Katherine Burgess 09-25-2013

Rev. Kathryn Johnson performs a wedding ceremony between David Shumate and Andy Ragland. Photo: RNS/Andy Oliver/Kathryn Johnson

Facing a wave of open defiance to church law, the top court of the United Methodist Church is set to consider rulings challenging church teaching on homosexuality.

The United Methodist Judicial Council will decide whether church ministries can advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality, whether ministers can officiate at same-sex ceremonies, and whether a regional conference can urge members to ignore portions of Methodist law.

The rulings made by regional conferences are among 17 items the court will consider at its Oct. 23-26 meeting in Baltimore.

Air Force Capt. Mike Carey, a chaplain at Scott Air Force Base in Ill. RNS photo by Robert Cohen/The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Catholic military chaplains cannot be forced to witness or bless a same-sex marriage, nor are they allowed to take part in any marriage counseling retreats that are open to gay couples under new rules issued by the Archdiocese for the Military Services.

The rules, sent to chaplains on Sept. 18 by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, head of the AMS, also bar chaplains from taking part in a funeral for a Catholic if that participation “would give the impression that the church approves of same sex ‘marital’ relationships.”

But the new rules also set out conditions that would allow Catholic military commanders to comply, without violating their beliefs, with rules giving same-sex couples under their command federal employee benefits as required by law.

Alison Kirkpatrick 09-23-2013
Pope Francis, by Catholic Church (England and Wales) / Flickr.com

Pope Francis, by Catholic Church (England and Wales) / Flickr.com

Like most of the world last spring, I watched in fascination as Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope. The first day, I was non-plussed. Another old, white guy? Big surprise. The second day, I began to take notice: he was a Jesuit and he chose the name Francis, the first pope ever to do so. The third day, I got a little discouraged as Catholic pundits and news organizations across the nation scrambled to prop up his conservative credentials and hardline stances. But as the week unfolded, I heard the stories of how he paid his own bills, carried his own bags, and rode in a modest sedan across town and my heart melted a little bit. Then came his ordination, and in one simple gesture, stopping to cradle a disabled man in his arms, he captured my imagination. I was willing to entertain the possibility that he just might be a different kind of pope.

Bob Bettson 09-20-2013

Archbishops and bishops after the Anglican Back to the Future Conference in Toronto on Wednesday. RNS photo by Bob Bettson.

Primates and bishops from the Global South attending a gathering in Toronto, said current proposals for a new Anglican Communion covenant don’t go far enough to heal the conflict in the communion over homosexuality.

The Wednesday gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Anglican Congress, suggested the worldwide Anglican Communion faces troubled waters. Anglicans from the Global South prepare to meet for their second Global Anglican Future Conference next month and the Toronto meeting showed no signs of reconciliation.

Archbishop Ian Ernest, primate of the province of the Indian Ocean, said decisions by the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada on issues involving homosexuality have torn the fabric of communion.

Desmond Tutu at Clowes Hall, Butler University. Photo via RNS/Butler University

Retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against apartheid in South Africa, continues to speak around the globe on justice and peace. Butler University and neighboring Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis announced Thursday that they would name a center for the 81-year-old icon.

Just before the announcement of the new center, Tutu spoke with Religion News Service about faith and justice, Israel and Palestine and Pope Francis’ recent selfie and lifestyle choices. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

Pope Francis waves to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square in March. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Of all the novelties that Pope Francis has brought to the Vatican, few have endeared him to the public — and unsettled his aides — as much as his penchant for picking up the phone and calling someone out of the blue.

The pontiff with the pastor’s touch has phoned his cobbler in Argentina to inquire about a shoe repair, called to cancel his newspaper subscription, and phoned a woman who was raped by a local police officer to counsel her.

Just this week, Francis phoned a pregnant Italian woman whose fiancé had pushed her to have an abortion.

Anna Romano instead dumped the guy, wrote to the pope about her problems, and on Sept. 3 received a surprise call from the Holy Father, who offered encouragement and even said he would baptize the baby if she couldn’t find a willing priest.

Christian Piatt 08-01-2013
Painting of Pope Francis by faithmouse / Flickr.com

Painting of Pope Francis by faithmouse / Flickr.com, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dan_lacey_pancakes/

Pope Francis quickly is establishing himself as the “peoples’ Pope.” He has actively advocated for the poor, downplayed his elevated status, and speaks in colloquial terms that make him seem that much more human. He has left open the possibility that non-Catholics, non-Christians, and even atheists may fall within the vast embrace of a radically loving and merciful God. And now, he’s even made what many consider at least a benign – if not affirming – statement about homosexuality.

Historically, popes have toed an ideological line, asserting that homosexuality is inherently evil, and that all gay people are fundamentally disordered. In an expression of sincere humility, political savvy, or perhaps some combination of both, Francis took a more compassionate position, adding at the end of his comments, "who am I to judge?"

Welcome to the 20th century, Catholic Church.

Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome July 29. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

With his open and easygoing manner, Pope Francis charmed the media as much as the faithful during his successful visit to Brazil, the first international pilgrimage of his pontificate.

But it was the pope’s remarks about gay priests, made during a free-wheeling press conference on the return trip to Rome, that drew the most headlines, raising questions about whether the pontiff was signaling a change in the church’s approach to this volatile issue.

When asked by reporters about rumors of a “gay lobby” of clergy in the Vatican who were exposing the Holy See to blackmail schemes and scandal, Francis at first joked that while there’s a lot of talk about such a lobby, “I have yet to find on a Vatican identity card the word ‘gay.’”

Then, in a more serious vein, he added:

“I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good. … If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge that person?”

QR Blog Editor 07-29-2013

Pope Francis announced Monday in an airborne news conference that he’s ‘not one to judge’ the sexual orientation of Catholic priests. On his journey home from Brazil, Pope Francis declared open-mindedness by sharing his support on behalf of the gay community. The Washington Post reports:

 “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.

Read more here.


Nancy K. Kaufman 07-18-2013
Photo courtesy Andrii Chetvertak/ Shutterstock.com.

Door with the "do not enter" sign. Photo courtesy Andrii Chetvertak/ Shutterstock.com.

In Vermont, a country inn declined to provide a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage. In Hawaii, the owner of a bed and breakfast refused a double room to a lesbian couple. Both said providing service would violate their religious faith.

More recently, a federal appeals court judge ruled that the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain may have the right, based on their religious beliefs, to refuse to include contraceptive coverage as part of employees’ health insurance plans. For some time now, pharmacists have asserted — and in many states won — the right to refuse to provide contraception based on religious grounds.

Refusal to serve — and using religion to discriminate — isn’t new. In the mid-1960s, Lester Maddox claimed biblical justification for his refusal to serve blacks at his Atlanta restaurant, which he famously defended with ax handles in his campaign to become Georgia’s governor. Throughout the 19th century, women were refused entry to taverns, professions, and, really, to anything a proprietor decided to exclude them from. The second-class status of women was often, if not always, justified by biblical text.

Photo courtesy RNS.

Cardinal John Njue addresses journalists at a news conference in Nairobi on June 29. Photo courtesy RNS.

Religious leaders in Africa strongly rebuked President Obama’s call to decriminalize homosexuality, suggesting it’s the reason why he received a less-than-warm welcome during a recent trip to the continent.

In a news conference in Senegal during his three-nation tour, just as the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on same-sex marriage, Obama said African nations must grant equal protection to all people regardless of their sexual orientation.

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally,” Obama said. “And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

Kevin Eckstrom 06-26-2013
Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners

"Thank you" Paul and Jeff sign. DOMA and Prop 8 decisions at the Supreme Court. Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.

Sometimes a court opinion is more than just a court opinion.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 26-page decision Wednesday striking down a federal ban on same-sex marriages offers a window into Americans’ rapidly shifting views of same-sex relationships — a shift that increasingly relies on matters of law and fairness, not moral or religious views.

At the same time, Justice Antonin Scalia’s biting 26-page dissent in United States v. Windsor reflects a set of cultural, religious, and social arguments that are losing ground in the court of public opinion and now, in the highest court of the land.

Christian Piatt 06-21-2013
Alan Chambers, photo via alanchambers.org

Alan Chambers, photo via alanchambers.org

For more than a generation, the gay conversion organization known as Exodus International has been one of the most prominent Christian symbols of LGBT intolerance. They have practiced what is commonly called “reparative therapy” to supposedly remove the urges of same-sex attraction from those who seek to become straight. I have personally written at great length about the damage done by such religiously fueled zealotry, but never in my lifetime did I anticipate that the leader of this infamous anti-gay organization would concede as much to the public in the form of a confession.

What’s more, at their 38th annual convention, Exodus International’s director, Alan Chambers, announced plans to close the organization and cease its mission for good. You can read Mr. Chambers’ full of apology HERE, as well as the formal closure announcement HERE.

I’m not prone to emotional hyperbole, but I read these announcements and confessions with a nearly overwhelming admixture of shock, disbelief, compassion, and hope.  I also try not to fill my blog posts with too much content from other sources, but this is one of those occasions when the original source material should be seen without adaptation. Following are several excerpts for Mr. Chambers’ open apology to the public, along with my thoughts:

Kevin Zolkiewicz / Flickr.com

Protestors gather outside the 2009 Exodus International convention at Wheaton College, Kevin Zolkiewicz / Flickr.com

Exodus International, a group that bills itself as “the oldest and largest Christian ministry dealing with faith and homosexuality,” announced late Wednesday that it’s shutting its doors.

Exodus’s board unanimously agreed to close the ministry and begin a separate one, though details about the new ministry were unavailable at the time of the organization’s press release.

The announcement came just after Exodus president Alan Chambers released a statement apologizing to the gay community for many actions, including the organization’s promotion of efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Bob Smietana 06-04-2013

Boy Scouts of America uniform and flag. Photo courtesy RNS/Shutterstock.

For the Rev. Ernest Easley, the decision to cut ties with the Boy Scouts was simple.

The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. The Boy Scouts do not.

“We are not willing to compromise God’s word,” said Easley, pastor of the 2,300-member Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga., which has sponsored Boy Scout Troop 204 since 1945.

Tim Townsend 05-29-2013

Rev. Gary Meier re-published his book on being gay in the Catholic church last week. Aleksey Klints/shutterstock.com

On the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the Rev. Gary Meier addressed a congregation of sorts — people who wanted to hear what the Roman Catholic priest had been thinking since, nearly a year ago, he last stood before a flock.

That was last June, when Meier told his parishioners at Saints Teresa and Bridget Church in north St. Louis that he would take a leave of absence “to discern what ministry God was calling me to do.”

Meier, 49, had told his archbishop that he could no longer teach the Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality.

“I have tried over the years to reconcile my silence as a gay priest with that of the Church’s increasingly anti-gay stance. I have been unsuccessful,” Meier writes in his book “Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest.”

Kellie Kotraba 05-22-2013
Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen and Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FA

Religion News Service graphic by Tiffany McCallen and Kellie Kotraba/Columbia FAVS


Twenty years ago, a gay Mormon character stepped onstage for the first time. His name was Joe Pitt, and he was in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches.

Pitt lived in New York with a good reputation and a bad marriage to a woman addicted to Valium. As colleagues dealt with the devastation and uncertainty of AIDS — it was the 1980s — he grappled with openly acknowledging his sexuality. He was Mormon. And gay. And the two didn’t mix.

Before Pitt, there was a gay Mormon character in a novel: Brigham Anderson, in Allan Drury’s Advise and Consent, published in 1959. But words like “gay” and “homosexual” weren’t used; it was all innuendo.

Now, the scene has changed: Gay Mormon characters and themes have a growing role in theater and literature.

Mark Osler 05-22-2013
by Eric Austin / Flickr.com

Protestors gather during Minnesota's Senate marriage equality vote, by Eric Austin / Flickr.com

A tipping point has been reached, not only on the issue of marriage equality, but on the broader political force of bully Christianity, a pernicious brand of the faith that tells people who don't have conservative social and political views that they "aren't Christian." That model has now failed where it used to work reliably; Waterloo has been reached.

To be clear, not all of those who sought to protect traditional man-woman marriage were bullies. Many acted out of a principled and consistent sense of their own faith, and stayed away from defining the faith identity of others. I am fortunate that the same-sex marriage opponents I know best avoided that tactic and amid our disagreement never suggested that I was no longer a part of the diverse and complex body of Christians. 

Still, it is undeniable that many advocates for traditional marriage actively used the bullying tactic of asserting that there was only one "Christian" position on this issue, and that the Christian viewpoint rejected marriage equality. Unfortunately, their voices have too often been the loudest, and the ones to which the press is most attracted.  That tactic has now been exposed as something worse than unprincipled, politically: It has been shown to be ineffective in the public arena. 

Some will see this tipping point as a huge loss for Christianity, but it might instead be the faith's salvation. Bullying was always a terrible form of evangelism. 

Photo courtesy Calvinist Cadet Corps

Calvinist Cadet Corps participants from the Grand Rapids North Council. Photo courtesy Calvinist Cadet Corps

They have pledges. They have merit badges. And they may go camping.

But they’re not the Boy Scouts.

Across the country, there are decades-old religious alternatives with names like Pathfinders (Seventh-day Adventist), Royal Ambassadors (Southern Baptist), and Royal Rangers (Assemblies of God).

And as the Boy Scouts of America considers whether to change its membership policy to admit gay members (but continue its ban on gay leaders), some of these groups are fielding inquiries from people concerned about the action the BSA may take.

Lisa Schencker 04-08-2013

Just because the nation may change its laws to “tolerate legalized acts of immorality” does not make those acts any less spiritually damaging, senior Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer said on Saturday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ 183rd Annual General Conference.

“The permissiveness afforded by the weakening of the laws of the land to tolerate legalized acts of immorality,” Packer said, “does not reduce the serious spiritual consequences that result from the violation of God’s law of chastity.”

Packer, president of the Mormons’ Quorum of Twelve Apostles and next in line to take over the church’s reins, didn’t specifically mention gay marriage, but his comments came amid controversy on the issue nationwide and a significant swing in public and political opinion toward favoring such same-sex unions.