Faith and Politics

Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage Amendment

Photo via Nata Sha /

Photo via Nata Sha /

The Presbyterian Church (USA) approved an amendment to include same-sex relationships in its constitutional definition of marriage on March 17. A majority of the denomination’s 171 presbyteries have now voted to accept the new wording, which replaces “between a woman and a man” with “between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.”

Although 71 percent of the leaders in the General Assembly, the governing body of the PCUSA, voted to approve same-sex marriage in June, the denomination was waiting for a majority of its local presbyteries to accept the change. That number, 86, was reached on March 17.

Oklahoma Bill Would Abolish State’s Role in Granting Marriage Licenses, Leave It in Clergy Hands

Photo via Oklahoma State Legislature website / RNS

Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ. Photo via Oklahoma State Legislature website / RNS

In an effort to block the state’s involvement with gay marriage, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill March 10 to abolish marriage licenses in the state.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, amends language in the state law that governs the responsibilities of court clerks. All references to marriage licenses were removed.

Russ said the intent of the bill is to protect court clerks caught between the federal and state governments. A federal appeals court overturned Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage last year. Russ, like many Republican legislators in the state, including Gov. Mary Fallin, believes the federal government overstepped its constitutional authority on this issue.

Acknowledging that his bill is partially in response to the federal court ruling, Russ told ABC News affiliate KSWO that the federal government lacks the power to “force its new definitions of what they believe on independent states.”

Utah Lawmakers Pass Anti-Discrimination Bill with LGBT, Mormon Support

Photo via Francisco Kjolseth / The Salt Lake Tribune / RNS

L. Tom Perry and Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah. Photo via Francisco Kjolseth / The Salt Lake Tribune / RNS

After seven years of debate and a historic compromise, the Utah House of Representatives on March 11 voted final passage of a bill to enact the state’s first statewide nondiscrimination protections for the gay and transgender community, while providing safeguards for religious liberty.

The 65-10 vote was the last legislative hurdle for the bill, just one week after it debuted with the blessing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the LGBT community.

Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert was expected to sign the bill at a ceremony on Thursday.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams hailed the vote as a “monumental day for Utah. This vote proves that protections for gay and transgender people in housing and the workplace can gracefully co-exist with the rights of people of faith. One does not exist at the expense of the other.”

Under the bill, existing anti-discrimination laws for housing and employment would be amended to include sexual orientation and gender identity and clarify exemptions for religious institutions and provide protections for religious expression.

VIDEO: I Once Was Blind, But Now I See: U.S. Doctors Bring Hope to Haiti

Screenshot via Youtube / RNS

An iTeam doctor supports patients in Haiti. Screenshot via Youtube / RNS

Judith Mesadieu has dreams of becoming a doctor, but her poor eyesight and partial blindness makes it hard to study.

A corneal transplant could fix the problem, but the procedure remains rare in Haiti, which has just six eye surgeons for every 1 million people, according to the International Council of Ophthalmology.

Fortunately, Mesadieu snagged a spot on the recent surgery docket of a U.S.-based eye surgery missions group called the iTeam.

The iTeam, based out of Kansas City, Mo., has been traveling to Saint Louis du Nord for about 16 years. They preform eye surgeries twice a year alongside local ophthalmologists, teaching them new skills and improvements.

Lydia Allen, 66, is a nonmedical staff member of iTeam and said the Bible calls on her to continue to go these trips and help in any way possible. 

“Go ye therefore into all the world,” Allen said, quoting Jesus’ Great Commission.

Two Police Officers Shot in Ferguson

Photo via Gino Santa Maria /

Police tape in Ferguson, Mo. R. Photo via Gino Santa Maria /

Early Thursday morning, just hours after the resignation of Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson, two officers were shot as they stood guard amidst protests outside the police department in Ferguson, Mo. One officer, a 41-year old from the St. Louis County Police Department, was struck in the shoulder. The other, a 32-year old from nearby Webster Groves Police Department, was hit in the face. Both officers were reported to be in serious, but non-life threatening condition.

As local authorities search for the unidentified shooters, protesters and police have begun to speculate about causes and responsibility.

Four Reasons Jews Worry about Christian Zionists — and Why They Don’t Have To

Photo via Aleksandar Todorovicvia / Shutterstock / RNS

View from Dominus Flevit church, located in the old part of Jerusalem. Photo via Aleksandar Todorovicvia / Shutterstock / RNS

Is Christian Zionism good for the Jews?

Not every Jew thinks so.

In fact, Christian Zionists make many Jews crazy.


Worry No. 1: Christian Zionists believe all Jews need to be back in the land of Israel before Jesus can return.

Except it’s not true.

I once asked Ralph Reed, the prominent conservative activist and founder of the Christian Coalition, about this.

“Rabbi, I’ve been in church every Sunday of my life and I have never heard such a thing,” he said.

Jean Vanier, Founder of L'Arche, Wins Templeton Prize

Jean Vanier. Photo via Templeton Prize / John Morrison / RNS

Jean Vanier. Photo via Templeton Prize / John Morrison / RNS

Jean Vanier, an advocate for people with developmental disabilities who helped create an international network of residential communities that champion the rights of their residents, has won the 2015 Templeton Prize.

A Roman Catholic layman and a lifelong student of philosophy and theology, Vanier is best known as the founder of L’Arche — French for "the Ark" — a global network of communities where those with and without disabilities live side by side as equals.

The network was begun in northern France in 1964 when Vanier invited two intellectually disabled men to live with him as friends. It has evolved into 147 L’Arche communities, in 35 countries. In addition, a support group for families of people with disabilities, known as Faith and Light, has spread to 82 countries.

“One can conceive of L’Arche and Faith and Light as living laboratories where Vanier essentially exposed his ideas to the most challenging test of all — real people, real problems and real life,” said John Swinton, a professor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland Divinity School, in nominating Vanier for the award.

In a statement at a news conference in London, Vanier, 86, said those with intellectual disabilities offer spiritual lessons and gifts to a world too driven by success and power.

N.C. Sheriff Bans Sex Offenders from Church

Photo via North Carolina Sheriffs' Association / RNS

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps. Photo via North Carolina Sheriffs' Association / RNS

A sheriff in one of North Carolina’s smallest counties told registered sex offenders they can’t go to church, citing a state law meant to keep them from day-care centers and schools.

Graham County Sheriff Danny Millsaps told sex offenders about his decision Feb. 17, according to a letter the Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times obtained March 6. About 9,000 people live in Graham County, which abuts Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee line in western North Carolina.

“This is an effort to protect the citizens and children of the community of Graham (County),” he wrote.

“I cannot let one sex offender go to church and not let all registered sex offenders go to church.”

He invited them to attend services at the county jail.

Selma: 'To Come Away Changed'

Marchers stopped at Edmund Pettus bridge. Image via Penn State Special Collectio

Marchers stopped at Edmund Pettus bridge. Image via Penn State Special Collection/

The white ministers didn’t fly down to Alabama in January, when Sheriff Jim Clark clubbed Annie Lee Cooper outside of the county courthouse, nor in February when a state trooper fatally shot twenty-six-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson in the stomach for trying to protect his mother after a civil rights demonstration.  

But on Bloody Sunday everything changed. At 9:30 p.m. on March 7, 1965, ABC news interrupted a broadcast to show hundreds of black men, women, and children peacefully crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge toward Montgomery and a sea of blue uniforms blocking their way. The marchers were given two minutes to disperse, and then the screen filled with the smoke of tear gas, police on horseback charging the screaming crowd, burly troopers wielding billy clubs and bullwhips, a woman’s hem rising up over her legs as a fellow marcher attempted to drag her away to safety.

Overnight the nation’s eye turned toward Selma. Rev. Martin Luther King sent a telegram to hundreds of clergy that Monday, urging them to leave their pulpits and join him in Alabama to march for justice. Some supporters, like the reporter George Leonard, packed their things immediately after watching the newscast from Selma.

“I was not aware that at the same momemt ... hundreds of these people would drop whatever they were doing,” Leonard wrote later.  

“... That some of them would leave home without changing clothes, borrow money, overdraw their checking accounts, board planes, buses, trains, cars, travel thousands of miles with no luggage, get speeding tickets, hitchhike, hire horse-drawn wagons, that these people, mostly unknown to one another, would move for a single purpose to place themselves alongside the Negroes they had watched on television.”

Selma changed the course of history by paving the way for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, but its impact didn’t end there. The spirit of Selma rippled outward, forever changing those who made the long journey to Alabama — including a white minister from Washington, D.C., named Rev. Gordon Cosby.

Boko Haram Pledges Loyalty to Islamic State

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Emmanuel Braun / RNS

A Chadian soldier during battle against insurgent group Boko Haram in Gambaru. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Emmanuel Braun / RNS

Boko Haram’s leader has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a new audio message, according to a group that monitors extremist activity.

In the recording, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian terrorist group that has killed thousands, vowed to follow Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the U.S.-based SITE Intel Group, announced on March 7.

“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah,” Shekau said in a tweeted message that went along with the video, according to the Associated Press. Al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed head of the caliphate.

Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm, confirmed the recording to NBC News and said it was posted on Boko Haram social media accounts. USA Today was not able to independently verify the message.