Evangelical Covenant Church Denomination Elects Tammy Swanson-Draheim as President

In a historic election today, Rev. Tammy Swanson-Draheim was elected president of the Evangelical Covenant Church by delegates to the 136th Annual Meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. Voted in by an overwhelming 20-1 margin, Swanson-Draheim is the first woman to hold the position in the denomination’s history.

After a lengthy standing ovation following the vote, Evelyn Johnson, longtime Covenant leader and former superintendent of the Pacific Southwest Conference, punctuated the occasion on behalf of the various influential Covenant women flanking Rev. Swanson-Draheim onstage: “It’s real! You are the president!” exclaimed Johnson.

“I love the Covenant Church, and I love the people of the Covenant Church,” said Swanson-Draheim. “In God’s economy, challenges are opportunities, and I declare that we have some opportunities.”

Swanson-Draheim stated that her five values are to be rooted in Christ, fully grounded in the Scriptures, guided by the Holy Spirit, unapologetically focused on the church’s mission, and loving people well.

She added in conclusion, “For the glory of God and the love of neighbor, may we do it together.”

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Source: Evangelical Covenant Church

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Former High School Football Coach for Praying Publicly on Field After Games

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a former Washington state high school football coach had a right to pray on the field immediately after games.

The 6-3 ruling was a victory for Joseph Kennedy, who claimed that the Bremerton School District violated his religious freedom by telling him he couldn’t pray so publicly after the games. The district said it was trying to avoid the appearance that the school was endorsing a religious point of view.

“Both the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment protect expressions like Mr. Kennedy’s,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. “Nor does a proper understanding of the Amendment’s Establishment Clause require the government to single out private religious speech for special disfavor. The Constitution and the best of our traditions counsel mutual respect and tolerance, not censorship and suppression, for religious and nonreligious views alike.”

In recent years, a more conservative Supreme Court has been inclined to view government actions it once considered to be neutral and necessary to maintain separation of church and state as hostile to religious expression.

One issue in the case was whether the coach’s decision to pray in such a prominent place, on the 50-yard line, amounted to a private moment of giving thanks or a public demonstration of his religious faith that his players may have felt compelled to join.

Kennedy urged the Supreme Court to find that he was acting on his own behalf, expressing his own religious views, not speaking as a mouthpiece for the school. But the school district said the students on the football team looked up to their coach and felt coerced into doing as he did.

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Source: NBC News

Amazon is Working on Giving Their Alexa Virtual Assistant the Ability to Mimic the Voices of Dead Relatives

Amazon’s personal digital assistant Alexa is on track to gain a new ability – replicating the voices of family members, even if they’re dead.

The capability was unveiled at an Amazon conference this past week in Las Vegas.

The feature is still in development, but it would allow Alexa to mimic the voice of a specific person based on less than a minute of provided recording.

Rohit Prasad, the head scientist for Alexa, said the desire behind the capability was to build greater trust in people’s interactions with Alexa by putting in more “human attributes of empathy and affect.”

Prasad said, “While A.I. [Artificial Intelligence] can’t eliminate that pain of loss, it can definitely make their memories last.”

He then played a video at the event with a young child asking, “Alexa, can Grandma finish reading me the Wizard of Oz?” Alexa then switches to an artificial voice that mimics the child’s grandmother.

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Source: CBN

Orthodox Christian Website Is Blocked Inside Russia Over Ukraine War Coverage

The Public Orthodoxy blog hosted by Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center. Screen grab
The Public Orthodoxy blog hosted by Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center. Screen grab

(RNS) — Sergei Chapnin, a senior fellow at Fordham University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, was at an academic conference in early June when he began to hear from people in Russia that his articles on Public Orthodoxy, a blog hosted by the center, weren’t available. He soon discovered that the Russian government had blocked the site completely inside the country.

“It’s clear that the critique of our Orthodox Church and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s regime was really sharp,” said Chapnin, who worked for the Moscow Patriarchate from 2009 to 2015, including a stint as editor of the official magazine of the Russian church.

Public Orthodoxy operates independently of any official body of the Orthodox Church, and contributors to the blog represent a wide range of Orthodox Christian traditions. Since 2015 Public Orthodoxy has been posting articles on the environmentwomen in the church, the relationship between faith and politics and related topics.

“The idea is that we have a global network of scholars in a multitude of disciplines to weigh in on issues of current concern in the Orthodox Church,” said George Demacopoulos, professor of theology at Fordham and co-director of the OCSC. He added that Public Orthodoxy is “written not for scholars,” but rather “for public consumption.” It appears in seven languages, including Russian.

George Demacopoulos. Courtesy photo

George Demacopoulos. Courtesy photo

“We’ve been writing about the threat of Putin to Orthodoxy for years,” added Demacopoulos. “In some sense, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”

But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Public Orthodoxy has focused almost exclusively on the Ukraine crisis.

In February, monthly traffic to the site doubled from 30,000 to 60,000 views, reaching a peak at 160,000 views in March. Readers spread outside its accustomed Orthodox religious and scholarly communities, including staffers at the U.S. State Department. Contributors began debating the theological foundation to Putin’s action in Ukraine, much of it supplied by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, along with a host of other issues facing the Orthodox Church in light of the conflict.

“The position of Patriarch Kirill in this war, in his sermons and public statements, revealed for many how deep, in fact, the church is involved in Russian politics,” said Chapnin.

Public Orthodoxy’s exploration of that entanglement is likely what caused Russia to block the site, according to Chapnin. “For the state, even the critique of the church and of Patriarch Kirill is not as sensitive as the critique of the Kremlin or Putin’s regime,” he said.

According to a report produced by three Russian human rights organizations for the United Nations in May, in the last two years Russia has increased the power of Roskomnadzor, the Russian federal agency that oversees communications and mass media, to block media as the agency chooses. These restrictions only accelerated with the Russian invasion in late February.

Sergei Chapnin. Courtesy photo

Sergei Chapnin. Courtesy photo

Legal scholars at Stanford University’s World Intermediary Liability Map, a project that tracks internet regulations worldwide, said the legislation allows the government to target information the Russian state considers “fake news.”

While Public Orthodoxy’s sponsors are glad to have the increased readership at a crucial time for Orthodox Christianity, they seem to have taken especial pride in being blocked by the Kremlin.

“I congratulate … all the editors and authors of the Public Orthodoxy blog with this ‘recognition’ by the Russian state,” Chapnin tweeted on June 2.

In an interview with Religion News Service, he added, “If they decided to ban a web project with a small audience, that means they take seriously the critique and they have some kind of fear that this critique will reveal something important.”

Source: Religion News Service

After $2 Million Brooklyn Church Robbery, Houses of Worship Evaluate Theft Risk

The tabernacle, left, before thieves removed it with power tools from St. Augustine Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York. The solid 18-karat gold tabernacle is valued at around $2 million. Photos courtesy DeSales Media Group
The tabernacle, left, before thieves removed it with power tools from St. Augustine Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York. The solid 18-karat gold tabernacle is valued at around $2 million. Photos courtesy DeSales Media Group

(RNS) — When the Rev. Frank Tumino, pastor of St. Augustine, walked into his Catholic church in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn on the last Saturday in May, he found physical and spiritual wreckage: Angels that had decorated the front of the building were decapitated, Communion wafers were scattered across the altar and, most shocking, an 18-karat gold tabernacle, where the sanctified Eucharist was stored, had been stolen.

According to a press release from the Diocese of Brooklyn, the tabernacle was worth more than $2 million but is “irreplaceable due to its historical and artistic value.”

This description could apply to the fixtures in many houses of worship, and the theft in Brooklyn has many assessing their security and insurance.

Leiza McKenna, a senior fine arts consultant at Church Mutual Insurance Co., a nationwide insurer of religious organizations, said her company is checking in with clients and updating their policies.

“We’re hoping that there are no copycats out there, but if there are, we feel confident that we’ve got the measures in place to protect with insurance as much as possible,” she said.

Washington National Cathedral, one of the country’s largest and most-visited houses of worship, makes constant security a priority, said Kevin Eckstrom, chief communications officer of the cathedral. “We have rare items that are always being watched because of their value and heritage,” he said, citing statues of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa as among its most precious furnishings (along with its 10-bell peal and carillon, though, at more than 2 tons, these would be difficult to make off with).

But not all religious organizations have the resources to protect their possessions, said Eric Spacek, the assistant vice president of risk control at Church Mutual Insurance Co. Nor do houses of worship typically take the same approach to security other public places and businesses do.

“Houses of worship tend to be trusting places,” Spacek said. “Plus, there are budgetary restrictions in many churches. Their security could be seen as a volunteer effort.”

After a man entered the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, believed to be the nation’s oldest, and toppled century-old statues, the cathedral reassessed its security. Today, said its business and finance manager, Elizabeth Cardenas, its coverage is “extensive.”

A vandalized altar and stolen tabernacle at St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church in Brooklyn, New York. Photo courtesy DeSales Media Group

A vandalized altar and stolen
tabernacle at St. Augustine Roman
Catholic Church in Brooklyn,
New York. Photo courtesy DeSales
Media Group

Insurance, of course, can only cover material goods, as members of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Hydes, Maryland, realized recently. Just two months before the Brooklyn break-in, the 200-year-old church was similarly violated when its tabernacle was stolen.

The theft felt baffling, said Megan Malkus, St. John the Evangelist’s communications coordinator and a lifetime member of the church. “That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen here,” said Malkus. “It opened our eyes to the fact that bad things happen to good people.”

In the weeks since the robbery, a donor supplied St. John the Evangelist with a new tabernacle, which is now bolted into place. The church also installed a new security system.

Malkus said the church community’s most valuable response was to unite in the face of adversity, and she advised St. Augustine’s congregation do the same.

“Sure, the tabernacle can be replaced because of its monetary value, blah, blah, blah,” said Malkus. “But, in our minds, someone came in and stole Jesus from the church. Still, through Christ, we can all come together and support each other.”

Source: Religion News Service

Karen Swallow Prior on Can the Southern Baptist Convention Be Saved?

(RNS) — Fred Rogers, the TV children’s show host, was famous for saying, “Look for the helpers.”

“When I was a boy,” he once explained, “and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

I’ve been thinking about Mister Rogers’ words in the context of some particularly scary things in the news lately — namely, the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent release of the report of its sexual abuse task force, followed by the convention’s annual meeting where the report’s recommendations were voted on and accepted.

In his address to the SBC meeting before the vote, Bruce Frank, a Southern Baptist pastor and chairman of the task force, offered stirring, convicting words to the thousands assembled.

The 300-page report detailing failure after failure to act is both “heartbreaking and horrifying,” Frank said. But, he continued, “The question before us today is — is it humbling?”

Bruce Frank discusses the Sexual Abuse Task Force’s work during the Southern Baptist Convention, held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service

Bruce Frank discusses the sexual abuse task force’s work during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, Tuesday, June 14, 2022, in Anaheim, California. Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service

Are we humbled? This is exactly the right question for the Southern Baptist Convention in this moment.

It is the right question for all powerful institutions and people in this moment and always.

Quoting the New Testament’s Letter of James, Frank offered the assembly this challenge: “’Humble yourselves before the Lord.’ Not pray for humility, but do it. The pattern in the Bible is either we humble ourselves or God will humble us, by putting us in a humiliating circumstance.”

The sex abuse report has indeed been a humbling circumstance for the Southern Baptist Convention. Of course, the greatest devastation has been borne by those who have endured the abuse, and understanding this, the messengers overwhelmingly approved the recommendations.

It was a momentous decision. Yet it was a decision years overdue and one that represents just one step in a long journey the denomination faces in better handling sexual abuse cases in its midst.

The SBC is not the only place, nor the only denomination, facing the #MeToo #ChurchToo problem, of course. Yet, the SBC plays an outsized role within the larger culture because of its present as the largest Protestant denomination in America and its past as a denomination founded on the defense of the evil institution of human slavery.

The Sexual Abuse Task Force holds a press conference during the Southern Baptist Convention, held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service

The Southern Baptist Convention’s sexual abuse task force holds a press conference during the SBC’s annual meeting in Anaheim, California, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service

Some question whether an institution whose very roots are so immoral cannot — perhaps even should not — be saved.

It is a question worth asking, and certainly one answer is no.

But I envision another possibility.

I believe that such a past, such a present offers the ground for genuine humility — the kind that recognizes and accepts our shortcomings and the consequences for them. The kind that heals moral blind spots so a better future can be seen and grasped.

The root word of humility is earth: ground. Humility literally grounds us.

Humility is the opposite of pride.

Pride is the first sin, the deadliest sin, the sin of Lucifer, the fallen angel.

God gives grace to the humble. And the Southern Baptist Convention needs grace more than ever. That means our humility is needed more than ever, too.

As with every other precious gift, counterfeits abound. False humility is no exception. False humility takes many forms. One form especially relevant in the context of institutional abuse is to “portray helplessness during situations in which we have power.” In rejecting the guise of helplessness, the decision by the Southern Baptist messengers to begin taking actions within the control of the convention is the embodiment of humility.

People celebrate the passing of the second recommendation from the Sexual Abuse Task Force during the Southern Baptist Convention, held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service

Two individuals celebrate the passing of a recommendation from the sexual abuse task force during the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Anaheim, California, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Photo by Justin L. Stewart/Religion News Service

It looks a little like the perfect picture of humility given in the Apostle Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!

Humility is obedience — obedience to the point of death.

Just as true humility is rare, false humility is common. False humility seeks to manipulate and control in service to self rather than others.

With declining numbers not only in the SBC but in the church in America as a whole, with more and more people deconstructing their faith and even deconverting, we who remain must cling to obedience and humble ourselves. In so doing, we get ourselves out of the way in order to fully reveal the mercy and justice of a holy God.

“Look for the helpers” is good advice that is timeless. Thank you, Mister Rogers.

But I think the advice that’s really needed right now is to look for the humble.

The humble are the ones who can truly help.

Source: Religion News Service

Ben Burnett Named President of William Carey University

The William Carey University Board of Trustees announces the retirement of longtime WCU President Dr. Tommy King and the selection of Dr. Ben Burnett as his successor. Dr. Burnett will assume his new duties as the university’s 10th president on Aug. 16.

William Carey employees were the first to hear the news in a June 20 message from Dr. Jimmy Stewart, chairman of the WCU Board of Trustees.

“The Board of Trustees is very thankful for Dr. King’s long and successful tenure, and we are extremely pleased that the Lord very clearly led to the selection of Dr. Ben Burnett as his successor. We look forward to working with Dr. Burnett – as always, expecting great things from God and attempting great things for God,” Stewart said.

Dr. Ben Burnett: WCU’s New President

Dr. Ben Burnett began his career in education in 1986 as assistant band director for Meridian High School. In 1988 he returned to Lamar County to become band director at his alma mater, Oak Grove High School. Burnett’s Oak Grove band consistently rated superior and grew from 50 members to more than 220.

Burnett served as president of the Mississippi Bandmasters. He was the recipient of the A.E. McClain Outstanding Young Band Director award. In 2013, he was inducted to the Southeast Mississippi Band Directors’ Association Hall of Fame.

In 1997, Burnett moved into administration as principal of Oak Grove Middle School, a post he held for 10 years. During this time, he was president of the Mississippi Association of Middle Level Education and Mississippi’s Middle School Principal of the Year.

In August 2007, Burnett was elected superintendent of the Lamar County School District and was re-elected in 2011. During his tenure, Lamar County Schools moved to being rated an “A” school district by the Mississippi Department of Education. The district also received many state and federal grants in the areas of early childhood, school safety, dyslexia training and after-school tutoring.

Burnett retired from public education in June 2014 and accepted the position of dean of the William Carey University School of Education – which has an enrollment of 1,800 undergraduate and graduate-level education majors. In April 2020, he was named executive vice president of William Carey University.

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Source: William Carey University

Elon Musk’s ‘I-Robot’ With ‘Unique Human Personality’ Set to Be Ready in Three Months

An I-Robot which can develop a unique human personality will be ready in just months, Elon Musk has revealed.

The tech tycoon will unveil a prototype of the humanoid called ‘Optimus’ during Tesla’s ‘Al Day’ event on September 30.

The 125-pound bot is 5ft 8inchs and will be capable of dead-lifting 150 pounds ( 69kg) while carrying 45 pounds (21kg).

Optimus’ face features a screen display of information and will be fitted with autopilot software, reports LadBible.

Musk says it will include eight cameras to feed into the neural network, which is said to match the functions of the human brain.

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Source: Daily Star

Christian Pregnancy Center in Colorado Is Burned and Vandalized With the Words, “If Abortions Aren’t Safe Neither Are You” Following Roe v. Wade Reversal

A Colorado Christian crisis center for pregnant women was vandalized and set on fire Saturday morning, a day after the US Supreme Court reversed federal protection of abortions.

Police responded to a fire at Life Choices in Longmont around 3:20 a.m., and found the building ablaze with covered with graffiti messages referencing the controversial overturning of Roe v. Wade, officials said.

“If abortions aren’t safe neither are you,” one message read, accompanied by the circled “A” anarchy symbol.

The saying has been written at dozens of pro-life centers since the court’s intent to overturn the 1973 ruling was leaked in May.

“Bans off our bodies,” was also painted onto the entrance walkway of the building while another anarchy symbol adorned its façade, according to pictures released by police.

Life Choices offers women alternatives to abortion as well as faith-based post-abortion counseling, according to its website.

The building suffered heavy fire and smoke damage, and police were scouring surveillance footage in the area as they searched for the arson suspect or suspects.

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Source: NY Post

How the Church Reacted to the Supreme Court Overturning Roe V. Wade

The US Supreme Court has overturned the historic Roe V Wade ruling, meaning abortion is no longer considered a constitutional right in the United States of America – church leaders have been reacting to the news.

Introduced in early 1973, Roe V Wade meant individual states could no longer ban abortion – it was legal for every woman across the country.

Now that the ruling has been overturned, it’s believed around half of the US states will ban the procedure.

Speaking to Fox News, notable evangelical pastor Rev Franklin Graham said: “The United States Supreme Court just announced one of the most significant rulings in my lifetime – officially voting to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision because it was ‘egregiously wrong from the start,’ as stated by Justice Samuel Alito.”

Rev Graham added, “The radical left is calling for a ‘night of rage,’ pregnancy centers are already being vandalised and attacked, and our US Supreme Court justices are being targeted with threats and intimidation.”

Addressing followers on Twitter, Rick Warren of Saddleback Church: “The Supreme Court has overturned ROE v WADE ending the federal support of abortion! Millions of unborn Americans say thank you!”

Alliance Defending Freedom – a non-profit legal organisation that has often spoken out against abortion – reflected on the ruling in 1973, saying: “That decision fabricated a federal constitutional right to abortion and has resulted in the deaths of more than 60 million unborn children. States may now fully protect innocent, unborn life.

Pastor Jentezen Franklin echoed the remarks made by other church leaders, saying: “This is a remarkable answer to the prayers of millions of people for decades.

“I honestly never dreamed in my lifetime I would see this happen. We do not gloat or dare say anything but praise to our God for this courageous and just decision by the Supreme Court.

“Now we must support, love and demonstrate God’s grace and goodness to would-be mothers and the precious children this decision has rescued.”

J.John, evangelist, speaker and author, said: Whilst we celebrate this news, let’s be known as a Church that steps up and supports mothers and families who are in need. Most of us will know someone who has been impacted by abortion and this is an opportunity for us to extend the love of Jesus to them. Babies matter. Women matter. Families matter.”

Reverend Raphael Warnock, who supports abortion laws, said: “I’m outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision. As a pro-choice pastor, I’ll never back down from this fight. Women must be able to make their own health care decisions, not politicians.”

Christian MP Dawn Butler also took to Twitter, saying: “This is a really sad day for women. It will also affect poorer women who will have less options. I wonder what all the women who voted for Trump are feeling now.”

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Source: Premier Christian News