civil war

Abby Olcese 06-28-2016

Image via

So changing our popular narrative about this era in our nation’s history means being more honest about the past. This is the admirable goal of Free State of Jones, a film about a real-life Mississippi farmer who led a rebellion against the Confederacy, made up of fellow farmers, escaped slaves, and army deserters.

Image via STX Entertainment / RNS

It’s a long way from Hollywood, yet a swampy corner of southeast Mississippi has given the film world its latest hero — or maybe antihero.

His name is Newton Knight, born 180 years ago and played by Matthew McConaughey in the The Free State of Jones, which opened around the country on June 24.

REUTERS/Brian Snyder 

The Southern Baptist Convention, born in 1845 in a split over its support for slavery, passed a resolution calling for Christians to quit using the Confederate flag.

“We call our brothers and sisters in Christ to discontinue the display of the Confederate battle flag as a sign of solidarity of the whole Body of Christ, including our African-American brothers and sisters,” reads the resolution adopted Tuesday at the convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.

Abby Olcese 05-05-2016

Image via Facebook/Captain America: Civil War

As any Marvel’s Avengers appreciator can tell you, a staple focus of each story is on team dynamics. What does it take for a group of people with different agendas and backgrounds to effectively work together for good? How does a team find common ground, and account for each others’ strengths and weaknesses?

As anyone who’s lived in Christian community (or worked in social justice) knows, these ideas come up as much in everyday life as they do when taking down a supervillain. But what Marvel hasn’t looked at is the other side of intentional community — what happens when a team can’t work.

Until now.

Kenyan students in Burundian solidarity vigil. Image via REUTERS/Noor Khamis/RNS

A serious breakdown between the powerful Roman Catholic Church and the government in Burundi is raising concerns over stability in the East African nation, as senior government officials accuse the church of sponsoring violence. Since April 2015, the country has been racked by chaos after President Pierre Nkurunziza agreed to run for a third term. Catholic bishops had strongly opposed the move, saying the constitution was clear that a president should serve only two terms.

the Web Editors 02-25-2016

Mississippi state capitol. Image via /

In his fathomless wisdom, the governor of Mississippi has declared April to be “Confederate Heritage Month,” though the proclamation was curiously missing from the State of Mississippi website, reports the Jackson Free Press.

Gov. Phil Bryant's proclamation — first posted on the website of the Sons of Confederate Veterans — states that “it is important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation’s past.” And what better time? After all, April 25 “is set aside as Confederate Memorial Day to honor those who served in the Confederacy” — why not give them an entire month?

the Web Editors 08-28-2015

1. Where Pope Francis Learned Humility

Francis’ road to humility was like the rest of ours: long, hard, and prideful.

2. The Meaning of Serena Williams: On Tennis and Black Excellence

“For black people, there is an unspoken script that demands the humble absorption of racist assaults, no matter the scale, because whites need to believe that it’s no big deal. But Serena refuses to keep to that script.”

Lisa Sharon Harper 06-08-2015

Today's stereotypes of the black family are hard-drawn, inhuman caricatures, not real humanity, explains Lisa Sharon Harper. 

John Fea 02-11-2015
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Shutterstock / RNS

Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / Everett Historical / Shutterstock / RNS

President Obama’s political opponents are outraged over his remarks at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast comparing Islamic violence to historic Christian violence.​ Jim Gilmore, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, called the remarks “the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime.”

But anyone who is angry with Obama’s speech must also express the same wrath toward one of the greatest presidential speeches in American history, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, delivered 150 years ago next month.

Obama used his annual remarks at the National Prayer breakfast to condemn radical Islam (though he didn’t use the term). In the process, he made some more general comments about how religion has been used — both today and in the past — to promote violence.

What has rankled many conservatives is Obama’s statement that “during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” He then brought his historical analogy closer to home:

“In our home country, slavery, and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Eboo Patel 11-06-2014

Would his first taste of Islamaphobia come at the age of 5 during show-and-tell. 

Jim Wallis 06-27-2014
Via The U.S. Army,

Via The U.S. Army,

America is stunned by what is happening in Iraq right now, and happening so quickly. We may be facing the worst terrorist threat to international security so far — despite all we have done and sacrificed. Both our political leaders and media pundits are admitting there are no good options for the U.S. now. But there is an option we could try for the first time: humility. Let me turn to two biblical texts that might provide some wisdom for both the religious and non-religious.

If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:20–21)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

All nations use propaganda to tell half-truths and spread misinformation about their enemies, which should be honestly challenged. Even so, it is also true that we have real enemies in this world, as individuals, groups, and nations. To assume otherwise is foolish, from the perspective of history, certainly, but also in light of good theology about evil as part of the nature of the human condition. According to the Bible, even our faith communities will encounter enemies. Jesus’s teaching assumes that we will have enemies, and he teaches us how to treat them. In the passages above, Jesus and Paul the Apostle offer guidance for more effective ways of dealing with our enemies. It seems to be clear that our habit of going to war against them is increasingly ineffective. For the past several years, we have found ourselves in a constant state of war with “enemies” who are very hard to find or completely defeat.

A Sudanese Christian woman carries a cross. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

For Christians living in predominantly Muslim Sudan, travel restrictions are making life more difficult each day, a Roman Catholic cardinal said.

Sudanese Cardinal Gabriel Zubeir Wako highlighted the challenges at a Catholic Bishops Conference in Juba, the Republic of South Sudan’s capital. His auxiliary bishop could not attend the Jan. 21-30 meeting because his passport was seized by security agents, along with those of eight priests.

“Christians in the two countries are facing difficulties,” Wako told the gathering. “We [bishops] must focus on serious matters and come up with strong messages.”

John Perkins 01-05-2014

The Dividing Wall in America

Stephen Starr 09-24-2013

View of Maalula village with Muslim Mosque and statue of Virgin Mary. Photo: Via RNS/John Wreford/Associated Reporters Abroad

A huge statue of the Virgin Mary towers over churches, monasteries and mosques in the Syrian city of Maaloula, where a dialect of the Aramaic language of Jesus is still spoken.

The town has managed to stay out of the Syrian conflict between Sunni Muslim rebels and the regime of dictator Bashar Assad, as have most of Syria’s 2 million Christians.

But worsening violence has forced the community into a corner: Continuous clashes between the rebels and the regime in this isolated town of 2,000 people as well as other Christian towns over the past two weeks have many Christians worried that they will no longer be allowed to stay neutral.

Brian E. Konkol 09-11-2013
Ryan Seacrest during an American Idol taping, s_bukley /

Ryan Seacrest during an American Idol taping, s_bukley /

As President Barack Obama prepared to address the nation on Tuesday evening to articulate a plan for intervention in Syria, NBC rushed to assure its viewers that the Ryan Seacrest-hosted game show, The Million Second Quiz, would not be interrupted. As detailed by the network, the president would speak for only 15 minutes, thus viewers could watch their televisions with full confidence that the entirety of the hyped-up program would be fully protected. While there was suspense as to whether NBC would follow through on its promise of an unbroken telecast, the presidential coverage stayed within the agreed upon time slot, viewers were able to watch their regularly scheduled program, and all was well in the world.

In the meantime, all is not well in the world. 

Stephen Mattson 09-04-2013
Create Peace sign, nagib /

Create Peace sign, nagib /

As the United States prepares to “officially” become involved in the Syrian war, Christian pacifism has reemerged as a much-discussed and relevant topic. Unfortunately, the concept has been somewhat misrepresented, undervalued, and often downright demonized within evangelical communities.

Critics often assume Christian Pacifism is some sort of radical political movement associated with marijuana-smoking hippies who are anti-government conspiracy theorists. To make matters worse, pop-culture (and much of Christian culture) has made pacifism seem, well, passive — as if pacifists are unpatriotic and un-American heretics who refuse to enlist in the military and avoid physical confrontations at all costs. They are characterized and perceived as weak, scared, and gutless.

In reality, the beliefs that form Christian pacifism are spiritual and scripturally founded around the life of Christ. And whether you agree with the theology, it’s hard to passively dismiss the Biblical argument for pacifism as some sort of crazy mumbo-jumbo.

Syria illustration, Aleksey Klints /

Syria illustration, Aleksey Klints /

As the Obama administration readies for a probable military strike against Syria, Religion News Service asked a panel of theologians and policy experts whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria in light of the regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians. Would the “Just War” doctrine justify U.S. military action, and what is America’s moral responsibility? Here are their responses, which have been edited for clarity.

RNS photo by Samuel Murray

Statue of Father William Corby at Gettysburg battlefield by Samuel Murray. Photo courtesy RNS.

During the July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, there were Christians and Jews on both sides of the conflict who knew the answer to the question “Whose side is God on?”

Or at least they thought they did.

In 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis declared: “Our cause is just and holy,” and the South self-assuredly adopted as its motto Deo vindice (“God will vindicate us”). In the same year, Julia Ward Howe composed the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” with the triumphant words: “He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword. … I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps. … Glory, glory Hallelujah, His truth is marching on.”

Suzanne Ross 05-21-2013
Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring /

Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring /

What the heck is going on in Syria? If you are like me, you have a problem keeping all the players straight, and the unfamiliar Arab names don’t help. Thankfully, the Syrian president has a relatively easy name to remember, Bashar al-Assad, but keeping track of who’s who and which side they’re on is a real challenge. Frankly, even when I can keep track, I’m very skeptical that I am getting anything close to the truth from news outlets, the White House, or our State Department. The talk about a “red line,” no-fly zones, arming terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction sounds a lot like the falderal we were being fed going into the Iraq war. So what’s a good citizen of the world to do? If I can’t make sense of the news accounts myself, who can I find to help me out? And if I can’t trust my government to sort out the good guys from the bad guys for me, how can I ever figure out what, if anything, my government should be doing in my name?

Alex Awad 04-08-2013
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Young children sit inside a tent in the Za’atari refugee camp. Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Our ministry with the Mafraq Church helped us see the desperate need for volunteers and funds to help the Church continue this vital ministry. Thousands of Syrians continue to make their way to Jordan fleeing the violence. Already more than 500,000 Syrian refugees live in Jordan. The refugee camps are overcrowded. We visited the Zatari Camp that has become home to more than 130,000 people. As far as the eye can see, the visitor can observe row after row of tents and small mobile units. The main street is packed with refugees while numerous shops, vendors, makeshift hospitals, and NGO distribution centers have sprung up in response to the plight of the refugees.

Other refugees are finding temporary residence in rooms, apartments, and warehouses in towns and cities outside the camp. The number of refugees in Mafraq has even surpassed the number of Jordanian residents. Church volunteers distributed basic items such as mattresses, blankets, small gas cookers, and gas containers. In addition, we delivered food baskets containing $50.00 worth of groceries to each family we visited.