The Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. reports that former First Lady Barbara Bush died on Tuesday at the age of 92. Wootson describes Bush’s beliefs on death and God, based on an interview she gave in 2013. “I’m a huge believer in a loving God,” Bush said. “And I have no fear of death, which is a huge comfort because we’re getting darned close.”
For The New York Times Magazine, Alec MacGillis reports that in 2016 Liberty University, a non-profit evangelical college, netted nearly $1 billion in total revenue, much of it from federal tax dollars. Liberty’s astounding growth can be attributed to its lucrative online courses, which offer dubious educational value. Liberty has also encountered controversy due to the close relationship between Jerry Falwell Jr., its president, and President Trump. MacGillis writes, “One of the top orders of business for Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been to roll back Obama-era regulations on online-degree providers.”
For National Geographic, Leila Fadel writes that more 100 mosques in the United States were targeted last year with threats, vandalism, or arson. “And yet, Muslim communities in America are thriving,” she writes. “I visited Muslims, in the South, West, Northeast, and Midwest. What I found was a variety of race, practice, class, culture, and language that I’d seen just once before—in Mecca, during the hajj, the pilgrimage that the roughly 1.8 billion Muslims around the world are obligated to make once in their lifetime.”
The Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein reports that Washington’s All Souls Unitarian Church, which has billed itself as a bastion of progressivism, stands accused of racism. The Rev. Susan Newman Moore, who was the only African American on the church’s full-time staff before resigning last summer, alleges that she was underpaid, the target of racially motivated slights, and ultimately forced out by church leadership. “After nearly 200 years on the social justice forefront leading on everything from fighting slavery and segregation to legalizing same-gender marriage, All Souls’ attendance surged after the election of President Trump,” Boorstein writes. “Now some congregants say they feel the conflict over Moore has revealed their church home as just another example of the racism they have been fighting.”
Buzzfeed News’s Peter Aldhous reports that American Atheists, one of the most prominent secular organizations in the U.S., abruptly terminated David Silverman as their president on Thursday. Silverman, who had been president of American Atheists since 2010 and was credited for increasing the organization’s publicity, has been accused of financial and sexual misconduct, including sexually assaulting two women in separate incidents. Aldhous writes, “Like many other communities in the #MeToo era, the atheist movement is undergoing a reckoning over the treatment of women in its ranks.”
The Associated Press’s Yanan Wang writes that the Rev. John Sanqiang Cao was sentenced last month to seven years in prison by the Chinese government. Cao, whose family resides in the U.S., was arrested in March 2017 after decades of work organizing “house” churches and Bible schools not sanctioned by the Chinese state. The pastor’s son, Ben Cao, said, “Nothing my father organized was ever political. It was always just religious or charitable.” Wang adds, “Analysts say the government increasingly views Christianity’s rise in China as a threat to its rule, and may be using prominent figures such as Cao as an example to intimidate nascent movements.”
For The New York Times, Margaret Renkl writes about attending former President Carter’s Sunday school class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. Renkl writes, “President Carter is not a pacing, gesturing, booming-voiced orator, but he is a brilliant teacher — moving nimbly between his memories, his concerns for the world and what the Acts have to say about the right relationship of human beings to one another.” She adds, “Jimmy Carter still has faith in this country, and I hoped his Sunday school lesson might restore my faith, too.”
POLITICO’s Jennifer Haberkorn reports, “The anti-abortion movement believes it’s one Donald Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice away from a shot at overturning Roe v. Wade, and advocates are teeing up what they hope will be the winning challenge.” A series of harsh state-level restrictions on abortion have been passed or been proposed in recent months, any of which would prompt lawsuits that could then make it to the Supreme Court. Haberkorn writes, “The determination to revisit Roe comes amid renewed speculation about the possible retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, which would give anti-abortion forces their best opportunity in a generation to weaken or strike down the ruling that made abortion legal.”
Dozens of Evangelical Leaders Meet to Discuss How Trump Era Has Unleashed “Grotesque Caricature” of Their Faithposted on April 16, 2018
The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports, “About 50 top leaders of major evangelical institutions will attend an invitation-only gathering this week to discuss the future and the ‘soul’ of evangelicalism at a time when many of them are concerned their faith group has become tainted by its association with divisive politics under President Trump.” The Rev. Tim Keller, one of the pastors attending the gathering, said, “It is a complete terrible reversal when [people believe] religion is about politics when it’s the other way around.” Organizers asserted that the purpose of the gathering is not meant to be anti-Trump, but to examine how the term “evangelical” could be restored to its original, faith-based meaning.
The Associated Press’s Mehmet Guzel reports that Andrew Craig Brunson, an American evangelical pastor and long-time Turkish resident, is on trial for charges that he spied against Turkey and had links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Brunson was the pastor of a small church in Izmir, Turkey, before being arrested after Turkey’s 2016 coup attempt. He denied all charges, saying in his defense statement, “I am a Christian pastor. I did not join an Islamic movement. Their aims and mine are different.” If convicted, Brunson could face up to 35 years in prison.