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The particular appeal of Pope Francis: 1-30/31-16

The effect any individual pope may have on people is a story that's really hard to tell in a way that can establish any broad pattern, given that there are more than 7 billion individuals on the planet.

Pope-selfieSo we have to consider the effects person by person.

But I suspect that the way Pope Francis is seen by the author of this intriguing piece is pretty common. The article is from Notre Dame Magazine and was written by a 1988 graduate of the university.

The author, Andrew Barlow, describes his Catholic upbringing and his eventual departure from the church, which pained his father so much that on his death bed the father urged Barlow to come back to the church.

"I lied when I said I’d think about it, and I hugged him goodbye," he writes. After that he joined a megachurch that turned out to be Southern Baptist. He even became a preacher in that tradition. But eventually something about that didn't feel right to him.

Now Pope Francis is having a magnetic appeal to him. He writes:

As the mania surrounding his U.S. visit showed, Pope Francis has caught the attention of expatriates like me. His loving humility is reminding us of what made “the church of our fathers” so great. Refinements to the language of Mass and theological abstractions aside, his simple, Christ-like focus on the preciousness of the person in front of him is redefining Catholicism for me and increasing the odds of my father’s deathbed wish coming true. That counts as real heroism in my book.

The question, of course, is why each person of faith isn't equally attractive because of the way he or she lives. This calling to live so that others might be attracted to faith is not limited, after all, just to popes.

Years ago one of my pastors used to ask this question: "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

Clearly there would be for Francis, as this Notre Dame graduate notes. It's one reason that Paul Rock, my pastor, and I wrote our book Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church. I commend it to you and to any study groups you're part of.

(The selfie photo you see here today, which includes Pope Francis on the left, can be found in our book, used by permission of the young man who took it.)

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Just for some fun today, let's listen in on a conversation that Donald Trump recently had with God -- at least according to Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen, who should know, given that a few years ago we at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists gave him our Lifetime Achievement Award.

Conservatives line up against capital punishment: 1-29-16

Several months ago, I noted here that Nebraska, known as a deeply conservative state, abolished the death penalty there. It was part of a welcome national movement that has seen people who call themselves conservative begin to work hard for getting rid of capital punishment. (Since then the governor, whose veto of the abolition bill had been overridden, has worked to get a ballot measure before Nebraska voters to overturn that abolition. A vote is to happen later this year.)

Anti-death-penaltyThe conservatives-against-capital-punishment movement has made it to Missouri now. Thank goodness. The death penalty is wrong for all kinds of reasons -- including moral and economic. And conservatives increasingly are recognizing the truth of that.

Today I want to connect you with several stories from the last week or two that update you a bit on ways that the death penalty in Missouri is coming under attack and may, eventually, be abolished.

Here is a story that quotes former Eureka Tea Party head Jeannine Huskey, one of the backers of a Senate bill to unplug capital punishment. She says  the government should not spend tax dollars on a system that’s not fool proof when it comes to executing people. Exactly.

Here is a story about a Senate committee that earlier this week passed Senate Bill 816 to repeal capital punishment.

This story describes how a recently formed group of conservatives is working to abolish the death penalty.

And this story talks about a Republican state representative from the Cape Girardeau area who is also working on repeal of the death penalty.

Finally, this link will take you to the Facebook page of "Missouri Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty." 

There is no good religious, ethical, economic or humane reason to favor capital punishment. I'm glad more and more conservatives are coming to that conclusion -- especially in Missouri, where not even the Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, has used his power to stop executions.

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President Obama spoke Wednesday at an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event in Washington, D.C., that honored Poles who had saved Jews, which is exactly the subject of a book that Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I wrote, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. And as the president was speaking, Jacques and I were speaking about the book at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kan. It was the third of four weeks we are leading about this book. Guess we should have streamed in the D.C. event. The final gathering in this free series will be at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 3.

We get Jesus' parables mostly wrong: 1-28-16

For their original hearers, the parables that Jesus told were packed with shock, subversion and, sometimes, mystery.

David-May-O-TToday we have pretty much domesticated those parables, sucking the life and blood and pizzazz out of them, so each of them can be used to make some semi-obvious 21st Century point.

That's why Vanderbilt New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine wrote her latest book, Short Stories by Jesus, and why she's coming back to Kansas City on March 4 and 5 to speak at Village Presbyterian Church. A group I'm part of brought her to Kansas City this past October, when I wrote this blog entry about her.

The parables also were the subject on Sunday night for David May, who teaches New Testament at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in suburban Kansas City. Speaking at The Open Table at Second Presbyterian Church, David took three parables found in Matthew 25 and helped listeners hear them the way 1st Century Jews listening to Jesus would have heard them.

When it came time for some questions and discussion after his presentation, I asked him this: "Reading Amy-Jill Levine's new book has left me with the impression that we get almost all the parables wrong. And I wonder if that's your belief as well. You've given us three that we get wrong. Do we get the rest of them wrong as well?"

To which David replied, simply, "Yes, I think so." And then he added this: "We get them wrong because we are arm chair interpreters. You can't interpret a biblical parable sitting in a study in a comfy chair with your feet up and with a glass of iced tea and know these 1st Century people. One of the first things you have to do is you have to go to the land -- see the land, see the people."

To interpret 1st Century Jewish stories clearly and accurately, he said, we also need to "get a feel for how people thought in that day and age. I think that would go a long way to turn the parables upside down that we have domesticated."

It's much too easy simply to skim sacred writ and imagine that we understand its meaning and purpose. To appreciate the richness of what's really there, however, requires an investment of time and study on our part.

(In the photo here today, you see David May, right, conversing with Kevin, left, and Josh, who attended The Open Table gathering Sunday evening.)

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It should come as no surprise that in a gay-unfriendly place like Wheaton College, which has been in the news lately for wanting to fire a teacher who showed solidarity with Muslims, there is a gay underground. This story describes the efforts it takes to be gay on a campus where homosexuality is officially banned and viewed as sinful. Some day this will end -- as it has in many places in the U.S. in recent years -- but not soon at Wheaton.

The Cruz, IHOP, Oprah, Anti-Christ connection: 1-27-16

The list of people who have been declared the Anti-Christ is long, indeed. It includes presidents, popes, run-amok politicians and entertainers. Also such make-believe characters as Barney the purple dinosaur.

AntichristSo I'm never shocked to find a new name added to the list by some self-convinced religious leader. Not shocked, but sometimes a bit surprised.

Oprah Winfrey as the Anti-Christ? Well, a few days ago I learned that Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, has declared that she is. And he also has said that God raised up Adolf Hitler to hunt down Jews who refused to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. You can read about all that antisemitic nonsense here.

All this came to light because Bickle last week endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for president, and Cruz was so happy about that that he issued a statement saying, among other things, “I am grateful for Mike’s dedication to call a generation of young people to prayer and spiritual commitment."

I met Bickle in 1977 when he was living in little Rosebud, Mo., east of Jefferson City, and running a small ministry there called the Upper Room Church. I had gone there to do a story for The Kansas City Star about Mike's brother, Pat Bickle, who, as a 17-year-old high school football player, had been paralyzed in September 1973 after making a tackle on the football field of North Kansas City High School.

Pat died at age 50 in 2007 after many health complications related to his paralysis, and his obituary contained a reminder to me of what most struck me about Pat when I interviewed him as he lay on his bed in Rosebud. In that obit, his sister Tracey Bickle Scott, said this: "He believed to his last dying breath that the Lord was going to touch his body. He was unwavering in his faith. He was utterly in love with Jesus."

I remember Pat telling me how confident he was that God would cure him and that he would walk again.

"I can bluntly say that I believe and know that I am going to be perfectly healthy before it's over with," Pat told me. "What I believe is that it will happen instantly. I think God's going to do it. Just one day it's going to happen."

He said he had regular visions of that in his dreams. I did not say this to him at the time and did not write it in the piece I did for The Star, but it seemed to me that he had been given a false hope. And he was clinging to that hope relentlessly.

Although I didn't say that or write that about false hope, Mike at the time of my interview with Pat and Mike said others accused him and others of giving Pat false hope, and I quoted him on that.

But, as I reported at the time, Mike was as convinced as Pat was that Pat one day would be healed: "I believe very firmly that God's going to heal him," Mike told me.

Who first suggested to Pat that such a miracle could occur? I don't know, but my guess then and my guess today is that it was Mike, who later founded IHOP. Pat very much looked up to Mike and was pleased to be part of his small faith community. But, of course, Pat was never cured of paralysis, though he told me even in 1977 that he already had been spiritually healed. And later Mike went on to considerable public attention -- some good, some not so good -- as the founder of IHOP.

Speaking of that ministry, there is, at least at first blush, something of a cognitive dissonance between Mike Bickle's idea that God raised up Hitler to hunt down reluctant Jews and a statement on the website of IHOP University, which says of IHOP that:

"We aim to stand humbly and boldly in intercession for God's end-time purposes for Israel as revealed in Scripture.

"We aim to clearly proclaim God’s end-time purposes for Israel.

"We aim to stand against the cultural current of anti-Semitism developing globally."

What, you ask, are "God's end-time purposes for Israel as revealed in Scripture"? Well, I don't know what Bickle thinks they are but I do know that there are Christians who support Israel today almost entirely because they believe that the Second Coming of Christ cannot occur until Israel controls the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which now is under the control of Muslims. And these same Christians believe that at the Second Coming all Jews either will convert or die. It's sort of an end-times antisemitism taken to the extreme.

As I say, I don't know whether that idea about reclaiming the Temple Mount so the Second Coming can happen is exactly what Bickle is preaching but it wouldn't surprise me, given how common that teaching is among preachers similar to Bickle and given this section of the IHOP's statement of faith:

"We believe in the literal second coming of Christ at the end of this age, when He will return to earth personally and visibly to reign over the nations in His millennial kingdom. We believe that the Church will go through the Great Tribulation with great power and victory and will only be raptured at the end of the Great Tribulation. No one can know with certainty the timing of the Lord’s return. We also believe in and are praying for a great end-time harvest of souls and the emergence of a victorious Church that will experience unprecedented unity, purity, and power in the Holy Spirit.

"We believe that when Christians die, they pass immediately into the blessed presence of Christ, there to enjoy conscious fellowship with the Savior until the day of the resurrection and the glorious transformation of their bodies. The saved will receive eternal rewards and forever dwell in blissful fellowship with their great triune God. We also believe that when unbelievers die, they are consigned to hell, there to await the Day of Judgment when they shall be punished in the lake of fire with eternal, conscious, and tormented separation from the presence of God."

In this theology, of course, Jews are among the "unbelievers."

What I do know is that if I were running for president and got Mike Bickle's endorsement, I not only wouldn't announce it proudly, as Cruz did, I would denounce it.

* * *


Speaking of presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton this week was asked by a voter about her Christian faith, and she spent several minutes describing what her Methodist upbringing means to her. The most important "commandment," she said, "is to love the Lord with all your might and to love your neighbor as yourself." It can be helpful to hear candidates describe how their faith might affect public policy, but let's remember that the Constitution forbids any religious test for office.

Unpacking Lamar Hunt Jr.'s faith: 1-26-16

The paths that each of us travels to get to wherever we are in our spiritual or religious lives are all unique, though there are, of course, some experiences common to all or most of them.

Hunt-lamar-jrBut in my experience, it's difficult for people who are not either engaged in the profession of religion in some way (as clergy, say, or as an academic who studies religion) to articulate the boundaries of one's path with clarity, humility and winsomeness. Perhaps that's because so many of us live unexamined lives. We float through time and space, unmindful of the eternal questions, the moral dilemmas, the choices that deepen our humanity or, by contrast, diminish it.

So I was both surprised and pleased recently to find an example of a wealthy and well-known person who is able to talk about his faith, his failures and his moral compass with surprising lucidity. Lamar Hunt Jr. (pictured here) was the subject of this terrific story by my former Kansas City Star colleague Eric Adler a few days ago.

Hunt comes from a famous and wealthy family. His grandfather was the eccentric hard-right-winger Texas oil tycoon H. L. Hunt. One of Hunt's sons (he had 15 children by three wives) was Lamar Hunt, who founded the American Football League and was founder and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. Lamar's son Lamar Jr. was, for a time, a flute player with the Kansas City Symphony. Now he owns the Missouri Mavericks, a minor-league hockey team and is the founder of Loretto Properties, LLC, a real estate investment company.

More to the point of Eric's story, Lamar Hunt Jr. is now a Catholic and lives with deep Catholic sensibilities and commitments, which include an appreciation of the need for forgiveness.

“We’re all sinners,” he told Eric. “We all need help at different times in our lives. Everybody does.” Including him. In the story, Hunt talks about what Eric calls "a sexual encounter he had with a sister-in-law that -- to the shame and consternation of the Hunt family -- became public in 1999. . ."

Somehow he and the other Hunts made it through that and other family traumas and pain and found his way into the Catholic Church. (By the way, his half-sister, June Hunt, is a radio evangelist who is quite popular with Christians who would identify themselves as evangelical or conservative.)

As Lamar Hunt Jr. told Eric, “Loving God, and loving your neighbor, that would be my orientation. That would be my desire for my life.”

With remarkable forthrightness, Hunt described how he came to his faith after he found himself in a Catholic Church praying after the death of his stepfather, whom Hunt described as "a terrible alcoholic."

My point in asking you to read this story, if you haven't already, is to encourage both you and me to ask ourselves whether we might be able to express our own commitment to faith and to the life that faith leads us to live out in as clear and winning a way as Lamar Hunt Jr. has done. In other words, this is another chance to examine our lives anew and imagine what we might say about them when we look back on the choices we made and the choices that face us going forward.
* * *
Pope Francis plans to travel to Sweden in October to participate in a Catholic-Lutheran ceremony marking the start of a year that will lead to the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Isn't that sort of like the English monarch showing up for a Fourth of July fireworks display?

When rural churches disappear: 1-25-16

The shrinking of Mainline Protestant churches is, by now, an old story -- dating at least to the 1960s. And most of the attention to this phenomenon goes to urban areas -- especially old, large downtown churches that have emptied out as the post-war move to the suburbs gained steam.

Rural-churchBut the picture is more complicated than that. Rural America is experiencing difficult losses because of this trend, too.

This intriguing story focuses on churches across rural Iowa. (Rural Iowa sounds redundant, doesn't it?)

As the story reports, "According to the Association of Religious Data Archives, between 1990 and 2010, Iowa lost over 500 congregations. Contributing to this statistic is the fact that, between 2000 and 2010, 10 percent fewer people identified within a community of faith. . .And with this shift, the very nature of Iowa is changing."

I have friends -- a pastor and his wife -- who served churches in Iowa for quite a long time. When I passed this story on to them, the wife offered some interesting thoughts that sort of personalize the story.

For a time, they lived in Lenox, Iowa, and she mentioned that experience in her note back to me:

"The experience in Lenox was truly wonderful. Very friendly, helpful people. Lots of neighboring going on. Each church in town had an annual fundraiser meal and everybody supported each other’s event. Working together on those big meals really brought women together. Of course, men helped, too, in various ways. At the Catholic Church’s meal it was the men who grilled all those half chickens. And whenever folks needed help digging out of a big snow or needed a chainsaw to remove tree limbs downed by ice or help cleaning up after a tornado, everyone who could helped in some way. And, it was not uncommon for farmers to help plant/harvest on a farm when its owner was not able to do so. This article brought back lots of memories for me."

The challenge for rural churches is to find ways to engage their communities as members of them become less religious. Rural residents, including those in small town scattered across the Great Plains, have all kinds of needs that faith communities can and should help meet. But it won't happen by resisting change and simply complaining that things aren't like they used to be.

(The photo here today came from this Pinterest page.)

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I've been critical of the Anglican Communion here and here for punishing the Episcopal Church over policies relating to LGBTQ folks. Now it's time to be equally critical of the Catholic Church for similar reasons. Pope Francis just spoke out against same-sex marriage the other day as Italy decides whether to recognize such unions. As with the Anglican Communion, the Catholic Church one day almost certainly will change its mind about this, but it won't happen soon.

More evidence of our cosmic ignorance: 1-23/24-16


The recent news that scientists have found solid evidence that there's a large, far-out planet in our solar system comes as something of a shock -- and a new reason for cosmic humility.

How -- after hundreds of years of astronomical observations -- could scientists have missed this until now? Isn't this a little like discovering a third car in your two-car garage?

Now, admittedly this newly hypothesized planet is much further out in space than even Pluto, which used to be a planet before it got downgraded to some kind of orbiting rock or something. Pluto is, at most, 4.6 billion miles from Earth, while this new Planet 9, as it's being called, is at least 20 billion miles away and at times maybe 100 billion miles out.

Planet 9? What a dull name. In honor of Pluto -- discovered by Clyde Tombaugh, a friend of my late mother in their mutual hometown of Streator, Ill. -- why don't we stick with the Disney-dog-name theme and call this new planet Goofy?

Well, that's for others to decide.

The more important point is that what we really understand about the cosmos in which we live is quite minuscule. It's apparently true that the sum of human knowledge -- which until 1900 doubled every century -- now doubles every 13 months and that doubling period is shrinking quickly. But even with that kind of rapid increase in what we know, what we don't know far exceeds what we do.

This realization should make us all the more reluctant to cast our lot with people -- especially religious leaders -- who think they know pretty much everything. And who are quite certain of themselves.

It's clear that there are questions that science can't answer and questions that religion shouldn't try to answer. But in both fields the sum of our ignorance is vast. You'd think that might lead to people adopting the Benedictine virtue of humility, but it rarely seems to.

I wonder if there's similar arrogance among the people who live on Planet 9 -- or Goofy, as I'll now insist on calling it.

(The artist's illustration of the alleged new planet seen here today comes from Caltech. I found it here.)

* * *


The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia has told Muslims not to play chess any more because the game is "the work of Satan." Seems like he's got this all wrong. In fact, if he could convince ISIS and al-Qaida members to take up chess they might do less of Satan's work.

* * *

P.S.: Flatland, KCPT-TV's digital magazine, has just published my column about the Anglican-Episcopal split.

Who listens to a pope? 1-22-16

Earlier this week, my pastor, Paul Rock, and I spoke to a large group of teachers from a local Catholic high school about our book, Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church.

WDT-PTR-2016The teachers were spending that day doing something that Notre Dame de Sion High School in Kansas City is known for -- interfaith education. So they came to Second Presbyterian Church to hear Paul and me talk (as you can see from the photo here today) not just about our book but also the ways in which our Reformed Tradition (read Presbyterian plus a few others) of Christianity connects with the Catholic tradition.

One of the teachers asked a question that I think deserves some attention from not just all brands of Christians but from people of other (and no) faith traditions, too.

How much, she wanted to know, do Protestants now listen to the pope and how much authority does a pope have for Protestants?

Paul noted that because the Presbyterian Church (USA) has a governance structure that is, essentially, a representative democracy, we don't have a pope. And because we are Protestants, there is in our history a tradition of protesting -- and those protests began with matters that the original Protestants thought the popes then and the larger Catholic Church were doing wrong.

That said, times have changed. And although Protestants (and non-Christians) have no obligation to listen to or abide by what any pope says, the reality is that the pope speaks for roughly half of the Christians in the world. So he commands the attention not just of Catholics but of all Christians to varying degrees.

Paul mentioned that many Protestants found that the recent encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si', from Pope Francis was very much in harmony with the thinking of Mainline Protestants and, as such, the document was viewed as authoritative for many Christians.

So in some ways it depends on the pope. The two previous popes, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, tended to be more concerned with dogmatic purity than Pope Francis seems to be. So Protestants seem more attracted to Francis than they were to either of his predecessors.

There are, of course, certain advantages to a hierarchical religious structure in that everyone knows who has what authority to decide this or that. But even though Protestants have governance structures, they tend not to resemble the hierarchy found in the Catholic (or even the Episcopal) Church. So no single human being speaks with the kind of Christian authority that a pope does.

Popes who want to be seen as leaders of more than just the Catholic Church, thus, will keep in mind this broader constituency. And in many ways that is what Pope Francis is doing. Which is why he is so attractive even to non-Catholics. And it's part of the reason we wrote our book.

* * *


Pope Francis has been invited to visit a mosque in Rome. If he does, he'll be the first pope to do so. Well, of course he should go. And maybe, while he's there, explain why no previous popes came. I'd listen to that.

Even Thomas Jefferson had a Qur'an: 1-21-16

Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, various forms of hostility to Islam have been seen in the U.S. Indeed, as you know, this phenomenon of demonizing Muslims has acquired the name Islamophobia.

Jefferson-QuranSometimes the term is deserved, as when it describes a kind of unthinking hatred of Muslims for no reason other than the fact that they follow Islam. But sometimes the term is an overreach, especially when it's applied to non-Muslims who simply have questions about Islam.

To help Christians understand Islam and its sacred text, the Qur'an, better, my church is planning a six-week look at all of this for our members, with the hope that eventually we might offer something similar to the wider community. Muslims leaders from the Kansas City area will be helping to guide us through this study series, and we hope to have participants each read at least one recommended book to add to their understanding. The goal is simply to help Christians understand Islam better, not to convert anyone either to or from Islam.

I had begun to create a list of such books (I'll provide that list at the end of today's post) when another person helping to plan the study series asked me to have a look at a volume called Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an: Islam and the Founders, by Denise A. Spellberg.

It's been an intriguing read, and I certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to grasp early American experiences with Islam and how those experiences helped to shape our country's approach to religious freedom.

Jefferson, it turns out, purchased and owned at least one Qur'an, and the author of this book says he "remains unique among America's Founders in his desire to understand Islam on its own terms, looking directly to its most sacred source."

Even that effort, however, did not remove all of the anti-Islam prejudice that Jefferson and other Founders harbored, even though most of them acquired that bigotry without ever knowingly coming in contact with a real Muslim.

Still, the early history of America's contact with Islam (many slaves dragged to this country from Africa were Muslims) makes a fascinating story. And anyone who wants to understand Islam in its current American context would do well to acquire some of that history.

Other books about Islam and the Qur'an that I have on my suggested reading list (and home office shelf) include:

The Heart of Islam, by Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Allah: A Christian Response, by Miroslav Volf

Opening the Qur'an, by Walter H. Wagner

Understanding Islam, by C.T.R. Hewer

Islam Without Extremes, by Mustafa Akyol

What's Right with Islam, by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy, by Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg

American Islam, by Paul M. Barrett

Red, White and Muslim, by Asma Gull Hasan.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it should give people a good start.

* * *


Faith communities are helping out in the disastrous water crisis in Flint, Mich., as well they should. Once problems there are solved, it would be worthwhile to do a thorough analysis of the various moral and ethical violations that led to children being poisoned by contaminated water and to state government officials ignoring the problem. The whole story there has been outrageous.

* * *

P.S.: The Kansas City Interfaith Youth Alliance is planning a terrific workshop for high school students on Saturday, Jan. 30. If you know students who might be interested, here's the link they need to learn about the day and register.

Why 'conservatives' lose the culture wars: 1-20-16

As I mentioned here on Monday, the recent move by the Anglican Communion to punish the Episcopal Church in the U.S. for its open and affirming positions on LGBT people was one more example of people fighting a culture wars battle they've already lost -- in this case, non-Americans against Americans.

Culture-warsIs it unusual for Americans who identify themselves as conservatives in various culture wars to lose? Not at all, writes religion scholar Stephen Prothero in his new book, Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars: (Even When They Lose Elections).

To prove his point, Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, takes us back to the beginnings of our nation and walks us through one culture war after another, from the 1800 Adams-Jefferson election (and the complaints about Jefferson not being Christian enough) to the virulent anti-Mormonism in the 1800s to the more recent struggles over gay marriage and much more.

After all, he writes, the "culture wars are much older than the Moral Majority or the Reagan Revolution. In fact, they are nearly as old as the country itself."

It's important to recognize, he says, that "America's culture wars are conservative projects, instigated and waged disproportionately by conservatives anxious about the loss of old orders and the emergence of new ones. What liberals see as progress, they see as loss. . .A longer view reveals that conservatives typically fire the first shots in our culture wars."

Why? Because, he says, the "'big idea' behind modern conservatism is this: a form of culture is passing away and it's worth fighting to revive it."

But, Prothero maintains, "America's culture wars are won by liberals. . .Liberals win because they typically have the force of American traditions on their side, not least the force of the Bill of Rights itself, which on any fair reading protects the rights of minorities against the impositions of majorities. Liberals also win because the causes conservatives pick to rev up their supporters are, surprisingly, lost from the start."

In most ways it's grossly unfair to compare all who would identify today as conservatives with the late Gov. George Wallace of Alabama standing in a schoolhouse door to prevent blacks from attending or declaring in his 1963 inaugural address that there will be "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Certainly not all contemporary conservatives, after all, are racial bigots supporting systemic racism.

Nontheless, Wallace is representative of conservatives fighting for lost causes -- as even he came to acknowledge before he died.

Prothero's descriptions of how anti-Catholicism, anti-Mormonism, Prohibition and many other movements ultimately failed are full of intriguing details. He writes history here, not an anti-conservative polemic. Indeed, he acknowledges that some conservative efforts have succeeded -- at least temporarily. The Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, for instance, never got passed. Conservatives succeeded in cutting the budget of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. And they were behind the harsh incarceration policies that have filled our prisons -- though that now is getting second thoughts even from original proponents.

But the general drift of American society has been to adopt the more liberal positions in the culture wars, the most obvious recent example being the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 ruling legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states -- at a time when the states already were legalizing it on their own.

In that context, the Anglican Communion's sanctions against the Episcopal Church can be seen as one more useless squealing shout in the air to protest something that some day will be fully accomplished. Perhaps it would help for the primates of the Anglican Communion to read Prothero's book. It might save them lots of time and energy on another losing cause.

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The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says some Muslims turn to ISIS because of their disgust over acceptance in some cultures of homosexuality. Who knew that someone could channel Pat Robertson?