VIEW FROM AFAR- August is best time to read for thought

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
August is the best time to sit on my deck, drink some lemonade and catch up on my reading. Congress is adjourned and the president is on vacation. Citizens are safe from new laws, edicts and pronouncements for the time being.

World news has sunk to a predictable steady state of madness and depravity. One might just as well turn off CNN and Fox News until after Labor Day to see if things continue badly or have gotten worse.

Three minor news stories have interested me.

First, Kansas voters apparently want a state board of education that supports traditional science remaining in the science department and philosophy and religion staying in other classrooms. The intelligent-design folks were not sent packing-but they were given a clear warning about the location of the door.

Second, TV preacher Pat Robertson now believes in global warming. Maybe this was just another of his divine revelations about meteorological problems. Or maybe his air-conditioning broke down one afternoon.

Third, Gregory Boyd, a pastor of a Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minn., gave a series of sermons. Apparently, the reverend grew weary of his church being confused with the political action wing of the Republican Party. He even wrote a book outlining his views, “The Myth of a Christian Nation.” The title gives away his perspective.

As a result, a thousand members of his congregation left the church. Considering what he said, it is remarkable that 4,000 members keep coming back. (His is a big-box church, a veritable Wal-Mart of piety.)

It is easy to doze off during a sermon and often nearly impossible to recall the content of a sermon for more than a few hours. Love him or hate him, this preacher did get the attention of his congregation.

A few folks are speculating that an Evangelical Left is emerging in America. They point to a rising number of evangelical Protestants who are concerned about environmental issues, poverty and even peace and justice stuff.

At first glance, “Evangelical Left” seems an oxymoron-a phrase that is self-contradictory, like “military intelligence” or “small economy size.” But maybe they are right.

The big guns of the evangelical empire are getting old. For example, James Dobson is 70, Pat Robertson is 76. Their direct-mail dynasties, with their promises of their peculiar vision of Christian America, may have peaked.

A former Wheaton College professor, Mark Noll, has written a good book on American history. He points out there was a time when America was an evangelical Protestant nation. During this time, there were twice as many preachers as soldiers, about as many Methodist clergy as postal workers, religious organizations ran all but a few of the colleges and universities and donations to churches nearly matched the income of the federal government.

And most folks agreed the Bible was clear and authoritative and gave enough information to guide the United States in a providential way.

The common problem they faced was slavery. Many folks could cleverly proof-text that slavery was common in both the Old and New testaments and therefore was a good, or at least acceptable, thing.

Others pointed out that the Golden Rule and common sense made owning another human being different than owning a cow or a pig. (This sort of debate sounds very familiar in current religious arguments in this country.)

The evangelical Protestants could not agree on this problem. So, they left it to the generals to decide the issue in the Civil War.

Noll, in his book, “The Civil War as Theological Crisis” indicates evangelical Protestants have not yet recovered from this debacle.

Sitting on the deck in August and catching up on reading and taking a brief nap is a good thing. It can help us all to think and reflect in new ways.

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