By Rebecca Todd Peters: On Saturday, like many people across the country, I heard the news that James Cone had passed. Serving on the Union Theological Seminary faculty for almost fifty years means that Dr. Cone literally taught generations of seminarians, and I was fortunate to be one of those folks. I still remember the first day of his systematic theology class, in the first semester of my first year of seminary. Sitting in that lecture hall in 1992, with nearly 100 students and watching him take the podium and explain to us that he was a the-o-lo-gian (in his classic, high-pitched, Southern drawl), and what that meant for him as a scholar and a black man from Arkansas, was highlight of my seminary career.
By Rita Nakashima Brock: I first met James Cone in the back seat of a car. I was teaching at a Black college in rural east Texas in 1981, and he had been invited to lecture on campus. I was invited along when Jim had to be driven to the airport, and we were introduced as he got into car. While in college and seminary in California, I had been introduced to the struggles for justice of the Black Panther Party, the United Farm Workers, and the feminist women’s self-help health movement. The early works of Cone, Mary Daly, Marianne Katopo, Nelle Morton, Paolo Friere, and Rubem Alves had shaped my orientation to theology, and I had been teaching Cone, Friere-style, in a class at the college.
A Q&A with Jay Parini: I felt that I had not quite gone far enough into the details of my own Christian practice in Jesus: The Human Face of God. I wanted to dig deeper into the actual world of Christian worship and Christian thinking. I also wanted to organize my own thoughts on Christianity in ways that could prove helpful to others who are struggling with issues of faith. It’s also a teaching book. My own students know so little about Christian practice. I thought this book could introduce many to key ideas.
A Q&A with Deborah Jian Lee: My readers inspired me. So many people engaged with Rescuing Jesus not just on the page, but in real life. They told me about ways the book compelled action and change, and it blew me away. A divinity school student told me that his mom read the book and it played a part in her coming to accept his sexuality and his partner; she ended up helping plan their wedding. Pastors incorporated the book’s findings into their sermons and some said my writing inspired them to launch national initiatives to address the issues of inequality and injustice raised in the book. And I’ve lost track of how many conservative straight, cis-white men have told me that the book changed their perspective on race, gender, and LGBTQ equality.
2017 has been ragged and turbulent, charged with a fraught political climate spawned by a divisive presidential election. 2017 witnessed assaults on progress in racial justice, backlashes against environmental protections, and more. When we needed perspective and lucid social critique on the latest attacks on our civil liberties, our authors were there. We couldn’t be more thankful for them. They make the Broadside, which reached its tenth anniversary this year, the treasure trove of thought-provoking commentary we can turn to in our troubling and uncertain times. As our director Helene Atwan wrote in our first ever blog post, “It’s our hope that Beacon Broadside will be entertaining, challenging, provocative, unexpected, and—maybe above all—a good appetizer.” We certainly hope that’s the case for the year to come. Before 2017 comes to a close, we would like to share a collection of some of the highlights of the Broadside. Happy New Year!
By Linda K. Wertheimer: Public school teachers, particularly those in elementary classrooms, face the same challenge every December. Do they pay homage to Christmas and maybe Hanukkah in a class party or activity? Or do they ignore the holidays altogether? Public school educators often look at the “December dilemma” as a question about how to recognize the holidays the majority of families in their communities celebrate. They miss a more important question. How can schools teach students of all ages about different world religions, reduce religious ignorance and ideally, make a dent in religious bigotry, too?
The recognition represented a profound, heartfelt act of retrospective justice, because Lay had been unjustly disowned in the first place. It was a symbolic rejection of what a previous slave-owning generation of Quakers had done and it was simultaneously an affirmation that Benjamin Lay’s values matter to the Abington congregation, in the present and for the future. I learned during my research that Lay dearly loved his fellow Quakers—at least those who did not own slaves—and that his exclusion was terribly painful to him. It was therefore deeply touching, 279 years later, to know that he has been brought back into the fold. This act would have meant everything to him.
He sounds like a fascinating nonfiction character—too quirky to be true—but radical Quaker dwarf Benjamin Lay truly lived, and historian Marcus Rediker has brought his virtually unknown story to life in The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist. Mocked as “the little hunchback” and written off by his contemporaries as “cracked in the head,” Benjamin Lay was uncompromising in his stance against slavery, and wholly committed himself to convince his fellow Quakers to denounce and abolish it. In many ways, he was prescient and ultra-modern for his time, the eighteenth century. Lay’s worldview was an astonishing combination of Quakerism, vegetarianism, animal rights, opposition to the death penalty, and abolitionism. Until his death in 1759, he lived a life of resistance.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of the passing of neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. He left us an incredible gift, his book Man’s Search for Meaning, whose message of finding hope and greater meaning in the midst of suffering has touched the lives of many. Such celebrities as Jimmy Fallon, Michael Phelps, Chris Martin, Emma Watson, Jenny Slate, and Dan Rather have paid homage to the power the book has had on their lives. With the original version and a young readers’ edition available to the public, his influence will continue to live on across the generational divide. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of his passing, we’d like to make the occasion to commemorate his life and legacy.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia are a frightening and disheartening reminder of how hate and intolerance in the US resurface when bigots feel empowered to act on their prejudice. Cornel West described the rally that took place on August 12 as “the biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last thirty to thirty-five years.” Watching the violence unfold left us feeling sorrowful and horrified.
By Carole JoffeMany Americans are puzzled by the all-out attacks by the Trump administration on contraceptive services: the administration has signaled its intention to take contraception out of the list of no co-pay preventive services authorized by Obamacare; it has made clear its eagerness to defund Planned Parenthood; and it has appointed longtime ideological opponents of contraception to positions of power in the federal bureaucracy, including direct oversight of family planning programs. The question becomes, why is an administration firmly opposed to abortion taking steps that will only assure more unintended pregnancies, some of which in turn will lead to an increased demand for abortions? What became of that short-lived moment in American politics when contraception was viewed as the main point of “common ground” between supporters and opponents of abortion?
By Christian Coleman: There was one story Octavia E. Butler wouldn’t write. Reveling in science fiction/fantasy for an openness she saw lacking in other genres, Butler gave us gene-trading extraterrestrials, psionically powered mutants, a genetically engineered vampire, a reluctant time traveler forced to visit the brutal past of American slavery. But during her three-decades-long career as a novelist and short story writer, she never gave us a ghost story. She didn’t believe in ghosts. Raised as a born-again Baptist, Butler stopped believing in the afterlife and a celestial caretaker by age twelve. “Somehow you’re supposed to believe and have faith but not worry about having any evidence to support that belief and faith,” she said in a 1988 interview. “That just doesn’t work for me, and I never went back.” Coincidentally, at age twelve she began trying her hand at science fiction.
By Haroon Moghul: Ever notice how, when a disturbed young Muslim commits an act of violence, it’s immediately blamed on his religion—but when a disturbed white and non-Muslim man commits an act of violence, it’s because he’s a “loner,” “disturbed,” or “troubled”—even when there are clear indications he is motivated by and sees himself as part of a transnational network of extremists? The way the media portrays Muslims, you’d think we are immune to any kind of mental trauma, or that our actions can only ever be motivated by religion. But Muslims are human beings (surprise!). Our minds work like everybody else’s. We are susceptible to the same weaknesses, and liable to go through the same pains and traumas.
By Rev. Elizabeth M. EdmanPeople are going about their business with big, black smudges on their foreheads. My queer lens kicks in: “They’ve come out of the closet—as Christian.” Then the lightbulb moment: “What if progressive Christians could make ourselves visible on Ash Wednesday as both Christian AND queer-positive?” I make a note on my phone and set an alarm to go off in January.
By Rashod OllisonIt didn’t surprise me to see him in the news. Back home in central Arkansas where I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s, Judge Wendell Griffen has long been a respected presence in the local press. But this week as he faces impeachment for a Good Friday protest against the death penalty, in which he lay strapped to a gurney in front of the Governor’s mansion, Griffen’s story has made national headlines. He was featured in a segment on Democracy Now! that aired on Monday, May 8.
A Q&A with Will MyersI had read Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of Anne Frank as a young reader, but unfortunately it wasn’t until I was an adult that I read Man’s Search for Meaning. So when I began thinking about a young readers edition of the book, I was really excited to think about what it would be like to encounter the book as a young reader. I was interested in the possibilities of approaching the book with a young reader’s eyes and seeing the book from a different perspective.
By Linda K. WertheimerThe fifteen-year-old girl told me she was open to learn about different religions and cultures so I could not resist asking: “Would you ever want to see the inside of a mosque?” The girl shook her head as she chatted with me and her mother in a donut shop in their southeast Texas town. She had just quit her high school in favor of homeschooling because she and her parents objected to the geography teacher’s instruction about Islam as part of a broader lesson on world religions.
Happy publication day to labor organizer Jonathan Rosenblum and Beyond $15: Immigrant Workers, Faith Activists, and the Revival of the Labor Movement! As recently as 2013, the call for a $15/hour minimum wage became a resounding rally cry against growing income inequality in the US. In Beyond $15, Rosenblum captures the inside story of the first successful fight for a $15 minimum wage. Just outside Seattle, an unlikely alliance of Sea-Tac Airport workers, union and community activists, and clergy staged face-to-face confrontations with corporate leaders, uniting a diverse, largely immigrant workforce in a struggle over power between airport workers and business and political elites. The workforce was made up of employees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Ukraine, Mexico, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, India and other countries who joined forces with Christian and Muslim leaders. Rosenblum was director of the Sea-Tac campaign for the Services Employees International Union.
A Q&A with Tanya ErzenI taught a college course on women and citizenship in US History in a women’s prison in 2003 in New York City, Bayview Correctional Center. The prison has since closed and will house a women’s organization that works on global women’s issues. I noticed that during that time, the majority of people I saw coming into the prison, aside from family members and loved ones of those incarcerated, were religious volunteers, and I became curious about the presence of religious groups inside. It was around that time that a colleague sent me an article about Florida transforming its state prisons into faith-based character institutions. Since I write about evangelicalism and religion in general, I wanted to explore how people in prison experience the presence of so many religious groups.
By Kay WhitlockThe forty-fifth President of the United States and his administration require danger and enemies to exist. They could not have come to power and cannot remain in power without continuing to mobilize against them. Especially racialized enemies: Muslims here and abroad, immigrants and refugees, “hardened criminals,” impoverished residents and gang members in “crime-infested” cities, cop-killers, fraudulent voters, Black Lives Matter, “failing public schools,” terrorist demonstrators and protestors, and cherry-picked “other countries” said to foster terrorism, breach national security, or steal American jobs and prosperity. All made to bear the weight of some illusory white nationalist “greatness,” tragically crumbling under the lethal onslaught of an increasingly multiracial, multicultural society.