- The Washington Times - Monday, January 15, 2024

Churches are leaving the District of Columbia to follow their congregants to suburbs in Maryland and Virginia, The Times’ Sean Salai reports. While the nation’s capital rose in overall population between 2008 and 2023, the city lost one-third of its worship spaces, he reported.

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Mainline Protestant churches and historically Black Baptist congregations account for the greatest number of church departures. The losses mean more than the shifting of worship centers, however.

“These buildings are important for all kinds of broader community purposes besides worship — including polling places, food banks, daycare centers, nonprofit offices, art galleries and homeless services,” said Evan Sparks, treasurer of the Sacred Spaces Conservancy, which monitors the changes. “When we lose them to the private sector, they become vastly more expensive for the community to access and use.”

Ban surrogate motherhood, pope says

SEE ALSO: Pope Francis, same-sex couple blessings and an imploding Catholic traditional theology

Pope Francis called for an international ban on surrogate motherhood, declaring the practice “deplorable” and harmful to women while making an unborn child “an object of trafficking.”

In remarks to diplomats at the Vatican, the pontiff called surrogacy “a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs. A child is always a gift and never the basis of a commercial contract.”

While surrogacy is expected to become a $129 billion annual business by 2032, critics slam the practice as imposing terms on surrogates that are far more restrictive than those given to mothers who agree to surrender a child for adoption.

African bishops won’t allow same-sex couple blessings

Blessings for same-sex couples and other Catholics in “irregular situations” may be permitted by the Vatican, but clergy in Africa won’t bless same-sex couples, the continent’s bishops said Thursday.

SEE ALSO: Archaeologists proving the Bible with each stunning discovery

In a document sanctioned by Francis, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu, archbishop of Kinshasa and president of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, said the blessings “would cause confusion” among Catholics in the region.

The December announcement by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that such blessings could be granted so long as they don’t mimic a marriage ritual, set off a firestorm in the church. Cardinal Fernández also approved of the African bishop’s declaration.

Pope faces growing U.S. disapproval

Francis, who last year marked a decade as spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is facing growing displeasure among Americans as well as among U.S. Catholics, a Gallup poll revealed.

A new high of 30% of Americans held an unfavorable view of the pope, with 58% saying they are favorable toward him. A record 17% of U.S. Catholics disapproved, with 77% approving, a percentage that hasn’t wavered in recent years. 

The latest dip in favorability ratings for Francis came after the shock dismissal in November of Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, a staunch critic. Gallup said the Vatican’s Dec. 18 announcement of “blessings” for same-sex couples did not have a significant impact on the poll, which was conducted Dec. 1-20.

Jews face record number of antisemitic incidents

In the three months following the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in Israel, Jews in the United States — and their synagogues, schools and community centers — have seen a 360% jump in antisemitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

About 34 incidents have been reported daily since the raids. The totals include 628 incidents at synagogues and community centers, 505 on college campuses, and 246 at K-12 schools. Among Jewish schools in Florida, New Jersey and New York, security costs have risen 47% to an average of $845 per pupil as a result, the Teach Coalition said.

U.S. religious freedom panel wants Nigeria, India on watchlist

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for congressional hearings after the State Department refused to put India and Nigeria on its “Countries of Particular Concern” watchlist of religious freedom violators.

Sectarian violence in Nigeria claimed hundreds of Christian lives just before Christmas, commission Chair Abraham Cooper and Vice Chair Frederick A. Davie said, and there was “no justification” for omitting the west African nation from the CPC roster. India’s persecution of minority religions also meant the State Department should place the south Asian nation on the list.

Video: ‘Yes, we need God,’ pastor tells self-reliant Christians 

Self-reliance is at the heart of a rise in fear, and a fractured American culture, Pastor Jesse Bradley of Grace Community Church told our Billy Hallowell in a video interview. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we should look at the community as a whole and return to church “where you experience the presence of God.”

Pope’s ‘theological ghostwriter’ revealed as orgasm-book author

Cardinal Fernández — the Vatican’s doctrinal chief and reported “theological ghostwriter” for Pope Francis — has been outed as the author of “The Mystical Passion: Spirituality and Sensuality,” a book containing graphic descriptions of sexual anatomy and orgasms.

“I certainly would not write [that book] now,” the cleric told Catholic media, adding that the title’s publication and distribution were soon halted after its initial release.

In our opinion

Doubt can lead to greater faith. Christians can have moments of uncertainty about their faith, author and speaker Jason Jimenez tells readers. But it’s essential to see doubt not as sinful, but instead as an opportunity to go deeper in your faith.

“If your doubts go overlooked, they can rob you of your peace and joy and strip you of any confidence you once had in God and the Bible,” he writes.

Dig it. You can trust the Bible for several reasons, including new archaeological discoveries that back the Good Book’s claims, Billy Hallowell writes.

The recent exposure of the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, new evidence of King David’s empire, and discoveries surrounding Hezekiah, one of the kings of Judah, all back up the Bible’s veracity, he says.

Ask Dr. E: Everett Piper, our “Ask Dr. E” columnist, tells a troubled reader that the message of C.S. Lewis’ classic Narnia tale, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” offers hope in a troubled world. The appearance of hero lion Aslan is a representation of Jesus’ promise to always be with believers, no matter what.

“God is never far away,” he writes. “We just need to ‘make him visible’ through our prayers, faith and obedience to His way, His truth, and His life as revealed in His Word, and incarnated in His Son.”

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