All posts from “January 2011”

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January 28, 2011

Obama Admin. Pulls Faith Leaders on Health Care Bill

As Republicans work to repeal the health care law, the Obama administration is recruiting faith leaders to reaffirm the law passed in March.

“Being a pastor is like being a parent: You’re only doing as good as your most vulnerable family member,” the Rev. Joel Hunter said Thursday in a conference call supporting the Affordable Care Act.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius hosted the conference call including leaders from several denominations. The HHS Department believes that faith and community leaders play an important role influencing community opinion on the health care reform bill.

Faith leaders on the call seemed to affirm Sebelius’ stance that the health care bill is already helping members of their congregations. All affirmed their commitment to educate their congregations about the benefits of the health care reform bill.

“We have been told that it’s very important for us to lead in sharing for our church the affirmation of health care reform and how the health benefits are improving the lives of people and protecting all of our citizens,” said the Rev. Barry Howe, an Episcopal bishop of west Missouri.

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Minnesota’s Temple Israel shared a personal example of using her discretionary fund to underwrite a woman’s desperate need for prescription medicine. “The religious community cannot foot this bill. It has to be the federal government,” she said, indicating that the needs are vast.

Hunter said he was “grateful” for the protections the health care bill offered to the vulnerable members of his congregation. He choked up briefly as he spoke about his own granddaughter, who recently succumbed to a rare form of brain cancer. “I cannot imagine adding financial worries of financial ruin to the grief that we had to go through,” said Hunter, who is pastor of a megachurch in Florida. “And that’s what a lot of our families do. It’s just not right from a pastoral standpoint.”

A Politico reporter attempted to ask Hunter how he handles division in his congregation over lingering concerns with federal abortion funding, but Hunter did not remain on the call for questions.

Repeal proponents are expected to tackle specific points in the health care bill if full repeal efforts stall, and abortion is expected to become a debate point again as lawmakers also draft replacement legislation to coordinate with repeal efforts. Republicans introduced the No Tax-Payer Funding for Abortion Act last week.

Sebelius reiterated the comments President Obama made affirming the Affordable Care Act in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let’s fix what needs fixing and let’s move forward,” Obama said in his speech.

However, on Thursday Senators Jim DeMint and Mitch McConnell introduced separate repeal bills following the House’s vote to repeal earlier this month. “It’s time to start over,” DeMint said of health care reform.

January 28, 2011

Abortion: Not Part of the State of the Union, Responses

Presidents have often included some mention of abortion in their State of the Union addresses. This week, President Obama broke from this tradition.

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His speech on Tuesday featured both big ideas and specific policy proposals. It did not, however, include any nod to pro-choice groups.


Abortion was notably absent Republicans' responses, too. The official Republican response by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) only alluded to abortion when he said that one responsibility of government was "to protect innocent life."  He did not reference any specific policies.


Tea party leader Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-MN), who is pro-life, also remained mum on the issue during her alternative GOP response to the SOTU.


Ashley Horne of Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink said, “What I would have loved to see was the GOP to give a little more attention to the life issue. The GOP rode in on a wave of pro-life voters. This is why they're here. Pro-family, pro-life voters, the conservative movement ushered them in. And for good reason."


The House of Representatives is expected to take up several pro-life bills, including the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. This bill would permanently ban the prohibition against using federal funding to pay for abortions. Currently, the ban must be renewed each year, and the ban on federal funding for last year's health care law is an executive order.


Continue reading Abortion: Not Part of the State of the Union, Responses...

January 25, 2011

Richard Land Leaves Interfaith Coalition on Mosques

Richard Land withdrew from a group of religious leaders who support the right of Muslims to build mosques in the United States. Land, who is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques (ICOM) as a charter member. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spearheaded the ICM’s creation in response to increasing challenges to the construction of mosques and Islamic centers last summer.

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Land said he did not quit the ICOM because of a change in his convictions but out of a need to represent the views of the SBC. In a letter to the ADL, Land wrote, “While many Southern Baptists share my deep commitment to religious freedom and the right of Muslims to have places of worship, they also feel that a Southern Baptist denominational leader filing suit to allow individual mosques to be built is 'a bridge too far.'”

Land said that his involvement with ICOM was not a promotion of Islam, but he said this was the perception of many in the convention.

“Southern Baptists have the oft-expressed right to form their own perceptions as well as the right to expect their denominational servant to be cognizant of them and to respect them,” Land said in a statement. “I serve Southern Baptists.”

The departure of Land comes days after the coalition sent a letter supporting the right of a Muslim group to build a mosque in Temecula, California. The mosque received approval from the Temecula City Council in December, but there is a hearing Tuesday night on an appeal to overturn the council decision. The ICOM stated that reversing the decision would be a violation of federal law. Land is listed as a member of the ICOM in the letter.

Concerned American Citizens filed the appeal, viewing the mosque as a cover for the promotion of Shariah Law. The mosque in question will be built on land adjacent to Calvary Baptist Church (not associated with the SBC). The church opposes the building of the mosque for both practical reasons, such as land use, but also because it, too, believes Islam promotes Shariah law and the destruction of religious liberty.

"The religious philosophy of Islam is directly contradictory and confrontational to the Christian faith we espouse. Putting a mosque within feet of a Baptist church exacerbates those differences,” wrote Calvary Baptist pastor William Rench in a letter to the city council supporting the appeal.

The IOCM support for the Temecula mosque is its first since it supported the right of a Muslim group to build an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Land also publicly supported the right of the mosque in Murfreesboro to be built.

Continue reading Richard Land Leaves Interfaith Coalition on Mosques...

January 24, 2011

Hawaiian Senate Ends Daily Prayers

A unanimous voice vote spikes potential challenge over "decidedly Christian" invocations.

Hawaii’s state Senate is the first state legislature in the United States to end the practice of daily invocations, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

The decision stems from a discussion that began late last summer, when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent a letter to the Senate. The ACLU passed on complaints it had received about the Senate having opened with "decidedly Christian" prayers, complete with "references to Jesus Christ."

"Prayers that invoke specific aspects of one religion or denomination risk an impermissible entanglement of church and state," wrote Daniel Gluck of ACLU Hawaii.

Earlier in 2010, Senate security had forcibly removed Mitch Kahle, the leader of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church, after he verbally objected to the April 29th invocation. A District Court judge found Kahle not guilty of disorderly conduct.

In September, the Senate convened a three-person committee to examine the issue. The state attorney general's office advised them that the prayers would not likely survive a court challenge. When the 2011 session convened on Wednesday, the Senate opened with its first and last invocation this year, a Hawaiian-language "song of prayer" from Hawaiian singer Danny Kaleikini (one of a number of entertainers who performed that day).

The next day, in a unanimous voice vote, the Senate ended the prayers. The only opposition came from the 25-member body's one Republican, Sam Slom of Diamond Head. Slom recommended making the prayers voluntary instead of eliminating them entirely. "I think it's important that we stress the need that as smart as we may be, as intelligent as we may be, that we can still call on someone higher to help us and guide us," he said.

While some commentators hail the decision as a victory for separation of church and state, the Alliance Defense Fund argued, "Governments should take a stand for this cherished historical practice."

January 21, 2011

Abortion Opponents See Political Openings

Abortion-related news is heating up just before tomorrow's 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The political mood this year is quite different from 2009 after President Obama's inauguration and in 2010 close to Scott Roeder's conviction of killing late-term abortion Dr. George Tiller, the Associated Press reports.

Republican governors who oppose abortion were elected in Kansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Just after its repeal of the health care law, House Speaker John Boehner unveiled the No Tax-Payer Funding for Abortion Act on Thursday, Politico reports.


On Wednesday, Pennsylvania doctor was charged with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors.

The Philadelphia Inquirer ran stories of women who were left scarred by their experiences in the clinic.

In 2001, Davida Johnson changed her mind about aborting her 6-month fetus after seeing Gosnell's dazed, bloodied patients in his recovery room, she said. But in the treatment room, Gosnell's staffers ignored her protests, smacked her, tied her arms down and sedated her into unconsciousness, she said. She awoke no longer pregnant.

Weeks later, she said, she was diagnosed with a venereal disease that she believes she contracted from unsterilized equipment Gosnell used. Now, she can't carry a baby to term and said she has miscarried four times since her abortion.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R) is in the spotlight for remarks in made in an interview with Christian News Service. He said, "The question is -- and this is what Barack Obama didn't want to answer -- is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says no. Well if that person, human life is not a person, then, I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, 'we are going to decide who are people and who are not people.'" He stood by his remarks in an interview with Fox's Greta Van Susteren.

CT previously covered some strategies to watch in 2011. President of Americans United for Life Charmaine Yoest said in a statement that state-based approaches are “changing the momentum towards life at the state level. We are seeing a cultural shift toward protecting life and rolling back the tide of unrestricted abortions that Roe v. Wade produced.”

Politico's Sarah Kliff reports that Republicans are placing a high legislative priority on the abortion issue.

“This is a very serious threat,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told POLITICO in a Thursday morning interview. “These folks have just taken office and this is what they’re focusing on…Based on what we’re seeing, just few days after the start of Congress, we’re absolutely ready for a very serious fight.”

AUL released a ranking of how states deal with abortion, euthanasia and other issues. The top five states were 1: Oklahoma, 2: Louisiana, 3: Pennsylvania, 4: Arkansas and 5: Texas. Sitting at the bottom were New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii, California, and Washington.

January 20, 2011

Who is My Brother? Alabama Governor Apologizes for Remarks

Robert Bentley served as governor of Alabama for only a few hours before he stepped into controversy. Bentley spoke to an audience at Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church following his inauguration Monday. He spoke on his responsibility as governor to serve all people in Alabama, regardless of race or party. Ironically, his comments resulted in misunderstanding and conflict, according to the Birmingham News:

There may be some people here today who do not have living within them the Holy Spirit, but if you have been adopted in God's family like I have, and like you have if you're a Christian and if you're saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.

Now I will have to say that, if we don't have the same daddy, we're not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I'm telling you, you're not my brother and you're not my sister, and I want to be your brother.

Shortly after making his remarks, Bentley clarified his statement. His office released a statement that said, “The governor clearly stated that he will be the governor of all Alabamians - Democrat, Republican and Independent, young, old, black and white, rich and poor.”

His statement was theologically correct, said Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"It shows a startling naivete," Land told Julia Duin. "If I were governor of a state, I'd never voluntarily say that."

Bentley did not retract his statement, but he did apologize if his words offended people of other faiths.

"I will never deny being a born-again Christian. I do have core beliefs and I will die with those core beliefs, but I do not want to be harmful to others. And I will die if I have to defend someone else's right to worship as they choose,” said Bentley.

Continue reading Who is My Brother? Alabama Governor Apologizes for Remarks...

January 18, 2011

Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant

Also, Open Doors USA gives Barbara Boxer the second highest score in the Senate for sponsoring religious freedom legislation.

No one leads the U.S. Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF) after two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The IRF vacancy demonstrates the low priority currently placed on religious freedom even though there is nearly unanimous, bipartisan support for international religious freedom in Congress.

Obama did not send a nomination to the Senate until June 2010, nominating Suzan Johnson Cook, a pastor long on religion but short on international human rights. The Senate then failed to act. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not hold a hearing on the nomination until November and the Senate never voted on the nomination. Senator DeMint (R-SC) put a hold on the nomination, effectively vetoing it, according to Samuel G. Freedman of the New York Times. As a result, the office remains vacant for the foreseeable future.

“The Obama administration seems to have decided that other policy initiatives -- outreach to Muslim governments, obtaining China's cooperation, advancing gay rights -- would be compromised by vigorous advocacy for religious freedom,” Thomas Farr, the first director of the IRF, wrote in the Washington Post last year.

Farr said that the IRF office has been “emasculated” because the office is not treated like similar offices and no longer has the same staff reporting to it as in earlier administrations.

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Open Doors USA, an advocacy group for the religious freedom of Christians, examined congressional officials who lead the fight for international religious freedom by evaluating who sponsored legislation. Leaders come from both the right and left, Republicans and Democrats. Open Doors gave Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) the second highest score in the Senate. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) also received high marks for their advocacy work.

The new 112th Congress may be less active on religious freedom issues because of important changes in the Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) was the key leader on the issue, but he left the Senate to become governor of Kansas. Sen. Kaufman (D-DE) and Sen. Bond (R-MO) are also not returning.

Continue reading Who Fights for Religious Freedom? Obama's Ambassador Position Still Vacant...

January 14, 2011

Putting Faith Over Politics after Tucson Tragedy

Speaking at a nationally televised memorial service Wednesday, President Obama focused on the legacies of those killed and wounded during the shooting Saturday in Tucson, Arizona. The President offered hope while acknowledging the reality of evil.

“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,” Obama said. “In the words of Job, 'When I looked for light, then came darkness.' Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.”

Obama quoted from Psalm 46 when referring to Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), who was meeting with her constituents when she was shot. "God is within her, she will not fall," Obama said. "God will help her at the break of day."

Obama referred to heaven when he spoke of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed in the shooting. "If there are rain puddles in heaven," Obama said, "Christina is jumping in them today." Green attended St. Odilia Catholic Church in Tucson.

Obama's speech was praised by many—including conservatives and Republicans—as hitting the right tone and message for the event (see here for a list of comments by leading conservatives). American Family Association's Elijah Friedeman said, “It's rare that conservative pundits will give Obama kudos for a speech, but the consensus is virtually unanimous: Obama did a great job.” Daniel Burke of Religion News Service looked at how previous presidents have used Scripture in speeches after national tragedies.

Obama's words echoed sentiments expressed by other political leaders. Amidst chattering between pundits, most leaders have taken a break from politics as usual.

CitizenLink's vice president for external relations Tim Goeglin said, “Since the assassination attempt and the other killings, there has been a remarkable unity that has happened. It's as if politics, and maybe temporarily, has been transcended.”

Sojourners president Jim Wallis was with Giffords and her husband a week ago at the New Years Renaissance Weekend in South Carolina. She spoke on her contentious campaign fight last November. She is currently the only Democratic woman representing a Republican-leaning district.

Continue reading Putting Faith Over Politics after Tucson Tragedy...

January 11, 2011

Civility Project Disbands after Low Interest in Congress

The Civility Project, a two-year bipartisan attempt to get politicians and others to respect one another, is closing down after just three members of Congress agreed to the project's pledge.

"You three were alone in pledging to be civil," Christian publicist Mark DeMoss wrote in a Jan. 3 letter announcing an end to the two-year project. "I must admit to scratching my head as to why only three members of Congress, and no governors, would agree to what I believe is
a rather low bar."

The three who had agreed were Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

The announcement comes at a time when politicians, clergy and commentators have stressed the need for civility following Saturday's (Jan. 8) deadly shootings in Tucson, Ariz., which left six people dead and 14 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.

DeMoss, a Republican who represents prominent evangelical leaders through his Atlanta-based public relations firm, teamed with Democratic consultant Lanny Davis when he launched the project prior to President Obama's inauguration.

Continue reading Civility Project Disbands after Low Interest in Congress ...

January 10, 2011

State Department to Leave 'Mother' and Father' on Documents

Facing a backlash from conservative groups, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ordered changes to a proposal to remove the terms "mother" and "father" from records of overseas births.

"With Secretary Clinton's input, we will be revising the form to retain the existing designation of mother and father, in addition to the designation of parent," said Rosemary Macray, a spokeswoman for the department's Bureau of Consular Affairs.

The department had announced plans on Dec. 22 to change the Consular Report of Birth Abroad to "use the title of `parent' as opposed to 'mother' and 'father."'

"These improvements are being made to provide a gender-neutral description of a child's parents and in recognition of different types of families," it said at the time.

But after conservative Christian groups criticized the proposed change on Friday, Clinton issued new directives on Saturday.

"Only in the topsy-turvy world of left-wing political correctness could it be considered an `improvement' for a birth-related document to provide less information about the circumstances of that birth," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council in a Friday
statement.

Macray said the specific language, which was still being revised, would be included in the overseas birth records as well as applications for passports for children and first-time adult applicants.

January 7, 2011

Grassley Asks ECFA to Lead Independent Inquiry

The national commission will examine churches' financial practices.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to head an independent commission that will obtain feedback about the financial practices and oversight of churches and religious groups nationwide.

The goal is to help determine best practices and changes that encourage compliance with federal tax laws and maintain financial integrity within the religious community while avoiding new laws mandating such behavior. But those involved say it’s too early to tell how the commission’s work will affect any changes—or whether it can prevent new laws—and how long it will take.

In a press conference called this morning in Washington, D.C., ECFA leaders outlined requests made by Grassley, who yesterday released his final report of a three-year inquiry into the financial activities of six high-profile media ministries. The issues to be explored “could potentially affect every house of worship and every member of the clergy in America,” said Michael Batts, an ECFA board member who will chair the special commission.

This blog post continues at Your Church's blog, a sister publication of Christianity Today.

January 6, 2011

Grassley Investigation Ends with No Penalty for Televangelists

Sen. Chuck Grassley's investigation of televangelists finished with no penalties for the pastors who did not cooperate and found no definitive instances of wrongdoing, the Associated Press reports.

Grassley (R-Iowa), who launched the investigation in 2007, released the report at the end of his tenure as the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.

Two of the targeted televangelists — Joyce Meyer, based in Missouri and Benny Hinn, based in California — told Grassley that they have made changes in how they govern their ministries or set compensation.

But four of the televangelists would not provide full information about their finances. Some questioned whether Grassley had the authority to conduct the investigation. Others accused him of violating their religious freedom.

Grassley's staff said in the report that they did not issue subpoenas to further the investigation because witnesses feared retaliation if they spoke out publicly and the Finance Committee did not have the time or resources to enforce the subpoenas.

The televangelists who did not provide full information included Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Bishop Eddie Long, Creflo and Taffi Dollar, and Randy and Paula White. See more of CT's previous coverage here.

And in other television news, Ted Haggard is getting his own reality project on TLC called Ted Haggard: Scandalous. The one-hour special will debut on January 16, according to Entertainment Weekly. In 2006, a male escort had alleged that Haggard had paid him for sex and drugs, leading him to step down as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and as senior pastor of New Life. started St. James Church in Colorado Springs last May.

January 6, 2011

Obama Admin. Reverses Course on End-of-Life Provision

On New Year’s Day, the government implemented new Medicare fee policies for physicians including a “voluntary end-of-life care” provision that would reimburse doctors for advising patients on end-of-life care. The following Tuesday, the Obama administration announced the revised regulations would remove the provision, effectively halting renewed controversy almost before it began.

The controversy threatened to re-ignite shortly after a memo from the office of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) became public. (Blumenauer wrote the original end-of-life provision.) The memo celebrated the inclusion of the end-of-life provision in the Medicare regulations, which were released November 29 with little scrutiny. “The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it,” according to the memo. The memo advised proponents to keep the inclusion “quiet” in order to avoid “the ‘death panel’ myth.”

A similar provision was dropped from the health care reform bill before it passed in 2009. At the time, detractors such as Republican congressmen John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) protested funding end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients as the first step on a slippery slope toward “government-encouraged euthanasia.” Sarah Palin also stirred controversy over the end-of-life provision in the health care reform bill calling it a “death panel” mandate.

The National Right to Life Center indicated similar concerns with both versions of the provision. "The danger is that subsidized advance care planning will not just discover and implement patient treatment preferences but rather be used to nudge or pressure older people to agree to less treatment because that is less expensive," Burke Balch, director of NRLC's Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics, said in a recent statement.

Opponents accused the Obama administration of achieving their goal to implement Medicare funding of end-of-life care through regulation rather than legislation. However, former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey, an outspoken critic of end-of-life provisions in health legislation proposed in the early 1990s as well as 2009, drew a distinction between the Medicare funding policy and health care legislation. Medicare should provide reimbursement for voluntary end-of-life counseling, she said. "But government should never prescribe what is discussed between doctor and patient, or pressure doctors financially to push their patients into living wills and advanced directives.”

The proposed new Medicare rules released last July did not include the end-of-life provision. However, the provision was included in the policies as released November 29. “We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule, so more people could have commented on it specifically,” an administration official said Tuesday.

The New York Times speculated that White House administrators did not want a “distraction” to their defense of health care reform laws from the incoming Republican majority in the House.

The House is expected to vote on a proposed repeal of the health care reform bill next week. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) will introduce the repeal bill, which calls the 2009 health care reform bill a “job-killing health care law.” Republican leaders expect the repeal to pass the House, where they now hold the majority, but Democrats warn it will stall in the Senate.