Century Marks

Century Marks

Force be with you

About 500 people—over twice the usual number—showed up at a Star Wars–themed service at the Zion Church in Berlin the weekend the new Star Wars movie was released. Some of the congregants carried lightsabers or wore Darth Vader masks. The church organist played the film’s theme song. The Protestant pastor said the aim was to show that Star Wars draws on religious imagery and “that the Bible and the church are part of our culture” (Toronto Star, December 20).


Five of Jesus’ disciples came from the town of Bethsaida, north of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus performed some of his greatest miracles there, healing a blind man and feeding thousands. Why then did he rail against Bethsaida? “Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (Matt. 11:21). Archaeologists have discovered a possible explanation: a pagan temple was located there, possibly built by King Herod’s son Philip. A Jew himself, Philip may have built the temple to honor the recently deceased mother of the Roman emperor Augustus (Smithsonian, January-February).

Judgment postponed

The medieval concept of irja could be an antidote to Islamic extremism. The word literally means “postponing” and was used by some Muslim thinkers during the first century of Islam. Known as Murjiha—the postponers—these scholars argued that the issue of who is a true Muslim should be postponed until the afterlife. Faith is a matter of the heart, something God alone can judge. This notion died out and is now considered a heresy among orthodox Sunnis. Muslims who are not willing to kill apostates are viewed by ISIS leaders as guilty of this heresy (New York Times, December 21).

Bombs away

In a recent poll, 30 percent of Republican primary voters said they would support bombing Agrabah. Agrabah, however, is a fictional country with a Middle Eastern–sounding name (Guardian, December 18).

Welcome mat

The presidents of three seminaries near the Missouri-Kansas border wrote a letter to governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Jay Nixon of Missouri asking them to reconsider their restrictive stances on resettling Syrian refugees. Brownback is one of 30 governors who called for a blockade on Syrian immigrants. Nixon said he wouldn’t block the Obama administration from resettling Syrian refugees but asked that they be vetted adequately. Representing Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Nazarene Theological Seminary, and St. Paul’s School of Theology, the three presidents pointed out that churches in the area have a history of resettling refugees and said that they were certain churches would rise to meet the challenge again (Baptist News Global).