That Was The Week That Was

This week I turned in my Lindbergh biography manuscript and recorded a new COVID-themed episode of my favorite, strangest podcast. Elsewhere:

• “Nothing in a church or a family stays hidden forever,” wrote Bob Smietana of a new church scandal, centering on John Ortberg and his children.

• In his first public comments since being fired as Wheaton College’s chaplain,  Tim Blackmon disputed the school’s account of the reasons for his dismissal.

• Because it expanded what’s called the “ministerial exception” in employment, the Supreme Court ruling in a religious liberty case may have important implications for Christian colleges and universities. (The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and forty individual schools — including my employer — had filed an amicus brief in February.)

• Many have noted a growing awareness of racial injustice among white evangelicals in the wake of the George Floyd killing. But some African American Christians expect a “whitelash” to come before too long, from fellow believers who historically have not wanted their pastors and churches to talk about racism.

• Angela Denker put the recent debate over commemorative statues in the context of Christian iconoclasm during the Protestant Reformation.

• I’ll be writing about Kristin Du Mez’ Jesus and John Wayne this Tuesday at The Anxious Bench. If you haven’t yet heard about this important new book, Kristin’s interview with Vox is a great starting point.

• Assuming Joe Biden’s massive polling leads holds up and he wins the election, one leading historian argued that then-President Biden shouldn’t just turn the page on the rampant corruption of the Trump presidency.

• One of my favorite things to do in our Intro to History class is to use counterfactual analysis to help explain what’s called historical contingency. That discussion might be even more interesting next spring than usual, if Megan Garber is right that “to be alive in America right now is to be acutely aware of the paths not taken… Our news is doubly haunted: by the horror of real loss, and by the shadow of what might have been.”

• Among its other effects, COVID has underscored the importance of at least two institutions: families and supermarkets.

• Environmental writer Bill McKibben was glad to be back in church — “not just for comfort or familiarity,” but because it helped him come “to grips with the relentless radicalism of Jesus—with the gospel demand that we love our neighbors in effective ways.”

• Are churches being unfairly blamed for sparking new outbreaks of COVID? “There’s not no story here,” wrote Bonnie Kristian. “But the backdrop of that visible noncompliance must not be missed: The vast majority of churches closed as directed.”

One church’s sanctuary during a Sunday morning this past May – Creative Commons (Tom Hart)

• I suspect that even most of the country’s college professors aren’t aware of the debate surrounding an open letter on free speech and “cancel culture” published by Harper’s. The issues it raises — and the reasons for the backlash against it — are significant, though. Perhaps the most thoughtful summary and analysis came from one of the less-famous signers of the original letter.

• If you feel like commentary itself has become so polarized as to be predictable, try Breaking Ground, the new site that publishes thought-provoking essays like Michael Wear’s on the relationship between death, power, and politics.

• Finally, meet the last reporter left working in a small Pennsylvania town, as the newspaper industry continues to collapse.