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Religion News You Might Have Missed This Week

Here’s our roundup of religion news items — some serious, some less so — that crossed our desks during the past week:

bullet The Obamacare ‘coverage gap’ is a political issue: come January, millions of poor Americans won’t get health insurance because their states refused to accept Obamacare

But there is also a religious angle.

The vast majority of people who fall into the coverage gap live in the Bible Belt.

And yet, as CNN points out, most mega-church celebrity pastors throughout the 14 Bible Belt states keep silent on the issue.

Why won’t these pastors — many of them far richer than you and me together — speak up for the poor?

bullet Evangelist Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday last Thursday, among some 900 guests.

In frail health, he delivered, by means of a video recorded over the past year, what his son Franklin Graham characterized as his father’s final message to the nation:

“Our country’s in great need of a spiritual awakening,” he declared. “There have been times that I’ve wept as I’ve gone from city to city and I’ve seen how far people have wandered from God.”
Whether you’re a Christian or not, and regardless of how you view Billy Graham, it is worth a half hour of your time to watch this video:

bullet Methodist Reverend Frank Schaefer is facing a church trial for officiating his gay son’s 2007 wedding in Massachusetts.

The United Methodist Church — America’s largest mainline Protestant denomination — accepts gay and lesbian members but rejects homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Clergy who flaunt the denomination’s laws against performing same-sex unions risk punishment ranging from a reprimand to suspension to defrocking.

Schaefer could have avoided a trial if he had agreed to never again perform a same-gender wedding, but because three of his four children are gay he refuses to make that promise.

bullet Canadian Christian rocker Marc Martel, who founded and then led Christian rock bank Downhere through 10 albums, is often told that he sounds just like Freddie Mercury, legendary singer of the rock band Queen.

So in 2011 he entered the Queen Extravaganza contest with this video — which earned him a spot on the 2012 tour:

Queen Extravaganza is the official tribute show, produced by former Queen drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May.

And yes, Martel is working on a solo album.

bullet Pope Francis tweets in eight languages, of which the Latin feed is the most popular.

Even so the president of the Vatican’s Latin Academy, Ivano Dionigi, says the church still does not have an official way of saying “Twitter” in Latin.

Oh, and if you’re a Catholic blogger who had hoped to get a .catholic domain name, you’re out of luck. The Vatican says the designation will be reserved for church-related organizations, not individuals.

bullet Pastor Andrew Hamblin regularly picks up snakes with his bare hands at the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollete, Tennessee.

Snake handlers believe that picking up snakes is one way of demonstrating their faith in God, and point to this Bible verse as justification for handling snakes:

And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.Mark 16:17-18

Hamblin and others like him see snake handling as an expression of their religious freedom.

But in many areas the practice is illegal, and this week Tennessee’s Wildlife Resources Agency seized 53 venomous snakes from Hamlin. The agency says Hamblin would have needed a special license, as well as training, to be able to house and handle the snakes.

Meanwhile, GotQuestions.org — in an article on what the Bible says about snake handling — says:

If the snake-handling churches were consistent, they would also follow the second part of Mark 16:18: “…and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all.” […]

First Corinthians 10:9, while not speaking directly of snake handling in churches, says it best: “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes.”

bullet Amy Davidson asks, How strong is Pope Francis? She is referring to the pope’s compassionate embrace of a man who suffers from neurofibromatosis.

bullet George Bush (yes, the one associated with illegal warfare, torture, Guantanamo Bay and other human rights violations) next week

will deliver the keynote address at a fundraising event for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MBJI), a global organisation that trains its members to convert Jews to Christianity, in the hope of bringing about the Second Coming of Christ.

Read up on Messianic Judaism

bullet Do you want more religion news without being overwhelmed with a Tsunami of information? Follow our popular Twitter feed:

Sinead’s Gospel * Reza Aslan’s credentials * Scientology slammed

bullet So you thought the interview conducted by Lauren Green, religion correspondent for Fox News Channel, with Reza Aslan, the Muslim author of a book on Jesus titled Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth was a mess?

Buzzfeed dubbed it “The Most Embarrassing Interview Fox News Has Ever Done” (which says a lot, considering the sheer amount of material to choose from).

But wait a second… as so often is the case there’s more to the story:

First, The Blaze provides some context to the “awkward interview.”

Second — but no less important — GetReligion points out that while people are snickering at FoxNews they are getting duped by Aslan, who misrepresents his credentials.

In addition, while Green could have handled the interview better than she did, it is quite alright to wonder aloud whether a Muslim — scholar or not — can write an objective book about Jesus Christ.

After all, Islam misrepresents the God of the Bible and teaches falsehoods about Jesus Christ.

That said, here are 14 things you need to know about Aslan’s book.

bullet It’s Not What the Pope Said About Gays, It’s How He Said It

bullet Message to the ‘Church’ of Scientology:

[N]o one is going to tell me who I can, and cannot, talk to.
– Leah Remini clarifies why she dumped Scientology

bullet Remini was referring in part to Scientology’s destructive disconnection policy which the hate group’s critics says tears families and friendships apart.

Scientology’s unethical policies are based on the writings of the cult’s founder L. Ron Hubbard — a fantasist who could not tell truth and fiction apart.

bullet On August 4, the BBC is airing Inside a Cult: Messiah on Trial.

It’s the story of cult leader Wayne Bent, who is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence after having been found guilty of sexual misconduct with teenage followers.

Bent also goes by the name of Michael Travesser. His followers have been brainwashed into believing that followers believe that ‘Michael, the Spirit of the Son of God’ lives in him.

Bent heads The Lord Our Righteousness Church. The tiny group lives on a small plot of land near Clayton, New Mexico. The community is known as ‘Strong City’ — a name the media has sometimes used to refer to the group.

bullet I’m not sure whether this video, uploaded to YouTube, is covered by some copyright rule that will see it yanked soon, but while it’s (still) there you may as well enjoy this most unusual Gospel Music concert performed by Sinead O’Connor at the Lincoln Center in New York.

Update: Well, the video is gone, but you can view some shorter items.