In the News: Emanuel A.M.E., Encyclicals, Etsy, and more!



Black lives matter. And language matters. Last week we shared Al Jazeera‘s video about why they never use the word “terrorist” in their reporting. There have been debates over what kind of violence gets marked as terrorism for a long time. The argument that the term is so loaded with a particular kind of bigotry and politics has compelled outlets like Al Jazeera to ban it all together. A move we understand well. On the other hand, many are arguing that, in the wake of the Charleston shooting, it’s time to start calling violence committed by white people the same name we call violence committed by non-white people. It’s an important conversation and almost all of the responses to the Emanuel A.M.E. church massacre have touched on the “terrorism” question in some way. Selected below is some of the best writing we’ve seen on this issue and the others, including the history of the American Black Church, gun laws, blackness itself, and Fox News.

Jelani Cobb‘s Thursday morning New Yorker missive, “Murders in Charleston,” was by far one of the smartest and most moving we read.

A week that began with public grappling with race as absurdity has concluded with shock, yet again, with race as the catalyst for tragedy. The existential question of who is black has been answered in the most concussive way possible: the nine men and women slain as they prayed last night at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, were black. The people for whom this new tableau of horror is most rooted in American history are black as well. The people whose grief and outrage over this will inevitably be diminished with irrelevant references to intra-racial homicide are black people.

For black Christians, the word “sanctuary” had a second set of implications. The spiritual aims of worship were paired with the distinctly secular necessity of a place in which not just common faith but common humanity could be taken for granted. No matter the coming details about the shooting in Charleston, it seems almost inescapable that the assault on a single black church is an inadvertent affirmation of the need for an entire denomination of them.

As always, Patrick Blanchfield wrote with nuance and passion in “A Sick and Broken People” on his site, Carte Blanchfield.

Because how many more places of worship need to be desecrated with the tears and blood of other human beings before White America shows at least some bit of spine and confronts what it has wrought, what it will not stop wreaking, and what is consuming what we have left of a soul from within? If we do not confront this, then we are a sick and broken people, and if the judgment of history shows us any mercy, we will not have deserved it.

Also very worth reading are, “Thugs and Terrorists Have Attached Black Churches for Generations” by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic. 

And the attack on the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and its congregation also stoked memories of an additional burden borne by blacks: the hate crimes and terrorist attacks that have targeted their places of worship for generations, each incident signaling virulent animus toward the entire black community.

Many Ask, Why Not Call Church Shooting Terrorism?” writes Rick Gladstone for the New York Times. 

Against the backdrop of rising worries about violent Muslim extremism in the United States, advocates see hypocrisy in the way the attack and the man under arrest in the shooting have been described by law enforcement officials and the news media.

Shooters of color are called ‘terrorists’ and ‘thugs.’ Why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’? asks Anthea Butler in The Washington Post. 

This time, I hope that reporters and newscasters will ask the questions that get to the root of acts of  racially motivated violence in America. Where did this man, who killed parishioners in their church during Bible study, learn to hate black people so much? Did he have an allegiance to the Confederate flag that continues to fly over the state house of South Carolina? Was he influenced by right-wing media’s endless portrayals of black Americans as lazy and violent?

I hope the media coverage won’t fall back on the typical narrative ascribed to white male shooters: a lone, disturbed or mentally ill young man failed by society. This is not an act of just “one hateful person.” It is a manifestation of the racial hatred and white supremacy that continues to pervade our society, 50 years after the Birmingham church bombing galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. It should be covered as such. And now that authorities have found their suspect, we should be calling him what he is: a terrorist.

and, “Why White Terrorists Attach Black Churches” by Matthew J. Cressler for Slate. 

The harsh truth is that this act of terrorism was not senseless. The language of “senselessness” implies lack of logic or purpose. The true terror of Dylann Roof’s attack on Emanuel AME is the fact that it fits neatly into an ongoing, blood-soaked history of white violence against black women, men, and children in religious institutions. Roof reportedly told a survivor, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” Do not be mistaken. This attack embodied white supremacy at its most blunt and brutal. And it is neither inexplicable nor a coincidence that it happened in a “place of worship.

Jordan Weissman reports for Slate on “How Fox News Tried to Spin the Charleston Shooting as an Attack on Christianity This Morning

“We’re urging people wait for the facts, don’t jump to conclusions,” Jackson said. “But I’m telling you, I’m deeply concerned that this gunman chose to go into a church, because there does seem to be a rising hostility against Christians across this country because of our biblical views. I just think it’s something that we have to be aware of and not create an atmosphere in which people take out their violent intentions against Christians.”

 From there, Jackson urged “pastors and men in these churches to prepare to defend themselves” by arming up with guns.

As you may already know, Wednesday night’s shooting happened on the anniversary of a planned slave revolt in Charleston, SC in 1822. The Atlantic wisely dug into their archives on Thursday morning and republished this incredible story from 1861 by Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “The Story of Denmark Vesey.”

Yoni Appelbaum followed up with an interview with historian Douglas Egerton on “The Fight for Equality in Charleston, From Denmark Vesey to Clementa Pinckney.”

Whites still refer to Vesey as a terrorist in Charleston; he was fighting for freedom. It looks like the terrorist was this young white man who shot up the church.



First, the very basics: David Gibson explains: “What is an encyclical?” for Religion News Service. 

And then, there are the basics of the document itself.

Pope Francis, in Sweeping Encyclical, Calls for Swift Action on Climate Change” by Jim Yardley and Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times.

Then, some commentary: Did Pope Francis Just End the Religion and Science Conflict?” asks Donovan Schaefer in Religion Dispatches. 

Francis then takes it a step further by calling on Catholics to see science as a necessary tool for methodically tracking the health of the Earth and its inhabitants—a global stethoscope—and to see their own role in taking moral responsibility for following through on those diagnoses. In this vision, science and religion combine forces to defend domains of truth-telling that demand the right to be left untouched by the profit motive: science in terms of natural description, religion in terms of moral vision. Science and religion are not at odds; they’re both obstructed by rampaging capitalism.

Religious climate activists energized by pope’s environment encyclical” writes Sarah Posner for Al Jazeera America.

Although care for the environment has long been a central tenet not just of Catholicism but also of Judaism, Islam and other faiths, the environmental movement has long been animated largely by secular activism. Religious activists working on climate issues at the grass-roots level are delighted that Francis’ encyclical is expected to support the scientific consensus on climate change, declare a moral imperative to address an urgent crisis and focus on the disproportionate impact of climate change on the world’s poor.

Holy Ignorance” by Garry Wills for The New York Review of Books.

Now Pope Francis, with his encyclical on climate change, has introduced a concern for the poor into the environmental discussion. But conservative Catholics (including five actual or potential candidates for president) forgive him, since he knows nothing about science—if he did, he would realize its anti-biblical animus. He does not know, as the conservatives do, that the masked godless thing must be met by a holy resistance. This is what the French anthropologist Olivier Roy calls “holy ignorance.” It is not a failure of intelligence, but a proud refusal to know things tainted by the arrogance of inevitability. He writes: “There is a close link between secularization and religious revivalism, which is not a reaction against secularization, but the product of it. Secularism engenders religion.” The defenders of the lost cause feel persecuted, and the more support there is for their opponents, the grander they are in their lonely war.

How Pope Francis Can Stop Leaks: Make Encyclicals Open-Source” advises Nathan Schneider in The New Republic. 

This gives a new meaning to the word “encyclical”; it would be not just a circular letter from the Holy Father, but the result of a shared effort by the church as a whole. The church would more truly be speaking “from the people.” This would require participation, of course, and it might make some of our lives a little more complicated—in a good way. Leaks can be a feature, not a bug.

And lastly, The Climate Change-Abortion Connection You Never Knew Existed” by Thomas J. Whitley for Marginalia.

So, while Francis is being championed for taking a stance on climate change and is being lambasted by conservative Catholics and Catholic Republican presidential hopefuls in America, he is still Catholic. He has repackaged some of the teachings of the Church in ways that are more acceptable to modern society, but he is not the progressive pope many hoped he would be or still think he is.

The Pope is, it seems, in fact still Catholic.


Religion Dispatches has initiated a new series on the “the changing face of American ChristianitiesTripp Hudgins launched the project with: The Accidental Worshiper: Following the Music.”

This is the first in a series—part of an ongoing RD initiative focused on the changing face of American Christianities—that will take a stage-dive into the crowded field of religion and popular music. “The Accidental Worshiper” will consider the experiences of both artists and fans as they re-imagine their relationship to church, to religious community, and to the culture of the coliseum (or to the festival, or the coffeehouse, or…).

Franklin Graham Is Winning at Facebook” according to Patton Dodd‘s latest for Religion and Politics.

Think about the basic structure of a Facebook post on pages like Graham’s. Consider its potentiality as a cultural product. Graham shares his opinion. Maybe he asks a broad question or two, inviting response. That’s the full extent of his participation. He does not moderate the discussion. He does not try to win people over to his ideas. He certainly does not consider his interlocutor’s ideas and figure out how they might challenge his own, even for the purpose of improving his own position. His goal is not persuasion. It is not participation in a public discussion. The only goal is proclamation. Like all of the big media that preceded it, Facebook turns out to do proclamation very well. This is what a successful Facebook strategy looks like for anyone nurturing a bully pulpit: Post your opinion. Make it as provocative as possible. Encourage people to like and share if they agree. What if they disagree? Or what if they agree but have some questions? No room for that. Due consideration is not a viral strategy. Proclamation is. Promote yourself. Get as much attention as possible. Ignore dissent. Reject intellectual modesty. Refuse charity. Assume the worst of your opponents. Now, watch the likes roll in.

Franklin Graham is winning Facebook.

But winning this game does not seem like a very Christian thing to do.

Greg Carey asks, “Evangelicals and the LGBTQ Question: What’s Really Going On?” in Marginalia.

Evangelicals are indeed changing how they understand the Bible. This is happening in response not to a purported “gay agenda” but to deficits in evangelical theology.


Lots of Yiddish in the news lately. This week, the question: “What Flag Should Yiddish Fly?” answered by Sebastian Schulman for The Forward.

Now thanks to the imminent launch of a Yiddish course on the popular site Duolingo , the so-called “Yiddish flag” may yet become the most readily visible representation of “Yiddish” itself on the internet. Before that happens, though, it behooves Duolingo and its users to understand the highly problematic symbolism behind this artificial banner.

Bernice Heilbrunn interviews Shulem Deen about his new book”All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir” for The New Books Network.

Shulem Deen’s popular memoir about his life in an insular Hassidic community breaks new ground, written as it is from a male perspective. Having left New Square, Deen founded and edits Unpious, Voices of the Hassidic Friend, an online journal. He is on the board of Footsteps, an important New York-based group that helps people who choose to transition out of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish world. Shulem writes for The Forward, Tabletmag, and other publications. His memoir has been hailed in newspapers and magazines as diverse as The Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. He speaks regularly to audiences in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and elsewhere about his life and memoir.

And Haaretz hosted a “Pinkwashing Debate” between James Kirchick and Aeyal Gross.



ISIS, Poetry, and the Romance of Jihad; or How Reading The New Yorker Can Save Religious Studies From the Rhetoric of Authenticity” by Sam Houston for Marginalia. 

…a focus on the poetry of IS enables us to see that their project involves the creation of an ethos and character, or to use a more Islamic term, an ādab (way of comporting oneself). This is evident in the focus not only on the themes of justice, courage, solidarity, and martyrdom, but in the performative aspects of their poetry as well. As mentioned above, poetry in the Arab world is a social phenomenon, and as such, it fosters a sense of comradery and community amongst those observing and participating in its performance. Considered in this manner, poetry can be viewed as a shared speech act that cultivates a certain character and set of virtues which are valued by these movements and essential to their success.

Speaking of The New Yorker, Margaret Talbot wrote”The Story of a Hate Crime” for the magazine this week.

The Barakats and the Abu-Salhas found the “parking dispute” interpretation trivializing and implausible. In an interview with CNN, Mohammad Abu-Salha, Yusor’s father, said, “I am sure my daughter felt hated, and she said, literally, ‘Daddy, I think it is because of the way we look and the way we dress.’ ” At the funeral, which was held on a field in Raleigh, to accommodate the more than five thousand people—many of them non-Muslims—who showed up, Mohammad told the crowd, “We have no doubt why they died.” He went on, “We are not seeking any revenge. Our children are much more valuable than any revenge. When we say that this was a hate crime, it’s all about protecting all other children in the U.S.A.—it is all about making this country that they loved and where they lived and died peaceful for everybody else. We need to identify things as they really are.” The victims had been killed “execution style.” He spoke of them as martyrs.

Lastly, “Ramadan on the Road” from PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims who are able are expected to fast from sun up to sun down. This can pose special challenges for Muslims in many professions. We talk with members of the Muslim hip-hop group Native Deen about how they observe Ramadan’s strict requirements while on musical tours.

Which reminds us, Ramadan Mubarak, dear readers.


Lasers! Edward Delman announces “Afghanistan’s Buddhas Rise Again” in The Atlantic. 

Reproductions like Afghanistan’s laser Buddhas are inadequate substitutes for destroyed artifacts, but they can nevertheless defy that destruction and preserve some measure of cultural patrimony. In a report on the situation in ISIS-held Mosul this week, the BBC’s Ghadi Sary told a story about leaving a reproduced sculpture of a winged bull (ISIS had destroyed the original) in his hotel room, only to later find a note on it apparently written by someone on the hotel staff: “It said, ‘My greetings to you and to whoever sculpted this. It smells of our civilization. It smells of our lost heritage.’ Signed, ‘The son of Iraq.’”


Etsy Bans The Sale of Spells and Hexes” reports Alice Lawton for Bust.

When eBay banned the selling of spells and other metaphysical objects in 2012, people turned to Etsy for their metaphysical products. It had fairly simple rules about the sale of these objects—as long as the seller provided some sort of tangible object, proof that the spell had been cast, and warned that spells may not work, everything was permissible. Now Etsy has revised its policy on the sale of services, saying, “Any metaphysical service that promises or suggests it will affect a physical change (e.g., weight loss) or other outcome (e.g., love, revenge) is not allowed, even if it delivers a tangible item.”

Tongue in Cheek, Just in Case” by Jolyon Baraka Thomas for Sacred Matters

Few people would think that the essence of Japanese religion could be encapsulated in an advertisement for antivirus software, but then again few people outside of Japan have seen this:

The ‘Charlie Charlie Challenge’ and Teenage Yearning for Supernatural Encounters” by Joseph Lacock for Religion Dispatches. 

Ellis suggests that adolescents use these rituals to conjure an “antiworld” that they can challenge and reject. Frightening encounters with the supernatural allow adolescents to “participate directly in myth” rather than hearing about it in church.  These rituals may also tighten social bonds by creating a sense of communitas between the participants.

The way to discourage teens from summoning Charlie is not to frame their ritual as demonic but as inauthentic. On June 1, just after the phenomenon peaked, the website Uproxx announced that the entire affair had been a marketing ploy for a horror movie called The Gallows. (A trailer for the film shows children playing the game).

Alan Levinovitz explains “How ‘Diet Gurus’ Hook Us With Religion in Veiled Science” for NPR‘s The Salt.

The mythic narrative of “unnatural” modernity and a “natural” paradise past is persuasive as ever. Religious figures like Adam and Eve have been replaced by Paleolithic man and our grandparents: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” is journalist Michael Pollan’s oft-quoted line.

And that’s all for this week. Unless you’re caught up on watching the most recent season of Game of Thrones or are not spoiler averse.


What Should Truly Disturb Us About Game of Throne‘s Child Sacrifice” by Jodie Eichler-Levine for Religion Dispatches. 

Do we, like Stannis, think that violence is simply our national fate, the dark side of our manifest destiny? His sin is writ large in his individualistic violation of the parental charge to protect. His daughter’s sympathetic, sweet countenance fulfills our stereotypical image of an innocent victim. In contrast, our collective responsibility for the wars fought in our name or the mistreatment of our fellow citizens is cloaked in the morass of complex systems, systems that require deep analysis and uncomfortable confrontations. Will we break that cycle—or will we say to the news, “not-for-me”? I’m not sure.


Past links round-ups can be found here:

Satanism, Sacred Music, Shasta Seekers, and more! (June 11, 2015)

Hip Hop, Hijabs, Hasidic Fashion, and more! (June 5, 2015)

TLC, THC, OMG! (May 29, 2015)

Mad Men, Mormons, Monks, and more! (May 22, 2015)

Candles, Kombucha, Crocodiles, and more! (May 15, 2015)

Lindsey Graham, Garland, TX, God’s Plaintiff, and more! (May 8, 2015)

Pamela Geller, Prophesy, PEN, and more! (May 1, 2015)

Talal Asad, Taylor Swift, Turbans, and more! (April 2015)

Passover, Prison, Pop Music, and more! (March 2015)

The Crusades, Anti-Vaxxers, Chocolate Gods, and  more! (February 2015)

Paris, Witches, the CNN Apocalypse, and more! (January 2015)

#black lives matter, #Illridewithyou, TL;DR Bible Stories, and more! (December 2014)

Hasidim, Mormons, Borges and more! (November 2014)

Wicca, Climate Change, Gaza, and more! (August 2014)

Prison Churches, Museums, and, of course, Hobby Lobby (July 2014)


-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer

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