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Amanda Casanova

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

More than 100 Democratic politicians are asking the Democratic National Committee in a letter to adjust its official position on abortion.

The letter says that “extreme” policies on abortion are alienating voters.

“We are concerned that many Democratic leaders support policies on abortion that are radically out of line with public opinion,” the letter from Democrats for Life of America says. “Many Democratic leaders support abortion at any time, for any reason; this position is opposed by 79% of Americans. The 2016 Democratic 1 Platform endorses taxpayer funding of abortion, opposed by a supermajority of the population.”

According to the letter, there are some 21 million Democrats that are pro-life.

“Finally, we are concerned about the betrayal of Democratic Party values,” the letter says. “An extreme position on abortion rights violates our commitment to inclusivity and diversity. Polling consistently shows that one in three Democrats are pro-life.”

The letter asks that the Democratic Party avoid pushing forward “extreme” policies, such as a law in Congress defining abortion or taxpayer-funded abortion.

“In the US, pro-life Democrats have been a critical part of the coalition to expand voting rights, improve health care, and pass criminal justice reform,” the letter says.

Of the 104 signees on the letter, 82 are current Democratic Party officials, and 23 are retired officials. Of the total, 21 percent are women.

The Democratic National Convention starts Monday, Aug. 17 where the party is expected to formally approve the 2020 Democratic Party platform.

“Never before in history have so many Democratic politicians challenged their own party on abortion,” said Democrats for Life of America Executive Director Kristen Day. “The Democratic Party is at breaking point. State legislators realize that taxpayer-funded abortion on demand is a losing issue. If we really care about defeating Donald Trump in November, we have to bring our position in line with mainstream America.

“As Democrats, we are anti-Trump and enthusiastic supporters of Black Lives Matter. Why is dismembering preborn children the hill we want to die on when so much is at stake? We took this issue for granted in 2016, and Hillary Clinton lost. We cannot make this mistake again.”


Abortions Are Tax Deductible? 100 Legislators Urge IRS to Change Tax Code – ‘Abortion Is Not Health Care’

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Devonyu

Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and She blogs at The Migraine Runner.

(RNS) — After the killing of George Floyd on May 25, George Fox University, a Quaker-founded evangelical Christian school in Oregon, announced plans to change its campus culture, improve police engagement and diversify its board of trustees.

Gordon College, a Christian institution in Massachusetts, said it would consider adding a Black history course to its core curriculum. Calvin University in Michigan offered a summer class on “Faithful Anti-Racism in a Time of Pandemic.”

They were among the dozens of evangelical colleges and universities that issued statements grieving Floyd’s death in police custody and pledging to find practical steps to address racial justice on and beyond their campuses.

But the schools’ promises to correct an often-common history of failing to prioritize racial justice and reconciliation left some students unsatisfied. 

“You failed me and so many other black students,” a George Fox graduate commented on a George Fox Facebook post. “Do better than just putting words on facebook.”

“You fail to support students of color in and out of the classroom. Your retention rates for students of color are lower because y’all don’t know how (to) hire diverse faculty who are able to connect with the students,” another commented. 

Students and staff at Calvin University were also vocal about their desire for a more decisive response from leadership in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Two Black staff members who were then advisers to Calvin’s Sister to Sister affinity group for Black women wrote a May 30 open letter to Calvin’s administration. 

“Your black students are tired, angry and hurting. Your students of color are tired, are angry and hurting,” said Michelle Guinyard and Rachel Hamilton. “Your staff, faculty and alum of color are tired, angry and hurting. We don’t need silence right now … we want to know that when we say that we are devoted to diversity and inclusion, that includes justice and speaking against injustice.” 

Race relations experts say they have been trying for years to move these often predominantly white institutions to be not just diverse in student body and their faculty and other hires, but truly inclusive. The deep national response to Floyd’s death has now put pressure on some of these institutions to go beyond promised prayers and panel discussions.

Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, said she doesn’t think racial justice efforts are “any more challenging in Christian higher education than in white-majority education.” But she said that the leaders of the 140 U.S. schools in her consortium are seeking to find ways to foster appropriate relations on their campuses.

The effort is driven not only by this summer’s protests but by broader demographic changes. The Black student population at CCCU-related institutions has grown, according to U.S. Education Department data, from 9.73% in the 2007-08 school year to 10.8% in 2018-19. Hispanic students increased from 5.3% to 11.3% in the same time period.

Leaders of Christian colleges and universities still need to work on providing minority students with a college experience where they are not regarded, wrongly and even unconsciously, as outliers in an environment primarily catering to white people, Hoogstra said.

“I would say the challenge is to be able to have self-reflection and self-assessment as to how then you become a school that no longer has students who are guests and hosts,” she said, citing advice from Rebecca Hernandez, chief diversity officer at George Fox University, and other leaders of color in the CCCU community.

After the pushback to their original statement, George Fox released a more explicit statement on June 18 that read in part, “Black lives absolutely matter to Christ and Black lives absolutely matter to George Fox University.

“The university has been at this work for many years, and we acknowledge we’ve had failures alongside our successes. Work we said was a priority was not always treated as such. As a community, we own that. We must do better.”

As part of the changes, George Fox will be training its campus security in de-escalation tactics, will develop student learning goals to address diversity and inclusion through a pilot program in spring 2021, and will be hiring a new admissions staffer focused on building relationships with diverse student populations. 

“These initiatives are part of a long-term commitment of the university,” said Hernandez. “It comes out of our Quaker roots. Quakers have historically been very involved in peace and justice efforts.” 

Hernandez, who has been at George Fox for almost seven years, said the university has been prioritizing recruitment and retention of faculty and staff of color as long as she’s been there, which has resulted in a faculty that is 18% people of color. She noted that George Fox still has a “ways to go” until the faculty is representative of the student body, which is 32% students of color. 

At Gordon College, student leaders chose not to settle into summer break but instead to demand that their school get to work after Floyd’s death.

“Our student government brought to our attention that while this may be summer, this is a crisis situation,” said Nick Rowe, associate vice president for student and global engagement. “They said our students are suffering and are really frustrated because it feels like the school they go to isn’t equipping them to respond to what happened.” 

The student government, in collaboration with Black-led student groups, proposed making curriculum changes that would highlight Black experiences within the coursework.

Gordon says it is taking that proposal seriously. 

In a June 12 Facebook post, Gordon stated: “We know we can do better, and we are sorry for the hurt and harm that our Black community has endured through their Gordon experience. … We are committed to listening well so that we can act well.” 

Though curriculum changes aren’t final — Gordon wants to build consensus to avoid a “quick fix,” according to Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Sandy Doneski — Rowe said that the changes will include the addition of a Black history course to the core curriculum. 

The change comes amid an identity shift for the institution, whose student body has seen an increase from 20% students of color in 2016 to almost one-third students of color in 2020, according to Rowe.

That diversity has not been reflected in the faculty and staff, who have grappled with what Rowe called “white normativity” in the classroom.

At Calvin University, the day after Guinyard and Hamilton released their open letter, the school’s president released a statement acknowledging the pain of “black and brown members of our community” and expressed the school’s commitment to “anti-racism, anti-violence, and the vision of God’s shalom for the human community.”

“We have some amazing students, and I think they’re good at holding our feet to the fire,” said Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim, Calvin’s associate dean for diversity and inclusion. “They let us know when we’re being slow.”

Recently, Calvin redesigned Dykstra-Pruim’s position to prioritize diversity and inclusion in both faculty training and in curriculum development, especially as Calvin works to revamp its core curriculum. 

As part of her reconfigured position, Dykstra-Pruim has been working to help faculty and staff draft statements of diversity and inclusion to include on their syllabi. All faculty will be asked to include these statements in the fall. 

No less self-examination is going on at Christian seminaries, where students and some professors have also called for greater inclusion and racial justice. After Black leaders at dozens of theological schools and religion departments released a statement in early June, scores of white deans and presidents at institutions belonging to the Association of Theological Schools followed with a letter pledging solidarity with their colleagues of color and a focus on “unlearning white supremacy” and “reimagining theological education.”

Ally Henny, who helped organize a 2018 #ToxicFuller protest while a graduate student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Los Angeles, said she was pleased to hear her alma mater’s president and four associate deans signed the letter. But Henny reserved her congratulations until she saw substantive change.

Henny said some professors at Fuller, whose students were 8% Black and 5.8% Hispanic in the 2019-20 academic year, were intentional about including Black and Hispanic authors on their reading lists. Others tended to pick only one week of a course to focus on writings of scholars who were not white men.

“Fuller is what I would call nice white folks,” said Henny, a writer and podcaster who was a member of the school’s Black Seminarians Council until her June graduation. “They understand how to present themselves in the space as if they’re listening but whenever you get to action points and you get to the rubber actually meeting the road, Fuller suffers from what a lot of institutions suffer from and that’s inertia.”

Alexis Abernethy, who was hired as Fuller’s associate provost for faculty inclusion and equity just before the 2018 protest, said she understands Henny’s concerns and is aware that some faculty still need to make a more concerted effort to put together inclusive syllabi.

But structural changes have begun, Abernethy said. Fuller’s faculty now have to report progress on diversifying their courses in their annual reports to their deans. The school is also pushing for a “deeper integration” of Black and Latino authors in the upcoming academic year so that professors include their perspectives more often across a quarter.

“I do get that for our students — some of our students — it’s not felt fast enough,” Abernethy said. “I do have to say for some of our other students, they feel the difference.”

Brenda Salter McNeil, an associate professor of reconciliation studies at Seattle Pacific University, has been an advocate for making race relations a priority at Christian seminaries and colleges alike. In 2019, she led a discussion, “Diversity Is Discipleship,” at the CCCU’s third Diversity Conference. 

Salter McNeil said she hopes religious institutions of higher learning will start doing “real reparative work” along the lines of Georgetown University’s initiatives to address its historical ties to slavery.

But Salter McNeil said she feels exhausted by trying to motivate schools to address race. “The CCCU has so hurt and disappointed so many of us who have worked for years to try to be patient enough and collaborative enough and in dialogue enough with this issue that many of us have given up,” she said. “I have given up.”

Hoogstra said it was “heartbreaking” to hear Salter McNeil’s assessment.

“When an outstanding leader like Brenda Salter McNeil has said, ‘I’ve given up,’ it just tells you the weight of the burden," she said. "As a white leader with a position of influence, I am committed to making sure that that doesn’t happen for our next generation of leaders.”


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

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

HYDERABAD, India, August 13, 2020 (Morning Star News) – Pastor Ramnivas Kumar had been attacked before, but in the latest instance he was stunned that police in eastern India arrested his bleeding guests based on transparently false accusations that they were robbers, he said.

Christians Avinash Kumar and Rambali Ram were visiting Pastor Kumar’s home in Ranjitpur village, Bihar state on July 13 with two Hindu friends who had met them on the way from their fields in Sitamarhi District and requested the pastor pray for them, the church leader said.

The two Hindus had told their two Christian friends they wanted the pastor to tell them the story of Jesus and to pray for them, he said. As he and the four guests chatted over tea, Pastor Kumar asked if recent flooding had affected their harvests, explained the gospel to the Hindus and began praying for them, he said.

“As I was praying, we heard the neighbors shouting at us from the main door,” Pastor Kumar told Morning Star News. “They were hurling abuses at me, accusing me of accepting a foreign faith and following a foreign God.”

He and the two Christian guests went out to ask why they had intruded onto his property and were using filthy language against him and his faith.

“They started beating us with steel rods and wooden sticks. Both the brothers received blows on their heads, and they were soon bleeding profusely,” the pastor said. “I was also hit and could not control the mob from striking the four guests who were visiting us.”

He called police, and officers from the Punaura police station arrived and asked why the mob had barged onto his property and beat them with steel rods and sticks, Pastor Kumar said.

“The assailants very tactfully flipped the matter and told the police that they were worried that four persons forced their way into Ramnivas Kumar’s house, and that they had come in time to rescue him from daylight robbery,” he told Morning Star News. “The police listened to their version but did not pay heed to us. Our pleas fell on deaf ears.”

The officers told him the four guests were “outsiders, and they could even be killed if they entered someone’s house to commit robbery,” and they arrested the two Christian visitors, Pastor Kumar said.

A representative of legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India called the station chief and higher police officials in Bihar that night, urging them to take action against the assailants and not charge the innocent Christians, he said. As a result, the Christians were released early the next morning without charges.

Police warned the assailants not to disturb the pastor or his friends, Pastor Kumar said, and with ADF India’s help he petitioned the superintendent of police and other higher police officials, as well as the Human Rights Commission, for help. Authorities informed him that the case would be heard before the sub-divisional officer on Sept. 13, he said.

‘Defiled Village’

Pastor Kumar, who has an artificial leg after an amputation due to a train accident when he was 1 year old, said he has been attacked five times before, three violently, during five years of ministry in impoverished Bihar state.

Five village men in contact with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayam Sevaksangh (RSS) have instigated residents against him, saying he has defiled the village by accepting Christianity and “attempting to spread a foreign faith,” he said.

“God knows that I cannot prevent them physically from attacking me,” Pastor Kumar said. “After another attack in November 2019 at a Christian’s house where I was praying, I wrote to higher officials, but no action was taken against the assailants.”

Villagers accuse him of bringing a foreign faith that encourages people to eat cow and oxen meat, forbidden in Hinduism, he said. They told his parents he had converted to Islam and had started eating beef, he added.

“My parents bitterly disliked this, and they started attacking me,” he said.

‘Who Is God?’

He had left his native Ranjitpur for Gujarat state in 2011 and was working as a clerk at a college, and nights as a garment factory supervisor, when his spiritual restlessness led him to type into his mobile browser, “Who is God?”

“Some of the results showed Jesus Christ is God, and a few others showed Allah is God,” he said. “I thought to myself that I don’t wish to know about Islam as I felt the men in this faith marry many wives and keep concubines. ‘I don’t want to know about this faith,’ I told myself. Then I thought, ‘If Jesus Christ is God, I should know about him.”’

He searched for churches and met with a pastor, though initially he was angry that the church leader wore a T-shirt instead of priestly robes.

“I was very angry and told him that I have no business with you – call the church father, I will talk only with him,” he said.

The pastor smiled, asked him to take a seat and began sharing about Christ.

“He gave me a copy of the New Testament,” he said. “I started reading it, and soon I requested him to give me the full Bible. Then I begged him to baptize me.”

Soon he was admitted to a Bible college, graduating with a vision to return to Bihar among his own people, he said. He returned to Ranjitpur in 2015.

“Since the day I came to Christ, I had a longing to get back to my village and preach the gospel among my people,” he said. “All these days I had kept it a secret from my family, and also I took my wife to Gujarat and shared about Christ with her. I am well aware that preaching the gospel is not an easy task – my own family cast me out when they got to know that I came to Christ after I returned home with my wife.”

He faced opposition from the Aghora, a small branch of Saivism, which regards the Hindu god Shiva as the supreme being.

“In Bihar, particularly men of my age smear ash all over their body, do Ganja [cannabis] and roam naked as Aghora in the streets and temples,” he said. “They turn violent and can even kill a person in anger.”

When he went to villages to screen movies about Christ, the Aghora would throw water at or tear down the screen, he said.

“One of the Aghora Babas who has strong links with the BJP politicians and RSS lives very close to my home and tries to intercept me from moving freely on the road,” Pastor Kumar said. “He would chew his teeth and start laughing like a ghost when he sees me. He is never in his senses because of the drugs.”

India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.

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Article originally published by Morning Star News. Used with permission.

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