Gehrz: Evangelicals Must Reject Islamophobia

Chris Gehrz is very upset (and rightly so) about the Islamophobia currently on display in the evangelical community.  Here is a taste of his recent post at The Pietist Schoolman:

I’m not an evangelical who retreats from the label “evangelical.” But the results of a survey released today by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) have me feeling embarrassed and angry about my branch of the Christian family.
In the 2015 edition of its annual American Values Survey, PRRI asked about a number of topics, but coming a day after multiple Republican candidates proposed that Christian and Muslim refugees be treated differently as they seek asylum in the U.S., this finding stood out:
73% of evangelicals agree that the “values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life.”
Now, a majority of Americans (56%) feel this way, as do majorities in every Christian group. (Non-Christians and nonreligious are more likely to disagree than agree with the statement, and black and Hispanic Americans are evenly divided.) But that 73% number is ten points higher than the next most Islamophobic group (white mainline Protestants).
I don’t want to make too much of any single survey of American religion. There’s been plenty written lately about the problems with such polling. But the PRRI result seems consistent with what other surveys have found — e.g., last month LifeWay found that evangelical pastors (unlike their mainline counterparts) are increasingly likely to believe that Islam is inherently violent. And as historian Thomas Kidd has previously pointed out, American evangelical anxiety about Islam is as old as the Republic itself
I almost don’t know where to start, I’m so appalled by that 73% number.
Probably the best place is to question how much evangelicals or any other Christians ought to worry about sustaining “American values and way of life.” Insofar as there’s such a thing as “national values” and they’re consistent with the values of he who is “the way, the truth, and the life,” then sure, try to uphold them. But this just makes me more concerned about evangelical susceptibility to different kinds of secularization.
But even setting that to the side for the moment… Is it impossible for evangelicals to accept that the values of ISIS are not identical to the “values of Islam”? That hundreds of millions of Muslims living as citizens in pluralistic democracies around the world are as horrified by the mass murder of innocents as any Christian? That any religion — including our own — contains multitudes? (I’ll be teaching on the Holocaust in about three hours, and the role Christians played in it.)…
Fortunately, some evangelical leaders have stood up against Islamophobia. In recent days, Christianity Today has published thoughtful pieces by Ed Stetzer and World Vision U.S. president Rich Stearns (r.). Let’s hope that their voices are heeded more than, say, Franklin Graham’s (“Islam is at war with us — we’ve witnessed its evil face firsthand over and over”).
And there is some generally encouraging news in the survey. For all the recent discussion about *racism on college campuses, it’s probably worth noting that 60% of African Americans and 54% of Hispanics “believe that American culture has mostly changed for the better since the 1950s.”
Strikingly, however, 57% of white Americans say the opposite, leaving PRRI CEO Robert Jones “struck by the high level of anxiety and worry on all fronts.” For me, it’s especially troubling to find that evangelicals are the most anxious, fearful group in the survey. Three in five evangelicals claim that “America’s best days are behind us,” while majorities of Catholics, black Protestants, and non-Christians — religious and nonreligious — believe the opposite.
Indeed, I can only interpret evangelical hostility to Islam in light of a larger anxiety, one that’s completely inconsistent with Christian faith and witness. If anyone can live as a people of hope rather than fear, ought it not to be those who claim the Gospel for their name? What kind of evangel are we proclaiming?

Quote of the Day

The Resolutions of the National Association of Evangelicals’ Commission on Evangelical Action, organized early in the NAE’s history, give some measure of what “social action” meant to mainstream evangelical leaders in the early 1960s.  At the commission’s September 1960 meeting, members discussed the top challenges facing American evangelicals:  communism, “the Roman Catholic situation,” IRS pressure on ministers who preached politics from the pulpit, the provision of alcohol to passengers by airlines, and Hollywood’s recent “attacks on evangelical Christianity in such films as “Elmer Gantry” and “Inherit the Wind”

–Molly Worthen, Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism, p. 178

I should add that my students got some good laughs yesterday when they read the line about alcohol and airlines.

Evangelicalism’s Wrong Turn

Fred Clark of Slacktivist blog calls our attention to a passage in Peter G. Heltzel’s Jesus & Justice: Evangelicals, Race & American Politics.  Clark writes: “understand and absorb these five sentences and you can understand the entire history of white evangelicalism in America over the past 50 years:

In 1965 [Carl] Henry sent Frank E. Gaebelein to cover the march in Selma, Alabama. An associate editor of Christianity Today and the founder and headmaster of the Stony Brook School, New York, Gaebelein went to Selma and was so inspired that he wired Henry in Washington, DC, that evangelicals needed to join the march. But Gaebelein’s stories of the Selma march never saw the light of day. The resistance at Christianity Today was coming primarily from two people: J. Howard Pew, the Texas oil man and the financer of Christianity Today, and L. Nelson Bell, Billy Graham’s father-in-law and an editorial adviser at Christianity Today, who still had segregationist views. Pew and Bell did not want Christianity Today to speak out too critically against racism and capitalism, because they thought it would alienate important segments of the magazine’s constituency.

Read Clark’s riff on this paragraph here.

Pope Francis on the Culture of Waste

An excerpt from his book The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church posted at the Washington Post “On Faith” blog.

It is no longer the person who commands, but money, money, cash commands. And God our Father gave us the task of protecting the earth — not for money, but for ourselves, for men and women. We have this task!
ChurchOfMercy_TheNevertheless men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the “culture of waste.” If a computer breaks, it is a tragedy; but poverty, the needs and dramas of so many people, end up being considered normal. If on a winter’s night — here on the Via Ottaviano, for example — someone dies, that is not news. If there are children in so many parts of the world who have nothing to eat, that is not news; it seems normal. It cannot be so! And yet these things enter into normality: that some homeless people should freeze to death on the street — this doesn’t make news.
On the contrary, when the stock market drops ten points in some cities, it constitutes a tragedy. Someone who dies is not news, but lowering income by ten points is a tragedy! In this way people are thrown aside as if they were trash.
This “culture of waste” tends to become a common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person, is no longer seen as a primary value to be respected and safeguarded, especially if that person is poor or disabled or not yet useful, like the unborn child, or is no longer of any use, like the elderly person. This culture of waste has also made us insensitive to wasting and throwing out excess foodstuffs, which is especially condemnable when, in every part of the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families suffer hunger and malnutrition.

Lilly Fellows Conference Wrap-Up: Educating for Social Justice

As is usually the case, I left the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts National Conference this weekend with a lot of things to think about and a renewed commitment to my vocation as a professor in a church-related college.  This year’s conference host, the University of Scranton, did a fabulous job of showcasing what is great about Jesuit higher education.  Thanks to Gretchen Van Dyke and her staff for a great conference.

I was challenged and informed by the conference’s three plenary speakers.  They all tailored their talks to the conference theme: “Faith and Academic Freedom in Civic Virtue.”  Mark Ravizza‘s talk (you can read my tweets here) focused on his work with students in the University of Santa Clara’s CASA de la Solidaridad program in El Salvador. Ravizza encouraged the faculty and administrators in attendance to develop programs that connect students with human suffering.  He talked about the superficiality of social media and urged us to replace our “civic blindness” with a “fellow feeling” for those in need.

The second plenary address was delivered by Patricia McGuire, the president of Trinity Washington University.  McGuire described a major “paradigm shift” at Trinity.  What was originally a women’s liberal arts college known by many as the “Catholic Wellesley” (Nancy Pelosi and Katherine Sebelius are alumnae), has been transformed under McGuire’s leadership into a university committed to educating women in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington D.C.  The goal was to bring the college’s Catholic commitment to social justice and civic engagement to an entirely new constituency. The Trinity student body is now mostly Baptist and African American. The college changed, but the Catholic mission remained the same.

The third plenary speaker was musician and educator Rob Kapilow. He talked about his work in bringing classical music to public audiences who do not normally listen to classical music.  He left the music faculty at Yale to become a music missionary, spreading the gospel of classical music to anyone who would listen.  His commitment to civic engagement and speaking to broad audiences reflected the Jesuit tradition of education for social justice.

Kapilow was great, but Ravizza and McGuire really got me thinking about how we teach social justice in our church-related colleges and universities.  Both educators stressed the need to get students outside of the classroom.  Ravizza’s entire talk centered around his experience in the CASA program. McGuire implied that the primary mission of a Trinity faculty member should be to engage real world problems through internships and external programming.  Even when her faculty does engage in traditional scholarship, it should be for the purpose of solving a social problem that would make the world a more just and humane place.

I can’t argue with any of this.  And as I noted above I found it all quite inspiring.  But I could not help but wonder how historians should respond to these two talks.  Do historians fulfill their missions at church-related schools by promoting study abroad trips, encounters with poverty, or teaching classes devoted to those aspects of history that have a social justice theme?  Or does the discipline of history in and of itself provide the empathy necessary to develop a “fellow feeling” for those who are different than us?  It would seem that whether you study lynching, homelessness, the beliefs of the founding fathers, American conservatism, or everyday life on 19th century Midwestern farms, the study of history–as a discipline–can teach students skills necessary for them to live a civic-minded life.  Why does the social justice or “world changing” dimension of the curriculum always have to happen outside of the classroom?  Granted, real life encounters will most likely be more transformative than intellectual encounters with the dead in a history class, but this does not mean that disciplinary concerns, such as the sharpening of historical thinking skills in a history classroom, cannot also contribute to the mission of a church-related school?  History teaches empathy, understanding people on their own terms, intellectual hospitality, and humility, to name a few of the virtues students learn by studying this subject.  I would think a history classroom, no matter the subject or the “service-learning” dimensions of the class, can instill in students a commitment to civic virtue.  Or at least this is what I argue in several chapters in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

I am sure that both Ravizza and McGuire would agree with this, but I wish they would have said more about it in their talks.

Ron Sider on Inequality

Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action, wonders if “economic inequality of opportunity” is a sin.  Here is a taste of his nuanced answer:

In my book Fixing the Moral Deficit: A Balanced Way to Balance the Budget, I argue that the bible does not promote equality of income or wealth. When laziness and other forms of sin result in less income, inequality is appropriate. When parents rightly pass on an inheritance of skill and wealth to children, some inequality is proper (although we certainly should keep the estate tax!). When the economic rewards of work create incentives for creativity and diligence, some inequality is desirable.

On the other hand, I believe the Bible suggests at least two limits on inequality. For one, the biblical principle of justice demands that every person and family have access to the productive resources so that if they act responsibly, the can earn a decent living and be dignified members of society. Whenever the extremes of wealth and poverty make it difficult or prevent some people from having access to adequate productive resources, then that inequality is unjust, wrong, sinful and must be corrected.

The second limitation on inequality flows from the biblical understanding of sin and power. In our broken world, whenever one group of people acquires excessive unbalanced power, they will almost always use it for their own selfish advantage.

And then Sider provides the sobering statistics, as he did so well in his classic Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  (You may also want to watch this video for some context).

Between 1993 and 2007, more than half of all the increase in income in the U.S. went to the richest 1 percent. Between 2002 and 2007, 66 percent of all increased income went to the richest 1 percent. And in 2009-2010, 93 percent of all the increased income in the U.S. went to the richest 1 percent. The richest 1 percent of Americans own more than the bottom 90 percent.

Over the last three decades, the average annual income of the richest 1 percent has jumped by $700,000 while the average Joe has actually lost ground. The poorest 20 percent had less income in 2009 than they did in 1979. Over 46 million Americans are in poverty.

Today there is much greater inequality and less equality of opportunity in the U.S. than in “aristocratic” Europe.

Then Sider offers some action steps:

There are ways that public policy could move us away from today’s gross inequality and back toward more equality of opportunity. We should maintain effective programs that care for and empower poor people. We should spend enough on minority urban education so that everyone, not just white suburbanites, receive an education that offers vastly expanded equality of opportunity. We should increase taxes somewhat on rich Americans and tax income from dividends and capital gains at the same rate as other income. Yes, we must greatly reduce our ongoing federal budget deficit over the next five years, but we need not — and should not! — do it on the backs of the poor.

And he finally concludes with an answer to the original question:

It is time for evangelical preachers to label today’s gross inequality what it is: SIN. If we believe what the Bible says about God’s concern for the poor; if we believe what the Bible says about justice; then we must denounce the gross inequality of opportunity and income in our country today as blatantly sinful.

Dispatches from the AHA in New Orleans (8)

Erin Bartram checks in after a busy Saturday at the AHA –JF

I attended a fascinating panel this morning entitled “Liberal and Evangelical Women, Social Reform, and the Problem of Categorization” The four panelists asked us to consider whether or not “liberal/progressive” and “evangelical” were actually oppositional categories in the 19th century. The conclusions drawn by all four suggest that, like many things in history, the reality is rather complex.

First, Dennis Durst of Kentucky Christian University reconsidered Frances Willard’s religious groundings, arguing that her activism mixed progressive and evangelical social values. He pointed to her extensive use of Biblical motifs, her emphasis on the maintenance of the traditional family, and her view on sexual purity. Willard, he noted, was incensed when other evangelicals called her reform movement “secular.” Durst also asked us to be careful not to read the fundamentalist/modernist controversy back too far.

Leah Payne of Vanderbilt focused on Pentecostal leader Maria Woodworth-Etter. While many have presumed that Pentecostal eschatological views would dampen any impetus towards social reform, Payne argued that Woodworth-Etter’s advocacy for women’s ministry fits into that tradition quite neatly.

Heather Vacek of Duke examined the religious backgrounds of Dorothea Dix, and how they contributed to her advocacy for the mentally ill in the nineteenth century. Raised for the first 12 years by her father, a fiery evangelical Methodist preacher, she spent the rest of her early adulthood with her extended family, a group of metropolitan Boston Unitarians. Vacek argued that Dix inherited piety and perfectionism from her father, but turned her focus outwards as a result of her Unitarian influences.

Lydia Willsky, also of Vanderbilt, touched on Unitarianism as well in her exploration of the religious and philosophical life of Caroline Healey Dall. For Dall, like for many others, Unitarianism led to Transcendentalism. Many historians argue that Transcendentalism was not a religion but a philosophy, bu Willsky argues that for Dall, who was influenced by the sermons of Theodore Parker, Transcendentalism was very much a religion.

Bret Carroll of California State University at Stanislaus gave a wonderful comment, tying all four papers together and asking some significant questions about the theme that tied the panel together: categorization. He asked if these papers revealed significant overlap between evangelical and liberal/progressive reformers, and if so, how useful was it to think of these categories as oppositional. He praised the way each panelist had used gender to highlight and tease apart the assumptions long built into the work on these women and their religious movements.

After my morning spent pondering evangelical reformers, and a wonderful lunch at Antoine’s with the American Catholic Historical Association, I had a really exciting meeting with one of the most prominent historians blogging today: John Fea!

I have one more day of panels and perhaps some sweet deals at the book exhibits. I’m mentally exhausted but also excited and rejuvenated. It’s wonderful to be around so many of my peers doing so many interesting things, with a speech like Cronon’s presidential address to get us fired up for the spring semester. One of Cronon’s major points was that history helps us talk about how the world got to be the way it is today, which can be the entry point for so many of our students, and for members of the general public too. For many of us, untangling those threads that tie us to the past – a past that is familiar yet utterly foreign – is one of the most exciting things about our discipline. I leave this conference excited to head back to my classroom, to explore the foreign countries of the past with a new group of eager travelers.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?: Part 40

Work for social justice in the world.

Here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and elsewhere, I have made the argument that if you want to change the world or be an activist, you should major in history.

History, of course, is not just memorizing facts and dates.  It is not even entirely about interpreting information, although this is an important part of the discipline.

The study of history can also help us heal the culture wars, improve our marriages, and transform our lives. It can also instill in us an impulse for activism.

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz describes how the study of the past has cultivated a spirit of social justice in his students at Bethel University.  Here is a taste:

Last week I was pleasantly surprised to receive the following query from one of our admissions counselors at Bethel: she had been talking to a prospective student who wondered which major would be most beneficial in preparing someone to fight sex slavery, estimated to be the second largest criminal enterprise in the world today (after drug dealing) and affecting two million children in addition to millions of adults.

Now, there are lots of good answers to the student’s question. International Relations: because of the global dimensions of trafficking issues. Political Science: one of the leading gateways to law school. At Bethel, Journalism would be a good fit because of a strong interest in what’s called “advocacy” journalism, as would our unique Reconciliation Studies program. Given the substantial aftercare and counseling needs of those who manage to leave sex slavery, Psychology could be a good fit.

But I was thrilled that the admissions counselor thought to include me, the chair of the History Department, in the distribution list. For while I doubt that our discipline would seem naturally suited to preparing one for a life spent pursuing social justice, I think it’s a perfect fit.

Read the rest here.

The Moral Minority: A New Book and a New Blog

Congratulations to David Swartz of Asbury University.  In September the University of Pennsylvania Press will publish his much-awaited, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism.  (I love the cover, David!).  As far as I know, this will be the first major historical treatment of the evangelical left.  The book focuses on characters such as Sharon Gallagher, Samuel Escobar, Richard Mouw, Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Rachel Heidi Evans, Jonathan Merritt, Matthew Soerens, and Shane Claiborne.  I am looking forward to reading it.

Along with the book comes an impressive new website by the same name.  Head over to “Moral Minority” and see what Dave is blogging about in anticipation of the book’s release.  I have already added “Moral Minority” to my regular cycle of blogs that I read as I prepare my posts here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good–Part Five

Earlier posts in this short series on the recent meeting of Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good can be found here:

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

After the historical panels were complete, it was time to explore the theological and philosophical roots of “For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Reponsibility” and “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.”

Bryan McGraw of Wheaton College got the ball rolling with a critique of both documents.  First, he wondered about the Catholic concept of “human dignity.”  Does it come from special revelation in the form of scripture and the incarnation of Jesus Christ, or does it come from a Catholic understanding of natural law?  Second, he asked how American culture has shaped Catholic social teaching, particularly as put forth in “Forming Consciences.”

He then turned his attention to “For the Health of the Nation.” As a Protestant, McGraw commended the document for grounding the call to social responsibility in biblical principles, but he also argued that the Bible alone was insufficient for developing a robust view of evangelical social engagement.  For example, is the idea of “equality of opportunity,” as presented in “For the Health of the Nation,” a biblical idea?

McGraw also noted what he perceived to be the neo-Calvinist (Kuyperian) nature of the document and wondered if such an approach best represented the diversity of American evangelicalism.

In the end, McGraw concluded that the wording of “For the Health of the Nations” implied that the Bible is not entirely sufficient for a theory of Christian social engagement, but at the same time the document does not draw upon on any theological system outside the Bible.  He concluded that “For the Health of the Nations” makes policy claims based on the Bible that are not necessarily biblical.

Ron Sider agreed that evangelicals have no deep theological framework for civic engagement.  But he also took issue with McGraw’s assertion that the “For the Health of the Nations” was neo-Calvinist in orientation.  As a Mennonite-Pietist-Wesleyan, Sider said that he was tired of Reformed thinkers taking ideas that were simply “Biblical” and making them “Reformed.”

Rich Cizik, who was part of the committee that wrote “For the Health of the Nations,” said that many on the committee thought the document was too Neo-Anabaptist and too influenced by the theological commitments of Ron Sider.  He added that none of the theological and philosophical issues raised by McGraw played a role in the way the members of the National Association of Evangelicals voted on the document.  He felt that the document, in this sense, was “remarkable” (McGraw had called it “unremarkable”) because it represented a changing of the guard in American evangelicalism toward young people concerned with the social issues addressed in “For the Health of the Nation.”

When Did Evangelicals Re-Enter the Public Square?

As we discussed here yesterday, historians seem to be divided over the exact moment when evangelicals entered the public square. In the recent issue of The Journal of Southern Religion and in his book Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America, Randall Balmer argues that evangelicals abandoned public life following the Scopes Trial of 1925 and returned again with force in the 1970s when they forged what we know today as “The Christian Right.”  (As I mentioned in my last post on this topic, Balmer is drawing from Joel Carpenter’s work in Revive Us Again).

Other scholars–such as Daniel Williams and Darren Dochuk–have argued that evangelicals have never ceased being active in the public and political sphere.  The 1970s was certainly something new, but the Right’s activism in this decade and beyond was not without precedent in the 20th century.

Now Diane Winston has entered the fray on the side of Williams and Dochuk (she only mentions Dochuk by name) with her piece over at Religion Dispatches entitled “Tea Party, Circa 1930s: A Response to Michael Kazin.” Winston chides Kazin’s recent New York Times op-ed on three fronts. 

First, she argues that Kazin fails to take religion seriously in this piece.  (In his defense, Kazin has taken religion seriously in the past.  I am thinking here of his excellent A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan.)

Second, she argues, contra Kazin, that Christian political activism was not new to the 1970s.  Rather, evangelicals were politically active through much of the century, especially in their resistance to the New Deal in the 1930s. 

Third, she notes that the American left has not disappeared.  There are still many religious Americans on the left who are crusading for social justice, equality, human rights etc… but we do not hear about them because their stories do not make for the kind of news that is attractive to the large corporations that control the media.

Here is a taste:

So, rather than accept the well-worn narratives of the right’s post-70s juggernaut and the left’s post-60s demise, consider an alternative view of the “facts.” In this scenario, the melding of politics and economics into an implicitly religious worldview dates back to the 1930s. Moreover, the left is alive and well, and corporate media—far from being the tool of liberals—colludes with the right by pursuing its own agenda of covering only the news that’s safe, and profitable, to print.

This Week’s Patheos Column: Can The Study of History Heal the Culture Wars?

Last week I was struck by the headline of an article in USA Today entitled “Can the Cause of Social Justice Tame Our Culture Wars?” The piece, written by Tom Krattenmaker, called attention to a group of progressive evangelicals who recently gathered together in Portland for a conference devoted to issues facing the next generation of Christian leaders.

Hosted by Gabe Lyons, and called the Q Conference, the meeting focused on the way Christians can be agents of change in the world by working for justice for the poor, abused, enslaved, oppressed, born, unborn, exploited, and mistreated. Krattenmaker suggests that by working together with secularists who are also concerned about social justice, progressive evangelicals can go a long way toward ending the culture wars.

Read the rest here.

Boehner Criticized by Catholic University Professors

This Saturday Speaker of the House John Boehner will give the commencement address at Catholic University, the only American Catholic university chartered by Catholic bishops. He will also receive an honorary degree.

Several professors at Roman Catholic colleges and universities have criticized Boehner for supporting legislation that violates Catholic social teaching.  Here is a taste of their protest letter:

Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings. From the apostles to the present, the Magisterium of the Church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.

The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. In a letter speaking on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Stephen Blaire and Bishop Howard Hubbard detailed the anti-life implications of this budget in regard to its impact on poor and vulnerable American citizens. They explained the Church’s teachings in this regard, clearly insisting that:

“A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. It requires shared sacrifice by all, including raising adequate
revenues, eliminating unnecessary military and other spending, and addressing the long term costs of health insurance and retirement programs fairly.” Specifically addressing your budget, the letter expressed grave concern about changes to Medicaid and Medicare that could leave the elderly and poor without adequate health care. The bishops warned further: “We also fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing.”

Read the entire letter here.  It is signed by professors at Catholic University, University of Dayton, Santa Clara University, St. Joseph’s University, Marquette University, Xavier University, John Carroll University, Loyola University-New Orleans, St. John’s University (MN), Fordham University, Georgetown University, Boston College, Fairfield University, Clarke University, University of Toledo, Manor College, and University of Notre Dame.

Dispatches from Graduate School–Part 27

Cali Pitchel McCullough is a Ph.D student in American history at Arizona State University.  For earlier posts in this series click here. –JF

Readers, I have a confession to make. First, I think this blog would generate far more traffic (likely of the illicit kind) if my contributions were entitled, “Graduate School Confessions.” Perhaps Dr. Fea will consider such a change. But, I digress. I’m sure you’re all eager to read of my transgression, so here goes: Last week I applied to a job—not a fellowship, not a summer position as a barista, not a research assistantship, but a real nine to five, benefits, and paid vacation job. I also bit off all of my nails.

As you might know from reading my past debacles (a la Barry Zito), this isn’t the first time I’ve considered leaving graduate school. But my restaurant meltdown seemed to stem more from an overabundance of stress and a lack of balance. My recent meltdown was far less exciting and emotional, and in navigating my thoughts I’ve learned a lot more about myself as a scholar and as a person. Part of the problem, for me, is the isolation that comes from being in academia. I didn’t know about the tsunami in Japan or the school shooting in Rio de Janeiro, nor did I hear of Donald Trump’s absurd election prospect or the Fiesta Bowl corruption until well after the news had gone viral. Basically, I’m feeling detached from a world rife with problems.

After four years at Messiah College, one of which was spent in North Philadelphia, and two years living in the city of Harrisburg, I’ve had to confront first hand the brokenness of the world, the inequalities buried deep within our society, and the poverty that people face every day. Messiah’s Anabaptist tradition and emphasis on social justice really resonated with me and I felt compelled to be present in the city. In my limited and flawed way (as I am of course deeply implicated in the problems of urban decay as a white, middle-class person), I’ve tried to affect change, however small, in the places I live. While at Messiah I volunteered with the Catholic Worker House. In Philly, I gave time to Project Restart, and as a Harrisburg resident I started an outreach called Urban Youth Yoga.

During the first-year of my PhD program, however, I’ve been so overwhelmed by my workload and trying to balance time with friends and family, I’ve totally neglected my impulse for working toward social justice. My agitation with the program then, has more to do with the fact that I’m not being true to my heart. The increased amount of reading and writing, or the constant insecurity that comes from pursing a degree in higher education are real problems, but beneath them lay a far more critical issue—I’m losing myself in this process.

I had imagined for myself that my love of learning and my passion for social justice were incompatible. I was doing research that was detached from people who didn’t look and live like me, and I was so busy it was hard to imagine myself engaging in the wider community. But over the past week I believe I’ve found my remedy (and it’s not in a nine to five job)—to write with a greater purpose. Some academics are completely opposed to this idea and believe that objectivity reigns supreme over any type of agenda or sentiment. I’m not saying that I want to throw out everything I’ve learned about good research or a commitment to scholarly integrity. I’m just saying that I want to be more purposeful and that I want the research that I do to draw awareness to injustice.

I do not want to abandon my project on the sun and the sky in the southwest. There is something significant about this seemingly democratic natural resource. From almost any coordinate in Arizona one can observe the vast dome of cobalt blue, hedging the landscape in on all sides. The sun shines intensely upon the Salt River Valley, and the wiry mesquite trees, slender saguaro cacti and bristly desert broom can hardly shade the ground from the sun’s powerful rays. Many Arizona residents, however, have the ability to shield themselves from the heat and penetrating sunlight. Behind closed doors air conditioning units convert gas into a steady flow of cool air and press the treated breeze through ducts, artificially bringing the temperature to a tolerable level. But not all desert dwellers are so fortunate. Thousands of Arizonans live without air conditioning, either because they are financially incapable of maintaining a unit, are unable to afford rising energy bills, or simply live in a home without a cooling system.

Many more toil beneath the heat of the summer sun in order to provide for families. While many men and women sit behind desks, bathing in Freon-treated air, day laborers whitewash their wardrobes, covering their bodies in white in an attempt to reflect the sun’s rays. But reflective clothing only provides an inconsequential reprieve from the heat that pays no attention to protective garments. Direct exposure to the sun puts outside workers at risk for extreme dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and even skin cancer.

These are just two examples, but it is becoming clear to me that socioeconomic status and race play a direct role in Arizonans’ exposure to or protection from the unforgiving summer climate. By drawing attention to this injustice, and examining the way environmental inequity has evolved in the state of Arizona, could be a viable topic for research—one that allows me to remain true to my penchant for social justice and one that does not ditch my interest in the profound impact the sun and the sky play on Arizonans sense of self and sense of place.

Drake Football and Service Learning

Naomi Schaefer Riley does not like Drake University’s plans to take its football team to Africa to play a football game, learn about leadership, and build a local orphanage.  Riley thinks the project is a “waste of money” and she calls it “higher education gobbledy-gook.”  Here is a description of Drake’s program:

Drake University’s football team will travel to Tanzania next month to play what many believe will be the first intercollegiate American football game ever on the continent of Africa. On May 21, the Bulldogs will play a game in the town of Arusha, on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, against a team of all-star American football players from an athletic conference of Mexican universities. After the game, the football players will do community service projects in and around Moshi—including building an addition to a local orphanage—stage a football clinic for local youth, and climb Mt. Kilimanjaro as teams. All the while, Drake’s football players will be taking a for-credit course on leadership and emotional intelligence with top faculty.

Granted, the trip will cost the university $4000 per person and there is no guarantee that it will have the desired effect on the players, but I think Drake should be commended for this program.  How many big-time college football teams are doing these kinds of things?  How many big-time athletic programs cater to the social and leadership development of their players in this way?  Kudos to Drake.

Glenn Beck Meets Billy Graham

Last Saturday Glenn Beck had a three hour meeting with Billy Graham, presumably at Graham’s home in North Carolina.  David Gibson reports on the meeting at Politics Daily.

While I have no doubt that Beck respects Graham and sincerely wanted the privilege of meeting him, I can’t help but also think, along with Gibson, that this meeting was an attempt to save his poor ratings and declining popularity.

When you think about it, I wonder just how much Beck and Graham have in common.

Following the meeting, Beck said on his radio show that “the average Democrat” is “standing now with profound and clear evil.”  The last time I checked Graham was still a registered Democratic, although to be fair he is probably not an “average Democratic.”

Graham has spent his entire life trying to convert people to evangelical Christianity.  Beck is a Mormon.  I wonder if Graham tried to preach the gospel to Beck during their visit.

As Gibson points out, Graham refused to become part of the Moral Majority in the 1970s and has always had an uneasy relationship with the Christian Right.  Gibson notes that in refusing to join the Moral Majority Graham said “I’m for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human freedom and social justice.”

And speaking of “social justice,” I wonder if Beck told Graham that the latter’s commitment to social justice was an evil progressive scheme to bring Marxism and socialism to America.

To paraphrase Gibson, Beck’s 15 minutes of fame may be up.

Taking Back Your Faith from the Amercian Dream

I enjoyed this short piece at CNN by David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.  It seems as if this evangelical mega-church is doing some very good things.  Here is a snippet:

And it’s not just distant needs we’re trying to meet. It’s also needs near at hand.

One day I called up the Department of Human Resources in Shelby County, Alabama, where our church is located, and asked, “How many families would you need in order to take care of all the foster and adoption needs that we have in our county?”

The woman I was talking to laughed.

I said, “No, really, if a miracle were to take place, how many families would be sufficient to cover all the different needs you have?”

She replied, “It would be a miracle if we had 150 more families.”

When I shared this conversation with our church, over 160 families signed up to help with foster care and adoption. We don’t want even one child in our county to be without a loving home. It’s not the way of the American Dream. It doesn’t add to our comfort, prosperity, or ease. But we are discovering the indescribable joy of sacrificial love for others, and along the way we are learning more about the inexpressible wonder of God’s sacrificial love for us.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my country and I couldn’t be more grateful for its hard-won freedoms. The challenge before we American Christians, as I see it, is to use the freedoms, resources, and opportunities at our disposal while making sure not to embrace values and assumptions that contradict what God has said in the Bible.

I believe God has a dream for people today. It’s just not the same as the American Dream.