Wes Granberg-Michaelson is the author of From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church and Future Faith: Ten Challenges for Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century (Fortress Press). For 17 years he served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and has long been active in ecumenical initiatives such as the Global Christian Forum and Christian Churches Together. He’s been associated with the ministry of Sojourners for 40 years. He and his wife Karin now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Posts By This Author
Faith on Public Trial
Of the many shocking images from Charlottesville, one continues to haunt me. White men, mostly younger, are marching and carrying torches in the night with faces full of grim hate and determined anger. It was malevolently reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan’s torch-lit night rallies, with cross burnings and the evil actions and killings that often followed. Even more, it brought memories of the Nazis marching with their torches, slogans, and violence in the 1930s. The neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanted some of those same slogans.
Ecumenical History Under the Radar
The same week that President Donald Trump was meeting with Pope Francis in Rome, another historic event was taking place, as the Global Christian Forum facilitated a groundbreaking encounter with the major global bodies representing most every part of world Christianity.
Christians Are Trying to Welcome the Stranger. Will the President Let Us?
No president should be allowed, without any justifiable warrant, to deny the free exercise of their religious convictions, especially when those actions serve not their own interests, but the displaced, suffering millions of strangers in the world longing for welcome.
Two Very Different National Prayer Breakfasts
We sit here today, as the wealthy and the powerful. But let us not forget that those who follow Christ will more often find themselves not with comfortable majorities, but with miserable minorities. Today our prayers must begin with repentance. Individually, we must seek forgiveness for the exile of love from our hearts. And corporately as a people, we must turn in repentance from the sin that scarred our national soul.
5 Spiritual Survival Strategies in the Trump Era
The inner lives of many have been thrown into spiritual disequilibrium. Even while we search for political responses, and may find encouragement in the unprecedented mobilization of the millions marching on every continent, we need to discover the roots for resistance and creative public engagement that can be spiritually sustained for the long run.
I’ll put it this way: When they go low, we go deep.
The Evangelical Brand Lost in Iowa
So who was the real loser in Iowa last night? The "evangelical" brand. For weeks now the nation has heard the media talk about "evangelicals" — by which they actually mean white, highly conservative, older, mostly male voters motivated by their faith. Last night one pundit after another analyzed who this “evangelical” vote supported, with data showing Ted Cruz winning significant backing.
If Donald Trump had been Pharaoh of Egypt, the Holy Family never would have escaped from Herod’s persecution. Jews would have been prohibited from entering the country. Christmas features the story of a family from the Middle East leaving a homeland in fear and seeking refuge is a foreign land, just as millions do today.
If you visit Egypt and its ancient Coptic Church, you’ll see images of the Holy Family everywhere: Joseph, Mary — always on a donkey — and the infant Jesus. They are moving, wandering. You’ll find pictures of them passing by the pyramids. Egyptian Christians treasure this story for theirs is the land that offered welcome and hospitality to the Son of God when he was a refugee.
Francis Effect? Try the Gospel Effect
Watching hundreds of thousands wait 12 hours for a 12 second glimpse of Pope Francis, listening to jaded journalists drop their professionalism and confess their faith — or desire for it — when covering the Pope, and seeing self-serving politicians become humble and hopeful, I ask, what is this “Francis Effect?”
In the end, it’s not about Pope Francis. He would be the first to say so. A gimmicky CNN invitation asking viewers to tweet three words describing the Pope yielded this from one its reporters: “Not me. You.”
But what causes this response? It is, quite simply, the authentic message of the gospel. The gospel of mercy, the gospel of joy, the gospel of love. Christians believe that Jesus is the compassion of God. The church is formed to embody this reality.
History Facing History: When Pope and President Meet
When President Obama meets with Pope Francis tomorrow, the world will catch a glimpse of what history looks like. The first pope from the global South in 1200 years will be welcomed in the White House by the first African-American president of the United States. This picture will be worth far, far more than a thousand words.
Pundits will analyze each public word spoken, and search for hints about the private words exchanged between these two. The politics of Pope Francis’ interaction with the President, and later with Congress, will fuel incessant speculation from Washington’s insiders. But around the world, and particularly in the global South, it’s the symbol of this meeting which will matter.
Pope Francis represents the changing face of world Christianity. Today, one billion Christians are found in Latin America and Africa. In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than in the North for the first time in a thousand years. Every day, that movement accelerates. Francis’ words about the world’s injustices, and his actions of humble human solidarity, project the voice and longings of world Christianity’s new majority and resonant far beyond the boundaries of this faith.
President Obama symbolizes the changing demographics of America. Hope and demographics elected him in 2008, and by 2012 the changing face of the electorate in the U.S. proved determinative of America’s political future. Today, a majority of babies born in the U.S. are non-white, and some major urban areas already reflect the coming reality of a society without a racial majority.
A Duet of Demise
My experience in the worlds of both religion and politics convinces me that one of three issues is at the heart of the catastrophic demise of any leader — money, sex, or power. Sometimes it’s a trifecta of all three together, like the case of John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate. But in virtually every case, a leader’s personal inability to exercise appropriate constraint and control over one or more of these three dimensions of life can lead to careers that crumble and reputations that become shattered.
That’s why, despite all the fascination on the external qualities, traits, and strategies of successful leaders, it’s their internal lives that can be far more decisive in their long-term ability to be transformative leaders — or not. But that requires attentiveness to the powerful but often hidden dynamics of one’s interior life, which “successful” leaders rarely have the time or courage to undertake.