Thinking Out Loud

August 17, 2017

Skye Jethani on News Media; Then, and Later, and Now

Skye Jethani ran this as a series of 20 Twitter posts on Thursday morning. I thought he’d post it to his blog, but in the absence of that wanted to make sure more people got to see it.

by Skye Jethani

Here’s what’s on my mind: Cultural division, the media, and the Civil War. Does 19th century media explain what’s happening today?

Newspapers before and during the Civil War were hopelessly biased in both the North and South. Many twisted facts into “fake news.”  There’s no doubt a steady diet of biased news fueled the divide between North and South and contributed to the profits of a media industry fueled by the new technology of the telegraph allowing for much faster reporting then ever before. Part of the problem was that neither side engaged reporting from the other. Media was highly regional with the opposing point of view rarely presented fairly. It was a fragmented and siloed media landscape that made generative dialogue difficult if not impossible.

The media landscape changed dramatically in the 20th century again due to tech. Radio and then TV created for the first time a national media that could speak to the whole country instantly. It was also an age of external threats where the country rallied together to fight WWI and WWII. The focus on external enemies continued with the Cold War. For much of 20th century regional media differences were overshadowed by a united national media. A handful of outlets spoke to all of us. Remember when Cronkite was the most trusted man in America?

A new wave of tech, this time digital, has erased the unifying media landscape of the 20th century and my childhood. Instead, we’re returning to the pre-Civil War fragmentation where we only hear the voices that agree with us, and where opposition voices are silenced or mis-characterized. The divide is not geographic this time but socio-graphic as social media curates our ‘friends’ and ‘networks’ into like-minded bundled for marketing purposes.

Many look at what’s happening today and the divisions splintering the country as an abnormal, new development. I worry the relative media unity of the 20th century may have been the abnormality, and America is simply returning to the fractured existence that has plagued us since 1776. Without a serious external threat (King George III, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, USSR), and without a common national and trusted media, we may be returning to the unsustainable conditions of the 19th century that ultimately led to civil war.

When we’ve faced such existential threats in the past it was the virtue of great leaders that has kept us united. Washington galvanized thirteen colonies into a single nation. Lincoln preserved the Union with deft leadership and uncommon wisdom. We need that kind of executive vision, virtue, and resolve no less in these times. God help us, we have none.

God help us.


Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, consultant and ordained pastor. He also serves as the co-host of the popular Phil Vischer Podcast and writes the With God daily devotional, emailed to subscribers worldwide. Skye is a former editor for Christianity Today and Leadership Journal magazines. skyejethani.com  @SkyeJethani

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August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.


An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

January 28, 2017

What Americans Wanted

“These presidential orders are what many Christians voted for. This is the fruit of their political labor, but it’s not the Fruit of the Spirit.”

face-of-refugee-crisis

“For the last few years Christians have been singing worship songs that include lyrics like “keep my eyes above the waves, when oceans rise …” and yet have rejected refugees who’ve seen loved ones die beneath waves, who themselves have literally struggled to keep from drowning in oceans. Those American Christians — particularly white evangelicals — continue to sing the words: “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders …” but fail to realize the shameful irony that they’re largely responsible for refusing shelter and opportunity to some of the world’s most helpless and oppressed people…”

…Continue reading Stephen Mattson’s article American Christianity Has Failed at Sojourners.


November 12, 2016

When the Meaning of Evangelical Changes

About two miles down the road from me is a church whose denomination has the word “Evangelical” in its name. Therefore the church had the word very prominently displayed in very large letters on the side of the building.

About two years back, some very wise people at that church deemed that the word was losing the value it had once held and those large letters were removed. (Actually, along with another word in the church name; the sign was shortened from four words to two.)  We call this pejoration.1

pejoration-definition

Over the last 15 months in the United States, the word has become politicized to the point where any implicit sense of sharing the euangelion [εὐαγγέλιον] from which the word derives (meaning good news; gospel) has been lost.2

So while others have bid goodbye to the term (not necessarily the movement) I wasn’t surprised this week when Skye Jethani joined those who wish to abandon association with the label3:

Skye JethaniTo the label “Evangelical”:

There is so much to admire about you, your history, and the theology you represent. You mean “good news,” and came to identify a movement birthed by a commitment to the gospel, the euangelion, of Jesus Christ. Seventy years ago, those called “evangelicals” rejected the angry, condemning rhetoric of the fundamentalists, and they saw the error of theological liberalism that abandoned orthodoxy. They sought a third way that was culturally engaged and biblically faithful. I love that heritage.

But look at what you have become—little more than a political identity with a pinch of impotent cultural Christianity. You’ve become a category for pollsters rather than pastors, a word of exclusion rather than embrace. Yes, there are still godly, admirable leaders under your banner, but many are fleeing your camp to find a more Christ-honoring tribe. When more people associate you with a politics of hate than a gospel of love something is terribly wrong. I take no joy in saying it, but like Esau you have sold your birthright for a bowl of soup. You have exchanged the eternal riches of Christ to satisfy a carnal appetite for power.

In the past I willingly accepted your name as my own. I even worked for your flagship magazine. More recently I have avoided you because of your political and cultural baggage, but I’ve not objected when others identified me with you because your heritage was worth retaining. That passive acceptance is over now. What was admirable about your name has been buried, crushed under the weight of 60 million votes. I am no less committed to Christ, his gospel, and his church, but I can no longer be called an evangelical. Farewell, evangelicalism.

With regret,

Skye

What do you think? Can you blame him? Is “Christ-follower” going to be the next identifier?


1 We looked at pejoration 3 years ago here in reference to possible overuse of the term radical in light of the more recent term radicalization.

2 I’ve always wanted to include some Greek text here. Though I’ve not formally studied the language, I’m a huge fan of feta cheese.

3 This was actually one of four open letters (see the link above) with the others being, “To my children,” “To my Muslim neighbors,” and “To Christians who did not vote for Trump.”

March 29, 2016

Where Are Canada’s Refugee Families?

Better Together Project

Canadian churches, civic groups and even wealthy patrons are asking, “Whatever happened to our refugee families?”

What’s more, these groups have collected donations of furniture, appliances, bedding, linens, coats, and more. They’ve raised the minimum $32,000 – $40,000 (CDN) needed to implement the project. They had volunteers standing by to teach the newcomers about North American life and to help them learn English. In many cases, they’ve rented apartments or made other financial commitments to secure property.

And now the Canadian government has pulled the rug out from under them.

The Globe and Mail reported:

Sponsors who responded to the government’s call to help Syrians are now being told waiting times for the arrival of the refugees they sponsored will be months longer than they expected.

As the government returns to a normal processing pace after hitting its goal of resettling 25,000 Syrians by the end of February, private sponsorship groups are frustrated by the increasing waiting times for resettling the newcomers. During the height of the government’s efforts to resettle 25,000 Syrians, all Syrian refugee applications were given priority and arrived within a few months of their application being received. Now, sponsors are being told they may not meet the refugees they sponsored until 2017.

Temporary processing centres established in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to handle the 25,000 Syrian refugees are now closed and regional missions are in charge of processing, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC)…

…The IRCC recognized some sponsors’ disappointment that the expedited process is not continuing, but said the “accelerated pace of recent months could not be sustained indefinitely.” The department also confirmed that Syrian applications will no longer be prioritized, meaning the refugees won’t arrive as soon as some sponsors expected.

“Private sponsorship applications that are submitted now are not expected to arrive this year as current application inventory already exceeds the high target that has been set,” said the department in a statement…

The Toronto Star reported:

The latest revelation that Ottawa has quietly stopped making it a priority to process Syrian sponsorship applications at its central processing centre in Winnipeg is another kick to the stomach of the private sponsors who responded to the government’s call for support and now feel abandoned.

“The government looked good in those photo ops after they made the 25,000 target in February. Now, they no longer care about the other sponsors and have left us in the cold,” said Thomas Vincent, whose group in Collingwood has been waiting for the arrival of three Syrian families since December and now worries for further delays.

“I get the same question every day: ‘Where are the Syrian refugee families that we are sponsoring?’ We have to say to them, ‘We don’t know.’ It looks silly on us.”

Earlier in March, the Canadian Refugee Sponsorship Agreement Holders Association — whose members connect interested community and faith groups with refugees awaiting resettlement abroad — was told by the immigration department that Syrian applications are no longer a priority.

And worse, Syrian applications submitted by the agreement holders since January are now going to be counted toward the annual caps imposed on them by the immigration department. Every year, each agreement holder can submit only a limited number of sponsorship applications; this means they now have fewer spots for non-Syrian refugees awaiting resettlement to Canada…

…“We have organized for months, have all the volunteers, services, resources in place to sponsor our families, and no one can tell us whether it will be one month, six months or a year to obtain our families,” said Vincent.

“Totally unacceptable and an utter waste of our time, money, energy and resources. We have responded to this refugee crisis as humanitarian, and our desire to do the right and compassionate thing. And we sit waiting, while our federal bureaucracy drops the ball.”

However, a letter to the Vancouver Sun suggests that the writer was told the opposite; that their non-Syrian family wasn’t coming because only Syrians were being admitted:

Last November, our parish joined another to raise funds to sponsor a Middle East refugee family. A family of five: two parents and three children under 10 years from Mosul, Iraq, was selected for us.

The family was in the “greatest need” category which often includes Christians and other non-Muslim minorities who cannot be accommodated in UN camps because their safety cannot be guaranteed. This family and many others live in overcrowded camps in Jordan.

The king of Jordan had made pleas to the world to help.

A minimum $45,000 for private sponsorship for people in the greatest need was raised (versus $25,000 for government sponsorship). An apartment was found and secured. Groups were formed for welcoming, orientation, language training etc. We even had a photo of the family.

Last month we learned this family was no longer our sponsored family. The Canadian government had decided that only Syrian refugees could be sponsored. This family had hope in us. They have been let down. So have we.

How can our government be so callous and change its policy in the middle of the process? Is the refugee issue only about meeting the quota, deadline, political correctness, and photo ops?

One such sponsoring project was headed by the former mayor of Toronto, John Sewell, CITY-TV news reported late Thursday,

“Nobody knows when their family is going to arrive,” Sewell told CityNews. “There’s a lot of sponsorship groups in Toronto that have raised their money and have houses and apartments all ready to go. There’s no families.”

“They’ve cut back all temporary staff in Jordan and Lebanon and Turkey so they can’t process them and they’ve taken all the temporary staff out of Winnipeg so they can’t process them.”

On top of closing those processing centres, the government has implemented caps on the number of privately-sponsored refugee applications for this year. That cap is not just for Syria but for all refugees entering this country. It’s a policy decision that wasn’t announced with any level of fanfare and one that wasn’t acknowledged by the Prime Minister even when he was pressed on the issue Thursday.

But the report contains a video which shows the Prime Minister sidestepping the question even earlier that day. Clearly the plan was to bury this in a part of the news cycle where journalists shut down for the Good Friday long weekend.

The CITY piece ends:

Many groups have already rented homes for their sponsored families and have only just learned they’ll sit empty for at least another eight months.

The government publicity gambit — the story details coming together only late in the day Thursday — seems to have worked. A story that should have received more coverage has yet to appear from the country’s national broadcaster, CBC News. When I mentioned this change to people over the past few days, without exception, everyone I spoke to was unaware of this development.

better-together-logo-72dpiFor this writer, it’s partly personal. A group of churches in our community (later joined by some civic groups) decided to commit to seven families under the umbrella of The Better Together Partnership. At the combined Good Friday service, the final balance of the $250,000 (CDN) needed was raised. That’s a rather large sum of money for small-town churches who, if they had known where this was going, might have diverted those funds to another project.

Two families have already arrived.

I feel bad for them as well. We’re not exactly at the center of the earth here, so having been told there will be seven families altogether, it’s not fair for them either to know that our government — so benevolent towards them just a few weeks ago — is now effectively shutting down the process for the time being. They were probably anticipating a micro-community with a common history and stories to share.

The story happened so quickly and quietly that one of the co-chairs of our project here seemed unaware of it when I mentioned it on Saturday night. I was rather hoping she would have heard it from someone else by that point.

This just isn’t fair to anyone.

This is politics at its worst.

We’ve all been lied to.

 

 

 

 

February 7, 2016

Orangutans Are Skeptical of Changes in Their Cages

Filed under: current events, politics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 2:34 pm

So on Saturday night I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I tweeted:

Orangutans are skeptical of changes in their cages.

You can see it on my Twitter feed. Or maybe not. I just scrubbed it now realizing that I spelled orangutans wrong. #embarrassing

The reason I put that on Twitter is that I tuned in for the final half hour of A Prairie Home Companion on Saturday night only to find that I’d not only missed most of the live show, but the guest was Paul Simon. Definitely want to listen to more of that show on line.

So I listened to a few of Simon’s greatest hits on YouTube, including “At the Zoo” hence the tweet.

img020716But then I started reading my Twitter feed and realized that unless people were of a certain age and knew obscure Paul Simon lyrics, they would simply see it as a veiled reference to the Republican leadership debate, which was happening live at the same time.

Republicans are skeptical of changes in the cages?

Speaking from the perspective of someone who is part of that group called “America’s closest neighbors” do we really have to endure ten more months of this? The election — and that most complex of processes leading up to it — probably bumps many more important stories off the nightly news cycle. I suggested to more than one U.S. citizen that if they want to know what really happened in their country on a given day, they would learn more from BBC World Service or even Canadian news.

Right now it is caucus and primary season. You can lose in any state but still come up a winner if you’re continually adding to your number of delegates at the national convention. Proud Americans speaking glowingly of the beauty of the complexity on the road to Inauguration Day, but it’s not that there’s anything wrong with the system of getting to naming the Presidential nominee; rather, it’s the vast amounts of mental energy that are associated with the process.

Opinions on all matter political also consume vast amounts of water cooler time at the office and heated discussions around the kitchen table. And once a new U.S. President is chosen, from the first day, politicians and those who surround them will begin contemplating how that choice affects their prospects in the 2020 campaign. It’s a election process that now runs non-stop, 24/7 over connected four-year cycles.

To my readers, most of whom are Americans: I love your passion for the November election. But stay in touch with the larger, international news cycle. Keep in contact with the science, health, social justice, arts and economics news stories. Allow margin for non-election-related activities and discussions.

Engage with it, but don’t let it consume you.

May 7, 2013

Population Inequity

Filed under: politics — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:31 am

Population Inside the Circle

February 17, 2012

C. S. Lewis, not C. S. Lewis C.B.E.

Across the pond, Tim Chester reported this a few weeks ago:

A freedom of information request has led to the disclosure of people who declined official honours from the Queen as part of the British honour system. I was interested to notice that among them was CS Lewis. Lewis turned down a CBE in 1952…

A reader quickly noted that the story had been shared previously by Lewis’ brother; as relayed by Timothy Keller:

C. S. Lewis' death the same day as John F. Kennedy was so under-reported, some Mere Christianity and Narnia readers believe he is still living.

In his unpublished biography of his brother C. S. Lewis, W. H. “Warnie” Lewis related how in late 1951 his brother received a letter from Prime Minister Winston Churchill. In it, Churchill offered to recommend him for a C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire). 

The C.B.E. is one class in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, a chivalric order established to recognize gallantry and service to the Empire, and Lewis was nominated to appear on the last list of honours of King George VI, in December, 1951. It was an extremely coveted honor, and evidently it was offered to Lewis for his public service for writing and broadcasting during the war. 

In a letter to the Prime Minister’s secretary Lewis turned down the offer, which was very unusual. “I feel greatly obliged to the Prime Minister, and so far as my personal feelings are concerned this honour would be highly agreeable,” he wrote. However, he added that many people said or believed that Christianity is basically, “covert anti-Leftist propaganda, and my appearance in the Honours List would of course strengthen their hands. It is therefore better that I should not appear there.” (W. Hooper, ed. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, volume III, p. 147.) 

Over the years some other notable figures have turned down membership in the Order of the British Empire, but usually it was as a political protest against some aspect of British government or policy. In Lewis’ case the reasoning was completely different. He knew that if Churchill, a Conservative politician, recommended him for the order it would only lend credence to what people believed about the Christian faith, namely, that it was not really about truth, but was rather a tool for non-progressive political interests. Lewis refused to let a political entity reward him for Christian service, fearing it would identify Christianity too closely with one political system. 

Keller goes on to say that similar suspicions about Christianity continue to this day. Especially in an election year — Keller was writing in March of 2011 — people want to equate religion and politics, and he notes that there will be times when the “truth claims” of Christianity will intersect with political ideology.  But then they take it a step too far when they believe that upholding a particular position is “doing the will of God.”

C. S.Lewis refused to be a part of that. He was far-sighted.In our country over the last 60 years, alliances between churches and politics have resulted in many people dismissing Christianity as only “the Conservative (or) Liberal party at prayer.” The results have been destructive (as we discussed in last month’s newsletter article on ‘Civility.’)

That doesn’t mean Christ-following is completely apolitical — though it is in its purest form — or that we don’t have an interest in what’s going on in government.  Keller adds,

[W]e believe that the gospel shapes all areas of life. Christians can and should be involved in government, and their Christian faith will be the driving force behind how they engage in politics as well as how they evaluate many policy issues. Also, Redeemer teaches God’s word and often what the Bible says will have public policy implications that are direct and/or indirect. But Christians must not implicitly or explicitly identify their Christianity with political figures and parties.That has always been the balance we have tried to strike in our ministryin the city. It is tempting of course, when the honours of earthly kings are offered to us for doing Christian ministry. C. S. Lewis allowed the honor of the King of Kings to be enough for him.

Got a friend who is an avid Lewis fan?  Send her or him this link to Keller’s article.

January 31, 2012

60 New York City Churches Face Closure in Two Weeks

The countdown is down to final days, so churches grouped together to appeal to the Mayor of New York City to stop the eviction of 60 churches from public schools.  CBN News has the details (use the link to watch the video). Imagine this scene multiplied in cities across the U.S. and Canada…

More than 60 church congregations hold services inside a New York City public school each Sunday. Many, however, may soon find themselves without a place to worship.

The city’s Department of Education is set to evict the estimated 17,000 people in just two weeks because of a policy banning worship services in public schools.

New York City churches are uniting to urge their lawmakers to reverse the ban.

More than a thousand churchgoers rallied against the measure Sunday, marching from the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan and on to City Hall…

…One of the demonstrators, Pastor Sal Sabino of Heavenly Vision Christian Center, urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to step up to the plate and defend the city’s Christian population.

“Mayor, you know that we have over 60 congregations that will be homeless as of February 12, 2012,” Sabino said. “We know you know. You are our mayor, and we love you. But you have the power to stop this.”

…The state legislature could take up a measure this week, reversing the policy that now bans worship services in public schools.

January 5, 2012

God Told Me To Write This. Or Did He?

The above graphic from CNN Belief really says it all, though it may be a little premature to count Perry as officially out just yet. 

There’s a tendency among Evangelicals to over-use, “Thus saith the Lord;” when the really mean, “Thus saith me;” unless of course, in their view, ‘the Lord’ = ‘me.’  There’s an equal tendency to over-use “God told me;” when in fact it merely seemed like a good idea at that time. 

Or maybe it was a desire of the heart.  There is a (conditional) promise that God will give us the desires of our heart, but it would appear that those desires begin within us. To claim external direction to run for President would make sense if it were a heavenly vision given to a man installing mufflers or a woman asking people, “Would you like fries with that?” But for many of these politicians, the aspiration to run for the (U.S.) nation’s top office has been part of a longer, lifelong process. Eventually, after all is said and done, there will only be one nominee.

Someone will want to argue that there are God-given desires; that there is no audible voice, but a want-to that is divinely implanted.  I might concede that one. In that case though, whether speaking to secularists or other believers, I would still avoid the use of ‘God told…”

You can click to join the conversation at CNN Belief. The forum needs people who will focus on the theological implications and not get hung up on the political.

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