Co-opting the Name of Christ

Zacarias Pereira da Mata /

Zacarias Pereira da Mata /

The clerk in Kentucky is still trying to avoid doing her job while arguing that religion means never having to sacrifice or compromise in any way. The war-on-Christmas crowd is still passing around that story about a red coffee cup lacking snowflakes. Those who believe in an eye-for-an-eye are cheering as bombs fall in the Middle East in response to another horrific terrorist attack. Many Christians are still ignoring the calls for justice coming from the streets of Chicago, Minneapolis, and cities all across the land.

Don’t you want to throw up your hands sometimes? Or maybe just throw up?

Video Released of Chicago Police Officer Shooting 17-Year-Old Laquan McDonald

Screen shot of dashcam video

After more than a year, and an eventual judge order, Chicago police today released a dashcam video showing officer Jason Van Dyke shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times. Police released the video the same day Van Dyke was indicted on first-degree murder charges. He is being held without bail.

Chicago Police Officer Charged with First-Degree Murder in Shooting of Black Teen

Officer Jason Van Dyke has been charged with first-degree murder, one year after the shooting and killing of Laquan McDonald, 17, in October of 2014.

This is the first time a Chicago police officer has been charged with first-degree murder for an on-duty fatality in nearly 35 years, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Chicago Archbishop Calls for Tough Gun Control Laws

Blaise Cupich with Pope Francis. Image via Rich Kalonick / RNS

Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, named by Pope Francis to that high-profile post a year ago, has issued a powerful call for tougher gun control laws in a move that may push the volatile issue further up the Catholic hierarchy’s agenda than it has been before.

The original intent of the Constitution’s right to bear arms has been “perverted” by a gun industry that is seeking profits at any cost, Cupich wrote in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. The founding fathers could not have anticipated the widespread availability of “military-grade assault weapons that have turned our streets into battlefields.”

“It is no longer enough for those of us involved in civic leadership and pastoral care to comfort the bereaved and bewildered families of victims of gun violence,” he wrote in the column, which was published Oct. 9.

“We must band together to call for gun-control legislation,” he concluded.

Hunger Strike Over Closed School in Chicago Continues

Image via /Shutterstock

“Several of the now 15 Dyett hunger strikers returned to City Hall Monday on their 29th day without solid food to call on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to at least have a ‘respectful conversation’ with them over the future of the Bronzeville school in Washington Park.

‘A compromise happens when two people come together and they work out together something that's agreeable to both parties,’ said Jitu Brown, a leader of the hunger strike, Monday at City Hall. ‘There was no compromise.’

According to Brown, he was told about the CPS plan 15 minutes before it was presented by Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool. Brown said he asked to continue to negotiate, but Claypool responded, ‘We're moving forward.’

‘That's not compromise,’ Brown said.”

Chicago Meets Its New Archbishop as the ‘Pope Francis Effect’ Sets In

Bishop Blase Cupich during an evening community meeting at Gonzaga University. Photo courtesy of Fast 4 Families via Flickr/RNS.

When Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich got a call 10 days ago with the news that Pope Francis had chosen him to be the next archbishop of Chicago — the pontiff’s most important U.S. appointment to date — he was so taken aback that he couldn’t speak for a few moments.

“To say that I was surprised doesn’t come close to the word I would use,” Cupich said Sept. 20 at a news conference in Chicago introducing him as the successor to Cardinal Francis George, who is 77 and battling cancer.

Asked by reporters how long it took for the reality of his appointment to sink in, Cupich smiled and said, “It’s still sinking in.”

A lot of other Catholics are trying to absorb the news as well, just as surprised that Francis picked the 65-year-old Cupich, who had been considered a long shot by many Vatican handicappers. They were also pleased, or concerned, that the pope had evidently chosen a bishop who shared his own emphasis on listening to the flock and caring for the poor.

“I think that he” — Francis — “sent a pastor, not a message,” Cupich told reporters.

Cracks in the 'Stained-Glass Ceiling:' Women Reach Prominent Pulpits

Religion News Service photo by Adelle M. Banks

Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, new pastor at Foundry United Methodist Church, preaches on July 27. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Chicago. New York. Washington, D.C. In quick succession this year, three women have been chosen to lead historic tall-steeple churches in all these cities.

In May, the Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner became the first woman solo senior pastor at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church. In June, the Rev. Amy Butler was elected senior pastor of New York City’s Riverside Church. And finally, in July, the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli began leading Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

“For women to speak in those pulpits and speak boldly as public voices in these very public buildings is very powerful,” said the Rev. Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, who recently hosted a dinner party with some of New York’s movers and shakers to welcome Butler to town.

It’s been 40 years since the Episcopal Church first ordained women, and other denominations have long included women in their clergy ranks. But these new advances are occurring sooner in the lives of these three women than some of their older counterparts. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research reports that women clergy are much more likely to serve in smaller congregations.

Scholar Diana Butler Bass hailed the arrival of these women — all in their 40s and leading large, urban, neo-Gothic churches — but also wondered if they reflect the “General Motors phenomenon.”

“Are women coming into leadership only as the institutions are collapsing?” asked Bass, author of Christianity After Religion.

Young Guns: Gun Violence Effects on Millennials

Gun sketch, Aleks Melnik /

Gun sketch, Aleks Melnik /

A year ago this week, news headlines were filled with the story of Hadiya Pendleton. She was a 15-year-old band majorette from Chicago, who would march in the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade with her school. Just days after marching in the nation’s capital, Hadiya returned to Chicago’s south side where she was murdered by gunfire in Marsh Park after seeking shelter from a rainstorm. First Lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral, and Hadiya’s parents turned advocates and supporters of commonsense gun laws. The murder of Hadiya Pendleton became a painful representation of the nation’s broken gun laws and the effect that gun violence has had on the millennial generation.

Generation Progress and The Center for American Progress recently released a report: “Young Guns: How Gun Violence is Devastating the Millennial Generation.” According to the report, “American children and teenagers are 4 times more likely to die by gunfire than their counterparts in Canada, 7 times more likely than young people in Israel, and 65 times more likely to be killed with a gun than children and teenagers in the United Kingdom.” These statistics are startling and call for renewed attention to what this study has called a public health crisis.

Pope Francis Breathes New Life into Cardinal Bernardin’s Contested Legacy

Pope John Paul II elevated Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago to cardinal in a Feb. 2, 1983 consistory. RNS file photo

The election of Pope Francis in March heralded a season of surprises for the Catholic Church, but perhaps none so unexpected – and unsettling for conservatives – as the re-emergence of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as a model for the American Catholic future.

While there is no indication that Francis knows the writings of Bernardin, who died in 1996, many say the pope’s remarks repeatedly evoke Bernardin’s signature teachings on the “consistent ethic of life” – the view that church doctrine champions the poor and vulnerable from womb to tomb – and on finding “common ground” to heal divisions in the church.