Religion

McEnany says there’s an ‘absolute double standard’ that churches still can’t gather despite large protests

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday there is an “absolute double standard” because churches across the country are still facing coronavirus restrictions preventing them from holding services, while demonstrators have been able to pack together in large protests with little social distancing. “There are absolutely double standards that we’ve seen,” McEnany said. She added: “People should be allowed to worship. We have a First Amendment in this country. There’s a way to safely do it.” The press secretary pointed to a task force set up by the Justice Department to look at civil liberties during coronavirus shutdowns. McEnany said President Trump “absolutely sees an issue” with double standards, adding that there had been cases where people worshipping from their cars had been targeted by law enforcement officers. When asked about Trump’s outcries against mail-in voting in the November election, McEnany responded: “I think there’s a safe way to vote if there’s a safe way to protest.” Regarding a possible spike in coronavirus cases following the widespread protests, McEnany said “we’re monitoring that,” but added that the White House was pleased with the month-over-month decline in daily new cases. She said that in April, the U.S. saw an average of 30,000 daily new cases; 25,000 daily new cases in May, and was currently on track to see 20,000 new cases daily in June. Still, McEnany said the president was happy with the progress of houses of worship reopening after he announced a policy deeming them “essential” in May. “Here we are four weeks later and we haven’t been hearing about rampant outbreaks in places of worship,” the press secretary said. “The First Amendment is a beautiful thing. People have the right to go to church or mosque or synagogue.” In places both hard-hit by coronavirus and facing demonstrations that attract tens of thousands — such as California, New York and New Jersey — church doors were long-shuttered but have recently reopened at 25 percent capacity. Trump slammed Democratic governors who refused to allow churches to reopen. Trump announced during a press briefing that houses of worship are allowed to open Memorial Day weekend: “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.” “The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. “I want to get the churches open, and we’re going to take a very strong position on that very soon … including mosques.” “Churches, to me, they’re so important in terms of the psyche of our country,” he said. “I think churches are essential.” The Justice Department (DOJ) has rebuked a number of states for cracking down on churches during the coronavirus pandemic. The DOJ sided with a Virginia church suing Gov. Ralph Northam after police threatened a pastor with jail time or a $2,500 fine for violating lockdown restrictions by holding a service on Palm Sunday. U.S. Attorney General William Barr made it clear in April that federal prosecutors should “be on the lookout” for overly restrictive state and local shutdown orders that may infringe on people’s constitutional rights — especially when it comes to the First Amendment. The DOJ also supported Kevin Wilson, the pastor of Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Chincoteague Island, who held a service on April 5 with 16 people in a church that could fit 293 people. He was later served a summons by police.

..which, of course, is unconstitutional and ridiculous.  We applaud President Trump sticking up for the First Amendment and religious liberty, and we applaud Kayleigh exposing the hypocrisy of these Democrat governors and politicians who want to keep churches closed under the false pretense of guarding against the Wuhan virus…and yet, they’re the first to violate their own directives and march elbow-to-elbow (so much for “social distancing”) and without wearing face masks as they protest.  The “double standard” and hypocrisy is beyond brazen.  If the mobs can “protest” without any regard for social distancing or wearing masks, then churches should at the very least be allowed to reopen while respecting what those mobs don’t.

Supreme Court rejects challenge to limits on church services; Roberts sides with liberals

A divided Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged state limits on attendance at worship services that have been imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Over the dissent of the four more conservative justices, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in turning away a request from the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, California, in the San Diego area. The church argued that limits on how many people can attend their services violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and had been seeking an order in time for services on Sunday. The church said it has crowds of 200 to 300 people for its services. Roberts wrote in brief opinion that the restriction allowing churches to reopen at 25% of their capacity, with no more than 100 worshipers at a time, “appear consistent” with the First Amendment. Roberts said similar or more severe limits apply to concerts, movies and sporting events “where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time.” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in dissent that the restriction “discriminates against places of worship and in favor of comparable secular businesses. Such discrimination violates the First Amendment.” Kavanaugh pointed to supermarkets, restaurants, hair salons, cannabis dispensaries and other businesses that are not subject to the same restrictions. Lower courts in California had previously turned down the churches’ requests. The court also rejected an appeal from two churches in the Chicago area that objected to Gov. Jay Pritzker’s limit of 10 worshipers at religious services. Before the court acted, Pritzker modified the restrictions to allow for up to 100 people at a time. There were no recorded dissents.

Supreme Court orders states to respond to churches’ appeals to reopen

The Supreme Court is ordering the governors of Illinois and California to respond to two separate appeals filed by churches seeking to block enforcement of stay-at-home orders. Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Elena Kagan, who respond to circuit court appeals from the Midwest and the West Coast, respectively, say the responses are due by Thursday evening. In Illinois, two Chicago-area churches also requested that the justices allow them to hold services on Pentecost. Two Romanian-American Christian churches said Illinois’ reopening plan violates the U.S. Constitution by imposing a 10-person limit on worship services, while allowing other “essential” services — such as hardware and liquor stores — to continue without such restrictions. Meanwhile, the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Southern California appealed to the Supreme Court over the weekend after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected its request to hold services. Attorneys for the church say orders from California Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Diego County authorities are unconstitutional because they discriminate against places of worship.

Trump announces that houses of worship are ‘essential,’ calls on governors to open them up

President Trump on Friday announced that new Centers for Disease Control guidance will classify houses of worship as “essential,” as he called on governors to allow them to open “right now” after being closed during the coronavirus lockdowns. Trump announced the policy for churches, synagogues and mosques, during a short briefing at the White House. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now–for this weekend,” Trump said. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.” “In America, we need more prayer not less,” Trump added. It’s unclear under what authority Trump has to override governors. But Trump took issue with certain businesses being open, while churches are not. Attorney General William Barr already warned last month that coronavirus restrictions by state and local government should be applied evenly and not single out religious organizations. “Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential,” Trump said. “But have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released interim guidelines Friday for communities of faith that acknowledge “millions of Americans embrace worship as an essential part of life” but also warn that “gatherings present a risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19.” The guidelines encourage the use of cloth face coverings during services, limiting the size of gatherings, social distancing during services and suspending or decreasing choirs and singing in church since “singing may contribute to transmission of COVID-19, possibly through emission of aerosols,” the CDC says. Last week the CDC released new guidelines that schools, businesses and other organizations can use as states reopen from coronavirus shutdowns. The document, however, excluded guidance for churches and faith-based groups because the White House raised concerns about the recommended restrictions, the Associated Press reported. Cities across the country have been taking their cues from their governors on when and how to reopen. New York Gov. Cuomo’s executive order still remains in effect in hard-hit New York City, officials said Friday. “Houses of worship never closed in New York City, but have been under reasonable capacity requirements that prohibit large gatherings,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy press secretary. “We will continue to work closely with faith leaders to ensure people can safely worship during these stressful times, but will not take any steps that could jeopardize New Yorkers’ health.” The White House’s Friday announcement comes after Trump has been hearing an earful from faith leaders who are unable to hold services due to coronavirus restrictions at a time when their parishioners are grappling with the crisis. Families may be grieving the loss of loved ones from the virus or struggling with job losses but unable to seek respite in their places of worship. On Thursday, Trump had a conference call with 1,600 pastors and faith leaders from around the country, including Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. He reassured them he wants to get churches reopened. The evangelical Christian community was instrumental in supporting Trump during his 2016 White House bid and he’s maintained strong ties with Christian leaders throughout his presidency. Trump telegraphed the decision a day earlier when he announced he spoke to the CDC on finding ways to reopen houses of worship during the pandemic. “We’ve got to get our churches open,” Trump said Thursday. Churches across the country had to close down due to stay-home orders necessary to stop the spread of the contagious virus. Faith leaders set up online services and families tuned in Sunday mornings from their computers at home. Earlier in the pandemic, Trump expressed optimism that churches would be opened by Easter Sunday, April 12. But April turned out to be an extremely deadly month for the pandemic, and parishioners had to celebrate Easter from home. Some faith leaders have argued that social distancing rules have violated First Amendment religious freedoms. Others have defied state and local rules and tried to reopen. “The discrimination that has been occurring against churches and houses of worship has been shocking,” said Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute, a legal organization dedicated to defending religious freedom. “We applaud the President’s strong stance today demanding that these attacks must stop and that churches and houses of worship be freed to safely open. Americans are going to malls and restaurants. They need to be able to go to their houses of worship.”

Agreed..  If you can go to your grocery store, Walmart, Target and heck…your “essential” pot store (here in Colorado, mamajuana dispensaries have been classified as “essential,” if you can believe that) and so on…then there is ZERO reason why you shouldn’t be able to go to your church.  You can socially distance yourself, much like the White House press corps does every day…and you can require those to wear face masks and so on..   But, to tell pastors and preachers they can’t open their church or they’ll face fines or imprisonment, is the very definition of fascism.  We have a 1st Amendment to protect such freedoms.  Major kudos to President Trump for taking this strong position.  To see a video of the President making this announcement earlier today, click on the text above.  Outstanding!!       🙂

Dead Sea Scrolls discovery: Fragments thought to be blank reveal text

Four Dead Sea Scroll fragments long thought to be blank have revealed their text. The fragments, which are housed at the University of Manchester in the U.K., shed more light on the famous scrolls. Some 51 fragments were imaged front and back, with six identified for further investigation. Of these, four were found to have readable Hebrew/Aramaic text written in carbon-based ink. “The most substantial fragment has the remains of four lines of text with 15-16 letters, most of which are only partially preserved, but the word Shabbat (Sabbath) can be clearly read,” explained the University of Manchester in a statement. The text may be related to the biblical book of Ezekiel (46:1-3), it added. “One piece with text is the edge of a parchment scroll section, with sewn thread, and the first letters of two lines of text may be seen to the left of this binding,” the university said in the statement. The fragments were studied at King’s College London. “Looking at one of the fragments with a magnifying glass, I thought I saw a small, faded letter – a lamed, the Hebrew letter ‘L’,” said Professor Joan Taylor of King’s College London, in the statement. “Frankly, since all these fragments were supposed to be blank and had even been cut into for leather studies, I also thought I might be imagining things. But then it seemed maybe other fragments could have very faded letters too.” “With new techniques for revealing ancient texts now available, I felt we had to know if these letters could be exposed,” Taylor added. “There are only a few on each fragment, but they are like missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle you find under a sofa.” Experts from the Faculty of Theology of Lugano in Switzerland and the University of Malta also participated in the study. The first Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1946 and 1947 in the Qumran caves in the Judean desert. Further scrolls were found in subsequent years, up to 1956. In total, 1,000 ancient religious manuscripts were discovered. The delicate fragments of parchment and papyrus were preserved for 2,000 years thanks to the dark, dry conditions in the caves. The fragments held in the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library were given in the 1950s by the Jordanian government to Ronald Reed, a leather expert at the U.K.’s University of Leeds. “It was assumed that the pieces were ideal for scientific tests, as they were blank and relatively worthless,” explained the University of Manchester, in its statement. “These were studied and published by Reed and his student John Poole, and then stored safely away.” The collection was donated to the University of Manchester in 1997. The Dead Sea Scrolls continue to be a source of fascination. In 2018, for example, experts in Israel harnessed sophisticated imaging technology to reveal hidden script in some of the scrolls. The technology, which was originally developed for NASA, identified new letters and words, giving experts fresh insight into the historic texts. One of the fragments may even indicate the existence of a previously unknown manuscript, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which conducted the research. Also in 2018, researchers at Israel’s University of Haifa translated one of the last two parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scrolls in the collection of the Museum of the Bible in Washington D.C. have also been in the spotlight in recent years. Research revealed the scrolls to be fake.

Fascinating!!     🙂

President Trump Marks ‘Separated’ Easter Sunday: ‘We’re Getting Rid of the Plague

President Donald Trump on Sunday released an Easter Sunday greeting video from the White House, during the coronavirus crisis. “This Easter will be much different than others because in many cases, we’ll be separated physically only from our churches,” Trump said. “We won’t be sitting there next to each other, which we’d like to be, and soon will be again, but right now we’re keeping separation.” Trump was optimistic about the progress made in the ongoing fight against the spread of the virus. “We’re getting rid of the plague, it’s a plague on our country like we’ve never seen,” he said. “But we’re winning the battle we’re winning the war.” Trump urged all families to celebrate Easter. “Celebrate, bring the family together like no other, we have a lot to be thankful for,” he said. President Trump said Friday that he would view Easter Sunday services online during the coronavirus crisis. “I’m going to be watching on a laptop,” he said. “Now a laptop is not the same as being in his church or being in another church. It’s not, no matter what you say.” The president said that he would watch Pastor Robert Jeffress’s service from First Baptist Dallas on Easter. First Lady Melania Trump also wished the country a Happy Easter, sharing a video of her reading an Easter story. “Happy Easter,” Melania said. “I hope you are able to enjoy this special holiday and be sure to take care of yourselves and each other.” The First Lady traditionally reads a children’s story during the Easter Egg roll at the White House. Click here to watch both the President’s Easter message, and First Lady Melania Trump’s message.

Happy (belated) Easter!     🙂

Queen Elizabeth: ‘Easter Isn’t Cancelled’, Take ‘New Hope’ from ‘Risen Christ’

Queen Elizabeth II has delivered what is believed to be the first-ever Easter message of her 68-year reign, offering a message of hope to people confined to their homes throughout the holiday by the coronavirus pandemic. The 93-year-old monarch — who also serves as Supreme Governor of the Church of England — recorded this message in the drawing room of Windsor Castle, where she is herself in self-isolation as a result of the pandemic. The Queen recalled how “many Christians would normally light candles together” on Holy Saturday, the sombre day preceding Easter Sunday when Christ lay in his tomb — and, according to Christian teaching, descended into Hades and preached to the dead. “This year, Easter will be different for many of us, but by keeping apart we keep others safe,” the Queen said. “But Easter isn’t cancelled; indeed, we need Easter as much as ever. The discovery of the risen Christ on the first Easter Day gave his followers new hope and fresh purpose, and we can all take heart from this,” she added. “We know that coronavirus will not overcome us.” The Queen’s Easter message can be viewed or read in full by clicking here:

Happy Easter!    🙂

Who was St. Patrick and why does he still matter?

On March 17th, millions of people around the world will be mindful of St. Patrick’s Day. But who was St. Patrick? And why is a bishop who lived almost 1,600 years ago still important to us today? You may know Patrick as the patron saint of Ireland. You may have heard that he brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle. And you’ve no doubt heard all about the snakes and the shamrocks and other myths associated with him. But the real reason he still matters today is that his life demonstrates the call of God to share the Good News of the Gospel. And God still speaks to us today, if we’re willing to listen. Most of what we know about Patrick comes from his autobiographical Confession, which he wrote when a group of bishops in Britain tried to bring charges against him. The Confession begins with humility: “I am Patrick, a sinner, the most unsophisticated of people, the least among all the Christians, and among some, the most contemptible.” That humility was a way of life for Patrick, who was, in fact, British and not Irish. As the son of an official in the Roman Empire, he was born into privilege. But when he was just a child, he was kidnapped by the Irish and sold into slavery. In captivity, Patrick saw God’s hand in delivering him “out of a way of life where God didn’t matter for me.” Now a slave in a foreign land, overwhelmed by loneliness and starvation, he had a revelation: “There, the Lord opened up my understanding to my unbelief so that however late, I might become conscious of my failings and then remembering my need, I might turn with all my heart to the Lord my God.” After six years as a slave, Patrick heard a voice telling him to escape, and he miraculously made his way to freedom in Britain. For the next 18 years, Patrick dedicated his life to the church and became a bishop. Then he had another vision calling him back to Ireland to preach the Gospel. If you are a Christian of Irish or Scottish descent, you owe your Christianity to St. Patrick. You may also owe him your education. One of Patrick’s goals was for the Irish to become a people who could read the Bible. Patrick was known as a man of the Book, and the scriptures are scattered throughout his writings. In the fifth century, few could read, and many ancient writings, including the Bible, fell into disuse and were in danger of being lost. Patrick began a monastic tradition in Ireland that spread to the island of Iona in Scotland, and then on to continental Europe. Both the scriptures of the Jews, as well as the writings of the Greeks and Romans, were studied and copied in these monasteries, which became the forerunners of the modern university. St. Patrick was one of the first people in history to take a moral stand against slavery. In his Letter to Coroticus, he also condemned sex trafficking: “They who distribute baptized women as prizes….will be slaves in Hell in an eternal punishment.” The greatest message from St. Patrick is the call of God to preach the Gospel to every tongue, tribe and nation. In the Roman Empire of the fifth century, Ireland was considered the “ends of the earth.” Today, there are over 4,000 language groups that still don’t have even a portion of scripture available to them. Mission agencies agree that it is possible to complete the task of Bible translation, if not in our generation, then in the next. What is lacking are people who are willing to take up the task. And that is the lesson of St. Patrick. God still calls, and God still sends. God still wants to shake us “out of a way of life where God didn’t matter.” On March 17, the traditional day of Patrick’s death, let us celebrate the remarkable life of a slave who committed his life to God. With God’s help, Patrick changed a nation. Through Patrick’s example, may we realize that we can change nations as well.

Thanks to Gordon Robertson for that faith-based history lesson on the life of St. Patrick.  Gordon president and CEO of The Christian Broadcasting Network, is the executive producer of “I Am Patrick,” a docudrama on the life of St. Patrick from CBN Films. For more information go to IAmPatrick.com.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!!     🙂

Trump declares Sunday a National Day of Prayer

Hours after declaring a national emergency because of the coronavirus, President Trump suggested the nation look to God for “protection and strength.” On Friday evening, Trump declared Sunday a National Day of Prayer and pointed out how the public has historically found solace in faith during times of crisis. The first Sunday of every March since 1988 has been designated a National Day of Prayer in the United States, but Trump personalized this year’s day of prayer to address the outbreak of COVID-19. “It is my great honor to declare Sunday, March 15th as a National Day of Prayer,” Trump wrote. Trump laid out the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic during an an address in the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon. He announced that the Food and Drug Administration plans to have 1.4 million testing kits available for the public by next week and as many as 5 million by the end of March. “We are a Country that, throughout our history, has looked to God for protection and strength in times like these,” he added. During his address, Trump promised access to up to $50 billion in aid to state and localities as communities brace for the disease. “No matter where you may be, I encourage you to turn towards prayer in an act of faith. Together, we will easily PREVAIL!” Trump wrote in a follow-up tweet.

Jonathan Morris: My favorite Bible verse

The practice of picking a favorite Bible verse goes against every theological bone in my body, for two reasons. First, because Sacred Scripture is best understood as a whole. Second, because focusing on a favorite passage risks distracting us from passages that are less pleasant to our ears, but perhaps more needed. I cringe, for example, when I hear politicians or even pastors quote a favorite line or two of the Bible to justify an action or prove their point. Popular verses like “judge not lest you be judged”—while true—are often appropriated to shut down rational, moral discourse. Theological musings aside, I do have favorite Scripture verses. The one I’ll share with you here has been material for deep reflection as I traversed through major life change this past year. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). This verse is about discernment. It’s about getting our mind and heart in the right place to know in which direction we should go when we face real-life decisions. The author of this verse, Paul of Tarsus, is writing to the early Christian community in Rome. He knows they have already committed to following the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, but they are living in a hedonistic society and they struggle to know and do what is right. The first part of this verse is a warning that what we think or feel isn’t always right. Paul tells the Romans that our minds are warped by worldly ways of thinking. If this was true in the times of Paul (the Epistle to the Romans was written circa AD 55), it is even truer today. We are brainwashed by the daily onslaught of commercial and social media. To counter this, Paul encourages us to allow God’s grace and truth to seep into our minds and renew it. As he puts it: “be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” “Transformation” is a strong word. The original Greek word for transformation is “metanoia,” meaning existential conversion. This spiritual conversion is not about changing our behavior out of shame or guilt. Conversion is a decision of the will to turn away from sin, do an about face, and walk toward God who is calling. The second part of this verse is even more inspiring and challenging. Paul says that once we have taken the step toward “metanoia” or “conversion” we still need to test things out to see what God really wants of us. He says “so that you may test what the will of God is, that which is good, and acceptable, and perfect.” Paul is being brutally honest that it’s not always easy to know what we should do when we are faced with an uncertain future. Paul tells the Romans to test things out. In other words, if we think we know what we should do, but aren’t sure, we should go ahead and give it a try. I have found this very simple spiritual advice by Paul to be profoundly helpful. Here’s one final reflection on this verse. Paul’s exhortation to the Romans to take seriously the renewal of their minds in order to discern God’s will for their lives, suggests that he believes their decisions are important. He is honoring the significance—the power—of human activity. Other ancient spiritual teachers, before and after Paul, placed so much emphasis on God’s power that human choice was dismissed as insignificant. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul doesn’t belittle the real struggle of discernment. He doesn’t say, for example, “just leave it all in God’s hands”. Christians believe deeply in a personal, providential God, a divine being who cares about and, in varied ways intervenes in human affairs. But, mysteriously, this all-loving and all-powerful God has willed that this Divine Providence be subject, in part, to our free-will agency. In other words, our choices matter, and discernment is the way to get it right.

Agreed.  Thanks to Jonathan Morris for his inspired insight.  Jonathan is a former Catholic priest who stepped down from that “calling,” but who is still very active with his faith.