Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

Adelle M. Banks is production editor and a national correspondent at RNS.

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Obama Names 18 New Faith-Based Council Advisers

The Rev. Carroll Baltimore. Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

President Obama on Sept. 24 announced the names of 18 people who will serve on his third advisory council on faith-based issues.

They include leaders of religious groups and nonprofits — from a former president of a historic black denomination to the head of an anti-hunger group to an executive of a Sikh organization.

'Selma' and 'Captive' Star David Oyelowo: 'For Me, Jesus Is My Denomination'

Kate Mara and David Oyelowo in "Captive." Image via Paramount Pictures/RNS

Actor David Oyelowo, who played the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, turns to a dramatically different role in Captive, where he portrays Atlanta murderer and kidnapper Brian Nichols. In the movie, which premieres Sept. 18 and is based on a true story, Nichols’ captive reads him portions of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life.

Oyelowo, 39, a British-born son of Nigerian parents, talked to Religion News Service about his Christian faith and his varied acting roles.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You spoke of feeling called to portray the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. How do you compare saying yes to that role and accepting the role of murderer and kidnapper Brian Nichols?

A: One is a man who is about peace and who is about justice. The other is about a man who has committed a heinous injustice against other people. But the reason I felt called to both is that both films, both characters in a sense, show the power of the grace of God. In terms of Dr. King, this is a man who professed love in the face of hatred, and in terms of Brian Nichols, this is a man that, even though he operates in a very dark way, God still used him, especially in the life of Ashley Smith, who partly attributes her salvation from drugs and a very dark life to Brian Nichols, who took her hostage that night.

5 Faith Facts About Ben Carson: Retired Neurosurgeon, Seventh-Day Adventist

Image via Adelle M. Banks/RNS

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon once best known for separating conjoined baby twins, announced May 4 that he will pursue the Republican nomination 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:

1. He’s a twice-baptized Seventh-day Adventist.

In his book Gifted Hands, Carson, 63, describes being baptized as a boy by the pastor of Detroit’s Burns Seventh-day Adventist Church. At age 12, he told the pastor of another Adventist church in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, that he hadn’t completely grasped his first baptism and wanted to be baptized again.

Carson has served as an Adventist local elder and Sabbath school teacher. But he attends other churches. “I spend just as much time in non-Seventh-day Adventist churches because I’m not convinced that the denomination is the most important thing,” he told RNS in 1999. 

“I think it’s the relationship with God that’s most important.”

Southern Baptist Mission Board to Cut as Many as Eight Hundred Positions

Image via International Mission Board / RNS

The Southern Baptist Convention will cut as many as 800 employees from its overseas missions agency to make up for significant shortfalls in revenue, officials announced Aug. 27.

The International Mission Board anticipates an annual budget shortfall of $21 million this year, following several consecutive years of shortfalls.

The developments are particularly painful for a denomination that was founded as a missionary-sending organization and that prides itself on making Christian converts across the globe.

Southern Baptist Mission Board to Cut as Many as 800 Positions

International Mission Board / RNS

International Mission Board President David Platt. Photo via International Mission Board / RNS

The Southern Baptist Convention will cut as many as 800 employees from its overseas missions agency to make up for significant shortfalls in revenue, officials announced Aug. 27.

The International Mission Board anticipates an annual budget shortfall of $21 million this year, following several consecutive years of shortfalls.

The developments are particularly painful for a denomination that was founded as a missionary-sending organization and that prides itself on making Christian converts across the globe.

Critics Petition Obama to Abolish Faith-Based Hiring Bias

Image via RNS.

Concerned that faith-based groups can discriminate in hiring while receiving federal funds, a coalition of 130 organizations told President Obama the policy will tarnish his legacy of fair and equal treatment for all Americans.

The critics, including religious organizations such as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Union for Reform Judaism, asked the president to direct Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review a “flawed” 2007 Justice Department memo that said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides for an override of nondiscrimination laws for government-funded religious organizations.

“RFRA was not intended to create blanket exemptions to laws that protect against discrimination,” says the letter sent to Obama Aug. 20 and announced by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

50 Years After Voting Rights Act, Black Churches Fighting Voting Restrictions

Adelle M. Banks / RNS

The Rev. James C. Perkins. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Fifty years after the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention said black churches will be redoubling efforts to maintain access to the ballot box.

The act, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson 50 years ago Aug. 6, was a crowning achievement of the civil rights movement. But in 2013 the Supreme Court invalidated key provisions, and many states, nearly all of them under Republican control, passed new voting restrictions that critics say target minority voters.

Boy Scouts Drop Ban on Adult Gay Leaders

a katz /

Photo via a katz /

The Boy Scouts of America ended its national ban on openly gay adult leaders and employees on July 27 while allowing local religious units to continue to exclude gay adults.

Meeting by conference call, 79 percent of the BSA’s national executive board members favored the resolution ratified earlier this month by its executive committee.

The policy change represents the end of a long and bitter struggle over whether to accept gay members that began more than two years ago when it allowed gay youths to participate, but not adults.

White House Honors 12 Faith Leaders as Climate Change ‘Champions’

the White House / RNS

Left to right, the Rev. Mitchell Hescox, Huda Alkaff (hidden), the Rev. Kim Morrow,  Sunita Viswanath, Sister Joan Brown, Rabbi Marc Soloway, Steven Beumer. Photo via the White House / RNS

From a zero-waste synagogue to global development work after natural disasters, environmental projects by faith leaders are being hailed by the Obama administration as examples of exemplary leadership on climate change.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy highlighted initiatives by a dozen leaders from a range of faiths, who were recognized July 20 in Washington, D.C., as “Champions of Change” for their environmental initiatives.

“As faith leaders, no voice is really more important than yours in this,” said McCarthy.

Black Clergy Walk a Fine Line Between Religious Liberty, Discrimination

Will Sterling of Sterling Photography / RNS

The Rev. Jerry Young, 18th president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. Photo via Will Sterling of Sterling Photography / RNS

Since the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is constitutional, the Rev. Jerry Young has been in a quandary.

As the president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, a predominantly black denomination, he is grappling with a new reality: how to respond to the specter of discrimination against gays. While he doesn’t support gay marriage, the refusal of some religious bakers and florists to provide services to gays prompts memories of racially segregated hotels and restaurants.

“On the one hand, you have to be sensitive to the fact that you do not want people to be victims of discrimination — that’s just an absolute fact — you just do not want that to happen,” said Young, who grew up in Mississippi in the civil rights era and is developing a position paper to guide NBCUSA congregations on these issues.

“And on the other hand, there is this tension between what, as Christians, we believe God has called us to do, and what it appears to be, in some sense, what the culture seems to be doing.”