Archives For Christian Century

1. Two views on the Cuban travel ban
The Miami Herald recently had dueling op-eds on the topic of the Cuban embargo and travel ban. Miami, as many know, has a large Cuban-American population and this issue, always a contentious one, is only heightened there. Humberto Fontova writes “Why we remain resolute against traveling to Cuba,” while Elissa Vanaver represents the other view in “Cuba: Why we made the trip, and what we saw.” Neither of the writers seem particularly fond of the Castro regime, but have different ideas of how to best respond.

2. John Stott on worship and witness
Q Ideas, in partnership with the Evangelical Environmental Network, published an old sermon by John Stott on worship and witness:

The works of the Lord are to be the subject of our witness. Worship and witness belong together. We cannot possibly worship God—that is, acknowledge his infinite worth— without longing to go out into the world to persuade other people to come and worship him. Worship leads inevitably to witness, but witness leads to worship, too. It is a continuous cycle of worship leading to witness leading to worship and so on. The two cannot be separated. In both worship and witness, the works of the Lord are paramount.

3. Religious pluralism and “holy ground”
Philip Jenkins, who introduced many of us to the shifting center of global Christianity toward the South and East and away from the West, writes for Christian Century on religious pluralism and “holy ground.” It’s not a new issue, of course, but growing religious extremism, coupled with changing religious demographics due to migration, has made it all the more timely. It’s something Miroslav Volf addressed in his book A Public Faith, which I reviewed here.

4. Ken Myers on the church as “polis”
Ken Myers, host of the Mars Hill Audio Journal (which I’m thoroughly enjoying this year thanks to a Christmas gift from my in-laws), wrote a book on faith and culture that’s now being re-released more than 20 years after its original publication. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

The Church is not simply in the business of getting individuals saved. The Church’s task is to nurture and shape its members into disciples, who observe everything their Lord—the Lord of heaven and earth—has commanded. Of course, the Church must be eagerly active to bring in new members. But it must deliberately be a body the membership in which makes a difference. It must offer a way of life—a culture—which is distinct from the world’s ways. And it must seek to baptize its new members into Christ and into his body, which means that they must be exhorted to abandon their old memberships and allegiances.

5. Participatory public art in a favela
The polis blog, which I continue to love, has an interview with  Boa Mistura, a group of five Spanish artists who call themselves “graffiti rockers.” They spent some time living with a family in a favela in Sao Paolo, Brazil, saying they “wanted settle in the slum, dissect it, smell it, live it and love it.” They ended up working on a public art installation with neighborhood residents, painting words like “love,” “beauty” and “firmness” in Portuguese in bright colors on walls. It’s fascinating stuff.

Repaso is intended as a thought-provoking compilation of news and commentary from the past week related to the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace. As always, I welcome your thoughts on any of the links and ideas in this roundup!

[Photo credit: Boa Mistura via thepolisblog.org]

Philip Jenkins, a professor at Penn State well known for his research on the incredible growth of the church in the Global South (I especially recommend his book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity), writes an occasional column for Christian Century called “Notes From the Global Church.� His latest is about what he calls a “crisis of faith� in Mexico.

About 80-90% of Mexicans identify as Catholic, with the number of Protestants estimated in the single digits. Jenkins writes that Mexican churches — presumably Catholic ones, by and large — ought to be applauded for what they have often done right:

They have behaved heroically, striving to make peace between factions, trying to fulfill social needs in regions where secular government has all but abdicated its power. Individual priests and bishops comfort bereaved families and preach bravely against violence and criminality, at grave risk to their lives. Fearless activism for peace and human rights made Saltillo’s legend­ary bishop José Raúl Vera López a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

On the other hand, he also points to the problem of syncretism, which obviously compromises the distinctiveness of Christian belief, but also contributes to immediate matters of life and death. Whereas syncretistic cult practices have long been practiced in the shadows, Jenkins says, the rise of drug cartels and gangs have only recently brought some of them to the surface:

One terrifying symbol is the skeletal figure of La Santa Muerte, Saint Death, who serves as the gangs’ patron saint… Santa Muerte is condemned by the official church but worshiped in countless clandestine shrines. Nor is she the only manifestation of a subversive pseudo-Catholicism that veers close to outright diabolism. Another wildly popular folk saint is the 19th-century bandit Jesús Mal­­verde, “angel of the poor,” patron of drug dealers and illegal migrants. Devotees of San Juan Soldado (Soldier John) venerate a man executed in 1938 for raping and murdering an eight-year-old girl. While such beliefs demonstrate a profound faith in spiritual realities, they also show the yawning gulf that separates popular practice from any traditional concept of Christian faith.

It’s easy to spot syncretism like this in foreign contexts, when the idols can be seen and named and are connected to obvious brutality, but none of us have embraced a culture-free gospel, and a healthy dose of humility here would go a long way. Nonetheless, the Mexican church will need to figure out how to handle the veneration of La Santa Muerte and others.

But what ought to happen first: correcting theology and private worship, or reforming society? Would a crackdown on gangs and narco-traffickers render La Santa Muerte redundant? Would strong, compelling theological teaching by the church lead members of gangs to turn, not only from idols but from violence too? What lessons can the rest of us learn from this case about the often uneasy relationship between society and religion to which none of us is exempt?