I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
There are rules for introducers as well, of course, and Bollinger broke several. The first, inviolate rule is: Never upstage the speaker. The introducer's role is that of catalyst, not newsmaker. The second rule, until Monday thought so obvious that it goes without saying, is: Don't insult the speaker. Bollinger's introduction was akin to pulling the welcome mat out from under his invited
guest. While he was standing on it. And the neighbors were watching.
Ahmadinejad was playing to global public opinion, and though he lost some PR points for incoherence and general bizarreness of message ("In Iran, we don't have homosexuals"), he gained some for coming off as a bit more mature than his prissy, infantile host. ("In Iran, when you invite a guest, you respect them," Ahmadinejad observed dryly.)
Or -- stay with me here -- if Bollinger had invited President Bush to Columbia and made those same unvarnished remarks to him, and Bush had toughed it out and struggled to answer half a dozen unfiltered, critical questions from an audience not made up of his handpicked supporters . . . . Well, that too would have been free speech at its best.
Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing you're likely to see in America.
It's odd, because Bush -- like Ahmadinejad -- makes plenty of statements that, to paraphrase the eloquent Mr. Bollinger, could be characterized as ridiculous, provocative, uneducated and fanatical. (Take Bush's repeated suggestion of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, for instance.) And as in the case of Ahmadinejad, some of Bush's preposterous and belligerent statements contributed to the GOP's defeat in the last elections.
Nevertheless, faith has an important role to play in politics, especially in circumstances in which secular liberals are rendered impotent, as in the case of Nazi occupation, communist rule or military dictatorship.
Liberals are most needed when compromises have to be made, but not as useful when faced with brute force. That is when visionaries, romantics and true believers are driven by their beliefs to take risks that most of us would regard as foolhardy. It is, on the whole, not beneficial to be ruled by such heroes, but it is good to have them around when we need them.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches. Foreword by Rick Warren. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. (HB) xxvii + 224 pp.
Is the mega-church a bane or a blessing for American Protestantism? This is a question that has received much attention in academic, clergy, and lay circles. Everyone seems to have an opinion – with some loving them and others hating them. There are, of course, others – like me – who are somewhat ambivalent. As a Mainline Protestant small church pastor, I have my questions, but I’m willing to learn transferable lessons.
Beyond Megachurch Myths seeks to correct the perception that megachurches are not only bad for the soul; they’re dinosaurs in danger of dying off. As one would expect from a book carrying the imprimatur of Rick Warren, this is at least in part an apologia for the megachurch movement. The authors, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, believe in megachurches and they believe that they’re here to stay. In fact, they believe that we will likely see many more of them in the future. The purpose of the book then, is to debunk the myths and stereotypes that have emerged as megachurches have grown and spread their wings across the nation.
The book is based in large part on a set of surveys of megachurches that were conducted by Scott Thumma. Thumma, a researcher from Hartford Seminary had teamed with Travis, a church consultant with Leadership Network, to interpret the data and debunk nine myths about megachurches. First, a definition: A megachurch is “a Protestant church that averages at least two thousand total attendees in their weekend services” (p. xviii). More than 1250 congregations meet those criteria (with more than 4.5 million people worshiping together on any given weekend).
These are the nine myths: They’re all alike, they’re just too big, they’re based on personality cults, they’re concerned only about themselves and their attendees, they water down the faith, are bad for other churches, are homogeneous in race, class, and political affiliation, grow because they entertain, and finally, that they’re in the process of dying because young people don’t like them. As with any stereotype there is truth to the critiques, but the very fact that the movement is extraordinarily diverse means that the stereotypes easily fall apart. Megachurches may not be for everyone, but many people find them just right – and for many different reasons.
The reason for studying such a movement is that simply because of their size they have a significant footprint on American religious life. Whereas, once the media might have turned to a denominational or seminary official for comment, more often than not today it will be a Rick Warren or a Jeremiah Wright who is consulted. Even small churches, like mine, are influenced at least to a degree by what happens in the nation’s megachurches. So it is best that we approach this movement free of misconceptions – critiquing where necessary but learning whenever possible from them.
In answering the first of the myths – that they’re all alike – we’re introduced to four distinctive types – the “old-line/program-based” church, the “seeker church,” the Charismatic/pastor-focused church, and finally the New Wave/Re-Envisioned Church. The first type tends to be the oldest, the New Wave the newest, and the Seeker church may be the focus of many of our stereotypes. Megachurches come in all colors and styles, from liberal to conservative, from traditional to rock and roll. Some are homogeneous but others are quite diverse in ethnic and economic and even theological dimensions. Some are centered on the personality of the pastor, but others are not – some are even team led. Some have big TV ministries, but most don’t.
Most of these churches, especially the newer ones, are in touch with the culture around them. They are technologically savvy, professional in output, and they seek to be relevant not only in their preaching but in their worship style (though again there are those churches that are quite liturgical or traditional). Many are very informal and casual in dress, but others expect you to dress up. It would seem that there is a style of church for just about everyone.
In exploring the myths and the realities, we discover that these churches have grown in part because they are in tune with the culture but also because they have shown the ability to adapt and to evolve. They also offer people options that a small congregation cannot offer. That being said, there are difficulties in making the transitions – especially when that involves pastoral succession. Some have made that kind of transition easily, but others have foundered.
The authors understand that there is a flip side to all of this. Megachurches have to be more intentional about assimilation (though even small churches must be attuned to this issue). Megachurch pastors find themselves at a distance from their congregants. Pastoral care has to be delivered in other ways than through the senior pastor.
The book is quite useful in that it points the reader to lessons that can be learned from the megachurch. The key for smaller churches and their clergy is not to get caught up in envy, but to recognize that every church is different and that not everyone is interested in being part of something so large. But we can learn that worship should be joyous, that quality of presentation is important, and that evangelism must have intentionality to it. Because the megachurch is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, it does us no good to lament its presence – after all I shop at Costco myself.
It is the future that interests me the most. I noticed that the book skirted theological issues. And while not all megachurches are conservative, it’s likely that a majority of them are. So if the theological and the political climates change how will that effect the movement? In other words is this a style more suited to theologically conservative churches? Among the critics of this movement are participants in the Emergent movement (even though some of these churches are mega-churches themselves), but this critique requires more exploration, for the world might be changing in ways that could undermine the largeness and even the professionalism of the megachurch.
I wonder too about the effect of environmental issues and the increase in gas prices. Will going green effect how the church exists in the world – megachurches have an extraordinarily large footprint – with their parking lots and use of electricity and gas. That they tend to be regional churches rather than neighborhood churches, will people be less likely to drive 15 to 30 miles to go to church? One answer may be found in the move made by some megachurches to become multi-site congregations. In some ways that’s a return to an ancient practice, one that in essence created the monarchical episcopate in the second century. Might megachurch pastors become bishops overseeing multiple congregations while overseeing a cathedral church?
Some of these questions must wait for the future to be answered. I’m not an expert in this field, so I defer somewhat to the ones doing the studies. The reality is that for now at least we must learn to live with and hopefully learn from the megachurches in our midst. We needn’t be afraid of critiquing them when deserved, but as the authors demonstrate we should not fall victim to stereotype. For that reason, this book needs to be read – likely in tandem with something like Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).
So, what does it say to the nation when you must go fundraising (McCain was apparently delivering a foreign policy address) rather than face questions from a non-White panel and audience about issues that face the African American community? And this isn’t the first request that they’ve turned aside. Is this, then, not a policy of “divide and conquer”?
It really doesn’t matter whether the GOP nomination will be decided by its White base. It really doesn’t matter if the eventual winner heads off to minority communities once the nomination is secured. The symbolism remains in front of us and speaks volumes about the state of our nation and the role of race and gender in American politics. Leading figures within the Republican Party have dismissed people of color. They have even chosen to rebuff their fellow Black and Hispanic Republicans.
The question is: Will they be held accountable? Will the Republican Party, which adopted a “Southern Strategy” in late 1960s, be sent home in 2008? Will such a message be sent in such a way that never again will either party take people of color for granted? Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, one of the six who did show up, got it right.
“Frankly I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed for our party, and I’m embarrassed for those who did not come, because there’s long been a divide in this country, and it doesn’t get better when we don’t show up.”
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I watched about 50 minutes of the debate to get a sense of things. I'm not a Republican and won't be voting in the GOP primary, so these aren't my candidates. That being said, it's good to see what the other side has to say, even if this is the second tier.
So, Tom Tancredo spoke about immigration, Ron Paul about liberty (get rid of taxes and drug laws -- sort of ), and then there was Alan Keyes (I didn't know he was running).
Of the candidates on the stage and really in the GOP primary, even though I disagree with him on numerous issues, I like Mike Huckabee. He's got himself under control. Answers the questions. Is polite. Seems to understand at least some of the issues. I'm surprised he hasn't made gains. I'm equally surprised that Religious Conservatives haven't joined his bandwagon. You'd think they'd like a SBC preacher, southern governor, who is "pro-life" and opposes gay rights.
But back to the original issue here -- it should be an embarrassment to the Republican Party that the leading candidates chose to not be there. Supposedly they claimed this would be a hostile crowd. From what I could see this was largely African American, but the reception wasn't just polite but seemingly Republican.
We'll see how this all works out!
This belief of Kindle’s inspired the topic of the essay contest. Clergy United will award $500 for the winning 2,000-2,500 word essay on why the gay rights movement is the moral equivalent of the Civil Rights movement. In the interest of stirring up discussion, the organization will also award $500 to the winning pro-gay rights essay arguing why the gay rights movement is not the moral equivalent of the Civil Rights movement.
Even among Christians who support gay rights, there is debate over the comparison to the Civil Rights movement.
Click here to continue reading.
Interview: Rev. Steve Kindle, Executive Director of Clergy United -->
By Pastor Bob Cornwall
The Rev. Steve Kindle has a unique ministry. He is Executive Director of Clergy United for the Equality of Homosexuals , a consulting and education organization focused on the inclusion of homosexuals and transgender persons in the church. Originally ordained in the conservative Churches of Christ, in whose colleges and seminaries he received his theological education, today he has standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Before founding Clergy United, he served as pastor of two “Open and Affirming” Disciples congregations, and since then has served as consultant to congregations exploring the process of becoming open and affirming to the GLBT community, and this fall he’ll be speaking to a number of Log Cabin Republican groups. Since the blogging bug has bit Steve, he has launched a new blog called Open Hearts – Affirming Pages.
Q. You’re straight and happily married, so why this cause?
A. Yes, it’s true that I have no “hidden agenda” behind my interest in promoting gay equality in the churches. It comes, very simply, from my understanding of the gospel: We are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us—unqualifiedly, without exception.
Q. Since your background is fairly conservative, what was it that changed the way you looked at homosexuals?
A. I was raised in a very conservative home, both politically and religiously. My understanding of the gay community was formed by all the stereotypes that typically accompany such an upbringing: that they are in the main promiscuous, self-centered, lust filled, choose this “lifestyle,” and are not to be trusted around children. I happened to move from North Dakota to San Francisco and, in the course of getting to know the gay community, I discovered the startling reality that GLBTs are as normal as any other large segment of America. Also, working with many gay Christians challenged my view that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. So, I began a lifelong pursuit of examining the scriptures used to support the antigay view and found the traditional interpretations wanting.
The events in Myanmar are a classic illustration of why the New Atheists, in general, and Richard Dawkins in particular, are wrong about the value of religious belief in human history and evolution. It's pretty simple: the Buddhist monks have moral authority. It is hard earned. They live a disciplined life that focuses on compassion. They have been politically active, and brutally put down, since the 1930's. But they endure, as do their fellow Buddhists in Burma/Myanmar. Together, the monks and the people are strong; strong and pure like their belief in Buddhism.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The survey of 3,002 Americans was conducted last month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public
Although 58% of respondents said they knew little or nothing about Islamic practices, 70% of non-Muslims said Islam was very different from their own religious beliefs.
Pew Forum senior fellow John Green said that respondents' knowledge of Islam might be even lower than the survey results suggested. Respondents "tend to overestimate their own knowledge, so these figures may well underestimate their lack of knowledge," he said.
Ultimately, the refusal of marriage to same-sex couples is a denial of their humanity. When the church denies marriage to gay couples it is saying that you are not worthy of having your loneliness relieved in the only way it is possible. In other words, you are not worthy of being a human being. Imagine the anguish of a straight person not being able to marry, ever, unless he or she married someone of the same sex. This is the direct connection that Mayor Sanders made as he compared the life he lives with his wife against withholding the same benefit to those such as his daughter. He could not refuse what God has ordained. God created us all in the image of God. Who are we to prohibit that which God has deemed necessary?
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
"The real message from today is that the IRS picked on the wrong church," said Schiff, whose district includes Pasadena. "They thought that All Saints would fold up the tent and admit it was wrong . . . but instead they found a church that would stand up for itself."
Mother Teresa's Agony
--Martin E. Marty
Once when Mormon origins were being radically questioned by a man who turned out to be a forger, I asked Jan Shipps, foremost Gentile scholar of Latter-Day Saints, what if the publicized fake documents turned out to be authentic? Wouldn't such shaking of the foundations bring down the whole edifice? No, she reminded me: The faithful have ways, indefinite and maybe infinite, of responding with new explanations. Without cynicism, Shipps noted that religions do not get killed by surprises that would seem to necessitate revision.
I thought of Shipps' dictum this month when a beautifully sad or sadly beautiful book by the late Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, saw the light of day and met the glare of publicity. Aha! was the instant and general response of well-selling a-theists: This shows that a character on the way to sainthood was inauthentic, and her failure to experience God "proves" God's non-existence.
Not to worry, was the main literate Catholics' response. Catholic apologists and experts on mysticism addressed Teresa's agony over her non-experience of God and her disappointment in the Jesus in whom she believed but whom she did not experience. They scrambled to show how her story would more likely lead people to the search for faith than it would disappoint them and drive them away. But if Mother Teresa had trouble feeling the presence of God, wrote critics, the old hypocrite should not have hung in there as a model, a self-sacrificing but not always easy to applaud rigorist. We were told that she would be a challenge to every right-thinking and right-experiencing Catholic.
Wrong. Her published diary is likely to sell as well as those attacking her. From what I have read, it is a cry of the heart to a heaven evidently empty and silent to her: "Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me?" In response, historically informed commentators reached back to the Psalms or medieval precedent for analogies. Those familiar with mysticism were ready with "Is this the first time you've heard of this?" or "Let's make this a teaching opportunity." Eileen Marky in September 14th's National Catholic Reporter laid it out well, as did colleagues in most weekly Catholic and many Protestant papers. Most asked what any of this had to do with the existence of God.
Then followed, in most accounts, learned revisitations of believers who had doubts or were victims of what medievalists called accidie or, deeper than that, "The Dark Night of the Soul." While few who value the experience of God's presence would envy Mother Teresa, most expressed sympathy to a now deceased figure who always offered compassion but did not always receive it. The Jan Shipps dictum did not even have to be put to work. Catholics and other Christians did not need to reinvent the faith--austere, threatening experiences like Teresa's are as old as faith itself. It was asked: If there are bright sides to this darkness or palpitations to replace the numbnesses of spirit, so that the darkness can be, conditionally, a boon, why don't believers put more energy into preparing their fellow devotionalists, showing that such silence may be in store for them, and then telling them not to fear.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at http://www.blogger.com/.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
September 23, 2007
In a recent conversation with a close friend I was stunned by his insistence that God chooses our presidents for us. Apparently God is guiding the nation's voters - or at least the Electoral College. My friend finds the constant criticisms of the president, including my own, troubling and inappropriate - for we're to honor our leaders and support them.
His beliefs, which I don't think are unique, have a long history - they're rooted in a tradition of “divine right monarchy.” This ideology of earlier years held that because God is sovereign and God chooses the ruler, from family to nation, we who are ruled should not resist that person's judgments. We should, instead, trust in the ruler's judgment - for surely they know more than do we about the affairs of state.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 NRSV).
That was my answer to my friend's statement - we the people choose the president of the United States - sometimes we make good choices and at other times not so good choices, as history has demonstrated. Because the people make the choice, the president - this president and every president - is therefore accountable to the people of this country. This point needs to be made at a time when the religious rhetoric in the public sphere is becoming increasingly sharp.
If I understand Paul in his context, I can hear him remind us that God desires order not chaos. But if there is any divine mandate to be considered it is our calling as people to exercise good judgment in choosing our leaders, and then having chosen them we should pray for them but also show due diligence by holding them accountable to the highest standards.
September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Is it then a bodily resurrection, a raising up of man with his body? yes and no. No, if we understand "body" in physiological terms as this actual body, the "corpse, " the remains." Yes, if "body" is understood in the New Testament sense as "soma," not so much physiologically as personally: as the identical personal reality, the same self with its entire history, which is mistakenly neglected in the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation, even though the latter stresses the new (admittedly earthly) corporality. When we talk of the resurrection of the body, we mean then as the Catholic theologian Franz Josef Nocke expresses it, "that not only man's naked self is saved through death, when all earthly history is left behind, all relationships with other human beings become meaningless; bodily resurrection means that a person's life history and all the relationships established in the course of this history enter together into the consummation and finally belong to the risen person." (Eternal Life, Doubleday, 1984, p. 111).
Friday, September 21, 2007
"We're sensitive to the moral issues here, but it's still against the law," to be in the country without proper documentation, Sedell said. "We warned [church officials] that if they flaunted it in the public, then these [protests] will occur and there will be consequences."
The White House's motives are obvious. Why fight another war, with all the bother of convincing Congress, if you can quietly hire a private military company to fight it for you? Why interrogate suspected insurgents if you can outsource the whole messy business? Why go through the tedious process of training Afghan judges if DynCorp will handle it instead -- as long as you're
not too picky about the results?
As for the corporations so eagerly lapping up the contracting dollars, there's no conspiracy -- it's just the good old profit motive. If the White House wants to sell off U.S. foreign policy, someone's going to buy it. Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, is straightforward about his company's goal: "We're trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service."
Since FedEx rendered the post office irrelevant for all but the most trivial forms of mail, this means you can kiss our national security apparatus goodbye.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
The great thing about the United States of America is that there is freedom of speech (to support legal residency for Liliana, for example); of the press (to publicly announce Liliana is being assisted by the church, for example); of religion (to express religious sentiments that "What we
have is a faith stronger than fear and a belief that doing justice is a high and holy calling," as stated by the Rev. Goudey, for example); and "the right of the people peaceably to assemble," (as exercised by members of Save Our State and counterprotesters at the United Church of Christ on Sunday, for example).
What is the price of exercising and protecting our First Amendment rights?Forty thousand dollars? A million dollars?No one on Earth could afford to pay for the First Amendment.
It is obvious then that biblical and modern anthropological thinking converge in their conception of man as a body-soul unity, a fact that is of crucial importance also for the question of a life after death. When the New Testament speaks of resurrection, it does not refer to the natural continuation of a spirit-soul independent of our bodily functions. What it means -- following the tradition of Jewish theology -- is the new creation, the transformation of the whole person by God's life-creating Spirit. Man is not released then -- platonically --- from us corporality. He is released with and in his -- now glorified, spiritualized -- corporality: a new creation, a new man. Easter is not a feast of immortality, of a postulate of practical reason: it is a feast of Christ, of the crucified Christ now glorified. (p. 111).
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
We're hoping to get it here to Santa Barbara, but if you go to the web site you'll see where it is scheduled to appear. Take a look at the trailer and then keep your eye out for it!
You can find the Faithfully Liberal blog and my first post here. So won't you join me in the conversation over there as well as here?
"We sound like we don't want immigration; we sound like we don't want black people to vote for us," said former congressman Jack Kemp (N.Y.), who was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996. "What are we going to do -- meet in a country club in the suburbs one day? If we're going to be competitive with people of color, we've got to ask them for their vote."
"When you reject every black invitation and every brown invitation you receive, is that a scheduling issue or is it a pattern?" he asked. "I don't believe anybody should be elected president of the United States if they think along the way they can ignore people of color. That's just not the America we live in."
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Just as the Founding Fathers didn't apply freedom of religion just to Christians, neither did they limit freedom of speech, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly just to those who behave politely or avoid offense. How could it be otherwise? If freedom of religion means anything, it must apply equally to minority religions. And if freedoms of speech, press and assembly mean anything, they must apply to all — most particularly those whose views might not be in the current mainstream.
In a democracy, if freedom is not available to all, then no one is truly free.
Monday, September 17, 2007
By Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Santa Barbara, CA
September 23, 2001
In contrast to these voices, voices that not only incite America to action, but also incite men and women to commit deeds of evil, deeds such as beating up a young Saudi student in our own community, we want to hear the voices raised last Sunday evening. Yes, last Sunday evening hundreds of us gathered at the Methodist church, a crowd that filled the sanctuary well past capacity, to hear voices that called for justice and for healing and reconciliation.
I was incredibly moved by that service, by the outpouring of prayer and support exhibited by this very diverse congregation. While Foy and Morrow call for angry retribution, we heard the Imam of the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara declare that these terrorist acts do not reflect Islam, that they violate its teachings. We heard the Rabbi call for a measured and thought out response, and reminded us to take care in our response. We heard Susan Copeland remind us that Jesus said if we have the faith the size of a mustard seed we can say to the mountain be moved and it will move. Therefore, we need not be afraid, because God is with us. As Christians, Susan said, we "hold the seeds of faith, hope and love in the deep shadow land of sorrow and trauma, of terror and unspeakable pain." This faith, this hope, this love, enables us to engage in acts of compassion and grace in our world.
I. A WORD OF JUDGMENT
In Jeremiah 8 we hear several voices, Jeremiah's for sure, but at points we also hear the voice of Yahweh, the Lord our God, expressing grief, sorrow, sickness of heart at the state of God's people. God weeps and the people of God cry out, "Is the Lord not in Zion?" Jeremiah speaks for himself and for God to people suffering from drought and from the pressure of invading armies. Yahweh confesses that the people of Judah have provoked him because of their images and their idolatry, their sense of arrogant self-sufficiency. But now the time of harvest is past, summer has ended, and the crops are absent. Jeremiah weeps at this sign of judgment.
As we stand here less than two weeks after the tragedies of September 11, we would rather not hear words of judgment on ourselves, and yet I think we need to hear it. Oh, the people in those buildings, they are innocent and we mourn their loss and grieve with their families and friends; but we as a nation and as a world community must recognize our complicity in the events of that day. These were not simply random acts of violence, they are rooted in human alienation. I'm not saying that God used those planes as some kind of divine vengeance on America, and I'm not saying that God has lifted has hand of protection on our nation, but in our unwillingness to listen to each other, to find peace with one another, to take care of those in need, we have sown the seeds of our own judgment.
September 11 was and is a wake up call, a reminder to us that we must take care of the business of humanity. We must start with our families because even here it is difficult for us to listen and hear the cries of those in need. We miss the cries of our brothers and sisters, our mothers and our fathers, our sons and our daughters, our husbands and our wives for help and for understanding. We turn away; we refuse to talk to each other; we judge each other. We are broken and we experience judgment. But, what is true of our families is also of our communities, our nation, and our world as a whole.
We wonder how the terrorists could have done such a thing as this? The sheer magnitude of these acts, the number killed, the means of the destruction, they are inconceivable to us. And yet, except for the number of people killed and the level of destruction in New York, are these acts all that different from the shootings at Columbine, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, a man's shooting rampage in a Texas church, or a fatal attack on a Sikh man in Arizona because he looked different? The difference is not one of intent but magnitude. We too could do this act of violence. Jesus says that unremitting anger is the same as murder, even if we do not act on our anger.
Jeremiah's words remind us of that we too experience alienation from God, and because of this alienation there does not seem much hope for tomorrow. Jeremiah's people were suffering and he wept for them. Jeremiah looks at us and sees our confusion, our alienation, and on God's behalf, he weeps for us.
Jeremiah cries out in response to the condition of his people: "Is their no balm in Gilead? Is their no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?" As Jeremiah concludes his lament, we stand no closer to a resolution.
"O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!"
And yet, in spite of the pessimistic tone of the passage, we must ask: do you mean there is no physician? Is there no one, who can heal our affliction? And, I hear the words: here I am, the great physician, and I come to you bearing medicine for the soul. That is the word I hear from Jesus? On the way into Jerusalem, Jesus wept for the city:
"If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes" (Lk. 19:42).
Again, I return to last Sunday evening and the power of that event. I find words of hope in the statement made by the Imam, Abdurrahman:
Despite the reason of us having to come together today I still find it so wonderful. As it was mentioned prior to me that to see us all from different faiths, different backgrounds, different ideologies coming together. The only bad thing about today is that we have come together due to the calamities that have befallen our nation. We should have done this so long ago.
At a time of national tragedy, as we began to look at possible responses to the terrorist acts, we heard the good news that the Palestinians and Israelis would begin to talk, that a truce would take place. Oh, it won't be easy. There are many who will disrupt it. It didn't take long for a Palestinian militant to ambush an Israeli family, and surely there will be calls for retaliation on the Israeli side, but if the balm of Gilead is to do its work, both sides must say no to the law of retaliation and move forward.
"There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul."
And we must let the healing powers of God's Spirit work in our own communities, restoring us to God's presence, to overcome the alienation that we feel from God and from each other. Yes, let the balm of Gilead be poured out on us!
Although the church’s role in public issues has been dissected in just about every other context, one of the least studied is its role during the Second World War. For good reason: major Christian traditions were bogged down in internal debates about entering into the war, torn between the pacifism that had been in vogue in theological circles after the first World War and the sense of national duty after the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Reinhold Niebuhr, a leading theologian at the time, argued strenuously on political and theological grounds for joining in what he saw as a struggle for the survival of Western civilization itself. “We are witnessing the first effective revolution against Christian civilization since the days of Constantine.”1 However, he and denominational leaders were also cautious about joining in a “war hysteria.” The boundary between church and state loyalties seemed to melt as the Church was caught in an ambivalence, the most positive construction being a “cautious patriotism.”2 The Disciples of Christ denomination articulated the conundrum: “The church of Jesus Christ cannot bless war, but the church in wartime should have something more significant to contribute than a negative attitude. The church has positive and constructive duties to perform to the nation and to the world.”3 Not wanting to appear unpatriotic, most church groups followed suit, quelling their prophetic voice which had led in other times to public critique.
The New Atheists
--Martin E. Marty
"For the first time in living memory, religious skepticism is hot," writes Katha Pollitt in The Nation (September 24). In a sensible one-page column, she points to best-sellers and talk show appearances by "the new atheists." These skeptics do not particularly impress the progressive media, she observes, yet they get a hearing. Why, if their arguments are not very good?
"It's no mystery why these writers are doing so well even though there haven't been any new arguments against the existence of God since around 1795." For the past seven years, she writes, born-again Christianity has been shoved down everyone's throat via public policy, and this has "sickened and disgusted a lot of us members of the reality-based community." Skeptics also speak up at the gross immoralities of "televangelists and right-wing family-man politicians."
Pollitt, counting herself a skeptic, also criticizes some political "progressives" who, counseled by advisers to be even more overt about their faith and to brush up on their religious vocabulary, suddenly sound too religious and are too ready to relate faith to public policy. (Pssst! They long have been so, but they are being noticed for it once again, and some of them might be glad to be noticed. But that's a topic for another day.)
She heaps on Democratic presidential candidates who answer intimate questions about their own faith in ways that seem designed to curry favor. It's fine with her if they believe in God, but she does not like the parading of faith in public—she might have quoted Matthew 6:1, which cautions that showcasing piety before others leads to no heavenly reward—or the suggestion that the candidates' faith would profitably affect their policies.
Political assault and spiritual hypocrisy inspire reaction from the new atheists: "It's one thing to show respect for religious belief in the context of social tolerance in a pluralistic society . . . but when Christians make faith a matter of public policy, it becomes hard to explain why nonbelievers should be deferential."
I can picture many aggressive religionists using columns like Pollitt's to suggest that "we are doing something right. Jesus warned disciples: 'Woe if all people speak well of you.' Now some speak ill of us, and that's a sign that we are serving the Kingdom of God ." Christian faith is supposed to be a scandal, something people trip over, says the wincing counter-attack. "At last we are picking up scandalized enemies, who are tripping over our expressions of faith and the policy proposals based on them."
A question will come up more and more as soul-searching goes deeper among religious (in this case, Christian) "progressives" and conservative Catholics and evangelicals alike. Christianity's scandal was supposed to be over the cross of Jesus, symbol of the heart of the faith: Are all these aggressive political programs near the heart of faith; or are they, as their critics suggest, "just politics?" Making distinctions, showing restraint, finding appropriate ways for faith(s) to work for the common good—these will demand and receive new attention.
Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at www.illuminos.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.