Thursday, August 30, 2012

Black Churches and 21st Century Captivities

July 29-July 31, 2013

Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration

Accra, Ghana

On the 150th year anniversary of the “Emancipation Proclamation,” and with participation in August 1 “Emancipation Day” events in Cape Coast

This conference will convene in the shadows of the slave castles to examine church responses to contemporary threats to black social, physical, and religious well-being, including political oppression or coercion; group conflict; co-optation of religious life; captivities of persons (e.g., modern slavery, human trafficking, mass incarceration); and economic distortions and dependencies. While focusing mainly on the 21st century, the conference will also explore historical backdrops and comparisons that inform understanding of the contemporary contexts in which these issues play out. We welcome conceptual, practical and theoretical papers; case studies; and comparative work exploring these or related themes.
Read the rest of the call here

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Race/Religion/War: A Symposium

Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 11:00am - Friday, October 19, 2012 - 5:00pm


OCTOBER 18-19, 2012
This two-day symposium at UC Berkeley will explore the uses of race and religion to establish war as a strategy of political power, and conversely the uses of war to stabilize the epistemologies of race and religion as intimately linked organizing categories of social life—what we might call the “race/religion/war” nexus.

This inquiry finds its proximate cause in the racialization of Islam that has animated the contemporary U.S. led “war on terror,” as well as its doppelgangers in places like London, the Parisian Banlieues, Chechnya, Palestine, Darfur, Kashmir, and the Huiger regions of China. Our aim, however, will be to consider how the race/religion/war nexus coheres in the present precisely because of a set of much longer historicotheoretical processes. That is, multiple overlapping genealogies mutually determine our political present: from the medieval religious wars of the Crusades to the formation of race in the conquest of the Americas; from the birth of the modern state-system in its deployment of antisemitism to the racializing rubrics of development in the capitalist world system; from the colonial wars of high imperialism to the significance of third world proxy wars for the purportedly secular rivalry of the Cold War. The symposium will animate potential convergences in current scholarship on the longue durée of the race/religion/war nexus in what have been discrepant, if deeply interrelated, knowledge projects.

Thursday, October 18
11:00 Welcoming Remarks

11:30 Session 1
David Theo Goldberg, “Racial Religiosities, Religious Racialities”
Nasser Hussain, “The Racial/Spatial Nomos in the Laws of War”

2:30 Session 2
Junaid Rana, “Apocalypse and the Global Race War”
María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, "Savages Welcomed: Imputations of Indigenous Humanity in Early Colonialisms"

Friday, October 19
11:00 Welcome Back

11:30 Session 3
Tomaz Mastnak, “Race and Religion of Money, and the War of All against All”
Ann Pellegrini, “Race, Religion, and the Right to Be Governed”

2:30 Session 4
Caren Kaplan, “Desert Wars: Unfolding Orientalism as the Limit of 'Genuine Knowledge' ”
Keith P. Feldman, “Racial Liberalism’s Cartography of Terror”

4:30 Closing Remarks
Leerom Medovoi

The Role of God in the 2012 US election

For many observers, religion is an emblematic feature of American politics. It is seen as a unique and confounding manifestation of American exceptionalism, in which religious fervor co-exists with an industrialized, "modern" democracy and an explicitly secular state. The course of the presidential race thus far might be viewed as yet another instance of America's particular obsession with religion. Yet this campaign, for all its familiar tropes, both departs from the historical American norm and remind us that the US is not so unusual in its mix of religion and politics, after all.

Even before Paul Ryan's selection for the Republican ticket, Rick Santorum's and Mitt Romney's primary campaigns for president meant that religion had already played a particularly vivid version of its familiar role in American electoral politics – one which went beyond the usual prayer breakfasts, pastoral exhortations, allegations of theological unsoundness, and public proclamations of the candidate's commitment to Jesus, Christianity, and America united under one God.

The ultra-Catholic Rick Santorum, with his critique of Obama's "false theology", his passionate pronouncements on the evils of birth control and abortion, and his statement that John F Kennedy's advocacy of the separation of church and state "made him want to throw up", was coupled with the ongoing saga of Mitt Romney – the candidate no one seemed to want but had to choose – and his Mormonism, which raised the question of whether the adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints deserved to stand under broad and sheltering umbrella of American Christianity. The nomination of Ryan, with his ostensibly seamless dual commitment to the teachings of both the Catholic Church and the church of Ayn Rand, means that religion in the 2012 election has taken an even more prominent role as the Republican party convention is held this week.

Read the rest here

R3 Contributors to Host Radio Show

Check out R3 Contributors Earle Fisher and Gee Joyner as they host a brand new radio program, The Pastor and Professor on WRUGRadio.Com. The show promises an eclectic mix of both historical and contemporary issues examined through a critical lens grounded in a prophetic wit that only Earle and Gee can bring. Check out the promo below and tune in on September 6th for the Pastor and Professor.

The Image of Christ

SDSU history professor and R3 contributor Edward J. Blum is receiving much attention regarding his soon-to-be released book that chronicles the evolution of religious figures' appearances in relation to different races, religions and ages.

Blum's "The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America" covers what happens when the Christian incarnation of Jesus collides with the American body obsession.

"Anyone can create their own representation of Jesus," Blum said. "In this book, I discuss how these representations have changed over time and how images of Jesus affect different races and religions."

The book has a website with more than 400 images, texts, songs and videos for readers to analyze, along with interactive sections.

Read the rest and see the interview here

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A woman’s life is a human life: a theological error in the GOP platform?

“God created human beings in God’s image…male and female God created them.” (Genesis: 1:27) According to the Bible, women are created fully equal in the divine image and thus fully, and equally, human.

You’d never know that from reading the Republican platform, especially in regard to the anti-abortion language that asserts the “sanctity and dignity of human life.” That section affirms that the “unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” and calls for a “human life amendment to the Constitution.”

Astonishingly, there is no mention of an exception on abortion in the cases of rape or incest; no mention even of such an exception to save the life of the mother. No qualification at all when it comes to even the life of a woman being protected.

Aren’t women’s lives included in the category of “the sanctity and dignity of human life?”
Read the rest here

Mia Love: The Most Interesting Mormon Speaking at the RNC

Tonight Mia Love takes the stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa. This speech, delivered during the much-coveted primetime television coverage, will be the biggest moment in the young political career of Love, a Republican congressional candidate from Utah’s Fourth District. It will also serve as the introduction for most Americans to the woman whom many prominent Republicans, including the GOP presidential ticket itself, expect to be a leading voice in Congress for years to come.

Love might be the most talked about Republican congressional candidate in 2012, with numerous appearances on Fox News and CNN, and profiles in the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as lots of exposure on conservative political blogs. Yet so far, more than her Tea Party politics, it is her unique biography—she’s a Haitian American woman and a Mormon convert—that has garnered most of the attention. If elected, she will become the first black Republican woman in Congress. As one longtime Utah political observer told me, “If Mia Love wasn’t a black, Mormon, conservative woman, no one outside of Utah would have ever heard of her.”
Read the rest here

Unraveling theological concepts and political categories through the Prophetic tradition

Recently, I wrote an article in Fair Observer, ‘Through the Eyes of Yusuf,’ where I offered an alternative lens to view and understand the meaning of ‘Muslim’ as a religious category, through an exegesis of the story of Yusuf (Joseph) in the Qur’an. In the piece I briefly touched on the political implications of the Prophetic tradition within Islamic theology. But I want to elaborate more here.

As much as the term ‘Muslim’ exists as a socio-political category, it is simultaneously a theological concept that signifies wholehearted submission or acceptance, through faith and through actions, to the One God. The terms ‘Islam’ (submission to the One God) and ‘Muslims’ (those who wilfully submit to the One God) are scattered throughout the text of the Qur’an as preceding the historical development of a Muslim political community and the institutionalisation of Islam as a religion.

There is, undoubtedly, a strong nexus between theological concepts and politico-religious categories, the latter often viewed as necessarily and inevitably predicated on the former. But while there is merit in reading this connection in order to understand organised religion in all its forms, there exists simultaneously a tendency to overdetermine theological concepts by falling into the trap of teleology. The sui generis lens of institutionalised religion ex post facto cannot always be sufficient in explaining theological concepts; and there is a need, time and time again, to examine and assess religious concepts philosophically, in their own right, so that we may arrive at a more holistic understanding of the meanings they ought to generate.
Read the rest here

Bill Moyers

In the latest episode of “Moyers & Company,” Bill Moyers talks to Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic policy and lobbying group NETWORK, and Robert Royal, founder and president of the Faith and Reason Institute, about economic inequality in this country and Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint.

Campbell and other nuns made headlines in the weeks before Ryan was selected to be Mitt Romney’s running mate for protesting the Wisconsin congressman’s budget plan, which had just been passed by the Republican-controlled House.
Read the rest and see the video here

Romney’s high-wire act on religion at the Republican convention

On Thursday night, Mitt Romney will step out at the Republican National Convention to accept the nomination as the presidential candidate. The question, ahead of this important moment, is not whether but how he will talk about religion.

Certain theistic tropes are often part of political rhetoric: for example, Romney will almost certainly evoke some form of God-ordained American exceptionalism, whether general or via a biblical metaphor (such as America as a “city set on a hill”). This kind of language evokes the vocabulary and metaphors of shared beliefs, while sidestepping sectarian squabbles over contentious points of theology.

What Romney needs, in other words, is to craft a message around what has been called “civil religion.” However, Romney faces some unique challenges, both because of the minority status of his Mormon faith and because of the expectations of white evangelical Protestants, who promise, if things go well, to constitute more than one-third of his voter base in November.
Read the rest here

Speaking in Tongues: A Critical Comment about the Comments

When Sikivu Hutchinson of Black Skeptics posted my blog on July 27, 2012, I was pleasantly surprised by the many supportive comments and feedback. With the exception of a few “holy rollers” who told me that they were going to pray for me, my blog “There is No Wipe-Out Story,” was widely accepted. However, as I reviewed the comments, I found a very interesting thing at work in the comments section from nonbelievers or atheists: many wanted to know “more” about “my story.” At first I didn’t totally understand what “more” they wanted to know. I found this question, or need to know more a little ironic, because they were doing the very thing that I wrote about. They wanted to know many intricate details to chronicle “what happened” to change my mind, to make me go from believer to nonbeliever. I guess what I said in the blog was not enough: basically, over many years, I just stopped believing in God. Normally, it is believers who want to know more about this subject, but this time, it was mostly the nonbelievers or the atheists who had the probing questions. There was even one commentator who contacted me on Facebook ™ and presented me with the following comment/question:

“I am fascinated that there seems to be fewer minorities who are atheist and why is that. I’m guessing that part of the reason many in ‘the black community’ stay religious is that churches were involved in Civil Rights [sic] and the Moses myth is used to stand for liberation. But the Bible says ‘Slaves, obey your masters.’”
Read the rest here

Call for Chapters: Women, Religion, and the Media

Doing a feminist rhetorical reading of news coverage of Ava Kay Jones, the Voodoo priestess at New Orleans Saints football games? Conducting a media study of Hindu women film directors and producers? Got a discourse analysis of online fans invoking the name of God in True Blood femslash? Submit a book chapter for a proposed edited collection situated at the intersection of media, women, and religion.

You are invited to reach this crossroads by any combination of paths. A variety of rhetorical criticism, critical/cultural media studies, and other qualitative communication methodologies are welcome. A focus on transwomen or any other productive complication of the category of “women” is encouraged. All religions, including any of the monotheist and polytheist world traditions, will be considered. Media artifacts must be electronic (television shows, films, websites, podcasts, political news coverage, music, etc. Sorry, no books or magazines), but can be from any country and time period, and need not be explicitly religious to include a religious reading.

Deadline is October 31.

- Original submissions only, no previously published work (papers presented at conferences are ok).
- Submissions from scholars with Ph.D. in hand will receive priority over doctoral students.
- Please format citations using Chicago Manual of Style edition 16. Use endnotes not footnotes, plus bibliography.
- Word Count: 6,000 words maximum including endnotes and bibliography.
- By submitting your chapter, you are agreeing to refrain from submitting it for publication consideration elsewhere until we have received the publisher’s verdict on our book proposal. If the proposal is accepted, you are agreeing to refrain from submitting your piece for publication elsewhere until after the book is out.
- Please include links to any proposed images, video clips, and websites to appear on our book’s companion website.
- Include a biography of a maximum of five lines, including your highest academic degree and degree-granting institution, current position title, current institution, and a mention of a few pertinent previous publications.
- Submit as e-mail attachment in MSWord or Rich Text Format to by October 31, 2012.

Monday, August 27, 2012

This Is Why Bringing Religion Into Politics Is A Bad Idea

Last week I wrote about Bibi Netanyahu’s attempt to use religious authority to create support for a strike on Iran. There are many problems with going down this path – and I should add that Netanyahu is not unique in this regard; there is a long history of Israeli and even American officials seeking Rav Ovadia Yosef’s approval for various national security initiatives – but one of the bigger ones is that once you allow politics to be influenced by religion, you can no longer control the deluge that is guaranteed to follow. To wit, Netanyahu has to deal with the fact that he is being publicly challenged by influential rabbinic authorities on implementing the High Court’s order to evacuate Migron, the settlement outpost that was built on land privately owned by Palestinians. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, the chief rabbi of the Shomron Regional Council and a past ally of Netanyahu, declared over the weekend that if the prime minister attempts to “raise a hand on Migron [he] will have it cut off.” He also made implicit threats that the IDF will have to disband if the government offends the religious Zionist community since if yeshiva students stop joining the army on the orders of their rabbis, “there will be no army. Who will join the army? Those who raise two kids and a dog?” He took great pains to let everyone know that he wasn’t actually threatening the prime minister, but simply hoping that God makes his words come true.

This is not the first time that Rabbi Levanon has attempted to use religious pressure to change or influence government policy. This past January, he quit his position as head of the Elon Moreh hesder yeshiva (hesder yeshivot allow observant Israelis to combine army service and Torah study) because he vehemently disagreed with an IDF ruling that soldiers could not walk out of events in which there were women singing. Before quitting, he had given an interview in which he said that the IDF was ”bringing us close to a situation in which we will have to tell [male] soldiers, ‘You have to leave such events even if a firing squad is set up outside, which will fire on and kill you.’ I hope the army rabbinate will bring in some wise figures who will stop this terrible state of affairs. But if there are no such rabbis, we won’t have any choice, and I’ll recommend to anyone who asks me about the IDF that he shouldn’t enlist.” Given Levanon’s position as head of an influential hesder yeshiva and as chief rabbi of the Shomron Regional Council, which oversees 30 settlements in the West Bank, his thoughts on such matters cannot be simply brushed off, and his comments on Migron represent only the tip of the iceberg of what is to come from the religious settler community should the High Court decision be enforced.
Read the rest here

Friday, August 24, 2012

On Abortion, Rape and Speaking for God

Representative Todd Akin's comment suggesting that "legitimate rape" cannot lead to pregnancy has stirred up a storm of controversy over the past few days. Meanwhile, the Republicans, while roundly criticizing Akin for his political faux pas, have put forward a platform calling for a federal ban on abortion with no exceptions for victims of rape.

For the record, I am no fan of abortion. Still, it's offensive to me that so many rich white men are presuming to discuss and legislate the most intimate aspects of women's bodies. And it deeply disturbs me that our national discussion about rape revolves around taking more rights away from the victims rather than around how to fix a broken culture in which women are seen as -- and subsequently treated like -- sex objects.

And I am appalled that, in the midst of these discussions, those expressing the most disrespectful attitudes toward women tend to do so in the name of God. These politicians claim to be speaking on behalf of God, legislating the will of God. And they certainly hope that, with the support of God's men like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, they will get the "God vote" come November.

Well, I have some biblical news for the politicians out there: The people who get to speak for God are called prophets. Trust me, "prophet" is not a job anybody applies for; it's not a job anybody wants. Your approval ratings plummet, the pay is lousy, the wardrobe is uncomfortable and the meal plan is for the birds. As an added bonus, those in political power will probably try to have you killed. If you are rich and comfortable and alive, chances are you are not a prophet.

Read the rest here

Thursday, August 23, 2012

God Has No Religion

One of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi once said that "God has no religion." Regardless of what name you call God, our only real purpose here on earth is to achieve union with God. As children of Abraham, we have created our own problems by trying to claim God for ourselves. When in fact, the root cause of believing that God only serves you and your people is ignorance. As a yogi, we believe that this is simply ignorance of self. If we dig deep inside of ourselves, we would recognize the oneness that we all share; you and the Muslim or you and Jew or you and the Christian or you and the Hindu, are one.

When the mosque in Joplin, Missouri burned to the ground on August 6th, we burned down our temple of worship. When several Muslim graves were desecrated at the Evergreen Cemetery in Chicago last week, we disrespected our parents. When a man shot a pellet gun at a mosque earlier in August where 500 people, including women and children, were praying, we targeted the innocent. When a bomb detonated outside an Islamic school just a few days, we stopped believing that our children are the future. When a so-called country star said that our President is "a Muslim who hates America," we all spit words of hatred. When uncooked bacon was scattered at a New York Ramadan celebration this past weekend, we all lost a bit of dignity. These crimes of hate did not happen over the course of much time; they have all happened in the past twenty days.

Read more here

Bishops: God Votes Republican

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is scheduled to deliver the concluding benediction at the Republican National Convention next week, after Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech.

The Eternal Word Television Network leaked word of Dolan’s appearance last night in a press release about Romney’s exclusive appearance, to be aired tonight, on the program “The World Over.”

The news — both its substance and the venue in which it was conveyed — make clear three things: that Romney intends to make the Bishops’ bogus arguments about religious liberty infringements a centerpiece of his campaign’s faith outreach; that any efforts the Obama administration made to placate the Bishops’ unattainable demands on insurance coverage for contraception were a fool’s errand; and that the USCCB has unequivocally attached itself at the hip to the Republican Party.

EWTN, the Catholic television network founded by the nun Mother Angelica in 1981, and which recently acquired the National Catholic Register (“America’s most complete and faithful Catholic news source”), sued the Obama administration in February, charging the contraception mandate violated its First Amendment rights. Michael Warsaw, the network’s president, decreed it a “moment when EWTN, as a Catholic organization, has to step up and say that enough is enough.” In its support of the Bishops’ “fortnight for freedom” earlier this summer, the network quoted — on the same page! — Sir Thomas More just before his beheading and the Rev. Martin Luther King. That was all alongside network head Warsaw asserting, “these are rights not given to us by governments. They are rights given to us by God.”

In its press release, EWTN notes that Dolan hasn’t endorsed a candidate in the presidential race, but emphasizes that “he has been an outspoken critic of a mandate issued by the Obama administration to require employers to offer health insurance plans that covers contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates their consciences.” (This repeats the falsehood, which Dolan himself has perpetuated, that the contraceptives covered by the insurance requirement include abortifacients.)
Read the rest here

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

New Book on Bishop Henry McNeal Turner

The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition, by Andre E. Johnson, is a study of the prophetic rhetoric of 19th century African Methodist Episcopal Church bishop Henry McNeal Turner. By locating Turner within the African American prophetic tradition, Johnson examines how Bishop Turner adopted a prophetic persona. As one of America’s earliest black activists and social reformers, Bishop Turner made an indelible mark in American history and left behind an enduring social influence through his speeches, writings, and prophetic addresses. This text offers a definition of prophetic rhetoric and examines the existing genres of prophetic discourse, suggesting that there are other types of prophetic rhetorics, especially within the African American prophetic tradition. In examining these modes of discourses from 1866-1895, this study further examines how Turner’s rhetoric shifted over time. It examines how Turner found a voice to article not only his views and positions, but also in the prophetic tradition, the views of people he claimed to represent. The Forgotten Prophet is a significant contribution to the study of Bishop Turner and the African American prophetic tradition.

Andre Johnson’s study of the speeches of Henry McNeal Turner, from his optimistic Emancipation Day Address in 1866, to sober reflections on the fiftieth anniversary of the proclamation in 1913, is an important step in recovering the story of African-Americans in the South during Reconstruction. Framing Turner’s powerful words as examples of prophetic rhetoric, Johnson shows how even Turner’s most pessimistic comments spoke to a wide audience eager for freedom yet demoralized by prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Although Turner’s answer to the nation’s racism—emigration—did not become a major movement in his lifetime, Johnson’s study of Turner’s prophetic voice enlarges our understanding of this neglected, but important figure in American history.

Sandra J. Sarkela, The University of Memphis

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Romney showing his Mormon faith

Mitt Romney tried to capture the essence of what his religion meant to him in a little-noticed 1995 commencement address at his prep school. His Mormon faith, Romney said, is “one of the most important treasures of my life.”

It is a treasure that Romney, as a political candidate, has kept mostly in a private place — until recently. Now there are signs his protectiveness is easing. On Sunday, in what was described as a first for his candidacy, he allowed a handful of reporters to witness his attendance at a Mormon church near his summer home in Wolfeboro, N.H.

Romney’s decision to open up his church visit to the press was the most notable in a series of recent efforts to reveal more about how his faith has shaped him and his policies, part of an attempt to humanize him as well as respond to lingering concerns among some voters about putting a Mormon in the White House. The campaign is expected to encourage more emphasis on Romney’s religion at next week’s Republican convention in Tampa. Mormon prayers are expected to be delivered, along with a focus on turning points in Romney’s life, including his role as the leader of the Mormon church in the Boston area from 1986 to 1994.

“I think it would be excellent for people to know about,” said Kenneth Hutchins, who succeeded Romney as the president of the Boston stake, a group of local congregations akin to a Catholic diocese. “It would be hard to know him as a religious person without understanding who or what people in leadership positions really were, their standards and life.”
Read the rest here

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Theological Roots of Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” Comment

Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), his party’s candidate in the Missouri Senate race to unseat Democrat Claire McCaskill, has quickly attempted to retract his comment that in cases of “legitimate rape," women have biological defenses against pregnancy. “I misspoke,” he claimed in a carefully crafted statement. After all, cleaning up the mess after the candidate not misspoke, but spoke his mind on television, is what campaigns do to pretend that the candidate is not a loon.

The strategy is not unlike the one used after the controversy Akin ignited last year when he attacked NBC for omitting “under God” from the pledge of allegiance in a broadcast. Accusing the network of being liberal, Akin told Tony Perkins on Family Research Council’s radio program, “at the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God. And so they’ve had a long history of not being at all favorable toward many of things that have been such a blessing to our country.” Akin later tried to claim, “My statement during my radio interview was directed at the political movement, Liberalism not at any specific individual. If my statement gave a different impression, I offer my apologies.”

Akin is proud of how his religion, and in particular, the Presbyterian Church in America, the deeply conservative Calvinist denomination founded in 1973, influences his political views. Akin has a Masters in Divinity from the denomination’s flagship Covenant Theological Seminary. His campaign website notes, “Although most of his classmates went on to become pastors or missionaries, Todd took a different path. For several years he studied the founding of America and the principles which made this country great. His love of country and conviction that leaders must stand on principle led him to run for State Representative in 1988.” On abortion, the PCA is absolutist: opposing abortion in all cases, with no exceptions.
Read the rest here

Race, Place, and Jesus in American History: An Interview with Paul Harvey and Edward J. Blum

Hilde Løvdal and Randall Stephens: Why did the two of you take on this project, which became your book, The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (UNC Press, 2012)?

Paul Harvey and Ed Blum: On one level, the book began the first times we recognized that the Jesus images surrounding us in churches, Sunday schools, and on movie screens had histories. The book came from that feeling of dissonance when we saw representations of Jesus as white and knew, somehow, in our guts that it just wasn’t right.

On another level, the book emerged from years of studying independently the links between race and religion. We determined that it was time to take on the biggest symbol in the United States when it came to both: Jesus himself. We had read Stephen Prothero’s American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, FSG, 2003, loved it, but felt like it missed how profoundly race transformed imagery of Jesus and how much the racial images of Jesus influenced American history. When discussing our book idea with Martin Marty, he asked what it would look like to write a racially integrated story of Jesus as opposed to the ways Prothero segregated race into a few chapters. When we did that, we found profoundly complicated stories that not only featured racial conflict, but also demonstrated cross-racial exchange.

We started the book before we even met in person. Ed had reviewed Paul’s book Freedom’s Coming for H-NET and asked how the book would have looked different if it took into account art, literature, film, and material culture. At that point, we struck up an email conversation and planned an edited volume on race, religion, Jesus, and material culture. As we talked more and met every six months as part of the Young Scholars in American Religion, we decided that there was a monograph to be written. Six years later (and several very different iterations of the book thanks to amazing peer reviewers), we have the book!
Read the rest here

Race, Religion, Women, Economic Privilege Are the Issues, So Let's Talk About Them

The line was long, but it kept moving, and although the sun was warm, the air was finally cooler than it had been for so many hot weeks. Thousands of us were entering the outdoor arena by the Mississippi River to hear the president and the first lady. We passed a small group from the opposing political party with their banners. Well enough. But one sign bothered me: "Mr. Obama, this is a Christian nation." You see, I am a Christian, and I was headed in the opposite direction. And the president and first lady are Christians, as were many of the thousands being protested.

And "I am a Sikh," I say, since the August 5 shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee, WI, where six were murdered and three more wounded.

Howard Fineman, editorial director of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, in his blog, "Why Obama-Romney Debate Will (Continue to) Be Vicious," gave a list of some of the reasons this has become the most abrasive, personally accusatory presidential campaign in modern times. He said that "Race and religion are sure to surface as corrosive forces." That is so true!

While campaign strategists daily try to get back "on message," I find the issues have a very basic core. Whatever surfaces, underneath are systemic, interconnected issues of domination and oppression. We need not label or avoid, but talk about them. For example, these mid-August days:

A Pennsylvania judge upholds voter suppression laws: Keep the right to vote in the hands of a few and exclude mostly people of color, the aged, and those with disabilities.

A man is named to be a candidate for vice president with extreme repressive views on women's rights and women's bodies: Keep power, or return power, to male leadership (a position held by some segments of Christianity).
Read the rest here

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Masculinity and Mass Violence

On July 20, just after James Holmes wounded 58 and killed 12 people at the opening of the latest Batman film at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, The Telegraph published a “history of mass shootings in the US since Columbine”—a list of nearly 30 shooting sprees with lethal results. Ne’er-do-wells who merely wounded didn’t make the cut. Thus, not included on the list was a shooting spree in an Alabama bar with a multiple arson warm-up just two days earlier. There, enraged after having been fired from his job—only the latest in a string of personal and financial calamities—Nathan Van Wilkins fired into a bar from across the street, wounding or otherwise injuring 17 people but not killing anyone.

Likewise, the non-fatal, apparently gang-related shootings of four girls in a Chicago park on July 11 was omitted. The shooter or shooters there have not been apprehended, but Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel offered a warning that, as I will discuss shortly, hardly helps matters for those of us who are concerned about what seems to be a growing tide of mass violence. “Take your stuff to the alley,” Emanuel was quoted as saying. “Don’t touch the children of the city of Chicago. Don’t get near them.”

Our digital-age attention spans generally being what they are, we can’t expect the Telegraph or NPR, which went more global with its list, to provide the 62-pages of gun-wielding detail offered by the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence. Still, in less than a month since the Aurora shootings, two more killers have become eligible for the newsmaker list: Wade Michael Page, for an attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5; and Thomas Caffall, who laid siege to a College Station, Texas neighborhood this week.
Read the rest here

The Constitution and the Candidates: Race, Religion, Romney, and Ryan

When the Philadelphia framers unveiled their proposed Constitution 225 years ago—September 17 will mark the official anniversary—most Americans were white Protestants. Anti-Catholicism ran deep, no Jews held high office, most blacks were enslaved, and the Church of Latter Day Saints did not even exist. Today, while America remains predominantly white and protestant, no white Protestant sits on the Supreme Court, which consists of five white Catholics, three white Jews, and one black Catholic. Among the four leading men now in the presidential/vice presidential spotlight, the only mainstream Protestant is black; two of the remaining three contenders are Catholic and one is Mormon. For this extraordinary evolution, credit the Constitution.

The place where the Constitution meets religion and race remains a treacherous cultural battleground. This spring, the conservative political operative and self-styled historian David Barton hit the bestseller list with an audacious new book on Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of church, state, and race. Last week, Barton’s publisher unceremoniously withdrew this publication from store shelves, as scholarly evidence mounted that the book is bunk.

Barton’s fall is a cautionary tale about the perils of oversimplification. That said, here are three simple principles to remember regarding race, religion, and the Constitution.
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Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Disappointment of Religion

Reading the lives of the saints often raises our expectations, we read of someone transfigured with light, or someone who is present in two places at once, we read beautiful descriptions of the inner life of an awareness of our union with God, a clarity in regard to the nature of all things.
And in comparison our own religious experience will seem sterile, a voice crying out in the wilderness met with stony silence.

For some such comparisons can lead to despair, or others these comparisons make them doubt the authenticity of saints lives and in many cases we discover what I term the Disappointment of Religion.

The modern religious search often begins in disappointment, the rhetoric of “religious believing” and the reality can be miles apart. There can be very legitimate reasons for this disjunction. The Truth claims of many religious groups borders on the absurd, complex dogmatic constructs quickly reveal themselves to be the intellectual fabrications of cultural and psychological forces. Thus disappointment leads to disbelief.

A hallmark of the modern world is emphasis on the individual.
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CSULB Professor Releases Heavenly Hip-Hop Handbook

Culture and entertainment are so inextricably linked that oftentimes touchier subjects like religion are danced around but never truly confronted. CSULB associate professor Dr. Ebony Utley has every intention of blasting some of those reservations apart with her new book, Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God.

In the book, Utley tackles two subjects that are heavily linked yet seldom talked about: rap and religion. Specifically, Utley says, “How and why rappers talk about God,” an idea that stems from her interest in rhetoric and power struggles.

Utley says that in our culture, rap music is plagued with criticism (some valid, some not) about violence, misogyny and racial stereotypes. On top of this criticism, there is the prevalence of religion and the worship of a higher power in rap music. The two seemingly incongruent philosophies—one of violence, one of peace—blend together, despite the juxtaposition. The cause of this is more than just flagrant hypocrisy on the rapper’s part, but more of an inextricably linked cultural phenomenon.

“Hip hop is a form of expression and a response to oppression,” reads the first line of Rap and Religion. Rap and hip hop were born from a culture that was disenfranchised, under represented and lacking in social power. Religion has always been a source of strength for disempowered groups, and that is where God comes in.
Note: Dr. Ebony Utley is a R3 contributor
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Pussy Riot Jailed: Why This is Both a Religious and Political Issue

The arrest and conviction of Pussy Riot on charges of hooliganism fits into a broader context of Russian cultural history and political structure. Pussy Riot's conviction is yet another example of the collaboration between church and state typical of Russian history, aimed to increase Putin's power.

Russian culture and political structure have always lagged behind the benchmarks set by the neighbors to the West (and sometimes by those in the East). For over a decade, the Putin regime has governed on one fundamental principal: divide and conquer. However, now Putin has a new and solid ally in the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC).

This is not the first time that the Russian Orthodox Church has partnered up with various Russian forms of government. The ROC was the official religious authority during the rule of the Romanov dynasty, it cooperated with the KGB under Communist rule, and it is following that well-established Soviet script once again in the interest of the Putin regime.

The ROC has a long rap sheet in their relationship with cultural figures, highlighted by two incidents in the 19th century and one in the 20th century. In 1821, Alexander Pushkin published a short work titled “Gabrieliad” that described the sexual encounters of the Virgin Mary as having been “visited” by Gabriel, Satan (as a serpent), and God (as a dove). The ROC led an inquest in 1828 into the blasphemous work. Pushkin was forced to deny his authorship and through the patronage of Tsar Nicholas I, he was spared serious punishment.
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Friday, August 17, 2012

The New Terrain: Religion and Hip Hop

Saint Pauli

A combative, chain-smoking pixie on the wrong side of history is the not the typical profile of a saint, yet this is how Pauli Murray described herself. Last month the Episcopal Church admitted Murray to the pantheon of “Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints” in honor of her efforts toward “the universal cause of freedom.”

The first African American woman ordained an Episcopal priest, Pauli Murray (1910-1985) was so much more. Lawyer, poet, memoirist, polemicist, expat constitutional law professor in Ghana, co-founder of NOW, mentor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and friend to Eleanor Roosevelt, Murray forged intersections between American movements for black freedom, peace, and women’s liberation.

Early examples come from the 1940s when Murray was on the leading edge of new kind of engagement with racial justice. She lived in the Harlem Ashram, an interracial community that aspired to develop a Gandhian movement in the U.S. The Ashram was a meeting place for James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, and Murray, among others, who experimented with sit-ins and freedom rides. Ashram alumni were on the planning team for CORE’s 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, which tested compliance with the Supreme Court’s 1946 decision in Morgan v. Virginia. Riders hoped to demonstrate integral connections between peace and black freedom, but Murray thought they should do even more.
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Benjamin E. Mays: Schoolmaster of the Civil Rights Movement

Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t emerge on the civil rights scene fully formed but drew from a rich spiritual and intellectual heritage that he owed, in part, to his mentor, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays. Mays served as president of Morehouse College in Atlanta for 27 years and delivered the eulogy at King’s funeral. In the first full-length biography of Mays, Dr. Randal M. Jelks, associate professor of American and African American studies at the University of Kansas, provides an in-depth look not only at Mays’ meteoric rise from humble Southern roots to international acclaim, but he also sheds new light on the fertile soil out of which the Civil Rights Movement grew. UrbanFaith talked to Jelks about the book earlier this week. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Religion talks are everywhere

I wish I could be one of those women who giggles and changes the subject when a man I don't know that well says something idiotic.

Don't get me wrong, I'm can pull off the giggle-redirect with incredible charm when I need to. But most of the time, I'd rather counter idiocy with sarcasm and a wink.

Often this changes the subject, lightens the mood, and the idiotic comments cease.

But the giggle-redirect almost never works on men who are incapable of having a conversation. You know, where two people offer thoughts and finish sentences before the other person rebuts you mid-sentence.

These men are rare and difficult to spot in public, but are quickly identified once their lips start moving and they begin railroading conversations and manipulating dialogue. They tend to be openly patronizing and will never admit they're wrong - especially to a woman.

It's similar to the exchange you might expect between a chief political analyst for the Democratic Party and Bill O'Reilly on the conservative FOX news show, "The Factor."

Last weekend, I encountered one of these men. And somehow the subject of religion was at the forefront of our conversation. (I'm not sure it was truly a conversation since my sentences were often cut off, and what little I did say was transformed into intellectual mush before my very eyes.)

I'm not usually one to go around igniting conversational exchanges on religion (in my personal life) because I recognize it can be a controversial topic with strangers, especially with people who aren't yet familiar with my approach to religious discourse.
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The Southern ACTION Coalition: A More Fair and Balance Representation of the Black Faith Community

R3 Contributor

When the President made his stance regarding Same Sex Marriage I feared that there would be a certain backlash from a contingency within the black church.  What I didn’t prepare for, however, was the media’s local and national recapitulation of the black preacher, church and community being consistent with the stance of a particular segment.  If one is novice or untrained regarding the particularities and diversity of the black faith experience it may be easy to assert that all black people of faith are homophobic, hypocritical, anti-intellectual and that black faith leaders are all pimpish priest and not prophets.  To be clear, there have been a few exceptions projected nationally (and even fewer locally, in Memphis).  Yet, in a broader sense there seems to be a strategy by some to demonize, reduce and re-project black faith as buffoonery at worse and misguided spirituality at best.  This mythical, monolithic portrayal has seemingly diluted the divinity of our complex faith, expressions of love and hope in the American Democratic system and cast it as a divisive and demonic display of opportunism. 

I believe God calls us all in our various vineyards to raise our voice (not always in agreement, that’s unison, but still in harmony) to adequately represent the beautiful hues of our humanity and the complex cords and tones of our theology to continue to help us progress.  We must find a way for all of these voices to be adequately and authentically represented. 

For instance, on the issue of marriage equality, the black faith community is varied in its perspectives and convictions.  The problem emerges when one faction of our community is portrayed as speaking for all of the community (i.e. the Coalition of African American Pastors – I’m an African-American pastor... and they DO NOT speak for me!).  We need a more fair and balanced representation of who we are.  

To that end, we have been led to form the Southern ACTION Coalition (SAC) - a diverse cadre of thinkers and ministerial leaders who are deeply committed to a faithful representation of the diversity of theological thought and practice that represent the legacy of the black church. We seek to provide a fresh and relevant perspective as well as offer substantive suggestions and actions that will advance the cause of social justice in our various faith communities. While we honor and appreciate the work of other ministerial organizations, we aim to offer a new vantage point that seeks to demonstrate a more representative group of ministry leaders. 

Going forward the SAC will be faithful in our pledge to be a body of faith leaders who “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” Our goal is to empower, educate & inspire the entire community, including those from different backgrounds of faith (and those who do not identify themselves with any particular faith) through action. 

 Below is our press release we issued on Thursday, August 16, 2012

THE SOUTHERN ACTION COALITION PUSHES “SOULS TO THE POLLS” CAMPAIGN Local Body of Ministry Leaders Call for Diversity in Political Talk & Initiatives

The Southern ACTION Coalition (SAC) is a diverse cadre of thinkers and ministerial leaders who are deeply committed to a faithful representation of the diversity of theological thought and practice that represent the legacy of the black church. We seek to provide a fresh and relevant perspective as well as offer substantive suggestions and actions that will advance the cause of social justice in our various faith communities. While we honor and appreciate the work of other clergy organizations, we aim to offer a new vantage point that seeks to demonstrate a more representative group of ministry leaders. Moreover, we desire to depict varied viewpoints of the black church while not assuming that our community must arrive at a singular opinion about any matter simply because we share ancestry.

The SAC currently consists of 15 local ministerial leaders and 12 local ministries. Other leaders in the greater Memphis area and beyond are in the process of pledging their support and involvement, collaborating where they feel led. In light of the scope of social ills that plague our communities, we have decided that the first of our many public presentations and stances will focus on the November 2012 election. Voter apathy and suppression have inspired us to begin to develop the “Souls to the Polls Campaign.” This campaign is an extension of efforts that have taken place around the country – therefore, we stand in solidarity with any group who is involved in similar efforts to register, identify and transport all voters.

Furthermore, the SAC, while varied in regards to our individual stances on marriage equality, is collectively committed to ensure that our local communities are informed and inspired to participate in the November election. We believe that the issue of marriage equality should not skew our vote one way or another and definitely ought not to deter us from voting at all. Moreover, we do not assert that one opinion regarding any political issue can sufficiently represent all of the black church given the varied denominations of churches and diverse experiences of each believer.

Going forward the SAC will be faithful in our pledge to be a body of faith leaders who “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.” Our goal is to empower, educate & inspire the entire community, including those from different backgrounds of faith (and those who not identify themselves with any particular faith) through action. For contact information, please call 901-303-8898

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

English Bible Translations

For a while, I've been wanting to write an entry about English Bible translations. There are so many to choose from. Actually, if you do not read Hebrew and/or Greek, it is good for you to have a number of good translations from a variety of traditions. Some of the variations between translations might tip you off to what is going on in the Biblical language text.

What is a good translation? My criteria are that the translation represents recent scholarship, that it is indeed a translation and not a paraphrase like the Good News Bible (though these do have a purpose), and that it does not begin each verse as a new paragraph. I dislike the tendency to make each verse a new paragraph because, first, there were no verses in the original Hebrew and Greek text. Those were added to make it easier to find your place. Secondly, making each verse a new paragraph encourages readers to take each verse as a discrete platitude separated from its Biblical context.

My apologies to King James fans. This was the first translation that treated each verse as a new paragraph. Actually, I am a King James fan, just not for exegetical purposes. The King James Version tradition lives on currently in the New King James Version, the New Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, New English Version, and the English Standard Version. Yes, these are all part of the same family. The editors who created them all grew up with KJV or the Revised Standard Version, and those who edited RSV grew up with KJV.

New King James Version represents current scholarship and is conservatively translated. It retains the KJV practice of making each verse a new paragraph. It is the only current translation in the KJV family that does so. I have already expressed my opinion about this. NKJV is an otherwise good translation, though.
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God is. And maybe that’s all

By Crystal St. Marie Lewis
R3 Contributor

“I AM what I AM…” (Exodus 3:14)

“I AM.” And that’s all?

God’s self-description seemed terribly incomplete to me when I read it in my Bible for the first time. In fact, I remember being fascinated that Moses didn’t ask for more details. If I had been Moses, I would likely have retorted: “YOU ARE what? What does that even mean?”

It wasn’t until several years into my spiritual journey that, for reasons I don’t remember, I spoke these words in second person and realized what they meant. Rather than “I AM,” I quietly whispered to myself: “God is.”

“God is.” Two simple words– A complete sentence that captures God’s existence, and God’s eternality… and God’s transcendence, and God’s ability to be a multitude of things to a multitude of people… Two words upon which God would later build an identity that could only be fully understood in light of experience. Only experience would give the Israelites the conviction to say “God is– the creator” and “God is– the provider” and “God is– present with us.”

I’ve come to understand that this is the way the relationship with God unfolds for a lot of people. God begins as the One who exists (or who is), whether we acknowledge such an existence or not. Before we even knew of a divine being, God was… and God will be long after we’re gone.

The God who is reveals himself to humankind experientially, and through those experiences, we develop language to explain our understanding of God’s character. Many of us feel loved when we encounter God, so we say that “God is love.” Others feel overwhelmed when encountering God, and consequently say that “God is powerful.”
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'No Church in the Wild': The Youth's Unrecognized Spirituality Between Beats and Rhymes

Might be a hard pill to swallow, but the rapper who reminded us that Jesus walks with pimps, hoes and crack dealers makes a timely revelation: There is "No Church in the Wild."

One of the most talked about songs off Kanye West and Jay-Z's recent collaborative LP Watch the Throne, people are calling the newly released single "No Church in the Wild" an "existential rejection of organized religion." That it most certainly is. I personally can't stop singing the chilling hook to this song. Like many young people today, West is critiquing organized religion. That doesn't mean however that neither he nor they have given up on hope and meaning.

This song foreshadows the reality of a growing rise of religious non-affiliation in our country, according to the Pew Center for the People and the Press. The USA Today recently reported that nearly one in five Americans are religiously unaffiliated -- the highest number yet.

These trends are even more apparent among young people. I've experienced this first hand on the ground interviewing youth in Portland, Ore., for my current survey project Remaking Religion.

Over the years, I have worked with countless urban youth afflicted by issues of gang violence, homophobia and class inequality. They've lamented that they don't feel accepted in dominant institutions -- the school and the church included. With no place to go, many of them turn to the arts to craft meaning and find a cathartic release.

Hip hop is one of these powerful outlets in society today.
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Paul Ryan's Libertarianism and Catholic Social Thought

The good king, according to Thomas Aquinas, had to be motivated by charity. Love must animate the way he regarded and treated his subjects, especially the least of his kingdom. Thomas well knew that the great prophets of the Hebrew Bible summoned rulers, over and over again, to show solicitude for the widow and the orphan. Those who had no natural defender, those whose welfare depended upon the kindnesses of others, they were the ones kings were charged most directly to support and assist. For Thomas, this was simply another aspect of the common good that leaders must strive to conserve and promote. For the leader knew that no individual exists in isolation, that civilization is an enterprise lived in common, and that we are in the end all brothers and sisters.

Catholic social thought, as it has evolved ever since Pope Leo XIII issued that great call to action, Rerum novarum, in 1891, both draws from and remains committed to the Thomistic ideal. From Leo's courageous first footsteps to the grand encyclicals of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the popes have elaborated a rich theology of the state.

The state, the popes recognized, is above all social. It exists for the good of all. It is not a vehicle by which a few are enriched while others are beggared. The popes well understood, furthermore, that private property is never wholly private. John Paul II coined the expression "the universal destination of human goods" -- capturing in this term the realization that all that we have is owed to God, that it must not be used exploitatively, and that we must finally give an accounting of its use before God's majestic throne.
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Conserve or Transform: Religion's Dilemma

"Radicalism," particularly in the context of religion, evokes ambivalent if not conflicting reactions. On the one hand, for many, religion provides a sanctuary from the "Sturm und Drang" of dramatic change and discontinuity, as well as feelings of security rooted in the anticipation of continuity. On the other hand, our Abrahamic traditions all embrace narratives of dramatic change, both for the individual and for the world. Personal salvation, in different formulations in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are important components of the religious narrative. Looking ahead to a radically transformed world in messianic or millennial formulations is likewise a significant part of all of our religious narratives. Reaching inward, finding comfort and security in one theological formulation or another is appropriately in tension with the obligation to reach out and change the world and to transform ourselves as well.

Writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times just a few weeks ago, Ross Douthat quoted approvingly the first lady's expression of this tension. Addressing a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mrs. Obama stated: "Our faith journey isn't just about showing up on Sunday. It's about what we do Monday through Saturday as well. ... Jesus didn't limit his ministry to the four walls of the church. He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day." In this appropriate characterization of Jesus' ministry, Mrs. Obama was placing Jesus in the direct line of prophetic religious radicalism, in the tradition of Isaiah, Amos and Jeremiah, both conserving tradition but also calling for radical change. Eliminating the radical voice of religion, retaining only the conservative dimension of theological doctrine and ritual scrupulosity, it would be difficult if not impossible to defend the role of religion in human affairs.
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Romney-Ryan ticket makes U.S. religious history

In selecting Paul Ryan for his running mate, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has made modern political history: a major party ticket with no Protestant Christian.

Some historians call it the first ever. Others say it's technically the first since Abraham Lincoln. And there is an argument to be made regarding Dwight Eisenhower.

But in any case, "this Republican ticket really symbolizes the passing of an era," said William Galston, senior fellow with the Brookings Institution.

Romney is Mormon. Ryan is Catholic.

It's a trend also reflected in the Supreme Court. Once dominated by Protestants, there are now none among the nine justices, Galston noted. "All the groups that make up the new American population, as opposed to the population of 50 years ago, are now participating on equal" terms, in politics and American society in general, he said.

"It's quietly dramatic."
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Monday, August 13, 2012

Religion In Politics – The Liberal Perspective

Sometimes, it is tough being a liberal. Rush and his legions of loyal Dittoheads call you a “libertard” and like to pretend they’re more skillful at being Americans than you. As a liberal, you think this country and the world could be better places and want to help make those ideals come true. Conservatives warn that you’re actually a communist and the folks at Fox News howl and hiss that you and your type want to wipe your feet (or worse) with the U. S. Constitution.

When all else fails, and conservatives start losing their case on the merits, they pull out the Big God Gun. They claim to have the Lord on their side.

How do you argue with that?

THEN COMES A BIT OF SERENDIPITY and the Republicans field a ticket with Mitt Romney for President and Paul Ryan waiting in the wings.

Suddenly, being a liberal is pure pleasure.

Now you begin to feel that healthy liberal doubt rising once more. How can people like Ann Coulter on the right insist they have God on their side, when God can’t seem to get His Own message straight? Is the Bible the last and only true word from above? Which version of the Bible? KJV? NIV? Is it where we must go for all answers, about gay marriage and abortion, and even scientific topics like global warming, or not? And what about the Book of Mormon or the Koran? Is that what God, speaking to Moses thousands of years ago, simply forgot?

Ross Douthat, a prominent voice in the conservative movement, argues in today’s New York Times that Romney needs to open up his campaign narrative in the coming weeks. He needs to let voters catch a glimpse of his Mormon faith.
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Faith, Race, and Terror

It's mourning in America again. Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote that the blood of the innocent cries forever. We join our cries with the blood split in a Sikh sanctuary last Sunday.
As a Black American, I cannot contemplate this tragedy without contemplating the legacy of domestic racial terrorism my people have faced since being brought in chains to these shores. I'm reminded of Angela Davis's description of the sound of bombs going off in her Birmingham neighborhood as a child, bombs that would eventually take the lives of four little girls at Sunday school. I'm reminded of the thousands lost to the lynching tree discussed so eloquently by James Cone and documented so brutally by James Allen. Domestic racial terrorism is what Wade Michael Page accomplished, whatever his ultimate motive. While Sikhs are among its latest victims, its practice is as old as America.

What scholars such as Nadine Naber have offered me is the opportunity to understand this phenomenon in the context of the dominant discourse of the "War on Terror." In her must-read essay, "Look, Mohammed the Terrorist is Coming: Cultural Racism, Nation-based Racism and the Intersectionality of Oppressions after 9/11," she explains that politicians, pundits, and other opinion leaders have constructed a threatening "other." Similar to the young black male that haunts the American mind, this other is Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim and male. He is distinguished by cultural characteristics that are treated as "natural" and inherently hostile to "our way of life," and markers of marginalization such as Arab-sounding names or physical appearance. In addition, he is often an immigrant from particular countries and assumed to be suspect or "criminal" by virtue of his nation of origin.
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Sunday, August 12, 2012

What War on Religion?

In July of 1844, word reached New York that Joseph Smith Jr., founder of the LDS Church, had been murdered by a mob in Illinois. Reporting for the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett wrote, “There can be no doubt that political feeling entered largely into the popular excitement in that region against the Mormons.” He noted that the Whig party worried LDS Church members would support their rival, Democratic candidate James K. Polk, in that year’s presidential election. In turn the party’s newspapers in Illinois had created much of the anti-Mormon sentiment that led to the assassination. “This affords another and most melancholy illustration of the pernicious, demoralizing, brutalizing influence of the party presses,” Bennett wrote, “which are daily influencing the passions of the people by the vilest and most incendiary tirades against their respective opponents.”

One hundred and sixty-eight years later, the “incendiary tirades” of political parties are alive and well. Americans instinctively know this, and as the election nears, their televisions are inundated with political commercials. On Thursday (August 9), Mitt Romney’s campaign released a new advertisement, dubbed “Be Not Afraid,” a line that Pope John Paul II made famous during the Cold War. Splicing footage of Romney in Poland with a newspaper headline, the 30-second ad lambastes Obama for his “war on religion.” Though the ad never mentions the statute by name, it references the HHS mandate, the Obama administration’s order for insurance to provide contraception coverage, which can apply to religious groups who oppose it. The voiceover intones: “President Obama used his healthcare plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith.”

Watching the commercial, I was reminded of a column from John L. Allen Jr. in National Catholic Reporter last month, which Amy Sullivan also cited in a blog post. Allen critiqued the Catholic bishops for using the phrase “war on religion” when referring to the president’s healthcare mandate. “There are undeniably important church/state issues in play in America,” Allen wrote, “but if they constitute a ‘war,’ it’s a metaphorical one, waged in legislatures and courthouses.” He countered by listing examples where a “literal war of religion” is taking place around the world. Examples of such wars continue to multiply. In Wisconsin, just four days before Romney released his ad, a white supremacist killed six Sikhs on the grounds of their own temple. On Monday, a mosque in Joplin, MO was destroyed by fire, which officials suspect was the work of arsonists. That same day, 19 Nigerians were shot and killed in a church, presumably by an Islamist group as part of the country’s ongoing religious conflict. These lives were undoubtedly under siege for their faith.
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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney should stop hiding his Mormon faith

Mitt Romney continues to keep his Mormon faith off the presidential campaign stage, despite the quiet urgings of ideological allies to talk about his spiritual core. If he did, he might explode the soft bigotry of critics, particularly liberals who could use a little refresher course in their own values.
The Republican presidential candidate seems too calculating and cautious to talk about one of the most admirable pieces of his biography. His critics, meanwhile, seem blissfully unaware of how intolerant they sound when they poke fun at, say, the “Mormon underwear” that is a confirmation of faith. These are the same people who would be righteously offended by anyone who mocked someone wearing a yarmulke or prayer shawl.

There may be some method in Romney’s muteness, as suggested a couple of weeks ago by a Pew poll that showed 55% of Americans comfortable with his faith, or unconcerned about it.

That’s on top of 32% who didn’t even know Romney is a Mormon. So nearly nine in 10 don’t have a problem with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or at least Romney’s membership in it. And it’s not like most people are clamoring for a lot more information. The poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life also found that only 16% of Americans wanted to know more about Romney’s religious beliefs.
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David Barton: Falling from Grace?

This has been the summer of discontent with David Barton. First, in a poll taken by History News Network, Barton’s newest work, The Jefferson Lies, topped the list of “least credible history works in print.” The same work met a unanimous chorus of refutations from Jefferson public humanities scholar and radio personality Clay Jenkinson, from religious historians ranging from Martin Marty to John Fea, and (in the full length work Getting Jefferson Right) from Grove City College professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter.

Barton himself ascribes the motivations of his critics to either jealousy (because his books sell so well, especially in the homeschooler market), or “liberalism,” a term that evidently takes in everyone who dares take issue with him, from evangelical historians to “deconstructionists.”

I weighed in here on Barton both last year and more recently here—in the latter, expressing my skepticism of whether refutations would have any effect on someone whose work was basically part of an entrepreneurial rather than a scholarly enterprise.

On that latter point, it appears (to my delight) that I was wrong, at least in part. The tide has turned, evidently, because of a pileup of criticisms from within Barton’s own cocoon.

Most recently, conservative scholars have begun to pile on. Thomas Kidd, the well-respected Baylor historian known for his excellent works in early American history as well as his contributions to conservative intellectual periodicals, reported in World Magazine (“Today’s News, Christian Views”) on a growing chorus from conservative evangelicals and Catholics who agreed generally with Barton’s emphasis on the importance of religion in the founding, but felt that Barton’s work, both in books as well as in his widely used video series, was replete with “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”
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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Resisting Condemnation to Save America

From supporters of President Obama to Tea Party activists Americans agree that we live in a time of deeply polarized politics. There are numerous explanations but I suspect it comes down to bad theology. I should know. I was my evangelist father's (Francis Schaeffer) sidekick on the religious/political circuit in the 1970s and 80s. We did our bit to launch the religious right. Then I changed my mind and fled.

One thing didn't change when I changed sides: My slash and burn fundamentalist style of attacking those with whom I disagree. This combative "style" lands me on cable news shows because these days even us "progressives" direct derisive exclusionary condemnation at our enemies. So I've been both a perpetrator and victim of retributive exclusion.

Now I'm questioning the wisdom of being a practitioner of dudgeon for hire, even for good causes. That brings me to three new projects: a movie, book and festival that got me thinking.

Last year a young Canadian movie director asked me if I would be interviewed for a documentary called Hellbound? Was I really interested in speculating on camera about "eternal damnation" when I don't believe in hell? Notwithstanding my reservations, Kevin Miller (who happens to be a moderate evangelical) interviewed me.
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The "War on Religion": Still Placating the Base

Is anyone who doesn't already hate Obama for the usual right-wing reasons really going to believe the new Romney ad, that Obama's health-care law wages a "war on religion"? I doubt many people will. It's just right-wing fever-swamp rhetoric that I think your average person will, in his or her bones, recognize as such, because we've now reached the point in history where we've heard a lot of this, and it no longer shocks or traduces the way it once did.

Romney is still placating the hard-core GOP base. It's getting a little late for that, isn't? August isn't really the time to be trying to nail down the scary-lazy-black-people and the Democrats-hate-God voting blocs. August is when you start making your pitch to swing voters.
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The Mormon Moment -- Postponed

In the last few months, considerable attention has been devoted to Mitt Romney's tax returns and his former company's "job-creating performance," but there has been insufficient discussion about what arguably has had the greatest role in shaping who he is and how he views the world: his Mormon religion.

Despite his reluctance to address the subject directly, public interest in Mormonism remains at historic levels. His "Mormon Moment" is laden with obligation: never in the history of the United States has an ordained minister been a major party's candidate for the presidency. The Mormon Church has a lay priesthood, and by virtue of his ordination to the offices of Bishop and Stake President, Romney has occupied ecclesiastical positions equivalent to those within the Roman Catholic Church of Priest and Bishop. Were a Catholic Bishop to run for the presidency, there would doubtless be a demand that he address aspects of his religion in far greater detail than would be required of candidates never ordained to the ministry -- and thus Gov. Romney's obligation.

But it is also a moment of opportunity: Ever since Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in 1830, no other American religion has aroused so much fear and hatred; none has been the object of so much misinformation, falsehood -- and persecution. The hearings on the seating of Utah Senator and Mormon Apostle Reed Smoot a century ago gained Mormonism the dubious distinction of being the only religion ever to be put on trial by the United States Congress.

In ever-shifting stereotypes, Mormons have been cast as polygamists or pioneer heroes, as subversives or super-patriots; but the images have always been thin, selective and without complexity. Few know what the Mormons really are -- or even what they claim to be -- and yet Americans have never been more curious, never more open to a deeper understanding of this (in Mormons' own term) "peculiar" religion. Comprising only 2 percent of the population of the United States, mostly in western states, they are disproportionately represented in the United States Congress (3 percent), and particularly in the Senate (5 percent), where Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, is the highest-ranking Mormon ever to serve in the Federal Government. Well-known, respected Mormons are found throughout the worlds of entertainment, academia, athletics and especially business. Yet other aspects of contemporary Mormonism invite misunderstanding and suspicion, particularly the exclusion of non-Mormons from all operating Mormon temples, and the common misconception that Mormons still practice polygamy.
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Becoming Aflame: Beyond LIberal Christianity

Confession time: I am an Anabaptist. Not just a cradle Menno/Brethren, but also an Anabaptist of the Neo kind. So when James Davidson Hunter called out the Neo-Anabaptists in his recent book To Change the World, I bristled a bit. In each of the other chapters on Evangelicals and Liberals I found myself in the Amen corner. Yet, I recognized the fault lines he named in his section about “me”.

See, I do ascribe to the alternative definition of politics that Yoder, Hauerwas, and Cavanaugh have used to distinguish the Church from governmental politics. I think the Church matters for how we conduct ourselves in the world, and that working out how we are the people of God is a task for the common good and not just sectarian withdraw.

Sometimes we Neo-Anabaptists are confused for liberals because we think that the things of the world are broken- partisan politics, war, and corporate capitalism. In almost the same breath we are seen as conservative- Jesus Christ is central to redemption, the Bible matters, and prayer is effective. What is more, the individual is not the pinnacle of society.

So imagine my groan in the recent debates in the blogosphere around the question of Liberal Christianity’s survival.

How is it that Liberalism continues to hang on? Are we really stuck in the loop of asking “Can Liberal Christianity survive”? Or do we not have a better paradigm to envision Christian life and faith apart from the Enlightenment assumptions of culture, government, and belief?
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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Aurora Shooting: A Reader

"Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado. Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my Administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time. We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come."-President Barack Obama in a statement after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado

We here at Rhetoric Race and Religion thought we would capture some of the articles that examine this tragedy from the lens of race and/or religion. We especially want to share articles that focuses on how people are using rhetoric to describe this situation or to invoke God and/or religion. If you discover any other articles, please share them with us on our Facebook or Twitter pages. Enjoy

1. Do Americans trust guns more than God?
2. An Open Letter to Aurora, Colorado
3. Death, Fear, Faith, Love
4. Is gun control a religious issue?
5. A Minute of Silence for the Sacredness of Life
6. Jerry Newcombe, Evangelical Leader, Says Only Christian Victims Of Colorado Shooting Going To Heaven
7. Praying for the People of Aurora
8. Why did God allow Aurora?
9. Why Gun Control is a Religious Issue
10. Aurora and the Question of Forgiveness
11. In Aurora, the agonized seek answers through faith
12. Batman Shooting: Mike Huckabee Blames Shooting on Lack of Religion in Schools
13. A Skewed View of God’s Righteous Justice
14. 2012 Aurora Massacre : The Role Of God And Religion
15. Guns, A God Given Right?
16. A Killer from the Start?
17. Denver Jews Reach Out To Help Aurora Shooting Victims
18. Choosing a Pastor-President
19. Thoughts on Aurora
20. Christianity ain’t the solution
21. Faith in light of Aurora
22. 'Where was God in Aurora?'
23. ‘Deeply religious’ victim forgives attacker
24. Journalists must connect faith to Aurora facts
25. Thoughts on God, His good and the Colorado shooting
26. An ‘Act of God’ can be a good thing, too
27. Faith in Memphis panel reacts to Aurora movie theater massacre
28. Where was God in Aurora massacre?