Southern Baptists gathered in Anaheim for their annual meeting. With 5,573 people voting in a run-off election for president, Texas pastor Bret Barber defeated Florida pastor (and SBC critic) Tom Ascol. Earlier, messengers overwhelmingly approved the report of the sexual abuse task force and declined to appoint a committee to study female ordination practices among Southern Baptists. Rick Warren, pastor of the famous and influential Saddleback Church, also in Los Angeles, spoke in defense of his congregation which had ordained three women less than one year ago. He was opposed by seminary president Albert Mohler. The whole issue was postponed until 2023. Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant denomination in the country but have suffered significant membership loses in recent years.
A Jewish synagogue in Florida has filed a lawsuit in state court asserting that the new law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks violates the constitution of the state of Florida. Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor contends that the law violates the rights of privacy imbedded in the constitution and also promotes the religious beliefs of a minority (Evangelical Christians) over the religious beliefs of others, such as Jews. The lawsuit contends that Jewish teaching states abortion “is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman.” Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health providers also sued earlier this month to block the law from taking effect.
Forty-six plaintiffs are now signed on to the federal lawsuit designed to force all schools of higher education to comply with federal non-discriminatory policies enshrined in the law known as Title IX as amended in 1972. The Education Department has long included sexual orientation in the list of protected categories, but in recent years “religious exemptions” have been given to some schools who complained that recognizing LGBTQ students and employees violated their religious freedom. The current Supreme Court has recently recognized these kinds of religious exemptions for other federal and state laws. Schools named in this lawsuit include Liberty University, Regent University, Lincoln Christian University, Clarks Summit University, La Sierra University, Azusa Pacific University, and Colorado Christian University.
Florida native Mark Lewis has been selected by Pope Francis as the new rector (or president) of the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Lewis joined the faculty at the prestigious school in 2017 and was named vice rector for academic affairs in 2019. Lewis is a member of the Society of Jesus and holds a doctorate in history from the University of Toronto. The Gregorian University was founded in 1551 and currently has an international faculty in theology and philosophy and around 2,750 students from over 150 countries.
Religious scholar and pastor Ryan Burge, assistant professor at Eastern Illinois University, has published and interpreted data demonstrating the steep decline in religious building projects in the United States. In a graph posted on both his Facebook and Twitter page, Burge tracks the investments of churches in construction. In 2002, he writes, religious organizations were spending $8.7 billion per month on new buildings; by 2008, that had dropped to $7 billion per month. By 2012, the numbers were approximately $4 billion per month, but by 2022 it had fallen to $2.65 billion. Burge’s work reflects data collected by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.