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Josh Duggar, formerly executive director of the Family Research Council Action, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, on Aug. 9, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Brian Frank.

Ex-trooper says he was not told the truth in Duggar molestation case

Doug Stanglin May 29, 2015

A former Arkansas state trooper claims the Duggar family concealed the extent of their son’s alleged fondling of underage girls when the patriarch of the family turned to him for help disciplining the teenager more than a decade ago, the tabloid In Touch reports.

The tabloid broke the original story that Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the Duggar family, from the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” had allegedly molested girls when he was a teenager. It published a 2006 police report on the incident.

Duggar has since apologized for “acting inexcusably” as a teenager and has resigned as executive director of the Family Research Council’s lobbying arm.

According to the police report, Jim Bob Duggar, the family patriarch, told police that he brought his son to then State Trooper Joseph Hutchens, a personal friend, for a “stern talk” after Josh purportedly had gone through a Christian counseling program in 2003.

The report states that Hutchens said there was nothing more to do about the allegations, given that Josh Duggar had gone through a counseling program.

The unaffiliated make up a growing share across generations. Photo courtesy of Pew Research Center

Can there be an ‘atheist vote’? Nonreligious set sights on 2016

Kimberly Winston May 28, 2015

(RNS) A few years ago, when atheist activists asked U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, to tone down a Christian-oriented message to voters, they were told, “There aren’t any atheists in Louisiana.”

But according to a new Pew Research Center survey, not only are there atheists in Louisiana, there are agnostics and “nones” — people who say they have no religious affiliation — too.

The May 12 survey found that 2 percent of Louisianans are atheist, another 2 percent are agnostic, and 13 percent are unaffiliated “nones.” Those numbers are amplified nationally, where the religiously unaffiliated have grown to about 22 percent, or 56 million Americans, up 19 million people from 2007.

“It’s easy to ignore 2, 3 or 4 percent of the population,” said Kelly Damerow, interim director of Secular Coalition for America, who met with Vitter’s staff in April 2013. “But with this state-by-state breakdown we can now go into their offices and say, ‘Here’s your state.’ It’s hard to ignore almost 1 in 5 people.”

As the 2016 election approaches, atheist, humanist and other freethinking activists are encouraged. They say their longtime goal of creating a cohesive and formidable secular voting bloc from the diverse and scattered category of the nonreligious has taken new life from the study — and could carry them far if they use the data wisely.

Phyllis Tickle

Author Phyllis Tickle faces death just as she enjoyed life: ‘The dying is my next career’

David Gibson May 27, 2015

LUCY, Tenn. (RNS) Over the past generation, no one has written more deeply and spoken more widely about the contours of American faith and spirituality than Phyllis Tickle.

And now, at 81, she’s working on her final chapter: her own.

On Jan. 2, the very day her husband, Sam, succumbed to a long and debilitating illness, Tickle found herself flat on her back with a high fever, “as sick as I’ve ever been” and racked by “the cough from hell.”

The fever eventually subsided, but the cough wouldn’t let go. When she finally visited the doctor last month, the diagnosis was quick, and grim: Stage IV lung cancer that had already spread to her spine. The doctors told her she has four months to live, maybe six.

“And then they added: ‘But you’re very healthy so it may take longer.’ Which I just loved!” she says with her characteristic sharp laugh.

Indeed, that’s the kind of irony that delights Tickle, even in sober moments like this, and it embodies the sort of dry humor and frank approach that leaven even her most poignant, personal reflections. It’s also central to the distinctive style, delivered in a rich Southern register, that has won her innumerable fans and friends who will be hard-hit by the news of her illness.

A couple walks hand in hand from the count centre in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on gay marriage May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Ireland gay-marriage vote a ‘reality check’ for church (ANALYSIS)

Kim Hjelmgaard May 26, 2015

DUBLIN — In many ways, Ireland remains a heavily Catholic country.

Yet Friday (May 22)’s emphatic “Yes” vote to same-sex marriage rights represents a seismic shift in the nation’s social liberalization and challenges the Roman Catholic Church to rethink its role in Irish society.

“We must not move into the denial of the realities,” Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said after voters approved a constitutional change that gives same-sex couples the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

“I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day,” said Martin, who voted against the measure. “They feel this is something enriching the way they live. It’s a social revolution.”

“The church has a huge task to get its message across to young people. (It) needs to do a reality check,” Martin said.

Sixty-two percent of voters rejected the nation’s traditional social conservatism to make Ireland the first nation in the world to approve full marriage rights to same-sex couples by popular referendum. Eighteen other countries have legalized gay marriage through legislation or the courts.

Josh Duggar, formerly executive director of the Family Research Council Action, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa August 9, 2014. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Brian Frank. *Editors: This photo can only be used with RNS-DUGGAR-MOLEST, transmitted May 22, 2015.

Duggars reeling from Josh’s sex-abuse scandal

Maria Puente May 22, 2015

The Duggars, the reality TV family famous for its progeny (19 Kids and Counting) and its conservatism, is reeling now that oldest son, Josh, has been forced to acknowledge he was investigated for molesting underage girls when he was a teenager in Arkansas.

His acknowledgement came after InTouch magazine published a story Thursday (May 21) about police records it obtained from Springdale, Ark., hidden since 2006, that show Josh Duggar confessed to his father, Jim Bob Duggar, who then waited more than a year before contacting police about what his then 15-year-old son admitting doing to five girls.

Josh Duggar apologized Thursday and abruptly resigned his job at the Family Research Council in Washington, one of the leading conservative groups fighting abortion and gay marriage among other causes.

For most of Thursday, his Twitter account was silent but by evening he had tweeted a link to the family’s statement.

“Twelve years ago, as a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends,” Josh Duggar, 27, said in the statement posted on the family’s Facebook page.

“We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing, and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling,” the statement said. “I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life.”

Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, addresses the crowd at the Festival of Hope, an evangelistic rally held at the national stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Jan. 9, 2011. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Allison Shelley

Franklin Graham’s Facebook prayers target Supreme Court justices on gay marriage

Lauren Markoe May 21, 2015

Evangelist Franklin Graham has taken to Facebook to plead for prayers on behalf of each U.S. Supreme Court justices as they prepare to rule on gay marriage.

Recognizing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right “would be a wicked, wicked thing,” said Graham, son of the iconic preacher Billy Graham “The only hope we have is prayer.”

“Imagine tens and tens and tens of thousands of Americans praying for God to hear their prayers and to change the hearts of these justices. God just might do that.”

So far, Graham has posted prayers for seven of the justices on his Facebook page, which has 1.4 million “likes.” He plans to do two more in the coming days, covering all nine justices, both those who may rule for and those who are against same-sex marriage.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide before the end of June. Many court observers believe the court is poised, if not to declare the constitutionality of gay marriage, then at least to require states to recognize gay marriages established in states where it is legal.

Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Samaritan’s Purse charity, describes Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the subject of his latest post, as the daughter of immigrants who made good on the American dream.

Photo courtesy of Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter

We can’t make this up: The Blessing of the Toilet Paper

Kevin Eckstrom May 20, 2015

From an email from the Rev. Dwight Lee Wolter of the Congregational Church of Patchogue (N.Y.):

“I have never been so down on my luck that I had little or no access to toilet paper ~ but that is not the case with many people. We at the Congregational Church of Patchogue want to thank you for helping us to help people meet their most basic needs: simple foods, toilet paper, soap, feminine hygiene products and other items. This photo is from “The Blessing of the Toilet Paper” at the church. We serve people without regard or question as to their address, age, preferences, orientation, ethnicity. The only requirement is that they seek what we have to offer. And what we can offer is up to you. Please send contributions to The Congregational Church of Patchogue, 95 East Main St. Patchogue, NY 11772. Write pantry or TP in the memo section. 100% of contributions go to purchase much needed items.”

IMB President David Platt challenges the congregation at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky to go to unreached people living in hard places because we have an “incomprehensibly glorious God.” Photo courtesy of IMB

For SBC missionaries, the Baptist Faith and Message is the touchstone (COMMENTARY)

Greg Perreault May 19, 2015

The Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board trustees approved policy changes last week regarding baseline qualifications for missionaries. There have been various misunderstandings communicated online and in social media about these policies, and these reports have given us the opportunity to provide necessary clarifications concerning what this policy change means.

The driving force behind all these changes is to unify all SBC churches under the umbrella of the Baptist Faith and Message in order to send limitless missionary teams to unreached people and places for the glory of God.

One issue that has particularly drawn attention is the practice of speaking in tongues or the use of a private prayer language. Up until now, if a person had spoken in tongues or practiced a private prayer language, that person was immediately disqualified from appointment as an IMB missionary. IMB trustees voted last week to remove that automatic disqualification.

Rabbi Barry Freundel during morning prayers at Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10, 2014. Photo by Lloyd Wolf

‘Peeping Tom’ rabbi sentenced to more than 6 years

Lauren Markoe May 18, 2015

A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday (May 15) sentenced a prominent Orthodox rabbi to nearly 6 1/2 years in prison for secretly videotaping dozens of naked women in a mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath.

Rabbi Barry Freundel pleaded guilty in February to 52 counts of voyeurism, one for each of the 52 women who prosecutors said were the victims of Freundel’s spying with a hidden camera during the three years for which the statute of limitations applies.

“The defendant repeatedly and seriously violated the trust and abused his power,” Judge Geoffrey Alprin said Friday, according to news reports. “The conduct is despicable. There is no justification. The defendant lured victims to the mikvah and secretly recorded them undressed without their knowledge or permission.”

Residents displaced due to the recent fighting between government and rebel forces in the Upper Nile capital Malakal wait at a World Food Program (WFP) outpost where thousands have taken shelter in Kuernyang Payam

World Vision suspends operations in key South Sudan state over escalating violence

Greg Perreault May 14, 2015

Amid killings, rapes and abductions, the international evangelical humanitarian agency World Vision indefinitely suspended its operations in South Sudan’s Unity State over the escalating conflict.

Multiple other aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders, have taken similar action.

On Wednesday (May 13), gunmen torched towns in some of the heaviest fighting in the 17-month-long conflict in the predominantly Christian country.

World Vision partnered with the United Nations to distribute shelter materials and other emergency relief supplies, including food, water and sanitation services, and mosquito nets.

In addition, the organization’s nutrition programs target children under age 5.

Samar Abboud, the group’s acting national director, said aid workers could no longer work in Unity State under the circumstances.