Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at RNS.
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Rev. Gil Caldwell, a ‘Foot Soldier’ for Civil Rights, Turns His Eye to LGBT Rights
Caldwell was a “foot soldier” in King’s civil rights army, and he finally made it to Durham, where he closed out a social justice conference focused on a newer movement — the effort to secure full inclusion of LGBT people in the United Methodist Church.
“In some ways there is a possibility that on gay rights and marriage equality, God is speaking more through the judiciary than God is speaking through the United Methodist Church,” Caldwell said in his sermon at a gay-friendly United Methodist church just three miles away from the seminary he said denied him admission.
5 Faith Facts about Mike Huckabee, Southern Baptist Pastor-Turned-Politician
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is no stranger to the pulpit — or politics. The former Fox News Channel host announced May 5 his bid for the GOP nomination for the White House. Here are five facts about this Southern Baptist’s perspectives on faith.
5 Faith Facts about Ben Carson: Retired Neurosurgeon, Seventh-Day Adventist
Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon once best known for separating conjoined baby twins, is expected to announce May 4 that he will pursue a GOP candidacy for U.S. president. Carson is now known as a culture warrior whose criticisms of President Obama have made him a favorite of conservatives.
Here are five faith facts about him.
Q&A: From Ferguson to Baltimore, Black America’s Faith Is Tested
Douglas, author of the new book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, writes about the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, the acquittal of George Zimmerman in his killing, and the deaths of other unarmed black people that followed.
Douglas talked about violence faced by African-Americans and the black church’s response. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
Loretta Lynch Supporters Hold ‘Pray-In’ on Capitol Hill to Urge a Vote on Her Confirmation
African-American women of faith joined other women and political leaders in a “pray-in” on April 15 to call on Republicans to quit delaying the confirmation of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch.
“We’re standing before dead ears and asking you to open them up right now, God, that they might hear you,” prayed the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner , co-chair of the National African American Clergy Network.
“That they would wake up now from a dead sleep, unaware that America, Americans of all types and backgrounds, are united behind the fundamental concept of fairness.”
President Obama nominated Lynch, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, in November, but her confirmation process has stalled on Capitol Hill.
In addition to prayers, the women leaders said they will start fasting until a decision is made, and they invited women of all backgrounds as well as men to fast, too. They are joining with the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in a “ Confirm Lynch Fast .”
NAN Executive Director Janaye Ingram asked that participants contact Senate offices when they normally would be eating. Fasters were expected to abstain from food one day at a time and be replaced by others the next day.
Several congresswomen, including Democratic House Judiciary Committee members Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Judy Chu of California, stopped by the pray-in, and at least one pledged to fast.
5 Takeaways from Tuesday's White House Celebration of Gospel Music
First lady Michelle Obama hosted a discussion with musicians and students on gospel music at the White House on April 14, praising gospel’s role as “a ray of hope” in American history.
“Gospel music has really played such an important role in our country’s history,” she told more than 100 students gathered in the State Dining Room, “from the spirituals sung by slaves, to the anthems that became the soundtrack of the civil rights movement, and to the hymns that millions of Americans sing every single day in churches all across the country.”
Here are some of the lessons learned during the 75-minute event, where Grammy Museum Executive Director Bob Santelli interviewed a panel of singers and songwriters ahead of a star-studded concert that will air on PBS on June 26 as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series.
1. Gospel music is personal for the first lady.
“I’m really thrilled that we’re really focusing on gospel,” Obama said of the series that has previously featured classical, country, and soul music.
“It’s something that I wanted to do since we started.”
4 Notable Remarks from President Obama’s Easter Prayer Breakfast
President Obama turned both personal and preachy April 7 during his annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, which he has hosted at the White House six times since he was elected.
The long list of Christian leaders attending included Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Roman Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Rev. Al Sharpton, retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, civil rights veteran the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie. The Rev. Amy Butler of New York’s Riverside Church gave the opening prayer.
Here are four memorable statements from the event:
1. Though he said, “I am no preacher,” he almost preached:
“Even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice, on Easter we can’t lose sight of the fact that the story didn’t end on Friday,” he said.
“The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious resurrection of our savior.”
#blacklivesmatter in Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s ‘A.D.’
When The Bible miniseries premiered two years ago, controversy swirled around its depiction of a dark-skinned Satan who some said resembled President Obama, as well as its portrayal of white main characters in the Moroccan landscape.
Fast-forward to the premiere of the sequel, A.D. The Bible Continues, on Easter Sunday (April 5), and you’ll see a decidedly more multicultural cast, the result of “honest” conversations between black church leaders and the filmmakers, Hollywood power couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
“For too long religious programming has neither reflected the look of biblical times or the diversity of the church today,” tweeted the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, a Maryland-based black activist, writer and scholar.
“We made this point to Mark and Roma after
#BibleSeries, and quite frankly they listened. I’m glad for that.”
Now, in a partnership with the 12-part NBC miniseries, an African-American Christian publishing house will host online resources to help viewers connect the holy book to Africa.
Black Lesbian Bishop Yvette Flunder Is ‘Using My Energy to Find Peace’
By her own count, Bishop Yvette Flunder has officiated at 149 funerals for victims of AIDS and HIV. Her office in Oakland, Calif., contains the ashes from some of those funerals after family members refused to claim them.
In recent weeks, she’s been celebrated and castigated for being an African-American bishop who’s legally married to another woman.
But when the time came for her to speak at a small Baptist college in this Bible Belt city, she chose to forgive the black clergymen who called her appearance a “travesty of the highest order.”
“I’m not using my energy for useless fights,” the third-generation preacher said at the end of a rousing sermon on March 17.
“I’m using my energy to find peace. Let there be peace on earth.”
Southern Baptists Urge Obama to Defend ‘the Least of These’ against ISIS
Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and former leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination on March 2 called on President Obama to defend “the least of these” against the Islamic State, the militant Islamist group that’s also known as ISIS or ISIL.
“Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities,” wrote Floyd and his predecessors in an open letter to Obama.
“The abuse, brutalization, and murder of children, women, and men that is occurring before the world calls our country to lead forward to bring this to an end.”
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, was joined by 16 former presidents in the “urgent appeal” that came after recent reports that the Islamic State was responsible for the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya and the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians.
The letter also was released just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, which recalls the deliverance of Persian Jews by Queen Esther. The Baptist leaders told Obama he had a similar mandate to save an imperiled population from extinction.
How Do Churches Address Alcoholism Among Their Leaders?
Here’s a sampling from some of the nation's denominations:
1. SOUTHERN BAPTISTS
The Southern Baptist Convention has passed more than 50 resolutions about the “deleterious effects of consuming alcohol,” said Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the convention’s Executive Committee. The most recent resolution, passed in 2006, urged that “no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”
“In instances where a pastor may need treatment for substance abuse, he or his church would seek services in the same way other members of their communities would,” Oldham said.
2. ROMAN CATHOLICS
Obama Condemns ‘Distorted’ Faith at National Prayer Breakfast
President Obama on Feb. 5 called for an emphasis on what is just about the world’s religions as a way to counter the ways faith has been distorted across the globe.
“We see faith driving us to do right,” he said to more than 3,500 people attending the annual National Prayer Breakfast. “But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or worse, sometimes used as a weapon.”
He urged believers of all faiths to practice humility, support church-state separation and adhere to the Golden Rule as ways to keep religion in its proper context.
“As people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends,” Obama said.
“Here at home and around the world we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom: freedom of religion, the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.”
Religious College Presidents Concerned with Common Threats to Their Schools
Should religious colleges be bound by the same union and labor rules as secular universities? Or be rated by the same criteria?
Those questions and more will be tackled by the presidents of three major universities who say they are united in supporting the values that faith-based schools bring to higher education even as they grapple with government regulations that can challenge them.
For the first time, the top officials of Baylor University, Catholic University of America and Yeshiva University will lead a discussion Feb. 4 in Washington on the “calling” of faith-based universities.
Baylor University President Ken Starr said faith-related schools are charged with helping students learn about “living life purposefully,” which he said goes beyond simply helping students get jobs and be productive citizens.
“That’s very good, but is that enough?” said Starr, who leads the world’s largest Baptist university, in Waco, Texas. “We want to take the conversation to a broader level of what is in fact the education enterprise all about at its very best, at least from our perspective.”
All three leaders see challenges to the religious freedom of their institutions from the U.S. government.
White Christians Say It’s Time to Stand with Blacks
“African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed.”
It’s the kind of statement that’s often cited by black clergy and civil rights activists. But hours after a grand jury on Dec. 3 chose not to indict the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal choke hold on Staten Island, those words came from none other than white evangelical leader Russell Moore.
With back-to-back grand jury decisions that white police officers will not face charges in the deaths of unarmed black men, white Christians, including evangelicals, have grown more vocal in urging predominantly white churches to no longer turn a blind eye to injustice and to bridge the country’s racial divides.
“It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Other white evangelicals issued similar pleas.
Evangelicals Add Support for EPA Plan to Cut Coal Pollution
Evangelicals are teaming up with environmentalists to support the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants.
The Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network, submitted comments from more than 100,000 “pro-life Christians” who he said are concerned about children’s health problems that are linked to unclean air and water.
“From acid rain to mercury to carbon, the coal utility industry has never acted as a good neighbor and cleaned up their mess on their own,” Hescox told reporters on Dec. 1. “Instead of acting for the benefit of our children’s lives, they’ve internalized their profits while our kids (have) borne the cost in their brains, lungs and lives.”
Despite recent findings that almost four in 10 evangelicals remain skeptical about climate change, Hescox said the comments he provided to the Environmental Protection Agency reflect a belief that “climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time.”
Evangelicals a Mixed Bag on Obama’s Immigration Move
While Republican leaders blast President Obama for taking executive action on immigration reform, some prominent evangelical leaders are welcoming the president’s plans to keep about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.
Evangelicals are a key voting bloc for the GOP, but on immigration some are taking a pragmatic step away from the party. They include Hispanic leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who say the time has come to manage what has become a “de facto humanitarian crisis” for millions of immigrants.
“This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Rodriguez planned to be with Obama on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas, where the President hopes to rally for his new steps.
Faith Leaders Join Consumer Advocates to Push for Lower Payday Loan Rates
Dozens of faith leaders and consumer advocates are pressing Congress to create a national interest rate cap for payday lenders instead of the exorbitant three-digit rates currently charged to people in several states.
Eighty activists from 22 states came to Washington in hopes of shaping new regulations that are expected from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many of their congregations are surrounded by payday loan businesses that they say prey on poor residents by charging high interest rates and creating a cycle of debt.
“Together, you guys are really bringing a strong message and a light and a moral perspective about predatory lending that’s valuable,” said Rachel Anderson, director of faith-based outreach for the Center for Responsible Lending, which spearheaded a three-day visit and training session for religious leaders on Capitol Hill. “We hope that your message is heard strongly.”
The leaders asked members of Congress on Nov. 19 to pass legislation capping interest rates, citing a 36 percent interest cap required by the Military Lending Act.
“If it’s fair for the military, we felt it should be fair for all people,” said the Rev. Susan McCann of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, Mo.
Welton Gaddy Retires from Interfaith Alliance
Like the lawmakers he lobbies on Capitol Hill, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy has a foot in two worlds — Washington during the week, his hometown on the weekends.
So when Gaddy boards a flight each Friday from Washington to Monroe, La., he ignores the person sitting next to him. It may not seem very pastoral, but in fact, it is: He has a sermon to write.
Gaddy, a progressive defender of religious freedom, will retire next month as president of the Interfaith Alliance. But he plans to continue as pastor of Northminster Church, an Alliance of Baptists congregation that his members describe as an island of liberalism in a sea of Louisiana conservatism.
For 16 years, the former Southern Baptist has worn two hats — preaching most Sundays and advocating for equal treatment of people of all beliefs on weekdays in Washington.
“A lot of the people in Washington who talk about religion don’t understand religion; it’s more of a subject of theoretical discussion,” said Gaddy, 73, in an interview in his small office near Georgetown. “And I think that’s why it has been important that I have my one foot in a local congregation and one foot in a national agency.”
Southern Baptist Seminary Clears President after Dispute over Muslim Student
The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have affirmed the school’s president, Paige Patterson, after investigating his decision to admit a Muslim student into the school’s Ph.D. program.
Patterson, one of the most revered Southern Baptist figures and an architect of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention a generation ago, faced heavy criticism from some Baptists who accused him of violating the standards of his school in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We join with our fellow Southern Baptists in appreciation for and admiration of the evangelistic heart of our president, Paige Patterson,” the trustee board said in a statement Oct. 22 as it concluded its fall meeting.
“Any violations of the seminary bylaws were done in a good-faith enthusiasm to pursue the seminary’s purpose, as set forth in its articles of incorporation.”
The trustees have closed their investigation, and Patterson explained after the meeting that the Muslim student, Ghassan Nagagreh, is no longer enrolled at the seminary.
Evangelicals Boost Clinics to Help Immigrants Navigate Legal Headaches
An alliance of evangelical organizations has pledged to dramatically increase the number of church-based legal clinics across the country to assist immigrants with the complicated processes of seeking green cards, visas and family unification.
The Immigration Alliance, a network of 15 evangelical denominations and ministries, on Oct. 21 launched a plan to reduce the gap between the 22 million immigrant noncitizens and the 12,000 private immigration lawyers in the country.
“Churches are a trusted presence in immigrant communities that can — and should — help address this critical shortage of legal services,” said Noel Castellanos, the alliance’s board chair and the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, in announcing the new venture.
The alliance, which was formed in 2013, estimates that there also are 2,800 nonprofit attorneys and accredited staff in the country. The umbrella network includes the National Association of Evangelicals, the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene and the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, among others.