Wesley Granberg-Michaelson 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, 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 his latest book, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church (Eerdmans Publishing, released in the Fall of 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, New Mexico.
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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.
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.
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.