Century Marks

Century Marks

Prepare a table before me

The people at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Durham, North Carolina, knew that members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Hutchison, Kansas, were planning to hold an antigay protest outside St. Paul's. The pastor said worship would proceed as usual and that the congregation would pray for the protesters but not confront them. As a symbol of God's protection under tense circumstances and as a sign of hospitality toward the protesters (Ps. 23:5a), the pastor placed on the church lawn a table set with china, silverware, water and wine glasses, candles and a centerpiece. The protesters left when the service began. It isn't known if they caught the significance of the table, but the people at St. Paul's have talked about it for a long time (Jackson Carroll, As One with Authority, revised edition, Cascade Books, forthcoming).

Graveyard of empires

Major fighting has gone on in Afghanistan this fall, but the media haven't paid much attention and the war was not an issue in the recent election. Democrats didn't campaign against the war because it has become Obama's war, and the Republicans don't want to sound soft on national security. The counter-insurgency strategy ("take, clear, hold and build") isn't working, says Middle East expert Juan Cole. The offensive in Marjah begun last winter still has not cleared the insurgents out of an 18-square-mile area. Afghanistan has more than 251,000 square miles (Informed Comment, November 16).

God and the foxhole

There may be no atheists in foxholes, but few soldiers show up for worship services at bases in Afghanistan. Army captain Michael Cummings reports that a typical service attracts only three or four soldiers. At the large 30,000-strong Bagram Air Field, only about 30 people show up for worship. Cummings explains that religion is "not cool" in the army. Chaplains tell him that soldiers tend to seek religious resources when no one else is around. Veteran Kathleen Johnson, an atheist who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, has another perspective: soldiers aren't openly religious unless they are compelled to be so by their commanders and chaplains. "The real irony is that commanders like these truly believe they have the duty and right to force their faith on others and when that 'right' is impeded, they see it as an infringement to their religious freedom," Johnson said (New York Times, At War, November 5 and 16).

Don’t worry

U.S. Representative John Shimkus (R., Ill.), who believes that climate change should not concern us, would like to become chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has wide-ranging power over energy and environmental legislation. At a committee hearing in 2009 he cited God's post-Flood promise to Noah (Gen. 8:21–22) that God would never again curse the earth, and he added: "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this Earth" (Toronto Star, November 10).

Prayer or politics?

About 30 conservative Christian leaders met in September to plan how to defeat President Obama in 2012. The gathering was convened by evangelist James Robison, who was involved in a similar effort 30 years ago to defeat President Carter and back the candidacy of Ronald Reagan. Ethics Daily, a division of the Nashville-based Baptist Center for Ethics, contacted about a dozen leaders who were at the meeting, but none would speak on the record. Public statements about the meeting give the impression that its concerns were spiritual, but Robison's blog makes clear his political intentions. "I am presently more deeply concerned than I was during Carter's administration," he wrote. He called the Republican successes in the fall campaign an answer to prayer (ethicsdaily.com, November 15).