We live in an era of transition between more stable ages. We face material choices now that will shape and serve our communities for long generations to come. Society is emerging in fits and starts from centuries of essentialism that defined people by race, gender, religion, and class into narrow identities with determined roles.
Then & Now
Religious historians take on the present
When asked about Pope Francis’s call to America for a welcoming immigration policy, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) perhaps unwittingly invoked a biblical trope used countless times in American Protestant churches. I call it the “American Nehemiad.” The book of Nehemiah is political.
The new year was rung in with the surprising news of a small militia occupying a federal building in the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, deep in rural Oregon. Armed protestors, calling themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, have called on the U.S. government to reverse policies dealing with public lands that they consider unconstitutional. The group’s leader, Ammon Bundy, a confessing Mormon, said they would remain there until they “restore the land and resources to the people so people across the country can begin thriving again.”
The recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have led to an increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric in the U.S. There have been calls to limit the immigration of Muslims. Some have focused as well on the threat from within, arguing for the registration of all Muslims—or even their internment, as with the camps where Japanese Americans were sent during World War II. From the inception of the United States, our government has put in place measures to determine who belongs to this great experiment and who does not.
Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy shot in Cleveland by an officer in training, suffered death. According to an Ohio grand jury, the case is closed. Elsewhere in these United States, presidential candidates have and will continue to laud America as exceptional.
W. E. B. Du Bois wrote his prophetic words “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of color line” decades before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Yet those words allowed blacks to note how the removal of Jim Crow from educational institutions was slow in many parts of the country. Often among those responsible were Christian segregationists in Christian schools and colleges.
When we think of religious conservatism, we likely think in terms of slogging through the trenches of the great American culture war. But does the culture war serve as a useful paradigm for understanding religious conservatism?
This holiday season marks the 25th anniversary of the release of the Christmas movie Home Alone. The film fascinated a generation of latchkey children and their baby boomer parents with its portrayal of eight-year-old Kevin McCallister, who not only survives while his family is out of the country but anchors them when they forget the real meaning of Christmas. It spent four weeks at no. 1 in box office sales and grossed nearly $300 million in the United States. It also sparked a debate over the authority of parents.
As religious violence continues to make headlines, it is tempting for both the media and its audience to lump devout worshipers into the same camp as violent extremists. It is also tempting for people of one faith to regard members of other religious groups as the ones most likely to commit heinous crimes in the name of religion.