Bob Smietana

Bob Smietana is a senior writer for Nashville-based Facts & Trends magazine. He lives in Nashville, Tenn.

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'Syrian Refugees Welcome Here'

by Bob Smietana 01-04-2016
The mayor of Allentown, Pa., opens town doors- but not without pushback.
Greg Henry / Shutterstock

Greg Henry / Shutterstock

LAST FALL, MAYORS of 18 U.S. cities sent a letter to President Obama, promising to welcome Syrian refugees with open arms. Atop the list was Ed Pawlowski, the mayor of Allentown, Pennsylvania’s third largest city.

Pawlowski said his evangelical Christian faith—and America’s founding ideals—shaped his decision. “We like to say that America was built on Judeo-Christian principles,” he told Sojourners. “Then let’s follow our Judeo-Christian principles, which tell us to welcome the stranger because we were once strangers ourselves.” So far, about 10 Syrian refugee families have come to Allentown in the past year. More are expected.

There’s been some pushback from older Syrian immigrants in the community. Allentown is home to about 5,000 Syrians, many of them Christians who fled persecution in the past. Most of the new arrivals are Muslim.

Aziz Wehbey, head of the local American Amarian Syrian Charity Society, told CBS News he had concerns about the background checks on the new arrivals. “We need to know who we are welcoming in our society,” said Wehbey.

Another local Syrian charity, the Syrian Arab American Charity Association, has collected donations of food, furniture, and clothing for the refugees. So has St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church, where many Syrian immigrants worship.

Pawlowksi has spent a great deal of time talking to residents about their fears, such as concerns that the area will become “overrun” with refugees. He stressed that only a few families are coming to Allentown. They’ve lost everything, the mayor said, and need help: “We can handle this.”

How to Suppress the Vote

by Bob Smietana 10-06-2014

Why powerful people are working to curtail voting rights in America (for certain people, that is). 

Agents of Grit and Grace

by Bob Smietana 08-04-2014

A unique faith-based training program in Memphis gives new teachers the skills and community they need to survive and thrive.

Murfreesboro Mosque Fight Laid to Rest after Supreme Court Ruling

by Bob Smietana 06-03-2014

External view of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tenn. Photo courtesy of Saleh M. Sbenaty, via Wikimedia Commons.

For years, opponents of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro vowed to take their legal fight to shut down the mosque all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

That fight ended Monday, when the nation’s highest court declined to hear their case.

The four-year conflict over construction of the mosque, which opened in 2012, brought national attention to this Bible Belt city of 112,000 about 30 miles south of Nashville.

Hundreds marched in protest after Rutherford County officials approved plans for the mosque in 2010. Televangelist Pat Robertson labeled the Islamic center a “mega mosque” and claimed Muslims were taking over Murfreesboro. An arsonist set fire to construction equipment on the building site.

Mosque opponents eventually filed a suit against Rutherford County, seeking to block construction of the worship space.

Jamie Coots, Co-star of 'Snake Salvation,' Dies of a Snakebite

by Bob Smietana 02-17-2014

Pastor Jamie Coots prays during a service in Middlesboro, Ky. Photo courtesy National Geographic Channel / RNS

The Rev. Jamie Coots, a serpent-handling pastor and co-star of the Snake Salvation reality television show, died Saturday after snakebite during a church service. He was 42.

Coots, pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name in Middlesboro, Ky., was found dead at his house around 10 p.m.

Coots had been bitten at the church, Middlesboro Police Chief Jeff Sharpe told WBIR television in Knoxville, Tenn. Sharpe said emergency workers went to the church and to Coots’ home but he refused medical care.

Fired Tenn. Pharmacist Sues Walgreens Alleging Religious Bias

by Bob Smietana 02-17-2014

Prescription bottle, pink pills, pen, and prescription pad on royal blue background. Photo:Sherry Yates Young LPN / Shutterstock

A Tennessee pharmacist and a Baptist church deacon who lost his job after an ongoing dispute over selling Plan B contraception has sued his former bosses, claiming he was fired because of his religious beliefs.

Lawyers for Philip M. Hall of Jamestown, Tenn., filed suit against the Walgreens drugstore chain in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Tuesday, claiming it discriminated against Hall’s religious beliefs.

Hall was fired in August after working six years for Walgreens. He believes Plan B contraceptives cause abortions and refused to dispense them. Plan B is a form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Many medical experts say it does not cause a miscarriage or abortion and won’t work if the fertilized egg is already implanted.

For Some Christians, Sharing Medical Bills is a Godly Alternative

by Bob Smietana 01-23-2014

The Rev. Tom Zobrist, pastor of Liberty Bible Church in Eureka, Ill. Photo: Courtesy Samaritan Ministries International/RNS

Every time he goes to the doctor’s office, Daniel Eddinger takes a leap of faith.

Eddinger, a 28-year-old father of two from Lexington, N.C., doesn’t have health insurance.

But he’s not worried about the cost of getting sick.

Instead of insurance, he says, he relies on God — and the help of other believers — to pay his medical bills.

Protestant Pastors Support Immigration Reform, According to Survey

by Bob Smietana 11-18-2013
Courtesy Lifeway Research

Courtesy Lifeway Research

The news that immigration reform may be dead—at least for this year—isn’t likely to sit well in many of America’s churches.

A new poll from Nashville-based LifeWay Research finds nearly six in 10 senior pastors of Protestant churches support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

Many of those pastors hope reform will help them minister to more Hispanic Americans. But few say the current immigration system hurts current members of their flocks.

The poll of 1,007 senior pastors of Protestant churches, conducted Sept. 4-19, comes as immigration reform has stalled on Capitol Hill.

Serpent Handler-TV Star Has New Cause: Religious Liberty

by Bob Smietana 11-12-2013

Pastor Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn. holds up two snakes. Photo: RNS/by Shelley Mays/USA Today

A Tennessee pastor’s dangerous spiritual practices made him a star of a reality TV series.

Now they may make him a religious liberty crusader.

Officials from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency raided the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollete last Thursday and seized 53 venomous snakes — including timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, and several exotic breeds.

They cited the Rev. Andrew Hamblin, the church’s pastor and co-star of the National Geographic series Snake Salvation, and plan to charge him with 53 count of violating a state ban on possessing venomous snakes at a court hearing on Friday. Each count carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

Baptist-Hindu Couple Write How-to Book on Interfaith Marriage

by Bob Smietana 10-28-2013

Baptist minister J. Dana Trent and her husband, Fred Eaker, a former Hindu monk. Photo via RNS/courtesy McClure Muntsinger PR

Growing up Baptist, J. Dana Trent heard plenty of warnings about interfaith romance.

Marrying the wrong person — known as being “unequally yoked” — could ruin your faith and your marriage.

But three years after marrying a former Hindu monk, Trent says she’s a better Christian than ever.

“I had become complacent in my Christianity,” said Trent, an ordained Baptist minister. “Now my religion and spirituality have become much more integrated in my life.”

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