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People walk past Salt Lake temple as they arrive to attend the biannual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 5, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

In major move, Mormon apostles call for statewide LGBT protections

Peggy Fletcher Stack Jan 27, 2015

Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called Tuesday (Jan. 27) for passage of laws granting statewide protections against housing and employment discrimination for gay and lesbian Utahns — as long as those measures safeguard religious freedom.

The move, one LGBT advocates have been pushing for years, provides a major boost for the prospects of of a state nondiscrimination statute. Such proposals have been bottled up in the legislature for years — despite the church’s historic endorsement of similar protections in Salt Lake City ordinances in 2009.

Utah’s predominant faith issued the plea for such measures at all levels of government during a rare news conference.

“We call on local, state and the federal government to serve all of their people by passing legislation that protects vital religious freedoms for individuals, families, churches and other faith groups while also protecting the rights of our LGBT citizens in such areas as housing, employment and public accommodation in hotels, restaurants and transportation — protections which are not available in many parts of the country,” said church apostle Dallin H. Oaks.

Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (L) receives congratulations from clergy after he was crowned as the 16th Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia in Moscow's Christ the Saviour Cathedral, February 1, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Russian Orthodox patriarch wants to cut ‘horrifyingly high’ abortion rates

Greg Perreault Jan 26, 2015

MOSCOW (Reuters) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill called on Thursday for a deep cut in the “horrifyingly high” number of abortions, which he linked to a Western rejection of moral norms.

“The idea of absolutely prioritizing the value of free choice and of rejecting the priority of moral norms has become a slowly exploding bomb for Western civilisation,” he said in a speech to lawmakers.

“If we could just cut in half the number of abortions, there would be steady and powerful demographic growth.”

Russia’s population has been declining since the mid-1990s, hit by falling birth rates and life expectancy in the chaos that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. It currently stands at 142.5 million, compared with 148.7 million in 1991.

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What’s God got to do with football devotion? Plenty

Cathy Lynn Grossman Jan 22, 2015

Did God lift Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s overtime pass into the end zone on Sunday, rewarding the prayerful Christian player with a championship victory and a trip to the Super Bowl?

Millions of Americans may think so.

“One in four Americans believe there will be a 12th man on the field, and that the hand of God will be seen before the final whistle blows in the Super Bowl,” said Robert Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.

And 53 percent agree God “rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success,” according to a new PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey released Thursday (Jan. 22).

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0 apps to help keep those New Year’s resolutions, and do some good

Heather Adams Jan 21, 2015

Still trying to keep up with those New Year’s resolutions? Fear not: As your vows to lose weight or give more to charity get harder to keep, there are nearly a dozen apps that can help you stick to your plan — and do some good.

In general, American consumers spend an average of 2 hours and 42 minutes per day on their mobile devices, according to a Flurry report, and apps dominate people’s time and attention. Charities have been quick to jump on this trend with their own apps, and now some apps can marry your New Year’s resolutions with donations to charity.

Habitat for Humanity has worked closely with the app Charity Miles. Ruth Davila, director of cause marketing and workplace giving at Habitat for Humanity International, said the house-building charity has found these apps to be beneficial.

“These types of apps continue to increase in popularity, and we have found they are a useful and easy way to engage our donors and build donations. Within the first two years of this partnership, we saw an increase of 53 percent in Charity Miles donations received through the app,” Davila said.

Here are 10 apps, all available for iPhones, to help you keep those New Year’s resolutions and help your community.

Pope Francis gestures as he speaks with journalists on his flight back from Manila to Rome

Don’t breed ‘like rabbits’: Was Pope Francis breaking new ground on birth control?

David Gibson Jan 20, 2015

Pope Francis may have been elected by the Holy Spirit, but he seems made for the Age of Twitter.

A case in point were his latest remarks, in which he affirmed the Catholic Church’s ban on artificial contraception but derided the idea that “in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits” and produce litters of kids.

“No,” he told reporters on his flight home from the Philippines. “Responsible parenthood.”

Moments earlier, Francis had signaled his approach to the vexed birth control issue when, with equally quotable verve, he said the contraception ban “does not mean that the Christian must make children in series.”

He noted that during a parish visit some months ago, he even “rebuked” a woman who was pregnant again after having seven children, all delivered by Caesarean section. “But do you want to leave seven orphans?” Francis told her. “That is to tempt God!”

Cue the tweets, and the critiques: Rabbit breeders resented the pontiff’s use of a derogatory cliche about libidinous bunnies, while birth control supporters said the analogy demeaned people, who should make whatever decisions they want about the number of children they have, and when they have them — or not.

David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in “Selma” from Paramount Pictures, Pathé, and Harpo Films. RNS photo courtesy Paramount Pictures.

U.S. churchgoers still sit in segregated pews, and most are OK with that

Cathy Lynn Grossman Jan 19, 2015

On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (Jan. 15), just as the civil rights drama “Selma” was nominated for best picture in the Oscar race, one fact of American life was little changed.

Sunday morning remains, as King once observed, the most segregated hour in America. And, against a backdrop of increased racial tensions, new research shows that most Americans are OK with that.

Two in three (66 percent) Americans have never regularly attended a place of worship where they were an ethnic minority, according to new polling analysis released by LifeWay Research.

“People like the idea of diversity. They just don’t like being around different people,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Nashville, Tenn.-based research firm.

“Maybe their sense is that church is the space where they don’t have to worry about issues like this,” he said. But that could be a problem, because, Stetzer said, “If you don’t like diversity, you’re really not going to like heaven.”

Friday Night Meme, Featuring Sauron….

Greg Perreault Jan 16, 2015

10308118_10152710061676633_4478593979220475374_nWhen he’s not working to overpower Middle Earth, Sauron is apparently an avid football fan. Ohio State fan?

Whirling dervishes perform during a ceremony at Galata Mevlevihanesi. Religion News Service photo by Michael Kaplan

Rumi followers fight to keep Turks from cashing in on mystic’s legacy

michaelkaplan Jan 15, 2015

ISTANBUL (RNS) Each Sunday, visitors line up outside of the old Sufi lodge, now a museum, in Turkey’s tourist-filled Galata district, informational pamphlets, cameras and $20 tickets in hand.

The site is but one of the many places tourists flock for performances by the country’s famed white-robed whirling dervishes.

Cafes, hotels and former Sufi lodges reinvented as tourist attractions, like the one in Galata, have all cashed in on the ritual’s popularity.

The “sema” ceremonies, as they’re called, promise attendees a peek into a 750-year-old practice that is as graceful as it is spiritual.

Yet as more ceremonies spring up, excitement has been met by skepticism by descendants of the very 13th-century mystic who first popularized it.

“It’s becoming like a show,” said Faruk Hemdem Celebi, a 22nd-generation descendant of the famous poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and Sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi (1207-1273). “There are people doing this now to make money and attract tourists.”

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Here’s the faith in the ‘American Sniper’ you won’t see in the film

Sarah Pulliam Bailey Jan 14, 2015

Chris Kyle, often described as the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, wrote in his autobiography that he prioritized his life in the following order: God, country, family.

But God doesn’t make a central appearance in the film “American Sniper,” which opens nationwide on Friday (Jan. 16). The film offers a few similarities to “Unbroken,” Angelina Jolie’s recent World War II epic about POW Louis Zamperini.

Both stories focus on the dramatic stories of warriors who died before the movie versions of their lives came out. Both “American Sniper” and “Unbroken” include an early scene of their families sitting in church. Both men struggle with substance abuse after returning from war.

And both films largely skirt the faith that Kyle and Zamperini said were key to their identity — and their survival.

As a Navy SEAL, Kyle reportedly recorded 160 kill shots during his four tours in Iraq. His story drew national attention after the release of his 2012 autobiography “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,” which enjoyed a 37-week run on The New York Times’ best-seller list.