Century Marks

Century Marks

Flagging injustice

Churches throughout India were urged to hoist black flags for a day last month to protest discrimination faced by Christian Dalits, people from low castes treated as untouchables. The protest marks the 60th anniversary of the introduction of free education and reserved government jobs for Hindu Dalits. Such benefits were extended to Sikh Dalits in 1956 and then to Buddhist Dalits in 1990. Christian Dalits, who account for two thirds of some 28 million Christians in India, as well as Muslim Dalits, are denied these rights.

Category mistake

James Alison, Catholic priest and theologian, recalls two iconic images that appeared almost in the same week in 2004. The one pictured Private Lynndie England holding a leashed dog with a pile of humiliated male prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The other image is of two women walking down the steps of the Boston city hall waving a marriage certificate. Alison asks, "To which of these two images does the biblical category of 'Sodom' rightly apply?" It is a category mistake to use the language of wayward behavior to categorize people who are attracted both emotionally and erotically to persons of their own gender, he says. This is just the way these people are, neither by choice nor circumstances, and it is becoming clear that they are capable of "full-heartedness of love for each other," which "is not just lust nor a defect," but in fact is "a gift from, and an access to, God" (Broken Hearts and New Creations, Continuum).

Church do’s and don't's

When Roy M. Terry IV was asked to plant a church in Naples, Florida, he wrote to some wise people, asking them for the top five things they’d do if they were starting a church. From Stanley Hauer­was, his former teacher, he got this ad­vice: “Don’t start a Sunday school. Never have a men’s or women’s group. Don’t have a men’s softball team. Get the congregation involved in a soup kitchen or helping the homeless. Never use the language ‘New Church’; instead use ‘Be­coming God’s Church.’” It was this last point that really struck Terry. He has aimed his Corner­stone United Methodist Church at becoming God’s church, not starting something new or different or better. It is God’s work, not ours, he says (Wordcare, Ekklesia Project pamphlet no. 15).

Soviet legacy

Israeli politics have become increasingly conservative and resistant to making peace with the Palestinians due to an increased number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose birthrate is nearly three times that of their secular counterparts. Many young people share in their worldview; they came of age during a time of pessimism about prospects for peace and  have no memory of Israel with its pre-1967 borders. An influx of about 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s has also contributed to this conservative movement. Its adherents have imported Soviet attitudes into Israeli life: nationalism, an intolerance of "the other" and a preference for strong leaders over the messiness of democratic processes. They also don't think that land should be conceded to a presumed enemy in a state so small it can be traversed in half an hour by car (Wilson Quarterly, summer).

Who dunnit?

A half century ago the Oxford theologian Austin Farrer developed the concept of “double agency” as a way of reconciling divine agency with free will. Through this concept, Farrer maintained, it was possible for God to have created the world by causing “its innumerable constituents to make it.” Pondering this concept, Nick Paum­garten wondered whether the gulf oil disaster could possibly be attributable to divine agency and human error. He put the question to Farrer scholar Edward Hugh Henderson, who teaches philosophy at Louisiana State University. “In one sense, divine agency is everywhere,” Henderson replied. “In another, you wouldn’t want to say that accidents and carelessness are examples of double agency” (New Yorker, July 12 & 19).