Faith and Politics

Our Lady of Revenue: NYC Churches Go on the Market, Leaving Parishioners Cynical

Photo via Robert Deutsch / USA Today / RNS

St. Thomas More church in New York City. Photo via Robert Deutsch / USA Today / RNS

Our Lady of Vilnius Church, built by families of immigrant Lithuanian longshoremen, started out a century ago as a beloved worship space. Now, it’s a coveted real estate asset.

In 2013, six years after the church was closed, it was sold for $13 million to one of the city’s biggest developers. The following year, that company flipped it like a pancake to another developer for $18.4 million.

Now the yellow brick church near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel awaits demolition to make way for an 18-story luxury apartment house.

“It makes you cynical,” says Christina Nakraseive, a former parishioner who supported the legal case against the church closing until it was rejected by the state’s highest court. “It seems like it’s all about real estate.”

The issue has taken on added significance since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, citing declining attendance, rising costs, and a looming priest shortage, announced plans to merge scores of parishes and close dozens of churches this year.

If the U.S. Is a Christian Nation, Whose Christianity Do We Follow?

Photo via American Spirit / / RNS

The People's Church in South Bend, Ind. Photo via American Spirit / / RNS

A recent survey found that 57 percent of Republicans agreed that Christianity should be established as the United States’ national religion.

Not only would this violate the clear wording of the Constitution and the intention of the founders to keep religion and government separate, it also raises a difficult quandary.

Whose Christianity?

Of the estimated 1,500-plus Christian denominations in the U.S., which flavor of Christianity would emerge as the national standard?

Would it be conservative Christianity or liberal Christianity? Would it be Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or nondenominational? Would it be church-centered Christianity or a more personal flavor, such as house communion? Would it be the 1950s-style neighborhood-church Christianity that many older churchgoers yearn for, or a contemporary megachurch?

Cloudy Drugs and 'An Abundance of Caution' Delay Atlanta Woman's Execution as Tens of Thousands Protest

Thousands flooded Twitter to post vigil photos and offer prayers for Kelly Gisse

Thousands flooded Twitter to post vigil photos and offer prayers for Kelly Gissendaner.

An Atlanta woman’s scheduled execution was given an 11th-hour delay yet again — this time by the Department of Corrections late Monday evening.

Kelly Gissendaner, convicted in 1998 of conspiring to and abetting in murder of her then-husband, Doug, faced execution at 7 p.m. EST on Monday. Her original execution — scheduled for the evening of Feb. 25 — was delayed due to weather. After several appeals for clemency were denied by the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Georgia Supreme Court, Gissendaner’s lawyers petitioned the Supreme Court to hear her appeal and to issue a stay in the meantime.

Though there has yet been no word from the Supreme Court, the request for delay was honored — at least in part. According to CNN, the execution is on hold due to the cloudy appearence of the drugs prepared for the execution.

Southern Baptists Urge Obama to Defend ‘the Least of These’ against ISIS

Ronnie Floyd speaks at the opening of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pasto

Ronnie Floyd speaks at the opening of the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. Image courtesy RNS.

Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd and former leaders of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination on March 2 called on President Obama to defend “the least of these” against the Islamic State, the militant Islamist group that’s also known as ISIS or ISIL.

“Since ISIS is a continuing threat to world peace in a way unknown to us since the Nazis of World War II, we humbly call upon you to use the influence and power of your distinguished office to take the necessary actions now in this urgent hour to bring an end to these human atrocities,” wrote Floyd and his predecessors in an open letter to Obama.

“The abuse, brutalization, and murder of children, women, and men that is occurring before the world calls our country to lead forward to bring this to an end.”

Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, was joined by 16 former presidents in the “urgent appeal” that came after recent reports that the Islamic State was responsible for the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya and the kidnapping of more than 200 Assyrian Christians.

The letter also was released just before the Jewish holiday of Purim, which recalls the deliverance of Persian Jews by Queen Esther. The Baptist leaders told Obama he had a similar mandate to save an imperiled population from extinction.

The Gospel of Kelly Gissendaner

Hands on prison bars. Image courtesy Kaspars Grinvalds/

Hands on prison bars. Image courtesy Kaspars Grinvalds/

Georgia clergy just delivered 500 signatures of faith leaders and 40 boxes of names from around the world — calling for a stop to tonight’s execution of Kelly Gissendaner. And there are more than 55,000 folks on the Groundswell petition that launched just yesterday, and more than 1,000 new names are coming in every hour. 

But some suggest it is like speaking into thin air — that there is no chance the governor or the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole will listen. After all, Georgia has already executed two people this year, more than any state other than Texas.

But there’s a Georgia case that would suggest otherwise, that all this may not be in vain — that of Billy Moore.

After 17 years on death row for a murder he openly confessed to doing, Billy Moore’s execution was stopped — by a groundswell of support from faith leaders (including Mother Teresa), people of conscience, and even the victim’s family. And it was the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole that stopped his imminent execution. In fact, they eventually decided his rehabilitation was so complete and compelling that he was eligible for parole a year later.

So thousands of Georgia citizens and folks around the world are hopeful. Tonight there is an opportunity — not to be “soft on crime” or to ignore wrongdoing, but to bear witness that redemption is possible. Tonight Georgia leaders have a chance to recognize that people can be healed, rehabilitated, restored — and that they do not have to be forever held hostage and defined by the worst decision they made. 

Faith Leaders Nationwide Call for Stay in Atlanta Woman's Execution, Scheduled Tonight

A woman in prison. Image courtesy littlesam/

A woman in prison. Image courtesy littlesam/

It is a great and terrible irony that our country’s correctional system does not often allow for or take much pride in perpetrators’ self-correction.

Yet to the degree that transformation within the system is possible, such appears to have happened for Kelly Gissendaner. The 46-year-old woman was sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of her then-husband, Doug. It is well-documented that her accomplice and then-boyfriend committed the act — he is sentenced to life, with a chance at parol.

Gissendaner faces excecution tonight at 7 p.m. EST.

If carried through, it will be the first time since 1976 that the state of Georgia will execute an individual who was not the person physically using violence in the crime.

Gissendaner’s case — that of a person guilty of murder whose profound internal transformation while in prison has led to a contemplative life of studying theology, mentoring at-risk youth, offering pastoral care to fellow inmates, and expressing full and sincere remorse for her actions — calls into stark question whether our criminal justice system, and specifically the state's use of the death penalty, honestly allows for the possibility for redemption.

Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, and Jesus: On Goodness and Love

Bill O'Reilly on Jimmy Kimmel

I’m cringing as I write this.

That tells you a lot about me. When it comes to politics and theology, I identify as liberal. I firmly believe that Jesus wanted everyone fed, wanted universal health care, and that the Kingdom of God is about politics. It’s about structuring our personal and communal lives in a nonviolent way that ensures everyone has food to eat, debts are forgiven, and healing is freely provided for everyone.

Bill O’Reilly symbolizes almost everything that I loathe about American Christianity. His hyper-conservative politics is reinforced by his hyper-conservative theology. Many of my family members love his show, but I cringe when I hear his voice.

Transpartisanship: An Alternative to Political Dysfunction

Mykhaylo Palinchak /

Mykhaylo Palinchak /

The phenomenon of “creeping normality” allows for significant changes to be deemed acceptable when they occur gradually over time, in relatively unnoticed increments, rather than single steps or dramatic and noticeable instances. The “boiling frog” metaphor, which illustrates the familiar account of an unassuming amphibian that is slowly and successfully cooked to death, reveals not only how such instances can occur, but also how a calculated and protracted alteration (produced by those with power to turn up the heat) can possess disastrous results if not noticed and properly countered (by those left in the water). We need not look far for modern-day examples.

Extreme partisanship has crept into our political normality. As revealed last year by the Pew Research Center, our civic temperature is methodically rising, perhaps beyond the boiling point. The study states:

“The overall share of Americans who express consistently conservative or consistently liberal opinions has doubled over the past two decades from 10% to 21%. [As a result], the center has gotten smaller: 39% of Americans currently take a roughly equal number of liberal and conservative positions, down from 49% in surveys conducted in 1994 and 2004.”

A Voice For the Voiceless? Thoughts on Privilege and the Single Story

A woman not being allowed to speak. Image courtesy Victor Tongdee/shutterstock.c

A woman not being allowed to speak. Image courtesy Victor Tongdee/

Throughout my past eight years of engaging in social justice, I’ve been drawn to people who have uncanny ideas. Ideas that peace and unity can exist. Dreams that Heaven can indeed be experienced on this planet. People who are unafraid to raise hell and create peace in every single breath.

But often times, in these circles, a buzz phrase kept coming up: “Being a voice for the voiceless.”

This phrase is used in many circles, from large Christian NGOs to CNN. It likely means something different to each person. When it comes from voices in the faith community, it’s often rooted in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Speak out on behalf of those who have no voice, and defend all those who have been passed over." (Proverbs 3:18).

While I never believed in being a voice for the voiceless, I’ve had my fair share of ethnocentrism. As I boarded a plane for South Africa in 2007 on a service learning trip, I asked the white woman sitting in front of me what she’d be doing in Africa, as though everyone on the plane was going for a visit like me.

“I live there,” she replied, flatly.

Church of England Accused of Double Standards Over Low Wages

Photo via Anglican Communion News Service / The Press Association / RNS

The enthronement service of the Most Rev. Justin Welby. Photo via Anglican Communion News Service / The Press Association / RNS

The Church of England was accused of double standards on Feb. 23 for offering jobs in cathedrals at lower wages than those it has called on other British employers to pay their workers.

Under the banner headline “Wages of Sin,” the Sun reported that it had found several advertisements for jobs in cathedrals that offered pay well below the “living wage” of 7.85 pounds ($12) an hour, endorsed by the Church and senior politicians.

Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the Church recognized that no employer could ramp up wages overnight, and was working hard to get to a point where it was paying all of its workers the living wage.

“It’s embarrassing. We’d prefer to be there. We’re getting there as quickly as we can,” Welby, the spiritual head of the 80-million strong Anglican communion, told the BBC.

“It’s not the only area where we fall short of our own standards. We work on it as hard as we can,” he said.