I feel like the world has changed so much. So, in the mid-’90s, late-’90s, having been a journalist, coming out of divinity school — so this was the Moral Majority — this was this moment where a lot of very loud, strident religiosity had claimed its place and was everywhere. And actually, religion was in the headlines. And then, in the years I was creating the show, we went through September 11. We had an evangelical president in the White House. So there was a lot of religiosity in the headlines, and a lot of new curiosity about it, but also, a lot of religious people getting quiet because they didn’t want to be associated with —
MS. PERCY: With the loud voices.
MS. TIPPETT: And journalists, I felt, colluding with handing over the microphones and cameras to the loudest voices.
MS. PERCY: What time period would this be? This is the early 2000s?
MS. TIPPETT: This would be like mid- to late-’90s…
MS. PERCY: Got it.
MS. TIPPETT: …and then, into the turn of the century. And I just felt that this is such an important part of life, this huge part of life which we call religion — where religion happens, spirituality, moral imagination, and that we didn’t have any places where we were talking about the sweep of that. And even when these voices hit the news, you didn’t get the spiritual content of this part of life, much less the intellectual content of this part of life, and the nuance and really, the breadth of the ways this is lived. And so that was my desire, to do that, and I thought public radio would be a place to do that.
But I think what we started doing, from the very beginning, was drawing out a different kind of conversation, voices that weren’t being heard. It was very focused on religion per se, and then we moved through the backlash to that, which is what I think the New Atheist was, New Atheist movement. What was interesting to me about all of that, this kind of very strident anti-religion — coming through all of that, this new conversation that’s happening across these lines; across religious lines, across boundaries of religious and non-religious, all kinds of scientific inquiry, and theology and spiritual inquiry. And so, when you ask me what this is and what it’s become, it’s been so fluid and evolving.
.. here we are in 2018, in a fractured world, in a hurting world — and yet, we’re in this moment of passage, and we’re in this moment of generational change. And I think we’re in a moment where there’s huge culture shift happening, and right now the destructive aspects of that are really on display and better-covered; but there’s a lot that’s new that’s being created; there’s a lot of denial that’s dying. There’s a lot of generative possibility and people living into it, and I think the Impact Lab is just gonna equip us that much more intentionally and practically to meet that.
.. we’re really exploring this, in some ways, very old-fashioned word of “formation,” of becoming the kind of people that we are meant to be, in some way; that we are called to be, especially in this moment, and thinking about what are the spiritual technologies that can help us develop those virtues.
MS. TIPPETT: And a way of even being with strangers.
MR. TER KUILE: Absolutely. We had these long tables where people sat down at meals, and it made me realize, dinner is one of our spiritual technologies.
.. MS. PERCY: I love that you mention, Erinn, two things, which is hospitality and, also, community. As a Hispanic person, that is the tenets of being Hispanic, is — eating, as well; so it’s community, hospitality, and food. But I think those are two key things to everything that we do at The On Being Project. And community, in particular, is something that I feel so proud of, that we engage with our community in the way that we do.
.. Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. And somewhere he writes that if a community is only for itself, it will die — which I thought was so striking, because I think that’s one of the things that I’m most passionate about, as we think about building community and building relationships, is that it isn’t just for itself; it’s for a world transformed in some way.
The church’s role is to change the world through the life and love of Jesus Christ. The government’s role is to serve the common good by protecting justice and peace, rewarding good behavior while restraining bad behavior (Romans 13). When that role is undermined by political leadership, faith leaders must stand up and speak out. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.” 
.. I. WE BELIEVE each human being is made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). That image and likeness confers a divinely decreed dignity, worth, and God-given equality to all of us as children of the one God who is the Creator of all things. Racial bigotry is a brutal denial of the image of God (the imago dei) in some of the children of God
.. III. WE BELIEVE how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
.. God calls us to protect and seek justice for those who are poor and vulnerable, and our treatment of people who are “oppressed,” “strangers,” “outsiders,” or otherwise considered “marginal” is a test of our relationship to God, who made us all equal in divine dignity and love. Our proclamation of the lordship of Jesus Christ is at stake in our solidarity with the most vulnerable. If our gospel is not “good news to the poor,” it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ (Luke 4:18).
Jeff Sessions and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders perhaps indulged in a bit of both Thursday, when asked about the moral reasoning behind separating migrant parents from their children at the U.S. border.
Sessions argued that, as criminals, immigrants have put themselves beyond the protection of God’s care. “I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions explained by way of scriptural warrant. He added that “orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves . . . [and protect] the weak and lawful.” Sanders later offered an artful gloss in defense of Sessions: “It is very biblical to enforce the law,” she said.
.. In Christianity as billions of faithful have known it, order and lawful procedures are not “good in themselves” and it is not “very biblical” to “enforce the law” whatever it might be. Rather, there is a natural order inscribed into nature. Human governance can comport with it or contradict it, meaning Christians are sometimes morally obligated to follow civil laws and are sometimes morally obligated not to.
.. Conservatives seize on this approach when it suits them; this is why they’re so keen on carving out legal protections for matters of religious conscience.
.. But there are worse things than confusion, or even than hypocrisy. One of them is self-deception. When Sessions invoked Romans 13 — a verse infamous for earlier bad-faith invocations to justify slavery — he shifted the subject of the question from himself and his own department to those under his control.
.. He was summoned to defend his choices, his judgment, his own moral reasoning — but instead offered a condemnation of the decisions and morality of migrants.
He wanted to talk about what, in his view, the Bible demands of the ruled. But he omitted the more important question: What does it demand of rulers?
.. From Deuteronomy 10 : “For the Lord your God . . . loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Or from Jeremiah 7: “If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place . . . then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.”
To hear the Christian right tell it, President Trump should be a candidate for sainthood — that is, if evangelicals believed in saints.
“Never in my lifetime have we had a Potus willing to take such a strong outspoken stand for the Christian faith like Donald Trump,” tweeted Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham. The Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress sees a divine hand at work: “God intervened in our election and put Donald Trump in the Oval Office for a great purpose.”
.. the nationalistic, race-baiting, fear-mongering form of politics enthusiastically practiced by Mr. Trump and Roy Moore in Alabama is central to a new strain of American evangelicalism. This emerging religious worldview — let’s call it “Fox evangelicalism” — is preached from the pulpits of conservative media outlets like Fox News. It imbues secular practices like shopping for gifts with religious significance and declares sacred something as worldly and profane as gun culture.
.. Fox evangelicals don’t back Mr. Trump despite their beliefs, but because of them.
.. Every one of Mr. Trump’s predecessors declared “Merry Christmas,” too — including Barack Obama, whose message at last year’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony was virtually indistinguishable from Mr. Trump’s. What matters to Fox evangelicals, though, is not that Mr. Trump observes Christmas but that he casts himself as the defender of the Christian holiday.
.. From the beginning, the War on Christmas was a homegrown Fox News cause
.. Fox and allies like the American Family Association focused on getting more Christmas into stores and shopping malls
.. The regular Fox News viewer, whether or not he is a churchgoer, takes in a steady stream of messages that conflate being white and conservative and evangelical with being American.
.. while one-quarter of Americans consider themselves to be “evangelical,” less than half of that group actually holds traditional evangelical beliefs. For others, “evangelical” effectively functions as a cultural label, unmoored from theological meaning... I was both astonished and troubled, as a fellow evangelical, by the visceral sense of fear that gripped these young adults... these students in a town with a population of some 1,200 saw the idea of a home invasion or an Islamic State attack that would require them to take a human life in order to save others as a certainty they would face, not a hypothetical... students around me agreed unreservedly with Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, who was seen in the film asserting that “in the world around us, there are terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, carjackers, knockout gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers.”.. One of the most consistent messages of the Bible is the exhortation “Do not be afraid!”
.. Fear,” says Mr. Schenck in the documentary, “should not be a controlling element in the life of a Christian.”.. Fear and distrust of outsiders — in conflict with numerous biblical teachings to “welcome the stranger” — also explain Fox evangelicals’ strong support for the Trump administration’s efforts to bar refugees and restrict travel to the United States from several majority-Muslim nations... “A pastor has about 30 to 40 minutes each week to teach about Scripture,” said Jonathan Martin, an Oklahoma pastor and popular evangelical writer. “They’ve been exposed to Fox News potentially three to four hours a day.”.. It’s meaningful, Mr. Martin says, that scions of the religious right like Jerry Falwell Jr. are not pastors like their fathers
I don’t remember any of the churches I grew up in going overboard on the nationalistic fervor, even during the chilliest years of the latter stages of the Cold War
.. We were schooled on the importance of the Christian worldview—in opposition to postmodernism and other philosophical evils. Our teachers typically weren’t well-versed in philosophy, but they warned us zealously against moral relativism, situational ethics, and hypocrisy.
.. I was scared into the kingdom by one of those late-’70s “Left Behind” films. Nothing could be more important than to stand for the truth, even in the face of the anti-Christ’s persecution.
.. We ate apologetics books like communion wafers—and were about as nourished. What we learned was to argue, to corner our opponents in their intellectually unfurnished corners, defeating them with our theistic strength and consistency.
.. Because the pursuit of relevancy is the pursuit of influence, of power. And when power becomes your god, you’ll do as much biblical gymnastics as it takes to get it or keep it.
.. The younger generation now is basically a bunch of theological orphans
.. The opening dialogue is something I see reflected almost every day now in comment threads, news articles, and from friends and family on social media. Not about Democrats, though. Heavens, no. Democrats are still obliged to keep good character, and in fact, they cannot, as their very platform precludes it. Conservatives, however, may do as they like. Say what they want. Get away with almost anything. So long as their platform reads right.
.. A new poll in fact shows that white evangelicals are now the most likely constituency to believe “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” This is up from 30 percent in 2011 to a whopping 72 percent this year. And this is not because evangelicals suddenly decided to show some grace to politicians, because you don’t see this kind of consideration given to political opponents. There is really only one main explanation for this sizable jump in 2017 in the ability to look the other way. Ethics kinda seem situational all of a sudden.
We’ve been abandoned by our teachers. Our guides have left us without fathers. The men and women we looked up to have gone against everything they told us to believe in. We wonder if they ever really believed it themselves.
.. They are listening to more non-white evangelicals, because those folks have learned how to persevere from the margins for centuries.
.. These youngsters who have rejected your
- idolatrous politics, your
- nationalistic faith, your
- moral subjectivity, your
- fear of the alien and the stranger, your
gospel neglect will finally do you proud when they inherit your churches. If they can keep their heads on straight.
I think a lot of congregations have a situation where people are – there are more people talking about God in the basement during the week. The basement of their church is more full of people talking honestly about their lives and connecting that with some kind of trust in God. I think that happens more frequently in their basements than it does in their sanctuaries.
GROSS: The basements where the 12-step meetings are.
BOLZ-WEBER: That’s right, yeah, because I – I mean, you know what organization’s not really having a problem? – is AA. Like, that’s…
BOLZ-WEBER: It’s doing fine. That – they’re not in a crisis. So there aren’t meetings about how – in AA – where they’re like, how can we get people to start showing up more? And so I think that there’s something about people speaking honestly about their lives, and, sometimes, I think church is more about pretending your life’s fine. And I think less and less people have time for that.
.. Yeah, it was – you know, some churches might have a hard time welcoming, you know, junkies and drag queens. We’re fine with that. But, like, when bankers in Dockers started showing up (laughter), we’re like, wait a minute. Like, I – it threw me into a crisis ’cause I felt like, wait, you could go to any mainline Protestant church in this city and see a room full of people who look just like you. Like, why are you coming and, like, messing up our weird?
And one of the values my community has always held is this idea of welcoming the stranger. Like, a lot of times, we’ll start the liturgy by saying, blessed be God, the Word who came to his own. And his own received him not. For in this way, God glorifies the stranger.
.. So I preached to, like, 10,000 people. And when The Denver Post found out about this, they ran this big front-page story about me with this, like, terrifying picture of me. And then…
BOLZ-WEBER: And so the next Sunday, like, tons of people showed up. But the thing is is that – you know who takes the paper are, like, 60-year-olds in the suburbs. And that’s who showed up. And so we’re looking around going, what’s happened? Like, our church – our weirdness is being diluted. And I called a friend of mine, who has a church with a similar demographic in St. Paul, Minn. And I was like, dude, have you ever had normal people, like, mess up your church? And he goes, yeah, you know, you guys are really good at welcoming the stranger if it’s a young transgender kid. But, sometimes, the stranger looks like your mom and dad.
.. And he said, look, as the young transgender kid who was welcomed into this community, I want to go on record as saying, like, I’m glad there are people who look like my parents here because they love me in a way that my parents are finding difficult right now. And I was like, oh, man, meeting over.
BOLZ-WEBER: I mean, like, meeting over. Like, that was it. Like, that’s what is challenging to me about Christianity – is that exact thing – is, like, being forced to look at your own stuff and being pushed into a space of grace that’s really, really uncomfortable. And I should say that same person, Asher, was ordained. The ordination was at our church. And Asher was the first openly transgender person to be ordained by the ELCA, by my denomination. So we, like…
GROSS: That’s great.
BOLZ-WEBER: Yeah, he’s an extraordinary person. And that day was a huge celebration.
.. Well, that’s the thing – is that I just don’t think belief should be the basis of belonging to a community like this. And so I – everyone – we don’t sort of make that the central reason that somebody belongs. So we don’t even talk about belief that often in my church, strangely. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s that I don’t feel responsible for what people believe. I feel very responsible for what they hear as their preacher, as their pastor. So in the liturgy and in the preaching, I feel responsible for what they hear.
Now, how that’s going to work upon them in their lives is – there’s so many things that contribute to that that I have nothing to do with. So I just don’t feel a sense of responsibility.
.. I mean, I’m actually a very orthodox Lutheran theologian. And it’s a very sort of Christo-centric community. But it’s one in which, really, everyone’s welcome to come and participate.
GROSS: Are you more concerned about people’s actions than their beliefs?
BOLZ-WEBER: I’m not even really concerned about their actions, no.
GROSS: That wasn’t the answer I was expecting.
GROSS: What are you concerned about?
BOLZ-WEBER: No, that’s not true. I mean, I’m not concerned about – I don’t monitor people’s behavior. Let’s put it that way. So much of Christianity has become about, like, sort of monitoring behavior. And so far, it’s just failed to work as a strategy (laughter) – right? – for making people better. So on some level, the – Christianity became about monitoring people’s behavior, a sort of behavior – or, like, a sin-management program. And that almost always fails and often backfires.
Like, I would actually argue that conservative Christianity’s obsession with controlling sexuality – I mean, absolute obsession with it – has, in fact, created more unhealthy sexual behavior than it’s ever prevented. I really believe that. I mean, you actually don’t even see that particular level of obsession with, like, the power of sex and how dangerous – it’s like the moral bogeyman that’s hiding behind every corner and every zipper to these people, right? I mean, it’s just like they’re obsessed with it in a way you seldom see outside of say, like, 16-year-old boys.
BOLZ-WEBER: So it feels like there’s an entire culture (laughter) that has not developed past this. And we found that it doesn’t actually make people behave better.
GROSS: To sum up, your issue isn’t what people believe or whether they believe. And it’s not their actions, either. So your goal is – your job is…
BOLZ-WEBER: Is to preach the Gospel. I mean – so my job is to – is to point to Christ and to preach the Gospel and to remind people that they’re absolutely loved and that their identity is based in something other than the categories of late-stage capitalism, for instance, that they are sort of named and claimed by God and that this is an identity that is more foundational than any of the others. And all of these sort of – and that they’re, like, completely forgiven and their – all of their mess-ups are not more powerful than God’s mercy and God’s ability to sort of redeem us and to bring good out of bad.
Like, all of that – like, that message is what I just keep preaching over and over and over. And I think that there’s a particular effect. I think when people hear this over and over, they become free. And I think they actually do start making good choices for themselves and healthy choices, self-respecting choices without the church telling them what that has to look like.
.. Frank Schaeffer once said in an interview that, like, if what he wanted more than anything in the world was to be an atheist, the very first thing he’d do is pray to God to make him one.
.. And then the third thing is, really, this thing called theology of the cross, this idea that God is so present in suffering. Like, in our suffering, we feel like God’s absent. But God’s actually especially present in human suffering. And I feel like I had experienced that, as well.
But the idea is that, the way the Talmud puts it is that somebody who is kind to the cruel will end up being cruel to the kind.
.. There’s one place I think in Survival in Auschwitz where Primo Levi talks about a bricklayer, that the Nazis asked him to build a wall, and he couldn’t persuade himself to build it badly. He just couldn’t because that was his pride. And it reminded me that there’s this great — that I haven’t read for years and I’m sure I could find it — but there’s a [Guy de] Maupassant story about a guy who’s a circus performer, and what he does is he fires arrows into an apple on his wife’s head, and that’s their circus act, and he starts to hate his wife and he wants to kill her, but he can’t bring himself to do it wrong.
.. Look, there is going back to Yehudah ha-Levi and going through the Tanya, and woven through Hasidism, is the question of whether Jews have different souls from non-Jews in some essential way. That I don’t think you’d be particularly comfortable with, nor am I. It’s what a great American rabbi who passed away not so long away, Harold Schulweis, used to call metaphysical racism.
.. “Well, I wrote an article that ended up on Facebook in a very different setting than how I intended it to be read.” And you can say all you want — all the hyperlinks are there, but people don’t click through.
What do you think is the intellectual future of a belief system based on commentary on commentary on commentary, now injected into a world with this technology that so strips away context and just gives you some bald statement of something?
WOLPE: I think that Judaism has the same problem that any thick civilization has in a world in which, as you say, context is stripped away. And not only is context stripped away, but attention to any one thing is scanter and less than it used to be.
So, for example, a lot of Jewish commentary is based on your recognizing the reference that I make. Who recognizes references anymore? Because people don’t spend years studying books.
.. So what I would say, the quick answer to the very end of it is, not all anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitism, but anti-Israel sentiment is now the respectable guise for anti-Semitism. Very few people, only the most fringy fringers, will stand up and say “I’m an anti-Semite.” But you can say “I’m anti-Israel” and be an anti-Semite and that’s respectable. . . . And I think there are lots of tests that you can apply to the way people criticize Israel and the way they criticize other places that will let you know what’s behind it.
.. The Koran is — and this you should excuse me, for the home team, I like Judaism much better — the Koran is very unwilling to allow any sinfulness in its heroes.
COWEN: He’s much more heroic, David; as is Moses.
WOLPE: Much more, as is Moses, as is everyone in the story.
COWEN: Never so hesitant.
WOLPE: Right, exactly. I like the idea of flawed heroes. I like the notion that there isn’t this whitewashing. And I feel the Quran does that. But obviously, I’m not a Muslim.
.. I would say, if I had to pick one thing that is at the heart of Islam that is antidemocratic, it is the concept that’s very deep — that is, in the very name of the religion — of submission. Because a population that is trained essentially to submit is a population that will create authoritarians.
.. “Jews don’t listen. They wait.”
.. What I would say is that the problem with the case is it doesn’t take into account two parts of the calculus that are important pieces of this. One is that it is an element of security to allow your neighbors to feel a certain way about their neighbors. And therefore, if you build in total disregard of the people in the neighborhood, that’s not going to encourage goodwill. That’s the first part of the case that I would urge. And, by the way, this works in extending circles around the world that Israel is not an island, and the opinion of the world also matters in this.
And the second part of the case is that the idea that ultimately the population around you will be reconciled to this in one way or another — in other words the endgame — doesn’t work for me. I don’t think that eventually the Palestinians will be absorbed into Israel and will feel OK about it if their standard of living is high enough
.. what did we lose with Maimonides’s aggregation of Jewish law with the Mishneh Torah? What Maimonides wanted to do was take all of this messy giant Talmudic and other tradition and make it simple. And one of the things that he did that he later said he regretted but didn’t have the chance to fix was, he didn’t add footnotes. So we don’t know.
.. Hermann Cohen said very beautifully, “In the idea of the stranger, Judaism was born.”
.. Given how many literally billions of people have been elevated from poverty by, what is mostly in my account, capitalism, not only capitalism, Milton Friedman saw this, but still the weight of Jewish intellectual opinion in the United States has mostly been on the Left. I think that’s a well-established regularity. What’s the intellectual or sociological reason for that underlying . . . ?
WOLPE: Well, I’ll say why that is and then one thing about capitalism that I think is profoundly Jewish that most people don’t realize, seriously.
I think the reason is because they came from Eastern Europe, and that tradition, like the FDR tradition in America, is very . . . the only way that you could see out of the morass of the civilizations they were in, the only thing that gave them hope other than Zionism, was a kind of Bundist, Marxist, socialist . . . there wasn’t really a living capitalist alternative. To the very first glance, it looked like the humanistic face of economics as opposed to . . . what is capitalism — competition. Well, that doesn’t look like a humanistic face.
.. “A real capitalist has to have empathy.” Because if you’re building a business or a product and you don’t know what other people want, you’ll fail. The only way you can succeed is if you actually understand what it is that other people want and/or need. And both that combined with what you said, which is that it is the great engine of wealth that lifts people out of poverty, I think that a Jewish thinker today, and certainly many in Israel would argue this too, that you would have to be a capitalist of some stripe.
.. So Conservative Judaism, the dilemma that Conservative Judaism had was that it tried to hold on to a serious Jewish observance with modern scholarship that didn’t consistently say, “God told you, you have to do this.” And modern Jewish observance is a very hard thing to hold on to. And so people who had grown up with the traditional observance lived that out, but as the motivational piece of it weakened, so did that lifestyle that would maintain them as Conservative Jews.
Unless and until — not only Conservative Judaism by the way, but liberal religion in general — unless and until . . .
But the problem is worse in Judaism because it makes greater demands than other religions. Christianity doesn’t make such lifestyle demands on Christians as Judaism does on Jews. Unless and until there is a compelling nonfundamentalist rationale for why I should eat a certain way and why I shouldn’t go out on Saturday, in other words, the ritual behaviors that maintain the cohesion of the tradition. Until that is created — and many philosophers have tried to and many rabbis have tried — till that’s created, Conservative Judaism is going to face a huge uphill battle. That’s the short answer.
.. AUDIENCE MEMBER: The United States Supreme Court is currently comprised only of Catholics and Jews. Do you think that these groups naturally produce better jurists?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: If so why, and if not, why is that the composition of the court?
WOLPE: I defer here to an answer that I heard given by my sociologist brother at a session we did together in South Africa last summer. Which is probably a sentence you’ve never heard uttered before, right? I defer to my sociologist brother in a session we did together in South Africa. [laughs]
Because Catholicism has a natural law tradition, Judaism has a strong legal tradition, and Protestantism is antinomian: it’s anti-law. That’s the essence of Protestantism, right? So who around here is trained in law? Oh, the Catholics and the Jews. Now, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be individual Protestants, but if you’re looking for a deep tradition, well, we got one.