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Yonat Shimron

Religious persecution, missions, Christianity around the world

(RNS) — Duke University’s student government has denied the Christian organization Young Life official status as a student group on campus, citing its policy on sexuality.

The decision by the Duke Student Government Senate on Wednesday (Sept. 11) comes amid ongoing clashes nationwide between religious student groups and colleges and universities that have added more robust nondiscrimination policies.

Young Life, like many evangelical groups, regards same-sex relations as sinful. Its policy forbids LGBTQ staff and volunteers from holding positions in the organization.

The student newspaper the Duke Chronicle reported Thursday that the student government senate unanimously turned down official recognition for the Young Life chapter, because it appeared to violate a guideline that every Duke student group include a nondiscrimination statement in its constitution. 

Young Life, which is based in Colorado Springs, is a 78-year-old organization with a mission to introduce adolescents to Christianity and help them grow in their faith. It has chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges in all 50 states and more than 90 countries around the world.

But the student government objected to a clause in Young Life’s sexuality policy. After the student government was told the organization would not change its sexuality policy, it rejected the group.

The Young Life policy states: “We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God’s grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ. We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life.”

Over the past two decades, many colleges and universities have attempted to exclude religious groups because of their positions on sexuality, among them InterVarsity and Business Leaders in Christ.

Greg Jao, senior assistant to the president at InterVarsity, said about 70 colleges and universities have attempted to exclude InterVarsity chapters over the years — in some cases because it bars LGBTQ employees, in others because its faith statement more generally violates school nondiscrimination policies.

In most cases, the issues are resolved, but others have ended up in court. InterVarsity is now suing the University of Iowa and Wayne State University.

“Most of the time universities back down because it’s a violation of students’ First Amendment rights,” said Eric Baxter, vice president and senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a law firm that defends religious freedom cases.

Duke, however, may be in a different category as a private institution. Private universities don’t have the same obligations under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause that a government entity does.

Young Life did not immediately respond to media requests for comment.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: RNS/Creative Commons

Ten Democratic presidential candidates took to the debate stage Thursday in Houston for the ABC News Democratic Debate.

Here are five major highlights of the evening:

The Healthcare Divide 

As expected, Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren faced off on healthcare. Biden has said he would like to build on former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Healthcare Act.

“I know that the senator says she’s for Bernie. Well, I’m for Barack. I think Obamacare worked,” Biden said. “This is about candor, honesty, big ideas.”

Warren, meanwhile, has supported a “Medicare for All” plan, which has also been supported by Bernie Sanders. The plan would end private insurance and Americans would enroll in a government healthcare program.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg says he wants to let voters choose a Medicare-like plan that he calls “Medicare for all who want it,” and Beto O’Rourke calls his public-option plan “Medicare for America.”

Castro vs. Biden

While many expected Biden and Warren to clash Thursday night, it was Julian Castro, a former member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet, who took aim at Biden.

He accused Biden of "forgetting what you said two minutes ago" during a discussion over whether Biden's health care plan would require Americans who opt for the plan would have to buy into it.

Later he added: "I'm fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama and you are not."

Beto Calls for Gun Control

O’Rourke is drawing praise for his debate performance in his home state of Texas. In a discussion on guns, O’Rourke said he would support a mandatory buyback of assault-style firearms.

"Hell, yes, we're going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We're not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore," he said.

O’Rourke is from El Paso, the Texas town where a gunman killed 22 people in a shooting at Walmart last month.

On Trump, O’Rourke said: “We have a white supremacist in the White House and he poses a mortal threat to people of color across this country.”

Buttigieg Shares His Story

Pete Buttigieg shared his personal story of coming out under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

“I had no idea what kind of professional setback it would be, especially because inconveniently, it was an election year in my socially conservative community,” he continued. “What happened was that when I trusted voters to judge me based on the job that I did for them, they decided to trust me and re-elected me with 80% of the vote. And what I learned was that trust can be reciprocated, and that part of how you can win and deserve to win is to know what's worth more to you than winning.”

Buttigieg is the first openly gay person to run for president.

What Wasn’t Talked about

While voters said in a CNN poll that aggressive climate change action is a top priority, candidates only talked about climate change for seven minutes.

Likewise, candidates did not answer any abortion-specific questions during the debate.

And finally, there were no questions about the federal courts, where President Donald Trump has already appointed some 125 judges.

Watch the debate here:

Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Win McNamee/Staff

Video courtesy: ABC News

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (RNS) — Pastor Greg Laurie urged his grieving congregants at Harvest Christian Fellowship on Wednesday (Sept. 11) to have compassion for people dealing with mental health issues as the church copes with the news that one of its pastors died by suicide.

“Sometimes we want to just say, ‘They’re just not spiritual or they don’t love the Lord,’ and that’s just a ridiculous thing to say because they may have a struggle you know nothing about,” Laurie said. 

Hundreds filled the pews at the church’s midweek service, two days after the death of preacher and mental health activist Jarrid Wilson.

Wilson, co-founder of the mental health nonprofit Anthem of Hope, was open about his own depression. He often posted on social media about his battles with mental illness. 

Just hours before his passing, Wilson had posted a series of tweets that dealt with suicide, including one encouraging followers to remember that loving Jesus doesn’t always cure illnesses such as depression, PTSD or anxiety.

“But that doesn’t mean Jesus doesn’t offer us companionship and comfort,” he wrote.

Citing Scripture, Laurie preached about the tendency to hold certain people to elevated standards, “expecting them to be everything for us.” He advised to instead “look to Jesus Christ. … He’s the only one who will sustain you.”

Laurie said Wilson “knew that suicide was the wrong decision.”

“He knew it was not the answer. He was doing what he could to prevent it and to bring this issue to our attention,” Laurie said. “We need to remember what he told us on his best days, not his worst.

“He made a wrong decision, but he was forgiven by God,” he added.

Laurie also stressed the importance of seeking help when feeling depressed or experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

“We don’t need to do life alone. We have each other. We have the church,” Laurie said.

In his sermon, he aimed to normalize mental health. 

“We would not say of someone who died of cancer, ‘Why didn’t they overcome their cancer? Why didn’t they get the upper hand on it?’ … Just as there are issues like that, there are also mental issues that can be medical,” Laurie said.

Kay Warren, whose husband, Rick Warren, is head pastor for Saddleback Church, was a special guest Wednesday. The Warrens lost their son to suicide in 2013.

She described Wilson’s death as a “catastrophic loss.”

“In the face of a loss like this, we can’t put any pretty little bows on it,” Warren said.

She urged church members to “be gentle with each other” as they grieve Wilson’s death. She acknowledged that some may feel confused after the suicide, while others may feel anger toward Wilson and God.

“That one moment of deep darkness and despair (does) not negate what he believed, it doesn’t negate his life and it doesn’t negate his ministry,” Warren said.

Rolaundra Coleman, 38, of Riverside, attended the service and said she was surprised when she learned of Wilson’s passing, but she added, “Mental illness doesn’t take any prejudices against who you are.

“I think that the church needs to do more talking about mental health,” Coleman said. “We act like, you know, if you have mental health problems then that means your relationship with the Lord isn’t what it should be. That doesn’t coincide.

“It’s good to go to church, but just church alone, you need to accompany it with more action,” Coleman said.


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: RNS/Alejandra Molina

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