The New York Times’s Laurie Goodstein reports that Billy Graham died on Wednesday at the age of 99. Graham was an evangelical preacher who converted millions of people worldwide in part thanks to his savvy use of radio and television. Though beloved by many, Graham was also criticized for maintaining a close relationship with Nixon after Watergate, and for being heard on audiotapes agreeing with Nixon that liberal Jews controlled the media. Goodstein writes, “But in his later years, Mr. Graham kept his distance from the evangelical political movement he had helped engender, refusing to endorse candidates and avoiding the volatile issues dear to religious conservatives.”
For the First Time, a Woman and Non-Christian Will Lead This Group That Thinks Government Is Too Involved in Religionposted on February 21, 2018
The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein reports, “Rachel Laser, a lawyer and longtime advocate on issues related to reproductive freedom, LGBT equality and racism, is the new executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. She is the first woman and, as a Jew, the first non-Christian to lead the 71-year-old group.” Americans United advocates for church-state separation, but its new leader emphasizes that its mission doesn’t mean it is partisan. Laser says, “We need to awaken that awareness; we need to awaken the notion that religious liberty undergirds the separation of church and state. The two can not only coexist but are tied at the waist.”
For POLITICO Magazine, Tony Rehagen reports on the efforts of the people of Gurnee, Illinois, to remove their town from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Map. The map marks towns alleged to be harbors for hate groups. The SPLC designated Gurnee as host to a KKK chapter in August 2017, but town officials and police were unable to substantiate the allegation after their own investigation. “Gurnee was not content to sit and wait,” Rehagen writes. “Instead, city and county officials embarked on a months-long campaign to restore the town’s good name. And what they found is that it’s a lot easier to get on that map that it is to get off.”
CNN’s Ralph Ellis reports, “Stanley Vernon Majors, the Oklahoma man who gunned down his Lebanese neighbor in what prosecutors said was a hate crime, has been sentenced to life in prison without parole.” Stanley Majors had harassed the Jabara family for years before murdering Khalid Jabara in August 2016. Ellis writes, “The Jabara family previously told CNN that Majors would stand on the property line between their homes and shout, ‘dirty Arabs!’ ‘Mooslems!’ and ‘dirty Lebanese.’” Ellis notes, “The Jabaras actually were Christians who fled civil war and religious persecution in Lebanon decades ago.”
The Washington Post’s Lindsey Bever reports, “A council member in northern Texas is rejecting calls for his resignation over a series of anti-Muslim and anti-black Facebook posts, including one saying that President Trump should ban Islam in U.S. schools.” Tom Harrison, a city council member in Plano, Texas, apologized for sharing the Facebook posts, but affirmed that he would not resign from his post. Plano has been at the center of anti-Muslim controversies in the past, including an incident in September 2015 when a Muslim ninth-grader was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school.
For Religion Dispatches, Adam Laats writes that American evangelical colleges have a history of conflict between conservatism and religiously motivated moral protest. In the 1920s, evangelical colleges began to define themselves both as centers for evangelical intellectuals and white Christian nationalism. “When today’s college-age white evangelicals move in progressive political directions, then, they are participating in a long tradition,” Laats writes. “As the history of their universities and colleges shows, thoughtful evangelicals have always questioned the connections between their conservative religious values and conservative political ones.”
Religion News Service’s Jack Jenkins and Emily McFarlan Miller report, “Refugee aid groups have conducted massive layoffs and office closures ever since the Trump administration began issuing various versions of a travel ban, sometimes called a ‘Muslim ban.’” Refugee resettlement in the United States relies heavily on faith-based nonprofits. The Trump administration slashed the refugee admittance ceiling from 110,000 under the Obama administration to 45,000. The drop in arriving refugees has forced faith-based organizations to close more 20 local offices in the coming year, leaving resettled refugees cut off from long-term assistance.
The Jersualem Post’s Daniel Roth reports, “Nikolas Cruz, 19, who stormed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with a semiautomatic rifle on Wednesday, would frequently state that he hated ‘Jews, n*****s, immigrants,’ and believed that Jews wanted to destroy the world.” Cruz made these comments through a private Instagram group chat. Roth writes, “Among the dead in Parkland were five Jews—four students and a teacher.”
Romney is Running For Senate. Even if He Wins, the Mormon Church Has Already Lost Powerful Status in D.C.posted on February 19, 2018
The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes that Congress is seeing a wave of Mormon senators depart. Senators Orrin Hatch, Jeff Flake, and Harry Reid were all influential Mormon congressmen, which gave the LDS Church significant lobbying power. Bailey reports, “The current Congress includes the fewest Mormons in several recent sessions, with 13 Mormon members in the House and Senate, compared with 16 members last year, according to Pew. When Reid retired from the Senate, Mormonism lost its highest-ranking elected official.”
For The New Yorker, Jenna Krajeski reports that Yazidi immigrants to the United States lobbied the U.S. government to protect Yazidi communities under assault from ISIS. Hadi Pir, Murad Ismael, and Haider Elias are Yazidis who immigrated to the U.S. after working as interpreters for U.S. troops in Iraq. In 2014, the three worked closely with U.S. officials to advocate for supply drops for marooned Yazidis and air strikes against ISIS targets. Ismael says, “For a community to be able to defend itself, you should not rely on humanity, you should not rely on goodness. For a community to protect itself, it should have weapons, economic strength, media.”