A bit of good news about Catholicism and Omaha

People love to bash the Catholic Church. But, Catholicism in America is, operationally speaking, controlled largely by each diocese and its bishops and cardinals. Those leaders exist across the left-right spectrum.

Then there are the Jesuits, who ultimately answer to the Pontiff and Rome, but who often chart a more progressive path independent of local diocesan bishops who do not control the Jesuits or their schools.

Such is the case in Omaha, of all places, where the panic over transgender students reared its ugly head when the Diocese of Omaha issued an edict about transgender issues in local schools.

Under the new policy — set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023 — students may be expelled, and teachers could be fired, if they ask to be identified as transgender. 

But the biggest names in Catholic schools in Omaha, including Duchesne (all girls) and Creighton Prep (all boys) have made it clear they will not be following the rules of the archdiocese:

“We exist to care for our kids. That’s why we’re here,” said Father Matt Spotts, president of Creighton Prep High School.

Spotts told 6 News he’s had to emphasize this point repeatedly after the Archdiocese of Omaha issued a new transgender policy requiring staff to treat people according to their biological sex at birth.

Spotts said Creighton Prep has different guidelines and doesn’t plan to make any changes.

“Every single student that walks through our doors is created in the image and likeness of God. That’s one of our most important and fundamental values,” he said.

Like most Catholic high schools in the Omaha metro area, Spotts said, Creighton Prep is independent and not required to follow the new policy.

“That is something that’s hard for a lot of folks to grasp,” he said.

Other independent Catholic high schools in Omaha include Duchesne, Marian, Mercy, Mount Michael, and the Jesuit Academy. Only three high schools are governed by the Archdiocese of Omaha: Gross, Roncalli, and Skutt.

The new transgender policy has caused so much confusion that many schools are sending out emails to parents to clarify.

It should also be noted that 9,000-student Creighton University, arguably the most prestigious 4-year university in the region if you’re not considering football prominence, had last year its first openly gay undergraduate student body president. That didn’t cause so much as a ripple in the area.

Creighton also was a leader in local COVID responses, requiring all students, staff and faculty to be vaccinated. The university fought (and won) when several students took Creighton to court over the requirement.

You can read the rest of the article about the trans policy, and the schools’ letters sent out to parents, at this link.

Catholics and Catholic thought are not monolithic, although they are often presented as such. That these schools and this university are pushing back against conservative policies proves that.

An aerial view of part of the Creighton campus.

Pope bypasses ultra-conservative bishops, chooses progressive one as next U.S. cardinal

Guess that’s what happens when you’ve made a name for being a right-wing zealot who hates Pope Francis:

When San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy receives his prestigious red hat at the Vatican on Saturday, he will bring to the College of Cardinals a fervent loyalty to Pope Francis that has often put him at odds with the conservative majority in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

McElroy, 68, is the only American among the 21 clerics being installed as cardinals by Francis in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Basilica. He was chosen over numerous higher-ranking American archbishops, including two from his home state — outspoken conservative Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. bishops conference.

McElroy has been among the few American bishops who questioned why the conference insists on identifying abortion as its “preeminent” priority. Echoing the pope’s concerns, he has questioned why greater prominence is not given to issues such as poverty, immigration and climate change.

“The death toll from abortion is more immediate, but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity,” McElroy said in 2020.

The Rev. James Martin, editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America, described McElroy as “one of the foremost articulators in the United States not only of Pope Francis’ vision but also the vision of the Second Vatican Council and, more basically, the vision of the Gospel.”

You can read the rest here.

San Francisco Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the drunk driver who has opposed same-sex marriage and LGBT job protections — and who has refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19 — was passed over to be a cardinal in favor of another California bishop who, like Pope Francis, believes that although “the death toll from abortion is more immediate, [the] long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity.”

31 Methodist churches in North Carolina file suit to leave denomination

Holy moley, man.

All the problems facing the world and some United Methodist Church nutjobs are STILL, after ALL THESE YEARS, saying they want to leave the denomination over LGBT issues.

Thirty-one United Methodist churches in western North Carolina are demanding they be allowed to leave the United Methodist Church and have hired a Florida legal firm to push their claim forward.

The National Center for Life and Liberty sent a letter to Bishop Ken Carter, who oversees both the denomination’s Western North Carolina and Florida annual conferences, to request that they preserve documents and other communications should a lawsuit be filed.

The same firm also sued the Florida Annual Conference on behalf of 100 churches wishing to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church last month.

Legal action — or the threat of legal action — represents a new strategy on behalf of churches that want to join the new Global Methodist Church, a new denomination launched largely over differing beliefs regarding the ordination and marriage of its LGBTQ members.

Fine, I say. Let ’em go.

Perhaps without congregations like these the Methodists — the REAL Methodists, that is — can move on to more important matters like child welfare, war and poverty rather than what consenting adults do with one another.

You can read the rest of the Religious News Service article at this link.

United Methodist headquarters.

About that time the Family Research Council got itself classified as a church

You might recall that Tony Perkins, the loathsome gay-obsessed leader of the Family Research Council (FRC), managed to get his organization declared to be a church for tax purposes.

So, how’s that going, Tony?

Forty members of Congress on Monday asked the IRS and the Treasury to investigate what the lawmakers termed an “alarming pattern” of right-wing advocacy groups registering with the tax agency as churches, a move that allows the organizations to shield themselves from some financial reporting requirements and makes it easier to avoid audits.

Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., raised transparency concerns in a letter to the heads of both agencies following a ProPublica story about the Family Research Council, a right-wing Christian think tank based in Washington, D.C., getting reclassified as a church. Thirty-eight other lawmakers, including Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., signed onto the letter.

“FRC is one example of an alarming pattern in the last decade — right-wing advocacy groups self-identifying as ‘churches’ and applying for and receiving church status,” the representatives wrote, noting the organization’s policy work supporting the overturning of Roe v. Wade and its advocacy for legislation seeking to ban gender-affirming surgery.

“Tax-exempt organizations should not be exploiting tax laws applicable to churches to avoid public accountability and the IRS’s examination of their activities,” they wrote.

The Family Research Council did not respond to requests for comment. The IRS told ProPublica that it does not comment on congressional correspondence.

Yeah, I wouldn’t imagine FRC would respond to press questions about that.

I would write LOL as many times as I think are deserved, but it might be annoying to you.

You can read the rest of Andrea Suozzo’s ProPublica article at this link.

Tony Perkins’ little scam about his right-wing hate group being a church might be coming to an end.

Flamboyantly rich preacher “robbed” of $1 million in jewelry on live stream of service

I think we all know how this is going to turn out.

A preacher known for his flamboyant lifestyle was robbed of more than $1m in jewelry during a livestreamed sermon in the New York.

Lamor Whitehead, 44, has vowed that the culprits “won’t get away with it”

Among the items taken from the flashy, Rolls Royce-driving clergyman were Rolexes, diamonds and emeralds.

Police are still investigating the incident. No suspects have so far been named or apprehended.

In the video Mr Whitehead is heard asking “How many of you have lost your faith because you saw somebody else die?” moments before several black-clad gunmen entered the church in Brooklyn.

It is not clear how many people were in attendance during the service.

“When I see them come into the sanctuary with their guns, I told everybody [to] get down, everybody just get down,” he later said on Instagram.

See, he got to be a “hero,” too.

Insurance companies don’t give a shit if you think you have a direct line to God or, most likely, are just really good at convincing marks…I mean parishioners that you have a direct line to God.

If there is anything shady to this, I doubt some prosperity gospel salesman is smart enough to hide it from them.

Should be interesting to watch this unfold.

Jesus don’t mind if you drape yourself in gold as long as it’s in the shape of a cross. Bishop Lamor Whitehead and some equally garish woman.

The Family Research Council is now a church in the eyes of the IRS

And the loathsome and hateful Tony Perkins, FRC leader since 2003, is the church’s spiritual leader.

ProPublica has the goods on this crazy development:

According to documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act and given to ProPublica, the FRC filed an application to change its status to an “association of churches,” a designation commonly used by groups with member churches like the Southern Baptist Convention, in March 2020. The agency approved the change a few months later.

The FRC is one of a growing list of activist groups to seek church status, a designation that comes with the ability for an organization to shield itself from financial scrutiny. Once the IRS blessed it as an association of churches, the FRC was no longer required to file a public tax return, known as a Form 990, revealing key staffer salaries, the names of board members and related organizations, large payments to independent contractors and grants the organization has made. Unlike with other charities, IRS investigators can’t initiate an audit on a church unless a high-level Treasury Department official has approved the investigation.

The FRC declined to make officials available for an interview or answer any questions for this story. Its former parent organization, Focus on the Family, changed its designation to become a church in 2016. In a statement, the organization said it made the switch largely out of concern for donor privacy, noting that many groups like it have made the same change. Many of them claim they operated in practice as churches or associations of churches all along.

Warren Cole Smith, president of the Christian transparency watchdog MinistryWatch, said he believes groups like these are seeking church status with the IRS for the protections it confers.

“I don’t believe that a lot of the organizations that have filed for the church exemption are in fact churches,” he said. “And I don’t think that they think that they are in fact churches.”

The IRS is basically asleep at the wheel when it comes to policing shady churches and grifting non-profits. They will go after single mothers with three kids working two jobs because that mother claimed the EIC at some point.

Quite a country we’re building here.

Tony Perkins.

Jesus loves you more if you give $1000 than if you give $100

Sometimes on Sunday morning while I am doing housework I turn my TV to an over-the-air channel that runs right-wing evangelical programs. I let it run in the background while I putter around the house. I find these people to be entertaining in the comedic sense of the word.

For pure unadulterated religious camp, you can’t beat James Payne of Inspiration Campmeeting. The hair. The suits. The terrible singing. He is straight out of Central Casting for oily TV ministers.

He’s constantly asking for money and this morning is no different. He’s been going on for half an hour now about Seed Size Determines Harvest Size, which means that people who pony up $1000 over, say, $100 are going to be heard faster by Jesus. (See screen cap below.)

Some progressives like to say that these preachers trick followers into giving money.

I beg to differ.

The preachers of the “prosperity gospel” don’t hide their intentions. They’re in it for the money. Everyone knows it. Their congregants know it. The viewers at home know it.

A part of me hopes these guys (and gals) get as much money as they can, because you know the preachers are mostly keeping it for themselves. That’s less money being sent to the right-wing money machine.

Family of Christian grifters goes on the run; is caught on Florida highway

ASLAN International Ministry in Florida appears to consist primarily of dad Evan; mom Mary Jane; daughter Joy, 36; and son Josh, 30. That didn’t stop them from allegedly claiming 487 employees and $2.7 million in payroll to receive more than $8 million in Covid relief funds from the government, which they are accused of using to try to purchase a $3.1 million home in Orlando in 2020.

Police caught them speeding on a Florida highway, Federal agents were called.

Evan Edwards told the officers they were headed to a conference in Texas, but he could not provide any specifics, according to the complaint.

Federal agents arrived on the scene and began searching the 2020 Mercedes. What they found indicated this was not a typical road trip.

Edwards, seated in the front passenger seat, had a laser printer on his lap. In a rear passenger seat, next to his wife and daughter, were two clear garbage bags full of shredded documents, according to the complaint.

The family’s personal electronic devices were stuffed into a so-called Faraday bag, which blocks radio frequencies to keep from being tracked, the complaint says.

There were also suitcases full of financial records, two other Faraday bags with laptops and tablets inside, a document shredder, and multiple backpacks containing external hard drives and USB drives, according to the complaint.

“Other electronic documents located in the search include a 49-page research manual published by the Bureau of Justice related to ‘Tracing Money Flows Through Financial Institutions,’” the federal complaint says.

Methinks someone’s going to a hell called prison. I wonder which one is going to turn first on the rest of the family. I will guess Josh or the mom since neither one seems able work up a even a wan smile for a promotional photo (see below).

You can read the rest here.

The Edwards family of the ASLAN International Ministry in a photo from their promotional materials.

In WaPo op-ed, an atheist demands that her people organize to fight Christian nationalism

Some of the most Christian-like people I know are atheists.

To phrase it differently, if you were to look at the primary tenets espoused by Jesus Christ in the New Testament — charity toward the poor and the sick, love your neighbor, a rejection of material pursuits — then my atheist friends very often hew more closely to these values than do many of my more pious Christian friends.

To use two examples: Jesus never mentioned gays or guns, so why are so many MAGA types fixated on those two issues?

Stepping into the morass these questions create is Washington Post contributing columnist Kate Cohen in a piece this week:

How do we fight the growing power of the Christian right?

One way is with other religions. A Florida synagogue recently sued the state over its abortion ban, arguing, in effect, that its God has different rules. (In questions of abortion, Jewish law prioritizes the woman’s life and well-being.)

It’s gratifying to watch Jews take on this legal battle, daring the courts to say out loud that one religious perspective deserves more protection than another.

But even if that works, it would mean that every time the Christian right tries to force the rest of us to live by their God’s rules, we’d have to find another Certified Religious Group to fight back. Okay, listen up: Whose God specifically endorses same-sex marriage? Can anyone cite scripture sanctifying contraception?

We shouldn’t have to use one God to fight another God. We shouldn’t have to be religious to be free. What we need — and what our Constitution conveniently provides for — is freedom from all gods.

I’m a little wary of turning the culture wars into a believers vs. non-believers contest, if only because there’s a fine line with believers thinking it’s OK to question certain parts of their Christian teachings, and believers thinking you’re attacking their belief in God.

And, let’s face it, a lot of atheists can pretty quickly pivot from questioning religious dogma to telling believers they are sheep and idiots for thinking there is a “magical being watching over everything.”

Nonetheless, Cohen’s column is interesting.

You can read the rest of it here.