Heather Adams

Heather Adams writes for Religion News Service.

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World Bank Launches Interfaith Push to Eliminate Extreme Poverty

by Heather Adams 04-22-2015
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Mike Theiler / RNS

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Mike Theiler / RNS

The World Bank is teaming up with global religious leaders in a 15-year effort to end extreme poverty by 2030.

About 35 religious groups worldwide, including Bread for the World, Islamic Relief International, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Sojourners, endorsed the call to action. Supporters include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, and others.

“Our approach to this staggering need must be holistic, rooted in the spiritual visions of our respective faiths, and built on a shared recognition of the intrinsic dignity and value of every life on Earth,” the call said.

Observers say it’s the first time the World Bank has tapped the reach and resources of religious groups in combating extreme poverty — partly out of a realization that the work is too big for any one institution, and also in hopes of limiting unnecessary duplication between the World Bank’s ideas and those of various religious groups.

“There’s a real convergence between these dual goals of the bank and many of the commitments and convictions of religious institutions and organizations,” said the Rev. Adam Taylor, a Sojourners and World Vision alum who now oversees faith-based initiatives at the World Bank.

During an April 9 teleconference, Wold Bank President Jim Yong Kim said the number of people living in extreme poverty — living on less than $1.25 per day — has fallen from 2 billion in 1990 to 1 billion today. And he strongly believes that with enough support, that figure could be eliminated in another 15 years.

But Kim said that in order to reach the goal, there will be two important aspects to the fight to end poverty: gathering evidence on what works and what doesn’t work in combating poverty, and enlisting the aid of religious communities.

“I believe that some of the most important leaders in the movement to end extreme poverty will be people of faith, people who are motivated fundamentally to help the most vulnerable among us,” Kim said.

VIDEO: I Once Was Blind, But Now I See: U.S. Doctors Bring Hope to Haiti

by Heather Adams 03-12-2015
Screenshot via Youtube / RNS

An iTeam doctor supports patients in Haiti. Screenshot via Youtube / RNS

Judith Mesadieu has dreams of becoming a doctor, but her poor eyesight and partial blindness makes it hard to study.

A corneal transplant could fix the problem, but the procedure remains rare in Haiti, which has just six eye surgeons for every 1 million people, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.

Fortunately, Mesadieu snagged a spot on the recent surgery docket of a U.S.-based eye surgery missions group called the iTeam.

The iTeam, based out of Kansas City, Mo., has been traveling to Saint Louis du Nord for about 16 years. They preform eye surgeries twice a year alongside local ophthalmologists, teaching them new skills and improvements.

Lydia Allen, 66, is a nonmedical staff member of iTeam and said the Bible calls on her to continue to go these trips and help in any way possible. 

“Go ye therefore into all the world,” Allen said, quoting Jesus’ Great Commission.

Online Ordinations Aren’t Just For Weddings Anymore

by Heather Adams 01-13-2015
Photo courtesy of Lon M. Burns, Universal Life Church

A bride and groom take their vows on a beach. Photo courtesy of Lon M. Burns, Universal Life Church

Online ordinations are a fast-growing business, a way for ordinary people to play priest-for-a-day at their friends’ and family’s weddings. But these ordinations are also a 21st-century way of reaching into the metaphysical world.

Mandi Brown said she was 9 years old when she started hearing voices, which she said were the voices of her deceased grandparents. But it wasn’t until Brown was about 18 that she said she fully understood her paranormal abilities.

Now 29 and living in West Greenwich, R.I., Brown tries to channel her abilities into helping others, starting as an energy healer. But she said it was difficult to get clients without some kind of official stamp of approval. In 2010, she turned to the Internet for help.

“Online ordination actually opened a lot of doors as far as doing any type of spiritual work, including energy healing,” Brown said.

Brown is ordained through Universal Life Church in Modesto, Calif., and Universal Life Church Monastery in Seattle, both nondenominational (but separate) Internet churches. Universal Life Church has ordained over 20 million people alone and is seeing a 10 percent to 15 percent increase a year. Both online outfits allow a variety of ordination titles, ranging from cardinal to pastor to wizard, freethinker and more.

Brown was ordained as a high priestess but considers herself a spiritual reverend. She has performed weddings, a funeral, spiritual counseling, house blessings, cleansings, banishings, and crossings. She is also trained in exorcism rites but has yet to perform one.  

'God Loves Gays' Billboard Project Doubles Fundraising Goal

by Heather Adams 10-07-2014

A billboard reading “God Loves Gays" went up on Sept. 8, 2014 in Topeka, Kan. Photo via Sally Morrow/RNS.

As small bands of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church take their trademark “God Hates Fags” signs to demonstrations outside funerals, concerts, and schools across the country, a new message has come to their Topeka, Kan., headquarters: “God loves gays.”

The God Loves Gays Billboard Project launched Aug. 9 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, aiming to raise $50,000 to put up a sign about three miles from the church. Organizers hoped to reach the goal by Oct. 8 but surpassed it about a month and a half early.

On Oct. 6, the campaign reached $100,000, two days after the announcement that there is space for another billboard, this one in Salt Lake City, the heart of Mormon country.

The project shows the power of harnessing online media — in this case, a crowdfunding site such as Indiegogo — to push back against religious hate speech from a reviled source.

Religious Leaders Petition Congress to Support Immigrant Children

by Heather Adams 07-10-2014

Minerva Garza Carcaño, the first Hispanic woman elected to episcopacy of United Methodist Church. Creative Commons: Paul Jeffrey

Religious leaders urged President Obama and Congress to provide funding for legal assistance to unaccompanied migrant children who are in U.S. custody after fleeing violence, murder, and extortion abroad.

The emergency funds would go toward helping children who have entered the United States without lawful immigration papers and without a parent or guardian. The money could also help meet mental health needs.

Multiple speakers, including United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcano and the Rev. David Vasquez, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, took part in a national teleconference Thursday. They then sent a petition signed by more than 3,800 people to Congress.

Football Player Tackles Expanding Communion Business

by Heather Adams 07-03-2014
Israel Idonije started Blessed Communion in 2009. Image courtesy Teresa Myers/RN

Israel Idonije started Blessed Communion in 2009. Image courtesy Teresa Myers/RNS.

Defensive lineman Israel Idonije was recently released from the Chicago Bears and, as a free agent, he isn’t sure what the future holds. But when he’s not on the gridiron, the Nigerian-born Idonije has another page in his playbook. Idonije has a side business, Blessed Communion, that sells pre-filled Communion cups to churches.

Catholic Bishops Push (Again) on Immigration Reform

by Heather Adams 05-29-2014

Members of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. Religion News Service photo by Heather Adams.

Catholic bishops returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday with a renewed push for immigration reform, as Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski called the failure to address immigration reform “a stain on the soul of our nation.”

Before fanning out to meet with lawmakers, members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration held a Mass at a Capitol Hill church that recalled a dramatic Mass they held April 1 along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Wenski, the committee’s chairman, said, “When laws fail to advance the common good, they can and they should be changed.”

The bishops’ push was accompanied by a separate open letter to House Speaker John Boehner, a Catholic, signed by 30 Catholic leaders, including the Rev. Larry Snyder, CEO of Catholic Charities USA, and the Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, who oversees Jesuit priests in the U.S.

In Missouri, Oak Scouts Offers an Alternative to the Boy Scouts

by Heather Adams 12-31-2013
Photo courtesy Kerry Kasten

One of two Oak Scouts logos — each troop individually decides the logo they wish to use. Photo courtesy Kerry Kasten

As the Boy Scouts of America gets ready to admit gay youth, one Missouri organization has already broken away, but not because it favors tradition.

Oak Scouts is designed to be a safe space for everyone, regardless of faith or sexual orientation.

It all started when Kerry Kasten began guiding children’s meetings at a nature preserve and nondenominational Shamanic Wiccan church in Boonville. The more Kasten met with the children, the more she realized the need for a new type of scout troop.

“I realized there are all these parents out there who were not wanting to go into the mainstream scouting program due to disagreements in faith and sexual orientation,” Kasten said. “They wanted to go somewhere they felt safe being gay or pagan or not mainstream and express how they felt.”

On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts of America will begin accepting openly gay youths, a historic change that has prompted some churches to drop their sponsorship of Scout units because of the new policy.