Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service

Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011.

Articles By This Author

Gay Marriage Is the Law of the Land: Two Couples, Two Views

vetre / Shutterstock.com

Wedding rings on wooded background. Photo via vetre / Shutterstock.com

In the days before the Supreme Court made it possible for gay couples to marry everywhere in the U.S., we asked two couples of faith — one Jewish who live in a state that forbids gay marriage, and one Christian and opposed to gay marriage — what the decision would mean to them.

Five Faith Facts about George Pataki, a Catholic Who Doesn’t Always Toe the Line

Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks in Nashua, N.H on April 17, 2015. Imag

Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks in Nashua, N.H on April 17, 2015. Image via RNS/REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Pataki is Roman Catholic but has frequently taken stances that conflict with Catholic teaching. He supports abortion rights and tried to restore the death penalty in New York state. He doesn’t often invoke his faith and has selectively highlighted his Catholicism. Here are five faith facts about the married father of four.

She’s Black, Gay, and Soon You Can Call Her ‘Rabbi’

Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times

Sandra Lawson. Photo by Kim Weimer / Staff Photographer Bucks County Courier Times / Sandra Lawson / RNS

Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything, except maybe fitness. She wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism or any other religion.

And she certainly never aspired to be one of the first — if not the first — black, openly lesbian rabbi.

But this spring Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia with the help of an online GoFundMe campaign. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination in 2018.

Franklin Graham’s Facebook Prayers Target Supreme Court Justices on Gay Marriage

Photo via REUTERS / Allison Shelley / RNS

Franklin Graham speaks at an evangelistic rally in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 2011. Photo via REUTERS / Allison Shelley / RNS

Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Samaritan’s Purse charity, describes Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the subject of his latest post, as the daughter of immigrants who made good on the American dream.

“Unfortunately,” the post continues, “she is also an example of someone who seems to be very misguided on the issue of same-sex marriage. She voted to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2014, and homosexual advocates consider her an ally in their fight to make same-sex marriage the law of the land.”

Orthodox Jewish Commencement Speaker Finds a Shabbat Workaround

Photo via Jonathan Cohen / Binghamton University / RNS

Don Greenberg. Photo via Jonathan Cohen / Binghamton University / RNS

When 2,500 students and their families gather on the upstate New York campus for the Watson School of Engineering graduation on Saturday, Greenberg will still take his place at the podium. And on jumbo screens on either side of the stage, he will watch himself deliver the graduation address he taped in the university’s video studio three days earlier.

 

5 Faith Facts About Bernie Sanders: Unabashedly Irreligious

Photo via REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Photo via REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / RNS

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist who’s perhaps the most left-leaning member of Congress, is expected to announce this week that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders, 74, was born to Jewish parents and identifies as Jewish — though culturally, not religiously. Most political observers call him a super long shot for the nomination, but he will appeal to Democratic voters who admire his constant exhortations against the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.

 

Activists Demand Obama Appoint Envoy for Persecuted Middle Eastern Christians

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Social media via Reuters TV / RNS

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Social media via Reuters TV / RNS

Beheadings, enslavement, kidnappings, and rape plague minority religious communities across the Middle East, and it’s time for President Obama to fill a job created to address their plight, a group of prominent evangelicals, scholars, and other religious leaders told the White House.

In the seven months since Congress created a “special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia,” the extreme violence against these groups has only escalated, the religious leaders wrote to Obama on April 20. Nominate someone, they implored.

“The persecution and even eradication of religious minorities in the Middle East right now is the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis that we face,” said Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who serves as president of the denomination’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“There is a moral imperative to do everything we can to advocate for imperiled religious minorities.”

The letter, sent under the auspices of the Washington-based International Religious Freedom Roundtable, was signed by Moore and 22 other religious freedom activists, including National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and the Rev. Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Central Florida. More than 30 groups also signed, including Coptic Solidarity, the Chaldean Community Foundation, International Christian Concern, and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.

“The Islamic State’s murderous reach has extended beyond Iraq and Syria,” the letter reads, asking Obama to “swiftly” find a candidate for the envoy job.

“Doing so would signal to beleaguered communities in the Middle East, and beyond, that America stands with them.”

Charles Stanley Declines Award After Jews Question His Views on Gays

Photo via Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Dr. Charles Stanley. Photo via Staff Sgt. Nancy Lugo / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Amid a heated debate over his vocal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley will decline an award he planned to accept from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta on April 23.

News that the longtime pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention would be honored by the JNF angered many Jews who pointed to his history of vitriolic anti-gay comments.

Stanley said the award was causing too much strife within the Jewish community, and for the sake of his love for Israel, he would not accept it, according to the JNF, a nonprofit that sponsors environmental and educational programs in the Jewish state.

It was Stanley’s idea not to accept the award, JNF spokesman Adam Brill said Tuesday.

“Dr. Stanley feels that he did not want to see any further controversy and I think it’s a laudable and heartfelt decision, and we totally support and embrace it.”

Decrying Stanley’s “sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) led a campaign to get JNF to change its mind on bestowing Stanley with its Tree of Life award, which was to be given to him for his support for Israel by the JNF’s Atlanta chapter on Thursday, Israel’s independence day.

“We respect Dr. Charles Stanley’s decision,” said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of Atlanta-based SOJOURN, on Tuesday.

“We are so grateful for the strong support of hundreds of people across the country. We look forward to a productive dialogue with JNF in the coming weeks and building our relationship together to support the local Jewish and LGBTQ communities and Israel.”

Five Faith Facts About Marco Rubio: ‘Once a Catholic Always a Catholic’

Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is expected to launch his presidential campaign April 13, often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, An American Son: A Memoir.

Here are five faith facts about this Catholic son of Cuban immigrants who has also found comfort in Mormonism and a Southern Baptist church:

1. He was once a serious young Mormon.

Rubio’s parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic, but when he was 8, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon Church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent three years as a Mormon, upheld its teachings more enthusiastically than his parents, and chided his father for working as a bartender, a no-no for Mormons who abstain from alcohol.

2. He frequents a Southern Baptist megachurch.

Rubio and his wife Jeannette often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C. and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received First Holy Communion.

Women Rabbis Are Forging a Path Outside Denominational Judaism

Photo via Timothy Smith / Mishkan Chicago / RNS

Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann. Photo via Timothy Smith / Mishkan Chicago / RNS

At a synagogue in Charleston, S.C., more than 20 years ago, teenager Rachel Nussbaum began wrapping tefillin — two black boxes attached to leather straps that Jewish men wear as they pray.

To the older Jewish men gathered for morning prayers, the sight of a woman decked out like a man at prayer was shocking. Many didn’t know what to make of Nussbaum’s brazen willingness to break with tradition.

Now 38, and a rabbi, Nussbaum leads The Kavana Cooperative, a growing Jewish prayer community in Seattle that has much in common with a synagogue but doesn’t call itself one.

Like the tefillin-wrapping teenage Nussbaum, Kavana prides itself on a reputation for doing Judaism its own way.

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