Century Marks

Century Marks

Politics in the pulpit

Randall Balmer, a historian of American religion, spent his high school years in Des Moines, Iowa. His father was a staunch Republican and pastor of one of the largest evangelical churches in the state—but he was resolutely apolitical in the pulpit. Beginning in the late 1970s, however, the issue of abortion galvanized evangelical political activism in Iowa, and the state became a harbinger of movements on the religious right. Evangelicals formed megachurches and homeschooling became popular. Iowa's long tradition of progressivism has been blunted, as is evident in the 2010 recall of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage (Religion Dispatches, December 31).

Does God (particle) exist?

Scientists at the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research believe they are honing in on the so-called God particle, also known as the Higgs boson. Scientists hypothesize that this particle is what allows other particles to have mass. Researchers at the institute, known as CERN, are using the 27-kilometer Large Hadron Collider to try to create the conditions that existed after the Big Bang that formed the universe 13.7 billion years ago. Alternative explanations for the mechanism that allows particles to have mass are also being pursued. Scien­tists working on the Higgs boson say they'll search for another year. If it is not found by then, they will conclude that it doesn't exist (Washington Post, December 13).

Good pay for historian

Jonathan Zimmerman says the first thing he learned in graduate school about being a historian is that the field demands both rigor and humility: you must know what you're talking about—and when you don't, you need to admit it. These are not qualities that characterize Newt Gingrich, who has been leading in the polls as candidate for the Republican presidential campaign. Gingrich has a doctorate in history, but he never did the academic work necessary for gaining tenure at West Georgia College, where he taught before launching a political career. Gingrich has written over 20 books that use history, but most historians regard them as simplistic and partisan. He defends the work he did for Freddie Mac by saying that he was a historical consultant, for which some sources say he earned as much as $1.8 million. "Who knew my profession could be so lucrative?" asks Zimmerman (Chicago Tribune, December 1).

Aid for the rich

More than 20 percent of U.S. financial aid for college goes to students who don't need it, according to the College Board, the association of colleges that administers the SAT test. Colleges and universities are using this money to compete for students with high grade point averages and SAT scores. Elite schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford give aid to students from families with incomes as high as $200,000. The consequence is that fewer dollars are available for students with actual financial need, whose share of financial aid has steadily declined over the past decade (USA Today, November 25–27).

Host city

The tenth assembly of the World Council of Churches in 2013 will take place in the city of Busan at the southeast end of the Korean Peninsula. Known as a center for Buddhism, the city offered shelter for those resisting communists during the Korean War. It is a place marked by schism among Presbyterians. One split resulted from the Korean Presbyterian church's allowing Shinto shrine worship during the Japanese occupation. A second schism resulted from disagreement over participation in the WCC. While less than 10 percent of Busan is Christian, it holds special meaning for Korean Christians: Christian missionaries to Korea first arrived there, and a great awakening in Korea started there. Ji-il Tark, professor at Busan Presbyterian University, notes that, ironically, hosting this worldwide ecumenical assembly is creating ecumenical tensions in Busan (Theology Today, October).