Faith Digest: Atheists offer invocations at government gatherings

Faith Digest: Atheists offer invocations at public gatherings

The Supreme Court decision handed down in May allows sectarian prayers of all kinds at public meetings. Nonbelievers already have offered secular invocations—essentially calls for inclusion aimed at elected officials rather than directed to a deity—at meetings in Pennsylvania and Illinois, and atheist groups in Florida have asked for a chance at the lectern. On July 15, Dan Courtney, a member of the Atheist Community of Rochester, will deliver the invocation at a council meeting in Greece, N.Y., the town at the center of the court decision.

Pope urges Mafia to repent. Pope Francis is calling for Italy’s organized crime groups to give up “the adoration of evil,” telling members of the Mafia they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church. pope francis300Pope Francis told Mafia members they “are excommunicated” from the Catholic Church. (RNS / Creative Commons image by Christoph Wagener)The pope ventured into the heartland of the country’s most powerful Mafia to issue the Vatican’s strongest attack on organized crime since the late Pope John Paul II attacked the Sicilian Mafia in 1993. “Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mobsters do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated,” the pope told tens of thousands who gathered to celebrate Mass in the town of Sibari. Francis’ determination to challenge organized crime groups provoked warnings he could become a Mafia target. One of Italy’s top prosecutors, Nicola Gratteri, who investigates the Mafia, said the pope had created a “revolution” in the church and was at risk of Mafia retribution because of his desire to get rid of cronyism and corruption.

Presbyterians vote to allow gay marriage. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted at its general assembly in June to allow gay and lesbian weddings within the church, making it among the largest Christian denominations to take an embracing step toward same-sex marriage. By a 61-39 percent vote, the general assembly of the 1.8 million-member denomination voted to allow pastors to perform gay marriages in states where they are legal. Delegates, meeting in Detroit, also approved new language about marriage in the church’s Book of Order, or constitution, altering references to “a man and woman” to “two persons.” This change will not become church law until a majority of the 172 regional presbyteries vote to ratify the new language. But given the lopsided ratio of the vote, approval is expected. Under the new rules, pastors who do not want to preside over gay weddings are not obligated to, and the change applies only in the 19 states and the District of Columbia where same-sex civil marriage is legal.

Presbyterians use divestment to pressure Israel. The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories. The 310-303 vote of the church’s general assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return occupied territories. The divestment resolution targeted companies divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries. “After a decade of corporate engagement with Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, these companies have failed to modify their behavior and continue to profit from Israeli human rights abuses and nonpeaceful pursuits,” said Walt Davis of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a pro-divestment group within the church. Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism in North America, spoke to the assembly, warning a divestment vote would be taken as a sign the church has aligned itself with voices in the “boycott/divestment/sanctions” movement who vilify Israel and even question its right to exist.

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