Headlines Today…and Tomorrow

13 Jun

As I read through the Sunday paper on June 3rd (the only time I still read The Tennessean in the paper edition), a strange, yet telling, insight occurred when I juxtaposed, compared and contrasted the stories from the front-page headline and the Local News headline.

The front page led with a spellbinding account of an East Tennessee snake handling resurgence that’s drawing Christian men and women to alters crawling with Copperheads and Rattlesnakes. Their “faith” beckons them to stand on the promises of scripture by “taking up serpents” (and drinking strychnine), risking death in the name of Jesus. The story went on to show that, while such backwoods rituals are illegal on several counts, it is unlikely that any court of law will seek to thwart such accepted sectarian practices.

Next, the Local News led with an ongoing controversy over the building of a previously approved mosque in Murfreesboro, TN.  It had to do with a judge who ruled that the requirements of Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act were not sufficiently implemented by the Rutherford County Planning Commission, thus reopening this nasty battle against Islam waged by a handful of churches and “concerned citizens.”  As a result, those who are vocally opposed to the mosque have been encouraged to think that the free exercise of religion only applies to religions that are free of their contempt.

One thing became clear as I compared these two stories, and it is an insight that translates onto my campus and probably yours: The current narrative among the disgruntled that Christians have become a “persecuted majority” is nothing but spin without support. While Jesus said that faith would make us impervious to the venom of snakes, didn’t he also command that we treat our (Muslim?) neighbors as we would like to be treated? Fortunately for many of us who practice ministry in a growing interfaith context, we can model a form of inclusivity and hospitality that, by faith, will spell more hopeful headlines in the future.

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Reverend Mark Forrester is the United Methodist Affiliated Chaplain at Vanderbilt University.

 

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One Response to “Headlines Today…and Tomorrow”

  1. gjhorton June 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    One might wonder if the worst thing for Christianity is the acquisition of political power…

    It’s funny that our founders arrived at a policy of religious freedom because of their faith. The knew that coercing someone’s religious beliefs in any way would represent only a shallow and insincere faith. Yet today, our Christian political leaders enjoy the ability to stop other faiths from even meeting, while (often explicitly) endorsing and offering advantages to their own faith. This is not the way Christ sought to bring about a new paradigm of serving God, and it is not the way to continue to follow Christ.

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