Wesley Granberg-Michaelson is the author of Without Oars: Casting Off into a Life of Pilgrimage, 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).
He served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America for 17 years from 1994 to 2011. Previously he held the position of Director of Church and Society at the World Council of Churches in Geneva. Earlier in his career he served as Executive and Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield (1968-1976) and then as the Associate Editor of Sojourners magazine when it was founded. He played a leading role in establishing Christian Churches Together in the USA, and presently helps guide the development of the Global Christian Forum. Over the course of his ministry his ecumenical work has taken him to all corners of the world. He is the author of Underexpected Destinations: An Evangelical Pilgrimage to World Christianity and Leadership from Inside Out: Spirituality and Organizational Change, as well as four other earlier books. His numerous magazine articles have appeared in Sojourners, The Christian Century, Christianity Today, The Church Herald, Ecumenical Review, and other publications.
In the fall of 2012, Granberg-Michaelson was appointed as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the John W. Kluge Center of the Library of Congress. While there he researched and wrote the book, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church (Eerdmans, Fall 2013). The book deals with the effects of the shift in world Christianity to the global South, and impact of global migration on congregational life and society in the global North. It was chosen to be part of the 2013 National Book Festival in Washington, D. C.
Granberg-Michaelson is a graduate of Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, both in Holland, Michigan, and was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America in 1984. Presently he continues his work in ecumenical organizations, in writing and public speaking on issues facing world Christianity, and consulting to church-related organizations, including Bread for the World. He serves today on the governing boards of Sojourners, Church Innovations, and the Global Christian Forum. His wife, Karin Granberg-Michaelson is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America, and they have two children. Wes and Karin make their home in Santa Fe, N.M.
Posts By This Author
The Walls of the Camino
I kept examining these ancient walls. Often, they were slabs of granite laid on top of one another, with thousands of pieces. Their age and the constant moisture of the air in Galicia, blowing from the sea miles away, meant walls were covered the moss, and vegetation wove through them like a net, holding them in place. Certainly, some of this was engineered as the pilgrimage gained in popularity, and political and religious authorities invested in the Camino’s infrastructure.
All Are Pilgrims
The day that I and my three American companions left the Albergue Turistico de Salceda and walked our final 20 miles into the Santiago, arriving exhausted but thrilled in front of the Cathedral, the city was thronged with pilgrims. This happens day after day. But who are these people? Why do they make this journey? And what does this say about the future of faith?
Hospitality on the Way
Walking the Camino with my companions I’ve tried so far, as a spiritual practice, to stop thinking about American politics and Donald Trump. But then I’ve been given tomatoes, and orange juice, and coffee by total strangers, wishing me well on my pilgrimage. I’ve been a vulnerable one on a journey in a strange place.
What the Church Can Learn from Pilgrimages
The great temptation for the church is to remain settled in its comfort zone, doing the same routine. While it may be on the course to a slow death, it can get by and not feel much pain. But the people of God are never meant to be settled; they are called to join in God’s transformational mission in the world, bringing God’s intended justice, healing, and reconciliation to a wounded creation. This requires an intentional commitment by the church to embark on a pilgrimage.
Buen Camino: A Journey Toward a Future Faith
Pew Research just released results of a major survey on why Americans go, and don’t go, to church today. Not surprisingly, the number of those attending religious services regularly is declining, with numbers of younger people the highest. But among these, there is a surprise: Of those who cite a reason other than lack of belief for not attending, 70 percent say that religion is important in their lives. When asked why they do not regularly attend religious services, the most frequently cited reason is this: “I practice my faith in other ways.” That’s what intrigues me about the Camino.
Remembering Peter Borgdorff
We at Sojourners were especially blessed to have Peter’s leadership for 26 years on the board of Sojourners and, before that, Call to Renewal, which we and he helped to found on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable. That was a deep passion for Peter, for those left outside that Jesus told us to bring inside.
An Open Window On a Mutilated Body
Meanwhile, the growth of the world-wide church surges in the global South. Gina Zurlo, Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, explained today’s facts. Two-thirds of all Christians now live in the Global South. During the lifetime of most those gathered in Bogota, Christians in Africa have grown from 134 million in 1970 to 621 million today, making that continent home to more of world Christianity than any other region. Almost as many Christians are in the continent of Latin America where we met. Pentecostalism drives much of this growth. But the complexity, divisiveness, and conflicts between churches in these regions as well as globally clouds the picture projecting Christianity’s future.
Where Protestantism Went Wrong
The German National Tourist Board has fallen in love with Martin Luther. In 1517, he nailed 95 theses protesting Catholic Church practices to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, an act considered the start of the Protestant Reformation. In honor of the 500th anniversary of this event, a 36-page tourist board brochure outlines eight different routes you can take through Germany featuring “36 authentic Luther sites” with itineraries offering “surprises aplenty.” They’ve even produced a Luther Playmobil figure for ages 4 through 99.
Reformation anniversary observances officially started in October in Lund, Sweden, with an ecumenical worship service convened by the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican, attended by Pope Francis. Since then, countless events, conferences, exhibitions, and observances are being held not just in Germany but around the world as we approach the official anniversary day, Oct. 31, 2017.
But what exactly should we Christians do on this 500th anniversary of the Reformation? Celebrate? Commemorate? Confess? Or repent?
The impact of the Protestant Reformation, combined with the advent of the Gutenberg Bible and the dramatic increase in printed literature and literacy in Europe, produced revolutionary changes in religion and society. As the German tourist board exclaims, “trade, industry, art, architecture, medicine, and technology flourished like never before.” A glowing narrative of the Reformation’s impact on the church and Western culture tends to dismiss any words of thoughtful critique.
An Anchor in the Storm
THE UNEXPECTED ELECTION of Donald Trump plummeted me into such a mood of disbelief, emotional reactivity, and political angst that I was losing my spiritual center. Responding on Facebook to the latest outrage, while perhaps politically therapeutic, wasn’t satisfying my soul. I needed to become grounded again with my deepest self and with God.
At a lunch with friends from church to process the aftermath of the election, my wife, Karin, said, “Donald Trump is going to say or do something every day that will arouse us emotionally. And we can’t allow ourselves to be stuck in that place of continuous arousal, responding to him. We have to find safe spaces to support proactively the things we’re called to do.”
More than any in recent memory, this election has sent a spiritual disturbance rippling through society and people’s lives. For many followers of Jesus, and especially those who are not white evangelicals, Donald Trump’s presidency has come to feel like more than a disagreeable political program; rather, it directly contradicts and threatens the integrity of their Christian faith and undermines its public witness. The values underlying the Trump administration, co-mingled with a personality that is narcissistic, pugilistic, and vindictive, has become an assault on what Christian ethics teaches and what we hope our lives stand for.
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.
Asking ‘Which Jesus?’ in 2018
Isn’t that the question that the thousands gathered in Jerusalem for Passover, and the small circle of disciples and friends, were asking on that first Palm Sunday, and in the fateful week that followed? Who is this Jesus? And is it the Jesus we want to follow? The one we thought we were following? Or the one we now end up denying and rejecting? Which Jesus?
Enclaves of Hope
There is a tragedy happening within U.S. denominations and religious institutions that cripples the witness of the church in the wider society. Bonds of Christian fellowship are being torn asunder by the debate over the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, creating untold pain and suffering for many LGBTQ people and others, while sharpening disunity in Christ. And all this is unnecessary, and unfaithful.
IN HIS BOOK Community and Growth, Jean Vanier explains that for any community to thrive, there must be more members who can say “me for the community” than those who say “the community for me.”
That simple contrast—me for the community vs. the community for me—captures the heart of the dilemma facing modern Western culture and, by extension, the expressions of the church that are sustained in its midst. The Enlightenment and the models for political, social, and economic life that it spawned in modern Western culture freed humanity from oppressive, authoritarian rule governing thought, religion, and political structures. The role, rights, and agency of the individual became paramount. This revolutionized the philosophical framework for how society should be governed.
In contrast to individualism, what generally can be termed “collectivism” begins by asserting that realities of social groups are the primary reference point for understanding how societies should be organized and governed. In a nutshell, individuals don’t really have a meaningful identity apart from their belonging to a social group. Participation in a collective group, in this view, is both a more realistic understanding of how society functions and is the context that makes individual life possible.
For political philosophy, the question becomes where the starting point is: Does society find its moral foundation in the rights of its individual members, who then make agreements and social contracts for how best to preserve these rights? Or does society begin by recognizing we are social beings, and collectively we decide—through various political processes—how best to secure the rights of all who belong to a shared community? Normally this becomes a healthy political dialogue between the primacy of individual freedom and the responsibility of upholding the common good of society.
But ideas can be pushed to extremes, at times with frightful consequences of enormous social evil.
When Seminary Becomes a Threat
Crucial to our response to all this, however, is a fundamental question: Are we confronted today simply by another set of vexing economic and social developments that require our attention? Or is something deeper at stake? Are we facing forces that constitute a spiritual assault on the integrity and truth of Christian faith in today’s world? Is this a time when our response, however well intended, will be inept unless it is grounded in a spiritual resilience that confesses faith in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Spirit, who unmasks and defies powers that would subdue and crush the public integrity of the gospel in the world?
This is, in truth, the crucial question for us to discern. And it is deeply serious. I’d pose it this way: When rising forces of nationalistic exclusivism are fueled by racial bigotry, when a naked global struggle for money and power shreds bonds of human solidarity, and when unbridled greed threatens planetary survival, is the truth and integrity of our faith at stake? Is the only response capable of addressing the roots of this crisis one of spiritual resistance and renewal rooted in what it means to confess Jesus Christ as Lord? In other words, is it a kairos moment calling us to a clear discernment of what it means, in this present context, to confess our faith? And must such a confession then shape the communities of those who believe the gospel? In my view, the answer is yes.
Artificial Litmus Tests and the Threat to Christian Unity
Differences in the body of Christ over ethical and theological issues have been with the church since its inception. The letters of the New Testament and ministry of its first leaders were focused on how we live together in the face of inevitable tensions. Our call is to display an outpouring of humility, a commitment to the well-being of other brothers and sisters, and a self-giving love that builds a community truly shaped by the Spirit and acting as a corporate body infused with the love of Jesus.
I Worked for the Senate During Vietnam. PBS' 'The Vietnam War' Is a Must-Watch.
At no point did I see a Niebuhrian “just war.” The entire enterprise was a moral disgrace.
What U.S. Christians Miss About North — and South — Korea
Two realities here in South Korea seem unknown or underappreciated in the U.S. First is the fact that the Korean War has not ended. There’s no treaty, and no permanently recognized peace — only an agreement 60 years ago to cease actual hostilities.
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.