In The News: #LoveWins, #TakeItDown, #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

Photograph: Desmond Boylan/AP

Photograph: Desmond Boylan/AP


We take off one day of link gathering last Friday and looks what happens: Nationwide marriage equality!

First, if you haven’t read them already, the full text of Justice Kennedy’s decision and the assorted dissents are really worth a thorough read in and of themselves.

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth

Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

Echoing Kennedy, a triumphant Andrew Sullivan declared: “It Is Accomplished” in an editorial for a briefly resurrected Dish. 

But some things you know deep in your heart: that all human beings are made in the image of God; that their loves and lives are equally precious; that the pursuit of happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence has no meaning if it does not include the right to marry the person you love; and has no force if it denies that fundamental human freedom to a portion of its citizens.

Jeffrey Toobin responded to the decision with “God and Marriage Equality” in The New Yorker.

God may reign, but He (or She) doesn’t legislate. The gritty business of passing laws is left to the people’s representatives, who answer, in the first instance, to their constituents, and defer, at least in theory, to the Constitution. The record of politicians who claim, in anything more than a general way, to be doing God’s will is dubious. Too often, assertions of divine guidance spoken in state capitols (as well as in the Capitol) have turned out to be little more than bigotry dressed in clerical garb. This is why, at least in theory, we have a Supreme Court. In their best moments, the Justices apply the careful scrutiny demanded by the Fourteenth Amendment—for equal protection of the laws—against any government official’s clairvoyance about God’s intent.

And why not take a moment to let yourself bask in the glitchy glory of this GIF from Adam Peck in the New Republic. 

According to Steven Paulikas in the Guardian, “Church is the next frontier for same-sex marriage acceptance.” We were especially intrigued by his definition of “queer”:

As of now, LGBT people are much less likely to be religious than their heterosexual counterparts. With a bit of curiosity and luck in finding the right community, perhaps more of them will find their way back into religion to transform it from the inside. After all, to be queer is to walk the spiritual path from fear to faith in the authenticity of one’s own truth and experience.

As for the whole religious liberty question, Thomas J. Whitley gives a good summary of the issues in”Religious Liberty in the Supreme Court’s Marriage Equality Decision” for Marginalia‘s MRBlog.

Some, though, fear that this decision will lead to a rolling back of religious liberty protections for those who oppose marriage equality. Republican Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, for instance, says in a defiant statement that “this decision will be a serious blow to religious liberty, which is the heart of the First Amendment.” Conservatives worrying about being discriminated against in the wake of this ruling is amusingly ironic.

While Micah Schwarzman, Richard Schragger, and Nelson Tebbe wrote about “Obergefell and the End of Religious Reasons for Lawmaking” in Religion & Politics. 

The most significant impact of the Obergefell decision for the relationship between religion and government is that it put an end to lawmaking solely on the basis of religious reasons. From the beginning, the only real basis for excluding same-sex couples from civil marriage was religious. At the oral argument in the Supreme Court, as in lower courts, the states struggled to justify marriage exclusion in terms that all citizens could understand. Their theory that expanding civil marriage would weaken a conception of marriage linked to procreation, and thereby lead opposite-sex couples to remain unmarried, was nonsensical. In the Obergefell opinion, the Court called it “counterintuitive.” 

And Louise Melling, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has written an opinion piece for the Washington Post explaining “Why we can no longer support the federal ‘religious freedom’ law.”

Yes, religious freedom needs protection. But religious liberty doesn’t mean the right to discriminate or to impose one’s views on others. The RFRA wasn’t meant to force employees to pay a price for their employer’s faith, or to allow businesses to refuse to serve gay and transgender people, or to sanction government-funded discrimination. In the civil rights era, we rejected the claims of those who said it would violate their religion to integrate. We can’t let the RFRA be used as a tool for a different result now.

It’s time for Congress to amend the RFRA so that it cannot be used as a defense for discrimination. Religious freedom will be undermined only if we continue to tolerate and enable abuses in its name.

And yet, haters are gonna…you know.

David Gibson explained “A Catholic priest’s viral Facebook post on gay marriage, and what it means” after a post but the Rev. James Martin drew an enormous amount of attention last week. For more with Rev. Martin, you can read the conversation he had with Becky Garrison in our pages earlier this year.

The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and popular author who we regularly cite at Religion News Service, and he felt so moved by the nastiness that he wrote a brief Facebook decrying the fact that, as he put it, “No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality.”

“Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have,” he wrote.

Then he hit “post,” and whoa, the online mob went out and proved him right.


Non-Jewish Mexican men paid by the Jewish Political Action Committee to protest at New York’s Gay Pride Parade.

Take also this moment of epic religion news “WTF?!”: “Jewish Group, With Hired Protesters, Opposes the Parade” reported Andy Newman and James Estrin for the New York Times. 


Everyone should either read or watch President Obama’s Eulogy for Clementa Pinckney.

Joel Anderson profiled Clementa Pinckney in “They Saw An Anointed One” for Buzzfeed.

Friends said Pinckney had little trouble maneuvering the dirt and gravel roads — most with no shoulders, only shallow ditches lining the way — of the swampy backwater. He never seemed to wilt in the stifling humidity. No home or double-wide was too run-down for a visit. He carried with him a Bible translated into Gullah, a language of enslaved people and their descendants spoken among people in the Lowcountry. And if Pinckney did come across a stranger on those junkets, they didn’t remain one for long.

As did Kevin Sack for the New York Times in “Clementa Pinckney, Called to Pulpit and Politics in a Life Cut Short.”

Mr. Pinckney seemed unconcerned with self-promotion, keeping his focus on the spiritual and political needs of his underprivileged constituents. Although considered a moral voice by many, he rarely came off as judgmental. He managed to keep his religious and political lives largely separate, and although firmly grounded in the A.M.E. church’s activist tradition he chose to work within the system, seeing himself more as a persuader than a firebrand.

As for Obama’s speech itself, The New Yorker‘s Allyson Hobbs called his eulogy for Pinckney “Barack Obama’s Second Inaugural in Charleston.”

Lincoln and Obama hoped that their words would encourage Americans to open their hearts, to find the grace to heal the deep wounds that they have suffered, and to carry on. Lincoln did not live to see or to steer the Reconstruction period that followed the war. We have yet to see just how far Obama’s words will take us.

And James Fallows shares readers thoughts on “Why Obama Gave a Christian Speech Without Mentioning Jesus” in The Atlantic. 

I had said I was struck by the president’s easy use of explicitly Christian language and references in the speech. The reader said he was struck by the absence of one word in the speech: Jesus.

Brian Lehrer spoke to the Reverend Amy Butler from The Riverside Church and Cornel West, Union Theological Seminary professor and the author and asked listeners of his show “How Did Your Church Discuss Charleston?” on WNYC.

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 11.17.49 AM

And Roxane Gay explained “Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof” on NPR.

I really do believe there are some crimes that are beyond forgiveness and I was stunned at how quickly the media began packaging a narrative about forgiveness. And I greatly admire the families who stood in court and gave testimony and offered their forgiveness and I respect that and this is not to criticize them or take away from them. It’s just in general — beyond them, for those of us who are not directly connected— I refuse to forgive this young man for what he did. He was calculated and brutal and I think his crime is beyond forgiveness.

Hebah H. Farrag‘s shared an important conversation in Religion Dispatches, “The Role of Spirit in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement: A Conversation with Activist and Artist Patrisse Cullors.”

“When you are working with people who have been directly impacted by state violence and heavy policing in our communities, it is really important that there is a connection to the spirit world,” she said. “For me, seeking spirituality had a lot to do with trying to seek understanding about my conditions—how these conditions shape me in my everyday life and how do I understand them as part of a larger fight, a fight for my life. People’s resilience, I think, is tied to their will to live, our will to survive, which is deeply spiritual.”

While Sarah Kaplan and Justin Wm. Moyer explained “Why racists target black churches” in The Washington Post.

Since at least 1822, when the first recorded burning of a black church occurred in South Carolina, church arson has been the default response of racists frustrated with progress — or even the faint specter of progress — on civil rights. More than even lynching, burning houses of worship remains a go-to weapon in hate groups’ arsenal. Torching churches such as Mount Zion persisted decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, 100 years after Booker T. Washington dined at the White House and 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

And, sadly, “Black Churches Are Burning Again in America” reported Emma Green for The Atlantic.

The investigations in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee are still ongoing, and they may end up in that broad category of fires of suspicious, but ultimately unknowable, origin that Ahrens described. But no matter why they happened, these fires are a troubling reminder of the vulnerability of our sacred institutions in the days following one of the most violent attacks on a church in recent memory. It’s true that a stupid kid might stumble backward into one of the most symbolically terrifying crimes possible in the United States, but that doesn’t make the terror of churches burning any less powerful.

And Anthea Butler asked “#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches: Is It Freedom Summer Again?” in Religion Dispatches.

When it comes to racism in America, and specifically acts of violence against black Christians and black churches, the past is not even the past—it is a very present danger. While academics might argue about the death of the black church, racists know the history of the black church in America is a threat to white supremacy.

To follow the story further, keep an eye out for #whoisburningblackchurches on Twitter.


There were a lot of flags in the news this week, the confederate flag, the pride flag, and a very special flag we’ve saved for the end of this round-up. Whatever emblem you choose to wave, burn, or repurpose, it’s hard not to admire the righteous moxie of Bree Newsome.

In taking down the Confederate flag, why Bree Newsome’s biblical quote matters” explained Karen Attiah for The Washington Post. 

In her Bible quotation, Newsome, a black woman, is asking, “Whom shall I fear?” while peacefully taking down the Confederate battle flag, a symbol of white supremacy and racial terror for generations. By her words, she is refusing to fear the hatred behind the symbol, the longstanding system in America of the forced labor of blacks under the threat of the most unspeakable forms of torture, terror, violence and death. She is refusing to fearfully tolerate the symbol that 21-year-old Roof (who in addition to allegedly assassinating a black political official, gunned down eight other innocent black people) proudly waved in photos.

Vox posted this video of Newsome’s incredible act of civil disobedience here.

Unfortunately, Americans seem to remain incapable of paying attention to more than one difficult question at a time. Patrick Blanchfield wrote, “Data Shows That Americans Wanted to Talk About Guns After Charleston — Until Confederate Flag Debate Heated Up” for The Trace.

It’s not unreasonable to imagine that Americans are capable of carrying on critical debates over both guns and the Confederate flag at the same time. Certainly, the debate about the flag is one worth having. But comprehensive data from a social-media platform indicating that the country seems largely incapable of engaging with both issues so suggests some unfortunate limits in the bandwidth of national political discourse. The extent to which these limits might be a function of our collective cognitive and emotional capacity to grapple with two hot-button issues in the wake of a national tragedy is an open question. Less debatable, however, is that this shift in conversation mirrors both the interests and expressed preferences of numerous influential players.

On a similar note, Mary Frances Berry argued that, “The Confederate flag is just a distraction” in The Washington Post.

When talk about symbols of the Confederacy has run its course on cable news, inevitably the media will crow about “progress” and then divert our attention to some other breaking story. When the politicians and presidential candidates have run out of empathetic rhetoric and fervent speeches, their inaction will be thunderous. Taking down the symbols without dismantling the structures of racism will not destroy the master’s house.


Some noteworthy stories about Islam this week:

Matt Thompson, Adam Chandler, and Matt Schiavenza reported on “Ramadan Attacks on Three Continents.”

Florida man, accused of terrorism based on book collection, set free” reported Murtaza Hussain for The Intercept. 

Speaking to The Intercept after his release, Robertson alleged that the government had attempted to use his case to establish a precedent for equating ordinary Muslim practices and scholarship with terrorism. “They’re trying to find an indirect way to sentence people with non-terrorism charges as though they’d committed terrorism offenses, without having to provide the preponderance of evidence that is normally required in such cases,” he said. “You own a few books and some guy tells an informant you said something, and suddenly that is legal basis enough to sentence you to prison for decades.”

And Haroon Moghul shared a his new, timed for Ramadan, video series in “Red, White and Ramadan” for CNN.

No matter what faith we were born into, what faith we embrace, or even if we embrace any faith. There’s far too much misunderstanding in the world. This Ramadan, I want to make a contribution to changing that. I want to talk about Islam beyond the headlines.


Much and important as it was, not all of the church news this week was about marriage or race.

Well, actually, no, this piece is still most definitely about race. Rachel Aviv brought us the monstrously upsetting story of “Revenge Killing: Race and the death penalty in a Louisiana parish” in The New Yorker.

After constant exposure to violence, he began to reinterpret the Bible. He thought about passages in which Christ was judgmental and unforgiving—Christ’s belief that it would be better if Judas Iscariot had never been born, for instance—and saw Him as retaliatory in ways that he hadn’t appreciated before. After the Church’s pedophilia scandals, Cox no longer felt obliged to follow its teachings precisely. He told me that “we just exclusively use the Old Testament over here,” and that he had ripped the New Testament out of all the Bibles. He quickly added, “That’s a joke!”

Cox does not believe that the death penalty works as a deterrent, but he says that it is justified as revenge. He told me that revenge was a revitalizing force that “brings to us a visceral satisfaction.” He felt that the public’s aversion to the notion had to do with the word itself. “It’s a hard word—it’s like the word ‘hate,’ the word ‘despot,’ the word ‘blood.’ ” He said, “Over time, I have come to the position that revenge is important for society as a whole. We have certain rules that you are expected to abide by, and when you don’t abide by them you have forfeited your right to live among us.”

Members of both families deny a feud exists and instead offer polite, politically correct compliments about their counterparts. Behind the facade, though, lie two political tribes that have grown to dislike and distrust one another.

Camille Robcis asked “Is secularism still Christian?” in The Immanent Frame‘s ongoing series discussion of Samuel Moyn’s upcoming book, Christian Human Rights. 

Samuel Moyn’s forthcoming book, Christian Human Rights, offers an answer to this question by tracing the genealogy through which Catholicism and Protestantism came to embrace human rights. To be sure, many scholars have emphasized the Christian origins of rights, whether they locate this birth in the Bible, the figure of Jesus, the Reformation, or the Enlightenment. But most of these longue durée histories tend to naturalize the relationship between human rights and Christianity. Thus, they fail to account for Catholicism’s overt hostility towards secularism and liberalism throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Moyn’s point is that there is nothing self-evident about the Christian celebration of human rights from a theoretical or historical perspective. Rather, this confluence is the product of a particular context: the 1940s. It was the result of specific political decisions by various Christian intellectuals and activists who decided to adopt human rights in their struggle against capitalism and communism. In their Cold War polarized world, Christianity offered an alternative social and political model, one that would avoid these extremes by providing freedom andcoercion, each in the right amount. According to Moyn, these figures were ultimately responsible for engraving human rights at the heart of Western liberal democracy.

While Libby Copleland inquired, “Who Owns the Dead?” in The New Republic. 

The home funeral guides are a motley bunch. Radically old-fashioned, these women are not licensed or regulated by state law, and they must tread lightly to avoid encroaching on the territory of funeral directors or accidentally violating state law. They offer self-styled certification programs to one another, and publish funeral how-to’s for families who want to do things entirely on their own. Some charge money, and some don’t. (Offering services free of charge allows death midwives to more easily avoid running afoul of state regulations.) Some have jobs and do this on the side; some are hospice volunteers. Some are on the New Age fringe, indulging in witchcraft and crystals. Some, like Knox, came to this work through the trauma of what they considered a bad death. Many see themselves as a temporary necessity, a half-step until home funerals become better-known and more widely accepted. As Merilynne Rush, a 55-year-old home funeral guide based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, put it, “My hope is I’ll be obsolete in another generation.”

Chris Mooney wrote “New study reaffirms the link between conservative religious faith and climate change doubt” in The Washington Post. 

Because let’s face it — we already knew that conservative religiosity in the United States was closely tied to denying evolution. What wasn’t so obvious was why views of global warming, or the environment, would seem to so closely track views on where we humans (and the rest of all life on Earth) come from. Yet it seems they do…

United Church of Christ votes to dives from companies with ties to Israeli settlements” reported Haaretz and The Associated Press.  

“As disciples of Jesus, we hear and seek to heed his call to be peacemakers, responding to violence with nonviolence and extending love to all,” said Rev. John Deckenback.

“It is in that spirit of love for both Israelis and Palestinians, and a desire to support Palestinians in their nonviolent struggle for freedom, that the United Church of Christ has passed this resolution,” he said.

And “U.S. Episcopalians vote to let gay couples wed in churches” reported Reuters.

The U.S. Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to let gay couples wed in the denomination’s religious ceremonies, reinforcing its support for same-sex nuptials days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

The Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, became in 2012 the largest U.S. religious denomination to approve a liturgy for clergy to use in blessing same-sex unions, including gay marriages in states where they were already legal.

Becky Garrison shared the story of “The journey of one transgender Latina in the church” on Religion News Service. 

A self-professed church nerd, Garcia says she was “a good Catholic boy” when she was in her teens. Today, she is a candidate for ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Last year, the ELCA welcomed its first openly transgender clergy member, Megan Rohrer, pastor at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco. When Garcia is ordained and called to a church, she will be the denomination’s first transgender clergyperson of color.

And the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “Milwaukee museum to display portrait of Pope Benedict made of condoms.”

About 17,000 colorful condoms were stitched together to fashion the portrait called “Eggs Benedict,” which the museum plans to put on display in November, museum spokeswoman Vicki Scharfberg said.

These are all photographs related to Niki Johnson's artwork, "Eggs Benedict," a portrait of the Pope made from condoms. Courtesy of the artist.

Niki Johnson’s artwork, “Eggs Benedict,” a portrait of the Pope made from condoms. Courtesy of the artist.


In other good LGBT*Q News, “Jury Decides Against JONAH in Landmark ‘Gay Conversion Therapy Case” reported Alexandra Levine for The Forward. 

A jury decided against a Jewish group that promotes so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’ in a landmark fraud case that could have a wide-ranging impact on the controversial anti-gay practice.

In a first-of-its-kind decision, the jury awarded $72,000 to several mostly Jewish victims who said Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing and co-founder Arthur Goldberg made bogus promises that they could ‘cure’ gays.

And in just all-around good news: “California Passes Bill to Require Vaccines and Ban Religious Exemptions” announced Anna Diamond for Slate.

On Thursday lawmakers in the California State Assembly passed SB 277, a bill mandating that children in day care or school be vaccinated. The bill, which received 46 yeas and 30 noes, eliminates the personal-belief and religious exemptions, leaving intact only the medical exemption. Now the bill is in the hands of Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it into law.

Lizzie Widdicombe shared the story of “The Higher Life: A mindfulness guru for the tech set” in The New Yorker. 

Puddicombe emerged to a flourish of piano music, holding a set of juggling balls. He is bald, with blue eyes and a deep tan, and he looks as much like a personal trainer as like a personal guru. (Headspace bills itself as a “gym membership for the mind.”) He speaks with the kind of Estuary English accent that you might encounter in a London pub. Puddicombe started off by taking an informal poll. “How many of you meditate?” he asked. Many hands went up.

“Wow!” he said. “A very enlightened audience!”

Speaking of higher lives, the award for punniest headline of the week goes to Al Jazeera America’s First Church of Cannabis rolls into high gear with inaugural service” by Skyler Reid. 

More than 100 congregants — young and old, and many wearing tie-dyed and leaf-adorned clothing — packed the small church in southern Indianapolis for the inaugural service. Bill Levin, who along with founding the church acts as the Grand Poobah (a title he adopted from the Flintstones) and the Minister of Love, read off the New Deity Dozen, the church’s guiding principles. A round of applause broke out at No. 6. “Never start a fight,” Levin said. “Just finish them.” As the applause died down he sarcastically added, “Well that wasn’t meant for anybody.”

Sophie Gilbert presented us with “The Tao of Orange is the New Black” in The Atlantic. 

The show draws no distinction between inmates, prison guards, corporate overlords, and family members in its thesis that everyone has the capacity to do terrible things, whatever their background or religion or financial status. Prison guards deal drugs and assault inmates; CEOs send hate-crime victims to solitary confinement out of vindictiveness; therapists abuse their power to get revenge on women. The show’s universe would be bleak and utterly unsatisfactory if it weren’t for its acknowledgment of the one thing that enables humans to transcend their earthly frailties: kindness.

Yaëlle Azagury reviewed Mark Rothko: Toward the Light in the Chapel,’ by Annie Cohen-Solal.

Written in succinct and fast-paced prose, this streamlined volume (part of Yale’s Jewish Lives series), perhaps more of an essay, argues that Roth­ko’s Jewishness is at the core of his life and art, and played a decisive influence in the austere and majestic canvases recognized today as his signature work.

And someone at the New York Times noticed that “religion” is not a universal term: “A Problem of ‘Religion,’ and Polling, in China” by Ian Johnson.

“‘Religion’ in China is a contested term,” Professor Yang said. “You have to look at how the questions are posed.”

WIN/Gallup asked respondents in every country to characterize themselves as “a religious person,” “not a religious person” or “a convinced atheist,” with a fourth option of “do not know/no response.” In China, the first two options used the term xinyang zongjiao, literally “a person who believes in religion.”

“Xinyang zongjiao is a very formal term,” Professor Yang said. “People may not respond the way the researchers intend.”


Lastly, in a story that defies categorization, but warmed our love-hating hearts, there was this: “CNN Mistakes Dildos for ISIS.”

Maker of the flag, Paul Coombs explained, “I created the Isis dildo flag at London Pride to start a dialogue, not get a laugh.”

Here’s a closer look:


Oh! Wait, no, we almost forgot, in related news: “Walmart Is Very Sorry It Made an ISIS Cake” reports Ashley Feinberg. The ISISing on the cake, if you will. (Now we’re going to have to apologize, also. Sorry!)



Past links round-ups can be found here:

Racism, Ramadan, Romanian Witches, and more! (June 25, 2015)

Emanuel A.M.E., Encyclicals, Etsy, and more! (June 19, 2015)

Satanism, Sacred Music, Shasta Seekers, and more! (June 11, 2015)

Hip Hop, Hijabs, Hasidic Fashion, and more! (June 5, 2015)

TLC, THC, OMG! (May 29, 2015)

Mad Men, Mormons, Monks, and more! (May 22, 2015)

Candles, Kombucha, Crocodiles, and more! (May 15, 2015)

Lindsey Graham, Garland, TX, God’s Plaintiff, and more! (May 8, 2015)

Pamela Geller, Prophesy, PEN, and more! (May 1, 2015)

Talal Asad, Taylor Swift, Turbans, and more! (April 2015)

Passover, Prison, Pop Music, and more! (March 2015)

The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods, and  more! (February 2015)

Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more! (January 2015)

#black lives matter, #Illridewithyou, TL;DR Bible Stories, and more! (December 2014)

Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)

Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)

Prison Churches, Museums, and, of course, Hobby Lobby (July 2014)


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer

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