people were being ferried in private cars to hospitals. The nearest major hospital was nearly an hour’s drive away in Dadu district.

"Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif quickly condemned the bombing, decrying the assault on the Sufi religious minority. He vowed to fight Islamist militants, who target the government, judiciary and anyone who does not adhere to their strict interpretation of Sunni Islam. “The past few days have been hard, and my heart is with the victims,” Sharif said. “But we can’t let these events divide us, or scare us. We must stand united in this struggle for the Pakistani identity, and universal humanity.”

"An ancient mystic branch of Islam, Sufism has been practised in Pakistan for centuries. Lal Shahbaz Qalander is Pakistan‘s most revered Sufi shrine, dedicated to a 13th-century “saint” whose spirit is invoked by devotees in ecstatic daily dancing and singing rituals in Sehwan Sharif. Thursdays are an especially important day for local Sufis, meaning that the shrine was packed at the time of the blast.

"Most of Pakistan‘s myriad radical Sunni militant groups – including the Pakistani Taliban’s various factions and Islamic State loyalists – despise Sufis, Shi’ite Muslims and other religious minorities as heretics."

Syed Raza Hassan - Religious News Service - February 16, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #99 on: February 18, 2017, 10:03:57 AM »
 Scandinavia: The West's Cradle of anti-Semitism?

"On January 12, the Norwegian newspaper "Aftenposten" published an article about Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump's son-in-law and his senior adviser: "The Jew Kushner reportedly pushed for David M. Friedman as the new ambassador to Israel", Aftenposten wrote. The newspaper had later to apologize for calling Kushner "the Jew".

"A few weeks earlier, the city council of Trondheim, Norway's third-largest city, passed a motion calling on its residents to boycott Israeli goods -- a city aspiring to be "Israel-free". Then it was the turn of another Norwegian city, Tromso, population 72,000, whose city council approved a similar motion. More than 40% of Norwegians are already boycotting Israeli products or are in favor of doing so, according to a poll.

"What hell is happening in Scandinavia, whose countries, Norway and Sweden, are bastions of political correctness, champions of multiculturalism and, according to the Global Peace Index, the most "peaceful" countries in the world? "The most successful society the world has ever known", however, as The Guardian labelled Sweden, has a dark side: Israel-slandering and anti-Semitism.

"Sweden and Norway are manipulating public opinion in the way immortalized by George Orwell in his novel "1984" as the "Two Minutes Hate". These countries have seen the creation of a public opinion according to which Israel is a merciless enemy of humanity that ought to be dismantled forthwith.

"A year ago, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, an updated map of Israel's friends and enemies. Only five countries are openly at war with the Jewish State: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea. Then there are the friendly countries, including many non-Muslim African countries that once had no diplomatic relations with Jerusalem. But the map also included a European country that for the first time moved into the "non-friends" camp: Sweden.

"Hate for Israel has become a real obsession in Scandinavia, which revived the glorious partnership between the liberal "useful idiots" -- the ones concerned about equality and minorities -- and Islamists, the ones concerned about submission and killing "infidels".

"Despite the fact that Jews in Norway are only 0.003 percent of the total population, Oslo is now world's capital of European anti-Semitism. Recently, the Norwegian National Theater opened its Festival in Oslo with a dramatic video clip. The video urged a boycott of the National Theater of Israel, Habima, in Tel Aviv.

"Funded by the government and aired at the festival, the clip shows an actress posing as a spokesman for the National Theater and calling for a boycott of the Israeli theater. Pia Maria Roll labelled Israel a state "based on ethnic cleansing, racism, occupation and apartheid". Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded saying that the seven-minute video recalls "the Norwegian collaborationist Vidkun Quisling and Knut Hamson" (a Nobel laureate for Literature who sympathized with Hitler).

"It is not the first time. A festival in Oslo also rejected a documentary, "The Other Dreamers," about the lives of disabled children, simply because it was Israeli. "We support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel," wrote Ketil Magnussen, the founder of the festival.

?Norway is the European country most engaged in the campaigns against Israel. All Norwegian universities refused to host Alan Dershowitz for a speaking tour about the Middle East. A proposal for an official academic boycott against Israel was promoted by Norway's University of Trondheim. If approved, the boycott would have been the first of its kind in a European university since the Nazi boycott of Jewish professors.

"The Norwegian Ministry of Finance has excluded Israeli companies, such as Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus, from its Global Pension Fund, a fund that invests the national wealth in foreign stocks and bonds, and which holds more than one percent of all global stocks. The Norwegian trade union EL & IT, which represents workers from the energy and telecommunications sectors, has boycotted the Histadrut, Israel's national labor union.

"In Norway, anti-Semitism has affected many "intellectuals". One is Johan Galtung, a Norwegian sociologist dubbed the "father of peace studies", a proud leftist who made anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli statements at the University of Oslo and who claimed (falsely) that there is a link between the perpetrators of the massacre at Utoya in Norway and the Mossad.

"Norwegian newspapers are full of classic anti-Semitic tropes. A cartoon in the largest newspaper, "Verdens Gang", showed the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's feet as those of an animal. In "Aftenposten", the second-largest newspaper, a rat eats the Star of David, the symbol in the Israeli flag. Another daily, "Dagbladet", a glory of the Norwegian Left, published a cartoon in which Palestinian terrorists leave an Israeli prison with the German motto of the Buchenwald concentration camp: "Jedem Das Sein".

"Evelyne Zeira, who works at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, asked a Norwegian researcher, Ingrid Harbitz, to send her material to develop treatments for Palestinian victims of thalessemia, a blood disease. Harbitz's answer was: "Due to the current situation in the Middle East, I will not deliver material to Israeli universities". To her, Israeli Jews and even Palestinians do not deserve Norwegian blood!

"During Israel's war against Hezbollah in 2006, the daily "Aftenposten" published an article by Jostein Gaarder, Norway's most famous writer and a "thirdworldist", in which he imagined the destruction of Israel. Gaarder, whose novel "Sophie's World" has been translated into 53 languages ​​and has sold millions of copies, justified the expulsion of Israeli Jews from their land. "We no longer recognize the State of Israel," Gaarder wrote, as if he were an Iranian imam.

"The same racism exists in Sweden. A few days ago, the Swedish Parliament discussed a deal between Volvo, the country's most important car maker, and the Israeli bus companies. Volvo provides, in fact, some buses which keep the Israelis alive in Judea and Samaria. Jewish schoolchildren in these areas have to use armored buses to avoid being shot and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. But according to the chairman of Sweden's parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, Kenneth G. Forslund, their right to life, granted by Volvo's buses, is "a violation of international law". Swedish dockworkers sponsored a week-long boycott of Israeli ships and goods. The old good days when Swedish ships saved the Jews from Nazis are gone.

"Sweden's former Minister for Housing and Urban Development, Mehmet Kaplan, a Muslim of Turkish origin, took part in the pro-Hamas assault against Israel by the "Freedom Flotilla" in 2010. He compared Israel to Nazism and called for the "liberation of Jerusalem". The education minister, Gustav Fridolin, has been arrested for protesting in front of the anti-terrorism fence built by Israel in Judea and Samaria to protect the lives of their citizens on the coastal plain, massacred by suicide bombers.

"Recently, Swedish public television broadcast "The Occupation of the American Mind", a conspiracy film about the "Israeli Lobby" supposedly controlling in the United States. During the Second Intifada, in a Stockholm Museum, a photograph was reprinted of a smiling Palestinian suicide bomber, who had killed dozens of Israelis at a restaurant in Haifa. In the photograph, he was on a white boat in a bathtub full of blood-red liquid. Aftonbladet, Sweden's largest daily newspaper, then ran an article by Donald Bostrom where, without any evidence, he charged the Israeli army of harvesting the organs of Palestinians.

""Dagens Nyheter", the most sophisticated Swedish newspaper, published a violently anti-Semitic op-ed entitled, "It is allowed to hate the Jews", in which the historian Jan Samuelson said that until Israel ceases to "occupy" the territories, hatred for the Jewish State will be justified. He totally disregards, however, that the Jordanians illegally seized the territories in the aggression they initiated against Israel in the War of 1948; in 1967, Israel, in fact liberated its own land from illegal Jordanian occupation.

"After Trump's election, the daily Dagens Nyheter ran an anti-Semitic cartoon, in which the Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President-elect were being carried by an Orthodox Jew, a Ku Klux Klan member and a gun-carrying man branded with the Israeli flag. The Nazi daily "Der Stürmer" could not have drawn it better.

"After the massacres of November 13 in Paris, Sweden's minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, said that "to counter the radicalization we have to go back to the situation in the Middle East where the Palestinians see that there is no future for them and must accept a desperate situation and resort to violence".

"Does Wallström really mean that to defeat Islamic aggression, Israel must surrender? The Palestinians' situation is indeed desperate, but as they have had full autonomy for decades, their desperate situation is caused by their own cynical and corrupt leaders who appear deliberately to keep their people in misery try to blame it on Israel, in the same way that people maim children to make them "better" beggars.

"Meanwhile, the Trondheim synagogue has become one of the best protected buildings in Norway, and Jews live under siege in the Swedish city of Malmö. Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi collaborationist, would have been proud of his heirs, even if now they are self-proclaimed "progressives".

Giulio Meotti - Galestone Institute - February 17, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #100 on: February 19, 2017, 09:18:05 AM »
The Religious Right Must Lose

"Denny Burk, a Southern Baptist theologian and pastor, gave expert testimony in the Baronnelle Stutzman case. [Barronelle Stutzman, is a florist in Richland, Washington, who is involved in a same-sex discrimination lawsuit] Here he reflects on what it means. Excerpt:

"When I was first asked to give testimony, I thought my role as an SBC pastor and seminary professor would simply be to enter into the record what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. But that is not at all what it turned out to be.

"For an entire day, I sat across the table from attorneys representing the Washington Attorney General and the ACLU (two different attorneys because Ms. Stutzman is being sued by the state and by the gay couple that she was once friends with). These attorneys didn’t merely ask me what Southern Baptist believe. They tried to show that what Southern Baptists believe amounts to invidious discrimination.

"I had to defend not only our denomination’s statement of faith (The Baptist Faith and Message) but also resolutions passed by our denomination going back 30 and 40 years. It was hostile questioning intended to discredit what Southern Baptists believe about marriage. They wanted to discredit us so that they could discredit her. And make no mistake, once they succeed in punishing her, others will use this precedent to punish the rest of us—and not just Southern Baptists but any person who dares to act on their belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

"This is important for traditional Christians. It might be more important than you think it is. The ACLU, most of the media, the legal establishment, the Democratic Party — they all hate us. I mean, hate us. If Barronelle Stutzman were a Muslim, we never would have heard of this story. She is a Southern Baptist, therefore she must be destroyed. To paraphrase Terry Mattingly, the Grand Unified Theory here is: The Religious Right Must Lose.

"This will never end. It will never, ever end. Best get that learned now. This case is going all the way to the US Supreme Court, which will either refuse to hear it (in which case the Washington court’s ruling stands), or it will hear it and render a judgment. I would not bet money on that judgment going in Stutzman’s favor.

"So, we have to fight where and how we can, but we also have to realize that we will probably lose. What then? If we have any courage at all, we are not going to compromise our consciences. What will we do? How will we pay the debts inflicted on us by our persecutors? How will we work again? How do you get along in a society in which the people who hold the greatest power think you are Public Enemy No. 1?

"From The Benedict Option:

"In the end, it comes down to what believers are willing to suffer for the faith. Are we ready to have our social capital devalued and lose professional status, including the possibility of accumulating wealth? Are we prepared to relocate to places far from the wealth and power of the cities of the empire, in search of a more religiously free way of life? It’s going to come to that for more and more of us. The time of testing is at hand. “A lot of Christians see no difference between being faithfully Christian and being professionally and socially ambitious,” says a religious liberty activist. “That is ending.”

"Like I keep saying: this may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world. When the might of the State of Washington and the American Civil Liberties Union comes down on the head of gentle, grandmotherly, small-town florist, and seeks her ruin for declining to arrange flowers for a gay wedding, you know that we are dealing with a bottomless well of hatred. You know exactly what we are dealing with here. So, prepare. We are all going to be asked to pay the cost of discipleship. When I interviewed her last summer, Stutzman said to me: “If they can come after me, they can go after anybody.”

"True. Expect no justice, tolerance, mercy, or love in these matters. The Religious Right Must Lose. Alliance Defending Freedom, the religious liberty legal organization representing Barronnelle pro bono, is taking tax-free donations to help pay for her defense. If the US Supreme Court refuses to hear the case, or rules against her, the Christian community nationwide will need to step up to pay her fine, and to reward her for having stood in the crucible and held firm, despite the contempt heaped on her head. Today its Barronelle Stutzman; tomorrow it might be you. And one day, it probably will.

"I’ll say one more thing here. As regular readers know, I do not like Donald Trump and do not like the glee with which so many of my fellow conservatives view his trashing of longstanding rules and conventions of political behavior. Trump is tearing things down, but what will be left after he’s done that? Having said that, when I contemplate a system and a society that is willing to pour everything it has into crushing a little old Southern Baptist lady who arranges flowers for a living, I find that I have very little enthusiasm for defending that system. A society that would do this to a Barronnelle Stutzman is a corrupt and unjust society. At times like this, it is hard not to adopt a “let the dead bury the dead” attitude toward the whole."

Rod Dreher - The American Conservative - February 17, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #101 on: February 20, 2017, 06:27:06 AM »
N.T. Wright: The Cross Matters More Than We Know

"You can’t escape it. Whether it’s a tiny silver pendant or an enormous structure atop a hill (Rio de Janeiro, Montreal), the cross is both eye-catching and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that a British airline worker was suspended for refusing to remove her cross in case it offended passengers. Millions with little connection to organized Christianity instinctively recognise the cross as iconic. The theater producer Peter Sellars, introducing his staged version of Bach’s "St Matthew Passion" in 2014, explained that in this story people of all sorts glimpse truth, and often comfort, beyond what is available elsewhere.

"Why? Do we need to ask? You don’t need to know the science of cookery before enjoying a meal. Nor do you need to know music theory before you can be moved by Bach. But someone has to know how to cook; and the musicians need to know what they’re playing and how to play it. Those who teach in church, and those who commend the faith to outsiders, need to grapple with the meaning of Jesus’ death. Then the puzzles begin. Some great mediaeval paintings of the crucifixion see Jesus as a battered, vulnerable man – with God the Father behind him, a stern, forbidding presence.

"The message is clear. God is angry with us, but his anger is all poured out on the innocent Jesus. A caricature, of course, or worse. The famous John 3:16 doesn’t say ‘God so hated the world that he killed his son’, but ‘God so loved the world that he gave his son’. But that easily gets twisted the wrong way round. Perhaps that’s because many angry despots, in public or domestic life, have beaten up innocent victims. Sometimes they even claim that they do it out of love. We have learned to shudder at such claims. But isn’t that what the Bible says? ‘He was bruised for our transgressions . . . the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’? Yes, but what matters is getting the story right.

"Many Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, liberal or conservative, have imagined a story like this. (1) We messed up badly; (2) God had to punish us; (3) fortunately, his innocent son got in the way and took the rap. But the Bible tells a bigger, more subtle story. Paul’s summary of the Christian message begins, ‘The Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures’. That doesn’t mean “in accordance with the story we have in our heads, with a few biblical footnotes.” Paul is referring to the entire story of Israel’s ancient scriptures.

"That story is not about ‘sin and what God does with it.’ It’s about creation and covenant. First, creation: God made a wonderful creation, and put humans into it to sum up the praises of creation and to look after his world. This is what it means to be ‘in God’s image’: angled mirrors, reflecting God’s love into the world and reflecting creation’s worship back to God. Some texts speak of this human vocation as ‘the royal priesthood’. When humans mess it up, it isn’t just that they break some arbitrary rule (‘don’t eat that apple!’). They are taking their orders from something within creation rather than from the creator himself. That is what the Bible calls ‘idolatry’. And it ruins creation as well as humans.

"Here’s how it works: humans worship something other than the creator God, and so they think and act in less-than-fully-human ways, thereby failing to take forward God’s purposes for the world. That is ‘sin’: missing the target of true humanness. The idols, meanwhile, gain power through our worship of them, and they use that to enslave us and corrupt the world.

"Think of the contemporary idols: money, sex or power. We worship these forces, and they tell us what to do. So we shrink as humans; not just because we break various commandments (though we do) but because we miss our true calling, and the world suffers in consequence. And if we try to grab that vocation back again – if we try to run the world our way – our sub-humanness shows up all too clearly. Every tyrant, every anarchist, started off by thinking they knew how the world ought to be. That’s why, when the New Testament talks of Jesus’ death and what it accomplished, it doesn’t just talk about dealing with sin (though it does that too). It talks about God overthrowing the dark powers that have taken over the world. ‘Now,’ said Jesus, ‘the ruler of this world is cast out.’

"‘On the cross,’ wrote Paul, ‘Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers.’ That is basic. All the early Christian teachers knew this. That was why they lived as a multi-ethnic, classless community. The ‘powers’ that had kept humans locked up in their sins and their distinct social groupings had been overthrown. The four Gospels explain the ‘how’. Jesus announced that God was becoming ‘king’, ruling the world as he always intended. This took Jesus to the cross, with ‘King of the Jews’ over his head. Throughout the story, Jesus is opposed by forces of evil, human and non-human. The lies, hatred and evil of all the world rushes together in one place and nails him to the cross.

"When he rose again three days later, his followers realised that this could only be because, on the cross, he had exhausted sin’s power. He had taken on himself the punishment of ‘sin’, so that the grip of the ‘powers’ would be broken. New creation was now launched as a result – with rescued humans at last reflecting God’s purposes into that new world. What does this mean today? Not just that believers have fellowship with God, now and hereafter, though it does mean that, too.

"It means that the door of our prison stands open and we are free to resume our vocation. To be image-bearers. To be the ‘royal priesthood’. To worship the living God freely. To be his agents in the world – not by the world’s normal bullying methods, but by following the royal way of Jesus.

"It’s all there in the Sermon on the Mount: blessed are the peacemakers, the hungry-for-justice people, those who care for the poor, who live without anger or lust: those who make the world a radically better place. That has been going on for two thousand years, though we often forget it. It stands at the root of our somewhat battered concept of ‘human rights’. That wasn’t invented by secular modernity. It comes from Jesus – from Jesus as the focal point of the ancient vision of Israel, of covenant renewed and creation restored. From his victory on the cross.

"That’s what it means when people place a cross around their neck, or on top of a hill. It means that the power of love has overcome the love of power. And that it always will."

N.T. Wright - Fox News - February 18, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #102 on: February 21, 2017, 08:24:31 AM »
Has Christianity Been Declared Illegal By Executive Action ?

"Christianity has been declared illegal in the United States of America. There’s no prohibition against professing one’s faith in Jesus. In fact, speaking the name of the Christian savior is in vogue with the current presidential administration as was evident in the multiple Christian-specific prayers offered at President Trump’s inauguration. Prominent religious figures even suggest the most recent election was guided by divine action. The Rev. Franklin Graham declared: “I believe God’s hand was in [Trump’s election].” But is the hand of God visible in the fruits of this presidency?

"One of the central tenants of the Christian faith is the call to love the neighbor as oneself. The same teaching is also found in most of the world’s major religions. Life with God is not intended to be a means of escape from concern for others. An awareness of the Divine awakens the worshiper to the presence of a diversity of people, all dear to God. Jesus calls his followers to love their neighbors; he then defines neighbors as including those considered outsiders, even persons thought to be so questionable that they are best avoided.

"Life with God opens the believer to seeing the “other” as “neighbor.” This teaching led many early Christian communities to engage in ministries of compassion to persons dying from plagues, regardless of the religion or belief system of the ailing ones. Similar practices of self-giving are found in other religious traditions as faith is embodied not just in words that are spoken but in acts that are shared with neighbors.

"On Jan. 25, the President of the United States signed an Executive Order entitled, “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.” Known as the “Sanctuary Cities Order,” the action seeks to penalize cities and towns that embrace the practice of “sanctuary” for the undocumented. The term “sanctuary” has historically been used to describe protection provided by faith communities for those under threat in times of trouble. A little-noticed provision in the executive order criminalizes the practice of loving one’s neighbor as oneself as understood in multiple faith traditions. In a section titled, “Civil Fines and Penalties,” the order states, “As soon as practicable, and by no later than one year after the date of this order, the Secretary [of Homeland Security] shall issue guidance and promulgate regulations...to ensure the assessment and collection of all fines and penalties...from aliens unlawfully present in the United States and from those who facilitate their presence in the United States.”

"What does it mean to “facilitate” the presence of undocumented persons? If I give an undocumented person a ride while fully aware of their status, am I in violation of the law? If my neighbor, who is undocumented, gets sick with the flu and I prepare chicken soup and take care of her children while she recovers, am I in trouble? If my church prepares a gift box with food and clothing for an undocumented family, giving them basic foodstuffs in the name of Jesus, are we subject to fines and penalties?

"In a word, yes. Or so it seems. The Christian mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves makes no exemption for those without papers. Indeed, our sacred text tells stories of persons who fled oppression, violence, and hunger, migrating to places of safety and hope. Child Jesus, under threat of death, fled his land and went to Egypt. Migration is a part of human history from our beginning. Persons of faith, motivated by the love they have received in their encounters with the Divine, are compelled to extend that love to others, especially to strangers and refugees, regardless of papers or documentation.

"Church communities and other houses of worship will resist the executive order of the president by offering places of sanctuary for the beloved children of God who are subject to deportations. As they did in the 1980s as Central American citizens fled their countries in the midst of war, faith communities today will open their houses of worship to shelter the migrant, the stranger, and the undocumented, recognizing not only the broken immigration system as it currently exists in the United States but also the injustice that the current executive order inflicts upon the most vulnerable among us. People of faith have often participated in illegal activities for the sake of the marginalized: from Roman coliseums to lunch counters in the southern United States. Look for the stories of these communities throughout the country in the coming months. Join the sanctuary movement if your faith or good will compels you. Loving God and loving the neighbor often requires courage, especially in contexts where the very practice of faith is considered a violation of the law.

Pastor Keith D. Ray - Clemson, South Carolina United Methodist Church - Op-Ed - USA Today Network - Greenville Online

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #103 on: February 22, 2017, 07:56:12 AM »
Church of England takes step towards gay marriage

"Church of England clergy have appeared to signal support for gay marriage after they rejected a bishops’ report which said that only a man and woman could marry in church. The report recommended that the bar on same-sex church marriages continue but that a more welcoming attitude towards homosexuals should be shown by congregations. However, the motion was rejected by clergy at the General Synod who voted 100 to 93 against. Sources said they believed the recommendation had been rejected by the more liberal members of the clergy who thought the Church should ultimately drop its opposition to gay marriage.

"Campaigners for gay marriage welcomed the decision as a “victory for love and equality”. After the vote, Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, who led the group that produced the report, said: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly. “Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of Synod and the wider Church have said as a result of this report.”

The vote exposes deep divisions in the Anglican Church over homosexuality and is embarrassing for the House of Bishops as authors of the report. In the vote, which was split between the Church’s three houses – bishops, clergy, and laity – the clergy were the only house not to “take note” of, or accept, the report, which meant it was rejected.

"There were two abstentions within the clergy and one bishop voted not to take note. Laity voted to take note by 106 to 83 with four abstentions. The report was strongly criticised during a two-hour debate on Wednesday afternoon. Members said it was “grudging and condescending”, “divorced from reality” and made the Church look “unkind” and homophobic. The report had recommended that the Church continue to consider marriage as “a union, permanent and lifelong, of one man with one woman”.

"Before the vote, the Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urged members to “take note” of the motion but promised that bishops would in future “do better”, adding: “We could hardly fail to do so, in the light of what has been said this afternoon”."

Olivia Rudgard - The Telegraph (UK) - February 16, 2017

Comments following are the typically fascinating English:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/15/church-england-votes-reject-controversial-gay-marriage-report/

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #104 on: February 23, 2017, 09:02:55 AM »
The Making of 'Songs from Struck'

"Songs from "Struck" is a short EP inspired by the events described in my book "Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death". In the spring of 2013, I developed a blood-borne bacterial infection that destroyed my mitral valve and required urgent open-heart surgery. "Struck" (the book) chronicles that experience, from the onset of affliction through diagnosis, surgery, recovery, and re-entry.

"My story is the setting for the book, but it is not the subject. "Struck" is a book about what happens when affliction and faith collide. I wanted to explore the common experiences afflicted people share—the onset of a sense of frailty, the fear, the grief, the humor, the routines, the new ways of relating to people who love us and are afraid for us and for themselves.

"I committed myself to the work of paying as much attention as I could to the medical, spiritual, relational, emotional, pharmaceutical, and physical experiences of this journey my failing heart had set me on. I asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes and used them to write the chapters that make up the book. Along the way, some of those same themes became Songs from Struck.

"Dance with Me" (Track 1) is the song mentioned in Chapter 6: The Letters. My good friend Andy Osenga (who plays all the instruments you hear on the EP except drums, which were played by the amazing Paul Eckberg, and violin, played by the brilliant Daniel Fisher) offered to help me record this song for my wife to mark this season of our marriage. Due to the dangers involved in my surgery, we knew we needed to record my vocals before I went under. I’ll never forget when Andy said, “Let’s get your vocals now, and I’ll take care of the rest.” That was the same day I gave him the letters I had written to my wife and children, and asked him to hold them for me. It was a holy moment, and a bold responsibility for him to assume on my behalf. I sang this vocal while I was still hooked up to an IV antibiotic pump. The shaker in the chorus is actually one of my many pill bottles.

"The Ballad of Andy Catlett" (Track 2) is inspired by Wendell Berry’s short novel Remembering, which explores themes of anger and forgiveness discussed in Chapter 11: Tornado in a Trailer Park. Berry’s novel powerfully unpacks what it is like to suffer an affliction that takes away a person’s ability or strength. In Remembering, Andy Catlett loses his right hand in a farming accident. Being right handed, Andy felt he lost his hold on the world. He couldn’t dress himself. He couldn’t even write his own name. He took out his frustrations on those who were trying to love him. Eventually, his wife sat him down and told him that if he wanted to get better, one thing he would have to do would be to ask her to forgive him for how he was treating her. All the anger and indignation of being a victim rose up inside of him and he thought about leaving her and starting over. But he came to realize that her love for him was an anchor that held him in the one place he belonged—broken as he was. Anger in affliction can be profoundly disorienting. Love is a true north.

"Both Alive" (Track 3 – co-written with Andrew Osenga) tells a story based on themes discussed in Chapter 5: The Distance. When someone goes through some kind of suffering, affliction, or loss, those who are close to them go through it too, each in their own way. But even though they’re both struggling through the same thing, they experience it differently—which can create a strange and hard to understand feeling of distance. Often it is the things we share in common that make us feel most distant from one another. This song doesn’t attempt to solve this phenomenon (I don’t know if that’s possible). But it does try to recognize it, describe it, and shine some light on it because there is great power in naming."

Russ Ramsey - The Rabbit Room - Nashville, TN.

Use the discount code “Struck” in the Rabbit Room Store to get the EP for free.

https://store.rabbitroom.com/

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #105 on: February 24, 2017, 06:32:45 AM »
Pope Francis: 'better to be an Atheist than a bad Christian'

"If you're a Christian who exploits people, leads a double life or manages a "dirty" business, perhaps it's better not to call yourself a believer, Pope Francis suggested in a homily on Thursday in Rome. "So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others," Francis said during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, according to Vatican Radio. "How many times have we heard -- all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere -- 'But to be a Catholic like that, it's better to be an atheist.' It is that: scandal." "But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another."  In the Catholic Church, causing scandal also a grave offense.

Examples of such sins abound, the Pope said, from money launderers to business owners who take beach vacations while stiffing their employees. Francis' sermon, as is customary, was an extended riff on Thursday's Mass readings, which include a passage from the Gospel on Mark. In it, Jesus says it is better to be drowned than to cause others to sin. Drawing on that passage, the Catholic Catechism says scandals include business leaders who encourage fraud, teachers who agitate students and manipulators who turn people away from moral values.

"In other words, anyone who leads others to do wrong, directly or indirectly, is responsible for the evil he has encouraged, the church says. So when Francis compares hypocritical Christians to atheists, he's not being flip; he's trying to protect his flock. In the United States, some Catholics have cited the church's teachings on scandal to argue that priests should not distribute Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights. Francis, a sharp critic of capitalist excesses, turned his scorn instead on greedy businesspeople.

"While many of this Pope's pronouncements are often assumed to be novel interpretations of Christian doctrines, Francis was also touching on an ancient debate: Is salvation open to all believers, or only those who do good while on earth? The Pope suggested the latter, in characteristically blunt language. He imagined a wealthy Christian knocking at the gates of heaven and saying, "Here I am, Lord! ... I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this... Don't you remember all the offerings I made?"

"To which Jesus may reply, according to the Pope: "Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don't know you.' That will be Jesus' response to these scandalous people who live a double life." Thursday's sermon is far from the first time Francis has targeted Christian hypocrites. In a sermon last February, the outspoken Pope called out the "fakeness" of Christians who talk piously, but do little to help others.

"To be a Christian means to do: to do the will of God -- and on the last day -- because all of us we will have one -- that day what shall the Lord ask us? Will He say: 'What you have said about me?' No. He shall ask us about the things we did." It isn't the first time the Pope has mentioned atheists, either. In 2013, he raised questions for saying that heaven is open, potentially, to all people. "The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. "'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!"

"Francis continued, "We must meet one another doing good. 'But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist!' But do good: we will meet one another there." The Vatican later issued a note clarifying that the Pope was simply saying that God's grace is free to all, even atheists, and urging Christians and non-believers to work together."

Daniel Burke - CNN Religion Reporter - February 23, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #106 on: February 25, 2017, 08:18:53 AM »
Don't Dump Religion

"I know I’m tilting at windmills here. The die has already been cast. The ship has already sailed. The train has already left the station. Pick your well-worn metaphor. But I have a modest proposal nonetheless: let’s not write and speak as if “religion” is the thing that good Christians are always against.

"You know what I mean. Maybe you’ve spoken this way before. Maybe I have too. Religion is bad. Religion is about rules. Religion is about earning God’s favor. Religion is about trying; Christianity is about trusting. Religion is about reaching up to God; the gospel is about God reaching down to us. I understand the contrast. I agree with all that we want to affirm with such statements. But is throwing “religion” under the bus the best way to make the point? Consider the following:

1. This is a relatively new way for Christians to speak. It’s not hard to find examples. Calvin wrote the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Jonathan Edwards wrote on Religious Affections. I can tell you from studying the 18th century in depth that loads of good Christians wrote about “religion” or “true religion” or “real religion.” Our forefathers were well aware of religious hypocrisy and false religious systems, but they didn’t equate “religion” with works-righteousness. One could read, for example, John Witherspoon’s sermon on “The Nature and Extent of Visible Religion” from Matthew 5:16 and see that religion was not used as an antithesis to gospel.

2. The Bible does not use “religion” as an automatically pejorative term. “In anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). According to Scripture, religion can please God. That’s not how many of us talk.

3. In castigating “religion,” we may be unloading more baggage than we realize. I understand the apologetic reasons for contrasting religion with gospel. People may think Christianity is about a bunch of hypocrites pretending to be good enough so that God will like them. That’s positively not Christianity and not the gospel. So I get the impulse to throw off “religion.” But people also equate commandments and doctrines and institutions and church leaders with religion. That’s why people want to be “spiritual but religious.” And yet, Christianity is a religion in this sense; we do believe in commandments, doctrines, institutions, and church leaders. I fear we can give people the wrong impression, and affirm the unbiblical instincts, when we quickly join them in dismissing religion.

"I’m not trying to police every tweetable turn of the phrase or every bit of gospel contextualization. Plenty of people I love and respect have dumped “religion” and dumped on “religion.” I just wonder if speaking of “true religion” or “real religion” (as older writers did) is a better way to go. Why not use the word in a more neutral sense as the Bible does? Why not rail against man-made religion instead of all religion? Why not find another word besides “religion” to be our anti-gospel boogeyman? You never know when we might be glad to have the old word around for a new day."

Kevin DeYoung - The Gospel Coalition - February 23, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #107 on: February 26, 2017, 07:09:47 AM »
The Roman Catholic Church Cannot Teach Error, Because She Was Founded by Jesus Christ, Who is God Himself

"There are often strident demands, coming from both within and outside the Church, that she change her teachings to conform to modern notions. Given our era’s preoccupation with sex, many of the demands for change involve related issues: homosexual acts, same-sex “marriage,” adultery (particularly divorce and “remarriage”), premarital sex, contraception, and abortion.

"But such demands show a misunderstanding of both the nature and power of the Church. There are many mistaken ideas today regarding the theology of the Church (ecclesiology), even among the faithful. It is commonly thought that the Church (or at least her current leaders) can simply decide what we want to teach on any given topic; for example, if we want to simply change what we teach about abortion we can just do it. And modern critics assert that if we can do it, then we should do it. The same goes for any of our “controversial” teachings such as contraception, the male-only priesthood, and so forth. This is mistaken ecclesiology and an exaggeration of the Church’s power.

"The Church has no authority whatsoever to overturn the teaching on abortion, contraception, the male-only priesthood, or divorce and “remarriage” (that one who leaves a valid marriage and enters another is in a state of ongoing adultery). We have no authority to overthrow biblical doctrines, the doctrines of Sacred Tradition, or any of our defined dogmas and doctrines. Something cannot be morally or doctrinally true one day and untrue the next.

"Still others insist that the Church should read the surveys and change her teachings to conform to what the people in the pews think or want. Again, this is flawed ecclesiology. The Catholic Church, which is the Body of Christ and His visible presence on earth, does not exist to reflect the views of this era or even of her current members. The Catholic Church exists to proclaim the teachings of her head and founder, Jesus Christ. She is His living and active presence and voice in the world. Scripture says, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all sorts of strange teachings (Heb 13:8-9). Indeed, there are surely many “strange teachings” in our time! But Jesus and His Body the Church, which are one, cannot and do not change in the proclamation of doctrinal and moral truth. Doctrine proclaims perennial truth.

"Once again, the Church has no authority whatsoever to overturn what God has definitely taught. No one—not even a pope—can change the truths of Scripture, Sacred Tradition, or the doctrines definitely put forth for our belief by the Magisterium.

"Those who demand that the Church change her teachings to reflect the views of our times or of her current members also err in a second way. They do this through a kind of temporal arrogance or forgetfulness, for there are many who have gone before us but are still part of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church; I am certain that they would hardly agree with many of the debased and erroneous notions of our time.

"The Church cannot simply reinvent herself to conform to current demands or preferences. She is in service of her Lord, Savior, Groom, and Head. She exists to proclaim His teachings and to hand on the sacred deposit of faith, which He died and rose to give to His Apostles. She is to reflect Him who is truth incarnate, not the changing mores of the world.

"So many modern problems and errors come down to faulty ecclesiology. Is the Church just a human “club,” which exists to reflect the views of her members and can therefore adapt herself to their desires and demands? No. The Church is the Body of Christ, the living and active presence of Him who does not change, who is not “Yes” and then “No,” but only “Yes.” To those in the world (and even within the Church) who would erroneously insist that the Church change her doctrine to suit their views, we can only say, with the Holy Spirit and St. Paul:

Having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, deceitful ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s Word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:1-6).

"Somebody say, “Amen!”

Monsignor Charles Pope - National Catholic Register - February 21, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #108 on: February 27, 2017, 10:01:05 AM »
If God is in control, why do I have a headache?

"The question “Why?” is the one we long to answer. If God is in control, why do I have a headache? Why do I have cancer? Why are my teenagers causing so much trouble? Why am I still single? Why hasn’t he given us a child?

"After all, if we put all the Bible’s teaching together, we find that God controls each and every event, from the tiniest to the greatest, from the most predictable to the apparently random, visible and invisible, in every place, at all times, from the least complex to the most intricate, right up to human beings with all our wonderful capacity to think, to reason and to make decisions. This is the scope of God’s control.

"But then we look at our present circumstances and are left asking… WHY? Sometimes we can’t fully answer it. But we can say some things. Here are some of the main answers the Bible gives:

1. If you are a Christian, it is NOT God’s punishment for your sin. This is very important. The great mistake of Job’s so-called “comforters” was to assume that Job’s sufferings must be a punishment for his sin. But if you are trusting in Jesus (as Job was, in anticipation), the punishment for all your sin has been paid by Jesus. So don’t beat yourself up and blame yourself. You and I have plenty of sins, for which we deserve far worse than we get; but our sufferings are not the punishment for these sins. Jesus paid it all.

2. It is not punishment, but it may be God’s fatherly discipline, given in order to fashion and shape you to become like Jesus. As Hebrews chapter 12 puts it, “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12 v 10, see v 4-13). It is good to search your conscience afresh and ask yourself if there is any matter of which you ought to repent. Perhaps this suffering is God’s way of prompting you to a fresh repentance from some sin. Maybe, maybe not; only you can say. Read this chapter of Hebrews and take comfort from the assurance that you have a heavenly Father who is determined to make you like Jesus. We wish it didn’t hurt so much; but it will be worth it in the end.

3. It may also be a trial that is necessary in order to demonstrate your genuineness as a follower of Jesus. When you go on trusting God even when it’s really hard, glory will come to God (1 Peter 1 v 7). This may be hard to accept, but it is actually a wonderful truth, that God will be glorified precisely through your struggles in a way in which he might not be glorified if we had things easier.

4. Finally, many of our difficulties are simply because we are living life “under the sun”, as the book of Ecclesiastes puts it. And life “under the sun” in this age is life under God’s righteous judgment on a sinful world. While we are not punished for our individual sins—Jesus paid for those—we are still sinners in a world under judgement. We must expect things to be messy and difficult."

Christopher Ash - The Good Book dotcom - February 23, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #109 on: February 28, 2017, 08:55:17 AM »
Tim Keller's Four Kinds of People in the World

"It is helpful to see that there are four kinds of people in the world:

"1 - Law-obeying, law-relying. These people are under the law, and are usually very smug, self-righteous and superior. Externally, they are very sure they are right with God, but deep down, they have a lot of insecurity, since no one can truly be assured that they are living up to the standard. This makes them touchy, sensitive to criticism and devastated when their prayers aren’t answered. This includes members of other religions, but here I am thinking mainly of people who go to church. These people have much in common with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

"2 - Law-disobeying, law-relying. These people have a religious conscience of strong works-righteousness, but they are not living consistently with it. As a result of this, they are more humble and more tolerant of others than the “Pharisees” above, but they are also much more guilt-ridden, subject to mood swings and sometimes very afraid of religious topics. Some of these people may go to church, but they stay on the periphery because of their low spiritual self-esteem.

"3 - Law-disobeying, not law-relying. These are the people who have thrown off the concept of the law of God. They are intellectually secular or relativistic, or have a very vague spirituality. They largely choose their own moral standards and then insist that they are meeting them. But Paul, in Romans 1:18-20, says that at a sub-conscious level, they know there is a God who they should be obeying. Such people are usually happier and more tolerant than either of the above groups. But usually there is a strong, liberal self-righteousness. They are earning their own salvation by feeling superior to others. It is just that this is usually a less obvious kind of self-righteousness.

"4 - Law-obeying, not law-relying. These are Christians who understand the gospel and are living out of the freedom of it. They obey the law of God out of grateful joy that comes from the knowledge of their sonship, and out of freedom from the fear and selfishness that false idols had generated. They are more tolerant than number 3, more sympathetic than number 1, and more confident than number 2. But most Christians struggle to live out number 4, and tend to see the world as a #1, #2, or even #3 person. But to the degree that they do, they are impoverished spiritually."

From Tim Keller’s book, Galatians For You

Challies dotcom - February 27, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #110 on: March 01, 2017, 07:02:35 AM »
Two Things About the Transgender Debate

"The challenge with the transgender debate is that Christians must say two very different things at the same time.

"To those pushing an agenda that says your bathroom is my bathroom and your gender is whatever you want it to be, we want to say: This is absurd. Patently absurd. There is no scientific reason, no justice reason, no internally consistent reason to think we can be boys or girls just by declaring it so. In our saner moments we know this to be true. No one would allow me to “become” Asian or African American even if I thought that’s who I was deep down. There are facts about my biology that cannot be denied. Why is gender open to self-definition while race and ethnicity are not?

"As many others have pointed out, the logic of our transgender moment simply does not hold together. Are male and female distinct categories so that we should we be pushing “equal work for equal pay” and celebrating every “first woman to do X” achievement? Or are the categories completely malleable so that even the talk of binary gender norms is offensive? Two nights ago I watched a few minutes of the Oscars and then flipped to watch some of the SEC Indoor Track and Field Championships on ESPN. It struck me that many of the people attending the Oscars and many of the universities represented on the track would fully applaud the transgender agenda. And yet, here they are with their antiquated categories of Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress and their old-fashioned ideas of men and women running the mile in totally separate races.

"I live in East Lansing, Michigan. I love my city. It’s a great place to live. It’s also a university town that tries to be at the cutting edge of progressive cultural trends. Which is why the local school board has pushed for students to be able to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with. At the same time, when I go to the community center—operated by the city of East Lansing—there is a sign on the men’s locker room stating clearly that girls should not be brought into the locker room (but can accompany their parents in the family bathroom). So does biology matter or not? Is it a matter of safety to keep boys and girls separate, or is it matter of safe space to let boys use the girls facilities if they think they are girls? The idea that the whole world must accommodate my declared sense of self is soul-destroying, culture-poisoning folly and deserves to be treated as such.

"That’s what’s must be said about the arguments and the agenda.

"But that’s not all that must be said. There are people—men and women made in God’s image—who feel all sorts of confusion about who they are and what they want to be. To those struggling with feelings they don’t understand and a sense of self that feels horribly unsettled, we want to say:

"This happens. All the time. Not necessarily with gender, but human identity. We all struggle to figure out who we are, especially in our growing-up years. Sometimes that means we don’t know how to makes sense of our own bodies and our own sexuality. We don’t want anyone to feel unsafe in a bathroom. So let’s figure out how to have more unisex single stalls. Let’s provide well-trained, warmhearted counselors. Let’s make sure kids are not made fun of for being tomboys or for being sensitive or for being immigrants or for being Muslim or for being Christian or for being whatever.

"And let’s make sure we aren’t constantly in full-on culture warrior mode. We should empathize with those who genuinely feel threatened, scared, or all alone. Standing up for the truth doesn’t mean we have to say everything we think in every situation. It’s okay to be tactful, respectful, and even keep our mouths shut at times. Charging ahead with zeal is not an excuse for trampling over people.

"The Christian response to the transgender debate depends on whether we are talking about the debate or about a transgender person. I understand the two cannot be completely divorced, but they are not the same thing either. The ideas bandied about in the public square are often ridiculous. The people struggling with gender identity are not. This is what makes the controversy especially difficult for Christians. As a pastor, I need to shepherd a flock that faces pressures from a world that is trying every day to remake them in its image (Rom. 12:2). But I also need to shepherd a flock that likely has sheep in it who wonder how they can live a holy and acceptable life to God when they don’t feel like (or simply don’t like) the person they see in the mirror (Rom 12:1).

"That means while we do not have patience for secular agendas, we must have patience for struggling people. We may be quick with rebuttals in the public square, but we must be quick with a listening ear in the neighbor’s kitchen. It means we must show private care in a way that is not confused with public indifference, and make known our public concern in a way that is not confused with private disdain. We have two different things to say depending on the context—not contradictory things, but complementary things the world is eager to confuse.

"The agenda ought to be lampooned. The people ought to be loved.

Kevin DeYoung - The Gospel Coalition - February 28, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #111 on: March 02, 2017, 07:53:37 AM »
Religious suppression creates ‘black market’ for believers in China

"Under President Xi Jinping, followers of many faiths have been pushed “to operate outside the law and to view the regime as unreasonable, unjust, or illegitimate,” says The Battle for China’s Spirit, a lengthy report released this week by Freedom House, a Washington-based NGO that advocates for civil liberties. The report documents Christians barred from gathering for Christmas, Muslims jailed for praying outdoors and Tibetan Buddhists forced into “patriotic re-education.”

“Chinese officials have banned holiday celebrations, desecrated places of worship, and employed lethal violence,” the report finds. “Security forces across the country detain, torture, or kill believers from various faiths on a daily basis.” In the last two weeks alone, authorities have required the installation of GPS monitoring devices on private cars in one prefecture of China’s heavily-Muslim western Xinjiang region, and then marshalled a huge display of military force in the capital, Urumqi, where more than 10,000 armed troops gathered for what local media called an anti-terror rally.

"A recent report by United Nations human rights investigators, meanwhile, called attention to “severe restrictions of religious freedom” in Tibet, noting mass evictions from two monasteries, the demolition of monastic homes and mining at a holy mountain. The Freedom House report documents many other measures in China. “Extensive surveillance, ‘re-education’ campaigns, and restrictions on private worship affect the spiritual lives of millions of people,” the report finds. “And increasingly, economic reprisals and exploitation have become a source of tension and a catalyst for protests,” the report finds.

"Religion has, from the time of Mao Zedong, existed uncomfortably in a state run by the formally atheist Communist Party. But for much of the past two decades, authorities have taken a more lenient approach to religious observance, allowing underground places of worship into the open. Religion has flourished, with hundreds of millions of people flocking to beliefs of all stripes. Some of this has been encouraged under President Xi, too, whose administration favours Buddhism and Taoism, religions the Communist Party sees as domestic belief systems that can help to instill a common sense of moral value and purpose.

"At the same time, however, China has embarked on a broad effort to squeeze out foreign influence and civil society in order to reassert the authority of the state. In a landmark speech on religion last spring, Mr. Xi urged monks, imams and pastors to “interpret religious doctrines in a way that is conducive to modern China’s progress,” and called on cadres to “guide and educate the religious circle and their followers with the socialist core values.”

"Communist Party leadership sees “religion as a kind of existential threat to the party state. It creates a counterideology that can mobilize people quite quickly and quite passionately to oppose the party state,” said James Leibold, an expert on Chinese ethnic policy at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Draconian repression of some beliefs, like Falun Gong, is long-standing. But under Mr. Xi, religious suppression has grown broader and deeper, Prof. Leibold said. “As a result, we’re seeing increasing controls across the board, from Catholicism to Tibetan Buddhism to Islam.”

"China’s religious policies are not uniform, and deeply entangled with its treatment of ethnic groups. In Tibetan areas, for example, Buddhist monks face heavy restrictions on travel and religious instruction. Elsewhere in China, officials are erecting new Buddhist and Taoist temples. The treatment of Islam, too, is not uniform across the country. Muslims in Xinjiang live under restrictive rules on dress, facial hair and observance of important religious occasions, such as Ramadan. Hui Muslims observe their faith with more freedom, although Hui, too, are facing more severe treatment, Prof. Leibold said. The treatment of Tibetans and Uighurs offers a glimpse of the downward spirals that can emerge under harsh policies.

"In Xinjiang, what’s needed is de-escalation, “some kind of a peace process like the British had in Northern Ireland,” said Ian Johnson, a Pulitzer-winning journalist and author of The Souls of China: The Return of Religion After Mao. But that’s difficult to do when strict government policies have largely eliminated moderate voices and civil society. “It’s a tough hole for them to climb out of there,” he said. “And this is going to be the largest conflict area for religion and state in China going forward.”

"Elsewhere, China has so far been more lenient. Though hundreds of crosses were removed from churches in Zhejiang province, such action has barely been seen elsewhere – and virtually all Zhejiang churches remain open. There are signs, however, that China is preparing for stronger action. Draft rules released last fall threaten fines for those who rent space to unregistered religious organizations, and new restrictions on contact and financial transactions between Chinese believers and foreign groups Mr. Johnson warned that such a strategy could “create a lot more problems for them than they think. They’re essentially picking a fight with people who are not likely to back down.” Under Mao, he noted, the Christian church roughly quadrupled in size despite the imprisonment and death of pastors and priests.

"The Chinese church enjoys far more freedom today than it did then. Still, some religious leaders, worried about the changes they are seeing, have begun to discuss how they might adapt. Authorities have refused to allow the commercial publication of Christian books and told philosophy professors to expunge discussion of Christianity, which poses problems to the teaching of Western thinking influenced by the church. “We do see efforts to limit the influence of religion among youth, and in educational situations,” said Brent Fulton, president of ChinaSource, a resource site for Christianity in China, and author of several books on the Chinese church. “There have been Christians who have been questioned extensively about their relationships with foreigners.”

"In response, some pastors have talked about rethinking their religious organizations, which might include splitting large congregations into smaller family churches. Others see no reason to change, Mr. Fulton said. “They would say, ‘We’re used to having our phones tapped. We’re used to having our meetings monitored. We’re used to being called in to drink tea with the police. So that’s normal. We just deal with that and we continue to do what we do.’”

Nathan Vanderklippe - The Globe & Mail (Beijing) - March 1, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #112 on: March 03, 2017, 09:06:14 AM »
Muslims in Syria Cconverting to Christianity

Abu Radwan enters a church on the outskirts of Beirut with his wife and two kids. His wife removes the black headscarf covering her hair. It was here, a year and a half ago, that they converted to Christianity. “Of course it was a difficult decision,” Abu Radwan says. “I was born into a Muslim family.” The family is from the city of Homs in Syria. They sought refuge in Lebanon at the beginning of the war. Then two years ago, Abu Radwan says Jesus appeared to him in a dream.

“I started going to the church,” he says. “I believed that Jesus was coming to help us, to save us.” Seven months later, he decided to become a Christian. “We accepted him as a member of the church and baptized him, together with his wife and children," says Bishop George Saliba. “And we take care of him.” Saliba says he has baptized around 100 Muslim Syrian refugees since the start of the war in Syria in 2011. “Because [of] the constitution of Lebanon, they have the right to change their religion [here],” Saliba says. “But in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, it is impossible.” It’s illegal, or at least dangerous, for Muslims to convert in those Muslim-majority countries.

"It’s hard to know how many Syrian refugees have converted to Christianity in Lebanon in the past few years, because Bishop Saliba isn’t the only one doing conversions here. At another church in Beirut, Syrian refugees gather in a circle around a pastor. They read Bible passages while sitting on plastic chairs under bright fluorescent lights. Some of the women still wear hijabs as they discuss the text. “The Lord said go and teach them. I’m leading them in the Bible,” the pastor says. “I’m teaching them Christian doctrines.” The pastor doesn’t want to be identified, and the church asked us not to mention its name. They fear reprisal from radical Islamist groups like ISIS.

"The pastor says his church doesn’t push anyone to convert or offer anything in exchange for becoming Christian, though, like many churches, they do provide food and assistance to those in need. The pastor won’t say how many refugees his evangelical church has converted, but he says there are dozens of Bible study groups for refugees in Lebanon. “The ones that accept the Lord, we put them in groups,” he says. “We teach them about the Bible and the Lord so they will grow in faith.”

"But others raise questions about that faith. Even some Christian leaders and other Syrian Christian refugees say they think the converts are just looking for assistance and help to immigrate to Western countries. Bishop Saliba denies this and insists that he questions potential converts to ensure their faith is genuine. “When I see a person wishes to be Christian, I don’t stop him,” he says, “but we try to test him.”
Abu Radwan, the convert, says he does get assistance from the church — about $200 a month. And he believes that being Christian will help his family get resettled in a Western country.  “Of course it will be easier,” he tells me.

"The United Nations does resettlement based on vulnerability criteria — essentially, how much an individual or family is at risk. In the past, the US has used the same criteria. It hasn’t given preference to Christians, though President Donald Trump has said it’s a priority for his administration. Few Western countries do put Christians at the head of the line, though some have church sponsorship programs for refugees. In 2016 nearly all the Syrian refugees accepted by the US were Muslim; fewer than 1 percent were Christian. (Around 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian.) Yet, many refugees like Abu Radwan believe that being Christian will give them a leg up.

“I want to get out of Lebanon,” he says. “I want to emigrate. I’ve tried all ways.” In the meantime, the conversion has put Abu Radwan and his family at greater risk here in Lebanon. He pulls up his shirt to reveal a bandage on his torso. Last week, he says, he was stabbed on the street.
“I was coming from church,” he says. Abu Radwan says the attackers were Syrians from his tribe; they don’t accept his conversion. It’s why his wife still wears a hijab outside of church. It has also made going home to Syria almost impossible. His tribe, he says, has issued an order to kill him. But he doesn’t regret his conversion.

“I was relieved when I was baptized,” he says. “If I die, now, here in front of the church, I will die in peace.”

Rebecca Cotland - PRI - March 2, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #113 on: March 04, 2017, 08:11:27 AM »
The church’s urban focus overlooks working-class whites

"Christians have a clear Scriptural mandate to love and serve those who are suffering wherever they find them (Deuteronomy 15:11, Ezekiel 16:49). In recent years, the church’s well-intentioned excitement about urban city centers has created a substantial blind spot, where the suffering of people living in working-class white communities, small towns, and rural areas—where the prince of this world is at work—are often overlooked.

"The church must do her best work outside the cities as well.

"When it comes to their vision of the 21st century church and church planting, many prominent Reformed and Calvinist church leaders cite the missionary work of the Apostle Paul and point to the teachings of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

“Tim Keller is … a big proponent of targeting cities with the gospel through church planting,” wrote Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research. Amanda Adams of The Daily Beast observed, “[M]ost likely, the rise in urban church planting is due to a guy named Tim Keller.”

"While Stetzer does caution about being too urban-focused, his warning may not go far enough.

"Keller and other leaders who focus on reaching urban professionals are free to promote their perspective using their particular interest, skill, and expertise. There’s nothing wrong or sinful about their preferences. In fact, Keller’s influence and work in New York City and around the world should be celebrated. But the definition of “missional” has inadvertently been reduced to the pursuit of urban professionals in cities and has become the church’s default vision for a generation of young Christians.

"Earlier this year, Stetzer described “missional” in light of Keller’s emphasis on Paul’s mission to target urban centers, evangelize the city, and plant churches. In this view, Christians target cities because cities have, according to Stetzer, “the greatest potential for gospel impact and gospel multiplication.” After all, evangelization and multiplication were “the missional model of the Early Church.”

"While the city church planting emphasis emerged as a needed corrective to the suburban focus of evangelicals in the 1980s and ’90s, today’s “missional” efforts tend to neither encourage future leaders nor raise money to reach the white underclass, people from Rustbelt towns, and working-class white populations in metropolitan areas. Why? Because those people don’t live in urban centers, and there won’t be much “multiplication” due to low population density. These communities, however, are the very communities where we get America’s white police officers, construction workers, truck drivers, mechanics, teachers, and active voters.

"By overlooking the working class and small towns, we are inadvertently missing new opportunities to bring the gospel and holistic redemption to areas where the majority of America’s poor people live, where suicide rates are surging, where we find the new frontier for America’s worst HIV problems, where the mortality rates for middle-aged white women are at all-time highs, where manufacturing is dying out, where Americans are the most depressed and nihilistic about life, where America’s drug use is the highest.

"Do we need to revitalize and plant more churches in large cities in light of current international population shifts. Yes, absolutely. However, to move away from suffering people in rural or suburban areas for the purpose of reaching urban elites has no prescriptive basis in the Bible or the Christian tradition.

"I don’t believe that those who champion the planting of churches in cities think we shouldn’t go into white working-class areas. But these leaders don’t offer the same amount of enthusiasm, training, fund-raising, and sending outside of urban areas and inadvertently blind people to real needs beyond their city focus.

Working-class white communities, rural areas, and small towns must be included in the American Christian mission—not based on Paul’s travels but by looking for areas that are affected by brokenness of the Fall, where the Devil is busy, where God’s people are, and where there is a need for salt and light.

Anthony Bradley - Professor of Religious Studies, The Kings College (NY) - World News.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #114 on: March 05, 2017, 11:18:53 AM »
A Call to End Christian Persecution Abroad

"It seems that lost in the nonstop news coverage of the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the war raging in Syria is the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa. Before I spoke at a Knights of Malta fundraiser Thursday benefitting the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem, those gathered were shown a video presentation highlighting how poorly Christians, especially children, are being treated in the region. The hospital, located steps from the birthplace of Christ, is a beacon of hope in a region of historic conflict and provides state-of-the-art maternity care to women and children regardless of their religion, nationality or ability to pay. Funding the hospital is the Knights’ primary objective.

"During my address, I told the audience how I frequently heard Pope John Paul II talk about the critical need for the hospital, which had been shuttered before it was reopened in 1985. I recalled the devastation that had been dealt by genocides in Rwanda and Burundi and civil wars in Somalia, Bosnia, The Middle East and Northern Ireland. I told them about the times I spoke with President Clinton and Pope John Paul II about the need for a permanent high-ranking White House position aimed at raising awareness and pressuring world leaders and media members to help put an end to brutal religious persecution worldwide. And though Clinton told me he agreed with the need for creating a Permanent Envoy on Religious Concerns at the White House, the position was never created.

"After my remarks, event chairman Tom Driscoll said he found my comments “remarkable, informative and timely, but also very disturbing.” “I totally agree with you,” he said. “Why is it that persecution against Christians in the Middle East and in parts of Africa receives such very little public attention?” A question that numerous other guests at the Seaport Hotel asked me, including Bob Shafer, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta’s permanent observer at the U.N.mI carried the message with me to the rededication of Southie’s Murphy Skating Rink yesterday, telling those gathered that I would call on Trump to create the much-needed position.

“In light of all the growing brutal violence and bigotry directed at Christians, especially Catholics in the world today, I urge President Trump to appoint a Special White House Envoy on Religious Persecution,” I said, “whether it’s directed against Catholics, Protestants, Jews or any other religious persuasion.” Nothing short of liberty, freedom and human rights is in jeopardy and I urge all freedom-loving Americans to contact the White House and tell them they agree with me."

Raymond L. Flynn - Boston Herald - March 4, 2017.
Ray Flynn is a former mayor of Boston and a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #115 on: March 06, 2017, 09:09:58 AM »
Christians Turn To Podcasts To Say Things They Can't Say in Church

"Toby Morrell curses and talks about sex on his podcast. Mike McHargue talks about evolution and LGBTQ issues on his. These things would be typical on most podcasts — but McHargue and Morrell's audiences are almost entirely Christian.

"A study by the Pew Research Center, released in 2015, shows that millennials have been leaving Catholic and mainline Protestant churches in droves from at least 2007 but they don't necessarily lose their belief in God. In fact, more than half say they're still religious or spiritual.

"That's the type of audience that's tuning in to McHargue's podcast The Liturgists and Morrell's podcast Bad Christian.The Liturgists has about 1 million downloads a month for some episodes and according to its Website, 250,000 subscribers. Bad Christian is sponsored by a few corporations not generally known for their religious affiliations. Among them are Lyft, Casper, Stamps.com.

"These two podcasts aren't unique in their approach. Similar podcasts include The Robcast, hosted by ex-pastor Rob Bell, who left his church after saying God doesn't send people to hell, and Drunk Ex-Pastors, where the hosts take a shot of an alcoholic beverage before every show.

"McHargue and Morrell say they grew up as Christians who didn't feel like the institutional church allowed them to question and explore their faith. They spoke with NPR's Michel Martin on All Things Considered about why they left the church, how that changed their faith, and how podcasts like theirs could be affecting Christianity.

"Interview Highlights:

On why he left the church

"McHargue: A lot of people have a lot of anger toward their past, but I actually loved being a Baptist. But as I grew as a person, and started to face challenges in my own life — in my particular case, my parents got a divorce after 30 years of marriage — I started to look to the Bible for answers, and the way I was taught to read the Bible started to fall apart.

Morrell: My grandfather was a pastor, so I grew up in this church that was very conservative. They were so conservative, they split from other churches because they thought the other churches in the South were too liberal, and I was like "What in the world?" Christianity, in general, I would say, never represented me — I always felt like I was on the outside. The only time I felt like I was represented was actually within the Scripture. Some terrible people were heroes in the Bible. You saw some really terrible things about people's lives and personalities within the Bible, but when I was growing up in church, everybody hid that. You don't do this, this, this and that makes you a Christian.

On why he turned to podcasting

"McHargue: As I explored this middle space between faith and skepticism, I found that there were a lot of people stuck in that gear too. People for whom the church was too dogmatic, but atheism was too dismissive of their need for mystery and, frankly, things spiritual.

"Morrell: As I got older, I realized there were people just like me. And so [Joey Svendsen, Matt Carter and I] ended up doing this podcast just because we wanted to represent, "What is it like for three friends to get together and just be as brutally honest as we can?"

On criticism from Christians

"Morrell: We get a lot of criticism and I think that is good. That's one of the biggest critiques we have of the church — is that you can't critique it. That pastors would be hidden when they have moral failures. ... The church does a really poor job of respecting people's minds. They want to just give you everything in a pretty little package, and that is what your Christianity is. I think what we're doing is opening up a door where people go, "No, I own my faith. I'm wrestling with God."

On if the future of Christianity will be church services or podcasts

"McHargue: I think that the future is both. I think you'll continue to have institutional Christianity, and I think you'll continue to have sort of a church in exile. My work is about acknowledging the validity as both as ways to know and follow this historical figure Jesus, and figure out what that means. I think everywhere people gather together around a table, God can be present.

Michael Martin - National Public Radio - All Things Considered - March 5, 2017

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #116 on: March 07, 2017, 06:53:53 AM »
Religious participation may serve to strengthen social bonds

"Roughly 80 percent of people around the globe identify with some type of religion, and scientists have been seriously pursuing insight into the evolutionary benefit of religious practice since the early part of this century. In a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour, Eleanor Power of the Santa Fe Institute writes that active religious participation may benefit practitioners by strengthening social bonds

'While some anonymized, lab-based experiments have suggested that religious behavior may increase prosocial qualities like generosity and trustworthiness, few researchers have studied this question in the context of a real community. In her study, Power analyzes how the nature of peoples' religious practice correlates with the structure of their social support networks in two villages in South India.

"How people embody their religion in public can vary in difficulty and costliness. A single trip to attend a religious service doesn't require much effort or money, but regular visits require greater commitment. Sacrificial offerings may not be difficult, but they are expensive. Some activities, like making a long pilgrimage or piercing the body with hooks and spears, are both physically and financially demanding.

"Community members who invest more in religious activity are viewed as being more trustworthy and generous. Consequently, these people are often sought out by others who need support. While this can create a burden, it also helps to foster more mutually supportive relationships. "Providing support to others means that one is more able to draw on support oneself," writes Power in the new paper.

"These religious acts make a lot of sense when you look at the social benefit," says Power. In the South Indian communities in this study, most residents are poor, don't have access to bank accounts, and they rely on family and friends to help with farming, home-building and other crucial tasks. "So if your religious practice influences the likelihood and strength of those relationships, you'll be much better able to withstand the vagaries of life."

Eleanor Power - Santa Fe Institute - Science News - March 6, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #117 on: March 08, 2017, 07:08:59 AM »
Supreme Court announces it will not hear major transgender bathroom case

Sometimes history is made in just one sentence. That was the case yesterday when the United States Supreme Court handed down a one sentence statement saying that it was not going to continue the case that it had agreed to hear concerning the big question of transgender rights, specifically the rights of transgender students in the public schools. The announcement that came yesterday meant that the case that had been going forward on appeal from the Fourth Circuit—that’s the U.S. Appeals Court located in Richmond, Virginia—will now be sent back to that court. The reason why is quite simple. It was the administration of President Barack Obama who had ordered by means of the now-infamous Dear Colleague letter that all schools—that is all public schools all the way from kindergarten to universities—must allow persons to use facilities, including locker rooms, restrooms, and changing areas, corresponding with their current gender identity.

The school board in Gloucester County, Virginia passed a rule stating the students must use those facilities that would correspond with biological sex, the sex that was indicated on the students’ birth certificates. This led one student, a transgender student originally born as biologically female but now claiming identity as a boy, to file suit that led to a federal district court case. Once that decision was handed down it was appealed to the Fourth US circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia. Once that decision was handed down, it was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court months ago had agreed to take the case. But the case as it was framed several months ago had everything to do with the interpretation of Title IX—that’s the 1970s legislation that bans sex discrimination in the schools—that was undertaken by the Obama Administration. Once again we’re back to that infamous Dear Colleague letter in which the Obama Administration enforced nationwide a transgender agenda when it came to these kinds of facilities: bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities.

Albert Mohler - The Briefing - March 8, 2017.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #118 on: March 09, 2017, 08:11:25 AM »
The Vatican Calls For Respect For Religious Freedom

"Despite so many efforts to promote and reinforce the fundamental human right of religious freedom, we are actually witnessing a continued deterioration, we might even say, an assault, of this inalienable right in many parts of the world. Religion has always been the subject of great consideration. This is evident in its regulation by domestic or international legal systems as well as in the mixed and even controversial interest elicited within the institutions of the international community. The choice of faith and the consequent belonging to a religion impact every level of life, the social and political spheres. They play a formidable role in addressing the challenges our societies go through on a daily basis. Today, moreover, religion has taken on a renewed importance due to the complex relationship between the personal choice of faith and its public expression. Due to such implications, the choice and practice of one’s faith must be free of constraints and coercion.

"While the situation of religious freedom in the world is rather shocking, especially when one acknowledges the unprecedented number of cases of violence against Christians and other religious communities, there remains a strong effort to keep the spotlight on human rights violators and the perpetrators of these abuses. These efforts represent the hope that the international community will react, that it has not lost its conscience, that it has not become too cynical or, in the words of Pope Francis, succumbed to a “global indifference”.

"Over the last years, millions of people have been either displaced or forced to leave their ancestral lands. Those who stay in conflict zones or areas controlled by terrorist groups live under the permanent threat of human rights violations, repression and abuses. Numerous Christian churches and ancient shrines of all religions have been destroyed. “The situation of Christians in the Middle East, a land on which they are living for centuries and have the right to remain, raises deep concerns. There are more and more reasons to fear seriously for the future of the Christian communities that have more than two thousand years of existence in this region, where Christianity has its full place, and began its long history.” Persecution against Christians today is actually worse than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.

"Protection is one of the key elements surrounding any debate on religious freedom as a fundamental human right because it is intrinsic to the human person. In fact, they also serve a strategic role in evaluating and ensuring the proper attention and guarantee granted by public authorities. This interpretation reflects the process of affirmation of human rights that has characterized the history of the last few centuries, placing the human person and his/her rights at the center of legal, political, cultural and religious actions. Indeed, religious freedom raises the question of the indivisibility of human rights, which has become a guiding principle and fundamental assumption of the international law of human rights.

"Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which reflects the highest dimension of human dignity, the ability to seek the truth and conform to it, recognizing a condition which is indispensable to the ability to deploy all of one’s own potentiality. Religious freedom is not only that of private belief or worship. It is the liberty to live, both privately and publicly, according to the ethical principles resulting from religious principles. This is a great challenge in the globalized world, where weak convictions also lower the general ethical level and, in the name of a false concept of tolerance, those who defend their faith end up being persecuted.

"Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, alone and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious freedom by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of persons and families. Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim. They call persons and communities to worship God, the source of all life, liberty and happiness. They remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power. Our rich religious traditions seek to offer meaning and direction, “they have an enduring power to open new horizons, to stimulate thought, to expand the mind and heart.”

They call to conversion, reconciliation, concern for the future of society, self-sacrifice in the service of the common good, and compassion for those in need. At the heart of their spiritual mission is the proclamation of the truth and dignity of the human person and human rights. In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without a right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.

"The tendency towards globalization is good, it unites us, it can be noble. But if it pretends to make us all the same, it destroys the uniqueness of each people and each person. We live in a world subject to the “globalization of the technocratic paradigm,” which consciously aims at a one-dimensional uniformity and seeks to eliminate all differences and traditions in a superficial quest for unity. Religions thus have the right and the duty to make clear that it is possible to build a society where “a healthy pluralism which respects differences and values them as such” is a “precious ally in the commitment to defending human dignity… and a path to peace in our troubled world.”

Religious freedom, acknowledged in constitutions and laws and expressed in consistent conduct, promotes the development of relationships of mutual respect among the diverse confessions and their healthy collaboration with the State and political society, without confusion of roles and without antagonism. In place of the global clash of values, it thus becomes possible to start from a nucleus of universally shared values, of global cooperation in view of the common good. It is incomprehensible and alarming that still today discrimination and restrictions of human rights continue for the single fact that one belongs to and publicly professes an unwavering faith. It is unacceptable that real persecution is actually sustained for reasons of religious affiliation! This distorts reason, attacks peace and abuses human dignity. In conclusion, If we intend to try to address incisively the many problematic issues and tragedies of our time, it is necessary to speak and act as brothers, in a way that all can easily recognize. This too is a way of confronting the globalization of indifference with the globalization of solidarity and fraternity.

Looking at the whole scenario, a possible way forward could be represented by the universal recognition of religious freedom as a fundamental human right for every person, in every country, and respected equally by everybody. The failure to apply and defend this right on a universal level affects the implementation of all other human rights, as experience shows. Such a failure has precisely precipitated the overwhelming situation that we face in our world today. The challenge facing the international community, the Human Rights Council and States is a renewed commitment to what the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Closing the gap between the ideal proposed by international instruments and the practice on the ground remains a daunting task, but there is no alternative other than to continue working in the direction of a more effective guarantee of religious freedom for all."

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič - Vatican Radio - March 7, 2017.

Archbishop Jurkovič is the Permanent Observer of the Vatican to the United Nations.

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Re: Religion in the News.
« Reply #119 on: March 10, 2017, 09:41:49 AM »
New miniseries - CNN’s worst assault on religion yet

"CNN has long struggled to understand religion. But the host of an upcoming documentary takes that cluelessness to a whole new level. So picture this: You visit a restaurant known for serving the best cuisine from around the world. You’re about to sample the fare, when you discover that the chef was born without taste buds. He’s actually never experienced his own cooking, and couldn’t tell the difference between veal scallopini and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!

"That’s sort of how I feel about a new documentary series on world religions hosted by a man who doesn’t seem to understand that different religions are, well…different. Reza Aslan’s “Believer,” a “spiritual adventure series” it’s called, which premiered Sunday on CNN, explores belief systems from around the world. But in a recent opinion piece at CNN, Aslan (who identifies himself as a Sufi Muslim) makes it clear that he doesn’t believe there are any essential differences between the world’s religions. As a matter of fact, he seems to think all religions are basically subjective nonsense.

“I know better than to take the truth claims of any religion (including my own) too seriously,” he writes. And considering the “conflict” and “bigotry” religion inspires and the way it clashes with reason, Aslan thinks it’s “understandable why so many people view religious faith as the hallmark of an irrational mind.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is your tour guide to the religions of the world.

"But he goes much further, contrasting these recently-evolved “symbols and metaphors” we call religion with something more “mysterious, “ineffable,” and “emotional”: faith. Quoting the Buddha, Aslan likens the religions of the world to different wells, which believers dig in order to drink the same water. In other words, all religions are equally true. All roads, so to speak, lead to Heaven, resurrection, enlightenment, Nirvana, or whatever else your endgame may be.

"But that very sentence is proof of how silly Aslan’s thesis is. Each religion has its own understanding not only of Who God is (or isn’t) and how we receive salvation, but of what salvation itself looks like. This reminds me of Steven Turner’s satirical observation of this sort of thinking in his poem “Creed.” “We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the one that we read was. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.”

"This is, as C. S. Lewis called it, “patronizing nonsense.” And “patronizing nonsense” perfectly describes Reza Aslan’s idea that all religions are really just different paths to the same nebulous, emotion-centric experience that he calls “faith.” His fellow Muslims outside of the secular West certainly don’t see their religion as just one valid belief system among many. They confess, as part of their universal creed, that there’s no god but their god, and that Muhammad is his prophet. If you don’t believe these things, you’re not only not a Muslim, you’re an infidel. And guess what? Aslan’s more tolerant Sufi sect of Islam thinks their more militant brethren have it wrong too.

"But, someone might ask, if only one of the dozens of world religions is the path to God, how do we know which one it is? What gives us confidence the truth claims of Christ are valid, while those of the Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad, Richard Dawkins, or Reza Aslan are not? There are powerful answers to this question, which is why every Christian should have a basic knowledge of apologetics. For example, the claims of Christianity are public. They center on a Savior Who lived and performed miracles publicly, died publicly, rose from the dead publicly, and showed Himself to hundreds of witnesses publicly.

Religions like Islam and Buddhism started with private revelations or dreams given to a single person. When it comes to historical verifiability, there’s no comparison. But here’s the larger point to keep in mind when you hear this sort of talk about religion being pushed by CNN: There may be many wells, but there’s only one that offers Living Water"

John Stonestreet - Life Site News - March 9, 2017.

 

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