May 2, 2013
(Updated) Government agrees to allow Plan B One-Step to be sold over the counter to all women.
Update (June 11): The Obama Administration has agreed to drop its case against a federal judge's ruling, allowing Plan B One-Step contraceptives to be made available without a prescription to women ages 15 and up. The action proposed by the government applies only to Plan B One-Step.
But the Los Angeles Times reports that "the limited nature of the government's proposal could be an issue for (U.S. District Judge Edward) Korman, who has ordered that all such drugs be available over the counter like aspirin. If he approves it, however, the government said it would drop its appeal of an order he issued in April."
Update (June 5): According to Reuters, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has granted the Food and Drug Administration a partial victory in its attempt to halt over-the-counter sales of morning-after contraceptives to teenagers.
CBS News reports that the court's order "permitted two-pill versions of emergency contraception to immediately be sold without restrictions, but the court refused to allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step until it decides the merits of the government's appeal."
Continue reading Over-the-Counter Morning-After Pills Only for Ages 17 and Up, Justice Department Says...
April 19, 2013
(UPDATED) Court vetoed previous state measure because of reference to Shari'ah law.
Update (May 16): RNS offers an analysis of similar efforts in other states and why they are succeeding where previous measures failed.
The Oklahoma State Senate has approved a new bill that prohibits courts from applying any foreign or religious law in state courts—and lawmakers hope this bill is more successful than its predecessor.
Continue reading Second Attempt to Bar Religious Law in Oklahoma Courts Succeeds...
April 18, 2013
(UPDATED) Arizona follows in footsteps of Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Missouri.
Update (May 23): The Arizona state senate has approved a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which will "would allow people to sue over potential violations of religious freedom," according to the Associated Press.
Among other provisions, according to Religion Clause, "The bill allows a person whose religious exercise 'is likely to be burdened' to sue because of the impending violation, without waiting for the infringement to actually occur."
Kansas governor Sam Brownback has signed a new law that will codify existing federal protections in state courts, offering Kansas residents protection "from government infringement on religious liberties."
Continue reading Another State Expands Religious Freedom...
April 17, 2013
Sixth Circuit: 'Reasonable fear' that 'free exercise of religion ... will be chilled.'
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a Michigan church may sue its local township over police investigations into the church's loud music.
Continue reading Church Allowed To Sue Over Police Investigation of Loud Rock Music...
April 15, 2013
Advisory Council report recommends more than just increasing awareness.
The next fashion trend could be marked by a very different kind of label, if the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has its way.
Continue reading Obama Faith Advisors Urge New Ways To Fight Human Trafficking...
March 25, 2013
(UPDATED) Lawmakers override veto of governor concerned that broad protections and vague wording would lead to legal issues.
Update (Mar. 27): Lawmakers voted yesterday to override the governor's veto.
Will the legal back and forth make any difference? As the Associated Press reports, "Wayne State University law professor Christopher Lund reviewed the effects of 16 state religious freedom laws, finding they’ve largely been unused and that people who did claim religious infringement in those states lost more often than they won."
Update (Mar. 26): Southern Baptist leaders in Kentucky are strongly protesting the veto and urge lawmakers to override it.
A religious freedom bill recently passed by the Kentucky state legislature received the stamp of disapproval from Gov. Steve Beshear.
Continue reading Law Expanding Religious Liberty in Kentucky Gets Vetoed...
March 11, 2013
Recent White House meeting with 14 faith leaders produces optimism.
During an hour-long meeting on Friday, President Barack Obama told religious leaders that he hopes Congress will approve a comprehensive immigration reform bill within the next several months.
Continue reading Obama Affirms 'Evangelical' Principles for Immigration Reform...
March 7, 2013
(Updated) Preliminary injunction will prevent ban from taking effect until courts decide on its constitutionality.
Update (May 21): The New York Times reports that a federal judge has "temporarily blocked enforcement of [the abortion ban in Arkansas] saying the law was likely to be declared unconstitutional."
Arkansas prohibits abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy, making it the second-most restrictive state ban in the country. North Dakota, which bans the procedure after as little as six weeks, is also facing legal action against it.
Update (Mar. 12): The New York Times reports on how the ban has inspired pro-life activists in other states to pursue similar restrictions, but "traditional leaders of the anti-abortion movement, like National Right to Life and the Roman Catholic Church, think such laws will quickly be overturned in federal courts."
Overriding governor’s vetoes, the Arkansas state legislature voted to bar most abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation—the point at which fetal heartbeats can be detected with abdominal ultrasounds.
Continue reading Arkansas Bans Abortions After 12 Weeks’ Gestation...
March 4, 2013
Reauthorized, bipartisan act still fails to please conservatives on sex-trafficking protection issues.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an expanded, Senate-approved version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which now awaits being signed into law by President Barack Obama.
CT reported in 2012 when evangelical groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, World Relief, Christian Community Development Association, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship—spoke out against VAWA and its failure to expand protections for abuse and trafficking victims, especially immigrants.
Continue reading Violence Against Women Act (Which Split Evangelicals) Headed for Reapproval...
February 28, 2013
(Updated) Eastern European nation's top court rules against controversial legislation—again.
Update (Mar. 12): German newspaper Deutsche Welle has reported that Hungary has approved a constitutional amendment that "allows parliament to decide on the legal status of religious communities," overruling last month's Constitutional Court decision.
Continue reading Attempt To Purge Hundreds of Churches from Hungary's Rolls Faces Setback (Again)...
February 26, 2013
Circle of Protection: "It is time to frame the budget debate in terms of moral choices that
are understandable to the American people."
A notable coalition of Christian leaders is urging the federal government to avoid allowing "hungry and poor people" to fall through the cracks as spending cuts, scheduled to start Friday, could force the reconsideration of funds for certain welfare programs.
Continue reading Evangelical Leaders Urge Lawmakers To Protect 'Hungry and Poor' from Spending Cuts...
February 19, 2013
Delegates met in Moscow to inaugurate the new political effort.
A group of 134 Muslims, Jews, and Christians from several denominations convened Feb. 17 to create the Ten Commandments Party based on the tenets found in Exodus.
Continue reading Russian Christians, Jews, Muslims Form Ten Commandments Party...
February 18, 2013
(Updated) After an affair cost him his office and marriage, the evangelical former governor of South Carolina won back his House of Representatives seat last night.
Update (May 8): Voters resurrected former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford's political career, giving him 54 percent of the vote in last night's special election for the 1st Congressional District House seat.
In his victory speech, Sanford described himself as a Lazarus figure, saying, "I am an imperfect man, saved by God’s grace."
Former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford is touting the "God of second chances" as the evangelical politician seeks to restore his career.
Continue reading Will 'God of Second Chances' Ad Help Mark Sanford Win Re-Election?...
February 13, 2013
President Obama: Americans ‘made’ to look out for each other
While Sen. Marco Rubio directly referred to blessings, prayer, and God-given rights in the Republican response to last night’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spoke in less outwardly religious terms as he called on Americans as citizens to serve one another. Both politicians referred to Americans as “authors” of the country’s future.
Continue reading Rubio's State of the Union Response Heavy on Religion...
February 7, 2013
(UPDATED) DuBois leaves the White House to write a book of devotionals and start a new organization for church partnerships.
Update (Feb. 14): Former White House faith leader Joshua DuBois announced on CNN Belief his plans to launch an organization to help the faith community develop partnerships with private, public, and nonprofit groups.
DuBois and the Obama campaign's religious affairs director Michael Wear left their positions last week, and both will be involved in this new enterprise, called Values Partnerships.
They will work on engaging religious organizations around similar issues as the government's faith-based partnerships, "from improving public health to expanding financial literacy to reducing recidivism," he wrote. "We’ll also help leaders in the church and faith-based nonprofits navigate the public square around them."
DuBois also plans to speak on issues of religion and politics, and his book of presidential devotionals is being published by HarperOne.
Continue reading Obama's Faith Advisor Joshua DuBois Steps Down...
January 24, 2013
Judge: "You took the Lord’s money.... 'Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord,' but every now and then I think the judicial system has to contribute what it can."
The United States Supreme Court will not hear an appeal brought by three robbers who were sentenced for robbing a church but claimed that the judge's remarks during sentencing "impermissibly referenced religious beliefs."
Continue reading Supreme Court Denies Church Robbers' Appeal of 'Vengeance Is Mine' Judge...
January 22, 2013
Louie Giglio drew the most headlines for his absence, but fellow Atlanta-area pastor Andy Stanley played a key role.
Megachurch pastors are speaking out about President Barack Obama—some with praise from distinguished positions amid inauguration festivities, and some with criticism over the President’s beliefs.
Continue reading Inauguration Roundup: Driscoll Questions President's Faith, Andy Stanley Calls Obama 'Pastor in Chief'...
January 14, 2013
(UPDATED) Leaders on both sides of political spectrum call for 'grass-roots push on immigration.'
Update (Jan. 28): A bipartisan group of senators released a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform today, in advance of President Obama releasing his own plan tomorrow.
Leaders of the Evangelical Immigration Table were quick to comment.
“We applaud the Senate’s courage and bipartisan nature in proposing a set of principles [that] include much-needed reforms to our outdated immigration system," said Stephan Bauman, president and CEO of World Relief, in a press release.
"Congress does not often exceed my expectations," said Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "But these principles, and this demonstration of bipartisanship by our leaders, certainly have."
Comments from Leith Anderson, Noel Castellanos, Luis Cortez, Robert Gittelson, Samuel Rodriguez, Gabriel Salguero, Mat Staver, and Jim Wallis can be found at the bottom of this post.
President Barack Obama is not the only one preparing for a heavy push on comprehensive immigration reform in the coming months. Today evangelical leaders launched fresh efforts to raise support as well, releasing a new video featuring Max Lucado, Bill Hybels, Richard Land, Leith Anderson, Samuel Rodriguez, and Joel Hunter, among others.
Continue reading New Video Launches 'Largest Ever' Immigration Reform Effort by Evangelicals...
January 9, 2013
Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of civil rights icon Medgar Evers, will be the first woman to deliver the invocation.
The 2013 Passion Conference may have drawn 60,000 students to Atlanta, Georgia, last week, but founder and pastor Louie Giglio is already preparing to speak before an even larger audience: the presidential inauguration.
Continue reading Passion's Louie Giglio to Give Benediction at Obama's Second Inauguration...
January 4, 2013
But ECFA says new limits 'ultimately discourage greater levels of giving.'
The American Taxpayer Relief Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Thursday, averting the government's "fiscal cliff" and preserving two items of interest to evangelicals—a tax deduction for charitable giving and a tax credit for adoption.
Continue reading Adoption and Charity Tax Breaks Survive 'Fiscal Cliff' Fix...
December 5, 2012
Nevada judge says Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause not relevant given political clout of gays and lesbians.
(Update: A group opposed to same-sex marriage has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider this case (without waiting for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to address it first) because they would rather have the high court use this case to rule on same-sex marriage instead of the other cases before it.)
As the U.S. Supreme Court remains silent on whether or not it will hear cases relating to same-sex marriage, a federal judge in Nevada has ruled in favor of the state's existing ban.
Continue reading Judge: Gay Victories One Reason Nevada Can Ban Same-Sex Marriage (UPDATED)...
December 5, 2012
Poll suggests nearly 2 in 3 oppose changes to charitable tax deduction.
According to new data from United Way Worldwide, nearly 8 in 10 Americans indicate that they would be forced to reconsider their giving if the tax deduction for charitable donations were eliminated.
Continue reading Survey: Charitable Donations Would Plummet under 'Fiscal Cliff' Solution...
November 21, 2012
Oklahoma Supreme Court rejects challenge to scholarship program that schools say violates Blaine amendment.
Update (March 1): A Colorado Court of Appeals has upheld a state voucher program that offered students state funds for tuition at private schools, including religious schools. The ruling overturns a lower court ruling in the case.
CT previously has reported on widespread misuse of scholarships for religious schools. CT also noted in January that a similar tax credit for scholarships in Georgia was raising questions about gay-student discrimination at religious schools.
Continue reading Court: Schools Can't Sue Parents of Disabled Children over Religious Vouchers...
November 21, 2012
Pew analysis of elected officials reveals 299 Protestants, but also first-ever Hindu and 'none.'
The 113th Congress may not be wholly representative of the general public's religiosity. According to the Pew Forum, 299 of the 530 newly elected congressional officials (56 percent) identify as Protestant.
Pew reports that this is, more or less, the same percentage of Protestants as in the 112th Congress (307 of whom were Protestant). However, it stands in contrast to a Pew study released last month, which documented the rise of the "nones," the increasing number of Americans who say they do not affiliate with any particular religion or denomination. The same study showed that, for the first time ever, the percentage of Americans identifying as Protestants had dropped below 50 percent.
Continue reading New U.S. Congress: Most Religiously Diverse, Yet Still 56% Protestant...
November 20, 2012
Federal court rules that secular, for-profit corporations do not have a right to free exercise of religion.
(Update: Hobby Lobby has appealed to the Tenth Circuit for emergency relief.)
A federal judge denied Hobby Lobby's request for an injunction against the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) contraceptive mandate on Monday, ruling that the arts-and-crafts giant must cover emergency contraceptives in its insurance policies even though it believes the pills cause abortions.
U.S. district judge Joe Heaton rejected both First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claims by Hobby Lobby and its well-known evangelical owners, the Green family. Heaton ruled that "secular, for-profit corporations do not have free exercise rights."
Continue reading Hobby Lobby Loses, Tyndale Wins Legal Round Against HHS Contraceptives Mandate...
November 8, 2012
(UPDATED) D.C. appeals court reverses dismissal of lawsuit alleging religious bias in promotions.
Update (Mar. 1): The D.C. district court has denied a preliminary injunction to non-liturgical Protestant Navy chaplains in their lawsuit alleging discrimination and favoritism in promotions for Catholic and liturgical Protestant chaplains.
Continue reading Evangelical Navy Chaplains Denied Promotions Win Legal Round...
November 6, 2012
Exit polling is sketchier this time around, but there are some noteworthy developments.
(UPDATE: Last night's data was apparently early and incomplete exit poll results. It would have been nice had CNN labeled it as such. We're reworking the map to reflect the more recent data.)
It's a bad year for trying to watch how evangelicals voted, at least compared to the last few election cycles. The National Election Pool, which conducts exit polls for major media outlets, decided to exclude 19 states from its polling this election. But in the remaining states, few surveys are asking voters whether they identify as evangelicals (or born-again Protestants).
So the "Evangelical Electoral Map" for 2012, posted below, looks a lot emptier than it did four years ago. (We've grayed out the states where there's exit poll data available, but not about evangelicals per se. And I've cleared out the states that didn't have any exit poll data.)
View Larger Map
Continue reading The Evangelical Electoral Map 2012...
November 6, 2012
National Association of Evangelicals surveys whether board members donate to campaigns.
A recent survey by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) indicates that nearly two-thirds of evangelical leaders do not give financial contributions to political candidates.
According to the NAE, many of its board members "prefer donating to churches and other ministries," while some "expressed realism about the limited impact of their contributions."
Others do give money because, in the words of one, "rendering to Caesar in a democratic republic means that Caesar has invited us to participate in the political process. If we do not, we lose our influence..."
November 6, 2012
Election watchers parse how religious groups might decide the next U.S. president.
As election watchers prepare to parse tonight's exit polls and election results, CNN's Dan Gilgoff has put together six ways that religious demographics—including churchgoers, Catholics, and "nones"—could determine whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney win the presidency.
Meanwhile, RNS offers a religious breakdown of 12 battleground states.
CT has posted our own cheat sheet of what to watch for on election night.
November 6, 2012
Fifth Circuit decision reflects impact of Supreme Court's Hosanna-Tabor ruling.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to dictate whom a church can "consider a lay liturgical minister under canon law," dropping its previous three-fold test.
In its first case to address the ministerial exception doctrine in light of the Supreme Court's Hosanna-Tabor ruling, the court held that plaintiff Philip Cannata, a music director, was a "minister" for purposes of the ministerial exception doctrine. The ruling affirmed a lower court's ruling to dismiss Cannata's claim for violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Continue reading Appeals Court Drops Test of Who Qualifies as Church 'Minister'...
November 2, 2012
Latest example in debate over whether famed evangelist has suddenly turned political.
Billy Graham has thrown his hat into the political arena once again, endorsing Minnesota's proposed constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. (The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was long headquartered in Minneapolis.)
CT recently examined whether the famed evangelist has suddenly turned political, given debate over a series of public statements by Graham this year (including a current "Vote Biblical Values" national ad campaign and support for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former governor Mike Huckabee's "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day", and a North Carolina ban on same-sex marriage).
Short answer? A biographer and a historian say yes, while Graham's longtime spokesman says no.
CT also queried experts on whether the BGEA should have removed Mormons from a list of "cults."
October 19, 2012
Judge: "Law (federal or state) is not concerned with holy matrimony."
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 federal law that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The decision follows the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against DOMA in May. But what's new is language noting the separation of civil marriage from religious marriage.
Continue reading Silver Lining for Churches in Second Circuit Deciding DOMA Is Unconstitutional?...
October 12, 2012
Evangelist skirts outright endorsement in Election Day 'crossroads' comments.
(RNS) Billy Graham offered to "do all I can to help” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a Thursday (Oct. 11) meeting at the evangelist's North Carolina home.
Continue reading Billy Graham Offers Romney ‘Help’ During Meeting at N.C. Home...
October 12, 2012
Evangelist skirts outright endorsement in Election Day 'crossroads' comments.
(RNS) Billy Graham offered to "do all I can to help” GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a Thursday (Oct. 11) meeting at the evangelist's North Carolina home.
Continue reading Billy Graham Offers Romney ‘Help’ During Meeting at N.C. Home...
October 11, 2012
LifeWay survey examines whether pastors will vote for Romney or Obama. One Arkansas pastor: "Of two evils, choose neither."
(RNS) A majority of Protestant pastors plan to vote for GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, according to a new survey, but nearly a quarter are still undecided less than a month from Election Day.
Just 17 percent of Protestant pastors said they would vote to re-elect President Obama, with 57 percent favoring Romney and 22 percent undecided, according to a survey conducted by LifeWay Research.
Continue reading Young Protestant Pastors Less Likely to Vote for ... Obama...
October 11, 2012
Government cuts contracts for part-time Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, and Jewish chaplains.
Of the 23,000 inmates in Canadian federal prisons, 57 percent identify themselves as Christians. But following a government-issued cut to chaplain contracts this week, nearly 100 percent of remaining chaplains in those prisons will be Christian.
Continue reading Canada Cuts Almost All Non-Christian Prison Chaplains...
October 9, 2012
Minister arrested for gathering signatures wins ban on enforcement of 1913 state law.
Until February, a Montana state law prohibiting ministers and preachers from political speech had never been enforced since its creation in 1913. But after the statute was used to arrest Assemblies of God minister Calvin Zastrow, a Montana judge issued a permanent injunction against enforcing the policy.
Continue reading Montana Restrictions On Clergy Political Speech Ruled Unconstitutional...
October 3, 2012
Christian health organization avoids contempt of court, but ordered to stop advertising.
Ever since the Kentucky Supreme Court issued an injunction against Medi-Share in 2011, the Christians-only healthcare ministry has continued to operate in the Bluegrass State. State lawyers pressed for a contempt of court charge this summer. Now a judge has ordered Medi-Share's work in Kentucky to a halt.
The Associated Press reports that Franklin County Circuit judge Thomas Wingate ruled yesterday that the Florida-based organization run by Christian Care Ministry must acquire approval from the Kentucky Department of Insurance before it can continue operations in the state.
Continue reading Court Rules Medi-Share Must End Cost-Sharing Ministry In Kentucky...
October 1, 2012
Judge: "Indirect financial support of a practice" does not violate First Amendment rights.
A federal judge struck down a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Saturday, ruling that the newly implemented HHS contraception mandate does not infringe upon a Catholic business owner's First Amendment rights.
Continue reading Judge Rules HHS Contraception Mandate Does Not Violate Religious Freedom...
August 24, 2012
Family-run business protests mandate that goes against Catholic founders' religious beliefs.
Triune Health Group, a family business run by a Catholic couple in suburban Chicago, filed suit yesterday in a Chicago federal district court, seeking an injunction against the Department of Health and Human Services' contraception mandate. Triune was recently named by Crain's Chicago Business as 2012's Best Place to Work for Women in the Chicago area.
Founders Christopher and Mary Anne Yep, whose Catholic beliefs are reflected in Triune's mission statement that each individual be "treated with the human dignity and respect that God intended," believe the HHS mandate "imposes a gravely oppressive burden on [their] deeply held religious beliefs," according to a press release.
Continue reading Chicago's 'Best Place to Work for Women' Sues Over HHS Contraception Mandate...
August 23, 2012
Saddleback Church pastor says civility is “not the climate of today's campaign.”
(Editor's note: CNN reports an alternative explanation to the forum's cancellation: Both the Obama and Romney campaigns lacked interest.)
Megachurch pastor Rick Warren pulled the plug Tuesday on a civil forum featuring President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The forum, which would have been hosted at Warren’s Saddleback Church near Los Angeles, was scheduled to take place later this week.
In his announcement, Warren said the campaign’s current climate, highlighted by “irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads,” is not what a civil forum aims to promote: respect between those with differences. He said he does not expect that climate of incivility to change before the election.
Continue reading "Nastiness" Causes Rick Warren To Cancel Obama-Romney Forum (Updated)...
August 21, 2012
State Supreme Court declines to hear case that would review 2006 state law.
God can continue to receive official credit for Kentucky’s homeland security, according to the Bluegrass State's highest court.
Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would review a post-9/11 state law “mandating that the commonwealth give credit to Almighty God for its homeland security,” notes Peter Smith of The Courier-Journal. Of the seven justices, only one favored a review of the law that requires the following statement (seen here) to be publicly posted:
The safety and security of the Commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God as set forth in the public speeches and proclamations of American Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln’s historic March, 30, 1863, Proclamation urging Americans to pray and fast during one of the most dangerous hours in American history, and the text of President John F. Kennedy’s Nov. 22, 1963 national security speech which concluded: “For as was written long ago, ‘Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.’”
Continue reading "Almighty God" Will Continue Receiving Official Credit for Kentucky's Post-9/11 Security...
August 21, 2012
Washington National Cathedral magazine offers fresh look into presidential candidates' religious beliefs.
In an interview published by the Washington National Cathedral, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney answered new questions about their personal faiths, favorite Scripture passages, and religious diversity in public life.
Both candidates agreed that their personal faiths help ground their convictions and their politics. They also agreed that faith motivates citizens to act in love and service to society. But their answers differed when they described the exact form that action takes.
Continue reading Obama, Romney Share Their Favorite Bible Verses...
July 13, 2012
Families released from Christian neighborhoods occupied by rebels.
Residents trapped in Christian neighborhoods of Syria's bombed-out city of Homs were evacuated this week after an agreement between army and rebel forces. Between Tuesday and Wednesday, more than 60 people were taken to safety, according to the Associated Press. Most identified as Christians.
The evacuation momentarily settles fears of Christians being caught in the middle of further clashes between the rebels and the army. Thousands of Christians in Homs, Syria's third-largest city, have already fled to a nearby area known as the “Valley of Christians.”
Syrian Christians have been criticized for supporting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, whose aggressive reaction to protests last year has led to more than a year of violence in which more than 17,000 people have died.
According to CT dispatches from the Middle East, many Syrian Christians stand behind Assad out of fears that persecution would be imminent if a hard-line Islamist group were to come to power. However, as violence has continued, Christian support for Assad has decreased.
CT has reported about Syria's last chance for reconciliation; interviewed World Vision's director of interfaith relations about growing up in Syria and his lifelong journey with Islam; and examined the persecution of Christians as a cost of democracy in the Middle East.
July 5, 2012
Cost-sharing ministry is still operating in Kentucky more than a year after a state court ordered it to stop.
(Note: This post has been updated to clarify that Medi-Share serves 50,000 people in 49 states, members commit to not abuse alcohol, and operational changes were made prior to the state Supreme Court ruling.)
Lawyers for Kentucky's Department of Insurance are encouraging a judge to hold Medi-Share, a cost-sharing ministry that helps pay medical bills for Christians who don’t smoke or abuse alcohol (among other qualifications), in contempt for continuing to operate in the state more than a year after a circuit court judge ordered the Florida-based group to stop until it meets Kentucky insurance regulations.
The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that Medi-Share, which currently serves nearly 50,000 people in 49 states, offers a "shifting of risk" and thus shouldn't be exempt from state insurance regulations. Franklin Circuit Court judge Thomas Wingate issued a permanent injunction against the ministry in March 2011; however, Medi-Share has continued to advertise on Christian radio stations in Kentucky, according to the Associated Press.
Medi-Share, which has long argued that its members engage in charitable activity and publishes disclaimers that it is not a substitute for insurance, has asked for a hearing to explain changes the ministry made prior to the Supreme Court ruling. "[Medi-Share] is much more simple and streamlined compared to our operations in 2002, when the case was originally filed, and in 2006, when the case went to trial,” Tony Meggs, president of Christian Care Ministry (which operates Medi-Share), told the AP.
CT has reported the rise of Christian cost-sharing ministries and their challenges, as well as noted concerns over federal healthcare reform would affect them. CT has also reported on how another cost-sharing ministry, the Christian Brotherhood Newsletter, worked to reclaim credibility following a messy financial scandal that threatened to end the ministry.
July 3, 2012
(Updated) Not all cross disputes head to the court: One California city has reached an "unusually amicable" compromise.
Update (April 22, 2013): In a similar case, parties in the city of Riverside, California, have reached an "unusually amicable resolution" in its dispute over a cross at the top of Mount Rubidoux, a public park. When the city decided to auction off the land where the cross stands, a coalition of nonprofits offered the winning bid—and they plan to maintain the cross now that the land is privately owned.
The 43-foot-high cross that stands atop Mount Soledad in Southern California may not commemorate fallen soldiers much longer, according to Monday’s Supreme Court ruling. The federal bench rejected an appeal by the Obama administration and the Mount Soledad Memorial Association arguing the government should not be forced to take down the memorial cross that has graced California's coastline for 58 years.
Reuters reports the Supreme Court issued a brief order that denied the appeals by the administration and the association without comment. But Justice Samuel Alito issued a separate statement saying the denial "does not amount to a ruling on the merits."
Continue reading Supreme Court Rejects Appeal of Mt. Soledad Cross...
June 28, 2012
Petition says Second Mile's $2.5 million in assets should be reserved for compensating abuse victims of Penn State coach.
If several of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse victims have their way, the convicted felon’s former charity, “The Second Mile,” will not be allowed to transfer $2.5 million in assets to Texas-based foster ministry Arrow Child and Family Ministries. CT reported earlier how Sandusky's charity couldn't survive donor fallout from the sex abuse scandal at Penn State's football program.
According to initial reports, a petition against distribution of assets was filed in Centre County Orphans' Court on Tuesday by three victims who testified against Sandusky this month, in addition to a fourth man who accused Sandusky of sexual abuse in a televised interview last week.
"The court's first priority must be to preserve [the Second Mile's] assets to maximize its ability to pay current and future liabilities," lawyers for the men known as Victims 3, 5, and 7 wrote in court filings.
Arrow founder Mark Tennant, himself a victim of sexual abuse, hopes to hire and move all of The Second Mile's employees away from the group’s State College headquarters -- which went up for sale Tuesday, listed at $750,000.
June 28, 2012
Appeals court says Baltimore and Montgomery County cannot force centers to advertise their lack of abortion or birth control services.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2009 Baltimore ordinance yesterday that required "limited-service pregnancy centers" to post signs announcing they do not provide or make referrals for abortion or birth control services. The 2-1 ruling, which also struck down a similar ordinance in Maryland's Montgomery County, comes on the heels of a flood of pro-life legislation that hit the courts last year.
In the majority opinion, judges Paul Niemeyer and G. Steven Agee wrote: “In compelling that speech, the Pregnancy Center is, in this case, required to participate in the city’s effort to tell pregnant women that abortions are available elsewhere as a morally acceptable alternative, contrary to the moral and religious beliefs of the Pregnancy Center.”
Dissenting judge Robert King called the majority’s decision “indefensible,” and argued there was "ample evidence that the centers engage in 'deceptive practices' that create health risks for the women who seek help from them."
CT has reported how disclosing information to pregnant women—a long-established pro-life legal strategy—is now cutting both ways as a number of cities have passed laws similar to the Baltimore ordinance. San Francisco requires such disclosures by crisis pregnancy centers. A Texas federal court will decide this summer whether an Austin ordinance can stand. New York City passed such an ordinance but a federal judge stopped it for being "overly broad."
Baltimore archdiocesan spokesman Sean Caine told CT that the issue for conservative clinics is less about disclosure, and more about governmental control.
"They're not against disclosure; they're against the government compelling their speech," Caine said. "What they reject is being told by the government that we have to discuss, through a sign, abortion."
June 27, 2012
Court says its decision doesn't impair religious freedom because sons can later choose to be circumcised themselves.
A German appeals court has ruled that parents do not have the right to circumcise their sons for religious reasons because the parents' right to religious freedom does not justify the physical harm done to the human body.
The court, assessing a lawsuit brought against a Muslim doctor over a botched circumcision, said that circumcision "contravenes the interests of the child to decide later on his religious beliefs," as well as causes "serious and irreversible interference in the integrity of the human body." Despite the millions of Muslims and approximately 100,000 Jews that call Germany home, the court said religious freedom would not be impaired by its ruling because children could later decide on their own whether to be circumcised.
Germany's Jewish council condemned the decision as “an unprecedented and dramatic intrusion on the self-determination of religious communities.”
The ruling casts a legal cloud on doctors who perform infant circumcisions, but still gives male circumcision different standing in Germany than female circumcision because there is no law prohibiting it and the ruling isn't binding for other courts.
Prompted by a proposed ballot question in San Francisco last year, CT's David Neff has weighed in on criminalizing circumcision, arguing that America may have secularized the ancient Jewish rite but it is still inescapably religious.
June 20, 2012
Atheist prime minister has defended program for years; top court says it violates not religious freedom, but spending authority.
A controversial Australian government program that stocks public schools with mostly Christian chaplains has long weathered political opposition and court challenges, thanks to an ironic supporter: the island nation's atheist prime minister, Julia Gillard.
But today Australia's highest appeals court invalidated the program, finding that, while it doesn't violate church-state separation, it does exceed the government's spending authority because it lacks legislation.
However, the Australian government says it will continue to fund the chaplains, either by passing legislation or by funding it at the state level.
CT reported on Gillard's counter-intuitive defense of the chaplain program in 2010.
May 1, 2012
Ruling leaves organization’s funding, state’s law in limbo.
A U.S. appeals court’s reversal of a ruling made less than a day before means that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from its Women’s Health Program (WHP)—for now.
Last year, Texas lawmakers barred women’s clinics affiliated with abortion providers from receiving state funds through the WHP. Planned Parenthood, which serves more than 40 percent of the women involved in the WHP, filed a lawsuit earlier this year to maintain their funding.
On Monday, it appeared Planned Parenthood had won a victory when a federal district court judge in Austin, Lee Yeakel, ordered the state to stop its enforcement of the law, which went into effect May 1.
But Fifth Circuit Appeals Judge Jerry Smith granted the state an emergency stay on Tuesday, effectively reversing the lower court’s order. Now Planned Parenthood’s attorneys have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to file an opposition brief. The appeals court will make its final ruling on the stay after that.
This is just the latest development in the ongoing fight over Texas’ new law. In March, the federal government withdrew funding for Texas’ Medicaid program—about 90 percent of its budget—and argued Texas was violating women’s right to choose the best available healthcare provider. Texas is suing over the decision.
February 1, 2012
Thousands march in protest of Feb. 12 eviction plans.
Breaking news update:
The full New York Senate has approved the bill (S6087) that would allow houses of worship to rent from schools in connection with worship services.
According to the Office of State Senator Fernando Cabrera, "Despite heavy and unprecedented lobbying from the Bloomberg Administration, the New York State Senate overwhelmingly approved Senate Bill S6087 which amends education law in relation to authorizing religious meetings and worship in school buildings and school sites.
"When asked to comment on the bill, one of its leading supporters, Pastor and New York City Council Member Fernando Cabrera responded by saying: “Today was a real testament to the power of bipartisan leadership but now, we need the same leadership and bipartisan example showed by the Assembly. We now call on speaker Silver to follow the example of the Republican lead senate, to stand for houses of worship poor communities.”
Christianity Today will update this story as needed.
As protests continue over New York City’s plans to evict churches that meet in school buildings, the state’s legislature took a key step toward allowing those churches to stay.
Last Friday, the Senate Education Committee approved an amendment to New York’s education laws that would allow churches to meet at schools outside school hours. Only one member of the 18-member committee voted outright against the bill, though six voted for it "with reservation."
There has been no word on when the full Senate might vote on the legislation, but the New York City Council will reportedly hold a hearing on it tomorrow morning. Council member Fernando Cabrera has introduced a resolution supporting the state bill.
About 60 New York City congregations are scheduled to be evicted from the school buildings February 12.
CT reported in December that the Supreme Court had declined the Bronx Household of Faith’s appeal of the city’s ban on worship services in public schools. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that the NYC Department of Education had the legal right to bar churches from renting school facilities for worship services.
Many protests have been staged throughout the city. On Sunday, thousands of protestors marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Dimas Salaberrios, pastor of Infinity New York Church, held a 24-day hunger strike; he was forced to end it after experiencing chest pains. January protests at the city’s Law Department and at Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s State of the City address led to dozens of arrests.
Image from NYCReligion.info. Used with permission.
February 4, 2011
They're increasingly joining the calls for reform.
The leaders of Egypt’s Christian minority increasingly are joining the calls for historic change and reform as protests in Cairo and other major cities this week demand the immediate resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
Until recently, many Christian leaders were guarded in their comments if not supportive of Mubarak. But in the past three days with Internet and mobile phone service restored, more are speaking out against injustice in Egypt and demanding political reform, though few are openly calling for Mubarak to resign right away.
Today by email, one prominent Protestant pastor said to his overseas supporters, “We stand united with our courageous young people who broke the barrier of fear and started to demand their basic human rights for a dignified life, freedom and social justice.”
January 5, 2011
A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday a veterans' memorial featuring a 43-foot cross on California's Mount Soledad is unconstitutional.
"The use of such a distinctively Christian symbol to honor all veterans sends a strong message of endorsement and exclusion," wrote Judge M. Margaret McKeown for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"It suggests that the government is so connected to a particular religion that it treats that religion's symbolism as its own, as universal."
The decision that the memorial in La Jolla, Calif., violates the Establishment Clause reverses a lower court decision but does not determine what will happen to the cross that has been the dominant feature of the monument since it was erected in 1913.
"This result does not mean that the memorial could not be modified to pass constitutional muster nor does it mean that no cross can be part of this veterans' memorial," McKeown concluded.
The case has wound through the courts for two decades.
"We are grateful to the Ninth Circuit for its recognition that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment affirms the contribution of diversity in American democracy without pre-eminence to any single religion," said Robert M. Zweiman, past national commander of the Jewish War Veterans of the USA, which worked with the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the memorial.
Legal groups that supported the memorial, including Liberty Institute and the American Center for Law and Justice, called the decision a "slap in the face" to military veterans.
A second case involving a controversial monument in Southern California also remains in the courts.
Last April, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted a war memorial cross to remain at the Mojave National Preserve and told a lower court to further consider a congressionally approved transfer of the cross to private land.
November 29, 2010
Apparently there's not an app for the 400,000+ signature declaration....
Apple's iTunes App Store has removed a program for the Manhattan Declaration after critics decried the declaration as "anti-gay" and "anti-woman."
The app, which went online in October, enabled users to sign the declaration, visit the website, and take a survey relating to the declaration. Change.org posted a petition--which picked up over 7,000 signers in a few days--asking that Apple remove the "anti-gay and anti-choice" application.
Defining itself as "A Call of Christian Conscience," the 4700-word declaration announces its signatories' intention "to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense" of principles that include "sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion." Released in 2009, the declaration has picked up over 400,000 signers, including drafters Charles Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George. (CT's editor-in-chief David Neff also signed the declaration.)
At some point in the last few days, the declaration app unobtrusively vanished from the App Store.
Observers have long puzzled over Apple's criteria for accepting and rejecting apps; in fact many people accused Apple of a double standard when they rejected a number of apps designed specifically for the gay community. The company said they rejected the apps for objectionable content, though many say that the cited content was no worse than that available in apps the company has accepted (like the one promoting the recent movie Bruno).
Apple has yet to explain its reasons for removing the declaration's app, which they originally rated "4+" for "No objectionable material." Supporters of the declaration, however, are definitely making their opinions known about the anti-app campaign.
"I am one of the 150 or so original signers of the Manhattan Declaration—I urge readers here to sign it—and I don’t hate gay people," wrote Tom Gilson on First Things's Evangel blog. "That’s an unjust and intolerant tag that a minority opposition group has fixed upon me for rhetorical effect. It’s wrong and it’s extremely judgmental."
"To a radicalized blog dedicated to promoting abortion, denigrating the dignity of women and the unborn, and supporting unnatural unions, this application is the scourge of human existence," writes Billy Atwell on the Manhattan Declaration's own blog. "What does that tell me? It tells me that we’re doing something right "
UPDATE, 12/01: The three original drafters of the Manhattan Declaration have sent a letter to Apple, calling on Steve Jobs to restore the app.
"In an atmosphere of 300,000+ available apps, it is surprising to us that there couldn't continue to be an app focused on three views that millions of Americans have in common," Colson said in a press release late this afternoon, referring to the three major planks of the declaration.
"Apple originally found that the app contains no objectionable materials," Colson said, "and in the spirit of civil public dialogue, we call on Apple to reinsate the Manhattan Declaration app and allow these issues to be debated in a reasoned and respectful manner."
August 24, 2010
Former president Jimmy Carter is on his way to secure Aijalon Mahli Gomes's freedom.
The North Korean government says they will free a Christian activist they sent to prison in April—as long as former President Jimmy Carter is the one who comes to get him.
CNN reported that Carter is gearing up for a trip to North Korea to free Christian activist and American citizen Aijalon Mahli Gomes. North Korean officials say they will release Gomes to Carter.
Gomes received an 8-year "hard labor" sentence in April after crossing the border into North Korea from China three months earlier. Observers at the time said that North Korea wanted to use Gomes as bargaining leverage in the ongoing wrangle with the U.S. over their nuclear program. Officially, the Obama administration will only engage with North Korea if they come back to the table in the ongoing six-party talks over their nuclear program.
The White House characterizes Carter’s trip as “a private humanitarian effort” by a private citizen. Former President Bill Clinton undertook a similar effort to secure the freedom of two journalists who faced a hard labor sentence when they crossed over into North Korea last year.
Gomes is the fourth American in the last year to get caught crossing China’s border into North Korea the New York Daily News reported. CT previously reported on Robert Park, a 28-year-old Korean-American who visited the closed communist state over Christmas. While teaching English in South Korea, Gomes reportedly attended the same church as Park, Every Nation Church of Korea in Seoul.
Carter is expected to leave today and return to the U.S. with Gomes by Friday.
Update: According to current reports, President Carter is in North Korea, but North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is not. Speculation has it that Kim is taking his son and heir apparent, Kim Jong-eun, to China to introduce him to the leaders of North Korea's strongest ally. There is no indication that Carter and Kim met before Kim left.
August 23, 2010
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the humanitarian group is a religious organization under the law.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling this afternoon allowing the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision to base its hiring decisions on matters of religious belief.
Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain authored the three-judge panel’s majority opinion, which declares World Vision a “religious organization” and therefore exempt from the rules on hiring practices that Congress set down in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, mainly because it is a nonprofit entity which self-identifies as religious.
“This is a significant victory for World Vision’s religious hiring rights,” said Dean Owen, World Vision’s director of media relations. “The right of faith-based organizations to hire people who are co-religionists, who are of their own faith, has been law in this country for nearly 50 years.”
Three former World Vision employees, Silvia Spencer, Ted Youngberg, and Vicki Hulse, sued after World Vision fired them in 2006 for disagreeing with central tenets of the organization’s Statement of Faith. As O’Scannlain notes, everyone involved agreed that the three employees were fired for religious reasons. The question was whether World Vision qualified for the religious exemption to the Civil Rights Act, which normally prohibits any organization from hiring or firing based on religious beliefs.
The former employees asserted that both law and legal precedent limited “religious organizations” to “churches, synagogues, and the like.” The Ninth Circuit, who produced some of the precedents they pointed to, disagreed.
“If Congress had intended to restrict the exemption to ‘[c]hurches, and entities similar to churches’ it could have said so,” Judge O’Scannlain’s opinion said. “Because Congress did not, some religious corporations, associations, and societies that are not churches must fall within the exemption.“
Continue reading Court: World Vision can Hire, Fire Based on Faith...
August 5, 2010
Legal group says marriage case was not “adequately defended,” noting Alliance Defense Fund presented only two witnesses at trial.
Proposition 8, California's marriage amendment, was ruled unconstitutional by federal judge Vaughn Walker. Amid the clamoring over the ruling, the Liberty Counsel issued a statement blaming the Alliance Defense Fund for doing a poor job defending the proposition and for keeping the Liberty Counsel from helping with the case.
While Christian legal groups sometimes compete, and sometimes even disagree on cases, it is rare to see one directly criticize another.
In the statement, Liberty Counsel claims that it has been involved in every marriage law case in California since 2004, but the ADF objected to the Liberty Counsel working on the case. The group further said that it “sought to provide additional defense to Prop 8 because of concern that the case was not being adequately defended.” Liberty Counsel pointed out that the ADF called only two witnesses, compared to 15 for the other side.
The rift between the Liberty Counsel and the ADF stems from a dispute over who should intervene after California Attorney General Jerry Brown decided not to defend the case.
Liberty Counsel had been representing Campaign for California Families since 2004. The now-defunct organization was successful on a previous marriage initiative, but it was not responsible for getting Proposition 8 on the ballot.
The official representative of the proposition was Protectmarriage.com: Yes on 8, which was defended by Andrew Pugno, a lawyer the ADF lists as being an “ADF-allied attorney.”
When opponents of Prop. 8 filed their lawsuit, both the ADF and the Liberty Counsel sought to intervene.
Pugno told the San Francisco Chronicle that his group should be the only one to defend the proposition. "We represent the people who got things done, who got Prop. 8 passed," said Pugno, "[Campaign for California Families] represents the extreme fringe and is not representative of the coalition that got it passed. They didn't even support Prop. 8 until sometime in the summer."
In September 2009, Judge Walker ruled in favor of Protectmarriage.com, the ADF group, and against Campaign for California Families, the Liberty Counsel group.
Now that the case is over, the Liberty Counsel is making it clear that they would have defended the case differently. The organization is filing a brief in favor of an appeal, but it is still not representing the proposition itself.
August 5, 2010
Church leaders claim irregularities, urge peace after the vote
A landslide referendum victory gave Kenyans a new constitution that had proven controversial among Christian leaders during the campaign phase.
Preliminary results show that nearly 70 percent of Kenyan voters approved the draft constitution. Many Christian leaders, who had objected to sections that loosened restrictions on abortion and gave legitimacy to Islamic courts on certain matters of family law, were unhappy with the decision but urged Kenyans to react peacefully.
“Thanks for the peace, and we ask you to continue living in peace,” said Roman Catholic Bishop Cornelius Korir according to CatholicCulture.org.
The referendum substantially revises the constitution which Kenya adopted when it broke off from Britain in 1963. The referendum, which in part reforms the electoral system and limits the power of the president, was prompted by the contested 2007 presidential election which sparked tribal violence resulting in more than 1,000 deaths.
While church leaders have vowed to accept the democratic will of the people, some have alleged that the election was not entirely fair. According to the Kenyan Daily Nation, church leaders said that the run-up to the referendum “was marred by malpractices and irregularities which continued right into the balloting and tallying phases."
“We know that in some places, they were going door to door giving people money to vote for the Constitution,” said Rev. Canon Peter Karanja of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. “We even know of places where there was intimidation against some communities.”
Several major players in the “No” campaign are now refocusing their energies on amending the new constitution.
“The process continues,” says Karanja.
Read CT's previous coverage of Kenya here.
August 4, 2010
Prop. 8 is unconstitutional, according to San Francisco federal judge Vaughn Walker.
Today's highly anticipated ruling overturns California's 2008 constitutional ban on same-sex marriages, narrowly approved by voters shortly after the state's Supreme Court legalized them (good refresher here). Both sides have pledged to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court, though the Ninth Circuit will receive it next.
In an electronically-filed decision, Walker explained why he believes Prop. 8 violates the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses. He wrote:
"Each challenge is independently meritorious, as Proposition 8 both unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."
Walker later observed: "A private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples is not a proper basis for legislation." And concluded: "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same sex couples."
A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute suggested Californians today would narrowly repeal Prop. 8 if voting again, though GetReligion pointed out the possible biases in the poll.
It's been a busy summer for same-sex marriage in the legal world. In July, a federal judge in Boston declared unconstitutional the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which codifies marriage as a union between one man and one woman. The July ruling held that the federal law violates states’ rights to define marriage by blocking legally married gay couples from federal benefits and violating the Constitution’s “equal protection” clause. Currently five states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, while 29 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit it.
Meanwhile, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in June that, because European Union members have not yet reached a consensus on the matter, same-sex marriage cannot be viewed as a human right. Portugal, Iceland and Argentina legalized the practice this summer.
Pew produced a research package on the U.S. debate here. Past CT articles on same-sex marriage can be found here.
June 10, 2010
After a health inspector gets zealous, state passes law letting nonprofits sell homemade food.
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has signed a bill into law which protects church bake sales, potlucks and similar events from sanction by state food inspectors, according to WHTM.
Pennsylvania church leaders—and, no doubt, church bake sale cooks—welcomed what became known as the “Pie Bill.”
“Everybody likes pie,” pastor Mike Greb told The Philadelphia Inquirer this week. His own St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church has been at the epicenter of the recent controversy. ""These fundraisers are our survival," Greb said. "In tough economic times, they keep the doors open and the lights on."
In early 2009, an inspector from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture shut down a St Cecilia’s Lenten bake sale.
Since the food was coming from a non-state-inspected kitchen, the state government considered it a “potentially hazardous substance.” Freshman State Senator Elder Vogel decided to introduce a bill—his first in the legislature, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review—allowing nonprofits to sell home-cooked food at fundraisers.
Concerned citizens sweetened the deal by inundating their legislators with plates of cookies, the Inquirer reports. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously last week.
In 2005, Christianity Today reported on several states which had various degrees of restriction of what churches could and could not do with baked goods.
Image via lcarsdata/wikimedia
April 14, 2010
Religion is making custody battles even messier.
A Chicago judge ruled Tuesday that Joseph Reyes may take his 3-year-old daughter to Mass during his visitation time, despite the objection of his estranged wife Rebecca Reyes who is raising the girl Jewish.
Joseph was barred from exposing his daughter to "non-Jewish activity" last year after baptizing the girl without first informing Rebecca, who has sole custody of the child. Joseph challenged the ban as unconstitutional -- and drew national headlines by inviting local media to film him take the girl to Mass in December.
Joseph will now always have the girl on Christmas and Easter, while Rebecca will always have her on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover.
CT covered the increasing problem of custody battles involving religion here.
April 13, 2010
Judge: Claims against Fla. state attorney dismissed, but assistant state attorney isn’t immune.
Mac Brunson and the leaders of First Baptist Church Jacksonville didn’t much care for FBC Jax Watchdog, one of many Baptist watchblogs.
No surprise there: Brunson was a frequent target of the anonymous blogger’s critiques. The surprise is that the church asked one of its members, a police officer (who is also a Brunson bodyguard) to find out who the blogger was. The officer got assistant state attorney Stephen Siegel to subpoena records from Comcast and Google to unmask the blogger as longtime church member Tom Rich—whereupon the church leadership immediately barred Rich and his wife from ever coming near the sanctuary again.
The inevitable lawsuits followed, and on March 31 United States District Judge Marcia Morales Howard denied Siegel’s efforts to claim immunity. “The limited record before the court does not support a finding that Siegel had any legitimate law enforcement interest in issuing the investigatory subpoenas,” Howard said. In addition, she said, Siegel’s reported actions “appear to violate the very essence of the First Amendment.”
But Howard did dismiss Rich’s complaint against Siegel’s supervisor, then-state attorney Angela Corey, who was acting in her official capacity and is thus protected by 11th Amendment to the Constitution.
Rich is also suing the police officer and the church.
(Sources: Associated Baptist Press, Jacksonville Times-Union, and Religion Clause.)
April 9, 2010
As expected, Stevens announces retirement.
Justice John Paul Stevens’s announcement today that he will retire this summer will add to speculation (already voiced by NPR’s Morning Edition, The Washington Post, and others) that the next Supreme Court term will open with no Protestants on the court.
Morning Edition wonders if it’s okay even to talk about it. Both the Post and NPR wonder if it even really matters. “Clearly, the court thinks of itself as post-religious,” says the Post’s Robert Barnes. “But perceptions matter.”
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Frank Lockwood says it doesn’t matter: the divide today isn’t between Protestants and Catholics but between traditionalists and liberals in both camps. “Most evangelical leaders, I’m guessing, would rather see a Catholic like Scalia than a Protestant like Stevens.”
(The debate on this question got rather heated when Catholics became the majority on the court in 2006. A key issue: Is there a reason there are no evangelicals on the Court?)
May 18, 2009
Manoj Pradhan, in jail for leading riots against Christians last year in Orissa, seems to have won a seat in the state assembly in India's general elections.
But overall, India's Christians have reason to be happy with the election. Dara Singh, who was convicted of leading Graham Staines' murder, was not permitted to run.
More importantly, most of the election results showed a distaste for right-wing Hinduism and support of the non-religious Congress Party. The BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, was defeated quite solidly. The Washington Post reports that they are re-evaluating their support of candidates who support anti-Christian and anti-Muslim violence.
Manmohan Singh, the incumbent, is set for a second term as prime minister. The New York Times reports that India's stock market surged after the announcement the Congress party won 205 of 543 seats in Parliament. A near-majority means the party no longer has to "rely on India's Communist parties to stay in power." Those Communist parties won about 80 seats, and the BJP, 159.
May 5, 2009
Anti-gay pastor named on exclusion list as fomenter of hatred.
May 1, 2009
A new study says white evangelicals are most likely to justify torture. What shall we make of that?
News reports, such as this one from CNN and this one from US News, highlighted yesterday the attitudes of white evangelicals on the issue of torture. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 18 percent of white evangelicals said use of torture against suspected terrorists can often be justified and 44 percent said it can sometimes be justified. That adds up to 62 percent. Compare that solid majority to the often/sometimes number for white non-Hispanic Catholics (51 percent, a bare majority) and white mainline Protestants (46 percent). Because of problems with the sample size, the Pew study was unable to peg a percentage for other groups, such as African-American Protestants or Hispanic Catholics.
One more factor to consider: attendance at religious services. Fifty-four percent of those who attend religious services at least weekly say torture against suspected terrorists can be often/sometimes justified compared to 51 percent of those who attend monthly or a few times a year and 42 percent of those who attend seldom or never.
The immediate impression is that religion - especially religion characterized by active commitment - makes people bloodthirsty. Or something like that.
What can we say about this picture?
Continue reading Evangelicals and Torture...
March 18, 2009
Yesterday's ruling could set an unfortunate precedent for Christian student groups at public colleges.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled yesterday that a California law school could lawfully bar the school's Christian Legal Society from being recognized as a student group for requiring its members to sign a statement of faith. The ruling could set a precedent for the way Christian organizations can or cannot retain their distinct religious beliefs at public colleges with nondiscrimination policies.
The CLS chapter at the University of California's Hastings College of Law filed a lawsuit in fall 2004 against the college for denying it status as a registered student organization. According to CLS's brief, it was denied official recognition for requiring members to sign a statement of faith, which, among other things, prohibits homosexual conduct. Hastings officials had said CLS's standards violated the school's nondiscrimination policy, which says all student groups "shall not discriminate unlawfully on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation."
CLS's lawsuit claimed that Hastings was practicing viewpoint discrimination and violating CLS's right to expressive association. It claimed that Hastings was applying its policy inconsistently. CLS's brief, page 14?18:
Hastings allows other registered student organizations to require that their leaders and/or members agree with the organization's beliefs and purposes. . . . Outlaw [a pro-gay rights group] is free to remove officers if they fail to support the organization's pro-gay rights purpose; Silenced Right: National Alliance Pro-Life Group may require its members to support its pro-life purposes; . . . Hastings' nondiscrimination policy is viewpoint discriminatory, as it allows a vegetarian club to require that officers and members not eat meat, but prohibits an Orthodox Jewish group for requiring its officers and members to abstain from pork for religious reasons.
Continue reading Christian Legal Society Loses Against CA Law School in 9th Circuit...
March 6, 2009
Archbishop excommunicates mother, doctors involved in abortion for girl raped by her stepfather.
Despite the Catholic Church's attempts to stop the procedure, a 9-year-old Brazilian girl whose stepfather allegedly sexually abused her had an abortion Wednesday after doctors warned that giving birth might result in death. Physicians at the hospital in the coastal town of Recife said the girl - 15 weeks pregnant with twins and weighing 80 pounds - could not give birth without putting her life at risk.
In response, on Thursday Jos? Cardoso Sobrinho, archbishop of Olinda and Recife, excommunicated the girl's mother, who authorized the abortion, and the doctors involved.
"The law of God is above any human law," the archbishop said in an interview with Globo television that aired Thursday. "So when a human law, i.e., a law enacted by legislators, is against the law of God, that human law has no value. The adults who approved, who carried out this abortion, have incurred excommunication." Excommunication is the Catholic Church's severest censure for an individual, who can no longer participate in church of receive the sacraments, except that of Reconciliation.
Continue reading 9-Year-Old's Abortion Draws Catholic Censure in Brazil...
March 6, 2009
Already hurt non-profits worry about a further decrease in donations.
President Obama's budget calls for a decrease in the amount of tax savings that wealthy donors (those who earn more than $250,000 per year) can claim after giving to charity. The budget estimates the new rule would bring in about $318 billion over ten years. This means that those in the 33% or 35% tax brackets would only get to claim 28% of the donation as a tax brake.
But charities and their supporters in Congress don't much like the idea. "After objections from Democratic lawmakers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared to suggest at one point Wednesday that the administration was willing to consider dropping or modifying the proposal," reports The Wall Street Journal.
Charity Navigator says it sees a huge jump in donations in the days before January 1, as donors adjust their giving for tax purposes. The Indiana University Center on Philanthropy estimates the new rules would decrease giving by nearly $4 billion, at 2006 giving levels.
Churches and other religious groups, whose services aid the increasing numbers of needy and who are already doing more with less, are likely to increase their pressure on the White House as the budget debate draws on.
January 21, 2009
Continued drug company payouts prompt questions about who's minding medicine.
Last week the Justice Department announced that drug company Eli Lilly had agreed to pay $1.42 billion to settle criminal and civil charges that it had illegally marketed its blockbuster antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. The case accused company sales reps of promoting the drug for conditions beyond its narrow FDA-approved use of treating schizophrenia and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and for populations (children and the elderly) for whom its known side effects are particularly risky. The New York Times report indicates that claims and evidence in the case were similar to a California state lawsuit which alleged that company studies of the drug circulated among its sales force were "Lilly's thinly veiled marketing of Zyprexa as an effective chemical restraint for demanding, vulnerable and needy patients."
While the settlement was the largest amount paid by a single defendant in the history of the US department of Justice, it is dwarfed by the $39 billion in sales Zyprexa has generated since its approval in 1996, and is less than half of its $3.5 billion in sales in the first nine months of 2008.
This most recent case adds to the already sordid backdrop to Marcia Angell's scathing indictment of drug companies and the physicians, medical schools, and professional organizations happy to collude with them published in the latest New York Review of Books. Angell, the Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School who served as editor-in-chief for the New England Journal of Medicine for two decades, believes these massive payouts are "just the cost of doing business" and "well worth it" for drug companies so long as the drug continues to rake in billions.
In Angell's telling, the particular offenses reported in the government Zyprexa case represent only a fraction of drug company improprieties, a discouraging litany she candidly rehearses. Yet without countenancing or minimizing their contributions to a corrupt system, she reserves her sharpest rebuke for her colluding peers.
It is easy to fault drug companies for this situation, and they certainly deserve a great deal of blame...Still, apologists might argue that the pharmaceutical industry is merely trying to do its primary job - further the interests of its investors - and sometimes it goes a little too far.
Physicians, medical schools, and professional organizations have no such excuse, since their only fiduciary responsibility is to patients. The mission of medical schools and teaching hospitals - and what justifies their tax-exempt status - is to educate the next generation of physicians, carry out scientifically important research, and care for the sickest members of society. It is not to enter into lucrative commercial alliances with the pharmaceutical industry.
Angell is concerned that unless the medical profession reasserts its independence by sharply breaking its improper financial dependence on the pharmaceutical industry, the integrity of its work will continue to decline, and with it, the trust of the public.
And no payout, however staggering, can buy that back.
October 24, 2008
Hu Jia awarded Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought at the beginning of his three-year jail term in China.
Hu Jia, who was among those named in our map of pre-Olympic arrests in China, was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
The European Parliament gives out the prestigious annual award. Their press release says:
Hu Jia is a prominent human rights activist and dissident in the People's Republic of China. He has embraced a wide range of causes, including environmental issues, HIV/AIDS advocacy and a call for an official enquiry into the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. He has also acted as a coordinator of the 'barefoot lawyers movement'.
Having already been arrested several times, he spoke to MEPs in November 2007 from house arrest via conference call during a public meeting of the EP Human Rights Subcommittee on human rights in China in the run-up to the Olympic Games. As a result he was charged by the authorities with "inciting subversion of state power" and sentenced on 3 April 2008 to three-and-a-half years in jail.
The prize puts China - which is reportedly pretty steamed - in the awkward position of having an internationally recognized lawyer in prison.
The U.S. State Department and other organizations are demanding Hu's release: "We are deeply concerned about the imprisonment of human rights activist Hu Jia and have pressed the Chinese authorities for his immediate release on many occasions and at the highest level," State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid told The Age.
Although the European Parliament statement, the Wikipedia page, and reports by The New York Times, BBC, and others don't mention it, Hu is a Christian and one of many Christian human rights activists fighting for human rights in China.
* * *
While one source listed Hu Jia as a Christian, he is a Buddhist, according to China Aid and others. My apologies.
August 22, 2008
The author will replace Relevant founder Cameron Strang, who pulled out of the prayer earlier.
Best-selling author Donald Miller will give a benediction Monday night at the Democratic National Convention. He replaces Relevant Magazine founder and CEO Cameron Strang, who decided not to give the benediction at the Democratic National Convention as previously planned.
Christianity Today featured Miller on its cover in June 2007, and his spirituality book Blue Like Jazz has sold more than one million copies.
"Don is one of the top names among young evangelicals," said Joshua DuBois, director of religious affairs for the Barack Obama campaign. "We didn't think he would do it. We're just ecstatic. I love Blue Like Jazz myself. I think it sends a huge signal that someone who's is helping to lead off the conventions is an evangelical of his calibre."
I spoke to Miller this morning.
Why did you choose to accept the invitation?
Somebody calls you and asks you to pray, you do.
You get three minutes to pray? Have you thought about what you're going to pray?
I've not written the prayer yet, but I really wanted to hone in on the theme of unity, even unity between Republicans and Democrats. In the convention, as we highlight our differences that we wouldn't forget that we're unified, we have more in common than we don't. That's the focus of the prayer.
Cameron Strang was in that slot before and said that people perceived the prayer as showing favoritism. Are you worried you'll receive the same reactions?
I'm not. I'm a registered Democrat. While that's perceived as black or white, or hostile toward the Republican Party, I grew up in the Republican Party. I even attended as a kid the Republican National Convention when it was in Houston when Bush Sr. was running against Clinton. I changed parties about five years ago. I really felt like the Republican Party was taking advantage of the evangelical community by throwing us abortion and gay marriage, really not giving the heart of Christ more thought. I felt like it was the party of the extremely wealthy and they needed this conservative base in order to get a majority and so they pandered to us.
(The rest of the Q & A is posted after the jump.)
Continue reading Donald Miller to Give DNC Benediction...
August 20, 2008
Magazine founder recommended author Donald Miller.
Relevant Magazine founder and CEO Cameron Strang decided not to give the benediction at the Democratic National Convention as previously planned.
Strang said his planned prayer was perceived as showing favoritism, so he pulled out and recommended Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller instead.
Strang sent the following statement to me in an e-mail.
"As a pro-life voter, I never intended my participation to imply unequivocal endorsement, and the DNC knew that and were fine with that. I viewed it simply as an opportunity to continue positive dialogue, show support for a continuing emphasis on faith issues, and pray in a forum where faith isn't typically thought to be emphasized. I wanted to show that this generation of values voters doesn't necessarily need to draw battle lines politically the way previous generations have, that we can work through areas of disagreement to further the common good.
"However, the reality is, through RELEVANT I reach a demographic that has strong faith, morals and passions, but disagreements politically. It wouldn't be wise for me to pick a political side, when I've consistently said both sides are right in some areas and both sides are wrong in some areas. My desire is to keep an open dialogue with both campaigns and talk about the issues that matter to my generation of Christians. If my praying at the DNC was perceived as showing favoritism and incorrectly labeling me as endorsing one candidate over the other, then I needed to have pause. And that's what was happening.
"So I brought that concern up to the DNC, and they understood. I recommended bestselling author Don Miller as a much better representative of our audience than I am, and they were glad to invite him to give the invocation in my place. I think this will ultimately be much better for the DNC. The campaign and I still have positive dialogue, and I'm thankful for that.
"Like I mentioned, they've invited me to participate in a "Faith in the '08 Election" panel on Thursday, which seems to be a perfect fit. It allows me to continue a positive conversation with the DNC and be involved a bit more behind the scenes. I want to make sure our generation of Christians has a place at the table, so to speak, and this will afford us that chance -- even moreso than if I was to give a prayer onstage.
"As an aside, in a "put your money where your mouth is" move this week, I changed my party affiliation from Republican to Independent. I want to vote because of values and convictions, not party affiliations. To me, that's an important part of being a thinking, values-minded Christian."
Originally posted at Christianity Today's politics blog.
July 30, 2008
In conference opener, Massachusetts Senator tells Christian and Muslim leaders they are on 'the right side of the debate.'
Filed: 7:05 AM, July 30, 2008
Senator John Kerry kicked off the "Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed" conference (also known as the "Common Word" conference) Monday night with a largely unsurprising, but welcome speech. He was, after all, preaching to the choir: Christian and Muslim leaders from around the world who want to find a way to live together peacefully.
Kerry began by telling his roughly 150 listeners that the meeting they were attending at Yale University "can help change the world," while warning that pessimism about future relationships between the Muslim world and the West hands demagogues who play to pessimism about the inevitable violent clash of cultures and religions. "You have placed yourselves among those who are on the right side of the debate," he told them. "We must love one another or die."
Continue reading John Kerry: 'Love One Another or Die'...
June 20, 2008
Why it's not a good thing, even for Christians
I never imagined Irv Rubin and I would agree on anything. He was the leader of the Jewish Defense League, an organization, founded by Meir Kahane, that took the ADL's efforts to terrorist extremes and could make an anti-Semite out of Tevye the milkman. I was the archetypal product of assimilation, a liberal evangelical with a Jewish last name and an affinity for understanding all religions.
But a few years back, which coincidentally was a few years after Rubin died in prison, I found myself in his camp. I had set out to write about the propensity for city officials and invited ministers to invoke Jesus' name in the prayers preceding municipal meetings. Thanks to Irv Rubin, who sued the city of Burbank in 1999 to prohibit sectarian prayers, referring by name to any deity -- Allah, YHWH, Jesus, Buddha, the Flying Spaghetti Monster -- had been ruled unconstitutional; the state and U.S. supreme courts let the ruling stand.
As a proponent of the separation of church and state, I couldn't have agreed more. But what I found was that few cities, at least in my community of San Bernardino and eastern Los Angeles counties, paid any mind.
"Lord Jesus, we'd like to give you thanks and praise," Rialto Councilman Joe Sampson began a meeting, which he later defended because the United States is a "Christian country."
I assumed that with time this would change. But that has not been the case. In Ontario, Calif., Tuesday, a day after the mayor apologized for "errors in his private life" that vaguely referred to allegations he had an affair with a city employee, Pastor Larry Enriguez invoked Jesus' words to a mob ready to lynch an adulteress in the eighth chapter of John: "He who is without sin, cast the first stone."
True words. Very true words when talking about, say, your covetous neighbor. But not when dealing with an elected official who may or may not have been diddling a taxpayer-supported subordinate.
More important, though, is the fact that these words are not appropriate for government meetings. I say this as a Christian who believes Jesus' message contains incredible power. But I also say this as someone who believes religion should not be forced into the public square. We all know how this ends up for those not in power. And what if the tables are turned? Judge not lest ye be judged.
June 10, 2008
A new book says Bush fired Rove in church.
In a piece subtitled, "Fired and brimstone," The Examiner relays that George Bush canned Karl Rove in church.
The information comes from yet another pre-postmortem book on the Bush administration, Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove, by former Time reporter Paul Alexander. The Examiner summarizes:
"On a Sunday in midsummer, George W. Bush accompanied Karl Rove to the Episcopalian Church Rove sometimes attended," writes Alexander. "They made their way to the front of the congregation. Then, during their time in the church, Bush gave Rove some stunning news. ?Karl,' Bush said, ?there's too much heat on you. It's time for you to go.'"
Maybe Bush knew what he was doing in breaking such bad news in such serene atmosphere: As Alexander documents, Rove has quite the temper.
May 15, 2008
Opponents say they'll try to amend the state constitution.
California will become only the second U.S. state to allow gay and lesbian couples to tie the knot after the state's Supreme Court on Thursday (May 15) overturned a voter referendum that had banned same-sex marriages.
Twenty-three gay and lesbian couples had filed suit to challenge a 1977 law and the 2000 referendum that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. In a 4-3 decision, the court ruled that barring gay couples from marriage violates the "fundamental constitutional right to form a family relationship."
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Ronald George said opening marriage to same-sex couples "will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage."
Under the ruling, same-sex couples will be eligible for marriage licenses in 30 days, and the state will recognize gay marriages performed in other jurisdictions. Currently only Massachusetts allows gay marriage, as do five other countries, including Canada.
Continue reading California High Court Okays Gay Marriage...
April 25, 2008
Precedent could allow for Church of Satan design, too
This might seem like a good idea, but ...
Florida drivers can order more than 100 specialty license plates celebrating everything from manatees to the Miami Heat, but one now under consideration would be the first in the nation to explicitly promote a specific religion.
The Florida Legislature is considering a specialty plate with a design that includes a Christian cross, a stained-glass window and the words "I Believe."
Rep. Edward Bullard, the plate's sponsor, said people who "believe in their college or university" or "believe in their football team" already have license plates they can buy. The new design is a chance for others to put a tag on their cars with "something they believe in," he said.
If the plate is approved, Florida would become the first state to have a license plate featuring a religious symbol that's not part of a college logo. Approval would almost certainly face a court challenge.
This story from the AP is what I like to call religious-controversy in a can. There is an exact formula to reporting these kneejerkers out. Introduce the "major news" (these are CNN standards), followed by a supportive quote about how Christians just want equal rights and then the contrarion view from Americans United, the ACLU or Michael Newdow. My vote's for contestant No. 2:
Continue reading Florida Considers Christian-themed License Plate...
April 16, 2008
The Supreme Court rules lethal injection is constitutional; now, they're deciding if capital punishment is limited to cases of murder.
The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) today tackled one case on the death penalty and is on to the next.
The biggest news from SCOTUS was the 7 ? 2 ruling that Kentucky's method of lethal injection was a constitutional form of capital punishment and not cruel and unusual.
"The case before the court came from Kentucky, where two death row inmates wanted the court to order a switch to a single drug, a barbiturate, that causes no pain and can be given in a large enough dose to cause death," NPR reports.
In executions by lethal injection, a team of doctors administers a barbituate to numb, a paralytic, and then sodium chloride, which causes cardiac arrest, through an IV. One of the main objections to lethal injection is that any of the drugs is ineffectively administered, the execution would be painful, undignified, or drawn-out.
That risk, however, isn't enough to make the method illegal, said Chief Justice John Roberts.
Continue reading At the Edges of the Death Penalty...
April 2, 2008
Could one of the world's most tenacious dictators concede?
The answer, apparently, is no.
Everybody has been a bit overeager about Zimbabwe's future - but there truly are some hopeful signs as Zimbabweans wait for the results of last Saturday's elections. The opposition party claims its candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, beat Robert Mugabe. They've also won a majority in parliament. And no one is contradicting them yet.
Rumor has it Mugabe may concede that he has not won. Some are suggesting his party's not declaring victory may lead to an actual handing over of power - and that Zimbabwe, in which church-state intrigue is practically an art form, might fare better with the democratic process than Kenya did this winter. "The mere possibility of a transfer of power is a stunning development in Zimbabwe," Greg Winter says in a New York Times video on the election.
Continue reading Updated: Zimbabwe Waits for Mugabe to Admit Defeat...
March 4, 2008
Candidate's attempt to pit Jesus against Paul falls flat.
Many evangelicals seem taken with Barack Obama. Tired of the Religious Right and seeking a new tone in Washington, they see in this untested, enigmatic senator a chance for real change. And indeed he is congenial and a breath of fresh air when compared with the grasping Clinton dynasty. Many Bible-believers seem ready to look the other way with Obama, despite his extremely liberal voting record (including unfettered backing of abortion), because he appears to be a genuine person they can work with.
I wonder how his latest, religiously based comments might change this. The other day Obama reiterated his support for civil unions for homosexuals. No surprise there. Some Christians (but not me) do indeed allow for the conferring of some legal rights, short of marital status, on gays as a simple matter of fairness. But I suspect his rationale raised some hackles.
If people find that controversial then I would just refer them to the Sermon on the Mount, which I think is, in my mind, for my faith, more central than an obscure passage in Romans.
Since when did Romans 1 become obscure? I thought pitting the words of Jesus against those of Paul was a tactic of Red Letter Christians, not something a serious candidate for the Oval Office would engage in.
But be that as it may, it's a good thing that Obama is not running for theologian in chief. There is no refererence to gay civil unions in the Sermon on the Mount (unless you stretch the Golden Rule beyond all recognition). Perhaps Obama mixed up his Bible references, like Howard Dean calling Job his favorite New Testament book?
When Jesus spoke of marriage, of course, he assumed it is a heterosexual institution. There may be a legal case to be made for marriage-like civil unions. But, please, let's not drag Jesus into it.
February 28, 2008
A recent White House report spotlights success of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, but some are still skeptical.
The White House released a 175-page report Monday highlighting the accomplishments of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiative.
The report received little attention in the mainstream media, but the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy reported that the reactions varied from support to dismissal.
Outspoken critic of the office, former deputy director David Kuo told the Roundtable, "If they had fulfilled the President's promises, there wouldn't be any need for a glossy PR document that only proves the Initiative's great failures."
The report spotlights the office's training of more than 100,000 religious and grassroots organizations, and it has encouraged faith-based efforts in 35 states and more than 100 cities.
Supporters have lauded the program by saying that it helped level the playing field for religious organizations to compete for grants. However, lower funds made it more difficult for anyone to compete.
"While faith-based organizations were getting a bigger piece of the pie, the pie was shrinking," David Wright, project director for the Roundtable said in the article.
The office's Director Jay Hein told the Roundtable that the Initiative should not be judged by a tally of spending.
"This is not an Initiative about money," Hein said. "This is an Initiative about problem-solving. Problems don't get solved by spending more money."
Previous CT coverage includes a recent interview with former director John Dilulio.
February 26, 2008
A religious man after all, Rove talks about the role of faith in American politics
Last spring, Karl Rove was outed by atheist superstar Christopher Hitchens as a fellow nonbeliever.
"He doesn't shout it from the rooftops, but when asked, he answers quite honestly. I think the way he puts it is, "I'm not fortunate enough to be a person of faith."
But last night Rove told me he is in fact a religious person, though he didn't specify how his Christian roots manifest themselves in his life.
Rove was in Los Angeles to speak at the Gibson Ampitheatre, one of a number of distinguished voices in this year's Public Lecture Series by American Jewish University. His invitation had caused a bit of consternation in the Jewish community, but he quickly won over many of his skeptics, which I wrote about in an article that will be online Thursday.
"I spent part of my childhood in Utah," Rove said at a VIP dinner before the lecture. "I went to a high school that is 95 percent Mormon, and only in Utah could a Presbyterian and a Jew both be gentiles."
Regardless of his own beliefs, Rove, who left his post as chief adviser to President Bush in August, was instrumental in helping Bush monopolize the support of evangelical voters and making religious rhetoric a more essential part of presidential campaigns, something we are seeing plenty of this year.
Religion has long been relevant on the campaign trail.
"Roosevelt used to say to his speech writer, Rosenman, Don't forget the God stuff at the end. That's a bit colloquial," Rove said, "but the point is Americans have always valued leaders of faith."
Continue reading Karl Rove and the politics of religion...
February 16, 2008
IRS complaint draws calls for God to smite civil liberties groups
Sometimes Americans United for Separation of Church and State is misguided in its zeal. But, in this case, the one lacking wisdom was Pastor Wiley S. Drake, who last week used First Baptist Church of Buena Park letterhead and an affiliated radio program to endorse Mike Huckabee for president. That's a violation of tax laws for nonprofits, and Americans United filed a complaint. Drake's response was a bit vengeful.
In an e-mail Thursday, Drake urged action against Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union.
As he had in August, Drake quoted Psalm 109, which speaks of wicked and deceitful people and asks God to let such a person's days be few and let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
"In light of the recent attack from the enemies of God, I ask the children of God to go into action with imprecatory prayer," he wrote.
Imprecatory prayers have been defined as praying for someone's misfortune or as appeals to God for justice.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, called Drake's appeal to his supporters "reckless and repugnant."
"Introducing this kind of religious extremism into American life is reprehensible," he said.
Continue reading Pastor prays for foes' demise...
February 10, 2008
Finding space to coexist in the most populous country in Africa.
Religion coverage in The Atlantic is typically well done. The magazine's coverage of the neutering of religion from The Golden Compass was interesting for the way it treated both Hollywood and the anti-religious themes of the book on which the movie was based. Though the magazine retains the secular, above the fray, attitude toward faith of its New England founding, it also put Philip Jenkin's article on the New Christendom on the cover in October, 2002, when his book describing the phenomenal growth of non-Western Christianity debuted.
So, the magazine's March cover story (not yet online) on the literal battle between Christianity and Islam in Nigeria is equally well done, despite some mistakes.
Continue reading The Atlantic on Nigeria's Religious Wars...
February 8, 2008
Family activist still finds McCain 's candidacy "a matter of conscience."
Here's the text of James Dobson's endorsement of Mike Huckabee as sent out last night to the e-mail subscribers of CitizenLink:
Dr. James Dobson issues the following statement tonight, speaking as a private citizen.
I am endorsing Gov. Mike Huckabee for President of the United States today. My decision comes in the wake of my statement on Super Tuesday that I could not vote for Sen. John McCain, even if he goes on to win the Republican nomination. His record on the institution of the family and other conservative issues makes his candidacy a matter of conscience and concern for me.
That left two pro-family candidates whom I could support, but I was reluctant to choose between them. However, the decision by Gov. Mitt Romney to put his campaign "on hold" changes the political landscape. The remaining candidate for whom I could vote is Gov. Huckabee. His unwavering positions on the social issues, notably the institution of marriage, the importance of faith and the sanctity of human life, resonate deeply with me and with many others. That is why I will support Gov. Huckabee through the remaining primaries, and will vote for him in the general election if he should get the nomination. Obviously, the governor faces an uphill struggle, given the delegates already committed to Sen. McCain. Nevertheless, I believe he is our best remaining choice for President of the United States.
(NOTE: Dr. Dobson made these statements as a private citizen. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as a reflection of the opinions of Focus on the Family or Focus on the Family Action.)
January 29, 2008
Pew Forum asks whether evangelicals will flock to any particular candidate.
In the vast canon of analysis of evangelical voters, John Green's interview with Pew Forum is speculative but helpful. There are the things we already know (e.g. Giuliani has an "issues problem" for evangelicals), but also some thinking past Super Tuesday - and before George W.
Green sees three real contenders for the majority of the evangelical vote: Huckabee, Romney, and McCain.
But are any Democrats likely to snag many evangelicals? Obama's comfort with speaking about his faith seems to give some evangelicals the warm fuzzies, Green says, and Democrats may get a greater proportion of young evangelicals this election.
"A lot of the anecdotal evidence from the campaign trail suggests that these are folks that may like to see a different relationship between evangelicals and the Republican Party," Green said, explaining that McCain's rocky relationship with Religious Right leaders Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell might not blight his campaign.
Continue reading The Evangelical Choice...
January 23, 2008
Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist targets evangelicals and Hillary.
Time will tell whether Democratic efforts will actually impact evangelical voter habits, but one Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist seems a bit skeptical.
David Horsey of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer believes that at least those in Colorado will stick to the Republicans. Horsey attended New Life Church, formerly led by Ted Haggard. After a lengthy description of a megachurch worship service, he describes his talk with New Life's associate pastor Rob Brendle.
The pastor thinks the country needs "a morally principled diplomat in the White House" like Mitt Romney, not a religious leader like Mike Huckabee. Nothing would be worse for Christian conservatives than a candidate who scared the rest of America with too much focus on his faith, he said.
The cartoonist then wanted to know, "What about the Democrats?" since the Democrats have been making an emphasis on religion in their campaigns. Horsey writes that the pastor laughed and said he'd seen it before. He was in a meeting with John Kerry in 2004 where the former candidate pulled a New Testament. The pastor said nobody bought it then, and it won't work this year, either.
"If Hillary has suddenly started reading the Scriptures, then I'm glad she's reading the Scriptures," Brendle said, but evangelicals are sticking with the Republicans.
However, Clinton has long been in the Methodist tradition, and as President Bush's former speech writer Michael Gerson wrote back in the fall, she is neither secular nor awkward about her faith. Either way, I don't think anybody believes evangelicals will be overwhelmingly wooed to vote for a Democrat, but many are pleased that the Democrats are using the words faith and politics in the same sentence.
January 22, 2008
Republican candidate did well among evangelicals but never took off.
Republican Presidential candidate Fred Thompson dropped out of the presidential race Tuesday, the New York Times writes.
Mr. Thompson, 65, rode in to the campaign powered by the high hopes of conservative Republicans who were disappointed with the field of candidates and hoped that Mr. Thompson - a television actor and former counsel to the Watergate committee - could rally conservatives behind him. But Mr. Thompson instead brought a phlegmatic style to the campaign trail, and his candidacy never took off.
Even though Thompson appealed to some social conservatives and received an endorsement from the National Right to Life, he never drew significant numbers. He entered the race late in the game, told voters he didn't attend church and said he would not talk about religion on the campaign.
He placed third in South Carolina, apparently taking votes away from Mike Huckabee. Unless Huckabee decides to campaign more heavily in Florida, Thompson's exit from the race will likely help Mitt Romney in Florida.
January 22, 2008
The presidential candidate says the Democrats haven't done enough.
Most of the media coverage of evangelical voter behavior revolves around the Republican race, but it looks like Sen. Barack Obama is still interested in grabbing the "evangelical vote." During last night's CNN debate, he spoke about how the Democrats should go after evangelicals.
"I think there have been times -- there have been times where our Democratic Party did not reach out as aggressively as we could to evangelicals, for example, because the assumption was, well, they don't agree with us on choice, or they don't agree with us on gay rights, and so we just shouldn't show up.
And when you don't show up, if you're not going to church, then you're not talking to church folk. And that means that people have a very right-wing perspective in terms of what faith means and of defining our faith.
And as somebody who believes deeply in the precepts of Jesus Christ, particularly treating the least of these in a way that he would, that it is important for us to not concede that ground. Because I think we can go after those folks and get them."
This comment comes shortly after his campaign sent a mailer through South Carolina to debunk e-mail rumors that he is a Muslim. The mailer shows Obama with his head bowed in prayer and says that he will be guided by prayer when he's in office.
It's hard to tell if these attempts and previous ones are reaching evangelicals. As previously noted, the pollsters haven't asked Democrats the same self-identification questions as the Republicans.
January 21, 2008
How Huckabee's "cosmopolitan" faith helps him reach out to both the old and new guards of evangelicalism.
What is a "cosmopolitan evangelical," and how does he or she differ from an everyday evangelical, if there is such a thing? Several sociologists have commented on a perceived shift in American evangelicalism's image, goals, and rhetoric, most notably Michael D. Lindsay, author of Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. He thinks that if you want to see what this new breed of evangelical looks like, you only have to look as far as Mike Huckabee, who indisputably had the vote of conservative Christians to thank for his Iowa victory two weeks ago.
Huckabee, though quite comfortable with speaking publicly about his personal relationship with Christ, his conservative views on religious hot-button issues like gay marriage and abortion, and even God's providential role in his Iowa win, nonetheless differs from many conservative evangelicals before him, especially those in the Religious Right.
"I'm a conservative, but I'm not mad at anybody," Huckabee often says, and when once asked whether the Christian life was the best way of life, he answered, "Well it is for me..." but that he didn't want to come off as "judgmental, caustic or pushy." As David Brooks of The New York Times recently noted, "Huckabee is the first ironic evangelical on the national stage. He's funny, campy (see his Chuck Norris fixation) and he's not at war with modern culture." In other words, you won't hear Huckabee talking about his push to "take back America" anytime soon.
As last Saturday's South Carolina primary ended with Huckabee in second place behind John McCain by only a 3-percent margin, and Super Tuesday comes in two weeks, some pundits say Huckabee's success will rely largely on his ability to appeal to members of both the old and new guards of American evangelicalism, all the while appealing to non-evangelical American voters as well. As Lindsay writes on the blog The Imminent Frame,
Mike Huckabee must straddle the divide between the populists [old-guard evangelicals] and the cosmopolitans, convincing both that he is one of them. It's a difficult balancing act, but Huckabee is singularly poised to unite both camps. Like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, he is able to exist on the margins of different groups and yet seem like an insider. To win, a candidate must appear as comfortable before factory workers as he is before titans of industry. Huckabee's cosmopolitan faith helps him become all things to all people.
Jay Tolson, writing for U.S. News and World Report, echoes Lindsay's observation on the "Faith Matters" blog:
Whether Huckabee will learn to connect with a larger part of the electorate - or even see the need to do so - should become apparent in the coming primaries, particularly in Florida, a state with a strong core of evangelical voters but also a very diverse collection of other voters broadly representative of the American mix. . . . And how he comes through that trial may tell us as much about the new evangelicals as it does about Mike Huckabee.
Fortunately, the new evangelicals don't have to rely solely on a presidential win by Mike Huckabee to determine the strength of their voice in today's political arena.
January 21, 2008
David Skeel on an scandal and its possible solution.
David A. Skeel, professor of corporate law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, will soon publish an article in the Emory Law Journal called "The Unbearable Lightness of Christian Legal Scholarship." In it, he chronicles the scandal of the Christian legal mind:
[T]he scope of Christian legal scholarship in the American legal literature is shockingly narrow for such a nationally influential movement. Why is there almost no trace of the intellectual underpinnings of the recent movement? ... Although evangelicals re-engaged American political life in the 1970s, the skepticism of religious perspectives, and the absence of a critical mass of Christian legal scholarship, lingered. There is now a substantial interest in Christian legal scholarship, but surprisingly little scholarship to turn to.
Continue reading Hope for Christian legal scholarship...
January 17, 2008
Beyond the theatrical WSJ "call your bluff" ad.
Yesterday's Wall Street Journal ran a full page ad that was an open letter from Pastor Kenneth D. Taylor of Calvary Assembly of God in Algoma, Wisconsin, to the IRS regarding its enforcement of the ban on electioneering activities by tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations as that ban applies to churches. The letter was sponsored by The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Here's how the letter begins:
I am the pastor of a small church in northeastern Wisconsin that is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. We're writing today to call your bluff.
The IRS has said for years -- based on what we believe is a mistaken interpretation of the tax code -- that preachers can't support particular political figures or political positions in their sermons.
Continue reading Note to the IRS: Come and Get Me...
January 15, 2008
Listening to one of Michigan's most prominent pastors on primary day.
A recent Time profile called Mars Hill Bible Church pastor Rob Bell "largely apolitical." Is he? The current issue of Relevant asks the question as his state heads to the polls. He answers:
We refer to ourselves [at Mars Hill] as aggressively nonpartisan, so we don't engage in partisan politics in terms of "Here's whom you should vote for; here's whom you should support." We do acknowledge that the Gospel has deeply political edges to it, but that should not surprise anyone. Jesus was killed because of how He confronted a particular socioeconomic religious system. He's a first-century Galilean revolutionary who proclaimed a Kingdom other than the kingdom of Herod, so the Gospel does have political edges.
The interest is in giving voice to people who have no voice and using all of our abundance and wealth and resources on behalf of those who have a shortage. Some of our pastors had a meeting with the mayor of [Grand Rapids], which was simply for the purpose of asking who the most forgotten and the most hurting in our city are. They mayor had several very specific answers, and so we've actually reorganized a whole area of our church, putting the majority of our efforts around trying to take care of the worst problems in our city. I don't know if you would say that's political or not, even though it involved meeting with the mayor, but if Jesus comes to town and things don't get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.
January 14, 2008
Does Louisiana's new Catholic governor spell hope for his Hindu homeland?
The Times-Picayune had a lengthy profile last week of Louisiana's new Gov. Bobby Jindal that focused on the India native's conversion to Catholicism and the role that has played in his political ascent.
When Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal converted to Catholicism during high school and college, he took a momentous step away from his inherited faith of Hinduism, the prevalent religion of his parents' generation and Indian homeland.
But among Jindal's relatives and among Hindus in India generally, his decision to adopt the Christian way is strongly supported.
Jindal's personal path to Christianity, which had politically significant ramifications for Louisiana, was aided by an open-minded attitude among his relatives about theology. Also, he visited India infrequently as a child, giving him little chance to acquire the deeply ingrained appreciation for Hindu culture that comes from exposure to daily life in that country.
His relatives' perspective reflects a tolerant side of a religion that for thousands of years has survived philosophical transformations, rebellious counter-religions and numerous sects, only to claim them all in time as part of the infinitely flexible cosmos of Hindu faith.
"If you find and see that you get more peace of mind, more solace, in that religion, then why not change religion?" said Jindal's uncle Subhash Gupta, a practicing Hindu. "In India, many people change to the Christian religion. And I can understand that some people maybe find Christian religion more satisfying to their needs."
Although the relatives' opinions might seem magnanimous, their views are typically Hindu. India's large-circulation national newspapers viewed Jindal's election as front-page news, and for the most part his conversion to Catholicism was not commented upon negatively. Indian criticism of Jindal instead has centered on his infrequent visits and seeming lack of interest in his parents' home country.
The Indian national figure Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu so famous his image appears on most Indian currency, espoused religious tolerance because he believed there were many paths to God, so long as an individual was sincere in the pursuit of the divine way.
When asked about Jindal, Pandit Deoki Nandan Shastri, a Hindu holy man in Varanasi, made a similar point.
"Hindu is not a religion," he said. "Hinduism is a way of life."
"You pray to Christ, I pray to Rama, he prays to Mohammad," he said. "We are going the same way. God is one. His name is called a thousand names."
Sadly, such a liberal perspective is not universal in India, where Hindu fundamentalists poignantly remind the world that "religious extremist" is not just a code word for Islamic terrorist. Remember the Gujarat anti-Muslim pogrom five years ago that left 2,000 people dead, including a woman who's fetus was proudly ripped from her womb by this guy.
The fervency of Hindu nationalism is no secret; it helped gave birth to Pakistan and later Bangladesh. And India has had quite the history of violence against Christians, which sprang up again last month.
On Christmas Eve, violence broke out against Christians in the Kandhamal district of the eastern Indian state of Orissa, which has become well known for poor governance and class tensions. Hindu fundamentalist groups led by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP, the World Hindu Council) have attacked Christians and their institutions at will in rural areas. Over 90 churches and Christian institutions have been burned and vandalized, over 700 Christian homes destroyed, and the number of pastors and Christians killed is yet to be known, according to a report by my colleagues in the All India Christian Council. A pastor in Chennai told me that 11 pastors have been killed and thousands of Dalit (formerly known as untouchable) Christians displaced. Compass Direct reports that the death count is at 9. Many people are missing, and others have vanished in the nearby forests.
Human Rights Watch and others have decried the present carnage in Orissa and have recognized that freedom of religious choice - especially in a democracy like India's - must be respected. The Prime Minister promised immediate action to restore peace in the state. But the affected areas are still reporting sporadic violence over two weeks since the attacks against Dalit Christians began.
Despite reports that Christians retaliated in some places, so far Dalit Freedom Network investigations and statements by the Orissa government indicate that Maoist rebels - called Naxalites - were behind the revenge attacks that left dozens of Hindu families homeless. Most Naxalites are armed Dalits, and their involvement gives evidence of the root problem: ancient caste divisions.
The author of this article was Joseph D'Souza, whom I interviewed a few months ago for an article about the plight of the Dalits -- who dwell beneath the bottom of India's cast system -- that will appear in the February issue of this magazine.
One of the biggest forms of discrimination meted out by the government is that Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam lose their welfare eligibility. The same is not true if they converted to Buddhism or Sikhism. This often causes a dual identity.
"They will have their Hindu or pre-Christian indentity, sometimes keeping their Hindu name, because there is affirmative action and if they want to have the benefits of that, they cannot use their Christian name," Robert Eric Frykenberg, professor emeritus of history and South Asian studies at the University of Wisconsin, told me.
This article was cross-posted at The God Blog.
December 19, 2007
Visits of nine of conservative Christian organization leaders to the Bush White House under scrutiny.
As the smoke clears from the Vice Presidential ceremonial office, Dick Cheney is getting more (indirect) attention because of a ruling that says Secret Service records of White House visits from nine conservative Christian leaders should be released.
While the issue in the ruling was really about whether the Secret Service's visitor records are subject to the Freedom of Information Act (and the court ruled that the requested records are), Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)'s objective is to look into "the influence that conservative Christian leaders have, or attempt to have, on the President [of the United States]."
"The White House doesn't want to talk about how much influence these leaders have, and we want to talk about how much they do have," CREW executive director Melanie Sloan said.
CREW wants to see records of visits by nine leaders of particularly activist (lobbyist) organizations:
- James Dobson of Focus on the Family. CREW was one of the organizations that instigated a 2006-2007 IRS audit of the organization for electioneering as a nonprofit.
- Gary L. Bauer, former president of Family Research Council who ran for President in 2000. He is currently president of American Values and on the board of Campaign for Working Families.
- Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.
- Traditional Values Coalition executive director Andrea Lafferty and founder Louis Sheldon, Lafferty's father.
- Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, Moral Majority, and Council for National Policy, currently Free Congress Foundation.
- Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council
- Donald Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association
- The late Jerry Falwell, co-founder of Moral Majority
Reuters reported that
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth rejected as "misguided" the Secret Service's arguments that disclosing the records would reveal confidential policy deliberations.
Their disclosure would then be open to challenge only on a case-by-case basis, for reasons such as state secrecy or attorney-client privilege.
Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said the agency was reviewing the ruling but had not decided whether to appeal.
But for the particular records of the nine people's visits to the White House, the ruling may not amount to evidence for CREW at all. Sean Sirrine, who blogs at Objective-Justice, writes, "Why is everyone so excited?"
The court is holding that these records can be obtained through the FOIA, but that if the records have already been given to the White House or destroyed there is nothing the court can do about it under this action exept [sic] order the Archivist of the United States to take enforcement action to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from unlawfully destroying agency records in the future.
Yes, the Secret Service might hae [sic] to release the records they have on the "nine conservative religious figures" mentioned in case, but if they no longer have any of those records, too bad.
December 17, 2007
From crackup to powerhouse.
Just weeks ago, much was made of the demise of the one of America's largest voting blocs. The, "extraordinary evangelical love affair with Bush ended in heartbreak over the Iraq war and what they see as his meager domestic accomplishments," wrote The New York Times David D. Kirkpatrick. Evangelicals would no longer cast deciding votes in presidential elections--for at least six weeks.
Then came the surprising rise of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is neck and neck with former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. Today, The Wall Street Journal credits Huckabee's rise to evangelicals.
The candidate's quick rise is a vivid demonstration of the power social conservatives continue to wield in Republican politics. It also illustrates the bloc's evolution. Grass-roots churchgoers no longer necessarily follow their national leadership.
"The leaders may have committed to someone [else], but their followers are flooding" to Mr. Huckabee, says Mike Campbell, his state campaign chairman in South Carolina.
Mr. Campbell is likely referring to Pat Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani. Campbell also seems to have in mind CT's January editorial, which says, "There isn't an evangelical vote. We are not some pious voting bloc up for grabs."
Many evangelicals have been paying attention to the race and making up their own minds. The Journal reports:
In Des Moines, Iowa, Pastor Rex Deckard of Calvary Apostolic Church noticed a change around mid-November. At a meeting with about 25 ministers, he reminded the group that Jan. 3 was caucus day. "Remember to vote for Huckabee!" someone shouted out, and the room broke into applause. "I thought, 'Wow, there seems to be something building,' " Mr. Deckard says.
Mr. Deckard gave Mr. McCain a serious look but initially decided to support social conservative Sen. Sam Brownback. When Mr. Brownback dropped out of the race, Mr. Deckard moved to the Huckabee camp, as is clear to his congregation: His briefcase and car now sport Huckabee stickers. Looking around, he realized others were coming to the same place.
And this shift in loyalties is having a ripple effects throughout the Republican primary campaign, The New York Times reports. Mitt Romney, who has long led Iowa, stands to lose ground from Huckabee's rise, which would benefit a lagging Giuliani campaign, according to the Times analysis.
Of course, with its deft reporting on the evangelical crackup, maybe we should take such analysis with a grain of salt.
December 6, 2007
Ministries refuse to hand over the information sought by the Senate Finance Committee.
The AP is reporting that Benny Hinn is following on the heels of Creflo Dollar in telling the Senate Finance Committee to take a hike. Reporters Eric Gorski and Rachel Zoll write:
Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas, said in a statement to the AP on Thursday that he will not respond to the inquiry until next year.
A lawyer for preacher Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International in suburban Atlanta had said Wednesday that the investigation should be referred to the IRS or the Senate panel should get a subpoena for the documents.
December 4, 2007
But ruling allows the ministry to continue operating without returning $1.5 million to the state.
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Iowa's InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) yesterday, saying that they could no longer receive funds from the state because the religious basis and religious content of the program violate the Constitution's establishment clause.
"For contract years 2000 to 2004, religious indoctrination can reasonably be attributed to Iowa's funding." The three-judge panel, headed by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor, affirmed the Iowa district court's June 2006 ruling in part and reversed it in part.
InnerChange is an affiliate of Charles Colson's Prison Fellowship. It's a residential program for inmates and operates in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas. Only the Iowa program is directly affected by yesterday's ruling.
Neither the Americans United for Separation of Church and State (the plaintiffs) nor Prison Fellowship considers the ruling a loss - just read their press release headlines. IFI's says, "8th Circuit Overturns Much of Ruling Against IFI," and Americans United's subtitle reads, "Americans United Praises Court Ruling That Upholds Separation Of Church And State."
Why are they both happy? Americans United lawyer Alex J. Luchenitser, said that the decision was "A major setback for the White House's ?Faith-Based Initiative.' It reaffirms that the government must ensure that public funds are not used for religious instruction, and that the government must not aid programs that discriminate based on religion."
Prison Fellowship is "grateful to the Eighth Circuit for refusing to handcuff people of faith who are helping corrections officials turn inmates' lives around," said Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley. They are specifically grateful because Monday's ruling overturned the district court's requirement that InnerChange repay the state $1.5 million for the years (1999 ? June 2007) when it operated with state funding. IFI has continued to operate in Iowa without state funds since July.
The court ruling has more details on how exactly IFI functioned in the Iowa prison.
Christianity Today's earlier coverage includes:
Rx for Recidivism | Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley talks about challenges the ministry faces. (November 21, 2006)
Bad Judgment | Ruling imperils faith-based programs around the country. (Charles Colson with Anne Morse, August 1, 2006)
Imprisoned Ministry | The future of Prison Fellowship's rehabilitation program, and other faith-based social services, are in the hands of an appeals court. (July 14, 2006)
Study Lauds Prisoner Program | Prison Fellowship releases InnerChange research at a White House roundtable. (June 1, 2003)
Suing Success | Prison Fellowship says its Inner Change program is clearly constitutional (March 1, 2003)
November 27, 2007
It’s time for Christian leaders to tackle the issue.
In an editorial published last Sunday, The New York Times explored what it called "the worst long-term fiscal crisis facing the nation" - rising health care costs. The piece provided a helpful survey of causes and possible solutions, but no silver bullet. As the editorial concluded, "A wide range of contributing factors needs to be tackled simultaneously, with no guarantee they will have a substantial impact any time soon."
The most arresting part of the piece was its summary of the United States' health care dilemma, laid out in the opening paragraphs:
The relentless, decades-long rise in the cost of health care has left many Americans struggling to pay their medical bills. Workers complain that they cannot afford high premiums for health insurance. Patients forgo recommended care rather than pay the out-of-pocket costs. Employers are cutting back or eliminating health benefits, forcing millions more people into the ranks of the uninsured. And state and federal governments strain to meet the expanding costs of public programs like Medicaid and Medicare.
Health care costs are far higher in the United States than in any other advanced nation, whether measured in total dollars spent, as a percentage of the economy, or on a per capita basis. And health costs here have been rising significantly faster than the overall economy or personal incomes for more than 40 years, a trend that cannot continue forever.
Indeed, rising health care costs have become a burden not just for the working poor, but for many middle-class Americans. It's an issue that's already on the minds of voters - in a New York Times-CBS News poll, Iowa Democrats likely to attend the January 3 caucuses called it their top priority - and it's going to gain more public attention as the presidential campaigns continue. Democratic candidates will make sure of that.
"I don't think you can run for president today without having a universal health care plan that covers everybody," Hillary Clinton said recently, "because we want to go into a general election with that issue against the Republicans."
That Democrats plan to make health care reform a major part of their platform in 2008 - and that Republicans will be forced to respond - is unsurprising, perhaps. But what is surprising is how little evangelical Christian leaders have said about the issue.
In March, the president of the Southern Baptists' Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Richard Land, supported a call to re-authorize and expand the federally funded State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) so that every child in America could have health coverage - a proposal that seemed relatively uncontroversial, at least until President Bush opposed SCHIP's expansion on the contention that it would move middle-class children off of private coverage and onto government coverage.
The social-action ministry Sojourners has also called for health care reform, but its reach among evangelicals is limited. Why aren't more Christian leaders speaking up?
In the last several years, the National Association of Evangelicals has denounced torture and mistreatment of India's Dalits. It has also cautiously supported creation care and released a comprehensive public policy statement entitled, "For the Health of the Nation." The statement lists such areas of concern as freedom of religion and conscience, protection for families and children, protection of all human life, compassion and justice for the poor, global human rights, the pursuit of peace and restraint of violence, and biblically based creation care. Ironically, for a document called "For the Health of the Nation," it makes only passing mention of health care. Yet the average American is more immediately affected by rising health care costs than by, say, whether or not their community recycles.
No doubt evangelicals are as split on health care reform as they are on many other issues. But if we want to present a fully orbed vision for public policy, then we need to start engaging more deeply with the issue of affordable, adequate medical care - and soon. A community grounded in God's Word and dedicated to proclaiming the One who came to save the sick, the poor, and the needy ought to have something to contribute to the rising discussion.
November 7, 2007
New Jersey voters reject $450 million ballot measure.
New Jersey voters yesterday turned down a $450 million, 10-year plan to fund embryonic stem-cell research. Proponents, including Democratic governor John Corzine, argued that the measure would help lead to possible medical cures for a host of maladies. Opponents, including New Jersey Right to Life, said Public Question # 2 would finance "the creation, experimentation and then destruction of cloned human beings through the entire period of normal gestation." NJRL also criticized supporters for their "deceptive failure to disclose that the bonds will be paid through higher local property taxes if sales tax revenues are insufficient."
The outcome marks the first time since 1990 that New Jersey voters have rejected a statewide ballot initiative. The state has already committed $270 million in taxpayer money to pay for stem cell research facilities. New Jersey has the fourth highest debt of any state and the highest property taxes. Other states, however, are likely to pick up the financial slack for such research.
Several states are competing in the research. California previously approved spending $3 billion on stem cell research, Connecticut has a $100 million program, Illinois spent $10 million and Maryland awarded $15 million in grants.
It bears repeating: Embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of nascent human life. Adult stem cells have no such ethical issues. And just on a pragmatic basis, the choice should be clear by now. According to the website stemcellresearch.org, medical treatments derived from adult stem cells outnumber those derived from embryos 73-0.
November 6, 2007
Sen. Grassley probes "possible misuse of donations" to Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and others.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating several major church-based ministries known for their leaders' lavish lifestyles and prosperity teachings.
"Recent articles and news reports regarding possible misuse of donations made to religious organizations have caused some concern for the Finance Committee," Grassley wrote to the ministries in letters asking for detailed financial records.
None of the ministries targeted -- those led by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, and Randy and Paula White -- are required to file the financial disclosure Form 990 with the IRS because they are are designated as churches.
The rest of this article is now posted on CT's main site.
September 28, 2007
Now prisoners can find out Why Bad Things Happen to Good People
The federal Bureau of Prisons will return religious materials that were removed from prison chapel libraries to prevent religious extremism, according to the Associated Press.
The purged books that were removed included Christian discipleship materials (see CT's first story).
The material removed since June will be returned to prison chapel libraries unless it is found to be radicalizing or inciting violence. By June 2008, "what comes off the shelves will be a very, very small number, because the vast majority of material will be on the 'that's OK list,'" bureau spokeswoman Judi Simon Garrett told the AP.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex., still expresses concern:
"There's probably a limited universe of materials that incite violence, and I understand that perhaps those need to be banned," said Hensarling. "Instead, what the Bureau of Prisons appears to be doing is really censoring religious texts, deciding what is acceptable."
Continue reading Bureau of Prisons Re-shelves Religion Books...
September 7, 2007
"Many of us are intrigued and excited by Thompson, but we have great concerns about his advocacy of federalism"
National Review Online's Jim Geraghty scored a nice scoop following up on The Boston Globe's March reporting on The Arlington Group. The Globe had reported that the Arlington Group, a meeting of top-level conservative Christian advocacy organization leaders, is interviewing candidates in hopes that its members can "coalesce around one candidate that prominent members such as James Dobson ... could endorse individually."
"We've been meeting with candidates for a year, every one of the major candidates except Giuliani," Gary Bauer told Geraghty. "Many of us are intrigued and excited by Thompson, but we have great concerns about his advocacy of federalism in dealing with the issue of protecting the sanctity of marriage, and that is certainly an issue we want to discuss with him further." (Geraghty had a follow-up with Bauer after the Arlington Group's meeting Thursday.)
Continue reading Bauer gives peek inside the Arlington Group...
August 24, 2007
Trends may favor the Arkansas governor.
In an opinion piece this week in National Review Online, S.T. Karnick suggests that two trends may help long-shot Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee actually win the presidency. Huckabee placed second in the recent Iowa straw poll despite barely registering a national blip in the race against better-known and better-financed candidates such as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.
The first trend, Karnick states, is that governors usually win the presidency, while senators (most of the other candidates) usually do not:
The reasons governors beat national politicians are probably fairly simple. They have accomplishments they can cite, have served as CEO of a large government organization (as the U.S. presidency is), and, most importantly, they don’t have a voting record on important and controversial national issues.
Senators, by contrast, don’t have the individual political-administrative accomplishments to which to point, have records dotted with controversial and polarizing votes, and typically have made a lot of enemies on the national level.
This does not bode well for the Democratic triumvirate, each of whom serve or served in the Senate. But of course several of Huckabee's Republican opponents have executive experience. Romney ran Massachusetts as governor, Giuliani ran Gotham as mayor. But Karnick says the hugely important evangelical vote is unlikely to coalesce around either of these two. Giuliani has character problems, while many Bible-believing Christians distrust Romney's Mormon faith (and perhaps his recent reversal on abortion?).
That's where Karnick's second reason comes in. Huckabee is a former Baptist minister, able to connect with evangelicals in a way the other candidates cannot:
A former Baptist minister who served two terms as governor of Arkansas, a state long controlled by Democrats, where he nonetheless enjoyed high approval ratings, Huckabee is hardly more obscure than Bill Clinton was in 1991 (unless you think Clinton’s tenure as leader of the National Governor’s Association made him world-famous). His appeal to evangelicals is a given.
So can Mike Huchabee become a viable presidential candidate and perhaps even steal the Republican nomination? It's an interesting argument. Stranger things have happened, I suppose. No one gave Clinton any hope against Bush I, after all.
August 13, 2007
Reuters turns a prolife word on its head.
The Reuters story referenced in my last post contained a wild misuse of a common word. Here's the citation:
While the prolific death chamber in the city of Huntsville, where 19 inmates have already been executed by lethal injection in 2007, makes Texas stand out, the state is also starting to follow national trends toward fewer death sentences.
"Prolific death chamber"? "Prolfiic" comes from a Latin word meaning "fruitful," which in turn is based on the Latin word for "offspring." The American Heritage Dictionary offers two definitions for the word:
1. Producing offspring or fruit in great abundance; fertile.
2. Producing abundant works or results: a prolific artist.
The Reuters writer has stood a pro-life word on its head, exchanging the idea of fruitfulness and fertility for sheer efficiency. Christian media critics have often criticized Reuters for uninformed handling of the religion factor in their reporting. But whatever they know or don't know about religion, Reuters editors should know their dictionaries.
August 13, 2007
Reuters blames Bible-belt religion for Texas' record number of executions.
On Sunday, the Washington Post published a Reuters story about the number of executions in the state of Texas--now pushing a remarkable 400 since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. Texas has carried out 398 executions and it has 5 more planned for August. The closest runner up to the Texas numbers is Virginia with 96 executions--only one quarter of the Lone Star State's record.
What was puzzling about the story was the way writer Ed Stoddard tried to link the numbers to religion. Here's how he led off the story:
Texas will almost certainly hit the grim total of 400 executions this month, far ahead of any other state, testament to the influence of the state's conservative evangelical Christians and its cultural mix of Old South and Wild West.
The Washington Post repeated the emphasis by headlining the story, "Religion, Culture Behind Texas Execution Tally."
Whoa there, Podner!
What does religion have to do with it? All Stoddard could come up with was this:
Like his predecessor, Governor Perry is a devout Christian, highlighting one key factor in Texas' enthusiasm for the death penalty that many outsiders find puzzling -- the support it gets from conservative evangelical churches.
This is in line with their emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their own salvation, and they also find justification in scripture.
"A lot of evangelical Protestants not only believe that capital punishment is permissible but that it is demanded by God. And they see sanction for that in the Old Testament especially," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
That's it. Unless you also count the fact the Governor Rick Perry is "a devout Christian." Yup, that explains a lot.
Let's take a look at the factors cited by Stoddard:
Continue reading Death and Texas - Part 1...
August 7, 2007
"It is the most disappointing field of candidates, looking on both sides of the aisle, that I've seen in my lifetime. I don't remember an election where less people have got me excited from either side."
July 24, 2007
Zimbabwe's state paper runs an op-ed today saying that the country's independent media aren't sufficiently criticizing Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube. (The archbishop, who has been the chief critic of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's extensive human rights abuses, was accused last week of adultery.) In The Herald, Caesar Zvayi writes that Zimbabwe's independent media, are "punishing the innocent while letting Barabas go scot-free."
Hmm. So if Mugabe's newspaper wants to call Ncube Barabbas, then that would make Mugabe...
It wouldn't be the first, or most egregious example, or Mugabe's cronies comparing him to Jesus. As Chenjerai Hove wrote in Pambazuka News earlier this year,
In the quest for glory and grandeur, the presidential palace is full of charlatans, praise-singers and flatterers. First they used to call him 'the son of God', and then one minister publicly said 'Mugabe is our Jesus Christ'. Next the minister of education and culture has recently designed and installed a 'throne' in parliament, for 'king Mugabe.' Then the minister of local government would not be outdone. He has decided to build 'a shrine' in Mugabe's home village. A shrine is a place of worship. So the president has become a god who deserves a 'shrine.' Thus, from VaMugabe ndibaba' (Mugabe is our father) to 'the son of God' to 'Jesus Christ' to a 'shrine' a place of worship, God.
Perhaps the most famous example is deputy minister of local housing Tony Gara calling Mugabe "the other son of God." In a 2002 African Sociological Review article, Ezra Chitando describes how the words of Christian songs were changed for political ends. "I will never cry when Jesus is there," for example, became, "I will never cry when Mr. Mugabe is there."
All of this might be confusing. If you're trying to remember the difference between Jesus and Robert Mugabe, here's a helpful tip: Jesus is the one who fed the 5,000. Mugabe is the one starving millions.
July 12, 2007
Another New York Times editorial on Holsinger.
In addition to its Tuesday editorial against surgeon general nominee James Holsinger and five op-eds today on the Holsinger confirmation hearing, The New York Times also feels the need to weigh in with another editorial on the subject. You have to love the brazen irony of this section:
The main subject to be probed, aside from Dr. Holsinger’s professional qualifications, is whether he still holds the views he has expressed in the past that seem hostile to gay men and lesbians. Now, in the wake of Dr. Carmona’s revelations, it will also be important to ask Dr. Holsinger what steps he would take to keep the office from being politicized.
Did Linda Greenhouse write this?
Liveblogging the hearing after the jump.
Continue reading When we say it, it's factual, not political...
July 9, 2007
Another Methodist in the White House?
Michael Luo has a piece in Saturday's New York Times on Hillary Clinton's faith:
Mrs. Clinton, the New York senator who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, has been alluding to her spiritual life with increasing regularity in recent years, language that has dovetailed with efforts by her party to reach out to churchgoers who have been voting overwhelmingly Republican.
Mrs. Clinton's references to faith, though, have come under attack, both from conservatives who doubt her sincerity (one writer recently lumped her with the type of Christians who "believe in everything but God") and liberals who object to any injection of religion into politics. And her motivations have been cast as political calculation by detractors, who suggest she is only trying to moderate her liberal image.
June 25, 2007
Can conservative Christians vote in good conscience for the ex-New York mayor?
Catholic Church leaders are expressing frustration with Republican presidential aspirant Rudy Giuliani's abortion position. Like many Democrats before him, the former New York mayor, a professing Roman Catholic, says that while he is personally opposed to abortion, he doesn't want to impose his personal religious views on others.
According to a report in today's New York Times:
"One American bishop, Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., recently wrote a caustic column for his Catholic newspaper calling Mr. Giuliani’s position 'pathetic,' 'confusing' and 'hypocritical.' Other bishops said that they would not criticize a candidate by name but would not hesitate to declare Mr. Giuliani’s stance contrary to Catholic teaching.
"Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark said: 'I think he’s being illogical, as are all of those who take the stand that "I’m personally opposed to abortion but this is my public responsibility to permit it." To violate human life is always and everywhere wrong. In fact, we don’t think it’s a matter of church teaching, but a matter of the way God made the world, and it applies to everyone.'"
Funny how pro-choice people (and that's the best way to characterize Giuliani) say they can't legislate their beliefs about abortion in our pluralistic society but have no problem when it comes to murder, theft, or even gasoline mileage standards. The fact is, someone's morality is being legislated all the time, so why not on the sanctity of human life?
For Giuliani to defy church teaching on so clear a matter brings to mind the old warning from James: "Faith without works is dead." At some point, you have to walk the talk.
His candidacy also places evangelicals who traditionally put life issues first when they go to the ballot box into a quandary. In these days when terrorism threatens the nation, Giuliani, for all his sins, knows what evil is, and he looks like the kind of person who has the guts and experience to stand up to it. These are dangerous times, and this country needs a tough leader to defend it.
But if conservarive Christians vote for Giuliani, then what does that say about our commitment to the sanctity of human life? As I said, it's a tough question. Prayers for wisdom and guidance are definitely in order.
June 14, 2007
Article from the New York Behind the Times frets that government fights for religious freedom.
Ever since last October's special series titled "In God's Name," the New York Times has increased its reporting on what it sees as the excessive entanglement of government and religion. The first article in that series complained, for example, that a retirement home near the University of Notre Dame for aging Catholic priests (who, let us be clear, worked for a pittance and never built up equity in a home) receives property-tax breaks that an architecturally similar retirement complex across town doesn't.
Well, the Times is back today, with an article complaining that the Justice Department defends the free exercise of religion too much - and doesn't pursue as many race-related cases as it did in the past.
The increase in the Justice Department's attention to religious-freedom cases is hardly news. On February 20, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez gave a widely reported speech to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, in which he "unveil[ed] a new Department of Justice initiative aimed at educating Americans about their religious liberties and to ask for the Southern Baptist Convention's help in identifying and reporting abuses of those liberties." (See the Baptist Press account here.)
The same day, Justice released a "Report on Enforcement of Laws Protecting Religious Freedom: Fiscal Years 2001-2006." Clearly, the Justice Department was seeking publicity for its new focus on religious freedom cases.
Nevertheless, the Times manages to completely avoid references to the Justice Department's report and offer only oblique references to speeches by the AG. The paper appears to pretend that it is digging up buried information.
The article's main complaints seem to be that:
Continue reading Flash: Justice Department Defends First Amendment Rights...
June 5, 2007
Sen. Clinton talks about prayer and her husband's affair.
Last night, CNN devoted one hour to a presidential forum for the three leading Democratic candidates for President--former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama, and Sen. Hillary Clinton. The forum, sponsored by Sojourners, struck a very friendly, informal tone. CNN host Soledad O'Brien at one point talked about keeping a sensitive matter between "just us girls" with Clinton.
This approach may have softened Clinton's defenses, because she did not dodge a question about President Clinton's affair. "I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith," Clinton said. "I take my faith very seriously and very personally. And I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves, so a lot of the talk about and advertising about faith doesn't come naturally to me. I keep thinking about the Pharisees and all of the Sunday school lessons and readings that I had as a child."
The "sleeves" comment drew applause from the George Washington University audience. I couldn't help but wonder why the crowd would cheer Clinton for this line during a forum when all three candidates talked openly and personally about the great importance of their faith.
Try as he might, Sojourners/Call to Renewal president Jim Wallis struggled to get policy specifics out of Edwards and Obama. The candidates much preferred to talk about how much they care for the poor, rather than what they would do about poverty from the White House. In light of news reports about his extravagant lifestyle, Edwards sounded hollow when he talked about his many great deeds to fight poverty.
Despite some drawbacks, this forum probably could not have come together in 2004. No matter your politics, that's a good sign for evangelicals.
May 31, 2007
Faith and science are compatible, he says.
In the first Republican presidential debate, candidates were asked if they did not believe in evolution. Sam Brownback, along with several others, raised his hand. Now he wants to clarify that. In today's New York Times he writes
If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.
Brownback says that he believes "that the process of creation ... is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him." It is not anti-science to "question the philosophical presuppositions" that scientists offer to support their theories that exclude "the possibility of design or purpose." These sceintists "venture far beyond their realm of empirical science."
He adds, "Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science."
One hopes the NYT editors would take this message to heart in their coverage of creationism or Intelligent Design.
May 29, 2007
Amid gambling legislation fight, old and new state chapters head to court over assets.
The long-simmering battle between the former Christian Coalition of Alabama (now Christian Action Alabama) and the new Christian Coalition of Alabama (started by the national Christian Coalition) has gone where such battles predictably go: to the courts.
May 24, 2007
Apparently it's a very, very big deal that Monica Goodling went to a law school founded by Pat Robertson.
No one in Washington or in mainstream media outlets seems to be coming right out and saying it, but the implication from much of the reporting and commentary regarding yesterday's House Judiciary Committee testimony of former Justice Department official Monica Goodling seems to be that Christian college graduates shouldn't be permitted in high government positions.
Try to find a news story today that doesn't mention that Goodling is a graduate of Regent University's law school, that the school was founded by Pat Robertson, and that it has a distinctly Christian mission. (Several reports also note that she did her undergraduate work at Messiah College, another distinctly Christian school.)
In fact, Rep. Stephen Cohen (D-Tenn.) spent most of his questions on Goodling's Christian education. Here's the transcript:
Continue reading Regent on trial...
May 21, 2007
The former veep is a poster child for the Angry Left.
Al Gore, in his new book The Assault on Reason, shows he is again half a step slow. According to a book description on Amazon.com, AR is "A visionary analysis of how the politics of fear, secrecy, cronyism, and blind faith has combined with the degration of the public sphere to create an environment dangerously hostile to reason." Gore is a step behind because Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and other advocates of "reason" have been bashing religious belief and believers for a long time. Some visionary. Someone please tell me why the advocates of sweet "reason" usually seem to be the most unreasonable.
Gore's complaint, assuming the rest of the book goes on in this vein, sounds suspiciously like some of the warnings pouring out of leftish opinion leaders following the 2004 presidential election, to wit:
1. Normally level-headed Times columnist Tom Friedman said he was "deeply troubled." "[W]hat troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support by people who don't just favor different policies than I do?they favor a whole different kind of America. We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is."
2. "The president got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule," wrote fellow Times columnist Maureen Dowd. "? W. ran a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq?drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals ? by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage." (On stem cells, Bush has actually taken a moderate approach, opposing federal funding for research on new embryonic stem cells lines?which involves the destruction of innocent human life?while placing no restrictions on the more promising research based on stem cells from adults and umbilical cords.)
3. Historian Garry Wills linked the results with the 1925 Scopes trial, in which fundamentalist Christians, led by William Jennings Bryan, were discredited for their simplistic opposition to evolution, causing many to withdraw from the larger society. Wills called the vote "Bryan's revenge," asking, "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an enlightened nation?"
So if Gore is seeking to accuse those with whom he disagrees of being intolerant bigots, then he'd better take a number. To me, however, it looks like he's still just mad that he lost the 2000 election (i.e. "Those who refused to vote for me are kooks") and frustrated that his overhyped book and documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, hasn't won over the skeptics as well as it has the mainstream media.
May 21, 2007
Falwell's death brings out the obits on evangelical political activity.
With the death of Jerry Falwell, The New York Times reports that old-school political activism has also died among evangelicals. The piece says that evangelicals are getting more interested in issues with widespread appeal, like AIDS and the environment, and losing their bombast when it comes to hot-button issues like abortion. See Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Rich Cizik.
It's nothing new really. The story's been written dozens of times. But, some stats may be new to readers. The Times reports,
John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ... placed evangelicals into three camps - traditionalist, centrist and modernist - based on the how rigidly they adhered to their beliefs and their willingness to adapt them to a changing world. The traditionalists are evangelicals who are usually labeled as the Christian right, while the centrists might be represented by the newer breed of evangelical leaders, who remain socially and theologically quite conservative but have mostly sought to avoid politics. The two camps are roughly the same size, each representing 40 to 50 percent of the total.
Experts agree, though, that the centrist camp is growing
If it's true that centrist evangelicals are a growing group, what do we make Ohio's patriot pastors, Dobson's increased political activity, and the Family Research Council's new position as evangelicals' main lobbying group?
May 15, 2007
Baptist pastor found unconscious in office.
The local newspaper in Lynchburg, Virginia, reports that Jerry Falwell has been taken to the hospital. According to a Liberty University official, Falwell missed a morning meeting and was discovered unconscious in his office.
May 14, 2007
Should ministries angle for earmarks?
There's been a legitimate debate about President Bush's faith-based initiative and the wisdom of ministries seeking government funds to carry out the "secular" aspect of their social ministries - helping the homeless, the unemployed, the drug addicted, the victims of spousal abuse. Will such ministries over-secularize their efforts just to keep government inspectors happy - or their own consciences clean? Should the church do such ministry without an appropriate spiritual component?
Those are all legitimate areas for debate. But a New York Times story posted this past weekend raises a related and still more problematic issue. Religious Groups Reap Federal Aid for Pet Projects reports that a number of religious institutions and ministries have now hired lobbyists to seek earmarks for their special projects. Unlike grants made through the usual welfare programs, earmark funding carries little or no accountability. No regulators. No inspectors. And earmarks are a multifaceted problem for our federal budget. (See Chuck Colson's CT column, "The Earmark Epidemic" from October 2006.)
The article quotes NAE vice president for governmental affairs Rich Cizik thus:
The Rev. Richard Cizik ... said that while religious organizations should be able to compete for federal money, such groups "shouldn't do that through earmarks." He explained, "As good stewards of the public trust, we have to be transparent and above board - and earmarks are not transparent or above board."
Time for a new debate.
May 10, 2007
Enough waffling for the 9/11 hero, he's for abortion rights.
The New York Times reports that former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani will offer an explanation of his views on abortion.
The shift in emphasis comes as the Giuliani campaign has struggled to deal with the fallout from the first Republican presidential candidate debate, in which he gave halting and apparently contradictory responses to questions about his support for abortion rights. ...
The campaign’s approach would be a sharp departure from the traditional route to the Republican nomination in the last 20 years, in which Republicans have highlighted their antiabortion views.
May 10, 2007
Did St. Louis Archbishop get it right in '04?
The headlines were so predictable I almost didn't read the stories: "Pope Opens Trip with Remarks Against Abortion" (New York Times) and "Pope Stresses Opposition to Abortion" (Associated Press).
Is the Pope Catholic?
But there seems to be some news here. On his flight to Brazil, the Pope made some remarks that seemed to condemn not only women who have abortions and the doctors who provide them, but also the polticians who vote for legalization of abortion--as they did recently in Mexico, providing for legal abortions up to 12 weeks gestation.
Papal spokesman (when it's the Vatican, you can use the gender-specific term) Federico Lombardi immediately tried to soften the possible implication of the Pope's words. But then, well, I'll let the New York Times tell the story:
The pope's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, quickly issued a clarification that played down his words, but then issued a statement approved by the pope that seemed to confirm a new gravity on politicians who allow abortion.
"Legislative action in favor of abortion is incompatible with participation in the Eucharist," the statement said, and politicians who vote that way should "exclude themselves from communion."
So, this turns the clock back to the 2004 election controversy over St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke telling pro-choice Catholic presidential candidate John Kerry that he should not receive communion when campaigning on Burke's turf. If memory serves, Washington's Cardinal Theodore McCarrick tried to soften the potential impact of Burke's statements. But now that Benedict has spoken, it looks like Burke may have been right.
The automatic self-excommunication that applies to women who have abortions and their doctors also applies to legislators. This doesn't mean that priests are supposed to become the Communion police, but it does mean that the Church considers it a pretty grievous thing for a Catholic politician who has voted to legalize abortion to present him or herself to receive Communion.
Christianity Today's June 2004 editorial on the dispute between Burke and Kerry can be read in the CT Library (paid archive).
May 8, 2007
Former director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives says American politicians need to get religion.
Another good read on the need for Westerners to become more spiritually educated (especially Western politicians) is in this week's Weekly Standard. John J. DiIulio Jr. writes
what I hereby baptize as spiritualpolitique is a soft-power perspective on politics that emphasizes religion's domestic and international significance, accounts for religion's present and potential power to shape politics within and among nations, and understands religion not as some abstract force measured by its resiliency vis-à-vis "modernity" and not by its supporting role in "civilizations" that cooperate or clash. Rather, a perspective steeped in spiritualpolitique requires attention to the particularities that render this or that actual religion as preached and practiced by present-day peoples so fascinating to ethnographers (who can spend lifetimes immersed in single sects) and so puzzling to most of the social scientists who seek, often in vain, to characterize and quantify religions, or to track religion-related social and political trends.
May 7, 2007
What happened inside the Beltway during the National Day of Prayer?
Last week, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post looked into the political theater surrounding the National Day of Prayer. Milbank offers "behind the scenes" access that you don't hear about from press releases.
May 4, 2007
It's not wrong to fire expensive employees, says Doug Bandow -- and Colson's marketing guy.
In 2000, Slate's David Plotz praised Chuck Colson for being selfless, humble, the "Switzerland of the culture war," and an "equal-opportunity critic, smacking the left for its sneers at religion and the right for its intolerant moralizing." But he warned that "Colson is changing as his popularity increases ... [and] sounds increasingly like other religious-right preachers."
Eh, not so much, says Doug Bandow in an American Spectator piece today suggesting Colson is "trending left" by becoming a "corporate scourge." At issue is Colson's April 2 BreakPoint commentary on Circuit City's layoffs, "Disposable Workers."
"The mere fact that a firm fires for economic reasons an employee it originally hired for economic reasons does not, in Colson's words, leave 'people as disposable commodities and dehumanized,'" Bandow writes.
Prison Fellowship’s vice president of direct marketing, Allen Thornburgh, also criticized Colson's commentary on BreakPoint's own blog, The Point.
The "evangelical view of economics" discussion goes on.
May 4, 2007
Note to ABC: Change is not always evolution.
There's the "that's not news" category: "Episcopal Church faces divisions over gay issues" (Reuters)
Then there's the misplaced metaphor/cliche/exaggeration: "Christian Press Take Colorado Springs By Storm" (Christian Post)
And then there's someone feeling superior: "Evangelicals See an Evolution of Their Own | Movement Seen as Distancing From GOP, Homosexuality, Taking up Global Warming" (ABC News)
Whatever your stance on global warming and what the government should do about it, or really whatever your politics is, I think we can agree that "evolving" is incredibly loaded in this context. Yes, I get the intended humor and irony: Those crazy evangelicals that don't believe in evolution are evolving politically. Ha ha. But precisely because evolution suggests a change from a lower form to a higher form, the word in this context means "evangelicals are finally recognizing that they've been wrong in disagreeing with me."
CT readers will know that it's questionable to assert that evangelicals are changing their political beliefs, attitudes, and voting behavior. But even if that's your argument, say "change." That won't suggest that Republican evangelicals who oppose homosexual sex and don't make global warming a priority are a bunch of monkeys.
May 3, 2007
The vote was 237-180. Though the passage was expected, a proposed amendment by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) briefly turned the debate on its head. The bill focuses on "violence motivated by the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of the victim." Smith's amendment would have added "status as a senior citizen who has attained the age of 65 years" and "status as a current or former member of the Armed Forces" to that list.
Republicans had argued that hate crime legislation was unnecessary -- violence is already a crime -- and potentially harmful to free speech. With Smith's amendment, Republicans started arguing that veterans and seniors need special protection, and Democrats responded that veterans and seniors are already protected under existing law. It was ultimately a sideshow and the amendment was defeated 189-227. (A bit of analysis after the jump)
Continue reading Hate crimes bill passed...
May 1, 2007
The end of the comeback of the return of the resurgence of the Religious Right?
"The Center for Reclaiming America has closed, halting its conservative activism and throwing the future of its signature annual conference in doubt," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports. "An undisclosed number of employees were laid off on Thursday at the center's headquarters in Fort Lauderdale and its congressional chaplaincy office in Washington, D.C., in what its parent organization, Coral Ridge Ministries, called a 'streamlining.' ... [A spokesman] said the actions were unrelated to the long convalescence of [founder D. James] Kennedy, who had a cardiac arrest in December. [The spokesman] also denied money problems forced the layoffs, saying revenues have changed little for at least eight years."
Go ahead and use this as the lead example in your "end of the Religious Right" article or blog post. Those are always entertaining. As are the "resurgence of the Religious Right" stories that follow, then the "takeover of the Religious Right," then the "end of the Religious Right" again.
[UPDATE: I didn't expect Cal Thomas to be first out of the gate. At least first outside the blogosphere.]
April 30, 2007
Evangelical support for Giuliani triggers many questions.
This weekend The Wall Street Journal offered Richard Land's analysis of the Republican primary field. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission delivered a grim prognosis. He thinks Giuliani's two divorces and pro-choice views will doom him. He doesn't fully trust McCain. He really doesn't trust Gingrich. He could vote for Romney, should the Mormon former governor clarify how religion would affect his decision-making. And Thompson has some promise.
I think the last couple hundred words of the interview pose some serious questions evangelical Republicans must answer.
Continue reading Guns or Abortion?...
April 30, 2007
The NYT explores the Senator's faith and his pastor, while David Brooks deciphers how it might affect his foreign policy.
The New York Times has an extended piece on Barack Obama's faith, his church, and his relationship with his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Wright has become known for his liberation theology, which, as Wright has applied it, some have called reverse racism.
Obama describes the differences in outlook he has with his pastor.
"Reverend Wright is a child of the 60s, and he often expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism and the struggles the African-American community has gone through," Mr. Obama said. "He analyzes public events in the context of race. I tend to look at them through the context of social justice and inequality."
The article's emphasis on Obama's relationship with his outspoken pastor is due to its potential political effect on Obama's presidential campaign. But the article does describe Obama's personal conversion: "He comes from a very secular, skeptical family," said Jim Wallis, a Christian antipoverty activist and longtime friend of Mr. Obama. "His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story."
The article has less of Obama speaking about himself than David Brooks's column does. In the column, perhaps, we see Obama's faith at work better than we do in the much longer piece about Obama and his pastor. Brooks says he got Obama to open up when he asked, "Have you ever read Reinhold Niebuhr?" Obama, it turns out, is a big fan. "What do you take away from him?" Brooks asked.
"I take away," Obama answered in a rush of words, "the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from na?ve idealism to bitter realism."
April 27, 2007
A resolution that's bound to get attention this weekend.
"In order for Satan to establish his 'New World Order' and destroy the freedom of all people as predicted in the Scriptures, he must first destroy the U.S.," says a proposed resolution to be debated at the Utah County Republican Party Convention this weekend. "There are ways to destroy a nation other than with bombs or bullets. The mostly quiet and unspectacular invasion of illegal immigrants does not focus the attention of the nation the way open warfare does but is all the more insidious for its stealth and innocuousness."
Don Larsen's resolution calls for the county party to support "closing the national borders to illegal immigration to prevent the destruction of the U.S. by stealth invasion." (Sources: Deseret Morning News and Salt Lake Tribune)
My guess: No Utah County Republican Party Convention resolution will have in the past or will ever in the future see the media coverage that this resolution will see.
So here's the question: apart from Larsen's apocalypticism, if you believe breaking the law is sinful, then do you think that there is demonic involvement in illegal immigration? And if you believe that America's immigration policy is sinful, do you think that there is demonic involvement in the slow progress in changing it? Follow up questions: Do you believe prayer would change illegal immigration? If so, have you ever prayed about it?
April 25, 2007
A John Edwards campaign stop undergoes spiritual transformation.
Politico.com is all abuzz (well, it has a news story and an op-ed, anyway) about John Edwards praying "in Christ's name" at a Nashville campaign stop after the Virginia Tech shootings.
"Does John Edwards include Jews in his prayers? Or Muslims? Or Hindus? Or any other non-Christians?" complains Roger Simon. "Edwards has a perfect right to pray publicly or privately any way he wants to. But people who are not Christians often feel left out of prayers like his." Simon also criticizes Edwards for not praying for gun control.
The original Politico.com news story is rather remarkable, detailing how a campaign stop to "roll out his long-planned agenda for revitalizing rural America" was transformed into a religious memorial service.
April 25, 2007
Are theological conservatives also economic conservatives? A study answers the question.
Of all the lines in the widely circulated letter against Richard Cizik's work on global warming, I found one section particularly surprising:
Cizik's disturbing views seem to be contributing to growing confusion about the very term, "evangelical." ... We believe some of [the] misunderstanding about evangelicalism and its "conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality" can be laid at Richard Cizik's door.
As I've said before, I found that surprising because most evangelical activists I know of have been eager to define evangelical theologically or sociologically and oppose use of the word as a political descriptor. But while you can talk about trends in evangelical political behavior (which is quite a bit different than talking about "evangelical politics"), I was stumped on what the letter's signatories thought evangelical views on economics are. Granted, 50 years ago there was a strong anti-Communist streak in evangelical Protestantism. But today?
Well, I just found an answer, at least in part, in the journal Social Science Research. (More after the jump)
Continue reading The 'evangelical view of economics'...
April 24, 2007
Article VI bloggers grill Guthrie with the Mormon question
Yesterday, the Article VI Blog posted an interview with CT's senior associate editor and book review editor, Stan Guthrie.
It was, actually, an interview sparked by an interview. Stan had posed questions to radio host Hugh Hewitt about his book A Mormon in the White House? (If you missed the original interview, you can read it here.)
The bloggers at Article VI are an evangelical Presbyterian (a Fuller Seminary grad) and a Mormon (a University of Utah law school alum). They've been blogging since April 2006 about Mitt Romney's chances as a presidential candidate and the Mormon factor in American politics. (The blog's title - Article VI - is a reference to the constitutional prohibition of a religious test for public office.)
In the 3,500?word interview, Stan gives an excellent account of his thinking about these issues.
I most appreciated this comment from Stan:
One of the things I have really appreciated since coming to Christianity Today is learning ... that you need to see how the life is lived. How [a religion's] followers live the thing - Whether it is Latter Day Saints, whether it is Islam, or Episcopalians, or whatever. You can't just get it from press clippings and references in books. You have to see how it is actually lived out in the real world and what the nuances are and what is stressed and what is not stressed. I think as that goes on with followers of Mormonism, that some of those stereotypes and concerns will be addressed. ... When you establish a relationship with someone, you have a much better chance of building a friendship and seeing things more sympathetically.
Evangelical Protestants will no doubt always disagree with Latter-day Saints about fundamental beliefs, such as the nature of God. But combine the scrutiny that would be given the life of a Mormon president with friendships such as the one shared by Article VI's two bloggers, and we may someday find ourselves disagreeing less disagreeably.
April 24, 2007
If you only read mainstream media sources, you don't.
Do a news search (Google | MSLive | Yahoo) on "Melissa Busekros" and you'll get several hits.
But what you won't get are many results from mainstream media sources. The Christian Science Monitor is one of the few outlets to pick up what is surely the hottest topic in Christian home-schooling circles.
The background: After the German government tried for two years to get Melissa's family to stop home-schooling the 15 year old, officials removed her from her home in February, put her in a foster home, and sent her to psychiatric treatment for "school phobia."
The update: Yesterday, on her 16th birthday, Melissa fled her foster home and showed up on her parents' doorstep.
Seems like a nice hook for a news story in the mainstream press, if they've been waiting for one.