YOUR VOTE MATTERS! Don’t forget Election Night Coverage on The Jim Bakker Show! LIVE Tuesday night at 7 PM!

By Kami Klein

Two years ago, Christians came en masse to vote for the future of this country.  Conservative values were being ridiculed. Our Constitution was being put to the test and our belief that God was the foundation of this country was ignored.  In a stunning turn-around, the Church made their voices known. NOW is the time to show we mean it. Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 6th, America once again goes to the polls to vote.  It is vital that you make your voice heard!

Voting is our power and it is the responsibility of all Americans to remember the importance of “We The People”.  You do not have to hold a sign or shout; you do not have to fight! In America, there is a way to let your feelings and beliefs be heard. This is your chance to speak!  Speak with YOUR vote!

For the last few months, our guests on The Jim Bakker Show have strongly encouraged us to not sit idly by but to get out and Vote.  The importance of mid-term elections has never been more paramount. The Church must be heard in this election. You must not throw your vote away!  

On election night we invite you to join The Jim Bakker Show LIVE at 7 pm CT as we watch the results come in on this extremely important time in America!  This exciting Live broadcast can be found on PTL Television Network on your Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or by going to jimbakkershow.com or the PTL Television Network at Ptlnetwork.com.    

We would love for you to join us as we speak via Skype with some of our most influential prophetic guests such as Rick Joyner, General Boykin, Lance Wallnau, David Horowitz, Jim Garlow, Carl Gallups and more.

Speak this Tuesday on your voting ballot as we exercise our freedom to vote and send a message to the world that God is in control and we believe in His plans for us.  

Please, go vote and continue praying for our President, for our leaders, and for our nation!  The Church is the key to our future!

 

Pope blames devil for Church divisions, scandals, seeks angel’s help

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis talks as he meets youth and the Synod Fathers at the Pope Paul VI hall in Vatican, October 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The devil is alive and well and working overtime to undermine the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis says.

In fact, the pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sexual abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church that he has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back.

“(The Church must be) saved from the attacks of the malign one, the great accuser and at the same time be made ever more aware of its guilt, its mistakes, and abuses committed in the present and the past,” Francis said in a message on Sept. 29.

Since he was elected in 2013, Francis has made clear that he believes the devil to be real. In a document in April on holiness in the modern world, Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times.

“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable,” he wrote in the document.

The Church has recently been hit by one sexual abuse scandal after another, from Germany, to the United States, to Chile. At the same time, a deepening polarization between conservatives and liberals in the Church has played out on social media.

Francis’ use of the term “the great accuser” to describe Satan hit a raw nerve with one of the pope’s harshest conservative critics, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s former ambassador to Washington.

 

CHURCH DIVISIONS

In an 11-page statement published on Aug. 26, Viganò launched an unprecedented broadside by a Church insider against the pope and a long list of Vatican and U.S. Church officials.

He accused Francis of knowing about sexual misconduct by a former U.S. cardinal with male adult seminarians but not doing anything about it.

Viganò, concluding that his former boss had singled him out as the devil in disguise, complained in his next statement that Francis “compared me to the great accuser, Satan, who sows scandal and division in the Church, though without ever uttering my name”.

On Sunday, a top Vatican official issued a scathing open letter accusing Viganò of mounting a “political frame job devoid of real foundation” and contesting his accusations against the pope point by point.

Francis is so convinced that Satan is ultimately to blame for both the sexual abuse scandals and the divisions within the Church that he has enlisted the aid of spiritual big gun – St. Michael the Archangel. Michael is mentioned several times in the Bible as the leader of the angels who ousted Lucifer, the fallen angel, from paradise.

Catholics are being asked to recite the rosary daily in October and conclude it with a prayer to St. Michael that was said after Mass until 1964 but then fell into disuse.

The prayer reads:

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of heavenly hosts, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan, and all evil spirits, who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.”

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Gareth Jones)

‘Multiple victims’ reported in shooting in Maryland

Pol;ice on scene at work place shooting. Active shooter

By Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Several people were shot on Thursday in Perryman, Maryland, near an Army facility, and residents were asked to avoid the area, according to authorities.

“The situation is still fluid,” the Harford County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Twitter, adding that officers were dispatched to the incident shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT).

Agents from the Baltimore offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI were also responding, the agencies said.

Perryman is 34 miles (55 km) northeast of Baltimore. The area of the reported shooting includes a church and a business district, and is near the Aberdeen Proving Ground, an Army facility.

Details of the shooting were still largely unknown around 10:30 a.m. (1430 GMT).

A witness told NBC’s affiliate in Baltimore that the shooting occurred in a warehouse and that 20 to 30 officers, as well as ambulances, responded to the scene.

“They’re telling that there is an active shooter,” said the witness, whom the station identified as a man named Bo who did not want to provide his last name.

Governor Larry Hogan said his office was “closely monitoring the horrific shooting.”

“Our prayers are with all those impacted, including our first responders,” Hogan wrote on Twitter. “The State stands ready to offer any support.”

The shooting occurred a day after a man shot and wounded four people, including a police officer, at a Pennsylvania court building before he was killed by police, according to Pennsylvania State Police.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Catholic bishops in Australia reject compulsory abuse reporting, defying new laws

Archbishop Mark Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in Australia, speaks as Sister Monica Cavanagh, President of Catholic Religious Australia, listens during a media conference in Sydney, Australia, August 31, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

By Byron Kaye and Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Catholic church in Australia said on Friday it would oppose laws forcing priests to report child abuse when they learn about it in the confessional, setting the stage for a showdown between the country’s biggest religion and the government.

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics, is facing sexual abuse crises in several countries and the stance taken by the Australian bishops reflected the abiding, powerful influence conservatives in the church.

Visiting Ireland earlier this week, Pope Francis begged forgiveness for the multitude of abuses suffered by victims in Ireland, and he has promised no more cover-ups.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC), the country’s top Catholic body, said it did not accept a recommendation from an official inquiry which would force priests by law to report abuse to the police when they hear about it in confession.

Two of Australia’s eight states and territories have since introduced laws making it a crime for priests to withhold information about abuse heard in the confessional, while the others have said they are considering their response.

“This proposed law is ill-conceived, and impracticable, it won’t make children safer, and it will most likely undermine religious freedom,” ACBC President Mark Coleridge told reporters in Sydney, referring to the sanctity of the confessional.

The seal of confession was “a non-negotiable element of our religious life and embodies an understanding of the believer and God”, Coleridge added.

Twenty-two percent of Australians are catholic and the move sets up a rare schism between the church and the government, in a country that adheres to a secular constitution.

Andrew Singleton, professor of philosophy at Deakin University in the state of Victoria, said the bishops’ response reflected a disconnect in Australia between religious and secular sensibilities.

“Their stance is the classic tension between canon law, and their sense that there is some sort of higher, transcendent entity, and common law,” Singleton said.

Last year, Australia ended a five-year government inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.

The inquiry heard seven percent of Catholic priests in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.

Accusations of cover-ups in the church have reverberated all the way to Pope Francis, who has been accused by a United States archbishop of knowing for years about sexual misconduct by an American cardinal and doing nothing about it.

DISAPPOINTED

The ACBC’s opposition runs against laws which take effect in South Australia, the country’s fifth-biggest state, in October, and in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) from April 2019.

Representatives of the attorneys general of South Australia and ACT were not immediately available for comment.

Larger New South Wales and Victoria states have said they are considering the recommendation, while Western Australia has promised a similar law. Queensland, the third-largest state, has never exempted priests from mandatory reporting of abuse.

The stance taken by the Australian bishops also runs against the position taken by their church’s chief adviser on child abuse complaint handling, Francis Sullivan, who said in 2017 that “priests, like everybody else, will be expected to obey the law or suffer the consequences”.

Sullivan was unavailable for comment on Friday.

Clare Leaney, CEO of In Good Faith Foundation, a victim support group, described the bishops’ decision as “more of the same”.

“I’ve spoken to a number of survivors … who said they were actually quite disappointed,” Leaney said.

“We are aware of at least one instance where the confession has been misused.”

The ACBC report came two weeks after a former Australian archbishop became the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of concealing abuse, and was ordered to serve a one-year prison sentence at home.

The convicted former archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, himself a former ACBC president, was found to have failed to report child abuse outside the confessional. He filed an appeal against his conviction on Thursday.

Australia’s former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had been scheduled to deliver a rare public apology to victims of sexual abuse on Oct. 22 but he was ousted by his party earlier this month.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

Church and religion take back seat as a secular Ireland votes on abortion

Pro-Life campaigner Vicky Wall holds a poster ahead of a 25th May referendum on abortion law, in Wicklow, Ireland, May 8, 2018. Picture taken May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Conor Humphries and Emily G Roe

NENAGH/CORK, Ireland (Reuters) – Three decades after Ireland introduced one of the world’s only constitutional bans on abortion, the Church that was so pivotal in securing the law’s passage finds itself a minor player in the now mainly secular battle to repeal it.

A vote on May 25 on whether to scrap the 1983 ban is the latest referendum to gauge just how much has changed in Ireland, once one of Europe’s most socially conservative and staunchly Catholic countries.

Polls suggest the repeal camp is in the lead but the vote is much closer than three years ago when Ireland became the first country to back gay marriage in a national referendum. The one-in-five who are undecided are likely to decide the outcome, both sides say.

As in the gay marriage case, the role of the Catholic Church this time is tricky: some feel the Church should be out in front robustly defending one of its core teachings. Others worry moralizing by celibate priests may prove counter-productive.

“The priests in a way are damned if they do and damned if they don’t,” leading anti-abortion activist Vicky Wall said as she campaigned in central Ireland against repeal.

The leaflets she distributed around the rural market town of Nenagh mentioned religion just once, to address concerns that campaigners in favor of the ban were imposing their beliefs on the country.

“Not true. You don’t have to be from any faith tradition to agree that human life should be protected… The right to life is first and foremost a human rights issue,” it read.

Religion was front and center when Ireland voted to ban abortion in a 1983 referendum described by columnist Gene Kerrigan as part of a “moral civil war” between conservative Catholics and progressive liberals for the country’s future.

The eighth amendment to enshrine the equal right to life of mother and her unborn child was proposed by a coalition of Catholic groups who feared Ireland would follow the United States and United Kingdom into expanding access to abortion.

Protestant churches felt the wording was too rigid, but it passed by a margin of two to one.

The result showed the depth of Catholic influence in Ireland. But it also consolidated opposition when the implications of the ban became clear in a series of legal cases just as clerical abuse scandals rocked trust in the Church.

Ireland was transfixed by the 1992 case of a 14-year-old rape victim barred from leaving the country by judicial order after she told the police she was planning to get an abortion. The injunction was lifted by the Supreme Court on the grounds her life was deemed at risk by suicide.

A referendum later that year enshrined the right of women to travel for an abortion, legalizing a stream of more than 3,000 women who go to Britain every year for terminations.

In 2012 a 31-year-old Indian immigrant died from a septic miscarriage after being refused an abortion that might have saved her life.

The ensuing outcry led to legislation the next year to allow abortion when a woman’s life is in danger and, combined with criticism from the United Nations and European Court of Human Rights, helped build political pressure for a referendum to repeal the ban.

CHURCH BATTLE

With just over two weeks to go before the vote, the Church has only recently begun to get involved, putting up posters at a few churches and allowing some anti-abortion campaigners to speak from the pulpit during Mass.

The small interventions have caused a rare public split.

The liberal Association of Catholic Priests, which represents more than 1,000 priests in Ireland, called the sermons “inappropriate and insensitive” and said that they would be regarded by some as “an abuse of the Eucharist.”

“As leadership of an association made up of men who are unmarried and without children of our own, we are not best placed to be in any way dogmatic on this issue,” it said.

Pastoral letters from some of the country’s 25 bishops have used increasingly emotive language in defense of the ban in recent days, however.

“We must not be naive about what is at issue in this Referendum. It is a great struggle between light and dark, between life and death,” Bishop of Cloyne William Crean said in his letter. “I invite you to CHOOSE LIFE!”

Campaigners on both sides say they are generally avoiding religion because they are afraid to alienate undecided voters and because it’s just not as relevant as it once was.

Seventy-eight percent of Irish people identified as Catholic in the 2016 census, down from 92 percent in 1991; 10 percent said they had no religion and 3 percent were Protestant. But a survey by national broadcaster RTE in 2006 showed Mass attendance had dropped to 48 percent from 81 percent since 1990. In 2011 the Dublin diocese said as few as 18 percent of Catholics in the capital went to Mass every week.

“I think telling voters to vote a particular way because God wants them to was never likely to be a winner for either campaign on either side,” said John McGuirk, spokesman for the Save the 8th umbrella group.

He described the campaign as a “much more secular battle” than 1983. While religious iconography featured in one recent national anti-abortion rally, campaigners are focusing on the science of how the fetus develops in the stages of pregnancy.

Yes campaigners, outfitted in the black sweatshirts with ‘Repeal’ in white that have become their symbol, talk about women’s rights and the medical dangers they say are created by the ban.

“It’s about the fact that … women don’t get a say in what they do with their bodies under the eighth amendment,” said 22-year-old Fay Carrol, a chef from Dublin who lives in Cork.

Others argue that since abortion is a reality for Irish women – by traveling or by ordering pills online – it should be acknowledged and integrated safely into the health care system.

“To require women to be dying to access termination of pregnancy… to demand that women who were raped carry their pregnancy to term, these are unacceptable risks and unacceptable situations,” said Rhona Mahony, Master of Dublin’s Holles Street Maternity Hospital.

Even without the Church’s active involvement, some Yes campaigners are concerned that the conservatism linked to Ireland’s Catholic tradition still guides many voters’ views.

“People are struggling with that legacy of centuries of Catholic Church teaching,” said veteran women’s rights campaigner Ailbhe Smyth. “I think this is, and will be, a very tight referendum.”

(Additional reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

Jailed U.S. pastor denies terrorism charges in Turkish court

Jailed U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson's wife Norine Brunson arrives at Aliaga Prison and Courthouse complex in Izmir, Turkey May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

By Ezgi Erkoyun

ANKARA (Reuters) – A U.S. pastor denied terrorism and spying charges in a Turkish court on Monday and called them “shameful and disgusting”, in a prosecution that has been condemned by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Andrew Brunson, who could face up to 35 years in jail, denied links to a network led by U.S.-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, accused of orchestrating a failed military coup in Turkey in 2016, and the outlawed Kurdish PKK militant group.

The Christian pastor from North Carolina has lived in Turkey for more than two decades and has been jailed pending trial since 2016.

“I am helping Syrian refugees, they say that I am aiding the PKK. I am setting up a church, they say I got help from Gulen’s network,” Brunson said, referring to the testimonies of anonymous witnesses in court.

One of the secret witnesses accused Brunson of trying to establish a Christian Kurdish state, and providing coordinates to U.S. forces in the delivery of weapons to the Kurdish YPG militia, active in northern Syria.

“My service that I have spent my life on, has now turned upside down. I was never ashamed to be a server of Jesus but these claims are shameful and disgusting,” Brunson told the court in the Aegean town of Aliaga, north of Izmir.

Brunson has been the pastor of Izmir Resurrection Church, serving a small Protestant congregation in Turkey’s third largest city.

TURKEY WANTS GULEN EXTRADITED

Brunson’s legal case is among several roiling U.S.-Turkish relations, including one in New York against a former executive of Turkish state lender Halkbank. The two countries are also at odds over U.S. support for the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.

Erdogan suggested last year Brunson’s fate could be linked to that of Gulen, whom Turkey wants extradited.

Gulen denies any association with the coup attempt. Tens of thousands of Turks have been arrested or lost their jobs over alleged connections with it.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted after Brunson’s first court appearance last month that the pastor was on trial for “no reason”.

“They call him a spy, but I am more a spy than he is. Hopefully he will be allowed to come home to his beautiful family where he belongs!” Trump said.

Outside the court on Monday, Sandra Jolley, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called for the clergyman’s release.

“Every day that Andrew Brunson spends here in prison is another day that the standing of the Turkish government diminishes in the eyes of not just the U.S. but the entire world,” she told reporters.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, who is expected to meet with U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington this week or next, said on Saturday any decision was up to the court.

“They say that the government should release him,” he said. “Is it in my power? This is a decision the judiciary will make.”

(Writing by Ece Toksabay; editing by Andrew Roche)

Pope says Mafiosi ‘carry death’, can’t call themselves Christian

Pope Francis leads the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday told members of the Mafia in Italy, where many go to Church and worship openly, that they cannot call themselves Christians because they “carry death in their souls”.

Francis’ improvised words before tens of thousands of people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square was his strongest attack on organized crime in nearly four years.

“So we don’t have to go far, let’s think about what happens right here at home (Italy),” he said while speaking generally about “fake Christians” who are corrupt while pretending to be righteous.

“(What about) the so-called Christian Mafiosi,” he said. “They have nothing at all in them that is Christian. They call themselves Christians but they carry death in their souls and inflict it on others.”

Many members of organized crime groups in Italy, such as Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta, see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group.

Particularly in smaller towns and cities in the south, they take part in Catholic sacraments, go to church and in some cases have also found complicity by some churchmen.

The town of Oppido Mamertina in the Calabria region made headlines in 2014 when locals carrying a statute of the Madonna in a traditional religious procession diverted its route to pass by the home of local mob boss who was infirm.

They paused before the boss’ house and tilted the statue slightly as if to kneel in a sign of respect toward the clan boss.

When Pope Francis visited the Calabria region the same year, he accused organized crime members of practising “the adoration of evil” and said Mafiosi excommunicate themselves from the Church by their actions.

At the audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Francis asked the faithful for prayers for Mafiosi, “so that the Lord touches their souls”.

In 1993 Pope John Paul sternly warned members of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra that they would “one day face the justice of God”. The crime group responded several months later with bomb attacks against several churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St. John’s, which is a pope’s church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

In recent years, the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta has overtaken Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as the most feared and lucrative Italian crime group, making most of its money from drug trafficking. It has spread throughout the world.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)

For Iraqi Christians, a bittersweet first Christmas home after Islamic State

Iraqi Christians pray during a mass on Christmas eve at Church of Saint George in Teleskof, Iraq December 24, 2017.

By Raya Jalabi

TELESKOF, Iraq (Reuters) – Inside the newly renovated Church of Saint George in the Northern Iraqi town of Teleskof, Hayat Chamoun Daoud led children dressed as Santa Claus singing “Jingle Bells” in Aramaic.

Like every other resident of Teleskof, this was Daoud’s first Christmas back home in three years, since Islamic State militants overran her town and forcibly displaced its 12,000-strong Chaldean Christian community.

“It’s so special to be back in my church, the church where I got married, the church I raised my children in,” the school headmistress said, tears in her eyes.

Faced with a choice to convert, pay a tax or die, Daoud, like many other Christians in the Nineveh Plains, chose to flee. Most sought refuge in nearby towns and cities, but many sought permanent asylum abroad. Though the militants were only in Teleskof for a few days, residents only began returning home earlier this year.

On Sunday, they celebrated their first Christmas together again at the town’s main church, which was overflowing. Hundreds of congregants, dressed in their finest, poured in to pray and receive communion from Father Salar Bodagh, who later lit the traditional bonfire in the church’s courtyard, a symbol of renewal he said.

Iraqi Christian children wait for gifts during a mass at Church of Saint George in Teleskof, Iraq December 24, 2017.

Iraqi Christian children wait for gifts during a mass at Church of Saint George in Teleskof, Iraq December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

‘JOY SOAKED IN TEARS’

Despite the obvious joys of being able to celebrate openly once again, it was a bittersweet Christmas for most across the Nineveh Plains, the epicenter of Iraq’s ancient Christian communities which can trace their history in the country back two millennia.

Though Iraq declared full victory over the militants just two weeks ago after a brutal three-year war, the damage done to Christian enclaves was extensive, and left many wondering whether they could overcome their recent history.

Islamic State ravaged Christian areas, looting and burning down homes and churches, stripping them of all valuable artifacts and smashing relics.

The damage in Qaraqosh, a town 15 km (10 miles) west of Mosul also known as Hamdaniya, was extensive, particularly to the town’s ancient churches.

At the Syrian Catholic Church of the Immaculate, congregants gathered for midnight Mass on Sunday surrounded by scorched and blackened walls, still tagged with Islamic State graffiti. They also sat on donated plastic chairs – the church has not yet been able to replace the wooden pews the militants used to fuel the massive fire which engulfed the church.

Most families will require tens of thousands of dollars to repair their homes and replace their stolen goods. But most say they can overcome the material damage, unlike the forced separation of their families.

Before the militant onslaught, Qaraqosh was the largest Christian settlement in Iraq, with a population of more than 50,000. But today, only a few hundred families have returned. Entire congregations have moved overseas, such as the Syriac Orthodox congregation of the Church of Mart Shmony.

On Saturday afternoon, Father Butros Kappa, the head of Qaraqosh’s Church of the Immaculate was trying hard to summon any sense of hope to deliver his congregation during Christmas Mass.

“We’ll have a Christmas Mass like in previous years, but this year, ours will be a joy soaked in tears, because all of our people have left Iraq,” said Father Kappa.

Holding Mass in the singed and upturned ruins of his church was therefore important, he said, “to remind everyone that despite the tragedies that have befallen us, we’re still here.”

A burned church of the Immaculate Conception by Islamic State militants is seen in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq December 23, 2017. Picture taken December 23, 2017.

A burned church of the Immaculate Conception by Islamic State militants is seen in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq December 23, 2017. Picture taken December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

‘NO FUTURE FOR US’

In Teleskof, 30 km (20 miles) north of Mosul and itself one of the oldest continuing Christian communities in the world, some families were skipping Mass altogether upset at their forced dispersal.

“We usually celebrate with our entire family,” said Umm Rita, as she prepared the traditional Christmas Day dish of pacha (sheep’s head, trotters and stomach all slowly boiled) at her home. “But how can we be happy this year? Our brothers and sisters, even my own daughter, her husband and child I’ve never met have all moved away.”

Community leaders estimate more than 7,000 of Teleskof’s residents are now scattered across Iraq and it’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region, the United States, Australia, Germany, Lebanon and Jordan.

Amid ongoing tensions between the central government in Baghdad and Iraq’s Kurds after a referendum on Kurdish independence was held over Baghdad’s objections in September, Teleskof’s residents fear violence once again. “We just want to live in peace,” said Umm Rita. “We are more anxious now than when Islamic State was in our homes.”

“Our community has been gutted,” said Firas Abdelwahid, a 76-year-old former state oil employee, of the thousands who have sought permanent shelter overseas. Watching children play by the church bonfire, he felt melancholy.

“But what do we expect? The past is tragic, the present is desperate and well, there is no future for us Christians in Iraq.”

(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Mary Milliken)

Lapse in background check database allowed Texan church gunman to buy weapons: Pentagon

Lapse in background check database allowed Texan church gunman to buy weapons: Pentagon

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garza

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – The man who committed the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history was able to buy guns legally from a sporting goods store because a prior domestic violence conviction was never entered into an FBI database used in background checks, officials said.

Devin Kelley, the gunman in Sunday’s massacre at a church in rural southeastern Texas, was found guilty by court-martial of assaulting his first wife and a stepson while assigned to a U.S. Air Force logistics readiness unit in 2012, the Pentagon disclosed on Monday.

The Air Force also acknowledged that it had failed to transmit information about Kelley’s conviction to the National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) system, a U.S. government data bank used by licensed firearms dealers to check prospective gun buyers for criminal backgrounds.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Freeman Martin put the number of victims killed in the attack at 26, including the unborn child of a pregnant woman who died. The dead otherwise ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years.

Twenty others were wounded, 10 of whom remained in critical condition late on Monday, officials said.

Two handguns were found in Kelley’s getaway vehicle, where he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after a failed attempt to flee from the scene of Sunday’s shootings, Martin told a news conference on Monday night.

The Air Force opened an inquiry into how it handled the former airman’s criminal record, and the U.S. Defense Department has requested a review by its inspector general to ensure that other cases “have been reported correctly,” Pentagon officials said.

Firearms experts said the case involving Kelley, 26, who spent a year in military detention before his bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force in 2014, had exposed a previously unnoticed weak link in the system of background checks.

It is illegal under federal law to sell a gun to someone who has been convicted of a crime involving domestic violence against a spouse or child.

A sporting goods retail outlet said Kelley passed background checks when he bought a gun in 2016 and a second firearm this year.

Neither the NCIC nor two related databases contained any information that would have barred Kelley from legally buying any of three weapons police recovered from their investigation of the slayings, said Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation office in San Antonio.

Mass shooting at Texas church – http://tmsnrt.rs/2lZg61c

‘TEXAS HERO’

Police said Kelley stormed into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, dressed in black and wearing a human-skull mask, and opened fire on worshippers with a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle.

Kelley was shot twice – in the leg and torso – by another man, Stephen Willeford, who lived nearby and confronted Kelley with his own rifle as the gunman emerged from the church.

Kelley managed to flee in a sport utility vehicle as Willeford waved down a passing motorist, Johnnie Langendorff. The two then gave chase in Langendorff’s pickup truck until Kelley’s vehicle crashed in a ditch.

Martin later hailed Willeford as “our Texas hero,” crediting him with preventing further carnage in Sunday’s rampage, which ranks as the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in the state and one of the five most lethal in modern U.S. history.

Authorities also said Kelley had been involved in a domestic dispute of some kind with the parents of his second wife, whom he married in 2014, and had sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law before the shooting.

Although his in-laws were known to occasionally attend services at the church Kelley attacked, Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said family members were not present on Sunday.

The attack stunned Sutherland Springs, a community of about 400 people. One family, the Holcombes, lost eight members from three generations in the attack, including Bryan Holcombe, an assistant pastor who was leading the service, a relative said.

The first shots came through the windows of the church, according to an account related to CNN by the son of one of the survivors, 73-year-old Farida Brown, who was shot in both legs. The assailant then stalked inside and sprayed the pews with gunfire, walking up and down the aisles targeting people even as they ran for cover or lay on the floor.

Farida Brown was in the last pew, beside a woman who was shot multiple times, her son, David Brown, said.

“She was pretty certain she was next, and her life was about to end. Then somebody with a gun showed up at the front of the church, caught the shooter’s attention. He left and that was the end of the ordeal,” David Brown told CNN.

Martin said investigators found hundreds of spent shell casings inside the church after the shooting, as well as 15 empty 30-round ammunition magazines.

Major shootings in the U.S. – http://tmsnrt.rs/2AgtU9E

(Additional reporting by Jane Ross in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait)

Fear and faith: Church security scrutinized after Texas massacre

Fear and faith: Church security scrutinized after Texas massacre

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garza

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – After one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings unfolded on their doorstep, pastors and parishioners around the tiny Texas hamlet of Sutherland Springs have begun asking whether guns have a rightful place inside their houses of worship.

It is a debate that is echoing across the United States as security experts and some politicians ask churches to consider a wide range of enhanced measures to thwart tragedies like Sunday’s deadly rampage at the First Baptist Church.

Barbara Burdette, who knew the 26 people killed in the massacre and as well as the 20 wounded, is ready to see her church hire armed security, or allow congregants to carry their own concealed firearms for self-defense.

“God is our protector,” said Burdette, 62, “but I do still think that we need to have people with conceal carry.”

Her pastor at the First Baptist Church of La Vernia, a one-story brick sanctuary 7 miles from the shooting scene, said the issue of guns in church requires a delicate balance between providing safety instead of fear.

Arming parishioners is not the only option. At the historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white gunman killed nine at a June 2015 bible study session, uniformed police officers now attend regular worship services.

“It’s part of our new normal,” said Reverend Eric Manning at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, by phone. He said the church also created in-house security, as have most black churches in the region.

Muslim and Jewish institutions for years have added security measures to address the threat of violence and hate crimes. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stresses the importance of security cameras, strong doors and clearing brush away from buildings so attackers have no place to hide.

A law enforcement vehicle prominently parked in front of a house of worship is also a strong deterrent to crime, said Claude Pichard, director of Training Force USA, which worked with churches across the country to improve security after the Charleston shooting.

The question of enabling, or even encouraging, parishioners to shoot back is a discussion particularly important to communities where guns are a part of life, such as rural Texas.

In Sutherland Springs, the shooter was confronted as he left the church by a resident who shot and wounded him.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told Fox News that churches should consider whether they wanted parishioners to be armed as a way of preventing another tragedy.

His state allows for the concealed carrying of handguns by licensed owners. It is not clear exactly how First Baptist Church, where the shooting occurred, addressed gun issues.

A sheriff in Williamson County, Texas, a two-hour drive from the massacre, expects to discuss arming parishioners at a church security summit he is organizing in the wake of the attack. He said churches have a responsibility to ensure that responding officers can distinguish a protector from the assailant.

“What are you doing to make sure we don’t have a friendly on friendly fire?” said Sheriff Robert Chody by phone.

New Life Church, a congregation of 10,000 people in Colorado Springs, Colorado, requires churchgoers to leave their guns in their vehicles, a decade after it was the scene of a deadly shooting that killed two. A parishioner trained in church security used a firearm to wound the shooter, preventing greater carnage, said pastor Brady Boyd.

“Pastors are now waking up to this reality that we are not living in Mayberry anymore,” he said, referring to the fictitious North Carolina hometown on the “Andy Griffith Show,” a long-running 1960s television comedy.

He pointed out that no church could have security in place to withstand an attack by a military-trained shooter using an assault rifle, the scenario that unfolded this weekend in Texas.

About 10 miles from the shooting, Floresville Christian Fellowship Pastor Bennie Herrera said he needed to re-examine security but knows there is only so much that can be done.

“We will not be gripped by fear,” he said. “Faith will rise up and we will come together,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, South Carolina and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Writing and additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Detroit; Editing by Frank McGurty and Lisa Shumaker)