The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

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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Losing Religion at College?

You don’t need a doctoral degree to think higher education leads people away from organized religion. That’s been common wisdom for decades.

Now, a sociologist’s new generational study upends that thinking.

Today, it’s the least-educated members of Generation X—people born roughly between 1965 and 1980—who are “most likely to leave religion,” said Philip Schwadel, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Millennials—Americans roughly between the ages 18 and 30—were not included in the study because, Schwadel said, it’s too soon to tell if they will settle on a religious identity.

Schwadel, whose study is published in the August edition of the journal Social Forces, found a clear historical shift.

“Americans born in the late 1920s and ‘30s who graduated from college were twice as likely to drop out of religion than people who didn’t graduate from college,” he said.

The postwar baby boomers proved to be “the last holdout of the church dropouts.” For boomers, “a college degree was still associated with a higher likelihood of leaving religion.”

However, for the generation born in the 1960s, there’s no difference between those who did and those who did not go to college in their likelihood of religious affiliation. Now, for America’s middle-aged adults who were born in the 1970s, “those without a college education are the most likely to drop out.”

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Richard Dawkins: Atheism’s Asset or Liability?

It was 2006’s “The God Delusion” that many credit with sparking a growing interest in atheism in the U.S. Along with best-selling books by the other members of the “Four Horsemen” of atheism—the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett—Dawkins’ rising star mirrored the growth of atheism in the last decade.

In 2012, the Pew Research Center found 5.7 percent of Americans identified as either atheists or agnostics, up from 3.7 percent in 2007.

“Richard Dawkins has done a lot to bring atheism to a whole new generation,” said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor who studies atheism and who also credits Dawkins with speaking out against the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. “On the other hand, Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness. He doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the good aspects of religion, only the bad. In that sense, I think he doesn’t help atheism in the PR department.”

One of Dawkins’ biggest missteps came in 2011, when he blasted Rebecca Watson, a young atheist activist who wrote about feeling sexually harassed at a freethought conference. In a now infamous series of comments posted to the blog Pharyngula, Dawkins wrote in a message titled “Dear Muslima,” “Stop whining, will you? ... For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.”

 
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Ebola Treatment Prompts Criticism from Ann Coulter, Donald Trump, Ben Carson

Prominent conservative voices are criticizing the decision to bring two medical missionaries who contracted Ebola back to the United States for treatment.

Real estate mogul Donald Trump and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson were both critical of bringing the infected missionaries back to the U.S. Columnist Ann Coulter went further, questioning why the missionaries were working in the “disease-ridden cesspools” of Africa.

Dr. Kent Brantly, with Samaritan’s Purse, and Nancy Writebol, with Service in Mission, are medical missionaries who were infected with Ebola while working with patients in Liberia. They are being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

“If Dr. Brantly had practiced at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles and turned one single Hollywood power-broker to Christ, he would have done more good for the entire world than anything he could accomplish in a century spent in Liberia,” Coulter wrote in a column.

But the professional provocateur is facing a backlash from the mainstream Christian establishment, especially evangelicals, for whom overseas missionary work is an article of faith.

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