Plowshares event with Tony Hall on global hunger

I’m excited to begin our sixth year of the Plowshares peace club. For those of you new to the area, Plowshares is a group that discusses issues of peace and justice. We have participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Day March in Lexington. We’ve had conversations and speakers on topics as varied as Congolese refugees, Christian participation in war, peaceful interpersonal communication, environmental sustainability, peaceful business practices, and more.

Our first meeting of the semester, held in conjunction with Asbury University, will be held next Monday, September 25, at 5:30 p.m. in the Kinlaw Library board room (that’s on the second floor). Our speaker will be Tony Hall, a former congressperson from Ohio who holds a longtime passion for and expertise on the issue of global hunger. He is the author of Changing the Face of Hunger: One Man’s Story of How Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and People of Faith Are Joining Forces to Help the Hungry, the Poor, and the Oppressed (2007) and has served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

Advertisements

Learning from the Majority World

Philip Jenkins writes, “If you want to think of the average Christian in the world today, then think of, perhaps, a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a favela [in Brazil].”

Consider, then, the following blog post that highlights “18 Latin American Female Theologians You Should Know About.”

Dr. Ruth Padilla DeBorst to speak on the gospel in global contextsSee especially the paragraph on Ruth Padilla DeBorst, a terrific person we’ve had the privilege of hosting in our home:

Ruth Padilla DeBorst is a Colombian Protestant theologian serving as provost of the Centro de Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios (CETI) in Costa Rica. She holds a B.Ed. from Lenguas Vivas “Juan Ramón Fernández” in Buenos Aires, Argentina; a MA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School; and a Ph.D. in Missiology and Social Ethics from Boston University. She is a leading voice on misión integral, and for several years, she has been involved with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and the Latin American Theological Fellowship. Dr. Padilla DeBorst has authored various articles and book chapters, including “An Integral Transformation Approach,” in The Mission of the Church: Five Views in Conversation (2016), and “Songs of Hope Out of a Crying Land: An Overview of Contemporary Latin American Theology,” in Global Theology in Evangelical Perspective: Exploring the Contextual Nature of Theology and Mission (2012). She also co-authored Mission as Transformation: Learning from Catalysts (2013), with David Cranston.

The United States of Freberg

I cringe a bit when my children break into show tunes while in public. Selections from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat are fine (though they’re still stumbling through the “red and yellow and green and brown/And scarlet and black and ochre and peach/And lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve . . .” part). My worry is whether they’re going to sing “Take an Indian to Lunch.”

It’s a catchy song with an impolitic title. But the words, which point to the racism embedded in American history, are rather subversive. The subversion though is not always apparent to others when the kids bounce down the hiking path singing the following words at the top of their lungs:

Take an Indian to lunch this week
Show him we’re a regular bunch this week
Show him we’re as liberal as can be
Let him know he’s almost as good as we . . .

Let’s give in and all do the brotherhood bit
Just make sure we don’t make a habit of it
Take an Indian to dine this week
Show him we don’t draw the line this week
We know everyone can’t be
As American as we

After all, we came over on the Mayflower!

Stan Freberg leans on chair.jpg

Stan Freberg — Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The song is the product of Stan Freberg (1926-2015), a self-described “guerilla satirist” who died last week. The New York Times did a nice write-up of Freberg’s legacy, which mostly had to do with advertising. He won the top industry award 21 times and had an exceptionally eclectic clientele that included General Motors, the United States Army and the Presbyterian Church. In 1958 he opened his own agency with the following slogan: “More Honesty Than the Client Had in Mind.”

Freberg’s genius was to insert a self-deprecating humor into commercials. He especially liked, as the Times put it, “lampooning the deficiencies of a paying client’s own products.” In Pacific Airlines advertisements, he confronted people’s fear of flying by telling people that even the pilots were afraid. As part of the campaign, flight attendants passed out “survival kits” that included security blankets, a lucky rabbit’s foot and fortune cookies bearing the slogan “It could be worse.”Upon landing, the attendants were encouraged to exclaim: “We made it! How about that!”

As most satirists do, this mocker of modern consumerism had a serious side. Freberg was a social prophet. After being chosen to succeed Jack Benny on CBS radio, he got fired after refusing tobacco advertisements and joking about the proliferation of the hydrogen bomb. The son of a Baptist minister and vacuum-cleaner salesman, he also took satirical aim at American history. This was reflected in my favorite album, “The United States of America, Volume One: The Early Years” (1961), the one my children have memorized because of its witty dialogue and catchy show tunes.

In this beautifully produced album, Freberg uses historical anachronism to brilliant effect. He describes how therapists used sublimation to relieve the anxiety of early American explorers. He explains that Columbus came to America on a Fulbright. The Europeans that followed him were drawn by the bounty of organically grown fruits and vegetables. And that Columbus wanted to get a loan to open an Italian restaurant in the New World but can’t because the banks were closed for the Columbus Day holiday.

He also uses historical absurdity. In “Take an Indian to Lunch,” Freberg sings about an early Puritan politician who strategically takes an Indian out to eat in order to secure the Native American vote. In a song about the first Thanksgiving, the bald eagle displaces the wild turkey as the national bird—because they cooked the wrong bird. Columbus has to leave the Spanish palace by a balcony because King Ferdinand finds him with Queen Isabella. Betsy Ross complains that George Washington tracked snow all over her early American rug. And Washington complains that Ross used red, white, blue, stars, and stripes in her design of the flag. “Why couldn’t it have been puce—or lavender over chartreuse?” he laments.

In the context of a pervasive jingoism in the wake of WWII, this affectionate but irreverent recitation of American foibles was a helpful antidote to a mean McCarthyism during the Cold War. In the song “Declaration of Independence,” Freberg plays Benjamin Franklin and sings, “You sign a harmless petition and forget all about it. Ten years later, you get hauled up before a committee.” Freberg reminded Americans that the founders, in their “purfuit of happineff,” had clay feet and that their documents were (and are) imperfect. In fact, the founding fathers were not conservative themselves, despite the insistence of their biggest modern-day conservative boosters. In the revolutionary context, they were “professional liberals” and “wild-eyed radicals.”

As you might expect, Freberg provoked immoderate reactions. Lots of famous people—including Paul McCartney, Stephen King, “Weird Al” Yankovic, and David Mamet—loved him. So did lots of not-famous people, like many conservative Mennonites I grew up with. But, of course, like many prophets, Freberg was not always welcome in his hometown. Cold War hawks thought it was Freberg who was the “wild-eyed radical.”

But Freberg didn’t care. In the final scene of “USA, Volume 1,” a grouchy lady confronts him and announces, “I’m from the Daughters of the American Revolu-“ Freberg slams the door as bombastic patriotic music closes the album.

*** cross-posted at the Anxious Bench ***

Beyond Playboy: The Inner Life of Jimmy Carter

In 1976 Playboy magazine conducted its infamous interview of Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter. The interview nearly cost Carter the election. Secular pundits mocked his confession of “adultery in my heart.” Conservative Christians not only disagreed with his use of the word screw but objected that Carter would grant the salacious magazine an interview in the first place.

The distinguished historian Randall Balmer goes beyond this notable episode to explore the evangelical spirituality that underlay the controversy in the first place. This biography of Carter is the latest in an abundance of research on non-rightist sectors of American evangelicalism. My own Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism (2012) has been followed by Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice (2014) and now Balmer’s Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter. Carter, contends Balmer, was a quintessential “progressive evangelical.” His spiritually minded mother pushed racial boundaries in the rural South and identified as a feminist before Betty Friedan. Carter, as a child and then as a young man who left the navy to become a peanut farmer in his hometown of Plains, Georgia, assumed similar stances on spirituality and justice. A hard-working populist who refused to join the White Citizens Council, he entered politics because he felt that he could help “establish justice in a sinful world.” Niebuhrian in his realism, he nurtured a warm evangelical piety, a strong conversionism, and a pronounced Baptist belief in the separation of church and state. These religious convictions drove Carter’s career as a state senator and governor.

They also animated his political agenda in the White House. Arguing against Carter’s reputation as an ineffective micromanager, Balmer describes impressive advocacy for human rights, the Panama Canal, the Camp David Accords, nuclear weapons limits, and the Equal Rights Amendment. In each of these efforts, Carter embodied a small, but energetic evangelical left that was rallying around the 1973 “Chicago Declaration.” This vibrant progressive movement labored against both evangelical political conservatism and evangelical apoliticism. On the ground, these evangelicals built Sojourners and Evangelicals for Social Action and campaigned for Oregon Republican Mark Hatfield, Iowa Democrat Harold Hughes, and President Jimmy Carter.

The book isn’t perfect. As I note in a review that appears in an upcoming issue of the American Historical Review, Balmer’s depiction of Carter’s broader evangelical context is not quite as convincing. Despite the work of Darren Dochuk, Bethany Moreton, and others on the long rise of evangelical conservatism since the 1940s, Balmer portrays Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as abrupt hijackers of an apolitical, benevolent evangelicalism. At the same time, he constructs an overly romanticized account of a nineteenth-century evangelicalism that pushed for abolitionism and women’s rights. To be sure, evangelicals pioneered many social justice initiatives, but they also reinforced Jim Crow, robber barons, and jingoistic imperialism.

Nevertheless, this is a terrific book. It demonstrates the significance of progressive strains of evangelicalism, showing that such strains reached the highest political office in the nation. It is based in extensive oral interviews, archival sources, and a multitude of newspaper and magazine accounts. It is compact, readable, and clearly argued. And it is a beautifully written spiritual biography that recovers the moral gravitas of an oft-maligned politician. Whatever the limits of progressive evangelicalism, whatever his political liabilities, Carter was clearly a man trying to articulate and practice Christian theological principles of temptation, sin, redemption, and salvation by grace.

The Entrepreneurial Evangelicals

The title refers not to Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame or to George Pepperdine, who started Western Auto Supply and used the money to found Pepperdine University. The new entrepreneurial evangelicals are from the Majority World. Esteemed Anxious Bench contributor Philip Jenkins has a great line in The Next Christendom: “If we want to visualize a ‘typical’ contemporary Christian, we should think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria, or in a Brazilian favela.” The centers of Christianity now, in other words, are not Geneva, Rome, or Los Angeles, but instead Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila.

Oya-Hazel Gumede fits the profile of a rising class of global entrepreneurs. She grew up in the midst of South African apartheid. Her mother died of AIDS. Her father was not around much during her childhood. Her brothers were victims of violence. She was raised in a township called Gezinsila, which means “wash your filthy feet,” by her grandmother, who used to slaughter a chicken to celebrate a good report card from school.

Along with her grandmother’s care, several things sparked Gumede’s upward mobility. As a teenager she converted to Pentecostal Christianity. Just as important, she came of age at the dawn of new, exciting possibilities in a democratic South Africa. Gumede harnessed her native intelligence and charisma to become a leader in her local church community. In addition to serving as dean of a small Bible institute, she rapidly rose in professional ranks. She eventually worked in the office of First Lady Zanele Mbeki, advised various government agencies, represented South Africa at the United Nations, and travels throughout Africa on business. She is the co-owner of Ashira and Shelton law firm. Gumede, along with other evangelicals, are moving comfortably in elite, so-called “black diamond” circles that are beginning to emerge in a white-dominated South Africa.

Gumede, according to sociologist Steve Offutt’s important new book New Centers of Global Evangelicalism in Latin America and Africa, represents a new kind of entrepreneurial global evangelical. Gumede and other local actors are globally connected, drawing on newly available transnational religious resources to build organizations and institutions. They are not overwhelmed by these global resources in their environments; rather, they use them to achieve their own ends and to mold their own religious communities.

Offutt makes many striking observations about these new centers of global evangelicalism, among them the role of huge megachurches, widening social stratification, and sophisticated levels of political and social engagement. Perhaps the most fascinating development is that global entrepreneurs are exporting religion, not just importing it. They are sending out their own missionaries, radio programs, and literature along a South-South axis: Salvadoran churches working with Chinese churches and South African religious networks extending to Argentina. In my own Mennonite circles, I’ve observed groups of Nicaraguans moving to Bangkok to attend university and to join churches in Thailand. Offutt’s book shows that these are not isolated cases. Religious communities in the Global South are increasingly ambitious in their social engagement and growth of big organizations. And significantly, while still influenced by the West, the West does not control them. Contra Brouwer, Gifford, and Rose in Exporting the American Gospel: Global Christian Fundamentalism, they are “culturally savvy, technically capable, and religiously inspired.” They use Western resources toward their own ends.

The research that undergirds these conclusions is impressive. For his two case studies of El Salvador and South Africa, Offutt conducted 118 interviews with leading evangelicals, including the heads of evangelical alliances, senior pastors of megachurches, entrepreneurs working in the private sectors, and nonprofit and political actors. He went to church with them and sometimes even lived in their homes. Attuned to the many textures of a rapidly changing Global South and suggestive of broader trends, New Centers of Global Evangelicalism represents the best of a growing literature on transnational religion.