Abraham Lincoln, a skeptic and a free thinker, never joined a church. However, he did have close contact with several Presbyterian pastors. James Smith, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, preached the funeral sermon for Lincoln’s son Eddie. Afterward, Mary Todd Lincoln joined his church and Lincoln became his friend. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Presbyterian Church, often visited Lincoln at the White House to discuss the Bible and theology. Lincoln frequently attended this congregation’s midweek prayer service. Lincoln sat in the pastor’s study with the door ajar, to avoid making a commotion over his presence (Presbyterian News Service, December 20).
Fiction without faith?
Jan 03, 2013
Writer Paul Elie says that if there is any portion of our culture which is truly post-Christian it is literature. There are no fiction writers today like Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Reynolds Price or John Updike, who took faith seriously and gave it explanatory power. Faith in fiction is now largely treated as an artifact of the past. Even Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, which portrays “the most emphatically Christian character in contemporary American fiction”—the Rev. John Ames—is historical fiction, set in the past. “Belief as upbringing, belief as social fact, belief as a species of American weirdness: our literary fiction has all of these things,” says Elie. “All that is missing is the believer” (New York Times, December 19).
Poverty and riches
Jan 03, 2013
Only three other countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have a higher degree of income inequality than the United States: Chile, Mexico and Turkey. One reason for the inequality in the U.S. is that a smaller share of national output is targeted for social programs, designed to lessen inequalities. Germany devoted 27.8 percent of its gross domestic product to such programs in 2009, compared to 19.2 percent in the U.S. Tax policies in the U.S. also are not as effective in reducing the effect of inequalities. The division of earnings in the U.S. favors the wealthy more than other developed countries. Finally, there is an attitude problem: the poor in the U.S. are more likely to be accused of laziness. The myth endures that people can become wealthy in the U.S. if they work hard enough, despite recent research which shows that Americans are less likely to rise to a class above that of their parents than are people in other wealthy nations (Reuters).
Jan 03, 2013
Chris Baker is a tattoo artist who sports tattoos on his legs and arms. He also is a Christian minister. Baker has started a not-for-profit organization dedicated to removing tattoos for people who no longer embrace the lifestyle that the tattoos represent—which is often gang membership, drug addiction or prostitution. In a recent case, Baker volunteered to remove the tattoo from a reformed prostitute who had been enslaved in sex trafficking. She was branded with a tattoo by her former pimp, who is now in prison. “Anytime I can get rid of a trafficking tattoo is a good day,” Baker said. “Trafficking is not a choice people make” (Chicago Tribune, December 27).
Jan 03, 2013
Pryor Creek Community Church in Oklahoma is one of a number of congregations that sponsor classes on using concealed weapons. Pryor Creek and the others see it as a way of reaching out to new people and gaining members. These churches are facing sharp criticism in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut. Richard Cizik of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good says he grew up in gun country and isn’t opposed to the Second Amendment. But “the gospel should be ‘Put your faith in Christ,’” Cizik says. These church programs teaching people to use guns seem to suggest “Put your faith in Glock” (RNS).