Americans are all for religious freedom — but disagree on who can claim it. Diverse religious groups are recognized — but Christians and Jews are significantly more welcome than atheists, and many don’t see a welcome mat for Muslims. And not everyone means the same thing when speaking of a “Christian” nation to research done by LifeWay Research. The research finds overwhelming agreement on the meaning of religious freedom. More than 9 in 10 say Americans are free to choose their religious beliefs, to practice their faith in daily life, to build a house of worship and to tell others about their beliefs. But there is a big gap in views on whether business owners should be free to “run a business in accordance with their beliefs.” While 78% overall said this is an “American right,” that fell to 62 percent among those who don’t identify with any particular religious group.

The LifeWay survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted in September 2014, after the Supreme Court ruled that the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain did not have to offer insurance coverage for contraception. While the high court did not legalize same-sex marriage nationwide until June, when the survey was being conducted there were already nationally publicized state court cases involving wedding vendors refusing service to same-sex couples. And people hear the same question in different ways, said Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, an evangelical research firm based in Nashville. “When we ask people about what America thinks, what America is like, their answers are influenced by what is flashing in their minds. The news. The people they know. What they’ve seen themselves or what their friends experienced,” he said.

Take the question of whether the United States is a “Christian nation.” Only 19 percent say it is, even though Christians make up 70 percent of the population. McConnell says answers to the survey depend on people’s frame of reference. “Do they define ‘Christian nation’ by population or by ideology — by whether they think Christianity is driving the thinking, driving the culture of the nation?” Nearly 7 in 10 recognize the USA as a nation of many religions. However, that doesn’t translate to a welcome mat at everyone’s front door. Roughly 9 in 10 Americans say it is a welcoming place for Christians and Jews. Only 67 percent say it is welcoming to atheists, usually in last place on public favourability polls. And just 57 percent see America as welcoming to Muslims, according to the survey.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, was not surprised by the numbers — but not pleased by them, either. “You are not all that happy when you are the second-most-unwelcomed group in the country. It feels terrible to be completely unrepresented in Congress or for the entire Republican Party to view us as irrelevant at best and immoral at worst,” said Silverman. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, shrugged at the statistic. “It’s not really clear if this is good news or bad news. People of faith are predisposed to welcoming other people of faith. So I’ll give this the best possible interpretation — that people are hoping they are welcoming,” he said. He’s waiting for the day that surveys ask, “How welcome do Muslims feel in America?”

Source: Religion News Service

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The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has ended its ban on gay leaders while allowing religious units to continue to exclude them. 79% of the BSA’s national executive favoured the resolution.  The policy change represents the end of a struggle over whether to accept gay members that began two years ago when it allowed gay youths to participate, but not adults. BSA President Robert Gates declared the ban on adult gay leaders should be removed, saying the Scouts could not ignore “the social, political and judicial changes taking place in our country.” “Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including on matters of sexuality,” Gates said. “This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.”

Religious groups make up 70% of chartered organizations, and some are already reacting to the vote. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, could depart, saying it is “deeply troubled” by the vote and will review the decision in the weeks ahead. The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, a United Church of Christ executive, said, “We look forward to encouraging inclusive scouting programs throughout the United Church of Christ.” Prior to the vote, BSA officials predicted it would be “unlikely” that troops based at churches would end up in court if they ban gay Scoutmasters. “We live in a litigious society, and frivolous lawsuits are threatened and filed every day,” reads the 14-page memo from the Boys Scouts’ law firm, Hughes Hubbard & Reed. “However, any lawsuit challenging the religious requirements in a Scouting unit run by a religious organization would be unlikely to succeed.”

R. Chip Turner, national chairman of the BSA Religious Relationships Committee, said he hopes the memo will calm concerns that leaders of religious chartered Scout units may have. “There’s always the fear of the unknown,” he said. But opponents of a BSA policy change say church-based troops that reject gay adult leaders could face legal risks, especially after the recent Supreme Court ruling that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. “What they’re not taking into account is the new frontier that we’re on, where judges are being social change agents,” said John Stemberger, chairman of Trail Life USA, which bills itself as a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts. Trail Life issued its own eight-page legal memo, written by a former BSA lawyer who is now Trail Life’s general counsel.

“The church-chartered troop will likely be sued the moment it tries to revoke the membership of the homosexual member who wears his uniform to the Gay Pride Parade, revokes or denies membership to an adult who publicly gets married to someone of the same sex, or denies membership to the girl who believes she is actually a male,” the Trail Life memo reads. Still, an Emory University legal expert thinks the BSA memo strikes the right legal balance. “I think they’re taking good, bold steps for respecting the law of the land and the society that we live in while still retaining strong exemptions and accommodations for those who might feel differently for religious reasons,” said Mark Goldfeder, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory’s law school. “I think this is a very decent balancing act and a kind of balancing act that can be a model going forward.”

Source: Religion News Service

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Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province have torn down several small Christian churches after hard-line Muslims demanded their closure, citing a lack of building permits, and following religious violence. Tensions are high among the ethnically and religiously diverse population of Aceh Singkil, where last week a mob burned down a church, leaving one person dead and forcing thousands of Christians to flee the area. Armed police and military troops have been deployed to the area and evacuees have returned. Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population and the vast majority of its citizens practice a moderate form of the religion. Aceh is its only province to implement Islamic Sharia law as it was granted autonomy as part of a 2005 peace agreement that ended decades of separatist violence.

Sledgehammers and axes were used to tear down the churches – little more than small, wooden structures – as Christian members of the community looked on, many of them weeping. Paima Brutu, caretaker of one Protestant church that was closed said the Church had about 100 members. “We have applied for the building permit again and again so all we’re asking the government is to be allowed to have that permit,” he said. The closures come after a meeting of local political and religious figures, including Christians, agreed to close the houses of worship, officials present at the meeting said. Muslim residents, including those of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front, had demanded that 10 churches be closed. “On a daily basis, the communities live in peace and there is no pressure to close down these churches,” said Genti Brutu, the chief of Siompin village where at least three churches were torn down.

“But it is about permits so we have to abide by the rules.” Dozens of armoured vehicles patrolled the streets of a cluster of villages where at least 10 churches are slated to be demolished in the coming days. A mob of hundreds of people burned down a small church in Aceh Singkil district last week, forcing thousands of Christians to flee to neighbouring villages. One Muslim member of the mob was killed, police said, adding that at least 10 other people had been detained. The government has deployed 1,300 police and military personnel to the area, to patrol the streets and stand guard outside churches that dot the district. Christians held a service on Sunday right next to the charred remains of their church, under the guard of about a dozen armed security personnel. “At the moment things are calm but we are on standby for any further incidents,” said Saladin, spokesman for Aceh police.

Source: Religion News Service

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Advertisers may want to rethink running spots within media with violent or sexual themes, and may do better if the ads had a G-rating, according to a recent study. Violent and sexual media content may impair advertising’s effectiveness and ultimately deter purchasing, the research found. “We found almost no evidence that violent and sexual programs and ads increased advertising effectiveness,” said Brad Bushman, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, and a co-author of the study. “In general, we found violent and sexual programs, and ads with violent or sexual content, decreased advertising effectiveness.” Bushman and others conducted an analysis of 53 studies comprising 8,489 participants that were conducted through 2014. The goal was to determine the influence of violent and sexual content on advertising effectiveness as measured by brand memory, brand attitudes and buying intentions.

The study focused on movies, television, video games and print, looking at violent and sexual content in the media and also in advertisements. Researchers found that violence had the greatest negative impact. Brands advertised during violent media were remembered less often, evaluated less favourably, and were less likely to be purchased than brands advertised in nonviolent media. Sexual content had some influence, but not as much. Brands advertised with sexual overtones were viewed less favourably than those advertised with no sexual content, but there was little difference in viewers’ brand memory or intention to buy. The researchers also looked at the content of the advertisements themselves. While they found no significant effects of violent or sexual content in advertisements, they did note that a violent ad in violent media or a sexual ad in sexual media, were more likely to be remembered by viewers and left a stronger intention to buy the product.

As the sexual content of an ad increased from suggestive poses to full frontal nudity, viewers’ memory, attitudes and buying intentions all decreased, Bushman said. “It’s not that people aren’t attracted to sex and violence.  While violence and sex attract attention, it’s at the expense of surrounding content that is neither violent nor sexual” Bushman said. People pay more attention to the violence and the sex surrounding ads, both in programs and the ads themselves, than to the actual products being advertised. Consequently, memory, attitudes and buying intentions all decrease, he said. “Our findings have tremendous significance for advertisers,” said Bushman. “Sex and violence do not sell, and may even backfire by impairing memory, attitudes and buying intentions for advertised products. Advertisers should think twice about sponsoring violent and sexual programs, and using such themes in their ads.”

Source: American Psychological Association

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South Sudan recently marked its 4th anniversary of gaining independence from Sudan. Since that time the country has been torn apart by ethnic violence and war. The hoped-for prosperity vanished.  Traumatized, people are constantly on the move; safety is elusive. Health care has all but vanished. The plight of women is staggering – left as widows, gang-raped by demon-possessed men, children kidnapped. South Sudan has the highest mortality rate for newborns in the world. Ten percent of children die before their 5th birthday. The rich farmlands of the south can easily feed the country but are inaccessible. Infrastructure has collapsed. There are only 200 miles of paved roads in South Sudan. Warfare disrupts planting seasons. Famine is rampant even though the lush Western Equatorial state has the potential to be the breadbasket for South Sudan and the surrounding region.

Please pray for:

*  wisdom and a truce between the ethnic and political parties that will bring permanent peace and prosperity to this ravished nation. An avalanche of prayer is needed to overthrow Satan and his demons that are instigating this war.

*  South Sudanese Christians to seek Almighty God for His intervention in this satanically orchestrated warfare. Pray for Christ’s followers in South Sudan to cry out to God day and night to stop the war, to bring forth God fearing leaders who take their directives from Him.

*  God to be a haven and a comfort for the women and children who are suffering physically and emotionally as a result of the war.

Source: Windows Network

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Egyptian police have raided Sat-7 channel’s Cairo offices confiscating equipment and briefly detaining the Christian broadcaster’s office director. Detained for hours before being released, director Farid Samir faces possible charges of operating a satellite TV channel “without the necessary licenses.” Sat-7 asserts the charges are based on “incorrect information,” stressing that its Egypt branch operates under the legal umbrella of the Coptic Evangelical Church. First launched in 1996, Sat-7 Arabic has expanded to include channels in Farsi and Turkish, as well as an exclusive Kids channel. The channels outreach to Christians in the region, on a non-denominational basis. An estimated 75% of Sat-7 Arabic shows are currently produced in studios in Egypt and Lebanon. Sat-7 has distinguished itself from other Christian channels broadcasting mainly from outside the Middle East by keeping a sober and non-confrontational tone.

It is now up to the Egyptian prosecutors to determine whether a case would proceed to court. The charges are dismissed by Sat-7 lawyers, who pointed to “factual errors” in the Censorship Department’s report and to evidence presented confirming Sat-7’s sound legal standing.. With a target of impacting an estimated total audience of well over 8.5 million people, the Sat-7 channels have become a household name for Christians in the Middle East and their growing diaspora. The latest police action is expected to cause temporary disruption to the channel’s expressed efforts to “enrich goodwill” in a region currently racked by religious turmoil. On the channel’s website, Samir emphasized Sat-7’s ministry as one “based on love and which aims to serve our beloved country Egypt.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

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