The Common Good

Blog Posts By Lauren Markoe

Posted by Yonat Shimron, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, David Gibson, Lauren Markoe 1 year 15 weeks ago
As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 16 weeks ago
The weeks leading up to the Jewish High Holy Days are supposed to be marked by self-questioning: What failings must I atone for, and to whom must I apologize?A group of artists, writers and animators are hoping a cartoon goat may help.They call it the eScapegoat, and it’s supposed to approximate the original scapegoat, described in Leviticus as an important player in the atonement ritual of the ancient Israelites, who symbolically placed their sins upon the animal and sent it into the wilderness.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Adelle M. Banks 1 year 16 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Fifty years to the day after Martin Luther King, Jr., knocked on the nation’s conscience with his dream, religious leaders gathered in a historic church to remind the nation that he was fueled by faith.Later, in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial where King thundered about America’s unmet promises, King’s children joined the likes of President Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey to rekindle what Obama called a “coalition of conscience.”At Shiloh Baptist Church, where King preached three years before his 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh clergy summoned King’s prophetic spirit to help reignite the religious fires of the civil rights movement.King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice A. King, said at the service that her father was a freedom fighter and a civil rights leader, but his essence was something else.“He was a pastor,” said King, who was 5 when her father electrified the nation in front of the Lincoln Memorial. “He was a prophet. He was a faith leader.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 18 weeks ago
A Royal Bris! A Royal Bar Mitzvah! Hanukkah at Buckingham Palace!From the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged, a rumor ran happily through the Jewish blogosphere (and menacingly on many anti-Semitic websites): the couple’s progeny, the heir to the British throne, would be Jewish! And then, on July 22, a son was born — a Son of Israel!Um, no.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 19 weeks ago
Amid persistent criticism that the U.S. marginalizes religion and religious people in its foreign policy, Secretary of State John Kerry Wednesday tapped ethicist and campaign adviser Shaun Casey to lead the State Department’s new Office of Faith-Based Community Initiatives.Casey is a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and advised President Obama’s campaign and other Democrats on outreach to religious voters. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 19 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — What’s one way to ensure that a new Hebrew-immersion public charter school isn’t a Jewish school? Hire a priest to run it.Sela, which means “rock” or “foundation” in Hebrew, opens in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19. As a public school, Sela may not teach or show preference to any religion. But the intimate connection between Hebrew and Judaism makes some people wonder whether the separation is truly possible.The question is not just for Sela, but for the dozen or so other public Hebrew charter schools from Brooklyn, N.Y., to San Diego that have started since the first one opened in Florida in 2007. And more Hebrew language charters are in the design stage.Making things even more complicated is Hebrew’s ties not only to Judaism but to Israel. When the Sela staff began naming classrooms for major cities in Israel this summer, the school’s executive director, Jason Lody, said there would be no class named after the disputed capital of Jerusalem.“We want to be a public school of excellence,” Lody said. “We don’t want to be sidetracked by political conversations that don’t focus on getting our 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 21 weeks ago
The Anti-Defamation League’s study of anti-Semitism in the U.S. shows a 14 percent decrease in incidents during 2012, the second consecutive year of a downward trend.Overall, the ADL counted 927 anti-Semitic incidents — including assaults, vandalism, and harassment — down from the 1,080 incidents reported in 2011. Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the trend “encouraging.”“While these numbers only provide one snapshot of anti-Semitism in America, to the extent that they serve as a barometer the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Jewish hatred,” he said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 21 weeks ago
A federal appeals court has ruled unconstitutional a 2002 law that allows Americans born in Jerusalem to designate Israel as their birth country on their passports.The lawsuit, brought by an American couple whose American son was born in Israel in 2002, challenged the government to uphold the law. Instead the court found it unconstitutional.The State Department has not permitted Americans born in the city to list “Israel” as their birthplace on their passports, despite the law.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 21 weeks ago
She graduated from all-female Bryn Mawr College in 1995, where she came out as gay and also as a woman called to the priesthood. After college, she graduated from Harvard Divinity School, married her girlfriend, became an Episcopal priest, changed her name — and changed her gender.Today the Rev. Cameron Partridge, a religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and Episcopal chaplain at Boston University, is living outside Boston with his wife and two young children in what looks, to those who don’t know them, like a typical heterosexual marriage.We talk to Partridge about his transgender and spiritual journeys, his discomfort with simplistic views of male and female, and feeling at home in Anglicanism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 21 weeks ago
There is a lopsided divide in America about what it means to be a religious person, with a majority believing that it’s about acting morally but a strong minority equating it with faith.Nearly six out of 10 Americans (59 percent) say that being a religious person “is primarily about living a good life and doing the right thing,” as opposed to the more than one-third (36 percent) who hold that being religious “is primarily about having faith and the right beliefs.”The findings, released Thursday, are part of a report by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution that aims to paint a more nuanced picture of the American religious landscape, and the religious left in particular.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 22 weeks ago
Most people have heard of Hanukkah and Passover and maybe Yom Kippur — the Jewish Day of Atonement. But Tisha B’Av?Translated as the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, it counts as one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar. But even many Jews have not heard of this period of mourning, which requires a 25-hour fast to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem.Tisha B’Av, many rabbis say, can be a tough sell, in part because a radical group of far-right Jews wants to rebuild the temple on the site of what is now the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s most revered sites.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 25 weeks ago
When it comes to God and country, white evangelicals report the strongest levels of patriotic feelings in a new poll, with more than two-thirds (68 percent) saying they are extremely proud to be an American.That figure was markedly higher than for white mainline Protestants (56 percent), minority Christians (49 percent), Catholics (48 percent) and religiously unaffiliated Americans (39 percent), according to the study, conducted by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service.White evangelicals are also more likely than any other religious group surveyed to believe that God has granted the U.S. a special role in history (84 percent) and to say they will likely attend a public July 4th celebration (62 percent).
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 25 weeks ago
People who hoped the Arab Spring would lead to greater religious freedom across the Middle East have been sorely disappointed, and a new Pew study confirms that the region has grown even more repressive for various religious groups.“In 2011, when most of the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring occurred, the Middle East and North Africa experienced pronounced increases in social hostilities involving religion, while government restrictions on religion remained exceptionally high,” according to the report by the Pew Research Center.The study shows the number of countries in the Middle East or North Africa with sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from five to 10 during 2011, a year that coincided with most of the political uprisings of Arab Spring.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 26 weeks ago
For the first time, the federal government has issued written guidelines for houses of worship that are confronted with a homicidal gunman.Vice President Joe Biden released the new rules on Tuesday, six months after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 dead, including 20 children.Beyond seeking shelter and waiting for police to arrive, as many Newtown victims did, the new rules also advise adults in congregations to fight back — as a last resort — in a bid to stop the shooter. The new federal doctrine is “run, hide or fight.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 26 weeks ago
The way fans reacted to Dolores Hart’s decision to become a cloistered nun, you might have thought the movie star had announced her intention to kill herself.Even close friends and family could not fathom why this Grace Kelly look-alike, who gave Elvis his first on-screen kiss and had her pick of acting jobs, would stow herself away in a nunnery for the rest of her life.As if to test her resolve in those weeks before she left Hollywood, Universal Studios offered her a role opposite Marlon Brando, a role she turned down shortly after she broke off her engagement to Don Robinson, a kind and handsome businessman who loved her intensely.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 28 weeks ago
Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, ordained in the liberal Reconstructionist tradition, sees a divide between generations of American Jews that could spell disaster for the community.One generation he calls “legacy” or “tribal” Jews — those who built the national organizations and synagogues that have served for decades as the backbone of American Jewry. But reams of statistics show legacy Jews have enjoyed limited success attracting younger Jews.The other is what he calls “covenantal” or “innovation sector” Jews, a younger generation that has founded a myriad of niche Jewish organizations — environmental, social justice and political — that can, in Schwarz’s vision, build on their parents’ work toward a more brilliant American Jewish future.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 28 weeks ago
In a conference full of people who champion traditional religious values, Amardeep Singh knew that everyone might not appreciate his recounting of the “uncomfortable” cab ride he had taken the previous day.Singh, a featured speaker at the second annual National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington on Thursday, told the several hundred attendees that his D.C. taxi driver had the radio tuned to a religiously minded commentator, who was explaining that women become lesbians because they had been abused.His cab story — both his telling and the reaction to it — reveals fault lines in the coalition of Americans concerned that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom and trying to banish religion from the public sphere.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 30 weeks ago
The Obama administration isn’t afraid to call out Republicans for playing politics on Capitol Hill, or Wall Street for runaway profits or insurance companies for health care woes.But why, when it comes to protecting religious freedom abroad, is the State Department so hesitant to name names?Watchdogs say the State Department missed a key opportunity to put teeth into its annual assessment of global religious freedom, which was released by Secretary of State John Kerry Monday.Continuing a pattern begun under President George W. Bush, the report does not include a list of “countries of particular concern,” or “CPCs” — the diplomatic term for countries that either actively suppress religious freedom or don’t do enough to protect it.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 31 weeks ago
 WASHINGTON — Twenty-five top Christian leaders gathered in the U.S. city with perhaps the worst reputation for civil discourse Wednesday and committed themselves to elevating the level of public conversation.Meeting in a row house three blocks from the U.S. Capitol, the group spanned the Christian spectrum, and included officials from liberal churches and the most conservative of interest groups.“The ground of our spiritual understanding is in treating other people as the image of God, treating people with respect,” said Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.“Faith leaders have a remarkable opportunity to shift the conversation, but it’s very challenging, particularly in a larger society that wants to understand everything as a battle, as engaging the enemy, rather than with someone who might have something to teach us,” she said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 31 weeks ago
Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 31 weeks ago
An undisclosed community on Wednesday accepted the body of Boston bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, which is now “entombed,” according to police in Worcester, Mass.Tsarnaev’s uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, found a funeral home in Worcester to handle the body, but had struggled to get a cemetery to accept it. The Boston Globe reported that the body is buried in a community outside Massachusetts.“As a result of our public appeal for help, a courageous and compassionate individual came forward to provide the assistance needed to properly bury the deceased,” read a statement posted on the Worcester Police Department’s website.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 32 weeks ago
His English was terribly broken, and punctuated by sudden fits of giggles. But for nearly an hour, the Dalai Lama entranced an arena full of admirers, who said his message came across just fine.The exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, speaking to an audience of 15,000 at the University of Maryland Tuesday, described himself as “a simple Buddhist monk” with a simple message: We are all human beings and should be good to one another.“I look at you,” he said, surveying the crowd, a University of Maryland visor crowning his head. “All human beings. No differences.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 33 weeks ago
It can be hard to come up with a list of countries with the most egregious records on religious freedom when some of the world’s worst offenders aren’t even nation states.For its annual report of violators, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom counts 15 nations where abuse of religious liberty is “systemic, egregious, and ongoing.”But the commission, which was created by Congress in 1998 as an independent watchdog panel, also wants to highlight the crimes of non-nations, which for the first time this year get their own section in the report. 
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 33 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — The adult survivors of the Holocaust are mostly gone now, and those who survived as children — and were old enough at the time to remember their ordeals — are now in their 70s and 80s.It won’t be long before no eyewitnesses remain.That’s why, as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum marks its 20th anniversary today (April 29) with more than 750 survivors, museum officials are calling it one the last large gatherings of those who managed to escape Hitler’s death machine.For those who have dedicated themselves to teaching future generations about the Holocaust and its victims, the demise of the survivors means looking backward in a different way — a way that no longer includes people looking others straight in the face and recounting what they saw and what they lived.
Posted by David Gibson, Lauren Markoe 1 year 35 weeks ago
No sooner had the reality of the Boston Marathon bombing sunk in on Monday afternoon than Muslim activists in the U.S. began sending out a slew of news releases, tweets, and Facebook messages urging prayers and aid for the victims — and condemning whoever was behind the horrific attack.“American Muslims, like Americans of all backgrounds, condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s cowardly bomb attack on participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement on Monday.It’s a familiar race against time for Muslim groups. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared around Copley Square, they knew from long experience that some would immediately point the finger of blame in their direction.Many widely believed Muslims were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, until American militiaman Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the crime.“We also call for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators,” Awad added, echoing a statement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council that called on “all of us as Americans to work together to bring those responsible to justice.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 36 weeks ago
Gilbert and Eleanor Kraus lived a comfortable life in 1930s Philadelphia, where he made a good living as a lawyer, and she kept a stylish house. They were secular Jews who sent their children to a Quaker school, and unlikely candidates for the mission they assigned themselves. Gilbert revealed the plan to his wife as he was shaving in the bathroom, so their young son and daughter would not hear.He wanted to go to Vienna and save 50 Jewish children from the Nazis.
Posted by Lauren Markoe, Caleb Bell 1 year 38 weeks ago
Isn’t it remarkable, attorney Ted Olson said after arguing for same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, that the other side wasn’t really arguing against it?“No one really offered a defense,” he said of his opponents’ bid to uphold Proposition 8, the 2008 California referendum that effectively ended gay marriage in the state by defining marriage as between a man and a woman.The question inside the courtroom was not so much can there be gay marriage, but “how do you establish marriage equality?” said David Boies, another attorney for Prop 8 opponents.Indeed, the lawyer trying to prop up Prop. 8, which was struck down by federal trial and appeals courts, spent barely any time talking about the virtues of traditional man-woman marriage or the hazards of same-sex marriage.And that, for supporters of gay marriage, shows just how far this debate has come in the U.S.: It’s no longer “if” it will be accepted and legal, but “how” and “when.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 39 weeks ago
In 1974, when the Rev. Jorge Bergoglio was the top Jesuit in his native Argentina, a former nightclub dancer named Isabel Peron came to head the nation – an accidental and weak president.Isabel Peron served less than two years in office before a right-wing military coup placed her under house arrest, and launched a seven-year campaign of torture and killings of tens of thousands of trade unionists and other leftists: Argentina’s Dirty War.As life in communist Poland propelled Pope John Paul II’s crusade against the Soviets and coming of age in Nazi Germany shaped Pope Benedict XVI, Argentina’s Dirty War posed deep, existential questions for the future Pope Francis.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 40 weeks ago
Jews worldwide welcomed newly elected Pope Francis as a friend on Wednesday, and pointed in particular to his sympathetic and strong reaction to the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in his native Argentina — the deadliest bombing in the country’s history.As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis “has had a warm relationship with the Jewish community of Argentina, and enjoyed close friendships with many prominent rabbis,” said Rabbi David Rosen, international director of interreligious affairs at the American Jewish Committee. “As far as I have heard and read in the few minutes since he was elected pope, he has shown deep signs of respect and friendship towards the Jews,” said Riccardo Di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome. “It’s a good starting point.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 40 weeks ago
Five key Catholic bishops are opposing the newly authorized Violence Against Women Act for fear it will subvert traditional views of marriage and gender, and compromise the religious freedom of groups that aid victims of human trafficking.The act, which was signed into law by President Obama on Thursday, is intended to protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, and allows the federal government to spend money to treat victims and prosecute offenders.That language disturbs several bishops who head key committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deal with, among other issues, marriage, the laity, youth and religious liberty.But for the first time since the original act became law in 1994, it spells out that no person may be excluded from the law’s protections because of  “sexual orientation” or “gender identity” — specifically covering lesbian, transgender and bisexual women.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 42 weeks ago
An advertisement in Athens intertwines a swastika with a Jewish star.  Hungarian politicians declare Jews a national security risk. A gunman executes three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in France. Such recent instances of anti-Semitism reflect a growing wave of hatred toward Jews across Europe, one documented by civil rights groups and concerning to those who fear that, nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, it has again become socially acceptable to vilify Jews. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., convened a hearing on Wednesday on this rise in anti-Semitism, calling it a threat not only to Jews, but to other religious minorities and the ideal of tolerance in general.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 45 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Longtime White House aide Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House office focused on the intersection of religion and public policy, will step down on Friday, President Obama announced Thursday.Obama, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, asked DuBois to lead his White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009 when the Pentecostal reverend was 26, and hoped DuBois could sustain the ties he had helped forge between Obama and religious groups during the 2008 presidential campaign.DuBois will teach at New York University starting later in the year, according to White House officials, and also plans to write a book based on the inspirational messages he sent to Obama daily.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 45 weeks ago
Super Bowl halftime shows often burn more vivid images into the American conscience than the most-watched football game of the year, and can claim millions more viewers.They can also ignite controversy, as Janet Jackson did with her halftime “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004. Last year, performing with Madonna, British-born hip-hop star M.I.A. gave the finger to 114 million people.Outraged by the raunchy behavior, or simply to capture some of the Super Bowl’s supersized audience, some religious programmers are now producing halftime shows of their own.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 47 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Half of Americans worry that religious freedom in the U.S. is at risk, and many say activist groups — particularly gays and lesbians — are trying to remove “traditional Christian values” from the public square.The findings of a poll published Wednesday reveal a “double standard” among a significant portion of evangelicals on the question of religious liberty, said David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, a California think tank that studies American religion and culture.While these Christians are particularly concerned that religious freedoms are being eroded in this country, “they also want Judeo-Christians to dominate the culture,” said Kinnamon.“They cannot have it both ways,” he said. “This does not mean putting Judeo-Christian values aside, but it will require a renegotiation of those values in the public square as America increasingly becomes a multi-faith nation.”
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 47 weeks ago
In the past four decades, American attitudes have changed markedly on gay marriage, smoking, bullying, and a host of other cultural issues.But on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, public opinion today looks much as it did back then.When it comes to American views on the legality of abortion, “the trend lines look about as flat as they can be,” said Daniel Cox, research director at the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute.Just a few years after the justices decided Roe, Gallup pollsters began asking Americans about abortion. In 1975, 54 percent said it should be legal only under certain circumstances; last year, that figure was virtually unchanged, at 52 percent.And the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life this month found that 63 percent of Americans don’t want Roe overturned, a mere 3-percentage-point increase from 1992.In more recent years, opinions on the morality of abortion have remained similarly stable, with about half of Americans (47 percent) calling it “morally wrong” and four in 10 considering it “morally acceptable” or “not a moral issue,” according to Pew.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 48 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Dozens of the nation’s faith leaders said on Tuesday that they’re ready to take on the gun lobby and demanded that politicians take quick and concrete steps to stem gun violence.At a Capitol Hill press conference and in a letter to Congress, more than 45 clergy and heads of religious groups — representing the spectrum of American religious life — petitioned lawmakers to reinstitute a ban on assault weapons, require background checks on all gun buyers, and make gun trafficking a federal crime.Organized by the two-year-old coalition Faiths United To Prevent Gun Violence, the signers said the slayings at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school last month had pushed them to redouble their efforts, and created an opportunity to beat back the gun lobby.The Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical who heads the progressive Christian group Sojourners, took on Wayne LaPierre, the outspoken executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, directly.LaPierre’s statement after Newtown that the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is “morally mistaken” and “religiously repugnant,” Wallis said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 49 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — The persecution of Christians “vastly rose” in 2012 as radical Islamists consolidated power in Africa, according to Open Doors, a Christian missionary organization which publishes an annual list of offending nations.Increasing threats to African Christians can be seen in focused attacks, such as the killings of Christians in Nigerian churches by the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, but also in the greater prevalence of radical Muslims in government, according to the California-based Open Doors.In Mali, for example, which made the biggest leap on the “World Watch List,” from unranked in 2011 to No. 7 in 2012, a coup in the north brought fundamentalist Muslims to power. “The situation in the north used to be a bit tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active,” said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 49 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — At a time when the ideals of compromise and collegiality seem like a distant dream in the nation’s capital, an unusually diverse coalition of religious leaders is asking Americans to pray for civility.“Through daily prayer, we are calling on the ‘better angels of our nature’ needed to sustain our nation and solve problems,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, immediate past president of the National Council of Churches and one of the faith leaders taking part in “18 days of Prayer for the Nation.”Prayers began Thursday, the first day of the new Congress, and end on Jan. 21, the day of President Obama’s second inauguration.Faith leaders from left, right and center have signed on, including Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics, and Religious Liberty Commission and Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.The Faith & Politics Institute, a nonpartisan group that nurtures the spiritual life of members of Congress and their staffs and presses political foes toward civil debate, organized the days of prayer and an online “commitment to prayer” page to document participation.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 1 year 52 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — Foes of the federal contraception mandate are cheering a Tuesday appeals court decision requiring the Obama administration to devise exemptions to the new rule for two Christian colleges.They’re also buoyed by the D.C. Circuit Court’s reversal of lower court decisions to throw out their cases. The administration had argued that because it was crafting an exemption to the contraception rule, the cases should not go forward.Now the cases continue, and every 60 days, the administration must report on its plan to ensure that the colleges do not have to comply with the new rule, which mandates that employers cover contraception in their health plans.“This is a win not just for Belmont Abbey and Wheaton, but for all religious non-profits challenging the mandate,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 2 weeks ago
 WASHINGTON — As a coalition of mostly Christian groups gathered here Thursday to support church leaders who have publicly questioned U.S. aid to Israel, those same church leaders signaled that they want to reconcile with the Jewish groups who were upset by their action.An Oct. 5 letter asking Congress to investigate U.S. aid to Israel led Jewish groups to cancel a long-planned meeting later that month of the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, a eight-year-old group dedicated to improving relations between the two faiths.The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the first signatory on the letter, did not attend Thursday's Washington press conference that was convened to support its message. But Parsons said he stands by the letter, and acknowledged that it heightened tensions between Jews and Christians on the roundtable.“We regret any distancing it put between us and our Jewish partners," he said, "and we hope we can close that gap."
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 4 weeks ago
WASHINGTON — It’s an idea that feels particularly poignant this Thanksgiving: American Jews and Muslims banding together to help the homeless and other needy people.The interfaith collaboration has been going on for five years, but the recent exchange of rockets between Gaza and Israel is weighing especially hard on both communities this week. That's why a joint session of sandwich making or a group visit to a nursing home has taken on added significance.“In this time of warfare it was a beautiful experience to see the two come together,” said Haider Dost, a Muslim student at Virginia’s George Mason University who worked with Jewish students to feed the homeless Sunday in Franklin Park, just blocks from the White House.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 4 weeks ago
The road to the White House is no longer white and Christian.President Obama won last week with a voter coalition that was far more racially and religiously diverse than Mitt Romney’s – a phenomenon both predicted in the days before the election and confirmed in the days after.What the Public Religion Research Institute has concluded since, however, has farther-reaching implications: that relying on white Christian voters will never again spell national electoral success — especially for the GOP.“The changing religious landscape is presenting a real challenge to the strategy that relied on motivated white Christians, particularly white evangelical Christians,” said PRRI Research Director Dan Cox, referring to a PRRI study released Thursday.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 6 weeks ago
Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Nov. 1 by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews.There were 1,080 incidents against Jews last year, according to the ADL, the lowest tallied by the non-profit civil rights group in two decades.“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 8 weeks ago
The largest slice of President Barack Obama’s religious coalition -- at 23 percent --  is not very religious.They’re the “nones,” also known as unaffiliated voters, according to a new American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.Gov. Mitt Romney’s biggest bloc of religious voters are white evangelical Protestants, at 37 percent, followed by white mainline Protestants and white Catholics, each at 19 percent. Comparing the candidates' supporters, the more diverse religious and nonreligious coalition that's favoring Obama tends to be younger and growing, which could make it easier for Democrats to win elections in the future.But there’s a down side for Obama, said Dan Cox, PRRI’s research director.“The people most likely to support him are the least likely to vote: Latinos, the millennials (voters 18-29), and the unaffiliated,” Cox said.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 10 weeks ago
Meet John Q. Nones, a young, white male who is making a big impression on the American religious landscape for something he doesn't do: align with any religious group.The rise of the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” as documented in a new study from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, has major implications for almost all aspects of American life -- from religion to business to culture.Whether you believe the proliferation of Mr. Nones is a depressing or hopeful trend, it pays to get to know him.Who is John Q. Nones? Here's a snapshot drawn from the Pew Forum’s new poll.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 11 weeks ago
Respected news outlets unwittingly sent a lie around the world on Sept.12: a Jew backed by 100 Jewish donors made a film insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.Within a day, the lie unraveled. But the damage to the Jewish community had been done, and Jews will continue to suffer for it, say Jewish civil rights leaders. “This is another blood libel that’s in place,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to a history of conspiracy theories that has fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 12 weeks ago
President Obama on Tuesday gave a forceful speech at the United Nations, in which he challenged much of the world's assumptions about free speech and religion.Here are five points from his address, which together, add up to as close to an Obama Doctrine on Religion as we've seen:1. Blasphemy must be tolerated, however intolerableThe idea that the U.S. protects even vile speech, so ingrained in American culture, seems counterintuitive to much of the world. It’s an especially tough concept when speech targets a religion, but Obama argued that restrictions on speech too often become weapons to suppress religion – especially the rights of religious minorities.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 12 weeks ago
The white working class, a potentially rich bloc of voters for Republicans or Democrats, hasn’t settled on Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute shows.“These white working class voters are not particularly enamored of either candidate,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “In terms of their favorability, they’re both under 50 percent.” Forty-four percent look favorably upon Obama and 45 percent upon Romney.Released seven weeks before the election, the August survey found Romney with a double-digit lead over Obama among the white working class, which preferred the GOP candidate 48 to 35 percent.But Cox points out that the gap narrows to statistical insignificance among women voters in this group, and in the Midwest and West, home of several swing states. The upshot for Romney and Obama?If they want to woo this group, which makes up 36 percent of the nation according to the study, the campaigns may want to consider other findings of the PRRI poll.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 15 weeks ago
UDATE: (Posted 9/6/12)Criticized by Republicans and some members of their own party, Democrats voted to restore the word “God” to the Democratic national platform late Wednesday (Sept. 5). The GOP had seized upon the omission as a failure of their opponents to appreciate the divine's place in American history.GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took to the airwaves early Wednesday to blast the change from the Democrats’ 2008 platform. “I guess I would just put the onus and the burden on them to explain why they did all this, these purges of God,” Ryan said on “Fox & Friends.”Ryan also attacked the Democratic platform’s initial failure to affirm Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an issue important to some American Jews and conservative Christians. After a voice vote at the party's convention in Charlotte, language about God and endorsing Jerusalem as the capital was added.God is mentioned 12 times in the 2012 GOP platform. The 2008 Democratic platform made one reference to God: the “God-given potential” of working people. The 2004 platform had numerous references to God.
Posted by Lauren Markoe 2 years 15 weeks ago
The host city for the Democratic National Convention is not a particularly political place. Charlotte, N.C., is known for three things: banking, NASCAR, and religion.And when it comes to religion, Billy Graham’s spirit looms large.America’s most famous evangelist of the 20th century was born on a dairy farm just outside of town and was raised in Charlotte, home of his ministry.For the Democrats – labeled disparagingly by some Republicans as the party of secular humanism – Charlotte is not a bad place to try and raise their religious profile.