Faith and Politics

Tom Ehrich 07-01-2014

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

The New York Knicks have a dilemma: Hold on to high-scoring star Carmelo Anthony, the consummate me-first ball hog, or build their future on team players.

I am hoping new coach Phil Jackson gives Anthony his walking papers. The Knicks have been a poor basketball team with Melo’s I-am-the-man selfishness. They will be better with players who know how to work as a unit.

As the coaching cliche puts it, “There is no ‘I’ in ‘team.’” There is, however, an “I” in “big bucks,” and in “I am the star,” and in “watch my magic.”

It’s the very “I” with which Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness. It’s the “I” that builds empires on the suffering of many and destroys them just as quickly. It’s the “I” that cripples families and ruins enterprises.

The Mount Soledad cross was installed on public land in San Diego in 1954. Creative Commons image by Jun Pinili

The decades-long battle over a cross erected on public land in California will drag out even longer now that the Supreme Court declined Monday to hear the case.

In the last full day of the current session, the court said the case must first go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before the high court will consider it.

The conflict in Mount Soledad Memorial Association v. Trunk, is over a 43-foot cross that sits atop Mount Soledad on public land in San Diego. The cross was erected in the 1950s and has since become a veterans’ memorial.

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

The nine Supreme Court justices, public domain

Five things to know about one of the most anticipated Supreme Court decisions of the year:

1. Corporations can’t pray, but they do have religious rights.

Hobby Lobby isn’t a person. It’s a chain of crafts stores owned by a religious family. And though the evangelical Green family objects to parts of the Affordable Care Act’s emergency contraception mandate, it’s not the Greens but the company that writes the check for employees’ health insurance. The first question the justices had to answer was this: Does Hobby Lobby have religious rights? To many Americans, this sounds a little nutty. Does a craft store believe in God?

A majority of the justices held that a closely held company such as Hobby Lobby does have religious rights. The court didn’t apply those rights, however, to publicly held corporations, where owners’ religious beliefs would be hard to discern.

But well before the justices had delivered their verdict on this question, many legal scholars said they wouldn’t be surprised were they to affirm the company’s religious rights. American corporations do have some of the rights and responsibilities we usually associate with people. And in the 2010Citizens United campaign finance case, the justices overturned bans on corporate political spending as a violation of freedom of speech — corporations’ free speech.

Supreme Court Building, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

Supreme Court Building, Orhan Cam / Shutterstock.com

The Supreme Court on Monday sided with the evangelical owners of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., ruling 5-4 that the arts-and-crafts chain does not have to offer insurance for types of birth control that conflict with company owners’ religious beliefs.

Beyond the specifics of the Hobby Lobby case before them, the justices broke new legal ground by affirming that corporations, not just individual Americans or religious non-profits, may claim religious rights.

Does Monday’s decision mean, however, that the religious beliefs of business owners stand paramount? That they are more important than a female employee’s right to choose from the full array of birth control methods she is promised under the Affordable Care Act? Or that a business owner may invoke his religious rights to deny service to a gay couple?

Not necessarily, legal experts say.

 
QR Blog Editor 06-30-2014
Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio. by Nicholas Eckhart, Flickr.com

Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio. by Nicholas Eckhart, Flickr.com

Closely held corporations cannot be compelled to pay for contraception coverage, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in its highly anticipated Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores case. The "contraceptive mandate" in the federal health care law was challenged under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government show that a law doesn't "substantially burden" religious exercise.

According to SCOTUSBlog, the Court ruled that the government "has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control."

But the decision is applicable only to the contraceptive mandate, and does not apply to other health care mandates.

From Washington Post :

The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.

Hobby Lobby is an evangelical family-owned chain, and CEO David Green says that the Affordable Care Act infringed upon the family's religious freedom by compelling them to pay for certain contraceptives the family considers to be abortifacients, such as versions of the morning-after pill and IUDs.

Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan dissented.

Read the decision HERE.

The divide from a question asked in a new Pew Research Center report. RNS image courtesy Bill Webster/Pew Research Center.

Toss out the party and ideology labels: Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal.

The Pew Research Center’s new survey, “ Beyond Red VS Blue: The Political Typology,” finds no sharp lines dividing people by their views on politics, faith, family, and the role and limits of government.

“It’s a spectrum,” said Michael Dimock, vice president for research for Pew Research Center.

Looking at questions relating to faith and family, he observed, “the caricature that all religious people are Republican is just not true.”

Black and Hispanic political liberals who attend church and hold conservative views on issues such as gay marriage hew red on social issues.

Chad Connelly is director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee. Photo courtesy of the RNC.

The Republican National Committee on Friday launched its first web-based effort to rally conservative believers behind the party, a sign of how crucial voter turnout will be in this fall’s close-fought midterm elections and an indication that the GOP cannot take its evangelical Christian base for granted.

“This shouldn’t be outreach, this should be who we are — it is who we are,” said Chad Connelly, director of faith engagement for the Republican National Committee and the force behind this new initiative, GOPfaith.com.

Evangelicals, Connelly said, “are our biggest, most reliable voting bloc.”

The problem, however, is that even though evangelicals identify more closely than ever with the GOP, they have not been turning out at the polls in sufficient numbers to carry Republican candidates to victory.

the Web Editors 06-27-2014

1. WATCH: Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She's Pretty
“A new Verizon commercial cites a sad statistic by the National Science Foundation: 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.”

2.Sandy Hook Dad on What You Can Do Right Now to Help Prevent Violence 
“'Pick your eyes up from the sidewalk and look at people,' Mr. Barden pleaded, with tears in his eyes. Yes, we should call our representatives; yes, we should make our voices heard where laws are made. But we should also do what we can to foster empathy; to create a world where no one feels invisible and ignored — least of all those who disproportionately fall victim to our collective failure to care enough to act."

3. Facebook VP: Stop Portraying Me as Mother-of-Four Who 'Wanted it All''
"'When I got my post at Facebook it was all about how I was a mother-of-four who had 'won' the position, alongside pictures of my wedding,' she said, noting that the male executive hired at the same time came under no such scrutiny. Reports also said she insisted on working part-time, when in fact she was working a typical five-day week."

4. FIFA Go Home: Inside Brazilians' Struggle to Challenge World Cup 
From Mashable: "Their goal isn't so much to change the current World Cup in any specific way; it's more to challenge — and, ideally, impact — the mainstream narrative surrounding the tournament, shifting its focus to the event's human costs and larger political context. To the billions spent on stadiums that won't be used again and the millions living in abject poverty."

5. Ikea to Raise Its Average Minimum Hourly Wage to $10.76 
"The happier the co-worker, the happier the customer and the better the overall shopping experience," said Ikea's acting U.S. president, Rob Olson. "We wanted to be less concerned about the competition and more concerned about offering our co-workers a better everyday life."

6. The Decency of a Nation
A new index attempts to measure the 'goodness' of nations — based on the way they treat other nations, science and technology, culture, equality, etc. (Spoiler: guess who doesn't break the top 10.)

7.WATCH: 'Columbusing': When White People Think They Discovered Something They Didn't 
"Macklemore Columbused same-sex marriage, just like Gwyneth Paltrow Columbused Eastern medicine."

8.Use of Drones for Killings Risks a War Without End 
A bipartisan panel concluded that the use of armed drones "sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future," according to the New York Times.

9. Detroit Activists Call for UN Help as City Shuts Off Water for Thousands 
“Detroit has too much of some things – stray dogs, abandoned houses – and not enough of others, such as residents who pay their water bills. The latest sign of Detroit’s decline came from the city’s water department, when it said in March it would begin shutting off water for up to 3,000 homes and businesses a week in an attempt to stop the utility from sliding even further into debt.”

10. PHOTOS: Inside a Detention Center for Migrant Children 
The Customs and Border Patrol is overwhelmed by a flood of minors entering the U.S. from Central America.

Monsignor James Bartylla is vicar general of the Diocese of Madison. RNS photo courtesy Brent King, Diocese of Madison.

Despite numerous controversies over dismissing gay Catholics from church posts and the U.S. hierarchy’s campaign against same-sex marriage, Catholic leaders have carefully, if quietly, avoided doing anything to block gay couples from having their children baptized.

But a move by a bishop in Wisconsin to route all such decisions through his office is raising questions about whether that neutral zone will now become another battleground, and whether the growing acceptance of gay parents will inevitably draw more attention to this practice and force church leaders to establish clearer rules.

The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops. Creative Commons image by Pufui Pc Pifpef I.

Faced with a cultural landscape that’s shifting faster than the church’s ability to keep up, Catholic bishops are looking for new approaches toward unmarried couples, divorced people, and single parents who are disillusioned with the church.

The first-ever survey of 114 bishops’ conferences around the world found that many Christians “have difficulty” accepting church teachings on key issues such as birth control, divorce, homosexuality, and cohabitation.

But one senior church leader cautioned that “the doctrine of the church is not up for discussion.”

The survey’s findings, released in a 75-page document by the Vatican on Thursday, will serve as the blueprint for October’s Synod of Bishops, when bishops from around the world will gather to discuss issues facing the family.

Sharon Lettman-Hicks and her husband, Alvin, are featured in Richen’s documentary. RNS photo:Jen Lemen, via Independent Lens/PBS

Yoruba Richen’s documentary “The New Black” airs this month online and on television through the PBS series “Independent Lens.” The film, which explores the intersection of race, religion, and sexuality, also has been screened at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and New York’s Union Theological Seminary. An African-American lesbian, Richen talked to Religion News Service about the new openness she sees in black churches around the issue of same-sex marriage.

Khartoum International Airport, where Meriam Ibrahim was rearrested on Tuesday. Creative Commons image by Jozef Tóth.

A Sudanese Christian doctor freed from death row on charges of apostasy Monday is not yet free after authorities detained her at a Khartoum airport.

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, was arrested Tuesday after she attempted to leave Sudan using South Sudan emergency papers, including a U.S. visa, according to reports.

She was apprehended along with her husband, Daniel Bicensio Wani, an American citizen of South Sudanese origin, and their two children — 20-month-old son Martin and a 1-month-old daughter.

Ruth Braunstein is a co-author of the study. RNS photo courtesy Ruth Braunstein.

Just because interfaith, interracial, and varied ethnic groups share a common cause doesn’t mean a diverse coalition can hang together.

It often takes prayer. And not just a “Bless this group, Amen,” invocation.

A new study by three sociologists finds that three out of four interfaith civic coalitions turn to what the sociologists have dubbed “bridging prayer” — interactive, participatory, and often innovative prayers and rituals that highlight their shared identity as people of faith.

“Shared issues alone don’t necessarily ensure cooperation,” said Ruth Braunstein, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut. “But groups that cannot build a shared culture could find it very difficult to succeed.”
Renee Gadoua 06-24-2014

United Methodist Rev. Frank Schaefer serves communion in 2013. Photo: Kathy L. Gilbert/United Methodist News Service

In a surprising reversal, a Pennsylvania pastor who was defrocked last year for violating United Methodist law after he officiated at his son’s same-sex wedding has been reinstated.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer learned Tuesday his ministerial credentials will be restored after the church’s Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals voted 8-1 in his favor.

The committee, which held a hearing June 20 near Baltimore, found that “errors of Church law” had been used in imposing the penalty against Schaefer.

“I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against,” Schaefer said in a statement. “Today’s decision is a sign that the church is starting to listen.”

The decision comes as the world’s 12 million United Methodists appear headed toward a split over the denomination’s rules on ministering to gays and lesbians.

Tom Ehrich 06-17-2014

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

Right-wing politicians are fond of saying we need more Christian influence in American political life.

I don’t disagree with that. But I wonder if they have any idea what they are asking. For a nation guided by Christian principles would bear scant resemblance to their political agenda.

Take immigration, for example. Jesus practiced radical welcome, not the restrictive legalistic barriers envisioned by conservatives, and certainly not the denigration of dark-skinned immigrants and the unleashing of armed posses along the Rio Grande.

God’s people, after all, began as immigrants and refugees. God saw them as a “beacon” to all nations.

Senator Marco Rubio at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore.

How many voters know that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a Roman Catholic? Or that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is a Southern Baptist, not a Latino Catholic? Or that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio worships at both a Catholic parish and an evangelical church?

More importantly, does it matter?

Actually, it does in today’s Republican Party, where a number of factors have forged a new religious identity that supersedes familiar old categories.

These prominent Republicans are emblematic of the new religious amalgam that, in many instances, has helped refashion denominational differences that were once almost insurmountable. Look no further than the stunning Virginia primary victory of Dave Brat, a Catholic with degrees from a Reformed Protestant college in Michigan and Princeton Theological Seminary, who took down House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last week.

Elmbrook Church was the site of multiple Elmbrook School District graduation ceremonies. Creative Commons image by Sergeantjoe.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that a Wisconsin high school acted unconstitutionally when it held its graduation ceremonies in a local megachurch.

The case, Elmbrook School District. v. Doe, involved a high school in a suburb of Milwaukee that rented the nondenominational Elmbrook Church for its graduation exercises in 2009. In 2012, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals called the event was “offensive” and “coercive.” The church’s banners, pamphlets, Bibles, and other religious materials remained in the sanctuary during the graduation.

As is their custom, the justices did not give a reason for declining to hear a challenge to the 7th Circuit ruling.

Monday’s decision may be a signal by the court that despite its approval of sectarian prayers at public meetings in the Town of Greece v. Galloway decision in May, it draws the line at exposing children to religious symbols when they have not choice about it.

Image courtesy of Ibrahim Hooper via the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew turn up together on a Washington, D.C., bus.

It’s no joke. They’re the faces of a new ad campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group. And the ad is the latest volley between Muslim and anti-Muslim groups that has played out most recently on the sides of buses in the nation’s capital.

First, the American Muslims for Palestine ran ads during peak D.C. tourism season, the Cherry Blossom Festival in April, condemning U.S. aid to Israel.

A month later, blogger Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative responded with bus ads featuring photos of Hitler meeting the grand mufti of Jerusalem and a text equating opposition to Israel’s territorial policies with Nazism.

Self-described “nontheist” Edwina Rogers speaks at The Amaz!ng Meeting in 2013. Creative Commons image by Zooterkin.

As the Secular Coalition for America prepares for its biggest event of the year this week in Washington, D.C., atheist groups are recovering from the sudden departure of the coalition’s highest officer and confronting renewed charges that nonbelief groups have a shortage of women leaders and are suspicious of conservatives.

The SCA, which lobbies on behalf of more than a dozen secular groups, announced that its executive director, Edwina Rogers, was let go after employees embezzled $78,000 from the organization.

The story was first reported by The New York Times and referred to a leaked internal audit.

The SCA said Rogers, who was hired about two years ago, was in no way connected to the missing funds. She dismissed the two employees allegedly responsible and reported the matter to the police and the organization’s board.

Phil Haslanger 06-10-2014

City Profile With Dramatic Sky. Via Jan Carbol / Shutterstock

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about failure.

Not my failures, though I suspect we could come up with a few.

No, I’ve thinking about Scott Walker’s failed governorship in Wisconsin.

And Barack Obama’s failed presidency in the nation.

And our failed foreign policy.

And the failed Affordable Care Act.

And Walker’s failed jobs policy for the Badger State. And so on.

Then I started thinking about the failure of our political dialogue these days.

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