Culture War

Indiana Republicans Introduce LGBT Civil Rights Legislation

Indiana State Capitol. Image via Jimmy Emerson, DVM /

In the legislation, the state’s schools and businesses would be allowed to write their own policies on the use of bathrooms or showers based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. They also could decide for themselves what dress code to impose on students and workers.

Under the bill, those rules wouldn’t count as discriminatory.

House and Senate Democrats have called for simpler solution, saying a fix could be had by adding four words and a comma: “sexual orientation, gender identity” to the Indiana’s civil rights law.

'Francis Effect' Only Goes So Far With Bishops' Revised Voter Guide

Image via David Gibson / RNS

The nation’s Catholic bishops on Nov. 17 passed an updated guide for Catholic voters ahead of next year’s elections, but only after airing unusually sharp disagreements on how much they can, and should, adjust their priorities to match those of Pope Francis.

More than any other item on the agenda of the bishops’ annual meeting here, the debate over the lengthy voter guide, called “Faithful Citizenship,” revealed deep divides among the bishops and provided a snapshot of the extent of the “Francis effect” on the U.S. hierarchy.

In the most impassioned objection to the voter guide, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy took the floor to argue that the document — which was a reworking of an 84-page treatise first written in 2007 — should be scrapped because it did not reflect the way that Francis has elevated the battle against poverty and for the environment as central concerns for the Catholic Church since his election in 2013.

Religious Freedom Advocates Need to Speak Out on Bangladesh Killings

Street march protesting the killings in Bangladesh. Image via Ashikur Rahman / REUTERS / RNS

Right now, a contentious debate over religious freedom is tearing at the social fabric of a nation, and partisans seeking to take advantage of the uproar are fueling the fires of mistrust and division.

But I’m not talking about the U.S. and arguments over contraceptive mandates and same-sex marriage. (And I’m certainly not talking about red coffee cups!) This struggle for religious freedom is taking place in Bangladesh, and the “debate” is being waged not with words and laws, but with machetes and terror.

In the past eight months, five people have been hacked to death by Islamic extremists associated with terror groups such as Ansar Bangla and al-Qaida. Each victim was targeted for writing or publishing works that advocate for secular democracy and criticize religion and fundamentalism. Many other writers have been injured in these attacks.

Starbucks' Red Cups and the Internet Outrage Machine

Image via Starbucks / RNS

When it comes to outrage, the Internet abhors a vacuum.

The latest missives in the continuing culture wars have come from different sides of Christianity over, of all things, the new design of the Starbucks red cup. This year’s rollout saw a plain red cup, rather than the decorated cups of Christmas past, and one guy got mad.

Joshua Feuerstein is an “American evangelist, Internet and social media personality.” He used to be a pastor, but has had some success now as a maker of YouTube videos, which put his raspy voice and confrontational manner to good use.

A few days ago, Feuerstein went to a local Starbucks wearing his Jesus shirt and carrying a gun (because Starbucks hates the Second Amendment, he claimed). He told some unwitting barista that his name was “Merry Christmas,” so that they would have to write that Christian message on his cup, and then uploaded a video to Facebook encouraging his followers to do the same: “I think in the age of political correctness we’ve become so open-minded our brains have literally fallen out of our head,” he said. 

Reports: Vatican Arranged Meeting Between Pope Francis and Kim Davis

Image via  / Shutterstock

Throughout his six-day visit to the U.S., Pope Francis was careful to avoid or downplay many of the hot-button social issues that have roiled American society, and he repeatedly exhorted his own bishops to take a more positive approach and not pick fights that would turn more people off than they would attract.

Yet it turns out that even as he was preaching that message the pope met secretly with an icon of the culture wars: Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk and conservative Christian who was jailed for six days in early September for refusing to issue marriage licenses for gay couples because she said it conflicted with God’s law.

The meeting with Davis took place Sept. 24, just before Francis left Washington for New York, Davis’ lawyer confirmed late Sept. 29.

Rape Culture Is Real

The rape of the Sabine women, Florence Italy. Image courtesy Markus Gann/shutter

The rape of the Sabine women, Florence Italy. Image courtesy Markus Gann/

The term "rape culture" is a sociological theory in which individuals who sexually harass and assault others are given a social license to do so, as they live in a society that makes excuses for perpetrators and blames victims for their own abuse. Feminist theorists often argue that rape culture beliefs are socialized into young men and women from childhood. Young men are socialized into beliefs that they have power and/or control and entitlement over others' bodies from a very young age. Likewise young women are socialized into believing they control men’s desire and lust via their clothing, behavior, and attractiveness. The theory of rape culture argues that these social beliefs facilitate sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual touch, sexual assault, and sexual objectification of others by reducing the stigma of engaging in unwanted sexual behavior and by increasing a since of entitlement from men towards women.

In Christian spheres of influence there has been an increasing focus — via Sojourners, Christians for Biblical Equality, and likeminded groups — to exposing how social beliefs, church leaders, and authoritarian theology has contributed to rape culture beliefs in the church and in the larger community. This focus comes in the midst of a media debate between social conservatives and social progressives about the very existence of rape culture. Inspired by conservative opposition to the recent publicity from the White House on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, this debate was further inflamed by the retraction of a Rolling Stone article about allegations of sexual assault at the University of Virginia. In response, it has become popular in recent months for conservative commentators to argue that there is no such thing as "rape culture."

This escalation of rhetorical debate is dangerous because it distracts from the real concern that rape culture theory was developed to address — that we help socialize dangerous behavior in children by our actions, inactions, and modeled beliefs. 

Pope Francis Is Not a Standard Bearer for the Right or the Left

Pope Francis passes a crucifix in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican Dec. 4. Photo:Paul Haring, courtesy Catholic New Service/RNS

It’s one thing to say kind words about gay people and atheists while admonishing those who would bury them in stones.

It’s one thing to walk humbly and call the Catholic Church to compassion for the poor.

It’s one thing to kiss a horribly disfigured man from whom most people would run in disgust.

But apparently, it’s quite another to start calling out growing economic inequality and naive faith in capitalism. By doing just that in his recent encyclical, Pope Francis has touched a third rail in conservative American politics. So begins the backlash.

Yet in the new round of skirmishing around Francis and his supposedly “liberal” views, U.S. political pundits and news media wags — both progressive and conservative — are missing the point about the pope and what he’s up to. Their mistake? They see his words and deeds through the lens of American politics and ideology. What Francis is doing is prophetic, not political, and we should recognize that he’s playing, to his credit, in a whole different arena.