News and Views


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About 8 in 10 Americans said religious freedom issues are at least somewhat important to them, with 55% saying they are very important, according to a newly released poll conducted by The University of
Chicago Divinity School and The Associated Press NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll was conducted before the coronavirus wreaked
havoc in the country. 46% of evangelicals said their religious freedom was under threat, compared with 27% of mainline Protestants, 36% of Catholics and 40% of Americans affiliated with other religions. About 40% said Jews’ freedom of religion is being threatened. — ABC News, 8/5/2020

A family in Great Britain took legal action after police dragged the father and mother from the hospital bedside of their critically ill six-year-old daughter, who later died. Police were acting on behalf of doctors, who had ordered the girl be taken off a ventilator and for treatments to be stopped. The girl was born with a rare condition, Niemann-Pick Disease that leads to loss of function of nerves, the brain and other organs. Both parents are doctors and objected to the doctors’ decision to pull her tube. — Sky News, 8/6/2020

State-approved churches in China that were forced to close due to the pandemic were allowed to reopen only if they use their sermons for “patriotic education” and to support the Communist Party, according to a report from Bitter Winter, a watchdog that monitors violations of religious liberty in China. The Religious Affairs Bureau of Zhengzhou, the capital of the province of Henan, released a list of 42 prerequisites for churches that want to reopen. Churches must promote the so-called “four
requirements,” which involves: (1) requiring religious communities to ritually raise the national flag, (2) promoting the Chinese constitution and laws, (3) promoting “core socialist values,” and, (4) promoting “China’s excellent traditional culture.” — Christian Headlines, 8/4/2020

In simpler times, divinity schools sent their graduates out to lead congregations or conduct academic research. Now there is a more office-bound calling: the spiritual consultant. Those who have chosen this path have founded agencies — some for-profit, some not — with similar-sounding names: Sacred Design Lab, Ritual Design Lab, and Ritualist. They provide clients with a range of spiritually inflected services, from architecture to employee training to ritual design. — Dnyuz, 8/28/2020


A manager at a Nashville Kroger grocery store in Nashville hired a woman who had been sleeping in its parking lot for a year. She had been battling drug addiction and had been spending nights in her car. A hiring manager at Kroger, noticed her and encouraged her to attend an upcoming job fair, and after filling out an application with help from workers, was hired on the spot. “I was sleeping in a parking lot and looking for something to eat. Now, all my babies here love on me. No one abuses me, and no one calls me dumb and stupid. For the first time in my life, I finally got peace,” she told USA Today. — SunnySkyz, 9/6/2020

A recent Centers for Disease Control report indicated that one-quarter of young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 say they’ve considered suicide
in the past month because of the pandemic. Veteran studies have noted that for every half-percent gain in unemployment, there will be an increase of 500 more veteran deaths by suicide. Turning to agricultural communities, the situation pre-COVID-19 was already grim. Farm, ranch and agricultural communities already had suicide rates that were 3.5% higher than comparable urban areas. Researchers are seemingly united in saying the data now points to an increase in deaths of despair. Crisis hotlines
are seeing unusually high demand. Mental health and tele-health agencies have longer waiting lists. — Religious News Service, 9/1/2020

Fires in California, Oregon and Colorado burned millions of acres as the largest number of fires in history in those states occurred in 2020. — Wall Street Journal, 9/11/2020 (Editor’s note: According to the Congressional Research Service, there has been a downward trend in California fires since 2015 when 68,200 fires burned 10.13 million acres.)

Millions of young people in the Middle East whose pursuit of jobs or plans for higher education and marriage have been upended by the pandemic,
plunging them into the kind of deep uncertainty and despair they had hoped to leave behind. Such turmoil is universal in the wake of the pandemic, but the despair is particularly pronounced in the Middle East, where wave after wave of war, displacement and disease has left this generation feeling bitter and hopeless. The pandemic in some Arab countries was the final blow to economies now on the cusp of complete collapse. The strains are also made harder because, in the Arab world, lives for young adults tend to be more scripted than for their counterparts in the West. Cultural expectations put more pressure on males to earn enough so they can move out, marry and provide for families. — AP, 7/27/2020

The pandemic has devastated hundreds of thousands of businesses across Latin America, setting back the clock on the social and economic gains made over the past two decades. From 2003 to 2019, poverty fell from 45% to 30% region-wide. Now Latin America’s economy is expected to contract 9.4% in 2020, according to the International Monetary Fund, the worst downfall on record. About 2.7 million businesses, impacting 8.5 million jobs, or nearly 20% of the region’s companies, are expected to close for good according to the United Nations’ Economic Commission on Latin America
and the Caribbean. — Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2020


China’s ascent has reshaped security policies across the Asia-Pacific region. Australia recently detailed $186 billion in high-tech defense spending and along with India is drawing closer to Japan and the U.S. through military drills. South Korea is boosting spending on jet fighters. China’s claim in the South China Sea has put all countries near there on high alert. Japan is now one of the world’s best-equipped and trained military which hasn’t been active since WWII as Prime Minister Abe over the past eight years has moved the country away from strict pacifism. — Wall Street Journal, 7/15/2020

Iran is currently struggling politically and financially with the economy on the verge of collapse. Inflation and unemployment rates are at record high levels, and the regime is finding it extremely difficult to pay its employees, let alone its more luxurious obligations. Iran’s economic conditions have become so dire that even some officials are warning of possible revolt and the collapse of the Islamic Republic. The Iranian regime is in desperate need of cash. It is important to note that without Iran’s financial and military assistance, many militia and terror groups could not survive. — Gatestone Institute, 7/28/2020

The National Security Agency, as well as its counterparts in Britain and Canada, all said that they’re seeing persistent attempts by Russian hackers to break into organizations working on a potential coronavirus vaccine. The Western intelligence agencies say they believe the hackers are part of the Russian group informally known as Cozy Bear. The intelligence agencies refer to it as APT29. That group has been linked to Russian intelligence and was blamed for hacking Democratic Party emails in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. — NPR, 7/17/2020

Global powers including the U.S., Russia and China expect the Arctic Ocean to become a critical shipping route as the polar ice melts, shortening travel
between Asia and Europe, Chinese companies have already purchased several assets in Canada’s north. Currently, it is lobbying the federal and local governments to fund the construction of a 200-mile road and deep-water port on the Northwest Passage.

It also owns a copper and nickel mine at the northern tip of Quebec. China has been methodically investing in the Arctic and wants to protect its access
to the pole as an alternative shipping route. — Wall
Street Journal, 7/27/2020

A large fire broke out at Lebanon’s main port where a chemical explosion previously took place which killed 200 people. The fire was further evidence for many Lebanese of official negligence. The explosion capped a series of crises that have underlined the government’s failure to address Lebanon’s most pressing challenges, from an economic tailspin to rolling power cuts and spreading hunger. Lebanese have blamed the country’s ruling elite which they say contains widespread corruption and mismanagement. — Wall Street Journal, 9/11/2020


Across Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, an unprecedented economic meltdown is underway, threatening to push the region at the heart of the Arab world into extreme poverty and renewed unrest. Lebanon and Syria’s currencies have crashed and hyperinflation is setting in. In Iraq, where more than 60% of the population is under 25, a dramatic collapse in oil revenues has depleted the budget. About half of university graduates cannot find employment opportunities in the public or private sectors since 2018. — AP, 7/27/2020

The federal government’s disaster loan and grant program for small businesses has been subject to more than 5,000 complaints of suspected fraud from lenders. The Small Business Administration reports that nine financial institutions reported a combined total of $187 million in suspicious transactions, including establishing accounts with stolen identities, account holders unable to identify business names on loans or customers attempting to transfer funds into accounts located overseas or used for investment purposes. Congress allocated $20 billion in funding to the grant program. — Wall Street Journal, 7/29/2020

96%—amount of China’s urban households in 2019 that owned at least one home, far exceeding the 65% home ownership rate in the U.S. As recently as the 1990s, it was illegal under China’s communist system to own homes. The total value of Chinese homes and developers’ inventory hit $52 trillion in 2019, twice the size of the U.S. residential market, as buyers worry China’s currency will depreciate in the global economic slowdown (Editor’s note: China benchmarks its currency against the U.S. dollar and prices are set accordingly). — Wall Street Journal, 7/17/2020

China’s dismal human rights record is creating more dissatisfaction among countries dealing with the communist regime there. Japan is paying Japanese firms to move production out of China for reasons part economic, part national security and, part desire to reign in Chinese ambitions. India, after a recent border clash in the Himalayas, is courting companies to relocate production from China. Apple is in the process of moving 20 percent of its production to India from China. — Christian Headlines, 8/4/2020

Israel and the Middle East

As Israel continues to bake in another recordbreaking heat wave, the Israel Water Authority has offered news: the Sea of Galilee stands at an astonishing 27-year high for the start of September. Israel’s largest freshwater lake and the source of a quarter of the country’s water currently hovers at 209.535 meters (687 feet) below sea level — just
0.735 meters (2.41 feet) shy of the so-called upper red line, the maximum level above which the lake would flood its banks. This is the highest level since 1993. In August 2018, the Water Authority offered a dour prediction for precipitation during the coming winter months, warning that the Promised Land was set for a sixth year of insufficient rain. They also
warned that the Sea of Galilee was drying up rapidly and approaching the level marking a dangerously high concentration of salt and algae, making the water unfit for consumption. Israel was concerned over a looming ecological disaster. Yet the Water Authority’s predictions proved incorrect. Two seasons of particularly abundant rainfall replenished the Sea of Galilee to its highest level in two decades. In fact, after years of the water level creeping further from the shore and islands appearing in patches on the once smooth water surface, the Sea of Galilee overflowed its banks, submerging the vegetation along the shore. — Bridges for Peace, 9/7/2020

President Xi agreed to Chinese investment of US $400 billion over the next quarter of a century flowing into Iranian banking, energy, cyber, telecommunications and transport sectors. In exchange, Iranian oil will flow to China at a sharply reduced rate for the next 25 years (Editor’s note: this will help assure that China’s domestic production of oil can
grow). The agreement also promises close military cooperation between the two nations. The partnership also affords China a significant military and
economic foothold in the Middle East. As part of the agreement, Iran can also look forward to a massive cache of advanced Chinese weapons. With Iran using every soapbox to boast about the imminent annihilation of the Jewish state, it takes no guesswork to determine at whom those weapons will be aimed. — Bridges for Peace, 7/14/2020

The world’s economies are moving away from fossil fuels. Oversupply and the increasing competitiveness of cleaner energy sources mean that oil
may stay cheap for the foreseeable future and no region will be more affected than the Middle East and North Africa. Compared with other regions, the Middle East has one of the highest proportions of unemployed young people in the world. Oil has bankrolled unproductive economies, propped up unsavory regimes and invited unwelcome foreign interference. Saudi Arabia has suspended a costof-living allowance for state workers, raised petrol prices and tripled its sales tax. Even so, the budget
deficit could exceed $110 billion this year (16% of GDP). — Economist, 7/18/2020

The Chevron Corporation has announced an agreement to acquire Noble Energy for [US] $5 billion in stock. The deal includes Noble’s stake in Israeli offshore natural gas fields, meaning Chevron will now become the operator of the Leviathan and Tamar gas fields in the Mediterranean. Chevron will also acquire Noble’s 35% stake in Cyprus’s Aphrodite gas field. This is the first time a major oil company has entered the Israeli energy market. The East Mediterranean arena is increasingly becoming engulfed in regional tensions. — BICOM, 7/22/2020

The Abraham Accords, brokered by the U.S. and signed by the U.S., Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, normalizes relations between the
nations and further isolates Tehran. The agreement also leaves out the Palestinians, who have not engaged with the Trump administration and its peace efforts since Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The signing upends nearly a century of regional politics and business and brings together top U.S. allies in the turbulent Middle East. — Wall
Street Journal, 9/16/2020

According to CBN News, 140 immigrants from France migrated to Israel despite travel restrictions and lockdowns. “The Jews of Europe and the rest of the world are currently facing complex challenges, and every Jew should know that the gates of this country are still open, even during an emergency or crisis,” said Israel’s Minister of Immigration and Absorption. Israel expects to welcome more than 10,000 immigrants this year. Some 450,000 Jews live in France. Many still face anti-Semitic attitudes and incidents. — Christian Headlines, 8/4/2020

The Israeli government greenlighted a plan to help 2,000 Ethiopian Jews come home to Israel by the end of 2020. According to Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, some 8,000 members of the Falash Mura community currently living in large compounds in the Ethiopian cities Addis Ababa and
Gondar wait to make Aliyah. Israel vows to bring them all to Israel by the end of 2023. — Bridges for Peace, 9/10/2020

The newfound gas riches in the Eastern Mediterranean has triggered a slew of rival maritime claims. On one side is a budding alliance of Greece, Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt — on another is the Eastern Mediterranean’s biggest economy, Turkey, increasingly flexing its military muscles as it seeks to break its regional isolation. — Wall Street Journal, 5/2/2020

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