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Pope denounces hypocritical Christians who 'live a double life'

Pope Francis called out Christians in a sermon Thursday, suggesting it would be better to be an atheist than to lead a double life, exploit people or manage a greedy business.

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"So many Christians are like this, and these people scandalize others," Francis said during morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, CNN reported, quoting Vatican Radio. "How many times have we heard — all of us, around the neighborhood and elsewhere — 'But to be a Catholic like that, it's better to be an atheist.' It is that: scandal."

"But what is scandal? Scandal is saying one thing and doing another."

The Vatican later issued a note clarifying that the pontiff was simply saying that God's grace is free to all, even atheists, CNN reported.

Francis' sermon was an extension of Thursday’s Mass readings, which include a passage from the Gospel of Mark. In it, Jesus says it is better to be drowned than to cause others to sin.

Drawing on that passage, Francis gave a blunt example.

He said he imagined a wealthy Christian knocking at the gates of heaven and saying, "Here I am, Lord! ... I went to Church, I was close to you, I belong to this association, I did this ... Don't you remember all the offerings I made?"

To which Jesus may reply, according to Francis:

"Yes, I remember. The offerings, I remember them: All dirty. All stolen from the poor. I don't know you.' That will be Jesus' response to these scandalous people who live a double life."

It is not the first time Francis has referenced atheists. In 2013, he said that heaven is open, potentially, to all people.

"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone,” he said. "'Father, the atheists?' Even the atheists. Everyone!"

Naked and afraid: Pastor flees after man catches him in bed with wife

A Florida pastor is under the scrutiny of his congregation -- and of social media users -- after his illicit tryst with a married woman sent him running naked from the woman’s furious, gun-wielding husband.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported Monday that the Rev. O. Jermaine Simmons, pastor of Jacob Chapel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, was sent running from the woman’s home without his clothes, wallet or car keys on the afternoon of Jan. 17 after the woman’s husband came home unexpectedly and found them having sex in their daughter’s bedroom. The newspaper reported that the man had picked up their sick son from school after the school had been unable to reach his wife. 

The man, upon interrupting Simmons and his wife, yelled, “I’m going to kill him,” and retrieved a gun from the master bedroom.

Simmons fled naked and hid behind a nearby fence, the Democrat reported.

The woman called police and told them her husband had left with Simmons’ belongings, which he threatened to bring to the church. He also threatened to expose the affair on Facebook, the newspaper said.

It took telephone negotiations with police officers for the husband to return Simmons’ property, the Democrat reported. He turned his handgun over to the president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP.

The woman told police her husband never threatened her with harm and declined to press charges, as did Simmons. Citing the interests of all involved, the state attorney decided not to prosecute the man.

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Simmons, who has served as Jacob Chapel’s pastor since late 2005, said he does not plan to step down as pastor. He addressed the scandal with his congregation in a sermon, which was recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

In the address, the husband and father of a young son told those present that he had already received what he sought from God -- forgiveness. He asked his congregants for their forgiveness, as well as their prayers.

“I’m hurting because I’ve hurt you. I can’t speak for people on the outside, because I’m not Tallahassee’s pastor,” Simmons told church members Jan. 22, to applause and murmurs of approval. “I’m not Florida’s pastor. I’m not the world’s pastor. I’m Jacob Chapel’s pastor.”

Scroll down to the end of the story to watch the entire video.

“It hurts me that you have to defend my actions,” he continued. “Because, when you love somebody, you want to fight for them. You want to defend them. But let me be very clear. You cannot defend sin.”

He told the congregants that they couldn’t get defensive or try to justify his sin, saying that the situation was not about anyone but him.

“The world doesn’t operate like we operate. And so you will be attacked for loving me.”

He said there were likely people in the church at that moment there solely to see what was going to happen when he addressed his indiscretion.

“Come on, pastor! Come on, pastor!” several people shouted in agreement.

Simmons likened the internet to an ocean full of sharks.

“The sharks eat you up because that’s their world,” he said to more applause. “I know you and I dive in and out of social media and all that stuff, so every now and then when we jump in, we get bit. You can’t defend sin. You’ve got to defer to your savior. The same Jesus I preach to you every Sunday.

“You defer to him. Because when you love somebody, it’s tempting to jump out there. My baby brother’s here, sitting on the end there. I have to keep him from shooting people, because he ain’t all the way saved yet. (I have to) talk him down.”

At the end of the address, the congregation stood and applauded Simmons for several minutes.

Simmons often posts inspirational messages to his Facebook page, where he posted an image the day of the Jan. 17 incident that advised his church members not to let problems paralyze their progress in life.

Be Inspired...Posted by O Jermaine Simmons on Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Earlier this month, he posted about using time wisely to make dreams come true.

Monday Inspirationojermainesimmons.com#dreambig#makeithappenPosted by O Jermaine Simmons on Monday, January 9, 2017

Simmons' sex scandal occurred during a weeklong celebration of his 11th anniversary as pastor of Jacob Chapel. The celebration included a Jan. 20 book signing for Simmons’ first book, “I Need a Man.” 

The book is described on Simmons’ personal website as offering “a fresh perspective on the issues of godly manhood and mentoring.” It was published through Certa Publishing, a Christian partner publishing company. 

Muslim man receives heartwarming note from neighbors after Trump's inauguration

A heartfelt letter left on the door of a Muslim man's Ohio home after President Donald Trump's inauguration is going viral.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news

According to WCPO, Abubaker Amri, who immigrated to the United States from Libya nearly 40 years ago, was concerned about some of Trump's comments on the campaign trail. But on Friday, a surprising letter note from his neighbors in Cincinnati lifted his spirits.

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"Dear Neighbors," the note read. "Today begins a new stage for our country. No matter what happens, please know there are still a lot of people who will fight for your right to practice your religion, to continue your lives without discrimination. You are welcome in our neighborhood and if you need anything – please knock on our door."

Amri's niece, Hend Amry, shared a photo of the letter on Twitter, where it quickly went viral. Her post was retweeted more than 140,000 times and "liked" more than 415,000 times by Sunday morning.

>> See the post here

After the Trump inauguration, some neighbors left this letter on my uncle's door in Cincinnati, Ohio. pic.twitter.com/jnlXewv7ej— Hend Amry (@LibyaLiberty) January 21, 2017 <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

"There's no way I could express my feelings when I got that note," Amri told WCPO, calling it "the best, best, best experience."

Read more here.

Eddie Long death: Memorial service set for controversial megachurch pastor

The metro Atlanta megachurch led by Bishop Eddie L. Long has set a date for a memorial service for the controversial pastor. 

New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia, will hold services for Long at 11 a.m. Jan. 25, Elder Craig Heath said during an early morning international prayer call. Long died Sunday at age 63.

>> PHOTOS: Bishop Eddie Long through the years

The church had said Sunday that an email would be sent to members with further details.

Heath read from the New Birth in a statement Sunday that Long "is now spiritually healed and home with the Lord.”

>> PHOTOS: Notable deaths 2017

“Bishop Long, senior pastor of New Birth, transitioned from this life early Sunday morning after a gallant private fight with an aggressive form of cancer,” the statement said.

Leaders on the prayer call, which opened and closed with music, at times seemed emotional as they talked about how Long had always “sowed seeds” in them and in others. Heath said the service would celebrate his life, sacrifice and service.

>> Controversial Atlanta megachurch Bishop Eddie Long has died, church says

He acknowledged that members were still is the midst of working out their thoughts and feelings considering the life and legacy of Long.

Also on the call was Elder Carla Stokes and Bishop Kenneth Pearman.

>> Men who sued Eddie Long for sexual misconduct address bishop's death

Long was absent at several services during recent months but was present during Christmas and New Year’s Eve services. His last sermon was during Watch Night Services to usher in the new year.

New Birth members were told of Long’s death Sunday. Some sobbed and cried. Others prayed and leaned on those near them in support.

“Even though we don’t know the details right now, Bishop Long wouldn’t leave us in a lurch,” said longtime member Lela Brooks, a member for 29 years. “His legacy will live on. He did a lot of good and we won’t let that fade.”

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Talis Burrell hadn’t been a member as long. Having joined in 2006, she said even though the congregation held out hope that Long had won the battle with his illness, she wasn’t completely caught off guard at his passing.

“He hadn’t really come back physically," she said.

“I’ve been a member here for 34 years and it’s just devastating,” said Keith Crowley. “It’s sad for the world.”

Crowley, like many members of New Birth, found out about Long’s death when it was announced during Sunday’s service.

Mark Zuckerberg no longer atheist, announces revelation on Facebook

The holiday season has brought a religious revelation for followers of Mark Zuckerberg.

The Facebook creator announced on his social media account that he is an atheist no longer, The Telegraph and other media outlets are reporting.

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Zuckerberg posted a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah message recently.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Priscilla, Max, Beast and me! Seeing the moments of joy and family shared on...Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday, December 25, 2016

The post prompted questions from followers as to whether Zuckerberg has returned to religion after years of not practicing and posting his religious beliefs as atheist. 

Zuckerberg responded that he was raised Jewish, but didn't follow this upbringing after questioning what he called things. Now he said he thinks religion is important.

His wife Priscilla Chan is Buddhist, and he has praised the religion, The Telegraph reported.

Zuckerberg also met with Pope Francis last year to discuss bringing the internet to developing countries, The Associated Press reported.

Ivanka Trump reflects on 2016, shares New Year's Eve, Hanukkah family photo

Ivanka Trump looked back on 2016 and shared a family photo in social media posts Saturday as she celebrated New Year's Eve and the last night of Hanukkah with her husband and children.

In one post, Trump, Jared Kushner and their stood happily in front of a menorah.

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“New Year’s Eve + Last Night of Chanukah,” she wrote on Instagram.

>> Click here or scroll down for more

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'Leah Remini: Scientology': Ex-church members accuse David Miscavige of physical abuse

In the latest episode of “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” Leah Remini and Mike Rinder talked to individuals with formerly strong ties to the church who outlined how they were abused by the church and its leader.

Remini and Rinder talked to former members Jeff Hawkins, Tom DeVocht and Ron Miscavige, father of current leader David Miscavige, who shared shocking personal stories.

“[David] was a mean guy,” said Hawkins, who was a member of the church for three decades. “David Miscavige physically assaulted me five separate times.”

DeVocht, who was also a member of the church for three decades, shared how he forgot to get a permit to tear up the sidewalk outside of the Scientology headquarters in Florida. When he was asked if he had gotten it, he replied, “No,” and before he could say anything else, David Miscavige started attacking him.

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“Before I could even think, he dove across the table, grabbed my [expletive] tie, and shoved it up. And I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t talk,” DeVocht said.

The church refuted DeVocht’s and Hawkins’ claims, writing in a statement, “Lying is nothing new for Hawkins, who has been a discredited anti-Scientology media source for years. His fabricated stories about having been a victim of violence as a staff member were debunked more than a decade ago.”

The church also refuted DeVocht’s claims and said that he is “a violent, admitted liar who left the church in 2005 following an investigation into his extensive waste of church funds. Compulsive lying permeates nearly every aspect of DeVocht’s life. To use him as a source is an indication of how tainted your program promises to be.”

David’s father, Ron Miscavige, a church member for 42 years who left in 2011, also made disturbing claims against the church, sharing that his departure from the church was planned out for six months because he feared what would happen when he did.

“If the word got out that we were planning on leaving, we would’ve been seized,” Ron Miscavige said. “My car keys would’ve been taken away. Becky and I would’ve been separated from each other, and we would’ve done manual labor throughout the day, and when we weren’t [doing] that, we’d be interrogated by an auditor.”

The church, once again, released a statement that attempted to paint Ron Miscavige in a bad light, writing that he has a “decade-long history of vicious domestic violence,” a “long history of anti-Semitic comments and actions” and a “shocking history of racist comments.”

A new episode of “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” airs on A&E on Tuesday, Dec. 27. Learn more about the show here.

Town sued for placing cross on top of Christmas tree

Matt Naham contributed to this report.

An Indiana town was sued for a Christmas tree display. 

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According to WXIN, Joseph Tompkins, a resident of Knightstown, Indiana, enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the town after it topped a public Christmas tree display with a cross instead of a star. The lawsuit claimed the topper was a violation of the First Amendment because it blurred the lines between separation of church and state.

"The cross is the best known symbol of Christianity and Knightstown's prominent display of this symbol represents an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," the complaint said.

The lawsuit demanded that the town compensate Tompkins for being "forced to come into direct and unwelcome contact with the cross display" every day. Tompkins said he objected "to any of his tax dollars going to pay for the erection or maintenance of the display or the lighting of it," according to court documents.

But residents of the town opposed Tompkins' argument.

"Just because one person's offended, doesn't mean they have to take away one particular thing," resident Cynthia Sturgill told WXIN.

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Other residents disagreed with Tompkins' claim and said that the display wasn't religious. 

"To me, it's not a religious display," Sturgill told WXIN. "It's not all about just Christianity. It's about memorial, loss of family, loved ones, the veterans."

To combat the lawsuit, Knightstown resident Patricia Hutson crafted more than 200 wooden crosses to hand out for free to send a message. People also put crosses in their yards, stores, windows and cars, according to WXIN. 

"I just thought we should rebel some way or let him know how we feel," Hutson told WXIN. "I hope they make people realize that we should speak up for what we believe in and stand up for it and not be pushed around."

A group gathered Sunday night to express support for the cross-topped tree Sunday night. 

Monday morning, a Facebook page for the town announced the cross had been taken down.

"It is with regret and sadness that the Knightstown Town Council has had the cross removed from the Christmas tree on the town square and is expected to approve a resolution at the next council meeting stating they will not return the cross to the tree," the council said in a Facebook post."

<script>(function(d, s, id) {  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.8";  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script> This statement was just released by the Knightstown Town Council: It is with regret and sadness that the Knightstown...Posted by Knightstown news and events on Monday, December 12, 2016

Tompkins told WXIN he wasn't offended by the cross, but rather valued upholding the First Amendment.

The Cross will come down, but we can still light the town with crosses.  Look on the bright side, instead of just one...Posted by Knightstown news and events on Monday, December 12, 2016

Read more at WXIN.

WATCH: Boy 'rescues' Baby Jesus, Nativity scene from cold outdoors

Many people display Nativity scenes in their yard for the holiday season, but one boy was perplexed to see Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph out in the cold.

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A video posted last week by Rumble user Gregory Hogan shows the boy working for several minutes to carry the three statuettes to his front door. Then he brings them inside.

>> Click here to watch the heartwarming video

Source: Little boy unhappy that Baby Jesus & Family are out in the cold by gregoryhogan on Rumble

Jesus statue still standing after wildfire destroys Tennessee home

Not a day goes by that it doesn’t seem like more bad news comes from the ashes of the recent wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. While numbers continue to rise, The Associated Press reports that 14 people are dead and 134 injured.

But one sight is giving some residents hope.

>> After wildfires, Dollywood worker finds lone, charred Bible page at park

According to CNN, a television crew was recently on the ground in Sevier County, where several homes burned to the ground. But the crew came across a statue of Jesus still standing among the ruins of a house.

The story touched country music singer Brad Paisley, who recently tweeted a link to the article with the simple words, "Finding some hope within the ashes."

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This wasn't the only heavenly sight amid the rubble. A theme park employee said he found a charred Bible page while cleaning up the mostly spared Dollywood, whose very own Dolly Parton has pledged to financially help the families affected until they can begin to get back on their feet.

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