Commentary

Amy Lawton 9-07-2023

A close up of two people holding hands. Credit: Unsplash/Saulo Meza.

Yet a common assumption is that chaplains themselves must be grounded in a religious tradition. After all, how can you be a religious leader without religion?

In reality, a growing number of chaplains are nonreligious: people who identify as atheist, agnostic, humanist, or “spiritual but not religious.” I am a sociologist and research manager at Brandeis University’s Chaplaincy Innovation Lab, where our team researches and supports chaplains of all faiths, including those from nonreligious backgrounds. Our current research has focused on learning from 21 nonreligious chaplains about their experiences.

Image: Tero Vesalainen / Alamy

Two years ago, I spoke to one young woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder as part of my research into discipleship and depression. After this woman had received her diagnosis, some well-meaning but ill-informed members of her church instructed her to pray and read the Bible more. Because of their advice, she said, “I was always wrestling with whether it was spiritual warfare.” This spiritualization exacerbated her mental health struggles, adding on a religious component to her symptoms, including compulsive prayers and other spiritual practices to gain God’s favor and find healing. When it comes to accompanying young people through mental health challenges, I know the church can do better.

Michael Woolf 8-31-2023

Cover cartoon by Art Young for the “Special Christmas Number” of The Masses, 1913. Via Wikimedia.

According to a recent Gallup poll, labor unions are enjoying their highest levels of national national support since 1965. One major reason for renewed labor organizing is the COVID-19 pandemic, as workers started to ask whether a new future for work was possible in the midst of the pandemic. Some of the demands that laborers were making then are still being made now: increased pay, safer working conditions, and flexible schedules. In the U.S., the federal minimum wage is still a paltry $7.25 per hour. Federal minimum wage has not increased since July 2009 but if it had been keeping up with inflation, it would be over $21 an hour today.

What would Jesus have to say about America’s hot labor summer specifically, and the renewed organized labor movement more generally speaking?

Matt Bernico 8-30-2023

A protest sign is planted along the pipeline route during a protest against the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in St. Anthony, N.D., U.S. Nov. 11, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Stephanie Keith.

On the night of the 2016 presidential election, Jessica Reznicek, a Catholic Worker and water defender, began her “peaceful direct action campaign” against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Along with activist Ruby Montoya, they burned five pieces of heavy machinery in Buena Vista County, Iowa. From there, armed with an oxy-acetylene cutting torch, Reznicek went on to other pipeline construction sites and pierced through the empty steel valves, sabotaged electrical units, and burned other heavy equipment. In a 2017 statement, Reznicek wrote, “We acted for our children and the world that they are inheriting is unfit.”

Following her actions, Reznicek was arrested. She pled guilty to one count of “conspiracy to damage an energy facility,” but in the months following her court date, prosecutors persuaded the judge to add additional charges labeling her a “domestic terrorist.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis hold their hands over their hearts for the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance at the start of at the first Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign on August 23, 2023. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

While there are some extreme politicians like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who proudly claim the label, it’s unlikely the top Republican presidential candidates will explicitly embrace Christian nationalism by that name. Instead, voters in the 2024 election will need to be on the lookout for how candidates’ behavior and rhetoric aligns with Christian nationalist ideals and anti-democratic beliefs. Or as Jesus put it: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

A Fulton County Sheriff K-9 officer secures the area outside of the Lewis R. Slaton Courthouse after a Grand Jury brought back indictments against former president Donald Trump and 18 of his allies in their attempt to overturn the state's 2020 election results. REUTERS/Cheney Orr

There’s plenty that concerns me about this latest indictment, including 161 specific acts prosecutors say were intended to obstruct the election, ranging from harassment of election officials to the infamous recorded phone call where Trump tells Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” missing votes. But what’s most bothering me aren’t the details of the indictment; I’m worried that most folks in the U.S., including Christians, are barely paying attention. Meanwhile, Trump remains the front-runner in the the Republican primary, despite the indictments.

David Leong 8-14-2023

Ambitious in scope, The Place We Make is part cultural and geographic history, part spiritual memoir, with thoroughly researched original source documents and contemporary voices. The structure of the book alternates between historical profiles from Vanderpool’s context and Sanderson’s personal moves from the places of ignorance, silence, and exclusion toward empathy, self-disclosure, and community. It is no small task to write as a confessional Christian while clearly identifying the numerous ways Christianity has served to create and perpetuate white supremacy. Sanderson tackles this challenge with humility, often citing theologians and Christians of color who have been wrestling with this paradox from the beginning of colonial modernity.

Noah Berlatsky 8-14-2023

Candace Owens and Kanye West wearing ‘White Lives Matter’ shirts. Cover Media via Reuters.

The writer James Baldwin’s 1967 New York Times essay “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White” is a passionate indictment of white Jewish racism and a condemnation of antisemitism. His essay is clear-eyed and right about most things — except for its thesis.

The New American Standard Bible. Jessica Mangano via Unsplash. 

As reported by The Salt Lake Tribune, the parent arguing for the ban of the Bible explained that the book “has ‘no serious values for minors’ because it’s pornographic by our new definition.” The anonymous parent wrote to the school board, “Get this PORN out of our schools,” before listing over eight pages of offending verses that seemed to fit the legislature’s definition of what is considered to be “pornographic or indecent.”

Josiah R. Daniels 8-11-2023

Seattle Police retake the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) area, including their East Precinct, in Seattle, Wash., July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

I was supposed to be taking a writing day this past Monday, but the sound of sirens kept distracting me. Sirens in my Seattle neighborhood are not unusual, but the sirens blared from early morning until noon. By that time, I’d heard 10 or more police cars drive by, which felt different. So, during my lunch break, I resolved to walk down the street to see what all the hullabaloo was about. I figured I wasn’t getting any writing done, so I might as well go investigate.

Dwayne David Paul 8-10-2023

J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1945. Photo:  Atomic / Alamy

Given the renewed attention to the danger of nuclear weapons — thanks, in part, to Oppenheimer — recent developments in Catholic theology regarding the immorality of nuclear arms provide a timely pretext to engage in interdenominational advocacy at the federal level, as well as political and theological education within church communities. We are at one of the most dangerous junctures in decades.

Greg Jarrell 8-04-2023

The exterior of the First Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Photo: Jon Bilous / Alamy

I’ve spent the past six years studying churches and urban renewal, a mid-20th century movement in the U.S. intended, according to President Harry S. Truman, to provide “a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family,” but which many activists now see as the foundation of our contemporary housing crisis. As part of my research, I’ve studied how Christians — especially white Christians — participated in the remaking of American cities. It’s not a history we often tell, but buildings like First Baptist are hiding in plain sight, monuments to a time when white churches allied themselves with forces that displaced communities of color and redistributed their lands.

Olivia Bardo 7-26-2023

‘Barbie,’  Warner Bros. Pictures 

In the beginning, Ruth Handler created Barbieland. And Ruth said, “Let there be pink,” and there was pink.

JR. Forasteros 7-26-2023
Barbie wears a pink dress and looks out over Barbieland

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Both films are sympathetic to creators, but neither film lets their creations off the hook. Oppenheimer worries aloud how the nuclear power he unleashed will shape the atomic age. Barbie faces a lunch table of schoolgirls who tell her exactly how the Barbie beauty standards made them feel un-feminine. But both films ultimately move beyond the myth of the single creator and focus on the forces that shape that creation’s ongoing impact on the larger world.

JR. Forasteros 7-21-2023

'The Bear,' Chuck Hodes/FX

In this day and age, even a very good restaurant struggles to survive; thriving is a pipe dream. And in this way, the restaurant industry doesn’t sound so different from Western Christianity.

Betsy Shirley 7-18-2023

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

The authors tackle a variety of common questions around sex, faith, and the church: What does the Bible actually say about sex? What are Christian teachings on sexual pleasure? Is spiritual trauma from purity culture a real thing? And the million-dollar question: If I no longer believe in purity culture, how do I create a new sexual ethic that’s still rooted in my faith and values?

Juliet Vedral 7-17-2023

'The Miracle Club,' Embankment Pictures 

The Miracle Club, starring Maggie Smith, Kathy Bates, and Laura Linney, is itself something of a miracle: Despite being attached to a major star (Smith) and a compelling story, the film, directed by Thaddeus O’Sullivan, almost never came to fruition.

Amar D. Peterman 7-13-2023

Taylor Swift performers during the first night of the Cincinnati stop of the Eras Tour at Paycor Stadium in downtown Cincinnati on Friday, June 30, 2023. Credt: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect.

While my intentions were not malicious or abusive, I knew that by stringing a series of well-known songs together, saying the right words in a prayer, and hyping up the audience, I could evoke an emotional response out of the congregation. It was a science: A bridge here, a lighting cue there, add a dramatic pause before the chorus and I could feel the mood shift in the room. I believed that creating this environment was the task of the worship leader.

Raised in a white, evangelical megachurch, this style of Christian worship was all I knew. It wasn’t until I left for college that I learned about the scrutiny surrounding these technologically enhanced worship “experiences” and the global Christian monopolies behind them.

A woman wearing jeans and hiking boots kneels in the forest splashing water on her face

Photo: Artit Oubkaew / Alamy

Summer is so active, there is hardly any time to block off for spiritual renewal. Work with that. Do you have five minutes between lunch and packing to go out? Breathe. Say a short prayer. Pause. Drop your shoulders and check in with your body. Spiritual renewal does not have to be elaborate; work it into a rhythm in your daily transitions.

Hannah Bowman 7-12-2023

Bison fighting. Credit: Unsplash/Richard Lee.

In my view, churches often demonize polarization because they know disruption can lead to conflict and upset the status quo. For example, prior to the 2020 racial justice uprisings, some churches were hesitant to even say “Black Lives Matter” because some Christians perceived it as a polarizing issue.

But when we avoid clarity about justice because it seems “divisive,” we misunderstand the nature of Christian unity. Some churches seek to preserve an ideal of “loving” unity by avoiding conflict among their members.