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 Matthew 24:42  “Therefore be on alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming!"

"Alabama Senate Passes Bill Banning Transgender Treatments For Minors" 

From "al.com"

The Alabama Senate today passed a bill that would ban puberty-blocking, hormone medications, and surgeries as transgender treatments for people under age 19. The bill, passed by a vote of 23-4. It moves to the House of Representatives, which has a similar bill.

Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, the sponsor of the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, began discussion of his bill today by reading a couple of definitions of gender dysphoria. Then he gave his own.

"What is gender dysphoria?" Shelnutt said. "I looked it up. According to the Mayo Clinic. It's a feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people who have gender identify different from their sex at birth. Another definition is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have whose gender identity differs from their birth sex.

"My definition: Someone thinks they should be a girl if they're a boy or thinks they should be a boy if they're a girl," Shelnutt said. "Science shows that children that are going through this gender dysphoria, most of them mature or grow out of this stage if they are given the chance. So why is (this bill) needed? It's just to stop these surgeries and these drugs on our children. It's to protect our children. That's my simple explanation."

Parents and advocates lobbied against the bill at a State House rally today. The Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes the bill. In a position statement, the organization said surgeries are not done on minors and that puberty-blockers and hormones are used as part of an evidence-based standard of care.


Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said the legislation would interfere with how families and medical professionals can help children struggling with gender dysphoria. "We don't want the state in our business," Singleton said. "But we want to put the state into the family all the time." Singleton predicted the law would be challenged in a federal court lawsuit like the abortion ban the Legislature passed in 2019.

Shelnutt said he was not aware of the issue until the bill was presented to him more than a year ago. "I didn't think this was going on in Alabama, had no idea," Shelnutt said. "I've been educated since then. I just think it's wrong for this to happen to children. Children aren't mature enough to make this decision on on surgeries and drugs. The whole point is to protect kids."

Shelnutt said he was not aware of any transgender surgeries happening in Alabama but wanted to make sure none did. Asked about the opposition of the Alabama Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Shelnutt said he has heard from pediatricians who support his bill.

"Just because an association opposes it doesn't mean pediatrics doctors in Alabama oppose it," Shelnutt said. "I've talked to many of them." The four senators who voted against the bill were Singleton, Billy Beasley, D-Clayton; Vivian Davis Figures, D-Mobile; and Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

Beasley, a pharmacist, noted that the bill would make it a felony for him to fill a prescription for puberty-blocking medications or hormones for a minor. If the bill becomes law, any violation of it would be a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

"I think that's just wrong," Beasley said. "This bill needs to go away." Singleton proposed an amendment to remove the criminal penalty from the bill, but it was rejected by a vote of 21-5. Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, proposed an amendment to say that it would not prohibit or limit psychologists and professional counselors from doing their jobs. The Senate rejected it at Shelnutt's request.

Shelnutt said he wants children with gender dysphoria to get help but not be counseled in a way that affirms their gender identity conflict. "There's no medical diagnosis," Shelnutt said. "There's no medical condition that these kids have. It's just in their mind."


"U.S. Cases Fell 61% Last Month; WHO Issues Warning:  Virus Update" 

From "Bloomberg.com"

A new Covid variant detected in New York is being watched "very, very closely" by U.S. health officials, Anthony Fauci said. Johnson & Johnson is looking for manufacturing partnerships to increase supply of its vaccine, which was cleared Saturday by U.S. regulators.

The European Commission is set to unveil a proposal this month for a digital vaccine passport, which could ease a return to normality for those who are immunized. But critics say it may be discriminatory and infringe on privacy. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved to reassure the public over the emergence of a Brazilian variant. Italy will tighten curbs in some cities, Oslo will close restaurants and shops, and Finland has triggered a state of emergency. France needs another four to six weeks before the government can start lifting curbs, President Emmanuel Macron signaled.

Key Developments:

California Has a Plan for Opening Schools (4:45 p.m. NY) California Governor Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders said they've struck a deal that would push school districts in the most-populous U.S. state to begin reopening by April. The state would hand out more than $6 billion for related costs including personal protective equipment, ventilation upgrades and Covid testing. To make up for lost learning, the school year might extend into summer.

U.S. Cases Fell 61% in February (3:50 p.m. NY) Covid-19 infections in the U.S. had the biggest monthly decline in February, plunging 61% to about 2.42 million, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg show. That helped lower the death count from January by 25% to 71,772. Overall, almost 514,000 Americans have succumbed to Covid-19 and about 28.7 million residents -- or 8.7% of the population -- have been infected by it.

YC Variant Draws Concern From Fauci (1:40 p.m. NY) A new Covid-19 variant detected in New York City that's now traveled through various neighborhoods is being watched "very, very closely" by U.S. health officials, Anthony Fauci said on Monday. The variant, known scientifically as B.1.526, likely started off in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, Fauci, a top adviser to President Joe Biden on the pandemic, said. It is one of five concerning variants now being tracked nationally by health officials.

WHO Warns of Infection Rebound (1:15 p.m. NY) Global cases rose for the first time in almost two months in the past week, mainly in the Americas, Europe and Southeast Asia, the World Health Organization said. Part of the reason is that countries are easing restrictions, people are letting their guard down and variants are spreading, WHO officials said at a media briefing Monday. People should continue to limit contacts, avoid crowds and practice hygiene measures as vaccines are being rolled out. "If the last week tells us anything, it's that this virus will rebound," said Maria van Kerkhove, the group's technical lead officer on Covid-19. "This virus will rebound if we let it. We cannot allow it to take off again."


 "White Nationalists Are Once Again Using Christian Symbols To Spread Hate"

From "USAToday.com"

A screaming man with his fist raised, a Byzantine cross emblazoned in red on his T-shirt. A white flag with a lone green pine tree and the words "An Appeal to Heaven" fluttering over the angry crowd. The Christian flag whipping in the wind from a parked pickup.

Those images on display at the Jan. 5-6 rally and riot in Washington, D.C., have raised concerns that some of former President Donald Trump's most ardent and dangerous supporters, including groups such as the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, QAnon, 3 Percenters and America Firsters, are cloaking themselves in biblical language to justify their actions.

The flags and other displays are the latest examples of how white terrorists throughout history, including the KKK, have cited Christianity to justify what they claim is their God-given right to control races and ethnic groups, experts said.

The displays - including a prayer invoking Christ from the Senate rostrum by a QAnon shaman who broke into the Capitol - have so alarmed some faith leaders that they published an open letter Friday signed by more than 1,400 pastors and church leaders condemning the "perversion" of their faith.

"The use of Christian symbols, iconography, Scripture in efforts to dominate and exclude are as old the republic itself," said the Rev. Fred Davie, executive vice president of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. "It's deeply baked into our nation. It's deep, but it's also been proven time and time again to be wrong."

Davie, who was a faith liaison in the Obama White House, said evangelicalism in particular has become associated with American nationalism, specifically white nationalism. Online, some hard-right Christians find acceptance for their racist beliefs from white nationalists, most of whom don't share their faith but are united in their hatred.

"We're talking about a minority within a minority, but it is a powerful minority," Davie said. "But they do not represent the essence of white Christians in America - or Christians in America overall."

Some of the people who display Christian symbols or invoke the Bible to justify their actions are doing it in a largely cynical way, several experts said: They're sending a signal to fellow racists.

"For them, it's just shorthand for identity," said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, deputy executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and a former prosecutor in Georgia. "There absolutely is a connection between far-right political extremism and far-right religious extremism, but I doubt these people are showing up at church every Sunday and reading their Bibles."

Matthew DeMichele, a research sociologist who specializes in extremism at the research institute RTI International in Raleigh, North Carolina, said there are clearly Christians who believe their religion justifies racism, and today's displays are an "intense redeployment of old tactics."

For centuries in the United States, many Christian pastors preached a "natural order" in which whites were justified in enslaving Black men, women and children, citing everything from the writings of Paul the Apostle in the New Testament to the Curse of Ham in the Old Testament. Others argued that because the Bible refers to slavery as an institution without specifically condemning it, it must be divinely permitted. In 1861, Texas' leaders cited the "plainest revelations of Divine Law" to justify slavery and secession from the United States.

DeMichele said what we're seeing today is a tweaked reemergence of the approach used by groups like the KKK, which cloaked themselves in Christian symbols and set crosses on fire as a terror tactic.

The letter published this week by Christian leaders from across the political spectrum specifically acknowledges that terror groups like the KKK have been tolerated and even accommodated by white evangelicals.

"We choose to speak out now because we do not want to be quiet accomplices in this on-going sin," the letter reads. "Just as it was tragically inconsistent for Christians in the 20th Century to support the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi ideology, it is unthinkable for Christians to support the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, QAnon, 3 Percenters, America Firsters, and similar groups."

The letter urges pastors to counsel parishioners who align with or support racist and hate groups, and to emphasize the values of democracy, anti-racism and equality.

"Instead of seeing any particular political leader or party as divinely appointed, we believe in the prophetic and pastoral ministry of the church to all political leaders and parties," the letter reads. "Instead of power through violence, we believe in and seek to imitate the powerful, servant love practiced by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

DeMichele, who has interviewed dozens of white supremacists, said the United States has deliberately been reluctant to investigate why and how people become white supremacists and white nationalists. He said a better understanding of why white Americans become enamored with those ideals will help combat domestic terrorism and help the United States live up to its ideals.

"People don't want to say that this is a country founded on white supremacy. But we know that to be true," DeMichele said. "It's very important to understand that it's not new for white supremacists to have a Christian identity. But it is intriguing there has been the strengthening overlap of the white nationalists and those of Christian identity."

White nationalists generally claim the white race is superior and advocate for racial segregation. White supremacists go a step further by insisting that white people deserve to be in charge of everything because of their skin color. The two descriptions are often used interchangeably by the public, although scholars draw a distinction between the two.

Davis noted Christian symbols have had a visible presence at other white nationalist rallies in recent yearsincluding the Charlottesville "Unite the Right" march in August 2017, where a mishmash of hundreds of white nationalists, neo-Nazis, the KKK and white militias protested the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

A similar hodgepodge of groups converged on the Capitol Jan. 6, including white nationalists, QAnon adherents, Oath Keepers and others brandishing Christian flags and blowing rams' horns.

"The differing ideologies are all kind of blending together," said Stephen Piggott, a researcher with the Western States Center, a Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit that supports inclusive democracy. "A year ago, if a neo-Nazi showed up at a Trump rally, they'd likely get kicked out."

White nationalists internationally have similarly invoked Christianity to justify their actions - even when they aren't Christian themselves. A man who attacked a summer camp in Norway in 2011, killing 77 people, claimed to be a member of an international Christian military order created to fight Muslims. He later said he was actually a follower of pagan Norse gods, including Odin, and a neo-Nazi, and that he had drawn inspiration from al-Qaida.

Comparisons between al-Qaida and white nationalists who profess a twisted, extreme version of Christianity are apt, said Javed Ali, a former FBI and National Security Council analyst. Terror groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group have cherry-picked from Islam to justify their violent attacks, said Ali, who teaches counterterrorism at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. 

"They were able to turn Islam into something very dark," he said. "I see the same thing playing out in the far-right space: These symbols are being hijacked for a completely different purpose. And it helps justify their actions."

Though Christian symbols were present at the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, prosecutors have not indicated any significant links between arrested suspects and churches. Mitchell, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said federal agents should not target churches for investigation the way they targeted mosques after 9/11. Opponents of that surveillance said it risked alienating and possibly radicalizing Muslims who suddenly felt unwelcome in their own country.

"You don't have to go investigating churches. All you have to do is take seriously the violent rhetoric that's being expressed out in the open," he said. "The federal government, in our opinion, has never taken the threat of far-right religious extremists as seriously as they have Muslim extremists, who are far fewer."

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