News and Views


News and Views

Russian authorities continue their campaign of religious persecution in occupied Ukraine. Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights Dmytro Lubinets reported that Russian security services searched the homes of an unspecified number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Armyansk, Simferopol, Saky, and Dzhankoi (cities north and northeast of Sevastopol) in occupied Crimea. Lubinets reported that Russian forces have initiated more than 100 criminal cases based on religious discrimination and persecution against citizens in occupied Crimea. — ISW, 8/22/23

When several hundred Lutherans in Bavaria, Germany, attended a service on June 9, 2023, designed by ChatGPT, the program not only selected hymns and prayers, but also composed and delivered a sermon by an avatar on a big screen. Programs like ChatGPT can produce a sermon in seconds. But several religious leaders, including rabbis serving Jewish congregations as well as Christian Protestant pastors, have conflicting feelings about utilizing chatbots in preparing sermons. — RNS, 7/6/23

Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the late self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church in 1954, became one of Paraguay’s largest private landowners when he bought a plot in Chaco nearly 25 years ago. Paraguay has scant oversight of its national airspace and no radar tracking at all in the Chaco. That allows drug gangs to fly undetected with shipments of Bolivian or Peruvian cocaine. Of the five landing strips raided, four were on land owned by the Unification Church. Drug cartels land their planes on clandestine airstrips and then smuggle drugs by land or riverboat to Atlantic ports in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, before heading east on Europe-bound container ships. — Reuters, 8/11/2023

The United Christian Forum, a human rights group based in New Delhi, said that since the start of the year there had been at least 400 acts of violence against Christians across 23 states in India, the Indian news outlet The Wire reported, up from 274 in the first half of 2022. — NBC News, 9/5/2023

According to the latest figures published by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istat), Catholics attending Mass in Italy at least once a week have decreased by almost half in two decades, dropping from 36.4% to 18.8% between 2001 and 2022, with a notable acceleration of the trend from 2020 onward. The data showed that the closure of churches during the COVID-19 health crisis drove away a number of worshippers who did not return after the restrictions were lifted. In 2022, 31% of the population claimed not to have entered a church except to celebrate a wedding, baptism or funeral – compared with 16% in 2001. These figures are unprecedented in Italy’s history. — National Catholic Register, 9/5/2023

Three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have fewer people in the pews, more money in the collection plate and less conflict than they had in 2020, according to the latest report from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, part of a study of the impact of the pandemic on America’s churches. It surveyed 4,809 congregations from 58 denominational groups from January to May of 2023. Median attendance at local congregations had declined about 9% since the spring of 2020

Three years after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, churches have fewer people in the pews, more money in the collection plate and less conflict than they had in 2020, according to the latest report from the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, part of a study of the impact of the pandemic on America’s churches. It surveyed 4,809 congregations from 58 denominational groups from January to May of 2023. Median attendance at local congregations had declined about 9% since the spring of 2020. About a third (30%) of churches said they’d experienced significant decline, while a quarter (24%) experienced some decline. An average of about 25 people continue to attend services online according to the congregations that track their online attendance. — RNS, 9/5/2023


The number of Japanese people has decreased at the fastest pace ever while the number of foreign residents in Japan has risen to a record of nearly 3 million. Japanese society is aging across the country and foreign nationals are playing an ever-bigger role in making up for the shrinking population. The number of Japanese nationals fell for a 14th year, by about 800,000 people, to 122.42 million, according to resident registration data as of Jan. 1, 2023, released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. — Reuters, 7/26/2023

Amidst a sweltering heat wave that gripped Wadesboro, North Carolina, Lieutenant Steven Kelly of the Wadesboro Police Department demonstrated true dedication to his community. Concerned for the well-being of an older person who was struggling with the arduous task of maintaining their lawn, Officer Mitchell took it upon himself to mow their lawn. This good news story serves as a reminder that even in challenging times, small acts of kindness can make a significant difference. Lt. Kelly’s thoughtfulness has not only garnered recognition but has also sparked conversations about the importance of looking out for one another, especially the elderly in times of extreme weather. — SunnySkyz, 8/9/2023

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said alpha-gal syndrome, a red-meat allergy linked to tick bites, is an emerging public-health problem. The agency said it identified 110,000 suspected cases of AGS in the U.S. between 2010 and 2022, but said the true number of cases could be as high as 450,000, in part because many healthcare providers aren’t aware of the syndrome. Reports to the CDC of tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, more than doubled in the U.S. between 2004 and 2019. — Wall Street Journal, 7/28/2023

Many workers across the U.S. are turning to ChatGPT to help with basic tasks, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found, despite fears that have led employers such as Microsoft and Google to curb its use. Companies worldwide are considering how to best make use of ChatGPT, a chatbot program that uses generative AI to hold conversations with users and answer myriad prompts. Security firms and companies have raised concerns, however, that it could result in intellectual property and strategy leaks. Anecdotal examples of people using ChatGPT to help with their day-to-day work include drafting emails, summarizing documents and doing preliminary research. — Reuters, 8/11/2023

Hickory, North Carolina, located in Catawba County, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is rated the number one place to live by U.S. News and the World Report. The average Hickory home value is $276,748, up 5.3% over the past year, according to Zillow’s Home Value Index. The average salary in Hickory, according to ZipRecruiter, ranges between $33,028 to $63,063 annually. — U.S. News and World Report, 7/27/2023

Researchers estimate that 30 percent of the American homeless population and 50 percent of its unsheltered population live in California, more than 170,000 people total. Researchers at UC San Francisco released the largest representative survey of homeless people in more than 25 years. It comprises survey data from 3,200 homeless people in California and in-depth interviews with more than 300 of them. The overwhelming majority of homeless people surveyed were locals, not migrants from far away: 90 percent lost their last housing in California, and 75 percent lost it in the same county where they were experiencing homelessness. — The Atlantic, 7/18/2023


Scientists in the Netherlands have shown that the issue of plastic pollution in our oceans is far smaller than anyone believed. According to the Netherlands Times reporting on the study, estimates for how much plastic has made it into the oceans over the last 20 years range from 50 million tons to 300 million tons, but the actual amount is likely somewhere around 3.2 million tons. The study showed that large models estimate the amount of plastic entering the oceans based on how much plastic has been made, how much has been recycled, how much has been buried or incinerated, and how much is missing. The study concludes that if the 30 richest countries found a way to remove 4,333 kg of trash per year from oceans and rivers, that would amount to all of what the new model suggests is actually entering them annually — an entirely manageable goal. — Good News Network, 8/9/2023

Public employers across the U.S. face struggles to fill jobs, leading to one of the largest surges in state government pay raises in 15 years. Many cities, counties and school districts also are hiking wages amid aggressive competition from private sector employers. The shortage comes due to a wave of retirements and resignations that began during the pandemic. Nationally, the turnover rate in state and local governments is twice the average of the previous two decades, according to federal labor statistics. The hardest positions to fill included police and corrections officers, doctors, nurses, engineers and jobs requiring commercial driver’s licenses. — AP, 7/28/2023

The largest dam removal project in United States history is underway along the California-Oregon border. Over the next decade, government workers and Native American tribes will plant nearly 17 billion seeds as they try to restore the Klamath River and the surrounding land to what it looked like before the dams started to go up more than a century ago. The demolition is part of a national movement to return the natural flow of the nation’s rivers and restore ecosystems that sustain fish and wildlife. More than 2,000 dams have been removed in the country, according to the advocacy group American Rivers. — AP, 7/31/2023

Days after India’s successful moon mission, the country is now setting its sights on the sun. According to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the Aditya-L1 spacecraft will be launched from the Sriharikota Spaceport on Sept. 2 in a bid to study the sun and its effect on space weather. Aditya, which refers to the sun in Hindi, is to be placed in a halo orbit around the Lagrangian point 1 of the Sun-Earth system, where the sun can be observed without any obstructions, an ISRO report stated. — CNBC, 8/29/23

Russia launched its first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years in a bid to be the first nation to make a soft landing on the lunar south pole, a region believed to hold coveted pockets of water ice. The Russian lunar mission, the first since 1976, is racing against India, which launched its Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander last month, and more broadly with the United States and China, both of which have advanced lunar exploration programs targeting the lunar south pole. — Reuters, 8/11/2023


$1,000,000,000.000 (one trillion) — the amount of credit card debt accumulated by consumers as of August 8, 2023. — New York Federal Reserve, 8/10/2023

The steep jump in public debt loads over the past decade and a half, as governments borrowed large amounts of money to battle the Global Financial Crisis and the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, is probably irreversible. That’s the unhappy conclusion of a research paper presented to some of the world’s most influential economic policy makers at the Kansas City Federal Reserve’s annual central banking symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Since 2007, worldwide public debt has ballooned from 40% to 60% of GDP, on average, with debt-to-GDP ratios even higher in the advanced countries. That includes the United States, the world’s biggest economy, where government debt is now more than equal to the nation’s yearly economic output. U.S. debt was about 70% of GDP 15 years ago.” — Reuters, 8/26/23

Professional service jobs are going unfilled and goods aren’t making it to market. National productivity has fallen for the past five quarters, the longest contraction since at least 1948, according to the U.S. Labor Department. The shortcomings run the gamut from general knowledge, including how to make change at a register, to soft skills such as working with others. Employers are spending more time and resources searching for candidates and often lowering expectations when they hire. Then they are spending millions to fix new employees’ lack of basic skills. — Wall Street Journal, 8/2/2023

Syrians demonstrated against worsening economic conditions and the Syrian regime’s mismanagement of the economy across the country. Syrian President Bashar al Assad removed fuel subsidies, raised salaries, and adjusted bus prices to counter the devaluation of the Syrian pound on August 15. The Syrian pound has devalued by over 80 percent since May 2023, which has exacerbated an economic crisis for Syrian civilians. The rising cost of living also has driven discontent in eastern Syria. — ISW, 8/18/23

Switzerland drafted new rules to tighten perceived cracks in its money laundering regulations, holding lawyers and consultants accountable for reporting risks and stepping up oversight of legal entities, such as trusts. The new rules, drafted by the Swiss government, will be presented to parliament in 2024 following consultation. Switzerland, whose banks make it the world’s biggest manager of offshore wealth, has long sought to fight its old image as a place for criminals to stash ill-gotten gains. It routinely exchanges bank account information with over 100 countries. But it has faced international pressure to shed more light onto the shadowy world of corporate ownership. — Reuters, 8/30/23

Tech giants Anthropic, Google and Microsoft have joined forces with OpenAI to create an industry body for artificial intelligence (AI) to help ensure its safe and responsible development. The Frontier Model Forum was created to help develop AI safely and promote it responsibly while minimizing potential risks to consumers. The body looks to support the implementation of AI as it begins to become more prominent today and will also establish an advisory board to help guide its strategy and priorities. The White House convened top tech companies to discuss the safe implementation of AI. — IR Magazine,


Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi met with Saudi Arabia for a Japanese ministerial meeting with the Gulf state. It is part of a larger shift by the Gulf and the region to focus more on relationships with countries in Asia, especially, China, Japan, South Korea, and other powerful economies.

According to the reports at Arab News, the talks with the Gulf states will include a discussion on trade and global security. Hayashi also spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat. The meetings are an “opportunity to review growing economic relations between Japan and the region’s countries, with trade between the two parties having exceeded $100 billion last year,” the Arab News report said. — Jerusalem Post, 9/6/2023

The traditional location of the Upper Room is today placed on the southern end of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, close by the Church of the Dormition and the traditional house of Caiaphas. Historians and archaeologists have debated for more than a century whether the traditional location is historically accurate. A number of early Christian reproductions of Jerusalem reveal a distinct structure beside the Hagia Sion church. There is good reason to identify this as the Upper Room since artistic representations give compelling evidence that the Upper Room once stood adjacent to the Byzantine church of Hagia Sion and likely existed before the latter was constructed — and certainly existed afterward. — Bible History Daily, 7/30/2023

Archaeologists have discovered four 1,900-yearold Roman swords in a cave in the Judean Desert, which experts believe were captured by the Judean rebels during the Bar Kochba revolt and placed in a narrow crevice in the rock. — Times of Israel, 9/5/2023

Israel extracted some 200 citizens and local Jews from conflict zones in Ethiopia, the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office announced, amid fighting in the African country’s northern Amhara region. According to a joint statement, Israel rescued 174 Israelis and Ethiopians eligible to immigrate from the city of Gondar in Amhara, home to thousands of Ethiopians waiting for permission to move to Israel. Another 30 Israelis were rescued from Amhara’s capital city of Bahir Dar. — Times of Israel, 8/10/2023

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