Houston Pastor Argues for Discrimination Against Gays, Jews

May 15, 2014, 4:42 pm | Posted by

Many faith leaders have strongly condemned the Religious Right’s recent efforts to give businesses the right to deny services and accommodations to LGBT people.

But this week in Houston, where the City Council is debating an ordinance that would ban such discrimination in housing and employment, a pastor made a deeply troubling case in favor of discrimination.

At a Houston City Council meeting on Tuesday, Pastor Becky Riggle of Grace Community Church was asked by Councilwoman Ellen Cohen if a business could deny service based not only on a customers’ sexual identity, but also on their religion.

Here’s how it played out:


“But what if someone doesn’t believe in my faith?” Cohen, who is Jewish, asked Riggle.

“I’m saying they have the right, if they want to, to be able to refuse service if it goes against their religious beliefs,” Riggle responded.

“If I’m asking for service and my faith is something that troubles them, they have a right to refuse me service? So you’re saying yes, they do have a right to refuse me service as someone of the Jewish faith?” Cohen asked.

Riggle said, “Yes, I am saying that. But that is not the issue that we’re talking about today.”

While this admission might sound shocking, it’s a clear logical extension of the thrust of the Religious Right’s pro-discrimination arguments.

According to the Houston Chronicle, faith leaders across the city support the nondiscrimination ordinance:

The Rev. Becky Edmiston-Lange, co-pastor of the Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church Edmiston-Lange said her church “historically has thought of God as a God of love, and that all human beings are God’s children. God doesn’t discriminate, and neither should the law.”

The Rev. Lisa Hunt, pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the first Episcopal congregation in Texas to bless same-sex covenants, said passage of the ordinance is “very important for the life of the city.”

“Moral fabric is shaped not only by personal religious belief, but by the public values that get articulated into law,” she said. “So, I think a fundamental religious value to me is to respect the dignity of every human being. One of the ways we do that is to ensure that every individual is treated fairly, equally and with respect.”

The Rev. Harvey Clemons, of Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, said the proposed ordinance “reflects our faith traditions as ambassadors of Christ.

add a comment »

Missouri clergy take to the airwaves calling for Medicaid expansion

May 8, 2014, 9:15 am | Posted by

Missouri is in the midst of a legislative fight to expand Medicaid in the state. On Tuesday, hundreds of activistsincluding clergy, packed the Missouri State Senate, demanding health care for all Missourians.

Now, Missouri’s faith leaders are calling on one specific member of that assembly in a new radio ad. State Senator Kurt Schaefer has been vocal in his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which would bring health coverage to more than 300,000 Missourians. People of faith believe that Medicaid expansion is a moral issue, and know that thousands are living without access to life-saving treatment for preventable, chronic conditions. 700 people will die in the state this year without Medicaid expansion.

The radio ad, which began airing Monday, features Rev. Jim Bryan of Missouri Faith Voices. Rev. Bryan is a retired pastor with the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. You can listen to the ad here.

Faith in Public Life is proud to partner with PICO National Network and Communities Creating Opportunities on this life and death issue.

Click here to learn more about the radio ads.


Here’s the full text of the ad:

In Missouri, a hardworking single mother of three is diagnosed with breast cancer.

She can’t afford health insurance, but because of the size of her family and her income, she doesn’t qualify for Medicaid. Each day she prays to God that she won’t get sick.

I’m Reverend Jim Bryan, retired pastor of the Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia. Heartbreaking stories like this are sadly all too common – because Missouri makes it harder than almost any other state to qualify for Medicaid.

Have the politicians forgotten Jesus’s admonition that: “Whatever you did to the least of your sisters and brothers, you did to me”?

Call State Senator Kurt Schaefer at (573) 751-3931 and tell him to stop blocking Medicaid Expansion which could save 700 lives per year.

Tell him all God’s children should get the health care they so desperately need.

A message from the Missouri Health Advocacy Alliance.

add a comment »

Vatican Doctrine Office Turns up Heat on U.S. Catholic Sisters

May 6, 2014, 4:33 pm | Posted by

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the umbrella group representing 80 percent of U.S. nuns, has faced scrutiny from the Vatican for years. In 2012, the Vatican’s doctrine office accused the conference of promoting “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.” The assessment also criticized sisters for not doing enough to oppose abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia. Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle was appointed to oversee the conference as LCWR officials continued to dialogue with the Vatican.

The hot seat just got a little hotter.

As first reported by the National Catholic Reporter yesterday, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, pulled no punches in an April 30 address to the leadership of LCWR. As Dennis Coday of NCR reports:

Using the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious two years ago, Müller told leaders of the conference that starting in August, they must have their annual conference programs approved by a Vatican-appointed overseer before the conference agendas and speakers are finalized.

Müller specifically challenged the LCWR leaders for deciding to bestow its 2014 Outstanding Leadership Award to “a theologian criticized by the Bishops of the United States because of the gravity of the doctrinal errors in that theologian’s writings.” Although he does not name her, Müller is referencing St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University.

This is a painful turn of events that sours some of the refreshing new spirit Pope Francis is bringing to the Catholic Church. Most Catholics and plenty of Americans with no connection to Catholic institutions have a deep appreciation for the way sisters minister to those on the margins. At a time when Pope Francis is calling for “a church for the poor,” there are few people who live that mission better than women religious.

When the Vatican signals it will micromanage LCWR operations by forcing the nuns to submit conference agendas and speakers for screening, the dynamics of power, gender and hypocrisy smack you in the face. Catholics have every reason to wonder why the Vatican is turning up the heat on nuns who serve the poor and fight for social justice at the same time a convicted criminal presides as bishop of a U.S. diocese.

Catholic sisters find themselves in good company. Doctrinal watchdogs have long scrutinized and censured those who became some of the most influential figures in the Catholic tradition. John Courtney Murray, S.J., the Dominican Yves Congar and the Trappist monk Thomas Merton all clashed with church authorities in their day. All of them left towering legacies that enriched the Catholic Church and the world.

LCWR should take at least some comfort in knowing that a prominent church official, Cardinal Walter Kasper of Germany, a favorite of Pope Francis, told an audience at Fordham University in New York last night that “the church is not a monolithic unity. We should be in dialogue with each other.” His answer came in response to a question about LCWR, according to Rev. James Martin, S.J. of America magazine, who tweeted from the event. Speaking about Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, the Fordham theologian that LCWR will honor and the U.S. bishops’ doctrine committee has flagged for theological errors, the cardinal noted that “St. Thomas Aquinas was once suspect too. She is in good company.”

Keep the faith, sisters.

add a comment »

Looking ahead to economic justice

May 1, 2014, 1:23 pm | Posted by

I had the honor of speaking at the Brookings Institute last week with scholars and faith leaders about economic justice and the future of the progressive faith community. We heard from many perspectives and communities, but one message was clear – building a moral economy will be a central unifying cause in the years ahead. And in an age of rigid political polarization, a new moral narrative will be critical.

One part of remedying economic injustice is lifting up  working families who are trapped in poverty. Sadly, many politicians just don’t get it. Yesterday 41 Republican Senators voted to block a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, permanently index the minimum wage to inflation, and increase the tipped wage to 70% of the minimum wage. While this measure is just one step in a long journey, it would give a badly needed raise to 25 million workers.

A day before the vote, FPL and Interfaith Worker Justice released a letter signed by more than 350 clergy from diverse traditions calling on Congress to increase the minimum wage, which said in part “Driven by Scripture’s repeated admonitions against exploiting and oppressing workers, we believe that every job must enable those who work to support a family.”

The press teleconference announcing the letter featured leaders from Catholic Charities USA, the Progressive National Baptist Convention and Interfaith Worker Justice, as well as U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and Senator Cory Booker. They not only emphasized the moral consequences of this issue, but also rebuked of those who voted to keep working families in poverty. Rev. Dr. James Perkins of the Progressive National Convention captured the essential truth of the matter, saying ““People who are opposed to raising the minimum wage are more interested in their economic ideology than they are in providing struggling people with the dignity of work.”

Overcoming this obstacle might take a while, but justice will be done.

add a comment »

Creighton students fast for immigration reform

April 23, 2014, 12:00 pm | Posted by

The “Fast for Families” tour came to Omaha to meet with faith leaders, clergy, students and community members at Creighton University. One Creighton student, Kelly Sullivan, committed to fasting every Wednesday of Lent in solidarity with the “Fast for Families. Kelly wrote the following blog post, which was published on Creighton’s website.

Prayer and Fasting – Testimonial by Kelly Sullivan, CCSJ Student Coordinator

So this was my sixth Wednesday fasting for immigration reform. Each week, it looks a little different, depending on my busyness, mental and physical health, and…whether I remember that I’m supposed to be fasting that day. Often, the thing that has been reminding me is that come lunch time, I remember I have a prayer service to go to! I then re-plan my meals for the day, and am reminded to pray throughout the rest of the day as my stomach growls in hunger.

One thing I did not expect from this experience was how much I would get out of these short prayer services that we have been holding on the steps of St. John’s as part of the fast. Each week, we have focused on a different aspect of the complex immigration issue. It is amazing how well these services have come together to address the different prayers and needs of the community during that week.


First, we were able to discuss the importance of a pathway to citizenship and pray for a long-time member of the Omaha community that is facing deportation. Then, we talked about refugees and asylees fleeing violence and poverty, just after a visiting anthropologist came to Creighton to discuss her study on migration aspirations and what causes people to want to migrate. The next week, we prayed about ways we can humanize our borders, and we reflected on the homily that Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave at the Border Mass in Nogales, AZ, the day before. And finally this week, while addressing the root causes of migration, we remembered the violence and conflict in Syria and reflected on the life and courage of the beloved Dutch Jesuit, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, who was killed in Homs on Monday.

As we took the time this week to remember Fr. Frans and support those on our Creighton campus affected by his death, I was just struck by how interconnected our world is. I feel like I often prevent myself from fully comprehending things like the 2 million deportations that have occurred in the past five years, or that truly horrible situations cause people to migrate, so that I might protect myself from pain. But praying through these stories has helped me realize the humanity in all of these situations and the real people that immigration reform will help.

As it says in Strangers No Longer, “We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us” (#6). We need immigration policies that support our brothers and sisters and recognize their humanity, suffering, and value.

On April 8th, Creighton students erected a mock border wall on campus to bring attention to the plight of immigrants.


add a comment »