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Word&Way News: Dec. 16
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In addition to a report on the death penalty at Christmastime that is free for anyone to read, paid subscribers to A Public Witness received a look at the legal and religious issues at stake as a New York City church tries to rebuild after a devastating fire.
Top 5 at wordandway.org
Beyond the Secular vs. Religious Divide. Marcia Pally made the case that Abrahamic principles are at the core of democracy.
The Many Layers of a Free Brittney. William Wright wrote about the Brittney Griner prisoner exchange with Russia, and the predictable political divides in the U.S. reactions to it.
Review: The Book of Revolutions. Robert D. Cornwall reviewed The Book of Revolutions: The Battles of Priests, Prophets, and Kings That Birthed the Torah by Edward Feld.
Shopping for a New Church? Your Politics May Determine Which Pew Fits. Bob Smietana reported on a new study considering why people decide to switch churches, finding politics sometimes plays a role.
Pope Urges ‘Humble’ Christmas, with Savings Sent to Ukraine. With a war still raging, Francis said, “It’s nice to celebrate Christmas and have parties, but let’s lower the level of Christmas spending a bit.”
Another noteworthy podcast this week:
Andrew Whitehead appeared on Soul of the Nation with host Jim Wallis to talk about Christian Nationalism.
by Beau Underwood, Word&Way Senior Editor
On Tuesday (Dec. 13), I found myself silently praying in a downtown St. Louis, Missouri, courtroom. I was there for a proceeding focused on the wrongful conviction of Lamar Johnson, who has spent 28 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. I’ve been a spiritual counselor to Johnson for several years, visiting him in prison, exchanging emails, and sharing phone conversations along his odd and unfair journey through Missouri’s criminal justice system.
The new hearing has featured shocking revelations long acknowledged in public forums but previously unheard in a court of law. Another man confessed to the shooting and denied Johnson’s involvement. An eyewitness testified he was pressured and bullied into naming Johnson as the shooter, with the former prosecutor acknowledging the case hinged on that tainted identification.
The judge chastised the prosecutor for his handling of the witness and failing to disclose pertinent information to Johnson’s public defender during the initial trial. On Thursday, Johnson took the stand to assert his innocence, and his then-girlfriend provided an alibi that makes his presence at the murder scene logistically impossible.
While these events offer hopeful signs that a decades-long injustice will finally be corrected, I will be praying right up to the moment that Johnson is released. Like a football referee reviewing a bad call on the field, the judge needs to be confident enough to overturn the status quo. But in this case, there’s a lot more on the line than the winner of a game.
Other News of Note
Erin Heffernan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on a Baptist pastor who recently stood inside a Missouri execution chamber praying next to the man being killed — the first time a spiritual advisor has been allowed in the chamber in Missouri.
Amanda Tyler of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty testified about Christian Nationalism during a congressional hearing on Tuesday (Dec. 13).
Sarah Posner wrote for MSNBC about the religious rhetoric in newly-released texts by U.S. Rep. Rick Allen of Georgia as he pressed for the 2020 presidential election to be overturned.
Daniel Cox wrote at his Substack newsletter American Storylines about the growing class divide in church attendance.
John Burnett of NPR reported on efforts to do church differently as attendance dips.
A Florida pastor and his son were arrested for an alleged $8 million COVID relief scam used to buy a house near Walt Disney World.
Israel is blocking hundreds of Christians in Gaza from traveling to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
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