St Louis, Missouri
More than 800 delegates associated with the United Methodist Church gathered for a special General Conference and voted to sustain (and even strengthen) the traditional stand of the church against gay marriage and gay ordination. Delegates from around the world where gay relationships are often criminalized pushed back against American voters who represent a more favorable social context for gay relationships. The vote was a win for conservatives and a loss for progressives, but because the wording of the proposal had not been vetted by appropriate denominational authorities, it remains to be seen how much of the restrictions will be put into place. It also is unclear how this will effect colleges, universities, and seminaries which supported a more accepting stance toward gay relationships. Many people are expecting individuals, congregations, and even entire conferences to consider withdrawing from the denomination, the third largest in the United States.
Changes continue on the landscape of theological education. In California, a university historically connected to American Baptists has agreed to merge with a seminary historically aligned with the Presbyterian Church USA. University of the Redlands in southern California will acquire San Francisco Theological Seminary in northern California. While a series of authorities must yet sign off on the deal, the anticipated merger continues a trend that has seen at least 26 seminary-related mergers over the last seven years. The University will use the merger to expand current graduate offerings in religion-related fields while continuing to offer the basic seminary degree, the Master of Divinity.
Ninety-one-year-old engineer-turned-missionary Donald C. Miller died a few years ago and left behind a tangled web of mystery, ministry, and missing artifacts that is just now coming to public notice. For years he had regaled regional people—Scouts, churches, civic clubs—with his collection of stories and rare museum-quality artifacts. Pottery, tools, jewelry, bones, and even an entire sarcophagus made his personal displays the talk of the town. But the FBI has accused him of stealing many of these items from places like Canada, Ecuador, Spain, Peru, and New Zealand. They raided his home in 2014, seized thousands of priceless artifacts, and put him on notice; but he died a year later just as the investigation was beginning. And all of this was unknown to the public until this week when CBS News turned it into a feature story.
Lawyers for the Department of Justice have intervened in significantly more religious liberty cases across the country during the Trump Administration than it did during either the Bush or Obama administrations. This follows a promise Trump made on the campaign trail and soon after his inauguration to devote more resources to protecting the rights of religious people to be treated fairly in legal matters. While many local and regional authorities have tended to shy away from accommodating religious groups for fear of appearing to endorse a particular faith, the administration has insisted that these authorities (zoning, building, accommodating, etc.) not discriminate against a group simply because it is religious. This survey of Justice Department engagement was done by a team of reporters associated with Columbia University School of Journalism.
A $25 million gift from Theodore and Harriette Perlman of Chicago to BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) will create a women’s leadership initiative connecting Jewish women through their college and early professional careers with mentorship and training. Perlman seeks to honor his mother, Anita Pearlman, who founded BBG (B’nai B’rith Girls) in 1944. Pearlman made his money through his 40-year-old logistics firm that supplies food chains such as McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway with packaging and toys. He said of his mother: “My mother had the foresight to know, even decades ago, the capabilities of young women and their desire to move into positions of leadership.”