Faith and Politics

Richard Wolf 04-14-2015
Photo via The Enquirer / Carrie Cochran / USA Today / RNS

Jim Obergefell of Cincinnati is photographed in his living room. Photo via The Enquirer / Carrie Cochran / USA Today / RNS

Jim Obergefell and John Arthur spent more than two decades living quietly together. They were never gay rights activists. Most of their friends weren’t even gay.

“John and I always joked that we were bad gays,” Obergefell recalled, “because the vast majority of our friends are straight couples.”

But when the Supreme Court ruled on June 26, 2013, that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, two new activists suddenly were born — one of whom now stands at the threshold of legal history.

Fifteen days after the high court’s ruling — with Arthur in the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s Disease — the couple flew to Maryland on a medically equipped jet to be legally married on the tarmac. Then they flew back home and learned their marriage would not be recognized in Ohio.

“All I thought was, ‘This isn’t right. I’m p—ed off,'” Obergefell, 48, says now, sitting in the silence of his art-filled condominium in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine district.

Photo via Januzzi family / USA Today / RNS

Patricia Jannuzzi. Photo via Januzzi family / USA Today / RNS

Patricia Jannuzzi, the veteran Catholic high school teacher from New Jersey suspended for her anti-gay Facebook posts, will be reinstated immediately, school principal Jean Kline said in a letter.

Jannuzzi, a 33-year theology teacher at Immaculata High School in Sommerville, N.J., was forced to deactivate her Facebook page last month after several alumni started circulating screen shots of her sharply worded posts against gay marriage and gay rights. Two days later, the school placed her on administrative leave.

The letter to students and parents, quoting school director Msgr. Seamus Brennan states in part:

“Immaculata High School has reached an understanding with Mrs. Patricia Jannuzzi. It is the School’s position that a Catholic school teacher must always communicate the faith in a way that is positive and never hurtful. Tone and choice of words matter and I trust Mrs. Jannuzzi’s stated promise to strive always to teach in a spirit of truth and charity.”

Tom Ehrich 04-14-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Jim Young / RNS

A barn painted with an image of the Statue of Liberty and a U.S. flag in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Photo via REUTERS / Jim Young / RNS

As presidential candidacies multiply and campaigning accelerates, we can expect much tawdriness to occur. These are difficult times in American democracy.

Money will pour into negative campaigning and ideological posturing. Lies will become the norm. Every word will evoke counterattack, and facts will lose their currency. Barbed sound bites will be mistaken for wisdom. Bullies claiming to be “Christian” will be among the loudest. On both sides.

What are people of faith to do?

We can assume, first of all, that truth-telling will be absent all around. We, then, need to be truth-seekers, reading beyond the sound bites and toxic jabs for actual insights into what candidates stand for and what is their character.

We can assume, second, that God’s name will be taken in vain by everyone. Every candidate will tell stories of personal faith, maybe even dramatic conversion. They will quote Scripture and claim to be promoting God’s work.

In fact, to judge by candidates’ behavior, their words will be insincere and their faith a concoction meant to satisfy the sweet tooth of religious leaders. We, then, need to do our own work of discerning whether they have any functional familiarity with Scripture and any real concern for Christian ethics.

Photo via Tyler Orsburn / Catholic News Service / RNS

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M. Photo via Tyler Orsburn / Catholic News Service / RNS

The U.S. Catholic bishops have welcomed the Obama administration’s tentative agreement aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and their top spokesman on international affairs bluntly warned Congress against doing anything to undermine it.

The bishops “oppose efforts that seek to undermine the negotiation process or make a responsible multi-party agreement more difficult to achieve and implement,” Bishop Oscar Cantu, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace Committee, wrote to House and Senate lawmakers on April 13.

“The alternative to an agreement leads toward armed conflict, an outcome of profound concern to the Church,” said Cantu, who heads the Diocese of Las Cruces, N.M.

The warning — and accompanying support in a letter of commendation that Cantu sent last week to Secretary of State John Kerry — follow a thumbs-up from Pope Francis to the proposed accord, and coincides with an endorsement on April 13 by a group of largely liberal mainline Protestant leaders.

Diplomats from the U.S. and six world powers meeting in Switzerland earlier this month unveiled the framework of what could be an historic accord to inspect Iran’s growing nuclear program and prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon.

Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Marco Rubio speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is expected to launch his presidential campaign April 13, often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, An American Son: A Memoir.

Here are five faith facts about this Catholic son of Cuban immigrants who has also found comfort in Mormonism and a Southern Baptist church:

1. He was once a serious young Mormon.

Rubio’s parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic, but when he was 8, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon Church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He spent three years as a Mormon, upheld its teachings more enthusiastically than his parents, and chided his father for working as a bartender, a no-no for Mormons who abstain from alcohol.

2. He frequents a Southern Baptist megachurch.

Rubio and his wife Jeannette often visit Miami’s Christ Fellowship, a Southern Baptist congregation the couple appreciates for its strong preaching and children’s programs. Rubio has donated at least $50,000 to the church, which he attended almost exclusively from 2000 to 2004. But he now finds his religious home in Catholic churches in Washington, D.C. and Florida. In his memoir, Rubio writes that he will go with his family to Christ Fellowship on Saturday nights, and Mass on Sundays at St. Louis Catholic Church. His children have received First Holy Communion.

Photo via flickr

Photo via flickr

"We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This Talmudic quote from Rabbi Shemuel ben Nachmani notes that seeing is not always vision. What we see in life is more than what the eye beholds. A person or circumstances right in front of us can be merely the surface of someone or something more profound.

The United States must forever recall the struggles, moves, and marching of the women and men across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Fifty years ago, ordinary people walked for the right to stand up and be counted. To the naked eye, those sojourners lacked political clout as much as they did fiscal wherewithal. Those citizens were not persons of means, but their intentions were good. They meant well. They meant to do whatever — to get the right to vote.

No whips, dogs, horses, or hoses would stifle their efforts. The Americans who marched from Selma to Montgomery may not have looked like much, but their actions changed this country’s political horizon and racial landscape. Yes, a yearning in their loins propelled them to create social change. They were going to vote at any cost, at any price.

In this week’s lectionary passage, a man crippled from birth wanted “change.” Actually, he wanted coins or any alms that Peter and John could offer (Acts 3:1-11). To this man, the two disciples were in better shape than he was. From his view, he could surely benefit from whatever they had to offer. Yet, Peter exposes their impecunious state: “Look on us. We don’t have a nickel to our names.”

There was nothing spectacular or dazzling about Peter or John.

Photo via Paul Jeffrey / UM Women / Flickr / RNS

Hillary Clinton speaks at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in 2014. Photo via Paul Jeffrey / UM Women / Flickr / RNS

As she embarks Sunday on her 2016 presidential campaign, one facet of Hillary Clinton, 67, is unchanged across her decades as a lawyer, first lady, senator, and secretary of state: She was, is, and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist.

1) She was shaped by a saying popular among Methodists: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” says Paul Kengor in his book “ God and Hillary Clinton .”

As a girl, she was part of the guild that cleaned the altar at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. As a teen, she visited inner-city Chicago churches with the youth pastor, Don Jones, her spiritual mentor until his death in 2009. During her husband’s presidency, the first family worshipped at Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, and Time magazine described her membership in a bipartisan women’s prayer group organized by evangelicals.

2) Clinton’s been known to carry a Bible in her purse but, she told the 2007 CNN Faith Forum, “advertising” her faith “doesn’t come naturally to me.” Every vote Clinton made as a senator from New York, she said, was “a moral responsibility.” When asked at the forum why she thought God allows suffering, Clinton demurred on theology, then swiftly turned her answer to activism: “The existence of suffering calls us to action.”

Photo via REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former President George W. Bush. Photo via REUTERS / Tami Chappell / RNS

From Ava DuVernay’s award-winning film to President Obama’s speech at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, America has remembered Selma this year. We have honored grass-roots leaders, acknowledged the sacrifices of civil rights workers and celebrated the great achievement of the Voting Rights Act. At the same time, we have recalled the hatred and fear of white supremacy in 1960s Alabama. But we may not have looked closely enough at this ugly history.

Even as we celebrate one of America’s great strides toward freedom, the ugliest ghosts of our past haunt us in today’s “religious freedom” laws.

Many able commentators have pointed out the problem of laws that purport to protect a First Amendment right to religious freedom by creating an opportunity to violate other people’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. But little attention has been paid to the struggle from which the 14th Amendment was born — a struggle that played out in Selma 50 years ago and is very much alive in America’s statehouses today.

We cannot understand the new religious freedom law in Indiana and others like it apart from the highly sexualized backlash against America’s first two Reconstructions.

Gregg Zoroya 04-09-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Adrees Latif / RNS

Two U.S. Army Chaplains bow their heads in prayer during an Easter service. Photo via REUTERS / Adrees Latif / RNS

Chaplains who are part of the Army’s first line of defense against suicide say they need more training in how to prevent soldiers from killing themselves, according to a Rand Corp. survey published online April 7.

Nearly all the chaplains and chaplain assistants surveyed said they have dealt with suicidal soldiers, and most said they encourage troubled soldiers to get help. Because of confidentiality, roughly half said they would be reluctant to alert someone in the chain of command about the soldier, and roughly a third said they would not call a crisis hotline for the GI.

In addition, the study found that chaplains and chaplain assistants hold some of the same negative views about therapy that often discourage soldiers from seeing a behavioral health specialist. Most in the survey agreed that service members who seek help for suicidal thoughts would be seen differently by their peers. About half said they would be embarrassed.

Researchers said they believe this may be why chaplains are reluctant to intervene when a soldier comes to them with signs of suicidal thinking. 

David Jackson 04-09-2015
Official White House Photo by Pete Souza / RNS

President Barack Obama with Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, center. Official White House Photo by Pete Souza / RNS

President Obama is lending support to efforts to end “conversion therapy” that seeks to change the sexual orientation of gay, lesbian, and transgender youth.

Responding to a petition on the White House website calling for a ban on conversion therapy, Obama writes that “tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out.”

Obama adds: “What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us — on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.”

The White House petition, which has more than 120,000 signatures, calls for enactment of “Leelah’s Law to Ban All LGBTQ+ Conversion Therapy.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 04-09-2015
Image via gst/shutterstock.com

Image via gst/shutterstock.com

We want to extend our sincere gratitude to all who signed the Open Letter to Franklin Graham in response to Graham’s original Facebook post on March 7. One month later, the open letter’s original team of writers, along with the Sojourners community, has been deeply encouraged by the broad support the letter has garnered. Thousands of faith leaders across the country have signed the letter with more joining in solidarity every day.

We thought you might be encouraged to see this updated list of principal signatories who have joined their voices to the thousands calling for repentance and reconciliation. Stay tuned for more ways to stay engaged in this conversation.

If you haven’t signed the letter yet, it’s not too late. Click here to sign the Open Letter to Franklin Graham.

Burns Strider 04-08-2015
Photo via REUTERS / Carlo Allegri / RNS

Former first lady Hillary Clinton. Photo via REUTERS / Carlo Allegri / RNS

Late on a Saturday night in 2012, I received word from my sister in Mississippi that my mamma had passed away. My home was silent as my wife and two boys slept upstairs. I was reading when the sad call came.

I woke my wife to tell her; we sat on the edge of the bed and hugged. In my sadness, around midnight, I started cleaning the kitchen, likely because my mamma was always cleaning something. I also reached out to two friends.

It was within minutes that I heard back from Hillary.

Secretary Clinton joined me in my heartbreak, reminding me that she could share the pain because of the fairly recent loss of her own mother. She also told me to get to Mississippi, be with my family, and take all the time I needed — because my work in Washington paled in comparison to remembering and mourning my mom and being with family.

My family and I drove home, deeper and deeper into my Southern motherland, to bury my mom. My siblings had asked me to speak for the family at the funeral, so I rode shotgun and wrote while my wife, Karen, drove.

Along the way, drafting what I consider the most important talk of my life, I again reached out to Secretary Clinton, who was engaged in one of the most grueling and intense schedules that any secretary of state had undertaken.

Even so, she found the time to offer suggestions and talk me through this most personal task.

 

Jim Wallis 04-08-2015
A chance to end global poverty. Image via Great Divide Photography/shutterstock.

A chance to end global poverty. Image via Great Divide Photography/shutterstock.com

We have a vision.  

End extreme poverty by the year 2030. 

There has never been a time such as this. There has never been a time in human history where we have been more equipped to do more than just envision a world free of extreme poverty. The empirical evidence is there — extreme poverty can be ended within the next fifteen years. 

But first, we must commit. As a global community we must act guided by the best evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and to use our voices to compel and challenge others to join us in this urgent cause inspired by our deepest spiritual values.   

This is a historic opportunity. The goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 is now possible when it hasn’t really been before. But it will take all of us to accomplish it. 

Lee Davidson 04-08-2015
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and conference goers sing in Salt Lake City, April 4

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and conference goers sing in Salt Lake City, April 4, 2015. Image via RNS/Reuters/George Frey.

Mormons lean more heavily toward the Republican Party than any other major demographic group — whether clustered by race, age, gender, educational attainment, or religion.

So says a study released April 7 by the Pew Research Center, based on more than 25,000 survey interviews conducted nationwide in 2014.

The survey shows that 70 percent of Mormons lean Republican, compared with just 22 percent who tilt Democratic. That 48-point gap is greater for the GOP than margins provided by any other single group.

Behind Mormons in GOP support are white evangelical Protestants, who give the party a 46-point edge; white Southerners, a 21-point GOP advantage; white men with some college education or less, also 21 points; whites, 9 points; and the “silent generation,” ages 69 to 86, 4 points.

Groups that lean Democratic most heavily are blacks, who give that party a 69-point edge; Asians, a 42-point margin; religiously unaffiliated, 36 points; post-graduate women, 35 points; Jews, 30 percent; Hispanics, 30 points; and the millennial generation, ages 18 to 33, 16 points.

“Obviously, Mormons are one of the strongest groups for Republicans, right on par with white evangelicals. Both groups are about three times as likely to lean towards the Republican Party,” Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of the Pew Research Center, said.

“That’s been the case for a long time.”

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

President Obama at the Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House on April 7, 2015. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

President Obama turned both personal and preachy April 7 during his annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, which he has hosted at the White House six times since he was elected.

The long list of Christian leaders attending included Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, National Association of Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, Roman Catholic Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Rev. Al Sharpton, retired Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, civil rights veteran the Rev. C.T. Vivian, and African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie. The Rev. Amy Butler of New York’s Riverside Church gave the opening prayer.

Here are four memorable statements from the event:

1. Though he said, “I am no preacher,” he almost preached:

“Even as we grapple with the sheer enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice, on Easter we can’t lose sight of the fact that the story didn’t end on Friday,” he said.

“The story keeps on going. On Sunday comes the glorious resurrection of our savior.”

Tom Ehrich 04-07-2015
Photo via Anton Watman / Shutterstock / RNS

Spring’s sunlight shines on dandelions. Photo via Anton Watman / Shutterstock / RNS

Little by little, the direct sun of spring is vanquishing the snow of this long winter, and new life is starting to emerge.

Something similar is happening in my home state of Indiana, where the darkness met behind closed doors to conspire against certain citizens in the name of religion.

For a time, hatred prevailed. But then a more-direct sun began to shine in the American heartland, and people took notice of what the Republican-controlled Legislature and cowardly governor had done.

The people spoke out. It started with leaders in the tech community (Salesforce, Apple, Angie’s List) and, to my amazement, pillars of the sports establishment, such as the NCAA and NASCAR. Soon, citizens across Indiana and the nation condemned the state’s so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act as little more than legalized discrimination.

Richard Wolf 04-07-2015
Photo via Mark Fischer / Flickr / RNS

Photo via Mark Fischer / Flickr / RNS

Republican officials and religious organizations dominate a growing list of more than 60 groups urging the Supreme Court to uphold state bans against same-sex marriage.

The flood of “friend of the court” briefs arriving at the court by last week’s deadline easily made the upcoming case the most heavily lobbied in the court’s recent history. Earlier this month, more than 70 briefs were filed by proponents of gay marriage, including one signed by more than 200,000 people.

Sixteen states led by Republican governors were among those calling for the bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee to be upheld. Among them were nine states where same-sex marriage bans have been struck down by federal courts — an indication that the battle there and elsewhere will be renewed if the justices uphold the bans.

“How much better for this issue to play out, state-by-state, with citizens locked in urgent conversation,” one of the briefs says.

Teamwork. Image via STILLFX/shutterstock.com

Teamwork. Image via STILLFX/shutterstock.com

Last month I traveled to Selma, Ala., to commemorate the anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery marches. Fifty years ago, images of the “Bloody Sunday” brought the horrors of racial terrorism into the living rooms of the American public, as brutal images of marchers left bloodied and severely injured dominated the evening news. As a young African-American clergywoman and interfaith organizer, I am the fruit of the labor of civil rights pioneers in places like Selma, Ala., Greensboro, N.C., and Jackson, Miss. Today, the work continues through the organizing and activism of young people across the country catalyzing a 21st century interfaith movement for civil and human rights.

On April 14, I will join together with many of these young leaders in celebration of Better Together Day. An initiative of Interfaith Youth Core, Better Together Day amplifies the power of interfaith cooperation as a tool for positive social transformation.

This year participants are encouraged to have a conversation with someone with a different moral and ethical belief system than their own as a means of breaking down barriers and combatting bias. Research shows that when people get to know someone different from them, their sentiments toward that entire group shift for the positive. Put simply: Our biases decrease when our encounters with “the other” increase. The event could not come at a more timely moment. The headlines of major newspapers over the past 12 months, from the killing of three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, N.C.,  to the rise of the #blacklivesmatter movement, show that there is much work to do in confronting bigotry and systemic oppression in our nation.

I experienced the transformative power of interfaith encounter and exchange firsthand in the fall of 2009. Fresh out of college, I took a 6-month position as community organizing fellow at a small food justice organization in Nashville, Tenn. My assignment was to support a new campaign designed to engage religious communities as advocates in food deserts — communities with little to no access to affordable, healthy food. New to the South and to the working world, I arrived my first day with a stomach full of butterflies and anxiety. A woman with dark curly hair and slight Southern drawl greeted me at the door and my nerves immediately subsided. Her name was Miriam, and in a few short months, she would change the course of my life.

Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Rand Paul speaking to Tea Party Express supporters in Austin, Texas, in 2012. Photo via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / RNS

Sen. Randal Howard “Rand” Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, is expected to launch his 2016 campaign on April 7. Here are five facts about the faith background of this libertarian candidate:

  1. Paul, 52, was baptized an Episcopalian. It didn’t stick. He attended Baylor University, a Baptist school in Texas, then Duke University. He now attends a Presbyterian church. In this, he is like most Americans — all over the map in terms of his religious affiliation.
     
  2. At Baylor, Paul joined the NoZe Brotherhood, a secret and controversial society that routinely skewers the school’s Baptist roots and other aspects of undergraduate life. His association with the group came back to bite him in his initial run for the Senate after GQ magazine ran a story claiming NoZe was dedicated to “blasphemy,” and Paul, while high as a kite, helped kidnap a coed and forced her to pray to “Aqua Buddha,” a made-up water idol. Paul threatened to sue the magazine.
04-06-2015
Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Students attend class at the Catholic University of Lyon. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Sunlight slants across a classroom at the Catholic University of Lyon, where the Bible dominates an evening lecture.

The subject may not seem surprising in this ancient city that was once a bastion of French Catholicism and a hub for Christian missionaries. But the dozen or so people jotting notes are not theology students.

One young woman wears a headscarf. A man sports the beard of a devout Muslim. Still others are non-Muslim civil servants working for the local government.

All are enrolled in a program on the French concept of secularism and religious tolerance that is jointly run by two Lyon universities and the city’s Grand Mosque. They’re the unlikely foot soldiers of a national campaign for “Islam a la Francaise.”

The drive has taken on new urgency since January’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the departure of hundreds of French youths to join jihadist movements in the Middle East.

The country’s leftist government has responded with a raft of new measures to fight homegrown extremism.

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