Why One Atheist Wants To Hear The Pope Speak In Philly

Philadelphia native Max Hodey is an atheist, yet he’s going to hear Pope France speak Saturday on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Why does a 25-year-old man who professes no faith in a divine being plan to battle crowds to hear another who goes about dispensing religious counsel? 

It’s Pope Francis himself, Hodey said.

"He’s very refreshing and he almost has a much more pragmatic approach to things," said Hodey. "I can’t even remember the last pope’s name, I was so disinterested."

Plus, Francis is "probably the only pope that’s not 50 years behind the times."

He has hopes for what the pontiff will say to the City of Brotherly Love. "I’m very optimistic. There are things I hope he’ll talk about, even though it’ll probably be something more routine, like what he said to Congress."

Hodey works as a Spanish-English translator in the Upper Darby School District, an area near Philadelphia known for its large blue-collar worker and immigrant populations. Local officials strive to do what they can with limited funds, he said, but overall the educational system is "pretty criminal."

"I’d really like to see [Pope Francis] call us out on that. To say that we really need to focus on the fact that we can’t cut funding," said Hodey. "Philadelphia would be a good way for him to comment on the whole national education system — it’s a springboard for issues on a more national level," he added.

Schools aren’t the only thing on Hodey’s mind. Philadelphia struggles with its homeless population, he said, and he would like to see the pope give credit to those who try so hard to help.

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34,000 Black Churches Leave PCUSA Over Same-Sex Marriage

Urging Presbyterian Church USA to “repent and be restored to fellowship,” the National Black Church Initiative, which represents 34,000 churches from 15 denominations, has declared it has severed ties with PCUSA after it amended its constitution changing their definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.

from The Christian Post Church & Ministries. http://ift.tt/1Dab97R


Looking Past Cardinal Dolan’s Hearty Smile

In Rome, Vatican watchers like to say that the institutional Catholic Church measures time not with a clock, but with a calendar, and that its memory is as durable as the records in its archives, where Galileo’s signature, preserved in the documents from his famous trial, looks like it was penned yesterday. In America the one institution that might match the Vatican when it comes to memory and deliberative care is our system of justice where, according to the reliable cliché, the wheels grind slowly. But grind they do and they are gradually revealing the character behind the façade of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s hearty smile and twinkling eyes.

Continue reading Looking Past Cardinal Dolan’s Hearty Smile

Religious Liberty vs. LGBT Rights: How the Church Is Missing the Point, Ignoring the Gospel, and Losing a Generation

Earlier today a bill was signed into law in Indiana that will allow business owners to deny services to LGBT people based on religious objections. This comes on the heels of legislation enacted in Arkansas last month that prohibits local communities from implementing non-discrimination policies for LGBT people. Lawmakers in my home state of West Virginia went so far as to block a popular taxi service from doing business in the state because of opposition to a non-discrimination clause, presumably to preserve the right of a cab driver to refuse service to gays and lesbians.

While marriage equality has expanded to 37 states in recent years, a backlash against gay rights is occurring across the country with at least 26 states introducing bills that would legalize discrimination against the LGBT community. At the forefront of these efforts are a number of evangelical churches and organizations, which are concerned that traditional views on marriage and sexuality are being threatened by broader cultural acceptance of LGBT rights. Many church leaders are advancing the notion that Christians will be penalized for adhering to traditional beliefs and therefore must be protected by robust religious liberty laws.

As a gay man who was raised in the evangelical church, I would be the first to admit that the legal and theological implications of these issues are quite complex. Despite my own disagreement with conservative views on same-sex relationships, it’s undeniable that those perspectives represent a longstanding and deeply held theology that in some contexts is safeguarded by the First Amendment. For example, under no circumstances should churches or other expressly religious institutions be coerced to perform weddings that contradict stated doctrinal beliefs. The LGBT community should be careful not to dismiss these concerns or erode these protections.

However, the insistence on the part of some Christians to expand religious exemptions to the broadest set of circumstances reflects a grave lack of understanding or disregard for the real life challenges faced by LGBT people. Worse yet, these political tactics are sending a damaging message to the gay community, not to mention their friends and family, about the culture and priorities of the modern evangelical church. With all of the effort currently being expended on religious liberty legislation, one might assume that a central tenet of the faith is ensuring that no Christian ever has to offer employment, rent a house or even bake a cake for a gay person.

I’m often asked by well-meaning fellow Christians how they can better demonstrate love toward LGBT people even if they can’t affirm same-sex relationships. My response is that the church needs to start defending the basic dignity of all people, including those with whom they disagree.

I have no expectation that conservative evangelical denominations are going to dramatically change their position on gay marriage any time soon; however, the church is failing to separate key theological issues from other basic legal protections that should be afforded to everyone. For instance, I shouldn’t have to worry when I walk into a restaurant if the kitchen will serve me just because I’m dining with my boyfriend, or when I’m apartment hunting if I’ll be denied housing because I’m gay. Regrettably, Christians are gaining an undesirable reputation, not as defenders of religious liberty, but as enemies of LGBT people who are ushering in a new era of segregationist policies in the name of Christ.

In some instances such as in Indiana and Arkansas, anti-LGBT political tactics are clearly succeeding. But no one seems to be considering the toll this is actually taking on the church itself, a disastrous example of winning the battle but losing the war. Younger Americans are increasingly abandoning organized religion with one-third of Millennials citing the church’s treatment of LGBT people as a key reason for their departure. They find it too difficult to participate in a culture that is actively making life worse for LGBT friends and family. For those of us who are concerned about the health of the church and the relevance of our faith to a new generation, this is a troubling trend.

Perhaps the saddest thing to me is that all of this anti-LGBT fervor actually runs contrary to the life and teachings of Christ. One of the central themes of the Gospels is the way in which Jesus spent His time ministering to the marginalized – lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and foreigners. If you fast-forward to contemporary times and think about groups of people that are considered outsiders today, that’s exactly where Christ would focus his time, energy and affection.

A dear friend and pastor once tried to convince me that Jesus, who was a carpenter by trade, probably wouldn’t build a table for a gay or lesbian couple. But as I look at scripture, I’m quite certain that Jesus would not only build the table, He would sit down at it and share a meal too.

Quite simply, it’s time for the church to follow Christ’s example by looking past the politics and the doctrine to see the dignity, humanity and immense needs of real people.

You ask how Christians, even from non-affirming denominations, can better demonstrate love to the LGBT community? — By helping to ensure that we have access to a job and a roof over our head. By joining with us to prevent bullying and end LGBT youth homelessness. By speaking out against government sanctioned violence in places like Uganda and Nigeria where LGBT people face imprisonment or even the death penalty. These actions don’t compromise Christian values. They embody them.

Otherwise, we might consider rewriting Matthew 25 to sound more like this:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat… (except for gay people).
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink… (except for gay people).
I was a stranger and you invited me in… (except for gay people).
I needed clothes and you clothed me… (except for gay people).
I was sick and you looked after me… (except for gay people).
I was in prison and you came to visit me… (except for gay people).

If Christians can’t work to safeguard LGBT people from bullying, physical attacks and other forms of discrimination, I’m afraid we’ve traded the authentic gospel of Jesus for a form of cultural Christianity that is devoid of grace and compassion at a time when the world is desperately in need of both. I fear we will gain a handful of religious liberty laws but lose our soul.

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Community college booting homeschooler becoming less-rare occurence


A student’s college career was off to a good start until he was kicked out of school because he earned his high school diploma by being homeschooled.

Jacob Berry, a community college student in West Virginia, was told he must take the GED or be forced to drop out, even though he was an “A” student.

Continue reading Community college booting homeschooler becoming less-rare occurence

Pope Gets Pushback From Sex Abuse Commission On Bishop Juan Barros Appointment

VATICAN CITY (AP) – Several members of Pope Francis’ sex abuse advisory board are expressing concern and incredulity over his decision to appoint a Chilean bishop to a diocese despite allegations from victims that he covered up for Chile’s most notorious pedophile.

In interviews and emails with The Associated Press, the experts have questioned Francis’ pledge to hold bishops accountable, listen to victims and keep children safe, given the record of Bishop Juan Barros in the case of the Rev. Fernando Karadima.

Barros was installed last week as bishop of Osorno in southern Chile amid nationwide political opposition, violent protests in the cathedral and a boycott by most of the diocese’s priests and deacons. It was an almost unheard-of vote of no-confidence for a bishop in an overwhelmingly Catholic country in a part of the world that the Argentine pope knows well.

While the Holy See is loath to be bullied by public opinion, the concern about the appointment expressed by the commission members is hard to ignore given that they are not victim advocacy groups. Rather, they are professionals appointed by Francis himself to advise the Vatican on best practices to protect children and educate the church on how to respond to and prevent sexual abuse by priests.

The five commission members spoke to the AP in their personal and professional capacity and stressed that they knew about the case only from news reports and were not speaking on behalf of the 17-member commission, which Francis formed in late 2013 and named Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley to head.

"I am very worried," said commission member Dr. Catherine Bonnet, a French child psychiatrist and author on child sex abuse. "Although the commission members cannot intervene with individual cases, I would like to meet with Cardinal O’Malley and other members of the commission to discuss a way to pass over our concerns to Pope Francis."

Another commiss i on member, Marie Collins, herself a survivor of abuse, said she couldn’t understand how Francis could have appointed Barros given the concerns about his behavior.

"It goes completely against what he (Francis) has said in the past about those who protect abusers," Collins told AP. "The voice of the survivors is being ignored, the concerns of the people and many clergy in Chile are being ignored and the safety of children in this diocese is being left in the hands of a bishop about whom there are grave concerns for his commitment to child protection."

Barros, the former chaplain of Chile’s armed forces, has faced unprecedented opposition ever since he was named in January to lead the Osorno diocese. The demonstrators say he is unfit to lead and point to his close association with Karadima, a charismatic and popular priest who was sanctioned by the Vatican in 2011 for sexually abusing minors.

Three of Karadima’s victims told the AP this month that Barros witne s sed the abuse decades ago at the Sacred Heart of Jesus church in Santiago, the Chilean capital, and that he did nothing. They accused Barros of destroying a letter detailing allegations against Karadima that was sent to the then-bishop in 1982.

Barros, 58, was not Karadima’s superior but was rather a protege of the now 84-year-old prelate, who has been confined to a cloister to live a life of "penance and prayer" for his crimes.

Barros had long refused to comment publicly on the allegations, but on the eve of his installation insisted he didn’t know about any abuse until he read about the allegations in 2010 news reports.

The outrage over Barros appointment has been noteworthy in a country that is slowly coming to grips with the church sex abuse crisis that has afflicted the United States, Europe and Australia in particular: More than 1,300 church members in Osorno, along with some 30 priests from the diocese and 51 of Chile’s 120 members of Parliament, sen t letters to Francis in February urging him to rescind the appointment.

To no avail. On the eve of the March 21 installation, the Vatican embassy expressed its full "confidence and support" in Barros and urged the church in Chile to show a spirit of "faith as well as communion" by accepting him in Osorno.

His installation, however, was a scene of utter chaos, with protesters entering the cathedral, pushing and shoving and nearly coming to blows as Barros tried to walk down the aisle. The appointment has badly divided Chile’s bishops’ conference, and it remains to be seen if Barros can effectively govern.

Although Francis went ahead with the installation, he has shown himself willing to remove bishops who have divided their local church or caused scandal. Just last week, he accepted the resignation of Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien for sexual misbehavior – a decision that hasn’t gone unnoticed by commentators outraged that O’Brien was effectively fired the d a y before Barros was installed.

The issue is particularly delicate for Francis, who would have been familiar with the Karadima scandal when it broke in 2010, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. The scandal implicated his friend, the then-Archbishop of Santiago, Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, who admitted that he shelved an investigation into Karadima in 2005 but reopened it in 2010 as the global abuse crisis was erupting.

Any wavering by Francis on the Barros appointment could open a Pandora’s box of renewed allegations against Errazuriz, now one of Francis’ top advisers, and others in the Chilean church hierarchy who dismissed allegations from victims and instead stood by Karadima.

Commission member Baroness Sheila Hollins, a psychiatrist and life peer in Britain’s House of Lords, said accountability must be enforced when it comes to protecting children.

"The hierarchical rank of the perpetrator must be of no consequence in evaluating the fa c ts," she told the AP.

Commission member Dr. Krysten Winter-Green of New Zealand, an expert in social work and pastoral psychology, echoed that view and said she understood that Francis’ "zero tolerance" pledge meant he too, must believe the same.

"It is my presumption therefore that in the ultimate analysis justice will prevail and that Bishop Barros and all hierarchy will be held to account as the Holy Father sees fit," she said in an email.

Francis’ record on sex abuse has been somewhat mixed.

Victims groups initially questioned whether he "got it" about the scale of the problem since he had never dealt with it directly when he was archbishop. He later received praise for having created the advisory commission and having vowed, during a sermon with sex abuse survivors in the pews, that bishops must protect children and be held accountable.

"If Pope Francis is presented with such powerful facts (of compromised bishops) then I can’t see why the p ope cannot remove them immediately," said commission member Peter Saunders, a survivor of abuse. "He has that authority."

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USA Network Series Offering End Times Scenarios

Fugitive cows, secret codes and end-of-the-world scenarios. The USA Network’s series "Dig" continues to weave a fictional action-conspiracy story around some very factual strands of Old Testament prophesy and biblical archaeology.

But what’s up with the naked praying guy on the beach? Here’s a closer look at some of the strands of fact winding through this fanciful series, which airs Thursday nights at 10 EDT.

The "war tablet"

Key to the advancing of the already complicated "Dig" plot is something referred to as the "war tablet." Supposedly written by the Essenes, the tablet is supposed to be stored at Jerusalem’s Israeli Museum and is said to contain a code that will reveal the hiding places of 12 precious stones.

Quite a lot of this is actually based in fact. First, the Essenes were an ancient sect of apocalyptic Jews responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2,000-year-old manuscripts of, among other things, the Old Testament. And there really is a "war scroll" among their writings. Perhaps the producers of "Dig" went with a tablet instead of a scroll because it is less fragile?

Yet even the show’s switch from papyrus scroll to copper tablet has some basis in fact. The Essenes did produce something called "The Copper Scroll," which — like the one in the series — describes buried treasure. But unlike the well-preserved prop in the show, which kind of looks like a Hershey bar with a bite taken out of it, the real one is flaky and fragile and in pieces.
"The whole thing is pretty much fiction," said John J. Collins, author of "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography" and a professor at Yale Divinity School. "The Essenes did have a war ‘something.’ But it has nothing whatever to do with finding anything. What did you say the name of this program is?"
Um, "Dig," sir. "Dig."
And while there really is an Israel Museum in Jerusalem and it really does have fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, only its janitor and the makers of "Dig " know if its air-conditioning ducts are so clean a man could crawl through them and come out looking as good as Jason Isaacs, the star of "Dig."

The Essenes

"Dig" injected the existence of the ancient Essenes into the storyline a few episodes ago but is now fleshing out their portrait. They really did think of themselves as "the sons of light" engaged in a battle with the "sons of the dark" — exactly the subject of the war scroll/tablet. They really did go and live in Qumran, a series of caves on the shores of the Dead Sea. They really did write the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in 1947.

But did they dance naked at night by the light of a bonfire, praying to God in a language that might be Greek or Hebrew?

Who knows? But what is based in truth here about the character known only at this point as "The Essene" is that the white attire he is always seen in is a symbol of purity in both Judaism and Christianity. Combine that with the color of "Red," the genetically engineered heifer the Essene is seeking, and you have the white purity of God washing clean the bloody red sins of mankind.


Decoding the "war tablet" leads both the good guys and bad guys of "Dig" to a place called Megiddo, otherwise known by its Greek name, Armageddon. High jinks — in terms of a car-and-motorcycle chase — ensue.

Most people with a grounding in the New Testament think of Armageddon as a battle, not a place, predicted in the Book of Revelation, the final book of the Bible. But Armageddon is actually the place — a desert plain in northern Israel  — where the final battle between the forces of good (Jesus, yea!) and the bad (the Antichrist, boo!) are supposed to take place.

In actuality, Megiddo was once a great city-state and the site of several major battles. Today, it is a World Heritage Site with many mosaics that can be viewed, like the one show in "Dig." But don’t do to it what "Dig" bad guy Yussef Khalid (Omar Metwally) does unless you have plenty of time to spend in an Israeli jail.

More fun facts

There really is something called "gematria" in which Hebrew letters are given numerical values that are worked and manipulated to crack codes or explain things.

And the show’s creators continue to have fun with biblical numerology.  The compound of the show’s secret Christian sect is on "route seven" with a turnoff at "mile marker 19." Seven is the number of the divine, a perfect number, and 19 — with a one representing God and a nine representing his judgment — continues to bode not well for those who live at the compound.

As Jason Isaacs says in the show to Ori Pfeffer, "We are missing something."

Copyright 2015 Religion News Service. All rights reserved.

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Note: Dr. Ben is a Seventh-day Adventist from the Conference

Dr. Ben Carson, a likely 2016 GOP presidential contenders, believes there should be no “philosophical” or “religious” exemptions for vaccinations.

“Although I strongly believe in individual rights and the rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, I also recognize that public health and public safety are extremely important in our society,” Carson told The Hill. “Certain communicable diseases have been largely eradicated by immunization policies in this country and we should not allow those diseases to return by foregoing safe immunization programs, for philosophical, religious or other reasons when we have the means to eradicate them.”