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Magazine

Sojourners Magazine: June 2012

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WHY RUN AN article about Westboro Baptist Church, a hate group that cloaks itself in Christian garb? That’s a question we wrestled with when considering this issue’s cover story. We believe that God loves everyone; Westboro believes that’s a heretical “lie,” so we don’t want to needlessly give them a spotlight. And, like researcher Rebecca Barrett-Fox, we want to be clear that conservative or Calvinist theology definitely doesn’t have to end up proclaiming misogyny, homophobia, and God’s hate. (The Primitive Baptist denomination, of which Westboro claims to be part, explicitly disowns it and calls Westboro’s actions unbiblical.)

Ultimately, exposing Westboro’s inner sociological, psychological, and theological mechanics might help others avoid taking any steps down its road. How can a group of otherwise functional people—with careers in nursing and computer science, whose kids go to public school and seem “normal,” all led by a former civil rights lawyer—sustain itself in spewing out such venom? What makes exploring this subject bearable, even full of grace, is the way Barrett-Fox approaches it: drawing strength from her family and relationships, taking insights from feminist ethnography about how to use empathy without allowing it to dull critical thinking, and remembering that, like Paul of Tarsus, even the hate-filled people of Westboro are not beyond God’s ability to redeem.

Among this month’s other offerings are two takes on a type of “person” made not by God, but by a legal fiction: corporations. E.J. Dionne examines the Supreme Court decision to allow corporations to make unlimited political donations, while Catholic theologian Vincent Miller points out perhaps the worst effect of making corporations “people”: the danger that real humans, made in God’s image, may be pulled to make themselves over in an amoral corporate likeness.

Cover Story

An interview by Joanie Eppinga with Rebecca Barrett-Fox, a scholar who finds the appalling, the unexpected, and the human inside Westboro Baptist Church

Feature

Sidebar to "Resurrecting Detroit"
In Guatemala, 44,000 people were "disappeared" during decades of war. Now workers there seek to resurrect a buried history and human dignity.
Angela Glover Blackwell believes in Detroit's future, and she has a vision for how to get there. Failure is not an option.
The apostle's attack on elitism in Corinthian church and society speaks a clear message about inequality today.
The Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case didn't actually make corporations into people, but it did undercut the role of actual, live human beings in elections.

Commentary

Lawsuits help corporations run roughshod over governments and the environment.
History shows engagement, not attack, dissuades countries from developing nuclear weapons.
Seeing corporations as people, are we making ourselves over in their image?

Columns

Few people I know believe peace in the Holy Land is really possible—unless it begins with Israeli and Palestinian Christians.
Fairness matters, especially for people on society’s margins—and that conviction goes far beyond tax equity to every aspect of public policy. For people of the Book, it’s much more important than politics; it’s a matter of faith.
Even al Qaeda can use re-branding.
Scripture teaches that the Spirit of God was in that still, small voice. But every now and again the Spirit arrives with flapping wings and honking, too. Like that old gray goose.

Culture Watch

The best parts of the Disney worldview look like the eschatological images in a Martin Luther King Jr. speech; the worst merely bolster a culture of privilege and exclusion.
We've come a long way, baby. Or have we? Is it too much to ask legislators to speak cogently about women's health?
"Stream of Conscience" by 2/3 Goat
"Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the country in Between" by Jeff Sharlet
Springsteen sings what politicians won't say: We were robbed and the thieves have escaped justice.
"Missional Preaching: Engage, Embrace, Transform" by Al Tizon
Four June 2012 culture recommendations from our editors

Departments

Reflections on the Common Lectionary, Cycle B
Rev. Gerald L. Durley, Pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta, Gerogia