Friday, February 29 2008 @ 01:42 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has conducted a huge survey of Americans that shows nearly half have left the religious affiliation of their childhoods, the number of people who say they are not affiliated with any religion has now grown to 16 percent, & the ethnic background of Catholics is increasingly Hispanic.
The study, The US Religious Landscape Survey, interviewed 35,000 Americans. Among the groupings, 78.4% identified themselves as Christians, other religions were cited by 4.7%, & 16.1% declared themselves "unaffiliated" (0.8% declined to state).
Those who identified themselves with other religions included 1.7% Jewish, 0.7% Buddhist, 0.6% Muslim, 0.4% Hindu, 0.3% "other world religions," & 1.2% "other faiths" (including "unitarians & other liberal faiths" at 0.7%, "New Age" at 0.4%, & "native American" at 0.3%).
Among those who identified themselves as "unaffiliated," 1.6% identified themselves as "atheist," 2.4% as "agnostic," & 12.1% as "nothing in particular." Among those claiming "nothing in particular," 6.3% said they were secular & 5.8% said they were religious.
Other than the basic statistical information about current religious identification, the poll showed that 44% have left the religious or denominational affiliation of their childhoods. While nearly one third of Americans were raised Catholic, for example, only one fourth describe themselves as Catholic. Those proportions are also influenced by immigration, as among adult immigrants, those who identify themselves as Catholic outnumber Protestants by a two-to-one margin. Immigrants also account for significant proportions of those who identify themselves as Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.
Friday, February 22 2008 @ 06:02 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
Well-known international Christian evangelist Luis Palau says his talks with Communist Chinese officials lead him to believe that foreign visitors to China next year for the 2008 International Summer Olympics will be allowed to bring Bibles with them that they can give away without interference from the government. "I have asked officially from people here & over there. Any person can go in there & take Bibles, as long as they're not selling them," Paulau told the Christian Post on Thursday.
Palau has preached many times in China, but only in venues approved by the government & for government sanctioned & controlled churches.
China persecution watchdogs like China Aid have repeatedly criticized the Chinese government for restricting religious freedom in China, including outlawing all churches that are not registered with the government, preventing any religious evangelism or proseletizing, & arresting & incarcerating many Chinese Christian leaders. Last winter several such organizations, such as the Catholic News Agency, reported that the Chinese government had prohibited Bibles at the Olympics. The assertion was based on a government document listing items banned for athletes in the Olympic village. The documents listed such items as cups, video cameras, & Bibles.
The London Times on-line edition published an article supporting Palau's position, noting in China Denies Bible Ban at Olympics that the government denied the ban & that the list of items prohibited in the athlete's village referred to multiple Bibles for the purpose of dissemination & evangelism, activities the government says do not fall into the responsibilities of competing athletes. Religious rights observers note that the limited legality of personal Bible possession without the freedom to evangelize or give away Bibles is hardly religious "freedom."
Tuesday, December 11 2007 @ 03:45 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
Matthew Murray (24), the gunman who shot & killed 4 people in Colorado last weekend, was supposedly acting out of hatred toward Christians when he firstshot 4 people (killing 2) at the evangelical Christian Youth With a Mission (YWAM)missionary training center in Arvada, CO & then 3 people (killing 2) at the evangelical Christian mega-church New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. On a website designed to provide information & support for people who have left evangelical religious groups, Murray supposedly posted a message that echoes sentiments posted by Columbine High School shooter Eric Harris. In last weekend's posting between his shootings at YWAM & New Life, Murray supposedly posted, "You Christians brought this on yourselves. Feel no remorse, no sense of shame. I don't care if I live or die in the shoot-out. All I want to do is kill & injure as many of you . . . as I can especially Christians who are to blame for most of the problems in the world." The posting has since been removed.
Although Murray took an assault rifle, two handguns, & as many as 1,000 rounds of ammunition to New Life, he was stopped after shooting 2 young sisters & their father in the parking lot by volunteer security guard Jeanne Assam, who shot him multiple times. A preliminary autopsy report says he was killed, however, by a round from his own weapon, an apparent suicide.
Jeanne Assam works for a Christian ministry, is a member of New Life Church, & volunteers as part of the church's armed security force. She is a former Minneapolis, MN police officer who lost her job in 1997 for lying during an investigation of a complaint lodged against her for verbal misconduct on the job. She says she has no regrets & that God was with her as she faced the gunman as he entered the church. “I give credit to God. I say that very humbly. . . . God was with me, the whole time I was behind cover. Based on the firepower he had, compared to mine.” She added, “God was with me. . . . I didn’t think for a minute to run away.”
Murray came from what was described as a very religious family. His older brother is a student at the charismatic Christian Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. Murray began a missionary training program at YWAM in 2002, but never completed the classroom training & was never assigned to field training. He left the school after he & his parents consulted with the school leadership & together agreed that he was not prepared to complete the program. At that time some of his fellow students were frightened of his behavior & speech, noting that at a Christmas party where they were sharing inspirational music, he prmoted 2 songs that contained non-Christian, nihilistic, & violent lyrics.
Australia's largest Christian retailer, Koorong, has declined to carry the volume.
Dr. Nyland argues that a correct understanding of the vocabulary of the Greek New Testament leads her to understand the passages most scholars use to condemn homosexual acts actually condemn any sexual acuts including violence, & therefore are not condemnatory of sexual acts between people of the same gender that are loving & faithful.
Wednesday, November 07 2007 @ 03:01 PM EST Contributed by: AIA
Broward County Sheriff'sDeputy Paul Rein (76) was murdered Wednesday morning, allegedly by a prisoner, Michael Mazza (40), he was transporting in a sheriff's medical van from the county jail to court for his trial on charges arising from his arrest in February for strong armed robbery, aggravated fleeing, & reckless driving, as well as violating terms of his probation. Deputy Rein's death ended 20 years as a sheriff's deputy, after an earlier career with the United States Postal Service.
Rein was shot with his own service weapon, which was recovered with Mazza when he was arrested in a white Chevrolet Camaro outside a pawn shop on Hollywood Boulevard near State Road 7 in Hollywood, FL.
Broward County Sheriff Al Lamberti said Mazza is a career criminal who surrendered meekly when swarmed by law enforcement officers after the manager of the pawn shop called 911 when a customer entered his store & told him someone matching Mazza's description (which was being broadcast repeatedly on television with pictures) was in a car in the pawn shop's parking lot.
Rein had spent his entire BSO career as a jail transport deputy. He is the 3rd BSO deputy shot in the line of duty this year, & the second to die.
Rein was the only officer in the van, standard procedure, & Mazza was the only other occupant of the vehicle. He had been placed in the van in a wheelchair, complaining of back pain, during the jury selection phase of his trial. Lamberti said investigation is continuing to determine whether Mazza had accomplices. Mazza's Broward County record goes back to 1990.
On the heels of a national pledge to refrain from antagonizing international member relations on same sex issues, the California diocese (EDC) of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), the American arm of the international Anglican Communion (AC), announced on Saturday that it approves religious blessings of homosexual couples. This paves the way for homosexual couples to receive the same ECUSA recognition as heterosexual couples.
Bishop Marc Andrus pledged to make "lesbians, gays, bisexual, & transgenders" (LGBT) feel welcome in the church in a statement posted on the web site of Oasis California, the homosexual ministry of the EDC. Andrus continued, "I will continue to represent the Diocese in the ongoing Church & Communion-wide conversations on the full inclusion of LGBT people. I think the resolution properly augments my pastoral goal of caring alike for all of the people of the diocese, not reinforcing damaging distinctions."
This announcement seems to directly challenge the standing of the AC, which had issued a demand to the ECUSA to cease a variety of actions seens as far more liberal than the AC was willing to embrace on sexuality. That demand required the ECUSA to agree to the standards by 30 September. At last month's ECUSA bishops meeting, the ECUSA responded in writing to the AC demand in words that some took as compliant, others as deceptively vague. The AC chose to take the statements as being substantially compliant with the demand, & assured other AC nation communions that the ECUSA would refrain from consecrating any homosexual clergy who were in active sexual relationships & from giving offical sanction or approval to same-sex union blessings. These 2 steps were indicators that the ECUSA recognized that its stand on homosexuality was much more liberal than the international AC could tolerate, & that they would respect that difference by waiting for the international AC to move more toward the ECUSA position over time. Whether this latest announcement will prompt further action from the AC is uncertain.
As the 4th anniversary of apologist Bob Passanino's graduation to glory approaches, we have received a number of inquries concerning how Bob became a Christian. Known especially for his omnivorous appetite for knowledge, his unparalleled skill in apologetics, & his commitment to rational inquiry, many think that Bob's spiritual transformation resulted from a purely intellectual pursuit. Those who have heard his conversion story know it was far more complicated than mere mental gymnastics. Although Bob never wrote his story down, he freely shared it with those who asked.
As his ministry partner & wife for 3 decades, I often heard him tell his story, & I never tired of it. Partly it was because of his humourous humility, but mostly it was because it was such an extraordinary combination of both reason & experience. I can't come close to telling it as well as he did. If you were privileged to hear him tell it, you know he would have made it 10 times as long & with 10 times as much wit. Somehow, he would have managed to tie in all sorts of other elements, illustrating his principle that at some level, everything in the universe is related to everything else -- everything is contingent.
Nevertheless, here is a summary of Bob Passantino's conversion to Christ in August of 1970. Enjoy the story, & know that if God were to give Bob the knowledge of my temerity in daring to tell his story on his behalf, Bob would grin & say, "Well, she left out a lot, but at least she was accurate about what she did say."
Bob, as a full-blooded Sicilian American, was raised a nominal Catholic. His parents did not attend church, but they made sure to drop the 3 kids off & see that they were baptized, completed their first communion, & went through catechism & confirmation (chrismation). Although Bob had no firm belief in the gospel as a child, he was impressed by the information the priests shared, & when he was taught "the Jesus prayer" in his catechism, he thought that he experienced God, & he talked his friends into praying the prayer, too, so that they could experience what he had experienced.
However, by the time he was in high school during the 1960s, he was far too smart to believe in God. In fact, although he hated school & never studied or read, he did go to the library to research arguments against the existence of God in general & the truthfulness of Christianity in particular. By the time he graduated from high school (1969), he was an adamant agnostic & would engage Christians in arguments at every opportunity. When the Jesus Movement began witnessing to hippies on drugs at Huntington Beach, Bob would follow them down the beach arguing, challenging them with alleged Bible contradictions.
While he was in high school, he was also working at Knott's Berry Farm. His manager at the Cable Car Kitchen was a young man, Gene Kirby, who was in seminary (Talbot School of Theology at Biola) & was working to support his wife & 2 young children while he completed seminary. One day, after the park closed, as they were cleaning up the restaurant & stacking chairs on tables, Bob challenged Gene, "You don't really believe all that Bible stuff, do you?" Gene answered, "Are you asking me because you are really interested in the subject, or because you just want to mock me?" Since Gene was his boss, Bob wasn't about to admit to the second, so he agreed to the first. Gene said that work time was not really appropriate for such a discussion, but that he would be happy to have Bob over to his house on a Tuesday night to talk to him seriously about the Christian faith.
That began about 6 months of Tuesday night get together's at Gene's. Gene's wife, Cheri, would make iced tea & popcorn, & Bob (& often his smart friends) would zing dozens of skeptical questions & arguments at Gene. They not only asked hard Bible questions & philosophical arguments, but they asked about things that were not polite in those days -- like Christians & sex, drug use, demon possession, & speaking in tongues, etc. Gene was never flustered, always took him seriously, & had sound, reasonable answers to all of the objections. And every answer always ended up with, "So, if what I'm saying is true, what are you going to do with Jesus?" Finally, Bob couldn't keep going to Gene's without having to change his world view. He knew that if Christianity were true, he would have to change his entire life. As a young teenager of the late 1960s, he wasn't ready to give up everything for the gospel. So, all at about the same time, he graduated from high school, stopped going to talk with Gene, & quit working at Knott's to join the Army's National Guard Reserves program.
After nearly 9 months of basic training & specialized schooling in the Army, stationed in Oklahoma & Louisiana, Bob returned to Southern California in late spring of 1970. He reunited with his 2 best friends. The 3, Bruce, Bob, & Bob Keller, had all worked at Knott's together. Bob Keller had been Bob's neighbor down the street most of their lives in Garden Grove, & they had metBruce at Knott's. Bob Keller had joined the Air Force & become a heavy drug user. Bruce & Bob both dabbled in drugs (didn't almost everyone in the late 60s, early 70s?), but prided themselves in only using "natural" drugs (like opium cured hash) instead of chemicals (like LSD).
This was about the time when the Federal Reserve took most of the silver out of dimes & doom-sayers predicted the collapse of Western Civilization & a return to the "dark ages." Bob & Bruce, smart & forward-thinking, decided they were going to overcome all obstacles in the economic collapse by learning to be completely self-sufficient. They called their effort "Ten Years After" (an acid rock band of the same name was popular then). 10 Years After the Collapse, their group would reign supreme because all of Bob & Bruce's friends would gather around them & follow their lead since they were the only ones prepared to survive self-sufficiently. Both Bob & Bruce were temporarily unemployed (Bob called it "early retirement"), so they dedicated 10-15 hours a day to preparing for the BIG COLLAPSE. Bob practiced martial arts for many hours, becoming proficient in a variety of Japanese & Chinese systems. He & Bruce spent hours in the library, studying basic medicine, electricity, alternate fuel sources, animal husbandry, etc. They became totally dedicated survivalists.
Through the early summer of 1970, Bob & Bruce continued their survival plans while spending weekends partying with their friends & Bob Keller, who came home on leave from his Air Force posting in Arizona. Bob & Bruce pulled away from Bob Keller, because he was sinking further into drug use while they were quitting all drug use to optimize their survival skills.
One weekend, Bob, Bruce, Bob Keller, & some other friends were invited to an open house for a special meditation program called Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Sure, it was fine that none of them were Buddhist -- that Bob & some others, in fact, were agnostic. NSB was a technique, not a religion. At the open house (one of the first public meetings of NSB in the US), they found out that the technique worked on the principle of cause-and-effect. You could achieve anything in your life if you chanted for it & believed you could get it.
They heard testimonies that night about how some people chanted for money, others for relationships, others for job advancements, etc. Some even chanted for dope. Among the testimonies were some from people who demonstrated their strong belief that their life was "tied" to the small shrine with their personal script that they chanted to. One woman testified that she kept her shrine in her kitchen, above her sink, & shortly after it accidentally fell into the dishwater, she fell into a swimming pool & nearly drowned. Bob asked if someone could be a Christian & practice NSB. "Of course," replied one woman with a small boy. "I'm a Methodist." Bob & his friends paid their $1 pledge fee so the NSB organizers could send away to Mt. Fuji for their personal scripts that represented their lives & the cause & effect that governed their lives. They practiced chanting for what they wanted before they left, & weren't too surprised when a practitioner came up at the conclusion of the meeting & sold them some really pure weed.
Shortly afterward, Bob started thinking. He thought about the God of NSB, the cosmic butler, the bell hop who performed chores on behalf of chanters. Drugs, sex, money, fame -- anything was possible from the Master Provider. Then he thought about the God of the Bible that Gene Kirby had told him about. He thought about the sovereignty of God, about judgment & mercy. He concluded, "Gene Kirby's God is a lot bigger & more worthy of respect than the God of NSB. The God of NSB must be a false god, an idol." Bob thought how hypocritical he was, to not even believe God existed, & then to chant to a god that wasn't even worthy of the title. Then Bob remembered what Gene had told him about worshiping false idols, & about demon possession. He realized that as agnostics, they couldn't count on the power of the Holy Spirit to protect them from the NSB demons. He thought about the consequences of mistreating one's script & its shrine. He talked his friends out of participating any further in NSB -- they retrieved their $1 pledges just before they were sent to Japan, &, at least temporarily, they were safe from demon possession -- if it existed. His apologetics career budded before he even believed in God.
Then came the 3rd weekend in August. Bob & Bruce spent all day studying for their new society. They knew the next day Bob Keller would be home for the weekend & it would be party time. That night, Bob & Bruce sat in Bruce's VW bug by the side of Bob's house. They were talking about Ten Years After, & about what they had studied that day. They reassured each other than when the end came, they would be prepared. Suddenly, Bob felt the unmistakable & real presence of the Holy Spirit fill the car. Without sound or words, he clearly heard Jesus speaking to him, "None of that matters. You are putting your trust in yourselves instead of in Me. All that matters is that I love you. Follow me. . . . Follow me. . . . Follow me." Bob turned to Bruce, hesitating as he tried to figure out how to tell Bruce what he was experiencing. "Bruce, none of this matters. Jesus is real." Bruce burst out, "Don't you feel the Holy Spirit? We have to follow Jesus! He's calling us!" The 2 of them sat in the car, enjoying the presence of the Holy Spirit for uncounted time, until Bob finally left, with the 2 of them promising to find Gene Kirby & find out what had happened to them.
The next afternoon, Bob called Bob Keller. He had to tell him that he & Bruce weren't going to party that night -- they had met Jesus Christ & they had to find Gene Kirby. While Bob was trying to figure out how to broach the subject with Bob Keller, Bob Keller burst out, "I can't party with you guys tonight. As we were driving across the desert last night & doing dope, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit & Jesus kept me from doing drugs with my friends. You & Bruce should believe in Jesus, too. How can I find Gene Kirby?"
One of them had kept a Bible Gene had given to him, inscribed with Gene's name & phone number. By then, he was pastoring a black church (Gene's a Colorado white boy who later served as a missionary on a Navajo reservation) in San Dimas in Southern California. They called him, went to his church the next morning, came forward at the altar call while the black choir sang gospel, & formally dedicated themselves to Christ. Bob never looked back. He immediately started witnessing to his friends, answering all of their arguments, questions, & Bible problems (most of which they had learned from him) with the same answers Gene had given him before, but which he couldn't commit to because it would change his life.
From August 1970 through November 2003, Bob Passantino never forsook His Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. He poured 66 years of ministry into 33 years of non-stop defense of the gospel. And he always remembered that mere answers don't compel faith. And subjective experience can be tested by the answers. The Jesus he met in that car was the Jesus he had learned about from Gene Kirby & the Jesus he continued to pursue with everything he had for the rest of his life.
At Bob's memorial service in 2003, Gene Kirby related to the crowd that those many years before, when Bob was peppering him with questions, arguments, & problems, he often didn't know how he was going to answer him. But he prayed, opened his mouth, & learned as the Holy Spirit spoke through him & used what he had learned in Bible college & was learning in seminary.
God took Bob much further in his knowledge of God, the Bible, & Jesus Christ over the following years. Few apologists have ever or will ever know as much as he did or be able to share so rationally & persuasively. Countless others are now defending the faith & sharing the gospel, inspired by God's example & teaching. God is still harvesting what He sowed through Gene & then through Bob.
The Episcopal Church (ECUSA), the American branch of the international Anglican Communion (AC), has submitted a report to the AC on the recent ECUSA House of Bishops' meeting in New Orleans at which the ECUSA leadership discussed, debated, & voted on the directives of the AC for the ECUSA to refrain from official same sex union blessings, from consecrating anyone as bishop who is in a sexual relationship outside Christian marriage, & from any other controversial actions that are widely divergent from the general AC consensus & which would foster dissension among AC branches. A final directive concerned how the ECUSA & the AC would work together to preclude the need for other international AC bodies to interfere in the ECUSA on behalf of ECUSA congregations that reject ECUSA oversight as ungodly in its pursuit of the objectives the directives were meant to forestall. The report comes from the Joint Committee composed of representatives of the bishops of the ECUSA, the Anglican Consultative Council, & the Primates of the Anglican Communion. The report contains the decisions of the ECUSA at its conference. The decisions seem to please no one, in that they neither unequivocally renounce nor embrace the AC directives, instead agreeing only to respect the directives.
The specific directives are explained & the focus of the Sept. 20-25 Bishops' meeting are available in the Secretary General's Statement. A careful study of all the available documents has begun by the 44 autonomous communion member bodies and may lead to a formal separation between the ECUSA & the AC.
When 7 year old Arden Capizola made up her birthday gift list, she told family & friends that instead of toys, games, or other presents, for her 8th birthday she wanted cold hard cash. The cash she intended to give to the family of Sgt. Chris Reyka(51), a Broward County Sheriff's Office deputy who was killed by a gunman August 10 as he was looking for stolen vhicles behind a drug store. Someone got out of a white car & fired at least 5 shots at him before fleeing. The suspect is still unidentified & still being sought.
One Miami-Dade police officer was shot dead & 3 others wounded Thursday morning after a traffic stop of an erratic driver in a Miami-Dade County neighborhood. The suspect opened fire with a high-powered weapon before fleeing. South Florida officers from a variety of departments swarmed the area in a five hour unsuccessful attempt to catch the suspect, identified as Shawn Sherwin LaBeet (25). LaBeet was wanted in Broward County for an aggravated assault.
The identity of the officer killed was not released on Thursday by Miami-Dade Commander Linda O'Brien. One of the less-seriously wounded officers is Tomas Tundidor (37). The other officers were not identified on Thursday because all of their family members had not yet been notified. It was not clear what injuries the other officers suffered.
The shooting occurred around 11 AM when officers working a burglary detail spotted a suspicious car in an apartment complex at Southwest 280th Street & 143rd Court. The man stepped out of the car & opened fire with what appeared to be an AK-47, striking four officers, one fatally, & then fleeing in his auto.
Initially, the suspect was misidentified because of a stolen drivers license he had been using. Although the car was later found abandoned, with one weapon, LaBeet is said to be still armed, perhaps with 3 assault rifles & a handgun he had purchased in March. He is also said to be possibly wearing a protective basslistics vest.
The Lord's Servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will give them a change of heart leading to a knowledge of the truth
II Timothy 2:24-26