Lauren Markoe covered government and features as a daily newspaper reporter for 15 years before joining the Religion News Service staff as a national correspondent in 2011.
Posts By This Author
Orthodox Rabbis: 'Christianity Is Neither Accident Nor Error'
A statement by a group of Orthodox rabbis calls Christianity part of a divine plan in which God would have Jews and Christians work together to redeem the world.
Although signed so far by 28 rabbis mostly from the more liberal wing of the most traditional branch of Judaism, the statement marks a turning point for Orthodox Jews, who until now have limited interfaith cooperation to working on social, economic and political causes. But this statement puts Christianity in a distinct Jewish theological perspective — and an extremely positive one.
“(W)e acknowledge that Christianity is neither an accident nor an error, but the willed divine outcome and gift to the nations,” the seven-paragraph statement, issued on Dec. 3, asserts.
ISIS, ISIL, Daesh — Explaining the Many Names for Terrorists
Q: Al-Qaida is al-Qaida. Hamas is Hamas. But the Islamic State can be “ISIS,” “ISIL,” and “Daesh.” Why so many names?
A: Put the group’s Arabic name into the translation machine, and you get different renderings in English.
The first part of the original name — Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham — is straightforward: “Islamic State in Iraq.” But you’ve got some room for disagreement on “Sham,” which can be “Syria” or “Greater Syria” or “the Levant.” Go with “Syria” and the acronym becomes “ISIS.” If you choose “Levant,” your acronym is “ISIL.”
You could also say the “Islamic State,” the name the group now prefers. But many call that wrongheaded or offensive or both. It is not a state. And there is nothing Islamic about it, said Imam Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America.
“It’s misusing the name of Islam in such an ugly way,” he said.
Republicans Predict Iran Deal Will Gain Them Jewish Votes in 2016
The head of a national Republican Jewish activist group predicted on Nov. 10 that dissatisfaction with the Iran nuclear deal will increase the GOP's share of the Jewish vote in 2016. His Democratic counterpart argued that Jewish Americans, who overwhelmingly vote for his party, are divided over the deal and prioritize other issues.
The debate took place at one of the largest annual gatherings of Jewish activists in the world — the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America — just hours before an address to the group by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I say it with a broken heart and a lot of sadness,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks on what he alleged is flagging Democratic support for Israel in recent years.
Nonreligious Voters Present a Puzzle for Political Parties
Political candidates are facing a new reality: Within the Democratic coalition, there are more religiously unaffiliated voters than belong to any single religious group.
This is a significant change in American politics, where nonbelief has long been a liability.
Survey data show that Americans with no religious affiliation are a growing share of both major political parties. But the trend is particularly strong within the Democratic coalition, where the unaffiliated now represent 28 percent of those voters, according to a new Pew Research study.
Pew Study: More Americans Reject Religion, But Believers Firm in Faith
Americans as a whole are growing less religious, but those who still consider themselves to belong to a religion are, on average, just as committed to their faiths as they were in the past — in certain respects even more so.
The 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, released Nov. 3 by the Pew Research Center, also shows that nearly all major religious groups have become more accepting of homosexuality since the first landscape study in 2007.
The new study may provide some solace to those who bemoan the undeniable rise in America of the “nones” — people who claim no religious affiliation.
“People who say they have a religion — which is still the vast majority of the population — show no discernible dip in levels of observance,” said Alan Cooperman, director of religion research at Pew.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Confronts the Roots of Violence
Religious zealots fill newspapers and screens with bloody images of bombings and beheadings. They kidnap children and make them into soldiers. They pray before they rape women.
But “not in God’s name,” says Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, who just published a book by that title.
“The greatest threat to freedom in the post-modern world is radical, politicized religion,” Sacks writes. Religion News Service asked Sacks how people can kill in the name of God, and how religion can counter religious extremists.
Earliest Draft of the King James Bible Discovered by New Jersey Professor
For some months after he returned from England last year, a Montclair State University professor did not realize what a treasure he had found in a rare books library at Cambridge University.
While abroad, Jeffrey A. Miller, an assistant professor of English at the New Jersey school, had acquainted himself with some of the 70 pages of a notebook that had belonged to Samuel Ward, a 17th century biblical scholar. But it wasn’t until Miller returned home, and made a more thorough study of photographs he had taken of its pages, that he understood how stunning a discovery he had made.
The notebook held draft portions of the most enduring English translation of the Bible: the King James Version, which was published in 1611 and named for the newly ascended King James I.
“I am not even sure I believed it initially,” said Miller, describing the moment when he figured out he had seen draft pages from the most widely read work in all of English, including Shakespeare.
At 9/11 Site, Pope Prays with Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Hindus
Pope Francis embraced survivors of 9/11 in the footprints of the Twin Towers, then prayed for peace at an interfaith service beside the last column of steel salvaged from the fallen skyscrapers.
Arriving straight from his speech to the United Nations on Sept. 25, Francis met with 10 families from the 9/11 community — people who survived the destruction, rescued others from the inferno, or lost loved ones in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, executed by religious zealots.
5 Faith Facts About Bernie Sanders: Unabashedly Irreligious
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist who’s perhaps the most left-leaning member of Congress, is expected to announce this week that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders, 73, was born to Jewish parents and identifies as Jewish — though culturally, not religiously. Most political observers call him a super long shot for the nomination, but he will appeal to Democratic voters who admire his constant exhortations against the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
1. He is the anti-Bible thumper.
Sanders is the presidential contender most willing to dissociate himself from religion. Though he identifies as Jewish and by Jewish law is Jewish, he has freely acknowledged that he is not a religious person. He scored a solid zero from Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in its most recent scorecard and a 100 from the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Why Stay? A New Book Looks at Feminists Who Refuse to Give Up on Faith
Why stay when a woman can’t be ordained as a priest? When Jewish men in their daily prayers thank God they were not born a woman? When a woman with uncovered hair is considered a bad Muslim?
Many in this diverse group of essayists — including Mormons, immigrants, rabbis, ministers, lawyers, and nurses — confess to having seriously considered chucking faith, or at least their own religious tradition. Some of them actually did leave, only to return.
Gay Marriage Is the Law of the Land: Two Couples, Two Views
In the days before the Supreme Court made it possible for gay couples to marry everywhere in the U.S., we asked two couples of faith — one Jewish who live in a state that forbids gay marriage, and one Christian and opposed to gay marriage — what the decision would mean to them.
Five Faith Facts about George Pataki, a Catholic Who Doesn’t Always Toe the Line
Pataki is Roman Catholic but has frequently taken stances that conflict with Catholic teaching. He supports abortion rights and tried to restore the death penalty in New York state. He doesn’t often invoke his faith and has selectively highlighted his Catholicism. Here are five faith facts about the married father of four.
She’s Black, Gay, and Soon You Can Call Her ‘Rabbi’
Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything, except maybe fitness. She wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism or any other religion.
And she certainly never aspired to be one of the first — if not the first — black, openly lesbian rabbi.
But this spring Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia with the help of an online GoFundMe campaign. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination in 2018.
Franklin Graham’s Facebook Prayers Target Supreme Court Justices on Gay Marriage
Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Samaritan’s Purse charity, describes Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the subject of his latest post, as the daughter of immigrants who made good on the American dream.
“Unfortunately,” the post continues, “she is also an example of someone who seems to be very misguided on the issue of same-sex marriage. She voted to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2014, and homosexual advocates consider her an ally in their fight to make same-sex marriage the law of the land.”
Orthodox Jewish Commencement Speaker Finds a Shabbat Workaround
When 2,500 students and their families gather on the upstate New York campus for the Watson School of Engineering graduation on Saturday, Greenberg will still take his place at the podium. And on jumbo screens on either side of the stage, he will watch himself deliver the graduation address he taped in the university’s video studio three days earlier.
5 Faith Facts About Bernie Sanders: Unabashedly Irreligious
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist who’s perhaps the most left-leaning member of Congress, is expected to announce this week that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders, 74, was born to Jewish parents and identifies as Jewish — though culturally, not religiously. Most political observers call him a super long shot for the nomination, but he will appeal to Democratic voters who admire his constant exhortations against the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Activists Demand Obama Appoint Envoy for Persecuted Middle Eastern Christians
Beheadings, enslavement, kidnappings, and rape plague minority religious communities across the Middle East, and it’s time for President Obama to fill a job created to address their plight, a group of prominent evangelicals, scholars, and other religious leaders told the White House.
In the seven months since Congress created a “special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia,” the extreme violence against these groups has only escalated, the religious leaders wrote to Obama on April 20. Nominate someone, they implored.
“The persecution and even eradication of religious minorities in the Middle East right now is the biggest humanitarian and national security crisis that we face,” said Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore, who serves as president of the denomination’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“There is a moral imperative to do everything we can to advocate for imperiled religious minorities.”
The letter, sent under the auspices of the Washington-based International Religious Freedom Roundtable, was signed by Moore and 22 other religious freedom activists, including National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson and the Rev. Joel Hunter of Northland Church in Central Florida. More than 30 groups also signed, including Coptic Solidarity, the Chaldean Community Foundation, International Christian Concern, and the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society.
“The Islamic State’s murderous reach has extended beyond Iraq and Syria,” the letter reads, asking Obama to “swiftly” find a candidate for the envoy job.
“Doing so would signal to beleaguered communities in the Middle East, and beyond, that America stands with them.”
Charles Stanley Declines Award After Jews Question His Views on Gays
Amid a heated debate over his vocal opposition to homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley will decline an award he planned to accept from the Jewish National Fund in Atlanta on April 23.
News that the longtime pastor of First Baptist Atlanta and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention would be honored by the JNF angered many Jews who pointed to his history of vitriolic anti-gay comments.
Stanley said the award was causing too much strife within the Jewish community, and for the sake of his love for Israel, he would not accept it, according to the JNF, a nonprofit that sponsors environmental and educational programs in the Jewish state.
It was Stanley’s idea not to accept the award, JNF spokesman Adam Brill said Tuesday.
“Dr. Stanley feels that he did not want to see any further controversy and I think it’s a laudable and heartfelt decision, and we totally support and embrace it.”
Decrying Stanley’s “sordid history of virulent homophobic statements and actions,” the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender and Sexual Diversity (SOJOURN) led a campaign to get JNF to change its mind on bestowing Stanley with its Tree of Life award, which was to be given to him for his support for Israel by the JNF’s Atlanta chapter on Thursday, Israel’s independence day.
“We respect Dr. Charles Stanley’s decision,” said Rebecca Stapel-Wax, executive director of Atlanta-based SOJOURN, on Tuesday.
“We are so grateful for the strong support of hundreds of people across the country. We look forward to a productive dialogue with JNF in the coming weeks and building our relationship together to support the local Jewish and LGBTQ communities and Israel.”
Five Faith Facts About Marco Rubio: ‘Once a Catholic Always a Catholic’
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is expected to launch his presidential campaign April 13, often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, An American Son: A Memoir.
Here are five faith facts about this Catholic son of Cuban immigrants who has also found comfort in Mormonism and a Southern Baptist church:
1. He was once a serious young Mormon.
Rubio’s parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic, but when he was 8, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon Church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent three years as a Mormon, upheld its teachings more enthusiastically than his parents, and chided his father for working as a bartender, a no-no for Mormons who abstain from alcohol.
2. He frequents a Southern Baptist megachurch.
Rubio and his wife Jeannette often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C. and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received First Holy Communion.
Women Rabbis Are Forging a Path Outside Denominational Judaism
At a synagogue in Charleston, S.C., more than 20 years ago, teenager Rachel Nussbaum began wrapping tefillin — two black boxes attached to leather straps that Jewish men wear as they pray.
To the older Jewish men gathered for morning prayers, the sight of a woman decked out like a man at prayer was shocking. Many didn’t know what to make of Nussbaum’s brazen willingness to break with tradition.
Now 38, and a rabbi, Nussbaum leads The Kavana Cooperative, a growing Jewish prayer community in Seattle that has much in common with a synagogue but doesn’t call itself one.
Like the tefillin-wrapping teenage Nussbaum, Kavana prides itself on a reputation for doing Judaism its own way.