This week marked the four-year anniversary of the murder of nine members of the Immanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina. The event saw the release of a documentary on the tragedy, entitled simply “Immanuel.” It focuses on the families of the survivors who stood in court just two days after the deadly episode and offered forgiveness to the gunman, then-21-year-old Dylann Roof. Roof is a self-professed white supremacist who has been tried and sentenced to death for his deeds. Executive producers for the film were famous actress Viola Davis and NBA superstar Stephen Curry, both active Christians.
Pope Francis raised to the “venerable” status the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States, putting him on the path to sainthood. His name is Augustus Tolton. He was born a slave in Missouri in 1854. His parents had him baptized Catholic, the faith of the family that “owned” him. In 1861, his father Peter Tolton ran away to join the Union Army and months later his mother and the three children also escaped, crossing the Mississippi River to Quincy, Illinois. Augustus was tutored by the local priest who recognized his intelligence. He then went to school—not in the United States, but in Rome where, in 1886, he was ordained a priest. He was sent back to Quincy, then to Chicago. Augustus was known for eloquent sermons, a beautiful singing voice, and a talent for playing the accordion. He died suddenly of a stroke, at the age of 43. A one-man stage play is touring the country, “Tolton: From Slave to Priest” staring Jim Coleman.
Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity has announced (and put into effect) steep cuts to his faculty. A dozen professors, all on one-year contracts as Liberty does not have tenure (except in the law school), were told their contracts would not be renewed, just one year after the university opened the 275-foot-tall, 17-story tower serving as the home of the divinity school. On-campus and on-line enrollments in the divinity program have fallen steadily in recent years, even as the school has made millions of dollars in profit. Discharged professors were offered severance packages that came with a non-disclosure agreement, so further details of these transactions are not known. From 2013 to 2018, on-campus enrollment at the School of Religion dropped from 1,619 to 992, or 39%. Total enrollment at the university this academic year remained about 95,000.
Southern Baptists gathered for their annual meeting in Birmingham and adopted a resolution rejecting the term “gay Christian.” The resolution, presented by committee chairman Curtis Woods, associate executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and currently serving as co-interim executive director, was a replacement statement countering one presented from the floor and states: “This self-understanding and self-expression is open to misinterpretation, affirms a sinful desire as a marker of personal identity, and may imply that one’s sanctification would preclude the possibility of deliverance from same-sex sexual desire.” In a related matter, the public role of Woods raises the prospect that the Kentucky Baptist Convention will break from wide-spread precedent and elect Woods, an African American minister, as permanent Executive Director.
Charitable giving by individuals declined during the first year of the new federal tax laws, according to an analysis done by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Giving by individuals declined by 1.1 percent (or 3.4% when adjusted for inflation). The report cited two possible causes: the decline of the stock market toward the end of the year and the changes in the federal tax code. The new tax code, which took effect in January of 2018, increased the size of the standard deduction, thus reducing the advantage of itemizing deductions, including deductions for charitable giving. While giving by individuals declined, giving by corporations and foundations increased, causing an increase of 0.7 percent in charitable giving (or 1.7% adjusted for inflation).
Long-time culture war activist Tony Perkins has been elected chairman of the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The Commission is the official federal government vehicle for addressing religious freedom around the world. Perkins was appointed to the Commission last year by Kentucky senator and U. S. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell. Perkins has been one of the most forceful proponents of the those who resist the rights of LGBTQ persons and those who question the legitimacy of Muslims in America. He is a Southern Baptist minister and the current leader of the Family Research Council. He succeeds Dr. Tenzin Dorjee, a California State University professor and a Tibetan Buddhist, as head of the bi-partisan advisory group created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998.