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My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality
The author argues that the meaning of the Bible's passages on homosexuality have been lost in translation.
May 15th, 2012
05:39 PM ET

My Take: What the Bible really says about homosexuality

Editor's note: Daniel A. Helminiak, who was ordained a priest in Rome, is a theologian, psychotherapist and author of “What the Bible Really Says about homosexuality" and books on contemporary spirituality. He is a professor of psychology at the University of West Georgia.

By Daniel A. Helminiak, Special to CNN

President Barack Obama’s support of same-sex marriage, like blood in the water, has conservative sharks circling for a kill. In a nation that touts separation of religion and government, religious-based arguments command this battle. Lurking beneath anti-gay forays, you inevitably find religion and, above all, the Bible.

We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.

In the past 60 years, we have learned more about sex, by far, than in preceding millennia. Is it likely that an ancient people, who thought the male was the basic biological model and the world flat, understood homosexuality as we do today? Could they have even addressed the questions about homosexuality that we grapple with today? Of course not.

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Hard evidence supports this commonsensical expectation. Taken on its own terms, read in the original languages, placed back into its historical context, the Bible is ho-hum on homosexuality, unless – as with heterosexuality – injustice and abuse are involved.

That, in fact, was the case among the Sodomites (Genesis 19), whose experience is frequently cited by modern anti-gay critics. The Sodomites wanted to rape the visitors whom Lot, the one just man in the city, welcomed in hospitality for the night.

The Bible itself is lucid on the sin of Sodom: pride, lack of concern for the poor and needy (Ezekiel 16:48-49); hatred of strangers and cruelty to guests (Wisdom 19:13); arrogance (Sirach/Ecclesiaticus 16:8); evildoing, injustice, oppression of the widow and orphan (Isaiah 1:17); adultery (in those days, the use of another man’s property), and lying (Jeremiah 23:12).

But nowhere are same-sex acts named as the sin of Sodom. That intended gang rape only expressed the greater sin, condemned in the Bible from cover to cover: hatred, injustice, cruelty, lack of concern for others. Hence, Jesus says “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:31); and “By this will they know you are my disciples” (John 13:35).

How inverted these values have become! In the name of Jesus, evangelicals and Catholic bishops make sex the Christian litmus test and are willing to sacrifice the social safety net in return.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another."

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul's writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay "unnatural" hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

In this passage Paul is referring to the ancient Jewish Law: Leviticus 18:22, the “abomination” of a man’s lying with another man. Paul sees male-male sex as an impurity, a taboo, uncleanness — in other words, “abomination.” Introducing this discussion in 1:24, he says so outright: "God gave them up … to impurity."

But Jesus taught lucidly that Jewish requirements for purity — varied cultural traditions — do not matter before God. What matters is purity of heart.

“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles,” reads Matthew 15. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Or again, Jesus taught, “Everyone who looks at a women with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus rejected the purity requirements of the Jewish Law.

In calling it unclean, Paul was not condemning male-male sex. He had terms to express condemnation. Before and after his section on sex, he used truly condemnatory terms: godless, evil, wicked or unjust, not to be done. But he never used ethical terms around that issue of sex.

As for marriage, again, the Bible is more liberal than we hear today. The Jewish patriarchs had many wives and concubines. David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Daniel and the palace master were probably lovers.

The Bible’s Song of Songs is a paean to romantic love with no mention of children or a married couple. Jesus never mentioned same-sex behaviors, although he did heal the “servant” — pais, a Greek term for male lover — of the Roman Centurion.

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Paul discouraged marriage because he believed the world would soon end. Still, he encouraged people with sexual needs to marry, and he never linked sex and procreation.

Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage. “Liberty and justice for all,” marvel at the diversity of creation, welcome for one another: these, alas, are true biblical values.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Daniel A. Helminiak.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Gay marriage • Opinion

soundoff (8,832 Responses)
  1. BRENDA

    @ Bootyfunk i truley feel sorry for you cause you don't know what an awesome GOD we serve.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • sybaris

      Brenda, produce your god, right now.

      You can't, it's fake, a delusion. Grow up.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      So Brenda, how many slaves do you own? If you believe you are servant to your imaginary friend then it is safe to as.sume you also believe in slavery.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • sam

      I truly feel sorry you can't spell worth a damn.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  2. NPRJim

    The issue here is that the religoius activities do not have a patent on marriage. The fact of the matter is that they can marry who they want in their churches and say the "marriage is blessed by God" from a religious standpoint. That is why the rogue Mormans are still marrying multiple wives. The legality of marriage is a different matter and God and religion have nothing to do with it. That is why you have to go to court to get a marriage license, so that it is a legal marriage. No one is trying to do anythign about the religious part of it, why are the religous hate mongers trying to control the state?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  3. Ronald Raygun

    mankind created the bible to justify his own political wants. its pretty obvious here in the US

    May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • truthspeaks

      Well thank God christianity does not depend on America!!!!! the word of God standeth sure, if a million americans want to twist the bible for their self satisfaction beliefs. thats their problem. The Lord GOD knows those that are his!!!! God is greater than america, so go slippin slide on a sliddin slush!!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Laurie

    If common sense alone cannot reveal to you that men do not go with men and women do not go with women, then the argument is hopeless. Try to twist God's word all you want....it remains as so...and one has to answer to God in the end.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      I hear the asylum has nicely padded room for people suffering from your type of delusions.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • Tkogrady

      Could you at least try to make a rational or factual point? Oh, right – this is something you just accept on faith. I hope you have at least read the Bible instead of settling on what others have told you about it.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
    • Steve

      You have eyes, but you cannot see, and you have ears, but you understand nothing...... How sad that you hate so blindly.....

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
  5. Jesusisnotpleased

    I guess the next step will be to baptize everyone who is born in this country in the river of Biblical literalism before they can have equal rights. Sick, sick, sick, when people use their faith as a sword for civil discrimination. It's really disgusting that an apathetic public is letting this happen.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  6. AR

    Leviticus 20:13 – "if a man lies with a man... they shall both die"

    How do you explain that one away?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • sam

      Hmm...try it in the original language, instead of a million translations – and a ridiculous social agenda – later.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • sybaris

      If you want to live your life according to myths and legends, knock yourself out but don't force your delusions on others.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • chris

      I think this is a cultural reference. The Israelite did a lot of horrible things and had many "taboo" rules..

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • truthspeaks

      Thank you! He is trying to justify himself! Priest in Rome! we all know where pedophiles reside!!!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Phattee

      Bronze Age ignorance.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      Simple... We're all going to die. Are you immortal? Where in your bible does it say that??

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • chris

      In response to "truthspeaks".. approximately 98% of pedophiles are heteros.... sorry dude

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • starman

      We can do the same as the religious zealots and either deny it says that or spin it to have some different meaning. After all, this is what religonists have to do with most of the terrible morality prevalent in the bible. as an example: "However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you. You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land. You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. You may treat your slaves like this, but the people of Israel, your relatives, must never be treated this way. (Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT)". Its funny how Christians ignore so many morally bankrupt passages in their bible but focus on one or two that politicians target to get more votes.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • MythDestroyed

      If a man lies with a women they (too) shall both die.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • truthspeaks

      in response to chris!!! where did you get your statistics?? 98% unlikely, out of the whole world. emm how about, catholism forcing men to be celibate when God never gave that requirement to them. then they abuse poor alter boys, o and 30 years later we have to deal with years of psychological trauma, oh and the pope covers them instead of excommunicating and sending them to jail! POPE PRIESTS, Not in the bible!!!!! Jesus, faith, grace righteousness and eternal life, yes in the bible.
      priest in rome! ( brush off)

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • h202000000

      Sam "try it in the original language, instead of a million translations " it is funny how that translated...right?

      May 16, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  7. Benjamin

    To the writer of the article: You truly are ignorant.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • momoya

      You're even more ignorant, Benjamin.. (Anybody can accuse.. See how easy it is?)

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Benjamin

      I'm such a douche.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  8. nodoubtrocks

    I'm confused. If Adam and Eve were the first two people and they had a son... who would he have slept with to procreate if there is only him, his Mom, and Dad? Would he have to wait for his first born sister to reach puberty and then sleep with his sister to help create more people??

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • sam

      See, you're trying to apply actual logic to anything involving the bible. That's where your head starts to hurt.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Which God?

      No, he screwed his mother.

      May 16, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  9. David Dreyer

    Having had the right to live here 75 yrs, I'd just love to see people have the ability to control what happens to their bodies. It only seems right. Abortion, the taking of substances, or the right to love whomever we love.Why are we subject to some outsider determining these choices for us?

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • kyledurfee

      I'd love to see the baby that gets aborted to have control over his or her body too. How do we accommodate both?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • truthspeaks

      baby killer!!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  10. We know the truth...

    It's time to grow up America... The bible is nothing more than a book of mindless fairy tales that has been used to brainwash gullible people... Where is my proof?? Just read you bible... In the immortal words of Issac Asimov "When properly read, the bible is the most powerful proof of atheism ever conceived."

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • momoya

      Right on.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • tularockstar

      Your truth is just what you got from Satanic verses and Atheist readings! People like you will only find sorrow and hatred, as you have no soul! I really feel sorry for you!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • Icurheinie

      The Bible whether fact or fiction is a genius manifesto on how to lead a happy life. But it's not just the Bible, every major religion since the beginning of time has "marriage" and it is always a "sacred bond between a man and a woman". Now, a few people want to change this definition while their "supporters" aren't really supporters, they just don't give a damn. Think up another word for it. Create something original for a change.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      "Your truth is just what you got from Satanic verses and Atheist readings! People like you will only find sorrow and hatred, as you have no soul! I really feel sorry for you!"

      Higher education and logic are "Satanic Verses" and "Atheist Readings"... LOL... Weak-minded people are able to convince themselves of anything... A non-belief in god does not yield any type of sorrow or hatred, if fact it's exactly the opposite. Having the ability to use your brain (which religion does not allow) is a road to happiness and acceptance, as most atheists are... I would say I feel sorry for you, but you've brought this upon yourself... How sad.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  11. gregtraining

    Whatever your beliefs on gay people or gay marriage, the bible is the most out dated piece of anything we have. If you believe in religion and all the make believe stuff it has to offer then there are clearly other things the bible says that are not true today. The bible is a joke and people who believe in it just need to feel like they are part of a cult or that their 'sins' will be forgiven. You can be an amazing person without being religious and you can be an amazing person if you are gay. The bottom line, bible or not, we need to treat people with respect. Gay people do not hurt our society. If you think they do, well they definitley do not hurt it anymore then all the messed up straight people.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  12. iqueue120

    It's raining fire, Hallelujah! It's raining fire...

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  13. dinmab

    "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.
    If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them."

    It is upto each person to either reject bible or accept bible. But this verse is quiet clear on where it stands. The writer has taken just the first half and tried to push his views. It is better to tell truth as is.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Christians Are Fools

      Hope you enjoyed your pork chop, buddy. The same words in Hebrew are used to describe the punishment for those who eat pork.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • sam

      It's a translation. There is no 'truth' in an ancient tome that has been repurposed over and over depending on who was in charge.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • therealchristian

      Agreed. Leviticus 20:13 is very clear and not open to interpretation at all. The least I would expect from people support gay marriages is the decency to accept that it is against the bible. This article is a complete misinterpretation of the bible and simply leads to creation of "christians" who have no idea what christianity is

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  14. unafy

    Man and woman are created for reproduction, period! every part of our body is created for purpose. think about that Before opening your mouth about God think twice!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      Prove your god exists idiot!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • momoya

      You can't even prove the first part of your a.ssumption.. Created.. Prove it

      May 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • We know the truth...

      "Man and woman are created for reproduction, period! every part of our body is created for purpose."

      How were your toes created for reproduction?? Your ears? Your nose? ... Wait, don't answer that last one.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Rick Simmons

      ..and think about your appendix and how the human body can function perfectly well without it. not to mention your tonsils, and occasionally your spleen.

      ...purpose? perhaps an expendable purpose at best.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • sam

      I'm not going to have kids. I guess I should go set myself on fire to please god, then?

      May 15, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
    • Tkogrady

      How do you explain hermaphrodites – God creates children of mixed gender all the time. Which gender are they to love? Are they damned to hell if they guess wrong?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm |
  15. ERic

    Which version of the bible is he quoting? You know, it wasn't originally written in English The story of Sodom is a Jewish story. Maybe you should consult with a Rabbi if you want insight on the story of Sodom

    . The Jews burned the bodies of criminals (sinners), rather than burying them. Thus if you sin, you will be burned, and you soul will not be laid to rest. Hell simply translates to "Fire", but the Christians twisted it to mean a place of eternal damnation. Then there's the whole Satan vs. Devil conflict.

    Long story short, the Old Testament is the Jewish religion. If you want o know the history of the stories, you should ask the people who wrote it.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  16. thinquer

    Hello! Will you please log me out? Thank you!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  17. Bigman

    Bootyfunk . The Ten Commandments were written in the time of Moses ALA the Mosaic Law. Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law therefore no longer HAVE to follow the Ten Commandments.(SERIOUSLY) So they are know used as a basis of ethical behavior. Modern Christian Religion was started when Jesus started the new covenant. We don't have to sacrifice sheep, chop off hands and kill the unfaithful any longer. The Christian Greek scriptures starting at the Book of Matthew has the current basis of the Christian Religion.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • therealchristian

      Nowhere did Christ or any of his followers to claim that their message(especially in areas that do not directly deal with the areas covered in the message of Moses) makes the old testament obsolete and frees christians from following any of it.

      May 15, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  18. PC

    Just for the record, this author butchers and dices each reference he cites. If you really want to know for yourselves....look at each of his references i.e) Romans 1:26-28, and instead of only readying the little bit that he pastes, read 5 verses behind and 5 verses ahead of his reference, and THEN decide what the Bible is saying...P.S_ It's the opposite of what this chap claimed.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • dinmab

      happy that someone else is also able to see what this writer is doing. people shld be brain dead to believe this guy. he clearly wants to gain popularity and nothing else.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • CNN moderator

      Between the two of YOU...it's hard to tell who's the more delusional idiot.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  19. Bruce Carter

    I am apalled at the "theologians" out there who take one verse out of context and try to build unconventional theology out of it. That is called "prooftexting", and doing that you can make the Bible say anything you want. Good scholarship demands you read or quote the whole chapter or thought so you get the context of what is being said. So here is what Romans really says about righteousness and unrighteousness. It contains the scariest thought in all of the Bible – God gives up on those who refuse to listen to him:

    18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

    19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

    20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

    21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

    22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

    24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

    26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    -------

    And there you have it – Fortunately in this era the Jewish scribes are not in control of the law. But "death" can still mean spiritual death – i.e. separation from God for eternity. Is it worth the risk? Apparently some think so. And, unfortunately, they have the right to do so. The penalty of hell is unimaginably horrific, I have nothing but pity for those who willingly choose it over eternal life in heaven.

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • His Princess Warrior

      Amen

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • His Princess Warrior

      Amen Brother

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Rick Simmons

      It's only a risk for those who believe in the literal truth of your bronze-aged god and the absolute inerrancy of his bronze-aged collection of books. The rest of us will pray that you grow some common sense.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
    • Brandon

      Thank you sir!

      May 15, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      "penalty of hell is unimaginably horrific"

      How exactly would you know this? How many people have you personally known to have come back from the dead to tell you about heaven or hell?
      We don't believe in your god, so we don't believe in your hell. Now you bigoted, judgmental freak...it is your hell and your god told you it is a sin to judge, so you enjoy that place while we enjoy reality.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Ronald Raygun

      because the invisible man says so

      May 15, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • Maria

      Amen! It's amazing how people manipulate the word of God to suit their needs. God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Adam or Eve and Eve. The next thing you know it will be okay for a parent to marry a child.

      May 15, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • nodoubtrocks

      How do you explain someone then who is a Gay Christian? What is the logic behind that? Faithful to God, goes to Church, helps the elderly. What is his place in Heaven compared to someone who is an Alcoholic Christian and a big time gambler but doesn't go to Church and help the elderly? Who has more merit?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
    • pilgrim

      Thank you Bruce for your defense of the Gospel. You're definitely the kind of Christian, that God wanted you to be.
      Thank you Brother

      May 15, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Tkogrady

      Actually Maria – If you want to takevthe Bible literally, God created Adam and then cloned Eve from his rib. Since He doesn't make mistakes, there must have been logic to this.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • TruthPrevails :-)

      @Maria: You're simply a bigot. God would have to exist in order to have created anything. What business is it of yours who sleeps with who? Do they directly affect you on a personal level? Science has stated through numerous studies that people are born gay and science will always trump your god. The fact that you are uneducated is not the issue of those of us who are...read a science book for a change and get your head out of that 2000 year old book...only children and schizophrenics have imaginary friends..so which of these are you?

      May 15, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • craig

      If we really had a glimpse of what Hell was like, We would all turn to God , and ask for forgiveness. He is waiting.

      May 15, 2012 at 7:09 pm |
    • Shazaam

      You may be amazed to learn that the bible wasn't written in English and that the meaning of words may not actually be as straight-forward as you're pretending.

      I never cease to overestimate the analytical capacity of the religious...

      May 15, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
  20. Nii

    I find it stupid for someone whose basic social level has not changed for 6000yrs to call someone living 2000yrs ago primitive. Thats laughable. We are primitive. We have not evolved yet and if we did it won't be us anymore!

    May 15, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.