Texas

Breakaway Episcopalians Win Texas Church Property Fight

Photo via Paul Moseley / Star-Telegram / RNS

"The Call Of St. Andrew,” is at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, TX. Photo via Paul Moseley / Star-Telegram / RNS

For the second time in as many months, a state court has sided with a group of breakaway Episcopalians, ruling that they can keep their property after leaving the national church in 2008 over sharp differences on homosexuality and the authority of Scripture.

Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, Texas, ruled March 2 that more than 60 parishes in greater Fort Worth can retain their property and remain independent of the Episcopal Church.

“We are grateful for the ruling in our favor,”said Bishop Jack Iker, the former Episcopal bishop of Fort Worth who’s now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, which formed in 2009 as a rival to the Episcopal Church. “It’s clear that both church laws and Texas laws have been rightly applied to this dispute.”

While still a part of the Episcopal Church, Iker was a leader of the church’s small conservative wing that opposed the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop and blessings for same-sex unions. He’s also criticized the theology of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as unorthodox, and he refers women seeking ordination to a neighboring diocese.

Ebola Prompts Hands-Off Mass in Fort Worth, Texas

Catholic priest giving Holy Communion. Photo courtesy of Photographee.eu via Shutterstock/RNS.

The Blood of Christ will not be offered during Mass. The Host will be placed in the hands, not on the tongue. And the faithful should not hold hands while reciting the “Our Father.”

These are but a few of the guidelines the Diocese of Fort Worth — not far from the Dallas hospital where three Ebola cases have been diagnosed — has sent to its parishes to calm fears about the deadly disease and to prevent the spread of flu.

While the diocese is perhaps the first in the U.S. to send around such a memo thanks in part to Ebola, such restrictions are common during flu season in Catholic and other churches that offer Communion.

“It’s the same guidelines we have used in past years,” said Pat Svacina, communications director for the Diocese of Fort Worth. “This is just a normal thing. There is no panic whatsoever.”

What Happens Next in the 20 States That Still Ban Gay Marriage?

Participants celebrate the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling in Kansas City, Mo. on June 26. Photo by Sally Morrow/RNS.

The Supreme Court’s decision to sit out the legal battle over same-sex marriage will — for now, at least — leave the future of laws prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying in the hands of lower state and federal court judges. But it also almost certainly means the couples challenging those laws are more likely to win in the end.

The court said Oct. 6 that it would not hear appeals from five states whose same-sex marriage bans had been invalidated by lower federal courts. The decision, issued without explanation, will likely lead to recognition of gay marriages in 11 more states. It also allows an avalanche of legal challenges to the remaining bans to keep going forward in state and federal courts, where gay and lesbian couples have overwhelmingly prevailed.

The court’s decision leaves unchanged 20 state laws blocking same-sex unions. Each is already under legal attack, facing challenges in state or federal court, and sometimes both. Challenges to marriage bans already have reached a handful of state appeals courts and the federal appeals courts for the 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th circuits.

Some of those judges had been waiting to see what the Supreme Court would do. The court’s instruction Oct 6. was: Proceed.

In McAllen, Texas, Faith Groups Responded, while Washington Dithered

Religious leaders and immigration advocates marched toward the White House on July 31, 2014. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

In the face of an imploding immigration system, an exploding political debate and a deadlock on reform in Washington, it was religious leaders who rallied to form a humanitarian response to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border to the United States this summer.

The number of migrants crossing the border began its steady rise in 2011, but it escaped the Obama administration’s notice until spring, when the rise became a wave.

By September, 66,127 unaccompanied children and 66,142 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran families had crossed into the Southwest, mostly into the Rio Grande Valley. The flood contributed to a backlog in U.S.  immigration courts of nearly 400,000 cases.

Nowhere was the religious leadership more apparent than in McAllen, Texas, where churches and local government forged an effective and compassionate response to the crisis.

'The Children Come': A New Hymn on the Exodus of Children from Central America to the U.S. Border

Children playing at sunset in Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya, India. Image: Seema Krishnakumar/Flickr

This new hymn is inspired by the crisis in Central America that has caused over 70,000 children to take the dangerous journey to the United States in recent months. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette has led many mission trips to Honduras for the past sixteen years. The brother of a child that Carolyn sponsored in Honduras was recently killed there.

The hymn’s reference to “On one boy’s belt, a number carved in leather” is from a news report ("Boy's Death Draws Attention Immigration Perils") of a body of a dead child found with his brother’s phone number on his belt.

“As angry crowds are shouting, “Go away!” comes from the news reports of Americans yelling at the detained children on buses in Murrieta, California. Jim Wallis of Sojourners reflects on this incident in his powerful online essay “The Moral Failure of Immigration Reform: Are We Really Afraid Of Children?" Biblical references in the hymn are Matthew 25:31-46 and Matthew 19:14-16.

Why Are Evangelicals Supporting Immigration Reform? Q&A with Filmmaker Linda Midgett

Filmmaker Linda Midgett, right, interviews Meghan Blanton Smith for documentary film “The Stranger.” RNS photo: Brandon Falls

The Evangelical Immigration Table commissioned the documentary “The Stranger” to foster evangelical support for immigration reform. Linda Midgett, a graduate of evangelical Wheaton College who produced the 40-minute film, told Religion News Service she hopes ongoing screenings across the country will build a groundswell of support for legislation. On Wednesday, President Obama urged Congress to quickly approve increased funding to deal with the crisis of immigrant children flooding across the border.

Busloads of Turned-back Immigrants, an Image of Shame

A protester holds a sign for immigration reform in Washington, DC on May 1st, 2010. Photo: Nevele Otseog/Flickr.

Sometimes a picture says it all.

Consider the 1963 picture of fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Ala., used against African-American students protesting racial segregation. Surely not our civil servants at their best.

Or the 1972 picture of the little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidentally dropped napalm on Trang Bang, which had been occupied by North Vietnamese troops. The world then saw how war could hurt children.

Now, in 2014, we see citizens of Murrieta, Calif., turning back buses of women and children headed for a federal processing center, a day after Mayor Alan Long told them to let the government know they opposed its decision to move recent undocumented immigrants to the local Border Patrol station.

Marching Through Death’s Desert

Rev. Jeff Hood begins his pilgrimage. twitter.com/revjeffhood

Rev. Jeff Hood begins his pilgrimage. twitter.com/revjeffhood

It’s 93 degrees in Texas today. And Rev. Jeff Hood is walking 200 miles across the state. What would compel somebody to do that? He wants to end the death penalty … and he is not alone.

Rev. Jeff Hood is a Southern Baptist pastor, deeply troubled by his denomination’s stance on capital punishment. And he is troubled because he lives in the most lethal state in the U.S. Texas has had 515 executions since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976 – the next state in line is Oklahoma with 111. That means Texas is responsible for 37 percent of the executions in the U.S. Jeff has been a longtime organizer and board member for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a movement that is gaining some serious momentum these days.

A growing number of Texans — and Americans in general — are questioning the death penalty. A recent ABC poll shows we are over the tipping point, with more than half of Americans being against the death penalty and in favor of life in prison, putting death penalty support at a new low. For some it is the racial bias – in Texas it is not uncommon for an African American to be found guilty by an all-white jury. In fact, in considering “future dangerousness,” a criteria necessary for execution in Texas, state “experts” have argued that race is a contributing factor, essentially that someone is more likely to be violent because they are black – prompting articles like the headline story in the New York Times about Duane Buck: “Condemned to Die Because He is Black.”

In Heart of Texas, Support Grows for Same-sex Marriage

Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, of Plano, Texas on May 31, 2014. Photo by Mei-Chun Jau, courtesy of USA Today.

GUN BARREL CITY, Texas (RNS) This place got its name because the main road was straight as a gun barrel. Today, it’s at the center of a fight over gay marriage.

That’s because weekenders Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, who bought an A-frame house overlooking scenic Cedar Creek Lake four years ago, have become minor celebrities as the men challenging Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage.

Their battle, joined by two women whose Massachusetts marriage the Lone Star State refuses to recognize, is as unlikely as it is uphill. They’ve already won the first round in federal court in San Antonio, where District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled the state’s marriage laws against gay couples “demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”

#Fast4Families Bus Presses on in Week 4 of Tour

Courtesy Fast for Families

The #Fast4Families bus stops in Aurora, Colo. Courtesy Fast for Families

Entering its fourth week on the road, the Fast for Families bus continues its journey across the country getting closer to its final destination: Washington, D.C. on April 9.  

Continuing the call for fair and humane immigration reform, fasters visited Arlington, Texas last week on the southern trail, connecting with members of Congress who shared their goals for immigration reform.

“The trickiest issue is what do you do with people that are here [undocumented]?” said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, who is drafting his own immigration bill and hopes to introduce it in late spring or early summer. “We need to weed out the bad apples and send them back home or put them in jail. But the others whose only [unauthorized] act is coming to this country [undocumented], we sort them out and put them on a legalization path, and minors on a citizenship path.”

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