Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old church buildings, like their denominations, are often beyond repair

And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!
And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
Mark 13:1-2

Buffalo, New York is not alone in being home to old and large church buildings built by old and once-large denominations that, like their cities, have declined numerically (often because of apostasy, as in the case of mainline Protestant churches), and/or have moved to the suburbs. As reported by Robert J. McCarthy of the Buffalo News, December 22, 2015:

If things were still like 1928, when St. Matthew’s Catholic Church first opened, thousands of people would pass through its doors at 1066 E. Ferry St. on this Christmas weekend.

But those days are long gone. The once-elegant Romanesque style structure has been abandoned since 2004, and now decays along with other formerly grand houses of worship throughout the city.

At Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, however, Masten Council Member Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. gained approval of a resolution calling for a city task force to study just what to do with long-abandoned and crumbling churches. Wingo’s measure calls St. Matthew’s “battered, forgotten, neglected and open to the elements.”

“We don’t want these places to become havens for vagrants,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting. “We don’t want to wait for something to happen.”

Wingo noted that many closed churches once served as vibrant centers of the community, with Wednesday’s resolution noting that St. Matthew’s was known as a “diverse parish community with a great deal of emphasis being placed on education and compassion for others.”

The Council member noted that the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo closed the church in 1998 and that it was later purchased by the Way Christian Community Church. But he said the congregation was never able to raise enough money for extensive repairs and left.

“You have all these superambitious people think they can do wonders with these superdilapidated buildings,” he said, “until they find out how much it costs.”

St. Ann’s Catholic Church at Broadway and Emslie Street also has become a focus of city attention in recent weeks after the diocese ordered it closed in 2013 in the face of as much as $12 million in needed repairs.

A fence has been installed around the structure to protect passers-by.

Wingo received Council approval to convene Council members, the city Preservation Board, the Office of Strategic Planning, Department of Permit and Inspection Services, the Mayor’s Impact Team and the Law Department to discuss future use of St. Matthew’s and other churches.

“Maybe we could offer assistance with grant writing or something else,” he said. “We want ideas how to reuse them and get them back as the beacons of light and hope they once were.”

Monday, March 28, 2016

An example from Saskatoon of a community service centre masquerading as a Christian church

Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
Matthew 6:1-4

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; II Timothy 4:3

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. II Timothy 3:5

If the Lord Jesus Christ can be removed or omitted from a movement or activity without fundamentally changing it, then the movement or activity isn't in fact Christian. Here is yet another product of the Church Growth Movement's cookie-cutter, as reported by Darlene Polachic of the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, March 12, 2016 (link in original):

Does a church that gives 100 per cent of the offering each Sunday to help the poor and needy sound like a dream?

That’s what’s happening at Connect Church XYE which meets Sunday mornings at 10:30 a.m. at TCU Place.

Three years ago, Rev. Dean Angell was pastoring a church in Toledo, Ohio, when he was approached by some friends of his in business in Saskatoon about starting a unique new Christian church plant. What made the church plant unique was the commitment on the part of the business people to underwrite the cost of running the church so that all offerings could be donated to worthy causes.

After careful consideration, Angell and the financial underwriters agreed to make a three-year commitment. The plant, known as Connect Church YXE, officially kicked off in September of 2013.

“Donating all the money given by the congregation at Sunday services is a significant hallmark of what we’re trying to do here,” Angell says. “Making church that simple is a major shift for everyone.”

Connect Church YXE has three pillars of connection: connect people to God, connect to people, connect to a cause.

People are connected to God primarily through Sunday services.

“We believe that having a meaningful and personal faith walk can be a reality for anyone and everyone, regardless of their past or present circumstances,” Angell says. “We also think church should be the very best place to find that faith.

“We get a lot of first time people coming, people who haven’t been in church much, and we want to make sure those people can walk in the door and learn how to step closer to God in Week 1. We try to engage people on different levels through visual arts and music led by a professional band. It’s fun, it’s loud, very relaxed, with a coffee break in the middle of a service that’s programmed to last 70 minutes or less.”

Between 300 and 400 typically attend Sunday services. A strong children’s ministry runs simultaneously.

Angell says, “The message I preach is Jesus. My goal is to connect Him with where people are at in this city. Some sermon series have been 12-Step focused. Lately, it’s been about managing your life during a downturn. A lot of our people are coming from stress-filled situations.

“It’s my job to help people find faith, which will help them become whole and healthy. We’re a hospital, not a cathedral.”

When offering time comes, Angell says there is power in being able to say, “We need you to be generous today because all the money given is going to The Lighthouse, or some other worthy charity.”

Shelly VanBinsbergen is in charge of the Cause arm of Connect Church YXE. She says the church has a yearly giving plan for each organization it helps. Each charity supported has been a suggestion from the congregation. VanBinsbergen researches each suggestion thoroughly to establish eligibility. The congregation then votes on whether it wants its money to go there.

“Connect Church YXE’s Cause pillar is what hits people most,” VanBinsbergen says. “Giving money to churches has an unsavoury stigma for a lot of people, but our commitment to give all the money collected to a worthy cause has removed people’s fears and reservations about money and church. As well, giving this way allows them to engage physically in the action.”

As a result, many volunteer hours are being connected to the financial giving, with people from the congregation helping out the various recipient organizations.

Angell says, with a less-programmed church, instead of people volunteering for church programs, they’re encouraged to go to The Lighthouse or The Bridge and volunteer there.

Volunteering as a church initiative removes a lot of barriers that might keep people from walking into these places on their own to help, VanBinsbergen says. “It might be social barriers, or perhaps fear, or maybe time constraints, but going with a group can help address these things, and allow the person to take that first step.”

Locally, YXE makes donations to the Friendship Inn, The Lighthouse, Youth For Christ, and The Bridge. Every Thanksgiving, the church holds its service at The Lighthouse.

Connect YXE also supports international organizations like Hands at Work: Africa, Canadian Humanitarian: Ethiopia, Place of Rescue: Cambodia, International Justice Mission: Worldwide, Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and Food for the Hungry.

Connect Church YXE frequently sends mission teams to work with the various international groups.

“In the churches where I’ve worked previously, missions happened, but nothing like this one,” Angell says. “In two and a half years, we’ve done six or seven missions trip. We’re building it into the DNA of the church.

“Service,” he says, “is what we do the rest of the week as Christians.”

To learn more, visit http://www.connectchurchyxe.com.
When you go to the church website, you find this list of Values – Our Big Ten:

1. Simple - we keep the message of Jesus uncomplicated and the organization of the church simple

2. Inclusive - everyone is welcome at connect, our desire is to include and value all people

3. Over Balanced - we attract people who normally don’t “do” church by keeping an over-balanced focus on those who are searching for God

4. Generous - 100% of money raised at Connect is given directly to charities to support those in great need

5. Excellent - we do our best to be well-prepared and well-presented publicly and organizationally

6. Real - we are totally honest about who we are…the good, the bad, the ugly, and the money

7. Involved - we engage with the community where we live, involvement is encouraged and modeled

8. Relational - we place a high value on developing deep meaningful friendships

9. Resourced - we value your growth and put significant time and energy into resourcing those who desire to work on their own spiritual development

10. Fun - we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we do laugh a lot as we enjoy every minute of doing church
I particularly like #3--they're "over balanced," all right--"over balanced" in favour of the Peter Drucker-influenced paradigm of having the church meet the "felt needs" of "people tho normally don't 'do' church." A true Christian church is an assembly of believers, not unbelievers. I'm always suspicious of those who claim to be "totally honest," but maybe that's just me--I am a suspicious person. And I'm sick of churches who make "fun" a priority--fun isn't mentioned in the Bible as a Christian "value."

The charities mentioned in the newspaper article sound generally Christian, and many of the activities mentioned on the news page of the church website sound like acts of Christian compassion, but what cause is Connect Church YXE supporting this week (link in original)?

This Easter Sunday, we are taking a special one day offering for Ronald McDonald House Saskatoon.

When children are sick Ronald McDonald House Charities Saskatchewan gives them what they need most... their families by providing a "home-away-from-home" for them. We truly believe that having family by their side during an illness improves the health and well being of the child.

Through the doors of Ronald McDonald House Charities Saskatchewan, you will find families struggling with a child's fragile health, celebrating the healing of their sick child while at the same time dealing with the routine necessities of everyday life.

You can donate to Ronald McDonald House on Sunday, March 27th knowing that 100% of your donation will go directly to the organization.

We will also have opportunities for you to sign up on Sunday to prepare and serve dinner at the house for the families staying there.
I have nothing against Ronald McDonald House as a charity, but it's a secular charity that any non-Christian can support without any qualms.

Here's one from June 15, 2015 (bold in original):

Connect to Others, Connect to a Cause ~Hudson's Taphouse June 24th

Burger Bar and Silent Auction

6 - 9 pm


Burger Bar opens at 6:30, Silent Auction bidding begins at 6, ends at 8:45.

Burger Bar with Salad and a Drink ticket for $25 per person with proceeds going to support the team from Connect who are travelling to Zimbabwe with Hands at Work to serve in our partner community of Sukubva.


Since the establishment is a "taphouse," the drink ticket would presumably refer to or include alcoholic drinks.

And what's on tap for the near future? This item was posted on March 15, 2016 (bold, link in original):

Connect to Others, Connect to a Cause - Sunday May 1st, 2016

Heart and Sole
5K Fun Run
in support of the Saskatoon Crisis Nursery

Sunday May 1st
Registration starts at 9:30 A.M. at Village Guitar
432 20th St W
5k Run starts at 10 am
Minimum $20 donation to register

On Sunday May 1st, we will not be holding our regular Sunday services at TCU Place. Instead, we are inviting you to take part in the Heart and Sole Fun Run that we are hosting to raise funds for the Saskatoon Crisis Nursery. We are looking for volunteers and runners - families, individuals, work place teams to participate in this first annual event in support of the Crisis Nursery. If you love to run or walk, this is an easy 5K route along the river in Riversdale.

If you're not a runner or would like to volunteer, we are looking for you! We'd love to have cheering stations along the route, water stations, route marshalls, first aid attendants, bbq'ers and popcorn poppers. We'll be having fun bounce houses and face painting and other great activities on the block in front of Village Guitar and the Underground Cafe on 20th.

Grab your neighbours, coworkers, friends and family and take part in this great morning of fun and community in our city!

Details to follow here and on our Facebook page. Stay tuned! Registration will open soon.

If you'd like to be involved in the planning or volunteer on the day of the race, please email Robyn and Jessi at heartandsolefunrun@gmail.com.
Saskatoon Crisis Nursery sounds like a decent charity, but it's a secular charity. Why do secular charities always seem to hold their fundraising runs on Sunday mornings when church services are taking place? They never advertise runs to be held on Saturday mornings--perhaps because they don't want to interfere with the religion of Mammon worship as people go shopping. The reader will notice that the May 1 Fun Run has an entry fee of $20, so anyone who doesn't have that much or isn't wishing to donate that much can't participate in the run.

What about people who want to go to church on May 1, 2016 and get fed from the word of God? They won't have that opportunity at Connect Church YXE, but if the sermon titles are any indication, they probably wouldn't get fed much, anyway. With titles such as How to Deal with Debt; "Budgeting 101" ; Superbowl Sunday; "20 mile learnings"; and "Make Someone Else's Day", the sermons are more likely to be motivational talks than messages from the word of God.

When you click on Connect Church YXE's Resources link, and then on Personal Growth from the drop-down list, you're presented with a link to Right Now Media, featuring such popular and dubious big names as Bill Hybels, Francis Chan, and Matt Chandler. The link for Counselling & Support provides a list of agencies, most affiliated with evangelical churches, but also including Catholic Family Services.

On the church's Why Connect? page, it says:

...We believe that anyone and everyone can have a meaningful and personal faith walk become a reality in their lives, regardless of their past or present circumstances. We also think that the church should be the very best place for anyone (and everyone) to find that faith.

Especially on Sundays at Connect, we will place a very high priority on passing on Jesus’ message of simple faith in relevant, easily accessible ways, spoken in common, everyday language, with very practical life application. We believe that God really does want to connect with each of you, and we will do our best to not get in the way of that...


Oddly, there's nothing on Connect Church YXE's website that says what that faith is, or what the message of Jesus is. There's no statement of faith or beliefs (although such statements are often followed more in the breach than in the observance), just the list of "Big Ten" values. The trouble with churches such as Connect Church YXE is that you can't serve two masters, and eventually the social gospel--which is a false gospel--will end up displacing the true gospel, as has happened in the mainline churches, and you'll end up with churches "having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Flashback--1938: Economist and churchman Roger Babson anticipates the Church Growth Movement

Students of American economic history may recognize the name of Roger W. Babson. An economist and investment adviser, Mr. Babson was bearish about the stock market in the late 1920s, while the market was still booming. On September 5, 1929, he delivered a luncheon speech at the annual National Business Conference in Boston. Mr. Babson ominously predicted, "Sooner or later a crash is coming which will take in the leading stocks and cause a decline of from 60 to 80 points in the Dow-Jones barometer." Mr. Babson's speech immediately became front page news in the United States, earning him the nickname "The Prophet of Loss." The speech prompted a brief flurry of panic selling, but Yale University Professor Irving Fisher, approached by the New York Herald-Tribune for a response, rebutted Mr. Babson's pessimism, and within hours, the "Babson Break" had been halted, and stock values resumed their climb. Seven weeks after Mr. Babson's address to the National Business Conference, the stock market crashed, as he had predicted. 1

While looking through microfilms of old newspapers, I recently came across the name of Roger W. Babson in another context (assuming it was the same Roger W. Babson--there couldn't have been too many people with that name floating around), in this anonymous article that appeared in The Edmonton Journal, July 16, 1938 (bold in original):

Says Church Membership Must Be Taken Seriously
-----------------------------------
Babson Believes Services Will Be Oftener In Future
----------------------------------
URGES MORE UNITY
------------------------
Considerable interest for Canadian as well as American church people attaches to remarks made by Roger W. Babson, as moderator of the Congregationalist-Christian churches in the United States, at their general council in Beloit, Wis., a few weeks ago. Sounding a note of revolt against some present-day methods in Protestant churches, Mr. Babson made a number of practical suggestions that he believed would be moves toward a more sincere and effective church life.

Too loose conception of the duties and responsibilities of church membership was the first point of Mr. Babson's attack. He deprecated the idea of "once a member, always a member" and thought it probable that in future church members might be asked for "a signed reaffirmation each year, placing on the inactive list those who do not reply." With this, it was suggested, should be a general raising of Christian standards.

Hold More Services

More efficient work in the Sunday schools, with teaching that is both more serious and more applicable to the daily needs of the young folk, was urged by Mr. Babson, who felt a "rebirth of evangelism among the young" to be highly desirable.

"Multiple services" were also recommended as a better way of using the churches' opportunities for public worship. Churches should be open more, the speaker claimed, with perhaps four or five services on Sunday, beginning with morning prayers at 8:30, to be attended by groups, rather than be entire congregations, at the most acceptable hours, and some of them to be for only 20 to 40 minutes. One of the Sunday services, probably that at 9:30 a.m., might be for discussion, and at 5:00 p.m. a vespers service. The minister's service would be given at 11:00 a.m. and repeated at evening worship and at Monday night service. "Smaller groups, more services, and shorter services will be a slogan of the present revolt," said Mr. Babson, adding that "the new assumption will be that each member will attend only one service."

Stop Competition

Other points emphasized were the need of a spirit of real stewardship in the church so that giving money to the church might be made an act of real worship; greater concern among church members about people's economic and social welfare, with a serious effort to cope with the unemployment problem; and a demand for church unity, eliminating wasteful competition between different Protestant denominations.

On the question of unity, Mr. Babson said: "Two things are certain: (1) The coming generation of young people will not stand for the foolish existing divisions of Protestants along creedal lines, with their different names. (2) The tax authorities of states and cities will not long consent to tax exemption on Protestant church property unless it is kept open at all times. There will be a movement to exempt such property only in proportion to the hours per week it is used. These two factors will force the closing of 50 per cent to 70 per cent of present church buildings and the elimination of meaningless different denominational names."
As far as I know, Mr. Babson was wrong on his last point about the tax authorities, but he was remarkably prescient in most of his recommendations: smaller groups; multiple and shorter services; emphasis on visible organizational unity and what might come under the umbrella of the "social gospel;" and an annual "signed reaffirmation," which sounds like the unbiblical "membership covenants" that Rick Warren brought in at Saddleback Community Church and have spread to other churches like a virus. All of these things are characteristic of the Church Growth Movement, and were recommended by Roger Babson, with his background in business, decades before they became standard evangelical church business practices under the influence of Donald McGavran, Peter Wagner, Peter Drucker, Bill Hybels, and Rick Warren. For further reading on the Church Growth Movement, I recommend searching the blogs Herescope and Lighthouse Trails Research Project.

Next to the article in the Journal was a photograph of a man, with the caption:

Rev. Dr. Charles Stelzle of New York, who recently suggested that the churches ought in the present financial situation to pay 25 per cent of the taxes from which they are legally exempt, as an acknowledgment of their "civic and social responsibility." He estimated that in his own city this would amount to about one dollar a year for each communicant member."

I don't know who Rev. Dr. Stelzle was, but I do know this: his suggestion was a bad idea, although it probably sounds appealing to virtue-signalling cuckservative churches of the type that adopt "Serve the World" as part of their slogans. Never voluntarily give up your rights to the state; you're not likely to ever get back any rights you've surrendered, and the state is likely to then take that surrender as the starting point for further erosion of your rights.
==================================
1. Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts, The Day the Bubble Burst, 1979, pp. 267-270, 277.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Seattle scam artist ordered to shut down "pay for prayer" website and repay almost $7.75 million to bilked consumers

Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. Isaiah 56:7

And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;
And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.
And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.
Mark 11:15-17

As reported by Samuel Connelly of Wichita Christian Faith & Culture Examiner, March 17, 2016 (links in original):

SEATTLE – Pastor John Carlson of Christian Prayer Center (CPC) was ordered Wednesday, to take down his prayer website and repay nearly $7,750,000 to approximately 165,000 unwitting customers nationwide who were deceived into paying for prayers from fictional ministries and fabricated pastors.

According to the statement released by Washington State’s, Office of the Attorney General (AGO), Attorney General Bob Ferguson called a stop to the deceptive business practice that had not only fabricated names for nonexistent pastors, but had also created false testimonials using stock photos on their website.

Benjamin Rogovy, the real name of the man behind the masks, offered to pray for those who shared their prayer needs on his websites, christianprayercenter.com and oracioncristiana.org, for a fee ranging between $9 and $35 for his services. The websites claimed that whenever Pastor John Carlson prayed for people, they got whatever they wanted including, winning lottery tickets, negative HIV tests, healthy babies, and even saving homes from foreclosure. The problem with these testimonies where that they were all made up. The testimonies. The stories. Even the names of the pastors were fabricated.

The Christian Post, reported that the websites claimed that they were more effective at answering prayers than small prayer groups since they had an online network of thousands of people that would receive consumer’s prayers:

“Local churches and small group prayer lists have been a wonderful way to share the blessings of prayer, but these methods are limited in their ability to rally the true power of thousands of voices all praying in agreement. The Internet has enabled us to build a massive congregation to lift your prayer requests to a whole new level...”

...According to Ferguson, “Rogovy and the CPC created fake religious leaders and posted false testimonials in order to attract consumers. The CPC claimed that “Pastor John Carlson” solely ran the sites. It would send weekly inspirational emails to consumers under the pastor’s name, and even created a fake LinkedIn profile that described the Pastor’s experience as “Senior Pastor, Christian Prayer Center, January 2009 — present.” CPC also used the name “Pastor Eric Johnston” to sign consumer correspondence. Neither of these people exist.”

Further investigation into the websites by the AGO revealed a “deliberately confusing webpage to lock consumers into reoccurring payments.” According to the investigation once a person logged into the site and paid for their prayer they were transferred to another page that asked them if they wanted to continue to receive blessings. When the unsuspecting person agreed, in would enter their information into a data base to be charged monthly fees.

“…the websites used a deliberately confusing webpage to lock consumers into recurring monthly payments. The AGO investigation found that once consumers submitted and paid for a prayer request, they were directed to a Web page that gave them the option to receive “continued blessings.” The information was presented in a confusing manner and inadequately disclosed that the charges would reoccur until the consumer cancelled.”

Looking at the Christian Prayer Center Facebook page you wouldn’t think there was anything suspect about this ministry. It encourages their million plus followers with daily prayer posters and memes while offering a place for people to share their prayer needs. An excerpt from the ‘General Information’ on the ‘About’ section of their Facebook:

“Please note that we exist online only. We provide this Facebook group as a free service to our members, as well as the ability to use our website for free to read prayer requests of others. Any voluntary payments made to post prayer requests on our website are not tax-deductible.” CPC's Facebook page turned out to be just one of the ways the business lured people with prayer needs to their website where at least 165,000 were duped into entering a credit card number.

Rogovy had also created another for-profit entity online called “Christian National Church” pastored by the fictional, Pastor Parker Robinson.” District Attorney Ferguson said Rogovy used the same deceptive tactics to draw desperate people into his scam.

As part of an agreement announced Thursday in court, Rogovy must return all the money to eligible consumers. In addition, the court ordered the businessman to: Stop all unfair and deceptive business practices; clearly present and disclose payment information; pay $500,000 and attorney costs and enforcement fees; and be subject to $1,000,000 in civil penalties that are suspended as long as terms of the agreement aren’t violated...

...If you have been taken advantage of, or, if you know someone who has been taken advantage of by Christian Prayer Center or Oracion Cristiana at any time beginning in July 1, 2011, you must file a complaint with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office by June 12, 2016.

You can file your complaint HERE.

British scholar raises the question of whether Jesus was nailed or tied to the cross

Meredith J.C. Warren, Lecturer in Biblical and Religious Studies at the University of Sheffield, wrote the following article, published in the Internet publication The Conversation, March 16, 2016 (bold in original, links inserted by blogger):

Was Jesus really nailed to the cross?

Jesus’s crucifixion is probably one of the most familiar images to emerge from Christianity. Good Friday, one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar, marks the event. But what was crucifixion? And why was Jesus killed that way?

Crucifixion was a Roman method of punishment. Suspended from a large cross, a victim would eventually die from asphyxiation or exhaustion – it was long, drawn-out, and painful. It was used to publicly humiliate slaves and criminals (not always to kill them), and as an execution method was usually reserved for individuals of very low status or those whose crime was against the state. This is the reason given in the Gospels for Jesus’s crucifixion: as King of the Jews, Jesus challenged Roman imperial supremacy (Matt 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19–22).

Crucifixion could be carried out in a number of ways. In Christian tradition, nailing the limbs to the wood of the cross is assumed, with debate centring on whether nails would pierce hands or the more structurally sound wrists. But Romans did not always nail crucifixion victims to their crosses, and instead sometimes tied them in place with rope. In fact, the only archaeological evidence for the practice of nailing crucifixion victims is an ankle bone from the tomb of Jehohanan, a man executed in the first century CE.

So was Jesus nailed to the cross?

Gospel accounts

Some early Gospels, such as the Gospel of Thomas, don’t include the narrative of Jesus’s crucifixion, choosing instead to focus on his teaching. But Jesus’s death by crucifixion is one of the things that all four canonical Gospels agree on. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all include the crucifixion event in their own slightly different ways.

None of the Gospels in the New Testament mentions whether Jesus was nailed or tied to the cross. However, the Gospel of John reports wounds in the risen Jesus’s hands. It is this passage, perhaps, that has led to the overwhelming tradition that Jesus’s hands and feet were nailed to the cross, rather than tied to it.

The Gospel of Peter, a non-canonical gospel from the first or second century CE, specifically describes in verse 21 how after Jesus had died, the nails were removed from his hands. The Gospel of Peter also famously includes the cross itself as an active character in the Passion narrative. In verses 41-42 the cross speaks, responding with its own voice to God: “And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’” Tradition is clearly of paramount importance to this text.

Over the past few years, several people have claimed to have found the actual nails with which Jesus was crucified. Each time, biblical scholars and archaeologists have rightly pointed out the assumptions and misinterpretations of evidence behind these claims. Curiously, this fixation on the nails persists, despite the fact that the earliest gospels make no mention of Jesus being nailed to the cross.

Depictions of the crucifixion

It isn’t surprising that Christians took a while to embrace the image of Christ on the cross, given that crucifixion was a humiliating way to die. What is surprising is what the earliest image of the crucifixion turns out to be. Rather than the devotional icons with which we are familiar – pictures that glorify Jesus’s death – this earliest image appears to be some late second-century graffiti mocking Christians.

Called the Alexamenos Graffito, the image shows a figure with the head of a donkey on a cross with the words: “Alexamenos worships his God.” This was apparently a common accusation in antiquity, as Minucius Felix(Octavius 9.3; 28.7) and Tertullian (Apology 16.12) both attest. Since the graffito was clearly not made by a Christian, this image suggests that non-Christians were familiar with some core elements of Christian belief as early as the second century.

Gemstones, some used for magical purposes, also provide some of our earliest depictions of the crucified Jesus. This second or third century piece of carved jasper depicts a man on a cross surrounded by magic words.

Another very early image of the crucifixion is found carved into the face of a carnelian gemstone made into a ring.

Scholars think that the Constanza gemstone, as it is known, dates from the fourth century CE. In this depiction, Jesus’s hands do not appear to be nailed to the cross, since they fall naturally, as if he is tied at the wrists.

Since the evidence from antiquity doesn’t provide a clear answer as to whether Jesus was nailed or tied to his cross, it’s tradition that dictates this common depiction. Those who have seen the film The Passion of the Christ will recall how much time the director, Mel Gibson, devoted just to the act of nailing Jesus onto the cross —- almost five whole minutes.

Given the relative silence on the act of crucifixion in the Gospels, this stands out as a graphic expansion. One of the only films that does not assume that crucifixion involved nails is Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which shows multiple crucifixion victims, though not Jesus, tied to their crosses.

Eventually, Emperor Constantine put an end to crucifixion as a method of execution, not for ethical reasons, but out of respect for Jesus. But in the end, it is the enduring image of the cross, and not the matter of whether nails or ropes were used, that most firmly evokes the death of Jesus in art and tradition.
The question as to whether or not the Lord Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross is legitimate, but Professor Warren should be more thorough in reading the Bible before saying that "evidence from antiquity doesn’t provide a clear answer as to whether Jesus was nailed or tied to his cross." In fact, scripture does provide evidence that Jesus was nailed to the cross (real scripture, that is; the "Gospels" of Thomas and Peter should be ignored as the postbiblical and unbiblical forgeries they are).

From the Old Testament we have Psalm 22, universally acknowledged as a messianic prophecy:

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels...
...For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
Psalms 22:14, 16

Then there's Zechariah 12:10:

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.

While some might say that this is referring to Jesus' side being pierced by a spear after His death (John 19:34), the passage in Zechariah is addressed to "the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem," which would indicate that the piercing being referred to is the crucifixion. The spear that pierced Jesus' side after his death was wielded by a Roman soldier, and is thus not a fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10.

In the New Testament, we have the first post-resurrection encounter between the Lord and Thomas in John 20:24-29:

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.


It's worth noting that when Thomas said that he wouldn't believe until he saw the nail prints in Jesus' hands (and the wrist was regarded as part of the hand), none of the other disciples told him that there were no nail prints to be seen. As for the lack of mention of the nails in the Gospel narratives of the crucifixion, the writers, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote with the belief that the reader would understand that crucifixion referred to nailing, and would have otherwise noted the distinction. And of course, Jesus showed Thomas His hands, and the evidence was enough to dispel all of Thomas's doubts.

In Acts 2:23, Peter accuses the Jews of crucifying Jesus; where the King James Version uses the phrase "crucified and slain," the New International Version uses the phrase "put him to death by nailing him to the cross." The New American Standard Bible rendition of this verse also states that He was "nailed to a cross."

In Colossians, Paul is writing about the believer's new identity in Christ:

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
Colossians 2:13-14

Most important, it must be kept in mind that "without the shedding of blood is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). In order to pay the penalty for our sins, Jesus had to die in a manner that involved the shedding of His blood; anything less wouldn't have satisfied His Father's requirements of justice. Indeed, Jesus declared that He had accomplished what He set out to do when He said just before He died, "It is finished" (John 19:30), an accounting term meaning "paid in full." As an aside, please note that Jesus was on the cross when He announced that He had paid the debt in full, contrary to heretical "faith" teachers who claim that Jesus had to go to Hell to finish His mission.

The efficacious death of Jesus on the cross is prefigured in the Old Testament by such ordinances as the Passover (Exodus 12:1-27, 43-49)--where God promised to pass over houses where He saw the blood (Exodus 12:13)--and the sin offering (Leviticus 9:1-9), where the blood that wasn't put on the horns of the altar was to be poured out (Leviticus 9:9).

Given the biblical evidence, we can confidently state that the Lord Jesus Christ was indeed nailed to the cross.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

50 years ago: Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI sign the Common Declaration

On March 24, 1966, Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey and Pope Paul VI concluded their two-day summit at the Vatican--where the Pope presented the Archbishop with the episcopal (bishop's) ring he had worn as Archbishop of Milan--by signing:

The Common Declaration by Pope Paul VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

Rome, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, 24 March 1966

In this city of Rome, from which Saint Augustine was sent by Saint Gregory to England and there founded the cathedral see of Canterbury, towards which the eyes of all Anglicans now turn as the centre of their Christian Communion, His Holiness Pope Paul VI and His Grace Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, representing the Anglican Communion, have met to exchange fraternal greetings.

At the conclusion of their meeting they give thanks to Almighty God Who by the action of the Holy Spirit has in these latter years created a new atmosphere of Christian fellowship between the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches of the Anglican Communion.

This encounter of the 23 March 1966 marks a new stage in the development of fraternal relations, based upon Christian charity, and of sincere efforts to remove the causes of conflict and to re-establish unity.

In willing obedience to the command of Christ who bade His disciples love one another, they declare that, with His help, they wish to leave in the hands of the God of mercy all that in the past has been opposed to this precept of charity, and that they make their own the mind of the Apostle which he expressed in these words: ‘Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil 3:13-14).

They affirm their desire that all those Christians who belong to these two Communions may be animated by these same sentiments of respect, esteem and fraternal love, and in order to help these develop to the full, they intend to inaugurate between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion a serious dialogue which, founded on the Gospels and on the ancient common traditions, may lead to that unity in truth, for which Christ prayed.

The dialogue should include not only theological matters such as Scripture, Tradition and Liturgy, but also matters of practical difficulty felt on either side. His Holiness the Pope and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury are, indeed, aware that serious obstacles stand in the way of a restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life; nevertheless, they are of one mind in their determination to promote responsible contacts between their Communions in all those spheres of Church life where collaboration is likely to lead to a greater understanding and a deeper charity, and to strive in common to find solutions for all the great problems that face those who believe in Christ in the world of today.

Through such collaboration, by the Grace of God the Father and in the light of the Holy Spirit, may the prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ for unity among His disciples be brought nearer to fulfilment, and with progress towards unity may there be a strengthening of peace in the world, the peace that only He can grant Who give ‘the peace that passeth all understanding’, together with the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that it may abide with all men for ever.

+Michael Cantuarensis
Paulus PP. VI
The prayer for unity uttered by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 17 is for unity in spirit and truth, not an organizational unity. It should be noted that about 300 Christians were martyred in England during the reign of Queen Mary I from 1553-1558 for holding to the Bible as the only authority of faith and practice, and rejecting Roman Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation--and the Roman Catholic Church has never repudiated any of those doctrines. The "serious obstacles" referred to in the Declaration include not just teachings and practices of the Roman Catholic Church that are too numerous to mention here, but several of the Articles of Religion of the Church of England, published in 1562, which oppose some of those Roman Catholic doctrines and practices. The articles include:

XI. Of the Justification of Man

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

XIX. Of the Church

The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

XX. Of the Authority of the Church

The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

XXII. Of Purgatory

The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

XXVIII. Of the Lord's Supper

The Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

XXXI. Of the one Oblation of Christ finished upon the Cross

The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

XXXII. Of the Marriage of Priests

Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

XXXVII. Of the Civil Magistrates

...The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England...
Notwithstanding the "serious obstacles stand[ing] in the way of a restoration of complete communion of faith and sacramental life," the march toward that full organizational unity under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church has continued down that one-way street to apostasy over the last 50 years. Events such as the Church of England's decisions to allow women to become priests and, more recently, bishops, have resulted in many traditionally-minded Anglicans in England and other countries, whose faith would more accurately be termed "churchianity" than "Christianity" defecting to the Roman Catholic Church. Full organizational unity among the Roman Catholic Church, Church of England, and other like-minded churches, is only a matter of time, as the Bible's prophecies of apostasy in the last days prior to the return of the Lord Jesus Christ are increasingly fulfilled.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fans of Catholic high school basketball team in suburban Boston shout "You killed Jesus" at Jewish players of opposing team

Another magic moment for multiculturalism, as reported by Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post, March 12, 2016:

BOSTON — An ugly thing happened at a high school basketball game in a suburb of Boston Friday night.

It occurred at a division title game between the all-boys Catholic Memorial School and the public Newton North High School, which has a large Jewish community of students. The game was held at Newton South High School, where an estimated 100 young men sitting in the student section cheering for Catholic Memorial shouted, “You killed Jesus, you killed Jesus,” according to several witnesses who asked not to be identified. Most of those chanting fans wore red shirts as a display of support for their team. Some of the witnesses, who were Jewish, said they found the chant alarming.

Brendan C. Hall, high school sports editor for ESPNBoston, and some other people tweeted about what happened:

Dirty Dan
‎‎@Dtf617

Probably craziest high school chant ever

Newton North fans chant: "sausage fest, sausage fest"

CM fans response: "You killed Jesus"
7:03 PM - 11 Mar 2016

Brendan C. Hall ✔
‎‎@BHallESPN

I am serious. MIAA should consider fining schools whose fans use hate speech. I'm sick of dealing with these stories https://twitter.com/
mlmcclin/status/708486051522846720 …
8:00 PM - 11 Mar 2016

Brendan C. Hall ✔
‎‎@BHallESPN

Credit to the CM administration absolutely scolding its fans. Made every fan apologize to the Newton North principal just now.
6:58 PM - 11 Mar 2016

Matt McClintock
‎‎@mlmcclin

If you chant "You Killed Jesus" to a predominantly Jewish school you're gonna have a bad time. https://twitter.com/bhallespn/stat
us/708472155655290880 …
7:53 PM - 11 Mar 2016


“Sausage fest” — the phrase used in a chant by Newton fans — is a crude reference to the fact that the Catholic school is only for boys. Newton North, a public high school with more than 1,700 students, is in an affluent suburb just west of Boston; Catholic Memorial, the Christian Brothers School of Boston, is a college-preparatory school for boys in grades 7 through 12 about six miles away in West Roxbury, a neighborhood of Boston that borders Newton. The school’s website says that it “transforms boys’ lives and prepares them for college and the world.”

One spectator who was shaken by the events — and who asked not to be identified — is a native of Skokie, Ill., where in the mid-1970s, a controversy erupted when neo-Nazis wanted to march through the heavily Jewish town. Skokie officials tried to stop it but lost the case in court. This spectator, whose parents are survivors of World War II concentration camps, said, “I can’t believe it,” she said. “I just can’t believe it.”

This week Cardinal Seán Patrick O’Malley, the Catholic archbishop of Boston, gave a speech to representatives of the Jewish community to mark the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the 1965 document that revolutionized Catholic-Jewish relations and made clear for the first time that the Catholic Church rejects any form of anti-Semitism.

The two schools’ basketball teams were evenly matched going into the playoff game; Newton North was 22-3 and Catholic Memorial was 21-2.According to ESPNBoston.com, Catholic Memorial won Friday night’s game, 77-73, to advance to the EMass Final, scheduled for Monday at TD Garden, where the Boston Celtics play.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Aboriginal bishops in Anglican Church of Canada invoke "colonial occupation" in opposition to same-sex marriage

Aboriginal bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada seem to be as liberal as their brethren when it comes to the acceptance of sodomites and lesbians as "Christians," but even they can't go as far as the white liberals in the church when it comes to "marriage." As reported by Sue Bailey of Canadian Press, March 9, 2016:

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Indigenous bishops within the Anglican Church of Canada say they will resist having Western values imposed on them, arguing aboriginal voices are being lost in a “very strained” internal debate over same-sex marriage.

“It is no longer acceptable to impose Western cultural questions and approaches on our societies,” the bishops say in a statement to the church body studying the question. It was delivered Aug. 7, but received little notice until a Newfoundland and Labrador radio station, VOCM, reported on it this week.

“We absolutely reserve the right to make these choices and decisions, now and forever, on our own terms and in our own way.”

The church’s governing body will vote on same-sex marriage in July, but officials say it appears unlikely there will be the support required to change its rules to allow it.

Last month, Bishop Geoff Peddle of eastern Newfoundland suggested on a local radio show that much of the resistance comes from aboriginal bishops.

But Most Rev. Fred Hiltz, primate of the Canadian wing of the church, said many others in the Canadian house of bishops also hold “a conservative view” of marriage.

On Wednesday, Peddle said in an interview he wasn’t singling out one group of bishops. He said he was trying to express that all points of view — from indigenous and other members such as the gay and lesbian community — must be heard.

“I don’t know how we can move forward on this, or make a change, if we can’t all feel that we’re moving together. And if some people say we need a little more time, then I hear them.”

The August statement was signed by three indigenous bishops: Adam Halkett in Saskatchewan, Lydia Mamakwa in northern Ontario and Mark MacDonald, the national indigenous bishop. None was available this week to comment on what the statement describes as “a dangerously complex cross-cultural discussion.”

It stresses the acceptance of gay and lesbian people as “brothers, sisters, children and elders.”

“There is no place for hatred and separation in indigenous communities and, especially, in indigenous Christian communities.”

Still, the bishops emphasize there is disagreement among their own members and elders about same-sex marriage. It’s also difficult to decipher past practice due to “the widespread and deep destruction of our history and traditions by colonial occupation,” says the statement.

“At present, we do not hear our concerns and approach in either side of this very strained discussion,” it says.

“Our understanding of marriage appears to be quite different from the dominating society and both sides of this discussion within it.”

At issue is a resolution toward changing the church’s canon or rules to allow same-sex marriage. Two-thirds support are required from each of the three main groups — bishops, clergy and laity — during two meetings held three years apart.

The resolution will be on the agenda in July when the General Synod, the Anglican Church of Canada’s highest governing party, gathers all three groups in Toronto.

Communications director Meghan Kilty said local bishops can already offer blessings for gay and lesbian unions.

“What is different is this is a canonical change so, theologically, the church’s understanding of what marriage is,” she said from Toronto. “And that’s a huge ethical, theological understanding which some people wrestle with.”

The broader group of Anglican bishops said in a statement last week the required two-thirds support among its 45 members was unlikely. There are four aboriginal bishops.

It did not specify concerns raised by the three indigenous bishops last August. But it referred to “deep differences” that have some members of the group feeling “mortified and devastated.”

A federal bill passed in 2005 legalized same-sex marriage in Canada but also protected religious freedoms.

Two years earlier, the United Church of Canada endorsed same-sex marriage after an emotional debate and urged Ottawa to legally recognize it. Local congregations were free to adopt the national stance or make their own marriage policies, said Right Rev. Jordan Cantwell, the church’s national moderator.

“Those are very difficult conversations,” she said from Toronto. “One of the things we strived to do is create a space that is respectful of one another, where it’s safe to disagree.”

A key difference is that the Anglican Church of Canada is part of a global entity dealing with this question, Cantwell said.

The Anglican communion based in the Church of England, with about 85 million members worldwide, has fractured in recent decades over women’s ordination and same-sex marriage. The Episcopal Church — the U.S.-based Anglican body — voted last year to authorize gay weddings in their churches. Members in other countries such as South Africa and Brazil have also said they’re open to the idea.
See also the articles from VOCM:
Aboriginal Gay Marriage Stigma Came from Church Doctrine, Not Other Way Around: Advocate (March 4, 2016)

For Indigenous Anglicans, Gay Marriage a Colonialism Issue: Bishops (March 7, 2016)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Five young Chinese women arrive in Israel to make aliyah

1And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee,
And shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
That then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee.
If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
Deuteronomy 30:1-5

As reported by Alexander J. Apfel of Tazpit News Service, February 29, 2016:

Five Chinese women, descended from the medieval Jewish community of Kaifeng, are set to arrive in Israel on Monday. The women, Gao Yichen (“Weiwei”), Yue Ting, Li Jing, Li Yuan, and Li Chengjin (“Lulu”), have studied Hebrew and Judaism to prepare themselves for their journey, as they return to the heritage of their ancestors.

Upon their arrival, the five women will visit the Western Wall before making their way to Midreshet Nishmat – The Jeanie Schottenstein Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, where they will prepare for their official conversion to Judaism under the auspices of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.

The women will live in the seminary until the completion of their conversion, after which they will receive Israeli citizenship.

Kaifeng’s Jewish community is believed to have been founded by Iraqi or Persian Jewish merchants in the eighth or ninth century. A synagogue was erected there in 1163 that still stands today. According to estimates, the community consisted of up to 5,000 Jews during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) but decreased to 500-1000 due to wide-scale assimilation and intermarriage.

According to Michael Freund, chairman of the Shavei Israel organization responsible for bringing the women to Israel, the Kaifeng community was similar to other Jewish communities except that it did not suffer anti-Semitism.

“As a result, beginning perhaps in the 18th century, a process of assimilation and intermarriage began to settle in. Then, the last rabbi of Kaifeng passed away 200 years ago, and the synagogue was rendered unfit for use when a series of floods struck the city in the 19th century,” Freund told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).

However, Freund said that close to 1,000 remain who are identifiable as descendants of the Jewish community and who have shown increasing interest in learning about Judaism and their heritage. Such interest has enabled Freund’s organization to bring many Chinese to Israel, the last group of seven men arriving in October 2009.

Freund further explained that around 25 years ago, Jews were given the option of registering either as regular Han Chinese or, for unknown reasons, as Muslims. “Many opted to register as Muslims since this enabled them to have more than one child, but they are still identifiable as descendants of Jews even if some of them have nothing to do with Judaism,” Freund said.

“Being part of the Jewish people is an honor because of the heritage and wisdom,” said Li Jing, who on a previous visit put a note of prayer in the Kotel asking to return and live in Israel. “Now, my prayer has been answered,” she said.
Funny, they don't look Jewish.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Roman Catholic priest in Northern Ireland is caught on video, snorting cocaine--in his apartment full of Nazi memorabilia

A night of jocularity in the life of a Roman Catholic priest in Northern Ireland--and wouldn't you know it, by horrible coincidence, the only time in his life he uses drugs, he gets caught on video. At least he wasn't molesting boys. Whatever happened to the kind of priest that Pat O'Brien and Bing Crosby used to play in the movies?

As reported by Ruth Warrander of the Dublin newspaper The Irish Sun, February 28, 2016:

AN IRISH priest has been caught on camera snorting a line of cocaine at a party in his house on church grounds.

Father Stephen Crossan, 37, was seen sniffing a large line of the drug through a note while chatting to a pal in a room full of Nazi memorabilia.

He places a cigarette in an ashtray and seems to say “I shouldn’t” before snorting white powder off a plate in a video obtained by the Irish Sun on Sunday.

The respected Father’s drug use came at the end of a two-day bender that ended with him inviting friends back to his parish home.

Crossan has admitted taking drugs. He confessed: “It was just the one night and that was it. I do not have an issue with drugs.”

A source said revellers went back to Fr Crossan’s home at 11am for seven hours after they had been asked to leave another house party.

They were shocked to see Nazi memorabilia including flags, hats and a Maltese falcon on a plinth on his mantelpiece.

A source said: “Stephen said he was a social worker but told us the truth when we realised he lived on church grounds.

“He had been drinking beers and Jack Daniels as well as taking coke.

“The house was really lovely, with plush carpets and antique furniture everywhere.

“But we were pretty stunned to see all the Nazi stuff everywhere — badges, hats and flags. He showed me all these pins — there must have been about a hundred badges.

“It was all over the house, it reminded me of that Nazi room in Father Ted — I told him that and he laughed it off.

“At one point Stephen put on a cap and did the Nazi salute but he was just messing around.”

The source continued: “There was a big rail of all of his gowns — we tried some of them on and danced about.
As reported by BBC News, March 1, 2016:

Police have begun an investigation after footage emerged of a Catholic priest caught on video snorting what appeared to be cocaine.

Fr Stephen Crossan is reported to have snorted coke through a £10 note during a night of drinking in July 2015 in Banbridge, County Down.

He was in a room containing Nazi memorabilia, and seemed to say "I shouldn't" as he snorted, the Sun on Sunday reported.

He has taken leave from the priesthood.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said: "Police are aware of the article in a Sunday newspaper and are making inquiries."

The bishop of Dromore said in a statement that he had no knowledge of the incident.

It allegedly occurred in the parochial house last July after a party.

The Sun on Sunday said it happened at what was then Fr Crossan's parish home in the grounds of St Patrick's Church, Banbridge, in July 2015.

Father Crossan told the newspaper that he took the drugs but said: "It was just the one night and that was it."

A source said that a group went to Fr Crossan's home after a party and found Nazi memorabilia including flags, hats and an eagle with a swastika on a plinth on his mantelpiece.

In his defence, Fr Crossan told the paper that he was not a Nazi and that he collected historical items from every country.

He said he had been on sick leave with depression at the time of the video and that he had since left the Church but was being backed by the parish.

In his statement, Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey said that Fr Crossan had asked for and been granted leave from his pastoral duties at Seapatrick parish in May 2015. He said he had been receiving counselling and was considering his future.

At the start of February 2016, the statement said that the priest had asked for an extended leave of absence from the priesthood.

Bishop McAreavey said he was concerned for the priest's health.

Fr Crossan is no longer living at the parochial house.

1,700-year-old gravestones of unknown rabbis have been discovered in northern Israel

As reported by Michael Bachner of Tazpit Press Service, February 2, 2016:

Three ancient gravestone epitaphs written in Aramaic and in Greek were recently uncovered in the Galilee region in northern Israel. The people commemorated in two of the inscriptions are described as rabbis, but their exact names and identities have yet to be identified by further research.

The two epitaphs end with the Hebrew greeting word “shalom” (meaning ‘hello’ or ‘peace’). The Greek inscription mentions the name “Jose,” which at the time had been a very common name among Jews in Israel and in the diaspora.

The gravestones were buried in the western part of the cemetery of the Jewish community of Zippori in the Lower Galilee region, which was a major Jewish city in ancient times. The information that ultimately led to the discovery originally came from residents of the community.

The excavation was conducted by researchers from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology in Kinneret College, and from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).

“One of the surprises in the newly uncovered inscriptions is that one of the people buried is nicknamed as ‘The Tiberian’,” said Dr. Motti Aviam from the Kinneret College. “This is the second case of a person from Tiberias buried in the Zippori cemetery. Perhaps Jews from all around the Galilee chose to be buried in Zippori due to Judah the Prince’s important activities in the city.”

Judah the Prince, nicknamed simply ‘Rabbi’, was the chief redactor of the Jewish Mishnah (the first major work of Rabbinic literature) and he lived in Zippori during the Roman occupation. Zippori was the first capital of the Galilee region in Hasmonean times, until Tiberias was founded in the first century CE.

The city was a bustling Jewish center as indicated by the many artifacts discovered in the city, including Jewish ritual baths (mikveh) and 17 epitaphs, mostly in Aramaic which had been the spoken language among Jews at the time. Some of them also spoke and wrote in Greek.

“The significance of the gravestones lies in the fact they reflect the daily life of Jews in Zippori and their culture 1,700 years ago,” said Dr. Aviam.

“One of the inscriptions features the Hebrew word ‘leolam’ (meaning ‘forever’), for the first time in Zippori,” he added. “The word is known from epitaphs in other locations, and means in this context that their burial place shall remain his forever, without anyone robbing it from them.”

The inscriptions will be researched further, and the researchers believe that more research will likely produce new discoveries. The IAA and the Kinneret College also stated that the gravestones will be on display for the general public.

Israeli boy on hike finds 3,400-year-old Canaanite figurine

As reported by Michael Bachner of Tazpit News Service, February 28, 2016:

A seven-year-old child recently discovered an ancient female figurine at the Tel Rehov archeological site in northern Israel. The figurine is estimated to be one of the Teraphim, idolatrous statues used during Biblical times.

Ori Greenhut, from the community of Tel Teomim, went on a hike with friends at the beginning of the week accompanied by the father of one of his friends. While climbing the archeological mound in Tel Rehov, Ori came across a stone that had been moved and suddenly saw a small figure covered in mud. He scraped off the mud and discovered the clay figurine.

“Ori came home with an impressive figurine and it was really exciting,” said Moriya Greenhut, Ori’s mother. “We explained to him that it is an antiquity and that the Antiquities Authority keeps the findings for the benefit of the general public.”

The Greenhut family gave the figurine to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and IAA representatives came to Ori’s school at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu to award him a certificate of appreciation for his good citizenship. They also informed the class of details about the figurine, which depicts a naked woman and was made by pressing soft silt into a mold.

“It was incredible,” said Ori’s teacher. “The archeologists came into the class during a Torah lesson in which we had just learned about the Teraphim, statues that were used at the time for pagan idolatry. I suddenly understood that one of these Teraphim was here in the class with us!”

Hebrew University Professor Amihai Mazar, who directs the Tel Rehov excavation expedition, studied the figurine and concluded that it is approximately 3,400 years old and “typical of Canaanite culture between the 15th and 13th centuries BCE.”

“Some researchers believe the figurine depicts a mortal woman while others think it is a depiction of the fertility goddess Ashtoreth, known from the Bible and from Canaanite sources,” added Prof. Mazar. “There is a good chance that the term Teraphim in the Torah indeed refers to this kind of figurine.”

“The figurine seems to have belonged to one of the residents of the ancient city of Rehov, which had then been ruled by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt,” he added.
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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men should be prohibited from flying on planes

I'm generally opposed to discrimination against Jews, but the following items illustrate why airplanes (and hot air balloons and airships, for that matter) should be "no-fly" zones for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men. These examples also show why the Haredi are unpopular with their fellow Jews.

As reported by Itay Blumenthal of Ynetnews, February 27, 2016:

Police arrested a Beit Shemesh resident earlier this week after he caused a disturbance on an El Al flight from Warsaw to Tel Aviv because a movie being screened on the plane was "immodest" in his opinion.

The 36-year-old ultra-Orthodox man informed flight attendants that he refuses to watch the film, and forcefully pushed the screen away, causing damage. He also attacked passengers who commented on his behavior.

Police officers who arrived at Ben-Gurion International Airport arrested him after he deplaned and took him in for questioning.

"There were some passengers on the plane who decided not to watch TV on the plane," one of the passengers recounted. "There was one who forcefully pushed the screen (coming down from the plane's ceiling - ed.) and really broke it. I think he must've thought all of the other screens will also close, but that didn't happen. At this point, a ruckus broke out and people started yelling at him. He claimed this was 'secular coercion' and would not calm down. He was really upset and later jumped on another passenger who told him off."

This behavior persisted throughout the flight and close to landing time, when the screens came down again, the Beit Shemesh man "yelled on the plane that he could not stand it that movies are being watched. He said these were immodest films."

Another passenger said the Beit Shemesh man boarded the plane late with a group of other passengers, and that is why the airline could not seat them away from the screens.

"Their behavior is just rude. They were late and made exaggerated demands," he said. "The El Al flight attendants behaved in an exemplary manner. They remained level-headed, calmed things down, and called the police, as procedures dictate."

A third passenger said that "A group of ultra-Orthodox passengers came on the plane with a lot of 15 year olds. At first they caused a disturbance over the seating arrangements - they would not sit next to women. They didn't exactly have places to sit that matched their wishes, and they were arguing until the last moment. They would not sit next to a woman under any circumstance."

She went on to say that "the flight attendant told them that the plane won't move until everyone is seated. After a lot of arguments, seats were found for them."

The Beit Shemesh man, she said, "started pushing all of the screens back up, people were shocked. I already saw what movie was being screened and I asked, 'Why are you closing them?' and he said, 'God is the Almighty, and he will preserve us.' Nothing we tried helped and he closed everyone's TVs, using a toothpick to keep the screens locked in. A fight almost broke out there."

This isn't the first time Israeli passengers caused disturbances on flights. An Israeli man was caught smoking in the bathroom stall of an Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna to New York, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in Canada. He swore at the flight attendants and demanded to be served alcohol. Two strong passengers had to restrain him and cuff him. The passenger told investigators that he took a sleeping pill and drank several glasses of wine and that he could not remember what had happened.

A year ago, an Israeli woman on an Israir flight to Varna verbally attacked one of the flight attendants during an argument over her desire to purchase duty free chocolate while the flight attendant was busy with another passenger. Two of the passenger's relatives also joined the argument, swearing at the flight attendant, with one of them threatening to hit the flight attendant.

El Al said in response to the Warsaw-Tel Aviv flight incident that "El Al will not accept violent behavior of any kind during its flights, and that is why police was called."
As reported by Isabel Kershner of The New York Times, February 26, 2016:

JERUSALEM — RENEE RABINOWITZ is a sharp-witted retired lawyer with a Ph.D. in educational psychology, who escaped the Nazis in Europe as a child. Now she is about to become a test case in the battle over religion and gender in Israel’s public spaces — and the skies above — as the plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing El Al, the national airline, of discrimination.

Ms. Rabinowitz was comfortably settled into her aisle seat in the business-class section on El Al Flight 028 from Newark to Tel Aviv in December when, as she put it, “this rather distinguished-looking man in Hasidic or Haredi garb, I’d guess around 50 or so, shows up.”

The man was assigned the window seat in her row. But, like many ultra-Orthodox male passengers, he did not want to sit next to a woman, seeing even inadvertent contact with the opposite sex as verboten under the strictest interpretation of Jewish law. Soon, Ms. Rabinowitz said, a flight attendant offered her a “better” seat, up front, closer to first class.

Reluctantly, Ms. Rabinowitz, an impeccably groomed 81-year-old grandmother who walks with a cane because of bad knees, agreed.

“Despite all my accomplishments — and my age is also an accomplishment — I felt minimized,” she recalled in a recent interview in her elegantly appointed apartment in a fashionable neighborhood of Jerusalem.

“For me this is not personal,” Ms. Rabinowitz added. “It is intellectual, ideological and legal. I think to myself, here I am, an older woman, educated, I’ve been around the world, and some guy can decide that I shouldn’t sit next to him. Why?”

That is just what many feminists and advocates of religious pluralism in Israel and abroad have been asking in what by all accounts is a growing phenomenon of religious Jewish men refusing to sit next to women on airplanes. Several flights from New York to Israel, on El Al and other airlines, have been delayed or disrupted as women refused to move, and there have been social media campaigns including a protest petition.

Just this week, in a different but related situation, an ultra-Orthodox man created a disturbance on an El Al flight from Warsaw to Tel Aviv to protest the screening of “Truth,” starring Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford, a movie he deemed immodest, the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported.

Now, a liberal advocacy group that had spent two years searching for a test case on switching seats plans to sue the blue-and-white flag carrier on Ms. Rabinowitz’s behalf in a Tel Aviv court next week.

“We needed a case of a flight attendant being actively involved,” explained the group’s director, Anat Hoffman, “to show that El Al has internalized the commandment, ‘I cannot sit next to a woman.’ ”

An El Al spokeswoman said in a statement that “any discrimination between passengers is strictly prohibited.”

“El Al flight attendants are on the front line of providing service for the company’s varied array of passengers,” the statement said. “In the cabin, the attendants receive different and varied requests and they try to assist as much as possible, the goal being to have the plane take off on time and for all the passengers to arrive at their destination as scheduled.”

Ms. Hoffman’s group, the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel, previously fought Israeli bus companies and the Ministry of Transportation over gender segregation on so-called kosher lines that serve ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods. The Supreme Court in 2011 made it illegal to require women to sit in the back of the bus and allowed men and women to sit separately only if they did so voluntarily. Two years later, Israel’s attorney general issued guidelines calling on government ministries and public agencies to end all manifestations of gender segregation in the public sphere.

THE group has since turned its focus skyward. Ms. Rabinowitz attended a lecture by Ms. Hoffman a few weeks after her fateful flight. The topic of seat switching came up, and Ms. Rabinowitz told Ms. Hoffman it had happened to her.

“When I told Anat that the flight attendant had asked me to move, she got very excited,” Ms. Rabinowitz recalled.

Ms. Rabinowitz, who moved to Jerusalem from the United States about a decade ago, says that she is not anti-Haredi — the Hebrew term for ultra-Orthodox, meaning one who trembles before God — and she comes with her own God-fearing credentials.

Born in Belgium, she fled with her family during the Nazi occupation in 1941. She had a religious upbringing, attended an Orthodox Jewish school in New York, where a strictly modest dress code applied, and she still observes most of the laws of the Sabbath. Both her second husband, who died three years ago, and her first (they divorced in 1986) were rabbis.

She described one of her grandchildren as being Hasidic or Haredi, and said, “The idea of having a Haredi population is wonderful, as long as they don’t tell me what to do.”

Ms. Rabinowitz had been visiting family in New York before boarding the Dec. 2 El Al flight home. By her account, the flight attendant had a brief conversation in Hebrew with her ultra-Orthodox seatmate-to-be, which she could not understand, then persuaded Ms. Rabinowitz to come and see the “better” seat, at the end of a row of three.

“There were two women seated there,” she said. “I thought, ‘Oy, if they are going to talk all night I am not going to be happy.’” She asked the flight attendant if he was suggesting the switch because the man next to her wanted her to move, she said, “and he said ‘yes’ without any hesitation.”

WHEN Ms. Rabinowitz returned to her original seat to collect her hand luggage, with the attendant’s assistance, she asked the other passenger, “Why does it matter? I’m 81 years old. And he says, ‘It’s in the Torah.’ ” After briefly arguing the point, she moved to the new seat. “I thought, ‘He’s going to be unhappy,’” she recalled. “There was no other seat available for him next to a man so I thought I’d try it.”

The other women in the new row were busy working and did not chatter. Still, Ms. Rabinowitz said she felt further insulted because the attendant had tried to mislead her.

“The flight attendant treated me as if I was stupid,” she said, “but that’s a common problem in Israel if you don’t speak Hebrew. They assume things about you. They assume they can put one over you.”

A lawyer for the religious action group wrote a letter to El Al last month saying that Ms. Rabinowitz had felt pressured by the attendant and accusing El Al of illegal discrimination. It argued that a request not to be seated next to a woman differed from other requests to move, say, to sit near a relative or a friend, because it was by nature degrading. The lawyer demanded 50,000 shekels, about $13,000, in compensation for Ms. Rabinowitz.

The airline offered, instead, a $200 discount on Ms. Rabinowitz’s next El Al flight. It insisted that there was no gender discrimination on El Al flights, that the flight attendant had made it clear to Ms. Rabinowitz that she was in no way obligated to move, and that she had changed seats without argument.

Ms. Rabinowitz has since had time to ponder. She said her son told her that “this whole idea that you cannot sit next to a woman is bogus.” She cited an eminent Orthodox scholar, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who counseled that it was acceptable for a Jewish man to sit next to a woman on a subway or a bus so long as there was no intention to seek sexual pleasure from any incidental contact.

“When did modesty become the sum and end all of being a Jewish woman?” Ms. Rabinowitz asked. Citing examples like the biblical warrior Deborah, the matriarch Sarah and Queen Esther, she noted: “Our heroes in history were not modest little women.”

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish politician in Israel compares Reform Judaism to a mentally ill person

Judaism isn't a monolith, especially in Israel. It ranges from Reform, which is very liberal, to ultra-Orthodox, also called Haredi. Reform and Haredi don't get along very well; here's an example, reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, February 24, 2016 (links in original):

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A haredi Orthodox lawmaker in Israel reportedly compared the Reform movement to a mentally ill person.

Israel Eichler of the United Torah Judaism party made his remarks Tuesday in the lead-up to a Knesset debate the next day on the Supreme Court’s decision that non-Orthodox converts can immerse in a public mikvah, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

“Not every mentally ill person can come to the operating room and decide the rules of medicine and force the hospital to have an operation by whatever way works,” Eichler was quoted as saying. “The High Court can’t force a hospital to allow the court’s surgeons and the court’s medicines into the operating room. And so it is intolerable that the directors of ritual baths will have to allow organizers of Reform religion-changing ceremonies into a Jewish ritual bath.”

Eichler also reportedly said the Supreme Court has “no authority to enforce Jewish law, whose source of authority is the Torah, which the High Court does not recognize as a source of its legal authority.”

He also said: “The High Court decision to force the members of the Jewish religion to carry out ritual bath rules and conversions according to the Reform religion, which does not believe in the purity of the ritual bath … is a serious infraction of freedom of religion for the members of the Jewish religion, which has clear laws. Religious freedom is promised in the Declaration of Independence to the members of all religions in the State of Israel, including the believers in the Jewish religion.”

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that mikvahs in Israel must open to non-Orthodox conversion rites. Previously, Israeli mikvahs have denied access for conversion immersions to Reform and Conservative converts. Israel’s mikvahs are run by Israel’s Religious Services Ministry, which operates in lock-step with the Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, in a statement Wednesday called Eichler’s remarks “another example of the extreme intolerance of the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment. Clearly they feel a seismic shift in their decades-old monopoly on Judaism in Israel. Their stranglehold on Judaism is being loosened, and their response is desperate and pathetic.

“It is hard to imagine what twisted Torah MK Eichler studies when he characterizes the largest movement in Jewish life as ‘mentally ill.’ Our Torah teaches us the values of pluralism and of tolerance — and it teaches us not to use phrases like ‘mentally ill’ as an epithet.”

Rabbis Denise Eger and Steven Fox, president and chief executive, respectively, of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s rabbinical organization, called Eichler’s comments “disturbing and ignorant,” adding that they are “insensitive and backwards.”

“At the very moment that hundreds of Reform rabbis from North America are in Jerusalem celebrating the vibrancy of Reform Judaism in Israel and calling for tolerance, the MK’s comments are an unfortunate reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve equality for all Jews in Israel and around the world,” they said in a statement. “We condemn these comments and the worldview they represent.”

In an Op-Ed posted Wednesday on the website of the Jewish Press, an Orthodox Jewish weekly newspaper, Eichler asserted that “the prime minister, the supreme court and the secular establishment are subservient to the Reform millionaires.”
http://www.jewishpress.com/news/analysis-how-the-reform-control-government-knesset-committees-and-the-courts/2016/02/24/

He added that Reform clergy are “investing millions in bribing Israeli public opinion shapers, something the Christian missionaries and certainly the Muslim preachers would dare to do.”

Indiana state Senate passes anti-BDS bill

As reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, March 2, 2016 (links in original):

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Indiana Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill banning state dealings with entities that boycott Israel or its settlements.

The bill approved 47-3 on Tuesday, with bipartisan backing, defines “the promotion of activities to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” as meeting the standard of “extraordinary circumstances” necessary under state law to mandate divestment from a company.

The state House of Representatives passed the measure in January. Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican who was a pro-Israel leader when he was in the U.S. Congress, is expected to sign the bill into law.

“This will place Indiana among the select vanguard of states that have publicly defended the Jewish State of Israel using proactive legislation,” said a statement Wednesday by the Jewish Affairs Committee of Indiana, which led the lobbying effort for the bill.

The bill includes in its definition “territories controlled by the Jewish State of Israel,” effectively including any bid to boycott settlements in its purview.

It is one of over 20 bills that have passed or are under consideration in state legislatures that would counter the BDS movement; not all include language targeting settlements. The Obama administration has said that while it will continue to oppose efforts to boycott Israel, it will not oppose bids that specifically target settlements.

The businesses defined in the bill include commercial enterprises and nonprofit organizations, which would mean that the bill, once enacted, would apply to universities. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement has focused its efforts on campuses and scholarly associations.

Funds that would be mandated to divest from businesses that boycott Israel include the retirement funds of teachers and public employees.