By Rebecca Todd Peters | On Saturday, a close friend walked out of her local Catholic church with her family in protest of the priest’s blatantly propagandistic pro-life homily. Apparently, he was praising the story of Abby Johnson’s conversion from Planned Parenthood clinic director to pro-life activist and the new film Unplanned, which tells her story. The film, released by a company that focuses on producing “Christian films,” received a nationwide release, was in fourth place after its first weekend in box offices, and has gone on to gross almost $18 million since opening day.
By Adele Barker | I still crush garlic with the back of a wooden spoon. And once a month, I look up at the moon and say to myself, “it’s a poya,” the Sinhalese word for ‘full moon.’ I carry the island inside me, though it has been years since we lived there. I haven’t been back to Sri Lanka since 2012 and am struggling as many are to explain the Easter Sunday horror in churches and hotels where people were celebrating the holidays.
By Michael Coogan | Throughout history, many groups have thought of themselves as divinely chosen, exhibiting what has been called a “holy nationalism.” For the ancient Egyptians, the divine gift of the annual inundation of the Nile was proof they had been specially chosen; the Egyptians’ neighbors, whom they called “the vile Asiatics,” had clearly not been chosen, because their equivalent of the dependable Nile was unpredictable rain. Roman poets such as Virgil and Ovid celebrated the divine plan that had brought Aeneas from the burning ruins of Troy to Italy, from where eventually the emperor Augustus would rule the Mediterranean world. But one ancient people’s claim of divine chosenness has profoundly affected religious and political self-identification for thousands of years, especially in the West: the biblical view that God, the only God, has a favorite people, the Israelites.
A Q&A with Susan Katz Miller | Since the publication of “Being Both,” I have been traveling the country, speaking about interfaith families in churches and synagogues, universities and national conferences. And a steady stream of interfaith couples and families, from all over the world, started to contact me to ask for support. Often, they come to me because they do not have supportive clergy, or they cannot find counselors who have experience in interfaith issues. And they appreciate my perspective as both an adult interfaith child, and the parent of adult interfaith children. At some point I realized that I cannot coach everyone individually, but with the Journal, I can support families everywhere. And at exactly that moment, Skinner House actually came to me, looking for an author to write a book like this, because there is no other workbook for interfaith families out there.
The Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis | The New Testament documents a moral movement of the poor and rejected. It portrays the survival struggles of the marginalized, the solidarity and mutuality among different communities, and the critique of a social, political, and economic system that oppresses the vast majority of people. Given his leadership in that movement, it is not surprising that the main theme of many of Jesus’s teachings and his ministry in general is bringing good news to the poor and marginalized, standing up for righteousness, and ending all forms of discrimination and oppression. Nor is it surprising that Jesus was recognized by Rome as a threat to the status quo and crucified, the punishment reserved for revolutionaries and those deemed insurrectionists.
Students across the country are returning to the classroom, and our concerns for them run deep. The Trump administration’s rampant anti-immigrant sentiment has fueled policies that separate migrant families. And it is affecting the lives of immigrant children who are going to school. What can educators do to fight against it, to become co-conspirators of resistance during our troubling times? This back-to-school season, we reached out to some of our authors to find out and share their responses with you here.
By Philip Warburg | Amidst all the reportage on swing states and swing districts crucial to the 2018 Congressional elections, I recently decided to buck the trend. I ventured instead to a remote community in north-central Kansas where Democrats seldom run for political office and rarely win if they do. In visiting Cloud County, I was hoping to find a few strands of hope that might span the chasm between red and blue America.
By Linda K. Wertheimer | How can we agree to disagree? How can we get Americans of different views, religions, races, and backgrounds in the same room and debate the issues of our times? Right now, accomplishing such a lofty goal seems elusive. Still, at a recent conference, there were glimmers of hope.
By Karl Giberson | The emergence of “Trump Evangelicals” is baffling and confusing. The latest puzzle in what has become a political sideshow is Jeff Sessions’ ill-considered appeal to St. Paul—the primary source for Christian theology—in a futile attempt to mute the national outcry about the Trump administration’s decision to abuse immigrant children as a strategy to discourage immigrants from seeking to enter the United States illegally.
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?