Signs of the Times

Support Plummets for Plan to Criminalize Christianity

WorldNetDaily — The Islamic nations whose leaders want Christianity criminalized sustained a severe blow at the United Nations today when the momentum on their religion “anti-defamation” proposal suddenly shifted. WND previously reported on the plan that has been in the works since 1999, sponsored by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The “anti-defamation” law was proposed ostensibly to protect religions from criticism and attack. However, the plan mentions only Islam as needing protection. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, has assembled a petition opposing the plan that has been signed by about 400,000 people already. He said today’s U.N. General Assembly vote, which was 86 yes, 53 no and 42 abstentions, was a dramatic shift from the vote from one year ago, which was 108 yes, 51 no, and 25 abstentions.

  • JJ Commentary: If the proposal is broadened to include religions other than Islam that need anti-defamation protection, this type of international law will eventually be used to clamp down on Christian evangelism.

Palin Church Burning – ‘Hate Crime’ Virtually Ignored?

OneNewsNow — A religion columnist and journalism professor says the mainstream media’s coverage of the fire that gutted Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s home church has been thin, but it’s hard to say exactly why it’s been underplayed. Investigators say the fire that destroyed Wasilla Bible Church in Alaska on December 12 was likely the work of an arsonist, but the mainstream news media, with the exception of The Associated Press, has largely ignored the story. Terry Mattingly is the editor of the website GetReligion.org, a Scripps Howard columnist, and director of the Washington Journalism Center. He says believes a regional bias could be at play, but adds that he has no doubt that if a fire occurred at the church of a socially accepted victim group, the coverage would have been more extensive.

  • JJ Commentary: Hate crimes and tolerance only apply to “socially accepted” groups, not to Christians.

Many Beliefs, Many Paths to Heaven?

USA TODAY — Most American religious believers, including most Christians, say eternal life is not exclusively for those who accept Christ as their savior, a new survey finds. Of the 65% of people who held this open view of heaven’s gates, 80% named at least one non-Christian group — Jews, Muslims, Hindus, atheists or people with no religion at all — who may also be saved, according to a new survey released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. This means 52% of Christians do not agree with the doctrines many religions teach, particularly conservative denominations. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, calls the findings “a theological crisis for American evangelicals. They represent at best a misunderstanding of the Gospel and at worst a repudiation of the Gospel.”

Pew’s new survey also found that many Christians (29%) say they are saved by their good actions; 30% say salvation is through belief in Jesus, God or a higher power alone, which is the core teaching of evangelical Protestantism; and 10% say salvation is found through a combination of behavior and belief, a view closer to Catholic teachings. The number of those who said actions determine who attains heaven, was lowest (11%) for white evangelicals, highest for white Catholics (47%). The number of people saying theirs is the only faith that can lead to eternal life increased slightly, from 24% to 29%, between 2007 and 2008. The biggest increase was among white evangelical Protestants — up from 37% to 49%.

  • JJ Commentary: Sad, sad, sad. A Christian is not a Christian without believing that Jesus is the only path to salvation based on faith not works because that’s what He and the Bible say.

Southern Baptist Evangelism Plan to Counter Losses

For the Southern Baptist Convention, 2008 was filled with bad news. Baptisms reached a 20-year low. Church membership dropped, prompting fears the Nashville-based Baptist body was on a downward slide. And its outgoing president warned that within 20 years, more than half of Southern Baptist churches could die off. In response, the Baptists announced a new national evangelism strategy called “God’s Plan for Sharing.” Nicknamed “GPS,” the new strategy would spread the Gospel throughout the U.S. and Canada by 2020, said Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board.

1 in 10 Adults Are Caregivers, Studies Find

Baptist Press reports that 11 percent of the people who participated in a LifeWay Research survey said they or an immediate family member are the primary full-time caregiver to an elderly parent or a special needs child, a statistic also shown in two other national studies. “This research should open our eyes to the number of people in our churches and communities that are looking for people to be the hands and feet of Jesus,” Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, said. “Many American church leaders and members that I know reject the idea of increased government involvement in establishing universal health care. But, for the most part, the American church continues to ignore the emphasis that Jesus Himself placed on the poor and the sick.”

Government Offers Loans to Automakers

USA TODAY — President Bush just announced that the U.S. government will provide up to $17.4 billion in loans to the nation’s troubled automakers. “The only way to avoid a collapse of the U.S. auto industry is for the executive branch to step in,” he says. “The American people want the auto companies to succeed, and so do I.” The president blames the decline of the Big Three on rising costs, shrinking market share and declining profits. But Bush says allowing the market to sort out these problems “would almost certainly lead to disorderly bankruptcy and liquidation for the automakers.” The money for the loans will come from the existing bailout package. Reuters is reporting that General Motors and Chrysler, the weakest of the Big Three, are expected “to access the money immediately.” The automakers have until March 31 to prove they are viable, and President Bush said Friday that if they are unable to do that, the money must be returned to the government and General Motors and Chrysler, the two companies seeking the loans, will be forced into bankruptcy court.

Obama Looking at $850 Billion Jolt to the Economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — Eager to jolt a worsening economy back to life, President-elect Barack Obama’s aides are assembling a two-year stimulus package that could cost $850 billion with a blend of new jobs, middle-class tax relief and expanded aid for the poor and the unemployed. Obama is promoting a recovery plan that would feature spending on roads and other infrastructure projects, energy-efficient government buildings, new and renovated schools and environmentally friendly technologies. There would also be some form of tax relief, according to the Obama team, which is well aware of the political difficulty of pushing such a large package through Congress, even in a time of recession. Any tax cuts would be aimed at middle- and lower-income taxpayers, and aides have said there would be no tax increases for wealthy Americans.

Aetna, Cooper Tire, Western Digital Announce 4,900 Layoffs

A growing number of companies are sending workers a grim holiday message: Head for the unemployment line. Health care provider Aetna, Cooper Tire & Rubber and Western Digital, which makes computer hard drives, said Wednesday they would cut a combined 4,900 jobs. And Eastman Chemical said it would cut an unspecified number as it tries to slash costs by $100 million in 2009. The downturn has spread far beyond the housing and banking businesses where it began, battering workers in nearly every sector of the economy. “Things are changing so rapidly, and deteriorating so rapidly, that firms don’t have a choice,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS Global Insight. Falling sales are squeezing companies’ cash just as tighter credit makes it harder for them to borrow to fund operations, Behravesh said. The combination means this time, some companies can’t afford to wait until after the holidays to cut jobs.

FedEx Cuts Employees’ Pay, Suspends 401(k) Payments

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Package delivery giant FedEx is cutting pay for salaried personnel by 5% and suspending retirement plan contributions as it slashes costs because of a bleak economic outlook. CEO Fred Smith will take a 20% pay cut and other senior executives will take pay cuts of 7.5% to 10% starting Jan. 1. It also suspended company matching contributions to its 401(k) retirement plan for at least one year as of Feb. 1. The company says its cost-cutting will reduce expenses $800 million by the end of its fiscal-2010 year. “Our financial performance is increasingly being challenged by some of the worst economic conditions in the company’s 35-year operating history,” Smith said.

198,000 Arizonans Now Without Jobs

Arizona‘s unemployment rate for the month rose to 6.3 percent from 6.1 percent in October. Metropolitan Phoenix’s rate rose to 5.7 percent from 5.5 percent. Unemployment nationally stands at 6.7 percent. The Arizona Department of Commerce reported Thursday that the state lost 83,100 jobs, a 3.1 percent decrease, between November 2007 and November 2008. A drop like that is rare. The last time a decrease of that size occurred in a November-to-November period was 1949.

More Low-Income Families Need Food Aid

The economic downturn has left many low-income Americans struggling with hunger for the first time, a survey out Thursday by Feeding America shows. The hunger relief group, formerly known as America’s Second Harvest, found that 36% of low-income households say they ate less or skipped meals because they didn’t have enough money for food, and 40% say they chose between food or paying for utilities in the past year. “We’ve never seen anything like this,” says Vicki Escarra, the group’s president. “We’re seeing more people come (to food banks) who’ve never come before.” The number of people receiving food stamps jumped from 26.9 million in September 2007 to a record 31.6 million in September 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One in Seven Homeowners “Underwater”

Nearly one in seven homeowners is underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. That’s about 12 million homeowners, nearly double the number underwater at the end of 2007, according to Moody’s Economy.com. Most are homeowners who bought between late 2003 and 2007. Home prices are projected to drop on average another 10%, bringing to about 14.6 million the number of homeowners who will be underwater on their mortgages by fall 2009, says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Economy.com. By contrast, about 2.5 million homeowners had negative equity in their homes in 2006. Increasingly, job seekers find that their homes are albatrosses imperiling their ability to relocate for higher incomes or more secure job opportunities. In fact, the greatest drop in home prices, in many cases, is in areas with the sharpest rise in unemployment.

IMF Warns of Economic Riots, Police Ready for Civil Unrest

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn has warned that advanced nations could face civil unrest during distressful economic times “[S]ocial unrest may happen in many countries – including advanced economies” if the economic crises are not properly dealt with, Strauss-Kahn said. He added that violent protests could break out in countries worldwide if the financial system was not restructured to benefit everyone rather than a small elite,” London’s Guardian reported. In a recession where consumer spending is plummeting, foreclosures are rampant, workers are losing jobs, credit is tight and markets are strained, some are warning about a worst-case scenario.

Youths Attack French Institute in Athens

ATHENS (AP) — Rioting youths attacked the French Institute in Athens with firebombs Friday as Greek police braced for more protests a day after extensive clashes between demonstrators and riot police. “Spark in Athens. Fire in Paris. Insurrection is coming,” read one slogan spray-painted onto the building’s walls in French. Another, written in Greek, read “France, Greece, uprising everywhere.” Athens has seen near daily hit-and-run attacks by youths throwing firebombs in the past two weeks, after the fatal police shooting of a 15-year-old sparked the worst riots Greece has seen in decades. The rage unleashed by the Dec. 6 shooting has lifted the lid on years of dissatisfaction over social inequality, poor employment prospects for young people, and increasing anger with the conservative government’s economic policies.

Orissa Christmas Will Be Fearful, Says Minister

The Christian Post reports that Christians in Orissa, India, will face a “very threatening environment,” said Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA. Moeller reports that the forced shutdown of the social system for which Hindu extremists have called ensures that Christians in Orissa will be “extremely fraught” with fear, even though the state government has declared the shutdown to be illegal. So far, however, government promises have done little to protect Christians from attack. Moeller fears that Christians who leave their homes to worship together on Christmas may be vulnerable to attack for violating an extremist-enforced shutdown.

Iraqi Christians Still under Siege at Christmas

Mission News Network reports that Iraqi Christians will face another isolated Christmas in 2008. “Christians in Mosul over the last few months have been particularly targeted for extermination by the remnants of Al Qaeda in Iraq. This Christmas is one of great stress and difficulty for these believers,” said Carl Moeller with Open Doors. Celebrations of Christmas, once held in family courtyards and complete with candles and bonfires, have disappeared since “any bonfire attracts suspicious persons… Fires are now linked with explosions and attacks,” MNN reports. Iraq’s once-large Christian community has dwindled significantly since 2004, and many Christians have left Iraq for Syria, Jordan, Turkey or the West.

Gaza Front Heats Up as Hamas Declares End of Truce

As cross-border attacks ratcheted up again along the Gaza front on Thursday , Hamas declared that the six-month ceasefire with Israel due to expire Friday was already officially over. “The calm, which… expires on December 19, is finished because the enemy did not abide by its obligations,” said Hamas member Ayman Taha, who represented the group in talks with other Palestinian factions. “The calm is over.” His comments came as Israeli forces and Palestinian terror militias continued to trade blows on the eve of the expiration of the ‘lull,’ as more than a dozen rockets struck the western Negev today and IAF planes and helicopters targeted launch cells and rocket factories.

West Digs Out from Record Storm

SPOKANE (AP). — Road crews worked around the clock to remove 2 feet of snow from Spokane streets early Friday as the winter storm that set records in the West moved through the Great Lakes region and bore down on the Northeast. Spokane city officials declared a “Condition Red” snow emergency, meaning crews were working 24 hours a day to complete a full city plow, with private contractors brought on to help. The 19.4 inches of snow that had fallen at Spokane International Airport Thursday morning was the most in a 24-hour period since record keeping began in 1881. Another 4 inches had fallen by Thursday afternoon. “It has eclipsed any previous records by a significant amount,” said John Livingston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in eastern Washington.

Flights resumed in and out of Las Vegas, but schools and highways were closed Thursday after a record-setting snowfall coated marquees on the Strip, weighed down palm trees and blanketed surrounding mountain areas. The storm that left 3.6 inches at McCarran International Airport. It was the biggest December snowfall on record there. “Snow is not unknown in the Las Vegas valley. On average we get 1/2 inch of snow a year,” Jacques said. “But this amount made it a significant storm. We haven’t had this amount of snow since 1979.”

Earthquake Hits Chile Coast

SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — The U.S. Geological Survey says a strong, 6.3-magnitude earthquake has rattled Chile’s coast near the city of Valparaiso. USGS geophysicist John Bellini called it a strong quake but said it “would not be expected to cause large, widespread damage.”

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