Haley Barbour's Unintentional Lesson: Keep Religion and Governance Separate

Gov. Haley Barbour. Image via Wylio

Gov. Haley Barbour. Image via Wylio

Suppose there are two inmates convicted of similar crimes. Both appear to be equally contrite and rehabilitated. One is black, the other white. The white one gets pardoned by the governor, the black one does not. Is this fair? 

What if one was rich, the other poor? If one had political donors for friends, but not the other?  And what if most of those pardoned by this same governor were white, rich, politically connected, or they were convicted of quite violent crimes?

Judging by the reactions to former Governor Haley Barbour's granting pardons or clemency to 200 or so felons on his last day as governor of Mississippi in January 2012, this seem to be the point at which many raise their hands, asking, "what is going on here?" 

To my eyes, Gov. Barbour unfairly (and illegally?) predetermined who was eligible to be pardoned based upon their professing the adoption of his religion.

Today in God: Feb. 10, 2012

Photo by Getty Images.

Photo by Getty Images.

Nuns vs. strippers. Oprah and Hasidim. A Christian Muslim tweeter is in trouble. Female backlash against the GOP. Catholic television network EWTN files a lawsuit against the contraception mandate. Santorum says the contraception fight has "nothing to do with women's rights." Did Cardinal Bevilacqua die of foul play? A plot to kill the pope. Drive-thru funerals and more...inside the blog.

Welcoming the Stranger: Immigration and G92

Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post via Getty Images.

Immigrant families are fleeing Alabama in the wake of the new law. Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/Washington Post via Getty Images.

Whenever possible, I plan my Saturday errands such that I’ll be able catch part of “This American Life” on public radio as I drive and I’ve often found myself sitting in the grocery store parking lot to hear the end of a story. 

One recent Saturday, the show’s theme — which ties together each of its non-fiction stories — was the biblical truism that “you reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7), and most of the program was dedicated to examining the consequences — intended and otherwise — of Alabama’s controversial, toughest-in-the-nation immigration law, HB 56, which passed last June. 

Whether what is happening in Alabama as a result of this law — and, as the program reveals, a great deal is happening, even if most of us outside of the state aren’t paying attention — was the intention of the bill’s authors and supporters is not entirely clear. What is clear, from a Christian perspective, is that the effects are devastating. 

What most saddened me in the program was the statement of a young undocumented woman named Gabriella that, since the passage of HB 56, she finds herself unwelcome everywhere. “Even in the church,” she says, “you find people that… don't want to talk at you. And they don't want to give the peace to you.”

At Stake: Religious Liberty

Alec Hill. Image via

Alec Hill. Image via

A letter from Alec Hill, President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA to Intervarsity Staff

I’m upset.

Last month, the Federal government mandated that Catholic universities, hospitals and charities must provide – and pay for – contraceptives to their employees and students. The mandate may also — depending upon interpretation – include the provision of sterilization services and the morning-after pill. (There appears to be some disagreement amongst scholars regarding the potential scope of the new Health and Human Service mandate.)

Why should I care? I am not Catholic. Nor do I agree with Catholic teaching on contraception, though I do have grave concerns about the morning-after pill.

Politically, I am a moderate and hence not prone to condemn every governmental edict.

I care because this matter touches upon the religious freedom of us all. I care because InterVarsity is engaged in a parallel struggle. Over the past 18 months, our status as a recognized student organization has been challenged on 41 campuses.

Poll: Americans support contraception coverage, divided over religious exemptions

An empty contraceptive pill container. Image via Wylio

An empty contraceptive pill container. Image via Wylio

A majority of Americans — including Catholics — believe that employers should be required to provide employee health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost, according to a new survey.

But the research by the Public Religion Polling Institute shows that when it comes to providing religious exemptions from free contraceptive coverage – something the White House is sharply criticized for failing to do – the public is much more divided.

The Catholic bishops have slammed the Obama administration in recent weeks, urging priests to read letters from the pulpit blasting a new Health & Human Services rule that will require some Catholic institutions, such as universities, to cover employees' contraceptive costs. 

On Monday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued "Six Things Everyone Should Know About the HHS Mandate." Included on the list was, "Catholics of all political persuasions are unified in their opposition to the mandate."

The survey released today, however, paints a more nuanced picture.

'Dexter Theology': Shedding Blood in God's Name

I’ll admit I’m a sucker for stories about the malleability of human morality. From the mob movies, where a guy can whack his cousin but better not show his Patron any “disrespect,” to justice-seeking serial killers like “Dexter,” there’s plenty of justified violence to be found.

Where do such seemingly contradictory value systems come from? And do they actually happen in the real world today?

How about the politician who claims a platform that values a respect for “all life,” while justifying war and advocating for capital punishment? Or those who celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? And the list goes on.

It’s common in western culture to objectify the Islamic faith, cherry-picking texts from their scripture and plucking choice sound-bytes from extremist leaders, to portray the whole of the religion as inherently violent. This, in turn, is employed to justify violence in-kind, or worse, preemptive violence, as in the case of our invasion of Iraq.

I call this “Dexter” theology.

UK Watchdog Group Bans Christian Ads, Says Divine Healing=False Advertising

 LONDON — Britain's powerful media advertising watchdog has banned a Christian group from claiming on its website and brochures that God's cure-all powers can heal a string of medical ailments.

The Advertising Standards Authority, the independent regulator of advertising in all British media, ruled that the ads generated by the group Healing on the Streets are irresponsible and misleading.

The ASA, whose tight rules are considered among the world's most stringent, cites a leaflet produced by the group from its center in the spa town of Bath, England, claiming that God "can heal you from any sickness."

Military Chaplains Heed Call to Serve God and Country

Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Odell mourns a fallen soldie. RNS photo via Odell.

Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Odell mourns a fallen soldier in Afghanistan. RNS photo courtesy Joseph Odell.

Growing up in Kuwait, Asif Balbale thought he wanted to become a chemical engineer. He never imagined enlisting in the U.S. Navy, much less becoming an imam.

Balbale got his engineering degree after immigrating to the U.S. at age 21. With jobs hard to come by, he tried to enlist in the Army, but didn't weigh enough. Instead, he met the Navy's minimum requirements.

He was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in 2005 while deployed aboard the USS Boxer. Intending to apply for an officer program, Balbale, 31, mistakenly emailed a recruiter for the chaplain corps.

"God, I think, had better plans for me," Balbale said, looking back.

And so it is for a number of military chaplains who, by twists of fate or perhaps divine Providence, found their calling to become chaplains while on active duty.

Eddie Long's Bizarre 'Kingship' Ceremony

Atlanta-area megachurch pastor Eddie Long has had his share of headlines, many of them not good. Now he's making news — and raising eyebrows — again with a "kingship" ceremony that can only be described as bizarre.

Jewish groups say the ceremony -- in which Long was shrouded by a Torah scroll (allegedly saved from Auschwitz) and then paraded around on a chair — was the height of disrespect. And it's not just Jews who were offended.

Christian 'Exorcism' Leads to Gay Teen's Suicide

Eric James Borges via Facebook.

Eric James Borges via Facebook.

Eric James Borges was teased his entire life for being different. Though he didn’t come out publicly until his sophomore year of college, he recalls emotional and physical abuse as far back as kindergarten for his differences. And though most children undergo some degree of hazing from time to time, the seeming indifference of the adults in his life made matters dramatically worse.

In a video recorded for the “It Gets Better” Project, an LGBT advocacy group focused on offering hope and community to LGBT people on the margins, Borges, 19, recalls being physically assaulted in a full high school classroom while his teacher stood by and watched.

The distressed teen had nowhere to turn at home either. His Christian parents decided to perform a ritual exorcism on him with the hope of “curing” him of his orientation. When that failed, they kicked him out of the house.

Though Borges went on to advocate for LGBT rights through the “It Gets Better” Project and his work with The Trevor Project (a group committed to preventing suicide among LGBT teens), the demons of his past still lingered. Despite finding a community that affirmed and embraced who he was, the damage had already been done.

He killed himself on Jan 11.