The Common Good

God's Politics

Is Ebola a Curse from God? Some African Christian Leaders Think So

As Western nations evacuate their citizens from West Africa’s growing Ebola outbreak, some Christian leaders have begun to speak of the virus as a curse from God.

On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the Ebola crisis ravaging the region an international health emergency. On the same day, Nigeria became the latest country in West Africa to declare the virus crisis a national emergency, the day after Spain evacuated a priest and a nun from Liberia to Madrid.

On Saturday, a Congolese nun died from Ebola in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, the AP reported.

The outbreak started in December in Guinea, but was not discovered until March. It has since killed more than 1,000 people in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

“People are having different misconceptions that this is [a curse] from God,” said Bishop Sumoward Harris, now retired from the Lutheran Church in Liberia. “This is depending on how they are interpreting the Bible. But I don’t think God is angry and is issuing a punishment.”

In Liberia, more than 100 Christian leaders meeting in early August declared that God was angry and Ebola a plague. 

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On Iraq Pope Francis' Message of Peace Meets Realities of War

VATICAN CITY — As he dispatches a top aide to war-torn Iraq this week, Pope Francis made his most impassioned plea yet for the world to halt the “slaughter” of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.

“The news coming from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he cataloged the brutal “violence of every kind” that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and left women and children dead and dying.

“All this seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity,” the pontiff declared. “You cannot bring hatred in the name of God. You cannot make war in the name of God!”

Yet even as Francis called on the international community to find “an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes,” the Vatican also tried to make peace with the idea that U.S. military strikes that began last week were necessary and working.

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Singing Our Theology

The deep, dark secret of the church is that the beliefs and convictions of Christians are often shaped far more by the hymns we sing than the theological tomes gathering dust on our bookshelves. Songs are avenues for praising God, but they are also tools for imparting knowledge. Singing is a theological exercise, so the words printed in hymnbooks or flashed on screens deserve attention and reflection.

“How Great Thou Art” has been sung in churches, automobiles, and probably the occasional shower since the late 19th century. Long used in traditional worship services, many contemporary artists are offering their own renditions of this classic and adapting it for more contemporary settings. Even Carrie Underwood (no relation) is getting into the act.

This is an ode to God’s majesty and power. It testifies to the beauty created by God’s hand and witnesses to the connection between the love behind God’s creative acts and the love poured out by Christ on the cross.

The famous opening line, “O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder, Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made” sets the stage. They also easily get stuck in your head playing on endless loop.

Creation – stars, thunder, forest, birds, majestic mountains, gentle breezes, and everything else – indicates the greatness of God. It provokes wonder among us humans, forcing us to acknowledge the subordinate relationship between creature and Creator. We cannot do what God has done; our accomplishments will always pale in comparison.

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ON Scripture: Acknowledging our Divine Positioning

When confronted with the uncomfortable presence of so many relegated to the social margins of our society, we tend to shrink inward lest the enormity of life’s injustices overwhelm us. When we hear of another shooting, we heighten our vigilance with our own kids. We do not allow them to take public transportation. We drop them off and pick them up with little time for them to wait aimlessly. We fill their days with activities we can monitor. We are overwhelmed. Sadly, we turn our backs on the child whose parents are absent or on the community conditions that allow the crime to continue. When we see a disheveled, animated person, we bristle, avert our eyes, rehearse our, “I don’t have any money to give you today” response, or redirect our path to avoid them altogether. We are overwhelmed by social displacement. We do not know how to fix what is wrong. We feel inadequate. We experience dis-ease. But what if our overwhelmed, seemingly insignificant, and certainly inconvenient act is the very thing that will preserve life?  

As the Pharaoh’s second in command in charge of administering the empire’s grain silos during the famine, Joseph preserved life long before his brothers appeared before him. As the dream-interpreting, forward-planning Vizier of Egypt, Joseph had already saved the lives of many—the entire Egyptian community and all those who travelled there seeking relief from the famine in the land.  

Though his act of providing for his family seems magnanimous and extreme, as the Pharaoh’s senior administrator, Joseph had the weight of the entire empire at his command. Relocating his family from impoverished Canaan to resource-rich Egypt was an important thing, but it was a small thing. Sometimes a relatively small thing preserves life. Sometimes preserving life is the change in your pocket, the attentive eye contact that assures another that you see and value their humanity, or the willingness to help another find the help they need. Preserving life may mean giving more than the change in your pocket, changing laws that devalue the humanity of others or leveraging your privilege to connect those who need care with care-givers. All to preserve the life of many.
 

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Deconstructing God's Mission

When I ask people to describe a typical “missionary,” the usual response includes that of a young man with black pants and a white collared shirt (with a name tag attached) that knocks on doors, or perhaps an evangelical preacher who stands on (and shouts from) street corners, or possibly one who travels the far ends of the earth to help the poor and plant new churches. But just because some are more vocal and visible than others, such missionaries should not be acknowledged as the totality of all that exists, because:

All people in all places are missionaries, for all people in all places participate within a particular mission in some shape or form. Missionaries are as diverse as the human community itself.

While most missionaries do not self-define as such, the world is filled with them, many of whom serve with a high degree of commitment and faithfulness. For instance, if a missionary is – by definition – one who participates within a particular mission, then those who consume Coca-Cola are not merely consumers, but they are – by definition – missionaries of the Coca-Cola brand and its corporate mission. Similarly, there are countless political missionaries in all corners of the globe. As election cycles draw close, such missionaries multiply in mass numbers, and their energetic zeal often rivals – and sometimes far exceeds – the determination of many religious clergy labeled as extreme.

The world consists of countless missions and innumerable missionaries. As stated from the onset, all people in all places are missionaries, so not only should we hesitate to assume we know what a “typical missionary” is, we should also attempt to distinguish who a Christian missionary is to be within the context of countless other (complementary and competing) missions and missionaries. So what follows is a brief reflection on what the focus of God’s mission might be, and an exploration of how Christian missionaries may be able to function as a result.

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Religion, in the Right Hands

I was privileged to attend the ordination of a friend recently. For the first time, Michelle got to say the blessing over the bread, to break the bread and to give it to all of us with her hands.

Many tears, much joy.

As she handed me a small piece of the bigger loaf, I was reminded of how we, like the communion bread, are in the hands of others for so much of our lives. And how religion can be a thing of so much good or so much pain, depending upon whose hands it is in.

In the right hands, it’s a pathway to the divine. In the wrong hands …

It’s important that we always differentiate between religion and God. The two are distinct. God is always much bigger than any and all of our religions.

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How I Kissed Evangelizing Goodbye

I went to the mecca of evangelicalism for college — beautiful campus in the suburbs of Chicago, where I received a scholarship from none other than the Pope of Evangelicalism, Billy Graham, for my work in street evangelism. As in, speaking to random strangers on the street in order to convert them to Christianity. Post graduation, I became a missionary, the Protestant equivalent of achieving sainthood.

I look back on that girl on fire and marvel at her earnest faith. If I could, I would reach back and massage the tense knots out of her high-strung shoulders, weary from carrying the weight of her neighbors’ eternal destinies. I would wistfully explain to her that the first person she tried to witness to, that gentle, drunken, homeless woman named Kathy, needed more than my rehearsed Roman Road to salvation. Then I would break the Temporal Prime Directive and reveal to her that one day she would become more interested in being evangelized than evangelizing.

The truth is, I’m just better at being evangelized. It’s probably how I was so easily converted at the tender age of 12. The young Christian is expected to learn how to share their testimony: their story of how God changes your life. By the time I was in my twenties, I had given my testimony a bajillion times.

But my own story often bored me.

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Some Nigerians Call for Banning the Hijab to Prevent Female Suicide Bombers

In northern Nigeria, mounting fears of militant female suicide bombers have raised calls to ban the hijab, or the veil that covers the head, chest and, in some cases, the entire body.

Last week, four women believed to be members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram carried out attacks in Kano, a city in northern Nigeria. Men belonging to the group have taken to wearing the hijab, too, according to reports.

On July 27, a female suicide bomber detonated a bomb outside a Roman Catholic church in Kano, killing four people and injuring 70. Around the same time, security agencies arrested two girls aged 10 and 18 with explosive belts under their hijabs.

“We have this worrying situation where the bombers are turning out to be girls dressed in the hijab,” Roman Catholic Bishop John Niyiring of Kano said.

Banning the hijab is crucial to curbing the trend, said Emmanuel Akubor, a historian at Obafemi Awolowo University in Ile-Ife in western Nigeria.

“The best thing for now is to place a temporary ban on hijab, not for religious, but security reasons,” he told News Agency of Nigeria.

But Niyiring said he thinks such a ban would be resisted.

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Weekly Wrap 8.8.14: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week


1. U.S Considers Air Strikes and Air Drops to Help Iraqis Trapped on Mountain by ISIS
"The move comes as Qaraqosh, Iraq's largest Christian city, was all but abandoned as the jihadist group Islamic State (Isis) advanced through minority communities in the country's north-west and towards the Kurdish stronghold of Irbil."

2. Inclusive Language for God Does Note Equal Heresy
Rachel Marie Stone brings it on her Religion News Service blog, calling out the criticism of Gungor for supposed 'drift from biblical orthodoxy' for 'experiments with female metaphors for God' among other 'heresies.'

3. What Is Really Happening in Iraq? 
"In June, ISIS overran the northern capital of Mosul and began a violent march southward, proclaiming the imminent destruction of Kerbala, Najaf, and Baghdad — strongholds of Shi’a religious and political power. Sectarianism reignited and militias re-armed. ISIS was a Sunni problem and the Shi’a were either fleeing or beating their chests in fear. So, these few weeks later, with Christians and others being marked and driven from their homes, a Muslim movement that says, 'We are all Christians,' is subversive in the most daring of ways."

4. Dear Fashion Industry, Please Stop Glamorizing Rape
Fashion is a powerful medium and it can have a big influence in a vast country like India—and the world over. The more we depict violence against women in beautiful, glamorous ways, the more we normalize this violence.

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Acts29 to Mark Driscoll: 'Please Step Down from Ministry'

Controversial Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll has been removed from membership in Acts29, an international church planting network that Driscoll helped found. The notice to Driscoll and his church comes in the midst of rising anger from Mars Hill parishioners over revelations of Driscoll's unethical conduct, which include using church funds to boost sales of his book Real Marriage to bestseller lists and using a pseudonym to publish vulgar and sexist commentary to his church forum.

"In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter," says the letter from Acts29, which also removed Driscoll's church from membership. 

"But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action." 

"Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29." 

Read more here

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