President Barack Obama

Obama to Catholic Health Leaders: Only ‘Cynics’ Would Dismantle Health Reform

Photo via REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst / RNS

Sister Carol Keehan greets President Barack in Washington on June 9, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst / RNS

With some members of Congress and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell in the audience, Obama’s speech was entirely about the success of his signature legislation and the need to keep it alive.

Obama recited statistics on how many uninsured are now covered and on the economic value of “portable plans in a competitive marketplace.” But he anchored his speech in the faith-based association’s moral calling.

“What kind of country do we want to be?” he asked in a series of rhetorical questions:

Is access to care a commodity “only for the highest bidders?” Or is it “a fundamental right?”

Obama: Defeating Poverty Takes Money and ‘Transformative Power’ of Faith Groups

Photo via Georgetown University / RNS

President Obama appeared at Georgetown University on May 12, 2015. Photo via Georgetown University / RNS

The African-American boy who grew up without a father, who started his work life as a community organizer on the payroll of a Catholic agency, and who later became U.S. president had plenty to say about poverty in our “winner-take-all” economy.

President Obama spoke May 12 of “ladders of opportunity” once denied to blacks and now being dismantled for poor whites as their difficult lives get that much more difficult.

“It’s hard being poor. It’s time-consuming. It’s stressful,” he said.

Obama joined two policy voices from the left and right in a rare moment of participating in a panel discussion, part of a three-day symposium at Georgetown University on combating poverty. The audience of 700 included 120 Catholic and evangelical leaders.

On Eve of Anniversary, Turkey’s ‘Cultural Genocide’ of Armenian History Is Ongoing

Photo via Tania Karas / RNS

The Armenian Church of the Holy Cross on Akdamar Island, Lake Van in Turkey. Photo via Tania Karas / RNS

This tiny Kurdish village outside the city of Van in Turkey’s southeast is home to the ruins of a once-famous 11th-century Armenian Christian monastery.

Known to Armenians as Varagavank, it thrived as a place of worship until Turkish forces looted it and murdered parishioners in the mass killing sprees of 1915.

Today, the roof is collapsing. Toppled stone columns lie nearby. And with no signage, there is no acknowledgment it was once a celebrated church for Armenians.

Varagavank is one of hundreds of disappearing physical reminders of a community whose history in present-day Turkey goes back more than 2,000 years. Over the past century, the Turkish government — in writing its own narrative of what Armenians call genocide — has destroyed many Armenian churches, homes, schools, and cemeteries, or allowed them to fall into ruins. They are sites other countries might consider valuable antiquities.

“The term we use for this is ‘cultural genocide,’” said Vahram Ter-Matevosyan, a historian at the American University of Armenia in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital.

“We consider what is happening to many churches a continuation of the genocide which started at the beginning of the 20th century. It is painful, utterly painful.”

Historians and visitors have noted holes in the ground of Armenian historical sites throughout Turkey, evidence of widespread rumors that Armenians buried their riches before fleeing.

Hermine Sayan, an Armenian who lives in Istanbul, said her heart was broken when she visited what remained of a destroyed church in Malatya, a city in eastern Turkey, a few years ago.

“We stood together saying our prayers, and we were crying,” said Sayan, whose grandparents survived the genocide.

On April 24, Armenians worldwide will commemorate 100 years since almost 1.5 million of their ancestors died in the last days of the Ottoman Empire, in massacres, by starvation or during forced death marches into the Syrian desert.

U.S. Catholic Bishops Back Obama on Iran, Warn Congress Against Meddling

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.

Alan Chambers: President Obama Is Right to Try to End Ex-Gay Therapy for Minors

Photo via Alan Chambers / RNS

Alan and Leslie Chambers married in January 1998. Photo via Alan Chambers / RNS

While I am thankful for the ministry I went to for support — there was no other place for gay Christians to go in 1991 to admit the truth — I am sorry that they and I prescribed a one-size-fits-all story for every gay and lesbian person. I’m sorry we preached an incomplete gospel and wrongly told LGBTQ people they could and should do more to be acceptable to God. Doing so was deeply hurtful and damaging to many who never experienced the kind of change we thought possible.

For too long, same-sex attraction has been categorized as sinful and in need of repairing. Such stigma has caused LGBTQ people crippling shame and fear. As a child I experienced and as an adult I perpetuated that stigma. I profoundly regret my support for and promotion of reparative therapy.

And that’s why I stand with President Obama in calling for a ban on this practice for minors and for greater measures to protect adults seeking this niche therapeutic intervention.

This ban is in no way an attempt to strip parents of their ability to be good parents or to keep them from helping their child to navigate the complexities of sex and sexuality. Nor is it an infringement on religious liberties.

Obama Backs Efforts to End Ex-Gay Therapy for LGBT Teens

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.”

4 Notable Remarks from President Obama’s Easter Prayer Breakfast

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.”

Obama to Host Pope Francis at White House in September

Photo via Pete Souza / White House / Flickr / RNS

President Obama and Pope Francis at the Vatican on March 27, 2014. Photo via Pete Souza / White House / Flickr / RNS

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.”

Obama: No Religion Responsible for Terrorism

Photo via American Spirit / Shutterstock.com

Photo via American Spirit / Shutterstock.com

President Obama said Feb. 19 he doesn’t use terms like Islamic extremism because doing so would promote the false idea of a Western war with Islam, which would help extremists recruit more terrorists.

“No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism,” Obama told delegates at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism.

Obama also said military force alone will not defeat terrorism, and the nation must work with local communities to reduce the influence of those who advocate violent extremism.

“They are not religious leaders,” Obama said. “They are terrorists.”

He also said: “We are not at war with Islam — we are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Can Obama Walk the Tightrope of Religious Rhetoric in a Polarized America?

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS

Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington Feb. 15. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / RNS

After taking heat from the religious right for saying Christians and Muslims have all committed horrors in God’s name, President Obama is now angering the religious left with an upcoming White House conference on combating ”violent extremism” that seems to focus only on Muslims.

The back-to-back controversies raise the question: Can Obama — or any president — safely discuss faith in today’s political crosswinds?

No, say experts who keep a close eye on presidential God talk. It’s a perilous walk, taken without a safety net as news and social media voices wait to savage him in a nanosecond.

Obama’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast triggered fury when Obama mentioned the Crusades, the Inquisition and Jim Crow segregation laws as examples of Christian violence in God’s name.

“This is not unique to one group or one religion,” Obama said. “There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.”

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