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Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage Amendment

The Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an amendment to include same-sex relationships in its constitutional definition of marriage on March 17. A majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries have now voted to accept the new wording, which replaces “between a woman and a man” with “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

Although 71 percent of the leaders in the General Assembly, the governing body of the PCUSA, voted to approve same-sex marriage in June, the denomination was waiting for a majority of its local presbyteries to accept the change. That number, 86, was reached on March 17.

Huffington Post reports :

“Today we are rejoicing!" said the Rev. Robin White, co-moderator of the LGBT advocacy group More Light Presbyterians. "So many families headed by LGBTQ couples have been waiting for decades to enter this space created for their families within their church communities.”

More Presbyteries will continue to hand in their decisions until June, when the amendment is scheduled to go into effect.

Watch an official video of the announcement below.

Read more at Huffington Post.

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Two Police Officers Shot in Ferguson

Early Thursday morning, just hours after the resignation of Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, two officers were shot as they stood guard amid protests outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo. One officer, a 41-year old from the St. Louis County Police Department, was struck in the shoulder. The other, a 32-year old from nearby Webster Groves Police Department, was hit in the face. Both officers were reported to be in serious, but non-life threatening condition.

As local authorities search for the unidentified shooters, protesters and police have begun to speculate about causes and responsibility. CNN reports:

"We don't advocate violence toward the police, (just as) we don't advocate violence from the police toward unarmed people," [Deray McKeeson, a local Ferguson organizer] told CNN. "We can live in a world where people are not getting killed, whether the police are killing them or people are shooting at the police."

[Another protester] expressed worries the shooting will undercut the protesters' message against discrimination and violence.

...

[St Louis County police Chief Jon] Belmar said police have been fortunate that such a shooting hasn't happened sooner.

"These police officers were standing there, and they were shot just because they were police officers," [Belmar] said.

As local authorities and protesters continue to work through this difficult situation, we ask that you lift up prayers for Ferguson.

Read more at CNN.

+Leave a Comment | Faith & Politics

Obama Vetoes Keystone XL

“This veto is conclusive proof that activism works.”

That’s what May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said in response to Obama’s veto, which was only the third of his presidency. President Obama rejected the construction of the Keystone XL Feb. 24, angering the Republican majority in Congress and inspiring environmental activists.

“After four years of rallies, marches, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, we’re thrilled to see President Obama take an important first step by vetoing this love letter to Big Oil,” Boeve continued.

Boeve’s comments declare hope to a generation of environmental scientists and activists who have often struggled to draw serious political attention to climate change.  

Republicans in Congress, on the other hand, were deeply disappointed with Obama’s behavior. The Hill reports:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ripped Obama's veto, calling it a "national embarrassment."

"The president is just too close to environmental extremists to stand up for America’s workers. He’s too invested in left-fringe politics to do what presidents are called on to do, and that’s put the national interest first," Boehner said.

Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), tweeted that the attempt at a veto override "will happen no later than March the 3rd."

“Even though the president has yielded to powerful special interests, this veto doesn’t end the debate. Americans should know that the new Congress won’t stop pursuing good ideas, including this one,” McConnell said in a statement.

But it’s not only congressional Republicans who think the fight is not over. Boeve, too, is not content with Obama’s veto, which left the door open to future approval pending “proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest.”

Boeve urged Obama to not be swayed by such processes.

“Now it’s time for the President to show he’s serious about his climate legacy by moving on to step two: rejecting this pipeline once and for all,” she said.

Image: Forward On Climate March in Washington, D.C., Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

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Kayla Mueller's Words on Faith from Captivity

On Tuesday, the U.S. government confirmed that 26-year-old Kayla Mueller, a captive of ISIS since August 2013, has died.

While circumstances of her death remain unclear, details of the young woman's life and work — most recently helping refugees in Aleppo, Syria — have emerged in the last 24 hours, as family, friends, and members of her community share memories and anecdotes of her compassion and big heart for those in need.

The Washington Post reports

The Rev. Kathleen Day, who headed a campus ministry that Mueller joined at Northern Arizona University, recalled that she wrote in a letter from captivity that she tried to teach crafts to her guards, including how to make origami peace cranes.

“We just delight in that,” Day said, “that Kayla remained Kayla. She said she found freedom even in captivity.”

The Post also shared a letter written by Mueller to her family while in captivity. In it Mueller expresses her experience of faith: 

"I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. ...I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free."

Mueller's family on Tuesday referenced another letter in which Mueller had written of her faith, this time to her father in 2011. According to the family, Mueller wrote: 

"I find God in the suffering eyes reflected in mine. ... I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering."

In their statement, Mueller's family said,

"We remain heartbroken, also, for the families of the other captives who did not make it home safely and who remain in our thoughts and prayers. We pray for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria."

The family has reportedly requested that expressions of sympathy be made to causes that Kayla would have supported. KPHO reports that additional information will be made available in the coming week.

Read more from The Washington Post.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

Three Muslim Students Shot Dead in North Carolina

Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white male, has been charged with three counts of first degree murder, according to a Chapel Hill Police Release. After shooting the three students in the head early Tuesday evening, Hicks turned himself in at a local police department in Pittsboro. The victims included a married couple – Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21 – and their sister, Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

Photo via Washington Post

All three were currently attending or planning to attend schools in Chapel Hill. Although reports of previous of a conflict between the shooter and the victims are not confirmed, many have speculated religious bias played a significant role in the crime. The Washington Post reports:

The Council on American Islamic Relations issued a statement on the killings later Wednesday morning, calling for the Chapel Hill Police Department to address the speculation about Hicks’ motive.

“Based on the brutal nature of this crime, the past anti-religion statements of the alleged perpetrator, the religious attire of two of the victims, and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in American society, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to quickly address speculation of a possible bias motive in this case,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad …

Hicks, the alleged shooter, frequently shared links about atheism on what appears to be his Facebook page. One such post reads: “People say nothing can solve the Middle East problem, not mediation, not arms, not financial aid. I say there is something. Atheism.”

Many have taken to Twitter with the trending hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter to show their support for other Muslims and to fill in a perceived lack of media coverage.

Please join us in prayer with and for our Muslim neighbors.

Read more at The Washington Post.

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The NFL’s Chilling New Anti-Domestic Violence Ad Will Make You Stop and Listen

After the high-profile domestic violence cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the NFL is speaking out with a new Super Bowl Ad. The commercial features a woman pretending to order a pizza in a call to a 911 operator as the camera rolls over shots of a disheveled home. The operator eventually comes to understand that the woman is trying to ask for help without alerting her abuser.

The NFL created the ad in partnership with No More, an umbrella organization that connects groups working to end domestic violence and sexual assault.

The Washington Post reports:

The spot stems from the league’s botched response to the Ray Rice elevator incident last fall and from the glacial pace at which it became concerned about the issue. The NFL initially suspended Rice, then a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, for two games, which caused an uproar. Only after video of him knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator surfaced did the NFL reconsider. Rice was cut by the team and suspended indefinitely; although his suspension was overturned, he has not returned to the league.

No More aired spots all last fall that featured celebrities and sports stars struggling to talk about domestic violence and the league has committed 60 seconds, worth $4.5 million, to the Super Bowl XLIX ad.

This announcement also comes soon after Sports Illustrated agreed to run an edgy anti-domestic violence ad they initially rejected. Created by UltraViolet, this ad depicts a young woman being tackled by a uniformed football player and ends showing the hashgtag “#GOODELLMUSTGO.” Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has come under serious criticism for his perceived negligence regarding issues of domestic violence.

Watch the No More ad below. Trigger Warning: Domestic Violence, Trauma

Read more at the Washington Post.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

Shooting in Paris: 12 Dead After Attack on Satirical Magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’

Armed with AK-47s and a rocket-launcher, three masked attackers opened fire in the office of a French newspaper, killing two police officers and ten staff. After hijacking a car, the attackers are currently on the run. Parisian authorities are evacuating local schools and guarding other newspaper offices as they scour the city.

According to the Guardian, French President François Hollande has described the shooting as “a terrorist attack, without a doubt” and raised the terror alert in Paris to its highest level. This would not be the first time the magazine was subjected to terrorist attack. In an analysis of Charlie Hebdo’s commitment to satire, the Guardian reports:

In November 2011, the magazine’s offices were fire-bombed after it published a special edition, supposedly guest-edited by the prophet Muhammad and temporarily renamed “Charia Hebdo”. The cover was a cartoon of Muhammad threatening the readers with “a hundred lashes if you don’t die laughing”.

The petrol bomb attack completely destroyed the Paris offices, the magazine’s website was hacked and staff were subjected to death threats. But that did not deter the magazine, whose editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, has received death threats and lives under police protection.

Many have taken to twitter to show their support for the magazine, using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieHebdo (“I am Charlie Hebdo”).

We ask for your prayers for the families of victims as well as for those who continue to search for the attackers.

+Leave a Comment | Peace & Nonviolence

White House Says President Will Veto Next Keystone XL Bill

In November, when the Senate just barely failed to pass a bill approving TransCanada’s controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) interrupted the debate that followed it to tell everyone that we hadn’t seen the last of Keystone XL. He vowed that a new bill authorizing the pipeline would be the first thing on President Obama’s desk in the next session of Congress.

Sen. McConnell is making good on that promise – with another upcoming vote, he says he has the 60 votes he’ll need to pass the pipeline, which the GOP has branded as a “jobs creation” bill with dubious claims about job numbers.

But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest announced today that “If this bill passes this Congress the president, wouldn't sign it.” This promise of a veto may have less to do with the environmental implications of the pipeline, the violation of a treaty with American Indians, or the years of steady protest from vocal opponents, and more to do with giving the State Department time to finish their review process. Regardless, it’s another stalled start for the would-be Keystone XL pipeline.

The White House needs to hear from Christians who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline. Click here to send a tweet to President Obama!

Read more.

+Leave a Comment | Creation Care

Report: Vatican Investigation Ends with Praise of U.S. Nuns

The much anticipated final report of a Vatican-ordered investigation of U.S. nuns was released today without controversy. The report ends a process launched six years ago under Pope Benedict XVI through the leadership of Cardinal Franc Rodé, the former head of the Vatican office of religious life, who raised concerns of “secular mentality" and a "feminist spirit" among U.S. women religious communities. 

The report marks a more conciliatory approach under Pope Francis who celebrated Mass today with some of the women and men religious involved in the probe. The report affirms women religious in the U.S. for adhering to "Pope Francis’ insistence that ‘none of us can think we are exempt from concern for the poor and for social justice.’”

The report also expresses praise and "the profound gratitude of the Apostolic See and the Church in the United States for the dedicated and selfless service of women religious in all the essential areas of the life of the Church and society."

However, the new report has no effect on the ongoing doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), a membership organization with about 1400 leaders of women’s orders in the U.S., which remains under scrutiny for its Catholic teaching on abortion, homosexuality, and women’s ordination.

Read the full report here.  

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REPORT: Bob Jones University Failed to Support Sexual Abuse Victims for 40 Years

Rolling Stone is not the only one throwing sexual abuse victims under the bus these days. An alarming report released today reveals that Bob Jones University, a historically fundamentalist Christian college, failed to support nearly 40 victims of sexual abuse over four decades.

In January 2013, Bob Jones University hired GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) to conduct an independent investigation of the college’s response to sexual abuse allegations.

The report states that BJU officials were not adequately prepared or trained to counsel victims appropriately, often treating victims as blameworthy for their abuse or sexual assault experienced during childhood or adulthood.

In a video statement recorded yesterday, BJU President Steve Pettit issued an apology to students and faculty:

On behalf of Bob Jones University, I would like to sincerely and humbly apologize to those who felt they did not receive from us genuine love, compassion, understanding, and support after suffering sexual abuse or assault. We did not live up to their expectations. We failed to uphold and honor our own core values. We are deeply saddened to hear that we added to their pain and suffering.

The GRACE report outlines a series of recommendations, including recovery assistance, tuition support, and a public apology to victims of sexual abuse. The university has also taken steps in recent years to revise its policies and procedures:

  • To make every member of the faculty and staff a mandatory reporter which requires each to promptly notify law enforcement officials of child sexual abuse.
     
  • To encourage adult victims of sexual assault to report their experience to the appropriate law enforcement officials.
     
  • To make clear that the biblical lesson of forgiveness does not imply that the victim is in any way responsible for the sexual assault or abuse they experienced.
     
  • To provide more extensive training and access to professional counselors with expertise in sexual abuse for University personnel who interact with victims coming to them for care and compassion.

For a complete look at GRACE’s investigation and recommendations, read the full report here.

Elaina Ramsey is women and girls campaign associate at Sojourners.

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