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Obama promotes gay marriage at inaugural

January 23 2013 by Tom Strode, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – President Obama called in his second inaugural address for an agenda that includes the strengthening of civil rights for homosexuals that some interpreted as an endorsement of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right.
 
Speaking Monday (Jan. 21), Obama told the hundreds of thousands gathered outside the U.S. Capitol, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

The president’s remarks – reportedly the first in an inaugural address to mention homosexual rights – came shortly after he equated rights for homosexuals with the women’s voting rights and African-American civil rights movements.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” Obama said near the close of his 19-minute speech.
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Advocates for the right of women to vote held a convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, N.Y., while Selma, Ala., was the starting site of important marches in 1965 to the state capital of Montgomery in support of voting rights for blacks. The 1969 riots after police raided New York City’s Stonewall Inn, which welcomed openly homosexual customers, helped launch the gay rights movement.

An advocate for same-sex marriage said Obama’s comments seemed to indicate he was prepared to support such unions as a constitutional right.

“I was very gratified to hear the president state in clear and unambiguous language that our gay and lesbian citizens must be treated equally under the law and that their loving relationships must be treated equally as well. That can only mean one thing: equality under the Constitution,” Ted Olson said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

Olson was solicitor general under President George W. Bush and is now a lawyer for homosexual couples challenging a California amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

The White House denied Tuesday (Jan. 22) the president’s position had changed. “The president believes that it’s an issue that should be addressed by the states,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said in response to a reporter’s question at a White House briefing, The Washington Examiner reported.

Obama announced his support for gay marriage in May, becoming the first sitting president to do so. He said then the issue should be left to the states, but his inaugural speech seemed to leave open the possibility he had changed even further on the issue.

He soon will have an opportunity to make clear if his administration backs same-sex marriage as a constitutional right. In late March, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two marriage cases that could either reaffirm the historical understanding of marriage or result in the legalization of gay marriage in all 50 states.

On March 26, the justices will participate in arguments on the constitutionality of the California amendment, known as Proposition 8. The next day, they will weigh the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman in federal law.

The Justice Department must file a brief by late February if it intends to stake out a position with the high court.

A Southern Baptist college professor and cultural commentator said the president’s inaugural comments “deserve some scrutiny because their implications are morally devastating for the definition of marriage.”

Denny Burk – associate professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. – wrote in a blog post that Obama “actually presents in miniature a moral case for gay marriage based on the Declaration of Independence.”

“The president only means for this statement to apply to gay marriage, but his words have implications beyond the unions of gay people,” he wrote. “If equality relies on legal recognition of any union between people who love one another, why must that only apply to homosexual couples?

“I know that President Obama doesn’t support polygamy, incest, or statutory rape,” Burk said. “But that is only because he’s inconsistent. The moral basis that he cites for same-sex marriage necessarily applies to those other arrangements as well.”

The president of the National Organization for Marriage took exception to Obama’s advocacy for same-sex marriage during his inaugural speech.

“Gay and lesbian people are already treated equally under the law,” Brian Brown said in a written statement. “They have the same civil rights as anyone else; they have the right to live as they wish and love whom they choose. What they don’t have is the right to redefine marriage for all of society.”

Brown said, “A presidential inauguration should be a time for the nation to come together; instead President Obama chose to voice his support for a radical agenda advanced by some of his biggest campaign contributors to redefine marriage for everyone. Marriage brings our nation together. The concept of gay ‘marriage’ would have been totally alien to our founding fathers, and the protection and advancement of marriage between one man and one woman will immeasurably serve the common good of this country and further strengthen our Union.”

In addition to Obama’s comments:
  • Richard Blanco, an openly homosexual poet, read a poem he had written for the occasion;
  • The Lesbian and Gay Band Association, with 215 members, marched in the inaugural parade.
In addition, Luis Leon included a reference to homosexuality in his benedictory prayer, saying, “But with the blessing of your blessing we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black or white, male or female, first generation or immigrant American, or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor.”

Leon, Episcopalian rector at St. John’s Church in Washington, replaced Louie Giglio for the benediction after the Atlanta pastor was sharply criticized by gay-rights groups for a sermon in the 1990s in which he described homosexuality as sinful.

In his speech, Obama also addressed global warming, though it has lost much of its momentum and credibility as an issue in recent years.

“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”

He also called for immigration reform.

Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden took ceremonial oaths of office during the inauguration. They had taken the official oaths Jan. 20 as required by the Constitution.

Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, delivered the invocation for the inauguration. The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” during the ceremony. Also singing during the inauguration were Beyonce, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson.

Earlier in the morning, Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden, along with their families, attended a prayer service at St. John’s Church, which is near the White House. Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley preached.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)
1/23/2013 3:58:07 PM by Tom Strode, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



U.S. passes 55 million abortion mark

January 23 2013 by Michael Foust, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – At some point in the past year, the United States experienced its 55 millionth legal abortion – a tragic number that is far more than the combined U.S. death count of every American war since the nation’s founding.

The total spans 40 years, beginning with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on Jan. 22 legalizing abortion nationwide. The abortion count is based on data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. National Right to Life releases an annual tally using the Guttmacher data.

“That’s 55 million creative minds, 55 million people that could be working, 55 million that could be contributing to society,” Randall K. O’Bannon, National Right to Life’s director of education and research, told Baptist Press. “It’s hard to fathom all the different ways in which any person has the potential to impact the community and impact our country. The loss is staggering.”

To put the total of 55 million in perspective, the combined number of military deaths in all of America’s wars – from the Revolutionary War to the second Iraq war – is 1.2 million.

The number is large partially because Roe and its companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, placed America’s abortion laws to the left of most of the developed world. For instance, most of Europe – including Great Britain, Spain, Germany and Sweden – have more restrictions on abortion than does the United States.

Roe and Doe legalized abortion at any stage of pregnancy, for any reason. A 2004 Guttmacher study found that 86 percent of abortions are done for convenience. Rape and incest each were cited by less than half of a percent of all women who underwent abortion.

Great Britain’s abortion laws permit abortion during the first 24 weeks, and the procedure must be approved by two doctors. The U.S. has no such restrictions.

In the first full year (1974) after Roe, there were 898,600 abortions, according to Guttmacher. That number climbed to 1,553,900 in 1980 and reached an all-time high of 1,608,600 in 1990. It has fallen in nearly every year ever since and today stands at about 1.2 million a year.

O’Bannon says he doubts most people know that more than 1 million abortions are performed each year – much less that 55 million have been performed since Roe.

“I don’t have any recent polling, but I know that in the past, when they’ve asked people how many abortions they thought there were, few people demonstrated they had a knowledge there were more than a million a year,” O’Bannon said.

It may look at times like pro-lifers are losing, but polls show that in many areas, they actually are winning. For example, the same polls that show Americans support Roe also show Americans support restrictions that Roe prohibited. In other words, Americans don’t understand Roe’s reach.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Jan. 12-15 showed that only 31 percent of adults said abortion should always be legal – the concept backed by Roe and Doe. An additional 23 percent said it should be legal most of the time, 35 percent said it should be legal only in cases of rape, incest and to save the mother’s life and 9 percent said it should never be legal. A CNN poll Aug. 22-23 last year had similar findings. It showed only 35 percent of Americans said abortion should always be legal. Nine percent said it should be legal in most circumstances, 37 percent said legal in a “few circumstances” and 15 percent said it should never be legal. Taken together, the two polls show that most Americans believe abortion should either be illegal all or most of the time, or at least have far more restrictions than permitted by Roe.

O’Bannon said a number of factors are helping transform Americans’ views on abortion to more of a pro-life stance. Among them are new medical technologies showing the baby moving and playing inside the womb, even sucking his thumb. The partial-birth abortion debate, which began in the late 1990s and placed pro-choicers on the defense, also had an impact, he said. Gallup polling shows that the percentage of people identifying themselves as “pro-choice” fell during the 1990s as the debate intensified, and the percentage that called themselves “pro-life” increased.

“As they have found out what abortion involves, Americans began to see abortion involved children with hands and feet and faces,” O’Bannon said. “They pulled back, and it made a difference. When a woman becomes pregnant, she gets a picture of an ultrasound and she takes it in her office and she shows it to everybody else. That’s pro-life education right there.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)

Related stories

Guest Column: 40 years after Roe, human dignity hangs in the balance
Pro-life leaders: Battle going in right direction on Roe’s 40th
1/23/2013 3:15:18 PM by Michael Foust, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



State-by-state advocacy of U.S. religious liberty launches

October 17 2012 by Anne Reiner, Baptist Press

WASHINGTON – Representatives from nine state legislatures have announced the formation of state-level religious freedom caucuses in a new nationwide effort to combat religious discrimination.
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Tennessee, with its state capitol in Nashville, is one of nine states whose legislatures are forming religious freedom caucuses in a new nationwide effort to combat religious discrimination.


“There is a renewed interest in religious freedom in the country, and this growing attention is bringing together people of all religious faiths and political ideologies,” Tim Schultz of the American Religious Freedom Program (ARFP) said during a teleconference Oct. 9.
 
“Freedom of religion is a right that all lawmakers, and this includes state legislators, have a role in protecting and defending.

“This is not an issue just for the courts,” Schultz noted.

With the assistance of a bipartisan group of more than 120 lawmakers – 16 were present for the teleconference – ARFP plans to inaugurate religious freedom caucuses in all 50 states by the end of 2013. The current states with caucuses are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

The formation of these caucuses is based on two ideas, Schultz said: 1) Religious freedom is important to the majority of Americans from all faiths, and these individuals oppose “state-sponsored injury to religion” and 2) the free exercise of religion is a constitutional right that is foundational to all freedoms and must be protected by state lawmakers.

Schultz – state policy director for the AFRP, which is an initiative of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center – explained how the caucuses will function:
  • Even though these are the first state caucuses with a religious freedom agenda, they will work in a manner similar to other legislative caucuses.
  • Each caucus will consist of lawmakers who come together to discuss various public policy issues pertaining to freedom of religion both in their state and throughout the country.
    There will be a multi-state information-sharing component to connect the caucuses across the country. This will help build legislative expertise beyond that of a single caucus in one state capital.
  • State Rep. Stephen Precourt of Florida said during the teleconference, “Religious freedom caucuses – that is, legislators of all political and religious affiliations working together – can work to help ensure the courts do not end up being the sole recourse for violation of religious freedom and, even better, to prevent the courts in the first place from being a means to push religious discrimination.”
Ron Lindsay, president and CEO of the Center for Inquiry, which is affiliated with the Council for Secular Humanism, meanwhile expressed some skepticism about the effort in comments to Baptist Press.

“Freedom of conscience is a fundamental right, and any effort to strengthen that right should be welcome,” Lindsay said. “Unfortunately, ‘freedom of conscience’ and ‘religious liberty’ are sometimes improperly invoked by those who seek to impose their religious views on others, directly or indirectly. Whether the American Religious Freedom Program will help strengthen the right to freedom of conscience or subvert this right largely depends on the understanding of religious liberty that will guide its activity.”

Specific religious restrictions discussed in the teleconference were the removal of crosses from cemeteries in Tennessee and the Obama administration’s abortion/contraception mandate.

In 2009, Tennessee passed its version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, stipulating that the state must have a compelling governmental interest and has chosen the least restrictive option before passing a law that may infringe on an individual’s religious freedom. As new attacks on religious freedom appear, it is the state lawmakers’ duty to take the lead in battling these grievances, Tennessee Rep. Brian Kelsey told Baptist Press.

“We would hope that there would be no need to form a religious freedom caucus, but unfortunately there have been attacks on religious freedom that have stepped up in recent years, and that is the reason we are forming this caucus at this time,” Kelsey said.

In early January Tennessee’s seven inaugural caucus members – four Democrats and three Republicans – will meet to discuss their goals for the upcoming session.

“My hope is that we would get to a point where we wouldn’t have to fight these battles on a yearly basis,” Kelsey said. “I believe that all Americans cherish our right to exercise religion freely and want to protect that right as much as possible.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anne Reiner is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)
10/17/2012 2:27:04 PM by Anne Reiner, Baptist Press | with 0 comments



A little hunger fund money goes a long way

October 3 2012 by Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a difference for hungry people in North America.
 
For example:
– $20 provides five children food for a week at the GUM Drop backpack ministry in southern Illinois.
– $50 will feed 250 homeless people in New York City at soup kitchens and sack lunch distributions.
– $60 will provide food for a family for two weeks in the coal mining communities of Kentucky.
– $75 will feed 400 migrant workers, through the “Feeding Those Who Feed Us” hunger ministry in California.
– $100 will feed 500 meals to the homeless in Las Vegas.
 
According to statistics collected by the North American Mission Board, hunger is a reality for more than 49 million Americans. That’s one of every six Americans and one in every four American children.
 
Only the Southern Baptist World Hunger Fund uses 100 percent of all contributions to feed hungry people. Personnel already are in place, supported by the Cooperative Program, so administrative and promotional costs are covered by other budgets.
 
Twenty cents of every dollar given to the hunger fund is sent to the North American Mission Board to support hunger projects in the United States and Canada.
 
Eighty cents of every dollar is sent to the International Mission Board for direct hunger ministry as well as water well drilling, agricultural education and water purification.
 
When Southern Baptists give food, they are there for the long haul, desiring to plant churches and make disciples for Jesus Christ. The goal is to build relationships with people and eventually lead them to a relationship with Christ.
 
The Good News of salvation through Christ is always foundational. Whenever possible, the plan of salvation is shared and an opportunity to respond is given.
 
In emergency situations, food aid must be given. But when possible, hunger ministries are designed to create independence from rather than dependence on food aid.
 
To give, designate an offering for the World Hunger Fund at a local Southern Baptist church, or online at worldhungerfund.com.

Related stories
World Hunger Sunday: Jesus’ love compels response
Is 100% for hunger better than 20%?
10/3/2012 3:29:08 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



Day of Prayer may have been largest ever

May 7 2012 by Baptist Press

Americans observed the National Day of Prayer by gathering at thousands of locations across the country in what was expected to be the largest such observance in its six-decade history.
 
The number of events for the May 3 observance was more than 35 percent ahead of last year at the same time, the National Day of Prayer (NDP) Task Force reported six days before the observance. In 2011, prayer events were held at about 40,000 locations.
 
The National Day of Prayer has been observed each year since Congress approved a resolution in 1952 calling on the president to establish it as an annual event. President Truman inaugurated the observance the same year, and presidents since then have recognized it with proclamations.
 
In 1988, Congress amended the law to set the first Thursday of May for the observance.
 
In this year’s National Day of Prayer proclamation, President Obama invited Americans to join him “in giving thanks for the many blessings we enjoy, and I call upon individuals of all faiths to pray for guidance, grace, and protection for our great Nation as we address the challenges of our time.”
 
The president urged citizens to “be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.”

He also called for Americans to honor the members of the Armed Forces and pray for them and their family members.
 
The lead observance of the National Day of Prayer again was held at an event on Capitol Hill in Washington, with NDP Task Force chairman Shirley Dobson and honorary chairman David Jeremiah among the speakers.
 
This year’s theme, established by the task force, was “One Nation Under God,” which was based on Psalm 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”

Jeremiah, senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries, gave the keynote address at the national observance in Washington. He also wrote the national prayer for the observance.
 
The NDP Task Force is a privately funded group that says the observance is for people of all faiths to participate in but the events it organizes are fulfilled “in accordance with its Judeo-Christian beliefs.”
Obama’s National Day of Prayer proclamation may be accessed online at whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/05/01/presidential-proclamation-national-day-prayer-2012.
5/7/2012 1:05:39 PM by Baptist Press | with 0 comments



White House releases public/private guidelines

May 1 2012 by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – A new White House report that offers guidance on public/private partnerships between the government and faith-based groups leaves critical questions unanswered and does not resolve the issue of religious groups’ ability to discriminate in hiring and firing, church-state watchdogs said.
 
The 50-page report, issued April 28, comes 18 months after President Obama issued an executive order calling for more transparency as faith-based groups work with the government to meet social needs.
 
The report breaks little new ground, but reaffirms that:
 
– A faith-based organization can provide federally funded social services without removing religious art, scriptures and symbols from their facilities.
 
– Explicitly religious activities can’t be supported by federal funds but are permitted if they are funded privately and occur at a separate time and location from programs that receive government money.
 
– Beneficiaries who object to the religious character of a provider must be referred promptly to an alternative.
 
Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, called the guidance “an important step” in implementing the recommendations from a blue-ribbon advisory board.
 
“A diverse group of faith and nonprofit leaders proposed ways to strengthen the government’s relationship with faith-based organizations in a manner that protects religious liberty and the separation of church and state, and we are glad to move these recommendations forward,” he said.
 
The report includes detailed examples on separating federally funded programs from privately funded religious activities, including distinct web pages and careful reporting of travel and use of electronic equipment.
 
Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism and served on the advisory council, said the new guidance is “a great step forward,” but he and others remain unsatisfied with the administration’s apparent silence on addressing the ability of federally funded organizations to discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring or firing staff.
 
The White House has previously said the issue would be handled on a case-by-case basis and has resisted finalizing any formal policy.
 
“We do hope that the president will move expeditiously to ensure that no one is discriminated against when it comes to hiring with tax dollars,” Saperstein said.
 
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, also welcomed the report’s safeguards, but said loopholes remain.
 
“This guidance makes some significant improvements to the Bush faith-based initiative, but it falls far short of what it ought to do,” said Lynn, who served on a reform task force for DuBois’ office.
 
“A fundamentalist Christian church can still run a publicly funded social service program and hang out a sign that says, “Government job opening: No Catholics, Jews, Muslims or Atheists need apply.
 
The report includes a true-and-false questionnaire to train individuals working most closely with programs at the intersection of government and religion. Among its statements:
 
– “Recipients of federal funds, including State and local governments, cannot discriminate in the provision of program services on the basis of religion.” (True.)
 
– “There is no money set aside by the Federal government for faith-based organizations to receive a designated portion of awards in Federal social services.” (True.)
 
– “Federal funds can be used to buy religious materials as long as the materials are used in a social service program serving the needy. (False.)
5/1/2012 2:46:09 PM by Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service | with 0 comments



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