As 2011 draws to a close, the year has seen clear progress for gay rights, with the repeal of the U.S. military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and New York State’s acceptance of same-sex marriages, changes that Rev. Howard Bess regrets some organized religions have opposed.
In the holiday season, many Christians take pride in helping the poor – by donating food and toys – but U.S. religious leaders have stayed in the background of challenges to an inequitable economic system, leaving that Jesus work to mostly secular young people of the Occupy movement, the Rev. Howard Bess observes.
Some of our special stories in October dealt with the spread of Occupy Wall Street protests across America; the ending of the U.S. military occupation of Iraq; the pounding of new war drums regarding Iran; Republican confusion; and more.
In the Republican race, the hottest “religious issue” is the Mormonism of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, which many commentators have ruled out of bounds. But there are broader issues of religion and politics that should be part of the presidential debate, says Rev. Howard Bess.
The core crisis of Christianity is how could a religion based on the teachings of Jesus, who called for peace through love and generosity to the poor – and who disdained the rich – have grown so tolerant of war, greed and inequality. The Rev. Howard Bess traces this conundrum to the Church’s early days.
Some of our special stories in September dealt with America’s deepening economic crisis, the political/media failures of the Establishment, solving a three-decade-old mystery about George H.W. Bush, the Founders’ actual views on government, and more.
With the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial, a question before Americans is how the late civil rights leader would have responded to the nation’s recent decades of greed, war and decline. Rev. Howard Bess poses the same question as to how ancient Israelites reacted to hostile empires and to their own.
Curiously, it has often fallen to the U.S. military to take the lead in changing the society’s patterns of discrimination, even as churches sometimes lag. After World War II, the military took up the fight against racial bias. Today, the target is bigotry against gays, as Rev. Howard Bess notes.
Some neoconservatives, Christian fundamentalists and right-wing Jews insist that a “clash of civilizations” is underway with Islam – and that peaceful coexistence is not an option. But Rev. Howard Bess, a Baptist, sees hope from fair-minded scholarship about the Bible and the Qu’ran.
Friction between Christians and Muslims is growing, as the world’s two largest religions – with a long history of conflict and animosity – collide in a shrinking world. The Rev. Howard Bess sees some of that friction as unavoidable but urges dialogue and understanding to avert the worst.