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Pastors gear up to welcome evangelicals back to the “greater glory” of church life following 14 months of isolation.

On Monday, Ireland emerged from one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns, allowing Christians to return to in-person church services for the first time since December. Members of Solid Rock Drogheda couldn’t wait until Sunday and met to worship together as soon as the restrictions lifted.

The church, located in a town north of Dublin, started praying for Ireland and the end of the pandemic on St. Patrick’s Day 2020 when lockdown kept revelers at home. What started as a 24-hour prayer vigil has continued ever since, and the church has used an online booking system to schedule members to pray continuously, according to Nick Park, Solid Rock’s pastor and the executive director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland.

While the church prayed, the Irish government instituted three separate lockdowns. In the 14 months since the pandemic began, the government has permitted worship on only 14 Sundays and only three times in the past six months. As of May 10, churches can hold services—along with weddings and funerals—with a maximum of 50 people in attendance.

This is a long-awaited relief for churchgoers who have spent so much of the pandemic apart. Pastors could leave their homes to conduct an online service or to minister to the sick during the earlier lockdowns, but residents were not permitted to get together socially or for worship, indoors or out.

While many businesses and restaurants are still under phased reopening, the Irish are also finally free to travel between counties and meet up with friends and family, per the latest directives from government officials.

At times Ireland’s restrictions were considered among the toughest in the world. Authorities issued fines and threatened to arrest pastors ...

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Evangelical association names itself as co-defendant to defend religious exemptions.

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) jumped into the legal fray over LGBT rights and religious liberties on Wednesday when it filed a motion to join a lawsuit against the US Department of Education (DOE) as a codefendant.

Thirty-three current and former students from 20-plus religiously affiliated colleges filed the suit against the DOE in March to prevent the agency from granting religious exemptions from federal antidiscrimination laws. Eighteen of the schools are CCCU members, including Dordt Univeristy, Lipscomb Univeristy, Messiah Univeristy, Nyack College, and Toccoa Falls College. The schools all have policies prohibiting student sexual activity and statements about Christian sexual ethics.

A newly founded LGBT advocacy group, the Religious Exemption Accountability Project (REAP), says these policies are discriminatory and create abusive and unsafe conditions for LGBT students. REAP is arguing that the religious exemptions to civil rights and federal education laws should be abolished.

If the exemption to Title IX is eliminated, religious schools with policies deemed discriminatory would not be eligible for federal funds.

CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra said the lawsuit is frivolous and the Christian colleges and universities are clearly eligible for religious exemptions.

“CCCU institutions subscribe to sincerely held biblical beliefs,” she said in a statement, “which include specific religious convictions around human sexuality and gender, and are transparent about their policies and behavior guidelines, which students voluntarily agree to when they choose to attend the institution.”

The CCCU has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The motion cites multiple US Supreme Court ...

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Latest IRF scorecard grades each member of US Congress, as State Department releases annual report on 200 countries and territories.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf kingdom “remains the only country in the world without a Christian church, though there are more than a million Christians living [there],” he stated yesterday.

Such high-level criticism of the key US ally is a departure from the foreign policy of the Trump administration, though the State Department has listed the oil-rich nation as a Country of Particular Concern on international religious freedom (IRF) since 2004.

Blinken also highlighted recent violations in Iran, Burma, Russia, Nigeria, and China. Positive developments were noted in Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Our promise to the world is that the Biden-Harris administration will protect and defend religious freedom around the world,” stated Blinken, releasing the 23rd annual International Religious Freedom Report, assessing the records of nearly 200 countries and territories.

“We will maintain America’s longstanding leadership on this issue, [and] we’re grateful for our partners.”

He named several entities, but one is glaring in its absence:

The US Congress.

Six years ago, 21Wilberforce, a Christian human rights organization, launched the International Religious Freedom Scorecard to hold America’s lawmakers to account.

“There is much room for improvement,” Lou Ann Sabatier, director of communication, told CT. “It is a long and arduous process for an IRF bill to become a law, and many do not make it out of committee.”

The latest scorecard, released this week and grading the two-year term of the 116th Congress, lists 91 legislative efforts in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Only two became law.

The daughter of ...

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Once considered a beacon of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims, the West African nation has been embroiled in unprecedented extremist violence.

In the more than 15 years Salomon Tibiri has been offering spiritual succor as a military pastor in Burkina Faso, he’s never fielded so many calls from anxious soldiers and their relatives as in recent years, when the army found itself under attack by Islamic extremist fighters.

“Before the crisis there was more stability,” Tibiri said, seated in a military camp church in the city of Kaya, in the hard-hit Center-North region. “Now (the soldiers) are busier, and when you approach them you feel their stress—much more stress.”

Once considered a beacon of peace and religious coexistence in the region, the West African nation has been embroiled in unprecedented violence linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State since 2016.

[Editor’s note: A series of terrorist attacks on churches led Open Doors to add Burkina Faso to its persecution watch list in 2020 for the first time, and to rank it No. 32 out of the 50 countries where it’s hardest to be a Christian in 2021. Meanwhile, Burkinabe Christians have debated whether or not to join civilian militias in response.]

The attacks have thrown an ill-equipped and undertrained army into disarray—and overwhelming the chaplains tasked with supporting them.

In interviews in the Center-North and in Ouagadougou, the capital, military chaplains told The Associated Press that they are stretched thin by the unprecedented conflict and what assistance they are able to provide through phone calls and prayer services is insufficient.

Just seven chaplains, hailing from Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim faiths, are charged with spiritually advising some 11,000 soldiers and helping maintain their morale. The army has not devoted what little resources it has ...

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US ambassador meets with Abune Mathias in Addis Ababa after provocative video released.

The head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in his first public comments on the war in his country’s Tigray region is sharply criticizing Ethiopia’s federal government, saying he believes its actions constitute genocide: “They want to destroy the people of Tigray.”

The United States ambassador hosted him today to learn more.

In a video shot last month on a mobile phone and carried out of Ethiopia, the elderly Patriarch Abune Mathias addresses the church’s scores of millions of followers and the international community, saying his previous attempts to speak out were blocked. He is ethnic Tigrayan.

The video comes as the conflict in Tigray marks six months. Thousands of people have been killed in the fighting between Ethiopian and allied forces and Tigray ones, the result of a political struggle that turned deadly in November. Dozens of witnesses have told the AP that civilians are targeted.

“I am not clear why they want to declare genocide on the people of Tigray,” Mathias says, speaking in Amharic and listing alleged atrocities including the destruction of churches, massacres, forced starvation, and looting.

“It is not the fault of the Tigray people. The whole world should know it.”

He calls for strength, adding that “this bad season might pass away.” And he urges the world to act.

The comments are a striking denunciation from someone so senior inside Ethiopia, where state media reflect the government’s narrative and both independent journalists and Tigrayans have been intimidated and harassed. The video also comes as Ethiopia, facing multiple crises of sometimes deadly ethnic tensions, faces a national election on June 5.

Dennis Wadley, who runs the US-based ...

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Inspired by Makoto Fujimura, an American evangelical partners with Lebanese art institute to equally dignify every death.

Nine months later, Brady Black was fed up—and inspired.

Last August, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in human history leveled Lebanon’s main port and thousands of homes.

Charities and churches scrambled to help, as 204 people were killed.

The government has done next to nothing.

But now, each victim has a portrait across from Beirut’s famed Martyrs Square.

“Families were protesting, holding up pictures of their relatives as they demanded justice,” said Black.

“They wanted them to be seen. So we made it loud.”

An American street artist resident in Lebanon since 2015, Black teamed up with Art of Change to illegally create the capital city’s largest informal portrait gallery. Run by a secular British artist and a Lebanese Muslim from the heterodox Druze sect, the art institute co-founders sponsored Black’s evangelical idea for “good mischief.”

Scouring the internet for every name and image that could be found, Black digitally drew each face with the utmost care—with one caveat. No matter the importance of the victim or the degree of fame achieved in their death, each was limited to one hour of his creativity.

An hour he bathed in prayer for the surviving family.

“People come up to me, frantically asking, ‘Where is my son?’” said Black of his installation.

“‘Come with me,’ I tell them. ‘I know exactly where he is.’”

Each victim’s portrait is about 10 square feet in size. Arranged side-by-side, the images span the equivalent of three football fields, covering three-quarters of a city block on one of Beirut’s busiest downtown intersections.

Black was especially keen on the eyes.

Mona Lisa-like, ...

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Buffeted by Russia, corruption, and culture war pressures, believers surge in national elections.

Like many in America, evangelicals in Ukraine feel under siege.

It may be why people are starting to elect them—in record numbers.

“Ukraine has become the epicenter of a global spiritual battle,” said Pavel Unguryan, coordinator of Ukraine’s National Prayer Breakfast.

“Today, as never before, our nation needs unity, peace, and the authority of God’s Word.”

Their perceived threats are coming from all directions.

From the east, Russia recently amassed 100,000 soldiers on the border.

From the west, the European Union pushes LGBT ideology.

And from within, corruption is rampant.

On each issue, evangelicals align well with Ukrainian voters.

“The shortage of good leaders is so intense, parties are starting to recruit in the churches,” said Unguryan. “Honest and responsible politicians are easiest to find there.”

Last October, more than 500 evangelicals were elected to all levels of government. One even heads a major city—Rivne, in western Ukraine—as mayor.

With evangelicals comprising only 2 percent of Ukraine’s 40 million people, it is a significant achievement.

Two-thirds (65%) of the population identify as Orthodox Christians (split across three groups), 10 percent as Greek Catholic, and a further 8 percent as “simply a Christian.”

But the piety does not translate to politics. Ukraine ranks 117th out of 180 nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index—the second-lowest ranking in Europe.

As a result, 78 percent of Ukrainians distrust state officials, and 71 percent distrust politicians, according to a 2020 poll by the Razumkov Center.

But the church is trusted by 63 percent, second only to the army, trusted by ...

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Advocates say more subtle approaches and one-on-one engagement may actually do more to inform the unvaccinated without further dividing the faithful.

As COVID-19 vaccination rates slowed this spring, Americans’ attention turned toward the groups less likely to get the shot, including white evangelicals.

Black Protestants were initially among the most skeptical toward the vaccine, but they grew significantly more open to it during the first few months of the year, while white evangelicals’ hesitancy held steady.

With African Americans, many credit robust campaigns targeting Black neighborhoods, launching vaccination clinics in Black churches, and convening discussions featuring prominent Black Christian voices for reducing rates of hesitancy. So for those eager to see higher levels of vaccination, the question became: Are white evangelical leaders doing enough to engage their own?

The latest poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research organization focused on health issues, found that as of the end of April, white evangelicals (54%) were about as likely to have received the COVID-19 vaccine as the country overall (56%).

The difference comes with the attitudes among the unvaccinated. White evangelicals are half as likely as Americans overall to say they plan to get the shot ASAP, and 20 percent say they definitely won’t be getting the shot, 7 percentage points lower than the rest of the country.

Most evangelical churches in the country span a range of perspectives on vaccination, which makes it difficult for pastors to know when or how to address the topic.

“I know pastors who won’t even mention masks because people would leave. I’d say vaccines are even more sensitive,” said Dan DeWitt, who directs the Center for Biblical Apologetics and Public Christianity at Cedarville University. “Pastors ...

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Severe oxygen shortage one of many challenges as India suffers the world’s worst surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths.

With life-saving oxygen in short supply, families are left on their own to ferry people sick with COVID-19 from hospital to hospital in search of treatment as India is engulfed in a devastating surge of infections. Too often, their efforts end in mourning.

On social media and in television footage, desperate relatives plead for oxygen outside hospitals or weep in the street for loved ones who died waiting for treatment.

India has been setting global daily records of new coronavirus infections, spurred by an insidious new variant that emerged here.

On Friday, the number of new confirmed cases breached 400,000 for the third time since the devastating surge began last month. The 414,188 new cases pushed India’s official tally to more than 21.4 million, behind only the United States.

The Health Ministry also reported 3,915 new deaths on Friday, bringing the confirmed total over 234,000 (behind only the US and Brazil). Health experts believe both figures are an undercount.

Leaders of Christian churches and ministries in India have been overwhelmed by cases and deaths among their staff and congregants amid the unavailability of treatment. In response, today was jointly declared a day of prayer and fasting by the leaders of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI).

The current crisis is one of the darkest times in the history of the nation, according to Prabhu Singh, principal of the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies (SAIACS), an evangelical research institution in Bengaluru.

“One of the heartbreaking results of this intense second wave in the country is the tragic loss of senior leaders of Christian ...

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Ministries offer tips for how to give heartbreaking headlines over to God.

Over the past year, the news has been enough to drive us to despair. Or prayer. Or both.

As people have been bombarded with headlines about the global pandemic, civil unrest, natural disasters, and religious persecution, Google searches for prayer rose to the highest levels on record, and Christian ministries have stepped up to offer resources to help believers pray through the news.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the UK outlet Premier Christian News had redesigned its website to include prayer prompts at the end of every news story. The site saw more than 175,000 readers click to pray in 2020.

“We wanted to inform Christians about the news going on around the world but also equip them,” said Marcus Jones, Premier’s director of news and digital.

During some grim news cycles—Brexit, terrorist attacks, and then the pandemic—journalists and audiences alike can become desensitized to the headlines. “It is healthy to take a step back and say this is a real-life situation God can intervene in,” said Jones.

The writers at Premier Christian News compose or compile relevant prayers, usually just a few lines long, to run at the end of their articles. A tracker tallies how many readers have clicked the praying hands icon to indicate they are praying.

A majority of Premier readers come from the UK, where a third of people say the pandemic has affected their prayer life, according to a Savanta ComRes survey. They’re just as likely to say it’s made them pray less (15%) as to say it’s made them pray more (16%).

Still, Jones said the team has been impressed with how much engagement they’ve gotten from the feature. The most-prayed-for stories are usually ...

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