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Christ News Today

church-1645414_1280Most Americans are at least peripherally aware that atheism is on the rise. Given how the comment sections on faith-based blogs, websites, articles and videos always have at least one atheistic zealot declaring that religion is a fairy tale and religious people are morons, it would be rather difficult to miss the rise of atheism and agnosticism. It would be hard to miss that most of the zealots throwing insults are young people. What Americans may not be aware of, however, is exactly how quickly atheism is growing. Nearly a quarter of Americans identify as atheists or agnostics today, yet only six percent of Americans stated their religious affiliation to be atheistic or agnostic in 1991. What in the world happened to increase that number so much?

One theory is that millennials have been leaving churches in droves because they are marrying later and having fewer children than past generations. There is a strong correlation between marriage and religious involvement, so those late marriages are keeping millennials out of churches for longer periods of time. When millennials marry, they are not having the large families that keep both them and their children involved in religion either. Religious leaders have made repeated remarks stating their concerns with America’s plummeting fertility rate and laid out the myriad of consequences of shrinking families. Many faith leaders are seeing those consequences plaid out on a small scale in their congregations where there are fewer children and more grey hairs every year.

The good news for faith leaders is that even those who claim to have converted away to atheism still tend to retain a belief in God or at least some form of higher power. Only 33 percent of self-identified atheists actually believe God does not exist.

Not all of those who leave major Christian traditions end up converting to atheism. Wicca, a form of Neopaganism, has become explosively popular among young people and is believed to be the fastest growing faith in America. A number of young people have also made a second conversion, going from Christian to atheist to a new faith. Among that group, Wicca and other Neopagan religions tend to be very popular as do forms of New Age beliefs and, surprisingly, Buddhism.

All of this is not to say that Christianity is doomed in America, but it is time to begin having the conversation about what the shifting faith landscape means for the future of this country. Religion is one of the cornerstones of a person’s worldview. As more and more people alter the lens through which they see the world, they begin to interact differently with the world around them. How those changing interactions will affect America’s future is unclear, but it is time that Christian leaders recognize that the sheep are not going to return to the fold of their own accord. The shepherds need to go fetch the flock, and it is time they start trying new tactics.

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Teameretsion

In simple terms, an exorcism is a ritual to rid someone of evil spirits that are plaguing them. While they aren’t something we see performed very much in America, they still have a place in other parts of the world.

Recently there was a mass exorcism ritual held at a church outside the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where some 150 people waited in line to to meet a local celebrity healer who they believed would be able to free them from demons.

These Ethiopian Christians paid up to a month’s wages to be doused in holy water and to go through similar rituals.

This particular ceremony has grown attention from around the world, due to a large series of photos showcasing the ritual. The photos show people of all ages crying hysterically as a cross touches their forehead, or being held down by relatives as they try to avoid being ‘exorcised’, kicking and screaming.

The photos were taken by Czech photographer David Tesinsky. Tesinsky said: “People were crying, screaming and Memehir was punching them…These exorcism rituals are usually performed if someone is not responding to modern medicine or if they are misbehaving, as it is thought they are possessed by a ‘demon spirit’ or ‘buda’.”

According to a 2010 Pew Research Center study, 74 percent of Christians in Ethiopia claim to have experienced or witnessed an exorcism. The belief in demons and the devil found across the religious spectrum is strong, in particularly in rural areas.

“Demon-possessed” persons are brought to a church or prayer meeting. Often, when an ill person has not responded to modern medical treatment, the problem is attributed to demons.

The exorcisms were performed by Ethiopian Orthodox priest Memehir Girma Wedimu.

“Memehir was rejected by all other churches because he earned more money than the church itself,” Tesinsky said.

“He kept asking for money – I saw one very old woman give him $100 to ‘expel’ her of demons and he still wanted more, even though $100 was most likely all she could earn in one month.”

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church still holds remarkable sway over its worshippers, despite no longer being considered the state church after the fall of Haile Selassie in 1974.

Rodrigo_DutertePhilippine president Rodrigo Duterte seems to be playing a bizarre game of chicken with God: How long can Duterte mock God before he needs to worry about an old fashioned smiting? The answer is unclear how far Duterte can go before he needs to start trying to dodge lightning bolts, but Philippine Christians are getting fed up with the president’s constant disparaging remarks. Unfortunately, Duterte’s latest comments have only continued to mock Christianity.

When he spoke at the anniversary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Quezon City, Duterte lashed out at faith-based objections to his current family planning policies. The administration has emphasized its commitment to reproductive health and holds that giving people artificial means to limit or space out births will create or sustain economic growth. To that end, Duterte signed an executive order in January 2017 that directed agencies to fund and enforce access to free birth control as part of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012.

The Catholic Church has opposed Duterte’s laws, much to the president’s displeasure. During his speech at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ anniversary, Duterte lashed out at the Roman Catholic Church. His remarks did not name the Catholic Church specifically, but his words were clearly directed at them when he bemoaned the “creeping influence of faith” that was working to undermine his government.

“I do not like [this] creeping influence of faith,” Duterte said. “[It] sometimes run[s] counter to what [the] government believes to be good for the people, at least in this temporal life.”

Duterte self-identifies as a Catholic himself, despite disagreeing with the doctrine of original sin and having called God “stupid” just over two weeks before he spoke at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ anniversary. Ironically, his speech was given just days before he was set to speak with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles in an effort to mend ties with Catholics and other Christians who have been offended by Duterte’s recent remarks. No doubt Duterte’s comments only made that dialogue more unpleasant.

blood-moonMost people have gone stargazing at least once in their life. Some people find the idea of staring at the sky a waste of time, others think fondly back on childhood moments with friends or parents and still others become all but obsessed with watching the movements of the heavens. While most people do not go outside every night to watch the stars, unusual astronomical phenomenon always attract a lot of attention. Thousands of people traveled hundreds of miles to witness the total solar eclipse in 2017, and dozens of people bundle up in warm clothing every year to witness the Geminid meteor shower in December. As such, it is no surprise that the upcoming lunar eclipse and subsequent blood moon have received quite a bit of attention.

July’s lunar eclipse and blood moon have gotten press from more than astronomy enthusiasts. They have also drawn the interest of various doomsday preachers. John Hagee and Mark Blitz have both claimed that the July 2018 blood moon is part of a series of events that herald the end of days as predicted in the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation. Hagee and Blitz have interpreted an ongoing “tetrad” as an indicator of the end of the world. The “tetrad” was a series of four consecutive lunar eclipses separated by six full moons that began in April 2014.

End of the world theories are always common around blood moons. Both Revelation and Joel state that “the moon [will turn] to blood” before the final judgment day. These doomsday predictions have yet to pan out with modern blood moons.

As alarming and fascinating as they sound, blood moons are not terribly uncommon. Blood moons are caused by Rayleigh scattering, a phenomenon where naturally occurring pollution, such as dust from storms and faint traces of volcanic gases and ash, block higher frequencies of light. Blue light, as a result, is filtered out, but the long wavelength of red light can pass through the atmosphere. Thus, during the time when Earth stands between the sun and the moon in a lunar eclipse, the moon turns a shade of red. Lunar eclipses happen multiple times a year. Only some of these eclipses are the partial and total lunar eclipses that herald a blood moon, but most years still have at least one total or partial lunar eclipse. As such, it is unlikely that anyone needs to cancel their August plans due to the arrival of Judgement Day. It would be worth it, however, to skip brunch on July 28th in order to watch the total lunar eclipse the previous night. A blood moon may be relatively common, but that does not mean that it is not an incredible sight to see.

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Most American’s are incredibly proud to share their nationality, so it’s no wonder that congregations across the United States want to hoist a flag in their church sanctuaries. However, is this a good practice?

Local churches have debated this topic for years. Is it OK for the american flag to hang in the sanctuary? What about the church in general? Is it appropriate for a church to be pro-God while also being pro-America?

Those for the practice believe there is nothing wrong with the church displaying the flag, since we are located in America. Our nation was founded as a Christian nation, and the two have been intertwined for centuries. They point out that there are many places in the United States where you can find references to God, Christ and Biblical ideas intertwined in American history, so there is no reason it can’t belong in church. They believe that displaying the American flag is a way to affirm our Christian heritage and to pay respects to those who sacrificed for it.

Lisa Velthouse, a Marine Corps wife and author, believes “putting the flag in our local church does not mean we have made religion bow to nation.”

Those who are against it, however, argue if the flag is spiritual, Gospel-centered or uplifts man to God. They say the church should be focused on Christianity and not our nation. For example, the flag could be intimidating to others that aren’t from our nation. Those against the flag being displayed don’t want the local church to be interpreted as worshiping America over the flag.

While the church should remember those who were fallen, the flag is too intense and takes away from the real platform of a church. Churches must not forget that we are a nation by God’s grace, not by man’s power (Daniel 4:17).

There are good arguments on both sides, and churches need to decide what is best for their church. If we display the flag, it should be so we can express gratitude for God’s goodness to our nation and to remind the congregation about our nation’s accountability to Him as Judge and Savior. What do you think? Do you believe churches should display the American flag?