It’s been a long time since I’ve been immersed in Southern Evangelicalism where a certain brand of interpreting world events looms large. I grew up in the Bible Belt, where Saddam Hussein, Desert Storm, the fall of the USSR, the growing rise of Israeli nationalism, and “slipping societal morals” were all “signs” of the “end times” or “the last days”. I sat through youth group meetings where our senior pastor would talk about how the book of Daniel had coded prophecies about nuclear weapons in space.
(Being in high school, I saw no problem with him making that argument by saying that the book’s “original language” uses the Greek word dynamos from which we get the word “dynamite”; it was only later that it clicked for me that Daniel is written in Hebrew and Aramaic, not Greek.)
Moving to the Northeast, the bastion of mainline Christianity; and attending two different seminaries from traditions very different from this prophecy-interpreting one, I was under the false impression that this whole game of interpreting current events in apocalyptic ways was rightly losing steam.
But then, this past week, the tragedy of ISIS (or the so-called “Islamic State”) beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians happened. I first found out on Facebook, when I saw a procession of ancient Christian articulations of mourning filling my news feed. “Come, Lord, Jesus.” “Lord, have mercy.” “Kyrie Eleison.” I, myself speechless, decided also to lean heavily on old words from our Christian family to find comfort and express lament.
Not everyone went this way, though. After these initial responses, my Facebook and Twitter feeds began to fill with phrases and out-of-context Bible verses that I hadn’t seen in years. People were posting blog posts and verses all of which were trying to say that these deaths amounted to some unique act of “global Christian persecution” that was somehow emblematic of the world’s “last days” or “end times”.
Today I’d like to offer a seven reasons why this is wrong-headed and unhelpful:
Everything about this New York Times editorial is absolutely right. We should praise the NYT Editorial Board for their brave and clear stance on this issue. The money quotes:
A Mixed Verdict on Manning
Lurking just behind a military court’s conviction of Pfc. Bradley Manning, on charges that included multiple violations of the Espionage Act, is a national-security apparatus that has metastasized into a vast and largely unchecked exercise of government secrecy, and the overzealous prosecution of those who breach it….
When he entered his guilty plea, Private Manning said he was trying to shed light on the “day-to-day reality” of American war efforts. He hoped the information “could spark a debate about foreign policy in relation to Iraq and Afghanistan.” These are not the words of a man intent on bringing down the government. To the contrary, Private Manning continues to express his devotion to his country, despite being held without trial for three years, nine months of which amounted to punitive and abusive solitary confinement.
Private Manning still faces the equivalent of several life sentences on the espionage counts regarding disclosure of classified information. The government should satisfy itself with a more moderate sentence and then do something about its addiction to secrecy.
Also be sure to read the NYT’s Public Editor’s piece on the decade-long government persecution of their own reporter, and how an appeals court recently decided that reporters do not have a First Amendment right to protect the sources.
A Blow for the Press, and for Democracy
The chilling ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said that even though a journalist has promised confidentiality to a source, “there is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in.” National security necessitates that those who illegally leak classified information be brought to justice, the court said. It added that it saw no clear legal justification for treating a reporter differently than any other citizen, and that “other than Sterling himself, Risen is the only witness who can identify Sterling as a source (or not) of the illegal leak.”….
The case has real-world consequences not only for journalists but for all Americans. It is part of a troubling trend that includes unprecedented numbers of criminal investigationsinvolving leaked information; the obtaining of reporters’ phone records; and even one government claim that a journalist “aided and abetted” a leak.
We’re living in strange times. And until we start speaking out and letting these issues actually affect how we vote, I fear nothing will change.
What do you think? Do you think things need to change? Why or why not? What do you think is the most effective right to producing change?