By Dan Merica, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Timothy Kurek’s motivation to spend a year pretending to be gay can be boiled down to a simple conviction: it takes drastic change to alter deeply held religious beliefs.
The experiment began after a lesbian friend opened up to Kurek about being excommunicated by her family. All Kurek, an avowed evangelical Christian, could think about, he says, “was trying to convert her.”
He was quickly disgusted by his own feelings, more pious than humane.
In fact, Kurek was so disgusted by his response to his friend that he decided to do something drastic. Living in Nashville, Tennessee, he would pretend to be gay for a year. The experiment began on the first day of 2009; Kurek came out to his family, got a job as a barista at a gay café and enlisted the help of a friend to act as his boyfriend in public.
The experience – which stopped short of Kurek getting physically intimate with other men – is documented in Kurek’s recent book “The Cross in the Closet,” which has received international attention, landed him on ABC’s "The View" and elicited some biting criticism.
The book is the latest entry on a growing list of experiential tomes revolving around religion. They include Rachel Held Evans’ recent “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” in which the author follows the Bible’s instructions on women’s behavior and Ed Dobson’s “The Year of Living Like Jesus,” which had the author “eat as Jesus ate. Pray as Jesus prayed. Observe the Sabbath as Jesus observed.”
For Kurek, his year as a gay man radically changed his view of faith and religion, while also teaching him “what it meant to be a second class citizen in this country.”
(CNN) – It may not sound very powerful, but gay rights activist Debra Peevey said that a two-inch green button played a major role in convincing voters to legalize gay marriage this month in her home state of Washington.
“Another Person of Faith Approves R. 74,” said the button, which refers to the ballot initiative that wound up legalizing gay marriage in Washington.
As faith director for the statewide pro-gay marriage campaign, Washington United for Marriage, Peevey and her team distributed 5,000 of the buttons. They were conversation starters, she said, ways of letting people know they could relate to one another on the intimate level of religion. And that being religious didn’t meant you had to oppose gay marriage.
“We had people clamoring for the buttons,” Peevey said. “People of faith all over the state wore them. It amplified that perspective that people of faith do, in fact, support marriage equality.”
This year, voters in Washington State were joined by those in Maryland, Maine and Minnesota in handing big victories to the gay rights movement. In the first three states, voters legalized gay marriage. In Minnesota, they rejected a measure that would have banned same-sex marriage.
After watching dozens of states adopt gay marriage bans in recent years, gay rights activists hope this month’s victories mark a national turning point. And to help push other states to follow suit, they are holding up efforts like Peevey’s as a blueprint for how to successfully incorporate faith into future gay rights campaigns.
(CNN) - On any given Sunday in Harlem, visitors might be surprised to see who is attending black churches.
Tourists are lining up to worship in Harlem, where black churches are becoming big, inspirational attractions for white European travelers.
It's a growing trend, and a cultural experience that's uniquely American. CNN's Jason Carroll reports.
Soledad O'Brien's documentary "Who is Black in America?" airs at 8 p.m. ET/PT on December 9 on CNN.
Editor's Note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and executive director of the school's Islamic Center.
By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN
(CNN) - My wife and I were on our way into Bed, Bath and Beyond in late August when I decided to check my office voicemail from my cell phone. I told her I'd meet her inside. When I did, she asked whether I had any messages.
"Just one,” I told her. “I was asked to deliver an invocation at this year's Republican National Convention." She responded with a smile on her face, "Of course you were," and then showed me the pillows she’d selected.
I didn't get a chance to decide whether I would accept the invitation, as Hurricane Isaac changed the RNC schedule and made the decision for me. But before the impending storm blew me off the schedule, I sought advice from friends and colleagues. What were the implications of my participating at the RNC? Would it make sense?
One conservative, evangelical Republican friend told me that it would have been a great way to start a conversation with members of his party who are fed up with the current platform and, amongst other things, the party’s highly anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric. Now, it seemed, that conversation wouldn't happen.
But I couldn't understand why it must take a Muslim standing on an RNC stage to get people talking. Is that really the only way a Muslim voice can be heard in the political arena? Realistically, it's not. The other options just require more time, strategy and patience.
Like all other citizens, American Muslims can be heard through our right to vote. We, as a community, can amplify our voice by building coalitions more broadly with other groups. And we can speak the loudest by encouraging our best and brightest to be a part of the system.
Read Latif's full column on CNN's Belief blog
By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
(CNN) - Sunday was a big day for Catholics in North America. Thousands of miles away in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI named 17th century Mohawk Kateri
Tekakwitha the first Native American saint.
Another newly named saint is Marianne Cope, a German-born woman who emigrated to the United States as a child, became a nun and went on to devote 30 years of her life helping lepers in Hawaii.
Their canonization, along with that of five other saints, was celebrated at a special Mass in St. Peter's Square Sunday morning.
"This is a great weekend for America in the Vatican, and it's really a great weekend for Native Americans. Sainthood is the guarantee that this person is close to God," said Vatican senior communications adviser Greg Burke.
"There's a vast history of people the Catholic Church has made saints over the centuries. Holiness is absolutely a matter of equal opportunity, but this certainly is special because it marks the first time a Native American becomes a saint."
Read the full story
Washington (CNN) – A survey released Thursday shows striking racial and religious divides over the role of religion in presidential politics.
More black and Hispanic millennials – ages 18 to 25 – said that it was important that a presidential candidate hold religious beliefs than white millennials, according to survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.
Nearly 70% of black and 57% of Hispanic millennials indicated that religious beliefs were important, while white young millennials with this belief were in the minority. Only 44% said it was important, while 53% said it wasn’t important.
“There are striking differences along racial lines about the role of faith in the lives of presidential candidates,” Dr. Thomas Banchoff, director of the Berkley Center, said in a release about the poll. “Strong majorities of black and Hispanic younger millennials say it is important for presidential candidates to have strong religious beliefs, while a majority of white younger millennials disagree.”
Overall, there was a near equal divide among all millennials – with 49% saying religious beliefs among presidential candidates is important and 48% saying the opposite.
By Jason Hanna and Mallory Simon, CNN
(CNN) - Sixteen members of a breakaway Amish community in rural eastern Ohio, including its leader, were convicted of federal hate crimes Thursday for the forcible cutting of Amish men's beards and Amish women's hair.
Sam Mullet Sr. and the 15 followers were found guilty of conspiracy to violate federal hate-crime law in connection with what authorities said were the religiously motivated attacks on several fellow Amish people last year.
The verdicts were read in U.S. District Court in Cleveland following several days of jury deliberation and a trial that began in late August, a U.S. attorney's office said.
Prosecutors said the 15 followers, at Mullet's instruction, shaved the beards and cut the hair of Amish people who had left his group over various religious disagreements. Five attacks happened in four eastern Ohio counties between September and November 2011, authorities said.
To the Amish, a beard is a significant symbol of faith and manhood, and the way Amish women wear their hair also is a symbol of faith, authorities said.
The assaults violated the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which "prohibits any person from willfully causing bodily injury to any person, or attempting to do so by use of a dangerous weapon, because of the actual or perceived religion of that person," according to the office of the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.
Editor's note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog "The Dean's Report" and co-director of the upcoming documentary "The Muslims Are Coming!" Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy.
(CNN) - Newsweek's cover story "Muslim Rage" has inspired a comedic rage.
The magazine's newest issue features an article by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who purports to lecture the West on how to best handle Muslim rage. Newsweek, in an effort to promote the article, turned to Twitter, asking people to tweet their thoughts on the article, followed by the hashtag #MuslimRage.
What happened next was not what Newsweek or Ali could have anticipated or wanted. Instead of an academic discussion about the article, or hate-filled diatribes by Islamophobes, it turned into something extraordinary.
Thousands of tweets bearing the hashtag #MuslimRage filled Twitter, showcasing satire at its best - the type, by definition, which uses "wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly."
The tweets - posted mostly by Muslims it seems - are a comedic roast of the specious proposition that was peddled to us by Newsweek and Ali. Here are just a few samples:
Danya Hajjaji @DanyaHajjaji
When everyone in history class turns to you once 9/11 is brought up. #MuslimRage
Read Dean Obeidallah's full column
Editor's Note: Sumbul Ali-Karamali is the author of The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing, and Growing up Muslim: Understanding the Beliefs and Practices of Islam. She is on the steering committee of Women in Islamic Spirituality and Equality and is a member of the Muslim Women’s Global Shura Council, both of which aim to promote women’s rights and human rights from an Islamic perspective.
By Sumbul Ali-Karamali, Special to CNN
(CNN) - My father always told me never to talk about religion, politics, or other people’s children. He was part of a generation of American Muslims who wanted to stay quiet and assimilate into American life and not rock the boat. Growing up in Southern California, I tried to follow his advice.
But after 9/11, I found that I, along with other American Muslims, have had little choice but to talk about religion.
Although countless Muslims have condemned the acts of 9/11 in the United States and worldwide, American Muslims became objects of suspicion.
The 9/11 terrorists broke numerous laws of Islam and were denounced as mass murderers by Islamic religious leaders. Even so, Islam is viewed as a religion preaching violence.
In the aftermath, amidst the fear and anger, many American Muslims realized that the reason Americans were so quick to believe the worst about Muslims after the horrific attacks of 9/11 was that Americans knew little about even the most basic tenets of Islam.
And we realized that if we didn’t explain our beliefs and traditions, then other people would write our stories for us.
Despite our efforts, that’s exactly what has happened.
Although 9/11 did compel some Americans to learn more about Islam, it also triggered a wave of anti-Islam feeling that has burgeoned. And though there have been interfaith initiatives, books on Islam, documentaries, education efforts, and shows like "All-American Muslim," polls show that Americans’ negative views of Islam have increased since 9/11, not decreased.
Such trends cannot help but discourage even the most optimistic of American Muslims; many of us are more fearful now than a decade ago, and entire Muslim communities feel besieged.
Editor's note: David Frum is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor. He is the author of seven books, including a new novel, "Patriots."
(CNN) - Of all the speeches at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, few offended conservative listeners more than the speech by Sandra Fluke.
There are plenty of good reasons to be annoyed. From the conservative point of view, Fluke is on the wrong side of a battle over religious freedom. Back in March, she testified in favor of a proposed Obama administration rule that would require Catholic institutions, like her own Georgetown University law school, to reject the teaching of their church and cover contraception in their university health plans - plans not funded by taxpayers, by the way, but by tuition and other university revenues.
Now here Fluke was again, on the national stage, warning that a vote for the Republican ticket in 2012 was a vote for "an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms. An America in which states humiliate women by forcing us to endure invasive ultrasounds we don't want and our doctors say we don't need.
"An America in which access to birth control is controlled by people who will never use it; in which politicians redefine rape so survivors are victimized all over again; in which someone decides which domestic violence victims deserve help, and which don't."
Shortly before Fluke spoke, conservative commentator Ann Coulter had tweeted: "Bill Clinton just impregnated Sandra Fluke backstage."
That was nothing compared with the outpouring of fury during and after the speech.
Read David Frum's full column
What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at email@example.com.
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