Word&Way News: Sept. 17

Here’s the top news of the week from Word&Way. In addition to a piece on religious politicking in the California recall election, paid subscribers to A Public Witness received an essay this week exploring moral issues involving COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

A Public Witness
Sweet Land of (Positive) Liberty
Rev. Henning Jacobson didn’t want to get vaccinated. But the Lutheran pastor in Cambridge, Massachusetts, didn’t raise religious objections. His was a personal fear. Citing a bad reaction to a vaccine he received as a child in Sweden, he claimed a 1902 Cambridge order requiring the smallpox vaccine amid an outbreak violated his personal freedoms…
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Top 5 at wordandway.org

  1. Breaking Ties. Bruce Frogge reflects on the problem of “those who carry the title of Christian Minister, when in fact they appear to me as nothing more than vendors of death.”

  2. The Church’s “Poor” Thinking Problem. Rodney Kennedy argues “there’s an urgent need for us to think new thoughts about the poor” rather than following “Pharaoh’s old playbook.”

  3. Post-Trump, Christian Nationalists Preach a Theology of Vaccine Resistance. Jack Jenkins reports on anti-vaccine and anti-mask rhetoric at recent rallies in St. Louis and elsewhere.

  4. Francis Collins ‘a Bit’ Frustrated with Evangelicals Amid COVID-19 Vaccine Push. Adelle M. Banks interviews the head of the National Institutes of Health. Collins argues, “If we’ve all been praying to God to somehow deliver us from this terrible pandemic, and what happens is these vaccines get developed that are safe and effective, well, why wouldn’t you want to say, ‘Thank you, God’ and roll up your sleeve?”

  5. What’s the Law on Vaccine Exemptions? A Religious Liberty Expert Explains. Law Professor Douglas Laycock makes the case for why “the government has an easy case to refuse religious exemptions from vaccines against infectious disease.”

Other News of Note

An Associated Press and Kaiser Health News investigation published Wednesday shows that legislators in more than half of the states across the country have passed new laws this year “taking away the powers that state and local officials use to protect the public against infectious diseases.” Some of the new laws prevent public health rules from applying to houses of worship. Brian Kaylor testified against such legislation earlier this year. He explained why in a Missouri Independent column, and in a Deseret News article looking at this nationwide legislative push.

Dangerous Dogma

This week: Beau Underwood took over the microphone to interview host Brian Kaylor.

Quick Take

by Brian Kaylor, Word&Way Editor-in-Chief

For months, U.S. Catholic bishops have been debating whether to adopt a formal policy on denying communion to pro-choice politicians like President Joe Biden. We wrote about this controversy and the problems with the proposal back in June. Turns out Pope Francis agrees with us! He didn’t cite us directly, but I assume he’s a regular reader.

“What should pastors do? Be pastors, and not go condemning, condemning,” Francis said on Wednesday. “If a pastor leaves the pastorality of the church, he immediately becomes a politician.”

Even as the pope insisted that abortion is “homicide,” he urged that politicians who support the legality of abortion be met with “compassion and tenderness.” He noted he’s never denied communion to someone who presented themselves. Given the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church, this will likely settle the issue for now.

Beyond the emphasis on the pastoral role, I also hope this debate will remind us of the inherent political implications of communion. Partaking in the Lord’s Supper is a sign of our pledge of allegiance to the Kingdom of God above our temporal obligations of citizenship. That means we align ourselves across political parties, beyond national borders, and even across time with the cloud of witnesses from the past, the community of Christians in the present, and the saints yet to come. We must all be careful not to disfigure the political witness of this holy act by making it a tool serving partisan ends.

Photo of the Week

Workers plant white flags as part of artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg’s temporary art installation, “In America: Remember,” on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 15, 2021. Designed to remember Americans who have died of COVID-19, it will consist of more than 630,000 flags when completed. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

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