Kathryn Post is a former editorial assistant of Sojourners.
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Suffer the Little Children
A succession of lawsuits involving the state of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Christian adoption agencies has again pitted religious freedom against LGBTQ rights.
In 2017, after a same-sex couple seeking to adopt was turned away by Bethany Christian Services and St. Vincent Catholic Charities, the ACLU took the couple’s case to court. In March, the case was settled in favor of the LGBTQ clients. Adoption agencies that receive funds from the state of Michigan can no longer turn away LGBTQ couples or individuals because of religious objections. In response, Bethany—the largest Christian adoption and foster agency in the U.S. and headquartered in Michigan—reluctantly changed its policy in the state to allow LGBTQ couples to foster children. In contrast, St. Vincent filed a follow-up lawsuit against the state human services department.
“We are disappointed with how this settlement agreement has been implemented by the state government. Nonetheless, Bethany will continue operations in Michigan, in compliance with our legal contract requirements,” a Bethany spokesperson said in a statement.
Families On Hold: How the LGBTQ Rights v. Religious Freedom Debate Affects Adoption and Foster Care
Some faith-based adoption agencies have a greater ability to adopt antidiscrimination policies than others; nondenominational agencies like Bethany can often change their policies after winning board approval, while Catholic agencies are beholden to Catholic doctrine on same-sex marriage. Due to the structure of the Catholic Church, Catholic adoption agencies would have to shed their Catholic identity to serve LGBTQ couples — something that St. Vincent would likely have had to do.
Stop Sidelining Justice
MULTICULTURAL CHURCHES can still be white spaces. Communities can be inherently individualistic. And acts of “justice” can alienate the very people Christ calls us to serve.
In Becoming a Just Church: Cultivating Communities of God’s Shalom , Adam L. Gustine points out paradoxes that have dominated the church for centuries. His book casts a prophetic vision of what justice can look like when it is fully embodied in the church.
“I am a liability in the work of justice,” he admits in the opening lines, indicating his white male identity. Aware of his privilege even as he reckons with matters of power and oppression, Gustine offers an unapologetic wake-up call to white evangelicals who have ignored the biblical call to justice and those who already consider themselves “woke.”
“A significant part of our history in evangelicalism could be characterized by either full-frontal assault on society or distancing ourselves in a protectionist way,” he writes. Evangelicals reduce justice to something either done tangentially (for example, donations) or in a manner that echoes colonialism (such as mission trips to foreign countries, depriving local construction workers of their livelihoods).
Beauty Resurrected from Brokenness
IN ITS MOST BASIC FORM, theater is about transformation: altering voices, mannerisms, appearances, and scenery until what was becomes unrecognizable. Theater is also about resurrection: an empty stage brought to life, an untold story come alive. And no theater better embodies resurrection than Mosaic Theater.
In fall 2014, the Edlavitch Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Washington, D.C., forced its theater company, Theater J, to cancel the critically acclaimed Voices of the Changing Middle East Festival due to pressure from JCC donors upset with the festival’s controversial nature. Ari Roth, Theater J’s artistic director, protested the end of the festival’s groundbreaking interfaith dialogue and was subsequently fired. Afterward, he established Mosaic Theater, of which he is the founding artistic director.
“In a way, it was a very dramatic, abrupt, and even violent birth,” Roth told Sojourners. “It involved collateral damage, harsh words, a firing, accusations of censorship, a divorce. There was a rupture.”
Mosaic Theater was born from broken relationship—yet today it stands as a testament to inclusion, reconciliation, and renewal. Located on H Street in D.C.’s Northeast quadrant, Mosaic is a thriving fusion community committed to producing high-quality, socially relevant art in an uncensored environment. It is now in the middle of its fourth season, titled “How Hope Happens.”
“Moving to Mosaic meant we would lose Judaism but keep the prophetic piece. It would be multifaith, a mosaic of faiths united by common values. And the top value was a belief in the power of art to transform and transport people and communities to new places,” said Roth.
Religious Freedom ... For All
SINCE HOBBY LOBBY won its landmark case in 2014, the religious freedom narrative has been dominated by traditionalist, politically conservative Christians. But for most of our nation’s history, religious freedom was a bipartisan value that echoed a commitment to inclusive pluralism.
In 1993 and 2000, religious freedom laws were passed almost unanimously in Congress, with support from social progressives as well as conservatives. Religious freedom was viewed as a basic constitutional right that should be applied indiscriminately.
The 2016 election only exacerbated the perception of religious freedom as a conservative Christian value. President Trump vocally supported Jack Phillips, the baker of the Masterpiece Cakeshop case who refused to bake for a gay couple’s wedding because of his religious beliefs. Trump took steps to dismantle the Johnson Amendment, which protects nonprofits from partisan political manipulation and, with the signing of the first of his two executive orders on religious freedom, announced, “We are giving our churches their voices back.”
In some cases, conservatives are claiming their right to religious freedom in entirely appropriate ways. Yet, in too many cases, far-right Christians have used religious freedom as a loophole for discrimination or to evade civil rights laws. And secular progressives have allowed them to do it, ceding religious liberty to extremists and jeopardizing this core tenet of democracy.
But that narrative could be changing.
Escaping the Patriarchy
SEXUAL ABUSE is not about sex: It’s about power.
At least that’s what Ona, the female protagonist of Miriam Toews’ novel Women Talking, insists in the aftermath of one of the most horrifying incidents of sexual abuse in recent history. Toews’ book is based on true events: Between 2005 and 2009, more than 100 Mennonite women and girls in a remote community in Bolivia were raped at night by what they believed were demons punishing them for their sins. These attacks were perpetrated by men in the community who used modified animal anesthetics to drug and rape the women in their own homes. The victims’ ages ranged from 3 to 65.
Toews’ novel is a fictional account of a conversation between eight of these women. As Toews’ story develops, the rapists are imprisoned, other men of the community have gone to bail them out, and the women—illiterate and unaware of what lies beyond the boundaries of their community—gather to decide between three courses of action: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. As they debate, their dialogue is infused with theological discussions and surprisingly dark humor. These conversations give insight into the community’s culture, religiosity, and the ways that each woman copes with her personal grief.
Oddly, the voice of August Epp, the meeting’s minutes taker and the only man present, dominates Toews’ narrative. This story about women resisting a patriarchy gives an unexpected amount of attention to a man.
Love Thy Airbnb Neighbor?
Airbnb — the company that ushered home-sharing into the mainstream — is facing backlash for exacerbating the affordable housing crisis in cities across the U.S. By booking weekend getaways through Airbnb and other home-sharing sites, travelers may be unknowingly and inadvertently worsening the crisis and supporting an industry that deprives locals of much needed long-term housing options.