By Sara Grossman, Special to CNN
(CNN) – On Sunday, pastor Jim Garlow of Skyline Church in California stood before his congregation of more than 2,000 and told them he would be making an unusual announcement.
The pastor proceeded to warn his audience against voting for a candidate in the upcoming midterm elections who supports gay marriage and abortion, even if that candidate, Carl DeMaio, is a Republican.
Garlow, an outspoken evangelical who played a major role in organizing Christian groups in support of California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, spoke plainly: He would not be supporting the Republican in this race.
“I know enough that you cannot have the advancing of the radical homosexual agenda and religious liberty at the same time, in the same nation,” he preached. “One will win, and one will lose.”
Instead, Garlow told his followers he would be endorsing DeMaio’s rival, Democratic incumbent Scott Peters, representative for California’s 52nd District, to send a scathing message to Republican leadership that candidates who back abortion and gay rights are unacceptable to the party’s Christian base.
Garlow is one of a growing number of Americans who say that religion should play a greater role in politics, according to the findings of a recent study by the Pew Research Forum's Religion & Public Life Project.
The study found that almost three-quarters of the American public — 72% — believes that religion’s influence is waning in public life, the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past 10 years.
And many Americans say that trend is a bad thing, the study found.
“A growing share of the American public wants religion to play a role in U.S. politics,” the Pew study authors write.
What kind of role?
(CNN) - The football coach at a publicly funded charter school in Arizona has been suspended after directing a player to lead a team prayer.
One side says it's a violation of the coach's religious liberty. The other says it's a violation of the players' rights to have a religion-free locker room.
Watch the video above to see more.
Opinion by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – The Air Force has reversed course again and will allow an atheist airman to omit the phrase "so help me God” from its oath, the military branch said Wednesday.
“We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said.
Earlier, the Air Force said the unnamed airman would not be allowed to re-enlist unless he recited the entire oath, including the disputed "God" section.
It was the latest religious controversy in the heavily Christian Air Force, but this particular issue has ancient and somewhat surprising roots: In the early days of Christianity, it was Christians who refused to swear by powers they didn’t believe in.
The oath was written into law in 1956 and, like the Pledge of Allegiance, did not originally include any reference to God. The final sentence came into the text in 1962, just eight years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Even then, however, it was not an absolute requirement in the Air Force: Official policy had stated that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” But the lenient policy was updated and eliminated in 2013, leading to the most recent standoff, which Wednesday's announcement seemed to solve.
"The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now," the Air Force said.
"Airmen who choose to omit the words 'So help me God' from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so."
The repeated fights over the Air Force oath highlight the fraught relationship between faith groups and military service.
Wenzhou, China (CNN) - At a gray church on the outskirts of Wenzhou in eastern China, Christians from across the county keep a nervous watch.
Some stand behind the iron gate; others sit just inside the church door. For more than two months they've waited, preparing themselves to protect the cross on top of their church.
"If I have to, I am going to hold it in my arms and protect it," one elderly man says. "They have no right to tear it down, that is why we have to defend our church."
Wenzhou is known as the "Jerusalem of China" and throughout this year the local Communist Party authorities have demolished scores of churches and forcibly removed more than 300 church crosses.
Chinese church leaders say it's the worst anti-Christian crackdown in decades.
"What the government here is doing is so barbaric, they're like bandits and we are furious with them," says Chen Zhi'ai, a respected church leader in the Wenzhou area. "Today we've seen the fundamental symbol of our faith violated and it hurts us deep inside our hearts."
By Rafael Romo, CNN
(CNN) – A member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and follower of Hugo Chavez is raising eyebrows for changing the words of the Lord's Prayer to honor the late president.
Speaking during an event at the Third Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela in Caracas on Monday, María Estrella Uribe read the changed prayer in front of hundreds of delegates and current President Nicolás Maduro.
"Our Chávez who art in heaven, on Earth, in the sea and in us delegates," she read, "hallowed be thy name. Thy legacy come so that we can take it to people here and elsewhere."
The delegate from the border state of Táchira kept on reading. "Give us today your light to guide us every day. Lead us not into the temptation of capitalism, but deliver us from oligarchy."
Delegates cheered Uribe loudly, especially when she shouted "Viva Chávez!" at the end of her speech. Maduro raised no objections.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN)– Will the World Cup final become a "Holy War"?
At the very least, Sunday's match could put millions of Catholics - not to mention Vatican employees - in a bit of a bind.
Will they root for Argentina, the homeland of Pope Francis, who is known to be an ardent soccer aficionado? Or will they back Germany, the native country of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, also a football fan?
And what about the Big Referee Upstairs? Whose prayers will he heed when the game is on the line?
Germany reached the final match on Tuesday by blowing out Brazil, the host country. Argentina beat the Netherlands on Wednesday afternoon.
Of course, both Popes (not to mention God) have more important things on their minds. But the pontiffs have also said that sports can be more than fun and games.
Washington (CNN) - For the Greens, the Christian family behind the Hobby Lobby chain of stores, their battle with the Obama administration was never really about contraception. It was about abortion.
After all, the evangelical Greens don't object to 16 of the 20 contraceptive measures mandated for employer coverage by the Affordable Care Act. That puts the family squarely in line with other evangelicals, who largely support the use of birth control by married couples.
Like other evangelicals, however, the Greens believe that four forms of contraception mandated under the ACA - Plan B, Ella and two intrauterine devices - in fact cause abortions by preventing a fertilized embryo from implanting in the womb. (The Obama administration and several major medical groups disagree that such treatments are abortions .)
“We won’t pay for any abortive products," Steve Green, Hobby Lobby's president, told Religion News Service. "We believe life begins at conception.”
By R. Albert Mohler Jr., special to CNN
(CNN) – One year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, this much is clear: Justice Antonin Scalia is a prophet.
Back in 2003, when the court handed down the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down all criminal statutes against homosexual acts, Scalia declared that the stage was set for the legalization of same-sex unions. That was 2003.
“Today’s opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual and homosexual unions, insofar as a formal recognition in marriage is concerned,” wrote Scalia.
He was proved to be absolutely prophetic when, just ten years later, the court ruled in United States v. Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional — thus striking down the federal statute defining marriage exclusively as the union of a man and a woman.
Once again, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, while Scalia handed down a fiery dissent. As before, Scalia was prophetic.
(CNN) - A Sudanese woman has been freed from prison a month after being sentenced to die by hanging for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
"I am a Christian," Meriam Yehya Ibrahim told the judge at her sentencing hearing in May, "and I will remain a Christian."
An appeals court in Sudan ruled that a lower court's judgment against the 27-year-old was faulty, her lawyer, Mohaned Mustafa El-Nour, said Monday. He declined to elaborate.
An international controversy erupted over Ibraham's conviction in May by a Sudanese court on charges of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith, and adultery. Ibrahim was eight months pregnant when was sentenced to suffer 100 lashes and then be hanged.
"I'm so frustrated. I don't know what to do," her husband, Daniel Wani told CNN in May. "I'm just praying." Wani, uses a wheelchair and "totally depends on her for all details of his life," Ibrahim's lawyer said.
Ibrahim was reunited with her husband after getting out of custody, her lawyer said Monday.
Opinion by William McKenzie, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Early on the morning of November 28, 2007, Jia Weihan was forced to think the unthinkable: Was her father really a bad man?
At the time, she was an 11-year-old attending a school in Beijing that taught her to respect the communist authorities. When 30 or so police officers arrived to arrest her father, she did not know what to think.
As it turned out, her father, Shi Weihan, the pastor of a house church, was simply trying to live out his religious beliefs. That should be a fundamental right, but in China - even the more economically liberalized China – it’s not.
Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square - where on June 4, 1989, Chinese soldiers turned their guns on protesting students and activists - freedom remains elusive.
In China, Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face worse conditions than at any time over the past decade, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The report warns that independent Protestants and Catholics face arrests, fines and the closing of their churches. The government recently bulldozed one large church in the city of Wenzhou.
The report also highlights other restrictions, including these problems:
"Practitioners of Falun Gong, as well as other Buddhist, folk religionist, and Protestant groups deemed 'superstitious' or 'evil cults' face long jail terms, forced denunciations of faith and torture in detention, and the government has not sufficiently answered accusations of psychiatric experimentation and organ harvesting."
In Shi's case, he had decided not to tell Jia and her 7-year-old sister, Enmei, that he was printing Bibles and Christian literature. That was against Chinese law, so he did not want to put his children in jeopardy by letting them in on the secret.
Their children soon came to understand the secret, in a life-altering way.
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.