Category : America/U.S.A.

(Deseret News) Why the United Methodist Church seeks to end the decades-long battle over whether to change the standards of Christian behavior for leaders

Members of the United Methodist Church don’t agree on biblical teachings about homosexuality. More than that, they don’t agree on whether it’s necessary to agree about homosexuality in order to remain a unified denomination, church members and leaders said.

Participants in this special session of general conference on sexuality are tasked with determining whether it’s possible to avoid a denominational schism. They’ll debate policies on LGBTQ ordination and same-sex marriage, seeking to understand God’s will for the church.

“Our hope is not that this is an argument, but rather a way for followers of Jesus to develop empathy for each other and to listen to disagreements,” wrote Bishop Kenneth H. Carter, Jr., president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, in an email.

Conference delegates will vote on multiple potential paths forward, weighing whether to change church teachings stating that homosexual acts are sinful or provide an exit plan for those who don’t share this belief. Even creating room for pastors and congregations to hold a range of views on LGBTQ rights could lead to a schism, said Mark Tooley, author of “Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century” and president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

“This could potentially rip apart thousands of congregations,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Methodist, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), Theology, Theology: Scripture

(CT) The Radical Christian Faith of Frederick Douglass (for his Feast Day)

Douglass rejoiced in 1865 when the Union triumphed in the Civil War and the nation ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery forever. But he did not believe his prophetic work had ended. At the end of his life, equality under the law remained an aspiration, not a reality. African Americans and women were denied the right to vote. The ghost of slavery lived on in oppressive economic arrangements like sharecropping. Jim Crow carved rigid lines of racial segregation in the public square. White mobs lynched at least 200 black men each year in the 1890s.

He had good reason, then, in 1889, to mourn how the “malignant prejudice of race” still “poisoned the fountains of justice, and defiled the altars of religion” in America. Yet Douglass also rejoiced in the continued possibility of redemption. A new way of seeing the world, and living in it, still remained—one that rested, Douglass said, on a “broad foundation laid by the Bible itself, that God has made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History

(The State) U.S. House committee advances bill to close ‘Charleston loophole’

The House Judiciary Committee advanced Clyburn’s legislation after a contentious, 10-hour debate on a larger, comprehensive gun background check bill that revealed deep acrimony between members of the two parties and illustrated just how partisan the gun debate has become.

There are Republicans who support closing the Charleston loophole: Along with Clyburn and South Carolina’s other Democratic member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, the bill advanced by the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night was co-sponsored by Republican U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has in the past indicated a willingness to back legislation to address the loophole. Earlier this week, he told The State he was interested in looking at the text of the new House bill.

“I’m interested in it,” Scott said. “I need to see what it says.”

While the bill is all but certain to pass the full House in the weeks ahead, it isn’t likely to get taken up in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, House of Representatives, Politics in General, Senate, Violence

(NYT) Parkland: A Year After the School Shooting That Was Supposed to Change Everything

In a series of interviews, nine members of the Stoneman Douglas community — students, parents, police, teachers — reflected on the past 12 months.

They did not want to relive that day. They did not want to argue about politics. They did not want to talk about the gunman’s pending trial for capital murder.


This is what they wanted to do: mourn.

In all the activity of the past year, the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, the tour across the country registering voters, the investigations, the hearings, finishing senior year, getting into college — some said they hadn’t had time to take the measure of what they had lost. As Jammal Lemy, 21, a Stoneman Douglas alumnus-turned-activist explained it, “We just had so much going on.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Education, History, Teens / Youth, Violence

(Gallup) Americans’ Confidence in Their Finances Keeps Growing

Americans’ optimism about their personal finances has climbed to levels not seen in more than 16 years, with 69% now saying they expect to be financially better off “at this time next year.”

The 69% saying they expect to be better off is only two percentage points below the all-time high of 71%, recorded in March 1998 at a time when the nation’s economic boom was producing strong economic growth combined with the lowest inflation and unemployment rates in decades.

Americans are typically less positive about how their finances have changed over the past year than about where they’re headed, and that remains the case. Fifty percent say they are better off today than they were a year ago. That 50% still represents a post-recession milestone — the first time since 2007 that at least half of the public has said they are financially better off than a year ago….

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Economy, Personal Finance, Psychology

(NR) David French–A Court Case in Iowa Shows the Reality of Religious Discrimination in America

Take, for example, a story that should have made headlines last week. Federal district-court judge Stephanie Rose (an Obama appointee) delivered the University of Iowa a humiliating defeat in court, granting a small Christian student group called Business Leaders in Christ a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the university’s so-called Human Rights Policy — a policy that the university had selectively enforced to privilege favored speakers and punish theologically conservative Christians.

The facts of the case are simple — and have been replicated on college campuses across the land. The university “de-recognized” the Christian group because it screens its leaders to make sure that they “agree with and can represent the group’s religious beliefs” — which include a standard statement of faith and the orthodox belief that sexual activity is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman. In other words, a traditional Christian group wants to be led by people of traditional Christian faith.

This was intolerable to the University of Iowa. And lest you think it was even-handedly enforcing a neutral nondiscrimination policy, think again. Here’s the court:

The University has approved the constitutions of numerous organizations that explicitly limit access to leadership or membership based on religious views, race, sex, and other characteristics protected by the Human Rights Policy. These groups include Love Works, which requires leaders to sign a “gay-affirming statement of Christian faith”; . . . House of Lorde, which implements membership “interview[s]” to maintain “a space for Black Queer individuals and/or the support thereof”; [and] the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, which limits membership to “enrolled Chinese Students and Scholars.” [Internal citations omitted.]

When asked to justify this blatant favoritism, the university claimed that the privileged groups existed “for reasons which support the University’s educational mission.” For example, the university argued that some groups “provide safe spaces for minorities which have historically been the victims of discrimination.” As a result, “the University allows groups to speak about religion, homosexuality, and other protected traits through their leadership criteria,” but it denied the Christian group the same right.

That is textbook viewpoint discrimination, and it’s blatantly unconstitutional.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

(RNS) Kristin Kobes Du Mez–There are no real evangelicals. Only imagined ones.

It’s worth noting that [Anthea] Butler, in that same speech, went on to decry evangelicalism’s “problem of whiteness.” She called out white evangelical scholars’ inability or unwillingness to confront that problem. [David] Bebbington’s four points, Butler asserted, are in fact culturally and racially specific.

Moreover, a recent LifeWay survey found that fewer than half of those who self-identify as evangelicals “strongly agree” with core evangelical beliefs. Many “evangelicals,” according to another LifeWay Research survey, in fact hold heretical beliefs.

When a large number of people who self-identify as evangelicals fail to ascribe to what some scholars have dictated to be the essential tenets of evangelicalism, does that mean that they are not actually evangelicals? Or does it suggest that something else has come to define evangelicalism?

Some evangelicals might see this erosion of theology and the politicization of evangelicalism as an abandonment of an illustrious heritage, but one cannot wish away the movement that evangelicalism has become.

If theology no longer defines evangelicalism, how should we conceptualize the movement?

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Evangelicals, Religion & Culture

Congratulations to the New England Patriots, Winners of a Defensive Showdown in Super Bowl LIII

“They mixed it up,” McVay said of the Patriots’ Super Bowl game plan. “In the early downs, all they ended up playing was some single-high buzz structures and some quarters principles. Then on third down, they had their designers and things like that. It was a great game plan.”

Up front, the Patriots succeeded in their first two playoff games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs by running a constant stream of games and stunts to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That was the same Sunday night. The difference was, the zone looks on the back end made Goff more hesitant with his reads, which gave the guys up front even more time to generate the pressure on him. According to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, Goff faced pressure on 38 percent of his dropbacks and was 3-for-12 with an interception when pressured, tied for the worst completion percentage for any quarterback who threw at least 10 passes under pressure in a Super Bowl.

Overall, Goff completed just 50 percent of his passes in the Super Bowl. He was 3-for-10 on third down, and the Rams failed to convert any of their first eight third-down situations. He was 0-for-5 on passes traveling at least 20 yards downfield, which tied for the highest number of such throws without a completion in any game so far in his three-year career.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Men, Sports

(Guardian) Why record job growth in America hides a troubling reality

…even now, 20m jobs later, there are some parts of the US economy that have yet to reflect the positive image projected by the continuous job growth and low unemployment rate.

“That we’ve had the unemployment rate at or below 4% since last February is obviously historically remarkable,” said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst at Bankrate.com. “But the composition of the workforce or employment obviously paints a much more complicated story.”

What troubles analysts like Hamrick, as well as the central bankers at the Federal Reserve, is the fact that the US economy is now dominated by high skill, high wage jobs and low skill, low wage jobs. Gone are many of the middle skill, middle wage jobs and that, said Hamrick, a trend that has led to “not only the economic divisiveness of our country but to some degree the political divisiveness”. Take manufacturing for example, where about 25% of jobs have disappeared over the last two decades thanks to globalization and automation.

It isn’t just middle wage jobs that are missing from this job market. There is also the mystery of stagnant wages. Even as jobs were added, the one thing that remained mostly the same for large part of those 100 months were the wages. In December, wages were up 3.2% from a year earlier, their largest gain since 2008 but nothing to boast about. In January growth slipped to 3.1%. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), a left-leaning thinktank, wages would have to grow between 3.5% to 4% for average workers to really feel an impact.

The wage growth figures, particularly in the early part of the recovery, should have come with “a sad trombone sound effect” said Hamrick. That low wage growth will be one of the main things people remember about this recovery, he added.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

(Wa Po) This Black History Month, don’t pretend racism has disappeared from the church

Racism has been pretty easy to spot for most people. It felt like the sting of a lash on an enslaved person’s back and smelled like the charred flesh of a public lynching. Since those forms of racial oppression have become frowned upon, so the thinking goes, then we must have moved past racism.

Unfortunately, some Christians seem to believe racism is merely a relic of a bygone era.

In an admirable effort to reckon with its racial past, leaders at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary formed a commission to examine the school’s racist founding and present their findings. The history, dating back to the mid-19th century, was as honest as it was tragic. For instance, all four original founders of the seminary held slaves, and one donor who saved the seminary from financial ruin earned his wealth through convict leasing. Yet the report stopped too soon. It ended in the mid-1960s, giving the impression that racism had, for the most part, ended with the civil rights movement.

Christians who see racism as mainly a problem of the past often fail to see that they or other people of faith still hold negative views about people of certain races and ethnicities.

In a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 54 percent of white evangelicals indicated that the country becoming majority nonwhite by 2045 would have negative effects on the nation. But 79 percent of black Protestant respondents and 80 percent of Hispanic Protestants thought this demographic change would be good for the country.

It’s easier to believe racism is a problem of the past if you think of racism strictly in interpersonal terms, truncating the definition of racism.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(WSJ) Karl Zinsmeister–What to Do With Empty Churches

Wander any large U.S. city and you’ll spot a serious mismatch. Majestic old houses of worship have only vestigial congregations. Without their endowments these cathedrals, chapels and synagogues couldn’t keep the lights on.

Meanwhile, those same cities have booming evangelical fellowships, traditional Catholic gatherings, Korean congregations, Spanish-language flocks and swelling numbers of Lubavitch Jews. These and other rising groups are too young to enjoy the inherited resources of shrunken assemblies. Instead they meet in auditoriums, theaters or strip malls. Some worship on Saturdays or at night, in sanctuaries rented from mainline churches.

In New York, Tim Keller’s Redeemer Church has congregations worshiping in a converted underground garage, a Salvation Army center, a college auditorium and other improvised locations. Falls Church Anglican in Virginia has for years convened in a public school and a suburban office building while struggling to erect its own sanctuary. In Los Angeles, one congregation of the Pacific Crossroads Church meets at Santa Monica High School, another gathers in a town recreation center, and a third rents a cathedral during off hours.

People of religious faith—whether in the new, energetic congregations or the waning ones—should be concerned. Even nonbelievers have a stake in resolving these physical incongruities.Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Washington State Weighs New Option After Death: Human Composting

Katrina Spade, the founder and chief executive of Recompose, a Seattle company that hopes to build the first facility to use the new method and conduct funeral services based around it, said the movement toward cremation — now used in more than half of deaths in the nation — has led to an erosion of essential rituals. Remains are often just picked up from a crematory, she said, and that’s that.

“This is not simply a process to convert bodies to soil; it’s also about bringing ritual and some of that ceremony back,” Ms. Spade said.

Ms. Christian, the woman who is hoping recomposition will be an option after she dies, says she has long been uncomfortable with the other choices. She has ruled out burial. And she does not like the idea of cremation because of environmental costs — emissions and climate impacts of fossil fuels used in the burning process. But her friends remain divided on the issue.

“The vast majority are like, ‘That is so cool,’” she said. “And then the other response is, ‘Oh, gross.’”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Religion & Culture, Secularism

Remembering Sam Shoemaker on his Feast Day (III)–a man concerned with USA’s internal enemies

It was America’s enemies within that interested Shoemaker most. After the country entered World War II, the cleric addressed the nation’s cause in several sermons, eventually published in Christ and this Cause. In one of those sermons, “God and the War,” he lashed out at the nation’s immorality.

This nation has had the greatest privileges ever given to any nation in all time. America has been God’s privileged child. But America has become a spoiled child. We have been ungrateful to the God under whom our liberties were given to us. I believe it is high time for someone to say that this war today is God’s judgment upon a godless and selfish people.”

Shoemaker did support the war effort; in his sermon, “What Are We Fighting For?” he admitted that the war was a “grim necessity,” the means by which nations would once again have the opportunity to choose democracy. But he abhorred any self-righteous cause:

“No war can ever be a clear-cut way for a Christian to express his hatred of evil. For war involves a basic confusion. All the good in the world is not ranged against all the evil. In the present war, some nations that have a great deal of evil in them are yet seeking to stand for freedom ”¦ against other nations which have a great deal of good in them but yet are presently dedicated to turning the world backwards into the darkness of enslavement.”

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Religion & Culture

Remembering Sam Shoemaker on his Feast Day (I)–His Obituary in the New York Times, Nov. 2, 1963

Dr. Shoemaker did not confine his preaching to his church. He would mount a box on a street corner if he thought he could bring religion into someone’s life. And he often did.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Religion & Culture

(Baltimore Sun) Former Episcopal Church bishop Heather Cook seeks to serve rest of sentence for drunken-driving death at home

Read it all.

Posted in Alcoholism, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, TEC Bishops

(Patheos) Philip Jenkins writes good piece on the history of Anti-semitism in America–The American Dictator and the Lone Ranger

…[William Dudley] Pelley formed a new political-religious movement, the fascist and anti-semitic Silver Legion of America, the Silver Shirts. This was “a great Christian Army fortified by the inviolable principles of the Christ.” Pelley was the “beloved Chief,” a term which could equally well refer to his role as American Führer, or as the living Secret Chief, a not-yet-Ascended Master.

The Silver Shirts were explicitly modeled on the German Nazi Party, and Pelley claimed that he was inspired to form his movement on January 30, 1933, the day Hitler became German Chancellor. But Pelley also drew ideas and images from the popular media, as this day marked the first broadcast of the radio western series, The Lone Ranger, with its heroic Rangers and the recurrent silver themes. Pelley’s followers were also Silver Rangers, and that was the title of one of his newspapers.

Whatever the origins of the idea, Pelley now focused on the Jews as the source of most evils and problems in the world, and he offered a solution based on the formation of a Christian Commonwealth, a Christ-Democracy. Pelley became the nation’s best-known figure on the paramilitary far Right, and he inspired Sinclair Lewis’s imaginary American dictator Buzz Windrip in the 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here.

The Silver Shirts boomed in the mid-1930s, and the movement may have had up to twenty thousand members nationwide at its height in 1933-34. Support was heavily concentrated in California, Oregon and Washington, though other centers of strength were scattered across the Midwest, in Chicago, Cleveland and in the Ohio steel districts. Pittsburgh was another major center of organization, where it spawned leftist and Jewish counter-protests. Though the movement looks like a classic fascist sect, it never lost its strong occult motivation, and some adherents claimed to be less interested in the anti-Semitic rhetoric than in Pelley’s mystic revelations.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Violence

(NYT) David Leonhardt on the growing Economic Divide between Generations in America

For Americans under the age of 40, the 21st century has resembled one long recession.

I realize that may sound like an exaggeration, given that the economy has now been growing for almost a decade. But the truth is that younger Americans have not benefited much.

Look at incomes, for starters. People between the ages of 25 and 34 were earning slightly less in 2017 than people in that same age group had been in 2000….

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Young Adults

(Sunday [London] Times) Niall Ferguson–Feeling beats truth in our indignant ‘emocracy’

We no longer live in a democracy. We live in an “emocracy”, where emotions rather than majorities rule and feelings matter more than reason. The stronger your feelings — the better you are at working yourself into a fit of indignation — the more influence you have. And never use words where emojis will do.

There was a time when appeals to emotion over facts were regarded as the preserve of the populist right. But truthiness — the quality of being ideologically convenient, though not actually true — is now bipartisan. Last week on the CBS show 60 Minutes, host Anderson Cooper confronted the 29-year-old congresswoman and social media sensation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with some of her many factual errors. Her reply was that of a true emocrat: “I think,” she replied, “there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

A good illustration of what Ocasio-Cortez means by morally right was her claim, in an interview on Monday, that “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change”. Another was her assertion that “a vast majority of the country doesn’t make a living wage”.

She may be young, female, Hispanic, good-looking and left wing — in every way the anti-Trump — but Alexandria Occasionally-Correct shares with the president a genius for the crucial tool of emocratic politics: social media, where moral truthiness always travels faster than the boring old dry-as-dust vérité.

Read it all (subscription needed).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, --Social Networking, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Psychology

(NBC) The Story of a stranger coming to Colin Powell’s rescue this week

Former Secretary of State Powell wrote about the act of kindness on Facebook, saying: “Thanks, Anthony. You touched my soul and reminded me about what this country is all about and why it is so great… you made my day.”

Watch it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Military / Armed Forces, Pastoral Care

(RNS) After police foil terrorist attack on Islamberg, New York Muslims push for justice

In 2015, the FBI issued an alert after an Arizona man affiliated with militia groups allegedly threatened to attack Islamberg in a Facebook video. And for several years, a group of anti-Muslim bikers and right-wing activists led by American Bikers United Against Jihad drove past Islamberg in their annual Ride for National Security.

“The lies about Islamberg have been proven wrong countless times,” The Muslims of America’s chief executive, Hussein Adams, told media. “But what speaks volumes is that after 30 years there have been no instances where members of our community have done anything related to these accusations.”

TMOA said the new alleged plot sent “shock waves” of fear through the community, giving residents flashbacks to the “panic and unease” they endured after previous incidents. “And each time it happens, these grave tragedies compound the trauma of the previous instance,” Islamberg attorney Tahirah Clark said.

After the Doggart case, in which he was released to his family on $30,000 bail, TMOA officials were shocked to learn that domestic terrorism is not always considered a federal crime, and they are now pushing for a change in policy.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Police/Fire, Religion & Culture, Violence

(AI) CANA bishop denounces “prosperity gospel” heresy

“Prosperity gospel” has become a popular tool in today’s secular world. But it is not of the Bible. British professor of sociology Stephen Hunt explains: “In the forefront (of this type of teaching) is the doctrine of the assurance of “divine” physical health and prosperity through faith. In short, this means that “health and wealth” are the automatic divine right of all Bible-believing Christians and may be procreated by faith as part of the package of salvation, since the Atonement of Christ includes not just the removal of sin, but also the removal of sickness and poverty.”

Prosperity gospel asserts that it is God’s will to bless you with good health, happiness, wealth, and anything you believe you must have if you have enough faith to trust God and decree it by your spoken words. Worse than that heretical assertion is that if you don’t have enough faith to decree those things into existence you will not receive such blessings. Prosperity gospel misrepresents God and promotes greed and materialism. It puts our personal needs above our spiritual needs; above the worship of God and his true mission. It is biblically untrue, pastorally cruel, and misdirects people from Christ and his saving gospel to personal well-being. It turns our relationship with God into a quid pro quo relationship wherein God gives to us according to how much we give him- a total denial of saving grace from a gracious God who loved us and saved us when we hated him.

Let me be clear: God wants to bless us in many ways but sometimes he allows us to go through suffering for our own good and for the sake of others. That’s what he did to the Apostle Paul, our Lord Jesus Christ, the martyrs, and Christians across the centuries, despite their strong faith and faithfulness. It is biblical to pray for healing and blessings, trusting God to bless us in accordance with his providence. It is not biblical to teach that God is obligated to prosper you with wealth, health, and happiness because you have enough faith. This has done much damage to individuals in the body of Christ.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., CANA, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Religion & Culture, Theology

(America) The Editors: Politicians fail the country by applying religious tests

First, as we have pointed out before, Roe v. Wade’s confinement of the abortion question to the judiciary continues to distort the workings of political dialogue and compromise. Unable to debate the abortion question straightforwardly, legislators are left to read tea leaves about what judges might do. And since the American people are not of one mind about abortion, the judicial “settlement” of the issue is in constant need of shoring up, driving its defenders to depict anyone who opposes abortion as dangerously extreme.

Second, the current climate of “gotcha” politics is deeply opposed to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association and the rich history of nongovernmental civic institutions building up the fabric of American public life. Many politicians, seeking short-term advantage, are willing to cast suspicion on any connection to a group or issue they oppose. The assumption that membership in a fraternal organization automatically constitutes endorsement of a particular political position—much less bias that would render a nominee unfit to be a judge—is catastrophically narrow.

Third, religious values are being conflated with bias—but the anemic state of the public conversation about religion makes it difficult to distinguish them properly. It is perfectly possible for judges to be motivated by their faith to recognize that abortion is a grave injustice, while still being committed to honor laws and precedent.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Politics in General, Religion & Culture

(RNS) Tara Burton–If God is dead, is it OK if we save ourselves?

…what we’re seeing is not a substitution of one kind of faith for another. As a culture we’re putting our faith in ourselves. Salvation has been relocalized; the new secular faiths think humans have the potential to save ourselves.

You can see this as communities across the United States actively attempt to remake and remap human nature. Transhumanists are attempting to radicalize cryogenics and reverse aging. “Intentional polyamorists” and “relationship anarchists” subvert “toxic monogamy culture.” They’re seeking out blueprints to rewire our bodies, our minds and our social relationships – exploring new avenues of what it means to become our “best selves.”

It’s possible, as Sullivan does, to read these quests as doomed attempts to override what we can never overcome. Maybe they are. But the increasing prominence of these “new utopian” groups represents more than the collapse of traditional religion. It also tells us about the collapse of traditional notions of human frailty.

Fewer and fewer of us may believe in God or spirits. But now, more than ever, we’re willing to put our trust in the better angels of our own nature.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NYT) Described as Defeated, Islamic State Punches Back With Guerrilla Tactics

For three years, terrorists controlled a huge stretch of territory in Iraq and Syria. They ran their own state, collecting tens of millions of dollars in taxes and using the proceeds to fix potholes, issue birth certificates, finance attacks and recruit followers from around the world.

All but 1 percent of that territory is now gone, which has prompted the White House to describe the Islamic State as “wiped out,” “absolutely obliterated” and “in its final throes.” But to suggest that ISIS was defeated, as President Trump did when he announced plans to pull out American troops from Syria, is to ignore the lessons of recent history.

The group has been declared vanquished before, only to prove politicians wrong and to rise stronger than before.

The attack last week by a suicide bomber outside a shawarma restaurant in the Syrian city of Manbij, which killed at least 15 people including four Americans, is one example of how the group still remains a serious, violent threat.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iraq, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Syria, Terrorism, Violence

(Local Paper) Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivors join Emanuel AME Church in shared sorrow

They stood hugging, a rabbi and an AME minister, two men of God united by the bloodshed of earthly hatreds.

Beneath their feet, in the fellowship hall of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, nine black worshipers died in June 2015 when a gunman opened fire during their Bible study, killing them because they were black.

About 700 miles north, in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, an antisemitic gunman killed 11 worshipers less than three months ago during their Shabbat morning services, simply because they were Jewish.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Inter-Faith Relations, Judaism, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Violence

(AP) Paying for funerals impossible for many poor families

Darlene Hardison would have loved to have a funeral for her father and uncle and bury them in marked graves at a Michigan cemetery. But she and her family could come up with only enough money to have Hoover Heags and Arthur Hardison cremated, then they left the remains to a Detroit funeral home to bury.

Authorities later discovered Heags’ and Hardison’s cremated remains among nearly 300 others in bags, boxes and other containers inside Cantrell Funeral Home, one of two Detroit funeral homes police and state licensing officials are investigating for allegedly improperly storing remains. Heags had died about a year earlier; Hardison had been dead for about two years.

“The funds were limited … to paying house bills and we just didn’t have the money to cover everything we needed,” Darlene Hardison said at a cemetery where a memorial service was held for some of the people whose cremains authorities found in the now-closed Cantrell Funeral Home on Detroit’s east side. “We were just able to do a cremation and that was it,” Hardison said, wiping away tears.

Hardison’s story illustrates how the funeral homes now under scrutiny may have ended up having so many remains and why it is that families didn’t notice. Many poor families in the U.S. have been priced out of funerals and burials. People who can’t afford those services are left with the cheapest option: cremating their loved one’s remains and leaving it to a funeral home to dispose of them. Others may simply abandon relatives’ remains altogether, leaving it to coroners and funeral homes to pay for cremation and disposal.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Marriage & Family, Personal Finance & Investing, Poverty

(ABC Aus.) Stanley Hauerwas–The Only Road to Freedom: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nonviolence

Of all the silly claims sometimes made by atheists these days, surely one of the silliest is that Christianity was in no way determinative of the politics of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Just take Christopher Hitchens’s claim that, on account of King’s commitment to nonviolence, in “no real as opposed to nominal sense … was he a Christian.” Wherever King got his understanding of nonviolence from, argues Hitchens, it simply could not have been from Christianity because Christianity is inherently violent.

The best response that I can give to such claims is turn to that wonderfully candid account of the diverse influences that shaped King’s understanding of nonviolence in his Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, and then demonstrate how his Christianity gave these influences in peculiarly Christ-like form.

King reports as a college student he was moved when he read Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience. Thoreau convinced him that anyone who passively accepts evil, even oppressed people who cooperate with an evil system, are as implicated with evil as those who perpetrate it. Accordingly, if we are to be true to our conscience and true to God, a righteous man has no alternative but to refuse to cooperate with an evil system.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Theology

(CT) Dante Stewart–Martin Luther King Jr.: Exemplar of Hope

As I reflect on King, I am reminded of the language of Zechariah 9:12: “Return to your fortress you prisoners of hope.” He was indeed a “prisoner of hope.” To be a prisoner of hope is not the same thing as being optimistic. Life has been too realistic for that. Optimism is rooted in sentimentalism and believes in the inevitability of progress. Hope is rooted in a redemptive realism and the promise of the victory of God in Jesus. King was not naive about the realities he faced nor did he expect that good was just around the corner.

In the last book he wrote before he was assassinated, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, King wrote, “The majority of White Americans consider themselves sincerely committed to justice for the Negro,” but, he argued, “unfortunately this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity.” White America was willing to welcome some change, but, just as they do today, apathy and disinterest rose to the surface when the next logical steps needed to be taken. Though the real democratic spirit of some of white America resisted this tendency, these were exceptional individuals and far too small in number for widespread change to take root. It was King’s conclusion that the practical cost of change for the nation up to this point had been cheap and characterized by the ever-present tendency to backlash—realities we still live with 51 years later.

While blacks proceeded from the premise that “equality means what it says and they have taken white Americans at their word,” far too often “equality is a loose expression for improvement” and that “whites … are not putting in a similar mass effort to re-educate themselves out of their racial ignorance.” The hard truth was that “neither Negro nor white has yet done enough to expect the dawn of a new day.”

For King, freedom is not won by passive acceptance of suffering. It is “won by a struggle against suffering.” Standing in the chasm between disappointed cries for black power, stiffening resistance from white backlash, the darkness of Vietnam, and the pervasiveness of poverty, King appealed to our common humanity and care for the common good. He called for the full participation of blacks and whites, rich and poor, natives and immigrants, Pentecostals and Presbyterians—any who would join the struggle for freedom and community. I believe Thurman is right when he claims that King’s greatest contribution was his life, which embodied a radical discipleship and a revolutionary love.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

Richard John Neuhaus: Remembering, and Misremembering, Martin Luther King Jr.

As Abernathy tells it—and I believe he is right—he and King were first of all Christians, then Southerners, and then blacks living under an oppressive segregationist regime. King of course came from the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta in which his father, “Daddy King,” had succeeded in establishing himself as a king. Abernathy came from much more modest circumstances, but he was proud of his heritage and, as he writes, wanted nothing more than that whites would address his father as Mr. Abernathy. He and Martin loved the South, and envisioned its coming into its own once the sin of segregation had been expunged.

“Years later,” Abernathy writes that, “after the civil rights movement had peaked and I had taken over [after Martin’s death] as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” he met with Governor George Wallace. “Governor Wallace, by then restricted to a wheel chair after having been paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet, shook hands with me and welcomed me to the State of Alabama. I smiled, realizing that he had forgotten all about Montgomery and Birmingham, and particularly Selma. ‘This is not my first visit,’ I said. ‘I was born in Alabama—in Marengo County.’ ‘Good,’ said Governor Wallace, ‘then welcome back.’ I really believe he meant it. In his later years he had become one of the greatest friends the blacks had ever had in Montgomery. Where once he had stood in the doorway and barred federal marshals from entering, he now made certain that our people were first in line for jobs, new schools, and other benefits of state government.” Abernathy concludes, “It was a time for reconciliations.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

Harriet Beecher Stowe on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Have not many of us, in the weary way of life, felt, in some hours, how far easier it were to die than to live?

The martyr, when faced even by a death of bodily anguish and horror, finds in the very terror of his doom a strong stimulant and tonic. There is a vivid excitement, a thrill and fervor, which may carry through any crisis of suffering that is the birth-hour of eternal glory and rest.

But to live, to wear on, day after day, of mean, bitter, low, harassing servitude, every nerve dampened and depressed, every power of feeling gradually smothered, this long and wasting heart-martyrdom, this slow, daily bleeding away of the inward life, drop by drop, hour after hour, this is the true searching test of what there may be in man or woman.

When Tom stood face to face with his persecutor, and heard his threats, and thought in his very soul that his hour was come, his heart swelled bravely in him, and he thought he could bear torture and fire, bear anything, with the vision of Jesus and heaven but just a step beyond; but, when he was gone, and the present excitement passed off, came back the pain of his bruised and weary limbs, came back the sense of his utterly degraded, hopeless, forlorn estate; and the day passed wearily enough.Long before his wounds were healed, Legree insisted that he should be put to the regular field-work; and then came day after day of pain and weariness, aggravated by every kind of injustice and indignity that the ill-will of a mean and malicious mind could devise. Whoever, in our circumstances, has made trial of pain, even with all the alleviations which, for us, usually attend it, must know the irritation that comes with it. Tom no longer wondered at the habitual surliness of his associates; nay, he found the placid, sunny temper, which had been the habitude of his life, broken in on, and sorely strained, by the inroads of the same thing. He had flattered himself on leisure to read his Bible; but there was no such thing as leisure there. In the height of the season, Legree did not hesitate to press all his hands through, Sundays and week-days alike. Why shouldn’t he?””he made more cotton by it, and gained his wager; and if it wore out a few more hands, he could buy better ones. At first, Tom used to read a verse or two of his Bible, by the flicker of the fire, after he had returned from his daily toil; but, after the cruel treatment he received, he used to come home so exhausted, that his head swam and his eyes failed when he tried to read; and he was fain to stretch himself down, with the others, in utter exhaustion.

Is it strange that the religious peace and trust, which had upborne him hitherto, should give way to tossings of soul and despondent darkness? The gloomiest problem of this mysterious life was constantly before his eyes, souls crushed and ruined, evil triumphant, and God silent. It was weeks and months that Tom wrestled, in his own soul, in darkness and sorrow. He thought of Miss Ophelia’s letter to his Kentucky friends, and would pray earnestly that God would send him deliverance. And then he would watch, day after day, in the vague hope of seeing somebody sent to redeem him; and, when nobody came, he would crush back to his soul bitter thoughts, that it was vain to serve God, that God had forgotten him. He sometimes saw Cassy; and sometimes, when summoned to the house, caught a glimpse of the dejected form of Emmeline, but held very little communion with either; in fact, there was no time for him to commune with anybody.

–Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Poetry & Literature, Race/Race Relations