That Was The Week That Was

Today is the 4th anniversary of the founding of this blog. Come back Monday for a look back; meanwhile, here’s what was making news in the last week of our fourth year:


• Thomas Kidd and Barry Hankins might have written the best history of Baptists in this country… but here’s what they missed about the Baptists I know best.

• The Magna Carta turned 800.

• Do historical fiction and non-fiction have more in common than their authors might like to admit?

…There and Everywhere

• I didn’t have the words to blog about the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. But Jon Stewart did:

• “It is impossible to see the attack on Emanuel apart from the church’s history,” or the state’s, so check out the #CharlestonSyllabus hashtag for further reading.

• At least as of this morning, the Confederate flag is still flying in front of the South Carolina capitol. Here’s why we should be appalled by that. And if a historian’s argument doesn’t convince you, listen to a Southern Baptist: “The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire.”

Pope Francis, Laudato Si'• Has a papal encyclical ever received so much attention? At least in my limited memory, nothing quite compares to Laudato si’. Mostly drawing attention for his warnings about climate change, Pope Francis’ underlying theology and “moral ecology” drew the notice of more subtle religion reporters like Emma Green and Elizabeth Bruenig.

• Groundbreaking as it seems, Ruth Graham reminded the readers of Slate that “Francis’ environmentalism fits perfectly into Catholic history.”

• Rusty Reno even claimed that Laudato si’ is the “most anti-modern encyclical since the Syllabus of Errors, Pius IX’s haughty 1864 dismissal of the conceits of the modern era.” New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert found the encyclical “an unsparing indictment of just about every aspect of modern life.”

• Based on previous polling, one group seems least likely to embrace the pope’s recommendations: evangelicals, only a quarter of whom think global warming is caused by humans.

• Why are so many evangelicals so suspicious of environmentalism (particularly when it leads to policy prescriptions)? Mark Stoll considered theological and historical explanations.

• At least among those evangelicals, the other big religion story early in the week was the death of Elisabeth Elliot, the missionary who told the story of her husband’s martyrdom in Through Gates of Splendor and then returned to South America to minister to the same people who had killed him. Among those remembering this remarkable woman was Kay Warren: “Elisabeth, thank you for shaping me into the woman I am, for modeling for me what it looks like to follow hard after Jesus, for never walking away from God in your darkest days and for holding true to your faith to the end. Thank you on behalf of millions of other women – young and old—who found in you a woman worthy to emulate. Your humble sense of self would instantly push this praise aside, but please know we only follow in your footsteps because you follow our Master.”

Ad for Uldine Utley sermon• The New York Times had a fascinating report on child preachers in Brazil, prompting John Turner to point out that the phenomenon hasn’t been unknown in this country’s religious history.

• If evangelicals are starting to change their minds on human sexuality, it may have less to do with supposed conformity to culture and more with a larger shift in how they read the Bible.

• From someone on the other side of that debate: Jason Byassee both critiqued common arguments for greater inclusivity and suggested, “as a sort of theological conservative, how liberals on this topic ought to argue to try and convince someone like me.”

• Someone was asking me last week about Franklin Graham, who famously encouraged evangelicals to join him in boycotting LGBT-friendly business, and I dismissed him as having a fraction of the influence of his famous father. Perhaps I was wrong: “In an era where Facebook has become a primary filter—in many cases, the primary filter—for what people pay attention to online, Graham is building a Facebook presence that surpasses every other vocal Christian leader in America.”

• About nine months after being “derecognized” by the California State university system because it requires faith commitments of its leaders, InterVarsity regained its status at those nineteen campuses.

• For a long time, notes Andrew Delbiano, there was bipartisan support for initiatives that would “bring college within reach of those for whom it would be otherwise unattainable…. Today this story is stalled,” with the higher education system “reflecting the stratification of our society more than resisting it.”

• Three years ago I noted that the proposed Dwight Eisenhower memorial in Washington, DC was getting lots of flack… Nothing has changed.

Cool random link of the week: a fan letter from Walker Percy to Bruce Springsteen… with a belated response from the singer.

4 thoughts on “That Was The Week That Was

  1. Is it really accurate to say IVCF was “derecognized’ by the California State university system because it requires faith commitments of its leaders”? My understanding is that it was derecognized for requiring a specifically *Christian* commitment, and it has narrowly defined that commitment in terms that make it impossible to be gay and sexually active (married or not) or to advocate for the moral permissability of gay sexuality and marriage as a Christian.

    1. Yes, “Christian commitments” would be more accurate. I was less clear that sexuality was really the issue in question, and not the larger question of whether a group like IVCF can require affirmation of any statement of religious doctrine. The actual IVCF “doctrinal basis” doesn’t explicitly address sexuality: (Unlike the Christian legal society that lost recognition at the Univ. of California because its voting members needed to sign a statement against “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.”) But Kimberly Winston’s RNS report implies that sexuality was part of the decision: “The challenges stem from a 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled a public college can refuse to recognize a religious student organization with an ‘all-comers’ policy if its religious beliefs are effectively discriminatory. InterVarsity policy states membership is open to all, but leaders must affirm its ‘doctrinal basis,’ which declares belief in ‘the entire trustworthiness’ of the Bible. Many Christians who read the Bible literally also argue it prohibits homosexuality.” In the event, the IVCF news release from last week doesn’t address sexuality:

      1. I don’t think it’s a big secret that IVCF has changed its “doctrinal basis” historically to deal with changing events and climates of opinion among their constituencies. Their original statement is very broad and simple. The 1960 “Bear Trap Statement” is explicitly Protestant and implicitly anti-Catholic. The trimmed down and modified versions they came to use more recently reflect a big reversal of an ecumenical nature, such that now there are again conflicts in some chapters when certain protestant churches see IVCF being too “pro-Catholic.” And indeed on the point of biblical authority, it has been used on multiple recent occasions to expel or block Christians from leadership in IVCF because they are deemed to have an “unbliblical view” of homosexuality, but it could be anything of a moral nature. (For example:

        I think it’s important to note there is this history of wrestling with Christian identity and the boundaries of inclusion/exclusion in InterVarsity that does get into intra-Christian discrimination with doctrinal litmus tests that are rare for student organizations but common for churches. Since IV chapters see themselves and do function as churches but within a university structure, this is really the key problem but one I have never seen noticed in the reporting and commentary.

      2. Thanks for the added context, Dan. Past its publishing wing, I haven’t been involved with InterVarsity and am not as familiar with its history as I should be.

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