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Will 'Liberation Theology' affect midterm elections? 9-29/30-18

Back in the 1960s and '70s, something in Christianity eventually called "Liberation Theology" became ascendant, given a boost especially in South America by such theologians as Leonardo Boff of Brazil.

Liberation-theologyThe basic idea was that God had a "preferential option for the poor." God, in other words, was most concerned about the marginalized, the downtrodden. And God wanted people not just to feed, clothe and house the poor but also to work against the systems and structures that contributed to poverty, racism, sexism and lots of other destructive isms.

Liberation Theology eventually attracted critics, including a pope or two, who asserted that its thinking was Marxist in nature and wasn't in harmony with traditional Christianity. Pushing back, Liberation Theology advocates acknowledged that some of the economic and societal concerns Marxism raised were similar to the ones they were raising but that, unlike Marxists, Christians were motivated by a commitment to justice, love and mercy for people who also were children of God.

Religion& has just published this interview with the author of a new book called, The World Come of Age: An Intellectual History of Liberation Theology The article to which I've just linked you says that in this book, independent scholar Lilian Calles Barger "traces the history of liberationist thought back to its ascendance in the 1960s and 70s, situating it atop the prior movements and thinkers who paved the way."

The piece also notes that some politicians and others in the U.S. today are drawing on Liberation Theology to help energize what some are calling the Christian Left.

As Barger explains Liberation Theology in the interview, she says that "the tension between transcendence and immanence has been at work in theology for a very long time. At certain points, God has been imagined as a distant, otherworldly figure, while at others, God has been very much an interventionist in human affairs.

"With the social gospel in the early twentieth century, theologians began to swing decisively in the latter direction, emphasizing a God at work in the everyday of every day. By the 1960s and '70s, liberationists were situating God not simply among human beings on earth but specifically among the poor and the oppressed, to advocate on their behalf. God was not only close at hand, but God was found among oppressed people in their struggle against oppression. This was a shift in the character of God from one who had equal universal regard to one who was partial to black people, the poor and women."

Thus the phrase "preferential option for the poor."

Theological movements come and go, of course, but in this politically charged era in America leading up to the midterm elections, it's been intriguing to see Christians who have felt estranged from what has been called the Religious Right begin to express their political views using theological underpinnings.

Barger notes, correctly, that Liberation Theology has "a very splintered history." And it's unclear whether those who use it in some way to define their political positions can convince American voters that they should elect officials whose policies would be rooted in Liberation Theology.

Pay attention to candidates to see if you can pick up on this thread in their positions. It's often been more subtle and harder to find than has the often-harsh and rigid -- at times angry and arrogant -- theology of politicians who identify with the Religious Right. But it can be found if you watch closely.

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Matters of human sexuality, as most of us know, have divided various religious traditions, causing institutional splits and various realignments. It's happening among the Mennonites, too, as this RNS report shows. It's difficult, apparently, not to have an opinion about how theology and sexuality meet. But here's a good rule: If your views on sexuality, even if you think they're based on holy writ and approved by God, demean and divide people, it's time for a rethink.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about religion and the #MeToo movement -- now is online here.

Did God screw up by inventing sex? 9-28-18

The abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, the #MeToo movement in light of sexual misconduct all over the place, the latest accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the new admission by Pope Francis that his church hasn't got much of this right -- all of this and more is raising a foundational question about humanity, especially males.

Sexual_ethicsWe could ask it theologically this way: Did God mess up by creating the sex drive as a way to reproduce the human species? Or we could ask it in a more scientific or sociological way: What in the natural sexual attraction that people feel goes wrong and leads to abuse and what can be done to control that?

I am not arguing -- would never argue, as some fools have -- that rape is simply an inevitable result of natural instincts. That judgment belongs in history's trash heap. It demeans humanity. It assumes that our moral codes are powerless over us.

Perhaps one answer to the sickening repetition of #MeToo stories is to recognize the fact that many people (I'm talking here almost exclusively about males) are simply not mature about their own physicality and needs. Beyond that, they have not been taught to value and respect the human bodies of others. In Christian theological terms, those bodies are understood to be the temple of the Holy Spirit. And those bodies are what, in some mysterious way, will be redeemed, as proposed by the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

Human bodies, according to this theology, bear the image of God (the imago dei) and, thus, are in some sense sacred themselves.

But not a lot of faith communities spend time talking frankly about human bodies and how we -- no matter our gender, no matter whether straight or LGBTQ -- are to understand and respect them.

It pleases me to tell you that the pastors of the congregation to which I belong have been focusing this month on exactly that: human bodies. Here you will find some resources to go along with this sermon series on the subject.

This is a step toward progress. But clearly more is needed -- not just from other faith communities but from parents, grandparents, school teachers, coaches, politicians, physicians and others.

And more help is needed from the entertainment industry, which often seems to assume the human body is merely a toy to manipulate for self-satisfying purposes.

Look. Blaming God in this, as I first suggested, is simply silly. It's as if we're accusing God of getting a D-minus in a design class. But it's important to acknowledge how natural our sexual urges are and to find ways to respond to those urges in healthy and beautiful ways, not in ways that devalue other human bodies.

To have an acknowledged sexual predator as president doesn't help, of course. In fact, it's a disaster. But even that is no excuse for us not doing what we can to teach a healthy sexual ethic to our children and grandchildren -- and to abide by that ethic ourselves.

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David Clohessy, who resigned from SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in 2016 because of controversy over a lawsuit brought by a former SNAP employee, has returned to the organization to be a spokesman. I have met David several times and have felt the work that SNAP does is important so that abuse victims have a voice. I hope he does well in this role.

When a religious minority gets suppressed: 9-27-18

When India achieved independence from Britain in August 1947, the country was partitioned. The largest part of the subcontinent was designated as India and its population would be predominantly Hindu. Two smaller areas were called West and East Pakistan (the latter later becoming Bangladesh), and their populations would be predominantly Muslim.

India-mapAs Hindus living in the new Pakistan and Muslims living in the new India moved to live with others of their religious tradition, they crossed paths on the road. Murder and mayhem broke out.

As The New Yorker has reported, partition displaced some 15 million people and killed a million. And this byproduct of imperialism still is producing terrible effects today.

For instance, a new study finds that Muslims in India (who make up about 14 percent of the 1.3 billion population today) suffer from an almost complete lack of upward economic mobility despite the fact that India's economy has grown substantially in recent years.

As the story about the study to which I just linked you notes, "India’s Muslim community has for long faced discrimination and relatively lower living standards. Previous research has shown that the Muslim community has the lowest rate of enrollment in higher education in India, accounting for just 4.4% of students. It also faces high levels of poverty, with 25% of India’s 370,000 beggars being Muslim."

My friend Markandey Katju, a retired judge on India's Supreme Court, has argued time and again that Pakistan is an artificial country that should be merged back into India. Here is what he said about all of that in 2016, for instance. Here is a piece he wrote in 2017 about the need for India and Pakistan to reunite. And here is something about this subject he e-mailed to me the other day:

India and Pakistan have been one country since Mughal times, and we share the same culture. When I meet Pakistanis I feel no different from them. We look like each other, we speak the same language, Hindustani, we have the same food habits, the common love for Urdu literature, etc. Indians and Pakistanis socialise abroad as if there had never been a Partition. In fact we are one country, artificially divided, but we must reunite.
Partition of India in 1947 was done on the basis of the bogus two-nation theory that Hindus and Muslims are two separate nations. If religion is the basis of a nation then almost every country will have to be partitioned, because there are Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., in almost every country, e.g. in UK, USA, France, Germany, etc.
As pointed out in detail in my article "The Truth about Pakistan" published in the Pakistani newspaper "The Nation," Partition was a historical British swindle, a culmination of the divide and rule policy, whose purpose was to keep Hindus and Muslims fighting each other and thereby keep the subcontinent poor and weak, and a big buyer of foreign arms. We were befooled by the Britishers into thinking Hindus and Muslims are enemies. . .but how much longer must we remain befooled ? How much longer must blood flow between us?
Today India is the biggest buyer of foreign weapons in the world, and we spend billions of dollars on this, money which should be used for the welfare of our people.
When I said that India and Pakistan must reunite under a secular government most people said I am day dreaming. But when Mazzini spoke of Italian unification he was also called a daydreamer. Yet his dream came true under Cavour and Garibaldi. Vietnam was reunited in 1975, and Germany in 1990. So to say that much water has flown since 1947 is neither here nor there.
Some say that there is a lot of hatred between the people of the two countries, and so we cannot reunite. But this hatred is artificial. In fact when Indians go to Pakistan they are overwhelmed by the love and affection they get, and the same happens when Pakistanis come to India.
No doubt reunification will not happen easily, because those who divided us will not like to see united India emerge as a huge industrial giant, like another China, but it is bound to happen, though it will take time. However, the time has come to put forward the idea of Indo-Pak reunification. It is like planting a seed, which may take 10-15 years to grow into a fruit bearing tree, and that is what all patriotic modern minded people must do.
Markandey may not convince others to reunite India and Pakistan, but it's increasingly clear that many of the Muslims who remained in India after partition aren't faring well economically and may not in the future.

All of which looks, from the outside at least, a lot like intentional religious discrimination.

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A new film with ties to Liberty University advocates the idea that God chose Donald Trump to be president. Does it seem odd to you, too, that God couldn't even arrange to have Trump win the popular vote? Hmmmm.

Antisemitism is no rare phenomenon: 9-26-18

In my experience, almost any time I hear a religious leader decry a movement or warn about the possibility of some disaster, I can be pretty sure that he or she is late responding to something that should have been responded to much earlier.

AntisemitismI even detect a bit of that in the admonition from Pope Francis the other day about antisemitism. Humanity, he said, must guard against "new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it."

Well, the words are true and welcome. And they represent a radical change from the anti-Judaism that infected Christianity almost from its beginning.

But the resurgence of antisemitism is no new story. Indeed, more than five years ago I did a review here of Alvin H. Rosenfeld's then-new book, Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives. It was clear even then that one of the world's oldest hatreds not only continues, it never stopped even after the Holocaust.

The occasion for the pope's remarks was the 75th anniversary of the 1943 liquidation of the ghetto in Vilnius, Lithuania. Thousands of Jews died then, part of the approximately six million who perished at the hands of Adolf Hitler's Nazi killing machine.

So, yes, it is important to remember such dates and to study the history of how such history happened. But the pope' words left the impression that antisemitism is a rare phenomenon now and that people should carefully sniff around to see if they can detect any of it. It's in plain sight both here in the U.S. and in Europe.

By the way, I've used two terms here -- antisemitism and anti-Judaism. The former is racial and ethnic in nature. It views Jews people as a hated separate people and promotes visions of a greedy people who want to control the world. The latter is theological in nature. It presumes that Christianity has superseded Judaism and made it irrelevant. It suggests that Jews went astray by failing to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the long-promised Messiah.

Either "ism" is putrid at its core and must be recognized, named and fought.

And, sad to say, neither is a rare and tiny growth in an otherwise-beautiful forest of right thinking. Breathe in almost anywhere and you'll get more than a whiff.

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I've been mostly unaware of the faith backstory of the founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke. But this Sojourners story tells that interfaith story. Jesus, Burke says, was the first activist she knew.

As the print era dies, what about sacred texts? 9-25-18

On my iPad and smartphone I keep the "YouVersion" Bible app.

YouVersionIt offers dozens of different translations and is pretty easy to navigate. Sometimes if there's a shortage of Bibles in the pews for worship at services at my church, I'll just use it and let others have the printed versions.

But when I do that my inner delinquent wants to change the response at the end of the reading. When the reader says, "This is the word of the Lord," the congregation generally responds, "Thanks be to God." But if when reading an e-version, shouldn't the pastor says, "This is the Word Document of the Lord"? Uh, maybe.

At any rate, the current cover story in Harper's magazine is headlined "The Printed Word in Peril," and focuses on all the ways that e-versions of things are replacing print. (For someone who spent a career working mostly for a printed newspaper, there's some sadness to work through here for me.)

A ways into the piece, Will Self writes this: "The age of Homo virtualis is quite likely upon us, and while this may be offensive to those of us who believe humans to have been made in God's image, it's been received as a cause for rejoicing for those who believe God to be some sort of cosmic computer."

The reality is that how we take in information shapes our brains and our thinking. People like me who grew up with print, who didn't get television until we were age 10 or so, who didn't get brain-buzzed with early MTV-like special effects tend not to do very well processing messages that flash by at 72-images a minute. Self refers to such people as having "a Gutenberg mind." In some ways I admire the brains of younger people who can process such spinning flip-cards.

But how, in such cases, is it possible to stop and ponder, to freeze on a sentence -- this one, for instance -- and marinate in it until we can unearth different meanings, different ways of grasping whatever truth the words might contain?

I don't know. And I wonder whether reading sacred writ online might be short-circuiting the thinking process in some way. (Said the man who is offering you these words online.)

Perhaps there's nothing to worry about. Perhaps "the word of the Lord" can come digitally or in print or spelled out by airplanes whose pilots know how to make letters in the sky. I'm just glad that the people who wrote the documents now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi documents didn't have computers.

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A rabbi has written this intriguing piece suggesting that the world could use a Jewish Mister Rogers. No, he isn't complaining about the beautiful work that the Rev. Fred Rogers did in his television ministry to children. But just as there was a Christian background to Rogers' neighborhood, it might be enlightening to do such work with a Jewish background. See what you think.

'Deconstructing' one Christianity to build another: 9-24-18

As I and many others have reported a lot in recent years, one of the major changes in the American religious landscape has been the rise of the "nones," or the religiously unaffiliated. Current estimates suggest that they now make up about 25 percent of American adults.

Conversion_WordleBut something else is going on inside a branch of Protestantism that hasn't received nearly the attention it deserves. It's a phenomenon that some people who identify themselves as evangelicals are calling "deconstruction."

What that means is that the people who are in the deconstruction process are questioning all kinds of aspects of the faith they grew up with and, beyond that, rejecting much of it. Some are leaving institutional religion altogether, joining the "nones," but others are moving into segments of Protestantism often called progressive or liberal, though all these labels hide more than they reveal.

This fascinating article in The New Republic is written by a man who tells his personal deconstruction story. I have found it to be at once heartbreaking but also hopeful.

Bryan Mealer writes that he grew up in a church that "readied soldiers for the culture war. We stood on busy streets holding picket signs showing bloody aborted fetuses. We were about Pat Robertson and James Dobson and didn’t bother ourselves with soup kitchens or food pantries. We pushed purity culture and the 'Twelve Steps of Dating' as ways to avoid the trap of premarital sex."

But, he writes, he found he could not hold to such a theological life with any authenticity, and he left. But "after a decade of estrangement, I felt a tug to reconnect with organized religion. My two oldest children started having questions. When my daughter asked, “What is God?” we gave the kids a book that said God is everything, which led to my son telling my mother that God was our Honda. So, I started looking for a church."

Eventually, after help from podcasts and reading, he landed at Trinity (United Methodist) Church in Austin, Texas.

He writes, "During services, I saw gay couples and transgender people sitting alongside white-haired Methodist women. The pianist shared that it was the anniversary of his coming to this church, and then explained how his last congregation had ostracized him for being gay. He began to cry as he spoke, and I felt my own tears running down my face.

"At Trinity, I realized I could be both liberal and Christian — that the church could be an affirming and reconciling place for gay and transgender people, along with advocating for the poor and oppressed. It was liberating."

What Mealer and others like him are learning is that being a disciple of Jesus Christ doesn't mean you have to belong to the Republican Party or that you have to be on the political-right side of the culture wars or that you have to read the Bible literally instead of seriously.

As he says, it's liberating, but it's also terribly demanding. This kind of Christianity insists that we must see the image of God in every human being -- no exceptions. Do you have any idea how hard that is? But it's a challenge that Mealer and others are discovering is worth the effort. I'm glad to welcome him into this branch of the faith even as we who are in it hope that some day all Christians will find not uniformity but unity.

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A new study suggests that children who grow up with religious beliefs wind up with better mental health as adults. For one thing, it gives you a sense of community, which means other people you can blame for your troubles. Right?

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P.S.: Some of you might be interested in a lecture on "Christianity and Democracy" by Duke University Prof. Luke Bretherton at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Wesley Covenant Chapel at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in suburban Leawood, Kan. Information needed to register for this free event is here.

Mark Twain's theological games: 9-22/23-18

Because The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (pictured here) is the best novel ever written by an American (oh, it is, too), I reread it periodically.

TwainI used to do so every couple of years, and once wrote a long Kansas City Star piece about the marvels of the book and reprinted it in my first book, A Gift of Meaning.

I stumbled across that piece the other day and decided to get Huck Finn off the shelf again and give it another go to see how it would speak to me this time.

Only eight chapters into the 43 that make up the book, I was stopped by a theological trick Twain was playing. It had to do with prayer and its efficacy.

Huck at this point in the story had just faked his own death and then run off to to hide on Jackson Island near his hometown of Hannibal, Mo., on the Mississippi River. Townspeople began a search for his body, using a strange system of loaves of bread and loud cannon shots across the river. Well, that didn't turn up Huck's body, but Huck, quite alive and hungry in the woods, got one of the loaves as it floated by.

"I got a good place amongst the leaves," he says, "and set there on a log, munching the bread and watching the ferryboat, and very well satisfied. And then something struck me. I say, now I reckon the widow or the parson or somebody prayed that this bread would find me, and here it has gone and done it. So there ain't no doubt but there is something in that thing -- that is, there's something in it when a body like the widow or the parson prays, but it don't work for me, and I reckon it don't work (except) for only just the right kind."

What does Twain mean by putting the word "work" into Huck's mouth? He means that prayer is an extraordinarily utilitarian and literalistic task, designed to ring a bell to summon the cosmic bellboy, God, so God can fulfill whatever the person praying wants.

It is, of course, a narrow, distorted view of prayer, though buried within that view is a view of the manipulative nature of humanity. This kind of answers-on-demand prayer -- often called supplication -- ignores other types of and aspects of prayer: Centering, or contemplative, prayer, plus adoration, thanksgiving and confession, to say nothing of apophatic and cataphatic prayer, the former meaning to pray with your eyes closed and the latter to pray with your eyes open.

So rather than get into all that -- and more -- about prayer, Twain, whose religious views started near skepticism as a young man and grew darker and darker as he aged, chose the easy route of setting up a prayer straw man and setting him afire.

Once he puts all that into the mouth of the gullible, irascible, charming Huck Finn, it's easy for the reader to slide into and adopt Huck's one-dimensional critique of prayer.

Twain, of course, knows what he's doing -- and does it well. Indeed, what he does exceptionally well over his writing life is to skewer religious hypocrisy. It was a public service performed well, especially with his famous war prayer. But readers would do well to take note of his theological trickery, just one of countless examples Twain offered readers over his astonishing career.

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The Church of England, battered by decades of declining membership, has decided to use social media to try to draw in younger members. Fine. But if I were in charge, the first thing I'd do is have the British government declare that there is no established religion in the U.K. As what I call a kept church, the ability to use a prophetic voice to denounce the government when it errs is severely compromised. Fix that, become independent and maybe more Brits would be interested.

Thinking about 50 years ago today: 9-21-18

In January 1955, I attended a party in Streator, Ill., to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my maternal grandparents, Gust and Amanda Helander. I was 10 years old and imagined my grandparents to be 125 or so.

Mbt-wdt-1996In August 1987, I attended a party in my hometown of Woodstock, Ill., to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my parents, Bill and Bertha Tammeus. I was 42 then and knew my parents weren't 125, but considered them quite elderly, nonetheless.

Today, 50 years to the day after I was married, I won't be attending a party to celebrate that event. Each of us survives, but our marriage ended after almost 27 years. And in a few months I will celebrate 22 years of marriage to the person who agreed to marry me anyway. (What a gift.)

(The photo here today was taken at our 1996 wedding in the chapel of Second Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Holly Hutchens, an Episcopal priest, and the Rev. Ron Roberts, a Presbyterian pastor, officiated.)

It's odd and a little painful to think back 50 years, but it's also enormously gratifying that my first marriage produced two amazingly smart and beautiful daughters who, in turn, have amazingly smart and beautiful children. It's standard operating procedure for people to speak of their children and grandchildren that way, but these human beings simply take my breath away.

What I didn't know about marriage and life and an already started full-time career in journalism in 1968 could fill the Library of Congress. But so, probably, could all I've learned since then.

At the time of my 1968 wedding, both of us were journalists employed in Rochester, N.Y., for the now-defunct afternoon Gannett newspaper, The Times-Union. We were married in her small hometown of Albion, N.Y., about 45 minutes west of Rochester, in her United Methodist Church. The pastor there joined with my now-former and now-late brother-in-law, then a Presbyterian pastor, do to the ceremony.

It was a warm day in Upstate New York and we were glad to start our life together in a one-bedroom apartment not far from the Eastman House (as in Eastman Kodak) in Rochester.

That Methodist Church in Albion still exists, though I just read online that its membership is down to about 45 and no doubt is one small-town measure of the decline of Mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. in the last 50 years.

I've come to the conclusion that there's nothing magical or divine about 50 years of marriage to the same person. When it happens -- as it already has to one of my sisters and her husband and is scheduled to happen next year to another of my sisters and her husband -- it can be a great blessing.

But the point is not longevity. The point is faithfulness and love, values the world's great religions teach. Which is what my bride and I have now. And that, friends, is worth a party.

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Violence against some of the 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S. is on the rise, though the victim described in this Guardian piece doesn't blame President Trump. Whatever is stoking these crimes, however, is revealing a deep-seated bigotry that must be opposed.

The Trump-China connection to interfaith understanding: 9-20-18

I like to think of my friendship with Markandey Katju as a good example of how to have an ongoing civil dialogue between a person of faith (me) and an atheist (him). (The photo here today shows us together in California a few years ago.)

2015-01-25 15.14.20Our friendship goes back to the mid-1950s, when I spent two years of my boyhood in India because my father was part of a University of Illinois agriculture team there. We lived in Allahabad, and Markandey and I met there as 12-year-olds at Boys High School, which had been started years before by the Anglican Church.

Despite occasional gaps in our connection, we have stayed in conversation until today as I went on to be a columnist for The Kansas City Star (and later other outlets) and Markandey became a judge on India's Supreme Court and later chairman of the Press Council of India. At the moment he's on an extended visit to see his daughter and her family in California.

Our latest friendly banter has been over President Donald Trump, whom I regard as a moral disaster. Markandey, by contrast, believes that even though Trump has his faults, the fact that he is confronting China on trade and trying to point out and limit Chinese imperialism makes up for all his other faults:

"Yes, Trump deserved to be criticized for his negative points," Markandey tells me, "but why did you Americans overlook the great thing he has done? In this respect he is like Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt taking on that tyrant Hitler."

Which I think is a way-over-the-top comparison.

(By the way, as you may have heard, Trump announced $200 billion more in tariffs on Chinese goods this week and China retaliated.)

Markandey has made his views about all that known in this column, published recently online both in India and in a U.S. publication that caters to an audience from the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. I encourage you to read it. I concede that Trump is taking essentially the right path on China, though I've told Markandey that I'm baffled about how he got this matter close to right when he's gotten almost everything else terribly wrong.

An old American saying suggests that even a blind squirrel finds an occasional acorn, and I consider Trump's China policy such an acorn.

Markandey, who jokingly calls me "Reverend," just as I often address him with false honor as "Your Grace," has been asking me to publicize his China views, including giving you blog readers a link to them. He even said that I can "reproduce them with your own critical comments, for which, like Jesus Christ, I will forgive you." So I do that today.

But I do it not to convince you of his (or anyone's) views on Trump (though his words may sway you) but, rather, to suggest that it is quite possible for people with markedly different views about religion to be civil to one another and to respect each other.

Markandey urged me to do my duty like John the Baptist and spread the word about his views of Trump's China policy. I am doing that, but not without reminding Markandey that, in the end, it cost John the Baptist his head.

Civil dialogue among and between people of different (and no) faith commitments can make the world a safer and better place. I'm delighted to have stayed friends with Markandey all these years, despite what I consider to be his misguided views on God and what he considers to be mine. Perhaps some day, somewhere, we'll have an eternity to discuss who was right. I'd enjoy that.

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If you are a Christian, what do you make, by now, of the staying power of the genre of music called Christian Rock? This New Yorker piece takes a look at its history and how it has managed to survive despite expressions of grave doubts about it. It's worth a read, if nothing else to learn about how Martin Luther King Jr. disparaged it so harshly.

The need for antiracist people of faith: 9-19-18

As many of us know -- and regret -- faith communities in America have sometimes been the promoters of racism, perhaps starting with their support of slavery and, later, their cooperation with Jim Crow laws and other methods of maintaining white power.

Anti-racismAs many of us also know -- and cheer -- faith communities in America sometimes have been the promoters of civil rights and equal justice for all. The Civil Rights Movement, for instance, was led in many ways by such people of faith as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

But as Ibram X. Kendi notes in this piece in the current issue of The Atlantic, Americans are far from setting aside racism. In fact, he writes, we Americans remain a house divided on this issue and that cannot continue. One side or the other will prevail. He writes:

"One hundred sixty years after (Abraham) Lincoln warned of the dangers of disunion brought on by slavery, Americans must bear witness to racism’s destructive power. This government cannot endure, permanently half racist and half antiracist. . .The threat racism poses to the contemporary United States is more insidious for being more diffuse and more veiled. But trace the issues rending American politics to their root, and more often than not you’ll find soil poisoned by racism. None of these issues is likely to tear down the republic as slavery nearly did, but the danger is no less existential."

All of which means that it's time again for people of faith to take the lead as they did in the Civil Rights Movement.

You see some of that today, such as the two pastors who have been leading the renewed Poor People's Campaign. And certainly individual rabbis, priests, pastors, imams and others have been preaching the gospel of antiracism to their congregations.

But many Americans seem oblivious to the dangers that racism -- particularly white nationalism, whose proponents have been given new life by the Trump administration -- pose to the country.

Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, writes this: "Today, only a renewed commitment to antiracist policies can save the endangered American project. The alternative is a governing system that becomes all racist and wholly illegitimate. The result may not be an 1860s-style civil war. But, if allowed to proceed far enough, racism will ultimately destroy the American idea. And it will lead to contentiousness and resentment and, yes, violence that will make today’s polarization seem quaint by comparison.

"I believe, as Lincoln did, that we can repair our divided house. 'I do not expect the house to fall,' Lincoln said. 'But I do expect it will cease to be divided.' Even at the height of slavery’s power, Lincoln believed that Americans could make the nation free. We can and must believe in our ability to make the nation antiracist despite the ascendancy of a racist president who pursues a racist agenda."

So the question is what is your congregation or denomination or faith tradition, if you have one, doing to be part of the necessary solutions here? If you don't know, find out. If the answer is nothing, change that.

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Beth Moore, a well-known white evangelical leader, is taking shots for being critical of sexual predators, including President Trump. And this Atlantic piece asks where it will all end. She's the kind of Christian public figure the rest of us need to support. May her tribe increase.