Vatican tamps down report that Pope Francis denies existence of hell

Original Article

The Vatican on Thursday worked to set the record straight on whether Pope Francis denied the existence of hell in an interview with a well-known Italian journalist.

The controversy started when 93-year-old journalist Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, publisheda report that he asked Francis where “bad souls” end up going, USA Today reported. Francis’ reply, according to the journalist, was that those who repent could be forgiven but those who do not, “disappear.”

The article, which ran on March 29, reported that Francis said “hell does not exist.”

“They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear,” Francis is quoted as saying. “There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls.”

The pope chose his theme for World Communications Day.

Scalfari, an atheist, does not usually use tape recorders during interviews, The USA Today report said. The Vatican said the story was the result of the reporter’s “reconstruction.”

“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the result of his reconstruction, in which the literal words pronounced by the Pope are not quoted,” the Vatican said. “No quotation of the aforementioned article must therefore be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”

The Catholic News Agency reported that Scalfari has “misrepresented” the pope in the past. The agency reported that Scalfari “aslo falsely reported that Pope Francis had made comments denying the existence of hell in 2015.”

According to Catholic Church teachings, there is a hell and it is for eternity.

“Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs,” according to CNA.

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said hell “really exists and it eternal, even if nobody talks about it much any more.”

In 1999 Pope John Paul II declared that Heaven was “neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human life.” Hell, by contrast, was “the ultimate consequence of sin itself … Rather than a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy.”

Josh Weed, famous married gay Mormon announces divorce, apologizes to LGBTQ community

Original Article

SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — Josh and Lolly Weed, viewed as proof, and used as an example, that a gay man and a straight woman can make a successful Mormon marriage, have announced their divorce. In the same blog post where they announce their divorce, they offered an apology to the LGBTQ community.

“Today, we need to let you know that Lolly and I are divorcing,” the blog said this week, after recounting the couple’s accidental rise to the media spotlight when Josh Weed came out as a gay LDS man who was faithful to his church and married to a woman. They were in high demand to explain how they made the seemingly contradictory lifestyles work together.

The couple wrote, together and then individually in the same blog post on Thursday, that they came to understand over time that their deep platonic love was not a substitute for romantic love and that such a relationship is vital to everyone’s happiness.

Lolly Weed wrote:

And that is what human beings need to be healthy. All of us. Romantic attachment. It’s one of the main purposes of life!

They explain at length how they came to the realization. Josh Weed said three factors led him to believe this was the case.

  1. Love for the LGBTQ population
  2. Love for himself as a gay person
  3. The death of his mother

The couple rise to notoriety came about because of a blog post — that can no longer be found on JoshWeed.com — that, according to Josh, led them to be “featured on shows and newspapers around the globe.” That included a story on Nightline, embedded below.

Josh works in his private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist. Included with the announcement and explanation about the couple’s divorce was an apology to the LGBTQ community. Among the specific things the Weeds apologies for are:

  • We’re sorry, so incredibly sorry, for the ways our post has been used to bully others.
  • And we’re sorry if our story made it easier for people in your life to reject you and your difficult path as being wrong.
  • We’re sorry to any gay Mormon who received criticism, backlash, or hatred as a result of our story.
  • We’re sorry to anybody who felt a measure of false peace because of our story.
  • We’re sorry to any LGBTQIA person who was given false hope by our story

Each of the specific apologies came with longer explanations.

Josh Weed also wrote that his stance on homosexuality, that once aligned with that of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had changed.

“I have spent my entire life conforming to every standard of the LDS faith because I believed it was what God wanted me to do,” he explained.

“I believed this because every mentor, every exemplar, every religious teacher, every therapist, every leader I ever grew up listening to and trusting told me that that was the only way I could return to live with God. There was an emphasis on ‘perfect obedience’ and yet, over the course of my lifetime, the list of things said by these trusted leaders about my sexual orientation was profoundly inconsistent and confusing.”

Josh Weed listed a number of those “inconsistent and confusing” things, which included:

  • My sexual orientation wasn’t real
  • My sexual orientation was evil
  • My sexual orientation was an abomination
  • My sexual orientation was tantamount to bestiality and just shy of murder
  • My sexual orientation could change in this life if I had enough faith
  • My sexual orientation was a “trial” to bear
  • My sexual orientation maybe couldn’t change in this life after all
  • My sexual orientation could be managed with faith
  • My sexual orientation could be endured

Lolly Weed also wrote that many of her friends and community expressed to her, upon learning of the divorce, empathized with her and say she deserved the romantic connection, but few felt that empathy for her husband.

The thing that’s so interesting to me is how few people think of Josh in this way. How few people in his life have ever thought these things about him—things that are so obvious, so clear, so emphatic when talking to another straight person. I mean, isn’t the same true for LGBT people? Shouldn’t we feel the exact same intuitive injustice at the thought of them deserving to be “loved like that”?

When the tables are turned and we are talking about LGBTQ individuals, somehow people don’t see the parallels. Why am I, as a straight person, entitled to reciprocal, requited romantic love while an LGBTQ individual is not?

The blog post says the couple and their children will continue to be close and will continue to love each other.

“We can continue to be the family we have always been, and we can add to that family,” they wrote.

Weed emailed KUTV this statement:

“In posting, we hoped to let those who followed our story five years ago know the reality of our situation. We also wanted to apologize to the LGBTQIA community and to anybody who was hurt by our story over the last five years.

Thanks so much!

Josh”

Report: Dalai Lama received $1M from Albany ‘sex cult’ accused of branding women

Original Article

A new report claims His Holiness the Dalai Lama was paid $1 million by an Upstate New York “sex cult” that brands women to speak at their event.

According to The Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama received the fee to speak in front of 3,000 members of NXIVM (pronounced “nexium”), which has recently come under fire from former members. The Buddhist leader is seen in a photograph placing a khata, a traditional ceremonial Tibetan scarf, around the neck of the group’s founder, Keith Raniere, in Albany.

NXIVM describes itself as a self-help organization, but former member Sarah Edmondson filed a complaint in July against a member who branded her. She said female members are required to be branded with Raniere’s initials, “KR,” and also must give their “master,” or recruiter, naked photos or other compromising materials of themselves; Ranier allegedly manipulates women with sex and intimidates people who try to leave the group, threatening to expose those materials.

The New York Times reported last year that DOS, a women’s only group within NXIVM, has been described as a “secret sorority” that also brainwashes members, puts them on starvation diets and beats them if they don’t recruit enough “slaves.” DOS, led by former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, allegedly stands for “dominus obsequious sororium,” Latin for “master over the slave women.”

Members also reportedly include former “Dallas” star Catherine Oxenberg’s daughter India Oxenberg, and wealthy Seagram’s heiresses Sara and Clare Bronfman.

The Daily Mail reports Sara Bronfman helped book the Dalai Lama to speak at the Albany event in 2009 while in a relationship with his “personal emissary of peace” to the U.S., Lama Tenzin Dhonden. Bronfman can be seen on stage next to the Dalai Lama during the event in a YouTube video.

The Guardian reports Dhonden was replaced last month amid allegations of corruption. A Seattle-based technology entrepreneur claims Dhonden extorted him for “unjustified payments” between 2005 and 2008, in return for setting up an event with the Dalai Lama; Dhonden has denied all wrongdoing.

Whistleblower Frank Parlato has repeatedly detailed the allegations against NXIVM and Dhonden on his website, The Frank Report. He posted photos of Bronfman with Dhonden, a Buddhist monk that would have taken a vow of celibacy.

“Everyone in NXIVM knew the monk was a fraud. NXIVM used him to get the Dalai Lama to come to Albany and endorse the cult leader, Keith Raniere. The Dalai Lama was too wise to fall for this and DID NOT endorse the cult or its leader,” Parlato wrote.

According to the Daily Mail, the Dalai Lama initially canceled the Albany event and several others in the U.S. that year due to controversy surrounding NXIVM. Bronfman and Raniere reportedly convinced him to come a month later by saying all the allegations of misconduct were false.

The Justice Department began a federal investigation of NXIVM in December, examining Raniere, the group’s business dealings, and recruitment practices. NXIVM officials and associates have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and dispute any allegation that it is a cult.

NXIVM, based in the Albany suburb of Colonie, has over 16,000 members in chapters nationwide, as well as in Canada and Mexico. A “20/20” special report focused on the group last month:

Church of Sweden to stop referring to God as ‘he’ or ‘Lord’

Original Article

The Church of Sweden is urging its clergy to use gender-neutral language when referring to the supreme deity, refraining from using terms such as “Lord” and “he” in favour of the less specific “God.”

The move is one of several taken by the national Evangelical Lutheran church in updating a 31-year-old handbook setting out how services should be conducted in terms of language, liturgy, hymns and other aspects.

The decision was taken on Thursday at the end of an eight-day meeting of the church’s 251-member decision-making body, and takes effect on 20 May on the Christian holiday of Pentecost.

A former state church, headquartered in Uppsala, some 37 miles north of the capital, the church has 6.1 million baptised members in a country of 10 million. It is headed by a woman, Archbishop Antje Jackelén.

Jackelén told Sweden’s TT news agency that a more inclusive language had been discussed as early as the 1986 conference.

“Theologically, for instance, we know that God is beyond our gender determinations, God is not human,” Jackelén said.

The change was met with criticism, however. Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told the Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper in Denmark that the move was “undermining the doctrine of the Trinity and the community with the other Christian churches”.

“It really isn’t smart if the Church of Sweden becomes known as a church that does not respect the common theology heritage,” he said.

“There Is No Such Thing as the Bible” The messy Scripture on display at the Museum of the Bible.

Original Article

By William Saletan

ST-BIBLEOPEN
Visitors listen to a “living history interpreter” in the old Jerusalem exhibit at the Museum of the Bible on Friday in Washington.

Bill O’Leary/Washington Post via Getty Images

Last week, the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, D.C. When the museum was first conceived, it was intended to “inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible,” according to documents filed in 2010. But then, scholarship and dialogue intervened. The original vision of Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and an outspoken conservative evangelical, gave ground to the reality that “the” Bible—a single, clear, definitive text—is a myth.

 

“There is no such thing as the Bible,” David Trobisch, the museum’s director of collections, said matter-of-factly last week as he sat next to Green at a press lunch organized by the Faith Angle Forum. With Trobisch and other scholars guiding the process, the Museum of the Bible became a real museum, exploring the messy history and shifting contents of the Judeo-Christian canon.

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Green’s reputation as a conservative crusader has aroused skepticism of the museum. Critics portray the 430,000-square-foot building, just a few blocks from the Capitol, as a propaganda showcase. But what I found was a surprising degree of frankness, even agnosticism. If you want the cartoon Bible, eternal and infallible, you can find it in quotes from Scripture on purple banners along the walls. “Every word of God is pure,” says one. “The law of the Lord is perfect,” says another. “The Word of our God stands forever,” says a third. But start poking around in the exhibits, and things get interesting. Many Bible stories, you soon learn, aren’t original. The flood, for instance, echoes Babylonian tales. “In each version, a growing population upsets a god,” a plaque explains dryly. “A single hero listens to the supreme being, builds a boat before a catastrophic flood, and then sends out birds.”

Next you discover that the holy book is full of spin. One placard describes how texts of the ancient Assyrians celebrated their conquests of Judean cities. Jewish and Christian bibles, describing the same events, “emphasize how God miraculously preserved Jerusalem.” Cyrus, the Persian king, saw himself as an instrument of Babylon’s deity. But writers of the Hebrew Bible, concerned with a different question—Is it good for the Jews?—”portray Cyrus as an agent of Israel’s God.” After every battle, Arameans and Moabites told the same story the Israelites did: Either their god led them to victory, or he punished them with defeat.

When Trobisch says there’s no such thing as “the” Bible, he’s alluding in part to the seven versions displayed along a wall on the museum’s fourth floor: Hebrew, Samaritan, Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Assyrian. Each has its own selection of texts, a sign on the wall observes, “yet each one is a Bible.” In display cases, you can read about the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and other texts that haven’t made the cut. But don’t count them out. Such “Apocrypha,” another note explains, have been appended to various Bibles, on and off, for centuries.

The more closely you look at the history of Scripture, the more you see how fluid it is. In the New Testament, the gradual canonization of text is obvious. “In time, writings widely associated with the apostles’ teaching came to be regarded as scripture,” says one display. But you also learn how Jews layered texts over the Torah, adding narrative speculations and “expanding the Scriptures” through the Middle Ages.

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Interpretation is just one avenue of expansion. Archaeology is another. The Dead Sea Scrolls were unearthed only decades ago, and “new discoveries are still being made,” says one exhibit. Green should know: Hobby Lobby recently paid millions of dollars to settle a government complaint that it had smuggled Iraqi artifacts that may have been looted. Perhaps for that reason, or perhaps out of scholarly humility, the museum’s display of putative Dead Sea Scrolls fragments bears a cautionary note. “Are these fragments real?” it asks. “Research continues.”

The museum’s second-floor collection traces more recent history. It details and laments the persecution of believers. One display bears the title, “Martyrs and the Bible: Dying for the Faith.” But “the faith,” like “the Bible,” turns out to be a myth. Christians have been persecuted largely by other Christians. In Catholic–Protestant clashes, a plaque recalls, “Different versions of the Bible were condemned as unauthorized or heretical” and were destroyed, often with their followers. Dissenters fled to America, but “each group brought its own version of the Bible.” So the conflicts continued.

Today, politicians glorify the Bible as the foundation of democracy, freedom, and civil rights. But the Bible was also invoked against such ideas, and the museum doesn’t hide this. “Throughout history, the Bible has been used as a source of authority for heads of state,” says one display. There’s a case stocked with old religious tracts that defended “the divine right of absolute monarchy.” Another exhibit notes that early feminists used Scripture to justify equal rights for women, but “opposition was scathing, especially among clergymen, who often quoted the Bible to justify women’s subservient status.”

The most striking concession is the museum’s account of the debate over slavery. Scripture was crucial to the movements for abolition and civil rights. But the collection also shows how verses such as Ephesians 6:5 (“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters … as unto Christ”) and Genesis 9:25 (“a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”) were deployed to rationalize human bondage. One case displays an 1808 book titled Parts of the Holy Bible, Selected for the Use of the Negro Slaves. A note explains that the volume features passages about obedience but “omits all entries that express themes of freedom,” including the story of the Exodus.

 

The museum can’t entirely avoid contemporary politics, and it struggles with unresolved debates. Galileo, having won his dispute with religious authorities centuries ago, gets a statue and a vindicating plaque. But Darwin doesn’t: The exhibit says only that he sparked a “debate between traditional and more progressive interpretations of the Bible.” On criminal justice, the museum shows no such reticence. It pushes back against the use of passages about an “eye for an eye” and putting people to death. “The Bible tempers retribution with forgiveness and mercy,” says one plaque. Another touts the restorative justice movement and its view that “God’s compassion takes priority over his wrath.”

The museum wasn’t meant to sow doubt. In our meeting last week, Green and the museum’s president, Cary Summers, made clear that they want to inspire visitors to explore God’s word. Green believes that if he can get people to pick up the holy book, it will sell itself. Maybe so. But by yielding to a more scholarly vision of what the museum should be, he’s also betting that a candid presentation of the text’s backstory, uncertainty, and malleability won’t dissolve the idea of “the Bible.” I admire his faith.

The Church of England Is Attempting to Counter Bullying By Allowing Children to Explore Gender Identity

Original Article

By Aimee Lutkin

On Monday, the Church of England announced an initiative called “Valuing All God’s Children,” that states children should be allowed to experiment with their gender identity. The measure has been adopted as a way to combat bullying in the Church’s thousands of schools.

The New York Times reports that teachers are being encouraged to allow students in school to “explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgment or derision.” The guidelines were supported by the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury.

“For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the fireman’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment,” it said. “Childhood has a sacred place for creative self-imagining.”

Welby was appointed to his position in 2012; in 2014, the Church extended guidelines to schools in an attempt to combat homophobia, but these new edicts have grown to encompass children experimenting with or expressing their gender identity.

“All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying causes profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide,” Archbishop Welby wrote. “This guidance helps schools to offer the Christian message of love, joy and celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.”

However, in 2016, the International Anglican Communion suspended the U.S. Episcopal Church for performing same-sex marriages. Anglican archbishops from England wrote in a statement that the Episcopal Church had made “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage.” Priests in the Church of England are still forbidden from performing same-sex ceremonies.

Texas Church Where Massacre Took Place Will Be Demolished, Pastor Says Facebook Twitter Flipboard Email

Original Article

The pastor of the Texas church that was the site of a deadly shooting rampage this week says the bullet-riddled structure will be demolished because it is too stark of a reminder of the massacre.

Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle, was among the victims, told the Southern Baptist Convention on Thursday that he plans to have the church razed.

“There’s too many that do not want to go back in there,” Pomeroy told The Wall Street Journal.

“The pastor expressed his desire that perhaps the best way forward is to have the church demolished and replaced with a prayer garden,” convention spokesman Roger “Sing” Oldham, was quoted by USA Today as saying.

He added that parishioners haven’t “had a chance to fully deal with the grief and then come together to make a decision.”

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A law enforcement official leaves the First Baptist Church on Tuesday, in Sutherland Springs Texas.

David J. Phillip/AP

Oldham was quoted by The Associated Press as saying the church is “too stark of a reminder” of Sunday’s mass shooting in which a gunman opened fire on the building with a semiautomatic assault-type rifle, killing more than two dozen people and wounding 20 others.

According to The Associated Press:

“Other sites of mass shootings have been torn down, including Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in December 2012. A new school was built [on the same site].

A one-room Amish schoolhouse near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was torn down in 2006, 10 days after an assailant took children hostage and shot and killed five girls ages 6 to 13.”

Correction

Nov. 10, 2017

A previous version of this story quoted an incorrect statement from the Associated Press that the Sandy Hook Elementary school was rebuilt elsewhere. It is on the same site although not in the same footprint as the original school.

Woman sues to remove ‘So help me God’ from oath of U.S. citizenship

Original Article

By Dan Glaun

For years, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national and green-card holder who has lived in Scituate since 2000, has wanted to become an American citizen.

That dream, she claims in a new federal lawsuit, is being denied by four simple words: “So help me God.”

On Thursday, Perrier-Bilbo, an atheist, filed a federal lawsuit claiming the inclusion of that phrase in United States’ citizenship oath is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom.

“Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting of defending the constitution as the oath demands,” the lawsuit says.

And although Perrier-Bilbo was offered the chance to use a modified oath or participate in a private citizenship ceremony, she claims the presence of “so help me God” is still an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion — and that the alternatives offered to her by the government place an illegal burden on her for her beliefs.

BIBLE, CREATION OF THE WORLD AND STORY OF FIRST MAN NOT TRUE, CLAIMS ISRAELI NEWSPAPER

Original Article

By Cristina Silva

The Bible and its stories about the first man and the creation of the world are not true because there is no physical evidence to back it up, according to a new lengthy investigation from one of Israel’s top newspapers. Spanning roughly 5,000 words the article from left leaning Haaretz compares accounts in the Bible, from ancients Jews fleeing Egypt to descriptions of King David, and dismisses them all as fables.

“Is the Bible a True Story,” the headline asks. “Despite feverish searching with Scripture in one hand and cutting-edge technology in the other, evidence backing the Bible remains elusive.”

It goes on: “No evidence of the events described in the Book of Genesis has ever been found. No city walls have been found at Jericho, from the appropriate era, that could have been toppled by Joshua or otherwise. The stone palace uncovered at the foot of Temple Mount in Jerusalem could attest that King David had been there; or it might belong to another era entirely, depending who you ask.”

Researchers have long questioned the authenticity of the Bible’s version of human history, often struggling to find evidence of, say, Noah’s ark or even the possibility of Eve and Adam, the first woman and man. Young-Earth creationism, for example, directly fails science’s demands for coherence and hypothesis testing.

The mounting evidence against the Bible means fewer Americans than ever before are trusting scripture as gospel. Only 35 percent of Americans read the holy book at least once a week, while 45 percent seldom or never do, a Pew Research Center report in April found. About 36 percent of Christians said the Bible should not be taken literally, while 40 percent say it is the word of God. In all, only 24 percent of Americans said the holy book was “the actual word of God, and is to be taken literally, word for word,” a Gallup poll conducted in May concluded. 

“This is the first time in Gallup’s four-decade trend that biblical literalism has not surpassed biblical skepticism. Meanwhile, about half of Americans — a proportion largely unchanged over the years — fall in the middle, saying the Bible is the inspired word of God but that not all of it should be taken literally,” the poll said. “From the mid-1970s through 1984, close to 40% of Americans considered the Bible the literal word of God, but this has been declining ever since, along with a shrinking percentage of self-identified Christians in the U.S. Meanwhile, the percentage defining the Bible as mere stories has doubled, with much of that change occurring in the past three years.”

The Other Reformation: How Martin Luther Changed Our Beer, Too

Original Article

By Nina Martyris

Left: A bartender at Hops & Barley brewpub draws a pint of beer in Berlin. Right: A portrait of Martin Luther. The protest that Luther launched 500 years ago revamped not only how Europe worshipped but also how it drank. He and his followers promoted hops in beer as an act of rebellion against the Catholic Church.

Adam Berry; ullstein bild via Getty Images

On this day 500 years ago, an obscure Saxon monk launched a protest movement against the Catholic Church that would transform Europe. Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation changed not just the way Europeans lived, fought, worshipped, worked and created art but also how they ate and drank. For among the things it impacted was a drink beloved throughout the world and especially in Luther’s native Germany: beer.

The change in beer production was wrought by the pale green conical flower of a wildly prolific plant — hops.

Every hip craft brewery today peddling expensive hoppy beers owes a debt of gratitude to Luther and his followers for promoting the use of hops as an act of rebellion against the Catholic Church. But why did Protestants decide to embrace this pretty flower, and what did it have to do with religious rebellion?

Therein foams a bitter pint of history.

In the 16th century, the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on beer production, since it held the monopoly on gruit — the mixture of herbs and botanicals (sweet gale, mug wort, yarrow, ground ivy, heather, rosemary, juniper berries, ginger, cinnamon) used to flavor and preserve beer. Hops, however, were not taxed. Considered undesirable weeds, they grew plentifully and vigorously — their invasive nature captured by their melodic Latin name, Humulus lupulus (which the music-loving Luther would have loved), which means “climbing wolf.”

“The church didn’t like hops,” says William Bostwick, the beer critic for The Wall Street Journal and author of The Brewer’s Tale: A History of the World According to Beer. “One reason was that the 12th century German mystic and abbess Hildegard had pronounced that hops were not very good for you, because they ‘make the soul of a man sad and weigh down his inner organs.’ So, if you were a Protestant brewer and wanted to thumb your nose at Catholicism, you used hops instead of herbs.”

Even before the Reformation, German princes had been moving toward hops — in 1516, for instance, a Bavarian law mandated that beer could be made only with hops, water and barley. But Luther’s revolt gave the weed a significant boost. The fact that hops were tax-free constituted only part of the draw. Hops had other qualities that appealed to the new movement; chiefly, their excellent preservative qualities. “All herbs and spices have preservative qualities, but with hops, beer could travel really well, so it became a unit of international trade that symbolized the growing business class, which was tangentially connected with the Protestant work ethic and capitalism,” says Bostwick.

Another virtue in hops’ favor was their sedative properties. The mystic Hildegard was right in saying hops weighed down one’s innards. “I sleep six or seven hours running, and afterwards two or three. I am sure it is owing to the beer,” wrote Luther to his wife, Katharina, from the town of Torgau, renowned for its beer. The soporific, mellowing effect of hops might seem like a drawback, but in fact it offered a welcome alternative to many of the spices and herbs used by the church that had hallucinogenic and aphrodisiacal properties. “Fueled by these potent concoctions, church ales could be as boisterous as the Germanic drinking bouts church elders once frowned on,” writes Bostwick. “And so, to distance themselves further from papal excesses, when Protestants drank beer they preferred it hopped.”

If the Catholic Church lost control over the printed word with the invention of the printing press — the technological weapon that ensured Luther’s success — it lost control over beer with the rise of hops. “The head went flat on monastic beer,” says Bostwick. “Did Protestantism explicitly promote hops? I don’t think so. But did it encourage the use of hops? I would say, yes, probably.”

Luther’s wife, Katharina, was the brewer of the family.

Courtesy of Luther Memorials Foundation of Saxony-Anhalt

Luther would have relished his role in promoting hops. If anyone loved and appreciated good beer, it was this stout, sensual and gregarious monk. His letters often mentioned beer, whether it was the delicious Torgau beer that he extolled as finer than wine or the “nasty” Dessau beer that made him long for Katharina’s homebrew. “I keep thinking what good wine and beer I have at home, as well as a beautiful wife,” he wrote. “You would do well to send me over my whole cellar of wine and a bottle of thy beer.” Days before he died, in February 1546, in one of his last letters to his wife, he praised Naumburg beer for its laxative properties. Luther suffered excruciating agonies from constipation, and it was therefore with immense satisfaction that he announced his “three bowel movements” that morning.

In an age where the water was unsafe, beer was drunk by everyone and was the nutritional and social fuel of Germany. “It was a really natural and very common part of every household pantry,” says Bostwick. “I compare it these days to a pot of coffee always simmering on your countertop. Back then it was a kettle of beer. Beer was brewed less for pure enjoyment than for medicinal reasons (it incorporated herbs and spices) and for pure sustenance. Beers then were richer and heartier than today. They were a source of calories for the lower classes who did not have access to rich foods.”

Not surprisingly, beer pops up at pivotal moments in Luther’s life. Most notably, after taking on the formidable might of the Catholic Church, an unruffled Luther famously declared that God and the Word did everything, “while I drank beer with my [friends] Philipp and Amsdorf.” Luther’s teachings were mocked as “sour beer,” and one of his critics disparaged him as a heretic from the filthy market town of Wittenberg, populated by “a barbarous people who make their living from breweries and saloons.” But as he gained fame and became a popular hero, a range of Lutheran merchandise was launched, including beer mugs featuring the pope as the Antichrist.

When the excommunicated Luther married the runaway nun Katharina von Bora, the town council gave the couple a barrel of excellent Einbeck beer. It was a fitting gift. Beer was soon to assume an even more central role in Luther’s life, thanks to his wife. The intelligent, talented and exceptionally competent Katharina not only bore six children and managed the Luthers’ large household with its endless stream of guests but also planted a vegetable garden and fruit trees, raised cows and pigs, had a fish pond, drove a wagon, and — to her husband’s undying delight — opened a brewery that produced thousands of pints of beer each year. Her initial shaky attempts produced a thin, weak brew, but she soon got the hang of it and learned exactly how much malt to add to suit her husband’s taste. Luther was ecstatic — Lord Katie, as he affectionately called her, had assured him a steady supply even when Wittenberg’s breweries ran dry.

Luther’s favorite spot to hold forth on theology, philosophy and life in general was not the tavern but the table. The long refectory table in the cavernous Luther home seated up to 50 people. “This was Luther’s especial domain,” writes Andrew Pettegree in his elegant biography Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned History. “The day’s labors past, he would sit with his friends and talk. Fueled by his wife’s excellent beer, conversation would become general, discursive, and sometimes unbuttoned.”

Unbuttoned is an understatement. Voluble, energetic and beery, Luther’s conversation zigged and zagged between the sublime and the scatological, to the amazement of his students, who hung on his every word. The church was called a brothel and the pope the Antichrist. Former popes “farted like the devil” and were sodomites and transvestites. His students collected these jewels into a book called Table Talk. When it was published, it went viral.

But though he clearly loved his tankard, there is no record of Luther being a lush. In fact, he could be quite a scold when it came to drunken behavior. He lamented the German addiction to beer, saying, “such an eternal thirst, I am afraid, will remain as Germany’s plague until the Last Day.” And he once declared, “I wish brewing had never been invented, for a great deal of grain is consumed to make it, and nothing good is brewed.”

This was no doubt a spot of grandstanding. For all his protestations, Luther’s beer stein was always full. He loved local beer, boasted of his wife’s brewing skills, and launched a movement that helped promote hops. Does that make him a patron saint of the craft brewery?

“Luther might blanch a bit as a good Protestant at being called a saint,” points out Bostwick, “and there’s already a brewery saint called St. Arnold, who saved his congregation from the plague by making them drink beer. In the interests of Protestantism, I wouldn’t call him a saint, but he was certainly a beer enthusiast, and many a beer bar and brewery today has a picture of Martin Luther on their wall. So let’s say that while we certainly don’t genuflect to him, he’s known and appreciated.”

Hoppy Quincentennial, Martin Luther!

Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded

By Barry Meier
Sarah Edmondson left Nxivm after being branded as part of a secret ritual.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

ALBANY — Last March, five women gathered in a home near here to enter a secret sisterhood they were told was created to empower women.

To gain admission, they were required to give their recruiter — or “master,” as she was called — naked photographs or other compromising material and were warned that such “collateral” might be publicly released if the group’s existence were disclosed.

The women, in their 30s and 40s, belonged to a self-help organization called Nxivm, which is based in Albany and has chapters across the country, Canada and Mexico.

Sarah Edmondson, one of the participants, said she had been told she would get a small tattoo as part of the initiation. But she was not prepared for what came next.

Each woman was told to undress and lie on a massage table, while three others restrained her legs and shoulders. According to one of them, their “master,” a top Nxivm official named Lauren Salzman, instructed them to say: “Master, please brand me, it would be an honor.”

Continue reading the main story

A female doctor proceeded to use a cauterizing device to sear a two-inch-square symbol below each woman’s hip, a procedure that took 20 to 30 minutes. For hours, muffled screams and the smell of burning tissue filled the room.

“I wept the whole time,” Ms. Edmondson recalled. “I disassociated out of my body.”

Since the late 1990s, an estimated 16,000 people have enrolled in courses offered by Nxivm (pronounced Nex-e-um), which it says are designed to bring about greater self-fulfillment by eliminating psychological and emotional barriers. Most participants take some workshops, like the group’s “Executive Success Programs,” and resume their lives. But other people have become drawn more deeply into Nxivm, giving up careers, friends and families to become followers of its leader, Keith Raniere, who is known within the group as “Vanguard.”

Photo

Keith Raniere, founder of Nxivm, in 2009. CreditPatrick Dodson

Both Nxivm and Mr. Raniere, 57, have long attracted controversy. Former members have depicted him as a man who manipulated his adherents, had sex with them and urged women to follow near-starvation diets to achieve the type of physique he found appealing.

Now, as talk about the secret sisterhood and branding has circulated within Nxivm, scores of members are leaving. Interviews with a dozen of them portray a group spinning more deeply into disturbing practices. Many members said they feared that confessions about indiscretions would be used to blackmail them.

Mark Vicente, a filmmaker and former top Nxivm official, said that after hearing about the secret society, he confronted Mr. Raniere.

“I said, ‘Whatever you are doing, you are heading for a blowup,’” Mr. Vicente said.

Several former members have asked state authorities to investigate the group’s practices, but officials have declined to pursue action.

In July, Ms. Edmondson filed a complaint with the New York State Department of Health against Danielle Roberts, a licensed osteopath and follower of Mr. Raniere, who performed the branding, according to Ms. Edmondson and another woman. In a letter, the agency said it would not look into Dr. Roberts because she was not acting as Ms. Edmondson’s doctor when the branding is said to have happened.

Separately, a state police investigator told Ms. Edmondson and two other women that officials would not pursue their criminal complaint against Nxivm because their actions had been consensual, a text message shows.

State medical regulators also declined to act on a complaint filed against another Nxivm-affilated physician, Brandon Porter. Dr. Porter, as part of an “experiment,” showed women graphically violent film clips while a brain-wave machine and video camera recorded their reactions, according to two women who took part.

The women said they were not warned that some of the clips were violent, including footage of four women being murdered and dismembered.

“Please look into this ASAP,” a former Nxivm member, Jennifer Kobelt, stated in her complaint. “This man needs to be stopped.”

In September, regulators told Ms. Kobelt they concluded that the allegations against Dr. Porter did not meet the agency’s definition of “medical misconduct,” their letter shows.

Mr. Raniere and other top Nxivm officials, including Lauren Salzman, did not respond to repeated emails, letters or text messages seeking comment. Dr. Roberts and Dr. Porter also did not respond to inquiries.

Former members said that, inside Nxivm, they are being portrayed as defectors who want to destroy the group.

It is not clear how many women were branded or which Nxivm officials were aware of the practice.

A copy of a text message Mr. Raniere sent to a female follower indicates that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.

“Not initially intended as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute,” Mr. Raniere wrote, (“if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care.)”

From the Message

Below is an excerpt of a text message Mr. Raniere sent to a female follower, which suggested that he knew women were being branded and that the symbol’s design incorporated his initials.

“… Not intended initially as my initials but they rearranged it slightly for tribute(if it were abraham lincolns or bill gates initials no one would care). The primary meaning and design of the brand symbol has nothing to do with my initials …”

Joining the Sisterhood

Ms. Edmondson, who lives in Vancouver and helped start Nxivm’s chapter there, was thrilled when Lauren Salzman arrived in January to teach workshops.

The women, both in their early 40s, were close and Ms. Edmondson regarded Ms. Salzman as a confidante and mentor.

“Lauren was someone I really looked up to as a rock star within the company,” said Ms. Edmondson, an actress who joined Nxivm about a decade ago.

During her visit, Ms. Salzman said she had something “really amazing” she wanted to share. “It is kind of strange and top secret and in order for me to tell you about it you need to give me something as collateral to make sure you don’t speak about it,” Ms. Edmondson recalled her saying.

The proposition seemed like a test of trust. After Ms. Edmondson wrote a letter detailing past indiscretions, Ms. Salzman told her about the secret sorority.

She said it had been formed as a force for good, one that could grow into a network that could influence events like elections. To become effective, members had to overcome weaknesses that Mr. Raniere taught were common to women — an overemotional nature, a failure to keep promises and an embrace of the role of victim, according to Ms. Edmondson and other members.

Submission and obedience would be used as tools to achieve those goals, several women said. The sisterhood would comprise circles, each led by a “master” who would recruit six “slaves,” according to two women. In time, they would recruit slaves of their own.

“She made it sound like a bad-ass bitch boot camp,” Ms. Edmondson said.

Ms. Edmondson and others said that during training, the women were required to send their master texts that read “Morning M” and “Night M.” During drills, a master texted her slaves “?” and they had 60 seconds to reply “Ready M.”

Trainees who failed had to pay penalties, including fasting, or could face physical punishments, two women said.

In March, Ms. Edmondson arrived for an initiation ceremony at Ms. Salzman’s home in Clifton Park, N.Y., a town about 20 miles north of Albany where Mr. Raniere and some followers live. After undressing, she was led to a candlelit ceremony, where she removed a blindfold and saw Ms. Salzman’s other slaves for the first time. The women were then driven to a nearby house, where the branding took place.

Photo

Sarah Edmondson showed her brand. CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

In the spring, the sorority grew as women joined different circles. Slaves added compromising collateral every month to Dropbox accounts, and a Google Document was used to list a timetable for recruiting new slaves, several women said.

Around the same time, an actress, Catherine Oxenberg, said she learned her daughter had been initiated into the sorority.

“I felt sick to my stomach,” said Ms. Oxenberg, who starred in the 1980s television series “Dynasty.”

Ms. Oxenberg had become increasingly concerned about her 26-year-old daughter, India, who looked emaciated from dieting. She told her mother that she had not had a menstrual period for a year and that her hair was falling out.

Ms. Oxenberg said she invited her daughter home in late May to try to get her away from the group.

When Ms. Oxenberg confronted her about the sorority, her daughter defended its practices.

“She said it was a character-building experience,” Ms. Oxenberg said.

Photo

Catherine Oxenberg was informed that her daughter, India, had become part of Nxivm’s secret sorority.CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

‘Humans Can Be Noble’

By the time the secret group was taking shape, Mark Vicente, the filmmaker, had been a faithful follower of Mr. Raniere for more than a decade.

Mr. Vicente said he had been contacted by Ms. Salzman’s mother, Nancy, a co-founder of Nxivm who is known as “Prefect,” after the 2004 release of a documentary he co-directed that explored spirituality and physics.

Soon, Mr. Vicente was taking courses that he said helped him expose his fears and learn strategies that made him feel more resolute.

He also made a documentary called “Encender el Corazón,”or “Ignite the Heart,” which lionized Mr. Raniere’s work in Mexico.

“Keith Raniere is an activist, scientist, philosopher and, above all, humanitarian,” Mr. Vicente says in the film.

Mr. Raniere has used those words to describe himself. On his website, he said he spoke in full sentences by age 1, mastered high school mathematics by 12 and taught himself to play “concert level” piano. At 16, he entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.

Before Nxivm, he helped run a company called Consumers’ Buyline Inc., which offered discounts to members on groceries and other products.

In the mid-1990s, several state attorneys general investigated it as a suspected pyramid scheme; Mr. Raniere and his associates agreed to shut it down.

Through Nxivm, Mr. Raniere transformed himself into a New Age teacher with long hair and a guru-like manner of speaking.

“Humans can be noble,” he says on his website. “The question is: will we put forth what is necessary?”

By many accounts, Mr. Raniere sleeps during the day and goes out at night to play volleyball or take female followers for long walks. Several women described him as warm, funny and eager to talk about subjects that interested them.

Others saw a different side. Nxivm sued several former members, accusing them of stealing its trade secrets, among other things.

Mr. Vicente said he was aware of the negative publicity, including a 2012 series by The Albany Times-Union that described alleged abuses inside Nxivm.

Mr. Vicente’s views began to change this year after his wife was ostracized when she left Nxivm and he heard rumors about the secret sorority.

Photo

Mark Vicente and his wife, Bonnie Piesse, both former members of Nxivm. Mr. Vicente confronted Keith Raniere about the secret society within the group. CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

Mr. Vicente said he got evasive answers when he asked Mr. Raniere about the group. Mr. Raniere acknowledged giving “five women permission to do something,” but did not elaborate, other than to say he would investigate, Mr. Vicente said.

Mr. Vicente said he suspected Mr. Raniere was lying to him and might have done so before. Suddenly, self-awareness techniques he had learned felt like tools that had been used to control him.

“No one goes in looking to have their personality stripped away,” he said. “You just don’t realize what is happening.”

Followers Start to Flee

In May, Sarah Edmondson began to recoil from her embrace of the secret society.

Her husband, Anthony Ames, who was also a Nxivm member, learned about her branding and the couple both wanted out.

Before quitting, Mr. Ames went to Nxivm’s offices in Albany to collect money he said the group owed him.

He had his cellphone in his pocket and turned on its recorder.

On the recording, Mr. Ames tells another member that Ms. Edmondson was branded and that other women told him about handing over collateral. “This is criminal,” Mr. Ames says.

The voice of a woman — who Mr. Ames said is Lauren Salzman — is heard trying to calm him. “I don’t think you are open to having a conversation,” she said.

“You are absolutely right, I’m not open to having a conversation,” he replied. “My wife got branded.”

A few days later, many of Mr. Raniere’s followers learned of the secret society from a website run by a Buffalo-area businessman, Frank R. Parlato Jr. Mr. Parlato had been locked in a long legal battle with two sisters, Sara and Clare Bronfman, who are members of Nxivm and the daughters of Edgar Bronfman, the deceased chairman of Seagram Company.

Photo

Nxivm’s Executive Success Programs offices in Albany. The organization has chapters across the United States, Canada and Mexico. CreditNathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

In 2011, the Bronfman sisters sued Mr. Parlato, whom they had hired as a consultant, alleging he had defrauded them of $1 million.

Four years later, in 2015, the Justice Department indicted him on charges of fraud and other crimes arising from alleged activities, including defrauding the Bronfmans. Mr. Parlato has denied the claims and the case is pending.

Mr. Parlato started a website, The Frank Report, which he uses to lambaste prosecutors, Mr. Raniere and the Bronfmans. In early June, Mr. Parlato published the first in a torrent of salacious posts under the headline, “Branded Slaves and Master Raniere.”

A Nxivm follower, Soukaina Mehdaoui, said she reached out to Mr. Raniere after reading the post. Ms. Mehdaoui, 25, was a newcomer to Nxivm, but the two had grown close.

She said Mr. Raniere told her the secret sorority began after three women offered damaging collateral to seal lifetime vows of obedience to him.

While Ms. Mehdaoui had joined the sorority, the women in her circle were not branded. She was appalled.

“There are things I didn’t know that I didn’t sign up for, and I’m not even hearing about it from you,” she texted Mr. Raniere.

Mr. Raniere texted back about his initials and the brand.

By then, panic was spreading inside Nxivm. Slaves were ordered to delete encrypted messages between them and erase Google documents, two women said. To those considering breaking away, it was not clear whom they could trust and who were Nxivm loyalists.

Late one night, Ms. Mehdaoui met secretly with another Nxivm member. They took out their cellphones to show they were not recording the conversation.

Both decided to leave Nxivm, despite concerns that the group would retaliate by releasing their “collateral” or suing them.

Ms. Mehdaoui said that when she went to say goodbye to Mr. Raniere, he urged her to stay.

“Do you think, I’m bad, I don’t agree with abuses,” she recalled him saying. He said the group “gives women tools to be powerful, to regain their power for the sake of building love.”

Nxivm recently filed criminal complaints with the Vancouver police against Ms. Edmondson and two other women accusing them of mischief and other crimes in connection with the firm’s now-closed center there, according to Ms. Edmondson. The women have denied the allegations. A spokesman for the Vancouver police declined to comment.

Ms. Edmondson and other former followers of Mr. Raniere said they were focusing on recovering.

“There is no playbook for leaving a cult,” she said.

Satanist Wins Transfer of Her Abortion Rights Case to the Missouri Sepreme Court

Original Article

By Max Londberg

A Missouri woman who is an adherent of the Satanic Temple won a victory in court last week in her quest to show that state abortion law violates her religious beliefs.

The Western District Court of Appeals ruled in her favor Tuesday, writing that her constitutional challenge — rare for its basis in religion — presented “a contested matter of right that involves fair doubt and reasonable room for disagreement.”

The woman, identified as Mary Doe in court documents, argued that her religion does not adhere to the idea that life begins at conception, and, because of that, the prerequisites for an abortion in Missouri are unconstitutionally violating her freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment.

The court ordered a transfer of the woman’s case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The suit names Gov. Eric Greitens, Attorney General Josh Hawley and others as defendants.

Her claims were originally rejected by the Cole County Circuit Court, but she appealed the decision.

Doe underwent an abortion in May 2015 in St. Louis. But before she was able to have the procedure, she had to comply with the state’s informed consent law.

The law compels women to wait 72 hours between their initial visit and the procedure, view an active ultrasound and sign a form pledging that they’ve read a booklet that includes the line, “[t]he life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

She declined to hear her fetus’ heartbeat and felt “guilt and shame,” according to court documents.

She claims that “the sole purpose of the law is to indoctrinate pregnant women into the belief held by some, but not all, Christians that a separate and unique human being begins at conception,” according to the court’s opinion. “Because the law does not recognize or include other beliefs, she contends that it establishes an official religion and makes clear that the state disapproves of her beliefs.”

The case would be the first of its kind to be heard by either the Missouri Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court, according to the Western District Court.

“Neither the Missouri Supreme Court nor the U.S. Supreme Court has considered whether a Booklet of this nature, an Ultrasound, an Audible Heartbeat Offer, and a seventy-two-hour Waiting Period violate the Religion Clause rights of pregnant women,” the court wrote.

Judge Thomas Newton issued the unanimous opinion. He wrote that Doe argued she must not support religious, philosophical or political beliefs that imbue her fetal tissue with an existence separate, apart or unique from her body.

“Because we believe that this case raises real and substantial constitutional claims, it is within the Missouri Supreme Court’s exclusive jurisdiction…” Newton wrote, “and we hereby order its transfer.”

Doe is an adherent of the Satanic Temple, according to court documents.

2015 New York Times profile of the Satanic Temple — formed by two people with a “shared distaste for organized religion” — pointed out how the group has used social media, its “eye-catching name” and imagery such as Baphomet, the “sabbatic goat,” to attract widespread media attention to its lawsuits.

The group’s mission is “to encourage benevolence and empathy among all people, reject tyrannical authority, advocate practical common sense and justice, and be directed by the human conscience to undertake noble pursuits guided by the individual will.”

The Satanic Temple is also a plaintiff in another, similar case in federal court, according to Missouri Lawyers Weekly.

Hawley said in a statement that he would vigorously defend “Missouri’s sensible waiting period law from this challenge by the Satanic Temple in the Missouri Supreme Court.”

Doe argues that the prerequisites to having an abortion reveal preferential treatment afforded to some in the state but not others.

“The State of Missouri is using its power to regulate abortion to promote some, but not all, religious beliefs that Fetal Tissue is, from conception, a separate and unique human being whose destruction is morally wrong,” she argued.

Doe is requesting that the sections in question of Missouri’s informed consent law be voided.

AG Directive Protects Religious Objectors to LGBT Rights

Original Article

By Rachel Zoll, Eric Tucker, and Sadie Gurman.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated.

The guidance, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump’s pledge to his evangelical and other religious supporters, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.

Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.

“This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Trump announced plans for the directive last May in a Rose Garden ceremony where he was surrounded by religious leaders. Since then, religious conservatives have anxiously awaited the Justice Department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amid the rapid acceptance of LGBT rights. Religious liberty experts said they would have to see how the guidance would be applied by individual agencies, both in crafting regulations and deciding how to enforce them. But experts said the directive clearly tilted the balance very far in favor of people of faith who do not want to recognize same-sex marriage.

“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm, called it “a great day for religious freedom.” The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group, called the guidelines an “all-out assault” on civil rights and a “sweeping license to discriminate.”

The new document lays the groundwork for legal positions that the Trump administration intends to take in future religious freedom cases, envisioning sweeping protections for faith-based beliefs and practices in private workplaces, at government jobs, in awarding government grants and in running prisons.

In issuing the memo, Sessions is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that said corporations with religious objections could opt out of a health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women.

The memo makes clear the Justice Department’s support of that opinion in noting that the primary religious freedom law — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — protects the rights not only of people to worship as they choose but also of corporations, companies and private firms.

In what is likely to be one of the more contested aspects of the document, the Justice Department states that religious organizations can hire workers based on religious beliefs and an employee’s willingness “to adhere to a code of conduct.” Many conservative Christian schools and faith-based agencies require employees to adhere to moral codes that ban sex outside marriage and same-sex relationships, among other behavior.

The document also says the government improperly infringes on individuals’ religious liberty by banning an aspect of their practice or by forcing them to take an action that contradicts their faith. As an example, Justice Department lawyers say government efforts to require employers to provide contraceptives to their workers “substantially burdens their religious practice.” Separately Friday, the Health and Human Services Department allowed more employers with religious objections to opt out of the birth control coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act.

Session’s directive affirms Trump’s earlier directive to the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. The policy has only rarely been enforced in the past.

The department’s civil rights division will now be involved in reviewing all agency actions to make sure they don’t conflict with federal law regarding religious liberty. Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hotline for federal employees and others who feel they’ve faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.

Church Where Jesus Died Suffers Roof Collapse As Hundreds Worship

Original Article

By Callum Paton

Part of the of the roof of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher collapsed Friday as hundreds of worshippers visited the site.

The church, one of the holiest locations in the Christian faith, had to be closed in the wake of the collapse while officials made sure it was safe for the congregation to return.

Read more: Israel prepares for another war with Hezbollah as IDF practices Lebanon invasion

Local media reported that the ceiling collapsed in an area where around 50 Ethiopian Christian worshippers had just finished praying.

“After the prayer and after the worshippers had left, some of the ceiling fell, causing great damage to the church, but thanks to God and His kindness there were no casualties at all,” Adeeb Joudeh Husseini, a church custodian explained.

09_27_Holy_Sepulcher Christian worshippers surround the Edicule as they take part in a Sunday Easter mass procession in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem’s Old City, April 16.REUTERS/AMMAR AWAD

Following the incident, Israeli police sealed the courtyard of the church. Work has begun on repairing damaged area.

For the Christian faithful, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher marks the sites where Jesus was crucified and where he was buried and resurrected. The church is one of the principal points of pilgrimage for Christians of all denominations.

The fourth century church is shared between the Greek Orthadox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, Coptic Syriac and Ethiopian Christian denominations. For 250 years a complicated system of sharing the places of worship has been observed

Earlier this month church leaders in Jerusalem issued a rare joint statement spoke out against the Israeli government saying it was weakening the Christian faith in the middle east.

The heads of Jerusalem’s major churches—including its Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Lutheran denominations, among others—criticized Israel’s lawmakers and its courts following a ruling that mandates the sale of church buildings to a Jewish settler organization.

The church leaders protested the transfer of the ownership of three church buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem’s Old City to the Ateret Cohanim Association, a right-wing Israeli Jewish settler organization which has purchased properties in East Jerusalem. They also put themselves in direct opposition to a bill which would make all church land sold to private citizens the property of the state.

“We see in these actions a systematic attempt to undermine the integrity of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and to weaken the Christian presence,” the statement from the church leaders read.

‘God Makes No Mistakes’: Couple Ignores Warning That Baby Could Die, Rejects Doctors, Police Say

Original Article

By Christopher Haxel

LANSING, Mich. — A mom refused to seek medical treatment for her newborn daughter even after a midwife warned that the infant’s jaundice could lead to brain damage or death, according to a police detective.

“God makes no mistakes,” Rachel Joy Piland told her midwife, according to court testimony last week from Peter Scaccia, a Lansing Police detective.

Two days later, infant Abigail was dead.

Abigail died Feb. 9 from unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia and kernicterus, according to an autopsy that Dr. Patrick Hansma, a medical examiner at Sparrow Hospital here, conducted later. Both conditions are related to jaundice, a common condition in newborns that can clear up on its own but needs a physician to monitor.

“He said if treated, most likely she would’ve been alive,” Scaccia testified.

Piland, 30, and her husband, Joshua Barry Piland, 36, were charged with involuntary manslaughter, a charge that carries up to 15 years of prison time. The two were released from jail Sept. 21 after posting $75,000 bond and did not answer their door Wednesday evening.

Records indicate the couple has requested that the court appoint lawyers for them.

The case likely will pit the Pilands’ apparent belief in divine healing and the religious group they have been involved in, Faith Tech Ministries, against government officials who contend that parents are responsible for seeking medical care for their child.

Abigail was born at about 9:50 p.m. ET Feb. 6 at the Pilands’ Lansing home. A midwife, who previously helped deliver two of Rachel Piland’s children, expressed no concerns about the baby’s health when she and an assistant left around midnight.

But the midwife’s assessment changed the next day when she saw Abigail’s jaundiced skin. She advised Rachel Piland to take her infant to a pediatrician or emergency room, Scaccia said.

“Rachel declined to seek any medical treatment for Abigail, stating God makes no mistakes,” the detective said. “She indicated to the midwife that the baby was fine.”

The midwife scheduled another appointment for the next day, but Rachel Piland later canceled it.

On Feb. 8, Abigail wasn’t eating properly and coughed up blood. At one point Rachel Piland’s mother, Rebecca Kerr, told her daughter that Abigail’s skin was not the right color.

“Rachel told Rebecca about (the midwife’s) concern,” Scaccia said. “And then Rachel went to listen to sermons.”

grandmother noticed blood coming out of the newborn’s nose, problems with her breathing and a lack of desire to eat. Rachel Piland wouldn’t allow her mother to call for help.

By 11 a.m., Abigail’s mother found the infant not breathing and lifeless in a bouncy seat. Rachel Piland took the body to her husband, who attempted one round of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and decided not to try cardio-pulmonary resuscitation because he did not know how to perform it on children, according to court records.

“They then brought Abigail upstairs to pray for her,” Scaccia said. “Joshua continued to massage Abigail, attempting to get her good air. Both Josh and (Rachel) reached out to friends and fellow church members to come to their home and pray for Abigail’s resurrection but never called the police.”

Authorities learned of the baby’s death because Rachel Piland’s brother called them from California. When police arrived at the Pilands’ home, “went upstairs and found a baby that had passed away and three other people praying for it,” Scaccia said.

Joshua Piland has posted videos of missionary trips to Kenya with a Lansing-based Faith Tech Ministries, which describes itself online as nondenominational but similar to other “full gospel” or Pentecostal organizations. Its website says the Bible school has a strong message in the area of divine healing.

In 2016 Joshua Piland was listed as a speaker at a Divine Healing Conference that the ministry organized. His LinkedIn profile indicates he left the organization in February, the same month his daughter died.

No one at Faith Tech Ministries answered the phone Wednesday afternoon and evening.

The couple is scheduled to appear Oct. 5 in Lansing’s 54A District Court.

Joshua Piland worked for the Michigan Economic Development Corp. from 2009 until sometime this month, said Lynne Feldpausch, the public-private partnership’s executive vice president. She would not say which day was Joshua Piland’s last nor why he left.

On Wednesday he still was listed as a senior project manager in the organization’s online directory, but by Thursday afternoon, his name had been removed.

 

Group Accuses Pope Francis of Heresy

Original Article

By Steve Reilly

A group of Catholic scholars and clergy has accused Pope Francis of heresy in connection with a 2016 papal document that discusses divorce and remarriage, according to a 25-page letter made public by the group.

The letter, made public Saturday, asserts that portions of Francis’ document “The Joy of Love,” contains propositions which “contradict truths that are divinely revealed, and that Catholics must believe with the assent of divine faith.”

More than 60 priests, professors and others signed the letter, which accuses Francis of seven specific heresies because of the pope’s “words, deeds, and omissions” as well as specific passages in document.

The criticism centers on receipt of Communion by Catholics who have been civilly remarried. A spokesman for the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts on the Catholic Church said the letter represents only a small minority of the church, and that it is unlikely to be met with any response from Francis.

Massimo Faggioli, a professor at Villanova University’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies, said the signatories represent a “tiny, extreme fringe of the opposition to Francis” and do not include any cardinals or bishops with formal standing in the Catholic Church.

“The Catholic Church that has more than 200 cardinals now and more than 5,000 bishops,” he said. “And they couldn’t find one.”

The only bishop who signed the letter is Bishop Bernard Fellay of the Society of St. Pius X, who experts said does not have formal standing in the church because he is from a breakaway group.

David Gibson, director of Fordham University’s Center on Religion and Culture, said the letter is “akin to an online petition,” and is unlikely to have any effect.

“It’s a great headline anytime the pope is accused of heresy,” he said. “But these are really, kind of, the usual suspects of really far right types who have been upset with not only this pope, but other popes in recent years.”

Joseph Shaw, a religious scholar at Oxford University who signed the letter, said in a statement that it was first hand-delivered to Francis more than a month ago. The group only made it public after it did not receive a response.

“It is designed to make clear the importance of what is (at) stake,” Shaw said, “and the urgency of keeping a correct view of these matters.”

The Invention of A.I. ‘Gaydar’ Could Be the Start of Something Much Worse

Original Article

By James Vincent

Two weeks ago, a pair of researchers from Stanford University made a startling claim. Using hundreds of thousands of images taken from a dating website, they said they had trained a facial recognition system that could identify whether someone was straight or gay just by looking at them. The work was first covered by The Economist, and other publications soon followed suit, with headlines like “New AI can guess whether you’re gay or straight from a photograph” and “AI Can Tell If You’re Gay From a Photo, and It’s Terrifying.”

As you might have guessed, it’s not as straightforward as that. (And to be clear, based on this work alone, AI can’t tell whether someone is gay or straight from a photo.) But the research captures common fears about artificial intelligence: that it will open up new avenues for surveillance and control, and could be particularly harmful for marginalized people. One of the paper’s authors, Dr Michal Kosinski, says his intent is to sound the alarm about the dangers of AI, and warns that facial recognition will soon be able to identify not only someone’s sexual orientation, but their political views, criminality, and even their IQ.

With statements like these, some worry we’re reviving an old belief with a bad history: that you can intuit character from appearance. This pseudoscience, physiognomy, was fuel for the scientific racism of the 19th and 20th centuries, and gave moral cover to some of humanity’s worst impulses: to demonize, condemn, and exterminate fellow humans. Critics of Kosinski’s work accuse him of replacing the calipers of the 19th century with the neural networks of the 21st, while the professor himself says he is horrified by his findings, and happy to be proved wrong. “It’s a controversial and upsetting subject, and it’s also upsetting to us,” he tells The Verge.

But is it possible that pseudoscience is sneaking back into the world, disguised in new garb thanks to AI? Some people say machines are simply able to read more about us than we can ourselves, but what if we’re training them to carry out our prejudices, and, in doing so, giving new life to old ideas we rightly dismissed? How are we going to know the difference?

CAN AI REALLY SPOT SEXUAL ORIENTATION?

First, we need to look at the study at the heart of the recent debate, written by Kosinski and his co-author Yilun Wang. Its results have been poorly reported, with a lot of the hype coming from misrepresentations of the system’s accuracy. The paper states: “Given a single facial image, [the software] could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81 percent of cases, and in 71 percent of cases for women.” These rates increase when the system is given five pictures of an individual: up to 91 percent for men, and 83 percent for women.

On the face of it, this sounds like “AI can tell if a man is gay or straight 81 percent of the time by looking at his photo.” (Thus the headlines.) But that’s not what the figures mean. The AI wasn’t 81 percent correct when being shown random photos: it was tested on a pair of photos, one of a gay person and one of a straight person, and then asked which individual was more likely to be gay. It guessed right 81 percent of the time for men and 71 percent of the time for women, but the structure of the test means it started with a baseline of 50 percent — that’s what it’d get guessing at random. And although it was significantly better than that, the results aren’t the same as saying it can identify anyone’s sexual orientation 81 percent of the time.

As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who wrote a blog post critiquing the paper, told The Verge: “People are scared of a situation where you have a private life and your sexual orientation isn’t known, and you go to an airport or a sporting event and a computer scans the crowd and identifies whether you’re gay or straight. But there’s just not much evidence this technology can do that.”

Kosinski and Wang make this clear themselves toward the end of the paper when they test their system against 1,000 photographs instead of two. They ask the AI to pick out who is most likely to be gay in a dataset in which 7 percent of the photo subjects are gay, roughly reflecting the proportion of straight and gay men in the US population. When asked to select the 100 individuals most likely to be gay, the system gets only 47 out of 70 possible hits. The remaining 53 have been incorrectly identified. And when asked to identify a top 10, nine are right.

If you were a bad actor trying to use this system to identify gay people, you couldn’t know for sure you were getting correct answers. Although, if you used it against a large enough dataset, you might get mostly correct guesses. Is this dangerous? If the system is being used to target gay people, then yes, of course. But the rest of the study suggests the program has even further limitations.

WHAT CAN COMPUTERS REALLY SEE THAT HUMANS CAN’T?

It’s also not clear what factors the facial recognition system is using to make its judgements. Kosinski and Wang’s hypothesis is that it’s primarily identifying structural differences: feminine features in the faces of gay men and masculine features in the faces of gay women. But it’s possible that the AI is being confused by other stimuli — like facial expressions in the photos.

This is particularly relevant because the images used in the study were taken from a dating website. As Greggor Mattson, a professor of sociology at Oberlin College, pointed out in a blog post, this means that the images themselves are biased, as they were selected specifically to attract someone of a certain sexual orientation. They almost certainly play up to our cultural expectations of how gay and straight people should look, and, to further narrow their applicability, all the subjects were white, with no inclusion of bisexual or self-identified trans individuals. If a straight male chooses the most stereotypically “manly” picture of himself for a dating site, it says more about what he thinks society wants from him than a link between the shape of his jaw and his sexual orientation.

To try and ensure their system was looking at facial structure only, Kosinski and Wang used software called VGG-Face, which encodes faces as strings of numbers and has been used for tasks like spotting celebrity lookalikes in paintings. This program, they write, allows them to “minimize the role [of] transient features” like lighting, pose, and facial expression.

But researcher Tom White, who works on AI facial system, says VGG-Face is actually very good at picking up on these elements. White pointed this out on Twitter, and explained to The Verge over email how he’d tested the software and used it to successfully distinguish between faces with expressions like “neutral” and “happy,” as well as poses and background color.

A figure from the paper showing the average faces of the participants, and the difference in facial structures that they identified between the two sets. 
Image: Kosinski and Wang

Speaking to The Verge, Kosinski says he and Wang have been explicit that things like facial hair and makeup could be a factor in the AI’s decision-making, but he maintains that facial structure is the most important. “If you look at the overall properties of VGG-Face, it tends to put very little weight on transient facial features,” Kosinski says. “We also provide evidence that non-transient facial features seem to be predictive of sexual orientation.”

The problem is, we can’t know for sure. Kosinski and Wang haven’t released the program they created or the pictures they used to train it. They do test their AI on other picture sources, to see if it’s identifying some factor common to all gay and straight, but these tests were limited and also drew from a biased dataset — Facebook profile pictures from men who liked pages such as “I love being Gay,” and “Gay and Fabulous.”

Do men in these groups serve as reasonable proxies for all gay men? Probably not, and Kosinski says it’s possible his work is wrong. “Many more studies will need to be conducted to verify [this],” he says. But it’s tricky to say how one could completely eliminate selection bias to perform a conclusive test. Kosinski tells The Verge, “You don’t need to understand how the model works to test whether it’s correct or not.” However, it’s the acceptance of the opacity of algorithms that makes this sort of research so fraught.

IF AI CAN’T SHOW ITS WORKING, CAN WE TRUST IT?

AI researchers can’t fully explain why their machines do the things they do. It’s a challenge that runs through the entire field, and is sometimes referred to as the “black box” problem. Because of the methods used to train AI, these programs can’t show their work in the same way normal software does, although researchers are working to amend this.

In the meantime, it leads to all sorts of problems. A common one is that sexist and racist biases are captured from humans in the training data and reproduced by the AI. In the case of Kosinski and Wang’s work, the “black box” allows them to make a particular scientific leap of faith. Because they’re confident their system is primarily analyzing facial structures, they say their research shows that facial structures predict sexual orientation. (“Study 1a showed that facial features extracted by a [neural network] can be used to accurately identify the sexual orientation of both men and women.”)

Experts say this is a misleading claim that isn’t supported by the latest science. There may be a common cause for face shape and sexual orientation — the most probable cause is the balance of hormones in the womb — but that doesn’t mean face shape reliably predicts sexual orientation, says Qazi Rahman, an academic at King’s College London who studies the biology of sexual orientation. “Biology’s a little bit more nuanced than we often give it credit for,” he tells The Verge. “The issue here is the strength of the association.”

The idea that sexual orientation comes primarily from biology is itself controversial. Rahman, who believes that sexual orientation is mostly biological, praises Kosinski and Wang’s work. “It’s not junk science,” he says. “More like science someone doesn’t like.” But when it comes to predicting sexual orientation, he says there’s a whole package of “atypical gender behavior” that needs to be considered. “The issue for me is more that [the study] misses the point, and that’s behavior.”

Is there a gay gene? Or is sexuality equally shaped by society and culture?

Reducing the question of sexual orientation to a single, measurable factor in the body has a long and often inglorious history. As Matton writes in his blog post, approaches have ranged from “19th century measurements of lesbians’ clitorises and homosexual men’s hips, to late 20th century claims to have discovered ‘gay genes,’ ‘gay brains,’ ‘gay ring fingers,’ ‘lesbian ears,’ and ‘gay scalp hair.’” The impact of this work is mixed, but at its worst it’s a tool of oppression: it gives people who want to dehumanize and persecute sexual minorities a “scientific” pretext.

Jenny Davis, a lecturer in sociology at the Australian National University, describes it as a form of biological essentialism. This is the belief that things like sexual orientation are rooted in the body. This approach, she says, is double-edged. On the one hand, it “does a useful political thing: detaching blame from same-sex desire. But on the other hand, it reinforces the devalued position of that kind of desire,” setting up hetrosexuality as the norm and framing homosexuality as “less valuable … a sort of illness.”

And it’s when we consider Kosinski and Wang’s research in this context that AI-powered facial recognition takes on an even darker aspect — namely, say some critics, as part of a trend to the return of physiognomy, powered by AI.

YOUR CHARACTER, AS PLAIN AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE

For centuries, people have believed that the face held the key to the character. The notion has its roots in ancient Greece, but was particularly influential in the 19th century. Proponents of physiognomy suggested that by measuring things like the angle of someone’s forehead or the shape of their nose, they could determine if a person was honest or a criminal. Last year in China, AI researchers claimed they could do the same thing using facial recognition.

Their research, published as “Automated Inference on Criminality Using Face Images,” caused a minor uproar in the AI community. Scientists pointed out flaws in the study, and concluded that that work was replicating human prejudices about what constitutes a “mean” or a “nice” face. In a widely shared rebuttal titled “Physiognomy’s New Clothes,” Google researcher Blaise Agüera y Arcas and two co-authors wrote that we should expect “more research in the coming years that has similar … false claims to scientific objectivity in order to ‘launder’ human prejudice and discrimination.” (Google declined to make Agüera y Arcas available to comment on this report.)

An illustration of physiognomy from Giambattista della Porta’s De humana physiognomonia

Kosinski and Wang’s paper clearly acknowledges the dangers of physiognomy, noting that the practice “is now universally, and rightly, rejected as a mix of superstition and racism disguised as science.” But, they continue, just because a subject is “taboo,” doesn’t mean it has no basis in truth. They say that because humans are able to read characteristics like personality in other people’s faces with “low accuracy,” machines should be able to do the same but more accurately.

Kosinski says his research isn’t physiognomy because it’s using rigorous scientific methods, and his paper cites a number of studies showing that we can deduce (with varying accuracy) traits about people by looking at them. “I was educated and made to believe that it’s absolutely impossible that the face contains any information about your intimate traits, because physiognomy and phrenology were just pseudosciences,” he says. “But the fact that they were claiming things without any basis in fact, that they were making stuff up, doesn’t mean that this stuff is not real.” He agrees that physiognomy is not science, but says there may be truth in its basic concepts that computers can reveal.

For Davis, this sort of attitude comes from a widespread and mistaken belief in the neutrality and objectivity of AI. “Artificial intelligence is not in fact artificial,” she tells The Verge. “Machines learn like humans learn. We’re taught through culture and absorb the norms of social structure, and so does artificial intelligence. So it will re-create, amplify, and continue on the trajectories we’ve taught it, which are always going to reflect existing cultural norms.”

We’ve already created sexist and racist algorithms, and these sorts of cultural biases and physiognomy are really just two sides of the same coin: both rely on bad evidence to judge others. The work by the Chinese researchers is an extreme example, but it’s certainly not the only one. There’s at least one startup already active that claims it can spot terrorists and pedophiles using face recognition, and there are many others offering to analyze “emotional intelligence” and conduct AI-powered surveillance.

FACING UP TO WHAT’S COMING

But to return to the questions implied by those alarming headlines about Kosinski and Wang’s paper: is AI going to be used to persecute sexual minorities?

This system? No. A different one? Maybe.

Kosinski and Wang’s work is not invalid, but its results need serious qualifications and further testing. Without that, all we know about their system is that it can spot with some reliability the difference between self-identified gay and straight white people on one particular dating site. We don’t know that it’s spotted a biological difference common to all gay and straight people; we don’t know if it would work with a wider set of photos; and the work doesn’t show that sexual orientation can be deduced with nothing more than, say, a measurement of the jaw. It’s not decoded human sexuality any more than AI chatbots have decoded the art of a good conversation. (Nor do its authors make such a claim.)

Startup Faception claims it can identify how likely people are to be terrorists just by looking at their face. 
Image: Faception

The research was published to warn people, say Kosinski, but he admits it’s an “unavoidable paradox” that to do so you have to explain how you did what you did. All the tools used in the paper are available for anyone to find and put together themselves. Writing at the deep learning education site Fast.ai, researcher Jeremy Howard concludes: “It is probably reasonably [sic] to assume that many organizations have already completed similar projects, but without publishing them in the academic literature.”

We’ve already mentioned startups working on this tech, and it’s not hard to find government regimes that would use it. In countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia homosexuality is still punishable by death; in many other countries, being gay means being hounded, imprisoned, and tortured by the state. Recent reports have spoken of the opening of concentration camps for gay men in the Chechen Republic, so what if someone there decides to make their own AI gaydar, and scan profile pictures from Russian social media?

Here, it becomes clear that the accuracy of systems like Kosinski and Wang’s isn’t really the point. If people believe AI can be used to determine sexual preference, they will use it. With that in mind, it’s more important than ever that we understand the limitations of artificial intelligence, to try and neutralize dangers before they start impacting people. Before we teach machines our prejudices, we need to first teach ourselves.

LA School District To Try Out Sex-Ed Classes for Fourth Graders.

Original Article

By Antonie Boessenkool

The Los Angeles Unified School District will test new sex education lessons this year for children as young as 9 years old.

Nurse and educator Wendy Sellers is the author of "Puberty: The Wonder Years." (Courtesy photo)
Nurse and educator Wendy Sellers is the author of “Puberty: The Wonder Years.” (Courtesy photo) 

“Puberty: The Wonder Years,” a course authored by renowned health educator and nurse Wendy Sellers, is among the lessons that will be offered to fourth-grade students, as well as those in fifth and sixth grades at a handful of schools.

Why is sex ed necessary for students who are so young? Because ignorance doesn’t help anyone, Sellers said.

“(Students) should be able to learn about the very normal natural changes that happen for everyone as they grow,” she said. When they reach puberty — sooner now than in decades past — students need to be armed with information.

Sellers, who lives in Michigan, says her curriculum of about six to 11 lessons has been used at schools in 27 states. If it’s adopted here on a permanent basis, LAUSD would be the largest school district to use it.

TIME FOR A CHANGE

“Sex education has not changed much over the decades,” Sellers said.

Among the hundreds of teachers she has trained on her curriculum, most told her their own sex education consisted of a video on menstruation for girls in the sixth grade and something separate for the boys in another classroom. It was highly secretive, and not a positive memory.

Sellers said her course aims to change that. It’s also inclusive of LGTBQ identities and doesn’t assume traditional gender roles in describing relationships. There’s no specific lesson to define same-sex relationships, but rather examples of same-sex couples are integrated into lessons, she said.

“Kids are just unflapped by this,” she said. “It’s old people that are having a hard time getting used to it.”

CONTRACEPTION LESSON OPTIONAL

Sellers’ “Puberty” course also promotes delaying sex. But schools can include — in sixth grade — an optional lesson on condoms and contraception.

In LAUSD, teachers will decide whether to use that lesson, said Timothy Kordic, in charge of sexual health and HIV/AIDS prevention education for the district.

“We’re not talking about overload. We’re talking about the basics, what kids need to know so they don’t freak out when something happens,” Kordic said of Sellers’ course and others the district is testing out. “We’re sensitive to the idea that this is a sensitive topic.”

Public schools in California can’t teach “abstinence-only” sex ed, according to California’s Education Code. And most kids in middle school are not having sex, he said. So an “abstinence-based” focus is still important.

However, past LAUSD surveys show some middle school students are already having sex. A 2015 report said that among eighth-grade students, 10 percent had had intercourse and 11 percent had had oral sex.

Kordic said LAUSD is testing Sellers’ course, plus a few others for this age group, in anticipation that the district will have a new health textbook in two to three years. The state Board of Education is working on that textbook now, and the district might adopt one of these sex ed courses to augment the textbook, he said.

MODERN RESOURCES ‘DIFFICULT TO FIND’

But the other reason LAUSD is testing out new sex ed courses is to standardize those lessons across the district. Starting in the fourth grade, students get some information on sexuality, and then more is offered in fifth grade, Kordic said.

“It’s also been very difficult to find updated, modern resources for middle school” on sexual education, he said. “Our goal is to have something that’s medically accurate, current and nonbiased.”

Sellers is set to visit Los Angeles at the end of this month to train LAUSD teachers on the curriculum. The district has bought enough teaching sets, with a $24,000 federal grant, to use the curriculum in up to about 50 schools, though 10 or 15 schools are more likely.

It will be up to teachers to go to the training and bring Sellers’ course to their classrooms, Kordic said. Then “Puberty” could be taught in LAUSD schools as soon as October.

Christian Researcher Warns Rapture Will Begin Saturday

Original Article

David Meade, a Christian researcher, told The Washington Post the rapture will happen Saturday–33 days after last month’s eclipse.

The rapture is an event where Christians claim Jesus Christ will return to Earth and carry the “saved” to heaven while the Earth descends into a chaotic “tribulation” period for those who are left. Meade believes the rapture won’t be the end of the Earth per say, just the end as we know it.

“Jesus lived for 33 years. The name Elohim, which is the name of God to the Jews, was mentioned 33 times [in the bible]. It’s a very biblically significant, numerologicaly significant number,” Meade said.

Meade thinks the catastrophe will be caused by a secret planet called Nibiru passing the Earth on Saturday. Nearly every astronomer denies the existence of Nibiru.

Fellow Christians are also rejecting Meade’s doomsday predictions.

“Meade is a made-up leader in a made-up field, and should not be on the front page of anything,” Ed Stetzer of Christianity today said.

In anticipation for the event, several related videos have gone viral.

White Christians Are Now A U.S. Population Minority

Original Article

By Rachel Zoll

The share of Americans who identify as white and Christian has dropped below 50 percent, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

NEW YORK — The share of Americans who identify as white and Christian has dropped below 50 percent, a transformation fueled by immigration and by growing numbers of people who reject organized religion altogether, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

Christians overall remain a large majority in the U.S., at nearly 70 percent of Americans. However, white Christians, once predominant in the country’s religious life, now comprise only 43 percent of the population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, a polling organization based in Washington. Four decades ago, about eight in 10 Americans were white Christians.

The change has occurred across the spectrum of Christian traditions in the U.S., including sharp drops in membership in predominantly white mainline Protestant denominations such as Presbyterians and Lutherans; an increasing Latino presence in the Roman Catholic Church as some non-Hispanic white Catholics leave; and shrinking ranks of white evangelicals, who until recently had been viewed as immune to decline.

The trends identified in the survey are fueling anxiety about the place of Christians in society, especially among evangelicals, alarmed by support for gay marriage and by the increasing share of Americans — about one-quarter — who don’t identify with a faith group. President Donald Trump, who repeatedly promised to protect the religious liberty of Christians, drew 80 percent of votes by white evangelicals, a constituency that remains among his strongest supporters.

About 17 percent of Americans now identify as white evangelical, compared to 23 percent a decade ago, according to the survey. Membership in the conservative Southern Baptist Convention, the largest U.S. Protestant group, dropped to 15.2 million last year, its lowest number since 1990, according to an analysis by Chuck Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The trends identified in the survey are fueling anxiety about the place of Christians in society, especially among evangelicals, alarmed by support for gay marriage and by the increasing share of Americans — about one-quarter — who don’t identify with a faith group.

“So often, white evangelicals have been pointing in judgment to white mainline groups, saying when you have liberal theology you decline,” said Robert Jones, chief executive of PRRI. “I think this data really does challenge that interpretation of linking theological conservatism and growth.”

The PRRI survey of more than 100,000 people was conducted from January 2016 to January of this year and has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.4 percentage points. Previous surveys had found that the Protestant majority that shaped the nation’s history had dropped below 50 percent sometime around 2008. The PRRI poll released Wednesday included a more in-depth focus on race and religion. Jones said growth among Latino Christians, and stability in the numbers of African-American Christians, had partly obscured the decline among white Christians.

The survey also found that more than a third of all Republicans say they are white evangelicals, and nearly three-quarter identify as white Christians. By comparison, white Christians have become a minority in the Democratic Party, shrinking from 50 percent a decade ago, to 29 percent now. Forty percent of Democrats say they have no religious affiliation.

Among American Catholics, 55 percent now identify as white, compared to 87 percent 25 years ago, amid the growing presence of Latino Catholics, according to the report. Over the last decade, the share of white Catholics in the U.S. population dropped from 16 percent to 11 percent. Over the same period, white mainline Protestants declined from 18 percent to 13 percent of all Americans.

Sen. Feinstein Blasted For Anti-Catholic Bigotry By Notre Dame President

Original Article

By Todd Starnes

The president of the University of Notre Dame said he is deeply concerned after Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned a colleague’s religious beliefs during a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing.

Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame, was grilled by Democrats over how her Catholic beliefs might influence her decisions from the bench. Barrett was recently nominated by President Trump for a seat on the federal court.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country,” Sen. Feinstein said.

Feinstein has been widely condemned for what many are calling anti-Catholic bigotry and bullying.

“It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge,” Notre Dame President John Jenkins wrote in a public letter to the California lawmaker.

He took great exception to her remark that the “dogma lives loudly” in the professor.

Justice Department Sides With Baker Who Refused To Make Wedding Cake For Gay Couple

Original Article

By Robert Barnes

In a major upcoming Supreme Court case that weighs equal rights with religious liberty, the Trump administration on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to created a cake to celebrate the marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. Phillips said he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs.

The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe.

“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.

Plaintiff in landmark Supreme Court case says: ‘One person can change the world’
The Post’s Steven Petrow sits down with Jim Obergefell, the main plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, and talks about gay marriage, equality for the transgender community and his late husband John.(Video: Erin Patrick O’Connor/Photo: Maddie McGarvey/The Washington Post)

The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue.

But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing.

“Even in an administration that has already made its hostility” toward the gay community clear, Melling said, “I find this nothing short of shocking.”

Since taking office, President Trump has moved to block transgender Americans from serving in the military and his Department of Education has done away with guidance to schools on how they should accommodate transgender students.

The DOJ also has taken the stance that gay workers are not entitled to job protections under federal anti-discrimination laws. Since 2015, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission has taken the opposite stance, saying Title VII, the civil-rights statute that covers workers, protects against bias based on sexual orientation.

Federal courts are split on that issue, and the Supreme Court this term might take up the issue.

Indeed, lawyers for Jameka Evans, who claims she was fired by Georgia Regional Hospital because of her sexual orientation and “nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor,” on Thursday asked justices to take her case.

Citing a 1979 precedent, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her protection claims.

Taking that case, along with Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, would make the coming Supreme Court term the most important for gay rights issues since the justices voted 5 to 4 in 2015 to find a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

The case of Phillips, a baker in the Denver suburbs, is similar to lawsuits brought elsewhere involving florists, calligraphers and others who say providing services to same-sex weddings would violate their religious beliefs. But these objectors have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that businesses serving the public must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The civil rights commission and a Colorado court rejected Phillips’ argument that forcing him to create a cake violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and exercise of religion.

The court said the baker “does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law.”

Robert E. Lee Decendant/Denouncer Quits N.C. Pastorship After “Hurtful” Reaction to VMA’s Speech

Highlights from the 2017 VMAs
From Kendrick Lamar winning video of the year to emotional speeches on the violence in Charlottesville, here are the highlights from MTV’s Video Music Awards.(Courtesy of MTV)

He was the great-great-great-great-nephew of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee, and he felt it was his moral duty to speak out against his ancestor, “an idol of white supremacy, racism and hate.” He said as much when he took the microphone near the end of the 2017 MTV Video Music Awards, when he introduced himself by a familiar-sounding name: Robert Lee IV.

Lee’s speech at the VMAs on Aug. 27 followed the glitz and glam of red carpets and all-star performances by the likes of Lorde and Ed Sheeran. But his appearance quickly caught Internet fame as among the night’s most memorable. As he appeared before the cameras, Lee stood in stark contrast to the sleek, geometric set behind him, dressed simply in a black cleric’s shirt and collar. Soon he would introduce Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer had been killed 15 days before, after being mowed down by a car as she protested white supremacy in Charlottesville.

“My name is Robert Lee IV, I’m a descendant of Robert E. Lee, the Civil War general whose statue was at the center of violence in Charlottesville,” he said. “We have made my ancestor an idol of white supremacy, racism, and hate. As a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism, America’s original sin.

“Today, I call on all of us with privilege and power to answer God’s call to confront racism and white supremacy head-on.

“We can find inspiration in the Black Lives Matter movement, the women who marched in the Women’s March in January, and, especially, Heather Heyer, who died fighting for her beliefs.”

On Monday, Lee announced he would be leaving his church — Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, N.C.  In his statement, published on the website of the Auburn Theological Seminary, Lee wrote that while he did have congregants who supported his freedom of speech, many resented the attention the church received after the VMAs.

“A faction of church members were concerned about my speech and that I lifted up Black Lives Matter movement, the Women’s March, and Heather Heyer as examples of racial justice work,” he wrote, adding that his “church’s reaction was deeply hurtful.” Lee wrote that he never sought the kind of attention that has followed him since the protests in Charlottesville last month, even while his visibility as a religious leader and staunch opponent of Confederate memorials garnered international recognition, a turn of events no doubt fueled by his namesake. (Technically, he’s an “indirect” rather than a “direct” descendant.)


Bethany United Church of Christ in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Google Maps)

Lee did not describe specific responses he received from congregants. But the comments section on an article about his VMA speech in the Winston-Salem Journal gives some sense of the backlash. One commenter wrote that there was “no way” Lee was a Christian and that “it seems anybody that wants to protect our country is a racist, or white supremacist. … It’s a sin to use your position to name-call and judge.”

Another commenter wrote that rather than appear on television, Lee should devote his time to ministering: “You have how many faithful members? Maybe if you spent more time around the church that number would increase.”

[Gen. Robert E. Lee is his namesake ancestor. On Sunday, he’ll preach about the evils of racism.]

In an Aug. 18 interview with BBC News, Lee argued that statues of his ancestor honor white supremacy and endorse a system in which it is acceptable to be racist in America. He pointed to the complete lack of markers to fascists in Europe following World War II as evidence that there is a way to “remember your history and not commemorate it.” Lee talked of how he had spoken with a descendant of a slave owned by the Lee family, describing his heartbreak over hearing the firsthand experiences of those “hurt and oppressed by statues.”

Lee has spoken openly about how he arrived at his own conclusions about his lineage, saying he has at once felt pride in the fact that Lee family members signed the Declaration of Independence and shame over Robert E. Lee’s leadership over the Confederacy. In one NPR interview, he spoke of how he was often given mixed messages on whether the elder Lee was a proponent of slavery or states’ rights.

From his pulpit, Lee implored his parishioners to condemn the racism swirling around them, insisting they would be doing the church wrong if they remained silent.

“It’s not the message that we’re used to hearing from our pulpits. But maybe now is the time to start having those messages,” Lee said in the NPR interview.

In his first appointment out of seminary, Lee has been the pastor of Bethany Church since April, according to the church’s website. The church was founded in a log meeting house around 1789 and is one of the oldest Reformed churches in North Carolina, having been originally founded as a “union effort of persons of Reformed and Lutheran faith.” The church’s website still listed Lee as its pastor as of early Tuesday.

The United Church of Christ has been known for its liberal views, given its support for social justice issues. For instance, it has called on the Washington Redskins to change its name.

A graduate of Appalachian State University and Duke University Divinity School, Lee is the author of “Stained-Glass Millennials”— a book about the relationship between millennials and institutional church — and is a regular columnist for the Statesville Record & Landmark, which has covered Iredell County, N.C., for more than a century. Lee did not return requests for an interview Monday night.

In an Aug. 31 column for the newspaper, Lee emphasized the “cost of discipleship,” particularly when condemning hate.

“I wish I could say it was easy to speak up and speak out in God’s name,” Lee wrote in the column. “But it wasn’t.”

Story and headline was updated to reflect the fact that while Lee calls himself a descendant, he’s an indirect descendant.

Can Nightmares Cause Death?

Original Article

By Tara MacIsaac

In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.

A lot of the research on nightmares suggests these events test the strength of one’s mind. If the mind is not strong, nightmares can take hold with greater force and the torment can extend beyond one’s dreams.

Dr. Patrick McNamara of the Boston University School of Medicine looks at nightmares in a modern clinical context that also takes into account the history of dream phenomena in many cultures. He connects nightmares with a world of malevolent spirits.

 

Spirit Possession

Some people who experience frequent nightmares, both today and throughout history, also show signs in waking life of mental illness and even what may be seen as spirit possession.

Dr. McNamara seems unabashed in speaking about spirit possession.

“Nightmares very often involve supernatural characters that attack or target the dreamer in some way. I mean monsters, creatures, demons, spirits, unusual animals, and the like,” Dr. McNamara said in an interview with Boston University’s alumni publication Bostonia. “The self escapes unscathed only if it refuses to look at or speak to or in any way engage the monster. When the self engages the monster, all kinds of ill effects ensue, including, in ancestral cultures, demonic or spirit possession.”

“It is an interesting clinical fact that, even today, most cases of involuntary spirit possession across the world occur overnight. The person wakes up possessed,” he said. He said spirit possession is much more common than most people think. “It is a universal human experience.”

Under attack, the strength of a dreamer’s ego is challenged in nightmares. As with facing other hardships in life, overcoming a nightmare attack can make a person stronger, Dr. McNamara said.

Nightmares are more frequent for people with “thin boundaries,” he said—that is, people who are sensitive to sensory impressions and creative people.

People who’ve experienced trauma also experience frequent nightmares. As has been suggested in other modern spirit possession studies, trauma victims may sometimes withdraw their consciousness from their bodies as a coping method, thus leaving their bodies open to the control of other consciousnesses.

ALSO SEE: Science of Spirit Possession

Neurologist and psychiatrist Dr. McNamara studied nightmares for more than a decade before writing “The Science and Solution of Those Frightening Visions During Sleep” in 2008.

 

Mental Illness

Mental Illness
Concept image of a woman suffering from mental illness via Shutterstock

Researchers at the University of Warwick in England released a study earlier this year linking chronic childhood nightmares with mental illness later in life.

A link does not mean a cause-effect relationship. It may be that people likely to have nightmares are also likely to be mentally ill. Children who experienced frequent nightmares were three times more likely to have psychotic experiences in their teenage years.

When considering the lasting impact of nightmares on one’s mind, another question that has been raised is, if a person dies in a dream could he die in real life as a result?

 

Can You Really Die if Killed in a Nightmare?

There is a phenomenon called “sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome” (SUNDS) that some have speculated may be linked to nightmares, but this link has not been rigorously tested and is far from certain. SUNDS is more common among a particular demographic, young men, and often happens when the men have gone to bed with a full stomach, suggesting more physiological causes.

Another phenomenon related to death in sleep is parasomnia pseudo-suicide, when people commit suicide in their sleep. A 2003 article in the Journal of Forensic Science explained: “Complex behaviors arising from the sleep period may result in violent or injurious consequences, even death. Those resulting in death may be erroneously deemed suicides.”

Some have said this is what happened to modern artist Tobias Wong, who hanged himself in New York in 2010.

Doree Shafrir of Buzzfeed wrote an article about her personal experiences with night terrors and also mentioned Wong. Night terrors differ slightly from nightmares in that the sleepers may exhibit more physical movement or yelling during the terrors and they may not remember dream episodes that caused the reaction. “It crosses my mind that I could actually scare myself to death,” she wrote.

“The prevailing theory about Tobias Wong’s death was that he hanged himself while experiencing a night terror. I imagine that something in his mind told him that hanging himself was the only way to escape whoever, or whatever, was chasing him, in the same way that I have thought that the only way to save myself was to jump out of a window or smash a pane of glass.”

It is difficult, of course, to establish any clear link between nightmares and death, since the cause of death would be manifest in the person’s mind and the person would not be able to report it if he or she actually died as a result.

 

How to Fight Nightmares: Make the Scary Thing Silly

A common therapy to help people with chronic nightmares overcome them is turning the scary image into something benign. In waking life, the person identifies the frightening imagery that comes up in recurrent nightmares or nightmares with similar themes. He or she Reimagines it in a way that makes it less scary, sometimes drawing it out on paper to help visualize it more clearly and reinforce the image.

“Harry Potter,” fans may think of the scene in which Neville Longbottom pictures the frightful Professor Snape dressed in his grandmother’s clothes, effectively dispelling the fear associated with that figure.

The Science of Spirit Possession

Original Article

By Tara MacIsaac

In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challeange our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below.

Modern science questions much of the knowledge gained through the collective memory of humanity over the course of millennia.

“Every culture and religious belief system throughout human history has its traditional beliefs of spirit possession in some form or another with corresponding rituals for the release or exorcism of spirit entities,” wrote Dr. Terence Palmer, a psychologist and the first person in the U.K. to earn a Ph.D. in spirit release therapy.

Some psychologists are returning to the methods developed by our ancestors to help patients with symptoms of possession.

Dr. William Baldwin (1939–2004) founded the practice of spirit release therapy and he also used past-life regression treatments. Baldwin was cautious about saying whether he believed in reincarnation or not, but he did say his treatments helped patients, and that’s what matters.

Spirit release practitioner Dr. Alan Sanderson wrote in a paper titled “Spirit Release Therapy: What Is It and What Can It Achieve?”: “I want to stress that the concept of spirit attachment and the practice of spirit release are not based on faith, as are religious and mystical beliefs. They are based on the observation of clinical cases and their response to standard therapeutic techniques. This is a scientific approach, albeit one that takes account of subjective experience and is not confined by contemporary scientific theory.”

Dr. Palmer commented in the introduction to a lecture titled “The Science of Spirit Possession”: “SRT [spirit release therapy] sits uncomfortably between the disbelief of a materialist secular society and the subjective experience of spirit possession: whether that experience is a symptom of psychosis, symbolic representation, socio-cultural expectation or a veridical manifestation.”

Parapsychology has been called a “pseudoscience,” as have other scientific approaches to phenomena that cannot be entirely explained by conventional science. However one views the method, it appears a revival of ancient wisdom has been effective in many cases.

Here’s a look at some of the thinkers, including those already mentioned, who have approached possession scientifically.

 

Frederick W.H. Myers

Frederick W.H. Myers (1843–1901) wrote in his book “Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death,” which was published posthumously in 1906: “The controlling spirit proves his identity mainly by reproducing, in speech or writing, facts which belong to his memory and not to the automatist’s memory.”

He noted that the brain is little-understood; scientists don’t have a solid understanding of many of its ordinary functions let alone extraordinary functions (and this still holds true today). He theorized about a sort of radiation or energy that could be behind the telepathic influence of one person on another.  He tried to consider how the memory centers might be related to the gaps in memory experienced by people said to be possessed.

Myers has not been shown to have any formal education in the field of psychology and much of his work relied on two mediums he worked with. It was his belief in a science that takes fuller account of human consciousness that has continued to inspire scientists. Myers also noted that the origin of the idea is not as important as its effectiveness or veracity.

“Instead of asking in what age a doctrine originated—with the implied assumption that the more recent it is, the better—we can now ask how far it is in accord or in discord with a great mass of actual recent evidence which comes into contact, in one way or another, with nearly every belief as to an unseen world which has been held at least by Western men.

“Submitted to this test, the theory of possession gives a remarkable result. It cannot be said to be inconsistent with any of our proved facts. We know absolutely nothing which negatives its possibility.

“Nay, more than this. The theory of possession actually supplies us with a powerful method of co-ordinating and explaining many earlier groups of phenomena, if only we will consent to explain them in a way which at first sight seemed extreme in its assumptions.”

 

Dr. Terence Palmer

Dr. Palmer’s Ph.D. thesis revived Myers’s work. He said that Myers and others have tried to bring the mental, emotional, and spiritual elements of human experience into natural science.

“To permit the accommodation of all human experience into a broader scientific framework is a scary prospect for several reasons. But fear is the cause of all human suffering, and only when medical science puts aside its own fears of being proven wrong can it treat sickness effectively by showing how fear is to be remedied,” Dr. Palmer wrote.

In a recorded lecture on his thesis, he looked at ways in which we come to know things. Some of the ways include learning from others, using logic and deduction, and through personal experience. He noted that in these ways, a good deal of evidence exists for the possibility of real spirit possession.

Funding, he said, has been one of the obstacles to conducting more rigorous scientific research of spirit possession. He said further studies must be done with remote telepathic intervention. This would bypass any placebo effect or any psychological impact a patient’s belief system may have.

 

Dr. Alan Sanderson

Dr. Sanderson asked in his paper “So where is the research to back these heretical claims [about spirit possession]?”

He gave three reasons for minimal research in this field of study. First, spirit release is a new study, which has only been systematically taught and practiced for about a decade. Second, much mistrust and many misconceptions still present obstacles. Third, research funds are hard to come by.

He is hopeful the field will progress and funds with come forth. In the meantime, he said, “individual cases have much to say.” Dr. Sanderson uses the method developed by Dr. Baldwin to treat spirit possession. Following is an outline of Dr. Baldwin’s work and an example of how Dr. Sanderson used it to help a woman allegedly possessed by the ghost of her father.

 

Dr. William Baldwin

Dr. Baldwin developed a method of helping people exorcise their demons so to speak. It is thought that traumatic experiences can especially cause a person’s consciousness to withdraw and give the body over to other forms of consciousness.

In spirit release therapy, the patient is hypnotized so it is easier to access the other consciousnesses in the person’s mind. The therapist asks the possessing entity to look inside. Dr. Baldwin has said that about half of his hypnotized patients could see silver threads, like those described in Ecclesiastes in the Bible as connecting the human spirit to the body, according to author Kerry Pobanz.

The therapist is said to help the spirits resolve issues so they will no longer have a negative impact on the patient and the therapist may even ask for divine intervention.

 

Dr. Sanderson’s Case Study of a Woman With Multiple Personalities

Pru, 46, had long-term psychological problems found to stem from sexual abuse by her father when she was a child. Under hypnosis in a session with Dr. Sanderson, she identified herself as her father, Jason. Jason would become angry and threaten Dr. Sanderson.

“In deep trance, Jason agreed to look within himself, where he saw blackness,” Dr. Sanderson wrote. “I called for angelic help. With the use of Baldwin’s protocol for dealing with demonic spirits, the blackness left. Thereafter, Jason was amenable. He agreed to leave. Other destructive entities responded similarly.”

Not all spirits found inside a person are malevolent, say spirit release practitioners.

Pru wrote a paragraph to describe her experience: “‘The spiritual approach left me freer from the remaining daily distress than anything tried before. Whilst under hypnosis I found myself talking about some experiences that I had definitely not had and places I certainly had not been to. So, was this spirits, split off parts of my personality, ancestral memory or even false memory/imagination? I very much doubt the latter. There was reluctance, yet at the same time relief, to be spoken to, accepted and contacted. The release from the darkness, into the light and to the beyond had to be experienced to be believed. It was amazing and I still marvel at the sight of these ‘entities’ disappearing and freeing me.”

*Image of woman being hypnotized via Shutterstock

Joel Osteen Is the Quintessential Pastor of the Trump Era

Original Article

By Sarah Posner

Last Friday, hours before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, Houston’s most famous pastor tweeted out a teaser for his latest podcast, “The God Who Goes Before You.” In a video excerpt embedded in the tweet, televangelist Joel Osteen, the city’s wealthiest ecclesiastical son, is seen preaching in the altar of his 16,000-seat capacity Lakewood Church, formerly the Compaq Center, where the Houston Rockets once played basketball. “Many sports champions have been crowned there,” Osteen said when the church took over the property in 2005. “We believe we can crown champions in life.”

That’s the heart of Osteen’s notoriously saccharine version of a theology known as the prosperity gospel: You, too, can be a champion – like Osteen, who’s worth a reported $40 million and lives in a $10 million mansion in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood. Just trust God.

Trusting God was Osteen’s message in his unaccountably sanguine missive ahead of what was forecast to be a catastrophic weather event. Although it’s not clear that the podcast was recorded with Harvey in mind, Osteen’s decision to share it just as Houston was bracing for disaster turns out to have been a fraught one. “The good news is He’s going ahead of you right now, lining up the right people, the right supplies, the right opportunities,” Osteen said in his Texas drawl, his wide-toothed grin fixed like hard plastic across his face. “He has solutions to problems you haven’t had.”

But if God has a solution for the victims of Harvey’s apocalyptic flooding, those solutions were not on display at Lakewood, which quickly came under heavy criticism for not opening its doors to Harvey evacuees, as many houses of worship in Houston did.

One might think Osteen’s theology, anchored by what he calls a “strategic God,” would allow him to point to God’s solutions for, say, being flooded out of one’s home. But the next day, as Houstonians sought shelter amid Harvey’s devastation, Osteen tweeted only that he and his wife Victoria “are praying for everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey. Please join us as we pray for the safety of our Texas friends & family.”

After an onslaught of social media criticism about offering prayers but no shelter in his church of champions, Osteen agreed to open Lakewood’s doors. He protested to the Today Show on Wednesday that he had initially not opened the church because the city had not asked him to, and called the criticism a “false narrative.”

If that sequence of events sounds familiar – a wealthy, out-of-touch man offers platitudes on Twitter, then lashes out at critics who say he should have done more – it’s because the prosperity gospel has completely infected Republican politics. And President Trump represents the pinnacle of the party’s embrace of prosperity gospel values.

In the prosperity gospel, one can clearly see Trump, and vice-versa: the cruel indifference toward the travails of the less fortunate, the magical thinking that supersedes reason, the cult of personality and the evident disdain for the poor, who would be champions but for their insufficient faith in a God who crowns champions and relegates losers to the sidelines.

The prosperity gospel teaches that God will bless those who have faith, and that one’s health – and, particularly, wealth – are a manifestation of that blessing. Its proponents include the cheerful Osteen, who has said, “I don’t think it’s God’s best” to be poor. “Some people have this poverty mindset, and I’m a Christian, and I’m supposed to suffer,” he told CNN in 2012. “That’s just not how I see it.”

Some purveyors of this teaching pressure their congregants with what’s known as seed-faith theology: Sow a seed – meaning, give money to your pastor or a televangelist – and you will receive a thousand-fold “harvest” in return. Often people are shamed into giving money, even money they can’t afford to give. And when they don’t magically get rewarded for their “faith” and “sowing the seed,” they are told it’s because they don’t have enough faith.

Ten years ago I was writing a book about the GOP’s unholy alliance with prosperity preachers – but at the time, the relationship was largely a transactional one, as politicians sought the endorsements of televangelists with huge audiences and influence over their political choices. But with Trump, that relationship has blossomed in unique ways, largely because the president himself was actually drawn to the prosperity gospel with a sort of kismet. Paula White, a longtime friend and spiritual adviser to Trump who spends time in the White House with Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board, is a leading figure among prosperity televangelists. According to the lore shared by White and others, Trump became enamored of her more than a decade ago when he saw her preach on television. In 2005, she and her then husband bought a $3.5 million condo in Trump Tower. When Trump appeared on her television program in 2008, White asked him to share life lessons that “caused you to succeed financially today.” The pair agreed that it was “key” to discover one’s passion, and then, in White’s words, to “figure out a way to make money.”

White has emerged as one of Trump’s most impassioned evangelical defenders in the face of the Russia investigation, and even after his widely criticized reaction to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville. On a recent appearance, after Charlottesville, on the television program of once-disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker, White declared that opposition to Trump is akin to being anti-God. Trump, she said, has been “raised up by God because God says that He raises up and places all people in places of authority. It is God that raises up a king, it is God that sets one down and so when you fight against the plan of God, you’re fighting against the hand of God.” She also seized the opportunity to promote her recent book, Dare to Dream, and its front-cover blurb from Trump: “Read this and you’ll be ready for great success.”

In case there’s any doubt, making money is the coveted side hustle of Trump and his televangelist friends, whether you’re president of the United States or a follower of Jesus. In the store on White’s website, if you “sow your prophetic seed of $77 or more,” she will send you your own “special, anointed prayer cloth as a point of contact for this prophetic word!” When Trump traveled to Texas this week to (not) view Harvey’s devastation, he prominently wore an Official USA 45th Presidential Hat, which sells on his reelection website for $40, prompting criticism from ethics watchdogs. It’s worth remembering the Trump-White mantra: “Figure out a way to make money.”

It’s the use of the church to profit that led the Senate Finance Committee to launch an investigation of six televangelists, including White, in 2007. Although the religious right portrayed the probe as improper government intrusion into church doctrine, the real question under scrutiny was whether the churches were using tax-exempt donations for personal enrichment. The investigation ended with no actual or proposed changes to the law requiring more accountability and transparency from churches that are essentially operating as for-profit enterprises. We’d know more about how this works if churches were required to release their tax returns – but they’re not, just like the president.

In interviewing former followers of prosperity preachers, I found that many of them were in such thrall of the “success” of these pastors that they refused to acknowledge or heed any criticism of them. If the local newspaper were to run a story about their church and any impropriety – financial, sexual or otherwise – they wouldn’t even read it. Prosperity preachers had their followers convinced of “fake news” long before Trump turned it into a national obsession.

Trump is the culmination of the Republican Party’s long love affair with the prosperity gospel. Other Republican politicians have courted prosperity gospel preachers for their huge audiences and influence; Trump is the embodiment of this particular marriage of politics and a religion. When Trump proclaims, “the evangelicals love me, and I love them,” though, he’s talking about a particular evangelical subculture in evangelicalism, one that is closer to Trump than it is to Jesus.

Anti-LGBTQ+ Pastor Adds TV Screen Outside His Harlem, Manhatten Church To Air Sermons

Original Article

By Ayana Harry

HARLEM, Manhattan — A controversial Harlem pastor known for his anti-gay sentiments added a TV to the message board outside his church so his sermons can be seen and heard by pedestrians.

James David Manning, pastor of  Atlah World Missionary Church, came under fire in recent years after he posted messages implying that people who support LGBT individuals should be “cursed” with cancer, HIV, syphilis, stroke and madness. He’s now hoping to use the TV to get his message out in a new way.

“It ain’t going nowhere,” Manning said about the TV. “They don’t have the right to tell me how to preach.”

Pastor Manning noted that a picture is worth a thousand words and, in a neighborhood that’s rapidly changing, it’s important for him to stand his ground and share his message.

“The TV gives an opportunity to do live and living color,” he said.

But residents have begged the pastor to take the messages down.

“Some of the message that you see here are disturbing,” said Isseu Campbell, a local who walks by the church every day. “I think it should be a positive place with positive energy.”

Los Angeles Cancels Columbus Day

Original Article

Columbus Day is no more in the nation’s second-largest city.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-1 on Wednesday to officially mark the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day on the city’s calendar — a day to commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people.” The day will remain a paid holiday for city employees, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The vote followed a contentious hearing, during which some Italian-Americans said the switch would eradicate a key portion of their history, while others argued that city lawmakers needed to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples” and dismissed the idea of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on a different date altogether.

“To make us celebrate on any other day would be a further injustice,” said Chrissie Castro, vice chairwoman of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of Oklahoma’s Wyandotte Nation tribe, had pushed for the change, saying Wednesday that the move would provide “restorative justice.” In a blog post prior to the vote earlier this week, O’Farrell said the “historical record is unambiguous in documenting the horrors” Christopher Columbus and his men imposed on the native people in present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell -Getty Images

“Removing Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day is the appropriate action for this city to take,” O’Farrell wrote. “We must send a signal to Washington D.C. that there is no better day to honor our original inhabitants while highlighting the absurdity of celebrating a historical figure responsible for such profound suffering, still felt by generations of Indigenous People everywhere. This is more than symbolic. It is spiritually and morally necessary.”

Councilman Joe Buscaino, a first-generation Italian-American, suggested replacing Columbus Day with a new name to celebrate “all of the diverse cultures in the city” before being the lone city lawmaker to oppose the switch, asking fellow councilors not to “cure one offense with another.”

With the change, Los Angeles joins a growing list of places that have already replaced Columbus Day — first recognized as a federal holiday in 1937 — with Indigenous Peoples Day, including Alaska, Vermont, Seattle, Albuquerque, San Francisco and Denver. Most recently, the Bangor City Council in Maine voted to rename the holiday, the Bangor Daily News reports

Where Do Demons Come From

Original Article

By Michael S. Heiser

Where do Demons come from?

Everyone familiar with the Bible knows it talks about angels and demons. But most would be surprised to learn that there’s no verse in the Bible that explains where demons came from. Christians typically assume that demons are fallen angels, cast from heaven with Satan (the Devil) right before the temptation of Adam and Eve. But guess what? There’s no such story in the Bible. The only description of anything like that is in Revelation 12:9—but the occasion for that whole episode was the birth of the messiah (Rev 12:4-6), an event long after Adam and Eve. The idea of a primeval fall of angels actually comes from church tradition and the great English poet John Milton in his epic Paradise Lost.

So if the Bible doesn’t record an ancient expulsion from heaven by hordes of angels who then became known as demons, where do demons come from?

There’s actually a straightforward answer to that question, but it’s likely one you’ve never heard of: In ancient Jewish texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls, demons are the disembodied spirits of dead Nephilim giants who perished at the time of the great flood.

I know what you’re thinking—Mike, you’re trying to freak us out because it’s Halloween season. I’ll admit this is great fodder for Halloween, but I’m serious about that being the answer. I’ll briefly sketch the idea below, but if you want all the serious data and high-browed scholarship behind it, you’ll have to read my book, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible.

While I referenced the Dead Sea Scrolls above, don’t be misled. This explanation for the origin of demons has secure links in the biblical text, they just aren’t obvious—to us anyway. To an ancient reader, someone who lived during the time of the Bible, this explanation would have been quite clear. For us to see what they saw, we need to go back to the Bible’s account of the great flood.

The sons of God, the Nephilim, and the Mesopotamian Apkallu

Noah's Ark

The first four verses of the Bible’s flood account read:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.’ The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4, ESV)

The sons of God—angels in more familiar parlance—transgress the divinely-ordained boundary between heaven and earth by producing children with human women. Those children are referred to as Nephilim. The term “Nephilim” doesn’t mean “fallen ones”; it means “giants.” Those who want to read the scholarly data behind that conclusion can read The Unseen Realm. For our purposes, what we need to focus on is that scholars of ancient cuneiform—the wedge-writing on clay tablets known from ancient Mesopotamia—have recently uncovered new evidence in those tablets that provide clear, explicit parallels to Genesis 6:1-4 that validate what I’m presenting—and explain why this weird story was included in the flood story.

Apkallu wall relief

Apkallu wall relief.

In Mesopotamian religion, divine beings known as apkallu are a central focus of the Mesopotamian version of the flood story. The apkallu were dispensers of divine knowledge to humanity. They get credited with teaching the people of Mesopotamia what they needed to know to establish human civilization. When the great gods decided humans were too noisy and irritating and needed to be wiped out, the apkallu came up with a plan to preserve the divine knowledge humanity would need—they fathered children with human woman. Sure enough, the plan worked, as the quasi-divine humans who survived the flood—also known as apkallu—rebuilt civilization. They were the mighty ones whose wisdom and exploits led to the greatness of cities like Babylon. These “second generation apkallu” were not only divine-human hybrids, but they were also described as giants in the Mesopotamian epics. Gilgamesh is perhaps the most familiar example. He is called “lord of the apkallu” in a cuneiform inscription on a small clay seal.

Let’s not miss the point. Each element of the biblical story—the divine beings who cohabit with human women and produce giant offspring—are represented in the Mesopotamian story. Both the divine fathers and their giant children are called apkallu in the cuneiform sources. Incidentally, statues of the apkallu have been discovered by archaeologists in boxes in the foundations of walls for protection against evil spirits. The boxed apkallu are referred to by another Mesopotamian term: mats-tsarey, which means “watchers.”

While that’s interesting (and bizarre), you might ask what that has to do with demons. The answer is theology.

The “Anakim, who are counted as Rephaim” (Deut 2:11)

Genesis 6:1–4 was written by Israelites who wanted to make a statement: the apkallu before the flood were not good guys. What they did was wicked, and the giant offspring apkallu produced by their transgression were enemies of the true God of heaven. In fact, their own giant offspring were bent on annihilating Israel many years later.

Later in biblical history, during the days of Moses and Joshua, the Israelites ran into groups of very large warriors called Anakim. Numbers 13:32–33 tells us explicitly that the Anakim came from the Nephilim. The giant clans went by other names as well: Emim, Zamzummim, and Rephaim (Deut 2-3). The wars of conquest for the land required the annihilation of these giant Anakim, which is why Joshua summed up the conquest this way: “There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain.” Those were three Philistine cities. Goliath would come from one of them (Gath) in the days of David (1 Sam 17:4).

The key to understanding how these giants were perceived as demons in the biblical material—an idea that got a lot of focus in Jewish writings produced after the Old Testament—is the term Rephaim. In the Old Testament, the Rephaim are described as giant warlords (Deut 2:8-113:1-11Josh 13:12), but also as frightening, sinister disembodied spirits (“the shades”) in the Underworld, called Sheol in Hebrew (Isa 14:926:14Job 26:5). The disembodied spirits of these giants were therefore associated with the abode of the dead, something everyone feared, since everyone feared death.

But the Rephaim also had another awful association. There are nearly 10 references in the Old Testament to a place called the Valley of the Rephaim (e.g., 2 Sam 5:182223:13). Joshua 15:8 and 18:16 tell us that the Valley of the Rephaim adjoined another valley—the Valley of Hinnom, also known as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. In Hebrew “Valley of Hinnom” is ge hinnom, a phrase from which the name gehenna derives—a term conceptually linked to Hades/Hell in the New Testament.

Tying the threads together

While this supernatural backdrop has eluded most Christian thinkers in the history of Christianity to the present day, it was well known to the generation of Jews who lived right after the Old Testament period—what scholars call the “Second Temple” period or, more popularly, the “Intertestamental” period. It was during this era that books like 1 Enoch were written, as well as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the book of 1 Enoch the villainous sons of God of Genesis 6:1-4 are not only called angels—they are called Watchers. The link back to the Mesopotamian apkallu is transparent and unmistakable. 1 Enochspells out how the Watchers and their offspring were the source of demons:

In those days, when the children of man had multiplied, it happened that there were born unto them handsome and beautiful daughters. 2 And the angels, the children of heaven, saw them and desired them; and they said to one another, ‘Come, let us choose wives for ourselves from among the daughters of man and beget us children.’ . . . And they took wives unto themselves, and everyone (respectively) chose one woman for himself, and they began to go unto them. . . .

Then Michael, Surafel, and Gabriel observed carefully from the sky and they saw much blood being shed upon the earth, and all the oppression being wrought upon the earth. . . . As for the women, they gave birth to giants to the degree that the whole earth was filled with blood and oppression. And now behold, the Holy One will cry, and those who have died will bring their suit up to the gate of heaven. Their groaning has ascended (into heaven), but they could not get out from before the face of the oppression that is being wrought on earth. . . . And to Gabriel the Lord said, ‘Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates and against the children of adultery; and destroy the children of adultery and expel the children of the Watchers from among the people. And send them against one another (so that) they may be destroyed in the fight, for length of days have they not. . . .’

And when they and all their children have battled with each other, and when they have seen the destruction of their beloved ones, bind them for 70 generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment and of their consummation, until the eternal judgment is concluded. . . . But now the giants who are born from the (union of) the spirits and the flesh shall be called evil spirits upon the earth, because their dwelling shall be upon the earth and inside the earth. 9 Evil spirits have come out of their bodies. Because from the day that they were created from the holy ones they became the Watchers; their first origin is the spiritual foundation. They will become evil upon the earth and shall be called evil spirits.

—1 Enoch 6:1-2; 7:1; 9:1, 9-10; 10:9; 15:8-9; translation from J. H. Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol. 1

1 Enoch calls the giants “bastard spirits”—a phrase used of demons in several Dead Sea Scrolls.[1] A non-biblical psalm found among the Dead Sea Scrolls calls demons “offspring of man and the seed of the holy ones,” a clear reference to the disembodied spirits of the divine-human offspring from Genesis 6:1-4.[2]

Several threads of this explanation for demons surface in the New Testament, but I’ll mention only one. The excerpt from 1 Enoch notes that the Watchers whose transgression led to the origin of demons were to be bound “for 70 generations underneath the rocks of the ground.” This belief is found in 2 Peter 2:4-5, where Peter, speaking about the days of Noah says, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment.” Peter and the author of 1 Enoch were on the same wavelength—they both understood the original context for Genesis 6:1-4.

What’s the take-away from all this? The message to most Bible readers is that, when it comes to the supernatural worldview of the Bible, what you think you know may not be so. Don’t be satisfied with handed down traditions about what’s in the Bible (and isn’t). I’m hoping that even an occasion like Halloween, with its deserved reputation for darkness, can motivate us to make the effort to understand the Bible in light of the worldview of the people who produced it. That’s the goal of The Unseen Realm.

[1] 4Q510 [=4QShira] frag. 1:5; 4Q511 [=4QShirb] frag. 35:7; 4Q204 [=4QEnochc ar], Col V:2–3.

[2] 11QapocPsa[=11Q11], Col V:6.

Hundreds Of Christian Leaders Renounce The So-Called “Nashville Statement”

Original Article

By Antonia Blumberg

A day after evangelical leaders released a manifesto railing against same-sex marriage and the LGBTQ community, hundreds of Christian leaders and thousands of other concerned citizens have come forward with strong messages of inclusion.

“WE AFFIRM that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and that the great diversity expressed in humanity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work,” expressed one statement, titled “Christians United,” signed by over 300 religious leaders, educators and activists from all major Christian denominations.

“We stand in solidarity with LGBTQ folks, and commit to standing alongside them in the work of resisting those who persecute them,” read a statement released by The Liturgists, a faith-based artists’ collective that produces a popular podcast by the same name.

The affirmations were a response to Tuesday’s “Nashville Statement” by a coalition of over 150 evangelical leaders. The document not only doubles down on the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman but also asserts that God created two distinct sexes, that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful and that LGBTQ-affirming people can’t call themselves Christians.

“There are many ‘evangelicals’ who are trying to convince other evangelicals that homosexual immorality is a special case,” wrote Denny Burk, one of the architects of the Nashville Statement, in a defense of the document. “Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”

The divisive and bizarrely-timed statement drew harsh criticism from many other Christiansmembers of the LGBTQ community and even the mayor of Nashville

“Yet again, powerful people of means use the platform of the Church to demean the basic dignity of gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex, and queer people,” asserted The Liturgists’ statement, which had garnered over 3,500 signatures by Wednesday afternoon. It continued:

This isn’t new. “Biblical” morality has been used to justify slavery, resistance to interracial marriage, genocide, and war. The scope of the Bible’s narrative allows a broad interpretation of what is right and moral, and both the church and society at large have moved toward universal justice and acceptance on issues once thought to be “crystal clear.”

It’s high time Christians heard from a different moral authority on queer identity, said Brandan Robertson, a pastor and LGBTQ activist who drafted the “Christians United.”

“Conservative evangelicals often get the most air time, polluting the image of Christianity as one that is exclusive, condemning, and archaic,” Robertson told HuffPost. “The reality is that there is a rapidly growing wave of Christians around the world that embrace an inclusive, unifying, healing message, and that’s what I had hoped to portray in this statement.”

Americans, overall, including members of all U.S. Christian affiliations, are becoming increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ community. Several Christian denominations, including the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have affirmed same-sex marriage in recent years.

But LGBTQ people still face daily violence and discrimination. One recent report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that more LGBTQ people were killed this year in hate-related crimes by the beginning of August than in all of 2016.

“Personal beliefs about human sexuality have life-or-death consequences in our world,” wrote The Liturgists. “The social and systemic persecution of LGBTQ people creates real harm: limited and lost employment, physical assault, discrimination, depression, and suicide. This is not of God.”

The Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, senior vice president of Auburn Seminary, called on faith leaders across the U.S. religious landscape to denounce the “Nashville Statement” and show solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

“Yesterday’s ‘Nashville Statement’ weaponizes Christianity to attack the rights and lives of LGBTQ people,” he wrote in a statement. “We ask that all leaders of faith and moral courage embrace and build an inclusive loving worldview, united in one belief: We are all God’s children, each deserving dignity and love.”

 

Megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen Did Open His Church As Shelter For Hurricane Flee-ers Because No One Asked.

Original Article

By Rafi Schwartz

After finally opening the doors to his massive Lakewood megachurch on Tuesday, pastor Joel Osteen spent his Wednesday morning doing interviews on a string of morning shows to defend his decision to delay sheltering Houstonians fleeing Hurricane Harvey.

“We’re all about helping people. This is what our church is all about,” Osteen insisted on the Today show.

 

“I think if people were here, they would realize there were safety issues. This building had flooded before, so we were just being precautions, he added. “But the main thing is the city didn’t ask us to become a shelter then.”

Osteen’s apology tour comes after days of intense criticism following his initial offer of “prayers” for those affected by the massive storm system. Osteen originally claimed that his massive, 16,000 capacity megachurch was “inaccessible due to severe flooding”—a charge seemingly refuted by social media users who posted multiple pictures of a relatively sedate landscape around the facility.

 

By the time Osteen announced that Lakewood would soon open its doors, at least four Houston-area mosques had already transformed themselves into 24-hour relief shelters.

“This is an obligation, a religious obligation to help others,” Islamic Society of Greater Houston president M.J. Khan said told Mic.com. “When you give, you don’t give only to your own family. … You give to anybody who needs help.”

Mic’s Anna Swartz later tweeted that the decision to turn the mosques into shelters was done entirely without city request.

 

A representative for the Houston Mayor’s office pushed back on criticism of Osteen’s delayed decision, telling BuzzFeed News:

We are appalled that your organization is trying to give Lakewood Church a bad reputation. We appreciate all the help we can get from all of our great partners across the city.

However, even Osteen seemed to understand that it all looked very bad. “I’m sure we’d have done something differently,” he told the Today show, after blaming social media for the “false narrative” surrounding his decision.

Which isn’t to say he would have necessarily acted on that regret.

“I mean, think of the story if we housed a whole bunch of evacuees and the building flooded,” Osteen said. “That wouldn’t have been a good story.”

According to NBC News, the Lakewood megachurch is currently sheltering approximately 300 people.

On-Field Prayer Made by Christian Football Coach Ruled Unprotected by the Constitution

Original Article

By Maura Dolan

A Christian football coach suspended for kneeling and praying on the 50-yard line after high school games Wednesday lost a bid to be reinstated and allowed to worship in front of students.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said that Bremerton, Wash., High School football coach Joseph A. Kennedy was serving as a public employee when he prayed in front of students and parents immediately after games, and the school had the right to discipline him.

The Bremerton School District, located in Kitsap County across Puget Sound from Seattle, serves about 5,057 religiously diverse students, the court said.

Kennedy, an assistant football coach there from 2008 to 2015, led students and coaching staff in locker-room prayers before and after most games and also prayed on the 50-yard line after games.

Students eventually joined him in the prayers on the field, and he gave motivational speeches with religious content, the court said.

The school district objected, saying its employees could not publicly endorse a religion, and Kennedy asked for a religious exemption under the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The school said he could pray on the 50-yard line after students and parents had left. Kennedy did this for a while, but eventually renewed his postgame practice of praying before people left.

Kennedy’s religious activities gained media attention, and a Satanist group said it too wanted to pray on the football field.

The district eventually suspended Kennedy with pay and did not rehire him when his contract expired.

Kennedy charged in his lawsuit that the school violated his 1st Amendment rights.

Disagreeing, the 9th Circuit panel said the fact that Kennedy insisted on praying in front of students and parents showed his speech was directed at least in part to others, not solely to God.

“When Kennedy kneeled and prayed on the fifty-yard line immediately after games while in view of students and parents, he spoke as a public employee, not as a private citizen, and his speech therefore was constitutionally unprotected,” wrote the 9th Circuit, upholding a decision by a district court judge.

Leah Remini on Her Conterversial Scientology Series

Original Article

Round two of the battle between Leah Remini and the Church of Scientology begins Tuesday (A&E, 9 p.m. ET/PT) with the return of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.

Despite pushback from the Church of Scientology, Remini forges ahead with 10 new episodes and an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Informational Series or Special.

“These people’s stories are important to be told, and exposing the abuses of Scientology is something I feel is the right thing to do, having been in it most of my life and having promoted it and supported it,” says Remini, a church member until 2013 and author of Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology. “There’s a lot of people out there who have lost a lot because of Scientology, and they deserve to be heard.”

During Season 1, former Scientologists shared stories alleging harassmentphysical abuse and statutory rape. In response, the church has called into question the truthfulness of the accusers.

“Nothing about A&E’s Leah Remini ‘docuseries’ is honest. The singular goal of the program is to make money and boost ratings by spreading salacious lies to promote A&E’s ugly brand of religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred,” the church said in a letter to USA TODAY from spokeswoman Karin Pouw.

 

The show’s November premiere drew 2.1 million same-day viewers, making it the network’s largest launch of an original series in more than two years at the time.

Remini has found others to share their stories for Season 2 of her hour-long series, in spite of, she says, being made a pariah among celebrity Scientologists.

“Their job is to avoid me at all costs,” she says. “They just make sure, through their publicists, if I’m on one side of the room that they’re on another side of the room. Or they don’t show up to an event that they’re scheduled to be at if they know I’m gonna be there. That’s just the way it’s gotten.”

Remini delves into how Scientology policies affect members in the show’s second season.

“I think people would be shocked to know that when people go through a traumatic experience — like being raped or molested — that Scientology punishes the victim and makes them responsible for what had happened to them,” says Remini. In a statement from the church, the organization says the accusation that it condones sexual abuse is “false and defamatory.”

The first episode features  women who claim to have been molested while employees of the church, Remini says. The topic of suicide will also be covered this season.

“They don’t believe in therapies  other than Scientology, so people dealing with real mental issues don’t often get the help that they need,” Remini claims. The church refutes this:  “We do not treat those who are mentally ill; we encourage such individuals to be examined by a competent doctor.”

The church says it has been targeted because of Remini’s Aftermath. “To date, the Church has been subjected to more than 500 threats — including death threats, dangerous acts of vandalism and bullying directed at everyday parishioners — inspired by Leah Remini and her A&E show,” Pouw’s letter reads. “The violence provoked falls directly at the feet of A&E CEO Nancy Dubuc, President Paul Buccieri and (executive VP) Rob Sharenow, who should be ashamed for spreading bigotry and religious intolerance.” (A&E couldn’t be reached for comment).

“Sadly, as everyone knows from a number of recent tragic events, including those over the weekend in Virginia, we live in a volatile time of accelerated hate, bigotry and intolerance,” the letter continues. “A&E’s airing of salacious, unvetted falsehoods about the Church is reckless and irresponsible. The incendiary hate and bigotry they are fostering has no place in a tolerant America.”

The church has also posted a statement about Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath here.

Scientology has once again become a hot topic during water cooler chat thanks to ‘Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.’ The A&E docuseries has brought about allegations of physical abuse and statutory rape against members of the Church, which the organization has vehemently refuted. Here, we explore what celebrities have said about the religion, beginning with Remini, who left the Church in 2013. “I decided I didn’t want to raise my daughter in the Church,” the actress said in a clip from her TLC reality show ‘Leah Remini: It’s All Relative,’ “because from what I experienced and what I saw, was the Church becomes everything. It becomes your mother, your father, your everything. You are dependent on the Church.”  Richard Shotwell, Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Church of England Rejects LGBT Conversion Therapy and Affirms Transgender People

Original Article

The Church of England is making major overtures to affirm transgender and LGBT people and rejecting any notion that gender transition or same-sex sexual orientation could be understood as sin.

On Sunday, the church’s general synod voted 284 to 78 in favor of a motion to affirm transgender people in parish churches and offer special liturgy services to mark their gender transition.

Reverend Christopher Newlands opened the debate on the motion saying he hoped to make a powerful statement. “We believe that trans people are cherished and loved by God, who created them and is present through all the twists and turns of their lives,” he said.

The synod also voted to denounce what it calls “conversion therapy” for those struggling with same-sex attraction.

The motion was moved by Jayne Ozanne who called the therapy “harmful” and “dangerous” saying “people may be able to alter their behavior but they can never alter their innate desire.”

Those who opposed the motion noted that it could limit ministry to those struggling with same-sex attraction. The Guardian reports that some synod members expressed concern that it would constrict those in the church seeking to provide pastoral care and prayer for sexual minorities.

Conservatives in the Church of England have been concerned about its pro-LGBT movement for years and started the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in 2008 to “retain and restore the Bible to the heart of the Anglican Communion.”

Anylists Believe Human Chipping to Become Mainstream In the Next 50 Years

Original Article

You will get chipped. It’s just a matter of time.

In the aftermath of a Wisconsin firm embedding microchips in employees to ditch company badges and corporate logons, the Internet has entered into full-throated debate.

Religious activists are so appalled, they’ve been penning nasty 1-star reviews of the company, Three Square Market, on Google, Glassdoor and social media.

On the flip side, seemingly everyone else wants to know: Is this what real life is going to be like soon at work? Will I be chipped?

“It will happen to everybody,” says Noelle Chesley, 49, associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “But not this year, and not in 2018. Maybe not my generation, but certainly that of my kids.”

Gene Munster, an investor and analyst at Loup Ventures, is an advocate for augmented reality, virtual reality and other new technologies. He thinks embedded chips in human bodies is 50 years away. “In 10 years, Facebook, Google, Apple and Tesla will not have their employees chipped,” he says. “You’ll see some extreme forward-looking tech people adopting it, but not large companies.”

The idea of being chipped has too “much negative connotation” today, but by 2067 “we will have been desensitized by the social stigma,” Munster says.

For now, Three Square Market, or 32M, hasn’t offered concrete benefits for getting chipped beyond badge and log-on stats. Munster says it was a “PR stunt” for the company to get attention to its product and it certainly succeeded, getting the small start-up air play on CBS, NBC and ABC, and generating headlines worldwide. The company, which sells corporate cafeteria kiosks designed to replace vending machines, would like the kiosks to handle cashless transactions.

This would go beyond paying with your smartphone. Instead, chipped customers would simply wave their hands in lieu of Apple Pay and other mobile-payment systems.

The benefits don’t stop there. In the future, consumers could zip through airport scanners sans passport or drivers license; open doors; start cars; and operate home automation systems. All of it, if the technology pans out, with the simple wave of a hand.

Wisconsin workers implanted with microchips

Not a GPS tracker

The embedded chip is not a GPS tracker, which is what many critics initially feared. However, analysts believe future chips will track our every move.

For example, pets for years have been embedded with chips to store their name and owner contact. Indeed, 32M isn’t the first company to embed chips in employees. In 2001, Applied Digital Solutions installed the “VeriChip” to access medical records but the company eventually changed hands and stopped selling the chip in 2010.

In Sweden, BioHax says nearly 3,000 customers have had its chip embedded to do many things, including ride the national rail system without having to show the conductor a ticket.

In the U.S., Dangerous Things, a Seattle-based firm, says it has sold “tens of thousands” of chips to consumers via its website. The chip and installation cost about $200.

After years of being a subculture, “the time is now” for chips to be more commonly used, says Amal Graafstra, founder of Dangerous Things. “We’re going to start to see chip implants get the same realm of acceptance as piercings and tattoos do now.”

In other words, they’ll be more visible, but not mainstream yet.

“It becomes part of you the way a cellphone does,” Graafstra says. “You can never forget it, and you can’t lose it. And you have the capability to communicate with machines in a way you couldn’t before.”

But after what we saw in Wisconsin last week, what’s next for the U.S. workforce? A nation of workers chipping into their pods at Federal Express, General Electric, IBM, Microsoft and other top corporations?

Experts contend consumers will latch onto chips before companies do.

Chesley says corporations are slower to respond to massive change and that there will be an age issue. Younger employees will be more open to it, while older workers will balk. “Most employers who have inter-generational workforces might phase it in slowly,” she says. “I can’t imagine people my age and older being enthusiastic about having devices put into their bodies.”

Adds Alec Levenson, a researcher at University of Southern California’s Center for Effective Organizations, “The vast majority of people will not put up with this.”

Three Square Market said the chips are voluntary, but Chesley says that if a company announces a plan to be chipped, the expectation is that you will get chipped — or risk losing out on advancement, raises and being a team player.

“That’s what we’re worried about,” says Bryan Allen, chief of staff for state Rep. Tina Davis (D), who is introducing a bill in Pennsylvania to outlaw mandatory chip embedding. “If the tech is out there, what’s to stop an employer from saying either you do this, or you can’t work here anymore.”

Several states have passed similar laws, while one state recently saw a similar bill die in committee. “I see this as a worker’s rights issue,” says Nevada state Sen. Becky Harris (R), who isn’t giving up. “This is the wrong place to be moving,” she says.

Should future corporations dive in to chipping their employees, they will have huge issues of “trust” to contend with, says Kent Grayson, a professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

“You’ve got to have a lot of trust to put one of those in your body,” Grayson says. Workers will need assurances the chip is healthy, can’t be hacked, and its information is private, he says.

Meanwhile, religious advocates have taken to social media to express their displeasure about chipping, flooding 32M’s Facebook page with comments like “boycott,” “completely unnecessary” and “deplorable.” On 32M’s Google page, Amy Cosari a minister in Hager City, Wisc., urges employees to remove the chip.

“When Jesus was raised, he was raised body and soul, and it was him, not zombie, not a ghost and we are raised up in the same way,” Cosari wrote. ”Employees of 32Market, you are not a walking debit card.”

Get used to it, counsels Chesley.

Ten years ago, employees didn’t look at corporate e-mail over the weekend. Now they we do, “whether we like it or not,” he says.

Be it wearable technology or an embedded chip, the always on-always connected chip is going to be part of our lives, she says.

House Rejects Proposal For Islam Studies

Original article

The House on Friday rejected a controversial proposal that would have required the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study of “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts or schools of thought” that could be used to radicalize or recruit Islamic terrorists.

The amendment offered by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., was defeated by a vote of 208-217. There were 27 Republicans who crossed the aisle to vote against the measure.

The amendment would have required Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to “conduct two concurrent strategic assessments of the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist messaging and justification” within a year.

The assessments would be used to identify the role Islamic religious doctrines play in radicalization and terrorist recruitment and how they “are incorporated into extremist or terrorist messaging.”

During Thursday night’s debate, Franks tried to counter allegations his idea was bigoted and anti-Muslim.

He told his fellow members that there is “no desire in my heart whatsoever to single out or denigrate” one religion, but, he noted, even countries in the Muslim world are examining the roots of Islamic extremism. He further added that the primary victims of terrorists are Muslims themselves.

Supporters say the studies are important to develop a coherent strategy to defeat radicalized groups from Nigeria’s Boko Haram to Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.

Opponents, primarily on the Democratic side, charged it was blatantly targeted toward Muslims and constitutionally questionable.

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., argued it was not an effort to study terrorism but to restrict the free exercise of Muslim religious expression.

“Nobody is saying you can’t study terrorism,” Ellison, a Muslim, said Thursday evening on the House floor. “You can study what motivates people to commit acts of terrorism. And we should. But we don’t, not equally. The fact is, this amendment singled out one religious group. It’s wrong and it should be voted down.”

The ACLU argued in a letter distributed before the vote that Congress has “no role in assessing religious beliefs or practices and determining their validity, significance, or function” and that the First Amendment protects against such “abuse of governmental authority.”

Opponents also questioned who would lead the study.

Franks’ amendment called for the formation of a team of government experts who possess the “appropriate background and expertise” and another group with similar qualifications to be drawn from outside government.

“[President Trump’s] rhetoric has contributed to the growing movement of hate in our country, and I have no doubt that some of the most notorious racist, anti-Muslim voices will be a part of the non-government assessment demanded by this amendment,” the Minnesotan said in a statement.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim activist group, weighed in, questioning whether the Trump administration was capable of selecting unbiased government representatives.

“The prospect of Trump asking one of his notoriously Islamophobic advisors like Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller or Sebastian Gorka to provide such ‘expertise’ or to identify contributors to this assessment should frighten all Americans,” said CAIR Director of Government Affairs Robert McCaw in statement opposing the amendment