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New & Noteworthy: June 2018
Four culture recommendations from the editors.
Letters to the Editor
As a Caucasian who is passionate about race reconciliation, I was over-the-moon thrilled when I read the piece by Kathy Khang, “Opting Out of the Black-White Binary,” in the November 2016 issue. I have long advocated to move beyond the black-white binary, as it excludes so many others from entering the conversation or sharing their own struggles and experiences with racism. I can’t wait to share this with others or read the book she co-authored!
New Life, Old Problems
The fact that only 20 percent of the members of Congress are women should be understood as evidence that women are not seen as intelligent and as capable of wise judgment as men (“Welcome to Post-Sexist America,” by Jim Rice, November 2016). Women possess intelligence and judgment because they are, like men, human persons.
A post-sexist America would reflect this truth in the make-up of our governing body. However, a post-sexist America would also be called upon to recognize and support women in the aspect of their humanity which men do not share—women’s ability to carry and give birth to new life. Yet in this matter America is woefully remiss. The United States ranks 61st in maternal health. The risk of maternal death is higher here than in any developed country. We rank 29th in infant mortality—behind Cuba. While seven babies out of 1,000 live births die by the age of 5 in America, only three babies out of 1,000 live births die in Singapore. Surely, these figures would change dramatically in a post-sexist America.
Tesse Hartigan Donnelly
Oak Park, Illinois
Why Not Pro-Love?
David Gushee’s article (“The Abortion Impasse,” November 2016) suggests that “reducing demand” for abortions is the only meaningful path forward for us. Perhaps we can expedite this as a people by reminding ourselves that the summum bonum, or “highest good,” as far as Christian ethics has been able to articulate it, is love. Not life. Not freedom. Love. The problem love recognizes is that to choose life or freedom sometimes means death to someone. Love maximizes both life and freedom and will also sacrifice both for love. We can only be “pro-choice” and “pro-life” by being “pro-love.”
Port Angeles, Washington
God’s heart for justice
Thank you for having the courage to print Brandon Wrencher’s November 2016 “Living the Word.” I’m a 73-year-old white lady who didn’t begin to understand God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, and justice until I was in my 40s. For about 20 years now, I’ve been sojourning mostly with black Christians, under black pastoral leadership, and studying a plethora of books by black authors. In the lives of my black friends I have seen the truths that Pastor Wrencher has brought to light. I’m praying that I can better articulate his concepts to my white brothers and sisters.
St. Louis, Missouri
Clarification: The 1963 encyclical “Peace on Earth” was from Pope John XXIII, not from the Second Vatican Council as we stated in our December issue.
About Loving Thine Enemies...
LOVING THY NEIGHBOR may be one of the greatest commandments, but loving thy enemies is surely the hardest. In the past few months, we’ve seen an outpouring of the former: crowds rallying at airports to welcome refugees; churches, cities, and campuses establishing sanctuary for undocumented immigrants; courageous bystanders intervening to protect strangers from harassment and violence.
But when it comes to loving the very people who have caused real harm to us and our neighbors—for example, peddlers of fake news, white nationalists, and members of certain presidential administrations—the crowd grows thin. And understandably so: Why should we extend love to those who perpetuate a politics of hate? What would loving those people even look like?
Former white nationalist Tony McAleer has an answer. As co-founder of Life After Hate, a nonprofit that helps people leave extremist groups, McAleer has seen how small gestures of compassion can transform those consumed by hate. So when McAleer met a young veteran inching toward anti-Islam extremism, he took him to meet a local imam. “It’s incredibly powerful to receive compassion from someone you’ve dehumanized,” McAleer tells Jason Byassee in our cover story.
Of course, loving your enemies does not mean condoning their actions. Neither does it mean a disregard for the safety or well-being of those who an enemy may harm, including ourselves. Yet even with these caveats, it’s impossible to domesticate Jesus’ commandment: Seeking restoration rather than retribution for those who do evil is truly radical. As Martin Luther King Jr. put it, nonviolent enemy-love forces us to recognize “that evildoers are also victims and are not evil people.” Try thinking about that the next time you see a sound bite of your least favorite politician.
Read Jason Byassee's profile of Tony McAleer, "Confessions of a Former White Supremacist," in the August 2017 issue.
New & Noteworthy
Woman of Valor
Coretta Scott King walked alongside her husband Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights struggle—and kept on working for social justice after his assassination, until her death in 2006. My Life, My Love, My Legacy is her perspective, as told to Barbara Reynolds. Henry Holt
In Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World, Leroy Barber draws from decades of ministry among diverse people to argue for the centrality of relationships across differences to achieving not just reconciliation, but true justice. Encouraging, openhearted words for divisive times. IVP Books
Sometimes, liberal Christians feel they need to apologize for the behavior of other Christians or churches. In Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting, writer and pastor Lillian Daniel encourages you instead to boldly tell your own story of faith and sacred relationship. Faith Words
The Revolution Has Come , by Rev. Sekou & The Holy Ghost, was released in early 2016—but its gritty mix of R&B and gospel, freedom and resistance is more relevant every day. Activists/artists Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill met at a Black Lives Matter protest, and street movements permeate the songs. rshgmusic.com
Letters to the Editor
Pricing Carbon Fuels
Thank you for your fine article on climate change (“Shattering the Silence on Climate Change” by Teresa Myers, Connie Roser-Renouf, and Edward Maibach, May 2017). There is no larger long-term challenge facing humankind. The mention of Citizen’s Climate Lobby deserves expansion. This grassroots, nonpartisan, national group has a very workable, market-friendly proposal to help us move forward: enacting a steadily rising federal fee on all carbon-based fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas). The net revenues from this fee would be returned on an equal per capita basis to all legal U.S. residents. Such a fee would correct a failure of the market to properly price the environmental and social costs associated with use of these resources. It would have a positive impact on economic growth, would favor a transition to nonpolluting energy resources, and would be fair to low-income residents.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The Pride of Milwaukee
One of the names in Lisa Sharon Harper’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” (May 2017) was instantly familiar to me: James Cameron, the only young man “spared” from lynching, by imprisonment. I only wish Harper could have gone further in highlighting Cameron’s life. Having lived most of my life in the Milwaukee metro area, I have heard so much about Cameron—an extremely studious man and founder of the Black Holocaust Museum, a one-of-a-kind exhibition. Cameron was an exemplary man. He should be much more well-known than he is, and for much more than that he escaped a lynching. He was (and still is, as his heritage lives on) a very important man for Milwaukee residents.
Heartless Housing Policy
I was very happy to read the recent article “Raise Your Hand if You Live in Subsidized Housing,” by Neeraj Mehta (June 2017). It helps to uncover how we “allocate resources to people we value” and shows the inequality of how we subsidize housing in America. From my work with Hearts for Homes in Macomb County, Mich., it is clear to me that negative biases and stereotypes of low-income renters justify inaction on the part of policy makers and middle-class Americans. With the numbers of homeless children on the rise, at a time when employment is the highest since 2001, we still easily blame the poor as “not being responsible” or “having bad spending habits.” However, we seem unable to acknowledge or take responsibility for a housing system that requires many families to pay more than half of their income in housing expenses, putting many at risk of homelessness.
Mt. Clemens, Michigan
Reading Danny Duncan Collum’s piece on Reinhold Niebuhr (“The Niebuhr We Need,” April 2017) and viewing the new documentary by Martin Doblmeier sent me back to my own review of America’s cold war theologian (“Apologist of Power,” March 1987). I write to commend James Cone’s chapter on Niebuhr in The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Orbis, 2011). Cone argues that Niebuhr’s theology of the cross was so abstract that it never occurred to him to recognize the most obvious representation of the former in the latter. Though still faculty at Union Seminary, Cone was not interviewed for the film.
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Letters to the Editor
A Plateful of Good Stuff
“Game Changer?” by Rose Marie Berger in the December 2016 issue really challenges me as a Catholic. We are called to be a peace church. We are disciples of a nonviolent redeemer and liberator. I want to be nonviolent. It would mean that I have to love nonviolently. I cannot call anyone names. I should love the members of the other political party and work for unity. I should be a listener. I should advise military people to be conscientious objectors in violent affairs, and maybe more than that. I will love the veterans, as I presume they did what they did according to their conscience. I have a plateful of good stuff to do. Help me, dear Lord.
Rev. Anthony Kroll
Sauk Rapids, Minnesota
Those Who Have Ears ...
In the days following the ugliest election in my life (I was born in 1945), I have seen few, if any, commentaries on how this election impacted the children of America. Our kids hear our fears and anxieties, as well as what they hear on TV or radio, but they are not able to deal with and process those fears as are adults.
What is our Christian responsibility to help our children deal with and overcome the fear and anger they feel when they hear the president-elect denigrate minority groups and promote violence against those who disagree? This is truly a teachable moment in every house of worship, and not just for adults. Our kids are suffering, and we cannot let the words of a narcissistic bigot go unchallenged. I agree with everything Jim Wallis said (“Ministers of Reconciliation,” December 2016), but I urge us not to forget the children.
Ministers of Inspiration?
I was thrilled to receive my first issue of Sojourners magazine and find Jim Wallis’s article titled “Ministers of Reconciliation.” I am grateful for the reassuring inspiration I derived from his words.
Rev. Dale Morris Lee
A Heavy Hand
In your November 2016 issue, David Gushee writes of Americans yelling at each other about abortion and our polarization on the subject (“The Abortion Impasse”). But he shows his own polarization with the sentence, “Having actually held dead 18-week fetuses in my hands ... I think it is indeed a travesty that abortion is permitted in non-emergency circumstances as late as that.” I ask him: Have you ever held the hand of an 18-year-old girl dying of sepsis from a backstreet illegal abortion? I have. When abortion is not legal or the financial cost is too high, the poor seek out the unskilled—which can take weeks—while the wealthy go to other countries. Until we have a country that cares for and about all its citizens by lowering our high infant mortality rate and doing away with guns, wars, death penalties, and cop shootings, why should anyone worry about abortions? I think the answer is: It is a way to subjugate women. As Gloria Steinem says: “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
South Hamilton, Massachusetts
New & Noteworthy
Tuxedos on Ice
Need a cold distraction from summer heat? Love penguins? Want to be inspired by rugged scenery and a field biologist’s enthusiasm for his work, despite harsh conditions, endless counting, and climate change? The documentary film The Penguin Counters is now out on iTunes and DVD. First Run Features
Find What’s Missing
In the picture book Who Counts? 100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons, biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine and children’s book author Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso imaginatively retell three of Jesus’ parables. Suitable for kids 4 to 8. Includes afterword for parents and teachers. Illustrated by Margaux Meganck. Westminster John Knox
An American Story
Amir Hussain’s Muslims and the Making of America is a compact overview of how Muslims have been an intrinsic part of American society, politics, and culture since the colonial era. Released last fall, but timelier than ever as anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions grow. Baylor University Press
In Grieving a Suicide: A Loved One’s Search for Comfort, Answers, and Hope , Albert Y. Hsu explores the hard emotional and spiritual questions survivors face. First published in 2002, this newly revised and expanded version includes updated resources and a discussion guide for suicide-survivor groups. IVP Books
New & Noteworthy
Wherever You Go ...
In Why Am I Here?, by Constance Ørbeck-Nilssen and Akin Duzakin, a picture book for ages 5 to 9, a child ponders the many different places she could be: a huge city, an isolated forest, a war zone, fleeing to a strange land. A book that encourages empathy and acknowledges the big questions that kids ask themselves. Eerdmans
Faith for the Struggle
Shannon Daley-Harris, religious affairs adviser for the Children’s Defense Fund, offers scriptural meditations to inspire and sustain advocates and nurturers in Hope for the Future: Answering God’s Call to Justice for Our Children. Includes questions for faithful response. Westminster John Knox
No Easy Road
Activist and artist Anthony Papa writes about the challenges of rebuilding his life after serving 12 years for a nonviolent drug offense, his work to change oppressive drug-sentencing laws, and memories of prison in This Side of Freedom: Life After Clemency. 15yearstolife.com
Life Out of Death
“I did not understand how people changed so much: Some became executioners, others became victims,” writes Holocaust survivor Magda Hollander-Lafon in Four Scraps of Bread, a slim volume of piercing, simple-yet-profound reflections on her journey through hell and back. Notre Dame Press
Having Our Cake?
IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.
This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?
Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.
Letters to the Editor
Spirit of Compassion
I read with great interest the article on Northmead Assembly of God’s Circle of Hope AIDS clinic in Zambia (“When the Spirit Comes Down,” by Wonsuk Ma, January 2017), because I spent six months in 2011 conducting research there with support groups for people living with HIV. Clinic clients I interviewed reaffirmed my observations about staff members’ dedication, often reporting that they were grateful that the clinic was in their low-income neighborhood. Most crucially, I noted how staff members showed acceptance and compassion toward all clients. While the clinic faces challenges—long lines, clients who sometimes do not adhere to their medications, excellent staff members who may be “poached” by other donors—it does important work in Zambia’s AIDS response.
It is encouraging to hear about the good work being done in Pentecostal churches around the globe (“When the Spirit Comes Down”). However, there was not one word in the article about the plight of homosexuals living in these societies. These churches are often at the forefront of oppressing gay people in the name of religion. Until we all confront the horrific situation of gay people (ostracism, forced marriage, beatings, prison, and execution) in so many places, especially Africa and the Caribbean, I can’t take these churches or their brand of religion seriously.
Robin Van Liew
Thank you for providing a magazine that I am able to count on for intelligence and sensitivity in both your writing and reporting. However, I must take exception to the claim that Elizabeth I “founded” the Anglican Church (“Entering my ‘Power Decade,’” by Catherine Woodiwiss, January 2017). While it is true she is credited for the eponymous settlement, those acts of Parliament did not “found” anything that did not already exist. They smoothed the waters so that the English church could proclaim the gospel in relative peace.
Traverse City, Michigan
I want to thank you for publishing the article by Susan K. Smith on John Rush in your December 2016 issue (“Can Business Be Beautiful?”). It presents a different (and more accurate) example of Appalachia than does J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy. As a born-and-bred hillbilly, I take great umbrage at Vance’s book. It is a very courageous memoir of one family, but that’s what it is—the story of one very dysfunctional family and the salutary effects of the Marines on one very mixed-up young man. Most poor and working-class Appalachians have not become as disoriented and dysfunctional as Vance’s family. Many of them, like Rush, have started enterprises of their own or are otherwise engaged at jobs they find rewarding. While not all these businesses are social enterprises as is Rush’s, they all nevertheless indicate successful adjustments to situations in which people find themselves.
Assets in Heaven
Please do more articles on businesses that have doing good in the world as their bottom line (“Can Business Be Beautiful?”). Business owner John Rush makes a point about the profit-making business model that it is the love of money that is a problem, not having money itself. A current line of research, however, is showing that it isn’t as simple as that; money and decision-making power over others quickly reduce compassionate awareness and behavior. Jesus was right about wealth: Good motivations and intentions are not enough. Any condition that reduces our sense of shared vulnerability with others works against our ability to live lives of universal love.