Monday, December 31, 2012

SUBVERTING THE NORM II: CAN POSTMODERN THEOLOGY LIVE IN THE CHURCHES?


“My atheism gets on in the churches, all the churches, do you understand that?” -- Jacques Derrida
Subverting the Norm — a two-day event that brings together pastors, theologians, philosophers, church practitioners, and researchers in religion — asks a follow-up question:Can postmodern theology live in the churches? As such, we are interested in presentations that explore the relationship between radical theologies and the church.
About the Conference Series:
“Postmodernism and Religion,” Derrida says; “two things that are strange to me.” And yet his work has been seen as part of the “theological turn” in so-called “postmodern philosophy,” which has surprisingly become the most formative school of thought shaping the future of twenty-first-century theology. While many contemporary philosophers continue to turn to the Christian tradition—often interpreting it in radical, even irreligious, ways—do they ever wonder, with Derrida, how their atheism gets on in so many of the churches? The political “turn to Paul,” for example, has furnished a variety of philosophers with the means to re-think concepts such as faith, reason, truth, universality and subjectivity. But, while these secular interpretations of Paul’s letters have enabled on-going discussions between philosophers, theologians and biblical scholars, the “Subverting the Norm” conference series specifically attends to the relationships between all these philosophical turns and lived religion, particularly within what might be called the “actually existing” churches. It examines how continental philosophy both inspires radical theologies within the academy and energizes everyday religious discourse and practice.
About the 2013 Conference:
The conference organizers welcome presentations (format open) that examine the intersection of postmodern philosophy (broadly understood), radical theology and actually existing Christianity to answer the question, “Can postmodern theology live in the churches?” We are especially interested in presenters who can bridge the gap between the academy and the church, and whose presentations are accessible to specialists and non-specialists alike. Preference will be given to presentations that connect not only with the academic community, but with church audiences as well.
Conference delegates will be encouraged to ask:
  • Can the actually existing churches speak meaningfully to those who aren’t so sure about the supernatural or magical or the metaphysical, which include the fastest growing demographic in North America, the “nones,” those with no formal religious affiliation?
  • Can the church retain a viable role in a world where God is often viewed as a relic of the past, or as a grand Santa Claus in the sky, or perhaps even as a narcotic or neurosis that we’d do well to get rid of?
  • And if the churches are to be faithful to the revolutionary event that gave birth to Christianity, or if they are to recover their theological voice in a compelling and transformative way, is it possible to do so by listening to voices on the margins of the church, or outside of the church, including even those who might “rightly pass for atheists?” Perhaps more to the point, why are voices on the fringes of the church, or outside of the church, becoming more influential on church leaders and practitioners than the traditionally “orthodox” voices inside the churches?
  • What happens when churches become open not only to postmodern forms of culture, but to postmodern approaches to theology? In other words, is it possible for churches to not settle for what John Caputo calls “an abridged version of postmodernism” that only takes into account postmodern culture, but not theological questions related to what comes after the God of metaphysics?
Call for Presentations:
Conference presentations may focus on any figure(s) and/or stream(s) of thought within recent and contemporary philosophy and theology, but must address their relationship to lived religion by attending to questions such as:
  • In what ways are philosophy and theology impacting everyday Christian discourse and practice? What does this mean for the life of the church?
  • What is the relationship between philosophy, theology, and community practices, including but not limited to liturgy and ritual?
  • Is it possible for postmodern forms of theological discourse to inform pastoral leadership and church practice, even if the majority of participants within a given church aren’t familiar with such concepts in a theoretical way?
  • More generally speaking, how do the radical edges of postmodern philosophy and theology influence the practices of the church? How can themes addressed in the postmodern turn to religion be helpful within the actually existing churches, particularly in relation to ministerial practice and church leadership?
We are particularly interested in presentations that seek to answer the following questions:
  • How can the actually existing churches remain faithful to the event that gave birth to Christianity?
  • How can Christianity—especially as expressed in the teachings of conventional churches both liberal and conservative—become more than a psychological crutch?
  • How can it resist being just a protective umbrella for a particular group identity or merely another niche in the consumer market?
  • How might it recover its revolutionary potential, hinted at within various contemporary philosophies and theologies?
  • And, might the church do so by listening to those on the margins of Christianity and those who “rightly pass for atheists”?
Please send presentation abstracts of no more than 250 words to subvertingthenorm@gmail.com by the submission deadline of January 31, 2013. Also please indicate any A/V needs.
After the conference, a select number of contributions will be considered for publication in an edited collection.
Registration details will soon be posted online at subvertingthenorm.wordpress.com.
Further questions may be directed to Katharine Sarah Moody (katharinesarahmoody@gmail.com) or Phil Snider (philsnider@gmail.com).

Dark Prophet Status: Reclaiming Doubt


R3 Contributor
I recently began looking for theological works on doubt.  To my surprise, I found very few.  In fact, I only found one (1) book, written by Alister McGrath.  It seems as though this book is written from a systematic perspective.  Sure, there are other books written by Evangelical pastors that pursue the argument in favor of certainty, but I actually think this is the wrong approach.  Certainty has its limits.  Once you begin at point A, you are then searching for point B, and doing so out of an impulse for certainty.  What if belief and the question of faith moved us beyond certainty?  Away from the idolatry of a certain, normative God toward a more robust system of believing, where questions compelled us to live more radically into the followings of Jesus, for example.  What if?!
I want to argue for moments where we reclaim doubt.  I call this the Dark Prophet.  We don’t so much look to doubt for learning how to negotiate our impulse to believe or even our moral impulses.  What if doubt helped us find a new way into Christianity, or maybe we arrive at something that is beyond Christianity?  Certainly, we will arrive at a place beyond the Christendom of the 21st century.  Might we revolutionize what is almost the 3rd millenuim of Christianity with doubt?  After all, it is Pete Rollins whose tagline on his website reads:  to believe is human; to doubt, divine.  This is precisely where I want to head–into the point of light that doubt is and becomes for those of us who are either disenfranchised with the Church that leaves no room for questions, or for those of us who simply have more questions than answers.
Read the rest here

Emilie Townes named dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School

Emilie M. Townes, a distinguished Yale University scholar and administrator whose areas of expertise include Christian ethics and womanist theology, has been named dean of Vanderbilt University Divinity School, effective July 1, 2013. Townes, an ordained American Baptist clergywoman, succeeds James Hudnut-Beumler, who will take a year’s sabbatical after serving as the school’s dean since 2000. Townes, who will be the 16th dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, pending approval by the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, has been appointed to a five-year term, according to Richard McCarty, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. She will also hold an endowed chair as a tenured faculty member.

“Emilie Townes is an amazing scholar, a wonderful mentor to students, and a leader in theological education,” McCarty said. “She is also ready to lead, and I am delighted that she has accepted our offer to be the next dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School. Her impact as dean will be felt in the Divinity School and across the university as well as nationally and internationally. I look forward to welcoming her to the Vanderbilt community.” Townes is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology and associate dean of academic affairs at Yale Divinity School. Previously, she was the Carolyn Williams Beaird Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.

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Romney run example of new religious diversity in U.S. politics


The first Hindu elected to the House of Representatives, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, will take the oath of office in a few weeks - and she has chosen to place her hand on the Bhagavad Gita, a sacred text of her tradition. Meanwhile, the woman she replaces in Congress, Mazie Hirono, will be sworn in as the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate.
Welcome to the new religious America.
Religious diversity, of course, has long been part of the American landscape. But in 2012, religious minorities became newly visible and vocal in a society historically dominated by the symbols, values and leaders of the Protestant faith. Now that Protestants are no longer in the majority - as reported in a study released by the Pew Forum in October - even the term “religious minority” will need fresh definition in our newly minted minority-majority nation.
The electoral victories of Gabbard and Hirono are just two of many recent signals that demographic shifts and changing attitudes are rapidly transforming America’s increasingly crowded public square.
Consider, for example, that for the first time in our history, none of the presidential or vice presidential candidates of either major party was a white Protestant. Even more remarkable, the Mormon candidate not only received nearly half of the popular vote, but Mitt Romney was also supported in large numbers by evangelical voters who polls previously told us would not vote for a Mormon.
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The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’


On "The Daily Show" recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box. When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.” And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform. It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.
As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.  And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics - that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.
But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.
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Book Review: The End of God Talk


R3 Contributor
According to Anthony Pinn, God has outlived God’s usefulness. Imagine a forced retirement party. The CEO of the universe has made a few missteps—misrepresented his enterprise, mismanaged his employees. God’s questionable decision-making forced what was once a private operation to go public. Middle management is handwringing. They know they haven’t represented God as well as they could have. They foresee a hostile takeover but fear there is nothing they can do. Because the majority stockholder is now an African American nontheistic humanist theologian who is convinced that God is too dated to do the universe any good. He presents God with a plaque thanking him for several centuries of service and politely acknowledges that it’s time for him to go.
God’s ouster is the premise of Pinn’s The End of God Talk. He isn’t disrespectful to or dismissive of Christian theism, he simply posits its uselessness while rescuing some of the structures of theology for organizing the lives of African American nonthesitic humanists. Pinn begins by exploring photography and architecture as the places where one can find theology. His most convincing argument for the place where African American humanist theology can develop is in the sociopolitical, economic, cultural, and relational conversations that occur within a barbershop. Pinn describes the barbershop as a safe space where patrons are invited to freely explore “the large questions of life” thus providing the theologian with “vital source material.”
The camaraderie found within the barbershop reflects the importance of community for Pinn but only on a superficial level. He argues that the organizing principle of African American nontheistic humanist theologizing is not just a community of living beings or structured social interactions but community also recognizes “the integrity of the quest for complex subjectivity.” Without God at the helm, the foundation of African American nontheistic humanist theology is the push forward, the search for more, the rejection of restraint, the acceptance of struggle, and the embrace of what Pinn describes as “and…”
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Book Review: How Does Religion Influence Politics


"How Does Religion Influence Politics" is enlightening in some aspects. From now on, I will keep an open mind when listening to the ideas of  religious politicians or even  religious people that vocalize their political opinions. Certainly, not all religious folks in politics are nonsensical. There are some good apples within the bunch.   Sure I think that there are a great deal of religious crazies out there. There are people who want to blanket their ideas on the entire country, regardless of its heterogeneity. That will never change. They exist in every religious or even non-religious sect.

I am not oppose to religion. Politicians who promote policies based solely on religion, alienate much of  the public. By some folks standards, those who utilize religion for political gain, have not only corrupted their political affiliations, but the religious hierarchy. Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum deepened this sort of sentiment when he campaigned for the 2012 presidency, throughout the Republican primaries. Santorum made it clear that Conservatives and right wingers were on the side of God, and those who were in political opposition, were wasteful and loose. Political arguments such as these are not simply divisive but demeaning towards those who are different. This sort of rhetoric is intolerable in a country that promotes democracy, equality and freedom. The Senator's controversial method rallied social Conservatives around him, but the thunder left him, just as quickly as he became the Republican  party's overnight sensation.

Not all religious people are destructive and attempting to place judgement on others. Nor are they all attempting to cast out evil and throw holy water on nonreligious people.There are some secular groups that lump all religious people in one group, as though all religious folks are all back-water, backward thinking, uneducated folk.  Paul Marshall gives an insightful statement, "The world is full of religious extremist who harm no one and make positive contributions in society; secular pundits would benefit from learning about these groups."(1)
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Thursday, December 27, 2012

R3 Contributor Publishes New Book

R3 Contributor Celucien L. Joseph has published a new book, "Race, Religion, and The Haitian Revolution." The book explores the intersections of history, race, religion, decolonization, and revolutionary freedom leading to the founding of the postcolonial state, the Caribbean nation of Haiti, in 1804. Particular attention is given to the place of religion in this freedom story. The book not only examines the multiple legacies and the problem of Enlightenment modernity, imperial colonialism, Western racism and hegemony, but also studies their complex relationships with the institution of slavery, religion, and Black freedom. This present work is a collection of five interdisciplinary essays, which underscore the role of faith in Black Atlantic discourse and Haitian thought in shaping the lives of the people in the Black Diaspora and the Haitian people in particular. Topics range from Makandal's Postcolonial religious imagination to Boukman's Liberation Theology, Langston Hughes' discussion of the role of prophetic religion in the Haitian Revolution to Frederick Douglass' critiques of Christianity as a "slave religion;" the text also brings in conversation Du Bois's theory of double consciousness with Fanon's theory of decolonization and revolutionary humanism.

6 ways politicians can win the atheist vote


In the aftermath of President Obama’s electoral romp over Mitt Romney, the media and pundits have paid much attention to the demographics that propelled him to victory, especially women, Hispanics and young voters. But there’s one more group that played an underappreciated yet crucial role in his reelection, and which only now is starting to get the recognition it deserves.
A growing segment of American society – up to 20%, according to recent surveys, and higher than that in younger generations — is what pollsters call the “nones,” people who answer “None of the above” to questions about religious affiliation. This includes declared atheists and agnostics, as well as people who choose not to identify with any organized religion. In many swing states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia, President Obama lost both Protestants and Catholics by relatively small margins, but won nonreligious voters by huge margins, enough to put him over the top. In the country at large, there are now as many nonreligious people as there are evangelical Christians.
But the political loyalties of this group can’t be taken for granted. For example, despite his dependency on unaffiliated voters, President Obama has broken a campaign promise by continuing to fund and promote George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiative,” which funnels federal money to religious charities that discriminate in hiring. In effect, nonbelieving taxpayers are being forced to subsidize jobs they could never be hired for.
In this cycle, the specter of a Romney presidency indebted to the religious right persuaded nonreligious voters to choose the lesser of two evils. But there’s no guarantee that this will happen in every future election. If Democrats continue to antagonize atheists and other nones, they may just stay home, and that’s a prospect politicians shouldn’t take lightly. As the Republicans become increasingly ideologically purified, Democratic candidates will need, more than ever before, for their base to turn out in big numbers, and that includes the nonreligious. Anything that turns them off, that dampens their enthusiasm or discourages them from showing up, could mean the difference in a close race.
So, how do politicians motivate the nonreligious vote? How do they appeal to them and get them to come out and support them? Here are a few suggestions.
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WHAT CHRISTIANITY CAN LEARN FROM BUDDHISM ABOUT CHANGE

by Crystal St. Marie Lewis
R3 Contributor

Author Bryan Berghoef recently wrote about a “shift in Christianity” on his blog. He’s calling the shift “a new convergence” and describes the characteristics of the convergence with this quote by Brian McLaren: “A new coalition is already happening, as existing organizations and emerging networks discover one    another and realize they have independently reached common conclusions… Where and how will this coalition happen? It’s already happening through a variety of sources, as existing organizations and emerging networks discover one another… and begin developing both personal relationships and concrete plans for missional collaboration — especially on behalf of the poor, peace, and the planet.”

If you’re familiar with the postmodern, intentionally deconstructive and amorphous movement called Emergent Christiantiy, then language about a shift, change, new coalition, progressive conversation or renewed Reformation is probably not a new thing for you. But if you haven’t heard of Emergence prior to now, then I highly recommend you read The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle, as well as A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren. Both books explain the quietly burgeoning demand for reimagined theology, more inclusive liturgy, wider engagement of religious pluralism and less traditional ways to do “church”.

When I first began to talk about the need for change in Christianity, I was met with a lot of resistance from my more conservative friends, with many of them quoting scripture about God’s “unchanging nature” to explain why they felt the need to dig their heels into the soil. (And yes, I’ve found it pretty ironic that Bible verses concerning God’s unchanging nature were quoted so often to counter cries for change within the church– as if the church were God. But I digress.)

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Hope is Hard

by Peter Gathje
R3 Contributor

To reflect on the slaughter of students and teachers at Sandy Hook and the murder of Officer Lang here in Memphis is to enter into lamentation, a deep questioning of the evil present in human life and of God’s apparent absence and inaction. Where is God when children and teachers are brutally murdered by a disturbed gunman? Where is God when a mother of four has her life snuffed out by a street thug? And the question intensifies given that we are in the season of Christmas, presented over and over again as a time of joy, hope, and light. 

Yet, a careful reading of the stories of Jesus’ birth as told in both Matthew and Luke in the New Testament reveal that Christmas is never a time of unmitigated joy. Christmas hope is always hard. From the very start controversy and conflict are present in the stories of Jesus’ birth. Both Matthew and Luke point to the scandal of Mary’s being pregnant and the threat to the reputation of both Mary and Joseph. Matthew relates the story of Herod’s threatening of the life of Jesus and the need for the holy family to flee to another country, followed by Herod’s ordering of the slaughter of all males two years and younger. Luke tells of there being “no room at the inn” for the couple of the road because of the demands of an imperial census. The birth of Jesus, a sign of hope and light, occurs in a world marked by evil, and structured by oppression and violence. 

Joy and hope at Jesus’ birth is not a facile optimism about things getting better and better because humans are so good. Joy at Jesus’ birth is rooted the hard reality that evil threatens with the power of death, yet that evil never has the last word. God enters into suffering caused by human evil and expressed in violent powers, both individual and institutional. God entering into that suffering shows us a way out. Our way out, given by God is to join with each other in compassion, to trust that love is stronger than hate, and to reject fear that divides and by embracing faith in God and each other that draws us together. To enter into this way is to enter in the hard hope of Christmas. 

This hope is hard but it affirms that God was present in the teachers who gave their lives for their students. This hope affirms that God was present in the first responders who were willing to risk their lives for the good of others. This hope affirms that God remains in Sandy Hook as that community refuses to be defined by the evil done but instead defines themselves as loving in the midst of grief. This hope also affirms that God remains in Memphis whenever we refuse to be defined by violence and poverty and racism, but instead commit ourselves to peacemaking, shared prosperity, and the Beloved Community. Christmas is always more than the sentimentalized “baby Jesus.” Christmas is holding to God’s Light in the midst of a world that seeks to define us by evil and division and fear. Christmas allows the question of where is God present to be answered by Mary and Joseph who in hope stayed together despite their fears and who welcomed a child whose very life was threatened from the outset. As with Mary and Joseph, Christmas invites each of us to look into our hearts and ask, will we stake our lives on the hopeful power of love or will we shrink away in fear, imitating the evil that threatens us?

Incarnation – Can Anything Good Come from a Crisis Pregnancy?

God in the flesh, Christ incarnate; we use these words as if we had the slightest clue what they might mean. But even when I look in a mirror, I am never fully sure of what I see. But this image of a baby, so now, yet so far away, what we might call a crisis pregnancy, in a tiny town, isolated and shared, still baffles us as it draws us in. 

The incarnation is a Christmas treat – an enigma wrapped in mystery and baked in wonder. It is every child’s wish – or even assumption – that the Divine Presence and Creator knows me and my ways before me. Yet somehow as adults we lose that naïve, almost instinctual, sense of security and find ourselves spiraling into the abyss of aloneness and abandonment. This tension, this resonance of weakening and vulnerability seems to hover over the Christmas scenes that almost smother in their familiarity. Almost. 

The terms we use; virgin, swaddling clothes and manger have become soft and familiar, but only because we, in our foolishness, which we tell ourselves is wisdom, have made Christ’s birth a memento, a souvenir, that we hold onto or even use as a talisman to ward off evil. But if we look a bit closer, this baby, this living promise of many centuries, is, as God always is, the answer we didn’t know we were looking for.

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Did Paul Invent the Virgin Birth?


Christians regularly affirm that Jesus was "conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary." This faith is embedded as a cornerstone of all the major Christian creeds and is central to the Christmas story, read and re-told countless times at this season in both word and song. Surprisingly, the gospel of Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus. It opens with Jesus as an adult, traveling from Nazareth down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Since Mark is our earliest gospel the question arises--what is the origin of the idea of Jesus' virgin birth? When and where did it originate?
In contrast to Mark both Matthew and Luke give us different versions of the "Christmas story," but they both agree on the source of Mary's pregnancy. In Matthew's account Joseph had a dream shortly after finding out about the pregnancy. In this dream an angel told him that her pregnancy was "by a holy spirit" and that he was to go ahead with the marriage regardless. He was to name her child Jesus. By marrying a pregnant woman who carried a child that was not his, and legally naming that child, he was in effect "adopting" Jesus as his legal son. The phrase "by a holy spirit" implies that the pregnancy came from the agency of God's spirit but falls short of saying, outright, that God was the father of Jesus in the sense that, say, Zeus was said to be the father of Hercules by his seduction of his mother, Alkmene. In that sense the account is different from those miraculous birth stories so common in Greco-Roman mythology.
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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sandy Hook and Public Theology

by Carol Howard Merritt
R3 Contributor

*Originally posted at Tribal Church blog
The good thing about being a blogger is that there is the vibrancy, immediacy, and energy in the act of posting. It’s like jumping into a lively conversation, with my attention being drawn in and then distracted by the next shiny object. On Twitter raw emotional responses are ephemeral, like the quick flicker of match light. Other times a thought catches on fire and spreads around the globe.
The wonderful thing about social media is that it allows us to organize for quick and nimble action, especially when we have a longing for justice that has burned for years and it finally finds voice in our larger culture.
The difficult thing about social media is revealed in times like this. We can jump into the noise, spewing our thoughts without much consideration or editing. We lack communities to challenge us, until the match is lit.
One week after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, there seems to be so many failures in the ways that our theology is playing out in the public sphere. And while a quick response, blog posts, sound bytes and tweets are important in this moment, as they emerge from varying political and evangelistic agendas, they also expose some of Christianity's devastating aspects. It is a reminder that we will also need to keep wrestling in the years to come for deeper changes in our theology and narratives that structure our lives together. In light of the atrocity, I've been struggling with these aspects of our tradition.

Redemptive violence. When we focus on the brutal crucifixion of Jesus Christ (rather than the life, teachings, suffering, or resurrection) as the source of our salvation, I worry that we send the message that violence is the answer to violence. When we lift up the death of the sinless, we communicate that violence against one who is innocent is particularly redemptive. In the light of Sandy Hook (as well as so many other horrors), can we begin to rethink this impulse?
I shudder to imagine that the line of reasoning might be infecting our culture so much that we feel that the only answer to violence is more violence, particularly as people insist that guns make us safer, and some hope to arm teachers or police at schools. I don’t think that my child will be safer with more guns in school and our paths to peace will not come with building more weapons. Our impulse to correct savagery with more violence makes me worry that our culture seems bent on self-destruction.
Human depravity. When a nation is in mourning for the loss of the little ones in Connecticut, as well as so many children whose lives have been cut short due to gun violence, our theology reminds us of the sinfulness of all humanity. While I am Reformed, I often wonder how this affects people. What could possibly be redemptive in telling a mourning mother that she is totally depraved as her children are slaughtered?
When we raise our children, we lift up their goodness, as people with dignity who are formed in the image of God. What does it do to our culture when we tell each other how depraved we are in the midst of such tragedy?
Scapegoating. In some theological systems, we scapegoat, transferring guilt and blame from one party to the next, even if they are unrelated. We have a theological bent toward scapegoating.
In the aftermath of the murders, some have blamed the violence on some random perceived moral failure. Why did the children get shot? James Dobson would say it’s because of our abortion or marriage equality laws. Many acts of scapegoating bring up issues that fuel a particular political agenda, jumping to unrelated causes, and coming to the devastating conclusion that God caused or allowed innocent to suffer because of our sin.
God’s providence. In light of suffering, it can be comforting to some to hear that this was all in God’s plan. But it’s brutal to others, especially in the light of Sandy Hook. If God planned the massacre of children, what does that say about the nature of God?
In the months to come, in the raw emotion, the status updates, the 140 characters, we will need to keep working on our grief and responding. We need to work for systemic change in a violent culture. And, this is also a moment for us to be aware of how our long-standing traditions play out in public, in the midst of this horror. It is a call for us to think deeply about how our theology shapes and informs our life together.   
Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolHoward

Which Islamists?: Religion and the Syrian Civil War


Syria has been the bloodiest chapter of the Arab Spring. It’s estimated that in November alone, 3,400 Syrians were killed, with the total being estimated at between 30,000 to 50,000.  
That it involves alliances and disputes betweens Arabs and Kurds, Sunni and Alawi Muslims, Salafis and secularists, peaceful protesters and armed fighters, only makes it a more complicated and fraught scenario.
I sat down with Adnan Zulfiqar, Fellow at the Truman National Security Project and a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, to hear his take on the conflict. Zulfiqar recently traveled to Turkey, meeting with Syrian opposition figures, religious scholars, rebel fighters, Turkish officials and Turkish think tanks, in an effort to get a handle on what’s happening in the Syrian civil war as it approaches the two-year mark.

What did this trip tell you about the role of religion in the Syrian opposition?
Simply put, Syria is a religious country—something even atheist defectors recognize. Practically speaking, religion’s had a number of roles.
First, it’s the most potent rallying cry. Nationalism doesn’t have the same appeal as other parts of the Arab world, because nationalist slogans are a mainstay of the ruling Baath party, and religious rhetoric also gives the revolution a higher purpose. Likewise, secularism is associated with the Assad regime, and is thus tainted by the regime’s authoritarianism.
Second, Friday congregational prayers were the only place Syrians could gather en masse at the revolution’s start. The regime vigorously restricted citizens’ activities to suppress dissent, but stopping people from going to the mosque on Fridays was impossible. Hence, Friday prayers became a challenge to the regime’s absolute control.
Third, videos of regime-backed forces demanding their captives chant “there is no deity but Bashar” (a distortion of the Muslim testament of faith: “There is no deity but God”) have gone viral, awakening passionate sentiments even among the least religious. They’ve also furthered the narrative that this is a revolution against God’s “opponents.”

President Obama Speaks at Newtown High School

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Where Is God?

Check out R3 blogger Crystal St. Marie Lewis response to the Newtown tragedy as she discusses the problem of human suffering and asks whether God's "inaction" is really the problem.


 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Welcome to R3: Carol Howard Merritt


Carol Howard Merritt has been a pastor for 13 years, serving growing Presbyterian Churches in the swamps of Cajun Louisiana, a bayside village in Rhode Island, and in an urban neighborhood in D.C. She served at Western Presbyterian Church, an intergenerational congregation in Washington, D.C. Western's deep commitment to serving the poor in the city has helped to initiate programs like Miriam's Kitchen, a social service program for the homeless which provides a hot, nutritious breakfast and dinner for over 200 men and women.
She is the award-winning author of Tribal Church (Alban 2007) and Reframing Hope (Alban 2010). She has contributed to numerous books, websites, magazines, and journalsAlongside this site, Carol blogs regularly at Christian CenturyHuffington PostAugsburg Fortress's The Hardest Question, and Dukes Divinity's Faith and Leadership sitesCarol is a sought-after speaker. She hosts Unco (short for Unconference), open-space gatherings where participants support one another while dreaming about and planning for the future of the church.  And she co-hosts God Complex Radio, a podcast with Derrick Weston. Carol is a writer and speaker who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can follow her on Twitter (@CarolHoward) or Facebook.
4. How to Avoid Tokenism 

Americans Learned Little About the Mormon Faith, But Some Attitudes Have Softened


America’s “Mormon moment” is over, and public opinion appears to be little changed. Eight-in-ten Americans (82%) say they learned little or nothing about the Mormon religion during the presidential campaign, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. Most Americans still are unable to correctly answer basic questions about the history and sacred texts of the Mormon Church. And three-in-ten Americans continue to consider the Mormon religion a non-Christian faith, though there appears to be some warming of attitudes toward Mormonism, especially among religious groups that voted heavily for Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.
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These are some of the findings from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, conducted Dec. 5-9, 2012, among 1,503 adults.
During 2012, the public profile of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS or Mormon Church) reached new heights: Romney became the first Mormon nominated for president by a major party, “The Book of Mormon” was a hit musical on Broadway, Time magazine published a story on the “Mormon moment,” and the LDS Church ran a nationwide advertising campaign to try to improve perceptions of Mormons.
Romney was the subject of about twice as much religion-related media coverage as Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential campaign, according to a separate analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Pew Forum. During the course of the campaign, the portion of U.S. adults who are aware that Romney is a Mormon rose steadily from 39% in November 2011 to 65% after the election.
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