Diversity

The dome of the palace of the Vatican. Photo via dade72/shutterstock.

The world’s Catholic bishops on Oct. 13 signaled a move toward greater tolerance of gays and lesbians, an about-face so unexpected that leaders of the church’s right wing called it a “betrayal.”

Noting that gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities” to offer the church, the mid-point assessment reflected the impact that Pope Francis seems to be having on the two-week Synod on the Family as he pushes for a more open, less doctrinaire approach.

“Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing them a fraternal space in our communities?” said the communique from the nearly 200 bishops and lay delegates. “Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home.

“Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?”

10-13-2014
Sojourners President and Founder Jim Wallis, one of several faith leaders who are heading to Ferguson, Missouri this weekend to march for justice, is challenging Christians to put their faith ahead of their race when it comes to issues concerning racial relations.
10-13-2014
Clergy have been in the midst of the struggle in Ferguson, MO since protests broke out following the shooting of Michael Brown.
10-13-2014
In the following Q&A, Wallis talks about how faith played a role in his coming to St. Louis and how his past involvement in the civil rights era compares to today.
10-10-2014
The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Christian magazine Sojourners and a spiritual adviser to President Barack Obama, will be one of the key speakers at an interfaith event related to Ferguson Sunday (Oct. 12) at St. Louis University.
10-10-2014
A march to St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch’s office today will kick off days of marches, rallies and civil disobedience planned by organizers who demand action on behalf of Brown and others they say struggle against racial profiling and police violence.
10-10-2014
People from across the country will converge on Ferguson for a Weekend of Resistance, October 10-13, to demand justice for Michael Brown.
Adam Ericksen 10-09-2014

Bill Maher (left) and Ben Affleck. s_buckley / Shutterstock.com

Rene Girard has a prophetic warning in his book Battling to the End about the West’s fight against Islamic jihadists:

The West is going to exhaust itself in its fight against Islamic terrorism, which Western arrogance has undeniably kindled.

That Western arrogance was on display last weekend on Real Time with Bill Maher. The tense debate about Islam between Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and Ben Affleck has been shared multiple times over social media and provides a case study in Girard’s mimetic theory.

One element that mimetic theory illuminates in this discussion of Islam is the scapegoat mechanism. Scapegoating is a non-conscious way of reinforcing a group’s relationship by blaming another group of people for our problems. The scapegoating mechanism is non-conscious because we always think that we are innocent and that our scapegoats are guilty. The video below shows a great example of the scapegoating mechanism when it comes to Islam. (Warning: It's an HBO show — there is some foul language.)

10-08-2014
"We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent,"

John G. Roberts Jr., chief justice of the United States of America. Photo courtesy of Steve Petteway via Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

In some ways, the case of the Muslim prisoner who wants to grow a beard seems easy.  When it comes to a prisoner’s religious rights, federal laws favors accommodation when possible.

So how could Gregory Holt — known as Abdul Maalik Muhammad after his conversion to Islam — possibly lose at the Supreme Court, where the justices heard his case on Oct. 7?

Holt wants to grow a mere half-inch beard — a length of whisker allowed in the vast majority of state prison systems, but not the one where he is incarcerated: Arkansas.

Even Chief Justice John Roberts wondered how such a seemingly straightforward case came before the high court, which usually occupies itself with the thorniest of legal questions.

Heather Adams 10-07-2014

A billboard reading “God Loves Gays" went up on Sept. 8, 2014 in Topeka, Kan. Photo via Sally Morrow/RNS.

As small bands of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church take their trademark “God Hates Fags” signs to demonstrations outside funerals, concerts, and schools across the country, a new message has come to their Topeka, Kan., headquarters: “God loves gays.”

The God Loves Gays Billboard Project launched Aug. 9 on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, aiming to raise $50,000 to put up a sign about three miles from the church. Organizers hoped to reach the goal by Oct. 8 but surpassed it about a month and a half early.

On Oct. 6, the campaign reached $100,000, two days after the announcement that there is space for another billboard, this one in Salt Lake City, the heart of Mormon country.

The project shows the power of harnessing online media — in this case, a crowdfunding site such as Indiegogo — to push back against religious hate speech from a reviled source.

Brad Heath 10-07-2014

Participants celebrate the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Kansas City, Mo. on June 26. Photo by Sally Morrow/RNS.

The Supreme Court’s decision to sit out the legal battle over same-sex marriage will — for now, at least — leave the future of laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying in the hands of lower state and federal court judges. But it also almost certainly means the couples challenging those laws are more likely to win in the end.

The court said Oct. 6 that it would not hear appeals from five states whose same-sex marriage bans had been invalidated by lower federal courts. The decision, issued without explanation, will likely lead to recognition of gay marriages in 11 more states. It also allows an avalanche of legal challenges to the remaining bans to keep going forward in state and federal courts, where gay and lesbian couples have overwhelmingly prevailed.

The court’s decision leaves unchanged 20 state laws blocking same-sex unions. Each is already under legal attack, facing challenges in state or federal court, and sometimes both. Challenges to marriage bans already have reached a handful of state appeals courts and the federal appeals courts for the 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th circuits.

Some of those judges had been waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do. The court’s instruction Oct 6. was: Proceed.

Clergy and faith leaders gather in support of gay marriage. Photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist News Service/RNS.

United Methodists in Pennsylvania have agreed to resolve a complaint filed against three dozen clergy who blessed a gay wedding without taking the case to trial.

A complaint was filed against 36 United Methodist pastors who officiated at a Nov. 9, 2013 wedding for two men at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. On Oct. 3, Philadelphia Area Bishop Peggy Johnson announced that the complaint had been resolved.

The resolution calls for the officiating clergy to acknowledge that they violated rules of the United Methodist Book of Discipline, which includes the denomination’s constitution. In return, the complaint will be withdrawn.

“Though I may sympathize with the pastoral concerns of the respondents, it is unacceptable to disregard and disobey the Book of Discipline,” Johnson said. “I pledge that, in future cases where clergy within my jurisdiction officiate or host a same-gender ceremony, any complaints that I receive will be handled swiftly and with significant and appropriate consequences, which may include a trial, involuntary leave of absence without pay, or other significant consequences, in accordance with the Discipline and in consultation with the Board of Ordained ministry and the clergy session of the annual conference.”

Dallin H. Oaks. Photo via RNS.

If Mormon opposition to same-sex marriage does not prevail in the United States, Mormons should respond graciously and “practice civility with our adversaries,” a leading church apostle counseled Oct. 4 at the faith’s General Conference.

“We should be persons of goodwill toward all,” said declined to hear appeals from five states, including Utah, in which federal appeals courts had struck down bans against gay marriage. Within hours, clerks across Utah, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin and Oklahoma began issuing marriage certificates to gay and lesbian couples.

Oaks, who has been outspoken in defending Mormons’ stance against gay marriage, said those in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should be exemplars of civility.

“We should love all people, be good listeners, and show concern for their sincere beliefs,” he said during the afternoon session of the 184th Semiannual LDS General Conference, a two-day meeting broadcast across the world via satellite, TV or the Internet. “Though we may disagree, we should not be disagreeable. Our stands and communications on controversial topics should not be contentious.”

Ryan Herring 10-06-2014

Was the explosion in Ferguson a moment—or the begining of a movement? 

Maria-Pia N. Chin 10-06-2014

A look at three multiracial churches—and how they got that way. 

Joe Pettit 10-03-2014
R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

Men praying in Ferguson, Mo., at the site of the burned down QuickTrip on Aug. 15. R. Gino Santa Maria / Shutterstock.com

If, as many of the religions of the world affirm, there is a profound equality of dignity and worth between all human beings by virtue of their humanity alone, then what are we to make of a nation and its citizens who allow an entire group of people, a people once brutally enslaved and still actively oppressed, to continue to be stigmatized in ways that implicitly affirm their inferiority as a group and so allow too many of them to experience the devastating consequences of entrenched racial inequality? That nation and its citizens would stand accused of the greatest of injustices. That nation and its citizens would have a divine duty to end that injustice. The United States and we its citizens stand so accused today. Until we understand the imperative to eliminate racial inequality as an obligation grounded in ultimate reality, we will fail to understand the magnitude of our responsibility.

Whether the issue is wealth, health, incarceration, employment, or education, blacks as a group experience significantly disproportionate negative outcomes compared to whites. What accounts for this difference? Only two options are available. Significant racial inequality over time is explained either by forces external to the lives of black individuals (e.g., economic, legal, and social forces), or by the aggregate consequences of choices made by these individuals. Unless one concludes that racial inequality is entirely explained by forces external to the lives of black people, one is forced to conclude that there is something inferior about blacks as a group that causes them persistently to make more bad life choices than whites as a group.

At this point, some will object that some black people do indeed make bad choices that lead to bad outcomes. But so do some white people. The question is what accounts for the differences in the proportion of bad outcomes? 

El Al Boeing 767-300 in the air. Photo courtey of Aero Icarus via Flickr/RNS.

A Chicago woman has launched an online petition asking El Al Airlines to allot a section of its planes to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who do not want to sit next to women.

Sharon Shapiro initiated the petition on Sept. 28, after two instances when several ultra-Orthodox men flying on Israel’s national carrier refused to sit in their assigned seats, which adjoined a seat occupied by a woman. The flights were delayed after female passengers refused to relinquish their assigned seats and the ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit down.

Incidents like these have been going on for years, according to women’s rights advocates.

Gender segregation is a core precept in ultra-Orthodox society, which believes that contact between unrelated men and women is strictly forbidden by Jewish law.

In Israel, attempts by some ultra-Orthodox men to impose gender segregation in public spaces such as offices, public buses and even streets in certain neighborhoods have prompted legal action by groups opposed to what they view as religious coercion.

Should Gregory Holt be allowed to grow a beard? Photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, via Arkansas Corrections/RNS.

It’s not every day that a coalition of legal minds is rooting for a violent inmate convicted of stabbing his girlfriend in the neck.

When Gregory Holt’s case arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 7, lawyers won’t be arguing about what landed him a life sentence in an Arkansas state prison, but rather what he wanted to do once he got there: grow a beard in observance of his Muslim religious beliefs.

The state of Arkansas says he can’t. Holt — a convert to Islam who now calls himself Abdul Maalik Muhammad — says he would keep his beard no longer than half an inch. But prison officials, backed by the state’s attorney general, argue that even such a short beard poses security risks.

“When it comes to making prison policies, the stakes are high; lives can be lost if the wrong decision is made,” according to the state’s legal brief, which describes Holt as a violent self-declared fundamentalist. “The ADC takes religious freedom seriously, but it takes seriously its paramount interests in safety and security, too.”

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ray Hobbs, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction. But it’s hard to find too many others who think that the prison’s case for security trumps Holt’s right to exercise his religion.

Executive Committee chairman Mike Routt presides over the Sept. 23 plenary session. Photo via Bob Allen, ABPnews/Herald/RNS.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee voted unanimously Sept. 23 to break ties with New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., after determining it was condoning “homosexual behavior.”

“We believe that, following the lead of Pastor Danny Cortez, New Heart Community Church has walked away from the Southern Baptist Convention’s core biblical values,” said Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the committee.

Oldham said Cortez attended the meeting and indicated that he had officiated at a same-sex wedding.

The denomination has cut ties to churches that endorsed homosexuality before, but this may be the first time that its Executive Committee has withdrawn fellowship from a church on behalf of the denomination. The move came less than two weeks after the California Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Board voted unanimously to withdraw fellowship from the congregation because of Cortez’s announcement that he affirmed gays — including his teenage son — and his church had taken a “third way” on homosexuality.

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