Friday, August 15, 2008

Religious and Progressive

E.J. Dionne,Jr. of the Washington Post writes "Throughout American history, religious voices have played a central role in progressive politics, but we seem to have forgotten that in the past two decades. Robert P. Jones is one of the most searching, thoughtful, and practical thinkers in the revival of religiously rooted progressivism and his book is a great blessing for that cause and for the country. Anyone-left,right, or center- who wants a guide to this new movement would do well to spend some time with this book. " This book is Progressive and Religious How Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist Leaders are Moving beyond the culture wars and transforming American public life.

Robert P. Jones will be at MIT on October 1 speaking about his book at 7:30 PM in W-11, the main dining room.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Crab Grass Factor

At this time of the year crab grass becomes evident. In April the ads talk about putting down a pre-emergent product to keep crab grass from germinating. Now it is clear why. Given moisture and space the tentacles of grass will spread and crowd out other desirable grasses. Then when frost comes the plants die and the lawn appears to have a multitude of spaces where grass used to be. The key is to fertilize the lawn and plant new seed thickly so the crab grass plant cannot take over.

In politics, a lie if not answered will grow to expand all the space it can fill. That is why politicians often spread wild accusations hoping that some of them will stick. Equally, those attacked often appear to be simply responding with answers even though it prolongs the shelve-life of the accusation. Untruths ignored grow just like crab grass until they are forgotten and disappear leaving only a gaping hole where truth might have resided.

Religious communities often spread lies about one another; sometimes they do not have to since the behavior of the group, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish, makes telling lies unnecessary. When i was growing up the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a scurrilous anti-semitic bit of propaganda often made its appearance in one form or another in our church. No one knew enough to call it a lie until finally one day someone spoke the truth. The same was true with notions about Catholics; we just knew they were out to destroy the Protestant world we knew. Such notions had been around America since the founding of the nation and were partially blunted by the election of John Kennedy.

In this political season rumors and untruths about Islam abound given the fact that Barack Obama will be the Democrat's nominee for President. I like to think we are wiser than we were in 1960, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Barack Obama is not a Muslim no matter what some people say or think. Knowing the truth is important; telling the truth is even more important. Not to speak out when we know untruths are being passed around is cowardly, but often excused because many people do not know better. By November the crab grass will be gone; let's hope the lies are too answered by courageous people will to speak out.


Robert M. Randolph

Friday, August 1, 2008

Change Comes

This past week I was with a group of black and white Christian ministers in Nashville, TN. The occasion was the 40th anniversary of a gathering in Atlanta after the death of Martin Luther King. In 1978 we lamented the separation that existed between black and white Christians. Now with a new generation we noted how complicated the world has become. Divisions between black and whites seem almost simple against the backdrop of ethnic and religious strife common today.

I have just finished reading Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering Death and the American Civil War (2008). Faust, now the president of Harvard, opens a door into understanding the shaping of the South in the post war period. The anger and hatred of blacks who dared challenge the peculiar institution boiled over and the cowardly retreat by the North is better understood when you realize the breadth of loss suffered by North and South in the Civil War. The enormous cost of the war in human terms came to overshadow the commitment to equality.

We live today with the implications of the divide between black and white and the new challenges of ethnicity and race are difficult to meet because we have not really understood that the human community is the only game in town. What diminishes one, diminishes all. Those who sell policies based on fear look backward to the bad old days and last week-end I was reminded how bad they were. But in the Nashville Public Library's Civil Rights Reading room we caught a glimpse of hope and were reminded of an idealism that changed America. It may be that we have come farther than we have thought.