Stephanie Russell-Kraft reports on the intersections of religion, culture, law, and gender. She has written for The New Republic, The Nation, The Atlantic, Religion & Politics, In These Times, and more. Follow her on Twitter @srussellkraft.

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From ‘Lent-in-a-Box’ to ‘Ash N Dash’

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 02-12-2021
The challenge of making sacred rituals COVID safe

Photo by Jacob Bentzinger on Unsplash

Lent is always a solemn period of penance, reflection, and prayer, but this year that reflection is different. Though vaccinations are on the rise, the virus has killed nearly 500,000 people in America and forced many more into isolation. For many Christians, Lent in 2021 has also taken on a new significance beyond the requirements of social distancing.

The (Endless) Project to Fix America

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 02-08-2021

It has been over a month since a mob of violent protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol under the false belief that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Since then, Joe Biden has been inaugurated as the country’s 46th president. The country is, ostensibly, moving forward. And yet, the fractures exposed by the election and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have not been fixed.

Can Faith Leaders’ Vaccine Selfies Rebuild Public Trust?

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 01-27-2021

Ruth E. Berggren, one of the San Antonio leaders who signed an interfaith pledge to publicly support the COVID-19 vaccine, recieves her vaccine. Photo courtesy of Ruth E. Berggren.

When Rev. Ann Helmke, who leads San Antonio’s Faith-Based Initiative, invited Kemp to sign an interfaith pledge to publicly take the COVID-19 vaccine, he was quick to say yes. Part of the pledge involves sharing a selfie of the vaccination process on social media. “The importance of people of faith speaking to their congregations, their constituency, their area of influence, cannot be overstated,” said Kemp, who received his first vaccine dose on Dec. 18 and shared a photo of it on Facebook.

Alternatives to Police Exist. You Just Haven't Heard of Them.

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 01-26-2021
How faith and community leaders are reimagining public safety.
Graphic of various items related to policing. First aid kit, hand gun, cell phone, ambulance, etc

Illustration by Claire Merchlinsky

WHEN A WOMAN experienced an opioid overdose during a morning breakfast service at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Eugene, Ore., church staff quickly administered naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse an overdose.

Then the police arrived, lights blazing, according to Bingham Powell, rector at St. Mary’s.

Police interference during a drug overdose or mental-health crisis can often turn deadly, putting some of society’s most vulnerable further at risk for harm. Thankfully, when the officers arrived on the scene at St. Mary’s that day, no one was killed. But a police response can also impair the situation in other ways. The woman who had overdosed became frightened by their presence and left.

“This isn’t a story of police misconduct,” Powell said. “It’s just a story of the police showing up, and it caused the person to run away and not get the help they needed.”

What if someone else had arrived on the scene first? In Eugene, it’s entirely possible that they could have. For nearly three decades, the city has been home to CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), an emergency-response program that sends experienced unarmed crisis counselors and EMTs in response to mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness-related crises. The program has become a model for other cities looking to shift community resources away from armed policing in favor of social services.

Bonhoeffer Society: Remove Trump and Reject Christian Nationalism

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 01-13-2021

A barricade is seen near the U.S. Capitol building as the House of Representatives debates impeaching President Donald Trump on Jan. 13, 2021. REUTERS/Brandon Bell

In a statement, the International Bonhoeffer Society noted that the Christian nationalism Bonhoeffer opposed in Germany mirrors the powerful current of Christian nationalism in the U.S.  that has helped bolster support for the president.

Russell Moore Tells Southern Baptists Trump Should Be Removed

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 01-11-2021

Russell Moore. Image via Theology147/Wikimedia Commons

Russell Moore has called for President Donald Trump to be removed from office, saying that he is willing to lose his position as president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in doing so.

Faith Groups Call for Trump's Removal Following Capitol Attacks

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 01-08-2021

President Donald Trump boards the Marine One helicopter to depart for holiday travel to Florida on Dec. 23, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“Every Republican politician and every far-right preacher who spread baseless lies about the election results” should be held accountable for the violence at the Capitol this week, said Nathan Empsall of Faithful America . “That process of accountability starts at the top, with Donald Trump.”

They Invaded the Capitol Saying ‘Jesus Is My Savior. Trump Is My President’

A man holds a sign reading “In God We Trust” during a march to the Capitol that would later descend into chaos when a mob stormed the building forcing Congress to take recess from its Electoral College vote, Jan. 6, 2021. Photo by Madison Muller for Sojourners

When a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol building on Wednesday afternoon, many carried weapons, wore red MAGA hats, and draped themselves in the candidate’s flag. After legislators and their staff had been evacuated, Trump supporters entered the Senate floor. With them came a Christian flag.

Poor People’s Campaign, Progressive Caucus Outline a ‘People’s Agenda’

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 12-22-2020

With less than a month to go until President-elect Joe Biden takes office, The Poor People’s Campaign has joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus in calling for a seven-part legislative agenda aimed at helping poor Americans amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Biden Is a Pro-Choice Catholic. Will He Expand Reproductive Health Care?

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 12-10-2020

“We see giving women access to reproductive health care as being pro-life,” Manson said of Catholics for Choice, which was founded in 1973 by Catholics who believe that the faith tradition supports a person’s right to follow their conscience on matters of their own reproductive health.

Christian Nationalists Much More Likely to Reject Vaccine, New Study Finds

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 12-09-2020

Woman holds vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" over dry ice  on December 5, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration.

As a COVID-19 vaccine gets closer to a public rollout, public health experts and policymakers in the United States are likely to encounter a big cultural barrier: Christian nationalism.

Detroit Pastor on Delayed Wayne County Election Certification: ‘Shame on Those Enablers’ 

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 11-19-2020

Rev. Wendell Anthony speaks at a news conference with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan Nov. 18 in Detroit. Photo via screenshot from news conference.

“They want to count the votes in places where he is winning and don’t count the votes where he seems to have lost or is losing. It is a shame before God and man. Trump has taken gangsterism to a new level. He makes Al Capone and his crew look like choir boys,” Detroit NAACP president Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony said.

‘A Full Court Press’: How Detroit's Black Pastors Helped Protect the Vote

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 11-16-2020

Detroit pastors, including Rev. Dr. James Perkins , right, observe the polling location at Greater Christ Baptist Church administrative offices on Election Day. Erik Howard / Sojourners

“I’ve been a pastor for 44 years in Detroit in the urban setting. I have never seen this level of organization and mobilization toward an election as I saw this time,” said Bishop Edgar Vann II, senior pastor of Second Ebenezer Church. “This one went deep into the literal souls of people because everything everyone has gone through this year.”

Why Should We Fix the Electoral College? It's Racist, Experts Say

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 11-03-2020

People protest attempts to throw out ballots cast at drive-through polling locations in Houston, Texas on November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

The Electoral College system favors voters in a small group of battleground states, over-representing white voters while ignoring many voters of color. A growing chorus of legal and policy experts, along with the majority of Americans, believe it should change.

See Something Weird at Polling Places? Here's What To Do

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 10-23-2020
Tips for recognizing — and reporting — voter intimidation

Voters walk past a Trump sign as they wait to cast ballots in Wake Forest, N.C. Sharkshock / Shutterstock.com

Voter intimidation — harassing voters, spreading misinformation, or asking them about their citizenship — is never allowed under federal law. And many states prohibit explicit electioneering, such as handing out pamphlets endorsing a specific candidate. But when it comes to apparel, state laws and enforcement vary.

Group Sued After Recruiting Armed ‘Security’ for Minneapolis Polling Places

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 10-20-2020

Voters at a polling station in Marietta, Georgia, on October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

The Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota has accused a private security company of violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by hiring ex-U.S. military Special Operations soldiers to patrol polling places. The company, Atlas Aegis, posted a job listing in early October looking for former Special Operations personnel to “[staff] security positions in Minnesota during the November Election and beyond to protect election polls.”

This Multifaith Refuge Is Only for Women

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 10-22-2019
"Everyone is welcome to bring their own traditions; only sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of exclusion are off the table."

Abby Stein. Photograph by Amy Lombard.

IT'S A WARM September morning, and roughly 20 women are gathered in a women-only coworking space in Brooklyn. After brief introductions, a poem honoring the first month of the Muslim calendar, and a hymn from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (widely known as the Mormon church), Abby Stein speaks about the upcoming Jewish High Holy Days.

Stein grew up in a strict Orthodox Jewish community and was assigned to be male at birth. From a young age, she says, she knew she was a girl, but didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what she was feeling. Gender roles were so strict in her community that, according to Stein, the concept of being gay or transgender simply didn’t exist.

“Forget separate roles,” Stein tells me. “Men and women aren’t even supposed to interact.”

For several years beginning when she was 9, Stein prayed every night that God would make her a girl while she slept. She began questioning her belief in God: “How can I trust my parents and teachers about something as big as God and religion that touches our entire lives when they could be mistaken about something so existential as who I am?”

Stein got married, was ordained as a rabbi, and had a son. But by her early 20s, it wasn’t working. She watched YouTube to learn English (she’d previously spoken only Yiddish and Hebrew), studied for her GED, and eventually left the community. She came out as transgender while an undergraduate at Columbia University and is now an activist in both transgender and formerly Orthodox communities.

Stein has found a new home in several LGBTQ-inclusive Jewish spaces, but she finds them limiting. “All of these communities, even the ones as progressive as they are, they still follow a very set tradition,” she says. At the September gathering, Stein discusses the biblical story of Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, who share a deep love that some consider romantic. “If you ask me,” says Stein, with a half-joking grin, “everyone in the Bible is queer.”

Things are different at Sacred Space, a multifaith gathering that meets on the first Sunday of every month. The gathering is both a refuge for women who have left their religious traditions and a seminar for those who still hope to change their faith communities from within. No one religion is playing host. Everyone is welcome to bring their own traditions; only sexism, racism, homophobia, and other forms of exclusion are off the table.

Beyond Cake Baking: The Next Discrimination Debate

by Stephanie Russell-Kraft 08-15-2018

This conflict has implications far beyond cake shops or even adoption. Most states still don't protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination in the workplace, housing, and public accommodations., and under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has taken the position that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity. Wherever advocacy groups are able to secure legal protections for LGBTQ individuals, we should expect pushback from certain religious groups hoping to gain an exemption from those rules.