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Amid Nepal’s Shattered Shrines and Temples, a Religious Fatalism Sets In
About 80 percent of Nepalese are Hindu, making Nepal the second-largest Hindu nation outside of India, with about 2 percent of the global total. Most Hindus believe in a kind of fatalism, and many here seemed unrattled by the quake as a test of faith, even as their temples and shrines were flattened.
“God had predestined it. He knew about it,” said Suresh Shrestha, a Hindu and a hotel owner. His house was partially damaged and he is living in a tent on the Tundikhel ground in Kathmandu.
Akriti Mahajan, a young girl who was standing outside her family’s tent nearby, suspects that man-made climate change had something to do with it.
“Humans are behind it,” she said. “If God had a role, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Colliding Visions of Marriage at the Supreme Court
WASHINGTON — As the nine Supreme Court justices took up the vexing question of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage on Tuesday, the case came down to two competing visions of marriage: what it’s been, what it should be, and who gets to decide.
Outside the court, hundreds of demonstrators echoed both sides: Amateur evangelists and anti-gay zealots with signs proclaiming, “Man & Woman: United for Life, Open to Life,” and throngs of gay rights supporters chanting “Love Must Win!” to drown out the sidewalk preachers with their megaphones.
Yet ultimately, beyond both the arcane and real-life arguments over the state’s sanction of private relationships, the court must decide the very nature and purpose of marriage — or at least which nature will be reflected in civil law.
#blacklivesmatter in Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s ‘A.D.’
When The Bible miniseries premiered two years ago, controversy swirled around its depiction of a dark-skinned Satan who some said resembled President Obama, as well as its portrayal of white main characters in the Moroccan landscape.
Fast-forward to the premiere of the sequel, A.D. The Bible Continues, on Easter Sunday (April 5), and you’ll see a decidedly more multicultural cast, the result of “honest” conversations between black church leaders and the filmmakers, Hollywood power couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
“For too long religious programming has neither reflected the look of biblical times or the diversity of the church today,” tweeted the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, a Maryland-based black activist, writer and scholar.
“We made this point to Mark and Roma after
#BibleSeries, and quite frankly they listened. I’m glad for that.”
Now, in a partnership with the 12-part NBC miniseries, an African-American Christian publishing house will host online resources to help viewers connect the holy book to Africa.
Bob Jones III Apologizes for Old Stone-the-Gays Remarks
The former president of Bob Jones University, one of the nation’s bastions of Christian fundamentalism, has apologized for comments he made in 1980 that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death.
Jones, who stepped down as BJU president in 2005, made the original remarks while visiting Jimmy Carter’s White House, delivering a petition with 70,000 signatures opposing greater legal protections for gays and lesbians.
“I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted,” Jones said at the time.
“But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.”
In a statement issued by the university on March 21, Jones called his earlier comments “inflammatory” and “reckless.”
“Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached,” he wrote.
“I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners.”
Breakaway Episcopalians Win Texas Church Property Fight
For the second time in as many months, a state court has sided with a group of breakaway Episcopalians, ruling that they can keep their property after leaving the national church in 2008 over sharp differences on homosexuality and the authority of Scripture.
Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, Texas, ruled March 2 that more than 60 parishes in greater Fort Worth can retain their property and remain independent of the Episcopal Church.
“We are grateful for the ruling in our favor,”said Bishop Jack Iker, the former Episcopal bishop of Fort Worth who’s now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, which formed in 2009 as a rival to the Episcopal Church. “It’s clear that both church laws and Texas laws have been rightly applied to this dispute.”
While still a part of the Episcopal Church, Iker was a leader of the church’s small conservative wing that opposed the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop and blessings for same-sex unions. He’s also criticized the theology of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as unorthodox, and he refers women seeking ordination to a neighboring diocese.
Statue of Controversial Missionary Junipero Serra Could Get Booted from U.S. Capitol
Junipero Serra, the 18th-century Franciscan missionary who’s set to be declared a saint later this year despite protests from Native American groups, could lose his place of honor in the U.S. Capitol if a California lawmaker has his way.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, an openly gay Los Angeles Democrat, wants to replace a bronze statue of Serra with a monument honoring the late Sally Ride, the nation’s first female astronaut. Lara said Ride would become “the first member of the LGBT community” to be honored in Statuary Hall.
Each state is allowed two statues to represent local heroes; California’s other statue is of former President Ronald Reagan, who joined the collection in 2009, replacing a monument to itinerant preacher Thomas Starr King. The King and Serra statues were added in 1931.
“Dr. Sally Ride is a California native, American hero and stratospheric trailblazer who devoted her life to pushing the limits of space and inspiring young girls to succeed in math and science careers,” Lara said in a statement.
“She is the embodiment of the American dream.”
2014 in Review: An Unsettling Year, with Religion in a Starring Role
For most of recorded history, Isis was an Egyptian goddess, a benevolent type who cared for widows and orphans, cured the sick and even brought the dead back to life.
This year, the world met the other ISIS.
The rise of the so-called Islamic State, variously known as ISIS or ISIL, dominated headlines in 2014 as a self-proclaimed caliphate sowed death and destruction across Iraq and Syria. For some, the group confirmed their worst fears about Muslim extremists, bent on killing religious minorities and subjugating women in a quest for domination that included leveling villages and beheading hostages.
The terror wrought by the Islamic State reflected a sense of turbulence that upended international news in 2014. But it was not the only source of unrest. The Ebola virus in west Africa put the world on edge, and a bloody war between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria and the slaughter of more than 100 children at a military school in Pakistan added to the mix.
At home, America wrestled with police brutality as grand juries declined to prosecute officers in the deaths of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. From botched prison executions to a stream of desperate migrant children flooding America’s southern border, things felt troubled, disorienting, always on the verge of breaking apart.
Religion played a large role in those stories, and in other major headlines from 2014:
Gallup: Gay Sex, Divorce, Extramarital Sex Reach New Highs of 'Moral Acceptability'
Americans are showing more tolerance for a range of behaviors, with sex between unmarried adults, medical research on stem cells from human embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide all showing record highs and increases in “moral acceptability” from last year .
The Gallup poll’s annual “moral acceptability” scale has been conducted since 2001 and charts shifting cultural attitudes on a number of hot-button social issues. In the 2014 list released Friday, Gallup researchers said 12 of the 19 categories reflected “levels of moral acceptance that are as high or higher than in the past.”
“Americans largely agree about the morality of several issues,” Gallup researchers said. “Most say birth control is acceptable but that extramarital affairs are wrong. However, other issues show clear, substantial divides. These differences are largely explained by party identification, but previous research has shown that age also plays a factor.”
Three issues — sex between an unmarried man and woman, medical research on embryonic stem cells, and doctor-assisted suicide — showed a slight increase in acceptability from 2013. Most of the other issues were mostly unchanged.
5 Reasons Gay Marriage Is Winning
What a difference 10 years makes.
Fast-forward to 2014, and the cultural and legal landscape could hardly be more different. Today, 19 states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, and federal courts have struck down bans in 11 more states. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages after ditching a central portion of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act last year, and 44 percent of Americans now live in states that allow same-sex marriage.
After four same-sex couples filed suit Wednesday challenging Montana’s ban on same-sex marriage, neighboring North Dakota is the only state that isn’t facing a challenge to its gay marriage ban — at least not yet.
So what changed?
Franklin Graham: Putin Is Better on Gay Issues than Obama
Evangelist Franklin Graham is praising Russian President Vladimir Putin for his aggressive crackdown on homosexuality, saying his record on protecting children from gay “propaganda” is better than President Obama’s “shameful” embrace of gay rights.
The Russian law came under heavy criticism from gay rights activists, and from Obama, ahead of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In response, Obama included openly gay athletes as part of the official U.S. delegation to Sochi.
“In my opinion, Putin is right on these issues,” Graham writes. “Obviously, he may be wrong about many things, but he has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.”
What Dallas Pastors Preached the Sunday after JFK Was Killed
Facing crowded pews and heavy hearts, Dallas clergy took to the pulpits on Nov. 24, 1963 to try to make sense of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy just two days before.
“The ministers saw the assassination as an unwelcome opportunity for some serious, city-wide soul-searching,” said Tom Stone, an English professor at Southern Methodist University, who has studied the sermons delivered that day.
“Though Dallas could not be reasonably blamed for the killing, it needed to face up to its tolerance of extremism and its narrow, self-centered values,” Stone said.
As they finished their messages, some, including the Rev. William H. Dickinson of Highland Park Methodist Church and the Rev. William A. Holmes of Northaven Methodist Church, were handed notes: assassin Lee Harvey Oswald had just been gunned down by Jack Ruby.
U.K. Minister Sayeeda Warsi Calls on West to Protect Christian Minorities
The highest-ranking Muslim in the British government on Friday called on Western governments to do more to protect besieged Christian minorities across the world, particularly in the Holy Land where they are now seen as “outsiders.”
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the government’s minister for faith and the first Muslim member of a British cabinet, said religious freedom is a proxy for human rights and must not be an “add-on” to foreign policy.
“A mass exodus is taking place, on a biblical scale,” she said in a speech at Georgetown University. “In some places, there is a real danger that Christianity will become extinct.”
Religious Groups Feel the Pinch of Government Shutdown
As the government shutdown enters its second week, some religious groups are starting to feel the pinch, and they’re also finding ways to reach out.
More than 90 Catholic, evangelical, and Protestant leaders have signed a statement rebuking “pro-life” lawmakers for the shutdown, saying they are “appalled that elected officials are pursuing an extreme ideological agenda at the expense of the working poor and vulnerable families” who won’t receive government benefits.
Starting Wednesday, evangelical, Catholic, and mainline Protestant leaders will hold a daily “Faithful Filibuster” on Capitol Hill with Bible verses on the poor “to remind Congress that its dysfunction hurts struggling families and low-income people.”
Can a Horror Film Lead People to God?
The box office hit The Conjuring has all the requisite features of a standard horror flick: creaky doors, mysterious things that go bump in the night, creepy dolls and a dead witch who seizes the body of an unsuspecting mother.
It also has an unexpected background character for a horror film: God.
Filmmaker brothers Chad and Carey Hayes say their film isn’t your typical “Christian” movie fare, but it nonetheless carries a strong religious message that can appeal to faith-minded audiences.
Reformist Priest Sees Potential Ally in Pope Francis
An Austrian priest who’s been banned from speaking at Roman Catholic churches during his three-week U.S. tour said Pope Francis could be an ally in reforming the Catholic Church, but said it will take more than the pope to open the priesthood to married men and women.
The Rev. Helmut Schuller, founder of the Austrian Priests’ Initiative, has been drawing crowds of several hundred people with his call for greater participation from the church’s lay “citizens” and a married priesthood.
“We are trying to open the church to a real approach to modern society,” Schuller said Monday in a speech at the National Press Club. “There are a lot of questions to our church in these times, and the answers are really old-fashioned.”
ANALYSIS: A Cultural Wave on Gay Marriage Reaches the Supreme Court
Sometimes a court opinion is more than just a court opinion.
Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 26-page decision Wednesday striking down a federal ban on same-sex marriages offers a window into Americans’ rapidly shifting views of same-sex relationships — a shift that increasingly relies on matters of law and fairness, not moral or religious views.
At the same time, Justice Antonin Scalia’s biting 26-page dissent in United States v. Windsor reflects a set of cultural, religious, and social arguments that are losing ground in the court of public opinion and now, in the highest court of the land.
Muslim Leaders: We Stand Against Terrorism
American Muslim leaders said they stand against terrorism committed in the name of Islam, trying to distance themselves from the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings who were identified as Muslims with ties to Chechnya.
“We will never allow ourselves to be hijacked by this attempt, and we will not allow the perception to be that there is any religion in the world that condones the taking of innocent life,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
As the manhunt intensified in and around Boston, Muslim leaders convened a press conference Friday to denounce the attacks and to urge the media not to link their faith with violent extremism.
ANALYSIS: Supreme Court Searches for Way Around Gay Marriage
In nearly two hours of arguments on Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard many of the expected cases for and against recognizing gay marriage: that refusing to do so is blatant discrimination, that gay marriage is a social experiment that the court should not preempt, that Washington has no role in state marriage laws.
Yet it was arcane arguments over matters of legal standing that seemed to most animate the justices, reflecting what seemed to be a desire to find a way for the court to sidestep a definitive up-or-down ruling on one of the most divisive social issues.
In short, the court — particularly its conservative majority — seemed to ask why they should hear a second gay marriage case in as many days, particularly one in which the government supports the lower court’s ruling. And the answer to that question will go a long way toward determining the outcome of a spirited national debate.
What Happens Next at the Vatican
Following is a brief explanation of the process used in a conclave to elect a new pope.
Q: Who governs the church until a new pope is elected?
A: Day-to-day operations are handled by the Vatican curia, the central bureaucracy. All prelates who head Vatican agencies resign after the death or resignation of a pope. Provisions are made to oversee the papal household, the spiritual needs of Romans and to grant absolutions.
Q: What does the word “conclave” mean?
A: The word comes from the Latin, “with a key,” referring to the tradition of locking the doors until cardinals elect a winner.
Q: Who is eligible to be elected pope?
A: Technically, any baptized male Catholic is eligible, provided he is not married and in good standing with the church. Since 1378, however, new popes have come from within the College of Cardinals.
Top 10 Stories of 2012
WASHINGTON — From the nuns to the “nones,” religion dominated the headlines throughout 2012. Faith was a persistent theme in the presidential race, and moral and ethical questions surrounded budget debates, mass killings, and an unexpected focus on “religious freedom.”
Here are 10 ways religion made news in 2012:
Suffer the children: Gun violence as a new “pro-life” issue
A shooting rampage that killed 12 and injured more than 50 others inside a crowded movie theater in Aurora, Colo., couldn’t do it. Neither could a gunman who murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. But a hail of bullets inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. – which took the lives of 20 first-graders, and six adults – was finally able to mobilize religious activists on gun control after years of failing to gain traction.
“Those who consider themselves religious or pro-life must be invited to see that the desire to prevent gun-related deaths is part of the religious defense of the dignity of all life,” wrote the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and contributing editor at America magazine.