He has spoken out against same-sex marriage and against conservative hostility toward gay rights advocates. He has opposed abortion, while urging parishioners and priests to have patience, not disdain, for those who disagree. And he has criticized fellow U.S. bishops who threatened to shut down religious charities instead of pursuing a compromise with the White House over health care policies that go against Catholic teaching.
On Saturday, Pope Francis named Cupich as the next archbishop of Chicago, sending a strong signal about the direction that the pontiff is taking the church. Cupich will succeed Cardinal Francis George, 77, an aggressive defender of orthodoxy who once said he expected his successors in Chicago to be martyred in the face of hostility toward Christianity.
"I think what Francis is trying to do with his appointments in both the United States and around the world is to moderate the conversation and get us past the culture wars and the ideologues," said Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey. "Francis is not trying to balance a lurch to the right with a lurch to the left. He’s trying to build up the big middle so we can have conversations and not arguments."
The Chicago appointment is Francis’ first major mark on American Catholic leadership.
George is two years past the church’s retirement age and is suffering from cancer. The Chicago archdiocese is the nation’s third-largest and among its most important, serving more than 2.2 million parishioners. Chicago archbishops are usually elevated to cardinal and are therefore eligible to vote for the next pope. Both George, and his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, had served as presidents of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cupich will be installed as archbishop in November.
A native of Omaha, Nebraska, and one of nine children, the 65-year-old Cupich has served in a wide range of roles within the church.
He has been a parish pastor, a high school instructor and president of a seminary. After earning degrees in the U.S. and in Rome, he worked at the papal embassy in Washington, and as a bishop, has led several committees for the U.S. bishops’ conference. For a few years, he led the bishops’ committee on the child protection reforms adopted amid the clergy sex abuse scandal.
In his current posting as head of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, Cupich inherited the fallout from a previous bishop’s decision to seek bankruptcy protection over sex abuse claims. He started a mediation effort that has drawn praise from local attorneys for victims.
At a news conference Saturday in Chicago, he cited his family’s immigrant history — his four grandparents were from Croatia — in a call for immigration reform. “Every day we delay is a day too long,” he said. As bishop in Rapid City, South Dakota, starting in 1998, then in Spokane, he has worked extensively with immigrant and Native American communities. About 44 percent of parishioners in the Chicago archdiocese are Latino.
Cupich first became a bishop as the American church leadership began taking a more combative approach to culture war issues, under St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Yet, he struck a tone that reflects what Francis has emphasized for the church: a focus on mercy over hot-button policies that the pope says has driven away Catholics.
In 2011, Cupich told the anti-abortion committee and priests in Spokane that he wanted an educational, not confrontational, approach to the issue. He warned for having disdain for those who support abortion rights.
The next year, during the run-up to the Washington state referendum that ultimately recognized gay marriage, Cupich repeatedly underscored church teaching that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But he also wrote at length to parishioners about the suffering of gays and lesbians because of anti-gay prejudice. He condemned violence and bullying that has led some gay teens to suicide.
"I also want to be very clear that in stating our position, the Catholic Church has no tolerance for the misuse of this moment to incite hostility toward homosexual persons or promote an agenda that is hateful and disrespectful of their human dignity," Cupich wrote.
After the Obama administration issued a requirement for birth control coverage for employers, Cupich said faith-affiliated charities should never be forced to provide services that the church considers morally objectionable. However, he condemned threats by some U.S. church leaders that they would shut down social service agencies over the Affordable Care Act.
"These kind of scare tactics and worse-case scenario predictions are uncalled for," he wrote in a letter to diocesan employees. "I am confident we can find a way to move forward."
h/t: Rachel Zoll at TPM
The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said today that the separation of church and state in the United States has contributed to the rise of Islamic extremist groups like ISIS, arguing in his radio commentary that ISIS has “filled the void left by secularism.”
According to Perkins, American ISIS militants wouldn’t have left the country to fight for the group if only the government had promoted Christianity over other faiths.Where there is no vision, the people perish. Hello, this is Tony Perkins with the Family Research Council in Washington. Americans have been shocked to see the brutality and barbarism of the Islamic militants of ISIS, and they’ve been stunned by the revelations that radicalized Americans have joined their ranks and taken up their cause. Pundits and politicians alike have publicly pondered the question as to how young Americans can be sucked into such an evil venture. While it may be troubling, the answer is not hard. Radical secularism that has driven the defining characteristics of our Western culture, our Judeo-Christian heritage, from our schools, our entertainment and even our government has left in its place a void, a vacuum. And we should know from experience that a vacuum will be filled by something. Without a creedal vision that a society can unify around, the people, the nation, will perish. Unless we are content to allow ISIS or some other radical belief system to fill the void left by secularism, we must rediscover America’s founding, Christ-centered vision.
h/t: Brian Tashman at RWW
Evangelicals for Marriage Equality says evangelical Christians can support marriage equality in the civil sphere regardless of their churches’ beliefs on the issue.
Marriage equality is getting support from an unexpected source with today’s launch of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality.
“As Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, we believe you can be a devout, Bible-believing evangelical and support the right of same-sex couples to be recognized by the government as married,” reads the organization’s statement of belief on its website. “Our commitment to following Christ leads us to speak out for equal treatment under the law for others — whether or not they share our religious convictions.”
The Washington, D.C.-based group was founded by two young, straight evangelical Christians — Josh Dickson, the former deputy director of faith outreach for the Democratic National Committee, and Michael Saltsman, vice president at a research and communications firm in D.C. and a frequent commentator in newspapers and on television.
Their view reflects the strong support for marriage equality among members of the millennial generation, says Brandan Robertson, an evangelical Christian blogger and activist who serves as national spokesman for the group.
“As spokesperson for the organization, I represent a growing number of millennial evangelicals that believes it’s possible to be a faithful Christian with a high regard for the authority of the Bible and a faithful supporter of civil marriage equality,” Robertson writes in an article published today on Time’s website. He notes that 43 percent of evangelicals aged 18 to 33 support marriage equality, compared with 27 percent of evangelicals overall, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
“Are evangelicals who support civil marriage for same-sex couples watering down their faith to adapt to secular society?” Robertson asks in the piece. “Not at all. Instead, we’re making a distinction between theology and politics.” Some evangelicals believe same-sex relationships are sinful, he says, but others do not. It’s possible, he says, for churches to maintain their right not to solemnize same-sex marriages while supporting the freedom to marry in the civil sphere.
As the group launches, it’s apparent that it’s meeting some resistance in the evangelical world. According to a post on its website, it had planned to run a full-page ad in an evangelical publication to announce its formation, but it was rejected by three — Christianity Today, Relevant, and World Magazine. The first two objected to the ad’s content, while a World spokesman said simply that the magazine would “pass on the opportunity.” The ad reads in part, “There are hundreds of verses in the Bible that talk about love. There aren’t any that talk about the definition of civil marriage. It’s time for a new evangelical conversation about civil marriage equality.”
In an interview last month on the Daystar program “Joni,” Fox News commentator Todd Starnes agreed with the suggestion that marriage equality will legalize man-dog marriage.
Discussing the case of a Colorado bakery that denied service to a same-sex couple (and which ironically baked a cake for a “dog wedding”), Starnes agreed with cohost Rachel Lamb’s assertion that man-dog marriage is on its way, saying, “when you redefine marriage, that means anything goes.”
Starnes also said gay rights will lead to the imprisonment of pastors and restrictions on the freedom of speech, adding that Christians in America are being “persecuted” and “beat up” just like Chinese Christians.
H/T: Brian Tashman at RWW
In a dark high school auditorium in Ferguson, hundreds gather every Sunday to listen to a former St. Louis Ram who has traded in an athletic career for a life of coaching.
Aeneas Williams is specifically interested in coaching souls.
Williams is pastor of The Spirit Church, a congregation that meets every Sunday morning in the auditorium of McCluer South-Berkeley High School.
One recent Sunday, six singers took the stage. Others lined up against the platform, prepared to have those streaming into the auditorium whisper prayer requests into their ears. Up high a screen flashed the words the singers belted: “He loves us.”
And then Williams stepped out. Dressed in a light blue shirt and gray dress slacks, Williams looked professional and athletic — and a little like a savior. With his hands stretched out and his eyes closed, Williams mimicked the words sung.
For his sermon, Williams used the biblical story of the death of Lazarus as a way to focus on a message he says is too often lost: It’s not the faithful’s love of God that is important to remember, but the Lord’s love of everyone.
It’s the kind of good news some would argue Ferguson needs now more than ever, after Darren Wilson, a police officer, fatally shot Michael Brown, a young, unarmed African-American, on Aug. 9, prompting weeks of protests.
While some have been critical of the religiosity often found in American football, Williams sees stepping into his role as pastor as a calling from God he can’t ignore.
Williams, 46, began his 14-year NFL career with the Phoenix Cardinals in 1991 and was traded to the Rams in 2001. He retired after the 2004 season and settled in St. Louis. When he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, Williams spoke publicly about how God tugs at his heart.
“Some people say you got to be a Christian to know God talks to you,” Williams told the audience gathered for his induction. “No! God is talking to us all the time. So I’m telling you pay attention to the signs God’s giving you.”
After announcing that he was thinking about retiring from football, Williams says he was immediately offered a defensive back coaching spot with the Rams but quickly realized the job just wasn’t for him.
“Eventually, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll gravitate to the things you love,” Williams said. “And I’ve always loved being able to share the gospel.”
Williams, who describes what happened to Brown as horrific, says he sees himself as a minister of reconciliation in Ferguson.
“The purpose of the church is to reconcile people to Christ, reconcile people who have different disagreements,” Williams said, referring to the recent havoc in Ferguson. “There were conditions that fostered the environment for something tragic to happen.
“We don’t take sides. We come down the middle and bring sides together.”
Williams believes what’s key for the community in Ferguson is a dialogue that is inclusive of all sides, where the public is given the continued opportunity to listen to answers to questions such as, “What is it like to be a police officer in Ferguson?”
But even before the riots in Ferguson, Williams had big plans for The Spirit Church. Church membership sits at about 400 but has been slow to climb. The first incarnation of the church came in 2007 — in the form of Williams’ basement.
After several stints elsewhere, including the Crowne Plaza in downtown Clayton, Williams felt called to Ferguson and settled into the high school’s auditorium. Although most who attend The Spirit Church are African-American, church officials say they aspire for a multicultural congregation.
As Simeon Williams, assistant pastor at the church, put it, “Heaven is not going to be segregated.”
Some of those who worship with Williams say his celebrity may bring folks through the door, but his preaching style is what keeps them coming.
Tiffany Jackson, 27, a grant writer who lives in Florissant, says she appreciates the way Williams is able to transform the Bible into something that is relevant to her life. There’s also the fact that everyone she bumps into at the church is friendly.
“I have been in church all my life, and this is the most I’ve ever been part of a church,” Jackson said. “This is a church family.” Jackson says she doesn’t mind that the church meets in an auditorium, because the connection to the school helps them unite with the overall community.
As for Williams’ fame as a football player, Jackson says, “It may help. But it’s not what made us want to stay.”
Williams grew up in New Orleans, the youngest of three boys. Although his parents sent him to church, Williams says Christianity didn’t immediately make sense in an environment where you learned if someone hit you, you hit back.
“I really didn’t want to be a Christian. I didn’t like the word love,” Williams said.
Williams spoke about his former indifference to religion at his induction to the Hall of Fame.
“I didn’t understand how God related to everyday life,” Williams said. “When I was growing up, I thought church was a religious deal. You go sin for six days, then on the seventh day, empty your sin bucket and go do it again.”
Then during his junior year at Southern University and A&M College, a historically black college in Baton Rouge, La., he visited a new church in New Orleans, and Christ’s message suddenly clicked.
It wasn’t the only aspect of Williams’ life to change that year. Williams had idolized his older brother Achilles, following in his footsteps and majoring in accounting at Southern University. But then one day, Williams dared to walk on the college football field to play.
Around the same time, Williams met his wife, Tracy — a woman he describes as someone who doesn’t stand for any foolishness from men. The two have been married for 21 years and have three daughters, Saenea, Tirzah and Cheyenne, and a son, Lazarus.
Williams says what set him apart from the other players was his refusal to separate his faith from his work.
“My faith was expressed in my work,” Williams said. “My faith meant being accountable when no one was watching.”
Williams says his commitment to Jesus helped him become a disciplined player and exceed expectations. When he did fail, Williams made a point of admitting he was wrong in front of teammates, asking that they pray for him.
But Williams acknowledges that though his was a relevant faith, it was “not a perfect one, because I still don’t have it down yet.”
“But it was an honest and transparent one, and I use the same transparency as a pastor today.”
It’s a formula that seems to work for many.
Richard Dix, who describes himself as not that big of a football fan, has been attending The Spirit Church for three years. The church’s men’s Bible study — referred to as the Locker Room — first hooked him in, but he was also drawn to Williams’ character.
“What impressed me more is his integrity,” said Dix, a business analyst in south St. Louis.
Patricia Robinson, 57, an X-ray technician in Florissant, says she knows with the recent unrest in Ferguson, The Spirit Church may be in for some tough times.
But she also believes “what’s happening here is bigger than us.” Robinson hopes the tragedy will help bring the country together.
Williams, for his part, says he’s up for the challenge.
“We will continue to play a role in the healing process in the city of Ferguson,” Williams said.
“The great thing about my experience with my parents, my experience in church growing up, my experience at Southern University, a historically black college, or my experience at the pros, is that I can relate to anybody.”
As congregants mingled in the school’s hallways after worship service, Williams summed up his approach.
“Listen with the ear of understanding and not as one who has the answers.”
Matthew Hagee: Christians Cannot Support Gay Marriage Or Abortion Because They Must 'Vote The Bible'
On yesterday’s “Hagee Hotline,” Matthew Hagee told his viewers that, as Christians, they are required to “vote the Bible,” which means that they cannot ever vote for any candidate who supports reproductive rights or marriage equality.
Hagee declared that if Christians would just vote the Bible on these two issues alone, “we would find ourselves with principled leadership that can lead this country back to what we are supposed to be.”
"If you see a politician who says that he’s pro-choice or she’s pro-choice, you cannot vote the Bible and vote for that politician," Hagee said. "If you see a politician that wavers on what the definition of a marriage should be, you cannot vote the Bible and vote for that individual":
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
For many political analysts, it’s an established truism that religion — for better or worse — is a force to be reckoned with in American politics. The religious affiliation of candidates (or lack thereof) is at least a minor point of discussion in virtually every election, and pundits regularly pour over data about the “Evangelical vote,” the “Catholic vote,” and even the “nonreligious vote.” Implicit in all of this number-crunching is the idea that when it comes to a American voter’s political opinions, religion matters.
But despite all the attention given to the voting patterns of the faithful, the question remains: does where you go to church (or temple, or mosque, or service, etc.) actually dictate your political views? A new chart, compiled by Tobin Grant of the Religion News Service and using data from Pew Research’s 2008 Religious Landscape Survey, takes a stab at answering this question by visually illustrating the general political beliefs of religious people on two policy questions. In it, an individual’s income bracket — and political opinions generally reflective of one’s economic situation — looks to coincide with what “kind” of church he/she attends. Except for when it doesn’t:
CREDIT: TOBIN GRANT, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE. CLICK HERE FOR A LARGER VERSION WITH MORE INFORMATION.
As Grant explains: “This new graph maps the ideologies of 44 different religious groups using data comes from Pew’s Religious Landscape survey. This survey included 32,000 respondents. It asked very specific questions on religion that allow us to find out the precise denomination, church, or religion of each person.”
In other words, the dimensions of each color-coded circle reflect the relative size of the religious group it represents, and a circle’s position on the graph illustrates how the faithful feel about the government’s involvement in both the economy (bigger government with more services vs. smaller government with less services) and morality (greater protection of morality vs. less protection of morality). While the chart is revealing on its own, the policy questions in play — the economy and morality — are perhaps best analyzed alongside data detailing the average income of religious people from different faith groups. Pew Research has information on just that, which was used by GOOD magazine and Column Five in 2010 to create this beautiful infographic:
CREDIT: GOOD AND COLUMN FIVE. CLICK HERE FOR A BIGGER VERSION.
At first glance, one of the most notable correlations between the two charts is how closely racial and economic trends track with the demographics of religious groups — particularly on the question of government services. Since churches often serve as community hubs, pastors and congregants — and, by extension, full denominations — are usually sensitive to issues faced by people in their pews. Historically black Protestant denominations, for instance, are shown as having a high percentage of congregants (roughly 47 percent) who make less than $30,000 a year. This income bracket disproportionally benefits from crucial social programs such as the Affordable Care Act and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a., food stamps), so it makes sense that denominations such as National and unaffiliated Baptists show up as overwhelmingly in favor of a government that offers more services. Similarly, White Mainline Protestants such as the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have some of the wealthiest congregants in the country (36 percent of White Mainliners make over $75,000 a year) who don’t usually come in contact with many social services. As such, it’s not entirely surprising that they skew towards the “smaller government, less services” section of Grant’s scale. Meanwhile, Catholics, whose numbers include a relatively even distribution of income brackets that closely matches the national average, are situated roughly in the center of the chart.
But while income seems to indicate the probable political positions of some faith groups on the graph, Grant’s compilation also highlights several notable — and politically perplexing — exceptions. Sixty-five percent of Hindus make over $75,000 a year, for instance, but Grant’s chart depicts this wealthy group as firmly endorsing big government. Conversely, 58 percent of evangelicals — who, in Pew’s designation, are overwhelmingly white — make less than $50,000 a year, and many benefit directly from social services: white non-Hispanics make up 42 percent of our nation’s poor and receive 69 percent of government benefits, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yet most of the evangelical denominations, marked in dark blue, are huddled near the upper right side of Grant’s graph, indicating a solid preference for a smaller government with less services.
There are also odd outliers, such as white Pentecostals — who, on average, arepoorer and less educated than the average American. They, like historically black churches, show up as decidedly left-of-center on the big government question, breaking the trend set by their fellow white conservative Christians.
Interestingly, the economic divide is also arguably even more consistent on the question of whether or not the federal government should do more to protect morality. One could contend, for example, that Grant’s graph adds weight to studies positing that wealthier people tend to gravitate towards looser moral standards. As mentioned, historically black churches and conservative evangelical denominations both have high percentages of churchgoers who earn less money than the national average, and both groups sit almost entirely on the half of the graph that calls for a greater protection of morality. But groups with high income rates — Buddhists, Unitarians, non-conservative Jews, the religiously unaffiliated (listed here as “nothing in particular”), and Mainline protestants — all lean towards a hypothetical administration that does less to reinforce moral codes. But this “the rich hate morals” argument gets muddled pretty quickly: Mainline protestant denominations are relatively wealthy, but they are also decidedly more liberal than evangelicals on social issues such as homosexuality. As such, it’s possible that these progressively-minded respondents conflate the idea of “protecting morality” with harmful policies that restrict the rights of LGBT people.
The notable outlier on the morality question is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, who live pretty comfortably as a people yet fervently support a more morally-minded administration. There are a number of possible explanations for this, but one could be that the top-down style of the LDS church simply has an unusually deep impact the lives of Mormons. Three scholars actually explored this phenomenon in a new book about the church, highlighting how Mormons are now one of the most “politically cohesive” groups in the country. This “theological impact” argument could also explain another odd division within the Jewish community that shows up in Grant’s chart: Adherents to Judaism fair relatively well economically across the board, but Conservative and Orthodox Jews seem to prefer a government that does more to protect morality. More liberal Jews, on the other hand, deeply support leadership that does less to protect moral standards.
Grant’s graph also exposes some possible disconnects between the professed beliefs of religious institutions and the opinions of those in their pews. For example, according to the chart, virtually all Mainline protestant denominations are firmly situated in the “smaller government, less services” side of the ideological spectrum. Yet Mainline protestant denominational heads have repeatedly and passionately claimed to be members of the “Circle of Protection,” an ecumenical effort to safeguard social services that help poorer Americans. The same is true for Catholics: Catholic leaders have lobbied fiercely for both social programs (such as food stamps) and against policies they see as morally abhorrent (such as contraception), yet Pew’s data and Grant’s chart shows the average Catholic as roughly centrist on these questions.
So does where you go to church dictate your politics? Well, sort of. Regarding the two issues discussed above, the data hints that a voter’s religious affiliation is a strong indicator of their political beliefs, but it’s not totally clear whether religious teachings are the main force shaping those political beliefs. A longer analysis of history, theology, and actual voting patterns of parishioners would be required to get a more accurate picture of what’s going on here. However, it is clear that your wallet can say a lot about what kind of faith community you might attend. How you respond to the teachings of your church once you get there — and whether you’re self-selecting a religious community based off of your income bracket — is still mostly up to you.
Back in 2008, The Alliance Defending Freedom launched a project called Pulpit Freedom Sunday that encouraged pastors to explicitly discuss political issues and candidates during their Sunday sermons in an effort to provoke the IRS into revoking their church’s tax-exempt status so that the ADF could then take the IRS to court in order to challenge regulations prohibiting tax-exempt churches from engaging in direct, partisan political activism.
Among the pastors who agreed to participate was Jody Hice, a right-wing radio host who is now the GOP nominee for an open House seat from Georgia, who openly brags about his involvement on his campaign website:
In September 2008 – and in years since, Dr. Hice joined with pastors across the nation in challenging an IRS code that he considers an attack upon religious liberty. The IRS threatened churches with loss of tax-exempt status and with criminal sanctions if political issues were addressed from the pulpit. Hice took his bold stand by formally endorsing a candidate in a Sunday message and sending a copy of it to the IRS. The IRS backed down.
This Pulpit Freedom Sunday effort has taken place every year since 2008 and the IRS has consistently refused to take action against any of the churches or pastors who participated, much to the dismay of church-state separation organizations.
Eventually the Freedom From Religion Foundation filed its own lawsuit against the IRS, seeking to compel the agency to enforce these regulations and then withdrew the lawsuit after the IRS convinced the FRFF that it had not been ignoring the issue.
As Sarah Posner explained today, this latest development is now being spun by the Religious Right to claim that the IRS is colluding with atheist groups in order to target and persecute churches.
Among those fuming about this supposed persecution is none other than Jody Hice, who spent an entire radio broadcast last week declaring that it is a violation of the separation of church and state and accusing the IRS of threatening, bullying, and intimidating Christians into silence:
Of course, the entire point of the Pulpit Freedom Sunday was to get the IRS to take action against churches so that ADF could sue. And now that it looks like the IRS might actually do the very thing that ADF has been trying to provoke it to do for several years, Hice is livid even though he has personally participated in the effort to bring about this very result!
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
D-list actor Kevin Sorbo recently had a leading role in the right-wing Christian film “God’s Not Dead,” in which he played a smug atheist college professor who seeks to destroy the faith of his students.
In promoting the film, which is now out on DVD, Sorbo has been making the rounds on Christian television and radio programs, saying that he based his portrayal in the film on all the angry and bitter atheists that he is always seeing on television.
Yesterday, Sorbo was a guest on End Times fanatic Rick Wiles’ radio program, where the two concluded that atheists are so angry because they secretly know that God does exist and hate him for “judging how they live their life.”
Sorbo said he doesn’t understand why atheists are so “filled with just hatred and anger,” saying that he feels sorry for them but also can’t help but laugh at them for spending “so much time ranting and raving about something that they don’t believe in.”
Wiles agreed, saying that he doesn’t "believe in the Tooth Fairy but I don’t spend all my time from trying to stop people from believing in the Tooth Fairy."
Of course, one could just as well make the same point in response to Sorbo and Wiles, noting that while they don’t believe in atheism, they sure do seem to be spending a lot of time ranting and raving about it.
In the end, both Wiles and Sorbo agreed that the real reason atheists are so angry is because, deep down, they know that God exists.
"The truth is," Wiles said, "they know he exists and they hate him. That’s what it’s all about."
"That is exactly what it is," Sorbo responded. “I know these guys must believe in something, otherwise they wouldn’t get so angry about it and they don’t like the fact that there is a higher power out there that is judging how they live their life”:
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
Protests in the Missouri town became substantially more peaceful in their second week, when clergy showed up to be “the soft hand.”
There was no tear gas Thursday in Ferguson, Mo. There was no smoke. There weren’t even any significant clashes between protesters and police. It was peaceful, and that was in no small part due to presence of clergy.
The protests over the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown had their most peaceful day Thursday, with only six arrests and no police effort to drive the crowds away. In large part, law enforcement didn’t need to; after a day of oppressive heat followed by a brief but intense downpour, the gathering all but fizzled out on its own.
But smaller numbers didn’t mean there weren’t potential flash points. Early in the evening, a crowd gathered when supporters of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, showed up. Later, tensions flared again when police took a man into custody.
The night was peppered with incidents like these, but the protest ended peacefully anyway. And that’s despite the fact that police haven’t made the concessions — indicting Wilson, providing the incident report about the shooting, etc. — that protesters are demanding.
Instead, one of the big differences has been a larger, more active role on the part of a growing group of clergy. Here’s how those religious leaders soothed the conflicts that ripped through the community for a week and a half.
“We’re promoting peace and love. That’s what Jesus is all about.” —Elder Cornelius Moore
One of the big impacts of having clergy on the scene is that there are more peaceful bodies at the protest. Elder Cornelius Moore, of Battle Horn Lighthouse Ministries in St. Louis, had been out for a week by Wednesday, and was among a group passing out flyers about Jesus. He wore a hat Wednesday that looked like an old veteran’s cap — except that it was embroidered with the words “God’s Army.”
“The Bible says to go out into the highways and byways,” Moore explained of his decision to come to the protests, “and compel them to come unto Christ.”
“Our job is to be the softer hand.” —Pastor Tremaine Combs
To some extent, the police and the clergy at the protests have an overlapping mission: to keep the gathering peaceful. For a week and a half, that goal eluded officers as they pursued it with tear gas, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets.
Pastor Tremaine Combs said Wednesday the clergy is on scene to offer an alternative. In practice, that has meant speaking with protesters who become agitated until they calm down. It has meant acting as intermediaries between the crowds and police. At times, it has meant doing crowd control and helping keep people within designated areas. “We’re doing all that we can to keep law enforcement at bay,” Combs explained. “We’re doing the best we can to keep ourselves in order.”
That strategy had been deployed at the protests previously — the Nation of Islam has been a recurring presence for days at the protests — but the numbers of clergy have surged in recent days. Several different clergy who spoke with BuzzFeed Wednesday estimated their numbers were nearing 100 people, with some religious leaders arriving from far-flung cities and states.
Combs and other clergy around him Wednesday weren’t marching or chanting with protesters, but their presence and conservations did seem to have a calming influence.
“We’re treating them like they’re our kids.” —Bishop Giovanni Johnson
The protesters have consistently expressed anger at systemic problems: mostly white government in a mostly black community, racial biases in police practices, etc. The clergy at the protests consequently seem to have made headway by treating the protesters with respect. Johnson said many of the protesters may have had little to no positive reinforcement in their lives, so simply treating them differently can pay off. “Let me talk to you like a man,” he explained. “Not like a thug. Not like a gang member.”
Bishop Timothy Woods, of the First Free Will Baptist Church of St. Louis, said he used to be a gang member himself, and understands the anger some people in Ferguson may feel. That has helped him empathize. “I can identify with it,” he explained. “And I know a lot of people didn’t get the break that I got, which was having somebody in their life to drag them out.”
“If they start getting into a riot, we can contain the crowd.” —Pastor Doug Hollis
If all else failed — especially Wednesday, but also Tuesday — the clergy stepped in as a physical barrier between protesters and the police. When a man was arrested Wednesday, for example, several clergy members, including Reverend Michael Kinman, of Christ Church Cathedral, jumped in as a human barrier to prevent protesters from getting too close to police.
At times, that barrier becomes a wall. Pastor Doug Hollis, of Clergy United, said that at one point on Wednesday he and other religious leaders formed a line, interlocked their arms, and wouldn’t let anyone pass. The strategy evidently worked. “The atmosphere has been different ever since the clergy been out here,” he said. “Ever since we’ve been doing the clergy thing, it’s been great. The crowd has been peaceful.”
Source: Jim Dalrymple II for Buzzfeed News
Four evangelical responses to gay rights -- they've changed a lot since '69 - Corner of Church and State
Evangelicals are often seen as being monolithic on issues of sexuality and LGBT rights. A careful study of responses to homosexuality by evangelical elites, however, shows that this is not the case. Sociologists Jeremy Thomas (Idaho State) and Daniel Olson (Purdue) combed through Christianity Today, evangelicalism’s flagship magazine. They uncovered four approaches that evangelicals have taken since the 1960s.
1. Biblical intolerance: “The Bible says it’s a sin, that’s good enough for me.”
Since the 1960s, evangelicals have taken a simple response to homosexuality: it’s a sin. Why? Because the Bible says so. End of debate. Even in the 1960s, evangelicals acknowledged that being gay isn’t a choice (it was seen as a psychological disorder). Still, the Bible was seen as clear on homosexual behavior. Most evangelicals with this response have opposed gay rights.
2. Natural intolerance: “It’s against human nature.”
In the 1980s, some evangelicals began espousing a new argument that turned on issues of health and the natural order. This response emphasizes natural law, not the Bible, as the foundation of public morality and the law. This isn’t someone thumping the Bible over someone. Evangelicals may believe in their heart-of-hearts that it’s wrong because of what they find in the Bible, but they know that a Bible-based argument will fail. Why bother when you can use science (procreation) and medicine (AIDS and HIV) to make the case. A call to a broader source of morality that is consistent with the Bible but not tied to it allows evangelicals to make moral arguments in the public square.
3. Public accommodation: “It’s a personal sin, but we live in a pluralistic society.”
Today, the dominant argument that homosexual behavior as a personal sin, not a public concern. As such, evangelicals should stand firm on biblical morality while recognizing that they live in a pluralistic society in which the rights of everyone should be protected. This response is generally supportive of expanded LGBT rights, including job discrimination protections, adoption, and civil unions. Same-sex marriage, however, remains the proverbially line in the sand that must not be crossed.
4. Personal accommodation. “It’s about love and respect, not sex.”
The most recently developed argument among is one of personal accommodation. It remains a minority position, but one that is seeing increased attention. Indeed, many evangelical leaders are publicly warning that this response is a threat. Personal accommodation avoids the question of personal morality. Those with this response emphasize their personal experience with LGBT friends. It emphasizes the love (not sex) between same-sex couples, with no judgment of the morality of these relationships. The Bible is invoked, not to discuss sexuality, but to argue for equal rights for everyone.
A group of local clergy and religious faithful took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri on Thursday evening, joining a mass of peaceful protestors to vent frustration over the fatal shooting of an unarmed teen on August 9.
Sporting clerical collars and brandishing signs inscribed with slogans such as “We are praying with our feet” and “End police brutality,” pastors and priests filed in with hundreds of other Ferguson residents to decry the killing of Michael Brown. Brown, an 18-year-old African American high school graduate from Ferguson, was killed this past weekend after a local police officer allegedly shot him several times — even though Brown was reportedly unarmed.
“We came with a Bible in one hand, and a protest sign in the other,” Rev. Traci Blackmon, pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ, told the marchers.
CREDIT: MIKE ANGELL
The action by faith leaders came about after the St. Louis Metropolitan Clergy Coalition held an “emergency meeting” on Thursday to discuss ways to address the growing crisis of violence in Ferguson. When Brown’s tragic death sparked spontaneous demonstrations by Ferguson residents earlier this week, a frighteningly militarized police force responded by pelting the protestors with smoke bombs, tear gas canisters, and rubber bullets. Among various other disturbing encounters, the rash of violence included an incident where a local pastor was shot in the abdomen with a rubber bullet while peacefully chanting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
In response, the group of area faith leaders, which is said to have included at least two clergy members who were arrested while protesting earlier this week, agreed the best way to help diffuse the tension was to join the marchers in the streets.
“The point of nonviolent action is not to claim an enemy and defeat that enemy,” Very Rev. Michael Kinman, Dean of Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral in St. Louis, told ThinkProgress ahead of the protest. “The point is to win hearts, and we believe there is gospel truth in that voice of the young people from Ferguson. We’re not doing this against the police, we’re doing this for the police.”
CREDIT: MIKE ANGELL
Participants said the initial feel of the march was emotional, but distinctly less heated than the explosion-ridden clashes of the previous four evenings. Police officers wore their normal uniforms and chatted with marchers on Thursday, at times smiling at participants as they passed by. Clergy who attended the march said they hoped their presence would help stifle some of the latent anger among residents, and many carried bags of food and water to give to families who live apartment complexes that have been blocked off by police during the protests.
“I think the role of the faith community is always reconciliation,” Kinman said. “Reconciliation is at the heart of our call … Whenever an event like this happens, we have to ask ourselves: who would Jesus be standing with?”
The march is the latest in a series of attempts by the Ferguson faith community to strike a balance between quelling violent unrest and holding local police and political leaders accountable for their actions. On Tuesday night, Blackmon hosted a public forum at her church to discuss the controversy, gathering more than 400 faith leaders and local citizens to voice their grievances and ask questions of community leaders such as Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon.
“We are here to stop the bleeding in our streets,” Blackmon told attendees at the forum. “We are here to take our communities back. We are here to take our children back. We are here to take our voices back. And this time, we will not go away.”
CREDIT: MIKE ANGELL
The call for peaceful responses to Brown’s death was echoed earlier this week by Rev. Al Sharpton, who ventured to Ferguson on Tuesday to visit the felled teenager’s grief-stricken parents and urge locals to embrace nonviolence. Shapton also joined Brown’s family in hosting a rally and prayer service at The Greater St. Mark Family Church on Tuesday night, calling on angry protestors to leave the streets and enter the sanctuary to vent their frustration peacefully. The assembled crowd flooded the pews of the church, signing hymns and holding their hands aloft in a way not all that dissimilar to worshippers at revival. But in addition to shouts of alleluia, the impromptu congregation chanted what has quickly become the mantra of the grassroots protest movement in Ferguson: “Hands up, don’t shoot!”
“In order to establish peace, you must have fair justice for everyone,” Sharpton said at a press conference before the rally. He added to his comments later that evening, encouraging locals to embark on a sustained campaign of nonviolent resistance,saying, “We’ve got to have a long term strategy – we can’t be mad for two weeks.”
CREDIT: MIKE ANGELL
Most of the faith-led efforts to ease the unrest in Ferguson, which is 65 percent African American, have been spearheaded by predominantly African American churches. But local white clergy are also lending a hand, hoping their actions can help break down longstanding racial tensions in the process. Rev. Kinman, who is white, directly addressed the death of Brown in his sermon this past Sunday, invoking the story of Jesus walking on water and charging his congregation to respond to the crisis with righteous indignation.
“We do not have all the facts of this case, but we do have facts,” he said. “We have the fact that there are too many guns on our streets and too many mothers and grandmothers mourning their children … We have the fact that for far too many black children and families, the police are not the ones you run to for protection but are ones you flee from in fear.”
“St. Louis is waiting for someone to … step out of the boat and show us … the greatness of which we are truly capable. Show us that this storm, of whom Michael Brown is only the latest victim, is not more powerful than God and God’s people.”
When it comes to dolling out religious persecution, the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — the ruthless band of religious extremists currently blazing a horrific trail of violence through Iraq — has been relatively indiscriminate. But while the situation is dire for many of the country’s religious groups, one band of faithful is at the center of ISIS’s wrath for an unusual reason: ISIS thinks they worship the devil.
Since ISIS began capturing Iraqi cities earlier this year, they have killed or displaced thousands of Christians and even their fellow Muslims, and have sparked international condemnation for destroying religious shrines sacred to both traditions. So terrible is their treatment of other religions that when President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that the United States would begin taking military action against ISIS, he justified authorizing air drops of humanitarian aid and airstrikes on military targets by saying that ISIS had been “especially barbaric towards religious minorities.”
But the impetus for United States involvement largely revolves around one specific religious group that ISIS could wipe out — namely, an ancient but relatively small sect known as the Yazidis, sometimes written “Yezidis.”
“Unlike Christians, [Yazidis are] not even given the option of paying a tax to live under [ISIS’] protection,” Hayder al-Khoei, an associate fellow at Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program, told TIME.com. “[ISIS] believes they are ‘devil worshippers’ who must either be slaughtered or convert to Islam.”
After ISIS began taking cities in Northern Iraq this week, some 40,000 people — most of whom are Yazidi — fled to the desolate peaks of Mount Sinjar, lest they be killed or forced to convert to ISIS’s peculiarly brutal form of Islam. But as ISIS forces surround the mountain, the group of mostly women and children have become stranded, threatened with certain doom if they try to flee, or a slow death by starvation or dehydration if they stay put. On Friday, reports emerged that ISIS had already kidnapped a group of young Yazidi women to be married off to ISIS fighters or sold.
The Yazidis are all too familiar with being persecuted for their supposed “devil worship.” Hundreds of Yazidis were killed in 2007 when a targeted string of bombingstore through their region near Mosul. And during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ottoman Empire carried out 72 massacres against their people. Yazidi religious and political leaders are increasingly concerned that the worsening situation with ISIS might become the 73rd.
But despite this history of violence, Yazidis have long disputed the claim of devil worship as a misconception. To be sure, Yazidism is an ancient religion, and sharesmany rituals, practices, and theological beliefs with Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism. But these commonalities can be misleading, especially given that the Yazidi tradition is actually older than both Christianity and Islam. Yazidis, for instance, are monotheistic and believe that God created the world, but also that our planet is under the care of seven Angels. Chief among these angels is Melek Taus, or the “Peacock Angel,” a powerful figure in Yazidism who, like the Christian/Muslim Lucifer, refused to bow to the first man — Adam — and was banished to a fiery punishment by God.
Unlike the Satan figure in most versions of Christianity and Islam (excluding some brands of Sufism), Melek Taus is thought to have refused to bow not out of pride, but out of love for God alone. More importantly, many Yazidi believe that the angel genuinely atoned for his wrongdoings, restoring favor with God by dousing the flames that imprisoned him with repentant tears. Thus, while the story of Melek Taus has hints of the Lucifer tale, the Yazidic religious framework doesn’t actually contain a Satan in a traditional sense — that is, one from whom all evil emanates — and many consider it a sin to even utter the word “Satan.” Instead, the Yazidi believe that good and evil are present in all people, and that every member of humanity must, like Melek Taus, work to choose righteousness over wickedness. This theological position puts a heavy responsibility on the actions of individuals, as Yazidis reportedly don’t even have a traditional concept of heaven or hell.
It is perhaps tragically ironic, then, that ISIS would oppress the Yazidis for “devil worship.” After all, it is ISIS, not the Yazidis, who has sparked widespread condemnation from both Muslims and Christians for burning and pillaging its way through Iraq. If anything, ISIS has actually epitomized humanity’s ability to choose the “wickedness” option, saddling Yazidis, Christians, Muslims, and anyone else who gets in their way with a special kind of hell.
Justin’s Political Corner, via Right Wing Watch:Christian radio host Bryan Fischer is in agreement with the Muslim extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) that a minority religion in Iraq is made up of “devil worshippers.” And he’s irate that Presdient Barack Obama is authorizing a humanitarian mission to help the Yazidi people, who are stranded and dying of thirst after ISIS launched an attack on them, Right Wing Watch reported.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Yazidis were not allowed the option given to Iraqi Christians of converting or paying a “tax” for practicing their faith. Instead, ISIS condemned the group to death.
“They consider us infidels so they are killing us and taking away the women,” Iraqi Parliament member Vian Dakhil, herself a Yazidi, was quoted as saying. Fischer apparently shared ISIS’ belief that the Yazidi religion’s emphasis on seven angels, including one who refused to bow to Adam, is an allusion to the devil.
Besides criticizing Obama on his radio show, Fischer also wrote an online column blasting the Yazidi faith.
Brandon Stephens (@iamredsky) says what needs to be said about Fischer and folks like him:American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer is outraged that the U.S. is intervening in Iraq to stop ISIS, who has been attacking Christians and other Muslims throughout the country.
Fischer believes that President Obama only intervened to stop the extermination of the Yazidis, who practice an ancient religion yet are considered by ISIS fighters and others to be “devil worshipers.” He began today’s edition of “Focal Point” by railing against Obama, saying the president only decided to launch airstrikes in Iraq in order to defend “devil worshipers.”
“They go after devil worshipers and all of the sudden the entire weight of the United States government is sent in there to relieve them and to avenge them,”he said. “Those are the Yazidis.”
“In a rare point of theological accord, both Muslims and Christians agree that the archangel revered by the Yazidis is in fact the Prince of Darkness,” he writes in his column today. “The New Testament describes him this way,” “Satan (who) disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), eager to deceive the gullible into believing that he is good rather than evil. The Yazidis have fallen for his lies.”
The ISIS support is the final straw. Enough is enough. Bryan Fischer, it’s time to go. Leave this country and never come back.— Brandon Stephens (@IAmRedSky)August 8, 2014
From the 08.08.2014 edition of AFR’s Focal Point:
Chinese government officials announced Thursday that they plan to create a new state-sanctioned version of Christian theology, the latest in an uptick of attempts by the government to curtail the growing influence of religion in Chinese culture.
Speaking to the state-run China Daily newspaper, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told reporters that the new effort would seek to marry Christian theology with established Chinese norms.
“Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country’s religious policy,” he said. “The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.”
The exact details of how and where this new theology will be developed were not immediately clear, but the move appears to be part of a long history of complex — and increasingly conflict-ridden — interactions between religion and politics in China. Religion was recast as a superstition and a foreign intrusion during the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many houses of worship were forcibly closed and congregations disbanded by Red Guards. The government has since loosened its grip on spiritual affairs, but the U.S. State Department’s “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013“, released in July, still lists China as a “Country of Particular Concern,” and cited several major hurdles faced by many Chinese seeking to freely express their religious beliefs.
But despite these challenges, most researchers agree that the Christian population in China is substantial — and growing. An official 2010 Chinese government survey reported the existence of about 23.05 million Christians in the country, but a 2011 Pew Research survey estimated that the real number is actually closer to 67 million. Of these, Pew reported that around 9 million are Catholics, 5.7 million of whom are affiliated with the state-controlled Patriotic Catholic Association — which rejects the authority of the Vatican — while another 3.3 million attend “underground” Catholic congregations who still recognize the pope in Rome. The survey also reported that roughly 23 million Chinese affiliate with the government-sanctioned Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, while around 35 million attend “unregistered” Protestant churches or state-approved churches without having formal membership.
As this Christian population rapidly expands, the Communist Chinese government — which is ardently atheist — has started to push back against the religion’s increasingly public role. For years, the pastors and congregants of illegal Protestant “house churches” have been repeatedly detained, imprisoned, and charged for things such as “gathering a crowd to disrupt public order.” More recently, the government has started forcibly removing crosses from several churches because they “violated zoning regulations.” Even high-profile, state-sponsored churches are starting to feel the heat: despite protests, city officials tore down the famous 180-foot spire of Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, China in May.
Some, such as Ian Johnson at the New York Times, believe the trend is part of an organized effort on the part of the Chinese government. According to a nine-page provincial policy statement obtained by the Times in May, local politicians have been urged to ramp up efforts to regulate “excessive religious sites” and “overly popular” religious activities — specifically Christianity and its religious symbols, such as crosses.
“The priority is to remove crosses at religious activity sites on both sides of expressways, national highways and provincial highways,” the document read. “Over time and in batches, bring down the crosses from the rooftops to the facade of the buildings.”
Analysts speculate the government wants to lessen the influence of Christianity because it is seen as a threat to the established government — especially “underground” Protestantism. According to the Times, a “disproportionate number of lawyers handling prominent [civil rights] cases … are Protestant,” partially because some Chinese Protestants see rights such as freedom of expression as “God-given.”
But the government’s tendency to exact control over religion isn’t just a Christian problem. China is notorious for its harsh treatment of Tibetan Buddhists and members of the Falun Gong religious sect, and officials have also started to crack down on Islam — particularly the religious practices of Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim minority population that populates China’s troubled western region. Local officials banned fasting during Ramadan, the month-long Muslim celebration of fasting and prayer, in the Xinjiang province earlier this year, arguing that they wanted to “protect students’ wellbeing.” According to the BBC, they also reportedly forced at least three Muslim students to eat and break their fast during that time period.