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Word&Way News: Jan. 21
Here’s the weekly roundup from Word&Way. In addition to a report on state bills about teaching the Bible in public schools that is free for anyone to read, paid subscribers to A Public Witness received an essay looking at the oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s case this week about flying the Christian flag.
Top 5 at wordandway.org
A Private Definition. Brian Kaylor reflects on comments made about school prayer as the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear a significant church-state case. He has some fun with the idea of what’s “private.”
Who’s That? The Sacred Act of Naming. Sarah Blackwell reflects on knowing and using names as a spiritual practice.
As Congress Debates, Black Baptist Leader Calls Denial of Voting Rights ‘Evil.’ Adelle M. Banks reports on a push for voting rights by the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
Pope Francis Attacks ‘Ideological Colonization.’ Claire Giangravé reports on the pope’s criticism of rich countries that force their values on poorer nations, thus erasing local cultures and traditions.
Afghanistan Tops Watch List of Worst Countries for Christians. For the first time in two decades, Open Doors listed a country other than North Korea as the worst for Christian persecution.
Other News of Note
Brian Kaylor co-authored a Boston Globe op-ed with Rachel Laser, president/CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State: Boston was Right to Refuse to Fly Christian Flag.
Kathryn Joyce offered excellent analysis of the Christian flag case at the U.S. Supreme Court. Her piece at Salon cites the research of A Public Witness and included comments from an interview with Brian Kaylor.
After the hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, Juliette Kayyem wrote for The Atlantic about the tension for houses of worship in being safe and being welcoming: “A Synagogue Shouldn’t Be a Fortress.”
Other good podcasts this week:
Brian Kaylor was the guest on the Faithful Politics Podcast to talk about how “we are not a Christian nation.”
Consider This from NPR takes you inside a “patriot church” to explore “why Trump still looms large in many evangelical congregations.”
by Brian Kaylor, Word&Way Editor-in-Chief
Hillsong Church in Australia is best known for its music. Like hits sung in churches across the globe, including “Mighty to Save,” “What a Beautiful Name,” and “Who You Say I Am.” So, it’s a bit ironic that singing is what’s now getting them in trouble.
Videos emerged recently from a Hillsong youth festival of a largely-unmasked crowd singing and dancing. The problem is that the Australian state of New South Wales currently prohibits singing at music festivals, nightclubs, and other entertainment venues. Hillsong didn’t technically break the rules as houses of worship were given a religious exemption in the public health measures. But the church’s behavior amid the omicron surge quickly sparked criticism from those who have followed the rules. After all, the event in question looks basically like any music festival — and COVID doesn’t care if the lyrics are religious or not.
Some secular businesses limited by the health measures are publicly complaining about the dangerous behavior by Hillsong while so many others are sacrificing. And the state’s premier echoed those criticisms, saying he was “completely shocked” by Hillsong’s behavior that “certainly wasn’t in the spirit of the rules.”
The case offers two important reminders. First, we don’t need religious exemptions to public health measures. Worship gatherings should be held to the same standards as similar mass gatherings because the virus doesn’t discriminate even if our laws do. Second, insisting on this pandemic privilege for religion risks not only public health but our Christian witness. Let’s work harder on spreading the love of Jesus, not COVID.
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