Lilly Fowler writes for Religion News Service and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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Vice President Joins Faith Leaders in Condemning Anti-Muslim Rhetoric
Vice President Joe Biden stood with clerics from different religions at Georgetown University on Dec. 16 and condemned the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has followed the recent shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif.
“Look around. This is America,” Biden said, as he spoke on a stage with clergy wearing garb that varied from a priestly collar to a turban, and acknowledged the discomfort felt by many.
The vice president referred to the civil war in Syria and the millions of struggling refugees that some have said should be turned away.
Spate of Fires at Black Churches in St. Louis Area
A reward of up to $2,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest of the culprit in a string of fires that have now hit six predominantly African-American churches in and around St. Louis.
Ebenezer Lutheran Church, at 1011 Theobald Street, is the latest church to report damage.
Capt. Garon Mosby, spokesman for the St. Louis Fire Department, said members of the congregation called authorities about 9:25 a.m. Oct. 18 after arriving for a worship service and noticing damage. The fire was already out by the time firefighters arrived, Mosby said.
Although he could not provide additional details, Mosby said that the damage was not extensive. But that the incident was being investigated along with the five other church fires that have happened in the area since Oct. 8.
Outspoken Theologian Ousted from the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod recently carried out what various members consider the equivalent of a modern-day heresy conviction.
The case pitted two-term denomination President Matthew Harrison — who is known for his bushy mustache and conservative views — against Matthew Becker, an outspoken pastor and professor of theology.
Becker teaches at Valparaiso University, an independent Lutheran institution in Valparaiso, Ind., about an hour’s drive from Chicago.
Becker had raised questions about the denomination’s stance against the ordination of women, as well as its teaching of creationism, or the literal reading of the story of creation in the book of Genesis.
Becker’s insistence on talking about such issues has led certain members of the church to file charges against him, triggering several investigations.
In Wake of Ferguson, a Bid to Make St. Louis a More ‘Compassionate’ City
Some might argue that if there is one thing this city could use more of right now, it’s compassion.
Even before civil unrest surfaced in the region after Officer Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, local leaders were trying to find a way to cultivate more of it. But how exactly? And how would we know when we had enough?
Unlike other commodities, compassion is difficult to quantify.
But that hasn’t stopped the formation of a worldwide movement for compassionate cities. St. Louis is the latest municipality to vie to be part of the sympathetic pack, which includes Louisville, Ky.; Atlanta; Nashville, Tenn.; Seattle; and other cities from around the world.
On Nov. 13, in an effort to bring St. Louis one step closer to officially signing on to what noted religion scholar Karen Armstrong coined as the Charter for Compassion, advocates will host the first-ever town hall meeting dedicated to the crusade.
“We’re wired for compassion and what we would hope for and work toward is compassionate energy and action becoming an increasing factor in decision making and planning across the St. Louis region,” said David Mehl of the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis, a key member of a group of about 30 local leaders pushing that the city, like others around the nation, agree to the charter’s terms.
“The situation in Ferguson and beyond makes this all the more relevant.”
Pastor Who Took a Bullet Paves Her Own Way to Ferguson’s Frontline
The first time the public heard the name Renita Lamkin was probably the day she was shot.
In early August, four days after Michael Brown was killed by Officer Darren Wilson, Lamkin, a pastor, stood with Ferguson protesters, attempting to mediate. Police had warned the crowd to disperse and in an effort to buy a little time, Lamkin shouted, “They’re leaving!”
“That’s when I felt a pop in the stomach,” Lamkin said of the rubber pellet that hit her. The pellet left a ghastly wound — large, deep and purplish — and created a social media frenzy.
Tweet after tweet showed Lamkin, 44 and white, wearing a T-shirt with an image of a cross that she lifted up just slightly to show off the ugly bruise.
Lamkin said she didn’t really have a plan when she ventured out to Ferguson but that “the whole being shot thing was probably the best thing that could have happened.” The injury had cemented Lamkin’s role in the struggle for racial equality.
“They say, ‘You took a bullet for us.’ My sense is …We’re in this together, and I was playing my role,” Lamkin said.
Conference Explores Whether the 'Shroud of Turin' Could Be the Burial Cloth of Jesus
A 14-foot-long stretch of cloth mysteriously imprinted with a faint, brownish image of a naked man and wounds that mirror those of a crucifixion has inspired decades of debate over whether it could be Jesus’ burial shroud.
This weekend, that debate will take center stage in St. Louis.
Forty experts, scientists and enthusiasts are introducing the latest research surrounding the so-called burial cloth of Jesus at an international four-day conference, opening Oct. 9.
Russ Breault, who first became interested in the Shroud of Turin when he wrote about it for his college paper, will deliver the opening talk that will focus on how the pattern of wounds seen on the shroud — markings consistent with a crown of thorns, a pierced wrist and what appear to be blood stains — correlate with what the Gospels say happened to Jesus.
For Breault, the question — “Could this be the burial cloth of Jesus?” — is one worthy of rigorous pursuit.
Firing of Lesbian Teachers at St. Louis Catholic Girls’ School Draws Outcry
The termination of two lesbian faculty members at Cor Jesu Academy, an all-girls Catholic high school, has prompted an outcry from alumnae who have vowed to withhold donations to the school.
In the last several weeks, alumnae have created a private Facebook group with more than 2,000 members in support of the couple, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro, urging supporters to call and write to Cor Jesu leaders and voice their concerns.
Cor Jesu is in the midst of its “One Heart, One Spirit, One Vision” capital campaign for a new chapel, gym, student commons and additional parking.
Reichert said she and Gambaro were asked to resign after the school said in late July it received a copy of a mortgage application with the couple’s names. The couple had married in New York over the summer and the school said they had violated the moral contract faculty are required to sign as part of employment.
The firing comes as news that a chemistry teacher at a Catholic, all-girls high school in Bloomfield Hills, outside Detroit, said she was fired before the semester started because of her “non-traditional” pregnancy. The teacher, Barbara Webb, 33, is a lesbian in a committed relationship with another woman. She worked at Marian High School for nine years, the Detroit Free Press reported.
A statement from St. Louis’ Cor Jesu said the school “does not publicly discuss personnel matters.”
Many there are concerned not only about Gambaro and Reichert, but how the decision to fire gay faculty will affect current and future Cor Jesu students.
In Ferguson, Nation of Islam Members Push for Peace
FERGUSON, Mo. — Ever since Michael Brown, a young, unarmed African-American, was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, various crews have played a part in achieving the tentative peace that has taken hold of the St. Louis suburb once rocked by protests.
Some wear black T-shirts with large white letters that spell out “Peacekeepers.” Others dress in bright orange shirts and call themselves “Clergy United.” All acknowledge that the Nation of Islam has been a key player since the very beginning.
Last week, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who took over the police security patrol in Ferguson, acknowledged on national television that the Nation of Islam and other groups — such as Black Lawyers for Justice — helped control the crowds on West Florissant Avenue. Others on social media pointed out that the Nation of Islam protected businesses from looters.
At Church Rally, Community Pours Out Support for Michael Brown’s Family
Civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton told a packed church on August 17 that the Michael Brown case would mark a defining moment in civil rights history and fundamentally change the way police engage with the African-American community.
“Michael Brown is going to change this town,” Sharpton said to a massive, boisterous crowd that clapped and shouted in response.
Hundreds filled the pews of Greater Grace Church. More crowded into the foyer, and hundreds remained on the parking lot unable to enter, all in a show of support for the African-American teenager who was shot by a police officer on August 9.
Sharpton announced a future march in Washington on policing. He criticized the militarization of police, saying they act as if they are “at war with…citizens.” Sharpton urged the crowd to start showing up at the polls to vote and make a difference in the lives of African-Americans.
“Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house,” Sharpton said. “We’ll be here until justice is achieved.”
After Ferguson Protests, Church Volunteers Pick Up the Pieces
On the fourth morning after Michael Brown’s death, residents from different parts of the region came together to pick up the pieces.
Some were young, some old. The majority arrived as part of the faithful. Others trickled in after spotting volunteers marching up and down West Florissant under the hot sun. Carrying brooms and large garbage bags, they collected whatever they could find: rubber bullets, broken glass, liquor bottles, tear gas grenades.
“I needed to come out today just to get some stability,” said Gary Park, 34, an auto mechanic who lives near the area in Ferguson where Brown was shot and protests erupted. Close by is the looted and burned QuikTrip that sits as a symbol of the severity of the unrest that resulted from an unnamed cop fatally shooting an unarmed 18-year-old.
“I wanted some encouragement,” Park said.
Park is a member of Passage Community Church in Florissant, which together with a few other local congregations, organized the Wednesday morning cleanup. Pastor Joe Costephens said that although the trash-collecting effort was a last-minute plan, more than 100 people joined the endeavor.
It was a simple act but not an insignificant one, especially since authorities reported two shootings only the night before. In fact, the continued violence has put future volunteer efforts on hold, Costephens said.
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