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The Affordable Care Act and Religion: Impact & Support

As Congress debates if and how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, many people have spoken out on how losing health coverage would affect various disenfranchised communities. Often missing from the conversation has been the relationship between the ACA and religion—and yet many religious communities either benefit directly from the ACA, and would be affected by losing health insurance, or have spoken out in support of the ACA based on their religious beliefs.

The ACA has been beneficial to pastors and other church employees who struggled to find health care coverage prior to the ACA. Christianity Today profiled how small churches often function similarly to small businesses, and face similar struggles around providing affordable health care to their employees. Many churches simply do not include health insurance as part of their compensation package, and small church pastors and other employees have therefore come to rely on insurance through the ACA. Many expressed concern over what they would do if the ACA were repealed.

Similarly, Sojourners has collected and published testimonials from Americans around the country about their experiences with the ACA, and many of the people expressing appreciation for the ACA were religious leaders and their families. These testimonials included ones by a Presbyterian minister who could not find insurance when he returned to the U.S. after nine years of overseas missionary work; the wife of a preacher whose church did not provide insurance coverage for their daughter’s pre-existing condition; and a pastor’s wife who no longer has to choose between buying groceries and going to the doctor. All of these individuals were positively impacted by being able to obtain insurance through the ACA.

There are also religious communities who support the ACA not only because it benefits themselves or their congregations, but because of their religious mission to care for people in need. The ACA has helped the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, and legal non-citizens have greater access to health care than ever before. As a result, representatives from a wide array of religious traditions have spoken out in support of the ACA as a means of continuing to provide insurance to the poor.

A surprising source of support for the ACA has come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who last month sent a letter to Congress urging them not to repeal the ACA without having a replacement plan. They wrote that “a repeal of key provisions of the Affordable Care Act ought not be undertaken without the concurrent passage of a replacement plan that ensures access to adequate health care for the millions of people who now rely upon it for their wellbeing.” In the past the USCCB has been opposed to the ACA largely because it covers abortion and other reproductive health services and included a mandate requiring insurance to cover contraception. In spite of these earlier objections, the USCCB and other Catholic institutions recognized the importance of continuing to provide health insurance to Americans, particularly those without the resources to get this insurance through other channels.

As the debate over the ACA continues, it is important to remember that repealing the ACA without having a plan to replace it can have serious consequences both for religious communities themselves, and for the values around protecting those in need that are at the foundation of many religions’ missions.

Tanenbaum’s Top Five New Stories

Popes headed toward sainthood • Transgendered minister opens up about his experiences • Jimmy Carter speaks out against the abuse of women • Faith healing parents’ homicide conviction upheld • Muslims & Jews gather in Sarjevo to combat religious prejudice

Last week's top stories from Tanenbaum's perspective: 

Popes headed toward sainthood
The Washington Post
Last week, good news rained upon popes named John. Pope Francis approved John Paul II for sainthood and decided to canonize John XXIII. According to the article, “Francis approved a decree that a Costa Rican woman’s inexplicable cure from a deadly brain aneurism was the ‘miracle’ needed to canonize John Paul.” Pope Francis also deemed that only one miracle attributed to John XXIII’s intercession was sufficient for his canonization. Read more…

Transgendered minister opens up about his experiencesThe Huffington Post
What if one Sunday, you attended a service at your church and your minister – after 28 years of service – decided to reveal that he was born a female? For Rev. David Weekly, a United Methodist minister, “There was a lot of support, but a lot of push back.” Learn more…

Jimmy Carter speaks out against the abuse of womenReligion News Service
At “Mobilizing Faith for Women: Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to Advance Human Rights and Dignity,” President Jimmy Carter opened his remarks by calling the abuses of women “the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violations on earth.” Discover more about Carter’s thoughts on the intersection of religion and women’s rights.

Faith healing parents’ homicide conviction upheldNational Public Radio
Did you know that 303 children have died since 1975 after medical care was withheld on religious grounds? In 2008, one 11-year-old diabetic girl died on Easter Sunday because her parents refused to bring her to the doctor. The parents preferred prayer and were convicted of homicide one year later. Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 6-1 “that the state's immunity provisions for prayer treatment parents protect them from child abuse charges but nothing else.”  After the decision was announced, the father’s lawyer said, “"If I was advising a parent on faith healing, I'd say there is no privilege," Miller said. "They pretty much gutted it." Read more…

Muslims & Jews gather in Sarjevo to combat religious prejudiceThe Huffington Post
A group of Muslims and Jews gathered in Sarajevo to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The goal of the conference, organized by The Muslim Jewish Conference in Vienna, “"is to provide the next generation with a learning experience for life and a positive outlook for establishing intercultural relations and sustaining Muslim-Jewish partnerships." Learn more…

Syrian War Affecting Sunni-Shiite Relations: News Roundup

In the news this week: the Syrian war is growing more sectarian – and the conflict is springing up in more countries, plus other news stories.

The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.

In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.

“The longer this conflict goes on the more chances it has of spilling over,” said Vali Nasr, dean of John Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.  Washington Post

Security forces on Wednesday struggled to bring peace to a northern city in Myanmar after Buddhist mobs set fire to a mosque, a Muslim school and shops, the latest outbreak of religious violence in Myanmar and a sign that radical strains of Buddhism may be spreading to a wider area of the country.

The violence afflicting the city, Lashio, in the north near the border with China, is hundreds of miles from towns and villages affected by religious violence this year.

One Muslim man was killed and four Buddhists were wounded in the clashes, said U Wai Lin, an official with the Information Ministry in Lashio.  New York Times

He has criticized the “cult of money” and greed he sees driving the world financial system, reflecting his affinity for liberation theology. He has left Vatican officials struggling to keep up with his off-the-cuff remarks and impromptu forays into the crowds of tens of thousands that fill St. Peter’s Square during his audiences. He has delighted souvenir vendors near the Vatican by increasing tourist traffic.

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, has been in office for only two months, but already he has changed the tone of the papacy, lifting morale and bringing a new sense of enthusiasm to the Roman Catholic Church and to the Vatican itself, Vatican officials and the faithful say.

“It’s very positive. There’s a change of air, a sense of energy,” said one Vatican official, speaking with traditional anonymity. “Some people would use the term honeymoon, but there’s no indication that it will let up.”  New York Times

More than three in four of Americans say religion is losing its influence in the United States, according to a new survey, the highest such percentage in more than 40 years. A nearly identical percentage says that trend bodes ill for the country.

"It may be happening, but Americans don't like it," Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief, said of religion's waning influence. "It is clear that a lot of Americans don't think this is a good state of affairs."

According to the Gallup survey released Wednesday, 77% of Americans say religion is losing its influence. Since 1957, when the question was first asked, Americans' perception of religion's power has never been lower.  CNN

Laws repressing religious freedom worldwide: News Roundup

Countries around the world, including allies of the United States, have used laws on blasphemy and apostasy to suppress political opponents, the State Department said on Monday in an annual report chronicling a grim decline in religious freedom that has resulted in rising bigotry and sectarian violence.

The report singled out eight countries for particularly egregious and systemic repression of religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In China, the report said, religious freedoms declined in the last year, highlighted by punitive actions against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Tibet, where 82 monks, nuns or laypeople killed themselves in acts of self-immolation last year.

Proliferating laws against blasphemy or apostasy, including in several countries undergoing political transitions after the Arab spring, are not protecting religions, as officials often claim, but rather targeting other faiths, at times selectively.  New York Times

Leaders of Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims reacted with horror and anger following Wednesday’s (May 22) slaughter with knives and machetes of an off-duty British soldier in the streets outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in south London.

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the slaughter of the soldier by two men – both believed to be Christian converts to Islam – as “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and which we condemn unreservedly.”

Abdullah al Andalusi, a spokesman for the Muslim Debate Initiative, which brings together Islamic scholars and researchers in the U.K., said: “These people claimed they killed the soldier in the name of protecting others from UK foreign policy. But if what they claim is true, they have acted no differently from the crimes they claim they wish to see stopped.”  Religion News Service

Even with some legal protections in place, Afghan women, and sometimes even little girls, can be sold to pay family debts. In the country’s vast rural areas, just talking to a man who is not a close relative can be punishable by death. And in some places, girls are routinely married at puberty.

And now, preserving any protections long-term appears to be in question, as the country’s tiny women’s rights movement faces an unenviable decision: leave intact the only law that attempts to halt such abuses, or continue to present changes to Parliament and run the risk that a growing conservative bloc could dismantle the law entirely.  New York Times

Atheists and other nonbelievers largely welcomed Wednesday’s (May 22) remarks by Pope Francis that performing “good works” is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet.

In a private homily, Francis described doing good not as a matter of faith, but of “duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

Then, referring to non-Catholics and nonbelievers, he said, “if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”  Religion News Service

Laws repressing religious freedom worldwide: News Roundup

Countries around the world, including allies of the United States, have used laws on blasphemy and apostasy to suppress political opponents, the State Department said on Monday in an annual report chronicling a grim decline in religious freedom that has resulted in rising bigotry and sectarian violence.

The report singled out eight countries for particularly egregious and systemic repression of religious rights: China, Eritrea, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. In China, the report said, religious freedoms declined in the last year, highlighted by punitive actions against Christians, Muslims and Buddhists in Tibet, where 82 monks, nuns or laypeople killed themselves in acts of self-immolation last year.

Proliferating laws against blasphemy or apostasy, including in several countries undergoing political transitions after the Arab spring, are not protecting religions, as officials often claim, but rather targeting other faiths, at times selectively.  New York Times

Leaders of Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims reacted with horror and anger following Wednesday’s (May 22) slaughter with knives and machetes of an off-duty British soldier in the streets outside the Royal Artillery Barracks in south London.

A statement from the Muslim Council of Britain condemned the slaughter of the soldier by two men – both believed to be Christian converts to Islam – as “a barbaric act that has no basis in Islam and which we condemn unreservedly.”

Abdullah al Andalusi, a spokesman for the Muslim Debate Initiative, which brings together Islamic scholars and researchers in the U.K., said: “These people claimed they killed the soldier in the name of protecting others from UK foreign policy. But if what they claim is true, they have acted no differently from the crimes they claim they wish to see stopped.”  Religion News Service

Even with some legal protections in place, Afghan women, and sometimes even little girls, can be sold to pay family debts. In the country’s vast rural areas, just talking to a man who is not a close relative can be punishable by death. And in some places, girls are routinely married at puberty.

And now, preserving any protections long-term appears to be in question, as the country’s tiny women’s rights movement faces an unenviable decision: leave intact the only law that attempts to halt such abuses, or continue to present changes to Parliament and run the risk that a growing conservative bloc could dismantle the law entirely.  New York Times

Atheists and other nonbelievers largely welcomed Wednesday’s (May 22) remarks by Pope Francis that performing “good works” is not the exclusive domain of people of faith, but rather a place where they and atheists could and should meet.

In a private homily, Francis described doing good not as a matter of faith, but of “duty, it is an identity card that our Father has given to all of us, because he has made us in his image and likeness.”

Then, referring to non-Catholics and nonbelievers, he said, “if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good.”  Religion News Service

A new approach to banning Sharia: News Roundup

In the news this week: a new approach to banning Sharia in the US, anti-Semitism battled by churches in Hungary, and other news stories.

When Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved a 2010 ballot measure that prohibits state courts from considering Islamic law, or Shariah, the Council of American-Islamic Relations filed a lawsuit within two days challenging the constitutionality of the measure, and won.

But when Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar measure, one that its sponsor said would forbid Shariah, on April 19 of this year, no legal challenges were mounted. Why the change?

The biggest difference is that the older bill — and others like it — singled out Islam and Shariah, but also raised concerns that they could affect Catholic canon law or Jewish law. Many early anti-Shariah bills also made references to international or foreign law, which worried businesses that the new bills would undermine contracts and trade with foreign companies.

The new bills, however, are more vague and mention only foreign laws, with no references to Shariah or Islam. They also make specific exceptions for international trade. All of that makes them harder to challenge as a violation of religious freedom. Religion News Service

When Hungarian radical right-wingers rallied against a Jewish conference in Budapest in early May, a well-known Protestant pastor hid behind the stage while his wife stepped up to the podium to denounce Jews and Israel.

With anti-Semitism on the rise here, Christian churches are working with the Jewish community to counter the provocations against Jews and the Roma minority that have won Jobbik support among voters fed up with the country's economic crisis.

The Hungarian Reformed Church has begun proceedings that might end up defrocking Hegedus and depriving him of his high-profile base at the Homeland Church on the upscale Freedom Square, near the central bank and the United States embassy.

Hungary's small community of 80,000-100,000 Jews appreciates the Christian support. "We're satisfied with the actions of the churches," said Peter Feldmajer, who stepped down as head of the community on Sunday.  Reuters

Pope Francis has denounced the global financial system, blasting the "cult of money" that he says is tyrannizing the poor and turning humans into expendable consumer goods.

In his first major speech on the subject, Francis demanded Thursday that financial and political leaders reform the global financial system to make it more ethical and concerned for the common good. He said: "Money has to serve, not to rule!"  Associated Press

The number of Catholic priests in Africa and Asia has shot up over the past decade while decreasing in Europe, mirroring trends in the numbers of Catholic faithful that helped lead to the election of Pope Francis as the first non-European pope in over a millennium.

The Vatican on Monday released statistics on the state of the Catholic Church in the world, showing a 39.5 percent increase in the number of priests in Africa and a 32 percent hike in Asia from 2001 to 2011. The number of priests in Europe fell by 9 percent, while remaining stable in the Americas. Worldwide, priest numbers were up 2.1 percent.  ABC News

Chinese government aims to eradicate all unofficial Protestant churches: News Roundup

In the news this week, China cracks down on House Churches, Myanmar’s Ethnic Minorities Grow Pessimistic About Peace, and other stories.

ChinaAid reported in February the Chinese government's plan to eradicate all unofficial Protestant churches across the country. Now, that plan appears to have been set in motion.

"The ruling Chinese Communist Party's ideological agency in Jiaozhou city called on township Party committees and neighborhood panels to investigate fully all unofficial venues of worship on their territory," according to a report from Radio Free Asia.

Pastor Zhan Gang, who leads the local Protestant Chinese House Church Alliance in Jiaozhou, said all of the houses in his district already have been investigated. That could signal the start of a broader, country-wide campaign, as pastors in Shenzhen and Guangzhou provinces report similar directives issued in their areas. Christianity Today

Ethnic conflicts have been described as Myanmar’s original sin, a legacy of hatred and mistrust that fueled more than six decades of intermittent civil war.

But the ferocity of deadly rioting between Buddhists and Muslims last week has further underlined how ethnic and religious fissures in Myanmar pose serious impediments to democratic change in the country.

“How can you have peace and democracy when one-third of the country hates you?” asked Tom Kramer, a researcher with the Transnational Institute, an organization based in the Netherlands that is seeking to promote reconciliation between the majority ethnic Burman, who make up two-thirds of Myanmar’s population, and minorities. The violence last week, he said, was a “reminder of how deeply rooted ethnic and religious divisions are in the society.” The New York Times

While popes have for centuries washed the feet of the faithful on the day before Good Friday, never before had a pontiff washed the feet of a woman. That one of the female inmates at the prison in Rome was also a Serbian Muslim was also a break with tradition.

“There is no better way to show his service for the smallest, for the least fortunate,” said Gaetano Greco, a local chaplain. 

Pope Francis washed the feet of 12 inmates aged 14 to 21, among them the two women, the second of whom was an Italian Catholic. Mr Greco said he hoped the ritual would be “a positive sign in their lives”. The Telegraph

A group of rabbis, reverends and priests has a message for President Barack Obama: stop the drone war.

In a video produced by the Brave New Foundation, a group that uses video and social media to protest against drones, Jewish and Christian leaders describe the practice as "assassination by remote control," which violates religious principles.

“From a New Testament point of view, drones are completely appalling,” the Rev. Paul F. M. Zahl, the retired Episcopal rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, Maryland, told CNN. “The whole idea of killing a guy without giving the guy a chance to surrender is preemptive. That for me was completely contrary to the teachings of Christ.”

The video criticizes the Obama administration, stating that the use of war does not follow Just War Theory, which has Roman and Catholic influences.  The theory includes criteria that legitimize war, including ensuring that war is a last resort and that it is being carried out with the right intentions. CNN

 

Papal Potential: What Will Be Pope Francis’ Legacy?

Below is the beginning of an article that Tanenbaum's CEO, Joyce Dubensky, just authored for the Huffington Post.  You can find the full article here.

The world is watching as the Catholic Church embarks on a new era with its 266th leader, Pope Francis. Much is being written about this man as he steps onto the world stage. Stories detail how he has lived his faith as a servant of the poor. Others examine his traditional views on contemporary debates, including the role of women in the church and equality for men and women who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender. Some articles assess the importance of the church having leadership from the Global South, focus on his conduct during the Argentine "Dirty War," and even describe why he assumed the name Francis, in recognition of the saint known for his dedication to the poor, to peace and to all living things.

In setting his agenda, the new pope has already talked about peace, optimism and the poor. This is a powerful vision, but the specifics of this agenda will only emerge over time. When we look back on the tenure of this new pope, I hope we will see that this vision included being a powerful global advocate and a voice for ending religious prejudice, hatred and violence…

 

New Pope expresses his views: News Roundup

In the news this week, the new pope discusses his views from tango, to art, to gay marriage, Obama pushes expedited timetable on immigration reform in meeting with faith leaders, and other stories. 

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio surprised the world on Wednesday when he ended a run of nearly 1,300 years of European popes and greeted St. Peter's Square for the first time as Pope Francis.

This article provides a selection of the 76-year-old Jesuit's opinions on topics ranging from unmarried mothers,gay marriageglobalization and his own interests and life experience. Yahoo! News

President Barack Obama emphasized the need to get immigration reform accomplished this year in a meeting with a diverse group of faith leaders at the White House on Friday.

Religious leaders that attended the meeting said the president spent more than an hour with them, and after making a few remarks at the top of the meeting he let each group discuss their priorities and problems with comprehensive immigration reform. During the discussion, these faith leaders said, Obama made it clear that he wanted to see a bill on immigration reform in the next 60 days.

“I really sensed that this is a high priority for him,” Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a Christian social justice group, told CNN. “We are all looking at something being introduced this month and then the bill passing in May or June. We are all hoping that kind of time frame could work.” CNN

There is an advertising war being fought here — not over soda or car brands but over the true meaning of the word “jihad.” Backing a continuing effort that has featured billboards on the sides of Chicago buses, the local chapter of a national Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has been promoting a nonviolent meaning of the word — “to struggle” — that applies to everyday life.

Supporters say jihad is a spiritual concept that has been misused by extremists and inaccurately linked to terrorism, and they are determined to reclaim that definition with the ad campaign, called My Jihad.

“My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,” says a woman in a head scarf lifting weights in an ad that started running on buses in December. “What’s yours?” The New York Times

The number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is the highest it has ever been since data on the subject started being collected in the 1930s, new research has found.

Sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University analyzed results from the General Social Survey and found that the number of people who do not consider themselves part of an organized religion has jumped dramatically in recent years.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the number of "nones" — those who said they were religiously unaffiliated — hovered around 5 percent, Claude Fischer, one of the researchers with UC Berkeley, told The Huffington Post. That number had risen to only 8 percent by 1990. The Huffington Post

Pastors unite nationally to fight crime: News Roundup

In the news this week, pastors across the country unite to fight black-on-black crime, Texas religious electives call for more inclusion, Church spokesman critical of 'Dirty Dozen' list of papal candidates, and other stories.

Before families in Miami’s black communities bury loved ones killed by violent shootings, they call a pastor. The pastors console grief-stricken mothers and fathers. And on the day of the funeral, usually a Saturday, they look into the tear-streaked faces of mourners and deliver a eulogy that touches on the value of life. The victims’ names and ages change, but the somber process is almost formulaic.

“I’m tired of burying our children. I do an average of two funerals a Saturday,” said the Rev. Billy Strange of Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City. “When I get a break, I thank God. Sixty or 70 percent of the funerals I do are homicides.” The Miami Herald

It may be a little late for the holiday of Purim, but on Tuesday, in Eastland, Tex., Gay Hart will be baking hamantaschen — the traditional doughy, triangle-shaped pastries accented with dollops of prune, Nutella or some other delectable paste — for the mostly Protestant students in her class on the Bible at Eastland High School. Her curriculum also includes latke recipes for Hanukkah, “challah-days” and the Hebrew melody “Hava Nagila.”

Mrs. Hart, a Baptist, offers such tidbits of Jewish folk culture to help make her class, offered at a public school, welcoming to people of all beliefs. But according to a new study by Mark A. Chancey of Southern Methodist University, such efforts are not enough to make her class pass constitutional muster.

Dr. Chancey asserts that Mrs. Hart’s class, while offering what he calls a “sympathetic appreciation” of differing points of view, is taught from an evangelical Christian perspective and probably runs afoul of the Constitution. The New York Times

A Roman Catholic Church spokesman is criticizing a list that calls Canada's Marc Cardinal Ouellet and 11 other papal candidates the ''Dirty Dozen.''

Jasmin Lemieux-Lefebvre, a church spokesman in Quebec City and a former press attache to Ouellet, says none of the cardinals deserves such negative recognition.

The U.S.-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests put Ouellet on the list because it said he refused to meet with sex-abuse victims. Ouellet recently told the CBC he met with victims during a visit to Ireland. Yahoo News

Sixteen Amish men and women who have lived rural, self-sufficient lives surrounded by extended family and with little outside contact are facing regimented routines in a federal prison system where almost half of inmates are behind bars for drug offenses and modern conveniences, such as television, will be a constant temptation.

Prison rules will allow the 10 men convicted in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in eastern Ohio to keep their religiously important beards, but they must wear standard prison khaki or green work uniforms instead of the dark outfits they favor. Jumper dresses will be an option for the six Amish women, who will be barred from wearing their typical long, dark dresses and bonnets.

It's unclear where the Amish will serve their sentences, but some of the nearest options include men's prisons in Elkton, a 90-minute drive southeast of Cleveland, and in Loretto, Pa., and women's prisons in Lexington, Ky., and Alderson, W.Va. Some of the initial prison assignments include locations in Texas and Louisiana, according to a letter circulating among defense attorneys, and other assignments could come any day. The Huffington Post