That Was The Week That Was

While I was arguing with a John Mulaney joke and recording a podcast about the history of sports journalism — and promoting four other podcasts about the past, other people were using the Internet for other, generally more constructive purposes:

• Best of all… While I’m sure Nadia Bolz-Weber likes to think of herself as shocking the sensibilities of stuffy traditionalists, it’s Tish Harrison Warren’s response that genuinely, helpfully shatters conventional ideas of religion: investigating the Christian history of vaginal imagery… in Christianity Today.

Cathédrale Apostolique Saint-Jean-Baptiste
Cathédrale Apostolique Saint-Jean Baptiste, Paris’ largest Armenian church

• You’ve heard of the Benedict Option — and maybe even the Pietist Option. Now, consider an option that’s older than both: Armenian Christianity.

• David Cramer explored how “Neo-Anabaptism” emerged from — and started to critique — more traditional Anabaptist communities.

• To the surprise of many, United Methodist delegates rejected their bishops’ One Church Plan in favor of a Traditional Plan that strengthened the denomination’s stance on sexuality. Already, the largest UMC church in the United States is thinking of leaving.

• It’s easy for us non-Methodists to think we know better, but I do tend to nod along with Jim Wallis’ take: “What failed in St. Louis was an attempt to find common ground, to be welcoming of deeper biblical conversations in faith communities, and to find compassionate ways to talk about and even to honestly disagree over the meanings of biblical sexuality.”

• At the same time, I need to admit that the dismayed president of a relatively conservative UMC seminary might be right, that “continuing to quarrel over this issue hurts people on all sides, does not glorify God, does not demonstrate unconditional love for all people and does not help make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

• Finally… I think it’s fair to ask if the Traditional Plan’s success reflects the ultimate victory of conservative Christian colleges in training missionaries, given the votes of most African and Asian delegates. But can we ask that question and also leave some agency for Global South Methodists who certainly don’t see themselves as unwitting pawns of Western colonialism?

• As the Southern Baptist Convention continues to wrestle with the problem of sexual abuse, Kristin Kobes Du Mez asked if that denomination’s vaunted Conservative Resurgence “wasn’t about ‘believing the words of Scripture’ as much as it was about claiming and asserting power in a way that was antithetical to the gospel?”

• One of my favorite former students wrote one of my favorite pieces of the week: “Given the seemingly endless sports metaphors that rain down from American pulpits, one wonders what exactly is too feminine about church… I believe the real issue is this: the very essence of Christianity is incompatible with our current culture of masculinity.”

• Just when it feels like there’s nothing left to be said about evangelicals and politics… Ryan Burge points out that evangelical support for Republicans actually varies quite a bit if you compare one state to another.

(I’d be curious to see how much race/ethnicity helps explain such variation. Are New York’s evangelicals, for example, not only much more likely than Ohio’s to support Democrats, but much more likely to be persons of color?)

Wear, Reclaiming Hope• I rarely write about abortion, but I think Michael Wear articulated my weariness about recent debates on that issue better than I could.

• While pundits and activists continue to debate the idea of reparations to descendants of enslaved African Americans, one woman in Kansas made her own reparations to the people whose land was taken from them by her ancestors.

• My favorite Bernie Sanders moment was when he spoke at Liberty University. #2 came this week: when he shared an American Conservative story about rural revival on social media.

• David Brooks seems to be as unpopular among avowed progressives and avowed conservatives… which might be why those of us who are instinctively moderate appreciate his calls for a middle path.

• I’m a 20th century historian, but one of my favorite Western Civ lectures to give focuses on the tension inherent in the world’s first democracy excluding immigrants, slaves, and women from its claims of liberty and equality.

• Can art be separated from the character of the artist? That old question resurfaced this week in two dissimilar contexts… First, a new documentary about Michael Jackson that features extensive interviews with two men who allege, in considerable detail, that Jackson sexually abused them as children. Second, a new article about an old debate between publisher Bennett Cerf (who removed Ezra Pound’s work from a post-World War II anthology) and poet W.H. Auden (who disliked Pound’s poetry and his pro-fascist politics… and still deplored Cerf’s editing).

• Will a large, embattled evangelical university end its form of tenure as part of cost-cutting measures

• In my John Mulaney post, I concluded that liberal arts colleges might simply need to do better at explaining the value of their costly education. Here’s how one Catholic university leader makes that case.