Religion news in brief

Religion news in brief

Presbyterians' new marriage definition includes gay marriage

NEW YORK (AP) — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approved a new definition of marriage that includes gay marriage.

The denomination is now the largest Protestant group to recognize same-sex marriage as Christian and allow same-sex weddings churchwide.

The new definition was endorsed last year by the denomination's top legislative body as an amendment to the church constitution. The change required approval from the majority of regional bodies or presbyteries. The Covenant Network of Presbyterians says the critical vote came Tuesday from the Palisades Presbytery in New Jersey.

The denomination has about 1.8 million members and 10,000 congregations nationwide.

The church earlier eliminated barriers for ordaining gays, and last year, allowed ministers to preside at gay weddings with congregational approval in states where the unions are legal. The new definition takes effect June 21.

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Federal commission weighs LGBT job protections

WASHINGTON (AP) — Gay rights advocates say a federal law is needed to prohibit LGBT discrimination in the workplace, and that religious exemptions should be few.

Kate Kendall, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on Monday that the nation's "commitment to non-discrimination trumps private prejudice."

But Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, testified that "it is not necessarily immoral or irrational to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity." He said job requirements could favor the hiring of LGBT individuals in some cases and straight employees in others.

Clegg said a federal ban, which it's not before the current Congress, would seek to "marginalize the views of Americans who believe that gay sex is a sin."

But Sarah Warbelow of the Human Rights Campaign said a national Employment Non-Discrimination Act could allow co-workers to express religious objections to gay rights as long as LGBT employees were not harassed or abused.

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Pastor from snake TV show charged with assault, endangerment

LAFOLLETTE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee pastor who has appeared on a reality TV show about handling snakes in church faces charges of assault and reckless endangerment.

Media outlets report that the charges against Andrew Hamblin stem from a domestic disturbance Sunday at a residence in Campbell County. No one was injured.

Hamblin is the pastor of the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tennessee, which uses snake handling in services. He has appeared on the reality show "Snake Salvation" on the National Geographic Channel.

In 2013, state wildlife officials seized 53 copper heads and rattlesnakes from Hamblin and cited him for illegally keeping them, but a grand jury declined to indict him.

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Man convicted of swindling churchgoers sentenced to prison

ATLANTA (AP) — Federal prosecutors say a businessman accused of swindling churchgoers in an investment scheme has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison.

Authorities say 32-year-old Ephren Taylor II of Overland Park, Kansas was sentenced Tuesday to 19 years and seven months.

Prosecutors have said Taylor, former chief executive of North Carolina-based City Capital Corporation, convinced members of mostly African-American churches across the country to invest in small businesses and used their money to pay personal expenses. Prosecutors say more than 400 people invested more than $16 million in the scheme.

Taylor's accomplice, 46-year-old Wendy Connor of Raleigh, North Carolina has also been sentenced to five years in prison.

Taylor is ordered to pay more than $15.5 million in restitution. Connor is ordered to pay more than $5.8 million in restitution.

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4 American Idol finalists got their start singing in church

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four of this year's ten finalists on American Idol say the first time they ever sang in public was in church.

Maddie Walker says she first took the stage at the age of three, singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in front of her entire congregation.

Clark Beckham says he was about eight years old when he first sang for an audience. He recalls it was "a solo at this big church, about 2,000 or 3,000 people."

Tyanna (tee-AH'-nah) Jones says her first public performance, at age five, was a duet she sang at a church she visited with their mother. Jones says she and her older brother sang "Joyful Joyful" from the movie "Sister Act 2."

Rayvon Owen recalls that in the church where he made his singing debut at the age of 5 or 6, "the spirit just moved" and he realized how much power music can have.

They'll all sing on Fox's American Idol this Thursday.

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