Wes Granberg-Michaelson is the author of the forthcoming book Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage, as well as 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
Why the Next Pope Should Come from the Global South
As the 117 Roman Catholic cardinals walk into the Sistine Chapel next month for the election of a new pope, one hopes that they fully recognize the unfolding, dramatic pilgrimage of world Christianity: The demographic center of Christian faith has moved decisively to the Global South.
Over the past century, this astonishing demographic shift is the most dramatic geographical change that has happened in 2,000 years of Christian history. Trends in the Catholic Church — comprising about 1 out of 2 Christians in the world — have generally followed this global pattern:
- In 1900, about 2 million of the world’s Catholic faithful lived in Africa; by 2010, this had grown to 177 million.
- 11 million Catholics were found in Asia in 1900; by 2010 there were 137 million Asian Catholics.
- Through colonial expansion, 59 million Catholics populated Latin America and the Caribbean in 1900; but by 2010, that number had grown to 483 million.
- In 1900, two-thirds of the world’s Catholic believers were in Europe and North America; today, two-thirds are in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
God Is Still Not A Republican, Or A Democrat
During the 2004 presidential election season, Sojourners put out a bumper sticker with these words: “God Is Not a Republican, or a Democrat.” The number of orders was overwhelming and we kept running out. The simple message struck a chord among many Christians who were tired of the assumptions and claims by the Religious Right that God was indeed a Republican, or at least voted a straight-party ticket for the GOP. They also absurdly implied — and sometimes explicitly stated — that faithful Christians couldn’t support Democratic candidates. We said that voting was always an imperfect choice in a fallen world, based on prudential judgments about how to best vote our values, that people of faith would always vote in different ways — and that was a good thing for a democracy and the common good.
Our efforts appeared to inject some common sense into our nation’s political discourse, but given recent electoral statements and newspaper ads from some conservative Christian leaders, it appears the message bears repeating — God is still not a Republican or Democrat.
DURING HOLY WEEK this year, columnist and practicing Catholic Andrew Sullivan wrote a Newsweek cover story titled “Christianity in Crisis.” He argued that Christianity is being destroyed by politics, priests, and get-rich evangelists. This would “baffle Jesus of Nazareth,” Sullivan wrote. “The issues that Christianity obsesses over today simply do not appear ... in the New Testament ... It seems no accident that so many Christians now embrace materialistic self-help rather than ascetic self-denial ... [and] no surprise that the fastest growing segment of belief among the young is atheism, which has leapt in popularity in the new millennium. Nor is it a shock that so many have turned away from organized Christianity.”
My sense is that people are leaving organized Christianity because it has left behind the radical message of its founder. This has been a long and continuing struggle. Jesus taught and embodied a revolutionary, transforming love. Forsaking wealth and power, he constantly reached out to those on the margins of society. Renouncing violence, he loved not just his friends but his enemies. Condemning religious self-right-eousness and hypocrisy, he healed broken lives and opened eyes and hearts to the near presence of the kingdom of God.
The church confesses him as the risen Savior and Lord. But then, so often, it tries to domesticate him, explaining away those sharp, demanding edges of his compelling words, and finding theological excuses for not following his radical ways. We call upon people to believe in Jesus. But the question is whether we believe Jesus.
Driving Toward Cuba's Future
The cars in Cuba fascinate me. Where else in the world can one see a classic 1956 Oldsmobile, a shiny 1957 Chevy, and a 1970 VW bug alongside a new Audi and modern Chinese tour buses?
Our guide said there are four generations of cars in Cuba. First are those pre-revolutionary American cars—the vintage Chevys, Fords, Oldsmobiles, and Studebakers from the 1950s that somehow keep running. Then came the Russian-made Ladas, the small, ugly, square compacts that look like Fiats stripped of any Italian design.
By the ’70s and ’80s, Japanese and other Asian cars started trickling into Cuba, and they became the auto of choice after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then, in the last decade, the more expensive European cars began showing up. More recently, a fleet of fancy buses, mostly from China, has arrived to shuttle around the 2.5 million tourists now visiting the island each year (and improve public transportation in general).
The cars, of course, reflect the stages of Cuba’s economic relationship with the outside world: the embargo from the U.S., its initial reliance on all things Russian, then growing global trade, followed by the influx of European tourists, and the recent economic resurgence of China.
Cars can now be bought and sold by Cubans. This is one example of dramatic new economic policies, approved last April, being instituted in Cuba. Dr. Osvaldo Martinez, director of Cuba’s World Economy Research Center, called these changes “shock therapy,” like that being experienced by Greece, Spain, and many countries. Cubans should no longer “idolize” the Cuban economic model, Martinez said. Salaries have been increasing faster than productivity. Foods are being imported that could be produced domestically, but weren’t because of the inefficiencies of centralized, Soviet-style agriculture. There has been an “exaggerated number of state employees,” and massive layoffs have been occurring. At times Martinez nearly sounded like a Republican.
Remembering Pope Shenouda III: 'A Heart for Unity'
Pope Shenouda led what many would call a biblical and spiritual life — the heartbeat of this ancient church. He loved the Bible, studying it thoroughly, memorizing vast passages, and teaching classes on its content — something unusual in the practices of this liturgical church. After becoming Pope in 1971, for many years he would teach from the Bible on a weekday night (I think it was always Wednesday) in St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. He would schedule his world travels to be back in time for these Bible studies. The cathedral would be packed, and Pope Shenouda would patiently answer the questions raised by those coming to listen and learn.
When I first met Pope Shedouda in 2004, I was general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, leading a denominational delegation to the Middle East. At the close of our “audience” — a time of rich conversation — I presented him with a small travel Bible which had been printed by the RCA. It was the NRSV translation. He took it gracefully, but immediately looked up a particular verse in the New Testament that was of concern, and promptly announced that the NRSV’s translation was inaccurate.
The Bible Society of Egypt, which loved Pope Shenouda’s biblical emphasis, is using the occasion of his funeral this week to reach out to the society. Pope Shenouda’s call to ministry came in 1945, when he read a passage from the Bible in the window of a bookstore of the Bible Society of Egypt. The organization has prepared a pamphlet summarizing his life and love of the Scriptures, and printed 1,000,000 copies for distribution.
Today’s funeral will provide a focus of national attention of the extraordinary life of this church leader.
Power, Prayer and Money
It’s been several years since I’ve attended a National Prayer Breakfast, the annual event held Thursday morning in Washington, D.C., attended by the President, members of Congress, and guests — about 2,500 of them.
When I lived and worked in D.C. I attended almost every year. Senator Mark Hatfield, for whom I worked, was a faithful member of the Senate Prayer breakfast group which met weekly, and with the group in the House, sponsors the this national event.
My worry always has been that such a gathering merely sprinkles holy water on the nation’s powerful leaders without any real accountability to the prophetic message of the Gospel. As a breakfast speaker one year, Hatfield called for national repentance for arrogance and sin, referring especially to the Vietnam War. His comments broke with the normal rhetorical decorum of the event and angered President Nixon, but received widespread coverage and much respect.
These days, the early-morning prayer breakfast is also accompanied by countless luncheons, dinners, and seminars for people who come from around the nation and the world to attend. The idea behind the prayer breakfast movement is simple: Gather politicians and leaders together in a country (or state, or city) to pray with one another “in the Spirit of Jesus,” and hope that this dependence on God will transcend differences to build a movement grounded in love for one another and one’s neighbor. It’s supposed to be devoid of “politics.”
Wes Granberg-Michaelson Answers, "What is an Evangelical?"
“Evangelical voters” have now been sized and squeezed into a homogeneous political block. These folks have views on the political right wing, trust in robust American military might, believe that wealth is a blessing to be protected by tax policy, want society to be inhospitable toward gays, oppose any form of abortion, feel that “big” government is always malevolent, and assert that American individualism is the divinely sanctioned cornerstone of the Republic. Apply the label “evangelical” to a voter and you can expect these political responses.
The problem is that it’s simply inaccurate. One size doesn’t fit all when in come to evangelicals. It distorts reality. But that’s just too inconvenient for pundits intent on predicting how various blocks will vote.
The Cuban Journal
Earlier this month, Sojourners board member and former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, Wes Granberg-Michaelson, journeyed to Cuba with a delegation of religious leaders from the National Council of Churches.
Their visit culminated in a joint declaration celebrating signs of unity between the U.S. and Cuban churches. Sixteen representatives of U.S. National Council of Churches member communions were in Cuba November 28 through December 2 meeting with Cuban church and political leaders, including President Raúl Castro.
The delegation, which Cuban church leaders said was the highest ranking U.S. church group to visit the island in their memory, was led by the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary. The joint statement by the churches declared that normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba would be in the best interest of both nations, and the leaders called for the resolution of three humanitarian issues “which cause unjustifiable human misunderstanding and suffering.” Foremost among the issues is the 53-year-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba that dates back to the administration of President John F. Kennedy.
Read a series of dispatches from Granberg-Michaelson inside God's Politics.
Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Five, Heading Home
The "sermon" consisted of reflections by five participants from different regions and traditions who were attending the Global Christian Forum for the first time. They each spoke of the joy, and often the surprise, in what they discovered here -- some of them interacting with delegates from Christian traditions they barely knew even existed.
The unity of heart and Spirit they experienced at the forum had a profound effect, they said. Emily Obwaka of Kenya, a staff member from the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, whom I met on the bus the first day of the forum, was one of those who shared. She said the forum felt like "a preamble to heaven." Such sentiments might seem excessive but they were not uncommon among the 287 forum participants from 65 countries. Joy and affirmation were among the greatest takeaways from the five-day gathering.
Moving South: Day Three at the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia
The atlas also documents other dramatic trends, including the fragmentation of Christianity. New denominations, often borne out of strife and division, multiply endlessly. In Korea, for instance, there are now 69 different Presbyterian denominations. At the rate we are going, by 2025 there will be 55,000 separate denominations in the world!
That is an utter mess fueled by rivalry and confusion that hampers the church's witness and makes a mockery of God's call to live as parts of one body.
The atlas also documents the dramatic rise of revival movements throughout the world, and charts the story of Pentecostalism's rise. From its beginning a century ago, Pentecostalism now comprises a quarter of all Christians in the world. This fundamental change in Christianity's global composition, along with its geographical transformation, has created a dramatically different Christian footprint in the world.
Report from the Global Christian Forum in Indonesia: Day Two
The compelling story of the Global Christian Forum, shared with the more than 300 forum attendees (many of them new), was told in moving testimonies from Orthodox, Pentecostal, Evangelical, Catholic, and historic Protestant members of the forum's steering committee. ... It's remarkable to hear how an Egyptian surgeon became a Coptic Orthodox priest, or how a woman Anglican Bishop from New Zeland heard her calling to the priesthood as a teenager, long before her church ordained women. Story after story simply puts you in awe of God's grace.
Report from the Global Christian Forum in Manado, Indonesia.
The Global Christian Forum is the most exciting and promising ecumenical initiative I've participated in all my years of ministry. Its import can be summed up simply: This is the only place where the leadership of evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, historic Protestant and Orthodox churches -- which comprise all the major "families" of world Christianity -- are brought into sustained and intentional fellowship. In so doing, the Global Christian Forum is also responding to the dramatic shift of the center of Christianity from the North and West to the southern hemisphere.
A Tribute to Mark O. Hatfield
Mark O. Hatfield's political witness shaped a whole generation of students, teachers, pastors, and social activists in the evangelical community and beyond. The voice of Christians today who plead for social justice and peaceful alternatives to war would not have emerged with its strength and clarity in the 1970s without his leadership. His death underscores the vacuum of such spiritually rooted voices uncompromising in their commitments to peace and justice within the cacophony political rhetoric today.
One of my life's greatest privileges and joys was to work as an assistant to Senator Mark O. Hatfield for nearly a decade, from 1968 to 1977. I saw first-hand what courageous leadership, combined with unswerving compassion and civility, looked like within the political life of that turbulent and formative era. Those experiences are shared in my book, Unexpected Destinations (Eerdmans).
Love, justice, and the radical challenge raised by the untamed Christ.
I Am Fasting So People Don't Go Hungry
Why I Support President Obama's Decision on Libya
The Vanishing Scenery of Glacier National Park
The World Responds to Obama's Victory
Tend to Your Soul
You are a leader not just because of what you have done, but because of who you are. Tend to your soul.