Tuesday, November 30, 2021

In Memory of J. Howard Pew and Appreciation for Pew Research Center

This post is about a notable man about whom I have mixed feelings and about a notable research center about which I have much appreciation. The man is J. Howard Pew, who died 50 years ago (on Nov. 27, 1971) at the age of 89 and about the Pew Research Center, sponsored mainly by The Pew Charitable Trusts. 

The Notable J. Howard Pew

In the Presbyterian church in the small city of Bradford, Pennsylvania, the pews were often occupied by Pews. Joseph Newton Pew, Sr., (1848~1912), founder of the Sun Oil Company (later Sonoco), was a devout Presbyterian and he raised his children to be the same.

In 1876, the Presbyterians started a “normal school” in Grove City, Penn. After it became Grove City College, J. Howard Pew enrolled there, graduating at the age of 18 in 1900. Later he served as president of the board of trustees of his alma mater for four decades.

After his father’s death, J. Howard became the president of Sun Oil Company at the age of 30 and soon became a wealthy man.

Pew was a strong conservative, both theologically and politically. Using his oil money, he helped found the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942, Fuller Theological Seminary in 1947, and Christianity Today, the influential evangelical magazine launched by Billy Graham, in 1956.

Politically, Pew was a staunch Republican and opponent of FDR and the New Deal in the 1930s. In 2018, one scholar wrote about Pew’s “Godly Conservatism.” His conservative politics were rooted in his conservative evangelical views.

The Notable Pew Research Center

While I disagree with many of H. Howard Pew’s theological and political views, I much appreciate the work of the Pew Research Center, which since 1996 has been largely supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which was established by Pew and his siblings.

In spite of Pew’s strong conservative evangelical and Republican views, The Pew Research Center (PRC) is a non-partisan think tank, or as it refers to itself, a “fact tank.”

Now based in Washington, D.C., PRC describes itself as “a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world.”

They go on to explain, “We conduct public opinion polling, demographic research, content analysis and other data-driven social science research. We do not take policy positions.”

Society benefits greatly from the extensive work of the PRC as it provides accurate information on social issues, public opinion, and trends shaping the United States and the world.

A Notable Pew Research Center Survey

On November 18, PRC released a report titled “What Makes Life Meaningful? Views From 17 Advanced Economies.” That survey clearly indicated that one source of meaning is predominant: family.

In 14 of the 17 advanced economies surveyed, more mention their family as a source of meaning in their lives than any other factor.

However, outside of the U.S., religion is never one of the top 10 sources of meaning cited—and no more than 5% of any non-U.S. public mention it. In this country, however, 15% mention religion or God as a source of meaning, making it the fifth most mentioned topic.

Here is a chart showing how the 17 countries ranked on the “what makes life meaningful” poll. 

I was surprised that only 15% of USAmericans said “faith” is what makes life meaningful—but even more surprised that no more than 5% of the people in any other country said that, as indicated on the image on the right. 

Back in 1912, Walter Rauschenbusch, the proponent of the social gospel that was opposed by conservative evangelicals such as J. Howard Pew, wrote,

No material comfort and plenty can satisfy the restless soul in us and give us peace with ourselves. All who have made test of it agree that religion alone holds the key to the ultimate meaning of life.**

I agree with Rauschenbusch and with the 15% in this country who say that faith makes life meaningful.

What about you?

_____

** These significant words are included in To Live in God: Daily Reflections with Walter Rauschenbusch (2020), p. 21.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Overcoming Thanksgiving Day Myths

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.—and it is the 400th anniversary of what is often said to be the first Thanksgiving Day. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Native People called Wampanoag* shared an autumn harvest feast that became the basis of the common Thanksgiving story.

November has also once again this year been designated as National Native American Heritage Month. In light of the latter, many of us USAmericans need to overcome various Thanksgiving Day myths that have long been abroad in the land.

Acknowledging Thanksgiving Day Myths

Kaitlin Curtice is a Potawatomi woman and a Christian. In her 2020 book Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, she writes how she and other Native Americans are “bombarded with Thanksgiving myths” every November and how hard that is.

Curtice writes, “My non-Native friends have to understand that the myths told at Thanksgiving only continue the toxic stereotypes and hateful language that has always been spewed at us” (pp. 67, 68)

“The Thanksgiving Myth” by Native Circle is explained here in a 2019 post. The authors write, “The big problem with the American Thanksgiving holiday is its false association with American Indian people; the infamous 'Indians and pilgrims' myth.”

They continue, “It is good to celebrate Thanksgiving, to be thankful for your blessings. It is not good to distort history, to falsely portray the origin of this holiday and lie about the truth of its actual inception.”

David Silverman, a professor at George Washington University who specializes in Native American and Colonial American history, tells the true American Thanksgiving story in This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving (2019).

As UCC pastor Jane McBride writes in her helpful Christian Century review, Silverman begins his lengthy book “by shattering the myth of the first Thanksgiving.” Then in his concluding paragraph, Silverman asserts,

The truth exposes the traditional tale of the First Thanksgiving as a myth rather than history, and so let us declare it dead except as a subject for the study of nineteenth- and twentieth-century American culture (p. 427).

References to Thanksgiving myths are not just recent incidences, though. Back in 1986, Chuck Larsen, a high school history teacher in the state of Washington, wrote how the Thanksgiving stories most children have learned are “a mixture of both history and myth.”

Larson emphasized the “need to try to reach beyond the myths to some degree of historical truth.” He also said, “When you build a lesson on only half of the information, then you are not teaching the whole truth. That is why I used the word myth.”**

Thankfully, there are many more resources available now for learning the truth of the first Thanksgiving than were available in 1986, so there is no excuse for us to hang on to the old myths.

Overcoming Thanksgiving Day Myths

There is an abundance of ways to celebrate Thanksgiving Day without reiterating the Thanksgiving myths, which tend to foster white Christian nationalism and to whitewash the harsh mistreatment of Native Americans.

We can begin to overcome those myths by listening to the scholars such as Silverman and/or to Native American voices such as Larsen’s as found in his article linked to in the second footnote below.

Then, we can overcome Thanksgiving myths by focusing primarily on the many blessings we have received from Creator God, who dearly loves each person and all the people groups in God’s good Creation.

_____

* “This tribe helped the Pilgrims survive for their first Thanksgiving. They still regret it 400 years later. Long marginalized and misrepresented in U.S. history, the Wampanoags are bracing for the 400th anniversary of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621” (headlines of a Nov. 4 Washington Post article).

** Larsen, who has Native American ancestry, wrote “Introduction for Teachers” to help them in teaching the truth about Thanksgiving Day. That instructive piece has been reproduced in many places, but here is a link to a PDF version. It is well worth reading.



Friday, November 19, 2021

In Fond Memory of Luther Copeland

His obituary begins, “Dr. Edwin Luther Copeland, missionary, educator, scholar, beloved husband and father, died on November 19, 2011, in Raleigh, North Carolina.” Today on the tenth anniversary of his passing, I am posting this blog article in fond memory of Dr. Copeland, who was my much-respected colleague, good personal friend, and meritorious mentor. 

Getting to Know Luther Copeland

Even though I don’t remember any details, I probably first heard about Dr. Copeland when I was a graduate student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He was a professor of Christian Missions and World Religions at Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina at that time.

It is also quite likely that I read his small “study course” book Christianity and World Religions not long after it was published in 1963. But I first saw Dr. Copeland at the 1965 Baptist World Congress, which met in Miami Beach. I was impressed with his ideas articulated in opposition to those of Dr. Cal Guy, the Missions professor at Southwestern Seminary in Texas.

I first met Dr. Copeland in person early in 1976 when he became Chancellor of Seinan Gakuin, the school system in Japan where I had been teaching since 1968. Because of our missionary “furlough” in 1976-77, it was mainly from the summer of 1977 to the spring of 1980 that I really got to know him—and to become very fond of him.

Early in 1979, he nominated me to be Dean of Religious Activities at Seinan Gakuin University, so we had extensive contact during the academic year that began on April 1. During that busy year, I came to admire him greatly and profited much from his wisdom and mature expression of the Christian faith.

Learning More about Luther Copeland

By the time he and his talented wife Louise left Japan in 1980, I had learned much about Dr. Copeland. I learned much more about him over 20 years later after he published his memoirs.

Early on, I learned that Dr. Copeland was born in 1916 in West Virginia, and I knew that he worked in the logging business with his father before starting to college. In 1944 at the age of 28, he graduated from Furman University. Two years later he graduated from Southern Seminary and then earned his Ph.D. degree at Yale University in 1949.

In 1946, Luther and Louise Tadlock were married, and they became the parents of five children. They were appointed Southern Baptist missionaries to Japan in 1948. In November 1952, he became the fifth chancellor of Seinan Gakuin, the school system that was established in the year of his birth.

The Copelands returned to the U.S. in 1956 when Luther was employed to teach at Southeastern Seminary. But then he was elected as the 12th Chancellor of Seinan Gakuin in 1975, succeeding his (and my) friend Max Garrott for the second time.**

After completing that term of service, Luther moved out of the Chancellor’s office on March 31, 1980. Sixteen years and one day later, I had the great privilege and challenge of moving into that office.

In 2001, Dr. Copeland self-published a book titled Memoirs of a Geezer: From the Timber Woods and Back. It is 375 pages long and contains 48 “illustrations.” I found it noteworthy that on the last page of that book, published just before his 85th birthday, Luther wrote,

I am convinced that for most of us, our God is too small. If God has created everything that is, surely God is interested in all the creation. I often pray that God will make my interests as broad as God’s interests.

Holding Fond Memories of Luther Copeland

Though there is so much more I could write here, I will briefly mention just three reasons I was and remain fond of Luther Copeland.

* He was a man with both intellectual curiosity and intellectual honesty.

* He was a man who never “put on airs” but related to everyone as a human being of equal worth.

* He was a committed Christian who embraced the breadth of God’s love over the narrowness often seen in historical Christianity.

Knowing Luther Copeland helped me to strive for those same characteristics.

_____

** On June 20, 2020, the 110th anniversary of his birth, I posted a blog article titled “In Fond Memory of Max Garrott.” 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Embarrassed by Gitmo

The Mauritanian (2021) is a powerful movie. After watching it last month, I felt the need to write something about the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, often referred to as Gitmo. What has gone on there is an embarrassment to me and many like-minded USAmericans. 

What is Gitmo?

Guantánamo is a bay on the southeast side of Cuba. In 1903, after the Spanish-American War in 1898 that resulted in the independence of Cuba, the U.S. leased 45 square miles of the outer harbor of the bay and established a naval base there.

The U.S. Guantanamo Bay Naval Base has existed ever since its inception, but in January 2002, following the 9/11/01 attacks on the U.S., the Guantanamo Bay detention camp was opened as a military prison. Since that time, 780 men have been detained there.

Most of the detainees—and that term is used, rather than prisoners—have been transferred elsewhere, and with the release of a Moroccan man last month there are only 39 there now.

The detention camp, which is popularly referred to as simply Guantanamo or Gitmo, or even just GTMO, has for years now been the target of intense criticism by human rights groups because of the use of torture and indefinite detention without trial.

The cost of Gitmo is also astounding. In June of this year, the Friends Committee on National Legislation reported that it costs $13 million per year to hold each detainee at Guantánamo.

Who is the Mauritanian?

Mohamedou Ould Slahi was born in the West African country of Mauritania in 1970. He was detained without charge in Gitmo for fourteen years (from 2002 to 2016) and also tortured in his early years there. 

In the summer and early fall of 2005, Slahi handwrote a 466-page, 122,000-word draft of his memoirs in his single-cell segregation hut in Guantánamo. That manuscript was finally published with extensive redactions in 2015, and then a restored reversion (without redactions) was issued in 2017.

The Mauritanian, the movie, stars Tahar Rahim as Slahi and Jodie Foster as the American lawyer seeking his release. Slahi’s book was originally titled Guantánamo Diary, but since the movie was released, it is now being sold under the title The Mauritanian—and my local library has the Kindle edition.

To learn more, and current, information about Slahi, see this Wikipedia article.

Why is Gitmo an Embarrassment?

As early as 2005, CBS News reported that Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee’s senior Democrat, called the detention center “an international embarrassment to our nation, to our ideals, and it remains a festering threat to our security.”

Amnesty International has long been a severe critic of Gitmo, and early this year they published a long appeal (more than 50 pages) calling on the U.S. government to close Gitmo—as Pres. Obama pledged to do but was unable to because of Republican opposition.

Amnesty clearly declares, “The military prison at Guantánamo Bay represents grave violations of human rights by the U.S. government.” That charge should be an embarrassment to all of us who are U.S. citizens.

As one who long identified as a “white evangelical,” I am also embarrassed by this: “Close to six-in-ten white evangelicals in the South say that torture can often (20%) or sometimes (37%) be justified in order to gain important information.”

That statement from a 2008 Pew Research Center poll, is included in Religious Faith, Torture, and Our National Soul, a 2010 book edited by David P. Gushee, who also long identified as an evangelical but who was also adamantly opposed to torture.

Chapter 4 of that book is Gushee’s, and it is titled “What the Torture Debate Reveals about American Christianity.” There are four authors of the next chapter, Guantánamo: An Assessment and Reflections from Those Who Have Been There.”

I fully agree with Dr. Gushee and the other contributors to his book, with Amnesty International, and with Pres. Obama’s attempt to close Gitmo, and I ask you to join me in signing this appeal by Amnesty International. (To learn more about Gitmo, click on this website of Human Rights First.)


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Not Joshing: Reflections on Masculinity, Femininity, and Humanity

On October 31, Senator Josh Hawley spoke at the National Conservatism Conference, which met in Orlando, Fla. His keynote address was titled “The Future of the American Man.” In that talk, he criticized the Left’s attacks on masculinity. But what does it mean to be masculine—or feminine? More importantly, what does it mean to be human?

Sen. Hawley is Not Joshing

Even though I am a Missourian, as you know or could easily guess, I am not a fan of Missouri’s junior Senator, Josh Hawley. My most widely read blog article of 2021 is “Hawley with Blood on His Hands,” posted on January 8. And his political statements/actions since then have been consistently bad.

It is sometimes hard to distinguish what politicians really think or believe from what they say to attract voters. Because of his possible candidacy for POTUS in 2024, or later, Sen. Hawley—as well as Sens. Cruz of Texas and Cotton of Arkansas—may say things to gain the attention of Trumpists.

Sen. Hawley seems not to be joshing, though, when he criticizes the Left for abetting the loss of masculinity among USAmerican males. Listen to his 26-minute speech (here) or read it (here) and see what you think.

In that speech, Hawley disingenuously declares, “The Left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic. They want to define the traditional masculine virtues—things like courage, and independence, and assertiveness—as a danger to society.”

Prof. Du Mez is Not Joshing

An opposite viewpoint is presented by Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University and the author of the bestselling book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation (2021).

Prof. Du Mez is not joshing when she declares early in her book that conservative evangelical Christians have often “replaced the Jesus of the Gospels with a vengeful warrior Christ.”

Accordingly, “evangelical support for Trump was no aberration, nor was it merely a pragmatic choice. It was, rather, the culmination of evangelicals’ embrace of militant masculinity, an ideology that enshrines patriarchal authority and condones the callous display of power, at home and abroad.”

Although she doesn’t use the words “toxic masculinity,” a widely-used term since early in 2019, Du Mez’s book speaks to the same perceived problem.

A 1/22/19 NYTimes article “What is Toxic Masculinity?” explains: “Toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be ‘tough all the time’; that anything other than that makes them ‘feminine’ or weak. (No, it doesn’t mean that all men are inherently toxic.)”

In her writing about militant masculinity, though, Du Mez embraces most of the same ideas. And she is not joshing in her rejection of that as a Christian ideal—or in her rejection of what she sees in White conservative evangelicalism’s emphasis on “submissive femininity.”

I am Not Joshing

Rather than emphasizing masculinity or femininity, I strongly believe in placing stress upon humanity—and I am defining humanity in a slightly different way than usual.

If masculinity/femininity is as Dictionary.com says, “the quality or condition of being masculine/feminine” then perhaps it is not a stretch to say that humanity is primarily the quality or condition of being human.

Being human is more important than men being masculine or women being feminine.

Being human is more important than being male or female (or “x,” which is now a passport option for gender).

Being human is more important than being White or BIPOC.

Being human is more important than being straight or LGBTQ.

According to Genesis 1:27, “God created humanity in God’s own image” (CEB). In spite of gender differences, or any other differences, all people are primarily, and most importantly, human beings, equally created in the image of God.

This doesn’t mean differences should be denied, but those differences should be kept secondary. Regardless of their differences, all human beings are created as persons of equal worth.

So, yes, I am not joshing when I agree that toxic or militant masculinity is bad for everyone—as are toxic politicians such as Sen. Hawley.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Considering the Complexity of Human Beings: The Case of Woodrow Wilson

So, what do you think about the presidential election of ’16? Actually, there have been three elections in ’16, the first being in 1816 when James Monroe was elected POTUS. And then in the election of 2016 you know who was elected for four tumultuous years.

In between, in the election 105 years ago on Nov. 7, 1916, Woodrow Wilson was elected for a second term as POTUS. Thus, for four more challenging years the U.S. was to be led by a complex man.

The Making of Pres. Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, called Tommy until adulthood, was born in 1856 in Staunton, Virginia, where his father was pastor of the Presbyterian church in that small (under 4,000 residents) northeast Virginia town where the Wilson Presidential Library and Museum is now located.

Tommy became a well-educated man, graduating in 1879 from the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University in 1896) and then earning a Ph.D. in political science and history at Johns Hopkins University in 1886.

Wilson served as president of Princeton U. from 1902 to 1910, then in November 1910 he was elected governor of New Jersey with about 54% of the vote. He resigned as governor as of March 1, 1913, after being elected POTUS.

In the presidential election of 1912, Wilson defeated the incumbent, Republican William Howard Taft, former president Theodore Roosevelt, who came in second running for the Progressive Party, and Eugene Debs, the Socialist candidate who received 6% of the popular vote.

The Positives and Negatives of Pres. Wilson

According to this American history website, “Wilson brought a brilliant intellect, strong moral convictions, and a passion for reform to his two terms as president.”

Commendably, Wilson had a strong belief in peace and international cooperation. Consistent with that belief, he appointed William Jennings Bryan, a pacifist, as his Secretary of State at the beginning of his first term.

President Wilson campaigned for re-election in 1916 under the slogan “He has kept us out of war”—and he was narrowly elected to a second term. 

Ironically, the following month after his March 1917 inauguration, the complex Wilson addressed Congress and emphasized the need for the U.S. to enter the war in Europe. Among other things, he said U.S. participation in the “Great War” was necessary “to make the world safe for democracy.”

In January 1918, though, Wilson proposed a 14-point peace plan, the last point being the creation of the League of Nations—and for that proposal he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 1919.

In spite of this and other very positive aspects of Wilson’s presidency, there were negatives as well—the main one being his well-documented racism, which was seen during his years as the president of Princeton U. as well as after he entered the White House.

Because of Wilson’s obvious racism, in June 2020 the Princeton University board of trustees decided to delete Wilson’s name from the university’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The trustees stated that Wilson’s "racist thinking and policies” made him “an inappropriate namesake for a school or college whose scholars, students, and alumni must stand firmly against racism in all its forms."

The Point

As perhaps can be said about every human being, Woodrow Wilson was a complex person. As indicated above, there are ample reasons to admire him—and certainly many more could have been included.**

There are also sufficient reasons to find fault with him, although most are minor compared to his unfortunate racism.

What was true of Woodrow Wilson is true of everyone. Human beings are complex; everyone is a mixture of good and bad traits, ideas, and actions. Thus, perhaps no one deserves to be put on a pedestal and publicly honored in perpetuity.

_____

** For helpful information about key, and mostly positive, events from Wilson’s election in 1912 until the end of his presidency in 1921, click on this link.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Hopeful, But Not Optimistic

A good friend recently wrote, “My usual optimism is fading.” I responded, “I am sorry to hear that your optimism is waning—but that is not necessarily a bad thing, for it is better to be realistic than optimistic. And don’t give up hope; there is a difference between hope and optimism.”

So, what is that difference, and can a person actually be hopeful but not optimistic?

Defining Terms

Some definitions of optimism and hope sound as if they are synonyms. Here is the definition from Dictionary.com for optimism: “a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.”

By contrast, hope means to work for and to wait for something with the confident expectation and anticipation that it will at some point, sooner or later, be fulfilled.

Optimism is an aspect of a person’s disposition or temperament. People with a sunny temperament are usually optimists, people with dark dispositions are mostly pessimists.

Hope, though, is a theological virtue. As Jim Wallis writes in his 2019 book Christ in Crisis, hope “is not simply a feeling, or a mood . . . . It is a choice, a decision, an action based on faith. . . . Hope is the engine of change. Hope is the energy of transformation” (p. 264).

Later in that book, Wallis reiterates what he has often said: “Hope means believing in spite of the evidence, then watching the evidence change” (p. 281).

And here are wise words from an Irish poet: 

So, yes, a person can be hopeful even if he/she is not optimistic. Thus, I like what Black theologian/philosopher Cornel West tweeted back in January 2013: “I cannot be optimistic but I am a prisoner of hope.”

Emphasizing Action

A key difference between optimism and hope, as defined/described above, is this: optimism doesn’t demand anything of us (everything is going to be all right!), but hope entails effort as we endeavor to actualize that for which we hope.

Like the Kingdom of God, hope also demands that we work for what we hope for, knowing that it might well be a long time before that hope will be realized.

The New Testament says that “now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13, NRSV). But faith and hope are a close third and second.

Further, the New Testament also declares that “faith without actions is dead” (James 2:26, Common English Bible). But isn’t it true to say that not just faith, but both love and hope without actions are also dead?

Love is not simply a feeling or an emotion. It is often said that "love is a verb,” and I believe that is true. Love is something that is best expressed not in words, but in action.

And so it is with hope.

Assessing the Future

So, linking this to my 10/25 post, what about the future of this country under the current President and Congress?

To be honest, I am not very optimistic about this year’s pending legislation or about the elections of 2022 or 2024. But I am hopeful for the future. If this year’s legislation doesn’t turn out well, I will do what little I can to help elect better members of Congress in 2022.

And if the elections of 2022 turn out to be a disappointment, again I will do what little I can to elect the best President and Congress possible in 2024.

If the latter is also a disappointment, then I will begin working for 2028 (although there may be little I can do, for that is the year I turn 90, if I make it that far).

Regardless of what happens, though, I will continue to be hopeful, believing that things will get better later, if not sooner. That is because I trust in the “God of hope.” Accordingly, these words from Romans 15:13 (NIV) is my prayer for all of you.