Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts

May 24, 2020

COVID-19 Attacks The Attendees At an Arkansas Church in March


 CDC   Allison James, DVM, PhD; Lesli Eagle; Cassandra Phillips; D. Stephen Hedges, MPH; Cathie Bodenhamer1; Robin Brown, MPAS, MPH1; J. Gary Wheeler, MD1; Hannah Kirking, MD3

  The figure shows how COVID-19 spreads easily in group gatherings with icons depicting primary cases, church cases, and the community.
   
 
On March 16, 2020, the day that national social distancing guidelines were released (1), the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) was notified of two cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) from a rural county of approximately 25,000 persons; these cases were the first identified in this county. The two cases occurred in a husband and wife; the husband is the pastor at a local church (church A). The couple (the index cases) attended church-related events during March 6–8, and developed nonspecific respiratory symptoms and fever on March 10 (wife) and 11 (husband). Before his symptoms had developed, the husband attended a Bible study group on March 11. Including the index cases, 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases occurred among 92 (38%) persons who attended events held at church A during March 6–11; three patients died. The age-specific attack rates among persons aged ≤18 years, 19–64 years, and ≥65 years were 6.3%, 59.4%, and 50.0%, respectively. During contact tracing, at least 26 additional persons with confirmed COVID-19 cases were identified among community members who reported contact with church A attendees and likely were infected by them; one of the additional persons was hospitalized and subsequently died. This outbreak highlights the potential for widespread transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, both at group gatherings during church events and within the broader community. These findings underscore the opportunity for faith-based organizations to prevent COVID-19 by following local authorities’ guidance and the U.S. Government’s Guidelines: Opening Up America Again (2) regarding modification of activities to prevent virus transmission during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On March 10 and 11, the wife of the church pastor, aged 56 years, and the pastor, aged 57 years, developed fever and cough. On March 12, the pastor, after becoming aware of similar nonspecific respiratory symptoms among members of their congregation, closed church A indefinitely. Because of fever, cough, and increasing shortness of breath, the couple sought testing for SARS-CoV-2 on March 13; both were notified of positive results by reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction testing on March 16. The same day, ADH staff members began an investigation to identify how the couple had been exposed and to trace persons with whom they had been in contact. Based on their activities and onset dates, they likely were infected at church A events during March 6–8 and the husband might have then exposed others while presymptomatic during a Bible study event held on March 11.

During March and April 2020, all persons in Arkansas who received testing for SARS-CoV-2 at any laboratory were entered into a database (Research Electronic Data Capture [REDCap]; version 8.8.0; Vanderbilt University) managed by ADH. Using a standardized questionnaire, ADH staff members interviewed persons who had positive test results to ascertain symptoms, onset date, and potential exposure information, including epidemiologic linkages to other COVID-19 patients; this information was stored in the database. Close contacts of patients with laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19 were interviewed and enrolled in active symptom monitoring; those who developed symptoms were tested and their information was also entered into the database. Church A–associated cases were defined as those in 1) persons who had laboratory results positive for SARS-CoV-2 who identified contact with church A attendees as a source of exposure and 2) actively monitored contacts of church attendees who had a test result positive for SARS-CoV-2 after becoming symptomatic.

The public health investigation focused on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 among persons who attended church A events during March 6–11. To facilitate the investigation, the pastor and his wife generated a list of 94 church members and guests who had registered for, or who, based on the couple’s recollection, might have attended these events.

During March 6–8, church A hosted a 3-day children’s event which consisted of two separate 1.5-hour indoor sessions (one on March 6 and one on March 7) and two, 1-hour indoor sessions during normal church services on March 8. This event was led by two guests from another state. During each session, children participated in competitions to collect offerings by hand from adults, resulting in brief close contact among nearly all children and attending adults. On March 7, food prepared by church members was served buffet-style. A separate Bible study event was held March 11; the pastor reported most attendees sat apart from one another in a large room at this event. Most children and some adults participated in singing during the children’s event; no singing occurred during the March 11 Bible study. Among all 94 persons who might have attended any of the events, 19 (20%) attended both the children’s event and Bible study.

The husband and wife were the first to be recognized by ADH among the 35 patients with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 associated with church A attendance identified through April 22; their illnesses represent the index cases. During the investigation, two persons who were symptomatic (not the husband and wife) during March 6–8 were identified; these are considered the primary cases because they likely initiated the chain of transmission among church attendees. Additional cases included those in persons who attended any church A events during March 6–11, but whose symptom onset occurred on or after March 8, which was 2 days after the earliest possible church A exposure. One asymptomatic attendee who sought testing after household members became ill was included among these additional cases.

Consistent with CDC recommendations for laboratory testing at that time (3), clinical criteria for testing included cough, fever, or shortness of breath; asymptomatic persons were not routinely tested. To account for this limitation when calculating attack rates, upper and lower boundaries for the attack rates were estimated by dividing the total number of persons with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 by the number of persons tested for SARS-CoV-2 and by the number of persons who attended church A during March 6–11, respectively. All analyses were performed using R statistical software (version 4.0.0; The R Foundation). Risk ratios were calculated to compare attack rates by age, sex, and attendance dates. Fisher’s exact test was used to calculate two-sided p-values; p-values <0 .05="" considered="" div="" significant.="" statistically="" were="">

Overall, 94 persons attended church A events during March 6–11 and might have been exposed to the index patients or to another infectious patient at the same event; among these persons, 92 were successfully contacted and are included in the analysis. Similar proportions of church A attendees were aged ≤18 years (35%), 19–64 years (35%), and ≥65 years (30%) (Table 1). However, a higher proportion of adults aged 19–64 years and ≥65 years were tested (72% and 50%, respectively), and received positive test results (59% and 50%), than did younger persons. Forty-five persons were tested for SARS-CoV-2, among whom 35 (77.8%) received positive test results (Table 2).

During the investigation, two church A participants who attended the March 6–8 children’s event were found to have had onset of symptoms on March 6 and 7; these represent the primary cases and likely were the source of infection of other church A attendees (Figure). The two out-of-state guests developed respiratory symptoms during March 9–10 and later received diagnoses of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19, suggesting that exposure to the primary cases resulted in their infections. The two primary cases were not linked except through the church; the persons lived locally and reported no travel and had no known contact with a traveler or anyone with confirmed COVID-19. Patient interviews revealed no additional common exposures among church attendees.

The estimated attack rate ranged from 38% (35 cases among all 92 church A event attendees) to 78% (35 cases among 45 church A event attendees who were tested for SARS-CoV-2). When stratified by age, attack rates were significantly lower among persons aged ≤18 years (6.3%–25.0%) than among adults aged 19–64 years (59.4%–82.6%) (p<0 .01="" 0.1="" 19="" 35="" aged="" among="" children.="" compared="" covid-19="" died.="" div="" for="" hospitalized="" illnesses="" in="" laboratory-confirmed="" no="" occurred="" patients="" persons="" ratios="" risk="" seven="" severe="" the="" those="" three="" were="" with="" years="">

At least 26 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases were identified among community members who, during contact tracing, reported contact with one or more of the 35 church A members with COVID-19 as an exposure. These persons likely were infected by church A attendees. Among these 26 persons, one was hospitalized and subsequently died. Thus, as of April 22, 61 confirmed cases (including eight [13%] hospitalizations and four [7%] deaths) had been identified in persons directly and indirectly associated with church A events. 

This investigation identified 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases among 92 attendees at church A events during March 6–11; estimated attack rates ranged from 38% to 78%. Despite canceling in-person church activities and closing the church as soon as it was recognized that several members of the congregation had become ill, widespread transmission within church A and within the surrounding community occurred. The primary patients had no known COVID-19 exposures in the 14 days preceding their symptom onset dates, suggesting that local transmission was occurring before case detection.

Children represented 35% of all church A attendees but accounted for only 18% of persons who received testing and 6% of confirmed cases. These findings are consistent with those from other reports suggesting that many children with COVID-19 experience more asymptomatic infections or milder symptoms and have lower hospitalization rates than do adults (4,5). The role of asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children in SARS-CoV-2 transmission remains unknown and represents a critical knowledge gap as officials consider reopening public places.

The risk for symptomatic infection among adults aged ≥65 years was not higher than that among adults aged 19–64 years. However, six of the seven hospitalized persons and all three deaths occurred in persons aged ≥65 years, consistent with other U.S. data indicating a higher risk for COVID-19–associated hospitalization and death among persons aged ≥65 years (6).

The findings in this report are subject to at least four limitations. First, some infected persons might have been missed because they did not seek testing, were ineligible for testing based on criteria at the time, or were unable to access testing. Second, although no previous cases had been reported from this county, undetected low-level community transmission was likely, and some patients in this cluster might have had exposures outside the church. Third, risk of exposure likely varied among attendees but could not be characterized because data regarding individual behaviors (e.g., shaking hands or hugging) were not collected. Finally, the number of cases beyond the cohort of church attendees likely is undercounted because tracking out-of-state transmission was not possible, and patients might not have identified church members as their source of exposure.

High transmission rates of SARS-CoV-2 have been reported from hospitals (7), long-term care facilities (8), family gatherings (9), a choir practice (10), and, in this report, church events. Faith-based organizations that are operating or planning to resume in-person operations, including regular services, funerals, or other events, should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2. These organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. Government’s guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities (2).


Acknowledgments
Members of the congregation of church A, including the pastor and his wife; Arkansas Department of Health; Suzanne Beavers, CDC; Laura Rothfeldt, Arkansas Department of Health; state and local health departments where out-of-state visitors resided.


Corresponding author: Allison E. James, hwj7@cdc.gov, 501-614-5278.

January 26, 2020

Tenn. Gov. Bill Lee Signs Bill to Allow Adoption Agencies to Deny to Gay Couples


Image result for uits raining homeless babies
Image result for uits raining homeless babies
Every kid you see in all three photos are either homeless or orphans
Image result for uits raining homeless babies

Bill Lee has finished his first year in office as the 50th Governor of Tennessee.





 
























NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a controversial measure Friday that would let religious adoption agencies deny service to same-sex couples.

The move comes after several groups, including the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, urged Lee not to sign the legislation.

The law allows adoption agencies to refuse to participate in child placement if doing so would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies."

Under the law, which immediately takes effect, the state would be barred from denying an agency's license or grant application for public funds because of a refusal to place a child with a family based on religious objections.

“The governor believes that protection of rights is important, especially religious liberty," Lee spokesman Gillum Ferguson said. "This bill is centered around protecting the religious liberty of Tennesseans and that’s why he signed it.”

Bill Lee has finished his first year in office as the 50th Governor of Tennessee.
Advocacy groups, including the Campaign for Southern Equality and the Human Rights Campaign, said the legislation targeted members of the LGBTQ community.

But proponents of the legislation, which included religious conservatives, said it was a necessary protection for faith-based groups.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a recent column published in The Tennessean the legislation puts children first and argued that it does not promote discrimination. 

He said the law doesn't prevent other organizations from helping children.

"This law prevents the state from discriminating against faith-based organizations as they serve and meet the needs of children. It does not restrict others at all," he wrote.

The governor's signature comes a little over a week after the state Senate approved the measure with a 20-6 vote, despite objections from several Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Randy McNally.

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-TN, said the organization is considering its options.

The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, was more direct, saying, "This law is clearly discriminatory. As long as the LGBTQ community continues to be targeted by discriminatory laws, we will turn to the courts for recourse."

Beach-Ferrara said other states, including Michigan, implemented similar laws and had them halted in court.

"We anticipate that litigation around discrimination focused on adoption will continue to unfold, and the Tennessee law signed today will be part of that conversation,” she said.

Follow Joel Ebert on Twitter: @joelebert29.

March 2, 2018

This Church Celebrates The AR-15 Killer Rifle as the "Rod" of God and Most of Them Own It




 Some people ask themselves why many religious people have this love for punishment and tools of death.This is the Unification church in Pennsylvania. Yes in the North East, not the South.
The AR-15 that Christian fellow is carrying in the church is not a prop and he is not the only one who brought his to church. They decided to bring their killer rifles to church to make a point. Freedom makes these people feel threatened.  Some of them also had crowns made of bullets. You got to give them credit for showing what others feel. Putin in Russia, just announced a new round of weapons of mass destruction and these people do not have a concern in the least. Not because they got their killer rifles but because they want the world to be destroyed before they die, so hey can see god come and give them eternal life and put things right again. Things might be put back together again but it might take what it took the last time. Billions of years and everything turns into radioactive dust first. Adam

 Hundreds of faithful at a Pennsylvania church on Wednesday carried AR-15-style rifles in adherence to their belief that a "rod of iron" mentioned in the Bible refers to the type of weapon that was used in last month's mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The armed ceremony at World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland, about 20 miles southeast of Scranton, featured gun-toting worshippers, some wearing crowns of bullets as they participated in communion and wedding ceremonies.
Attendants carefully placed a zip tie into the receiver magazine well of each weapon to assure that a clip could not be loaded.
Concern over Wednesday's gathering prompted a nearby elementary school to cancel classes for the day. It also sparked a small demonstration outside the church, with one protester telling The Associated Press that "it's scaring people in the community."
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, "The ceremony's official name was the Cosmic True Parents of Heaven, Earth and Humanity Cheon Il Guk Book of Life Registration Blessing. It was part of the church's weeklong 'Festival of Grace,' which included a 'President Trump Thank You Dinner' on Saturday."
The Rev. Hyung Jin "Sean" Moon prayed for "a kingdom of peace police and peace militia where the citizens, through the right given to them by Almighty God to keep and bear arms, will be able to protect one another and protect human flourishing."
"We pray they would stand as kings and queens with their crown and rod of iron," he said.
Moon is the youngest son of the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon — the self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church in South Korea in 1954 and eventually spawned a worldwide movement regarded by detractors as a cult. The church is perhaps best known for its mass wedding ceremonies.
As the AP notes, "The younger Moon's congregation is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, which had distanced itself from Wednesday's event."
The ceremony reportedly attracted followers from as far away as Japan, South Korea, and Europe.
Within the past year, Moon incorporated the new belief about the AR-15 into the church's teaching. It is based on Revelation 2:27, which states, "he shall rule them with a rod of iron." 
One follower, Jonathan Franco, was quoted by Scranton's WNEP TV as saying, "If you don't have a rod of iron then, unfortunately, you can come into a situation where your life can come to an end. Who else is there to blame if you yourself didn't take the responsibility to preserve your own life?"
Sreymom Ouk, 41, who attended the ceremony with her husband, Sort Ouk, and an AR-15, told the AP that she needed the weapon to defend her family against "sickos and evil psychopaths."
"People have the right to bear arms, and in God's kingdom, you have to protect that," she said, according to the news agency. "You have to protect against evil."
As the Inquirer notes, the Rev. Sean Moon's brother, Moon Kook-jin, also known as Justin Moon, is the founder and CEO of Kahr Arms, a firearms manufacturer headquartered in nearby Greeley.
Kahr specializes in making compact semiautomatic pistols. It was not clear from its website whether the company sells AR-15-style rifles, but the newspaper quoted one follower who said he bought one there.
"I actually purchased my weapon there yesterday because, although I have several rifles, I didn't have an AR-15," David Konn, who had driven from Florida earlier in the week, told the Inquirer.
NPR


November 5, 2017

In Texas 26 People Dead 25 Injured in The Worse US Church Shooting in History



 adamfoxie file picture



"Approximately 25 people" are dead and at least 20 others injured after a shooter opened fire inside the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the county sheriff told NBC. The shooter is dead, following a police chase, and the FBI is on the scene.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted his condolences saying, "Our prayers are with all who were harmed by this evil act." President Trump, who is in Japan as part of a 12-day Asia trip, also tweeted, "May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan."
Sutherland Springs is a small town in South Texas, about 35 miles east of San Antonio. Parishioners present at the First Baptist Church's 11 a.m. service Sunday morning — when the shooter attacked — were likely all members of Sutherland Spring's small community of well under 1,000 people. The church's pastor told ABC that his 14-year-old daughter, a "very beautiful, special child," was among those killed.
Helicopters arrived on the scene shortly after the shooting occurred to transport victims to local hospitals. The local community center has been turned into a resource center for families of the victims to wait for information as authorities are still treating the church as an active crime scene.
This was the worst church shooting in U.S. history.

UPDATE 7:35pm Sunday
The shooter’s name Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, of New Braunfels, Texas and said the Air Force court martial occurred only three years ago. Although the motive was not yet clear, the gunman’s background includes religious school work, but he also liked pages devoted to atheism. The shooter, who is dead, left behind disturbing social media posts, including a Facebook page that showed off a rifle, calling it a “bad b*tch.” This latest is from internet reports not verified yet by adamfoxie*

September 6, 2017

You P* Smiling RevJoel Osteen, Be Warned! Your Jugular Would Be His Breakfast



Jacob Gardner, front right, preaches as he and Randall Valdez, left, Mark DeRouville, Matthew Martinez, Kevin Fessler, and Richard Trudeau waiting to be arraigned in Court



This is one of a few available cases surrounding the unchristian behavior of this pastor. With a permanently frozen smile, he went after 6 young guys who disagreed with his sermon on the bible and yelled at him with the corrections. It was not vandalism or young guys disrupting a service for the hell of it. They were following what Jesus did as written on the new testament.the correct verses.  Where these guys rude?  Probably; I don't know whether they tried in private to correct what this pastor was preaching from a book evangelicals know well. Still yelling the scriptures might have called for them to be escorted out and have the incident finished. Yes, they were escorted out but then Mr. Love and Permanent Smile (LPS) Joel had them arrested and with the pull, he has in a town in which he is pastor of a mega church, the authorities paid attention to him more than to the youngsters. This case should have not gone as far as it did. The Pastor had the church paying for court expenses but the youngsters did not have a church covering or so Pasto Joel thought.  They tried a variety of charges of which the defense was 'freedom of speech."
You know how the courts feel about any challenges to one of the main commandments of the Constitution.  I have the case as it happened below and the final disposition. With the Conduct of Pastor Joel Osteen on the hurricane, one looks at his past and see the same thing we saw what he did by not opening his church for the storm survivors until he had to.

                                                                       


 He showed in this incident that if you piss him he will come after you with lots of money and very little love or god involvement



It was religious speech - a warning that Joel Osteen was preaching falsehoods - that led to the arrest of six men who yelled out and shouted scriptures during a Sunday service last year at Lakewood Church, their lawyers said Tuesday.

The men were not committing crimes when they interrupted the service at the megachurch in the Greenway Plaza area of Houston, the lawyers said.

"The state is trying to make a crime out of a religious speech by these men," defense attorney Brad Loper said in opening statements Tuesday of the misdemeanor trial of four of the men. "They intended to warn people, whether you believe them or not, that Mr. Osteen was spreading false teachings."

The men, all of whom are members of a small church in the East Texas town of Wells, are charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and causing a disturbance in the June 28, 2015, incident.
Prosecutors said security video would show the men intentionally caused a security problem by scattering themselves among the 12,000 parishioners in Lakewood's massive arena.

"One by one they stood up around the sanctuary and began belligerently yelling at Joel Osteen," said Assistant District Attorney Chelsi Honeycutt. "Belligerently and violently."

It was their volume, wildly swinging arms and refusal to stop that led security officers and church ushers to escort them from the premises, she said.

Ronald Crowell, head of Lakewood's security, testified Tuesday that numerous disturbances broke out every few minutes during the service. Prosecutors showed video pinpointing when each member can be heard shouting over Osteen's sermon.

Osteen made light of the disturbances at the time, encouraging the congregation to applaud if they were happy to be there and joking that the protesters could wait until after the service to tell him they love him.


The church is one of the largest Protestant congregation in the country, with 50,000 people attending services through the week.

"Everyone's welcome until they're not," Honeycutt told jurors. "Until they pose a security threat."

The men have publicly admitted they "raised up their voices to God" to protest Osteen, whom they have called a "charlatan" and "imposter."

Four of the men facing misdemeanor charges began trial Tuesday after County Court-at-Law Judge Bill Harmon unexpectedly put them at the top of the docket. They began trial in jeans, tennis shoes or boots and rough-hewn, button-down-collar shirts.

Two of the accused men had permission to miss what was supposed to be a routine docket call and are out of state.

All of them are represented by Loper and attorney Jon Stephenson.

By framing the issue as religious speech, the defense lawyers are expected to argue that the men were escorted out of the church because they were criticizing Osteen.

The group has issued a subpoena for Osteen to testify, but lawyers for the pastor have filed a motion to keep him out of court. They argue in court records that Osteen was too far from the disruption to see it and that the subpoena is just another way to harass the pastor.

The judge said he would rule Wednesday on whether Osteen has to appear. The trial is expected to last two days.

The men on trial are Kevin Fessler, 27; Mark DeRouville, 26; Matthew Martinez, 28; and Randall Valdez, 29. Two other men, Jacob Gardner, 27, and Richard Trudeau, 32, will likely face trial later this week. A seventh man from the church was also part of the protest, according to Gardner and other members of their church, but he slipped out without being arrested. {Houston Chronicle}

Disposition

Friday, June 24, 2016
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Charges against two remaining members of the Church of Wells accused of disrupting a service at Lakewood Church last year have been dismissed.
Today, we learned Jacob Garner and Richard Trudeau, who had been charged with criminal trespass, were cleared in the case, which stemmed from outbursts during a service at Lakewood Church in June of last year.
Earlier this week, four other men accused in the case -- Kevin Fessler, Matthew Martinez, Randall Valdez and Mark DeRouville - had their trespassing charges dismissed. They were also found not guilty of disrupting a meeting or procession.
Men cleared of wrongdoing in Osteen church heckling case
Jurors returned a not guilty verdict for four men who were facing charges in the heckling case against Pastor Joel Osteen.

August 31, 2017

[3] Reasons Why So Many People Hate Joel Osteen and His Mega Church in Houston



Twitter is loathing Houston’s megawatt-smile, mega-pastor Joel Osteen. What gives? 
For Myself, the main reason(the are others) is that He is against Gay Marriage but for others:

Joel Osteen’s Houston megachurch transforms into shelter
Lakewood Church, a 606,000-square-foot megachurch in Houston where Joel Osteen preaches, is being used as a shelter from the flood. (Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)
The question over whether Osteen’s 38,000-member Lakewood Church has sufficiently aided in the disaster relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Harvey has, once again, made America’s prince of the prosperity gospel into an object of social media contempt.
With his yachts and jets and endlessly-smiling mouth offering promises of “Your Best Life Now” (that’s the name of his best-selling book), Osteen was already a subject of contempt among Americans, in general.
But in the past few days, he has been lambasted as being, at best, sluggish in providing emergency aid to those suffering from the disaster and, at worst, a hypocrite who cares more about people’s wealth than welfare. In fairness, the city of Houston has more megachurches than any other metropolitan area in the country, with dozens of big-church celebrities to thrust into the spotlight at a time like this. So what is it about America’s grinning preacher that everyone hates so much? 
I’ve been studying the American prosperity gospel for more than a decade, and I have come to the stunning conclusion that Joel Osteen seems to be a pretty nice guy. He is the cheery advertisement for the 606,000-square-foot Lakewood Church and, with the gorgeous Victoria by his side, tours the country in packed-out arenas to bring “A Night of Hope” — a religion-lite, inspirational speech set to music. And, for those who don’t mind waiting a few minutes after the service, he will shake your hand and tolerate your comment about how his hair looks even better in real life. It does.
But there are three main reasons long after this controversy passes, Joel Osteen will still be the preacher America loves to hate — and perhaps for Christians more than others.
Number 1. Joel Osteen represents the Christian 1 percent. From aerial views of his jaw-dropping mansion to the cut of his navy suits, he always looks like a man with a good reason to be smiling. He is a wealthy man who unapologetically preaches that God has blessed him, with the added bonus that God can bless anyone else, too. 
The promise of the prosperity gospel is that it has found a formula that guarantees that God always blesses the righteous with health, wealth, and happiness. For that reason, churchgoers love to see their preachers thrive as living embodiments of their own message. But the inequality that makes Osteen an inspiration is also what makes him an uncomfortable representation of the deep chasms in the land of opportunity between the haves and the have-nots. When the floodwaters rise, no one wants to see him float by on his yacht, as evidenced by the Christian satire website the Babylon Bee’s shot Tuesday at Osteen: “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ” 
 Number 2. There is a lingering controversy around prosperity megachurches and their charitable giving. When a church that places enormous theological weight on tithes and offerings is not a leader in charitable giving, the most obvious question is about who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The everyman or the man at the front?
Number 3. For many Christians, in particular, the prosperity gospel has an unpopular answer to the problem of evil in the world. Its central claim — “Everyone can be prosperous!”—contains its own conundrum. How do you explain the persistence of suffering? It might be easier to say to someone undergoing a divorce that there is something redemptive about the lessons they learned, but what about a child with cancer? 
This week, the prosperity gospel came face-to-face with its own theological limits. It was unable to answer the lingering questions around what theologians call “natural evil.” There is a natural curiosity about how someone like Osteen will react in the face of indiscriminate disaster. Is God separating the sheep from the goats? Will only the houses of the ungodly be flooded? The prosperity gospel has not every found a robust way to address tragedy when their own theology touts that “Everything Happens for a Reason.”  
The good news is that the prosperity gospel, as a movement, is still young. It still has time to be ready when the next natural disaster strikes and people want to be assured that their religious giants are offering more than their thoughts and prayers.

January 15, 2017

Anti Gay, Alleged Church Male Molester, Bishop Eddie Long Dies,63



 Eddie Long New Birth Missionary Mega Church

Bishop Eddie Long, the controversial (alleged young male sex molester) Georgia-based head of one of the nation’s largest mega churches, has died. He was 63.

Long died after a battle with an aggressive form of cancer, according to a statement by the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.
  
At its peak New Birth Missionary Baptist Church had about 25,000 members going around the world preaching homophobia and change through prayer as they preached the gospel.

Long had a controversial past. In 2010, he and his church settled a lawsuit filed by four young men who accused him of pressuring them into sexual relationships while they were teenagers and members of his congregation. Long Settled and paid the young men to keep the case going to trial.

Long, who preached passionately against homosexuality for years, denied the allegations.
In 2011, Vanessa Long filed for divorce. Shortly afterward, Long told his followers he was taking some time off to work on his marriage.

“I do want you to know that this is, for me and my family, especially with me, one of the most difficult times and things I've had to face, and only because my strength, other than God, is in Miss Vanessa," he said at the time.

"And I want you to rest assured that I love her and she loves me. ... In all the things that I've ever had to deal with and being pastor, my rock has been to be able to come home to a virtuous woman who always had peace in my house... We’re going (to) work it out." he said.

In its statement the church called him "a family man and spiritual leader who was well respected and loved for his passion to unapologetically and courageously preach the gospel of Jesus Christ."
The couple later reconciled.

January 9, 2017

As He Grew Up Gay in Australia,The Catholic Church was a Heaven






This March, Australian Christians will be able to join a chorus of Catholics, Baptists and beyond asking forgiveness for centuries worth of anti-LGBTQI sins – among those sins, pushing the idea that "non-heterosexual orientations should be treated, healed or changed".
The landmark "sorry" is the effort of a new ecumenical group called Equal Voices, which, as reported by Buzzfeed, ultimately aims to present the apology to Parliament. The group says its mission is to ensure that the church is one "which acknowledges, respects and utilises the gifts of all, regardless of sex, sexuality or gender". Six months after our progressive pontiff told reporters that Catholics should say sorry to gay people, Australians of faith are listening. 
On one level, this is a surprise on the level of "somebody-moved-the-stone!". The church, so often an immovable wall in the fight for same-sex marriage and other rights, is apologising to us? This is, after all, the same coalition of religions that includes George Pell, the anti-Safe Schools Salvos and the Australian Christian Lobby.

And yet the apology comes as no surprise to me. The Christians in my life – those in the pews who don't make, nor seek, headlines – have been some of the most supportive people I've known. Of course they want to say sorry: it's the Christian thing to do.

My parents sent my brothers and me to Catholic schools as part of a common Australian middle-class compromise. They didn't want us going to the local public school, but couldn't afford private school, so they sent us to an institution named for a girl who was burned at the stake two millennia ago. There, we would wear uniforms we didn't like and say prayers we didn't believe in, but we would also be able to learn our times tables in a disciplined environment.

I did well there. I got straight As, was elected captain of both primary and high school, completed my sacraments and often led prayers at assembly and over the PA system. The family never went to church on weekends, but from Monday to Friday I was an evangelistic little Tracy Flick, biro in hand and halo on head.

I was also very gay. I didn't realise this at the time – I was quite late to my own coming-out party – but I already ticked all of the cliche boxes: terrible at footy, excellent at knowing the lyrics to Les Mis songs; Friday nights at an arthouse cinema, Sunday mornings at drama class. And the voice? Julian Clary could have given a more convincing straight-man reading of the Our Father. If my teachers had eyes and ears, they knew I was different. And these same teachers – not members of the clergy, but many of them laypeople of deep faith – were profoundly nurturing of that difference.

One of my earliest memories of school is from year two, in rehearsals for a class show for the weekly assembly. The part called for me to address the crowd, and I mumbled the line quietly in rehearsal, eyes fixed on my polished black Clarks. Miss White was having none of it. She pulled me aside to ask what was wrong. When I told her that I hated my voice, she told me firmly it was a gift not to sound like anyone else. And then she gave me a piece of advice I still use when speaking publicly: "Find a clock on the back wall, and stare at it." 

My school life was peppered with moments like this. Teachers who encouraged me into extracurricular activities for which my differences were an advantage.

And I was always protected. I was in the public speaking team in high school, and in one of my first years there, was asked to deliver a speech to the school. It was six minutes of my not-yet-broken voice from the lectern and jeers from the crowd. By the end, I was pretty shaken up. No teacher ever spoke to me about the incident, as Miss White had done years before, but I later found out someone had spoken to the rest of the year group. I am not sure what was said, but I was never jeered again. ln year 12, when I competed in a national public speaking competition, a chunk of the guys from my year showed up to cheer me on raucously.

Now I am an atheist when things are going well in my life, an agnostic when they aren't, and temporarily Catholic when I have to get up for the Eucharist at a wedding. But I've always liked core Christian values, particularly the simple "golden rule" I was taught back in kindy: "Treat others the way you like to be treated."

I know it's not everyone's story – and I know others whose time at religious schools was far less rosy – but I was able to grow up different and safe and proud because the people around me also subscribed to that idea.

I don't see much of that sentiment when I scan the statements of church leadership when it comes to LGBTQI issues today. But the Equal Voices apology is a reminder of the kinds of Christians who helped shape me growing up. These people put into quiet practice so much of what is beautiful about the religion, and did very little preaching as they went.

As some of them get ready to say sorry this March, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you.


Joel Meares is a Fairfax Media columnist

November 3, 2016

Black Church In Mississippi Burnt in the Name of Trump





 
A black church in Greenville, Mississippi, was set on fire on Tuesday night. Fire fighters arrived to find Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church “heavily engulfed in flames,” Mayor Errick Simmons said in an interview;  the fire took nearly an hour to contain. No one was in the church at the time, and no one was injured. On the side of the church, beneath the blackened windows and roof, the words “Vote Trump” have been spray painted.

The fire is being investigated as a hate crime, Simmons said. Federal authorities, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and Explosives, are helping local authorities with the investigation, which is part of the standard procedure for church fires. “We’re very cautious in this climate, in this day and time, to make sure we’re very deliberate in investigating matters like this,” Simmons said. This fire was “a direct assault on people’s right to free worship,” he said, and later added during a press conference, “I see this as an attack on the black church and the black community.”
  
In September, Simmons said, city officials found the word “nigger” painted on a boat front down by Greenville’s levee on the Mississippi River. The 34,000-person city is predominantly black, and while there is “a concerted, intentional effort for racial reconciliation among the races” in Greenville, he said, there have also been “cowardly acts of folks doing something.” In the days leading up to the election, the city will be placing additional patrols around all places of worship.

By and large, Simmons said, he expects the people of Greenville and the surrounding county of Washington will support Hillary Clinton.

Arson is notoriously difficult to prove. Last summer, when a spate of fires took place at black churches in South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and elsewhere, investigators looked into whether they were religiously or racially motivated crimes—if the fires were intentionally set at all. Unless someone leaves “you a message in some way that makes it very obvious,” a staffer for the National Fire Protection Association told me at the time, it’s hard to know whether or not a burning was motivated by hate.

In this case, though, someone left a calling card about politics. It’s not yet clear who set the fire, if anyone set it; whether the person who set the fire is the same person who wrote the graffiti; or why, if the fire was intentional, Hopewell M.B. Church was the target. One thing is clear, though: At some point, someone decided to attach the name of Trump to a burned black church.

This act comes with heavy symbolism in the United States. Black churches have long been burned in acts of intimidation and hatred; in the Jim Crow South, members of hate groups would leave flaming crosses on churchyard lawns. The bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, came at a time of extreme racial division in the United States; it was that crime, which killed four young black girls, that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “The black church has always been a symbol of the community,” Simmons said during a press conference. When he met congregants in Hopewell M.B. Church on Tuesday night, “I talked to folks who were fearful. I talked to folks who were  intimidated. And quite frankly, [they] were saddened and crying,” he said. “That should not happen in 2016. It happened in the ’50s. It happened in the ’60s. But it should not happen in 2016.”

Less than a week away from Election Day, America is having to contend with violence. Trump supporters, including some white nationalists, are allegedly planning to monitor polls, especially in places with large populations of black voters, and local political parties have already reported incidents of harassment. This month, a local Republican political office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was firebombed, with the message “Nazi Republicans leave town or else” spray painted on a building nearby.

This is a tense time in American politics. The burning of Hopewell M.B. Church is a sign of how bad things have gotten, and what may be still to come. “What we have to do is come together,” Simmons said. “The only thing that conquers hate is love.”

October 19, 2016

Church Reorientation Prog Could Not Change Me,Ultimately Throwing Me Out




 I began attending Watermark Community Church around five years ago, after a girl I was dating invited me to a young adults ministry. The pastor on stage was open and authentic about his life and "struggles with sin." This instilled a sense of comfort within me because of all of the things I was hiding about myself,
I began attending weekly services and volunteering as much as I could. I attended training sessions and read through my Bible.

About six months in, I met a man who has become a dear friend. He shared with me that he was gay and trying to change his orientation to heterosexuality, and he encouraged me to open up to several others. I connected with programs designed to help gay church members, spent time with the gay success stories at Watermark, and read books about how to change my orientation.

It soon became very obvious that I would not be able to change my attraction to other men. I came to realize that, according to Watermark, God was expecting me to be single for the rest of my life, and I became comfortable with that idea. I was so sure of myself that when I moved in with one of my close guy friends, we shared a bunk bed. I felt that I was not alone even though I was single; I was happy to have a tight church group around me. I began sharing my story at church with others. (Start listening at 43:38).

Then, what seemed like all at once, more than half of my group started dating and quickly got married, my bunkmate included. I realized what it meant to face the prospect of being alone for the rest of my life. I couldn't expect my friends to avoid falling in love on the account of me.
Naturally, I rebelled a bit. I joined a gay volleyball league, met other gay people and even began to date a bit. These were not horrible, disgusting people, as I had been led to believe. These were some of the most caring and loving people I'd ever met, and finally, I was not alone. I discovered that many of my new friend, like me, had been wounded by the church.

Back at Watermark, my new community group urged me to quit hanging out with the gay volleyball crowd and urged me to attend Watermark's 12-step program to overcome homosexuality, or "struggles," as they put it. So I did.

Once again, I felt hopeful that God would come in and save the day and remove my "struggles." Then, I began to hate myself. I wanted so badly to change and yet, nothing came. I never felt so alone, sad and angry with God. Why wouldn’t he help me?

For my own safety, I quit the program halfway through. I started dating a guy shortly after. I experienced so many feelings that I had only heard about from straight friends. I remember waiting by the phone for him to text and looking forward to hearing how his day went. Even the most boring aspects of our relationship were exciting, and I realized these are the feelings they’d been talking about.

About six months into our relationship, my small group pushed hard for me to break up with him. I tried to convince myself I had other reasons to end the relationship; soon, I made these demands a reality. I became physically ill at the decision I made. I couldn't sleep, think, or do anything without crying. We decided to get back together a week later; I never should have done what I did and I knew it in my heart.


The group brought in church leadership due to my "rebellion." Nine of them sat in a half circle across the room from me. They interrupted me, talked down to me, and accused me of not giving effort. And they removed me out from official church membership.
After getting kicked out, I was picked up by a couple of gay friends that I met at Watermark who'd also left or been pushed out the door. We are now a growing group of people connected to the Gay Christian Network.

There are so many gay people who have been deeply hurt by the church. It is not uncommon to hear of suicide attempts from people who went through these similar experiences. We are people, we have feelings, desires, and morals just like everyone else. We desire to be loved just like everyone else. We deserve to be loved just like everyone else.

Watermark revoked my membership based on their reading of Matthew 18:15-18, where Jesus lays out a process for handling sin within a group. This passage begins: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault."
But translations of this passage vary. Some say say: "If your brother sins" and some say, "if your brother sins against you."
One of these gives you permission to hold anyone accountable to any sin. The other is talking about reconciliation. So, which one is correct? We don’t really know.
Watermark elders sent Jason Thomas a letter revoking his official membership with the church.
Later in the chapter, verse 21 provides some color: "Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 

Jason Thomas , Contributor[Twitter: @Jason1TM]

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