Religion News Service’s Emily McFarlan Miller reports that one of the nation’s largest Protestant denominations has declared itself a “sanctuary church body” in support of immigrants and refugees. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has 3.3 million baptized members, and the resolution was passed during a denominational meeting in Milwaukee this week. Members of the denomination also marched to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building and held a prayer vigil for migrant children and their families. Miller writes, “Both came in response to President Trump’s policies at the United States border with Mexico and his pledge to deport millions.”
For NPR, Diane Cole reports on two studies that examined the religiosity of people who lived through wars and violent conflicts. The studies are featured in the journal Nature: Human Behavior, and were analyzed by a team led by Joseph Henrich, chairman of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University. Cole writes, “The more profound the impact of war on an individual—such as the death, injury or abduction of a household member—the greater the likelihood grew of that person turning to religion.”
Rick Rojas of The New York Times writes about the Rev. LaKeesha Walrond, the new president of New York Theological Seminary in New York City. The former pastor of First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, which grew from 300 to 10,000 congregants during her tenure there, Walrond is the first African-American woman to lead the 119-year-old seminary. Rojas writes, “The small seminary has played an influential role in New York City’s religious community, and specializes in putting theological education to work in urban settings.” But enrollment is waning, and Walrond hopes to draw a new generation of pastors and religious scholars.
The New York Times’ Adeel Hassan reports that the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination has ordained its first minister of gun violence protection. The Rev. Deanna Hollas is believed to be the first clergy person to hold such a national role. Hassan writes, “A Texas native who describes herself as ‘no stranger’ to gun culture, Ms. Hollas, 52, said she was committed to ensuring that Americans from all sides of the gun debate stop talking past one another.”
For The New Yorker, Eliza Griswold reports on sexual assault allegations against Pattabhi Jois, the influential founder of Ashtanga yoga, who died in 2009. More than a dozen of his former students have accused him of sexually assaulting them in yoga studios in India and the United States. Griswold writes, “This is only the latest in a string of scandals involving powerful men within the yoga community that date back decades.” The allegations put a focus on yoga culture and the authority of popular yogis, who in the Western context can be treated like rock stars.
Religion News Service’s Adelle M. Banks reports on the results of a recent Pew Research Center survey of American religious literacy. Banks writes, “Less than 1% of respondents got a perfect score on the 32 survey questions centered on the Bible; elements of Christianity, Judaism and other world religions; atheism and agnosticism; and religion and public life.” Drawing on the expertise of Boston University scholar Stephen Prothero, author of the book “Religious Literacy,” the survey found the average respondent answered 14.2 of the 32 questions correctly.
For HuffPost, Eve Fairbanks reports on a new generation of young women exploring vocations as Catholic nuns. The number of nuns has dropped from 180,000 in 1967 to fewer than 50,000 in 2010, but the thanks to apps such as VocationMatch.com, the religious life is attracting some young, high-achieving women. Fairbanks writes, “And the aspiring sisters aren’t like the old ones. They’re more diverse: Ninety percent of American nuns in 2009 identified as white; last year, fewer than 60 percent of new entrants to convents did. They’re also younger.”
John Eligon of The New York Times reports, “In many black communities, the abortion debate is inextricably tied to race in ways that white communities seldom confront.” Some African American pastors and congregants embrace a religiously conservative view that abortion is wrong, Eligon writes, “But having seen firsthand how their communities have been hurt by high incarceration rates, economic disinvestment and a lack of educational opportunities, some have a hard time embracing what they see as one-size-fits-all abortion bans.”
Hannah Beech of The New York Times reports on radical religious-nationalist movements in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, two Buddhist-majority nations where militant strains of Buddhism are taking hold. Politically powerful monks warn that Buddhist populations are under siege, inspiring Buddhist mobs to attack Muslim minority populations. Beech writes, “As the tectonic plates of Buddhism and Islam collide, a portion of Buddhists are abandoning the peaceful tenets of their religion.”
For The New York Times, Sam Kestenbaum profiles Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, with a focus on the mystical text that inspired her performance at the recent debate and fueled her career as a celebrity spiritual guide. Kestenbaum writes, “She was, in fact, drawing directly from a homegrown American holy book called ‘A Course in Miracles,’ a curious New York scripture that arose during the heady metaphysical counterculture of the 1960s.” While some have dismissed her theology as shallow, others embrace her self-help ethos.