Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
A Whirled Views roundup of U.S. religious news and views.
The spiritual decline of many colleges and universities with religious beginnings isn’t a new development, but I was reminded of it again when I wrote about pro-life efforts at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
The university has been independent from the Methodist Church since 1937, but it still bears the name of John Wesley—one of founders of Methodism and an important figure in the Great Awakening.
Joy Adedokun, a senior at Wesleyan, started a pro-life group on campus four years ago and found herself in formidable company: “One of the things I didn’t understand … was how radical the pro-choice movement was on our campus.” She says some of that stems from a culture of promiscuity: “I feel like older people in the pro-life movement don’t understand how prevalent that culture is.”
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This week’s Whirled Views offers a roundup of religious news and views from around the United States.
Choosing my religion
When newly elected Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., took her congressional oath of office on Jan. 3, she raised her right hand high and placed the other hand firmly on a law book. The book contained copies of the Arizona and U.S. constitutions.
Sinema wasn’t the only freshman in the 116th Congress taking an oath on something other than the Bible. Texts included the Quran, a Buddhist sutra, and the Hindu Vedas.
Members aren’t required to swear on any book or text, but the variety offered a glimpse into the array of religious beliefs in Congress.
According to a Pew Research survey, only two of the 252 Republican members of Congress didn’t identify as Christian: Reps. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., and David Kustoff, R.-Tenn., are Jewish.
Sixty-one of the 282 Democrats didn’t identify as Christian: Thirty-two are Jewish. Other affiliations among Democrats include three Muslims, three Hindus, two Buddhists, and two Unitarian Universalists.
Sen. Sinema—first elected to Congress as a House member in 2012—was the only member to check “none” for religious affiliation. But 18 Democrats also checked “don’t know/refused” to answer.
Among Christian designations, 293 members identified as Protestant and 163 as Catholic. Mormons were listed under the Christian designation as well, with 10 members identifying with Mormonism. Five members identified as Orthodox Christians.
Among Protestant members, affiliations included Baptist, Methodist, Anglican/Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and seven other groups.
But the highest number of Protestants (80 members) checked “unspecified/other”—a designation that includes “those who say they are Christian, evangelical Christian, evangelical Protestant or Protestant, without specifying a denomination.” (This was a separate category from “nondenominational Protestants.” Ten members checked that box.)
The “unspecified/other” category included some members who do belong to denominations, but chose to identify apart from denominational lines. Since denominational categories didn’t offer breakdowns to differentiate between mainline churches and more conservative ones, it’s possible some members chose this category to make the distinction.
Whatever the case, the oath of office new members took includes a pledge to faithfully discharge their duties “so help me God.” Bible-believing Christians should pray God will help them, whether in His saving grace or in the common grace He shows to all people—even those who don’t acknowledge Him.
Confidence in princes
Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, gave a one-word answer to a complex question about his support for President Donald Trump. A Washington Post reporter asked: “Is there anything President Trump could do that would endanger that support from you or other evangelical leaders?”
Falwell answered: “No.”
He went on to explain he believes anything Trump does will be for the good of the country: “I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”
To state the obvious: That’s a dangerous level of confidence to have in any fallible human being.
Speaking of fallible human beings, the best of Christian pastors certainly fall into that category too, but it’s sad to see a new Gallup poll showing Americans’ views of the clergy continuing to decline.
The poll reported only 37 percent of respondents said they had a high or very high view of the honesty and ethics of members of the clergy. That’s nearly 50 points below the public’s high confidence in nurses. The lowest regard went to members of Congress, who scored below telemarketers and car salesmen.
Gallup surmises the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church drove much of the decline in Americans’ regard for clergy. That scandal is indeed a tragedy, and evangelicals should do their own hard work in this area too.
But as a church member who knows plenty of fallible but godly pastors (including my own), here’s hoping 2019 will lead many spiritually lost or hurting sinners to the doors of churches with pastors and members ready to offer Christ in all His perfections.
The year ahead
If you’re still looking for a Bible reading plan, I recommend the ambitious but rewarding M’Cheyne reading schedule. If you’re looking for ways to reach out to neighbors, here are 52 ideas for inviting people to church this year.
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The four men who founded the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in 1859 owned a sizable amount of property—and people. The four founders together held more than 50 slaves.
It’s one of the many grievous facts recounted in a 71-page report SBTS leaders released last Wednesday.
Seminary president Al Mohler commissioned the report a year ago to document formally the role slavery and racism played in the school’s beginnings and its growth into the 20th century. Six current and former faculty members served on a commission to write the report.
Mohler, who is also a WORLD News Group board member, summarized some of the findings in a letter introducing the report:
“Many of [the founders’] successors on this faculty, throughout the period of Reconstruction and well into the twentieth century, advocated segregation, the inferiority of African-Americans, and openly embraced the ideology of the Lost Cause of southern slavery.”
He also described part of the purpose for the report: “We must repent of our own sins, we cannot repent for the dead. We must, however, offer full lament for a legacy we inherit, and a story that is now ours.”
You can read the whole report here.
Reading Mohler’s lament—and also his hope in Christ who is creating a new humanity by His death and resurrection—brought to my mind the suffering and abuse that Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, also endured in this world in making that redemption possible.
One of my favorite songs at Christmas is a beautiful meditation on the reality of the incarnation. Sweet Little Jesus Boy evokes the sound of an African-American spiritual, though it was penned by a white man in 1934 named Robert MacGimsey.
MacGimsey had grown up on a plantation in Louisiana, where his parents employed many African-Americans, including former slaves. MacGimsey’s nanny sang spirituals to him when he was a baby, and he went to church with African-American men he considered “uncles.” MacGimsey loved the music, and he began a lifelong project of transcribing and preserving spirituals originating from the South.
He wrote Sweet Little Jesus Boy in that style:
The world treat You mean, Lord;
Treat me mean, too.
But that’s how things is down here,
We didn’t know t’was You.
MacGimsey once said that when he contemplated this song, he pictured an aging black man whose life had been full of injustice “standing off in the middle of a field just giving his heart to Jesus in the stillness.”
In a world still full of sorrows and sin, it’s still a helpful Christmas hymn to lament our own suffering, the suffering of others, and to rejoice in the beauty of the Christ who came into the world to bear our griefs.