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.
September 16th, 2014
09:10 AM ET
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."FULL STORY
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
June 27th, 2014
08:20 AM ET
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.
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.
June 23rd, 2014
02:03 PM ET
(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.FULL STORY
June 6th, 2014
08:28 AM ET
Opinion by Abed Awad, special to CNN
(CNN) – Last month, a Sudanese court imposed a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant mother, because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Ibrahim says she was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father abandoned them when she was 6 years old.
But this week, a man claiming to be Ibrahim’s brother said that she was raised a Muslim and that if she does not return to the faith, she should be killed.
Both the Sudanese court and the man who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother say the Islamic faith is clear: Apostasy, renouncing the religion, is a capital crime.
But is it really?
The idea of apostasy as a crime within Islam begins with the Quran and the Sunna, the faith’s foundational texts.
May 24th, 2014
06:00 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) – Back home, they erase their Internet histories, look over their shoulders before cracking jokes and nod politely when co-workers talk about church.
But in a hotel ballroom here on a recent weekend, more than 220 atheists, agnostics, skeptics and freethinkers let it all hang out.
The convention was called “Freedom From Religion in the Bible Belt,” and it was part celebration of skepticism and part strategy session about surviving in the country’s most religious region.
They sang songs about the futility of faith, shared stories about “coming out” as nonbelievers and bought books about the Bible – critical ones, of course.
“Isn’t it great to be in a room where you can say whatever you want to whomever you want without fear of anyone criticizing you for being unorthodox?” asked Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, as he opened the two-day convention.
The Wisconsin-based foundation co-sponsored the event with the Triangle Freethought Society, which draws its members from this state’s tech-heavy Research Triangle.
The nonbelievers came from as far afield as Ireland and France, but most described themselves as refugees from the heart of the South - atheist anomalies amid fiercely devout friends, family and neighbors.
We wanted to know what it’s like to be a nonbeliever in the Bible Belt, so over the course of the weekend we asked some of the folks here to share their secrets.
They had a lot to say, and some of their advice overlapped, but we came away with eight top tips. Some said they wished they’d had something like this list when they began their foray into religious infidelity.
So, without further ado, here’s a “survival guide” to being an atheist in the Bible Belt:
May 22nd, 2014
07:04 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - So, a rabbi, a sheikh and a pope travel to the Holy Land…
It might sound like the start of a trite joke, but it’s actually the entourage for one of the most highly anticipated papal trips in recent history.
As Pope Francis heads to Jordan, Bethlehem and Jerusalem this weekend, he’s bringing along two old friends from Argentina: Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who co-wrote a book with the Pope, and Sheikh Omar Abboud, who leads Argentina’s Muslim community.
The Vatican says it’s the first time that a pope’s official entourage has included interfaith leaders.
In a region roiled by competing religious and political visions, Francis’ chosen companions communicate an unmistakable message, church officials said.
“It’s highly symbolic, of course,” said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.
“But it also sends a pragmatic message to Muslims, Christians and Jews that it’s possible to work together - not as a system of checks and balances but as friends.”
The visit to the Holy Land is the first for Francis as leader of the Roman Catholic Church, and just the fourth for any pontiff in the modern era.
With so much at stake - the stalled negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, the plight of Christian refugees - the Pope’s every word, gesture and photo-op will be microscopically examined.
Already, some conservative Israelis are advocating against the Pope’s visit, scrawling anti-Christian graffiti on Catholic buildings in Jerusalem and planning protests outside papal events in Jerusalem.
While the protesters form a fringe minority, they underscore the tensions that simmer around the Pope’s short but substantial trip.
With those challenges in mind, here are five key things to pay particular attention to.
May 20th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - International pressure is mounting on Sudan to release a pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy, with members of the U.S. Congress asking Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on her behalf.
The proposed resolution encourages Sudan to respect religious rights if it wants the United States to normalize relations or lift economic sanctions on the African nation.
“I am disgusted and appalled by the inhumane verdict Ms. Ibrahim has received, simply for refusing to recant her Christian faith," said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I also commend Ms. Ibrahim’s courage in refusing to renounce her Christianity, and I encourage her to remain steadfast. The world condemns her verdict and will stand by her in her moment of need," said Rubio.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma; Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware; and Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
The proposed Senate resolution adds more voices to the international outcry over the situation of Ibrahim, a Christian wife and mother who is pregnant with her second child while shackled in a Sudanese jail. Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen.
About this blog
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.