Faith and Politics
A host of governors, CEOs, and church leaders call Indiana’s new religious freedom law a backdoor opening to anti-gay discrimination, but Americans appear more divided on whether a wedding-related business should have the right to turn away a gay customer.
The law, which critics say would allow owners of small businesses to invoke their faith to refuse service to LGBT customers, applies most apparently to wedding vendors — bakers, photographers, and florists, for example — who cite their faith in opposing same-sex marriage.
Where is the American public on this debate? It depends on how the question is asked.
A February Associated Press poll found that 57 percent of Americans believe a wedding-related business should have the right to refuse service to a gay couple on religious grounds, as opposed to nearly 4 in 10 Americans (39 percent) who said that religious exemption — which Indiana’s new law explicitly allows — is wrong.
1. At Least 10 Religious Groups Have Come Out Against Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Laws
"While substantial attention has been paid to the lawmakers, athletes, businesses, and celebrities who have challenged the new laws, less has been said about the steady flow of criticism from the exact group these RFRAs are ostensibly designed to protect: people of faith."
2. Stress and Hope in Tehran
On Thursday, the U.S. and Iran along with five world powers reached a preliminary deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and address sanctions imposed upon the country. The New York Times offers this glimpse into what those sanctions mean for ordinary Iranians.
3. Outcry Over RFRA Might Be a Fear of Christians
"The outcry isn’t about the law, it’s about us. It’s a fear that we will discriminate. And it is a fear based on a history that, whether we like it or not, is ours. We have, in no shortage of ways, broken relationships with the LGBTQ community. We have expelled our sons and daughters. We have protested them. We blamed them for the ills of society like a scapegoat. And no matter what we believe about same-sex marriage, that is wrong. Because of that, restoring relationship and trust with the LGBTQ community is on us."
4. Why I Won't Wear White on My Wedding Day
"As far as we have come, and as removed from these traditions’ origins as we may be, we are still attached to these remnants of a woman’s worth and identity being grounded in her sexual activity, importantly solely for the purposes of her pleasing a man."
Indiana Republican legislative leaders, under growing pressure from inside and outside the state, said April 2 that lawmakers had reached agreement to amend Indiana’s controversial “religious freedom” law to ensure it does not discriminate against gay and lesbian customers of Indiana businesses.
A northern Nigeria Muslim leader who promised to pursue a nonreligious agenda as president will now have to deal with an Islamic terrorist insurgency that has wreaked chaos in the country’s north.
Muhammadu Buhari, 72, a former military ruler and a Muslim, beat incumbent Goodluck Jonathan, 57, a Christian from the country’s south, in a race held under the shadow of Boko Haram violence.
Not all Nigerians are happy with Buhari’s election, given his past human-rights record as president from January 1984 to August 1985. During that time, he imprisoned journalists and opposition activists without trial and executed drug traffickers by firing squad.
But Nigerians, both Christian and Muslim, hope he is better-suited to battle Boko Haram, despite being a Muslim himself.
When The Bible miniseries premiered two years ago, controversy swirled around its depiction of a dark-skinned Satan who some said resembled President Obama, as well as its portrayal of white main characters in the Moroccan landscape.
Fast-forward to the premiere of the sequel, A.D. The Bible Continues, on Easter Sunday (April 5), and you’ll see a decidedly more multicultural cast, the result of “honest” conversations between black church leaders and the filmmakers, Hollywood power couple Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
“For too long religious programming has neither reflected the look of biblical times or the diversity of the church today,” tweeted the Rev. Barbara Williams-Skinner, a Maryland-based black activist, writer and scholar.
“We made this point to Mark and Roma after
#BibleSeries, and quite frankly they listened. I’m glad for that.”
Now, in a partnership with the 12-part NBC miniseries, an African-American Christian publishing house will host online resources to help viewers connect the holy book to Africa.
A new report by the Equal Justice Initiative documents in horrific detail the nation’s widespread practice of lynching and points to a link between lynching and a practice that persists today: capital punishment.
In the Jim Crow South, lynching declined as officials turned to executions as an alternative method for killing blacks in disproportionate numbers.
This report challenges us to confront our nation’s legacy of racial violence. Sadly, too many Christians were complicit in this violence, which has prompted Christian denominations to apologize and emphasize racial reconciliation. Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention held a two-day race summit in which it urged pastors to do more to diversify their churches.
These are important steps.
But they only mark time if important actions don’t follow.
Congregations in New York City that rent space in public schools will be able to hold Easter services this Sunday despite a ruling on March 30 by the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting an appeal from an evangelical church in the Bronx that sought to overturn a ban on after-hours worship services at public schools.
A spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio also said that the mayor would work to ensure that houses of worship could continue to rent space like any other group.
“Now that litigation has concluded, the city will develop rules of the road that respect the rights of both religious groups and nonparticipants,” Wiley Norvell said in response to the ruling.
“While we review and revise the rules, groups currently permitted to use schools for worship will continue to be able to worship on school premises.”
Pastor Robert Hall of the Bronx Household of Faith, which was the plaintiff in the case, said he was cautiously optimistic after the administration’s response.
“We are gratified that he is allowing the churches to stay,” Hall told The New York Times.
Harvard professor Robert Putnam jokingly calls himself “a nice Jewish formerly Methodist boy.”
But the public policy expert’s new book, Our Kids, reads more like a tent meeting revival, complete with an “altar call” at the end. His private meetings and public appearances at the White House and Capitol Hill, and meetings with civic and faith leaders across the country, carry the same fervor.
While evangelists convict people of their sinful ways and then convert them to the path of salvation for the hereafter, Putnam’s focus is more on this side of heaven.
His goal: to awaken and inspire Americans to “save” young people from a future trapped in a spiral of fractured families, poor schooling, and a grim economic future that Putnam says will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. Trillions.
He is not only aiming for political, social, and religious elites. He’s also aiming at the everyday reader from Boston to Dubuque with a message that failure to act will “undermine democracy and political stability for all.” That’s why the book is subtitled, “The American Dream in Crisis.”
“I’m writing for ordinary people, not the political class. I’m holding up a mirror of American society to the ‘haves’ to say ‘look what we’ve become,’” he said.
In the wake of tragic shootings of unarmed black men at the hands of vigilantes and white police officers, many institutions across American society, from the president on down, have sought to foster “national conversations” about race.
Perhaps surprisingly, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention is sponsoring one of the most important and fruitful such conversations. The SBC’s public policy arm, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, has hosted a summit on racial reconciliation last week in Nashville, Tenn.
Founded in 1845 in a split over slavery, the SBC has made laudable efforts to overcome its racist past. Some moderate and liberal Southern Baptist leaders prophetically denounced racism and supported the civil rights movement, but those very leaders were forced out of the denomination during a period of conservative resurgence in the 1980s. Today’s SBC leaders are in the tenuous position of saying that moderates were right about race but wrong about everything else.
Southern Baptist leaders are determined to challenge the lingering indifferent or crude attitudes on race where they still exist among the denomination’s mostly white, mostly Southern constituency.
Charged with carrying out the SBC’s political priorities, the ERLC is best known for its advocacy for religious freedom and against abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet in the wake of unrest over last year’s deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., the ERLC hastened its plans to hold a summit on race.
The Nashville event drew more than 500 clergy, lay leaders, and seminarians from across Southern Baptist life. Thousands more watched a live stream online. The speaker lineup was male-dominated but was decidedly mixed race. The ERLC was much more eager to hear from ethnic minorities at this summit than it was to hear from gay people at its fall conference on homosexuality.
While the sexuality conference projected certainty and unanimity — acceptance of homosexual expression is inconsistent with Christianity and will not be tolerated in Southern Baptist churches — white Baptists came to their race summit with genuine humility and a spirit of repentance for the harm racism has caused.
Dean Inserra, lead pastor of City Church in Tallahassee, Fla., challenged the audience: “When you say a school or neighborhood has ‘gone downhill,’ what are you saying?”
Conceding his own need for greater empathy, Inserra recalled asking a black clergy colleague to help him understand how police violence affects black communities.
As Saudi Arabia and Egypt say they’re prepared to send in ground troops, here’s a look at how Yemen got to this point.
2. God and Jeb
“[Jeb] Bush wants Christian conservatives to pay attention to what he's done, not just to what he says. But in a Republican presidential primary, can actions — much less actions more than a decade in the past — actually speak louder than words? Can quiet faith, and quiet support from some religious leaders, carry the day against a field full of outspoken Christian warriors?”
“Jesus says ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’ Jesus does not say, ‘If another member of the church sins against millions, and hundreds of thousands begin to follow his lead on the issue, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.’”
And it might not be the barriers you would think. “Only about one-in-five say women’s family responsibilities are a major reason there aren’t more females in top leadership positions in business and politics. Instead, topping the list of reasons, about four-in-ten Americans point to a double standard for women seeking to climb to the highest levels of either politics or business, where they have to do more than their male counterparts to prove themselves. Similar shares say the electorate and corporate America are just not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.”
Someone recently asked me how I answer critics of the Open Letter to Franklin Graham that I co-authored last week. The points of particular interest were these:
1. In the spirit of Matthew 18, how do you justify writing an open letter to Graham without first going to him and speaking with him in private?
2. Your letter seems to advocate disobedience to the police. Is that what you’re saying?
Great questions! They’re especially relevant as we close the season of Lent and look forward toward Holy Week. For it is Holy Week when Jesus himself had the most interaction with the earthly authorities of his day.
The first line of the first paragraph of our letter explained that we write in the spirit of Matthew 18 in order to reconcile. Our intent in that was not to bash Dr. Graham; it was to make him aware of the need for reconciliation.
But why didn’t you go to Graham privately first, some have asked.
Notice the actual language of Matthew 18. Jesus says “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”
Jesus does not say, “If another member of the church sins against millions, and hundreds of thousands begin to follow his lead on the issue, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”
This is a very important point. There is a difference between sin that affects one person and the sin of a leader that has potential to oppress and lead the church astray.
In Galatians 2:11-17, Paul publicly confronts Peter when his sin threatens to harm the whole church.
President Obama will welcome Pope Francis to the White House during the pontiff’s U.S. visit in September to “continue the dialogue … on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said March 26.
The meeting with the president and first lady will take place on Sept. 23, apparently near the start of a visit — the first to the U.S. by the Argentine pope — that will take Francis from the U.S. Capitol to New York and the United Nations and will conclude with a huge outdoor Mass in Philadelphia.
“During the visit, the President and the Pope will continue the dialogue, which they began during the President’s visit to the Vatican in March 2014, on their shared values and commitments on a wide range of issues,” Earnest said in a statement.
Those issues, he said, include “caring for the marginalized and the poor; advancing economic opportunity for all; serving as good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities.”
On the first night of Passover, Jews ask aloud, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
For a group of 150-plus women gathered March 22 at Congregation Beth El north of Washington, D.C., that traditional question was followed by an alternative: “Why is this seder different from other seders?”
Answer: “At other seders, men traditionally lead the service. At this seder, women are the leaders.”
Women’s seders are not new. The women who gathered at Beth El on Sunday, 12 days before the holiday begins on April 3, have been at it for 19 years. These seders began in or near cities with substantial Jewish populations about a generation ago, when fewer women played leading roles in synagogues and other institutions of Jewish life.
Today, women in the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist movements of Judaism in the U.S., which account for about 90 percent of synagogue-affiliated Jews, lead congregations as rabbis, cantors, and synagogue presidents.
Still, women’s seders proliferate, and each year, their guest lists grow.
Under the shadow of Boko Haram violence, Nigerians head to the polls March 28 to elect a president and a deputy in a vote observers say is critical for the country’s stability and economic progress.
In a twist that might have been difficult to predict, many Christians in Nigeria’s north are backing a Muslim candidate to lead their country away from the brink of violence and chaos.
Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim from the north and the leader of the All Progressives Congress party, is challenging the leadership of incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian from the south who heads the ruling People’s Democratic Party.
Some Nigerians fear that another term for Jonathan would mean institutionalization of corruption and emergence of more Muslim extremist groups in addition to Boko Haram.
And they are willing to pin their hopes on a Muslim candidate.
Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to declare a presidential run for 2016. His formal announcement came yesterday at Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.
Cruz’s announcement at Liberty University was an important political strategy. Cruz is the poster child of the Tea Party movement. He wants to spread his influence by appealing to evangelicals. There is no better place to garner the evangelical vote than the largest Christian university on the planet.
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post says that Cruz’s message at Liberty was essentially this, “I am one of you; I will put my religious faith at the center of this campaign.”
Cruz put his religious faith at the center of his campaign by invoking God and American exceptionalism, while at the same time critiquing Democrats and Obamacare. Liberty students cheered as Cruz passionately claimed, “God bless Liberty University ... God’s blessing has been on America from the very beginning of this nation, and I believe God isn’t done with America yet. I believe in you. I believe in the power of millions of courageous conservatives rising up to re-ignite the promise of America.”
Cruz is the first serious candidate to officially throw his hat in the presidential ring. Because he quickly invoked God, it’s a safe bet that future Republican and Democratic candidates will also invoke the blessings of God the Almighty.
So, let’s talk God and politics.
When Pope Francis pays a visit to Naples March 21 he will have lunch with some 90 inmates at a local prison, a contingent that will reportedly include 10 from a section reserved for gay and transgendered prisoners, and those infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
The stopover at the Giuseppe Salvia Detention Center in Poggioreale, near Naples, was originally not scheduled to include lunch, according to a report from Tv2000, an Italian television network operated by the country’s Catholic bishops.
But the pope insisted on the meal, which will be prepared by the prisoners, some of whom will come from two other detention centers. The 90 were chosen by lottery from among 1,900 inmates, according to the Vatican Insider website .
Among the many innovations Francis has made since his election two years ago this month has been a new tone and approach to gay and transgender people.
Rabbi Ruth Bader Ginsburg?
Not quite, but when a Jewish nonprofit asked the Supreme Court justice to write a biblical commentary for Passover, she agreed, and added a feminist twist: It would raise up the often overlooked women of the Exodus story.
Ginsburg, one of three Jews and three women on the high court, is known as a champion of women’s rights — but not for being particularly religious.
But Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, whom Ginsburg asked to help out with the commentary, said Ginsburg had a clear vision for the piece and knew exactly which biblical women she wanted to highlight from the iconic liberation story of the Book of Exodus.
“She has a Jewish soul, there is no question,” Holtzblatt, a rabbi at Adas Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Washington, D.C., said of Ginsburg.
“It’s in her. It’s deeply in her.”
Pardon the yawn.
The 1.8 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) on March 17 voted to officially approve of same-sex marriage, an announcement that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the mainline Protestant denomination’s trajectory. Perhaps a more substantial but less widely reported story was the decision by City Church, San Francisco’s largest evangelical congregation, to affirm LGBT couples.
Evangelicals are among the most stalwart opponents to LGBT marriage, but a number of evangelical congregations have publicly shifted their stance in the last year. Among them are Seattle’s Eastlake Community Church, Nashville’s GracePointe Church, Portland’s Christ Church, and New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif. Other prominent evangelical pastors tell me off the record that they are in the midst of similar conversations.
Churches aren’t the only evangelical factions inching left on matters of sexuality.