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The religious economy is worth $1.2 trillion

How much is religion worth?

The answer is more than megacompanies Apple and Microsoft make in a year combined.

recent study of the U.S. faith economy found religious goods, services and institutions are worth $1.2 trillion a year.

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Religion might affect America's economy more than you realize. Congregations alone employ hundreds of thousands of people and purchase billions of dollars in goods.

Faith-based elementary schools receive over $15 billion in tuition annually, and that doesn't include middle schools or high schools.

Kosher and halal food sales account for almost another $15 billion. The study's authors didn't include holiday-centered food sales, either, like your usual Christmas dinner menu. That would dramatically increase the faith economy's worth.

Religious health care networks also bring in over $160 billion each year.

Plus, 20 of America's 50 largest charities are faith-based -- accounting for another $45 billion.

The researchers acknowledged their $1.2 trillion estimate is actually a conservative one. Their figure didn't account for the value of religious groups' physical or financial assets, which could make the estimate significantly bigger.

Boy thinks pastor is taking too long, baptizes himself

A Kentucky boy wasn't waiting for anyone during his baptismal ceremony Sunday.

Jordan Warrick, 6, apparently thought the pastor at the West End Baptist Church was taking too long for the big event so he took matters into his own hands.

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Jordan baptized himself in the church's baptismal pool and the event was caught on video and posted to Facebook where it has nearly 5 million views.

My son gave his life to Jesus today.                     For licsensing inquiries please contact licensing@junkinmedia.comPosted by Terence D Warrick on Sunday, September 4, 2016

He first waded into the chilly water before calling out to the congregation "I'll do it." He then dunked himself, coming up out of the water with raised arms and heading to get dried off, the Courier-Journal reported.

Jordan is active in his church. He sings in the children's choir and is a junior usher. He was also the one who decided he was ready to be baptized. His aunt told the Courier-Journal that Jordan wants to be a missionary and spread the word of Christ.

Norway's state church loses 25,000 members

Norway saw a mass exodus of religious membership when more than 25,000 people left the state church in less than three weeks.

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The exodus happened after The Church of Norway enabled a new online option Aug. 12 that allows citizen to join and leave the church electronically.

More than 10,000 people deregistered within 24 hours of the site's launch, and within four days, more than 15,000 had left, the Independent reported.

"The number of withdrawals must be seen in relation to the large number of members of the Norwegian Church," Helga Haugland Byfuglien, head of the Norwegian Bishops' Conference, said in a statement on the church's website. "We have great respect for individual choice."

 About 1,200 new members joined online in the same time period.

"No one who doesn't wish to be a member of the Church of Norway should be registered as a member," said Kristin Gunleiksrud Raaum, leader of the church's national council. "I'm very happy that almost 1,300 chose to join in August."

The electronic offering was put in place as a way for the church to get its "records in shape and offer an easy way for people to sign up," the Independent reported.

"We will continue to have a broad and open national church. But no one should be a member of a religious community against their will, and therefore I am glad that this self-solution is in place," Raaum said. "Those who mistakenly listed as a member of the Norwegian Church or who do not wish to be members can now easily change their status, and it will give us a more accurate registry."

About 73 percent of the population counted as members of the Church of Norway in 2015, according to the AP, but a significant portion of those people may have been among those who deregistered this year.

The AP reported that the country is among the most secular countries in the world, and a recent survey of 4,000 Norwegians showed this year that non-believers outnumber religious people with 39 percent saying they didn't belive in God, 37 percent saying they did and an additional 23 percent of respondents saying they did not know, The Local reported.

Norway, which previously required at least half of all government ministers to be members of the Church, did away with the Evangelical Lutheran religion as the official state religion in 2012, but the country maintains a constitution built upon "Christian and humanistic heritage," and the king is required to be Lutheran.

Police: Florida man torched church to get at 'devil worshipers'

After allegedly attempting to set fire to Westgate New Testament Church in Florida on Thursday morning, Hector Luis Trujillo told a sheriff’s deputy that he wanted to make a confession.

“I started the fire because the church has bad people — they are devil worshipers — (and) I had to do something,” Trujillo said, according to an arrest report.

Trujillo remains in the Palm Beach County Jail, where he is facing charges of first-degree arson and burglary resulting in more than $1,000 of damage. Judge Caroline Shepherd ordered Trujillo, who is homeless, to undergo a mental-health evaluation.

Cheri Frost has been a congregant at the church — which holds services in Spanish and English — for two years and was married there. On Friday morning, Frost surveyed in disbelief the damage that ruined a nursery and Sunday school on the first floor of the two-floor building.

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“We’re devastated,” Frost said. “This is for the kids. How do you explain to the children that someone came into their safe environment, God’s house, and did something like this?”

A man driving by the church Thursday morning witnessed Trujillo standing outside the nursery and throwing a flaming object inside. The witness dialed 911 and followed Trujillo until deputies arrested him while he was hiding outside a home on the 2600 block of Hiwatha Avenue, along Osceola Drive and near West Gate Elementary School.

Residents whose homes border the church  ran over and helped put out two fires that were set by Trujillo, according to a church official.

Sergio Fuentes, minister for Westgate’s Spanish-language congregation, said Trujillo is unknown to members of the church.

“It’s sad that something so dark could be in somebody’s heart,” said Fuentes, who has ministered at the church for nine years. “We’re trying to help the community. There’s a way to find solutions to the troubles in one’s life, but violence and destruction are certainly not among them.”

Fuentes said one of the fires was set by stacking books used for Sunday school in a pile and setting them on fire. The arrest report estimated damage to be at least $1,500, but Fuentes said it could end up being far costlier.

Between its Spanish- and English-language congregations, the church has about 80 members.

“We’re a small congregation with very limited means,” Frost said. “We’re all going to have to come together.”

The church has been targeted before, Fuentes said. Last Halloween night, someone broke in and stole $8,000 worth of musical instruments and equipment. Church employees and congregants have had their cars broken into as well, Fuentes said.

“This community has been left behind,” Fuentes said. “That’s why these things are happening.”

Court records show that Trujillo, 24, has been arrested eight times in Palm Beach County since 2011. He was sentenced to 28 days in jail in May 2014 after being found guilty of battery, possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia.

“We don’t harbor any ill will towards him,” Frost said. “We’re a loving church. We want him to get help. We don’t hate him. Who are we to judge?”

Church plans to use drones to drop thousands of Bibles in the Middle East

Video includes clips and images from Livets Ord, and an image from Getty Images. Music provided courtesy of APM Music.

An evangelical church in Sweden is looking to convert Muslims in the Middle East to Christianity, and it's planning to use military drones to do so.

The Livets Ord church, whose name translates to "Word of Life," announced this week it's going to use the drones to release thousands of small, electronic Bibles into closed areas in the Middle East.

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The church's mission director told local news station SVT the Bibles are the size of pill boxes and don't require any electricity to work.

They'll reportedly be dropped from a high altitude by a contractor hired by the church.

Since the announcement, Livets Ord's project has faced criticism from several media outlets for attempting an "attack" of sorts on ISIS.

But the church's senior pastor said in a blog post: "This is not a political statement, nor a spiritual counter attack on terrorism. What we want is to make the message of God's love available to people who need it more than most."

It's unclear if the church or its contractor would need security clearance to carry out the Bible drops. Livets Ord said it hopes to begin the mission in the next few weeks.

Pope Francis criticized for not accepting transgender community

Pope Francis is known as one of the most progressive popes, but he apparently has his limits.

The Vatican published some closed-door remarks from the pope where he touched on gender identity. Francis said he was dismayed by the growing acceptance of transgender people, calling it "terrible."

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He said, in part, "Today, in schools they are teaching this to children — to children — that everyone can choose their gender."

Francis railed against what he called "ideological colonizing" in "very influential countries." He blamed textbooks financed by wealthy people and institutions for the societal changes, though he declined to specifically name any countries, people or institutions.

Francis said his predecessor, Pope Benedict, said a society that accepts transgender people is "the epoch of sin against God the Creator. He's intelligent! God created man and woman, God created the world this way, this way, this way, and we are doing the opposite."

Though he clearly doesn't approve of every letter, Francis has by far been the most LGBTQ-friendly pope in recent memory. He's also been more open to women in the church.

When asked about homosexuality, Francis said, "Who am I to judge?" He also said he was open to divorcees who remarry without an annulment to receive communion. But he still officially opposes divorce and same-sex marriage.

The pope's remarks drew criticism from rights groups. As spokeswoman for The Human Rights Campaign said, "It is deeply [disappointing] that so soon after his healing apology to LGBTQ Catholics regarding their treatment the church, Pope Francis would choose to deny the very humanity of transgender people, including children."

This video includes clips from Centro Televisivo Vaticano and images from Getty Images.

The silence was deafening when Pope Francis visited Auschwitz

Pope Francis visited Auschwitz on Friday to pay his respects to the thousands of people who lost their lives there during World War II.

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He spent most of the historic visit at the former Nazi concentration camp in silent prayer and reflection.

Soon after his arrival, the pope sat alone on a bench for several minutes with his eyes closed.

Then, after meeting with a group of former inmates of the camp, he spent several more quiet moments inside the cell of Maximilian Kolbe. He was a Franciscan priest and saint who volunteered to take the place of a prisoner who was condemned to die.

Ahead of the trip, Pope Francis said he wanted it to be in silence.

He told reporters earlier this month: "I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds — only the few people necessary. Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry."

But before he left Auschwitz, the pope wrote a brief message in the memorial book.

"Lord, have mercy on your people. Lord, forgive us for so much cruelty."

Pope Francis is the third consecutive pope to visit the site, where more than 1 million people, mostly Jews, were killed by Adolf Hitler's forces during World War II.

<iframe width="390" height="219" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rKZiK2WJc4w?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Cross taken from man making cross-country pilgrimage

A man who is making a cross-country pilgrimage to strengthen his faith has come upon a difficult situation.

The cross that Mitchell Manning has been dragging on his trek between Florida and California has been taken, KCBD reported.

Manning, who is from Tennessee started his quest in Jacksonville, Florida, in October and so far he has made it to Texas, but his trip has been delayed in Seminole, Texas.

The 12-foot symbol of his faith was taken over the weekend and he said he will not continue his walk until he finds it or rebuilds one.

Posted by Cross Walk America on Monday, November 9, 2015

He left it in a ditch Sunday when he was offered a place to stay. 

"The cross is so big, it's hard to carry even if you have a truck, so I've always just left it on the side of the road in the grass," Manning told KCBD.

Manning camps some nights during the trip, other nights he either stays in a stranger's home or someone pays for a hotel room. 

He has reached out on Facebook about the missing cross, asking for any information as to its location.

I left my cross at the park in Seminole TX Sunday, it is missing now. I checked with TxDOT and they said they didn't move it. I may have to build another one. If  anyone has seen it, please message me.Posted by Cross Walk America on Tuesday, July 12, 2016

If you would like to keep track of Manning's quest, see below, or click here. You can also follow him on his Facebook page.

Massive $91 million Noah's Ark replica to open

Mom captures touching moment when her 6-year-old son prays with police officers

Kelly Garza may have had one of the proudest mommy moments ever after seeing her 6-year-old son, Joshua, leading a prayer with three police officers.

>> Click here to see the Facebook post

<script>(function(d, s, id) {<br />  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];<br />  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;<br />  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;<br />  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.6";<br />  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);<br />}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script>My sweet boy prayed over these officers, for safety and thanked them for their service. #BobEvans #ThankYou #BloodandBluePosted by Kelly R. Garza on Monday, June 20, 2016

Garza and Joshua had just finished eating breakfast at a Bob Evans in St. Petersburg, Florida. On their way out, her little boy confidently approached the police officers and held their hands as he sat at the end of the table.

“My sweet boy prayed over these officers for safety and thanked them for their service,” she wrote on her Facebook account.

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She took a picture as her son sat at the end of the table, holding the police officers’ hands and praying as he was taught.

“Joshua is being brought up in a very loving church, where he has learned that it’s OK to share his faith and that it’s an act of love to pray for others,” she wrote.

The St. Petersburg Police Department also shared the photo on Facebook.

>> Click here to see the post

Officer Williams, Officer Blackshear and Officer Mitchell were honored to pray with this young man this morning.Posted by St. Petersburg Police Department on Tuesday, June 21, 2016

“Officer Williams, Officer Blackshear and Officer Mitchell were honored to pray with this young man this morning,” it read.

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