His question about God’s love for him caught me by surprise. We never talked about religion. I was, admittedly, the “churchy” one in my group of friends — president of the Junior Usher Board and active in my church youth ministry. Yet even at the age of 17, devoid of theological training, I understood the core inquiry at the root of the question: Could this Christian God that I proclaimed loved us all so much accept Aaron even when so many of this God’s “followers” did not?
After significant backlash from both activists and corporations, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) amended a state law that eliminated anti-discrimination protections for gay and transgender rights.
Meeting for a one-day emergency session last week, North Carolina’s General Assembly passed HB2, which has been widely criticized as the nation’s worst anti-LGBT bill. In supposed defense of the general welfare, conservative lawmakers moved to stop a Charlotte ordinance that would have allowed transgender citizens to use public restrooms of the gender with which they identify. But their call to “protect our women and children” echoes language of the white supremacy campaign that overthrew local governments in this state 120 years ago. Both then and now, the call to defend families against imagined predators is a crude power grab.
To protest the anti-Muslim rhetoric of this presidential campaign, high school counselor Martha DeVries decided to wear a hijab in public every Monday. DeVries, 47, attends a Baptist church and identifies as “a follower of Jesus,” but said she felt a responsibility to outwardly display her acceptance of Muslims and refugees.
Most Americans oppose religious exemptions to LGBT non-discrimination laws, according to a new survey. The report comes as a raft of bills before state legislatures would allow people to refuse service or accommodations to gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people based on their religious beliefs.
President Obama signed an executive action Jan. 29 requiring large companies to disclose to the government how much they pay employees, broken down by race, gender, and ethnicity. This executive action, which applies to companies with 100 or more employees, is aimed in part at reducing the gender wage gap in the U.S., which leaves women earning 79 cents for every dollar earned by men.
Less than 10 weeks after Houston voters — many persuaded by local Christian pastors — repealed a city ordinance that would have protected Houstonians from discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity (as well as race, religion, and other traits), 1,450 people gathered in the city for the Gay Christian Network conference, the world’s largest annual event for LGBT Christians and their allies.
Since the Dec. 2 attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has received more than a dozen phone calls from Muslim Americans locally reporting a variety of workplace discrimination and harassment complaints. Of those calls, one has triggered a lawsuit, and two similar workplace suits are in the works, said Fatina Abdrabboh, executive director of the Michigan office, who hopes the litigation sends a message to employers.
“We’re watching. This stuff can’t go unchecked … and if you think of putting someone in the back room or letting them go because of the headscarf, you can’t do it,” said Abdrabboh, who urges the public and employers not to “feed into this rhetoric against us.”
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.
We have witnessed a remarkable series of events on the Columbia, Mo., campus of the University of Missouri this week. The university president and the chancellor of the Columbia campus resigned Nov. 9 in response to protests claiming that university leadership had failed to appropriately address and respond to a toxic racial climate on campus.
The recent racist incidents, which many students and faculty felt the administration had failed to confront, reveal a stunning lack of empathy for students of color at the university. They include: racial slurs hurled at a black student body president and a black student organization, and a swastika painted in human feces on the wall of a residence hall.
But these specific incidents merely allowed a long-simmering stew of disrespect, verbal attacks, and marginalization of students of color to come boiling to the surface.
The Columbia campus of the University of Missouri is only a two-hour drive from Ferguson, Mo. When Michael Brown was shot in August 2014, protesters took to the streets of Ferguson every night, and student activists from Mizzou were among them. They saw what standing up to entrenched institutional racism looked like, and they saw that victories could be won with non-violent protest.
Yes, popes have been visiting the U.S. since Paul VI spent a day in New York in 1965, and each of the following eight papal trips — seven by John Paul II and one by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — has been widely anticipated, and enormously successful.
Is it far-fetched to think this could be any different this time — that images of a beaming Roman pontiff taking in the local flavor would not lead to a surge of warm feelings toward a Catholic Church otherwise regarded as beleaguered and out-of-touch?
Yet at a moment of such excitement and goodwill, it is important to remember how unusual this trip is in the context of American history: The idea that a pope could arrive in the United States to fanfare and adulation, especially from leading American politicians, was once unthinkable.
Consider the case of Archbishop Gaetano Bedini, a representative of Pope Pius IX whose 1853 U.S. tour wrought an assassination plot and sparked violence in Cincinnati streets that led to one protester’s death and forced Bedini to flee the country under cover of night. Such extreme reactions grew from Bedini’s close association with his imperious boss, the pope, who denounced democratic government, religious liberty and all of “modern civilization.”
A Muslim flight attendant said the Atlanta-based airline ExpressJet suspended her for refusing to serve alcohol, a practice that is against her religious beliefs.
Charee Stanley filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week, saying she wants to do her job without serving alcohol, as she was doing before her suspension, her lawyer said.
Lena Masri, an attorney with the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said no one “should have to choose between their career and religion.”
Employers, she told CNN, must “provide a safe environment where employees can feel they can practice their religion freely.”
Concerned that faith-based groups can discriminate in hiring while receiving federal funds, a coalition of 130 organizations told President Obama the policy will tarnish his legacy of fair and equal treatment for all Americans.
The critics, including religious organizations such as the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and the Union for Reform Judaism, asked the president to direct Attorney General Loretta Lynch to review a “flawed” 2007 Justice Department memo that said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides for an override of nondiscrimination laws for government-funded religious organizations.
“RFRA was not intended to create blanket exemptions to laws that protect against discrimination,” says the letter sent to Obama Aug. 20 and announced by Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Saima Butt witnessed an acid attack in February 2014 that left the victim scarred and writhing in pain. One onlooker said the assault was God’s retribution, and that her death would mean one less sinner in society.
“People enjoy our agonies and treat us like insects,” Butt said of herself and of the anonymous victim.
Butt is supervisor at the Khawaja Sara Society in Lahore and a member of the local “khawaja sara” or third-gender community. Pakistan added a third-gender option to national identity cards in 2009, but official recognition has not stopped discrimination against those who choose not to be identified as either male or female.
The Supreme Court ruled June 1 that companies cannot discriminate against job applicants or employees for religious reasons, even if an accommodation is not requested.
The decision was a defeat for preppy clothier Abercrombie & Fitch, which refused to hire a Muslim girl in 2008 because she was wearing a black hijab, or head scarf. It could benefit job applicants and employees who need time off for religious observances as well as those who adhere to strict dress codes.
While reflecting upon and celebrating Easter, I did quite a bit of thinking about the controversies surrounding so-called “religious freedom” bills that have been popping up recently, most notably Indiana and Arkansas. In a recent interview on the Family Research Council radio program, “ Washington Watch with Tony Perkins," former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee discussed the backlash against these two pieces of legislation.
Huckabee asserted that gay-rights activists are seeking the eradication of Christian churches. According to Huckabee, “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel.”
Christianity has been and continues to be the dominant form of religious practice and expression in America. Often the rhetoric used by members of dominant groups insinuates that when people outside of their dominant group ask for equal rights and the opportunity to participate fully in American life, they are actually seeking to eradicate the existence of that dominant group.
Editor's Note: Since original publication of this piece, Indiana lawmakers have announced changes to the Indiana RFRA legislation that includes anti-discrimination language.
Last week Indiana found itself at the center of the news cycle for all the wrong reasons. With Gov. Pence’s signing of the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, our nation once again found itself taking sides in the debate over LGBTQ rights.
Honestly, I’m torn over this issue. I understand that the Indiana bill was fashioned after the 1993 bill that was signed into federal law by Bill Clinton. I know that 19 other states have RFRA legislation. And, as a pastor, I support religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, and yes, even Westboro Baptists. I think most Americans support protecting individuals' rights to conscientiously practice their faith. Freedom of religion is one of the things that makes this country great, and that freedom is worth protecting. But this bill, supposedly enacted to protect those freedoms, has caused quite the stir. Even more interesting to me are the people I follow on social media who are much more interested and knowledgeable than me in politics who say Indiana’s RFRA won’t amount to significant change. This raises the very simple question, “Then why pass the bill?”
The news of the PCUSA adopting the Marriage Amendment came to me over Twitter. Flowing down my feed were tweet after tweet of individuals applauding the latest Christian move toward inclusion (disclaimer: my feed is an echo chamber). Proud Presbyterians puffed up their chests and, hilariously, celebrated the christening of the new “Presbyqueerians” and “Lesbyterians,” and I was overwhelmed. Our church is in perpetual rehab, always growing into the person she is supposed to be and I am so proud of her latest progress. The Marriage Amendment, which affirmed the marriage of Christian same-sex couples , was not much of a surprise, given the progressive spirit of the PCUSA, but even still. It was only a week ago that the largest evangelical church in San Francisco also reformed its teaching on marriage. Three other evangelical megachurches preceded them in the last six months. And if rumors are true, more megas are coming out soon. Change is coursing through the air and knocking me over happy.
Immediately following the vote, some Southern Baptist conservatives also took to Twitter to express their harsh disapproval. Besides declaring that the PCUSA is now officially, by their definition, NOT Christian, they spoiled the often misidentified PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) with lots of love and praise for sticking to their arithmetic of “1 Man + 1 Woman = Marriage.”
I read an article by one of those enraged. He highlighted the key differences between the PCA and the PCUSA. The media had been mixing up the two, so he wrote it mostly to distinguish which one was still Christian, taking some extra digs at trending membership numbers and highlighting all the hot-button disagreements between the two. As I read it, I had to sigh a little, as I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of history reverberating beneath that piece, especially given the Presbyterian past.