U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children

Father Jack Barker of St. Martha’s Catholic Church in Murrieta, Calif., spoke at a vigil.
Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times

By Michael Paulson in The New York Times

After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”

When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.

The United States’ response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant children, many of them fleeing violence and exploitation in Central America, has been symbolized by an angry pushback from citizens and local officials who have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.

Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist Convention leader, recently took other officials to visit children at Texas detention centers. Credit Jennifer Whitney for The New York Times

“We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help. He said that in his own congregation, some were comparing the flow of immigrant children to the Kindertransport, a rescue mission in the late 1930s that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Britain for safekeeping.

“The question for us is: How do we want to be remembered, as yelling and screaming to go back, or as using the teachings of our traditions to have compassion and love and grace for the lives of God’s children?” Rabbi Knight said.

The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, who have long allied with Republican politicians against abortion and same-sex marriage, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right.

“This is a crisis, and not simply a political crisis, but a moral one,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. On Tuesday, Mr. Moore led a delegation of Southern Baptist officials to visit refugee children at detention centers in San Antonio and McAllen, Tex. In an interview after the visit, Mr. Moore said that “the anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting” and added: “The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

Read more at The New York Times

Mistrust and Hate: The Frightening New Lives of Homosexuals in Uganda

By Jan Puhl in Kampala, Uganda

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On February 24, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a law allowing for life sentences for homosexuals. Michael Kawuba is one of the many in the country who supports the measure. He spends much of his free time preaching against what he sees as the evils of homosexuality.

Michael Kawuba is sitting in his church office reflecting on tumescence. “We Ugandans get an erection when we see a beautiful woman,” he says. “Anything else is unnatural.”

During the day, Kawuba works as a financial advisor, but once he is finished, he rejoins the battle against homosexuality. A friendly man of 31, Kawuba is married and has three children — and he is not one to rant. But every second Sunday, he preaches to the Kakumba congregation. “The Bible forbade homosexuality. God rained down fire onto Sodom and Gomorrah” — he continues in this vein for hours at a time, standing behind a wooden pulpit. The sanctuary is spacious with a roof made of palm fronds. A band including guitar, bass and drums players pumps out gospel music while worshippers sing along, sway to the rhythm and stretch their arms heavenward as they call out “praise the Lord!”

On Feb. 24, God would seem to have finally heard their entreaties. That was the day that President Yoweri Museveni signed a law making “aggravated homosexuality” punishable with sentences of up to life in prison. A first draft of the law had even called for the death penalty. Michael Kawuba invited friends over for the event and they watched their head of state sign the new statute. “We cheered like we were watching football,” Kawuba says.

According to one survey, 96 percent of all Ugandans find homosexuality unacceptable and many are in favor of locking away gays, lesbians and transsexuals. Uganda has long been a model country in Africa: Though the regime is authoritarian, the country is stable and economically successful. Now, it has one of the most draconian anti-gay laws on the continent, trailing only Nigeria’s Muslim north, Mauretania, Somalia and Sudan. Now, homosexuality is a punishable offense in 36 of Africa’s 54 countries.

Afraid of Attacks

The international community was horrified: The United States slashed development aid to Uganda, the Europe Union threatened to impose sanctions and the United Nations warned the country to uphold human rights. But the reactions have done little to help the gays and lesbians in Uganda: Many have gone into hiding or fled the country. They believe that a wave of arrests is pending. Most of all, though, they are afraid of attacks from anti-gay activists.

There are thousands of congregations like that of lay-preacher Michael Kawuba. They tend to be small, but are often radical. Many of them, including Kakumba Church, maintain close contacts with evangelicals in the US whose self-proclaimed mission is that of bashing homosexuals. In 2009, for example, the ultra-right-wing activist Scott Lively traveled to Uganda claiming, among other things, that gays are to be blamed for the Holocaust.

The new law, following years of debate, has led to an increase in hate in the country. Though homosexuality has long been forbidden in Uganda, and gays and lesbians were often the target of abuse, nobody was locked away for it. There were even bars and clubs where they could go undisturbed. But that has now changed.

‘No Chance Against a Mob’

Attacks against gays and lesbians now occur on an almost daily basis, with human rights activists counting more than 70 cases since the law was signed. Dennis Wamala’s boyfriend, an actor, decided to stay in France following a theater trip to the country — out of fear. “We aren’t so much afraid of the police,” Wamala says. “When you get arrested, you can get yourself a lawyer. But you don’t have a chance against a mob. Many in Uganda would prefer to see us dead.” He says that the new legislation is a green light for people to take the law into their own hands.

Read more at Der Spiegel

George W. Bush to Raise Money for Group That Converts Jews to Bring About Second Coming of Christ

Update (11/8/13): After this story published, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute removed references to George W. Bush’s scheduled appearance from its website. But Freddy Ford, a spokesman for the former president, told Mother Jones on Friday afternoon that Bush’s plans “haven’t changed,” and he will appear at the event.

Update (11/8/13): After this story published, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute removed references to George W. Bush’s scheduled appearance from its website. But Freddy Ford, a spokesman for the former president, told Mother Jones on Friday afternoon that Bush’s plans “haven’t changed,” and he will appear at the event.

Next week, former President George W. Bush is scheduled to keynote a fundraiser in Irving, Texas, for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a group that trains people in the United States, Israel, and around the world to convince Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. The organization’s goal: to “restore” Israel and the Jews and bring about about the second coming of Christ.

Messianic Jews have long been controversial for Jews of all major denominations, who object to their proselytizing efforts and their message that salvation by Jesus is consistent with Jewish theology. Last year, Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, told Politico that former Sen. Rick Santorum’s appearance at an event hosted by another Messianic Jewish organization, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, was “insensitive and offensive.” And Commentary magazine, which bills itself as a “conservative American journal of politics, Judaism, social and cultural issues,” noted, “it must be understood that the visceral distaste that the overwhelming majority of Jews have for the Messianics is not to be taken lightly.” Many Messianic Jews are Christians who have adopted aspects of Jewish ritual observance; others are Jews who share the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah.

Read more at Mother Jones