This week in the Indian village of Koovagem, thousands of hijras, men who identify as women, along with eunuchs and cross-dressers (both men and women), gather for the countries largest annual celebration for transgender people. Transgender Indians have a powerful advocate: the Hindu deity Aravan. During the two-day festival, the Koovagem participants are ceremonially married to Aravan, and participate in beauty pageants and singing concerts.
Kevin Eckstrom, RNS editor (and R & P board member), reports that Mitt Romney’s Church is gaining members at the same time the world’s most famous Mormon is trying to win more votes. The 2010 Religious Congregations and Membership Study reports that Mormons, along with Muslims, are replacing Catholics and mainline Protestants in both demographic and geographical influence across the country. Eckstrom writes that this new statistical data, compiled every 10 years and based mostly on congregational self-reporting, found that “Romney’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reported 2 million new adherents and new congregations in 295 counties where they didn’t exist a decade ago.”
Religion Dispatches associate editor, Sarah Morice-Brubaker, explains what we can learn from the now defeated “personhood” bill in Oklahoma. Despite wide support in the state’s legislature, endorsements by the state’s governor Mary Fallin and Oklahoma’s Catholic Bishop, Paul Coakley, Morice-Brubaker offers two main reason why the bill’s deadline expired without it crossing the governor’s desk: “1) Deep disagreement, between the personhood movement and more mainstream pro-life Oklahoma voters and legislators, on the advisability of amendments to the bill; and 2) The development of ill will between the personhood lobby and the Republican representatives.”
Writing in The Christian Post, Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, warns megachurches may be housing a new, gospel-denying “liberalism” within a Christian façade. “The current cultural context creates barriers to the Gospel even as it offers temptations,” Mohler writes. “One of those temptations is to use the argument that our message has to change in order to reach people.” He argues that to focus more on gaining members than preaching Christ’s gospel allows for the acceptance of lifestyles and ideologies known to be antithetical to Biblical teachings (e.g. “the normalization of homosexuality”).
Last week, FreedomWorks For America endorsed Mia Love, the Republican candidate for Utah’s 4th congressional district. The daughter of Haitian immigrants and a Mormon convert, Love is running to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Jim Mattheson. Love’s unique background and conservative bonafides have made her a favorite of the Tea Party wing of the GOP. Russ Walker, National Political Director for FreedomWorks for America, says, “Mia will represent the best interests of Utah taxpayers in Congress, strengthening the Republican majority in the House, and expanding the coalition of fiscal conservatives within it.” If she is elected, Love, who is currently the mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah, will become the nation’s first black Republican congresswoman.
In The Washington Post, Matthew N Schmalz writes that if the president of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, has his way, the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring insurers to cover contraception prescriptions. Schmalz writes that the key to overturning the mandate will be to frame it as infringing on religious liberty: “Given that the Catholic bishops have consistently emphasized the First Amendment issues raised by the revised mandate, the Supreme Court would seem to be an appropriate venue for addressing them. The Catholic bishops are also doubtlessly aware that there are Catholics on the Supreme Court who would be amenable to their position.”
At The Daily Beast, Harry Siegel and Matthew DeLuca live-blogged yesterday’s Occupy Wall Street “May Day” protests. After a winter of “hibernation,” the Occupy Wall Street movement marked “International Worker’s Day” by returning to the streets of New York, and on several occasions scuffling with the NYPD.
The Washington Post‘s Lisa Miller calls on the Catholic Church to start employing Mary, mother of Jesus, its “best ambassador.” She writes, “When I see American bishops wanting to make rules about sexuality and contraception for ordinary people, I think about Mary.” She concludes: “It is time for the men in charge to let Mary speak.”
Religion News Service’s Omar Sacirbey reports that last week the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, ordered a review of the curriculum for courses on Islam taught to senior officers. The order came after several officers complained that course materials contained inaccurate and inflammatory information about Islam. Dempsey canceled a class entitled, “Perspectives on Islam and Islamic Radicalism,” taught as an elective at the Joint Forces Staff College, after learning the course asserted Islam was at war with the west.
Last Friday, the White House released new guidelines on public/private partnerships between governmental agencies and faith-based groups, reports Adelle M. Banks. The director of White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood partnerships, Joshua DuBois called the new guidelines “an important step” towards clarifying what religious-based social service organizations can do (e.g. display religious art, scriptures and other symbols in their facilities) without jeopardizing federal funding sources. Yet the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says these new guidelines fail to address critical questions, most notably whether faith-based groups can discriminate in their hiring and firing practices.