Abducting Girls in the Name of God

by Michael Fleshman

Hudreds gather at Union Square in New York City on May 3 to demand the release of Nigerian schoolgirls, by Michael Fleshman

The brutal abduction of several hundred Nigerian schoolgirls has stunned and outraged the world. A violent organization called Boko Haram, and its leader Abubakar Shekau, took credit for the kidnapping more than 300 female students from their classrooms at gunpoint, from a government-run school in Chibok, on April 14. In his subsequent video, the smiling terrorist leader told the world they would sell the teenage girls “into the marketplace” or forced marriages; in his latest, he claims the girls have converted to Islam. Shekau has claimed that God told him to do all of this. That is a lie. It is an abomination. It is a blasphemy against God, and people of faith from all traditions should denounce his words.

Invoking the name of God to justify human barbarity is a painfully tragic and an ongoing occurrence. If hearing these lies about God breaks our hearts, we can only imagine they must also break the heart of God. As the Qur’an warns, “Who is more unjust than he who lies against God?” This kind of blasphemy often derives from extreme religious fanaticism that can be found in all of our faith traditions — those who pervert, abuse, and use the language of religion for fear, hate, and power. These self-proclaimed religious leaders must be utterly denounced as false and human abominations of religion and must be publically condemned and held accountable by faith communities around the world.

Sarah Palin’s Dying Breed of Christianity

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz /

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz /

Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.

She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.

The Religious Left Is Struggling. Can The Cause Of Economic Justice Help It Rise Again?

The report, by the institute’s Governance Studies Program, is based on polling and interviews with many of the top players of Washington’s religious left. This includes John Carr, formerly of the U.S. Bishops Conference, evangelical writer Jim Wallis and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform Jewish movement.

If the Internet Isn't Killing Religion, What Is?

New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 15. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

A smart professor in Massachusetts noticed recently that religion’s decline in America coincided with the rise of the Internet.

He theorized that the two may be connected. Headline: “Is the Internet bad for religion?”

It’s utter nonsense, of course. The decline of mainline churches began in 1965, not in the 1990s when the Internet became commercially available. It would be more accurate, from a timing standpoint, to say that the American League’s designated hitter rule (1973) caused religion’s decline. Or maybe the “British invasion” in rock ‘n’ roll (1964).

According to the Bible, You Might Be a Christian If …

Image via

Image via

Many people exploit the Bible to furiously cast judgment on others — sinfully using condemnation, guilt, shame, fear, and hatred to abuse others — all under the guise of “accountability” and the false premise of “Christianity.”

But according to the Bible, various people were used by God to do amazing things, and these individuals were often described as righteous and holy … even though they were dramatically flawed.

To be human is to be imperfect, and although we shouldn’t glorify sin or purposefully live in sin, we need to be careful about labeling others at “heretics,” “unbelievers,” and “sinners.” Because in reality, contrary to everything we assume, those whom we detest just might be favored by God.

Sinful attributes and misdeeds don’t disqualify you from a life of holiness, righteousness, and Godliness, but we often treat people as such — and condemn them to an eternity in hell. But according to the Bible, you might be a ‘Christian’ even if …

Tragedy Begets Resilience

via TED Conference /

Dancers Christian Lightner and Adrianne Haslet-Davis at TED2014 - The Next Chapter, via TED Conference /

Among the many images of the marathon victims that emerged shortly after the attack, I remember being most struck by the photographs of the injured victims, missing their once sturdy limbs, lying in hospital beds. For me, those images perfectly conveyed how our city was feeling at that moment. We had just had something ripped away from us. We were assaulted, grieving for our loss, and outraged that any human being could dare do this to us.

How would our injured victims respond? Within days, the answer was clear. They would remain resilient. Adrianne Haslet-Davis would dance again, now with a prosthetic limb. Never a runner before, Celeste Corcoran pledged to run a marathon, now on her two prosthetic limbs. And, shaken by the tragedy, Amanda North would quit her job and launch the dream of her own artisan business.

A Moral Crisis in Africa

FOR THE PAST year, life in the Central African Republic has been steadily spinning out of control.

Since the Seleka—or “alliance”—rebellion overturned the government in March 2013, there has been widespread insecurity and chaos. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has called the situation a "mega-crisis."

Though the rebel movement began as a coalition of 5,000 fighters from a few rebel groups, it is now thought to have increased to 20,000, and there are credible reports that as many as 6,000 youth have been recruited into violent movements. Since December, at least 2,000 people have been killed and more than 700,000 displaced. And now there are legitimate fears of ethnic and religious “cleansing.”

To say that this conflict is about religion is a simplistic narrative. Yes, right now people are banding together with others who are like them—Christians with Christians and Muslims with Muslims. But for more than 50 years prior to the conflict, Christians and Muslims in the Central African Republic (CAR) coexisted in relative peace. From the beginning of the conflict, there were political and regional forces at work, and the Seleka forces happen to be primarily Muslim. And in retaliation for the violence and fear that came with the rebellion and the mostly untrained and loosely organized rebel fighters, fighters who happened to be Christian formed the anti-Balaka (“anti-machete”) militias. These fighters, most would agree, are not the best representatives of either faith, but they have taken over the narrative, and it is the civilians—many families and children—who suffer.

As a Christian, I grieve over the unspeakable violence wrongly done in the name of faith by these men and women—on both sides. And I mourn with the thousands who have been driven from their homes, lost their lives, or felt compelled to take up arms out of fear.

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Allegiance concept, LoloStock /

Allegiance concept, LoloStock /

Everywhere we turn, someone or something is vying for our allegiance. Sports teams. Car companies. Television networks. Politicians. Political parties. Flags. Countries. And of course, the church. Many of us will readily admit that Jesus taught our allegiance is to be, first and foremost, to God. That is, until someone steps on our toes and throws our church into the mix. For many, their allegiance to God and their church are so intertwined it's difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. But what does Jesus have to say about all of this?

From my estimation, God makes it pretty clear that he does not want to vie for our allegiance. Isn't that the whole point of the first commandment? Jump ahead to the New Testament and we find Jesus teaching the same thing. At one point Jesus goes so far as to tell us that our allegiance cannot be divided. Either we will love the one and hate the other, or hate the one and love the other. According to Jesus, serving two masters isn't just difficult, it's impossible. To further illustrate this point, he even turns away a would be disciple. From reading the story, this man seems to have a legitimate concern. All he wants to do is bury his father before taking off to follow in the footsteps of this rabbi. But from Jesus' perspective, his allegiance is divided, so this won't fly.

Today is no different. God doesn't want to vie for our allegiance. Yet he must, because our allegiance is divided between church attendance, theological stances, and denominational commitments (among other things), as if these things take precedence over following Jesus. 

From the Archives: April 1992

VIOLENCE is the ethos of our times. It is the spirituality of the modern world. What is generally overlooked is that violence is accorded the status of a religion, demanding from its devotees an absolute obedience-unto-death.

Its followers are not aware that the devotion they pay to violence is a form of religious piety, however. Violence is so successful as a myth precisely because it does not appear to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. It is embraced with equal alacrity by people on the Left and the Right, by religious liberals as well as religious conservatives.

The threat of violence, it is believed, is alone able to deter aggressors. It secured us 45 years of a balance of terror. We learned to trust the bomb to grant us peace.

The roots of this devotion to violence are deep, and we will be well rewarded if we trace them to their source. When we do, we will discover that the religion of Babylon—one of the world’s oldest continuously surviving world religions—is thriving as never before in every segment of contemporary American life, even our synagogues and churches. It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America. 

Walter Wink was professor of biblical interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City when this article appeared.

Image: From the ruins, Hyena Reality /

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Why is the Cross Necessary?

THIS GENERATION IS wired a bit differently than previous generations. I don’t only mean the vitality of portable multitasking devices that provide continuous streams of global news, entertainment, gaming, and random opinions from 2,157 of their closest friends. In all fairness, it’s not their fault. They are who we taught them to be. Often they seek the good, but not God.

Notwithstanding a persistent rejection of organized religion, many in this generation continue to seek power, transcendence, and mystery. Though church membership is down, a steady number continue to express a profound interest in spirituality. In a post-theistic context, says Diana Butler Bass, “many Americans are articulating their discontent with organized religion and their hope that somehow ‘religion’ might regain its true bearings in the spirit.” It’s worth noting that many remain attracted to the idea of Jesus.

These last weeks of Lent invite a rehearsal of faith journeys that lead to rumors of resurrection. Glittering gadgets and tantalizing trinkets will not rid us of an awareness of the futility of our efforts to bring about change. Gossip and trends will not provide Christians with the vitality that facilitates a genuine hope for good. By submitting our ideas of justice to the witness of the reign of God, we pass on the confidence that the faith of the past can sustain us to live into the future. Not only as if there is a God, but as if our God has the power to rebuild and revitalize all that injustice has shattered.

Joy J. Moore is associate dean for African-American church studies and assistant professor of preaching at Fuller Theological Seminary in California.

[ APRIL 6 ]
Abandon Human Confidence
Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

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