My friend Jim Bennett is a Presbyterian minister who teaches American Religious History at Santa Clara University, here in the Silicon Valley. Jim’s area of expertise is race and religion in America, which makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor.
Yesterday, Jim and I had lunch together in downtown San Jose at a Vietnamese hole in the wall called (and I’m not making this up) Duc Phuc. Hearing Jim talk about Jeremiah Wright and about Obama’s recent speech on race has left me convinced that we are living in momentous times, witnessing what may prove to be a pivotal point in the history of race in America. Never before has so prominent a politician spoken so candidly and forcefully about race in so public a manner. Thanks to YouTube, Obama’s speech is being watched by millions of viewers. What Barack Obama said on Tuesday may not get him elected President, but it certainly has to potential to change American forever.
Jim and I were classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary. After seminary, Jim went on to earn a PhD at Yale. Having Jim as a friend has instilled within me the conviction that everyone should be friends with an historian. Historians are able to frame current events within historical context in a way that provides us with the wisdom of ages.
I imagine this presents something of a dilemma for Barack Obama’s detractors and political rivals: what should be said about The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the Obama family pastor, who has made incendiary statements about the September 11 terrorists attacks and about Hillary Clinton and John McCain? Continue reading →
This month, the war in Iraq turns five. It’s a milestone worthy of note, and no doubt many people are taking time to reflect upon the Marches that have come and gone since American military boots first trekked into Baghdad. Some folks will honor the bravery and dedication of American men and women in uniform. Others will pause to consider the immense cost in American and Iraqi lives. Without question debate over dinner tables and in the halls of power will focus on the dubious wisdom of the war and upon the war’s deleterious effect on the nation’s economy.
This is appropriate. A robust and honest conversation about the war is essential if we are to be a people who learn from our mistakes, and as part of that dialogue I want us to remember how unpopular it was publicly to articulate an opposition to the war in the early days of fighting and in days and weeks and months leading up to the great battle for Babylon. Continue reading →
After the start of the war in Iraq I was invited to provide faith-based commentary on the war for my KQED FM, my local NPR affiliate. The essay below is commentary I submitted. The piece was never used on air, and is published for the first time here.
“The Prayers of Doha Siel”
A Perspective by Ben Daniel
Since the early days of this war I have been haunted by the image of Doha Siel lying in a Baghdad hospital with a piece of shrapnel embedded in her spine. She was among the first to be wounded in the war, and she’s not a soldier, not a politico, not a terrorist, not even an adult who may have earned some bad karma. Doha Siel is a five-year-old girl who was unlucky enough to be caught near an exploding American bomb. Continue reading →
On March 23, 2003 I preached a sermon in response to the US invasion of Iraq. Here’s the text for that sermon. I got in some trouble for what I said from the pulpit that morning, though reading through the sermon five years later, it seems sort of tame.
Forming a Christian Response to War
A sermon by Ben Daniel
Preached at Foothill Presbyterian Church on March 23, 2003
Micah 4: 1-4
The last time our nation was at war in Iraq, I was a seminary student and I was working at a large Presbyterian Church in a comfortable suburb of New York City.And the senior pastor was an excellent preacher, made no mention of the war on the Sunday after it started.Twice a year, he would take some time off and he would go away and he would write all his sermons for the next six months.The man could plan ahead like no other preacher I’ve ever known.
But there was one problem.Such planning ahead created a superb lack of flexibility. The man stuck to his sermons, and not even a war was going to get him to change is plans for preaching, and so, on the Sunday after the start of Operation Desert Storm, our pastor preached his regularly scheduled sermon.Except for one brief aside, there was no mention of the war.It was then that I learned that planning ahead is not always a good thing.It was also then that I made a vow to myself and to Almighty God that if ever there was a war while I was a pastor, I was going to preach about it the following Sunday.
“OK, now here’s something you don’t see every day,” I said to myself getting off the city bus, unable and unwilling to curb my curiosity at the sight of thousands of people gathered in front of the United Nation’s complex in Geneva, Switzerland, waving Serbian flags, carrying placards covered with Cyrillic writing, chanting and singing. One guy was walking around with a photo of Vladimir Putin peeking out of his half-zipped jacket. “What a hoot,” I thought. Continue reading →