Friday, May 31, 2013

CLT clergy wind up in jail for protesting legislature

Some Charlotte clergy have been getting arrested and they’re eager to tell you why.

 In recent weeks, these Baptist, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist ministers have traveled to Raleigh to protest what they consider the General Assembly’s assault on the poor, teachers, minorities, and the unemployed.

 They’ve joined hundreds of other dissidents – professors, doctors, lawyers, students, senior citizens – to sing, pray, chant, clog the halls of the Legislative Building and, in some cases, get arrested.

The state NAACP, which organizes the protests every Monday, dubbed them “Moral Mondays.”

So far, four Charlotte clergy have been arrested, though that number may grow on the Mondays to come.

Among the protesters who’ve been charged with second-degree trespassing and failure to disperse on command: The Revs. Peter Wherry, pastor of Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist; Rodney Sadler, associate professor at Union Presbyterian Seminary; Kojo Nantambu, pastor of Green Oak Missionary Baptist (and president of the local NAACP); and Robin Tanner, minister of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist.

Tanner, 29, who was arrested May 20, told me this was her first act of civil disobedience.

 “I call it moral obedience,” she said. Acting on behalf of vulnerable people, she said, “is at the core of every religious tradition that I know of.”

 She cited the Republican-run legislature’s decision to cut back unemployment benefits, refuse to accept more people on Medicaid (the federal health-care plan for the poor), and prohibit people without a photo ID from voting.

In the face of such action, Tanner said, “there’s a sense of powerlessness – what else can we do?”

She said it was “deeply humbling” to be arrested. As in: having your hands zip-tied behind you and then being searched, finger-printed and photographed.

She and other arrestees were bused to the Wake County Detention Center, where she remained for four hours.

Her court date is in July.

Yes, there was some fear, she said. “But then I remembered I wasn’t there for me.”

This week, Tanner blogged about her experience.

On Sunday (June 2), Tanner’s congregation will join with two other UU churches to support “Moral Mondays.” The service, featuring several speakers, is 6:30 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, 234 N. Sharon Amity Road. Its minister: the Rev. Jay Leach.

Then, on Monday (June 3), dozens of Charlotte-area UUs will travel to Raleigh for what’s being called “Mega-Moral Monday.”

And on June 10, Sadler ( and others are organizing a “Moral Monday” in Raleigh that will feature hundreds of clergy from around the state. More than 40 Charlotte ministers have committed to joining that protest, he reported.

“This is really a non-partisan event,” said Sadler of Union Presbyterian Seminary, whose academic specialty is the Bible. “It’s these policies that are the problem.”

-- Tim Funk

Friday, May 24, 2013

Outgoing Meck Ministries head Hanlin offers parting words, challenges for Charlotte

As residents of one of America’s fastest growing cities, we in Charlotte are practiced at saying hello. But goodbye – we’re not so used to that.

I mention this because it’s time to bid farewell to Maria Hanlin.

Since 2005, she’s been the big-hearted leader of Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith group of about 100 congregations (there were 50 when she took the job) that’s dedicated to social justice and to building relationships among Christians, Jews, Muslims and others.

In just a few days, Hanlin will be moving up the road to become the new executive director/CEO at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro. She already has an apartment there and will be joined by husband Tim, a banker, after they sell their home here.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Hanlin is grabbing yet another opportunity to help those in need. Her doctorate is in Ministry with the Poor. And when she arrived in Charlotte 18 years ago to be associate pastor at Matthews United Methodist, she talked the megachurch into tithing 10 percent of its capital campaign to buy lots and build Habitat homes.

So, how to say goodbye?

I could spotlight her accomplishments at “MeckMin”: She’s helped fight bullying in the schools, got politicians and young people to walk in the footsteps of the city’s poor, arranged for black and white preachers to swap pulpits, recruited all-clergy work crews to build two Habitat houses – and much more.

Or I could go the biography route: Now 54, Hanlin grew up in Montgomery, Ala., where her white Methodist parents backed the efforts of a young black Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. and taught that segregation is a sin.

But in the few lines I have left, let’s let Hanlin say goodbye to us. Here are her parting words – and challenges to Charlotte:

-- “I so hope that people of (different) faiths will find common causes and join hands on issues our Scriptures command us to care about: Equitable education for every child, homelessness, poverty, affordable housing, the environment.”

-- “And if I was to stay, I hope I would have the courage to help our community look at the racial injustice of our prison system.” (She recommends “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander.)

-- “If we dare to dismiss or demonize a group because they are Muslim or they are immigrants or they are gay, we’re going against the God that created those people and called them good.”

-- In the face of Charlotte’s growing diversity, “we cannot live in fear – that is not what people of faith do. So the question becomes: Do we build bigger walls or do we build bridges?”

      -- Tim Funk

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New 'Nuns on the Bus' tour coming to Charlotte

Another "Nuns on the Bus" tour -- this one promoting comprehensive immigration reform -- will hit the road next week.

One of its first stops: Charlotte.

On May 31, the Catholic sisters will be at St. Peter's Catholic Church, 507 S. Tryon, in uptown Charlotte. The 7 p.m. event in Biss Hall is open to the public, and co-sponsored by several other Catholic parishes in the Charlotte diocese.

The first "Nuns on the Bus" tour made headlines in 2012 for its election year promotion of social justice issues. Its leader, Sister Simone Campbell, even came to Charlotte to speak at the Democratic National Convention. She heads Network, a social gospel lobbying group that speaks up for the poor and elderly.

Campbell won't be with the group in Charlotte. But we're told that Sister Rose Marie Tresp from the Sisters of Mercy in Belmont will join the tour in Charlotte. Word also is that the group may meet with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., while in the state.

On June 1, a 10 a.m. faith roundtable is also scheduled for Charlotte, according to the Nuns on the Bus website. But no details are yet available.

This three-week tour will cover 6,500 miles, 53 events, 40 cities, and 15 states -- more than twice the distance of last year's tour. It starts Tuesday, May 28, in New Haven, Conn., and will end June 18 in San Francisco.

Other stops along the way include Durham; Greenville, S.C.; and Charleston.

"NETWORK Nuns of the Bus: A Drive for Faith, Family and Citizenship" will lobby for immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants, mostly Hispanic, who entered the United States illegally; speeds up processing of already-approved immigrants; protects the rights of immigrant workers; and ensures family unity.  

In championing immigration reform at a time when Congress is addressing the issue, the nuns are in line with the U.S. Catholic bishops. Leaders of the American church have long pushed for changes in immigration.

Latinos make up a rapidly growing percentage of the U.S. Catholic Church, including in the 46-county Diocese of Charlotte.

Last year's "Nuns on the Bus" was more controversial, partly because of Campbell's open support for President Barack Obama's health care reforms, even as the U.S. bishops opposed key elements of the White House plan. And the sisters' group was among those U.S. nuns singled out last year by the Vatican for their "radically feminist themes."

-- Tim Funk

Monday, May 20, 2013

Samaritan's Purse sends help to Oklahoma

A Disaster Relief Unit from Samaritan's Purse will be deployed Tuesday morning to the Oklahoma City area, which was hit with tornadoes Sunday and Monday.

The Boone-based Christian relief agency reported on its Web site Monday that staff members from the N.C. headquarters left Sunday to get a close-up view of the damage and needs in the affected area.

Then there was more devastation Monday.

The Disaster Relief Unit is a tractor trailer rig filled with equipment and supplies. It will be the group's base of operations in Oklahoma City.

The mile-wide twister leveled homes, businesses and schools in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City.

This is the second time Samaritan's Purse has responded to a tornado hitting Moore. A storm there in 1999 had the highest winds ever recorded near the earth's surface -- 302 miles miles per hour. It killed 41 people.

Samaritan's Purse and the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which sends chaplains to disaster areas, were already in the Southeast responding to tornadoes that hit Hood County in north Texas last Wednesday night.

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Nun who kissed Elvis coming to Charlotte

How many nuns can say they once kissed Elvis?

Only one, that we know of. And she’s coming to town in September to speak at the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte’s annual Eucharistic Congress.

Dolores Hart was a 19-year-old actress in 1957 when she made her Hollywood debut opposite the King in “Loving You.”

She paired with Elvis Presley again in “King Creole,” and starred in other movies with Montgomery Clift, Anthony Quinn and others.

But in 1963, Hart walked away from Tinseltown – and her fiancĂ©, an architect – to become a Benedictine nun.

Fifty years later, she’s now Mother Dolores, the prioress at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. (

Her story was told in “God is the Bigger Elvis,” a riveting documentary that was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012 and later shown on HBO.

 Mother Dolores, who’s still a voting member of the Academy, even showed up on the red carpet on awards night in L.A. In that setting, surrounded by actresses wearing the latest gowns from this or that designer, she made quite a fashion statement in her traditional nun’s habit.

Mother Dolores is finally offering her own account of her life in a new book, “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows.”

In Charlotte, she’ll talk about her life as an actress and a sister.

She may even mention the time she met Pope John XXIII. It was 1960, and she was in Italy playing St. Clare in a movie about St. Francis of Assisi. In the 13th century, Clare gave up a comfortable life to follow Francis and establish an order of nuns.

“I am Dolores Hart, the actress playing Clare,” she told the Pontiff. He responded in Italian, “Tu sei Chiara!” Translation: “No, you are Clare!”

Apparently, that brief conversation was instrumental in her later decision to give up all the glamor, money and fame for a cloistered convent, her home ever since.

Mark your calendar: Mother Dolores will speak at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Charlotte Convention Center (Hall A) in uptown. It’s free and open to the public.

For more on the Charlotte diocese’s 9th annual Eucharistic Congress, which is expected to draw 10,000 people, visit

Also of note

On Saturday (May 18), Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte will confer 55 master’s degrees and 10 Doctor of Ministry degrees.

 Speaking at the 10 a.m. commencement at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3400 Beatties Ford Road, will be Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby and author of “Faith in America: The Powerful Impact of One Company Speaking Out Boldly.”

-- Tim Funk

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pittenger sends Graham's IRS allegations to House

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., said Wednesday he has forwarded Franklin Graham's charges of IRS harassment to the House Ways & Means Commitee.

In a statement sent to reporters, the Charlotte congressman said the alleged targeting of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Boone-based Samaritan's Purse could be addressed on Friday, when the House committee is scheduled to question the IRS commissioner.

Franklin Graham heads both organizations, and he wrote the Tuesday letter to President Barack Obama charging that someone in the Obama administration "was targeting and attempting to intimidate us" for political reasons.

But Pittenger cast the IRS reviews of the two charities as a "questionable investigation" of 94-year-old Billy Graham, who's now retired.

"Billy Graham's life and ministry have been built upon a bedrock of the strictest ethics and highest moral standards," Pittenger said in his statement. "If these allegations are true that the IRS targeted the BGEA, the IRS should be held accountable for forcing two respected ministries to divert donations to defend a politically-motivated attack."

The elder Graham was prominently featured in full-page newspaper ads the BGEA took out last year to urge N.C. voters to approve a constitutional ban of same-sex marriage and support candidates who stood for "biblical values."

Franklin Graham told the president in his letter that the ads were paid for "with designated funds given by friends of our ministry for this purpose."

The IRS visited the offices of the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse last October for reviews of the tax year ending in 2010, Graham said in his letter.

After the election, the IRS did notify Graham to affirm the two N.C. charities' tax exempt status.

Still, Graham told Obama he's now convinced that the reviews of his groups were part of a broader targeting of conservative groups by the federal tax agency.

-- Tim Funk    

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Some churches explore scouting alternatives

Evangelical and other churches opposed to the Boy Scouts' proposal to admit gay members for the first time are looking for scouting alternatives to sponsor.

So says Religion News Service (RNS), In a story this week, RNS reported this week that decades-old religious alternatives -- with names like Pathfinders, Royal Ambassadors and Royal Rangers -- are fielding calls from people concerned about the Boy Scouts' proposed new direction.

The National Council of the Boy Scouts of America are scheduled to meet May 22-24 to vote on the proposal to let gay boys be members. Plans unveiled last month called for continuing the ban on openly gay adults serving as Scout leaders.

RNS  reported that leaders of the Pathfinders -- a scouting group affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church -- have gotten inquiries in the wake of the upcoming Boy Scout vote.

A recent story in Baptist Press, RNS said, offered tips on how Southern Baptist churches can start a Royal Ambassadors program for elementary school boys. Another scouting group: The Royal Rangers, affiliated with the Assemblies of God.

Churches have long been the major sponsors of Boy Scout troops. And though most Americans favor removing the ban on both gay Scouts and gay Scout leaders, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll, many conservative churches oppose the proposed change because of their teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin.

According to the RNS story, Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches are still mulling the Scouts' proposed change.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hosts more Scouts troops than any other organization. Also known as the Mormons, the church has said it is "satisfied the (Boy Scouts of America) has made a thoughtful, good-faith effort with the proposed resolution."

-- Tim Funk

Friday, May 10, 2013

Poll: Most Americans favor ending Boy Scout ban on gay members, leaders

Most Americans -- 63 percent -- back a plan by the Boy Scouts of America to admit gay scouts for the first time, according to a new Washington Post-ABC New Poll.

Almost as many -- 56 percent -- oppose the Boy Scouts' plan to continue to exclude openly gay adults from the ranks of scout leaders, the poll found.

The scouts' National Council is scheduled to meet later in May to vote on the plans, which were unveiled last month.

Seven of 10 scout groups are chartered by religious institutions, including some (Catholic, Mormon, Protestant evangelical) that officially consider homosexual behavior a sin.

But the poll found that 56 percent of Catholics oppose the Boy Scouts' plan to bar gay adults from serving as Scout. Protestants were more closely divided, with 49 percent supporting the ban and 47 percent opposing.

Among atheists, agnostics and those with no church affiliation, 75 percent opposed excluding gay adults from serving as Scout leaders.

Pollsters also broke down the results along partisan lines: 68 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents said they opposed the plan to ban gay leaders, while 61 percent of Republicans supported barring them.

-- Tim Funk