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President Trump says you'll be hearing 'Merry Christmas' a lot more this year

Declaring victory on the “war on Christmas” at Friday’s Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., President Trump said he’ll be saying “Merry Christmas” during his first holiday season as president.

>> Read more trending news

“We’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore. They don’t use the word ‘Christmas’ because it’s not politically correct,” he said, explaining that politically correct culture has made it difficult to celebrate the holiday. “You go to department stores, and they’ll say ‘Happy New Year,’ or they’ll say other things, and it’ll be red -- they’ll have it painted -- but they don’t say -- Well, guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

The crowd at the Christian public policy conference went wild, cheering on the president as he went on to call for tax reform, calling the possibility a “Christmas gift.”

President Trump has frequently used the “war on Christmas” to fire up the evangelical Christian wing of his base, saying on the campaign trail that political correctness prohibits people from proudly celebrating Christian holidays such as Christmas.

“So, when I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here someday, and we are going to say Merry Christmas again,” he said at the time. “Merry Christmas. So, Merry Christmas everyone.”

Family finds Virgin Mary statue still standing after California wildfire destroys home

Families in one California neighborhood barely made it out alive before a raging wildfire destroyed everything.

>> PHOTOS: Northern California wildfires

Margaret Curzon took this video of what's left of her parents' house in Santa Rosa.

>> Click here to watch

They lived there for 26 years.

The only thing left standing when they returned was a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Her parents said they woke up Monday morning because their dog, Brady, was whimpering.

>> Read more trending news

They only had minutes to leave, but their neighbors were also trying to escape, so they couldn't get out quick and could feel their car getting hotter as the flames drew closer.

But her parents finally made it out.

>> On Boston25News.com: New technology giving first responders another tool to help during disasters

She said her father is a mailman, and he went to work Tuesday to try and get his life back to normal.

More than a dozen fires are still burning across northern California. 

Children dismissed from private school because parents have open marriage

Akia Brown released her self-published memoir in February. A few months later, she learned her decision to reveal her life in print would get her children dismissed from their school.

>> Read more trending news 

The book, “Beyond Love,” details Brown’s journey from a single parent in Detroit to her current life as a mother of six in Atlanta who said she is happy in an open marriage with her husband.

It took a few months for news of her book to travel to administrators at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia, where her daughter had been a student for two years and her son was set to begin pre-kindergarten this fall.

In late July, Brown received a call from two administrators at the school. Via speaker phone, they told her that her daughter would not be allowed to return and her son was being denied admission.

Mount Paran is a private Christian, nondenominational, college preparatory day school that serves students ages 3-12. Parents are required to sign a covenant agreement upon enrollment, school officials said. The admission policy states:

The applicant and his/her parents must express a belief of biblical teachings, and a willingness to follow them, as well as student and parent’s affirmation of faith. Parents and students must read and agree to support the Statement of Faith (p. 4-5 in parent/student handbook on MPCS website), commit to uphold Christian principles in their daily lives, and actively participate in a local church body. As a covenant Christian school, MPCS reserves the right to determine whether Mount Paran Christian School is an appropriate placement for the applicant and/or the family. MPCS reserves the right to deny acceptance, terminate, or suspend enrollment of students at the school’s discretion with non-disclosure of reasons.

In this case, the school did give a reason -- Brown and her husband’s open marriage -- but Brown wanted the opportunity to plead her case.

“They haven’t even read the book. I don’t know how they even found out about the book,” Brown said.

She said her daughter, a shy first-grader, was flourishing at Mount Paran and misses her friends. She and her husband had made sure their children were supported academically and socially, she said.

In the book, Brown describes her nontraditional life. Her husband, Brian Maurice Brown, was incarcerated for almost 10 years on drug charges. In 2012, he started BMB Records, which has hosted a roster of hip-hop artists including Charli Baltimore and Ray J.

According to a recent story in the Detroit News, the company has been under investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration since 2013. Brian Maurice Brown has not been charged with a drug-related crime.

Over the years, their relationship evolved from husband and wife to one between her, her husband and at least two other women, which they refer to as “wife-in-laws.” In the vein of urban nonfiction, Brown offers salacious details, but she contends the book is about unconditional love.

Brown said she was able to enroll her children in a new Christian school. She told the school administrators right upfront what happened and explained her views, an opportunity she said she never had at Mount Paran.

“Yes, (the book) discusses open marriage – or what others may consider an open marriage – but the real meaning and everything I have ever talked about is unconditional love and having a forgiving heart,” Brown said.

BYU is allowing Coca-Cola, caffeinated soda on campus and everyone is freaking out

On Thursday morning, Brigham Young University announced the university will offer caffeinated soft drinks – including Coca-Cola – on campus and fans couldn’t contain their excitement.

The BYU Twitter account posted the news along with a Q&A with BYU director of dining services Dean Wright on the decision to bring caffeinated soft drinks on the Provo, Utah, campus for the first time since the mid-1950s.

>> Read more trending news

BYU is owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints and requires students to adhere to a strict honor code in line with the church’s beliefs. The honor code enforces a mandated dress code, personal grooming standards as well as abstinence from premarital sex, drugs and alcohol.

BYU is the largest religious university and third-largest private university in the United States.

>> Click here or scroll down for more

Percentage of white American Christians decreasing, report says

The percentage of white Christians in America is decreasing, according to a new report.

>> Read more trending news

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) published the report Wednesday, with findings that U.S. residents who identify as white and Christian are less than half of the country’s population. 

The shift comes with increased immigration into the country and as more people reject organized religion altogether, The Associated Press reported.

Forty years ago, about eight in 10 Americans were white Christians. Now, only 43 percent of the population identifies as such. Still, 70 percent of the overall population identifies as Christian, according to the PRRI.

The survey, conducted from January 2016 to January 2017, collected information from more than 100,000 participants. It found that 25 percent of the population doesn’t identify with a faith group. 

>> Related: Religious groups unite to shelter Harvey survivors

Predominantly white Protestant denominations, such as Presbyterians and Lutherans, have seen drops in membership, and the number of white evangelicals has decreased, the survey found.

As the presence of Latino Catholics in the U.S. has increased, the percentage of white American Catholics has decreased; approximately 55 percent of American Catholics identify as white, compared with 87 percent 25 years ago. And some white Catholics are leaving the church.

The percentage of Americans who identify as white evangelicals has decreased too.

According to the survey, about 17 percent of Americans identify as white evangelical, compared with 23 percent 10 years ago.

In regard to political affiliation, the PRRI found that more than 33 percent of Republicans identify as white evangelicals and nearly 75 percent identify as white Christians.

Only 29 percent of those who identify as Democrats are white Christians. Forty percent of Democrats surveyed said they have no religious affiliation, according to the report.

Read more at The Associated Press.

Virgin Mary statue survives fire that destroyed home during Hurricane Harvey

A family says a statue of the Virgin Mary is all that remained after a fire destroyed their home during Hurricane Harvey, and that symbol is giving them hope.

>> Watch the news report here

>> Hurricane Harvey: How you can help

The Rojas family of Robstown, Texas, evacuated their homes on their family property before the Category 4 hurricane made landfall, and after seeing what happened to three of the family’s houses, they say they’re glad they left. They returned to charred remains where the houses once stood.

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

>> On HotTopics.TV: Your heart will melt when you see what this little boy did for a baby Jesus statue out in the cold 

“The first thing I thought is we would have died in here if we would have stayed. We left, so we’re alive and I just wish this wouldn’t have happened,” homeowner Natali Rojas told KRIS.

>> 8 tips when donating to Hurricane Harvey recovery and relief efforts

Rojas said one of the only items that remained after the fires was a statue of the Virgin Mary. She said it’s a reminder to stay strong.

>> Harvey's aftermath: Houston perseveres through immense loss (live updates)

“Appreciate what you have, listen to the warnings, hug your children and thank God for today and yesterday, and pray for a better tomorrow,” Rojas said.

>> Read more trending news

The Rojas family set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to rebuild. If you would like to donate, click here.

Couple claims to see Jesus in their baby’s sonogram

An expecting couple found comfort after they say they spotted a Jesus figure in their baby’s sonogram. 

>> Read more trending news

Alicia Zeek and Zac Smith, of Pennsylvania, say they see Jesus wearing a crown and robe looking at their daughter Briella, according to WPMT

>> Couple trapped in smoking car saved by off-duty Florida deputy 

“When I seen it, it almost brought tears to my eyes ... I was speechless. I just couldn't believe it,” Smith told WPMT

The couple said they aren’t religious but found the “spiritual sonogram” reassuring since Zeek’s first two children were born with defects. Her first daughter had two thumbs on one hand, and her son was born with a cleft lip and palate, WPMT reported. 

Briella is healthy, according to doctors, and for that Smith told WPMT he looks at “the angel or God or Jesus, however you want to propose it,” as his blessing.

Social media users joked that the spot on the sonogram image looked like something or someone else.

Read more at WPMT

Brianna Chambers contributed to this report.

Catholic priest reveals past Ku Klux Klan membership: 'My actions were despicable'

A Catholic priest is temporarily stepping away from his public duties after writing in an op-ed about his membership in the Ku Klux Klan four decades ago.

>> Read more trending news

The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, said Rev. William Aitcheson penned the article to show the transformation possible in life. Aitcheson volunteered to take a leave on the day the article was published, officials said. It was not immediately clear how long he would be on leave.

“My actions were despicable,” Aitcheson wrote in the article, published Monday in The Arlington Catholic Herald. “When I think back on burning crosses, a threatening letter and so on, I feel as though I am speaking of somebody else.”

Aitcheson’s article was written in the wake of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a counterprotester demonstrating against a rally organized by white supremacists was killed by a known Nazi sympathizer.

>> Related: Trump again blames ‘both sides’ for violence in Charlottesville

“The images from Charlottesville brought back memories of a bleak period in my life that I would have preferred to forget,” Aitcheson wrote. “The reality is, we cannot forget, we should not forget. Our actions have consequences and while I firmly believe God forgave me — as he forgives anyone who repents and asks for forgiveness — forgetting what I did would be a mistake.”

Aitcheson, 62, was ordained in Nevada after attending seminary at the North American College in Rome. He spent some years with the Diocese of Reno before becoming a permanent priest in 1998 with the Diocese of Arlington.

He currently serves as the parochial vicar at St. Leo the Great in Fairfax City.

He wrote in his opinion piece that his own transformation, from white supremacist to priest, “is a reminder of the radical transformation possible through Jesus Christ in his mercy.”

“Racists have polluted minds, twisted by an ideology that reinforces the false belief that they are superior to others,” Aitcheson wrote. “We must condemn, at every opportunity, the hatred and vile beliefs of the KKK and other white supremacist organizations. What they believe directly contradicts what we believe as Americans and what we, as Catholics, hold dear.”

Officials with the Diocese of Arlington said that they have not gotten any complaints of Aitcheson being racist or bigoted in his time with the diocese.

In a statement, Arlington Diocese Bishop Michael Burbidge called Aitcheson’s history with the KKK “sad and deeply troubling.”

“I pray that in our current political and social climate his message will reach those who support hate and division and inspire them to a conversion of heart,” Burbidge said.

WATCH: Church holds service themed after 2 Chainz’s Pink Trap House

Atlanta’s most talked-about temporary landmark just made its way back into the spotlight — on the sanctuary stage of the dReam Center Church of Atlanta, that is.

>> 2 Chainz creates Atlanta's latest landmark

In an effort to “Make the Church Relevant Again,” church leaders took a marketing tip from Atlanta-based hip-hop star 2 Chainz himself and decorated their sanctuary with a miniature Pink Trap House, a pink stove and a pink toy car.

>> 2 Chainz forced to postpone tour after injury

The church shared its one-of-a-kind service led by Bishop William Murphy on Facebook Live and as of Monday morning, the post has garnered nearly 30,000 views.

>> Watch the clip here

Viewers and attendees alike lauded Bishop’s and the dReam Center Church’s unique way of attracting the youth for its Sunday service.

And 2 Chainz himself took to Instagram to praise the service, writing, “I think it’s dope to be used by God in different ways.”

>> See the post here

2 Chainz’ Pink Trap House, a flipped home at 1530 Howell Mill painted pink to mimic his album’s cover art, was a hot Instagram spot last month.

>> 2 Chainz Pink Trap House offers free HIV testing

The artist, currently performing in a pink wheelchair after breaking his leg on tour, initially used the venue to host a listening party to promote his project with actress and writer Issa Rae, “Pretty Girls Like Trap Music.” 

>> On AJC.com: Atlanta's newest landmark takes social media by storm thanks to 2 Chainz

But the house was also used as a site for free HIV testing and for a “Trap Church” event hosted by Street Groomers, a neighborhood watch group and local faith leaders such as Michael Wortham, minister of young adults at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church.

>> Read more trending news

While the Pink Trap House lease was up July 7, it seems marketing genius 2 Chainz is still making an impact around town.

Muslim Americans are more accepting of homosexuality than white evangelicals, Pew research says

Ten years ago, only 27 percent of Muslims in the United States said homosexuality should be accepted by society, and 61 percent said same-sex relationships should be discouraged.

>> Read more trending news 

But according to a Pew Research Center report released last week, the majority of Muslim Americans today -- 52 percent -- are now accepting of homosexuality, following a trend found in other American faith groups.

Even the Muslims who said religion is “very important” in their lives have become 28 points more accepting since 2007.

Compared to other American faith groups, Muslim Americans are more accepting of homosexuality than white evangelicals (34 percent) and black Protestants (50 percent), but are not as accepting as white mainline Protestants (76 percent) and Catholics (66 percent).

» RELATED: Muslims in America, by the numbers 

Young Muslim Americans (Muslim millennials) also tend to be more accepting of homosexuality. Between 2007 and 2017, the percentage of Muslim millennials in America that said homosexuality should be accepted by society jumped from 33 percent to 60 percent.

The Pew report, which includes data from more than 1,000 adult U.S. Muslims, also found the majority of Muslim Americans continue to identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party (66 percent) and 39 percent describe themselves as politically moderate.

» RELATED: 5 inspiring quotes from iconic Muslim women to celebrate #MuslimWomensDay 

Forty-four percent of Muslims eligible to vote cast ballots in last year's presidential election, compared to 37 percent in 2007. Those numbers on Muslim voting are compared to 60 percent of eligible voters overall who cast ballots in 2016.

Muslims overwhelmingly backed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who drew 78 percent of their vote, compared to 8 percent for Trump.

» RELATED: Mahershala Ali makes history as first Muslim to win an Academy Award 

Alarmed by the anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2016 campaign, Muslim American leaders made an unprecedented push to register voters in mosques and at community events, leading to higher overall turnout.

Pew researchers estimate the number of U.S. Muslims has been growing by 100,000 each year, reaching 3.35 million, or 1 percent of the American population.

» RELATED: Georgia did not ‘ban Muslim culture,’ as fake-news websites claimed 

By 2050, they estimate Islam will supplant Judaism as the second-most popular religion in the U.S., with Muslims making up 2.1 percent of the future population.

Just over half of U.S. Muslims identify as Sunni, while 16 percent identify as Shiite. Nearly six in 10 adult American Muslims were born outside the U.S.

The largest share of immigrants come from South Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, while others have come from Iraq, Iran, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

» RELATED: Photos of famous Muslim Americans

American-born blacks make up about 13 percent of all Muslims in America, but their share is shrinking. Overall, eight in 10 are U.S. citizens, according to the survey.

Eight in 10 American Muslims also said they were concerned about Islamic extremism, and more than 70 percent said they were very or somewhat concerned about Islamic extremism in the U.S.

However, three of 10 said that most of those arrested recently on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack had been tricked by law enforcement authorities and did not represent a real threat.

Read the full Pew Research Center report at Pewforum.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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