From the Dean

News items, published articles, and reading recommendations from Dean Timothy George

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The Dean Recommends: The Rise of the Secular Theocracy

By Wilfred M. McClay
August 15, 2016

Religious liberty, the subject of Richard Samuelson’s powerful essay in Mosaic, seems fated to be a central point of contention in the 21st century. This is self-evidently the case in the international arena, where many of the world’s most intractable conflicts involve believers of various stripes and the nations and communities within which their respective faiths are rooted. Those conflicts take a particularly heavy toll upon the liberties, not to speak of the very existence, of vulnerable religious and ethnic minorities.

In Europe, the ability of Jews to perform the traditional rite of male circumcision has come up against intense legal and political pressure in ways suggesting the entering wedge of a more comprehensive anti-Jewish sentiment: the return of the repressed, one might say. In Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, age-old Christian communities are suddenly faced with extinction at the hands of Islamist militants. In India, the enduring and often violent enmities between majority Hindus and minority Muslims have been rendered more volatile and dangerous by the political rise of Hindu nationalism. In Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the very thought of any official recognition for religious pluralism is inconceivable. Meanwhile, in some parts of the West—including our own, as Samuelson details—the preaching of traditional Christian moral teachings about human sexuality and marriage has been labeled a human-rights violation and proscribed by courts.

It seems that the respectful tolerance needed to underwrite a free, robust, and uncoerced expression of divergent religious beliefs is becoming a rarer commodity. In some places the cause of the trouble is militant religion; in others, aggressive anti-religion. Caught between them, the generous ideal of religious freedom, with its emphasis upon the integrity and dignity of every individual conscience, finds itself vulnerable where not altogether abandoned.

That is precisely why the achievement of a high degree of religious liberty in the United States has always been such a cause for celebration and gratitude. In both theory and practice, religious liberty is a fragile and difficult idea, requiring us to hold in tension two conflicting ideals: first, the right to order one’s life according to the ultimate truth as one understands it; second, the obligation to tolerate those who understand ultimate things differently and protect their right to order their lives differently. Read the rest at Mosaic.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Tuesday, August 16, 2016
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The Dean Recommends: Wendell Berry and the Revitalized Pastor

By Paul House
August 11, 2016

Wendell Berry has made his home in Henry County, Kentucky, for more than a half-century. From this place and his affection for it, he has written approximately 50 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. Berry offers an alternative voice we can learn from, especially where his writings mirror biblical teachings better than religious books featuring baptized secular industrial models.

Pastors seeking to revitalize churches will do well to revitalize their minds along lines Berry suggests.

He asks us to choose nurturing over exploiting as a way of life. Exploiters look at people, land, and communities as raw materials to be mined for one’s own career and retirement portfolio. Exploiters inevitably look at churches the same way. Nurturers, by contrast, seek to conserve, preserve, enhance, and heal while living with people in community in particular places. The nurturer seeks wise practices that build for the long term. As Berry writes in The Unsettling of America (1977), perhaps his best-known volume:

The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind. . . . The first casualties of the exploitive revolution are character and community. . . . Once the revolution of exploitation is underway, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship.

Spiritually revitalized pastors will choose the path of nurturing. How many biblical images are necessary to make this point? Surely our Lord’s emphasis on shepherding, friendship, teaching, humility, death, and resurrection bespeak nurturing. Surely Paul’s writing of the church as body, family, and co-heirs of the crucified and risen Jesus do as well. Using churches as stepping stones to other churches, people as tools for career advancement, seminaries as credential factories, and ministries as personal brands are marks of an exploiter. And they are marks of ungodliness. The unsuspecting should learn to flee them; the complicit should repent and seek a renewed mind. Ministers cannot mix these mindsets. A line exists that cannot be crossed. Read the rest at The Gospel Coalition.

Posted by Kristen Padilla at Friday, August 12, 2016
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The Dean Recommends: France and Nigeria Mourn Clergy Killed by Terrorists

From the World Watch Monitor
August 8, 2016

Last week, France buried Jacques Hamel, the 85-year-old Catholic priest murdered by Islamist extremists while celebrating mass on July 26. Thousands of people, including journalists from around the world, attended the funeral.

Three days earlier, another pastor was buried, also a victim of a terrorist attack. She was the second of two pastors murdered in Nigeria this summer. Their funerals were local; their deaths largely unnoticed by the media.

What pushed Hamel’s story onto Europe’s front pages was its location. Since the January 2015 mass shooting at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris, France has suffered nearly 240 deaths in more than 10 attacks by people claiming allegiance to ISIS. Though Christians were among the victims of those attacks, Hamel’s killing was the first to target Christians specifically, in a church.

“This tragic attack, so close to home and following other recent horrors, is another example of the persecution we see all too often in countries around the world,” stated Open Doors UK, the British arm of Open Doors, a global ministry that supports Christians who live under pressure because of their faith. Read the rest at Christianity Today.

Posted by Hunter Upton at Thursday, August 11, 2016
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