Indiana Gov. Mike Pence defended his state’s new religious freedom law March 29 while refusing to say if it would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians.
Facing a rising tide of criticism and business boycotts against his state, Pence said he would consider a second law that “amplifies and clarifies” the first one but added, “We’re not going to change the law.”
“We have suffered under this avalanche for the last several days of condemnation, and it’s completely baseless,” Pence said on ABC’s This Week.
“This isn’t about disputes between individuals. It’s about government overreach. I’m working hard to clarify this. We’re reaching out to business leaders.”
The law Pence signed Thursday prohibits state or local governments from substantially burdening a person’s ability to exercise their religion — unless the government can show that it has a compelling interest and that the action is the least restrictive way to achieve it. It takes effect July 1.
On March 28, thousands of people gathered in downtown Indianapolis to protest the law that critics say could allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. And business leaders have balked, led by Indianapolis-based Angie’s List, which put off a planned $40 million expansion.
The governor’s effort to quell the firestorm over the state’s religious freedom restoration act did little to mollify gay rights organizations convinced that the law would allow businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians.
“Governor Pence’s calls for a clarification of this destructive bill are phony unless the legislation guarantees explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers and includes a clear civil rights carve-out,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said on ABC that the law “appears to legitimize discrimination” despite Pence’s claims that it is modeled after laws signed by President Clinton at the federal level in 1993 and supported by then-state senator Barack Obama in Illinois.
“If you have to go back two decades to try to justify something you are doing today, it may raise some questions about the wisdom of what you’re doing,” Earnest said.
“Governor Pence is in damage control mode this morning, and he’s got some damage to fix.”
Among Christians who practice Lent, the Holy Week timeline is a time for reflection on the practices of Jesus in his last days prior to his death. Reflecting on Holy Week can be a spiritual practice to consider the place of those practices in our own lives. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus followed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday by taking time on Monday during that week to publically drive out and speak against temple-based financial exploitation.
The cleansing of the Temple is documented in all four gospels. Three place it during Holy Week. Scholars have written that this event occurred in the area of the Temple known as “Solomon’s Porch,” which was open to Jewish and Gentile worshippers alike. It was a marketplace for the purchase of items needed for worship — pilgrims attending Passover celebration, unfamiliar with Jerusalem, may have purchased sacrificial animals at a higher price than elsewhere in the city. Poorer individuals, unable to afford a lamb, may have purchased overpriced sacrificial doves. Foreign currency, forbidden inside the Temple, could be exchanged, for a fee, for local currency to pay the annual Temple tax.
It has been argued that the High Priest may have received a percentage of the profit from the money changers and merchants, so their removal from the Temple would have caused a financial loss to those in power. It has been argued that the noisy marketplace atmosphere may have been disruptive to the atmosphere of worship. The text is unclear about the exact nature of the sin. However, it is clear that when Jesus saw the market, he became angry and turned over tables, driving out those exploiting the people and publicly calling them “robbers.”
Whatever the exact nature of the financial sin was that was occurring in the Temple at the time, the text in Mark suggests that after this act of clearing the Temple, those in power began to earnestly plot Jesus’ arrest and death. Jesus’ opposition to the money changers was directly related to his arrest and crucifixion later in the same week.
While I would like to identify with Jesus in this story, I realize I am more often in the position of the watching crowd. Or am I the merchant, lining my own pockets with the misfortune of others and making profits or receiving benefits from practices that exploit?
Though the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has made Indianapolis its headquarters for nearly a century, the denomination is considering pulling its next biennial convention out of Indiana over a new state law that allows businesses to turn away gay customers.
Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on March 26, the day after receiving a letter from church leaders pleading with him to veto it and threatening to move their 2017 General Assembly outside the state.
The bill protects business owners who invoke their religious beliefs to deny service to LGBT customers. A photographer, for example, may refuse to take pictures of a lesbian wedding on the grounds that his faith rejects gay marriage.
“Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find RFRA contrary to the values of our faith — as well as to our national and Hoosier values,” stated the letter, which was signed by Sharon E. Watkins, the church’s general minister and president, as well as the leaders of its overseas and domestic missions.
“As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow — one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all.”
The General Assembly will bring more than 6,000 church members to whatever U.S. city the church decides upon and is expected to generate about $5 million in tourism dollars. After Pence signed the law, ministry leaders said they are weighing the costs of moving not only the General Assembly, but smaller meetings — such as the more frequent gatherings of the 125-member board of directors — which most often meets in Indianapolis.
Associate General Minister and Vice President Todd Adams said the church’s board will decide whether to yank the General Assembly from Indianapolis at its next meeting, which begins on April 10.
Other businesses and conventions, including Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention, which brings an estimated $50 million to the state each year, have also threatened to find another place to hold their events.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris asked a state court March 25 for an order allowing her to avoid processing a citizen-proposed anti-gay ballot measure that calls for executing gays with “bullets to the head.”
Harris said the so-called “Sodomite Suppression Act” proposed and named by Huntington Beach attorney Matthew McLaughlin “not only threatens public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible and has no place in a civil society.”
She filed an action asking the court for declaratory relief and judicial authorization allowing her to avoid issuing a title and summary for the proposal. An official state title and summary are necessary steps in authorizing a ballot initiative’s sponsors to seek the signatures needed to be placed before voters.
Without the court order, Harris said she would be compelled by law to proceed with the measure, which would authorize the killing of gays and lesbians in the state.
Is anti-Semitism rising on U.S. college campuses?
According to most statistics, yes — but the phenomenon is far more complicated than it first appears, primarily because everyone oversimplifies it.
The data, and the anecdotes, are shocking. In a study conducted in spring 2014 (notably, before the Israel/Gaza conflagrations of last summer), 54 percent of Jewish students said they had personally witnessed or experienced an anti-Semitic incident. And in just the last two months, swastikas have been painted on walls at the University of California’s Berkeley and Davis campuses and at New York’s John Jay College.
But what do these incidents mean? There is a great reluctance even to engage with the question.
Among liberals, even though it is obvious that many of these incidents are motivated in part by Israel/Palestine politics, no one wants to give hatred a pass. A swastika is a swastika, graffiti is graffiti, and collective guilt — in this case, blaming all Jews for specific actions of Israel — is always wrong.
Conservatives, meanwhile, routinely conflate anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech. The far-right David Horowitz Freedom Center, for example, recently released its list of the American college campuses with the “worst anti-Semitic activity.” But many of those activities were protests of Israel. Extreme, perhaps, and unfair; but not really the same as anti-Semitism.
The fact is, the borders of anti-Semitism are permeable. Human speech does not divide neatly into “hate speech” and “political speech.” Thus, if we are to avoid the over-generalizations, we must be more rigorous in our definitions of the phenomenon or we risk diluting the evil of anti-Semitism itself.
In fact, a swastika is not just a swastika. Consider an anti-Israel protest that depicts an Israeli flag with a swastika on it. Offensive, to be sure. But what is it saying? It’s saying that Nazis are bad, and that the Israeli government is Nazi-like.
Now consider an anti-Semitic incident in which someone sprays a swastika on a synagogue door. Also grossly offensive, to say the least. But it is saying something very different. It is saying that Nazis are good, and we should finish the work they started.
The same symbol thus has two nearly opposite meanings.
In Cafe Elfenbein, which opened last year in a trendy Berlin neighborhood, two businessmen wearing yarmulkes — Jewish skullcaps — chat away.
The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and homemade rugelach pastry fills the shop, where a rabbi has certified that all its food is kosher.
The hip addition to the city points to a trend obscured by rising anti-Semitism and terror attacks in France and Denmark that have alienated Jews. In central and Eastern Europe, Jewish life is thriving.
One major reason is that a young and more confident generation is shaping a new Jewish identity.
“Jewish life is flourishing in Berlin and the rest of the country,” said Jutta Wagemann, spokeswoman for the Central Council of Jews in Germany.
The Jewish community in Germany remains small, about 200,000 out of 80 million people. It has grown significantly from its postwar population of 37,000 in 1950 because of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The community is putting its stamp these days on the country’s cultural landscape.
In the East German city of Cottbus, an area known for right-wing extremists, a disused church was recently turned into a synagogue, providing space for the 460 members of the Jewish-Russian community.
The former president of Bob Jones University, one of the nation’s bastions of Christian fundamentalism, has apologized for comments he made in 1980 that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death.
Jones, who stepped down as BJU president in 2005, made the original remarks while visiting Jimmy Carter’s White House, delivering a petition with 70,000 signatures opposing greater legal protections for gays and lesbians.
“I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted,” Jones said at the time.
“But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.”
In a statement issued by the university on March 21, Jones called his earlier comments “inflammatory” and “reckless.”
“Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached,” he wrote.
“I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners.”
For the past 20 years or so, adoption has grown to become a staple of much of Christian culture in America. So much so that one could actually argue that adoption has become trendy within evangelical circles. As I’ve said before, if something were to become trendy, I’m glad that helping kids in need is one of them — though the trendiness of adoption has certainly led to some negative outcomes as well. While I won’t get into all of the aspects where adoption culture has gone wrong — that could take a series of posts — I do want to address what I feel is the most critical oversight we have made, and how we begin to fix it.
Orphan care is critical to the life of a Christian whether one is called to adopt (and trust me, not everyone is called to adopt — it’s not all rainbows and sunshine kisses). Caring for orphans is something we see consistently expressed in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, James goes as far as saying that caring for widows and orphans is the only religion that God finds acceptable. While Christian culture for the past few decades has certainly taken that calling seriously, I think it is time for adoption culture to shift its focus in order to take the issue more seriously and to more effectively address the real issue at hand.
How did we miss the most important aspect of orphan care? This stems from a misunderstanding and misdiagnosis of the problem. Much of adoption culture has been led to believe that there is an orphan crisis in the world today with somewhere around 153 million children being orphaned. On the surface, this number of 153 million (provided by UNICEF) understandably leads one to believe that tonight there will be 153 million children who will go without the loving embrace of their parents. It’s a number so staggering that one can easily understand why culture mobilized and began adopting these children at rapid pace.