Signs of the Times (3/23/12)

Documentary Presents the Rich History of Christianity in America

As the first nation in the history of the world based on a concept of religious freedom, the United States became a place of unprecedented religious diversity and experimentation. Now, a new documentary series examines the history of Christianity in America, from the first European Christian settlers to the myriad expressions of the faith in the 21st century. Produced with the support of a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc., People of Faith: Christianity in America (www.peopleoffaithseries.com) presents four hundred years of history in three hours. The series shows how American Christianity, woven into the nation’s fabric from its founding, morphed over the centuries. “America became a religious place from the very beginning…because the people who settled this country had a genius for framing questions in religious terms,” says Scott Appleby of the University of Notre Dame.

  • One of Secular Humanism’s main objectives is to perpetrate the revisionist lie that America was not founded as a Christian nation. Unfortunately, they are succeeding in altering public opinion.

Utah Legislature Passes 72-Hour Abortion Waiting Period

The Utah legislature has approved a bill to lengthen the waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion from 24 to 72 hours, Baptist Press reports. The state Senate passed the bill with a 22-6 vote March 8, two days after the House of Representatives approved it, 59-11. Republican Rep. Steve Eliason, the bill’s sponsor, said before the House vote: “An abortion cannot be undone. … Why would we not want to afford a woman facing a life-changing decision 72 hours to consider ramifications that could last a lifetime?” If enacted, the legislation would tie Utah with South Dakota for the longest waiting period in the country, though a federal judge has blocked South Dakota’s 72-hour waiting period from taking effect.

Planned Parenthood Abortions Up, Facilities Down in 2011

Though Planned Parenthood’s annual report for 2011 shows an increase in the number of abortions it performed, pro-lifers see the decrease in abortion facilities as a victory. Jim Sedlak of the American Life League (ALL) tells OneNewsNow that Planned Parenthood closed more facilities than it opened in 2011, marking the sixth straight year of facility decline. “They opened 11 new facilities, and they closed 47 of their existing facilities,” he reports. “So at the end of 2011, Planned Parenthood now has 749 clinics across the country.” That is the lowest count since 1984, according to Sedlak, and is due in part to states eliminating or reducing funding for the clinics. While the number of clinics dropped, the number of medical and surgical abortions performed by the agency increased 41 percent.

  • The blood curses brought on by Planned Parenthood have greatly contributed to America’s decline

Gay Marriage Push Also Promotes Polygamy

Polygamy has had very little support in the U.S. since the Republican Party in 1854 declared it, along with slavery, one of the “twin relics of barbarism,” and Congress banned it in 1862. The Mormon church officially abandoned plural marriage in 1890. But when the California Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in favor of homosexual marriage, one dissenting justice warned that it would not be illogical to expect that support for polygamy soon would follow. In fact, a polygamous group in Utah just last month challenged a ban on the practice in court, and now a new WND/Wenzel Poll, conducted exclusively for WorldNetDaily, there is a surprisingly high level of support developing across the U.S. A full 22 percent of the respondents say there is no legal justification for denying polygamy, based on the fact that legislation and judicial decisions have affirmed the validity of same-sex “marriage” for homosexuals.

  • Once the fabric of God’s ordained social order is ripped open, all sorts of deviations will follow

UK Churches Soon Forced to Conduct Gay Marriages?

Church of England lawyers say a law to allow same-sex marriages in England would force Christians to conduct gay weddings in church, the Daily Mail reports. As Parliament seems “in due course to legislate for same-sex marriage, as recently suggested by the Prime Minister,” CofE lawyers insist that existing equality laws would make churches offer weddings to gay couples if the law permitted them to marry. The equality laws, introduced in 2007 and then enshrined in the 2010 Equality Act, have already disrupted 11 Roman Catholic adoption agencies because they are no longer allowed to decline to place children with gay couples.

Government Launches Prison LGBT Affirmative Action Plan

The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced this month a new plan to begin recruiting employees who will serve as lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender (LGBT) representatives for each prison facility, CBN News reports. The LGBT representatives will serve as members of each prison’s affirmative action committee, and will devote 20 percent of their workday to “coordinat[ing] activities and programs designed to cultivate LGBT cultural awareness both within and outside the institution.” Pat Nolan of Prison Fellowship Ministries said: “No sex is allowed in prison, so why on earth would the central office require that there be a person in every prison to promote the sexuality of one part of the population? It’s truly bizarre and it makes no sense at all from a management-of-the-prison perspective. It seems to us this is just a political move; it has nothing to do with running better prisons.”

Immigration Issues Divide Denominations

The Bible tells its followers to obey the law, but it also tells them to welcome strangers and foreigners. That has left some Christians divided over the issue of immigration reform. Supporters of Alabama’s tough immigration law say the Bible teaches that the government’s job is to enforce the law and those who break it should be punished. However, opponents say the whole heart of the Gospel is in Matthew 25, where Jesus said, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me. ” The American Center for Law and Justice, a Christian legal group, filed a brief in federal court supporting the Alabama law. That measure, which the Obama administration is challenging, prohibits undocumented immigrants from entering into “business transactions” with the state, requires police to check immigration status during traffic stops and makes it a crime for U.S. citizens to knowingly assist undocumented immigrants.

  • Welcoming strangers and foreigners is Biblically sound, but so are its many admonitions to uphold the law. Jesus says to render unto ‘Caesar’ the things that are the government’s prerogative. Those who enter the country legally should be treated with respect, those who don’t should be deported.

NOM Urges Starbucks Boycott

The National Organization for Marriage is urging consumers across the globe to “Dump Starbucks” because the massive international corporation has taken a corporate-wide position that marriage between one man and one woman should be eliminated and that same-sex marriage should become the norm. As such, Starbucks has declared it will use its influence and resources in a culture war against at least half its US customers, and against the vast majority of its international consumers who do not share Starbucks’ position. On January 24, 2012, the Starbucks corporation issued a memorandum to all “U.S. Partners” declaring that same-sex marriage “is aligned with Starbucks business practices” and “is core to who we are and what we value as a company.” Starbucks also used its resources to participate in a legal case seeking to overturn a federal law declaring marriage as the union of one man and one woman. “In taking these actions, Starbucks has declared a culture war on all people of faith (and millions of others) who believe that the institution of marriage as one man and one woman is worth preserving,” NOM states.

How Many Deployments are Too Many?

After nearly 11 years of war and hundreds of millions of dollars in research on the mental health of troops, the military is no closer to understanding how many deployments are too many for individual soldiers, researchers say. Military leaders have said the nation has never fought wars this long with this small of a military, deploying troops over and over. Yet questions about how many times a soldier can recycle into combat without psychological harm remain unanswered. The issue of multiple deployments was one of many raised following the March 11 massacre of 16 civilians in Afghanistan, allegedly by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Bales, 38, was on his fourth combat deployment when the shootings occurred. Many of the issues reported about Bales — repeated combat exposure, physical injuries and personal finance and career problems — are common stresses on troops, scientists say. Yet 107,000 service members have deployed three or more times without incident.

  • It all depends on how we define ‘incident.’ The level of PTSD and other mental illnesses is high, despite the military’s efforts to downplay the effects of prolonged exposure to war.

U.S. Security at Risk over Foreign Water Shortages

Water shortages, polluted water and floods will increase the risk of instability in nations important to U.S. national security interests, according to a new U.S. intelligence community assessment released Thursday. “During the next 10 years, many countries important to the United States will almost certainly experience water problems – shortages, poor water quality, or floods – that will contribute to the risk of instability and state failure and increase regional tensions,” the report states. The assessment focused on seven key river basins located in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that are considered strategically important to the United States. The report indicates water supplies will not keep up with the increasing demand posed by a growing world population. Food markets are threatened by depletion of ground water in some agriculture areas of the world. Unless corrective steps are taken, food production will decline. The study does not name specific countries, because it is based on a classified national intelligence estimate.

Expectations Low for Nuclear Summit

As leaders from more than 50 nations prepare for a major summit on nuclear security next week in Seoul, efforts to achieve President Obama’s lofty goal of locking down loose nuclear material around the world by 2014 could be losing steam, analysts say. The United States has not enacted two key international treaties, despite the Obama administration announcing at the 2010 summit in Washington that it had accelerated the push to ratify the treaties. One pact, which has 77 member states, calls for criminalizing the possession or use of sensitive materials and creates guidelines for extradition and prosecution of those linked to a nuclear plot. The second deals with protecting non-military nuclear material. There is concern among some Democratic lawmakers about a provision in U.S. legislation tied to the pacts that would make an act of nuclear terrorism a capital offense subject to the death penalty. The slashing of $293 million from the National Nuclear Security Administration in Obama’s 2013 budget does not bode well for future progress against nuclear proliferation.

Nearly 40% of Women have Never Been Married

Nearly 40% of women have never been married, and fewer are in a first marriage, according to a new government report. Among the 12,279 women studied, the percentage of never-marrieds rose to 38% from 33% in 1995. The highest percentage of women who have never married was among blacks (55%), followed by U.S.-born Hispanics (49%), Asians (39%) and whites (34%).The percentage of women who said they were in a first marriage declined to 36%, from 44% in 1982. The data reflect not only the “delay in getting married for the first time” but also “that more people are cohabitating.” 1995 data found that 50% of all women’s first marriages survived. The new data show that 52% of women’s first marriages survived the 20-year mark.

  • The breakdown of God’s natural social order continues unabated as the end-times continue to evolve

U.S. Asian Population Booming

The Asian proportion of the United States population grew faster than any other racial group, according to “The Asian Population: 2010,” a census brief released Wednesday. “Asian” was defined as any person whose ancestry originates among the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia or the Indian subcontinent – including countries such as China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Thailand, India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam. Between the 2000 Census and 2010 Census, the number of people identifying as Asian or Asian plus another race rose 45.6%, yielding a total of 17.3 million people. The U.S. population as a whole grew by 9.7%.Four million respondents identified as Chinese or Chinese in combination with another race or ethnicity, forming the largest single ethnic group. In second place were Filipinos, with 3.4 million. There were 3.2 million Asian Indian respondents, and Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese respondents each numbered one million or more.

Economic News

The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators rose 0.7% in February, after a 0.2% increase in January. The gain pushed the index to its highest point since June 2008. Leading indicators are designed to anticipate economic conditions three to six months out. The index’s steady rise has coincided with other data that suggest the recovery is picking up.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, lowest since February 2008. Applications have steadily declined since last fall.

Phoenix may open its libraries longer, hire more paramedics and offer extra classes at senior centers later this year as officials consider the most significant budget expansion since the recession decimated city finances and forced cuts to services. Even after expanding some services, city officials are projecting a surplus of $10 million to $15 million in the general-fund budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year that begins July1

Forget $4 a gallon. In Alaska, you could be paying more than over $5 a gallon, even $6 gallon in one town. Alaska may have one of the country’s biggest oil-producing states, but it doesn’t appear to be helping with gas prices. Alaska is the second most expensive state overall for gas prices after Hawaii. California is third.

Greece is already beating some of its deficit-reduction targets, as figures released Wednesday show that its central budget deficit for the first two months of 2012 had shrunk by more than half compared with the same period last year.

China has released a string of worrisome reports, the latest on Thursday, signaling that its manufacturing sector is contracting.

Middle East

Prime Minister Netanyahu last week spoke to the Knesset in Jerusalem and delivered a stern denunciation of Iran’s proxy war against Israel: “The dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza is not the Palestinian issue. The dominant factor that motivates these events in Gaza is Iran. Gaza equals Iran. Where do the missiles come from? From Iran. Where does the money come from? From Iran. Who trains the terrorists? Iran. Who builds the infrastructure? Iran. Who gives the orders? Iran. Gaza is a forward operating base for Iran.”

A “March on Jerusalem” is scheduled for March 30th. Various groups in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the so-called West Bank (Judea and Samaria) are planning massive demonstrations on that day as they march on Israel’s borders. Last year’s events saw nearly a dozen Israeli soldiers injured as they attempted to maintain peace and control of the border crossings. The concern this year is the strong evidence of Iranian ties to this event, particularly through their relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah. There is great concern that they will attempt to provoke violence among the protestors or that they will use this event as cover for a new round of terrorist attacks within Israel.

Syria

The previously divided U.N. Security Council sent a strong and united message to the Syrian government and opposition on Wednesday to immediately implement proposals by international envoy Kofi Annan to end the yearlong bloodshed. A nonbinding statement approved by the 15 council members and read at a formal meeting spells out Annan’s six proposals which include a cease-fire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive Syrian-led political talks “to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people.” The U.N. estimates that well over 8,000 people have been killed over the past year. In a bid to win support from Russia and China, which have twice vetoed European and U.S.-backed resolutions condemning President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on protesters, France watered down the statement to eliminate possible consideration of “further measures” which could include sanctions or military action.

Yemen

Navy ships shelled suspected al-Qaeda positions in the southern province of Abyan, killing 29 militants. The rocket and artillery barrage, spread out over a 24-hour period that ended early Thursday, struck alleged al-Qaeda targets around the city of Zinjibar, Abyan’s provincial capital. Zinjibar is one of several southern towns captured last year by al-Qaeda militants who are taking advantage of the country’s political turmoil to seize territory.

France

An Islamic extremist who boasted of killing seven people to strike back at France died Thursday after jumping from his window, gun in hand, in a fierce shootout with police. The death of Mohamed Merah, 23, ended a more than 32-hour standoff with an elite police squad trying to capture him alive. Merah was wanted in the deaths of seven people, three paratroopers, three Jewish schoolchildren and a rabbi, all killed over 10 days. Merah boasted to being proud of the seven slayings he carried out in three motorcycle shooting attacks around the southwestern city of Toulouse. They are believed to be the first killings inspired by Islamic radical motives in France in more than a decade.

Chechnya

Though Islam first arrived in Chechnya around 500 years ago, decades of religious repression under communism made it difficult to practice. Now mosques are packed with worshipers every day. Many Chechens welcome the Islamic revival after nearly two decades of vicious war against Russian troops in which an estimated 200,000 Chechens were killed. For the younger Chechens, Islam is becoming the cornerstone of identity. TV stations are increasing the volume of programming devoted to Chechnya’s rising Islamic influence. Chechen schools must now promote Islam.  “Chechnya is now actively positioning itself not only as a relatively autonomous part of Russia but also as a Muslim center,” said Russian analyst Nikolai Petrov of Carnegie Moscow Center.

Mali

Soldiers looted the presidential palace Thursday in one of the few established democracies in this corner of Africa, hours after ousting Mali’s president just about one month before he was due to leave office anyway. A coup announcement was broadcast on state television. President Amadou Toumani Toure’s whereabouts remained unclear. The mutinous soldiers imposed a nationwide curfew, warning people to stay off the streets until further notice. Land borders were closed, and a flight headed to the capital of Bamako was forced to make a U-turn in the air after the airport closed. The soldiers said they intended to hand over power to an elected government, though it appeared highly unlikely that Malians would head to the polls as scheduled on April 29. More than a dozen candidates were expected to run, though the incumbent was not taking part as he already had served the maximum two terms.

Sudan

Hundreds of thousands of people originating from the mainly Christian, mainly African, South Sudan are effectively being forced out of Sudan, having been stripped of their citizenship. They have until 8 April either to leave the strongly Islamic and Arab northern country or to be treated as foreigners under a regime that is extremely hostile to non-Muslims and non-Arabs. The deadline was announced last month. An estimated 500,000-700,000 people, who are mainly Christians of Southern origin, are affected by the ultimatum. After the South voted to secede in January 2011, Sudan removed citizenship rights from all those of Southern origin.

China

Police in Xinjiang, China raided a house church on Sunday and took more than 70 Christians into custody, China Aid reports. The house church, which has been meeting for nearly 20 years, was stormed by more than 10 officers around 10 p.m.; police announced that the meeting was “unapproved” and “illegal” and ordered an immediate end to it. After forcing each Christian there to be photographed, officials took them to local police stations for questioning, not releasing some for two days. Police also confiscated the Christians’ Bibles, hymnals, notebooks and other materials, but refused to provide a receipt for the confiscated items as required by law. The pastor and his wife who were hosting the meeting were called into the local police station Monday for additional questioning and were threatened by police, who ordered them to stop holding meetings in their home.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan was ranked on the Open Doors 2012 persecution watch list as the world’s No. 7 worst persecutor of Christians, and according to Mission Network News, it has been living up to its ranking so far this year. During the last few months, basic religious rights have been defied multiple times. Last month, police raided an unregistered church, confiscating church property and fining the pastor more than $3,000 — a cost of 100 times the minimum monthly wage. Just a few days before the church raid, police raided a Christian woman’s home, fining her 20 times the minimum monthly wage and handing over her Christian books to the regional Muslim Board. A few weeks later, a Baptist church was also raided and will be fined. The increasing number of raids and fines — routinely used by authorities to confiscate religious material — has many concerned. “It really does seem like Uzbekistan is beginning to step up its campaign against unregistered churches and groups of any kind,” said Joel Griffin of the Slavic Gospel Association. He said it could be an indication of even worse persecution to come; already, numerous pastors have been arrested across central Asia.

Vietnam

A church leader in Vietnam was beaten unconscious with iron bars by a gang of thugs believed to have been hired by the authorities. The attackers had reportedly just been released from prison and apparently have connections with the local authorities, who try to prevent Christian ministers from conducting services and funerals. Such groups are hired to attack church leaders and Christians in Kon Tum province in the central highlands, which the government has declared a “no religion zone”. In a challenge to the authorities, the Bishop of Kon Tum, Michael Hoang Duc Oanh, has announced that he will take an Easter service in the parish where Luy was attacked.

Earthquakes

An earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, cutting electricity and phone service and sending startled residents into the streets from the capital to the Pacific resort city of Acapulco. The magnitude-7.4 quake struck 12 miles below ground, about halfway between Acapulco and the colonial town of Oaxaca. At least 800 homes collapsed in Igualapa, CNN reports. Igualapa is a city of about 10,000 people in the coastal region south of Chilpancingo.

A minor earthquake occurred this week near the eastern Wisconsin city where researchers have been investigating a series of unexplained booming sounds, federal geologists said Thursday. The U.S. Geological Survey said the 1.5-magnitude earthquake struck Tuesday just after midnight in Clintonville, a town of about 4,600 people about 40 miles west of Green Bay. Earthquakes can generate seismic energy that moves through rock at thousands of miles per hour, producing a sonic boom when the waves come to the surface.

Weather

The surreal heat that’s baking much of the central and eastern USA has unleashed an unusually early and intense blast of tree pollen, making life miserable for tens of millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies. Atlanta, for example, smashed an all-time record of 9,369 particles of pollen per cubic meter on Tuesday, coating the city with a thin, yellow layer of pollen. The previous record for Atlanta was about 6,000. Allergists are all reporting patients with severe allergy symptoms, due to the recent warm weather. One of out five Americans — roughly 50 million people — have allergies, says the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. More than 2,000 record high temperatures have been set already this month.

Skiers stripped down to shorts and bikini tops to keep cool Wednesday as they got in a few final sun-drenched, slushy runs, bidding what could be an early goodbye to a season that has disappointed all around. An unprecedented spell of record temperatures soaring into the 80s had New England skiers dodging dirt patches and exposed rocks as melting snow spelled potentially millions in losses for those who make their living off winter tourism and sports. The number of visits at its resorts in the nation’s biggest skiing state is down 7.4 percent so far this season. That represents losses of millions of dollars in revenue for ski resorts, retail stores and hotels.

Agriculture officials say losses from Texas’ historic drought are more than $2 billion more than previously thought. The Texas AgriLife Extension Service now estimates crop and livestock losses at $7.62 billion for 2011. 2011 was the driest year in state history.

Wildfires

Although warmer weather is being embraced by many snow-accustomed residents in the Plains and Upper Midwest, the unseasonably dry conditions have turned the region’s vast grasslands into a tinderbox. Wildfires have already scorched thousands of acres, destroyed rural homes and caused two deaths. Three years of excessive snow and rain fed grass growth before this winter’s relatively light snowpack, which left grass standing 4 or 5-feet tall in some areas dried out — creating perfect fuel for wildfires. Plus, the nice weather is luring people outside. Experts say the majority of grassfires are sparked by humans. Fire warnings were issued Wednesday in North Dakota and Wisconsin because of strong winds and dry conditions, while a burn ban in Minnesota is taking effect Monday.

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