By David Gushee
Follow David: @dpgushee
This is my last regular column for Baptist News Global. Beginning July 1, I will take up an offer from Religion News Service to become one of their 12 regular bloggers/columnists. I offer reflections on several current news items and their implications as I see them.
1) The Charleston massacre: Based on available information, I believe this horrific mass murder at Emanuel AME Church should be described as an incident of domestic racist terrorism, a hate crime committed by yet another armed, deranged, adrift young white man who was able to get a gun despite a criminal record. It shares in common the characteristics of many other domestic massacres at places like schools and movie theatres. But it was especially horrific because of its explicit racial dimension and because the killer invaded a holy place — one of our nation’s most historic black churches — to murder innocent people at prayer. We need to ask why we have so many adrift young men; why dangerous people have such easy access to guns; why racism remains so virulent; and how we can heal as a society in each of these dimensions. My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims at Emanuel AME Church, and their families.
Footnote: The details aren’t public yet but it appears that the (alleged) murderer came from yet another chaotic family background. I am writing this reflection while sitting in a restaurant right across from a father and young son eating and talking happily together, a totally ordinary thing that isn’t ordinary enough. On this Father’s Day weekend, we dare not overlook the role of family breakdown in so many of our social problems.
2) The Pope speaks on climate change: Never in my lifetime can I remember this kind of big buildup to a papal encyclical. It was like Taylor Swift releasing a new album. Pope Francis is indeed a rock star. Protestants could only wish for a leader with anything like this kind of impact. His message? Climate change is real, it is related to market economics functioning without an adequate conscience, its effects are profound, and these effects are disproportionately felt by the poor, especially in the Global South. He is, of course, correct, though his comments evoked predictable evasion and dismissal by climate deniers, hoaxers, free-market fundamentalists, and right-pandering GOP (including Catholic) politicians.
3) The SBC doubles down on anti-gay rhetoric: On the eve of a Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and in light of increasing cultural pressure for full acceptance of LGBT people along with full civic equality, the 5,000 messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting were offered considerable anti-gay red meat by SBC president Ronnie Floyd and others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was invoked (of course). Civil disobedience on the gay marriage front was suggested. As a participant on the other side of this struggle I am of course not in agreement. Mainly I grieve the effects on the 5 percent of the children and grandchildren of these men who (will) turn out to be LGBT. In attempting to stand up for moral order and Christian orthodoxy as they understand it, the SBC’s most immediate casualties will be those of their own children who will never be able to conform with their fathers’ urgent exhortations.
4) Churches are declining except where they are not: Both the SBC and CBF met in the shadow of Christian numerical decline in the U.S., a fact in their churches that is also true just about everywhere else in American religion. Some on the more conservative side are tempted to a comforting triumphalism that conservative churches and denominations do better — but the numbers are in decline on all sides, especially in white Christian congregations and denominations. In my experience the only churches that seem to do well these days are youthful church starts, deeply homogeneous in sociological terms, led by charismatic individuals or teams. Intergenerational churches with a long history and conflicting visions of what it means to be church or to be faithful to Jesus seem to be struggling everywhere. Is it a matter of weak leadership? Theological vacuums? Intractable differences between generations in our rapidly changing world? The hegemony of culture wars differences that dwarf any preacher’s efforts to ground a diverse community in biblical essentials? The inevitability of secularization? The answers are not yet fully clear.
I am grateful to Baptist News Global for being my primary platform for the last eight years. Thank you, friends; see you on the other side.