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(Logo courtesy of My Project USA)
Putting faith - and freedom - into action
October 11, 2018
America’s religious freedom allows people to live out their faiths and act on those beliefs - through passion projects.
(Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers)
Evangelical minister turns from anti-abortion advocacy to confronting 'pro-gun' culture October 11, 2018
For decades, evangelical Christian minister Rev. Rob Schenck was one of the most high-profile anti-abortion advocates in the country, using provocative and sometimes shocking tactics in his demonstrations. Schenck eventually turned away from that form of activism, and recently has dedicated himself to a new cause: advocating for gun reform. Though Schenck says this goes against mainstream evangelical culture, he says he believes one cannot be “pro-life” and “pro-gun.” In his newest memoir, Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister's Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love, Schenck details the three conversions he has undergone in his life: his conversion to Christianity, his conversion to right-wing activism, and his conversion to gun control advocacy.

Rev. Rob Schenck, evangelical minister, author of Costly Grace, and founding president of the Deitrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, DC

Rev. Rob Schenck, preaching. (Courtesy of Rob Schenck | Facebook)

Rev. Rob Schenck holds what appears to be a Bible, but is actually a gun case.
(Photo by Rob Schenck | Twitter)
(Courtesy of My Project USA)
To protect refugee and immigrant kids, a Muslim mom from Ohio fights crime - and discrimination October 11, 2018
Zerqa Abid is a business owner, a mother, a Muslim, and a Pakistani immigrant living in Columbus, Ohio. But she dropped all of her obligations when she became aware of increasing violence, drug use, and human trafficking happening in the city's Hilltop neighborhood, particularly in an area called the Wedgewood Village Apartments. Many of the residents there are Somali immigrants and refugees, and most are members of a specific ethnic minority that is marginalized. So Abid formed the nonprofit My Project USA to help curb the crime and violence affecting this community, but first she had to overcome language barriers, cultural differences and trust issues.

Zerqa Abid, president and founder of My Project USA

Zerqa Abid, founder of My Project USA, says she hopes to replicate the Hilltop
model of intervention in other cities around the country.
(Courtesy of My Project USA | YouTube capture)

Abid says children in the Wedgewood Village Apartments complex, many of whom are Somali immigrants and refugees, can now play outside in Columbus' Hilltop neighborhood.
(Photo courtesy of My Project USA | Twitter)
(Book cover courtesy of the University of Tennessee Press)
Snake-handling and the Pentecostal preachers keeping the practice alive October 11, 2018
About 100 churches throughout the Appalachian region of the U.S. still use the practice of picking up venomous snakes during worship. They're part of a small branch of Pentecostal Christianity and are committed to preserving this 100-plus-year-old practice as a test of one's faith. While the practice is illegal in almost all states, many believers argue it should be protected as a matter of free exercise of religion - and that it’s targeted because it’s misunderstood. After decades of covering religion, journalist Julia Duin covered snake-handling preachers for a Washington Post Magazine article. After a high-profile death in the snake-handling community, Duin wanted to profile several of the preachers keeping this practice alive, including a new generation being featured in a National Geographic series called "Snake Salvation." She chronicles their journeys in the book In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media.

Julia Duin, religion reporter and author of In the House of the Serpent Handler: A Story of Faith and Fleeting Fame in the Age of Social Media. 

Author and religion journalist Julia Duin
(Photo courtesy of Julia Duin's website)

Pentecostal preacher Andrew Hamblin takes up a snake during a worship service. 
(Photo by John David Hatch)
Snake-handling preachers in Harlan County, Ky., in 1946.
(Photo by Russell Lee, NARA | Wikimedia Commons) 
(Image courtesy of Spring Green Films)
'The greatest story never told': New documentary sheds light on the origins of the Baha'i faith October 11, 2018
Steve Sarowitz is not a filmmaker. But when the former tech entrepreneur declared himself a Baha’i, he felt compelled to bring awareness to his new faith. But members of the faith are not allowed to proslytize, and with only about five million Baha’is in the world, few people know much about the faith - or its origin story. So Sarowitz set off to make what became “The Gate: Dawn of the Baha'i Faith,” a documentary from Spring Green Films about the creation of the Baha’i faith and its prophet the Báb, directed by Peabody Award-winner Bob Hercules. You can watch the trailer here.

Steve Sarowitz, executive producer, and Bob Hercules, director, of "The Gate: Dawn of the Baha'i Faith"
Director Bob Hercules (top) and executive producer Steve Sarowitz (bottom) worked for several years to complete the documentary telling the origin story of the Baha'i faith.
(Images courtesy of Spring Green Films)

Alberto Javier Montals Pozzoli as Vahid in 'The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith'
(Image courtesy of Spring Green Films)

Tala Delvarani as Tahirih in 'The Gate: Dawn of the Baha’i Faith'
(Image courtesy of Spring Green Films)