Worth Reading - 7/1

Here are some links worth reading today:

1. Brent Aucoin, a historian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains why the SBC's resolution distancing itself from the Confederate battle flag. Not only is its origin found in racism, but since the middle of the last century, it has come to be the symbolism for white supremacists. This is a well-written explanation from a well-informed individual, as Brent has spent his academic career exploring civil rights and racist influences in America.

Whether one likes it or not, symbols get loaded with meaning, and it is folly to ignore the reality of such a situation.  For instance, it would be folly on my part to proudly display a rainbow flag because I contend that the rainbow is a symbol of one of God’s promises.  The vast majority of the people who saw my rainbow flag would immediately conclude that I am showing support for the LGBT movement, not reminding people of a promise of God.  In the same way, it is folly to deny the historically-based fact that the Confederate Battle Flag shows support for the white supremacy movement – a movement that Christians have no business being associated with.
If you wish to show your Southern pride, or honor your Confederate ancestors, or demonstrate your support for states’ rights, then there are other flags for you to fly.  But if you insist on continuing to fly the Confederate Battle Flag then no matter what message you think you are communicating you are actually expressing your allegiance to the failed movement to deny blacks basic civil rights.

2. A recent, disturbing trend in religious restrictions is flowering in Russia. A new law drastically restricts speech by outlawing evangelism and invitations to church outside the walls of the church.

Christians in Russia won’t be allowed to email their friends an invitation to church or to evangelize in their own homes if Russia’s newest set of surveillance and anti-terrorism laws are enacted.
The proposed laws, considered the country’s most restrictive measures in post-Soviet history, place broad limitations on missionary work, including preaching, teaching, and engaging in any activity designed to recruit people into a religious group.
To share their faith, citizens must secure a government permit through a registered religious organization, and they cannot evangelize anywhere besides churches and other religious sites. The restrictions even apply to activity in private residences and online.

3. This opinion article from the New York Times explores the influence the real-life experience of J.R.R. Tolkien during World War I influenced his mythological depiction of Mordor. It's an entertaining and informative read:

When the Somme offensive was finally called off in November 1916, a total of about 1.5 million soldiers were dead or wounded. Winston Churchill, who served on the front lines as a lieutenant colonel, criticized the campaign as “a welter of slaughter.” Two of Tolkien’s closest friends, Robert Gilson and Ralph Payton, perished in the battle, and another, Geoffrey Smith, was killed shortly afterward.
Beside the courage of ordinary men, the carnage of war seems also to have opened Tolkien’s eyes to a primal fact about the human condition: the will to power. This is the force animating Sauron, the sorcerer-warlord and great enemy of Middle-earth. “But the only measure that he knows is desire,” explains the wizard Gandalf, “desire for power.” Not even Frodo, the Ring-bearer and chief protagonist, escapes the temptation.
When Tolkien’s trilogy was published, shortly after World War II, many readers assumed that the story of the Ring was a warning about the nuclear age. Tolkien set them straight: “Of course my story is not an allegory of atomic power, but of power (exerted for domination).”
Even this was not the whole story. For Tolkien, there was a spiritual dimension: In the human soul’s struggle against evil, there was a force of grace and goodness stronger than the will to power. Even in a forsaken land, at the threshold of Mordor, Samwise Gamgee apprehends this: “For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”

4. Anyone who rejects the reality of systematic racism might think again. A bank in the American South has recently been accused of "red-lining," which is practice of denying or marking up loans to certain (typically minority) communities. The bank settled without acknowledging fault, but the allegations point to a larger, ongoing trend.

Federal regulators filed a complaint Wednesday against a Mississippi bank, accusing it of “numerous” discriminatory mortgage lending practices that harmed African-Americans and other minority borrowers.
The action by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Justice Department against BancorpSouth Bank alleges the bank, based in Tupelo, Miss., engaged in “redlining” by placing its branches in the Memphis area outside of minority neighborhoods and directing nearly all its marketing away from such neighborhoods.

5. Trevin Wax considers whether American Christians have become too focused on religious liberty. As a non-alarmist, Wax raises significant concerns about the ability for Christians to occupy cultural space in the future.

Religious liberty is not just a Christian way of saying “Live and let live.” It is itself an integral part of a flourishing society and a fundamental right for all people.
For this reason, leaders who support religious liberty for Christians also support conscience rights for other faiths.
  • It’s why Christians celebrated the court ruling that recognized the right of a Muslim prisoner to grow a beard.
  • It’s why evangelicals who do not object to birth control defend the right of a Catholic charity to choose not to cover the pill through its insurance plan.
  • It’s why Southern Baptists pass resolutions that defend religious liberty for all Americans, including Muslims, to build houses of worship.
Religious freedom advocates are not inward-focused. The fact that Levin describes their struggle this way gives ammunition to those who would put scare quotes around “religious liberty” – as if it is merely a mask for self-interest or bigotry.
No, religious liberty is more than just a way of making space for our moral vision to flourish; religious liberty is itself part of that moral vision to be shared with the world.