Facebook, Google, Twitter’s ‘Censorship of Christian, conservative speech’ tackled in NRB initiative

December 11, 2017 by  
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U.S., December 11, 2017: National Religious Broadcasters has launched an online effort seeking to highlight what it says is censorship of Christian and conservative speech by online media giants such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Apple.

“It is unacceptable for these titans to discriminate against users just because their viewpoints are not congruent with ideas popular in Silicon Valley,” said Jerry A. Johnson, NRB’s president & CEO, on Thursday when announcing the Internet Freedom Watch initiative.

The website for the initiative, which documents cases of alleged censorship, states that “chillingly, a growing censorship of Christian and politically conservative viewpoints on the internet is happening in America and across the globe.”

“Major players in Silicon Valley with enormous influence over what is seen on the internet and on social media platforms are suppressing viewpoints that run counter to their preferred ideologies.”

NRB is calling on hearings in Congress to address the “severe problem of viewpoint censorship on the internet.”

The initiative has been praised by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday said that every day more Americans are “getting their political news not from pieces of paper, not from their televisions, but online from social media.”

“One of the biggest shifts that has occurred in recent years is the locus of power in media is no longer New York City. It’s Silicon Valley,” Cruz said. “And Silicon Valley has the ability to put a thumb on the scale in a far more subtle and insidious way.”

He alleged that Google search results often suppress conservative views, while liberal articles that support the views of the tech companies “magically bubble to the top.”

Johnson further called on social media platforms “to afford their users nothing less than the free speech and free exercise of religion rights embodied in the First Amendment as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Ralph Reed, chairman and CEO of Century Strategies, said that “it is critical for Christians and others of faith to be able to share their faith in an unfettered way without fear of persecution, harassment, blocking or discrimination.”

While the social media giants have faced various accusations over the years of suppressing free speech when it comes to conservatives, they have consistently denied that that is the case.

YouTube for instance enacted a new advertiser-friendly strategy in March that gives more control to brands over where their ads show up on the online video sharing platform. Supporters of President Donald Trump have complained that their videos have been unfairly demonetized.

A YouTube spokesperson explained to The Christian Post in September that “we asked creators across the platform to appeal any video that they felt was incorrectly classified by our automated systems. No system is perfect and every appeal helps our systems get smarter over time.”

“Sometimes our systems get it wrong, which is why we’ve posted several blogs and in-product notices suggesting creators appeal if they feel we made a mistake,” the spokesperson added.

“Channels of all types — gamers, vloggers, political channels on the right and left — have successfully appealed demonetizations.”

In September, conservative climate change blog Watts Up With That posted a research report claiming that “Google Search is found to be biased in favor of left/liberal domains and against conservative domains with a confidence of 95 percent.”

The report also positioned that while certain “conservative domains are blacklisted,” the good standing of “hard-Left domains” in search results “raises suspicions that they have been hand-picked for prominent placement.”

A Google spokesman told CP, however, that Google has “never re-ranked search results to manipulate political or user sentiment.”

“We always strive to provide our users with the most useful, authoritative and relevant answers to their queries,” the Google representative added.

In July, millions of Catholics worldwide were affected after Facebook suddenly closed more than two dozen Catholic pages, some that have massive followings.

Facebook restored the pages following an outcry, and blamed a “spam detection tool” for the error.

– christian post

Narni: Italy’s inspiration for the magical realm of C. S. Lewis

December 8, 2017 by  
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Italy, December 7, 2017: The magical realm of Narnia is the setting of C. S. Lewis’ beloved children’s book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There, four children discover a land of talking animals, mythological creatures, the White Witch, and “the Great Lion:” Aslan.

This Narnia is fictional, but more than 2,000 years ago, when Romans ruled the civilized world, Narnia was a real-life city on the Italian peninsula – and it still exists today.

The ancient hill-town of Narnia, now called Narni, lies in the central Italian region of Umbria, about 50 miles north of Rome. In the city, you can see remnants of the town’s extensive history, from its pre-Roman identity as Nequinum, to antique and medieval Narnia, to the present Narni.

Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia, never visited Narni, but he likely knew about the ancient Narnia from reading Roman history, where it is named by such famous writers as Tacitus, Livy, and Pliny the Elder.

In 2009, the town received confirmation of Lewis’ knowledge of the place when the Christian author’s biographer and former personal secretary, Walter Hooper, gifted Narni’s local historian, Giuseppe Fortunati, a copy of a Latin atlas owned by Lewis, on which the Belfast-born author had underlined the town named “Narnia.”

Hooper also relayed that Lewis had told him the name on the atlas had inspired him in the writing of his Chronicles. And while the two places aren’t the same – it very rarely snows in Narni, for example – there are connections between the imaginary realm and the real-life city that can still be seen today.

One of these connections is the presence of a large stone table, which recalls the stone table in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, upon which the lion Aslan, a representation of Christ in the book, sacrifices himself to save Edmund, one of the four children in the story.

Found near the Via Flaminia, an ancient road which leads from Rome to the Adriatic Sea, and which also passes by Narni, stands an ancient stone table believed to date from pre-Roman times, and to have been a place of animal, and possibly even human, sacrifice.

The town was founded around 1,000 years before Christ by the Osco-Umbrian people as Nequinum. It was conquered by the Roman Republic in the 4th century BC, and its name was changed to Narnia, after the nearby Nar River.

“Nar,” Fortunati told EWTN, “means ‘water that flows,’” noting that this may also be a reason why Lewis chose the name for his imaginary land, since “water is the source of life.”

The Diocese of Narni was established in the 4th century; in the 20th, it was united with a nearby diocese, and is now part of the Diocese of Terni-Narni-Amelia.

Around 1930, during repair work on a road, workers discovered a statue of a lion dating from the Roman era, when it was common for the emperor always to have a statue of a lion “guarding” his tent at camp, Fortunati said.

The figure of a lion had also been adopted by the Jewish religion. The Lion of Judah became a symbol of the Hebrew tribe of Judah, the first association found in the Book of Genesis, chapter 49, where Jacob blesses his son Judah, calling him “a lion’s cub.”

In Christianity, the Lion of Judah represents Christ, as in the Book of Revelation it says, “Weep not; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered…”

Fortunati pointed out how it is difficult not to make the connection between the lion statue and other lion symbols found in Narni, and Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia.

Lewis himself confirmed the connection in a letter he wrote to a child reader in 1961. He said he was inspired to make the figure of Christ a lion in the stories for two reasons: because the lion is supposed to be the king of the beasts, and because Christ is called “the Lion of Judah” in the Bible.

Another link between the real and fictional towns can be found in the real-life Lucia of Narnia. In the Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy Pevensie is the youngest child of four siblings, and she is the one who first sees the fantastical land and believes.

Bl. Lucy Brocadelli of Narni was a mystic who lived from the end of the 15th to the mid-16th century and who was born in the city. She was known as a very pious child, and from a young age is said to have seen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Child Jesus, and other saints, particularly St. Dominic.

Her first vision was at the age of 5, and at 12 years old she made a private vow of virginity, deciding to join the Dominicans. As a young teen she was married off by her uncle to a family friend, Pietro, the count of Milan, though they lived as brother and sister at her request.

She continued to experience visions throughout her life, and was particularly dedicated to the poor, including making them bread with the help of saints who visited her. By the age of 18 she had separated from her husband, then becoming a Dominican tertiary. Her husband eventually joined the Franciscans.

She became the prioress of a convent and is one of only a few female saints to have ever received the stigmata. Shunned and mistreated by other sisters for her strange experiences, she spent the last forty years of her life locked up in isolation by a successor prioress.

She died in 1544, and her body was discovered to be incorrupt a few years after that. She was beatified in 1710 by Clement XI. In 1935 her remains were returned to her home town of Narni and interred in the cathedral.

Today around 20,000 people live in Narni; if you visit you will find the town’s Romanesque cathedral, a late-medieval fortress called the Rocca, the old town square, and a plaque marking the “Center of Italy,” among other sites.

Also scattered around the city you’ll find images of lions and of Bl. Lucia of Narnia, reminders of its connection to the mythical land of C.S. Lewis’ imagination and his beloved stories.

– cna

The great supreme court cake-off: Christian bakers vs. Gay weddings

December 6, 2017 by  
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U.S., December 05, 2017: The case of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding gets its big day in court today. While Jack Phillips’s legal team has emphasized his right to artistic expression as a cake decorator, many following his US Supreme Court case focus on another legal matter at stake: religious freedom.

Advocates on both sides anticipate Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will set a nationwide precedent for whether the government can require businesses, organizations, and individuals to act against their own sincerely held religious beliefs—particularly following the legalization of same-sex marriage and equal rights granted to LGBT Americans.

As CT previously reported, Phillips’s refusal to bake the same-sex wedding cake in 2012 violated Colorado’s antidiscrimination law, and a state appeals court denied his free speech and free exercise claims. This spring, the high court opted to hear Phillips’s case, one of several cases involving Christian wedding vendors (such as florists, photographers, and caterers) currently making their way through state judicial systems.

Oral arguments in the case begin today at the Supreme Court. Most commentators expect Masterpiece Cakeshop will be a tight decision come spring, even with religious liberty defender Neil Gorsuch on the bench.

With Gorsuch, “there is some reason for optimism that the Court might narrowly find for Masterpiece Cakeshop,” Christian historian Thomas Kidd recently wrote for The Gospel Coalition. “If they do not, it will be a devastating blow to a number of Christian business people who have been disciplined under similar circumstances.

“A decision against Masterpiece Cakeshop would also raise more questions, such as whether a state can force Christian adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples.”

During oral arguments, the court’s conservative justices challenged the gay couple’s counsel, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) legal director David Cole, over how Colorado’s law applies to people of faith.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked if Catholic Legal Services would be forced to choose between “not providing any pro bono legal services or providing those services in connection with the same-sex marriage,” and Cole said if it were operating like a retail store, yes, the Washington Examiner reported.

Justices Samuel Alito and Gorsuch asked about accommodations for same-sex couples at religious schools, but Cole saw the example of schools’ free exercise as separate from public accommodations.

The case has elicited support from evangelicals, from fellow Coloradans at Focus on the Family to the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Officials from the Department of Justice also filed a brief on the baker’s behalf in September.

While the legal tensions between gay rights and religious rights have grown with legal recognition of same-sex marriage (Alito pointed out on Tuesday that gay marriage had not been legalized at the time Phillips turned down the cake order), the underlying issues surrounding religious belief and practice have plenty of precedent for the court to pull from.

Kidd and others bring up a 1990 case involving two men who defended their illegal use of peyote as part of a Native American religious ritual. In Employment Division v. Smith, the Supreme Court issued new operating procedures for when religion and the law come into conflict, stating that the free exercise clause “does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a law that incidentally forbids (or requires) the performance of an act that his religious belief requires (or forbids) if the law is not specifically directed to religious practice and is otherwise constitutional as applied to those who engage in the specified act for nonreligious reasons.”

“The peyote case set the stage for Masterpiece Cakeshop,” wrote Temple University professor David Mislin on The Conversation. “It was in response to the case that Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993. It required that laws restricting religious expression must show that they serve a compelling need.”

In other words, people of faith cannot be exempt from a law that doesn’t target a specific religious practice, and governments may pass laws that happen to limit religious freedom as long as they are shown to be the “least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.”

“Colorado will similarly argue that it is in the public interest to prevent discrimination against gays and lesbians, and that this requirement is ‘generally applicable’ to all business people in the state, not just principled Christians,” Kidd said. “The problem is that it is hard to envision whom this policy might affect other than bakers of traditional religious views.”

Religious liberty scholars Thomas Berg and Douglas Laycock, in their amicus brief on behalf of Phillips and in an article posted at the Berkley Forum, argue that the case tests the meaning of “neutral and generally applicable” since Colorado sided with bakers who were charged with anti-religious discrimination for refusing to bake a cake with a message condemning homosexuality.

“Colorado deemed that refusing to provide a cake celebrating a same-sex wedding was sexual-orientation discrimination, but that refusing to provide a cake with a religious denunciation of same-sex relationships was not religious discrimination,” they wrote, advocating for a narrow and carefully defined exemption for Phillips.

“This distinction cannot stand: Both bakers declined to produce a message they found objectionable, a message associated with a protected class of customers.”

Berg tweeted on Tuesday that “#SCOTUS spent considerable time on free ex argument in #MasterpieceCakeshop, including other bakers who state treated differently,” and that their brief on the matter was mentioned in the arguments.

One of the most quoted lines came from Justice Anthony Kennedy, who said, “Tolerance is essential in a free society. It seems to me that the state in its position here has neither been tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.”

Americans are pretty evenly split over whether wedding vendors should be required to serve same-sex couples (49%) or should be able to decline on religious grounds (48%), according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. The groups most likely to say businesses should be able to turn down clients who conflict with their views were white evangelical Protestants (77%) and Republicans (71%).

Those on the other side of the case—including the ACLU—characterize Phillips’s first amendment claims as a license to discriminate.

They worry that a victory for Masterpiece Cakeshop will result in a slippery slope of dubious religious exemption claims. Similar concerns emerged amid other recent religious freedom fights, most prominently the Supreme Court ruling granting Hobby Lobby’s birth control exemption; but so far, there’s no evidence of those fears coming true.

“While there was an uptick of RFRA claims challenging the contraception mandate—culminating in Hobby Lobby and Little Sisters of the Poor—those cases have subsided, and no similar cases have materialized,” wrote Becket scholars Luke W. Goodrich and Rachel N. Busick in a study slated to appear in the Seton Hall Law Review.

“Courts have had no problem weeding out weak or insincere RFRA claims. If anything, RFRA has been underenforced.”

In one of the first empirical studies on religious freedom cases following the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision, the pair found that litigation citing religious liberty claims remains rare (about 0.6 percent of the federal docket) and still difficult to win. Of more than 100 religious liberty cases they analyzed from the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, none involved clashes with LGBT rights. Religious minorities, defending issues like eagle feather ownership and Islamic law, were actually overrepresented in the successful claims.

In its final brief before this week’s oral arguments, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which is representing Masterpiece Cakeshop in court, made the case that the kind of freedom of expression Phillips is fighting for extends past ideological lines. “Expressive freedom is central to human dignity. It requires that artists be free to make their own moral judgments about what to express through their works,” ADF stated.

Legal scholars Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis penned a New York Times op-ed that focuses on the Supreme Court’s historic protection against “compelled speech,” listing classic rulings in favor of objectors as well as cases where free speech trumped anti-discrimination laws.

They argue, as ADF has, that a Colorado cake baker’s conscience, creativity, and faith directly apply to his commercial decisions at work. “When the specific context is a same-sex wedding, that message is one Mr. Phillips doesn’t believe and cannot in conscience affirm. So coercing him to create a cake for the occasion is compelled artistic speech,” wrote George and Girgis.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the highest court in the United Kingdom recently agreed to hear a similar case, this one involving a Belfast bakery who refused to bake a cake with a same-sex marriage slogan. Like Phillips, the owners of Ashers Baking Company state that they do not discriminate against gay customers, and their issue lies with particular orders, not people. Despite—and because of—its legal fight, the bakery’s profits rose last year to nearly $2 million.

– christian today

Red cross in Belgium to remove its iconic crucifixes to not offend non-christians

December 5, 2017 by  
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Belgium, December 5, 2017: The Belgian branches of the Red Cross have been told they must remove the organization’s iconic red crosses from building walls amid concerns that the Christian symbol will offend non-Christians.

Breitbart News reported Monday on a translation of a 7sur7 article where André Rouffart, president of the Red Cross in Verviers, reveals that the Belgian branches were asked by the Provincial Committee of the Red Cross in Liège to “respect the principles of the Red Cross” of religious neutrality and remove the cross because it might offend Muslims.

The Red Cross was founded in the 19th century by Jean-Henry Dunant, a devout Christian who was also part of the creation of the Young Men’s Christian Association.

Today the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies states that it provides disaster and health emergency relief to vulnerable people “without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions.”

It also states that it follows the principle of neutrality, which does not allow it to “take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.”

Volunteers and members have been pushing back against the decision to remove the crosses from buildings, however.

TruNews shared one translation from an aid worker who reportedly said: “Let things be as they are. We said Christmas holidays, now winter holidays. The Christmas market in Brussels has become the Winter Pleasures.”

“For a certain part of the population — because of the Muslims — the crosses were removed in the Red Cross houses and, more particularly, in that of Verviers,” the aid worker added.

Rouffart has argued that the pushback is a “tempest in a teacup,” however, in an attempt to dismiss concerns.

The Decline of Christianity across Western Europe continues to be widely reported, though some incidents, such as a French court decision in October to remove a giant cross atop a statue of Pope Saint John Paul II, have sparked protests and backlash.

Close to 350 people came out to protest in Ploermel against the decision that deemed the cross to be a violation of church-state separation laws, organizing under the banner of “Don’t touch my cross.”

Some of the protesters held up signs such as “Stop Christianophobia” in French, though the social conservative and French nationalist party Debout la France party was also in attendance.

“[Secularism] is not to cut the roots of our country,” Dupont-Aignan, the founder and president of the Debout la France, said at the event.

“Why the state council on the one hand authorizes the burkini and on the other wants to destroy the cross?”

Beata Szydło, prime minister of Poland, where John Paul II was from, separately offered to take the statue and “save it from censorship.”

Szydło called out the “dictates of political correctness” and the “secularization of the state,” which she accused of promoting “values which are alien to our culture, which leads to terrorizing Europeans in their everyday life.”

– christian post

Christians in France recite new version of Lord’s prayer amid debate over God and temptation

December 3, 2017 by  
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France, December 3, 2017: The French Catholic church has adopted a new version of the Lord’s Prayer to clear a misunderstanding among some churchgoers, that God has a direct hand in leading them to commit sins.

The Gallic version of the Lord’s Prayer concerning the sixth request to God reads, “Lead us not into temptation,” or “Ne nous soumets pas a la tentation” (Do not submit us to temptation) in French. But starting Sunday, the first day of Advent, the worshippers in France will instead pray, “Ne nous laisse pas entrer en tentation,” which translates as “Do not let us enter into temptation,” The Times reports.

The French bishops agreed to have a new version of Notre Père, or the Lord’s Prayer, in March. It has also been approved by some French-language Protestant churches.

The modern French version of Notre Père was produced in 1966 after the reformist Vatican II council.

It wasn’t erroneous, but ambiguous, says Monsignor Guy de Kerimel, bishop of Grenoble and in charge of liturgy. “In itself the translation wasn’t wrong, but the interpretation was ambiguous,” he is quoted as saying by The Telegraph.

However, the national council of evangelicals of France, CNEF, responded to the new version of the Lord’s Prayer by saying while it does clarify that God is not responsible for temptation, “it waters down God’s sovereignty.”

In the New International Version of the Bible, the Lord’s Prayer, as found in Matthew 6:9-13, reads:

“This, then, is how you should pray:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.'”

“There’s going to be some mumbling for a while” as worshippers adjust to the new words, Kerimel said.

– christian post

Bishop decries 2 Josephs ‘gay nativity’: ‘pray Jesus will forgive this sacrilege’

November 30, 2017 by  
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U.S., November 30, 2017: The Roman Catholic bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, has decried online postings of a “gay nativity” scene featuring two Josephs watching over a baby Jesus, calling on God to forgive such “sacrilege.”

“Just came across this photo of a ‘gay nativity’ scene — two Josephs dressed in pink watching over the Christ Child. How sad that someone believes it’s OK (or funny or cool) to impose their own agenda on the holy birth of Jesus,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin wrote on Facebook Tuesday.

“Pray for those who did so, for their change of heart, and that Jesus will forgive this sacrilege, this attack on the Christian faith,” he added.

Tobin also posted a cropped version of the nativity scene in question, which depicts the two Josephs dressed in pink.

The photo appears to stem from the Twitter account of comedian and LGBT activist Cameron Esposito, who last week shared the image and wrote: “Our neighbors’ two Joseph nativity is up & I’m beaming.”

Jesus being depicted as having two gay parents was also a theme in some Christmas ornaments last year.

California artist Mark Thaler decided to sell gay marriage nativity tree ornaments featuring two gay Josephs or two gay Marys, which stirred condemnation from conservatives.

Christian Concern Chief Executive Andrea Williams accused Thaler at the time of taking part in a “blasphemous attempt to rewrite the Christmas story.”

“These decorations are a desperate and ridiculous attempt to pretend that homosexual relationships are pure and holy,” Williams said.

“They blasphemously portray the Lord Jesus being parented by a homosexual couple. What depths will the LGBT lobby stoop to in order to try and normalize their behavior?” she asked.

Williams also accused activists of being interested only in their own agenda rather than the welfare of children.

“God’s design is for children to grow up with a male and a female parent. The Lord Jesus was parented in this way, and this is what is best for children,” she said at the time.

American Catholics have had to deal with controversial LGBT issues this year, especially in light of Fr. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest, and his book that urged believers to be more accepting of LGBT people.

Although Martin, who is editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America and a Vatican adviser, does not address gay marriage theology in Building a Bridge, the nature of his book led him to being disinvited from a speaking appearance at the Theological College in Washington, D.C. in September.

A statement at the time explained that “since the publication of his (Martin’s) book, Building a Bridge, Theological College has experienced increasing negative feedback from various social media sites regarding the seminary’s invitation.”

Martin in turn said that he is being criticized both from the the “far left” and the “far right.”

“From the far left it would be ‘Not far enough,’ and from the far right, ‘Too far,'” he said at the time, while admitting that he was surprised at “the torrent of hatred that it would unleash from the Catholic alt right.”

– christian post

‘Tomb of Christ’ first-ever testing confirms age, backs belief it is the real burial site of Jesus

November 29, 2017 by  
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Jerusalem, November 29, 2017: New scientific tests have reportedly confirmed that the tomb at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be where Jesus Christ was rested after the crucifixion, dates back to the 4th century, matching historical accounts.

National Geographic, which has been documenting the holy site as it completed major reconstruction works earlier this year, reported that mortar samples collected from between the original limestone surface of the tomb and a marble slab that covers it have been dated back to 345 A.D.

The revelations align with historical accounts that say that Romans discovered the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid before His Resurrection, and enshrined it somewhere around 326.

The article pointed out that some modern scholars had questioned the age of the tomb, given that the site has suffered earthquakes, fires, and violent attacks throughout the centuries, including being completely destroyed in 1009.

“While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, who according to New Testament accounts was crucified in Jerusalem in 30 or 33, new dating results put the original construction of today’s tomb complex securely in the time of Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor,” National Geographic reported.

Experts, such as Antonia Moropoulou, chief scientific coordinator of the restoration works, told AFP about the magnitude of the latest research:

“This is a very important finding because it confirms that it was, as historically evidenced, Constantine the Great responsible for cladding bedrock of the tomb of Christ with the marble slabs in the Edicule.”

Constantine is said to have enshrined the tomb in the 4th century as he led the Roman empire to embrace Christianity.

Accounts say that the emperor’s representatives arrived in Jerusalem in that time period to search for the tomb, and were initially pointed to a Roman temple built 200 years earlier.

The Romans razed the temple, and following excavations unearthed a tomb cut from a limestone cave, which is where Jesus is said to have once been buried. The Edicule and other additions were built around it later on.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was found to be in an unstable condition after years of neglect before renovation work began last year, with the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox churches coming together for the project.

It was the first time in centuries that the tomb was open in October 2016 (the burial bed had been covered in marble cladding since at least 1555). Underneath the cladding, researchers were surprised to find a marble slab with a cross carved into its surface. It was resting atop the original limestone burial bed.

The restoration allowed scientists to determine that notable portions of the burial cave remain enclosed within the shrine. Scientists also took mortar samples from remains of the southern wall, which provided information for other reconstruction work the site has undergone throughout the centuries.

The researchers analyzed the samples at two separate labs using optically stimulated luminescence, which allowed them to determine when quartz sediment was most recently exposed to light.

The newly restored shrine around the tomb was unveiled in March and opened to the public, right in time for Easter celebrations.

The National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., recently opened a 3-D exhibit, titled “Tomb of Christ: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre Experience,” which promises to transport viewers on a virtual tour of the holy site.

“Scientists exposed the original surface of the tomb and found the limestone burial bed where Christian tradition says the body of Jesus Christ was laid,” the 3-D exhibit explains.

“When you visit the exhibition, you’ll be able to virtually experience what it was like to explore this iconic plan and view newly revealed cave calls that haven’t been seen in centuries.”

– christian post

Church of Sweden tells clergy to use gender-neutral pronouns for God, not ‘He’ or ‘Lord’

November 28, 2017 by  
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Sweden, November 24, 2017: The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Sweden has told clergy that they need to start using gender-neutral language when referring to God, and avoid masculine terms such as “He” and “Lord.”

The Associated Press reported on Friday that the guidance was issued in an update to the Church’s handbook that deals with terms of language, liturgy, hymns and other aspects.

Archbishop Antje Jackelén, who heads the former state church in Uppsala, explained that there had been internal discussions for clergy to start using more inclusive language as far back as 1986.

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

Critics, such as Christer Pahlmblad, an associate theology professor at Sweden’s Lund University, told Denmark’s Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper, however, that such a direction will “undermine 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,” Dagblad argued.

The Church of Sweden has 6.1 million baptized members in a country of 10 million, but many of those are nominal believers who recently have been leaving the religion in record numbers.

The Local reported that as many as 90,000 members left the church in 2016, with their main reason cited as no longer believing in God.

Pernilla Jonsson, head of analysis at the Swedish Church’s department for research, said when speaking about the membership decline:

“The survey confirms what we previously thought which is that the decision to withdraw is for most people a long process. They have a weak relationship (with the Church), or have not reflected on their membership, and when the Church is then in the public spotlight you are reminded of your membership and review it.”

The Swedish Church has also separately voted in favor of blessing same-sex marriages, and elected Eva Brunne, the world’s first openly lesbian bishop, back in 2009.

The Christian movie “The Shack,” which enjoyed box-office success when it was released earlier this year, meanwhile stirred a number of theological debates about God and gender language.

Tony Reinke, author of Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ, wrote in a blog post at the time that the Bible never titles God as “our Mother,” despite the movie depicting God as a female character.

Reinke also said that while there are instances throughout Scripture where feminine imagery is used to describe God’s actions or character, God is given masculine rather than feminine titles.

“That explains why in Scripture we find many masculine titles for God: Lord, Father, King, Judge, Savior, Ruler, Warrior, Shepherd, Husband, and even a handful of metaphorical masculine titles like rock, fortress, and shield. While feminine titles for God — queen, lady, mother, and daughter — are never used,” Reinke positioned.

– christian post

Museum of the bible opens in D.C.; Promises to engage people of all faiths

November 27, 2017 by  
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U.S., November 17, 2017: The highly-anticipated Museum of the Bible opens today in Washington, D.C. and promises to be accessible and engaging for all people, regardless of their religious beliefs.

Backed by Hobby Lobby CEO Steve Green, the $500 million museum is located steps away from the National Mall and contains eight floors of biblical artifacts and exhibits from over the centuries.

Some of the exhibits include a replica of the Gutenberg Press, 400 historical artifacts that show how the Bible has changed over time, first editions of the King James Bible, fragments of the Dead Sea Scroll, and an interactive Nazareth village. It also features the rocker Elvis Presley’s Bible, the world’s biggest private collection of Torahs, and walk-through scenes of biblical stories such as Noah’s flood.

“There hasn’t been another building this close to the National Mall that has become available since we acquired it in 2012,” Green previously told The Gospel Herald. “The location would be hard to beat. We just think God has gone before us and helped this building become available when He was ready for it…we just see God’s hand in this whole process.”

Additionally, the 430,000-square-foot museum includes a garden, a restaurant that serves “foods of the Bible”, and a 470-seat theater that will open with the Broadway play “Amazing Grace.” There’s also a rooftop garden with plant varieties that are mentioned in the Bible.

With a $42 million investment in state-of-the-art technology, the Museum of the Bible aims to be the “most technologically advanced museum in the world,” Green said.

“This is not your grandma’s museum,” he said. “If we just put a Bible in a language that I can’t read under a glass case, it only grabs our attention for so long. This book has the most incredible story to be told, and one of the ways to make it alive, to make it engaging, is to use some of the leading technology that is available.”

The museum, the result of seven years of planning, “is not about espousing any one faith,” president Cary Summers told GH back in February. Rather, it aims to educate individuals about the Bible – presented as a historical document – and its impact throughout history.

“Whatever faith a person is, we think that there would be an interest in them understanding the world they live in and how this book impacted their world,” Green said. “This is the best-selling book every year and of all time, there is no close second.”

Admission to the Museum of the Bible is free, although the museum suggests a donation of $15.

– gospel herald

Top Vatican astronomer: Some scientists pretend they’re atheists for credibility, but many attend church

November 24, 2017 by  
Filed under lead story, newsletter-lead

Vatican, November 24, 2017: A top Vatican astronomer has said that a number of public scientists claim to be atheists in order to appear credible, noting that a surprising number of scientists attend church.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory, who has spoken on a number of topics concerning science and faith, told Vancouver Sun in an interview earlier this week that many “public scientists” are insecure about their rank.

“The scientists that you see on TV who are proclaimed atheists because they think it gives them credibility in science — which it doesn’t — are turning off the nine-tenths of the population that don’t call themselves atheists,” Consolmagno said, without naming names.

“Carl Sagan said ‘an atheist is someone who knows more than I do.’ Even he had to admit that he just didn’t know about the existence of God,” he reminded speakers, referring to the popular American astronomer and cosmologist.

Consolmagno said that he was surprised when a number of his scientist colleagues told him they attend church.

“I think it would be a great benefit to science and to religion for them to publicly proclaim in their churches that they are scientists. That’s where it needs to happen. Those are the people who need to hear that science is for everybody,” the Jesuit astronomer said.

“I would never want anyone to say, ‘You can’t do that research because you’re the wrong religion.’ Science isn’t just for old white men who claim to be atheists.”

Consolmagno also spoke on other issues, such as Christians believing in alien life on other planets.

“As far as I can tell it has never been a problem. Throughout human history, people have always assumed there is life elsewhere. It was only the humanists that wanted to say that human beings were the pinnacle of universe,” he explained.

“Christians have the tradition of angels, non-corporeal beings, created by God. What could be more science fictional than that?”

Others, such as Young Earth Creationist and Answers in Genesis President Ken Ham, have critisized the search for aliens.

“We are not alone in the universe. We are constantly being upheld (Acts 17:25) by the One who created and upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3). Instead of seeking for a twin to Earth and intelligent alien life, these researchers should seek the Creator who loves them and died for them,” Ham said in 2016.

Ham has also argued that the Bible does not give any evidence to believe that life may have been created anywhere outside of Earth.

Consolmagno insisted in the latest interview that there are big gaps in human knowledge of astrophysics, which makes the search for alien life important.

“Only then will we understand what life is and the fundamental chemistry of that. It could well be that our ideas about why life is here on Earth are just as wrong as our ideas about why solar systems were the way they were,” the Vatican astronomer said.

In the past Consolmagno has spoken strongly against Christians who do not believe faith can coexist with science.

“To me (the issue) comes down to two problems: Scientists not having enough humility to understand that they don’t have all the answers and religion not having enough to recognize that they can’t tell God how He should have made the universe,” he said last year.

– christian post

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