The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

Genocides and Holocausts: Never Again

One hundred years ago — April 1915 — as World War I raged across Europe, the government of the Ottoman Empire attacked its Armenian citizens. Over the next several years, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million Armenians died. Able-bodied men were murdered or enslaved as forced labor in the army, and hundreds of thousands of women, children, the infirm, and the elderly were marched into the Syrian desert to face death.

Supported by the Young Turks, an ultranationalist party that approved systematic deportation, abduction, torture, massacre, and the expropriation of Armenian wealth, the German-allied Ottoman government used the excuse of war to initiate the forcible removal of Armenians from Armenia and Anatolia where they had lived for centuries.

The targeting and mass murder of Armenians has been termed a genocide.

Although racial, ethnic, and religious wars have killed millions over the centuries, genocide is a unique byproduct of the 20th century. It requires both a rabid nationalism and the capacity of a central authority to organize and implement a sustained and systematic program of targeted mass destruction. Not until the 20th century had governments the necessary technologies, resources, and means to ally their historical ethnic, religious, or racist hatreds with radical nationalism to end the collective existence of a people.

The Armenian genocide was recognized and deplored around the world, even as modern Turkey resists the “genocide” label. American diplomats, Russians, Arabs, and German officers stationed in Ottoman lands witnessed the slaughter and alerted the wider world. In May 1915, Great Britain, France, and Russia vowed to hold the Turks personally responsible for their crimes. Relief efforts to save the “starving Armenians” were widespread.

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Engaging Both Sides of the Church's Debate on Gays

Only a few dozen worshippers attend Boston’s Tremont Temple Baptist Church on a typical Sunday, but the historic church was once so prominent that legendary preacher Dwight L. Moody called it “America’s pulpit.”

This week, Tremont’s massive auditorium played host to influence once again when 1,300 Christian leaders gathered for the Q conference to discuss the most pressing issues facing their faith. There was no official theme, but one strand wove its way through multiple presentations and conversations: America’s — and many Christians’ — debate over sexuality.

While at least three other Christian conferences during the past year focused on same-sex debates, this is the only one to bring together both pro-gay speakers and those who oppose gay marriage and same-sex relationships.

“The aim of Q is to create space for learning and conversation, and we think the best way to do that is exposure,” said Q founder Gabe Lyons.

“These are conversations that most of America is having, and they are not going away.”

Which is not to say Lyons’ decision was without controversy.

Eric Teetsel, executive director of the Manhattan Declaration project that aims to rally resistance to same-sex marriage, urged Lyons to rescind his invitations to pro-gay panelists, whom he called false prophets professing to be Christians. Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, echoed the sentiment and tweeted that he was “shocked that @QIdeas features pro-‘gay-Christianity’ speakers.”

Lyons did not respond publicly to the criticism, but said such positions were rooted in fear.

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David Trobisch Lends Green Family’s Bible Museum a Scholarly Edge

In 2006, New Testament scholar David Trobisch abandoned such lofty outlets as Oxford Press and the Journal of Papyrology and Epigraphy for a more mainstream venue: Free Inquiry.

In that feisty secular humanist journal, Trobisch identified the likely editor of the New Testament as second-century Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna and suggested that Polycarp, not Luke, wrote much of the book of Acts.

Trobisch shared the magazine’s cover billing with Christopher Hitchens and the atheist animal rights theorist Peter Singer.

None of this would be unusual — serious New Testament scholars constantly probe its cloudy origins, wherever that leads — if Trobisch were not now prominently employed by one of the most famously conservative Christian families in America.

The Green family of Oklahoma City — the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case — financed the 430,000-sqare-foot Museum of the Bible set to open in 2017 just off the National Mall in Washington.

It will showcase biblical artifacts from the 40,000-piece Green collection, one of the largest in private hands. As director of the collection, Trobisch does not run the museum (its director is Cary Summers), but in addition to enlarging, curating, and cataloging the trove, he participates in the crucial conversation about which items will go into the museum, and how.

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Legislating Love in the 21st Century

One of the hot button topics in America today is same-sex marriage. This issue has been in the news often due to same-sex marriage bans being struck down in state after state and on the minds of many after the controversial “religious freedom” law passed in Indiana (and similar ones already enacted in other states). And it has been in the hearts of many gay and lesbian couples faced with the possibility of being denied access to services because of who they are and who they love.

Imagine planning and preparing for your wedding for months, making decisions about guest lists, music, menus, seating charts, and attire. You go to the lone bakeshop in town to talk about your cake choices, only to be told that the baker is not willing to work with you because you are gay or a bi-racial couple or a couple from another faith tradition. Imagine the feelings of rejection, isolation, and denial that you would potentially feel, because the state allows this denial of services. This scenario is not hard to imagine, because it is legally allowed in many places throughout our country.

“Othering” happens all the time for many different reasons – not just sexuality, race, and gender.

About 10 years ago, my son and I were at a local park playing on the swings when a group of young boys started taunting a small child with a disfigured arm about 50 yards away from us. They were calling her ugly names and throwing small rocks and sticks in her direction. We had seen this little girl playing happily, running around, and laughing with delight. But now she looked terrified.

I heard the taunts and began moving that direction to intercede, but my son outran me. Only six years old at the time, he yelled at the boys, “Leave her alone. She’s just like us.” The boys saw and heard my son and likely saw an adult close on his heels. They abandoned their harassment and ran away.

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Can Rape Jokes Help End Rape Culture?

Silverman makes a startling pronouncement: “We should have more rape jokes,” she says.

And if they're donw within the right framework, she’s totally right. Though rape jokes have traditionally been made at the expense of victims or used to normalize rape (for example, Daniel Tosh’s stand-up routine in which he imagines a rape victim laughing while being attacked), Silverman recognizes that humor can be a powerful tool for dismantling rape culture.

Silverman recently demonstrated the power of jokes aimed at rape culture when a recent photo she posted on Twitter went viral. The photo captured a list of “Rape Prevention Tips” for potential rapists. The list included lines like: “Carry a rape whistle. If you find you are about to rape someone, blow the whistle until someone comes to stop you.”

Of course, what makes this photo powerful is how it challenges the dangerous idea that the best way to prevent rape is to teach individuals to avoid getting raped; as Lyndsey Christofferson explains in “Blaming the Victim” (Sojourners, May 2015) this idea has weaseled its way into how Christians interpret biblical passages about sexual assault (Bathsheba, anyone?) as well as how we teach young people about modesty. Instead, Silverman’s photo points out that the best way to avoid rape is to teach people not to be rapists.

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Vatican Standoff with France Tests Pope’s ‘Who Am I to Judge?’ Stance

Pope Francis has been hailed for his forward thinking, but — at least according to French news reports — the pontiff has put on the brakes when it comes to a gay French ambassador at the Vatican.

In January, French President Francois Hollande nominated his protocol chief Laurent Stefanini as Vatican envoy to replace outgoing ambassador Bruno Joubert. The pick seemed ideal: 55-year-old Stefanini is described as brilliant and a devout Roman Catholic, who secured support for his candidacy from Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the archbishop of Paris. He is also a known quantity at the Vatican, having served as first councillor to the Holy See a decade ago.

But so far, his nomination has gone nowhere. On April 22, France’s investigative weekly “Le Canard Enchaine” reported Pope Francis met with Stefanini last weekend. The message: The pontiff did not appreciate France’s 2013 same-sex marriage law, nor being pressured into accepting Stefanini’s candidacy.

French media report the standoff is due to Stefanini’s sexual orientation; France’s foreign ministry has only said his private life should be respected.

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Weekly Wrap 4.24.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die
Following the president’s admission this week that two Western hostages were killed in a drone strike in Pakistan, protestations against the veiled drone program have re-escalated. “Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit. Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.

2. Infertility and the Role of the Church
This week is Infertility Awareness Week. Writer Rachel Marie Stone dives into some of the attitudes about infertility and reproductive technologies in the church.

3. Meet Your New Attorney General
After postponing a vote for more than five months to fight along party lines over abortion language in a human trafficking bill, the Senate voted Thursday to approve the nomination of Loretta Lynch, 55, making her the first black woman to head up the Justice Department.

4. Those Countries at the Top of the World Happiness Report Also Have Great Press Freedom Rankings
See what country falls where and read more about the correlation.

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Faith Leaders Call for Religious Protections Ahead of Gay Marriage Hearing

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on April 28 that could wind up legalizing gay marriage nationwide, dozens of Christian leaders have issued a call to civil authorities to preserve “the unique meaning of marriage in the law” — but also to “protect the rights of those with differing views of marriage.”

The open letter “to all in positions of public service,” released April 23, seems to reflect a growing recognition by same-sex marriage foes that they may be on the losing side of the legal battle to bar gay marriage and need to broaden their focus to securing protections for believers.

Gay marriage opponents are also losing the battle for the hearts and minds of their own flocks: Polls show that American believers, like the rest of the public, are growing much more accepting of same-sex relationships, or at least much less inclined to invest time or resources into waging the fight against legalizing gay marriage.

This week’s statement, “The Defense of Marriage and the Right of Religious Freedom: Reaffirming a Shared Witness,” was signed by 35 religious leaders representing Catholic, evangelical, Pentecostal, Orthodox, and Mormon churches. The only non-Christian signatory was Imam Faizul Khan of the Islamic Society of Washington Area.

The leaders forcefully reiterate their shared belief that marriage is “the union of one man and one woman” and argue that apart from religious doctrines, the state “has a compelling interest in maintaining marriage” for the good of society and the “well-being of children.”

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Sifting Through Religious Debris in ‘Dig,’ What’s Fact and What’s Fiction?

Trapdoors, secret chambers, and mysterious torch-lit beach rituals. The eighth episode of Dig, the Holy Land conspiracy thriller that aired April 23 on the USA Network, serves up all these classic elements of suspense.

But that heady cocktail comes with a shot of religious history and biblical references that add context to what is already a complex plot involving cloned high priests, murderous rabbis, and the cutest little red heifer ever genetically engineered on a Danish farm. Can you hear religion and popular culture go CRASH?

“It can’t all be crazy, though, can it?” Emma Wilson (Alison Sudol) asks the hot FBI agent on Dig, Peter Connelly (Jason Isaacs), as they look at end-of-the-world messages left behind by a crazed — and dead — archaeologist.

“The messenger, maybe,” Peter replies.

“But not the message.”

“To a nunnery, go!”

Both the bad guys and the good guys descend on a nunnery belonging to a group called the Sisters of Dinah, in search of an antique plaque depicting “the revenge of Dinah.”

The fictional religious order and its equally fictional plaque are derived from the story of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah. The Book of Genesis tells how Dinah is kidnapped and raped by Shechem, a rival tribesman. Shechem then asks for Dinah’s hand and says her family can ask any “bride-price” they like from his family.

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'Cheap Grace' and Climate Change

Novelist Jonathan Franzen was getting hammered earlier this month. He recently wrote a piece delving into his ornithological passion in The New Yorker entitled “Carbon Capture: Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?”

The Audubon Society has accused him of “extreme intellectual dishonesty,”Grist has labeled him “confused,” and Think Progress held nothing back and called his recent article “bird brained.” (My favorite so far might be the Washington Post saying that the Audubon has “flipped Franzen the bird.”)

Some of this criticism, in my opinion, is justified. Franzen set up an option between treating the planet with “disfiguring aggression” to try and mitigate climate change related emissions or “with palliation and sympathy” since the battle has already been lost. This choice, as the pieces above point out, is a false one.

Unfortunately, those controversial statements have covered over what I found to be the core argument of the article, and his most compelling case.

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