Top newsmakers, personal and public, of 2010

Today I think it is appropriate to offer my best-of-religious-newsmakers of 2010.  We start with 10 and work our way down.

10.  This past summer, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship general assemblies revealed that we truly live in a post-denominational era.

In the midst of declining church attendance, both organizations formed task forces to determine their futures.   There is a crisis in organized religion; we hope this year brings some creative solutions to reverse the trend.

9.  We know that megachurch pastors are human too, but we don’t expect one to be accused of harassing young men.  I don’t care to comment on New Birth’s Bishop Eddy Long, but he made the news for 2010, so here he is at number 9.

8.  Although this does not deal with church, one of the more bizarre religious-related stories came out of Texas.  There, the state’s Board of Education revised history textbooks to blur the line between church and state.

Texas Law professor Cynthia Dunbar praised the new textbooks for casting America as “a Christian land governed by Christian principals.”  That it downplayed contributions by minorities and woman also showed distaste on the part of the Board.

7.  In a blog dated September 20, Baptist leader Al Mohler contended that yoga was incompatible with Christianity because of its Hindu, “occult” roots.   He mentioned that secular society wooed Christians into this practice, which borders on “ritualized sex.”

Mohler’s comments garnered hundreds of complaints.  It continues to be a popular conversation piece on the internet.

6.  On a more personal note, an article I wrote about my grandmother (in honor of her 90th birthday) was newsworthy.  It was, after all, popular among my readers.

I wrote about her love for me, mentioning: “She represents the absolute grace and abundant love that God has for all of us–almost like God incarnate–who loves like Christ loves.”  I got a lot of positive feedback on that little chestnut.

5.  Terry Jones: The pastor in Florida who invented “National Burn the Quran Day.”  It took a phone call from President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to convince him that God was telling him not to go through with it.  Need I say more?

4.  Just a few months after New Birth made the news, the Church in the Now dominated headlines when Bishop Jim Swilley announced his sexual orientation.

Reactions to Swilley’s announcement were mixed.  Yet, in a time of intense national debate surrounding homosexuality, Swilley’s coming-out had a certain grace and gravitas to it.  AJC columnist, Cynthia Tucker, called Swilley “courageous.”

It might have been courageous to some, but it left many people wondering why he took so long.  Churches that wrestle with this theological issue on a daily basis rarely make the news, but at least their honest from the get-go.

3.  ‘Tis was the summer of bullying.  After several teenagers died as a result of what seemed to be America’s greatest pastime, churches and governments alike rallied for zero tolerance.

Zero tolerance went viral when Fort Worth city councilman Joel Burns made a public plea for people to stand up to bullying.   Many churches echoed Burns’ sentiments.  That was courageous.

2.  Another article I wrote:  After the fatal shootings at the local Gamestop and several local house parties, I wrote a confession of sorts.

I argued that we clergy fail our teenagers when we focus more on building our ministries than building healthy families.   Also, when churches fail to collaborate, we ignore the poverty and political conflicts that contribute to the rise of crime in our neck of the woods.

1.  Although some of these top-ten stories are juicy, nothing is more exciting than the “Blue Christmas” collection put on by First Baptist Church of Conyers.

They put out barrels everywhere, from Jim N’ Nick’s restaurant to Young American’s Christian School, and collected over 17,000 jeans for the poor.

So, with 2010 gone and the New Year upon us, congratulations to FBC of Conyers for having the most newsworthy story of 2010.  Let’s hope 2011 is filled with more good news like this one.

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The Texas Textbook Massacre

At the beginning of every high school history class I ever taught, I did a lesson on the goals of learning history.  Some goals are obvious—to know our past, for instance; others are subtle, like the fact that learning history encourages critical thinking.

This past week, the Texas Board of Education voted on a controversial set of revisions to public-school history textbooks that seems to downplay student critical thinking.  Several revisions included minimizing the role of Civil Rights, feminist, and Latino movements; validating the claims of Joseph McCarthy; and debunking the constitutional principle of the separation of church and state.

The 9-to-5 vote was split along party lines.  Republicans were in the majority; Democrats decried the legislation as a conservative take-over of mainstream historical interpretation.

Oddly enough, it was a group of Christians who were the most vocal proponents of these revisions.   In an invocation during one of the Board meetings, law professor Cynthia Dunbar affirmed that solid, conservative history can help re-establish America as “a Christian land governed by Christian principals.”  No wonder there was such vehemence against the separation of church and state by the Board’s majority.

Politicians who favored the revisions argued that they were simply correcting a left-leaning bias in the textbooks to begin with, what they called “revisionist” history.  But at this point, it’s hard to tell who the true revisionists really are.

Writing history is difficult.  It is not as simple as listing a set of cold, hard facts for a reader.  History—good history—weaves events into a narrative quilt that reveals how facts relate to one another and influence humanity’s story.  This inspires critical thinking about the past, and it proposes how the past informs our present and future.

It is true that every writer of history decides what particular facts are relevant.  These decisions are motivated by a plethora of factors.  This was the bone of contention in the Texas Board of Education.

Over 400 amendments to the legislation were debated and voted on.   Results were telling: The first African American to serve on the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall, will not have any of his writings published in the curriculum; and any mention of hip hop’s influence in contemporary culture was nixed.

Lesson standards now require that students consider the “unintended consequences” of Affirmative Action and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” agenda.

Fortunately, an amendment that would have excluded Deist Thomas Jefferson from a list of the most important American Founders did not pass.  On a positive note, Thomas Edison will be reinstated as an important figure in American industrialism.

What we can all learn from the Texas Board of Education’s debacle is that history is not entirely objective.  We all approach history from our own biases.  My only problem with the Board’s decision is that these textbook debates have erupted to the detriment of our children.

Emphasizing one’s interpretation of history over others–especially when it caters to one brand of religious ideology–is not good history; in fact, it disregards critical thinking.

When it intends to educate, the writing of history is not supposed to be politicized.  Textbooks should expose students to a variety of historical perspectives so that students can wrestle with the complex issues of yesteryear.

Christians, in particular, should champion this approach, for we believe that it is in one’s ability to think critically that faith in the one, true God becomes most profound.

Ultimately, taking away one’s ability to think critically about history dulls the very minds and imaginations of potential leaders of tomorrow.  And when it is a group of Christians robbing students of this ability in the public sphere, it also threatens the intellectual integrity of the Christian faith as a whole.

Sources:

“American History Preserved in Textbooks” (http://www.lc.org/index.cfm?PID=14100&PRID=943 )

http://www.wallbuilders.com

“Despite Protests, Texas Board Passes Conservative Textbook Curriculum” (http://www.blackvoicenews.com/news/news-wire/44491-despite-protests-texas-board-passes-conservative-textbook-curriculum.html)

“The Texas Textbook War in Historical Context” (http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/5192/9/)