Then & Now

Religious historians take on the present

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University stated earlier this month that “14 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election.” Enacted by Republican legislatures, “the new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.” (The states are Alabama, Arizona, Indians, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.) As for what the Brennan Center calls the “myth of voter fraud,” their ongoing examination found that such fraud is “very rare.” One of the central stories in the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant involved his fight against voter suppression. 
September 27, 2016
In 1900, W.E.B. Du Bois named the color line as the problem of the 20th century. The color line, which still persists, is on trial this presidential election. While Donald Trump polls low among black voters, these numbers have improved slightly. 
September 20, 2016
At his inauguration on January 20, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took an unprecedented step: after taking the oath of office, he led the nation in prayer. During his prayer, which historian Kevin Kruse notes helped make Eisenhower’s inauguration as much a “religious consecration” as a “political ceremony,” the new president asked God to “make full and complete [the executive branch’s] dedication to the service of the people.” Eisenhower’s professed dedication to serve all the citizens of the United States and his willingness to rely upon God’s help were not entirely new. 
September 13, 2016
On the day I turned 18, I could hardly wait for the final school bell to ring—but not for the reason you might imagine. I couldn’t wait to get in my car, drive downtown to the courthouse, and register to vote. Women in the United States were permitted this right only 96 years ago with the passing of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads in part: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” 
September 6, 2016
A summer of racial unrest throughout the country has led to calls in the presidential campaign to “restore law and order.” It’s the same line used by Richard Nixon in 1968 to appeal to white nationalist fears of black criminality after the “long hot summer of 1967.” Racialized wars on drugs emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—directed against Chinese people for opium use, African Americans in the South for charges of cocaine use, and Mexicans and Mexican Americans surrounding allegations of marijuana use.  Then there is peyote, a sacred medicine and religious adjunct in Native American worship.
August 30, 2016
“White privilege is your history being taught as a core class and mine being taught as an elective,” wrote a tumblr user in February of 2014. This claim illustrates how education sins in its ignorance. Latin American liberation theologians taught that sin consists not only of personal misdeeds—it is also embedded in social structures that promote harm and inequity. 
August 23, 2016
Christianity isn’t inherently white supremacist. But Christian faith in America has been interpreted in a way that upholds the tenets of white supremacy, which is built on 18th and 19th century Western hegemonic values. These cultural values, which have been intertwined into mainline American Christianity, protect and uphold the system of white supremacy.  “All men are created equal,” claims the Declaration of Independence. 
August 16, 2016
I was born in California. One side of my family immigrated to the United States in the early 17th century. The other side of my family arrived on tightly packed ships filled with misery and tears. We have been American for a long time. Yet, it wasn’t until a cool night in November 2008 that I felt a sense of belonging.
August 9, 2016
There are so many horrific events in the news. What do we do with the tumult of feelings that rushes through us when we hear about them? How do we navigate this world of lightning-fast news and online echo chambers where we can block particular perspectives and opinions? In these charged, gut-wrenching times, how do we process information and determine what course of action might align with our values? In seminary a professor assigned “reaction/response papers.” 
August 2, 2016
American Christianity has faced theological-political crises before. Repeatedly, visions of what is possible for the nation have fallen short of reality. In the past, periods of change pushed faithful people to reconsider what they believed, not only about the nation but also about the meaning of God’s call to justice. In each critical moment, for good or ill, Americans altered their religious views, and the horizon of what was possible expanded or contracted. In revolutionary America, disunity resulted from debates over whether faith required obedience to the king or a revolt.
July 26, 2016

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