Religion Feed

History of religious liberty

This essay argues that it was not philosophical ideas that gave rise to religious liberty but the changing nature of the political state which made society open to toleration.

A point from the conclusion:

Finally, the history of how religious freedom came to be is a reminder that commitment to liberal values alone is not enough for liberalism to flourish. It requires a suitable political and economic foundation.


Becoming Fire: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians

Becoming Fire!: Spiritual Practices for Global ChristiansBecoming Fire!: Spiritual Practices for Global Christians by Bruce G. Epperly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This will now be my go-to introduction for spiritual practices. It is a lively discussion of spirituality rooted in Christianity but informed by spiritual practices of other faith traditions. And a handy guide for spirituality in progressive church.

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After the Wrath of God

After the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American ReligionAfter the Wrath of God: AIDS, Sexuality, and American Religion by Anthony M. Petro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of the best written non-fiction books I've read. This is the author's first book, so I look forward to reading what he writes in the future. According to his bio at Boston University his next two book projects look equally as interesting.

This book is about the religious rhetoric used during the early years of the AIDS crisis and how that rhetoric shaped public policy. This is a fascinating study exploring how left, right, and center developed moral language to grapple with the crisis. The study refutes any reductionistic notions of religious conservatives versus secular leftists.

The final two chapters discuss Cardinal O'Connor and ACT UP's confrontation of him. Reading those chapters made me very angry at the Cardinal.

In the final section the author explores how AIDS and gay activists developed their own religious and moral language, but he left me wanting more. I hope that comes in subsequent books.

Also, while he does treat of progressive Christian responses, they don't get as much discussion as conservative responses. This is probably because conservative responses dominated much of the public health debates at the time.

Petro is a keen intellect and engaging writer.

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The problem in rural America

I was annoyed by the reductionistic accounts after the election that liberals don't understand the heartland or rural folk.  Baloney.  For one, many of us live in the heartland or are from the heartland.  Plus most liberals I know go out of their way to try to understand diverse perspectives, it's part of what it means to be a liberal. 

Yes, I too have experienced the annoying trait of folks on the coast (both liberal and conservative) for not understanding or caring to understand the heartland, but that's a slightly different thing.

What I've also experienced in the complete unwillingness of many people, including many in the heartland, to not engage in any open-minded exploration of ideas. 

This good article on fundamentalism and its affects upon American life gets to that point.  

The real problem is rural America doesn’t understand the causes of their own situations and fears and they have shown no interest in finding out. They don’t want to know why they feel the way they do or why they are struggling because they don’t want to admit it is in large part because of choices they’ve made and horrible things they’ve allowed themselves to believe.

The author explains further:

In deep-red white America, the white Christian God is king, figuratively and literally. Religious fundamentalism is what has shaped most of their belief systems. Systems built on a fundamentalist framework are not conducive to introspection, questioning, learning, change. When you have a belief system that is built on fundamentalism, it isn’t open to outside criticism, especially by anyone not a member of your tribe and in a position of power. The problem isn’t “coastal elites don’t understand rural Americans.” The problem is rural America doesn’t understand itself and will NEVER listen to anyone outside their bubble. It doesn’t matter how “understanding” you are, how well you listen, what language you use…if you are viewed as an outsider, your views are automatically discounted. I’ve had hundreds of discussions with rural white Americans and whenever I present them any information that contradicts their entrenched beliefs, no matter how sound, how unquestionable, how obvious, they WILL NOT even entertain the possibility it might be true. Their refusal is a result of the nature of their fundamentalist belief system and the fact I’m the enemy because I’m an educated liberal.

More than a decade ago I began arguing that LGBT rights really wasn't advanced through education, but more like a conversion experience.  Older liberals often strongly disagreed with me; they hold such romantic ideas about the efficacy of being exposed to new information.  This article makes a similar point for how fundamentalism is changed: "Deeply held beliefs are usually only altered, replaced under catastrophic circumstances that are personal."


How the Bible Belt Lost God and Found Trump

A powerful article, from April, in the Financial Times on how Evangelicals have abandoned their faith in their embrace of Donald Trump. An excerpt:

As evangelical Christianity has grown more successful in the political realm, Flynt fears that it has been reduced to a sum of its slogans. Lost in the transition, he says, is the traditional evangelical standard for sizing up candidates — “personal moral character”, which includes such criteria as marital fidelity, church attendance and kindness. “No one I know of would argue that Donald Trump inculcates moral character,” Flynt says. “What has happened to American Christianity is there is this afterglow of what a candidate is supposed to represent. It’s no longer moral character. It’s policy positions on things that bother evangelicals.”


The One True Thing

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Today's worship service began with the congregation singing an enjoyable gospel-folk version of "Wade in the Water" led by the Fleshpots of Egypt.  Then we sat through a rather mundane David Lose sermon from which the main takeaway was the rule that if you are a straight white man, probably don't preach a text about a woman that a black African woman who is a marvel of a preacher already preached on this week.  Plus, I couldn't tell who the sermon was for.  It sounded like something anyone might preach on a routine Sunday; it said nothing that every preacher in the room didn't already know and hadn't probably already said themselves from a pulpit.  Not the caliber of sermon one expects at this festival and a serious disappointment from someone many of us trust and use as a resource for our preaching.

But, then, came Barbara Brown Taylor to lecture on ways she has changed her mind about preaching over her career.  She announced that this was her final appearance at the Festival, so there was a bittersweet element to being there for this recap of a distinguished career.

With her eloquence and grace she talked about how she generally makes only one point anymore, has begun to use fewer personal stories, quotes less often, and uses fewer theological words (despite having written a marvelous book defending them in the 1990's).

In her sermons she now "lavishes all my attention on the one true thing I want people to take away."

She has learned "the virtues of a failed sermon," including that a failed sermon "gives me the chance to measure my own defenses."

She has concluded that the preaching task is primarily about "continuing to show up."  Then she added, "It's how we learn what faith, hope, and love look like in the flesh."

This capped a week in which I believe the primary theme was the role of the pastor.  Often the role of the pastor in the Age of Trump.  But more broadly exactly what our purpose and call are, what tasks we are to be about.

This morning I began reading Wendell Berry's What Are People For? one of his classics that I have, surprisingly, never read.  In his discussion of the writer Edward Abbey I found a helpful description of the preacher in the Age of Trump:

He sees the gravity, the great danger, of the predicament we are now in, he tells it unswervingly, and he defends unflinchingly the heritage and the qualities that may preserve us.

May we be up to the task to which the Holy Spirit has called us.


Are We Seriously That Behind?

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I marvel at the preaching of Grace Imathiu. She weaves a message that moves fluidly from humour to profundity to critique to inspiration.  Today she was wearing a tall golden crown of a hat.  She joked that they keep inviting her because she has the best clothes.

No, because her preaching is a marvel.

This year’s sermon was an exploration of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well from her perspective and was full of insight.  I did not come away with as many quotes and illustrations as I did last year, but I will remember this one.

“Of course Black Lives Matter, but are we that behind, seriously, that we have to say it?  We should be saying Trans Lives Matter, but we are stuck on something more basic.”

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Luke Powery lectured on “Preaching on the Spiritual Borders.”  The spirituals teach us four notes to sound.  First, they sound the note of the reality of human suffering.  He declared that we must “remember a deadly, bloody, tear-filled past.”  And this—“The blood of the martyrs fertilizes the soil of our preaching.”

Second, they sound the note of a theology of divine suffering.  He said, “Death keeps Christianity real.”

Third, they sound the note of an ecology of community.  “The spirituals are an exorcism of spiritual narcissism.”

Fourth, they sound the note of the viability of singing as a homiletical strategy.  “When life is hard and tough, there is always a song.”  “You can’t sing and not change your condition.”  “The spirituals are a sign of the slave’s refusal to be stopped.”

The afternoon wrapped up with David Lose’s lecture on how to preach in an age of alternative facts.  He admitted he did not yet know.  He gave an earnest attempt to grapple with the problem, but I found his lecture quite disappointing.  He needs to have listened to Amy Butler, Alyce McKenzie, Brian McLaren, and Will Willimon.  They all had good approaches to the problem.

Near the end he acknowledged that he was worried that his approach might simply be cowardice.