The United States is back at war—that didn’t take very long. One might argue we never really stopped fighting, or, frankly, that the country has been in a perpetual state of war since World War II. Religious as well as the more generic popular responses to America’s various wars often boils down to a tension between revulsion and obligation. Not surprisingly, that dualism relates directly to the simple formula presidents have used over the years (and through every war) to justify military actions in strategic and moral terms. The threats change—fascism, communism, terrorism—as do the locations, but the moral rationale rarely does.
The Ebola outbreak is centered in three West African countries where almost 4,500 people have died; 17 people have been treated for the disease in Europe and North America, most of whom are health and aid workers who contracted the disease in West Africa. Americans are vigorously debating whether to place a travel ban on anyone trying to enter the nation from affected regions. Advocates of interreligious engagement—through their willingness to move across dangerous boundaries—show us how exchange does not necessarily beget vulnerability; it can bolster our humanity.
Recently Victoria Osteen, wife of pastor Joel Osteen, made some comments that concerned many Christians. Apparently, she stated that worship was not for God but for the worshiper, that when people obey God, they should do it for themselves (although she later revised some of these comments).
For many evangelicals, the Osteens are on the periphery of Christianity.
Jonathan Merritt writes books and articles that change people. He’s a senior writer for the Religion News Service and just last week, he won the 2014 Religion Commentary of the Year from the Religion Newswriters Association.
I had the pleasure of asking Merritt a few questions about books that have influenced him.
In my copy of Elmer Gantry, one sentence is underlined six times: “He had, in fact, got everything from church and Sunday School, except, perhaps, any longing whatever for decency and kindness and reason.”
That sums up Sinclair Lewis’ 1927 satire of scandalous fundamentalist ministers pretty well. None of the underlinings are mine, though. I have a Kindle version of Elmer Gantry, so this is a “popular highlight,” a sentence noted by other readers, on other e-devices.
Francis Schaeffer has changed thousands of lives, including mine. This other, earlier “Pope Francis” might not bear the same weight he once did. However, a Christianity Today readers’ poll once placed him above John Calvin in influence. Following World War II, Schaeffer had left behind separatist fundamentalism to help Billy Graham and the Jesus Movement usher in a golden age of evangelical conservative prestige.
In the last six weeks police officers have killed at least five unarmed African American men: Eric Garner, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, and Michael Brown. This does not include Kajieme Powell, who was carrying a steak knife when two officers gunned him down just a few miles away from the site of Brown’s death. As much as some commentators might want to dismiss the protests as the cynical work of “screamers” and “race hustlers,” there is no doubt that the unrest sprung in large part from a righteous indignation at this nation’s long and persistent record of state violence against black men.