Category: History

Obama’s “Amazing Grace”

American political speech has long drawn on the Bible and Christian theology. President Barack Obama’s eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine people killed in a church shooting June 17, continued in that tradition. Obama drew on the depth of Christian experience primarily to make sense of a terrible event, but also to stir us to action. I’ve argued in my academic work that when speakers evoke…  [more]

The Confederate flag and Christian allegiance

Last week’s racially motivated massacre of nine African-Americans at a South Carolina church has renewed debate over the Confederate flag, which accused killer Dylann Storm Roof can be seen displaying in photos. While some point to this and the flag’s association with groups such as the Ku Klux Klan as evidence that it is an expression of hate, others have argued that it’s simply a symbol of their…  [more]

The new technology of social justice

In his seminal book The Prophets, Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel suggested that the Old Testament prophets saw justice as the supreme manifestation of God's presence. Heschel, a rabbi whose work carved out a place in both Jewish and Christian thought, was the sole survivor of a family who was killed by Nazis during World War II. "God's concern for justice grows out of His compassion for man,”…  [more]

Monica Lewinsky on the price of shame

In her well-received TED talk last week, Monica Lewinsky reminded her audience that many of today’s young adults were only children in 1998, when she became infamous overnight for her relationship with then-president Bill Clinton. She learned then what many have learned since: news travels fast and far in the digital age, especially when it’s mortifying. In her talk, “The Price of Shame,”…  [more]

The problem with Obama’s Crusades comment

Last week, President Barack Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast remarks about religious violence were not well-received. Noting the relationship between violence and religion in various times and places, he referenced Christianity’s connection with the Crusades, the Inquisition and American slavery and segregation. It’s true that Christians and the church have been complicit in violence –…  [more]

Why every Christian should care about nuclear disarmament

The Cold War ended decades ago, but since then the global conversation on nuclear weapons has been heating up. Yet the issue of nuclear arms is so complex and its stakes so high that most ordinary citizens are at a loss to formulate reasonably informed opinions. In fact, few outside a small number of specialists are knowledgeable about the topic. This is why the Nuclear Threat Initiative sponsored the attendance of…  [more]

How the anti-vaccination movement turns a blind eye toward history

On Wednesday, Google’s home page featured a happy illustration. In a street scene, smiling adults watched children play joyfully. Two children carried a sign in honor of the occasion: “Thank you, Dr. Salk!” On the 100th anniversary of Jonas Salk’s birth, some stopped to recognize his achievement and generosity in developing a polio vaccine and sharing it with the world. Many were happily…  [more]

A theology of billboards

Three years ago my family moved to Austin, Texas. Our very first spring we got a front row seat to the effects of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, a legacy of former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. In a place known for heat and drought, springtime in Texas kicks off a wildflower parade up and down the state’s medians and roadways. Johnson’s concern about the increasing number of billboards crowding…  [more]

Homegrown terrorists and the human need to belong

What if a Western Islamic man knocking on the door of a terrorist organization is really looking for the love of God? I don’t even want to think about the possibility. Those who join the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) are our enemies and have sworn to destroy us. Attempting to understand them feels like betrayal. Anyone who chooses ISIS is 100% evil. Period. United States President Barack Obama…  [more]

Salvaging sacred music in Syria

As the horrifying actions of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) reached mainstream consciousness last month, I found myself driving my car angry and unsettled. The gravity of this situation defied my capacity for understanding. Then the NPR station I had on played some modern-day Syrian men singing the Lord’s Prayer in ancient Aramaic, and I lost it. That afternoon, the deeply spiritual power…  [more]

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