Human Rights

Debate Over Gays in St. Patrick’s Parades Roils Irish On Big Day

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan at the the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Ma

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan at the the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 2014.

St. Patrick’s Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year some of the faithful aren’t happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.

The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on March 15 after two LGBT groups — the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride — were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.

“The saint’s venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda,” said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.

The New York parade marches down Fifth Avenue on March 17, the saint’s feast day, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is facing renewed calls from conservative Catholics to step down as grand marshal because an openly LGBT group is taking part for the first time.

When it was first announced last September that an organization of LGBT employees at NBC — the network that broadcasts the popular event — would be marching, Dolan voiced support for the parade organizers and prayed “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

Critics ripped Dolan for his stance, and they ramped up their efforts as the day approached.

“Now there can be no doubt — Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal,” Matthew Hennessey wrote at the website of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic media outlet.

“(B)y personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair,” he concluded.

Prominent San Francisco Evangelical Church Drops Celibacy Requirement for LGBT Members

City Church San Francisco Worship Service at Sutter Campus. Photo via Steven Sta

City Church San Francisco Worship Service at Sutter Campus. Photo via Steven Starfas/RNS.

A prominent evangelical Christian church in San Francisco has announced it will no longer ask members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender to remain celibate.

“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” senior pastor Fred Harrell, Sr. and six board members of City Church, one of the largest members of the Reformed Church in America denomination, wrote to members in a letter emailed to members March 13.

The church, which claims about 1,000 attendees and meets at two San Francisco locations, has long welcomed LGBT persons to attend, but has required life-long celibacy of those LGBT persons seeking membership.

“Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community,” the letter states.

“‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

City Church’s action places it in the ranks of at least two other large, urban evangelical congregations that have reversed their policies requiring celibacy for gay members. In January, both Nashville’s GracePointe Church and Seattle’s EastLake Community Church reversed their celibacy policies.

The policy of many evangelical denominations and independent churches is that homosexuality is “incompatible” with the Bible and therefore cannot be tolerated among members, or the broader society.


Supreme Court Wrestles with Accommodating Religious Faith on the Job

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb 25. Image courtesy RNS.

Samantha Elauf outside of the Supreme Court on Feb 25. Image courtesy RNS.

Samantha Elauf was a teenager who loved clothes and applied to work in an Abercrombie & Fitch Kids store in her native Tulsa, Okla., in 2008. But Elauf, a Muslim, also happens to wear a headscarf. So she didn’t get the job.

No one — not even Abercrombie & Fitch — disputes that her hijab cost her the job offer. And the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, states that an employer can’t deny employment based on an worker’s religious practice, unless accommodating it would prove terribly burdensome.

At the time, Abercrombie had a “no hats” policy for its sales associates. When the U.S. Supreme Court heard Elauf’s case on Feb. 25, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summed up the religious exemption required of the company: “Title VII doesn’t require accommodating baseball caps, but it does require accommodating religious practice.”

So why did this case make it all the way to the Supreme Court?

Elauf, though she won in a federal district court in 2011, lost in a federal appeals court in 2013. At the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the company’s argument — that it shouldn’t have had to give a religious accommodation because Elauf never asked for one — found traction.

Do we really want companies delving into an applicant’s religious practice in order to determine whether the person might want an accommodation, Abercrombie lawyer Shay Dvoretzky asked the justices on Wednesday.

“This will inevitably lead employers to stereotype,” he said.

In Over My Spirit: Faithful Dissent on Full LGBTQ Inclusion

'In over my spirit.' Image courtesy Semmick Photo/

'In over my spirit.' Image courtesy Semmick Photo/

My heart breaks. My head hurts. My spirit is broken on the question of LGBTQ inclusion in Christ’s church. In many ways, I am in right place in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). We affirm the central role of friendship in our life together. We believe in the freedom to hold diverse theological views in the spirit of renewal. Yet, to draw from Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase, freedom has a dull ring for me on this topic. Not only have some in my church family questioned the right to hold a minority view on LGBTQ questions, they have questioned the spirit of dissent.

The faithful pursuit of deeper answers in conversation with Scripture generates enormous fear, and this fear is understandable. Talking about LGBTQ questions is divisive in the current climate. Many believe the church has clearly spoken on this topic. Those ecclesial groups who have engaged it have lost churches and people. Understandably, leaders want to avoid this kind of thing happening under their watch. Still, pastors and lay people are on the front lines of ministering with and to their LGBTQ members — some of whom are clearly gifted for ministry and should be working themselves as pastors.

I could cite stories of bullying, statistics on youth suicides, or examples of micro-aggressions directed at the LGBTQ community on a daily basis. The evangelical world knows this, however, and they still insist on debating the theology. So here is where I, as a Christian ethicist, underscore the importance of faithful dissent. Why? For starters, Jesus did it all the time, and yes, he drove a lot of people crazy. For reference, see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fact is, sometimes the majority view gets it wrong. We see it over and over throughout church history.

What does dissent look like? The ECC has a beautifully written report on biblical authority and Christian freedom that offers a set of reflections on the relationship between Scripture and the practice of theology. Five themes woven throughout this theological short and our archival documents offer helpful parameters for evangelicals discerning the parameters of faithful dissent. These five criteria offer up what I call “Best Practices for Faithful Dissent.”

Parking Spat as Motive for Triple Murder? N.C. Muslims Don’t Buy It

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Chris Keane / RNS

A woman places flowers near where three young Muslims were killed. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Chris Keane / RNS

Preliminary police reports describe a long-simmering dispute over parking as the motive for the killings of three Muslim students at a Chapel Hill condominium Feb. 10.

But many Muslims in the Raleigh-Durham community and beyond are not so sure. The triple murders in this usually harmonious university town immediately took on a larger narrative of hate crimes against Muslims and charges of atheists baiting Muslims.

On Wednesday, police charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill with three counts of first-degree murder.

They allege he shot Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh inside their condominium near the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.


VIDEO: Nashville Sit-Ins

In the 1960s Rev. Dr. Sam Dodson, a Methodist pastor in Nashville, Tenn., received pressure to stop his unpopular desegregation activism. He and many others who were a part of the ecumenical “clergy movement” were considered the black sheep of the Methodist church, facing resistance from their own congregations for their actions.

Read “The Cost of Discipleship” (Sojourners, March 2015) to learn more about Dodson and the clergy who supported civil rights in Nashville. Check out the video below to see what the black community and their supporters faced during the Nashville Marches.

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A History of (Non)Violence

I WALKED THROUGH the halls of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Ala.—slowly. Original documents lined the walls of the nation’s central memorial to the local actions that helped trigger the national mass movement for civil rights. To skim would have been a sacrilege. Each document was evidence. Evidence of struggle. Evidence that America’s apartheid happened. Evidence of a miracle.

The museum is like a labyrinth. Each room builds on the last, adding color and depth to a reality most of the nation has only experienced in the two-dimensional contours of sepia-toned documentary footage and pictures.

I entered the room with the kitchen table where Martin Luther King Jr. dropped to his knees and prayed, weeping, scared, and still holding onto the last vestiges of his personal dream for a middle-class preacher’s life. For my tour group, the room was about that table, but the documents lining the walls like wallpaper caught my eye.

One stood out. It was a full-page newspaper ad with a letter from the White Citizens’ Council of Montgomery to the blacks of Montgomery. The letter pleaded with the black citizens to “stop their violent attack on their city.”

The first time I read “Stop this violence,” I was befuddled. What violence?

I scanned my memory for any trace of violence in the Montgomery bus boycott by the blacks who engaged in economic protest, refusing a public service that proclaimed and enforced a spiritual lie: Blacks are less than human. They had dropped one too many coins into the slot only to have to give up their seat to a white person if the bus was too full. The blacks of Montgomery refused to comply any longer with their society’s sin. They couldn’t continue taking up the public shovel to heap another pile of dirt on the carcass of their deadened dignity. So they walked.

And weeks into walking, the White Citizens’ Council called their protest “violent.”

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The Cost of Discipleship

BORDERED BY strip malls, chain restaurants, and drug stores, four-lane Hillsboro Pike in Nashville, Tenn., carries cars from the Vanderbilt University area out to suburban neighborhoods. Every afternoon, thousands of drivers heading home from the city crest a ridge and pass a long, red-brick church.

That church, Calvary United Methodist, is where I was confirmed, participated in youth group, and sang in the choir. In the archives room off the education wing, a visitor can open a filing cabinet drawer, flip past photos of youth group retreats and church league basketball games, and find a manila folder labeled “Rev. Dr. Sam Dodson, 1958-1965.”

The folder is thin, but its contents are weighty. A letter to the local Methodist bishop from the church’s board explains that Dodson cannot adequately minister to his congregation while participating in political activities and suggests he be demoted to assistant pastor. A newspaper clipping from 1965 announces that Rev. Dodson and his family will be moving to Athens, Greece, where he will head St. Andrew’s American Church. I recognize some of the names signed to letters calling for Dodson’s demotion—an usher who pressed strawberry candies into my palm whenever I asked, a woman who looked me in the eye when I was 11 and told me I would be a leader in the church someday.

During the months and years immediately after the relative success of the 1960 sit-ins and before the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed Congress, a wide range of activist groups and individuals in Nashville sought to desegregate restaurants, movie theaters, churches, schools, and recreational facilities, many in predominantly white areas of town. “The ‘Whites Only’ signs were down, but we had not yet seen the white mind behind those signs,” remembered Kwame Leo Lillard, a college student in Nashville in the early ’60s who participated in Freedom Rides to the Deep South to desegregate interstate buses.

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