TIME faith

United Church of Christ Sues North Carolina to Allow Gay Marriage

It's the first time for a national Christian denomination to sue in favor of same-sex marriage, citing restricted freedom of religion. Currently ministers who marry couples without a marriage license can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 120 days in jail

When Kathleen Smith and Lisa Cloninger got engaged last October, they hoped to get married at Holy Covenant United Church of Christ. It was after all, their religious community and the church that had been their home for their 13-year relationship. But there was a problem: Holy Covenant is in Charlotte, North Carolina, a state that does not allow ministers to perform legal same-sex marriages. Ministers who do marry a couple that has not yet obtained a marriage license can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 120 days in jail.

On Monday morning, Holy Covenant’s denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), along with ministers of other Charlotte area congregations including a rabbi, filed a lawsuit challenging state marriage laws for restricting ministers’ free exercise of religion. The UCC is also seeking preliminary injunction that would allow ministers to choose whether to perform a religious marriage. The case appears to be the first time a national Christian denomination has challenged a state’s marriage laws.

The lawsuit has been in the works since 2012, when North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, a constitutional ban on gay marriage, with 61% of the vote. State laws prevent ministers from performing weddings if the couple does not already have a marriage license, and so religious wedding ceremonies are at odds with the law even if ministers are not sanctioning civil marriages.

Earlier this spring, the UCC, the lead plaintiff, reached out to local congregations, including Holy Covenant, to ask pastors if any church members might be candidates to join the suit. Three other couples from other churches have joined the Smith-Cloningers, and the group is suing the state’s attorney general Roy Cooper as well as other county district attorneys and registers of deeds.

The effort is part of the UCC’s long history of social justice advocacy. The mainline Protestant denomination—President Barack Obama’s own church denomination in Chicago—has more than one million members and 5,100 congregations nationwide, including 150 churches in North Carolina, and the UCC general synod passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in 2005. “For 40 years or more we have been seeking justice and equality for gay and lesbian people,” explains Geoffrey Black, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ. “This is the moment when we have an opportunity to seek justice and equality for gay and lesbian people, and so we are taking that matter very seriously.”

Smith and Cloninger are planning to have their religious ceremony at Holy Covenant in October no matter the outcome of the case. “We’ve bought dresses, we’ve sent save the date cards, we’ve booked a reception hall,” says Smith, who along with Cloninger is a North Carolina native. “Nothing could make us happier than if we were able to have both a religious and legal ceremony with everyone that we love around us and our pastor legally able to officiate that ceremony.”

Nancy Allison, the pastor of Holy Covenant and an individual plaintiff in the case, is willing to face any repercussions that may come. “I can’t imagine the law enforcement of North Carolina coming after a clergy person for doing their job, but if I were to be arrested for this, I would gladly face those arrest charges,” Allison explains. “I can do no other than move forward under my convictions.”

TIME faith

Why Science Does Not Disprove God

Digitally generated image showing volcanic eruptions during formation of Earth Dorling Kindersley—Getty Images/Vetta

Biology, physics, mathematics, engineering and medicine help us understand the world, but there is much about life that remains a mystery.

A number of recent books and articles would have you believe that—somehow—science has now disproved the existence of God. We know so much about how the universe works, their authors claim, that God is simply unnecessary: we can explain all the workings of the universe without the need for a Creator.

And indeed, science has brought us an immense amount of understanding. The sum total of human knowledge doubles roughly every couple of years or less. In physics and cosmology, we can now claim to know what happened to our universe as early as a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, something that may seem astounding. In chemistry, we understand the most complicated reactions among atoms and molecules, and in biology we know how the living cell works and have mapped out our entire genome. But does this vast knowledge base disprove the existence of some kind of pre-existent outside force that may have launched our universe on its way?

Science won major victories against entrenched religious dogma throughout the 19th century. In the 1800s, discoveries of Neanderthal remains in Belgium, Gibraltar and Germany showed that humans were not the only hominids to occupy earth, and fossils and remains of now extinct animals and plants further demonstrated that flora and fauna evolve, live for millennia and then sometimes die off, ceding their place on the planet to better-adapted species. These discoveries lent strong support to the then emerging theory of evolution, published by Charles Darwin in 1859. And in 1851, Leon Foucault, a self-trained French physicist, proved definitively that earth rotates—rather than staying in place as the sun revolved around it—using a special pendulum whose circular motion revealed the planet’s rotation. Geological discoveries made over the same century devastated the “young earth” hypothesis. We now know that earth is billions, not thousands, of years old, as some theologians had calculated based on counting generations back to the biblical Adam. All of these discoveries defeated literal interpretations of Scripture.

But has modern science, from the beginning of the 20th century, proved that there is no God, as some commentators now claim? Science is an amazing, wonderful undertaking: it teaches us about life, the world and the universe. But it has not revealed to us why the universe came into existence nor what preceded its birth in the Big Bang. Biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet and how the advanced eukaryotic cells—the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms—ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things? Where do symbolic thinking and self-awareness come from? What is it that allows humans to understand the mysteries of biology, physics, mathematics, engineering and medicine? And what enables us to create great works of art, music, architecture and literature? Science is nowhere near to explaining these deep mysteries.

But much more important than these conundrums is the persistent question of the fine-tuning of the parameters of the universe: Why is our universe so precisely tailor-made for the emergence of life? This question has never been answered satisfactorily, and I believe that it will never find a scientific solution. For the deeper we delve into the mysteries of physics and cosmology, the more the universe appears to be intricate and incredibly complex. To explain the quantum-mechanical behavior of even one tiny particle requires pages and pages of extremely advanced mathematics. Why are even the tiniest particles of matter so unbelievably complicated? It appears that there is a vast, hidden “wisdom,” or structure, or knotty blueprint for even the most simple-looking element of nature. And the situation becomes much more daunting as we expand our view to the entire cosmos.

We know that 13.7 billion years ago, a gargantuan burst of energy, whose nature and source are completely unknown to us and not in the least understood by science, initiated the creation of our universe. Then suddenly, as if by magic, the “God particle”—the Higgs boson discovered two years ago inside CERN’s powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider—came into being and miraculously gave the universe its mass. Why did this happen? The mass constituted elementary particles—the quarks and the electron—whose weights and electrical charges had to fall within immeasurably tight bounds for what would happen next. For from within the primeval soup of elementary particles that constituted the young universe, again as if by a magic hand, all the quarks suddenly bunched in threes to form protons and neutrons, their electrical charges set precisely to the exact level needed to attract and capture the electrons, which then began to circle nuclei made of the protons and neutrons. All of the masses, charges and forces of interaction in the universe had to be in just the precisely needed amounts so that early light atoms could form. Larger ones would then be cooked in nuclear fires inside stars, giving us carbon, iron, nitrogen, oxygen and all the other elements that are so essential for life to emerge. And eventually, the highly complicated double-helix molecule, the life-propagating DNA, would be formed.

Why did everything we need in order to exist come into being? How was all of this possible without some latent outside power to orchestrate the precise dance of elementary particles required for the creation of all the essentials of life? The great British mathematician Roger Penrose has calculated—based on only one of the hundreds of parameters of the physical universe—that the probability of the emergence of a life-giving cosmos was 1 divided by 10, raised to the power 10, and again raised to the power of 123. This is a number as close to zero as anyone has ever imagined. (The probability is much, much smaller than that of winning the Mega Millions jackpot for more days than the universe has been in existence.)

The scientific atheists have scrambled to explain this troubling mystery by suggesting the existence of a multiverse—an infinite set of universes, each with its own parameters. In some universes, the conditions are wrong for life; however, by the sheer size of this putative multiverse, there must be a universe where everything is right. But if it takes an immense power of nature to create one universe, then how much more powerful would that force have to be in order to create infinitely many universes? So the purely hypothetical multiverse does not solve the problem of God. The incredible fine-tuning of the universe presents the most powerful argument for the existence of an immanent creative entity we may well call God. Lacking convincing scientific evidence to the contrary, such a power may be necessary to force all the parameters we need for our existence—cosmological, physical, chemical, biological and cognitive—to be what they are.

Science and religion are two sides of the same deep human impulse to understand the world, to know our place in it, and to marvel at the wonder of life and the infinite cosmos we are surrounded by. Let’s keep them that way, and not let one attempt to usurp the role of the other.

TIME Religion

Catholics Flock to Vatican for Historic Papal Canonization

Italy - Religion - Canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII
Nuns and Pilgrims gather aorund St. Peter's Square one day before the canonoization of John Paul II and John XXIII at the Vatican, April 26, 2014. Alessandra Benedetti—Corbis

More than a million Catholics are expected to arrive in Rome ahead of Sunday's historic double canonization, in which Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be recognized as saints. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will join Pope Francis at the ceremony

More than one million Catholics were expected to flock to Rome Saturday for the historic double canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII on Sunday.

The city of Rome has been repairing roads and preparing the city for the large influx of pilgrims planning to attend the ceremony officiated by Pope Francis, the National Catholic Register reports. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who resigned the papacy last year, will attend the ceremony, CNN reports, though he will not officiate at the altar with his successor.

Pope John Paul II led the Catholic church for almost three decades and was an extremely popular figure among the laity. His canonization to sainthood was considered a formality after his death in 2005.

But the decision to canonize the late pope so swiftly is controversial for some, NBC reports. Traditionally, five years must pass after a pope’s death before the canonization process can began, but Benedict waived that requirement for John Paul II, leading some to believe he was fast-tracked too quickly.

Additionally, groups such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) say they do not support sainthood for John Paul II because they believe he did respond adequately to the wide-ranging child sex abuse scandal within the church, that came to light during his papacy.

[National Catholic Register]


John XXIII and John Paul II, the Catholic Church’s Modern Saints

When Pope Francis canonizes former popes John XXIII and John Paul II, let's not forget their true contributions amid the political labels

This upcoming Sunday’s canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II by Pope Francis have been covered by the media in a somewhat predictable fashion. The exhausted narrative goes like this: in an attempt to please various political factions within the Church and society, the current bishop of Rome has made a politically savvy decision to proclaim both the ‘liberal’ John XXIII and the ‘conservative’ John Paul II saints.

To reduce the future saints to contemporary political labels both ignores the important nuances that defined their lives and distorts what Francis and the Church is doing in recognizing the saints that God has made in Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and Karol Józef Wojtyła.

It’s important to remember that sanctity isn’t perfection. Every saint is also a sinner with a mix of virtues and vices. But in the saint, we can clearly see joy and holiness radiate through them. In their very lives, they communicate God to a skeptical world in a way many cannot. As Benedict XVI reminds us, the “[t]he saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.”

The particular sanctity of John XXIII and John Paul II is tied up intrinsically with the Second Vatican Council. In opening the Council in 1962, Pope John said he wanted to “throw open the doors of the Church and let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.” If John opened the doors of the Church, then John Paul II was the one who most dramatically walked through those doors. During his 26-year pontificate, the first non-Italian pope since the Renaissance logged over 750,000 travel miles in 104 foreign trips, more than all previous popes combined.

By canonizing two of the most popular modern saints, Pope Francis is adding a newer element to the expectations of a saintly life: engagement with the world. This too is at the heart of Francis’s own identity. A member of the Society of Jesuit, Francis’s Jesuit order asks its men to “find God in all things.” One of the earliest leaders of the Jesuits, Father Jeromino Nadal said it well: “we are not monks; the world is our house!”

It’s clear: the two pope’s societal engagement—not supposed political ideologies—should be the markers of Sunday’s festivities. The Catholic Church of John XXIII, John Paul II and now of Francis is a Church that encounters the world. The opening lines to the Second Vatican Council’s most famous document communicates this reality: “[t]he joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”

The modern saints will be men and women who exist in the gritty reality of life. Within the context of his humanity, they will have to communicate in both word and deed the timeless truths of the faith: that God never tires of loving his people, and that all men, women and children are redeemed and made holy by God’s love in Jesus Christ.

The canonization of two popes shouldn’t make us naïve us though. The call to holiness isn’t just for clergy. It’s universal. As Caryll Houselander put it: “when the years move on and we look back, we find that it is not the social reformer or the economist or even the church leader who has done tremendous things for the human race, but the silly saints in their rags and tatters, with their empty pockets and their impossible dreams.”

But perhaps more important than what the saints have accomplished is how they have woken us up from our slumbers. They open our eyes and remind us that Jesus Christ is all around us, only if we have the eyes to see him. Mostly we do not recognize him. We live our lives blind, numb to the reality that the Son of God comes to us a hundred times a day.

But as this great celebration of these two holy men approaches, the Church gives us a chance to reawaken ourselves during this Easter Season and sense again that God isn’t dead, but alive. He’s alive in our brothers and sisters and—yes—in our very flesh.

Now that is good news indeed.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

TIME Religion

Faith for Hillary Website Launches

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Speaks At The Marketo Marketing Nation Summit 2014
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton smiles during a keynote session at the The Marketo Marketing Nation Summit 2014 in San Francisco, April 8, 2014. David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The group behind the website that went live on Friday morning, Faith for Hillary, is in the process of filing as a PAC, marking a strong push by Hillary Clinton's religious supporters ahead of her potential presidential bid in 2016

The Faith for Hillary website went live on Friday morning, Faith Voters for Hillary, and the group behind it has begun the process of filing as a PAC. Faith for Hillary began informally about a year ago as a network for people of faith who support Hillary Clinton, and it is co-led by Burns Strider, vice president of the Democratic super-PAC American Bridge and senior advisor of its Correct the Record project, and Rick Hendrix, a Nashville gospel and country music promoter who also supported Clinton in the 2008 cycle. Faith for Hillary, Strider says, is not connected with either Ready for Hillary or American Bridge.

The group’s social accounts have been growing slowly but steadily over the past year: @Faith4Hillary now has 34,000 Twitter followers and 40,000 likes on Facebook. Strider, a Baptist, and Hendrix, a Pentecostal turned non-denominational Christian, share the outreach responsibilities. “As she makes up her mind, we just want to provide the space,” explains Strider. “It is not necessarily encouraging or saying, You’ve got to run, but it is saying, We are here, we are organizing, and we are really ready to support if you do get into this but if not we are going to support you regardless because of the mission you have to play out, whatever position you choose to do.” He adds: “Obviously, I hope she runs.”

Faith for Hillary has also started hosting small breakfasts for faith leaders. The first one took place in Little Rock, Ark. on March 26, and about 15 local clergy and civic leaders came, mostly Baptists and Methodists. Most attendees were new supporters, says Strider, but some of her 2008 supporters joined as well. A second breakfast is planned for next Friday in Columbia, South Carolina.

The breakfasts also serve to drum up support for Democratic candidates in key 2014 races. Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is running for re-election in Arkansas against Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, who has had support from the Tea Party. Democratic state senator Vincent Sheehen is running for governor of South Carolina against incumbent Republican Nikki Haley. Other breakfasts are in the works, but none are on the calendar yet. “The breakfasts that we have will be places where we can also help turnout voters and do some organizing around in 2014,” Strider notes.

Hillary Clinton herself, who has no affiliation with Faith for Hillary, will give the keynote address to the United Methodist Women Assembly in Louisville on Saturday. A lifelong Methodist, Clinton addressed the United Methodist City Society in November for the group’s 175th anniversary, and she praised the Methodist women for their early social work in the infamous Five Points New York slum.

TIME faith

God Is Dead. Except at the Box Office.

While Hollywood is finding God, Americans are losing their religion. But that’s not a bad thing.

These days, God is dead everywhere except at movie theaters. But rest easy, America, that doesn’t mean we’re spiraling into an amoral abyss or a lawless society. Indeed, by most indicators of anti-social behavior, things have never been better.

Even as polls and church-attendance records show the U.S. is becoming a more secular, less pious country, current films such as Heaven is for Real (based on a best-selling account of a four-year-old boy’s supposed trip to the afterlife) and Noah (based on the Old Testament’s account of the Great Flood) have done boffo business.

Noah is closing in on $100 million, the line that separates mere hits from blockbusters, and Heaven is for Real easily bested Johnny Depp’s poorly reviewed meditation on computer-enabled immortality, Transcendence. God’s Not Dead, a drama about a college freshman challenging his professor’s atheism, is also performing strongly, and so is Son of God, the latest cinematic version of the life of Jesus.

Expect to see more Christian and religiously themed movies as a result. “If there’s a sense that there’s a growing market and a growing hunger for more films like this,” a Columbia TriStar Pictures executive tells The Christian Post, “then the desire to continue to provide more films will increase, and decisions will be made to be able to make more films like this.”

Yet there’s no reason to think that such movies will do anything to stanch the broad and ongoing decline in religiosity. And there’s even less reason to worry about the trend toward a less godly country.

Gallup reports that fully 77% of Americans agree that religion “is losing its influence on American life,” and that just 20% think religion is gaining influence. Mainline Protestantism has especially taken it on the chin over the past 50 years. In 1965, over half of Americans were “active members” of Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and similar denominations, according to The Catholic World Report. That number is now below 10%. While independent bible-based churches and the Catholic Church show some growth (largely due to immigrants), Pew Research reports that “the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.” Indeed, such “nones” now comprise 20% of the population and one-third of adults under the age of 30.

Those numbers will keep growing. With each successive generation – from the “Silents” born between 1928 and 1945 to Gen-Xers born between 1965 and 1980 – Americans have gotten less and less religious. Millennials, who were born between 1981 and 1994 and outnumber Baby Boomers, are embracing secularism for a variety of reasons, none of which is likely to disappear.

Millennials are far more likely than previous generations to view organized religion as intolerant, sexist, and homophobic. That attitude isn’t helped by traditional Islamic theology, the Catholic Church’s position on female priests, or political candidates such as Ray Moore, who is running for lieutenant governor of South Carolina and calling for Christian parents to remove their children from public education (“Pharoah’s school system”).

Sociologists agree that religion is generally less important in societies where basic existential needs – food, clothing, shelter, education, work – are covered. Even with the global financial crisis of the past few years, the fact is that Americans and other residents of the developed world are still doing extremely well by any standard. Even the poorest countries are gaining ground, which suggests that they too will become more secular over time.

While it’s understandable that believers would worry about secularism’s effect on non-believers’ souls, the widespread sense that a godless society is a lawless society is clearly wrong. A line routinely (though controversially) attributed to Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky sums up the fear of many religious people: “If God does not exist, then everything is permitted.” Yet the plain fact is that over the same period during which America has gotten less religious, crime of all sorts has declined massively, teens are waiting longer to have sex, abortion rates are down, the divorce rate is at a 30-year low, and philanthropic giving remains strong despite economic lassitude.

Christians and other believers can take pride in the fact that moviegoers are shelling out millions of dollars to watch films dealing with religious themes – and that an entertainment industry long hostile to such topics seems ready and willing to deliver whatever the audience wants. And they can also take solace in the fact that, even as America has become an increasingly godless society, it’s become a nicer, safer place to live.

TIME Religion

A Different Kind of Spring Training

This Holy Week, I realized God's hope in a place other than church

Proclaiming that the tomb is empty – that Jesus has risen from the grave – is the most powerful witness any Christian can offer. But if our Easter celebration stops at proclamation then we’ve shortchanged the world of the hope and joy it sorely needs. The resurrection must also be about embodiment. It should change the way we live and move and have our being. Easter should transform and strengthen us to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world.

That’s why I chose to spend this Easter worshipping in a very different way and in a very different place. There was no midnight watch service or large family dinner, but there were countless moments of hope and an abiding trust in the possibility of new life.

For the past two years, John McCarthy, whom everyone affectionately calls Coach Mac, has taken a group of young baseball players from Washington, D.C. to join kids in the Dominican Republic (DR) for a week of playing baseball. Major League Baseball teams recruit heavily from the DR. 20 percent of professional baseball players learned the fundamentals of the game in this small country. Baseball is part of the nation’s cultural rhythms. Coach Mac runs a legendary program in Washington, D.C. called “Homerun Baseball” where the t-shirts read “Talent is what you have, effort is what you give.” He is known for using baseball to teach life lessons. He teaches his players how to succeed on and off the field.

One of the issues that has specifically tugged at John’s heart is literacy. The money he raises through his program helps subsidize reading programs in the nation’s capital, Brooklyn, NY, and the Dominican Republic. I believe in his work and was thrilled that my 11-year old son Jack and I could be a part of the Dominican journey last week.

For many baseball fans in the United States, their romantic image of the game is capture by the movie Field of Dreams. Pitches are thrown and bats are swung amidst the growing corn stalks and simple joys of small town America. But in the Dominican Republic, baseball diamonds are surrounded by sugarcane, whose shoots are used for the dugout walls. The scene is almost magical. Watching our boys sit on the bench chewing on sugarcane sticks was a sight to behold. Coach Mac knows I am a long-time little league coach in DC, so I was invited to join his coaching staff in the DR. We led skill drills and coached daily double headers under the hot sun, working alongside our Dominican counterparts. We shared stories of past exploits – my favorite coach, 27-year-old Luis, told the story of his years playing in the minor leagues. Luis showed his commitment to helping other kids escape the grinding poverty that far too frequently dashes youthful dreams in his country.

In the DR, baseball is played hard and well because many believe that it is their only opportunity to escape from poverty. Our kids were able to recognize their own privilege and it amazed them to see how their Dominican teammates come from so little yet bring so much to the field every day. Kids like Mosquito, whose mother died of HIV/AIDS, who is both deaf and mute, but is such a good pitcher that one of our Homerun coaches, a former MLB pitcher himself for 17 years, thinks this 12-year-old could eventually make the Majors. Or Isaac, a big hitter who kept hitting balls over buildings, always with a big smile on his face. Or little Derrick, who snuck onto the bus because he wanted to join our team– to our great benefit because of his great swing and glove in the field! Or even Kendre, who liked to catch for me while I hit ground balls to the infielders. He kept calling me “Coach Diego,” and caught hard throws with the flimsiest glove until I gave him mine to borrow. Kendre could hardly believe his good fortune when I told him at the end of the second day to keep my glove.

Many of the children attend a school started years earlier by the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. These sisters are also a core partner in the baseball program, recognizing too that the truth of the resurrection must be embodied in tangible ways.

At the end of the week, we stood around a huge baseball cake while both American and Dominican players talked about what they had learned. As they thanked each other and vowed to do it again next year, one 11-year-old Dominican player said, “Keep playing baseball and keep believing in God.” Another wished us safe travel “Vamos con Dios!” or “Go with God.”

In a final late night conversation with Jack and his friend Sam, we discussed what we had learned and how our lives might help change the lives of the young players and families we had met. They came up with the idea of a “foundation” to bring lots of baseball equipment from their teams and friends to the DR. That’s fine I said, but asked if baseball will really help many people in the Dominican escape poverty. No, they thought, that will take education and the boys decided we need to include books with the baseball gear. So look out for the “J and S Glove and Book Foundation” coming soon!

This “holy” week drove home to me how the resurrection calls us to bring hope wherever we go. When we can live in that reality—that death and evil do not finally win—we find the strength to participate in God’s work in the world.

TIME Religion

The Boy Scouts Banned My Church Because We Support Gays

Geoff McGrath on April 1, 2014, in Bellevue, Wash.
Geoff McGrath on April 1, 2014, in Bellevue, Wash. Elaine Thompson—AP

Earlier this week, the Boy Scouts of America revoked the troop charter of a Seattle-area United Methodist Church because the church would not boot the scoutmaster Geoff McGrath, a married, gay Eagle Scout. Monica Corsaro, the pastor of the church, explains why.

The congregation that I serve, Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, is an incredibly diverse place. We have various racial and ethnic groups. Our people come from various economic strata. We have gay and straight people. Beyond just having the diversity, we are a place that values every person that God has placed within our community.

Because our church sits in the heart of our diverse neighborhood and has become somewhat of a community center, we knew that it was the right time to charter a Boy Scout troop in the congregation. In envisioning this troop we wanted it reflect who the congregation is, and to welcome in the community around us with authenticity.

We didn’t choose Geoff McGrath as a political statement. We chose Geoff because he was the perfect person for the job, an Eagle Scout himself, and someone who has a Master’s degree in Social Work. He has mentoring and leadership skills that someone taking on this role needs. A perfect fit. Geoff was quite willing, to serve as scoutmaster but was also nervous that his being gay would pose a problem for me and for the congregation. I assured him that putting him in the leadership of this troop would reflect and live out the values of our congregation, and that we would not have a troop at Rainier Beach UMC unless it was fully inclusive, because that is who we are.

Apparently, who we are is a problem for the Boy Scouts of America. Our congregation’s new troop was welcomed warmly by the Chief Seattle Council with full knowledge of the values of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church, as well as who Geoff McGrath is. Our congregation is the religious partner in this chartering relationship, and it troubles me that our belief that God created and loves each and every one of us, just as we are is being ignored and in fact denied by the Boy Scouts of America.

Last year, when the Boy Scouts voted to remove the ban on gay youth from Scouting, much of the speculation was on how churches might react to the change. It seems as though that speculation was only concerned with the churches that actively exclude LGBT people from congregational life and leadership. The actions of the Boy Scouts has communicated to me that there is little reverence for a congregation that welcomes, includes, and values all people. Rainier Beach United Methodist Church believes putting someone in a closet and not letting him be honest about who he is when asked is not “morally straight,“ to use a Boy Scout term.

Our congregation is the chartering organization for the troop, and yet I, as the pastor, had no contact from the BSA when they told Geoff that he was kicked out as a leader. Further, the BSA asked me and the congregation to violate our conscience and our religious beliefs by removing him as a leader of the Boy Scout troop when we know he is the most gifted for the leadership of the troop we chartered. That is not how a partnership works. The Boy Scouts of America need to recognize the growing number of churches whose beliefs include all people. And by all, we mean all.

Our congregation continues to be committed to serving the youth of our community. At the moment, we are exploring what options exist for the future of the troop that we have worked so hard to build. We hope that the Boy Scouts will support our congregation and our values, as it has supported so many other congregations around the country.

Our Boy Scout troop is a part of our congregation’s ministry to its immediate context. Rainier Beach UMC serves the immigrant, the refugee, the middle class person, the mixed-race person, the single parent, the elderly, the young, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender person, the lonely, the powerful, the least and the lost. We will keep serving all those people who are a part of our context, because that is what the Gospel calls us to do.

Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro is the pastor of Rainier Beach United Methodist Church in Seattle.

TIME Religion

Missouri Mayor Resigns Over Anti-Semitic Remarks

Shooting in Overland Park Kansas
Mayor of Marionville, Mo., Dan Clevenger said Frazier Miller told him a couple of years ago that he had health problems and didn't expect to live much longer Kansas City Star/Getty Images

Marionville Mayor Dan Clevenger, who called himself a friend of accused Kansas City shooter Frazier Glenn Cross, resigned Monday after local aldermen voted to begin the impeachment process due to his anti-Semitic statements

A Missouri mayor resigned Monday following strong community backlash against anti-Semitic comments he made in the wake of Kansas City’s fatal Jewish centers shootings, allegedly committed by a man he once considered a friend.

When news broke that white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross was accused of fatally shooting three people outside two different Jewish-affiliated facilities, Marionville mayor Dan Clevenger was quick to give interviews about his personal and professional relationship with Cross, who had been a customer at his engine repair shop.

“He’s just a nice guy,” Clevenger, 59, told the Springfield News-Leader in an on camera interview. “You can just tell he gets carried away with those beliefs” — some of which Clevenger conceded to share, although he did not condone Cross’ actions.

Clevenger admitted to writing a letter ten years ago to the editor at the Aurora Advertiser stating, “I am a friend of Frazier Miller helping to spread his warnings. The Jew-run medical industry has succeeded in destroying the United State’s [sic] workforce.”

But last week he told the News-Leader that even though some of his views had evolved, he thought, “The futures market, the federal reserve, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health — ever [sic] time I see that on the news, there are Jewish names and they run things.” He also stated that even though he didn’t think that the “government is run by Jews… There are Jews in government. I mean, Nancy Pelosi, she is a Jew. And she brags about it.” Pelosi is actually Catholic.

These public statements catalyzed a negative outcry among the Marionville community. Cleveger resigned Monday night after the city’s aldermen voted 4-1 to begin an impeachment process.

Clevenger said that it hurt him to hear residents speak out against him.

[Springfield News-Leader]

TIME Religion

What Americans Don’t Know About The Central African Republic

Most Americans know nothing about the Central African Republic. They guess that it must be in the middle of Africa, but that’s about it. When told where it is and the societal chaos and slaughter in CAR, they always ask why it’s not more in the news.

Although I’ve traveled to much of the world including Africa, I had never been there until this month. The U.S. State Department invited a trio of American religious leaders to travel to the capital city of Bangui to see for ourselves and to talk peace. The three included Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Muslim Imam Mohamed Magid (President of the Islamic Society of North America) and me. Why us? According to TIME Magazine, the religious composition of CAR is 52 percent evangelicals, 29 percent Catholics and 15 percent Muslims.

We met with our counterparts in CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza (the transitional president of CAR), members of her administration, and representatives of the conflicting military groups. Our meetings were at a closed mosque, the Cathedral, the president’s residence and the home of the U.S. ambassador (although there is no current ambassador since our embassy has been suspended).

It’s not easy to explain what’s been happening. And, not everyone agrees to any explanation. The best chronology begins with a corrupt and failed central government that has been accused of injustice and incompetence. A rebel group called Seleka swept across the country with brutality and established a new government with a new president. The new president didn’t last long. An anti-balaka militia organized for protection and retaliation against the Seleka and have been accused of further brutality. A transitional government has been established, but it is poor, weak and often overwhelmed.

We heard stories that break your heart. Thousands killed, often with machetes. Widespread rape. Destruction of homes, shops and villages. There were 36 mosques in Bangui; now there are seven. One man told us that 13 of his brothers were burned to death the same day. Another told about a hand grenade thrown into a group of people while they prayed.

The National Highway was closed by all the unrest, so trucks and supplies can’t access the country. Villagers have fled into the bush out of fear; their villages are empty, and no crops are being planted. One million people have fled the country or are internally displaced. There is a refugee camp at the little airport that swelled to 100,000.

Seeds for planting are not available; some will be imported from Cameroon, but they are also in short supply and giving priority to their own farmers saying that any surplus will be sold to CAR. There is threat of wide-scale famine. Before all this CAR was one of the poorest nations in the world with people living on less that $2 per day. Current shortages are inflating food prices. In Bangui, the capital of CAR, chickens are selling for $12 each. (To make a comparison: If you earn $50,000 a year in the United States, it would cost you over $800 to buy one chicken for your family.)

We were in Africa on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. There were repeated testimonies of foreign nations apologizing for not going to Rwanda and stopping the horrors before they turned into genocide. We need to take our own apologies and advice to do more in the Central African Republic.

Some say that this is a religious battle between Christians and Muslims. It is a common assertion in our western press. I can see why they say this, since there are similar lines politically, demographically and religiously. However, the leaders we talked to in CAR insist this is not a religious war. To the contrary, the religious leaders are the loudest most courageous voices against the violence and the strongest promoters of peace.

The word needs to get out. The whole world knows about the missing Malaysian airplane with 239 passengers and crew. Forty four million dollars have already been spent on the search. But, there are thousands missing in CAR, and it barely makes the news. International troops under United Nations leadership need to establish order and rebuild infrastructure. And relief and development assistance should be immediately deployed.

As we sat in the ambassador’s residence, one of the militia representatives said that the people of CAR have not made God the priority. He said that most important in the Central African Republic is for the people of the nation to turn their hearts and actions to God. His prayer was that human tragedy would turn into spiritual renewal.

Leith Anderson is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals

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