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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Twenty-seven evangelical Christian leaders across Texas and the United States are calling on Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson to allow a new, fair sentencing hearing for Duane Buck. Mr. Buck is an African-American man who was condemned to death after his sentencing jury was told that he was likely to be a future danger because of his race. These evangelical Christian leaders oppose the setting of any execution date for Mr. Buck.
“We write to respectfully request that you support a new, fair sentencing hearing for death row prisoner Duane Buck,” the letter states. “Although opinions on the death penalty vary within each of our churches, we are strongly united in our view that no death sentence should be a product of racial discrimination, as it was in Mr. Buck’s case.”
In the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, there is a Psalm that proclaims: “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). There is no part of this world that God is not aware of, cannot lay claim to, and does not rule. Christians affirm that as people of faith we’re called to be stewards over creation, answering one day for how we’ve treated the earth.
And part of that stewardship means understanding how this world works and what it needs in order to thrive. Unfortunately the din of our political ideologies has too often drowned out the biblical calling to care for creation.
In Texas, the State Board of Education will recommend new textbooks for all its students—and because it has such a large population, what they decide could determine what students in other states learn about science. There are several ideologues submitting textbook critiques to the board and their reviews will factor into each book’s overall score and likelihood of being approved by the school board. These ideologues could block the use of textbooks that teach the reality of climate change for the whole country’s public school students.
What people here are wondering today is what in the world went wrong with Aaron Alexis?
The man who shot and killed 12 people had his problems. But friends who worked and lived beside Alexis say they don’t recognize the man who went on a shooting rampage Monday at a military complex in Washington, D.C., and eventually was shot dead in a gunfight.
Alexis’ life ended in Washington, where he lived in a Residence Inn in the southwest part of the city and worked as civilian contractor for the military. But much of his story is centered in Fort Worth, where he seemed to be an easygoing guy who practiced Buddhism, meditated for hours and hung out with friends who spoke Thai, as he did.
You know, I always hedge when people ask me where I’m from, because the second I tell them I was born and raised in Texas, all kinds of stereotypes pop up in the conversation.
Yes, I can read.
No, I’m not a Republican.
Yes, I’m a Christian. No, not that kind.
No, I don’t ride horses, own a cow, oil derek or know JR Ewing personally.
And no, I do not think Texas should become its own republic.
But then, stories like this one come along that only serve to reinforce the negative biases against Texans that I try so very hard to debunk. Come on guys, work with me here!
Life is difficult. It can knock you down. Sometimes, an entire nation gets knocked down.
First it was Boston. Some mad man (or men) lays waste to one of America’s most hallowed sporting events — the Boston Marathon. Sidewalks that should have been covered with confetti were covered in blood.
Then it was the quintessential small Texas town of West. Populated by hearty Czech immigrants, folks in West worked hard in their shops, bakeries, and fertilizer plant until the plant exploded. A magnitude-2.1 on the Richter scale, witnesses compared it to a nuclear bomb. Dozens are feared dead.
In the nation’s capital, we had the bitter realization that something is broken that will not be easily repaired. A commonsense proposal that emerged from the Newtown, Conn., tragedy, background checks to prevent convicted felons and the seriously mentally ill from purchasing guns online or at gun shows, fell prey to Washington gridlock. None of the Newtown proposals — the ban on assault weapons, limits on the number of bullets a gun can hold or expanded background checks — could garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome a Senate filibuster.
Finally, there were the ricin-laced letters sent to a Republican senator and the president.
The notion of religious liberty has lately conveyed an impoverished attitude toward the common good among Christians. Namely, “we’ll pay for what we like, and won't pay for what we don’t.”
This stubbornness cropped up last week in College Station, Texas, when the student senate at Texas A&M voted for students to have the privilege of diverting tuition payments from services they object to on moral grounds. Named the “Religious Funding Exemption Bill,” the broadened proposal’s original language (“GLBT Funding Opt Out Bill”) specifically targeted funds going to the campus’ GLBT Resource Center.
Missing from the media coverage was a real look at the bill’s usage of religious exemption — or more specifically, its misuse. In its bill, the student government at A&M confused religious liberty with religious control, and managed to do a good degree of community damage in the process.
When disgruntled congregations have left hierarchical denominations such as the Episcopal Church, they’ve often lost property battles as civil courts ruled buildings and land are not theirs to keep.
But outcomes could be different this year, court watchers say, as high-profile cases involving dozens of Episcopal congregations in South Carolina and Texas wind their way through state courts. That prospect has observers watching for insights that could shape legal strategies in other states and denominations.
Both cases involve conservative dioceses that voted to leave the Episcopal Church over homosexuality, among other issues. In South Carolina, congregations representing about 22,000 people are suing the Episcopal Church for control of real estate worth some $500 million and rights to the diocese’s identity. In Texas, the national Episcopal Church is suing about 60 breakaway congregations in the Fort Worth area for properties estimated to be worth more than $100 million.
AUSTIN, Texas — After a walk around the Texas Statehouse, it became clear they tell a different history here.
Inside the Capitol is a large painting of a onetime Tennessee congressman named David Crockett, who failed in a re-election bid and stormed out west to join the revolution in what was then called Tejas. He arrived in 1836 and died four weeks later at the Alamo in San Antonio.
A plaque beneath the oversized painting suggests Crockett was a laborer who became larger than life when he got to Texas. A more balanced account suggests Crockett had been building his legend for many years, with exotic garb, a self-published autobiography, and fiery speeches against President Andrew Jackson. He yearned to star in Washington, and when that failed, he went west, landing at the Alamo just in time to die there.
An ambitious state needs its mythology.
Cheerleaders at an East Texas high school are fighting their school district’s orders to stop using Bible quotes on their signs at football games.
In August, cheerleaders at Kountze High School, a school with fewer than 500 students 30 miles north of Beaumont, Texas, began painting Bible verses on large paper signs football players burst through at the beginning of games.
But this week, Kountze Independent School District Superintendent Kevin Weldon called for an end to the banners after consulting with a legal adviser at the Texas Association of School Boards.
“It is not a personal opinion of mine,” Weldon told KHOU, a Houston television station. “My personal convictions are that I am a Christian as well. But I’m also a state employee and Kountze ISD representative. And I was advised that such a practice would be in direct violation of United States Supreme Court decisions.”
That prompted the cheerleaders and their supporters to launch a Facebook page, “Support Kountze Kids Faith,” which attracted 34,000 members in its first 24 hours — more than 10 times the population of Kountze.
Parents of at least three cheerleaders have hired an attorney and are considering suing the school district.
After Walmart closed up shop in McAllen, they left 124,500 square feet of retail space behind for use by the city.
Rather than bring in another big box corporation to pick up where Walmart left off, the southern Texas city decided to turn the building into its new public library. And not just any public library neither: Upon its completion, the McAllen Public Library became the largest single-story library in the United States.
The project was massively successful: Registration by first-time patrons went up by 23% in the library's first month of operation, and its "functional, flexible and affordable" interior — constructed by Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd. — was recently named winner of the International Interior Design Association's 2012 Library Interior Design Competition.
Read the full report HERE.