Caleb Bell

Caleb Bell writes for Religion News Service. Via RNS.

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Retreats Aim to Help LGBT Youth Recapture Some of Their Broken Spirituality

by Caleb Bell 12-09-2014
Photo by Alex Fradkin / RNS.

Youth participate in exercises during the Urban Retreat at the Reciprocity Foundation. Photo by Alex Fradkin / RNS.

Jordyn Garrett left home so he could become Olivia. Lerato “Lee” Mokobe left South Africa to pursue her dreams, but can’t return because of the dangers her home life and culture posed to her identity. Sarah Silva left her home because of sexual abuse and unhealthy family relationships.

They’re not even old enough to rent a car, and yet they’re living homeless in New York City. But these and other young adults found themselves a family in the Reciprocity Foundation.

The Reciprocity Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to helping the city’s homeless youth realize their full potential by developing their passions and reconnecting with their spiritual side. Many of the youth they work with are people of color or part of the LGBT community, and many come from religious backgrounds.

“Many (of these youth) feel negatively towards religion since it has contributed to their isolation from their family and/or homelessness,” said Taz Tagore, a Reciprocity co-founder.

Transcript: Obama Praises Boston for Overcoming the ‘Face of Evil’

President Barack Obama praised Bostonians for their actions “in the face of evil” during an interfaith memorial service on Thursday for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion,” Obama said.

The 90-minute service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross featured local political figures and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley shared a greeting with the congregants from Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father invokes God’s peace upon our dead, consolation upon the suffering and God’s strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response,” O’Malley said.

Obama opened his remarks with Scripture, and quoted it throughout his speech.

Obama Awards Catholic Army Chaplain Medal of Honor

by Caleb Bell 04-12-2013

President Obama presents the Medal of Honor on Thursday to Ray Kapaun, Emil Kapaun’s nephew. Photo courtesy RNS.

A candidate for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama Thursday at the White House.

The Rev. Emil Kapaun, a priest who served as an Army chaplain in the Korean War, was recognized for his bravery on the battlefield and in a prisoner-of-war camp.

During battles, Kapaun would run into enemy fire to save wounded Americans or comfort the dying. When he was captured and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp, he defied the guards in order to care for other soldiers, physically and spiritually, until he died in 1951.

Poll: Americans Love the Bible But Don’t Read It Much

by Caleb Bell 04-05-2013

The Bible rests on a stand at the back of St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, MO. Photo courtesy RNS.

More than one-half of Americans think the Bible has too little influence on a culture they see in moral decline, yet only one in five Americans read the Bible on a regular basis, according to a new survey.

More than three-quarters of Americans (77 percent) think the nation’s morality is headed downhill, according to a new survey from American Bible Society.

The survey showed the Bible is still firmly rooted in American soil: 88 percent of respondents said they own a Bible, 80 percent think the Bible is sacred, 61 percent wish they read the Bible more, and the average household has 4.4 Bibles.


Lego Says Its Jabba the Hutt Set Isn’t Anti-Muslim

by Caleb Bell 04-03-2013

Jabba’s Palace Lego set. Photo courtesy RNS/Lego.

Lego is defending its “Star Wars”-based Jabba the Hutt toy set after a Turkish cultural group said it promulgates negative stereotypes of Muslims.

Earlier this year, the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria criticized the Danish toy company, saying the Jabba’s Palace set was insensitive because of its similarity to Muslim mosques.

“The terrorist Jabba the Hutt likes to smoke a hookah and have his victims killed,” said the statement, reported by the Austrian Times. “It is clear that the ugly figure of Jabba and the whole scene smacks of racial prejudice and vulgar insinuations against Asians and Orientals as people with deceitful and criminal personalities.” Earlier this year, the Turkish Cultural Community of Austria criticized the Danish toy company, saying the Jabba’s Palace set was insensitive because of its similarity to Muslim mosques.

On Gay Marriage, Supreme Court Ponders Not ‘If’ But ‘How’

RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Throngs of same-sex marriage supporters and opponents gathered outside the high court. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Isn’t it remarkable, attorney Ted Olson said after arguing for same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, that the other side wasn’t really arguing against it?

“No one really offered a defense,” he said of his opponents’ bid to uphold Proposition 8, the 2008 California referendum that effectively ended gay marriage in the state by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The question inside the courtroom was not so much can there be gay marriage, but “how do you establish marriage equality?” said David Boies, another attorney for Prop 8 opponents.

Indeed, the lawyer trying to prop up Prop. 8, which was struck down by federal trial and appeals courts, spent barely any time talking about the virtues of traditional man-woman marriage or the hazards of same-sex marriage.

And that, for supporters of gay marriage, shows just how far this debate has come in the U.S.: It’s no longer “if” it will be accepted and legal, but “how” and “when.”

‘The Bible’ Producers Deny Their Satan Resembles Obama

by Caleb Bell 03-19-2013
Satan in the miniseries “The Bible.” Photo courtesy of The History Channel

Satan in the miniseries “The Bible.” Photo courtesy of The History Channel

The producers of History Channel’s The Bible fended off claims Monday that the actor who plays Satan in the miniseries resembles President Barack Obama.

Executive producers Mark Burnett, who created Survivor, and his wife, the actress Roma Downey, described the comparisons as “utter nonsense.”

“Both Mark and I have nothing but respect and love for our President, who is a fellow Christian. False statements such as these are just designed as a foolish distraction to try and discredit the beauty of the story of the Bible,” according to a statement from Downey, who starred in the television show Touched by an Angel.

Mehdi Ouazaani, the Moroccan actor who portrays Satan, has played satanic roles prior to his work on The Bible, the statement said.

The social media sphere blew up with the comparison Sunday night, which was touted by  conservative commentator Glenn Beck, among others.

Why the First Jesuit Pope is a Big Deal

by Caleb Bell 03-15-2013

Cardinal Jorge M. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, celebrating mass in Buenos Aires. Photo courtesy Religion News Service.

Jesuits are bound by oath not to seek higher office in the Roman Catholic Church, and now one of them has been elected to its highest office: Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Christ, Pontifex Maximus.

“On the one hand, Jesuits aren’t supposed to be in positions of authority,” said the Rev. Joseph Fessio, a Jesuit and founder of Ignatius Press. “On the other hand, they’re supposed to be obedient to the church.” Pope Francis, the first Jesuit to become pope, not only represents a paradox for the papacy, but also the larger history of the Society of Jesus, as the Jesuits are formally known.

The Jesuits have played a key role in the history of the church. For centuries, they have served as its leading missionaries, founded its most prestigious universities and committed themselves to alleviating the deepest poverty.



Poll: Americans See Gay Marriage as Inevitable

by Caleb Bell 03-14-2013

Same-sex marriage is inevitable, nearly two-thirds of Americans say. Photo courtesy Religion News Service/shutterstock.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S. is inevitable, according to a study by LifeWay Research, a Nashville polling firm with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention.

But for some respondents, inevitability doesn’t equal approval.

According to the findings, 64 percent of American adults believe same-sex marriage will become legal, whether or not they believe in it.

House Approves Disaster Relief to Religious Groups

by Caleb Bell 02-14-2013
 J. Norman Reid / Shutterstock

Hurricane Katrina damage. J. Norman Reid / Shutterstock

The House Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a bill to allow places of worship to receive federal aid to repair their buildings damaged during Hurricane Sandy.

The bill, which garnered strong bipartisan support, is also expected to pass the Senate, and would address what its sponsors consider a discriminatory practice that keeps federal disaster money from religious groups.

Currently the Federal Emergency Management Agency excludes religious organizations but assists privately owned nonprofits. If the bill becomes law, it will make houses of worship eligible for relief on the same terms as other nonprofits.

“Today’s debate and vote is about those who are being unfairly left out and left behind,” Christopher Smith, R-N.J., one of the bill’s lead sponsors, told his House colleagues.

“It’s about those who helped feed, comfort, clothe, and shelter tens of thousands of victims now being told they are ineligible for a FEMA grant.”