Duke University is in the religion news this week for three things. First, the federal Department of Education informed the university (and also the University of North Carolina) that they should not use federal grants designed to promote Middle Eastern studies to present Islam in a positive light while ignoring Christianity and Judaism. Second, a scholar of religion (Elizabeth Schrader) engaged in research leading to a PhD degree has uncovered manuscript evidence that early editors of Christian writings made efforts to insert Martha into biblical narratives in place of Mary Magdalene. And third, the student government denied official status to Young Life, an evangelical Christian student organization on many college and university campuses, because it excludes LGBTQ students from holding leadership positions in the organization (and thus is in violation of university policy against discrimination).
The Vatican suspended the directive of the Archbishop of Indianapolis against a Jesuit high school for not terminating employees who are in same sex marriages. That directive revoked the school’s Catholic standing, meaning it could no longer host a mass or be served by a priest. The school appealed the order to the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Vatican office responsible for Catholic education around the world. The decision to suspend is only temporary, giving the Vatican organization time to review the matter and make a final decision. The temporary order should not be interpreted, the letter announcing the suspension stated, that the Congregation favors one side or the other in this controversy. In the interim, the high school has its Roman Catholic identity restored and the daily mass resumed.
President Donald Trump addressed the United Nations on global religious freedom this week. He described the United States as “founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government. They come from God.” He then appealed to the nations to join with the United States in protecting religious rights around the world and preventing persecution. Trump did not mention religious restrictions in countries of major American economic partners, such as China and Saudi Arabia. This appeal to joint action by the global community is at odds with Trump’s general disdain for such collaboration and his preference for unilateral action. His religious liberty speech was overshadowed by the better attended and better covered by the media assembly on global climate change, which Trump attended only briefly.
The Center for Faith and Giving, a division of the Lilly School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, released a major report on charitable giving to religious institutions. In a nationally representative sample of 1,231 congregations, the Center sought to determine how congregations actually use the money, specifically in relation to facilities, organizational programs, and local/regional/global missions. Giving to religious causes in 2018 totaled $124.52 billion, they reported, constituting 29% of all charitable giving for the year. This is down from 50% over the last thirty years but still remains the favorite category of American givers. They attribute this decline to changing patterns of affiliation and attendance, recent tax reform making it less attractive to itemize deducions for such gifts, and an uncertain economy.
Arizona Groups harassing churches for their care for immigrants have agreed to back off—some of them, at least; the others will make their defense in court. Arizona Patriots organization and four of its leaders have settled out of court, signing a consent form to not trespass on church property, to refrain from using megaphones and video equipment, and not touch or grab church members who are active in assisting immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. Another group, the Patriot Movement AZ and several other individuals refused to sign the consent degree and must now defend themselves in federal district court. The Southern Poverty Law Center assisted in bringing these cases to court.