Public Religion in the News Digest, January 10, 2020

Religion New Service lists the top 10 religious news stories of the past decade:

From the article: Benedict XVI resignation; Islamophobia; clergy sex abuse; #ChurchToo; the “nones”; mass shootings at houses of worship; gay ordination/gay marriage; evangelicals and power; anti-Semitic attacks; religious freedom (trumping all other rights).

Washington Post interviews Sojourners’ Jim Wallis regarding the Christianity Today editorial and what it represents:

From the article: The evangelical right, those leaders — the Franklin Grahams, the Jerry Falwell Juniors, the Ralph Reeds — have made a transactional bargain, a Faustian bargain with this administration. … Mark Galli [the outgoing editor of Christianity Today] said, ‘I can’t accept this anymore.’ He can’t take the ‘gross immorality’ anymore in exchange for getting the policies that he wants. It gives evangelicals with similar concerns permission and cover to do the same.

We don’t have to win back a majority of white evangelicals. We just have to make a difference among white evangelicals in five or six states, and I think we can do that. There’s a crack in the white evangelical wall of support and that crack is growing bigger every day.

University of Chicago Div School’s Cynthia Lindner discusses why religion needs to disturb as well as comfort.

From the article: There is something destabilizing, it seems, in these material reminders of a savior’s stable birth. This intimate collision of human and holy, occurring in spaces open to the public gaze, represents a fundamental disruption of the categories, venues, and identities by which human societies demarcate and distribute power, worth, and value. Religious claims of conscience—especially those that disturb the safety or predictability of the status quo—have always made societies anxious. In our own context, there has been litigation opposing manger scenes and menorahs in our public squares and domes atop our suburban mosques, silencing the steeple bells and voices of muezzins that would remind us of any obligation beyond those of nation or economy. While these and other measures to control religious expression and practice may seem to be simply the reasonable accommodations of an increasingly pluralistic culture, the concurrent caging of our contemporary moral imagination has sapped our ethical will and crippled our civil discourse, and with devastating consequences for our life together as a society and for the future of the political and naturals ecosystems on which we depend.

One of the values that Pete Buttigieg brings to public debates is talking about his faith, in public, and in different terms from the claims of the Christian Right. But, when he does, he is soundly criticized in ways that reveal the biblical interpretation that stands behind some evangelicals’ public stances.

From the article: Liberal Christians like Buttigieg argue that Trump supporters would reject Jesus, who according to some interpretations of scripture fled Bethlehem for Egypt as a toddler to escape death, from seeking refuge in the United States. But many conservative Christians reject the belief that Jesus was a refugee since both his birthplace and Egypt were a part of the Roman Empire. This difference in understanding appears to shape how different Christians view refugees. Only 25 percent of white evangelicals — a group that overwhelmingly backs Republican politicians — believe that America has a responsibility to welcome refugees, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center survey. More than 60 percent of black protestant Christians — a group that overwhelmingly supports Democratic politicians — believe that the United States has a responsibility to admit refugees.

Emma Green interviews the National Association of Evangelicals Leith Anderson. In the interview, she demonstrates again that evangelicalism is not one piece.

From the article: Green: The NAE is part of the Evangelical Immigration Table. That organization has, in the past few years, published letters that have openly criticized policies of the Trump administration, particularly around child detention at the border and family separation.

I’ve wondered if it feels lonely for you to be putting out letters that seem to contradict the views of a large segment of American Christians—the strong majority of white evangelicals who support more restrictive immigration laws, for example. Do you feel out of step with the zeitgeist of evangelicalism on immigration specifically?

Anderson: No. It’s back to the 2,000 verses that talk about the orphan and the widow and the lonely. I would say I’m identifying with the historic theme of biblical faith.

What kind of commitment does it take to provide sanctuary to an undocumented family? A hallmark of “compassionate conservatism” is that religious communities and institutions should deliver welfare services, not the government. Read this article with that claim in mind. See what it takes for 1 congregation—a large congregation—to care for 1 family with a prolonged need.

From the article: Meanwhile, the church’s 1,000 or so members have learned to practice what the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, the senior minister, calls “the fragile art of hospitality.” More than 200 volunteers, from Cedar Lane and 26 other D.C.-area congregations, help facilitate the day-to-day lives and logistics of Gutierrez Lopez and her family.

New name for a Christian Right advocacy organization operating in a state near you.

From the article: “They started talking about Project Blitz,” Carawan laughed as she tried to show how CPCF had buffaloed the opposition. “And as soon as we understood that they knew they were onto us, we changed the name; shifted things around a little bit; now they’re talking about something that nobody else is really even talking about, we’ve renamed and moved on.”

Carawan said they now call Project Blitz, “Freedom for All” –– although that name does not appear on the CPCF web site. This rebranding, which seems to be more of a debranding, may have been wise in the wake of the disastrous public response to Project Blitz.  But the move was neither as nimble or as swift as Carawan claims.

The President, God, and “anointed one” are connected on the Christian Right. Now Baby Boomers have joined the connection.

From the article: “I believe that God revealed to me that he raised up Abraham Lincoln in a unique time in history,” Johnson said. “What God used him to do was to issue an Emancipation Proclamation concerning the slaves. I believe that God has raised up Donald Trump to issue an Emancipation Proclamation concerning the millions of babies that have been aborted.”

Johnson claimed that God also told him that “the future of America is in the hands of the baby boomers” because “this demographic of people has been anointed by the Lord” to assist Trump in this effort.

Partisan Prayer.

From the article: Groups mobilizing for mass public prayer and worship, like participants in Movement 2020, exist alongside other prayer projects like Intercessors for America, POTUS Shield, and Paula White’s One Voice Prayer Movement, which distribute conservative talking points in the form of prayer suggestions and “prayer points.” In the Summer 2014 issue of The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, scholar Cynthia Burack, who has examined the uses of prayer projects by the Christian right, noted that the use of “devotional rhetoric” and softer political messaging can make prayer projects less immediately identifiable as vehicles for the advancement of conservative political strategies than the efforts of traditional religious-right political groups like the Family Research Council.

The weaponization of religion. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this.

From the article: Amedia went on to take aim at the president’s opponents. “God may allow them to have some life for a short while so that then he can bring his disaster on those forces that are against the call of God,” he said. Discussing the escalating situation with Iran and Trump’s controversial decision last week to order a military strike that killed military commander Qassem Soleimani, Amedia said this was in line with what God wanted. “God is a man of war,” he maintained.