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News with Nuance: Sept. 15, 2023
Your Friday dose of News with Nuance: the week's biggest stories, unpacked + more ..
Whew. I really can’t believe that it has been more than a month since I last shared a News with Nuance post with you. And by the way - I know several of you are new subscribers since July 28, so this is likely your first-ever News with Nuance post. Welcome!
When I first started Substack almost exactly one year ago today, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I did know that it was really important to me in this space to share my dual passions/callings as a journalist and a pastor (in addition to sharing with you the fullness of my life as a mom, spouse, colleague, friend, and human being as well). To that end, I structured this Substack to be grounded in regular posts shaped by these two distinct lenses from which I approach most of my life and commentary: that of the pastor and that of the reporter/journalist. You’ve recently seen examples of my pastoral perspective in the Sunday Stretch posts, where I share three Bible passages, along with some analysis, and space for prayers, requests, and comments on the church year and life inside and alongside the ever-changing landscape of the American Church.
Today’s post, which will come to you regularly on the second and fourth Fridays of each month, is my attempt to lean into my journalist lens. Each time, I’ll choose two news stories representing some of the most important stories I’ve come across during the week. Often, these will be stories that show the human side of a broader global story, or lift up a previously untold perspective on a well-known topic. At other times, I’ll showcase stories that may not be as “newsy” but instead showcase a particularly compelling human story, or excellent writing and reporting. I’ll share a quote from each story and then often follow up with links to other stories that are connected in one way or another, or provide needed nuance to complicated narratives.
Then, at the end of each News with Nuance post, I’ll do a weekly corner on Christian Nationalism. This is where my pastoral and journalist lenses coincide to cover and make you aware of where recent news stories intersect with the growing American attraction to white Christian Nationalism, and how it’s manifesting across political, social, and cultural lines. I’ll begin that section each week with my definition of Christian Nationalism (find that below) and I’ll also share what I’ve been up to in my ongoing speaking, writing, reporting and research regarding better understanding of Christian Nationalism and how to work together to fight against its influence, while raising awareness about its dangers.
If you’re new to learning about Christian Nationalism, I recommend starting with my July 2023 series on Christian Nationalism. Here’s Part I:
And, just for fun and for longtime readers, here’s a look at the first-ever News with Nuance post, from Sept. 16, 2022:
I’ll be frank. Writing these posts for me is truly a passion. It helps me to synthesize the huge amount of reading I do throughout the week (reading is like weightlifting for writers; it’s the thing that makes us stronger), and it also helps me to see through the sometimes-overwhelming and crowded news cycle to the human stories, people, writers, and reporters who give me hope for the Truth - and for us to be able to speak to each other and work together toward a better shared understanding. I don’t know about you, but I need that hope. I need it today, and I need it every single day. So thanks for being here to read these posts with me. I trust you’ll find these stories as rich as I do.
Note: this week is a special FREE edition of News with Nuance. Typically these posts are available only to paid subscribers, with a free preview for all subscribers. But often I will do free News posts when I feel that the topics are especially noteworthy and need to be shared with the broadest possible audience. My thanks again to all of you who support this work by reading, subscribing, and sharing.
Let’s get to the news … with nuance …
Photo by Yousef Murad, Associated Press
One of the most destructive features of our overly accessible, 24-hour frenzied news cycle is the way that important stories get piled on top of each other, one right after another, such that people often get compassion/empathy/attention fatigue, and quickly click away from disturbing words and images back to their Wordle game or highly curated, aesthetically pleasing Instagram feed (I’m as guilty as anyone else).
The reasons why it’s so challenging to hold peoples’ attention or empathy are complex, such that it’s important not to feel personally guilty or be rendered apathetic in the face of mass suffering. And at the same time, one of the reasons I write this newsletter is to help us slow down. Breathe. Really take in what’s happening and who it’s affecting. See the human faces behind the headlines. Take topics (like, say, climate change or political corruption or radical Islam - all of which are operating in this story) and remove the context of reflexive political and partisan judgments, to see the humanity in the headlines.
I’m actually sharing this link from the Guardian with you not primarily for the words of the story about the devastating floods in Derna, Libya, which are estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people, but instead for the video featured about halfway down the page, where a reporter is interviewing a Libyan medical worker.
I urge you strongly to watch this video. Pause whatever else you’re doing, and listen to this man tell his story. Watch as he is comforted by another man on screen, enveloped into a hug, as he collapses into the wall in grief.
I watched this video on Thursday morning while I was eating breakfast in my safe and dry home, having successfully maneuvered my kids to school on the bus and a bike. And I sat there, tired and numb, before my first cup of coffee … and I found myself completely and utterly overcome, tears welling up in my eyes. As I watch it again now, I’m struck by a few things. I’m reminded of similar videos of medical workers wearing protective clothing and masks, that we saw more than three years ago, as thousands died in New York City in the very terrifying and early days of COVID-19. I’m struck by the similar sense of powerlessness and overwhelming sadness of this man, and the intense thread of human connection, stretching across oceans and religions, to fill my heart with an unmistakable sense of human kinship.
I also kept hearing him repeat, desperately:
We belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return.
I couldn’t help but think of my work as a Pastor on Ash Wednesday, administering ashes to the foreheads of 90-year-olds and preschoolers alike:
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
In these moments of unrelenting tragedy, we cling to a desperate hope in a benevolent God. And at the same time, we recognize our common and shared mortality. In our helplessness, we take refuge in what we have formerly feared and arrogantly pushed away. We know we cannot hold ourselves up. We must somehow find a way to hold one another up, as we survive and try to live together.
The Quote: As the tragedy unfolds, questions are being asked about how Derna was so exposed to the damage caused by Storm Daniel. Moin Kikhia, from the Libya Democratic Institute thinktank, said: “The environmental disruption of the storm was turned by endemic corruption and lack of governance into something of a biblical catastrophe. At times the water reached 20 metres high so people on the third floor were washed away to sea. Audit documents show these dams were not maintained for years.
Rashad Hamed, a data specialist consultant at the UN children’s fund, Unicef, said: “The humanitarian catastrophe in Derna, Libya, is different from the humanitarian catastrophe in Marrakech, Morocco. The Moroccan earthquake could not have been avoided or mitigated, while the Derna disaster was caused by negligence and gross negligence, the price of which was paid by thousands of victims.”
Story by Patrick Wintour and Luke Harding, The Guardian
As is the case in most disasters that result in massive loss of life, the floods in Derna represent the confluence of many broader tragedies, including wealthy nations’ sluggishness in responding to the climate crisis and reckoning with climate change consequences, and also political corruption, violence, and unrest in Libya, fomented by fundamentalist Islamic groups and lucrative weapon sales that have made the country a place rich in deadly weapons but little prosperity for its people. Therefore the Derna floods run alongside tragedies sparked by human-caused climate change, like the western North American and Mediterranean wildfires, and heat-related deaths in Pakistan; and also the Derna floods remind us how climate change is coupled with violent religious fundamentalism, endemic corruption and political ineptitude, factors that together will continue to lead to mass human suffering and death.
Now here is a story to which I know I will return again and again in the months and years ahead, as American women continue our fight for reproductive freedom and access to life-saving healthcare.
States Newsroom national reproductive rights reporter Sofia Resnick does a courageous deep dive here into the most powerful organized men’s groups who have declared “war” on abortion and women’s rights. Unsurprisingly, most of them seem to be men with a solid commitment to general disenfranchisement of women, not excluding the women closest to them. Her story begins with Wendell Shrock, who is “providing security” for the anti-abortion group Operation Save America.
There’s a brilliant photo in the article (from Ross Williams of the Georgia Recorder) that shows Wendell in the foreground, with an unidentified woman in the background carrying a sign that reads: “Establish Justice; Abolish Abortion.”
The article doesn’t say this, but I couldn’t help but wonder if that woman was Shrock’s daughter, Dawn, whose age he refused to reveal but said she would be married soon, and he’s praying she will have 20 children. Shrock also says he’s so proud Dawn, “who wears a hair covering and a long dress, has never held a public job.”
Not allowing women to work is not the chivalrous action some might imagine it to be. Instead, it holds women and girls in financial debt to their fathers and husbands, where a job might provide needed freedom and income, which would be necessary for a potential escape to a life with more choices and bodily autonomy.
Dawn’s voice goes unheard in the article. Wendell speaks for her, as he does for his daughter-in-law (who has borne a child every year for six years of marriage to Wendell’s son), and for his wife, who has borne 11 children and is carrying for six of them while the family joined the anti-abortion protest.
Fortunately, we’ve recently been able to hear more stories from women like Dawn. But for every woman who gets to tell her story, I know there are thousands more who remain exhausted and overwhelmed, by the physical and mental strain of bearing and raising children with little help, and being forced to help hold up a worldview that holds them hostage and takes away their freedom.
I haven’t always thought about the anti-abortion movement this way. I used to grant it much more grace and understanding, as you might have read in my book, Red State Christians. But I can’t feel that way any longer. I think it’s pretty clear instead that the anti-abortion movement is much better represented by the men like Shrock, who Resnick reveals to us in this story. It’s about control and subjugation of women in pursuit of male power. Period.
The Quote: Operation Save America’s pervading message is about empowering men and boys to adopt an old, punitive Christian worldview, one more widely embraced when women had few rights and power. But they also take their roles as provider and protector seriously.
For its national director Jason Storms and his father-in-law, longtime anti-abortion radical Matthew Trewhella, that partly means buying lots of guns and building militias. Trewhella has shared his 2013 manifesto calling for government defiance with many interested state lawmakers.
“We live in a culture of so many weak and pathetic Christian men who couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag if their life depended on it,” Storms said in August 2022, from the pulpit at Mercy Seat Christian Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, where he is the minister of evangelism and Trewhella is the lead pastor. “It’s not being a protector to your family that God has called you to be. Get yourself in shape. Cultivate some physical strength. Buy guns. If you need to, buy a lot of guns. It’s no limit on gun purchases; you have my blessing. … And if you buy a gun and you buy ammunition, train with it, and get around a group of men that you can train with. Get around a group of courageous men who will fight, bleed, and die with you, for you, and for your families and for your liberties.”
A 2021 YouTube video that was posted on Operation Save America’s website featured suggestive and violent imagery involving scenes of a man with an assault rifle, then cutting to a Planned Parenthood facility, while reciting the biblical verse that begins, “To everything there is a season” and includes the line, “a time to kill.” That video “was removed by the uploader” Tuesday afternoon after the initial national publication of this States Newsroom report.
Story by Sofia Resnick, States Newsroom
A couple of other must-read stories that add context to the news swirling around lately …
This Week in Christian Nationalism and Religious Extremism
While this newsletter won’t focus overall on Christian Nationalism, each Friday I will include a brief update from that week, as it’s both a continuing focus of my work and also, I think, a critical threat to both American democracy and the faithful witness of Jesus’ Gospel, which exists independently of the United States!
In one sentence: Christian Nationalism is a version of the idolatrous Theology of Glory, which replaces the genuine worship of God with worship of a particular vision of America, often rooted in a revisionist history of white people in the 1950s, before the Civil Rights movement or the women’s movement. Christian Nationalism supports a violent takeover of government and the imposition of fundamentalist Christian beliefs on all people. Christian nationalism relies on a theological argument that equates American military sacrifice with Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. It suggests that Christians are entitled to wealth and power, in contrast to Jesus’ theology of the cross, which reminds Christians that they too have to carry their cross, just as our crucified savior did.
This Week: I had the privilege of participating on a panel with recent New York Times bestselling authorthis past Tuesday in Minneapolis. His new book, The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy is a must-read for the way it ties together threads of racism and violence against Black Americans and Indigenous peoples, too often excused and inspired by Church-approved theology and practice, and pursuit of white, European Christian power. As I said at our panel, those same threads of Theology of Glory over Theology of the Cross are the same ones that are inspiring today’s would-be Christian Nationalists in America. Learn more about Robert’s work and where he’s headed next here:
In this busy week, I also got to present on Christian Nationalism and help lead folks into conversation about how to combat it in our local churches at St. Michael’s Lutheran in Roseville, Minn. And on Thursday night, I led the first week of a course on Finding Hope in a Divided Country for the Lutheran School of Theology. I believe you can still sign up for weeks 2-4, and you can catch a recording of the course after sign-up.
Slowly, quietly, powerfully, humbly: a resistance movement is rising up. Alongside my class, so many others are teaching and learning about this topic and mobilizing against Christian Nationalism in their local churches and communities. Dr. Drew Strait is also again offering his course on Resisting Christian Nationalism with the Gospel of Peace for the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. You can catch a video lecture from me in Dr. Strait’s course, as well as a lecture from Taking Back America for God coauthor Andrew Whitehead, who just joined Substack! Join him over at.
A few more reads on the intersection of Christian Nationalism, news stories, and life in the world today:
A powerful report from the Washington Post on a Texas family who has been torn apart by their father’s participation (and subsequent arrest/conviction/imprisonment) in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
A frustrating example of the too-often dishonesty of the Christian Nationalist movement. This football coach petitioned to the Supreme Court for his right to pray publicly on the field during halftime. He won his case, returned to the field, and immediately resigned and moved to Florida, where he’ll now work as a FOX News correspondent. So was this really about praying at his games and supporting his players? Or was it about an opportunity to use right-wing Christian outrage to gain fame and influence?
(That last piece was taken from. If you’re looking to read more on Christian Nationalism, I highly recommend subscribing and following their work).
A (debatable) story from the Atlantic about what happens when Americans stop going to church. I’m citing it because a lot of church leaders assume that when they get people excited about the Christian Nationalism in their churches, with patriotic music and events, it’s a way stop on peoples’ way to being saved and sanctification. A lot of conservative pastors defend these practices as being in service of the Gospel. But we’re starting to see that it works the other way. People might come in the door seeking Jesus and religion, and walk right out avowed nationalists but ambivalent about Jesus. That concerns me on a deep level as an American and as a follower of Jesus.
Interesting piece of history was brought back to life last week as Pope Francis visited the tiny Catholic community of Mongolia. See too this letter exchange between Pope Innocent IV and Guyuk Khan in 1245-46.
As I mentioned above, we’re finally hearing from some of the women who suffered silently in the background as their famous Christian husbands gained power and influence in the early 2000s. Don’t miss this new book, The Woman They Wanted, from Shannon Harris, former wife of Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye.
Proud to say that ELCA publishing house Broadleaf Books (also publisher of Red State Christians) published Shannon’s book, too.
One last thing …
I loved this story about a dog who kept showing up at a nursing home, only to be eventually adopted by the staff and residents. Nursing homes can be sad, lonely places. But they can also be places filled with warmth, love, acceptance, and compassion. I’ve seen both, and the latter is a beautiful sight.
OK, this was a long one. Congrats for making it to the end. Feel free to read these in pieces, and save links to read later. These stories matter. So do you.
Thanks for reading,
A Few Notes:
First, a huge THANK YOU to all subscribers. I get a little email notification every time someone signs up, and every time I get one, I feel joyful and honored that you want to spend part of your day with this community. I mean it when I say: “I’m listening,” to you as well, and please don’t hesitate to share with me your thoughts + ideas for what you’d like to read in this space.
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On free vs. paid-subscriber posts only: My plan right now is that the Friday + Sunday posts, focusing on news + spirituality, in that order, are available for subscribers only (I am going to continue sharing a sample, with a line where the paywall cuts off for our paid subscriber community). My plan is that the Tuesday blog-style posts will always be free, to enable as much access as possible, while creating a smaller and more intimate experience for paid subscribers, who are also able to comment and share in community in fuller ways.
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