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What makes these 'Christians' preach hate? 8-20-19

All of us know that sometimes religions produce people so convinced they are right about matters of theology that they become not just haters but terrorists.

Preaching-hateI find it so damn frustrating that they don't understand the value of doubt and the need to recognize that their finite minds can never fully comprehend the infinite.

But they keep appearing in faith tradition after faith tradition. One of the most recent stories about these rigid haters, published by Slate, describes the rise of "a small but growing network of ultra-fundamentalist Christian churches headed by young pastors whose noxious rhetoric has gone viral multiple times in the past few years."

The vile nature of what these pastors are preaching is almost enough to make you give up on the sanity of the human race. Examples from the Slate story: "Grayson Fitts, a Tennessee pastor who also worked as a county sheriff’s detective, made national headlines in June for preaching that LGBTQ people should be executed. Also in June — Pride month — a Florida pastor hosted a “Make America Straight Again” conference with the goal of putting 'homosexuals back in the closet.' Jonathan Shelley in Texas suggested from the pulpit in January that rebellious students and 'lazy gamers' should be stoned. Another Texas pastor, Donnie Romero, said 'the Earth is a better place now' after the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

"All these men are or have been pastors in the New Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, a loose cohort organized by Steven Anderson, an Arizona pastor who has been called 'the heir apparent to late Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps.'”

As people in the Kansas City area know well, Phelps and his theological goons, most of them members of his immediate family, would travel this area -- and the country -- spewing their homophobic hatred (several times at me personally).

The core question is what moves people toward such ridiculous certitude? Why do they imagine that religions that have preached love and compassion and mercy and justice have been so wrong and now need to offer hatred and condemnation? I'm still not sure anyone has figured out how people go off the rails in that way.

(By the way, when the Slate story quotes someone from Central Baptist Theological Seminary, it's the one in the Twin Cities area, not the American Baptist seminary in Shawnee, Kan., by that same name. Although the Twin Cities seminary would describe itself as more theologically conservative that the Shawnee school, it is not a Southern Baptist Convention seminary. My August Flatland column, to post here on Aug. 25, will describe how the seminary in Shawnee was rescued from death in recent years.)

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NOT NEW, JUST RE-ENERGIZED

The author of this opinion piece, a religious studies teacher at a university, says it's not quite accurate to speak of a "rise" of progressive religious thinkers in recent times. They've been around a long time, she says. "Still," she writes, "Trump’s hardline immigration policies seem to have spurred a broader population of Christians into action. And their civil disobedience crosses racial, ethnic and even party lines in new ways."


Finding faith news while I'm gone: 8-19-20

DENVER -- I've been here for a few days with my bride to help friends celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary and to visit with some other friends here in the Mile High city, where Marcia used to live.

NewsI expect to be back to regular blog posting tomorrow, but in the meantime you can keep up on developments in the world of faith through several sources.

The first is Religion News Service. This excellent group of journalists provides coverage of lots of religious matters. It's a good place to stay up to date. You can even support RNS with a donation.

Another good source of news and analysis in the world of faith is the Pew Research Center. Lots of studies worth reading can be found there, too.

While I'm gone I also invite you to explore the various essays I have here on the blog under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page. And, of course, if you've missed any postings over the last 14-plus years I've been writing this blog, now's your time to go to the archives section on the right side of this page and catch up. (There may be a test.)

Miss me. And I hope to see you back here tomorrow.

By the way, many of you know that if you friend me on Facebook, a link to my daily blog will show up in your newsfeed.

(Oh, and when you're in Denver, don't miss the Denver Botanic Gardens, where I took this photo.)

Den-bot-1


In this version of Job, he recants nothing: 8-17/18-19

The biblical book of Job radically challenged conventional wisdom of its time (roughly the 6th Century BCE). That alleged wisdom suggested the suffering was a sign that the sufferer had sinned and was therefore being punished.

JobWhat the anonymous author of the mythic Job story says, by contrast, is that sometimes suffering just happens, even to people who, even God agrees, are righteous.

But across translation after translation, including Robert Alter's new three-volume Hebrew Bible, near the end of the book Job is said to have repented "in dust and ashes" and to have recanted his long, long case against the deity.

Until now, that is.

In Job: A New Translation, by Edward L. Greenstein, an emeritus professor of Bible at Bar Ilan University in Israel, Job recants nothing at the end. Indeed, Job tells God that now that he's seen and heard God he's "fed up" and that he "takes pity on" what Greenstein, in a footnote, calls "wretched humanity."

In effect, Job accuses God of unfairness resulting in human pain. And he's not sorry he's said that, either.

Greenstein insists that this is the correct translation of Job's words. As Greenstein writes in notes preceding Job's response to God in chapter 42, "Job understands the deity to be exactly as he had feared: a purveyor of power who cares little for people. Parodying the divine discourse through mimicry, Job expresses disdain toward the deity and pity toward humankind (and not acquiescence, as has been generally thought. . .)"

How could translators come up with such different conclusions about what the author of Job wrote?

Greenstein explains that scholars working with the manuscripts of Job are faced with "its eccentric idiom and often inscrutable text. . .(that) poses an extraordinary challenge." Despite that, he writes, "I have attempted to find an explanation of every word, phrase and syntactic construction. With all due modesty, I believe this is more than most other translators can claim. Such work requires tremendous patience and effort." (Speaking of patience, by the way, Job is famous for his patience, but for no good reason. He had almost no patience at all for what God seems to have put him through in this mythical story. And that impatience shows through even more clearly in Greenstein's translation.)

Greenstein himself shows little patience with other translators: "There is no delicate way to put it," he writes. "(M)uch of what has passed as translation of Job is facile and fudged. Translators have for the most part recycled interpretations that had been adopted earlier, dispensing with the painstaking work of original philological investigation that might lead to new and proper understandings."

In chapter 42, for instance, he notes that a typical modern translation of Job's words read this way: "Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes."

But he writes, "the first part of this translation is a stretch, and the second part turns out, after advanced investigation, to be highly improbable."

And yet even Robert Alter, in his magnificent new translation of the entire Hebrew Bible, comes up with something like that traditional translation of Job's words: "Therefore do I recant,/And I repent in dust and ashes."

And in a footnote for chapter 42, Alter speaks of "Job's final recantation" and, in another footnote, of Job's willingness to "concede the justice of God's position."

Perhaps it would be fun to have Greenstein and Alter duke this out at some kind of symposium. I'd show up for that.

There are, of course, now dozens of translations of the book of Job, many of them by the translation teams that put together such versions of the Bible as the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, the Contemporary English Bible and others. And, in almost a separate category, is Stephen Mitchell's engaging 1979 poetic translation of parts of Job. Mitchell, by the way, adopts something like the traditional translation for Job's final words: "I had heard of you with my ears;/but now my eyes have seen you./Therefore I will be quiet,/comforted that I am dust."

So careful readers who want to explore the mined depths of this Hebrew work will have to make choices. Greenstein's version should be among those considered for many reasons, not the least of which is its iconoclastic (and maybe correct) approach to the improbable idea that Job fell out of character at the end of the book and turned to quivering mush before God. As for me, I find Greenstein's Job more appealing that the traditional Job.

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P.S.: DENVER -- I'm here in the Mile High City for a few days to celebrate some events with friends. While I'm gone I won't be adding the usual second item to the daily blog post.


She wants to FaceTime God: 8-16-19

I was in Buffalo, N.Y., in June for the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, a strangely wonderful group that used to have me as its president.

Susan-sparksAt one of the banquets I wound up sitting next to the Rev. Susan Sparks (pictured here), who is a blogger, a preacher, a lawyer and a stand-up comedian whom I had not previously met. See what I mean by strangely wonderful? Her business card shows her on a rural road astride a red Harley Davidson.

Wouldn't you like to read something by someone like that? Me, too.

So today I bring you this piece by Susan in the Gainesville Sun, in which she wonders what it would be like to FaceTime God. Never having tried that, I wondered, too.

The point of the piece has to do with how our image of God affects our lives, including our prayer life.

"For example," she writes, "most of our liturgy today is couched in male language — specifically, father language. This is not necessarily a problem unless it is the only language we use. When God is father, we tend to project all the parental baggage around that term onto God. And if God is mother, we do the same."

Every major religion offers more than one image of God because the reality is that we are finite minds seeking to grasp something about the infinite. And we have to do that through metaphor, allegory, myth.

The problem comes when we believe we have the only true image of God in our heads, one that everyone else in the world should have. And when we believe that we understand exactly how this God thinks and what this God wants us to do.

So give Susan's fun and interesting column a read today and then be willing to acknowledge that whatever image you come up with for God may not contain much truth. Humility is good for us.

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P.S.: DENVER -- I'm here in the Mile High City for a few days to celebrate some events with friends. While I'm gone I won't be adding the usual second item to the daily blog post.


A documentary series on religion and politics: 8-15-19

Several years ago I read two books by investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet that had to do with the secretive political-religious group colloquially known as "The Family," but formally called The Fellowship Foundation.

The-FamilyThe group organizes the annual National Prayer Breakfast and seeks to put men (mostly men) who identify as conservative Christians in positions of governmental power.

The books -- The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy -- have been used to create a new five-episode Netflix documentary series called “The Family.” It began running this past Friday.

Obviously I haven't seen the series, but I suggest to you that it will be worth watching if it stays true to the reporting Sharlet has done in his books.

In the NBC News article to which I have linked you, Sharlet is quoted as saying that "The Fellowship isn't about faith and it spreads very little. It's about power."

That's the very compromise that Christians who identify as evangelical have made by supporting Donald Trump. That story is told by a self-identified evangelical Christian, Ben Howe, in a new book I plan to review here in a few days: The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values.

It's clearly one of the most important religion stories of our era. And unless I miss my guess, it will (and already has) resulted in enormous damage to the image of conservative Christianity (and maybe all of Christianity) here and around the world.

By the way, the roots of The Fellowship go back more than 80 years. As the NBC piece explains, "Abraham Vereide started the first iteration of the Fellowship in Seattle in 1935 when he hosted 19 business leaders with the aim of crushing organized labor. However, using the Prayer Breakfast as a discreet Christian recruiting platform was perfected under longtime leader Doug Coe, who was considered one of the most powerful influencers in the Beltway before his death in 2017."

So if this conflation of religion and political power intrigues you, as it does me, now you know what to look for on Netflix and what to look for on here on the blog when I review Howe's new book.

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P.S.: Convoy of Hope, which you can read about by clicking on that link, is holding a Kansas City event on Saturday, Sept. 7, and offering free food, shoes and other things to needy people. For details, download this pdf -- and share it: Download COHCE2019KansasCityEnglishGuestFlyerCMYK1 (1)

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ANOTHER P.S.: DENVER -- I'm here in the Mile High City for a few days to celebrate some events with friends. While I'm gone I won't be adding the usual second item to the daily blog post.


Can Hindus and Muslims in the subcontinent unite? 8-14-19

My childhood friend from India, Markandey Katju, former justice on India's Supreme Court, will not be celebrating today as Pakistan marks the 72nd anniversary of its independence from Britain and its creation as a separate country.

Bill-MarkandeyKatju (pictured here with me in California a few years ago) is convinced it was a huge mistake to create separate countries at the time -- Pakistan designated for Muslims and India for Hindus. At midnight between Aug. 14 and 15 on that date, the independence and separation went into effect. Today Pakistan celebrates on Aug. 14 while India considers Aug. 15 independence day.

IRA-pixAt least partly because he believes that Muslims and Hindus should be able to live together peacefully in the same country (and why not?), he has launched an effort to reunify Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (the latter, in 1947, became East Pakistan, but later became a separate country). The Indian Reunification Association, which Katju launched to further his efforts, has lots of resources on its website to explain why this is a good idea -- as I believe it to be. The goal is to create one united nation under a secular government, though Katju and his associates understand this will take a long time to accomplish.

On the IRA website, Katju has published a series of addresses to the people of the subcontinent explaining his vision. In this one, he writes this: "The reunified India will strongly support science and scientific thinking. While supporting religious freedom, it will suppress religious extremism or bigotry, whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, and crush it with an iron hand. It will not tolerate discrimination against minorities, dalits or women." (Dalits are members of the lowest caste in India's traditional caste system.)

No doubt religious extremism is a serious problem in the world, including in India, but a secular government, which Katju proposes, will need wise and discerning leaders to know what really is extremism and what is merely innocent beliefs and actions that harm no one. That's not the only problem to be faced in a reunited subcontinent, but it surely will rise toward the top of the list if it is handled badly.

Katju is an avowed atheist and a very smart man who is deeply confident in his opinions. He and I met when we were boys attending the same school in what then was called Allahabad, India, now Prayagraj. I was in India for two years in the 1950s as my father worked with a University of Illinois agriculture team in the time of the Green Revolution. It's been both fun and enlightening to argue with (and learn from) Katju over these decades about matters of faith and to continue to maintain our friendship. In some ways he and I are proof that the religious harmony he envisions in a reunited India is possible.

(By the way, in the latest edition of his regular Bloomberg column, my friend Raj Bhala, who teaches law at the University of Kansas, focuses on India and the current struggle with Pakistan over Kashmir. It's well worth a read.)

(The image on the right above shows what India would look like if Katju's dream of reunification is achieved.)

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THE UNCERTAIN FAITH OF ABE LINCOLN

A Bible once owned by Abraham Lincoln was rediscovered recently, and it has led to this really interesting opinion article from Religion News Service. The author describes the former president near the end of his life as "Lincoln, raw and hurting yet turned to God." And adds this: "We are helped to remember that the costly journey of faith grants its own rewards, even when left unfinished." And, of course, in some ways it's always left unfinished.


A sad, paradoxical picture of religion in China: 8-13-19

China-map

China, under the Chinese Communist Party, is an appalling religious train wreck.

Surviving-stateThis China section of the latest annual report from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom says China's government is guilty of "systematic, ongoing (and) egregious violations of religious freedom."

Chinese-exodusAnd this latest annual report on global religious liberty from the U.S. State Department noted that China's "constitution states citizens have freedom of religious belief but limits protections for religious practice to 'normal religious activities' and does not define 'normal.' The government continued to exercise control over religion and restrict the activities and personal freedom of religious adherents when the government perceived these as threatening state or Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interests, according to nongovernmental organization (NGO) and international media reports. Only religious groups belonging to one of the five state-sanctioned 'patriotic religious associations' (Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant) are permitted to register with the government and officially permitted to hold worship services. There continued to be reports of deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices."

Other than that, things are going swimmingly. Or not. (Ask the Muslim Uighurs in China. Or ask children whose school books in China are being edited to remove religious references, according to this report.)

What's the backstory to religious persecution in China, especially in the 70 years since the communists took control of the country? And what does that story tell us about preserving and protecting religious freedom elsewhere in the world, including here in the U.S.?

To begin to answer that question, I want to alert you to two 2018 books, Surviving the State, Remaking the Church: A Sociological Portrait of Christians in Mainland China, by Li Ma and Jin Li, and The Chinese Exodus: Migration, Urbanism and Alienation in Contemporary China, by Li Ma.

The authors are Christians interested in the many ways Christianity has spread across China despite the government's efforts to control and even crush it. Li (Mary) Ma has a doctorate in sociology from Cornell University and is a researcher on the staff of an institute at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. Jin Li is a doctoral student at Calvin Theological Seminary.

The Surviving book provides some valuable history of how, after Christian missionaries were driven out of the country, "Christians had a marginalized and even criminalized status in new communist China, for they belonged to the lowest social class because of their religious ideology and affiliation with the West."

And it is full of fascinating personal stories from individuals who had to decide between being an active Christian and somehow living under a government that wanted its people to worship the country's leaders instead of God, a leadership choice enforced by what the book describes as "secret spying (on) and open monitoring" of citizens, to say nothing of other forms of harassment. In fact, the personal stories in this book are engaging and one of its greatest strengths.

The Exodus book focuses on the huge rural-to-urban migration inside China that has raised many questions about why citizens often are treated as mere cogs in an economic wheel and what response to such dehumanization faith communities should offer. It's a compelling story that you probably haven't read much about elsewhere.

"Just like ancient Hebrew slaves in Egypt," Li Ma writes in that book, "rural migrants comprise the backbone of China's working force and economic boom. And, like slaves, they are also an acquiescent and underclass suffering from both cruel market forces and the whims of communist policy-makers. Even though they sustain the urban economy, rural migrants remain a faceless, disposable group."

One of the problems with Christianity in China is that, the authors say, it seems to be focused almost entirely on personal salvation and individual spirituality and not on the common good: "In China, discussions among Christians about social injustice have been confined to only small circles. The indigenous church's understanding of mission seldom has social justice in its vocabulary, much less in publishing."

That's also been a problem in the U.S. with some branches of Christianity. A desire to be stroked and loved by President Donald Trump has caused many Christian leaders who identify as evangelical to abandon a lot of what they once stood for. It's been shocking to watch.

In thinking about the Chinese Communist Party's antipathy toward religion, I was reminded of this 2007 column (reprised in a 2012 blog post) I wrote from Nova Huta, Poland, a new community there designed to be a Soviet dream town for steelworkers.

"What was missing?" I wrote. "Exactly what you’d expect these Utopian lunkheads to leave out — houses of worship. They purposefully built no churches. Not a single one for the people of this mostly Catholic nation."

Eventually the people won out and churches were built. It's hard to crush religion with soulless bureaucracy.

But as these books on China attest, a lot of people get hurt along the way even if the religion flower eventually finds a way to bloom.

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HOW PEOPLE OF FAITH LINE UP POLITICALLY

Our religion, if any, helps to determine our politics and the way we view political parties. As this RNS piece shows, the way political parties and operatives talk about other parties and operatives helps to define the way people of faith line up politically. Which just means we all need to be discerning about what is propaganda and what is truth.


Do we understand even our own religion? 8-12-19

Stour2-21

Religious illiteracy, it turns out, is a measure not just of what we don't know about faith traditions beyond our own but also what we don't know about our own. And sometimes that is a surprising, even appalling, amount.

Back in the mid-1990s I taught some classes to try to fix that for Presbyterians. It was a course I called "Theology Even the Clergy Can Understand," and was a way to expose others to the essentials of Reformed Theology, the branch of Protestantism in which we Presbyterians locate ourselves.

I thought about that the other day when I read this Pew Research article about how many Catholics either don't understand one of their core doctrines -- transubstantiation -- or they don't believe it. It says that "most self-described Catholics don’t believe this core teaching. In fact, nearly seven-in-ten Catholics (69%) say they personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion 'are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.' Just one-third of U.S. Catholics (31%) say they believe that 'during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus.'”

The Pew words "actually become" may, in fact, reveal Pew's own misunderstanding of the doctrine. Let me explain:

The transubstantiation doctrine is rooted in Aristotelian science, which divides the world into "substances" and "accidents." A substance means something's essence -- a table's tableness, for example. An accident refers to its appearance -- its taste, its texture, color and so forth.

So the doctrine holds that in the Eucharist, the substance of the bread becomes the substance of Christ's body and the substance of the wine becomes the substance of Christ's blood. The accidents of both bread and wine remain what they are. That is, they still look, feel and taste like bread and wine.

So if, by using the words "actually become" the Pew folks really mean that Aristotelian science distinction, fine. But those words, without further explanation, usually mean a change in a literal sense, so that one could test the wine-now-blood and discover a blood type or test the bread-now-body and find human cells. That kind of literalness, however, is not what the Catholic Church teaches when it talks about Christ's "Real Presence" in the sacrament.

And if the Pew folks are using sloppy language like that, it's probably no wonder that people in the pews of Catholic churches also don't understand the nuances of the doctrine. And maybe that's why so many of them say they don't believe it.

In the same way, I doubt that if you asked most Presbyterians about our sacrament of Holy Communion, or the Eucharist, they would not be able to tell you that we Presbyterians also are "Real Presence" people, though we don't use transubstantiation as an explanation for how Christ is really present. 

One question that should be considered in such matters is if, in the end, it makes any difference whether a Catholic can explain the doctrine of transubstantiation or whether any of my fellow Presbyterians can describe what John Calvin might have meant by "double predestination."

Such details may fascinate strange minds like mine, but those details really aren't the core of the faith, which in bumper-sticker style can be expressed in five words -- "Love God, self and neighbor" -- or four, if you don't count the "and."

Get that core right and the rest is frosting. But if you care about that frosting, feel free to read the whole Pew report.

(The photo here today shows the altar of the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City.)

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MORE ON FIGHTING CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM

The other day here on the blog I wrote about a new organization of Christians formed to work against Christian nationalism. Salon, which has been writing about Christian nationalism for quite some time, just did this backgrounder on that new group. It should fill in some gaps that my previous post may have missed.


Are there resources for a nation in grief? 8-10/11-19

2017-02-10 18.03.23

Several decades ago, the late Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced her now-famous list, the five stages of grief.

They have proved useful but in many ways have become cliché and, in some ways, an inadequate understanding of how we move through bereavement and, we hope, come out whole on the other end.

I've heard the name Kübler-Ross and her five stages kicked around a lot recently in light of the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. And authorities in charge of such grieving communities now are much quicker to provide professional help than they ever used to be.

Which is a good thing. But as this RNS article notes, the way people approach grief today is not quite the same way they may have approached it back when the ideas about grief from Kübler-Ross were new. For one thing, Kübler-Ross had no clue about the role social media eventually would play in expressions of grief or comfort.

As the RNS piece notes, "our age of nonstop communication has brought an increasingly rich array of resources, both online and off, for those who wrestle with grief, suffering and loss. At a time when trust in traditional authorities like the church and its clergy is strikingly low, young adults and others are employing new ways to support each other when bad news or tragedy arrives."

And yet faith communities continue to provide grief support in various ways. Back in the 1980s, the wife of our former senior pastor helped to create a grief support ministry at my congregation. Today, though our pastoral staff offers bereavement support, our congregation has joined a half a dozen or so other congregations to sponsor a monthly Faith & Grief gathering at Village Presbyterian Church in suburban Prairie Village, Kan. Programs are offered under the auspices and direction of a national organization based in Dallas, Texas.

Grief support for families who have lost a loved one being served by a hospice receiving Medicare payments to cover the costs of that care are required to offer 13 months of bereavement counseling. So at the moment, for example, Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, on the board of which I serve, has more than 3,000 people getting bereavement care.

The point of all this is that even in the midst of terrific grief caused by such evil as mass shootings and domestic terrorism, there are resources available to help people get through -- not over -- what's happened. Wise grief counselors try to help the bereaved understand that although grief is a process that ultimately should lead to acknowledgment of reality, the process never really ever ends. For instance, I haven't lived a day since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on which I haven't thought of my nephew Karleton, who was among the almost 3,000 people murdered that day. Today is much different from the first day, but it's still grief.

If your faith communities aren't offering the grief counseling and support you need, ask why not. And if there is no good answer to that question, please know that you can find support elsewhere. Just don't suffer in silence. That helps no one.

(The photo here today is one I shot from a friend's home at a lake in Kansas.)

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THESE LUTHERANS TAKE A STAND

The mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at a meeting of its national governing body, has declared itself to be a "sanctuary church body." Now there's a religious group that is using its prophetic voice, a concept I wrote about here on Friday.


One way to make Jesus shut up: 8-9-19

As it happened last weekend, I did not check the morning news on Sunday before heading off to church. So when, in his pastoral prayer, our pastor mentioned the shootings in El Paso, I was aware of that news and not surprised. But I hadn't yet heard about the shootings in Dayton, which he also mentioned.

Gun-violenceWhy was he praying about such things at all? For a good reason. He was using what we call his prophetic voice. That has nothing to do with predicting the future. Rather, it has to do with naming what is wrong, immoral and hateful so that whatever it is can be examined and fixed.

Christianity generally places a high value on the use of our prophetic voices as a way to engage the culture and to call people and institutions to do the right thing.

The question is who among Christian leaders is using his or her voice in that way and who isn't -- and why not. That's the question this Atlantic article tackles, noting a rather sharp division between Christians leaders who would identify as conservative or evangelical and those who would identify as mainline or progressive. (Those two broad labels don't capture everyone and, like all labels, they hide more than they reveal, but at times they can be useful as a way of making sense of Christianity's many divisions in the U.S.)

Americans in various churches, writes religion reporter Emma Green, "have demanded accountability, calling on the Church to condemn racism and bigotry. To some Americans, white Christians are partly to blame for facilitating this hate-filled political era, in which Hispanic immigrants are demonized and fringe, white-nationalist figures have been empowered. 

"Christianity in America is wildly diverse, but this question, perhaps more than any other, has become a dividing line for churches today: In the midst of rising hatred, Christians cannot agree on what their prophetic role should be, and whether there are political solutions for America’s apparent recent uptick in overt violence and bigotry."

Green quotes some pastors as saying that essentially there's no connection between gun violence and white nationalist rhetoric heard in many places, including from the White House. Rather, they say, the problem is evil and sin. She also quotes Jason Morriss, the pastor at Austin New Church, which she calls a progressive Methodist congregation in Austin, Texas, this way:

“The religious right sold their soul and gave silence to pay for a place at the table of power. And what that means is, they can’t blow the prophetic whistle. We’ve lost our way.”

The desire among self-identified evangelical Christians to be part of the governmental power structure under this president has politicized the church in unhealthy ways and, in the long run, will do enormous damage not just to the evangelical branch of the faith but to all of Christianity in America in guilt-by-association. To lose one's prophetic voice is to silence the very voice of Jesus in our culture.

(I found the image you see here today at this site.)

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THE U.S. NEEDS ITS OWN TISHA B'AV

The Jewish sabbath begins at sundown this evening, as it does each Friday. But this Sunday will be a holy day Jews call Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and the second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. Jeffrey Salkin, a rabbi who blogs regularly for Religion News Service, has a good idea about all this that he explains in this piece. Along with our other holidays in America, he says, we need a national day of reflection on which "we can reflect on what we are, what we have become and what we need to become our true vision of the American self." I can hear already a typical American response: Isn't there an app for that?