Tag: politics

Amid partisan din, Sen. James Lankford walks a fine line: Pastor and politician

Amid partisan din, Sen. James Lankford walks a fine line: Pastor and politician

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY — As music plays softly and the Quail Springs Baptist Church prepares to sing “Jesus Is Tenderly Calling,” the guest speaker urges the crowd to bow and pray.

“Here’s my very simple invitation,” the fill-in preacher tells the congregation. “There’s a God who loves you and will walk with you through some very difficult things. Are you interested in coming to know him?”

It’s a traditional altar call — the kind offered in countless evangelical churches each Sunday.

What makes this one unusual is the person behind the pulpit: U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., a rising political star who mixes a boyish, Opie Taylor-like face with a booming, bass voice.

In the nation’s capital, Lankford’s weekdays consist of Senate Intelligence Committee hearings into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election and frequent cable news appearances to discuss policy questions ranging from national security to health care.

“He’s one of the most respected members of the Senate, even though he’s only been there two years,” said Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “He’s deeply respected on both sides of the aisle.”

But each weekend, the former youth pastor flies home to Oklahoma and worships with the Quail Springs church, a large Southern Baptist congregation in this Bible Belt state capital. Here, the senator insists, he’s not “The Honorable James Lankford.” He’s simply “James,” husband of Cindy and father of Hannah and Jordan.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

 

The pope praised him for providing for his parents; now Texas may want to deport them

The pope praised him for providing for his parents; now Texas may want to deport them

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

FORT WORTH, Texas — For the past two years, Mexican immigrant Ricardo Ortiz felt he had an advocate.

Pope Francis, speaking via satellite, had praised Ortiz for “the way you gave everything you could as a boy, when you supported your family.”

Now, the 21-year-old Ortiz — like numerous other Hispanics in Texas  — worries about how the Lone Star State’s immigration enforcement crackdown may make his family a target.

While Ortiz has a temporary work permit, his father and mother lack proper documentation. A new state law — set to take effect Sept. 1 if it survives legal challenges by major Texas cities — would allow a police officer to inquire about his or his parents’ immigration status in a routine traffic stop.

“It’s basically people-hunting. It’s like the new sport here in Texas, and the sponsor is Texas,” the Houston resident said of Senate Bill 4, a controversial measure banning “sanctuary cities” — local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration laws.

“To me, it’s very racist, and I don’t know how people are able to look past that. I don’t understand how people are able to vote for that.”

Bishops for Texas’ 15 Roman Catholic dioceses — comprising an estimated 8.4 million parishioners statewide — are among the law’s harshest critics, maintaining it “neglects Christ’s call to welcome the stranger and undermines our nation’s heritage to offer the light of freedom to the oppressed.”

The bishops recently developed a resource guide explaining their opposition and providing a “know your rights” checklist on how immigrants can exercise their Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

Under new Texas law, faith-based adoption agencies win protections

Under new Texas law, faith-based adoption agencies win protections

Despite opposition from gay-rights groups, Lone Star lawmakers passed the Freedom to Serve Children Act.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

ABILENE, Texas — At age 17, Jennifer Griffith discovered she was pregnant.

The daughter of a pro-life advocate, Griffith knew she couldn’t abort her baby. Instead, the unmarried teen turned to Christian Homes and Family Services for help.

The 55-year-old ministry — based in this West Texas city where the wind blows hot all day and the sunset explodes with colors each evening — worked with her to find a faithful couple to adopt her baby.

“I wanted my child to have two parents who were married and who were going to raise their child in the Christian faith,” said Griffith, who grew up in the West Freeway Church of Christ in Fort Worth.

A new Lone Star State law — set to take effect Sept. 1 — protects the freedom of faith-based organizations such as Christian Homes and Family Services to adhere to their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Under House Bill 3859 — passed by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott — state-licensed nonprofits can require, for example, that prospective parents be active church members who attend worship services weekly.

Moreover, taxpayer-funded charities can decline to place children with same-sex couples. However, in such cases, the ministries must refer the couples to more suitable providers.

The law also will permit agencies to place children in religious schools, decline to refer teens for abortions and refuse to enter into contracts with organizations that don’t share their beliefs.

Religious groups make up roughly a quarter of Texas’ 210 state-licensed child-welfare providers. Texas is home to more than 250,000 members of Churches of Christ — the most of any state.

“We had to create an environment in which the state’s work can coexist with the work of faith-based organizations, and I thought this bill really succeeded in doing that,” said Sherri Statler, president and CEO of Christian Homes and Family Services, which is associated with Churches of Christ.

But House Bill 3859 drew fierce opposition from gay-rights advocates and progressive religious groups. In response to the law, California banned state-sponsored travel to Texas, accusing it of authorizing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the August 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

As major cities crack down on panhandling, many wrestle with their consciences

As major cities crack down on panhandling, many wrestle with their consciences

In a number of cities, the ordinances are sparking legal battles with civil liberties advocates, who accuse communities of treating the homeless as ‘human blight.’

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) Driving to his downtown clothing business, Hans Herman Thun finds it impossible to ignore the beggars.

They catch his attention with handwritten, cardboard signs such as “Homeless and hungry,” “Anything helps! God bless” and even “I’ll be honest — I could really use a beer.”

Thun, a self-described born-again Christian, works as a tailor for prominent customers such as University of Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops.

The owner of Hans Herman Custom Tailors said he does his best to help those in need.

“If I’ve got money, and it’s easy for me to get over and give them money, I do,” Thun said. “What the Lord taught me is, I have a responsibility to give. What they choose to do with the money is between them and the Lord, and he can work with them in regards to stewardship.”

But in Oklahoma City and major cities across the nation, elected officials increasingly are passing ordinances that crack down on panhandling.

Typically, these ordinances make it a crime to approach vehicles or stand on medians at busy intersections. Supporters tout the ordinances as safety measures designed to protect the public as well as those seeking food or money.

In a number of cities, however, the ordinances are sparking legal battles with civil liberties advocates, who accuse communities of violating free speech rights and treating the homeless as “human blight.” In one week in May, opponents filed lawsuits challenging anti-panhandling laws in Houston; Pensacola, Fla; and the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy.

In this Bible Belt state capital, the American Civil Liberties Union and Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma are suing over a so-called “median safety ordinance.” The law, which took effect last year, “attempts to criminalize everything from panhandling to political speech and even neighbors talking to one another or walking their dogs in the grass,” said attorney Brady Henderson, the ACLU of Oklahoma’s legal director.

Read the full story.

Among major papers that picked up this story: USA Today, the Houston Chronicle and the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

Bible Belt state with nation’s highest execution rate considers death penalty flaws

Bible Belt state with nation’s highest execution rate considers death penalty flaws

The Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommends that the moratorium on the death penalty be extended.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | For Religion News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) Most Oklahomans believe the devil is real.

State Rep. Mike Ritze thinks that’s why they overwhelmingly support capital punishment, despite highly publicized problems with lethal-injection drugs that prompted state officials to put a temporary moratorium on executions in 2015.

“Because of our faith-based population, we believe there is evil in the world,” said Ritze, a Southern Baptist deacon who co-authored a pro-death-penalty measure supported by 66 percent of voters in the November general election.

“We believe in a devil, and we believe in a God,” the Republican lawmaker said. “As a result, I think Oklahomans are very supportive of the death penalty.”

But last week — just as neighboring Arkansas finished executing four death-row inmates in eight days before one of its lethal-injection drugs expired — the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission recommended that the moratorium be extended.

The commission cited “the volume and the seriousness of the flaws” in the state’s capital punishment system. The bipartisan group of Oklahoma leaders, organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Constitution Project, made 46 recommendations to revamp the process.

“Many of the findings of the commission’s year-long investigation were disturbing and led commission members to question whether the death penalty can be administered in a way that ensures no innocent person is put to death,” according to the in-depth report.

Read the full story.

Religion News Service is a national wire service with more than 100 secular and religious media subscribers, including USA Today, the Washington Post and NPR.

They are friends in Congress — and brothers in Christ

They are friends in Congress — and brothers in Christ

The only two members of Churches of Christ in the U.S. House share a special bond.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

When two U.S. congressmen visited a small, English-speaking Church of Christ in Brussels, one of them left Sunday worship with something that didn’t belong to him.

Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Kentucky, chuckles as he recalls his friend and brother in Christ — Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas — carrying a brown “Songs of the Church” hymnal back to the pair’s hotel.

“I took it by mistake, of course,” Poe said with a laugh, noting that he had his Bible and the songbook in one hand as he greeted fellow Christians with the other.

“We had it delivered by the State Department back to the Brussels Church of Christ,” the former Texas judge added.

Guthrie and Poe serve together on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. During annual trips to the Belgian capital, the congressmen worship with the Brussels church — an ethnically diverse congregation with a Ghanaian immigrant minister named Joseph Acheampong.

Overall, 91 percent of U.S. House and Senate members describe themselves as Christians, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. However, only two House members — Guthrie and Poe — identify as members of Churches of Christ, according to the report titled “Faith on the Hill.”

A third House member with Church of Christ ties — Rep. Janice Hahn, D-California — did not seek re-election in 2016.

Read the full story.

This story appears in the February 2017 print edition of The Christian Chronicle. 

Elephant in the pews: Is the GOP the party of Churches of Christ?

Elephant in the pews: Is the GOP the party of Churches of Christ?

National survey highlights political affiliations of major U.S. religious groups.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

Seventy percent of Mormons and 64 percent of Southern Baptists lean toward or identify with the Republican Party — but only 50 percent of members of Churches of Christ do, the Pew Research Center reported this week.

Those findings surprised Stephen Morris, a law and political studies professor at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.

“That’s not my experience in West Tennessee, and it’s not my experience with my students,” said Morris, who sponsors FHU’s College Republicans group.

Like Morris, Tim Archer, director of Spanish-speaking ministries for Texas-based Herald of Truth, said he expected a higher GOP percentage.

After all, a majority of the 1.5 million U.S. adherents of Churches of Christ reside in Republican-dominated states such as Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Oklahoma.

But according to Pew, 39 percent of members of Churches of Christ identify as or lean Democratic. The remaining 11 percent indicate no political preference.

“I would have thought Churches of Christ would score more like the Baptist church,” said Archer, a member of the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas.

This story appears in the online edition of The Christian Chronicle.