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Amanda Casanova

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

A study from Lifeway Research says fewer churchgoers attended in-person services, but many continued their personal Bible studies during the pandemic.

“Some have defined discipleship as a journey of following Christ in fellowship with other believers,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “COVID-19 appears to have had both positive and negative impacts on discipleship. Pre-pandemic churchgoers largely have shown more resolve in following Christ over the following year while altering how they engage with other believers.”

In January 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic, about 3 in 5 or about 59 percent of U.S. churchgoers said they participated in or led a church small group, according to the study. The other 41 percent said they did not.

In 2021, the percentage of churchgoers who participated in or led a small group dropped to 37 percent. Twenty-nine percent said they did not because their church did not offer small groups during the pandemic, and another 34 percent said they did not participate in groups even though some were offered.

“Our research has shown that Christians involved in in-person small group Bible studies and Sunday School classes are more likely to exemplify Christlike behaviors of serving those outside the church, sharing the gospel, volunteering within the church, giving, and investing in spiritual disciplines,” said McConnell. “During the pandemic, far fewer churchgoers benefited from these Bible-focused, relational meetings and only a portion took advantage of online options.”

As for online service options, 53 percent of churchgoers say they participated in more online services in 2020 than in 2019.

“Those who were churchgoers before COVID-19 say they are more in tune with God because of the events of 2020,” said McConnell. “This move reflects what Jesus called the greatest commandment, to love God. During the pandemic, the second greatest command to love your neighbor has often been expressed through social distancing. It will be interesting to see what impact this greater love of God has on relationships with others as those activities restart.”

In other findings, the study revealed:

  • 23 percent of U.S. churchgoers say they participated in online Bible studies more in 2020 than in 2019
  • 53 percent say they gave a percentage of their income to their church the same in 2020 as in 2019
  • Podcast listening jumped up 15% among U.S. churchgoers in 2020
  • More than 9 in 10 say they grew closer to God through the events of 2020

Photo courtesy: ©Sparrowstock

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been placed in a separate housing unit for his own safety after a jury found Chauvin guilty of the murder of George Floyd.

The jury reportedly deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days before agreeing on a verdict. The 45-year-old was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

He will receive his sentencing in about eight weeks, the judge said.

Chauvin was facing charges after he knelt on Floyd's neck for more than 9 minutes last year, ultimately leading to his death. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, repeatedly told officers, "I can't breathe.” The arrest was captured on video and went viral, sparking mass protests and riots around the world.

The second-degree murder charge said Chauvin assaulted Floyd with his knee, which unintentionally caused Floyd's death. The third-degree murder charge said he acted with a "depraved mind," and the manslaughter charge said his "culpable negligence" caused Floyd's death.

Inside the courtroom, Philonise Floyd, Floyd's younger brother, clasped his hands over his head in prayer as the verdicts were read. He also closed his eyes, kept his head down and nodded as the verdicts came in. Philonise was seen crying as he hugged all four prosecutors.

"I was just praying they would find him guilty," he said. "As an African American, we usually never get justice."

Outside the courtroom, protestors gathered near the fencing and barricades that have been up since jury selection. Many businesses in the area boarded up in case of rioting after the verdict and more than 3,000 Minnesota National Guard members were activated.

Instead, in response to the guilty verdict, many said they were happy with the result.

"We frame this moment for all of us, not just George Floyd," attorney Ben Crump said. "This is a victory for those who champion humanity over inhumanity, those who champion justice over injustice, those who champion morals over immorality."

Crump and other supporters are now asking Congress to pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would help prevent police misconduct.


Derek Chauvin Found Guilty on All 3 Counts: 2 Potential Dangers against Which We Must Guard

'Pray for' America: Christian Leaders React to the Derek Chauvin Verdict

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Nathan Howard/Stringer

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

NEW DELHI, April 20, 2021 (Morning Star News) – Pastor Sanjay Bhandari had taken his wife for a medical check-up earlier this month when they decided to visit her sister in the same area in Karnataka state, southwest India – only to be attacked as they were drinking tea.

“While we were still having tea, a few men barged inside the house and, grabbing me by my shirt collar, they dragged me outside, accusing me of carrying out conversions,” Pastor Bhandari told Morning Star News. “I tried very hard to explain that it was my relatives’ house, and that we were only paying them a casual visit, but the men refused to listen.”

The Hindu extremists in Halaga village, near Belgaum city, Belgaum District also ignored the pleas of his wife’s family that day, April 5. The men took Pastor Bhandari outside, where 50 to 60 Hindu extremists were waiting, he said.

The mob paraded him a mile to the rented worship hall where he has led Sunday services for five years, hitting and kicking him along the way, he said.

“They continued to hit me as they dragged me,” said Pastor Bhandari, a resident of Belgaum city. “They abused me and Jesus Christ in filthy language and pressured me to hail, ‘Jai Sri Ram [Hail lord Ram],’ as they beat me.”

The mob accused him of converting their community to Christianity and trying to convert the family he was visiting – though they are already Christian, he said.

“They hit me on my private parts, my face, chest and all over my body, accusing me of trying to convert my sister-in-law,” Pastor Bhandari told Morning Star News. “I tried telling them that the home belongs to my sister-in-law, and that they are already Christians and members of my church.”

The beating and slapping damaged one of his eardrums, he said, causing loss of hearing in that ear.

Shouting Hindu slogans, the mob accused the pastor of converting Santosh Satpute, formerly a Hindu. Satpute told Morning Star News he went before the mob and told them he believed in Christ of his own free will, and that nobody had forced him to change his religion.

Satpute said the mob assaulted him as he tried to help Pastor Bhandari.

“When we tried to rescue Pastor Sanjay, the mob assaulted me along with Pastor Sanjay, his wife, and his brother Bhimshen,” Satpute said. “I was hurt on my chest and my ear.”

The pastor’s wife was manhandled as she tried to shield her husband from the assault, he said. The 42-year-old Bhimshen Bhandari was also injured in the attack.

Upon arriving at the building, the assailants pushed their way in to climb the staircase to the worship hall, but the owner of the building, a Hindu, sternly warned them that if they continued he would call police. The mob desisted from entering the worship hall but began to perform Hindu rituals on Pastor Bhandari, he said.

“They applied Kumkum [vermillion] and haldi [turmeric] and dusted it on my head and made marks on my forehead,” Pastor Bhandari said.

Kumkum is a red powder, 95 percent turmeric and 5 percent limestone, used to make the distinctive Hindu mark on the forehead. Hindu husbands usually apply it on their wives where their hair is parted, and the mob tried to force Pastor Bhandari to do so.

When he refused, they told him that if he persisted, then one of them would do it, he said.

“When they threatened to apply the Kumkum, I applied it on her forehead but did not fill it in the partition of her hair,” Pastor Bhandari said.

Satpute said he was a distraught eyewitness to the ordeal.

“They tortured Pastor Sanjay physically and mentally,” he told Morning Star News. “He was forced to perform Hindu rituals against his free will. The harassment and torture he went through is beyond description.”

The pastor insisted that they go to police to discuss the matter, and the mob left after warning him not to be seen in the area again.

“They warned that they would chop me to pieces if I conduct church again,” Pastor Bhandari said. “Saying that, they dispersed and disappeared.”

Area Christian leaders strongly condemned the attack.

“Initially churches and Christian gatherings were attacked – it is extremely shocking that now a personal visit to your own relative’s house is also objectionable, and you can face the brutality of the Hindu goons,” the Rev. T. Thomas, president of the Belgaum Karnataka Pastors Association, told Morning Star News. “We will not keep silent. We will take this up with the authorities.”

Pastor Bhandari said he has pastored the independent church for seven years without any opposition. He said he was shocked to see two people with whom he had enjoyed good relations among the assailants.

“I have been to their homes and have sat and had meals at their homes,” Pastor Bhandari said. “I was very shocked to see them among my assaulters.”

Charges Filed

When Pastor Bhandari initially went to the Shahapura police station, he was instructed to first go to a government hospital, and that police would then take action based on his medical report, he said.

He was hospitalized at the Belgaum Institute of Medical Sciences (BIMS) for treatment of his ear, private parts and injuries to his left shoulder and chest. Discharged on April 10, he continues treatment and medical examinations.

After initial hesitancy by police, Christian leaders on April 6 persuaded officers at the Shahapura police station to file charges against seven assailants for unlawful assembly, rioting, voluntarily causing hurt, wrongful restraint, provocation and criminal intimidation under the Indian Penal Code (First Information Report No. 0020/2021).

Pastor Bhandari’s attorney, M. Ramesh, told Morning Star News that only after giving a memorandum to higher officials did police register the pastor’s complaint.

“On the evening of the incident, we gave a memorandum to the Deputy Commissioner of Belgaum,” Ramesh said. “I spoke to the media directly, and it was only then that the FIR was registered.”

No arrests have been made, according to the investigating officer at the Shahapura station. No action has been taken at this writing.

Though there have been no arrests, the investigating officer, identified only as Raghvendra, said the station has issued notice to the seven suspects to appear before police. He said the investigation was complete.

“We have done all the investigation proceedings. We are waiting for the wound certificate from the hospital, and then we will immediately send the charge sheet to the court,” Raghvendra told Morning Star News. “We have given requisition to the hospital in writing and are waiting to hear from them; only then we can proceed.”

A staff member at the BIMS hospital declined to give information about Pastor Bhandari, citing confidentiality.

The pastor’s attorney repudiated the police delays.

“We will have to fight on higher levels to be heard,” Ramesh told Morning Star News. “They are intentionally targeting the Christian community, pastors and followers of the faith. They are working under a well-planned strategy.”

Pastor Thomas added that Christians have been targeted in eight incidents in the district, though police have filed FIRs in only two of them.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.

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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Kathy Kafka