October 15th, 2014
03:41 PM ET
Opinion by Lisa Sharon Harper, Special to CNN
Ferguson, Missouri (CNN) - It seems every few months for the past few decades we witness fresh protests to push a prosecutor to indict the killer of a black man - especially if that killer is white.
In fact, these protests have become commonplace, even expected, as if protesters are stock characters in a national theatrical classic, revived in cities across the country every year.
When Michael Brown was shot by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, it looked like Ferguson, Missouri, was going to serve as just one more stop on the national tour of this classic drama. But it didn’t.
We have seen the officer, security guard or vigilante assailant - protected from arrest and whisked out of the reach of the angry black people. We have seen indictments await grand jury approval. We have seen prosecutors bungle trials.
But when was the last time we saw the local police department turn on the crowd with the militarized force and vitriol demonstrated by Ferguson’s finest?
When was the last time that we saw a prosecutor and governor play political games to avoid a recusal?
September 17th, 2014
05:36 PM ET
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.
August 23rd, 2014
07:14 PM ET
Opinion by the Rev. Fred D. Robinson, special to CNN
(CNN) - On day five after the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown at the hands of police, I was on the phone with a white Christian and fellow preacher concerning the racial cauldron that has become Ferguson, Missouri.
During our conversation, he spent more time decrying rioting and calling for calm and prayer than lamenting the modern-day lynching by law enforcement of innocent black bodies that are piling up across the nation.
But most frustrating was his solution to the racial powder keg that has produced the Fergusons across the nation: a call for more racially diverse churches.
I get tired of that one. His unrelenting insistence reminded me — in the most stark terms — of James Baldwin’s prophetic quip: “Racial progress in America is measured by how fast I become white.”
Simply having diverse congregations without addressing the weightier matters of social justice and structural racism is not better church practice. It is possibly subterfuge.
During Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2014 Black Theology and Leadership Institute, of which I was a fellow, Dr. John Kinney, a professor of theology at Virginia Union, offered this stinging indictment:
If one is not careful, that is exactly what will be achieved in today’s climate of multiracial churches.
August 22nd, 2014
07:00 AM ET
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) – Conservative atheist and television pundit S.E. Cupp has come out swinging against progressive atheists.
In a clip (see above) for CNN’s “Crossfire,” she argues that conservative atheists are “better” than liberal nonbelievers. What’s more, Cupp says, those on the right respect and tolerate atheists more than liberals do.
She’s wrong, and here are three reasons why.
Fact: Atheists are still political outcasts.
“It seems like there’s this idea perpetuated by atheists that atheists are somehow disenfranchised or left out of the political process,” Cupp says. “I just don’t find that to be the case.”
Survey data contradict Cupp.
For instance, a 2014 Pew Research study found that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist presidential candidate than any other survey category—even if they share that candidate’s political views.
Faring better than atheists: candidates who have engaged in extramarital affairs and those with zero political experience.
And unless she recently had a change of heart, Cupp herself falls in line with the majority of Americans. In 2012 she said, “I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever.”
While atheists are making political inroads, we’re also still on the margins in a number of ways. Cupp concludes the clip by saying, “I think our atheists are better than yours.”
Apparently they’re still not good enough to be president.
August 6th, 2014
08:59 AM ET
By Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - Last week a video of Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan emerged in which he claimed that Jews use the blood of non-Jewish children to make matzo for Passover.
The translation of Hamdan’s interview with the Lebanese television station Al-Quds on July 28 reports him as saying:
When confronted about his statements by CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Monday, Hamdan did not retract his claim or distance himself from the blood libel slur. His only defense was that he “has Jewish friends.”
Whatever “historical evidence” or “facts” Hamdan believes himself to be remembering, this is nothing more than the infamous blood libel: the most persistent and longest-lived anti-Semitic myth in history, aside from the claim that the Jews killed Jesus.
The blood libel originated in medieval England with the death of William of Norwich. William was a 12-year-old tanner’s apprentice who was killed in 1144. At the time of his death, his parents accused the local Jewish community of responsibility, but investigations revealed nothing.
July 30th, 2014
09:26 AM ET
Opinion by Jay Parini, special to CNN
(CNN) - I've just been watching the trailer for "Black Jesus," a show that will premiere on August 7 on the Cartoon Network during its child-unfriendly late-night spot, which they call Adult Swim.
Already at least one Christian group has begun to lobby the network to cancel the show, regarding its contents as blasphemous. (Cartoon Network is owned by Turner Broadcasting, which owns CNN.)
From what I can tell, the series is a bit of a spoof, with some foul language. The general notion seems clever: A guy who thinks he is Jesus, who might even be Jesus, lives in a poor neighborhood of Compton, California. He's got a ragged band of followers - they look like winos and potheads - who follow him around with lots of bantering.
The scenes shown in the trailer seem relatively funny, and it appears that nobody is quite sure whether this is a madman who thinks he is Jesus or maybe the Lord himself come back in a strange outfit and, indeed, black skin.
Is this offensive? The jury will have to be out until we see whole episodes, but in concept—particularly if the rest of the show is like the trailer—it does not seem so.
Let me explain.FULL STORY
July 28th, 2014
09:38 AM ET
Opinion by Salam Al-Marayati, special to CNN
(CNN) - Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush all met with American Muslims, as they did with most other religious groups.
President Barack Obama, under advice from his aides that association with Muslims is politically damaging, has yet to invite American Muslim organizations and leaders into the Oval Office for substantive discussions on domestic and international policies.
Yes, Muslims from all over the country accepted a White House invitation to attend the Iftar dinner earlier this month with the President to break our fast, to break bread, and to build bridges of understanding.
In Ramadan, a month for spiritual replenishment in the Islamic calendar, an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the world perform an obligatory fast from predawn to sunset for the purpose of purifying one’s soul through prayer and self-sacrifice.
But instead of feeling spiritually uplifted and civically engaged by attending an Islamic celebration in the White House, the Muslim guests were shocked and dismayed when they heard the President say, “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
For Muslims, that talking point is code for whitewashing decades of atrocities committed against the people of Gaza: the kids killed on the Gaza Beach, the civilians bombed in the most densely populated cage in the world, and the attacking of civilians who resort to donkey carts for transportation.
Obama began his presidency conveying aspirations of bridging the divide between the United States and the Muslim world. He needs American Muslims to be a part of that mission. Instead he has continued the unfortunate legacy of excluding of anyone who supports Palestine.
July 24th, 2014
10:39 AM ET
Rome (CNN) - Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan because of her faith, arrived in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
Ibrahim "will remain in Italy for a short time and then will travel on to the United States," the ministry said.
Sudanese authorities had said Ibrahim was guilty of rejecting Islam in favor of Christianity, but her conviction for "apostasy" and adultery was overturned last month on appeal, following weeks of international controversy.
After her release, she and her husband, American Daniel Wani, were detained for two days, accused of falsifying travel documents after going to the airport in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. They were trying to fly to the United States with their baby daughter, who was born while Ibrahim was in prison, and toddler son.
Now their dream of starting a new life in the United States appears to be on the verge of becoming reality.
Not only that, but Ibrahim and her family met with Pope Francis at his private residence in Domus Santa Marta in Vatican City.
During the meeting Thursday, which lasted about half an hour, Ibrahim thanked the Pope for his and the Roman Catholic Church's support and prayers, the Vatican said.
He, in turn, thanked Ibrahim and her family for their "courageous witness and constancy of faith."
Francis also played with the children, 18-month-old Martin and 2-month-old Maya, and greeted the Italian diplomats involved in her journey to Italy.
With this gesture, the Vatican said, the Pope "desired to show his closeness, attention and prayer also to all those who suffer for their faith, in particular to Christians who are enduring persecution or limitations imposed upon their religious freedom."FULL STORY
July 2nd, 2014
09:24 AM ET
By Sara Grossman, CNN
(CNN) - If you’re applying for a new job, it may be best to leave religion off your resume, according to a new study.
Job applicants who mentioned any form of faith affiliation on their resumes were 26% less likely to be contacted by employers than candidates who didn't, according to the study conducted by sociologists at the University of Connecticut.
Muslim, pagan and atheist job applicants were the least likely to get callbacks from potential employers.
“People have a fear of the unknown,” said Michael Wallace, a co-author of the study and a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut. The study “implies that when people don't know much about a religion, they have an instinctive fear of that group.”
June 25th, 2014
11:29 AM ET
Opinion by Randal Maurice Jelks, special to CNN
(CNN) - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from South Africa, called one of his books “God is Not a Christian.”
He might have added a subtitle, “God is not a man, either!”
One of the great problems in our world is patriarchy. The late James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, put best in song, “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”
Patriarchy assumes that men are made to lead and women are simply cooperative and reproductive subordinates.
These assumptions come to light in all kinds of ways, but especially through religion — the various faiths that treat women as though they are not equal to men.
We read it in the Quran and the Bible. We see it in iconic imagery, and religious taboos about sexuality, particularly women’s sexuality. And we see that around the world these days, from Salt Lake City to Sudan.
Men continue to dominate religious institutions, and use them to judge whether women can be in religious leadership or change faiths.
There is a direct link between Kate Kelly, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter day-Saints, who was excommunicated on charges of apostasy, and Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for her supposed apostasy.
And the link is deeper than the charge of abandoning one's faith.
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