At Christianity Today, we’re constantly tracking important developments in the church and the world. Often we use our network of reporters around the world (and for that, visit our main site). But we also monitor other news outlets, bloggers, newsmakers’ social media feeds, and countless other information streams. Gleanings compiles the most urgent and interesting items we’ve found, explains why you need to know about them, and gives you the background you need to understand them. It’s our snapshot of what God is doing in the world, hour by hour.
(Updated) Preliminary injunction will prevent ban from taking effect until courts decide on its constitutionality.
Melissa Steffan and Ted Olsen
Update (May 21): The New York Times reports that a federal judge has "temporarily blocked enforcement of [the abortion ban in Arkansas] saying the law was likely to be declared unconstitutional."
Arkansas prohibits abortions after the twelfth week of pregnancy, making it the second-most restrictive state ban in the country. North Dakota, which bans the procedure after as little as six weeks, is also facing legal action against it.
Update (Mar. 12): The New York Timesreports on how the ban has inspired pro-life activists in other states to pursue similar restrictions, but "traditional leaders of the anti-abortion movement, like National Right to Life and the Roman Catholic Church, think such laws will quickly be overturned in federal courts."
Overriding governor’s vetoes, the Arkansas state legislature voted to bar most abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation—the point at which fetal heartbeats can be detected with abdominal ultrasounds.
Will be replaced at Evangelicals for Social Action by 'consensus model' leadership team.
Ron Sider, founder and president of Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA), announced yesterday (Tues, Oct. 16) that he will retire in June 2013. His replacement: a "consensus model" leadership team of two co-directors.
NAE's Leith Anderson, Willow Creek's Lynn Hybels among council members.
The President's Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships has decided to tackle the issue of human trafficking this year after consulting with, among other groups, International Justice Mission and World Relief.
The council, a group of "diverse religious and nonprofit leaders" including National Association of Evangelicals president Leith Anderson and Lynn Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church, will produce "a formal report of recommendations" to President Barack Obama and his administration.
(UPDATED) A new campaign is raising questions about advocacy in an attempt to get the head of the Lord's Resistance Army arrested.
Sarah Pulliam Bailey
Update (Apr. 3, 2013): The Obama administration is now offering a $5 million bounty on Joseph Kony, though a joint manhunt for the warlord has been stopped because of the rebel takeover of his suspected hiding place: the Central African Republic.
CT examined Kony in a 2006 cover story on why Ugandan children were killing each other in the name of the Lord, and reported how churches responded to an amnesty offer. CT also ran reactions to Invisible Children's advocacy on Kony 2012, including how the Golden Rule should apply.
A viral video has captured widespread attention across social media outlets over an effort to arrest Joseph Kony, head of the Lord's Resistance Army that abducts and forces children to become soldiers.
A 30-minute video from the nonprofit Invisible Children has more than 15 million hits on YouTube and Vimeo since it was posted on March 5. The KONY 2012 campaign targets 20 celebrities (including megachurch pastor Rick Warren and outspoken Christian NFL quarterback Tim Tebow) and a dozen policymakers to spread the word.
Bloggers like Matthew Paul Turner and Rachel Held Evans shared the video, but the two have since pulled back. In response to some challenges from others over Invisible Children's role, Evans pulled her post and Turner updated his to note the responses.
The campaign raises questions about advocacy, media attention, and how money should best be spent to fight injustice.
On a widely circulated Tumblr page, Acadia University (Canada) student Grant Oyston rounded up criticisms of the KONY 2012 campaign, saying that Invisible Children supports the Ugandan army, which is accused of raping and looting those in their own country. Oyston also questions whether money should go to support an organization focused on advocacy and film making.
An Invisible Children employee addressed the criticisms in an interview with the Washington Post, emphasizing the awareness the video created. “There is only so much policymakers and foundations can do,” he said. “The film has reached a place in the global consciousness where people know who Kony is, they know his crimes." The video includes clips of the narrator talking to his young son in an attempt to explain the Lord’s Resistance Army and Kony to a global audience.
Last year, Foreign Affairschallenged strategies nonprofits like Invisible Children use to raise awareness, suggesting groups have manipulated facts. Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children three out of four stars overall, four stars financially, and two stars for accountability and transparency.
Washington Post columnist Mike Gerson has lauded the Obama administration's previous efforts to get Kony. At the time, Rush Limbaugh said Obama was planning “to wipe out Christians in Sudan, Uganda." Michele Bachmann warned against “unnecessary foreign entanglements,” but also said, “I do not know enough about it to comment on it.”
Christianity Todayprofiled Kony in 2006, noting how he twists religious texts.
Kony, 41, envisions an Acholiland ruled by a warped interpretation of the Ten Commandments. He uses passages from the Pentateuch to justify mutilation and murder. He promotes a demonic spirituality crafted from an eclectic mix of Christianity, Islam, and African witchcraft.
Any resemblance to these religions is superficial: While the army observes rituals such as praying the rosary and bowing toward Mecca, there is no prescribed theology in the conventional sense.
Readers' Choice award goes to HIV/AIDS activist Kendall Ciesemier
Almost two years ago, we featured Kendall Ciesemier as one of two U.S. teen activists who had raised millions of dollars in their quests to join the fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa.
Ciesemier's work had caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey and Bill Clinton, and now it's got the attention of the readers of Glamour magazine, who voted Ciesemier their Readers' Choice winner in the publication's annual Women of Year issue. The brief article notes that Kendall's organization, Kids Caring 4 Kids, has raised over $840,000, funding a girls’ dormitory in Kenya and meals for AIDS patients and orphans in Zambia. She has a goal of raising $1 million before she heads to college next fall.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the humanitarian group is a religious organization under the law.
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a ruling this afternoon allowing the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision to base its hiring decisions on matters of religious belief.
Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain authored the three-judge panel’s majority opinion, which declares World Vision a “religious organization” and therefore exempt from the rules on hiring practices that Congress set down in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, mainly because it is a nonprofit entity which self-identifies as religious.
“This is a significant victory for World Vision’s religious hiring rights,” said Dean Owen, World Vision’s director of media relations. “The right of faith-based organizations to hire people who are co-religionists, who are of their own faith, has been law in this country for nearly 50 years.”
Three former World Vision employees, Silvia Spencer, Ted Youngberg, and Vicki Hulse, sued after World Vision fired them in 2006 for disagreeing with central tenets of the organization’s Statement of Faith. As O’Scannlain notes, everyone involved agreed that the three employees were fired for religious reasons. The question was whether World Vision qualified for the religious exemption to the Civil Rights Act, which normally prohibits any organization from hiring or firing based on religious beliefs.
The former employees asserted that both law and legal precedent limited “religious organizations” to “churches, synagogues, and the like.” The Ninth Circuit, who produced some of the precedents they pointed to, disagreed.
“If Congress had intended to restrict the exemption to ‘[c]hurches, and entities similar to churches’ it could have said so,” Judge O’Scannlain’s opinion said. “Because Congress did not, some religious corporations, associations, and societies that are not churches must fall within the exemption.“
Victor and Ibrahim are two men caught in a community-wide conflict that threatens not just their livelihood, but their lives as well.
"Neighbors," shot on location in Jos, Nigeria, examines what happens when segments of a community oppose one another in a standoff that appears to have no solution. This is a story not only of Jos, but of places throughout the world where historical differences of tribe, race, and religion lead to violent conflicts.
Previous Christianity Today coverage of the January Jos riots includes:
More Human Smoke Rises in Jos | This week's deadly riots struck home for the academic dean of ECWA Theological Seminary. By Sunday B. Agang (January 21, 2010)
CT has received word that the Association for a More Just Society, an evangelical justice ministry in Honduras, is facing a critical court trial on Wednesday.
AJS has long defended labor rights for poor Hondurans, to the extent that lawyer Dionisio Díaz García was murdered in 2006. Now one targeted Honduran company, SETECH, has sued the ministry for slander. AJS co-founder Kurt Ver Beek, a CT contributor on short-term missions, is facing the charges on behalf of the ministry.
The verdict will not only be a litmus test of the fairness of Honduras' court system, but could also wipe out AJS in Honduras.
On Thursday, the board of the National Association of Evangelicals endorsed without dissent a resolution that urges comprehensive immigration reform by the U.S. government. The resolution summarizes the biblical principles that should guide the needed change, but it stops short of endorsing any specific policy proposal. Read the Religion News Service coverage elsewhere on our site, and the resolution itself.
Presenters for the Capitol Hill press conference that followed the vote on the resolution included NAE president Leith Anderson (who reminded those present that Jesus was a refugee), national director of the Vineyard USA Berten Waggoner, president of Elim Fellowship Ronald Burgio, and president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) Samuel Rodriguez.
The NHCLC serves 15 million Hispanic Christians and is an affiliate organization of the National Association of Evangelicals.
I asked Sam a copy of his press conference statement to share with CT's readers:
Gayle Williams of SERVE Afghanistan was shot on her way to work for "spreading Christianity."
Taliban soldiers killed a Christian aid worker from South Africa in a drive-by motorcycle shooting. Gayle Williams, 34, had been working for the UK ministry SERVE Afghanistan for two years and had recently moved to Kabul for safety. One of her colleagues found her on the pavement at 8 this morning.
Zabiullah Mujahed, a Taliban spokesman, told The Times "The reason that we killed her was because she was spreading Christianity." The Taliban took credit publicly, "saying on its Web site that it killed the ?foreign woman' for preaching Christianity in the country and adding that it had been following the woman for some time," CNN reported.
SERVE Afghanistan's chairman of the board, Mike Lyth, emphasized to The Times that the organization is not involved in evangelism. "We have a policy of not (preaching Christianity), so she certainly wasn't involved in that. She was only doing missionary work, if that means living a Christian life and helping disabled people. She spoke only a little Pashtun and Farsi."
The Times reports 28 killings of aid workers, 72 kidnappings, and 146 security incidents involving NGOs this year (the 2007 count was 135 for the whole of last year, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office).
Lyth said the charity would now have to take a "long, hard look" at its operations.
"I personally have been very concerned about security for a long time, but we have tried to take all possible measures to reduce the threat."
"We train our people really carefully. We are in daily touch with the security authorities to find out which roads we shouldn't be on, which parts of the country we shouldn't go to."
"Each time something like this happens, you wonder: do you go on exposing people to unnecessary risk? Yet at the same time, you have got the cry of many, many of the Afghans saying, 'Please help us'. You're caught between a rock and a hard place."
The country is reeling from live footage of his death at the Pando airport.
Bolivian television stations are repeatedly playing a clip of a pastor being shot on September 12 by the country's military in the capital of Pando.
In the video (warning: very disturbing - it's 3 minutes of people being shot), it's unclear what is going on. A soldier is shouting into a crowd of civilians, women begin screaming, and then the shooting starts. Some soldiers fired into the air, but some shoot into the crowd. Several people fall to the ground. Some don't get up.
Christian World News (a Christian Broadcasting Network affiliate) reports that soldiers were re-taking the airport from a group of civilians in the terminal. EntreChristianios says evangelical pastor Luis Antonio Rivero Shiguekuni was one of those protesting the presence of troops in their city; CWN describes him as "a visiting Christian evangelist."
After most of the shooting ends, the cameraman focuses on Rivero, who seems to have been shot to death. Two men hold him in a sitting position. He is unresponsive. The clip cuts out as a jeep pulls up beside them.
Rivero's brother has appeared on television to explain the incident and demand justice. He praised the local media, saying they were the reason he knows as much as he does about this murder. A partially translated transcript by CT senior writer Deann Alford reads:
It took 20 hours to return the body of our brother. Now we want justice to be done. We are not political, militant people. Politics doesn't interest us. What we went is that the manner be clarified how our brother was murdered.
We received his body?.He was shot at 6:30 p.m., and the coroner said 8 hours later he was shot with the second bullet. [Rivero] lived 4 more hours after that. What happened to the body of my brother during this time? Why was there a 16-hour delay before the military returned his body?
We don't know why or the reason for the treatment/behavior of the military toward my brother. He was an evangelical pastor, a man of peace.
The only thing we want is justice.
Pando's governor, Leopoldo Fernandez, has been accused of overseeing the shootings, according to the The New York Times, and has been arrested by Pando's army. The Wall Street Journal says he "is being investigated on genocide accusations."
We will continue to update this story as new information comes in.
Ushahidi.com is mapping out incidents of violence and calls for help.
Believing that the casualties and violence in Kenya were being grossly underreported, the Kenyan blogging community put together Ushahidi.com. Ushahidi means "witness" in Swahili. The website is mapping out occurrences of violence throughout Kenya, asking witnesses to submit incidents on a detailed form on a computer or by SMS. Kenyan NGOs verify the reports before they are shown on the map.
Erik Hersman, who blogs at WhiteAfrican.com, is trying to get the word out, "In hopes that by reaching out and talking to a broad selection of media more people will hear about it and that the news of Ushahidi will trickle down to the Kenyans who need it most."
Could this be the future of crisis aid? Through this site, people are not only able to set the record straight about what's really happening ("There is still a ban in place on live broadcasts related to the election here and this seems to be one way of ensuring that information is not being choked off by the government," writes one blogger), they're also able to communicate with those who have the resources to help them. Some recent posts include:
Some displaced families are going hungry. Rowdy mobs are stopping villagers from taking food to the starving women and children whose property has been looted from the tea estates where they were working. These are third generation workers being evicted in retaliatory attacks. Someone should provide enough security so that the villagers can feed these people without fear.
* * *
Yes there is a lot of need specially food, Mosquito nets for those i saw in Oyugis, they dont have food and i was thinking that if we could get some money we can buy some flour and then we transport them there and give them. I used my own tranport money just to look if things have come back to normal in those places and at least there is movements of vehicles although fares is double due to fuel cost which is very high at the moment. . . I want to thank you all for doing this for Kenyans specially when people are really in need. May God bless you all.
Public radio's The World yesterday reported on the website, which went live last Wednesday.
To celebrate my 60th birthday yesterday, I had dinner with the Secretary General of the United Nations. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank covered the event in his puckish (my wife called it "snarky") style.
Okay, so I had dinner with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and 300 other people. And the Washington Post didn't even mention me. Secretary General Ban and I were only sitting at adjacent tables. But I did get a grip-and-grin photo op with him before the banquet, and after his speech I was one of three evangelical leaders invited to give a brief response.
The banquet itself was a joint effort of the National Association of Evangelicals and the Micah Challenge. It was the closing event of the NAE's semi-annual board meeting and the opening event of the Global Leaders Forum. Organizations involved in the Forum (beyond the NAE and Micah Challenge) included Bread for the World, World Relief, Frontiers, The Salvation Army, Tearfund, the Evangelical Environmental Network, the Korean Church Coalition, and the UN Foundation and the UN Millennium Campaign.
Attendees at the sold-out event got this message loud and clear:
The Church of England says organ donation is a Christian duty.
Tom Butler represented the Church of England at a House of Lords consultation on organ donation in the European Union yesterday. He presented the church's position that organ donation is a very Christian thing to sign up for, BBC news reports.
"Giving oneself and one's possessions voluntarily for the well being of others and without compulsion is a Christian duty of which organ donation is a striking example," the Church of England's statement says. It also says Christians have "a mandate to heal" - but they're not talking about miracle working.
The Church of England is supporting a switch from an opt-in (to organ donation) to an opt-out system, hoping to help Britain overcome a chronic organ shortage, which can be an ethically tricky problem to solve. Their statement addresses a few of the issues, such as selling organs for profit, making sure the donor is dead, and respect for the body and the bereaved.
"What is done with the body matters," the Church of England affirms. "The body at its burial or cremation should ideally be recognizably the body of the person who has died."
The bravery and boldness of Buddhist monks displays the hard edge of spirituality.
One of the most startling images from the Viet Nam war was the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc. On June 11, 1963, the monk burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection. (You can see Malcolm Brown's famous news photo here and read part of David Halberstam's eyewitness report for the New York Times halfway through this Wikipedia article.)
Thich Quang Duc was protesting the anti-Buddhist discrimination of Ngo Dinh Diem's regime. But the disturbing image of his sacrifice seared itself into the brains of people around the globe. At the time, I didn't understand the logic of self-immolation, but I was deeply moved.
Today Buddhist monks are once again taking to the streets of a South Asian nation, risking their bodies in nonviolent protest against an oppressive regime. This time the country is Myanmar (or Burma, as most Americans still refer to it).
Following up on "Freeing Christian hostages the Jack Bauer way."
There has been some online discussion of my earlier blog post on plans to rescue the South Korean Christian aid workers being held hostage by the Taliban. I was particularly troubled by word that the Afghan government wanted to seize the families of Taliban members holding the hostages "as a way of applying pressure." Read that blog post, then read a conversation I've been having with R. Scott Clark, associate pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church and associate professor of historical and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. He'll be posting the exchange on his site, The Heidelblog, too.
Report: South Korean government stopped plan to kidnap kidnappers' family members.
A Monday Times of London article is full of revelations that haven't appeared anywhere else -- which may mean the paper has several big scoops, or may mean what they're reporting isn't right at all. But in any case, the paper says:
The bus driver who was transporting the Koreans when the Taliban attacked has been arrested and is accused of tipping the kidnappers.
The Korean government has stopped at least two military operations intended to free the Christian aid worker hostages being held hostage by members of the Taliban.
One of the planned military operations would have involved kidnapping family members of the kidnappers "as a way of applying pressure." An unnamed "senior intelligence source" told the paper, "We know who the Taleban commanders are and we wanted to arrest their families but the Koreans wouldn't let us."
It's hard to imagine, even if kidnapping innocents to secure the release of the aid workers had "worked," that the Christian aid workers would be very pleased. It's hard to imagine Paul writing to the Corinthians, "When persecuted, we persecute; when kidnapped, we kidnap..."
Reuters blames Bible-belt religion for Texas' record number of executions.
On Sunday, the Washington Post published a Reuters story about the number of executions in the state of Texas--now pushing a remarkable 400 since the Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. Texas has carried out 398 executions and it has 5 more planned for August. The closest runner up to the Texas numbers is Virginia with 96 executions--only one quarter of the Lone Star State's record.
What was puzzling about the story was the way writer Ed Stoddard tried to link the numbers to religion. Here's how he led off the story:
Texas will almost certainly hit the grim total of 400 executions this month, far ahead of any other state, testament to the influence of the state's conservative evangelical Christians and its cultural mix of Old South and Wild West.
The Washington Post repeated the emphasis by headlining the story, "Religion, Culture Behind Texas Execution Tally."
Whoa there, Podner!
What does religion have to do with it? All Stoddard could come up with was this:
Like his predecessor, Governor Perry is a devout Christian, highlighting one key factor in Texas' enthusiasm for the death penalty that many outsiders find puzzling -- the support it gets from conservative evangelical churches.
This is in line with their emphasis on individuals taking responsibility for their own salvation, and they also find justification in scripture.
"A lot of evangelical Protestants not only believe that capital punishment is permissible but that it is demanded by God. And they see sanction for that in the Old Testament especially," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
That's it. Unless you also count the fact the Governor Rick Perry is "a devout Christian." Yup, that explains a lot.
Let's take a look at the factors cited by Stoddard:
Zimbabwe's state paper runs an op-ed today saying that the country's independent media aren't sufficiently criticizing Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube. (The archbishop, who has been the chief critic of Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe's extensive human rights abuses, was accused last week of adultery.) In The Herald, Caesar Zvayi writes that Zimbabwe's independent media, are "punishing the innocent while letting Barabas go scot-free."
Hmm. So if Mugabe's newspaper wants to call Ncube Barabbas, then that would make Mugabe...
It wouldn't be the first, or most egregious example, or Mugabe's cronies comparing him to Jesus. As Chenjerai Hove wrote in Pambazuka News earlier this year,
In the quest for glory and grandeur, the presidential palace is full of charlatans, praise-singers and flatterers. First they used to call him 'the son of God', and then one minister publicly said 'Mugabe is our Jesus Christ'. Next the minister of education and culture has recently designed and installed a 'throne' in parliament, for 'king Mugabe.' Then the minister of local government would not be outdone. He has decided to build 'a shrine' in Mugabe's home village. A shrine is a place of worship. So the president has become a god who deserves a 'shrine.' Thus, from VaMugabe ndibaba' (Mugabe is our father) to 'the son of God' to 'Jesus Christ' to a 'shrine' a place of worship, God.
Perhaps the most famous example is deputy minister of local housing Tony Gara calling Mugabe "the other son of God." In a 2002 African Sociological Review article, Ezra Chitando describes how the words of Christian songs were changed for political ends. "I will never cry when Jesus is there," for example, became, "I will never cry when Mr. Mugabe is there."
All of this might be confusing. If you're trying to remember the difference between Jesus and Robert Mugabe, here's a helpful tip: Jesus is the one who fed the 5,000. Mugabe is the one starving millions.
The non-profit's new CEO is making long-timers upset.
CT has reported on the tensions Habitat for Humanity's growth placed on the home-building ministry and it's transition from founder Millard Fuller's leadership to the leadership of Jonathan Reckford.
Now, The New York Times is reporting that Reckford's new direction is spurring opposition from Habitat local chapters:
Habitat for Humanity International is asking affiliates to sign an agreement that would establish a quality-control checklist, and a new policy gives headquarters a cut of each donation it receives that is earmarked for an affiliate. And the changes are meeting with opposition. ...
"They're contending with what is almost a takeover," said T. Weir LaBatt III, former chairman of the San Antonio board. "They're building up a giant corporate structure run by corporate guys wanting complete control, which is completely the opposite of what Habitat has been."
In its September 2005 cover story, Christianity Today introduced Shane Claiborne and the Philadelphia intentional community, the Simple Way as models of what is being called the "new monasticism."
The daughter of friends of mine has worked with the Simple Way in its Yes! And afterschool program. They've kept me informed today via e-mail of the effects of a horrendous 7-alarm fire on the Simple Way community. As a result of the fire, eight neighboring families have lost their homes, the Simple Way has lost its community center, and Simple Way members Shane Claiborne and Jesce Walz have lost all their possessions. Fortunately, no community members were seriously injured or lost their lives.
"This fire will forever change the fabric of our community," says the Simple Way website. Check there for further updates, for fire photos, and for information on giving to help the Simple Way and the displaced families.
At the White House this morning, President Bush ran out of patience with the genocidal regime ruling Sudan. He announced a collection of sanctions against the nation-state of Sudan and individuals associated with the sickening killing and rape still going on in the Darfur region at the western border with Chad.
Can we better fulfill James's command to care for our widows?
Our end-of-life rhetoric is typically limited, as Atul Gawande complains in The New York Times, to gaining more control over death. For some, this means passing legislation to allow doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs that would prematurely kill a terminally ill patient. For many Christian groups, it means opposing physician-assisted-suicide or the withdrawl of life support from people who can't speak for themselves. For some people it means signing statements that ask doctors to do everything possible to keep them alive.
But, as Gawande points out, there is a lot of life to live between our active years and our dying days. "We don't like thinking about it, but after retirement age, about half of us eventually move into a nursing home, usually around age 80. ... But we don't much talk about getting more control over our lives in such places. "
The priority of a nursing home is to keep residents safe, Gawande says. Describing one woman who recently entered a nursing home, he writes, "Basic matters, like when she goes to bed, wakes up, dresses, and eats were put under the rigid schedule of institutional life. Her main activities have become bingo, movies, and other forms of group entertainment."
This kind of living, he argues, takes the meaning out of life. "Surveys of nursing home residents reveal chronic boredom, loneliness, and lack of meaning - results not fundamentally different from prisoners, actually."
It doesn't have to be this way. Some nursing homes are rethinking institutional life for the disabled elderly, and they are doing it within the confines of what the government will help pay for--an achievement indeed. Life can have meaning an purpose even when many of the things that provided fulfilment are no longer possible for us to do.
Certainly, being in a nursing home does not prohibit a meaningful life. One geriatrician told me he always tells his patients upon retirement, "Wake up knowing what you will do that day, and go to bed knowing someone was helped by what you did." Such a thing is possible, he points out, in a nursing home.
Yet, there is also a place here for the church. How can we better care for our widows, our widowers, our frail elderly. How can we give their lives meaning and keep them integrated into a church community?
This is a question baby boomers, who have already changed so much of the American church, are just begining to face.
Rioting erupts when residents are forced to pay fines for having extra kids.
Local officials in Guangxi province are using brutal methods to crack down on those families that did not pay fines for breaking China's one-child policy. The Washington Post reports
birth control bureaucrats showed up in a half-dozen towns with sledgehammers and threatened to knock holes in the homes of people who had failed to pay fines imposed for having more than one child. Other family planning officials, backed by hired toughs, pushed their way into businesses owned by parents of more than one child and confiscated everything from sacks of rice to color televisions.
The residents fought back. "Thousands of peasants and townspeople encircled government and birth control centers across surrounding Bobai County, residents here said, stoning riot police brought in to quell the unrest and, in some places, trashing local offices."
It seems the culture wars in China are taken a bit more literally than here.
When I saw that Shane Claiborne's book The Irresistible Revolution was being released on audio, I wasn't surprised. It was a good read; Shane's an interesting character. But I was surprised when I saw the catalog's ad copy that read something like "The revolution continues, and now it's available on MP3." How can these guys continue their critique of consumer Christianity when they're hawking their goods like this? I thought.
DOOR: What do you do with the royalties from your book?
CLAIBORNE: In the back of the book, I list ordinary radicals and local revolutions. We're spreading that money out to a lot of other groups that are doing beautiful work. To me, that's the only logical way that I would know to have integrity with that.
The rest of the interview is Shane being Shane. Here's his response to his being on the cover of CT.
When people want to talk about the new monasticism I'm like, "No, no. I'm not really interested in that. I want to talk about community, church history, and things like that." I feel like it's one thing to say life happens like we're doing here, talking in a diner. It's another thing to say, "Let's have a conference about talking in diners." Now we have book deals and stuff, so it gets really complicated.
Also, from reading a lot of the buzz around all of this, you get the sense that God is very, very hard at work among male white evangelicals. That puts a tremendous responsibility on those of us who find ourselves in places where we're more visible because there is a whole lot happening in the Church all over the world that doesn't make the magazine covers.
Evangelicals are great activists. We're engaged on practially every issue. As a church, James told us to take care of the widows and orphans. Both metaphorically and literally we do. A prime example is the care given to AIDS victims in Africa, where the disease has made orphans and widows of millions.
But here in the U.S., we tend to think that the few widows and orphans we have are taken care of. Not so. A recent New Yorker article describes the way aging has changed and how we have regressed in our ability to care for the elderly. For Christians, who have been commanded to care for widows, this news comes with particular urgency: "More than half of the very old now live without a spouse." Add to that the facts that today's elderly had fewer children than other generations and those children are likely scattered across the country. In addition, medical care and nursing homes are extremely expensive. Add to that the fact that a major response to the abundance of care needed and the lack of resources available has been a major cause for advancing the argument for assisted suicide, and I think you have a major reason why evangelicals need to quickly get the activists in gear on this issue.
Because most others are not. "People natually prefer to avoid the subject of their decrepitude," writes Atul Gawande. Still, there are costs to averting our eyes from the realities. For one thing, we put off changes that we need to make as a society. For another, we deprive ourselves of opportunities to change the individual experience of aging for the better.
Gawande focuses on policy problems. Insurers don't want to pay for preventative care. Hospitals lose money treating arthritis instead of the hip replacement that might be caused by an arthritic toe which makes walking difficult. Assisted-living facilities and nursing homes are ridiculously expensive. And nurses are more and more difficult to find. We're losing geriatricians, who specialize in managing a person's decline to allow for a gradually increasing frailty instead of one big emergency that lands someone in a nursing home. Instead doctors, 97 percent of whom take no courses in geriatrics, are practicing plastic surgery. "When the prevailing fantasy is that we can be ageless, the geriantrician's uncomfortable demand is that we accept we are not."
Christians haven't been hesitant to apply their activism to stop slave trading, HIV/AIDS, or religious persecution. In many ways this seems a simpler problem. Let's do better to visit the elderly, include them in our churches, and learn from them as they navigate one of the most difficult periods of life--when they face their mortality eye to eye. Surely they have spiritual lessons to teach us about loving not the world. And in the meantime, we'll be fulfilling James's command: "Look after orphans and widows in their distress."
A Sam Smith sports column in today's Chicago Tribune has sparked a thought that might help Christians slow down big injustices. It seems that a few teams have figured out how to defense mammoth, domineering big menf like Shaq. You do it with quickness--the defender must antipate the big man's move, step immediately in his path, establish his position, fall backwards when contacted by the big man, and so draw a charge. Foul on the big man. Enough fouls, and the big man sits on the bench--at least until the next game.
Christians activists are up against some pretty mammoth, domineering social injustices, and they are constantly getting beaten by them. I'm wondering if quick footedness leading to a charge--which usually requires the defender to flop backwards, feigning inappropriate contact--would constitute a social foul. Enough of those, and maybe the public would ask the social justice to sit on the bench. At least for awhile.
I'll let others speculate how exactly this applies to social injustices. But my intuition tells me there is something for us to learn in this style of basketball defense. It's helped the Chicago Bulls nuetralize Shaq. Not that Shaq is a great social injustice--though a Bulls fan might think so.