Newsweek’s Celeste Katz, Josh Keefe, and Josh Saul report that the Manhattan district attorney is investigating financial ties between Newsweek’s parent company and Olivet University, a California-based Bible college. There are five current or former top Newsweek executives who have held roles at Olivet. Katz, Keefe, and Saul write, “In recent years, the media company has paid Olivet millions of dollars for licensing and research and development agreements, tax records show.” For reporting on this story, Newsweek executives fired Katz and targeted Keefe and Saul for termination.
Religion News Service’s Yonat Shimron reports on how First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs has coped since it was the site of a mass shooting in November. Pastor Frank Pomeroy, who was away from the church that day and whose daughter was killed in the shooting, now carries a pistol at church functions. He was critical about the protests arising from the recent shooting in Florida. He told his members, “I am just thankful that we chose to lift up God, rather than man. Pray for those who are truly involved, not all the secondary people that are getting the noise on TV.”
Buzzfeed’s Dominic Holden reports, “A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that a 1964 civil rights law bans anti-gay workplace discrimination.” The Trump administration had argued unsuccessfully that the Civil Rights Act did not ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Holden writes, “The decision holds national implications due to its high tier in the judicial system, and because it’s seen as a litmus test of the Trump administration’s ability—or inability—to curb LGBT rights through court activism.”
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.