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Amid Bachmann controversy, many Christians cool to conversion therapy for gays
Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus, who says his counseling business uses conversion therapy for clients who request it.
July 18th, 2011
11:25 AM ET

Amid Bachmann controversy, many Christians cool to conversion therapy for gays

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

(CNN) - When presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, addressed accusations that his Christian counseling business encourages homosexual clients to try to change their sexual orientation, he appeared to play down the role of so-called conversion therapy at his clinics.

"Is it a remedy form that I typically would use?” Bachmann told Minnesota’s Star Tribune newspaper. “It is at the client's discretion.

"We don't have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone," Bachmann said, noting that such therapy was not a focus of his two clinics.

Michele Bachmann officially quits her church

Bachmann’s seeming ambivalence about conversion therapy - sometimes called reparative therapy - after a week’s worth of news stories that raised questions about whether his clinics promote the practice may illustrate a broader trend in the conservative Christian subculture.

While many evangelicals once viewed conversion therapy as key way to deal with homosexuality, many of the religious movement's leaders and organizations have cooled to the practice in recent years, as more science suggests that homosexuality may be innate and as new therapeutic approaches have emerged.

“Evangelicals, in quiet ways, are shifting to this position to where there is just not a lot of support for the change paradigm,” said Warren Throckmorton, an influential voice in the world of Christian counseling, referring to so-called change therapy.

“In the late 1990s, the debate was clearly, ‘Could gays change from being gay?’ and the focus was on orientation, and it was a big part of politics,” said Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College, an evangelical school in Pennsylvania.

One sign of that shift, Throckmorton says, is the influential evangelical group Focus on the Family’s 2009 decision to stop funding a program teaching that “transformation is possible for those unhappy with same-sex attractions." (Focus, which said the move was due partly to financial pressures, handed the program off to another Christian group.)

The head of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, meanwhile, a leading conservative Christian, has recently chided some evangelicals for characterizing homosexuality as a choice that’s relatively easy to change.

“We have spoken carelessly and unknowledgeably in the past to just say, ‘Just change. Just decide right now your pattern of attraction is not homosexual but heterosexual,’ ” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler said. "We have to know better.”

“We understand that sexual attraction and a profile of someone’s sexuality is a complex of factors, some of which are certainly not chosen,” he continued. “It’s not just a matter of choice. It’s not something that’s turned on or turned off.”

Exodus International, the national Christian organization that promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," has de-emphasized conversion therapy in recent years as more of the counselors in its network have abandoned the practice.

“In the 1980s and '90s, the counseling emphasis was heavier than it was today,” said Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus. “Transformation in Christ is possible, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will never be tempted or completely move beyond a certain struggle that we might have.

“But we can live through the filter of our faith and abide by that most, and leave behind all sorts of things that have power of us,” said Chambers, who once identified as gay but who says he no longer does.

Most conservative Christians point to biblical passages that condemn homosexuality and believe the Bible teaches that sex is to be reserved for married men and women.

The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution condemning conversion therapy in 2009, saying that “mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.”

But the same resolution also encouraged therapists to consider the religious beliefs of clients who say such beliefs are important to their views of homosexuality.

Some Christian counselors have moved away from reparative therapy and have adopted a therapeutic approach that Throckmorton describes as a “congruence paradigm.” The model encourages counselors to appreciate a client’s wishes to harmonize their values, often shaped by religion, and their sexuality.

Under the congruence approach, a religious person who considers homosexuality sinful could attempt to square their beliefs and sexuality by trying to remain celibate. A bisexual client who perceives a similar conflict could try to focus on heterosexual relationships.

But under the congruence model, it’s up to the client - not the therapist - to decide how to view his or her sexual orientation. “If they say 'I think being gay is OK and it’s what I want to pursue,' we’ll work with them to do that, too,” said Throckmorton.

Evangelical re-examination of conversion therapy is part of a larger conversation under way among conservative Christians on how to respond to homosexuality at a time when more gay people are coming out, when there's a new awareness of the bullying that many young gay people face and when the gay rights movement is making some big strides, including, in some states, legalized gay marriage.

“We’re silly to think that there are not gays coming to church, part of our congregations,” said Marcus Yoars, the editor of Charisma, a popular Christian magazine. “It’s the elephant in the room. Its ridiculous that we can’t address it in a manner of love first, which doesn’t mean watering down biblical teaching.”

For the first time in years, Charisma put the issue of homosexuality on the cover of its magazine for the July issue, in a package that includes a story of a woman who says she was “rescued from lesbianism.”

But Yoars said that conversion therapy should be seen as only a small part of the Christian response to homosexuality.

“We have to realize that reparative therapy is a fraction of what’s out there, especially in Christian counseling,” he said. “When it’s reduced to sound bites, it gives (the therapy) a bad rap and falls into the stereotype of all Christians feeling that this kind of therapy is what all Christian counselors should use.”

Another factor behind the new evangelical conversation around homosexuality and conversion therapy is a generational shift on attitudes toward the issues. Recent polls show that young evangelicals are much more supportive of rights for gay partners than their parents are, even as they mirror their parents' opposition to abortion.

"Retaining young people is crucial, and a more accepting generation will not tolerate business as usual when it comes to the debate over homosexuality," wrote Jonathan Merritt, a young evangelical leader, in a recent opinion piece. "Pastors need not compromise their convictions, but they can expect congregants to call for a more accepting, forgiving message – a more Christian message.

"If Christian leaders can’t make that transition – and quickly – instead of an awakening," Merritt wrote in the Christian Science Monitor, "evangelicals may be facing an exodus."

–CNN’s Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Christianity • Homosexuality • Michele Bachmann • Politics • Uncategorized

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soundoff (2,293 Responses)
  1. Rick

    Well since Bachmann's husband is a gay guy who is trying to live a non-gay life who better than to try to convince other gays that it's possible!? Of course is it highly likely that living with a woman like that simply turned him gay, but that's another issue.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      He is not gay!

      He is just very open and friendly when meeting strange men in public bathrooms....

      July 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  2. Lily in Texas

    It appears Marcus Bachmann is a gay man who chose to live a life as a straight man. I don't care what he does in the privacy of his own bedroom. If he and his wife, as 2 consenting adults, choose to live a lie, that's up to them. No different than a wife choosing to stay with a cheating husband (Clinton, Vitter, Ensign, etc...)

    My only interest here is that they have no right to try to make their religious beliefs the law of the land. If MB is involved in politics, she need to remember that she is representing everyone, not just those who share her religious beliefs.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • I'm glad I am smarter then this...

      So true, I think it's KEY to separate church and state. Who are they to tell me what's right and wrong? Screw that I'm my own person.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  3. Buddy

    Why is there always a story about gay something or other on CNN? You guys don't report the news, you make it.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Rick

      I suppose it wasn't news when blacks and women were pushing for equality either huh?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • Buddy

      and how exactly are they not equal? They can vote. They can own property. They run for political office. They have all the same rights as everyone else. Heck, in California their way of life has even attained the right to have their history taught in public schools.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      I was just reading a CNN piece on Astronomy.

      Planets, always pushing their orbital agendas...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Brandon

      They don't have the right to adopt children, they don't have the right to tax break afforded to cohabiting adults of different gender, they don't have the right to inheritance of their partner's estate, they can't receive insurance under their partner's policy. There are two sets of financial laws for married adults of opposite gender of adults of same gender who want to wed, but cannot.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  4. Tom

    First, it is Paul talking to the Romans not God. What what ever happened to:

    Mark chapter 12 verses 28-31

    One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

    "The most important one," Jesus answered, "is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."

    July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Colin

      So, still citing Bronze Age mythology for 21st century social policy are we?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Patrick

      Quite a few of them posting on here have to pretend that one isn't there.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • IgM

      @Colin, let them use their Bronze age mythology if they're saying "Love your neighbour as yourself." If this is truly what you believe Tom, then you should have no problem with gay people.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • San

      I think Tom is trying to illustrate that Jesus preached tolerance. Which the Bachmanns seem to lack.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Tom

      @San

      That is exactly he point I am making.

      July 19, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  5. Kevin

    Michele Bachmann and her husband are way out there. The things I'm remembering about her campaign so far are that slavery was better for the black family but was horrible, you can pray away gay, and signing pledges to extreme groups. She needs tome good PR damage control.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  6. Liz

    Bachman and her whole Tea Party cohorts are bigoted people and full of hate. In one of her speeches she commented about gays not wanting to live like the "Leave it to Beaver Family". Obviously she has not progressed since the show was on TV and even then it was unrealistic. Ths woman is a pariah and should not be running for the Presidency. She cant even get along with the people in the U.S. What kind of hate rhetoric is she going to spew about the rest of the world.. Her and Sarah Palin are two of a kind, racists.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  7. mike

    The bible was written by men and then edited and translated countless times by other men. To take a single sentence from it that indirectly addresses an issue and let it form the basis of your opinion seems like an over reach to me.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • James

      Was the Bible inspired,blessed, and approved by God? Did you read the whole thing? Or are you coming to a conclusion to excuse your sins and make things in your life acceptable. If the Bible was wrong and a Lie! Then why is it in existance? Because it is God Breathed and is the truth! You choosing to deny the word of God is Denying God! There is scripture for that as well.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • biodan

      Actually, there is very little evidence to support what you say. Thousands of ancient manuscripts exist of the New Testament books and they differ in only very minor ways. Almost all of the variation can be attributed to scribal errors, and none of the differences have significant impact on doctrinal interpretations. The New Testament has been translated into many languages as you say, but the original Greek versions still exist, and all good modern translations are taken from the original Greek with a bit of comparison sometimes made to other very old manuscripts that exist in Syriac, Coptic and Latin. If you truly believe this to be a big problem, you might wish to learn Greek to see if the English translation is a fabrication.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • everettereb

      "a single sentence"?
      The Bible is full of sentences and even paragraphs on the subject and takes a hard stand against that life style.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • john

      lol, I love the compassion of the religious. I don't see where anyone denied that it was written by men though.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
    • MIke

      There is evidence that they chose to omit scriptures.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  8. Robert MacDonald

    The evidence does show that man/women can change, IF they want to.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Colin

      Your first name should be "Ronald".

      July 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      And that evidence is where?

      I've got graduate training in Clinical Psychology, so I can't wait to hear this one...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Lettuce Prey

      What evidence? Please cite at least one reputable scientific study.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Patrick

      What? Since when??? We've had the ability to test a person's $exuality in a lab setting for decades and in all that time, since the 1950s, not one person has ever shown their $exuality to change. Not even from gay to bi$exual. Where are you getting your info? I'd love to see it.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Buddy

      there are plenty of people who have gone from gay to straight.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Patrick

      And why do we never see any of them on these comment boards telling us how they changed? Do they not like helping others???

      July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Bobby

      What EVIDENCE? Its is soooooo easy to make a claim like 'The evidence shows that... blah bklah blah" - but it's anotehr thing to BACK IT UP. So, Robert, state your 'evidence.'

      July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Penny

      Apparently you never saw CNN's very disturbing story about a young gay man who underwent reparative therapy. His case is the one cited by those studies you may have read. One thing you should know about that client: he is now DEAD – he committed suicide. He was never able to overcome the shame and the guilt that this form of therapy produces. Sounds like just merely changing his habits worked, didn't it?

      I am a alcohol-chemical dependency counseling major and this subject (LGBT counseling/drug abuse issues) and reparative therapy have come up repeatedly in my courses. One of the most common reasons that those in the LGBT community go into drug abuse is because of shame and guilt over how the way they were raised doesn't square with reality. They try to deaden the pain of their reality and their being harassed daily by their peers. The American Psychiatric Association has condemned this reparative therapy practice and I'm happy to see that many conservative groups have realized that trying to "brainwash" those who are gay to being straight is impossible. Just merely changing their "habits" won't do it either. They are who they are, just as you are straight (based on your comments you must be). I think you need to read a few more journals and studies before you make a broad-based statement such as yours. It is based on pure ignorance.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      "Preference" does not mean "only". There are a vast range of behaviors, not just Jack and Jill in the missionary position. Grow up. It's a range, on a continuum. If the preference is towards one end of that, it does not mean activity towards the other end is impossible. That does not mean some activity on the other end implies a change has occurred.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • torqueflite

      Lefthanders could "change" to be righthanders, too, as the Church once demanded, believing that Satan is lefthanded. Was it right, was it "moral"?

      July 18, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  9. Rich

    Marcus Bachmann will soon be caught in an airport bathroom snorting meth off the ass of a rentboy.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Jim

      That's the funniest truth I've heard all day! Hah!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Rick

      You got that right.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • CyndyP

      I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought that about him!!!!!!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Brandon

      When I first read your post, I thought it said an "abortion bathroom" instead of "airport bathroom." I really wish it would have been an "abortion bathroom."

      July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Penny

      Yeah, probably in the Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport stall that the Idaho Senator used to "play footsie" with the undercover cop...

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  10. Mark

    These people are JOKES! Being gay is NOT a choice and you can't convert a gay person to be straight. Seriously, can you convert a straight person to be gay?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Brandon

      I live in Arkansas and have to hear the "it's a choice" crap all the time. I always ask those who say it, "So, if it's a choice, does that mean you could be gay. Could you wake up tomorrow and want to suck a guys d*** instead of have $3x with a girl? They say, of course, "No!" Well, if you can't choose to be gay, why can anyone else."

      July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  11. TamarS

    i'm glad to hear some christians are using their intelligence to follow the ignorant and hateful doctrine of any religious group.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  12. Waltham1892

    Is there anyone Christians love, except themselves?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • think for yourself

      Just their imaginary god, and a guy who (supposedly) lived over 2,000 years ago that they have never met.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • Scott

      I don't think you know the meaning of the word "love." The translation is for the Greek word "agape." You are probably thinking of other Greek words for love; probably "eros" but maybe "phileo."

      July 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • CyndyP

      I saw a great bumper sticker – Religious Left – Religion without the hate!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Penny

      Last time I checked, the Bible made reference to a conversation between Jesus and his disciples where they asked, "What is the greatest commandment?" Of course, it was to honor God. However, Jesus reportedly added, "the second is to love your neighbor as yourself..." He didn't say "only love straight people." He didn't say "only love those that agree with you." He said, "love your neighbor."

      July 18, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  13. ReallyModComeON

    Have they ever posted a story that was not PRO Gay? Hummmmmm.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Patrick

      Oh I know. And all their stories about African Americans are pro-bl@ck. It's unbelievable. Why can't they post something racist once in awhile???

      July 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Pilfer

      It is not pro-gay you moron. It is pro human rights..

      Something you clearly do not support.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • ReallyModComeON

      Well actually they do post negative Black stuff. Education, Crime, and poverty. They do post the dirt in the Black community. And do not compare lifestyle with race. Those are on two different levels.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Waltham1892

      Yeah, why can't CNN be a good Christian news station and hate along with the rest of us?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • ReallyModComeON

      The last I checked any right I had Gays had. Could be wrong but if you could give me 10 rights Gays do not have I am listening.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Rick

      The issue is no pro gay dummy, it's pro freedom.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Frogist

      @ReallyModComeOn: 10? How about 1138?
      All benefits relating to marriage is denied gay couples because they are forbidden to marry.
      http://www.hrc.org/issues/5585.htm
      And these are not tiny issues... but things like social security benefits, health care, taxes, medical leave... not to mention issues regarding children, end of life care, a person's will...

      July 19, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Sev

    come on CNN (Crappy News Network), can't you find better dirt to make your mud?

    July 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Patrick

      "Ye shall know them by their fruits" ... and they are definitely the most nasty negative hateful people I've ever met.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  15. Andre

    Stupid pathetic republicans and the things they come up with via their stupid pathetic religion.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  16. Pilfer

    I have grown to really dislike evangelicals and I truly believe the movement is vicious, cruel, ignorant, and if they thought they had the upper hand politically, they would be openly violent, oppressive and tyrannical.

    Evangelical Christians are among the worst people on the face of the earth.

    They are our national shame.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  17. Rainer Braendlein

    We live in a time of grace. At the moment God doesn't want to judge, but to save. Jesus loves you.

    According to Epistle to the Romans Chapter 1, the Creator can be realized through the creation. But we get born into this world (creation), and immediately everything is more important for us, than to think contemplatively about the maker of heaven and earth.

    Imagine, you would call on a physician, and at your arrival you would not even great him. Of course the physician would be offended. This is, what we do with God: We enter this world, see his great works, but ignore him completely. And exactly this is the "Fall of Man". It would be tiresome to discuss, why we behave like this, but it is a matter of fact.

    The purpose of man would be to adore God, but instead he creates idols. Assumed, your little finger could/would leave you, it would be a damage for you and for him. Your hand would be no more fully operative and the finger would die, because he would not be supported with blood.

    Because we don't exercise our purpose to adore God, we are cut off from the source of life and start to rot. Sins like gayness are the consequences of that process of rotting (of course there are a lot of other sins beside gayness).

    Actually God's creation should suffice to realize him. Regretably we have a defect and need more than this revelation. God in his mercy gave a second revelation: Jesus and his death on the cross. Jesus was the most lovable "man", who has ever lived on earth and has finally borne the sin of the whole mankind on the cross.

    By faith in the lovable Jesus the "Fall of Man" can be rolled back. By faith in Christ we become able and willing to adore God. Adoring the source of life the process of rotting will stop and we can live a life, which causes God's enjoyment.

    Other sins beside gayness, Romans Chapter 1:

    28 And 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;

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

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

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

    32 Who 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.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • kch

      Alas! How stupid people can get even in this 21st century?

      July 18, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • the incidentalist

      god is dead

      July 18, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @kch

      Jesus has died yesterday, and Judgement Day will take place tomorrow (consider that for God 1000 years are like a day and a day like 1000 years).

      July 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  18. Colin

    Christian approach to science follows a familiar pattern

    First, open the Bible to get your scientific outlook. The World is flat, about 6,000 years old, gay is a sinful choice etc.

    Second, as a more modern approach starts to question your Bronze Age view, kill, threaten or socially ostracize those who raise questions. Ban their books.

    Third, as the weight of public opinion starts to swing against you on the issue, take a more nuanced approach, gradually backing off from your erroneous view, while trying to save face.

    Finally, when the weight of the scientific evidence, and the pull of public opinion is overwhelmingly against you, and you can no longer act like the Bible was correct, reinterpret it and claim you knew all along. – e.g. Adam and Eve was never meant to be true, we ALWAYS knew about evolution. Those 1850 years of claiming it was true – never happened.

    It's a matter of time before the Christians start showing pictures of gays in the Garden of Eden riding dinosaurs.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • kch

      You are absolutely right point by point.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
    • QS

      "Retaining young people is crucial..."

      Ah yes, the religion industry, much like the tobacco industry, must constantly work to recruit young people into its ranks in order to continue peddling its own addictive "substance" well into the future.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Religion is 2000 year old Technology

      Finally......thanks for saying it. These religious nuts really need to stop infecting future generations with these LIES.

      July 18, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Jason

      Your information is false about "the world being flat"...Bible clearly says in Isaiah 40:22 that the Earth is a "circle". Catholic Church leaders of the time said it was "flat" and persecuted those who disagreed. Corrupt church leaders do not speak for the creator!

      July 18, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Jason
      Circles can be flat.

      July 18, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • I'm glad I am smarter then this...

      Very true. Religion in itself is bologne. They keep changing their story and you expect me to believe that people's free will is STILL controled by some dude in the sky? Yeah right. I love who I want to love and do what I want to do. I wish people would WAKE UP.

      July 18, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  19. elvis316

    Hang on, her husband runs one of these places? Pfft, she has no chance at being elect. Well, she never did, but this really seals it.

    July 18, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  20. ever4lasting

    Marcus Bachmann he sounds gay his self

    July 18, 2011 at 1:05 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.