KGOU

Tom Gjelten

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Southern Baptists, who in 1995 apologized for their past defense of slavery and in 2017 denounced white supremacy, are resolved once again to show their sensitivity to a pressing social concern. The 2019 convention in Birmingham, Ala., is focusing heavily on the problem of sexual abuse by church leaders.

The promotion of religious freedom in America, a cause that not long ago had near unanimous support on Capitol Hill, has fallen victim to the culture wars.

A high point came in 1993, when Congress overwhelmingly passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, meant to overturn a Supreme Court decision that limited Americans' right to exercise their religion freely.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has broken six years of relative silence with the release of an outspoken letter on the clergy sex abuse scandal. Benedict's analysis differs significantly from that of his successor, Pope Francis, and thus leaves the world's Catholics with contrasting papal perspectives on the greatest crisis facing Roman Catholicism today.

There was the preacher who told his followers he could teach them to defy gravity. And another who insisted the sun is actually at the center of the earth. Then there was the Quaker who became delirious, died, and then was said to have come back to life as the reincarnated Jesus Christ.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Updated 3:00pm E.T.

A shadow of scandal hanging over the Washington, D.C. archdiocese has been lifted with the appointment of a new archbishop, Wilton Gregory, currently leading the archdiocese of Atlanta.

For decades, the United Methodist Church has officially judged homosexual activity to be immoral, barred gays and lesbians from serving as clergy, and opposed same sex marriage.

Those conservative doctrinal positions went against prevailing cultural and social trends, at least in the United States, but they didn't split the church into rival conservative and progressive camps because church leaders rarely enforced them.

No more.

People in Cuba vote Sunday on whether to make socialism "irrevocable" on the island and establish the Cuban Communist Party officially as the "supreme guiding political force" in the state and society.

In recent weeks, debate around those propositions has been unusually intense for an island not known for democratic processes, and it has featured the growing strength of religious leaders.

Never in the history of the Roman Catholic Church has a pope ordered bishops from around the world to come together and consider how many priests abuse children sexually and how many church officials cover for the abusers. The scandal of clergy sex abuse has deep roots in church history, but church leaders have been notoriously reluctant to acknowledge it and deal with the consequences.

First came a report in two Texas newspapers that hundreds of Southern Baptist preachers and church workers over the past 20 years have been credibly accused of child sex abuse. Now, an explosive follow-up: Church leaders have failed in many cases to investigate the abuse claims and even allowed known offenders to move from congregation to congregation.

As the successor of St. Peter, a supreme pontiff should speak with authority. But our recent popes have seemed all too capable of questionable judgment, all too easily proven wrong, all too human.

Religious conservatives have rarely faced much competition in the political realm from faith-based groups on the left.

The provocations of President Trump may finally be changing that.

Nearly 40 years after some prominent evangelical Christians organized a Moral Majority movement to promote a conservative political agenda, a comparable effort by liberal religious leaders is coalescing in support of immigrant rights, universal health care, LGBTQ rights and racial justice.

The membership of the incoming U.S. Congress is somewhat less religious and more diverse than that of the preceding Congress, though the changes are almost entirely on the Democratic side.

A government job probably pays better and is more secure than one in the private sector, but for many federal workers, it hardly assures a good income.

The 800,000 federal workers who aren't being paid because of the partial government shutdown include many who struggle to make ends meet even during ordinary times.

Americans in 2018 got an overdose of stories about marital unfaithfulness. President Donald Trump was accused of making hush payments to at least two women with whom he allegedly had affairs, and the #MeToo movement highlighted sexual misconduct at all layers of U.S. society.

For conservative Christians, such stories were especially disturbing.

The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, came into being in 1845 as the church of Southern slaveholders.

Now, 173 years later, Southern Baptist leaders are not just acknowledging their dark history; they are documenting it, as if by telling the story in wrenching detail, they may finally be freed of its taint.

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