Category: Interspiritual

“Christian” freedom

Historian Diana Butler Bass provides a sequel to yesterday’s post about “Christian” as adjective. Her latest blog post comes from The Cottage, where she wrote about Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis: “The Freedom State or the State of Freedom?

Her first three sentences: “DeSantis calls it the Freedom State,” a friend from Florida recently moaned to me, “but that’s Orwellian. He’s taking freedoms away. It is frightening.”

Bass says freedom is “DeSantis’ slogan, a key part of his political brand. And in the final ad of the campaign season, his campaign specially linked ‘freedom’ to white Christian nationalism.

DeSantis’ efforts to control higher education are troubling, such as “a new state list of every teacher or class that mentions diversity or racism.” Bass cites a Florida statute that defines state universities as “agencies of the state which belong to and are part of the executive branch of state government.”

From the DeSantis campaign ad linked above from the Diana Butler Bass blog post.

“Christian” as adjective

“Christian” is a daunting adjective, as in Christian pastor, Christian church or Christian nation. I’m hesitant to claim it for myself or my group. It’s better, though still a daunting challenge, if others apply it to me or my group.

When this adjective is a label worn too lightly, too quickly or too proudly, it demeans a great tradition. To misuse, or thoughtlessly claim, this adjective for self or group, or to wear it while attacking someone else is profanity–meaningless talk about God.

One Sunday, my district superintendent attended our worship service unexpectedly. A choir member said, “The DS is here. Does that scare you?” I said, “No. But it keeps me on my toes to believe God is listening here every Sunday.”

This 1995 quote from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (sent from my friend Ernie) and a 2022 blog post by Diana Butler Bass, “Christian Nationalism Everywhere?” reinforce my reluctance to use Christian as an adjective, as in “Christian nation.”

John Cobb and Jennifer Grancio

Spiritual Bankruptcy, by John Cobb, was the focus of several posts, beginning 9/25/22. One Cobb sentence lingers with me: Being religious tends to confirm existing patterns of behavior or even those of ancestors rather than encourage drastic innovation.

I thought of Cobb when I heard Barry Ritholtz interview Jennifer Grancio, CEO of investment company Engine No. 1. Grancio’s company sees sustainability as essential for long-term profitability. It’s just common sense, but some corporations don’t think enough about the long term. It made me wonder if I helped my congregations think enough about the long term.

Cobb and Grancio come from different perspectives to share a common theme, described in Wikipedia’s article about Cobb: A unifying theme of Cobb’s work is his emphasis on ecological interdependence–the idea that every part of the ecosystem is reliant on all the other parts. Cobb has argued that humanity’s most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends….

Engine No. 1’s first project was Exxon Mobil, which Grancio and company believed had not addressed long term issues facing a changing oil and gas industry. They successfully elected three new directors to the Exxon board, noting … the changes it has made … including maintaining capital allocation discipline, setting more aggressive GHG emissions reduction targets, and increasing resources for its Low Carbon Solutions business unit.

From “Can Engine No 1 lead Wall Street to ‘beyond investment as usual’?” by Billy
Grider, Climate & Capital Media, April 13, 2022

The beloved community

One of ML King, Jr.’s gifts was making widely known–and expanding–Josiah Royce‘s idea of the beloved community. When I was young, I accepted the widely held US idea that America was the beloved community, i.e., uniquely blessed by God. Ronald Reagan inspired many people with his idea that we are a nation “set on a hill.”

America is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, (until recently) moderate climate, and our Founders’ (unfinished) vision of liberty and justice for all. It’s easy for an awareness of blessing to merge a national self-understanding with the biblical concept of ancient Israel as “God’s chosen people.”

I once heard a rabbi say of the Israelites: “Chosen yes, but for mission, not privilege.” The nature of the Royce/King vision is completely inclusive. It embraces all the earth–all the Universe. We are beloved because the Universe is beloved. The beloved community practices the art of receiving and giving unconditional love.

From “The King Philosophy” (including the Beloved Community), The King Center. (L-to-R, Ralph David Abernathy, James Forman, MLK, Jr., Jesse Douglas, John Lewis,

The big picture

Regular readers of this blog know that I often draw from “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,”produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation. When I typed “Richard Rohr” into this blog’s excellent search engine, I discovered that I’ve referenced Rohr in 96 of 1,206 posts.This one is number 97.

Rohr is one reason that in recent years I’ve been increasingly drawn to the “big picture” theme. CAC’s 1/16/23 meditation, a Rohr reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr., entitled “Big Picture Thinkers,” was personally very helpful. As he often does, Rohr put King’s life and message within a larger context (what he calls a “larger frame”).

As MLK applied the idea of the beloved community to a “wider frame” beyond race to economics and war, he lost a sizable part of his following. Then, writes Rohr:

We don’t want the big frame. No one wants the big picture. … Jesus’ metaphor and image for what we would simply call the big picture is the reign of God, or the kingdom of God. … To consider things in light of eternity is a great clarifier. Maybe it comes to us on our death bed, when we think to ourselves, “Is this going to mean anything? Does this really matter? Is this little thing we’re upset about now and taking offense at going to mean anything in light of eternity?” The prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully and in the largest context.

From “Six big picture thinking strategies that you’ll actually use,” by Madeline Miles, BetterUp, July 29, 2022

A memorable year

The LA Dodgers swept the NY Yankees in the 1963 World Series. Of 36 innings, Sandy Koufax pitched 18; Don Drysdale 9: Johnny Podres 8 1/3; and Ron Perronoski 2/3. 1963 was my last year of baseball cards. The sport moved down several notches in my consciousness due to adolescence and due to some major events in 1963.

On May 3, high pressure water from fire hoses and police dogs were unleashed on Civil Rights demonstrators in Birmingham. The children and youth began to stir the conscience of white America with their powerful witness.

On August 28, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. That was only peripheral for me then, but its significance has grown with time.

On September 15, Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14) and Cynthia Wesley (14) were killed by a bomb while attending Sunday School at Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. “Infamy” is an appropriate word.

On November 22, news of President John Kennedy’s assassination was broadcast over our school intercom. My 7th grade science teacher wrote on the chalkboard “Lyndon Johnson,” and then “John McCormack” after reports of LBJ’s chest pains. This began several sad days and 60 years of wondering “what if” (regarding Vietnam, especially).

From “Rep. John Lewis’ Fight For Civil Rights Began With A Letter To Martin Luther King, Jr.,” by Kerrie Hillman, Aisha Turner and Emma Bowman, NPR, January 17, 2020

About ten years ago…

… I drove to Monroeville, Alabama for lunch and conversation with Thomas Lane Butts (1930-2021), a retired pastor. He told me about the time he met Martin Luther King, Jr. in early 1955, when Butts was a seminary student at Emory University and pastor of a 4-church “circuit” near (then wild and woolly) Phenix City, Alabama.

Butts’ mentor, Welton Gregory, phoned to say, “Tom, I want you to be in Montgomery at 7:30 tomorrow morning. A group of us are going to Talladega to spend the day with a young black Baptist minister who has just been called to be pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. We believe he’s going to have a creative influence on race relations in Alabama. His name is Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Butts said the group that met with King that day in 1955 numbered about twelve. Butts said the session was transformative for him because of King’s intellect and communication skill. I found a 2012 blog post by Butts that provides a fuller context for their meeting in Talladega.

Welcome to a tea party

Issues of faith and ethics are central to our conversation about rapid technological change (see previous posts). A related issue is the way faith itself is impacted by the technology of mass communication (particularly the “silo” effect of social media). I’d like to invite Diana Butler Bass into this conversation.

DBB writes an occasional blog called The Cottage. Point 4 of her January 11 post is: “The internal tensions and divisions of American Christianity will continue to dominate our political life, both overtly and more surreptitiously.” She writes that Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, and Hakeem Jeffries are all Baptists, a reality worthy of “an entire dissertation in American religious history.”

DBB invites conversation about “what it means to be Christian in a less-Christianized world. … humility and hospitality” to “embody a beautiful biblical faith that contributes to a flourishing, fairer world.” … “Ignoring religion and politics won’t spare us from divisions, anger, and pain. Ignoring them ensures that even more extremist and more dangerous forms of Christian politics will arise to the detriment of not only American politics but to Christianity itself.”

I left a comment for DBB at her blog: I try to have a virtual cup of tea each day with Phyllis Tickle and John Lewis, simply to ask them, “What should we do now?” At tea today, we’ll discuss this post. Thank you!

From “Congress and the Religion Imbalance,” by Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage, January 11, 2023

Christian nationalism

Following yesterday’s post about Russian Christian nationalism, it’s appropriate to look at our American experience. The best source I know is Christians Against Christian Nationalism, led by the BJC, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The BJC’s Amanda Tyler is a strong, clear voice for religious freedom.

Christianity was born as a sometimes persecuted faith in a large (Roman) empire. Emperor Constantine (280-337) embraced Christianity, saw the faith as a way to solidify loyalty and made it the official religion of the empire. The development of European nation-states led to holy wars between Christian nations.

The Founders concluded Article VI of the US Constitution with: “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The First Amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof.”

From “Why White Christian Nationalism Isn’t Going Away,” by Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Time, November 13, 2022