Century Marks

Century Marks

Sins of the fathers

Nearly two centuries after Georgetown University benefited from the sale of 272 slaves, the university is taking steps to make amends. In an unprecedented move, it has pledged to give preferential enrollment to the descendants of all slaves whose work contributed to the university. It is going to rename two buildings, one after a male slave and another after an African-American educator who was a member of a religious order. The university will issue a formal apology for its past, develop an institute devoted to the study of slavery, and build a public memorial to the slaves whose work benefited Georgetown. The university in its early years depended on income from Jesuit-owned slave plantations in Maryland and especially from the 1838 sale of slaves (New York Times, September 1).


The International Geologi­cal Conference suggested last month that in about 1950 the earth entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene epoch, marked by a human impact on the earth so profound that humans are not likely to survive it. The previous epoch, the Holocene, with 12,000 years of stable climate since the last ice age, was the period when human civilization developed. Among the first marks of this new epoch were the radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests that were blown into the stratosphere before settling down into the earth. Another sign is the emission of carbon gases that are causing global warming, the rise of sea levels, and the extinction of some plant and animal life (Guardian, August 29).

Long, hard road

Close to 10 percent of the 2,586 artifacts in the inaugural exhibitions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture are related to faith and religious history. “There is no way you can discuss, talk about, or understand the African-American journey without understanding the very real role faith played in its history,” said Rex Ellis, a Baptist minister and associate director for curatorial affairs. Some of this history is shown in objects—from the piano bench of Thomas Dorsey, the “father of gospel,” to a red and gold prayer rug used by a Sunni imam in Baltimore. The museum, part of the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., is set to open Sep­tem­ber 24 (RNS).

Diversity and decline?

Religious diversity may be making America less religious. Although religious pluralism is not necessarily the cause of declining religiosity, it does expose people to ideas and practices that challenge their faith. Increasing religious pluralism also dilutes any notion of America having a Christian heritage—a theme that in the past has reinforced Christian faith. Mississippi, where “it’s hard to swing a dead cat without hitting a Baptist,” is both the most religiously uniform state and the most religious state in the country. Conversely, Oregon is highly diverse and one of the least religious states (FiveThirtyEight, August 23).

Attitude adjustment

An Angli­can study, Church Growth in East Lon­don, concludes that church growth is more about attitude than theological or liturgical tradition. It challenges the notion that only evangelically oriented congregations using contemporary forms of worship can grow. The churches that engaged in the most social action attracted the largest number of new Christians. “The degree of intentionality behind growth is related to the likelihood of growth,” the report says. Willingness to adopt new leadership forms and structures and the congregation’s ability to reflect on what faithfulness means in its context were also key variables (Church Times, September 2).