Death row prayer case goes to court

The United States Supreme Court stayed the execution of a Texas man who wants his Baptist pastor to lay hands on him and pray as he’s put to death. John Henry Ramirez murdered a convenience store clerk in 2004, stabbing the man 29 times in the process of stealing $1.25 to buy drugs. In prison, he committed his life to Christ and became a member of Second Baptist Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ahead of his September 8 execution date, Ramirez sued for the right to have his pastor touch him at the time of death. The court will consider it next term.

RZIM claims First Amendment protection

Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by donors alleging the misuse of funds, because the apologetics organization is registered as a church. According to RZIM’s lawyers, the First Amendment prohibits the court from ruling on “purely ecclesiastical assertions,” such as whether Zacharias conformed to the “moral standards of ‘real’ Christian leaders” or whether the RZIM board exercised appropriate oversight over the famed apologist. According to an RZIM-funded investigation, the late apologist used a humanitarian fund to pay four massage therapists, at least one of whom said he used the money to pressure her to have sex.

Christians disagree over economic protests

Evangelicals are divided over the protests that have roiled Colombia since the proposal of a tax bill that would raise the cost of daily essentials, such as eggs and chickens, while giving more breaks to corporations. On a livestreamed show, pastors of the Misión Carismática Internacional megachurch warned real social change can only happen through prayer and personal conversion. A statement from the Iglesia Cristiana Casa Sobre la Roca network of 32 churches, on the other hand, invoked a noble history of Christian protest going back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in World War II while reminding believers, “No somos pirómanos, sino bomberos” (“We are not arsonists, but firefighters”).

Billy Graham and Charles Spurgeon banned

A court in the self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine has determined books by Billy Graham and Charles Spurgeon are “extremist” and will now be banned. The Door is Open, by Spurgeon, and Born to Die, by Graham, were seized from the Council of Churches Baptist near the town of Sverdlovsk, near the Russian border. There are now 26 titles on the “State List of Extremist Materials,” including the Jehovah’s Witness magazine The Watchtower and a Russian-language translation of the Gospel of John. According to the Ukrainian government, the Luhansk government is an occupying administration of the Russian Federation and is receiving aid from Russia as armed conflict between the rebels and Ukraine continues.Kenya

Alternatives to orphanages pressed

A Kenyan man who was raised in an institution with 150 other children and only two caregivers per shift asked the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to end support for orphanages. “Instead of removing children from their families because of poverty, why don’t you address poverty within the family to ensure that the children continue to enjoy the care of their families,” Stephen Ucembe said via video. He is backed by Faith in Action, an evangelical-led coalition of child welfare organizations that advocates for more family options. American Christians give about $3.3 billion to international orphanages annually.

Church facilitates thousands of vaccinations

A Mennonite megachurch, in cooperation with local authorities, is vaccinating about 8,000 people against COVID-19 per day. The vaccines are provided by the government of the city of Semarang, and Jemaat Kristen Indonesia’s Injil Kerajaan (Holy Stadium) provides the facilities, pays 100 workers to assist the medical professionals, and gives away free lunches. The church is also providing space for people who need to quarantine. Deaths and infection rates started to fall in Indonesia in September as vaccines became more widely available. Most of the people who have received vaccines at Injil Kerajaan have never been inside a church before.

Hillsong founder facing charges

Hillsong founder Brian Houston stepped down from the church’s governing board amid criminal allegations that he covered up sexual abuse committed by his father, Frank Houston. According to prosecutors, the elder Houston abused a boy in the 1970s, and when the younger Houston learned about it in 1999, he tried to hide it. Brian Houston denies the charges “vehemently.” According to church leaders, he confronted his father, contacted Assemblies of God denominational leaders, forced his father to retire, and ultimately made a public announcement about the allegations. Frank Houston died in 2000. The charges against Brian Houston carry a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison. He will continue to serve as global senior pastor, preaching in Australia and around the world.

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Star paid not to stir controversy over faith

Brazilian soccer star Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior is paid hundreds of thousands of euros every month if he avoids statements of “religious propaganda that could damage the image and unity” of the Paris Saint-Germain Football Club. Neymar, popularly known by his first name, is currently one of the highest-paid soccer players in the world and has been quite outspoken about his faith. He once told reporters, “Life only makes sense when our highest ideal is to serve Christ.” His current contract, however, includes a clause that pays him more than €540,000 (roughly $630,000) per month to avoid declarations of faith.

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