Sweeping heavenward like an enormous glass-and-metal ski jump, a new Protestant church dominates the crumbled earth, freshly planted trees and unfinished water features of a suburban park under construction in Changsha. About 260 feet tall and topped by a cross, the Xingsha Church is bigger even than the biggest statue of Mao Zedong in China, less than 10 miles west of here.
Can Pastors Now Endorse Candidates?
CT's Kate Shellnutt does a nice job of helping us understand what President Trump's religious liberty order does and does not say, and how it might affect churches. And on this week's Quick to Listen podcast, Morgan Lee and I talk with Thomas Berg, professor of law and public policy at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, to answer the above question, and others like it: Like, what constitutes political activity for a congregation? And even if churches have the right to become political, should they?
Unfree Speech Continues
Speaking of free speech, things blew up at Duke Divinity School when faculty were encouraged to attend a Racial Equality Institute as a "first step in a longer process of working to ensure that [Duke] is an institution that is both equitable and anti-racist in its practices and culture." Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology (and a highly respected theologian at that), responded to the mass email with one of his own, exhorting his colleagues not to attend as it would be a waste of time: "It'll be, I predict with confidence, intellectually flaccid: there'll be bromides, clichés, and amen-corner rah-rahs in plenty."
Long story short, Griffiths was disciplined, and has now apparently resigned. It appears that Griffiths was not fairly treated (see all the relevant emails here), but it's also clear he could have objected more civilly. Still his concerns have resonated with many faculty at Duke and elsewhere (see the comments section in the summary story at Inside Higher Ed), who are equally resentful of training seminars that feel more like indoctrination.
Diversity training is not the issue, for we at CT are very much committed to this ourselves—and, if I must brag on our task force a bit, doing so in a spirit of grace! Instead, to me the story suggests a theme I find continually fascinating and depressing: the free speech challenges at institutions of higher education—especially the willingness to discipline, ostracize, and exclude those who don't conform to prevailing views. Also note this book review, which summarizes Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know, in which the self-described liberal author Jonathan Zimmerman documents how many campuses squelch free speech. My hope is that bringing attention to such stories will slowly but surely encourage campuses to practice what they preach about being a place for the free exchange of ideas.
Good News on the Environmental Front
To me it's troubling to hear so many stories about how God's good creation is collapsing under the weight of human development or just natural processes. So it's especially gratifying to see the environment making a comeback all on its own: A beach that vanished in 1984 has returned, much to the delight of Irish villagers.
God elects and determines himself to be the God of man. And this undoubtedly means … that he elects and determines himself for humiliation …. The Godhead of the true God is not a prison whose walls have first to be broken … in becoming man. In distinction from that of false gods, and especially the god of Mohammed, his Godhead embraces both height and depth, both sovereignty and humility, both lordship and service.
—Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV 2 page 84
Grace and peace,