John D. Wilsey
John D. Wilsey teaches history and philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea (IVP Academic, 2015).
Many, perhaps most, readers of Then and Now teach in one context or another. The responsibility, joy, and challenge of teaching is paradoxical: it is a complex exercise, and yet the task is simple. Is teaching a calling? Can one learn to be a great teacher, or is teaching a gift with which someone is born? What is the future of teaching, particularly in higher-ed settings? How do we teach students to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with their God?
Helpful articles addressing the terrorist attack at Emanuel AME Church last week have appeared in a number of outlets, some offering superb analysis. One question concerning the context of violence in church in particular, and persecution in general, is what commonalities exist between the experiences of persecuted groups.
Next to the First Amendment, then-President Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 has perhaps come to represent the most popular understanding of religious freedom in the collective mind of America. Because of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” metaphor, some would like the letter to pass back into the shadow of obscurity under which it rested prior to the 1947 Everson v. Board of Education decision. Others rejoice that the letter provides the lens through which religion itself is defined and applied in contemporary America. Jefferson’s famous metaphor is important, but it is a star drawing into its orbit the comet of our short attention span.
One of the characteristic idiosyncrasies of Americans is that they are always fretting about their identity. They are a people constantly asking themselves, what does it mean to be a “real American”? There are certain literary figures we can instantly associate with the issue of American identity.
This past Saturday, President Obama spoke in Selma, Alabama, marking the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday"—the assault by Alabama state troopers on marchers from Selma to Montgomery for equal voting rights for African Americans. His speech is remarkable for many reasons, but one of the things I find really remarkable is that it ranks as a singular example of presidential exceptionalist rhetoric.