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Religion News from Around the World: A Monthly Roundup by Rick Herrick

October 2020

 

Judge Barrett and the First Amendment

The first amendment to the United States constitution protects the right to freedom of religion and to free speech. With regard to religion, the amendment prohibits any laws that establish a national religion or infringe upon the free exercise of religion. Liberal and moderate justices argue that the amendment requires government at all levels to treat religious beliefs from a position of neutrality and to refrain from endorsing any religion.

Conservative justices argue that the establishment clause only applies to the federal government. This means that states are free to favor a specific religion. They also use the amendment to allow individuals and corporations to opt out of legislative requirements they don’t like. In 2014 Hobby Lobby, for example, won a case before the Supreme Court which allowed them to avoid the mandate in the Affordable Care Act requiring companies to provide contraception benefits in their health care plans.

Religious freedom as defined by conservative justices is an important political value for evangelical Christians. Although Judge Barrett as of this writing has yet to sit on the Supreme Court, her writings suggest she will be solidly in the conservative camp.  (religionnews.com/2020/10/22/what-putting-amy-coney-barrett-on-the-supreme-court-could-mean-for-religious-liberty/)

Pope Francis Backs Same-Sex Civil Unions

Pope Francis recently recognized the right of homosexual couples to be granted the legal protection that comes from civil unions. This decision represents an historic shift on the Church’s position on same-sex unions. The Pope based his decision on the inherent dignity of all human beings, declaring that homosexuals were equal members of God’s family. (religionnews.com/2020/10/22/divided-reactions-in-us-as-pope-backs-same-sex-civil-unions/)

Pope Francis Addresses UN: Condemns Nationalism

In a video message to the United Nations on its 75th anniversary, Pope Francis said that there are two possible paths for nations to follow: multilateralism, dialogue, peace, and economic justice or nationalism, self-sufficiency, protectionism, individualism and isolation. He passionately urged nations to follow the multilateral path.

The Pope spoke to the UN five years ago at a moment “of great hope and progress for the international community.” Though he never mentions Trump by name, he was profoundly discouraged in his recent speech by global trends such as the U.S. withdrawal from the climate change treaty, the dangerous effect of covid-19 on the poor and people of color, the fact that women in many countries continue to be left behind, and the moral bankruptcy of nuclear deterrence as an alternative to international diplomacy to rid the world of these weapons. Despite these disappointments, he praised the UN as humankind’s best hope “for the future we all desire.” (religionnews.com/2020/9/25/nationalism-must-not-prevail-pope-francis-said-addressing-the-united-nations/)

The Right to Vote Becomes a Christian Issue

It began with a tweet. Jim Wallis became incensed by the actions of Republican Governors in Georgia and Texas to suppress the vote. He tweeted his passionate feelings on this subject and soon received 40,000 like responses. He was then able to organize thousands of clergy and laypeople through a partnership of the African American Clergy Network and Sojourners to volunteer to protect the vote in nine key battleground states. Command centers are being set up to address election issues as they arise. All humans are created in God’s image, Wallis contends. As a result, mistreating fellow citizens at the polls is an offense against God. (https://religionnews.com/2020/10/22/how-did-voter-access-become-a-faith-issue-the-bible-told-us-so/)

Stacey Abrams Agrees

Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia House minority leader, lost a razor-thin election to become Governor of Georgia in 2018. Following her defeat, Abrams founded Fair Count, an advocacy group designed to protect the right to vote and to be counted in the census. Both of Abrams’ parents were Methodist ministers. Abrams was quoted as saying, “my faith is central to the work I do in that I not only hold Christian values, but my faith tradition as a Methodist tells me that the most profound demonstration of faith is service.” (religionnews.com/2020/10/16/stacey-abrams-family-connects-faith-and-voting-modeled-by-preacher-parents/)

Protestant Ministers Come On-Board Regarding Climate Change

For the first time a survey finds the majority of Protestant ministers believe that global warming is a man-made problem. For years these pastors as a group were skeptical of this scientific conclusion. The number of pastors that now agree with science on this issue is 53%, with 34% strongly agreeing with this conclusion. These findings represent a significant change from 2010 when only 36% of Protestant ministers accepted the science regarding climate change. (religionnews.com/2020/04/21/most-us-pastors-agree-global-warming-is-real-a-change-from-previous-surveys/)

Faith Drives Climate Change Denial Among White Evangelical Christians

According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, 62% of the adult population in the United States believes that the earth is warming due to human activity. For Protestants generally, only 35% of the adult population accepts this conclusion. For white evangelical Christians, the number declines to 24%.

Studies show that belief in miracles and the afterlife help to explain these findings. These conservative Christians resist science because it has undermined a literal reading of Christian scripture. Many white evangelicals also hold the view that humans are called to dominate nature. When religious belief and science collide, white evangelicals clearly side with religion over science.

It is interesting, however, that African American evangelical Protestants while remaining theologically conservative are aligned with progressives on the climate change issue. This finding suggests that the progressive political culture that most African Americans grow up in is more important in influencing their views than their evangelical theology. In the case of white evangelical Protestants, their heritage within a conservative political culture reinforces their climate change denial. (https://religionnews.com/2020/09/11/faith-and-politics-mix-to-drive-evangelical-christians-climate-change-denial/)

The Ally Virtual Tour, A Christian Women’s Conference

The Ally Virtual Tour kicked off on October 5th which brought together a number of female Christian leaders to discuss faith, gender, race, and politics. Organized by Lisa Sharon Harper, founder and president of Freedom Road, the first night of the tour focused on truth. Fifteen hundred women holding different religious and political views participated in the conversation. Several prominent women spoke at the event with the goal to increase understanding among the diverse membership within the body of Christ. Additional topics included: “Wedged Issues or Wedged Women,” (October 12), “White Power vs. Women’s Power,” (October 19) and “The Call to Radical Friendship,” (October 26). Conversations between scheduled events were held on Facebook. (religionnews.com/2020/10/07/the-ally-virtual-tour-gathers-christian-women-for-tough-conversations-before-the-election/)

Gleaning is Back

Gleaning is the ancient practice of gathering food left over after a farmer’s harvest and gives it to the poor. God commands the poor be fed in this way in Leviticus.  In the United States, the typical harvest surplus for vegetables and fruit is 30%.

In 2019 the Association of Gleaning Organizations was founded to provide mutual support for gleaning organizations. Many of these organizations are housed in churches with thousands of volunteers. The COVID19 crisis has made the problem of persistent hunger and the lack of quality produce a far more urgent problem. These church volunteers are clearly making a difference. (https://religionnews.com/2020/10/23/covid-19-food-crisis-give-new-life-to-ancient-practice-of-gleaning/)

The above news items are summaries taken from the Religion News Service. Readers interested in pursuing a news item further should consult the RNS website by using the link listed at the end of the summary…

Review & Commentary