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Faithbook Randall_Balmer

Randall Balmer is an Episcopal priest and professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is editor-at-large for Christianity Today, and his commentaries on religion in America have appeared in Sojourners, The Nation, the New York Times, and in newspapers across the country. He is author of numerous books, including God in the White House: A History How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. He lives in Woodbury, Connecticut with his wife Catherine Randall, who is also a professor and an author.

How Do You Imagine God?
God in America and USA WEEKEND Magazine are partnering to explore Americans' images of God.

How do you imagine God? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I imagine God to be very much like Jesus. The New Testament, in fact, prompts us to see Jesus as the embodiment of God, the “word made flesh.” For that reason, I view God through the lens of Jesus’ humanity – the Suffering Servant, the Man of Sorrows – and in his suffering I find redemption. 3 people liked this

My Beliefs

I believe ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I believe in God as expressed in the Nicene Creed, which I repeat (along with my congregation) every Sunday: “We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.” I don’t believe that Jesus ever asked me to adjudicate the spiritual condition of others – Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, or unbelievers – so I withhold those judgments. For me, however, I understand God and the world through the lens of orthodox Christianity. 3 people liked this
My most powerful moment of belief was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My most powerful moment of belief was seeing Jesus as, in the words of the first chapter of St. John, light coming into the darkness, and the darkness did not “comprehend” it – meaning that the darkness did not overcome or overwhelm it. That moment, coming at a time of deep despair, marked the beginning of a spiritual journey that continues to the present but that, in many ways, reached an apex with my ordination as priest in the Episcopal Church on December 7, 2006 1 person liked this
My greatest moment of doubt was ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My greatest moment of doubt was the travail, the “dark night,” of a wrenching divorce. 1 person liked this
My spiritual life means... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My spiritual life means everything to me. It’s central to my identity. 1 person liked this
The biggest misconception about my faith/belief system is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator The biggest misconception about my faith/belief system is its conflation with right-wing politics as articulated by the Religious Right. I regard most of the tenets of the Religious Right as an utter perversion of Christianity and an affront to the teachings of Jesus. 1 person liked this
My spiritual role model is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My spiritual role models are legion: Jesus, St. Francis, Frederick Buechner, Anne Lamott, Mark Hatfield, Jimmy Carter, Tony Campolo, Jeffrey Steenson, Doug Frank. And (not least) my remarkable wife, Catharine Randall. I love Martin Luther’s visceral grittiness, and I think George McGovern is the closest we’ve come to a saint in American political history.
The tenet/practice/teaching I appreciate most about my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator The tenet/practice/teaching I appreciate most about my faith is also the most difficult: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind – and your neighbor as yourself. 1 person liked this

My Faith History

As a child I believed ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator As a child I believed that God was a pretty scary dude, uncompromising and unforgiving.
My spiritual journey has been ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My spiritual journey has been not unlike a roller-coaster. I’ve always envied those who seem to have charted a straight trajectory toward godliness. They are spiritual athletes of a sort, I suppose. I identify more with Jacob in the Hebrew Bible. After wrestling with an angel – or God or someone – there in the darkness, Jacob walks thereafter with a limp. So you won’t find me at the head of the spirituality pack, sprinting toward godliness. Like Jacob, I’m the guy with a limp. 1 person liked this
I was raised as ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I was reared as an evangelical Christian. For forty years, my father (now deceased) was a minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America.
Are your beliefs or practices different from your parents? If so, how and why? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator My theological convictions are not all that different from that of my parents, although I am certainly more of a sacramentalist than they – that is, I believe that one of the places I meet Jesus is in the bread and wine, the body and blood, of Holy Communion. The real difference lies in how my evangelical theology plays out in the political realm. The teachings of Jesus – love your enemy, welcome the stranger, care for “the least of these” – propel me toward the left of the political spectrum. 1 person liked this
If you have children, did becoming a parent change your relationship to faith? If so, how? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Having children made me more aware of my responsibility to pass the faith to the next generation – and how difficult that is. 1 person liked this

How I Practice My Faith

Where and when do you practice your faith? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator At all times and in all places – at least I’d like to think so. The most obvious time and place is when I preach and celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday, but I also seek to practice my faith daily – in comporting myself with integrity in my teaching, research and writing and by treating others with compassion and kindness. 1 person liked this
Does your family practice more than one religion or faith? If so, how do you blend the traditions? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Both my wife and I are Christians – and both of us, in fact, are Episcopal priests.
How easy or difficult is it to live your faith? Why? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator The teachings of Jesus (as he himself acknowledged) are difficult: forsake family, sell all of your goods, love your enemies, care for the tiniest sparrow. My daily task is to integrate those sensibilities into the way I live my life. 1 person liked this
In my house, the thing that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator In my house, the thing that most represents my faith is my marriage. (I’m very much a Protestant, so I don’t go much for religious amulets or symbols and such.)
The song/book/film that most represents my faith is ... your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator “Amazing Grace.”

Religion & the Public Square

What should be the role of religion in politics? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator People of faith have every right to allow their religious sensibilities inform their political activity. I happen to believe, in fact, that the arena of public discourse would be impoverished without voices of faith. But we must never confuse political measures with divine imperatives. 1 person liked this
Should courses about religion be taught in public schools? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Yes, such courses should be taught in public school, but they should never be confused with catechism. That is, public schools should provide instruction about religion, not “religious instruction.” That is the task of parents or churches, temples, mosques, synagogues and such. 1 person liked this
Should the Bible, Torah, Quran or other religious texts be taught as works of literature in public schools? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I have no quarrel with that; it’s important to understand our religious and cultural and literary heritage. But, again, such instruction must never be confused with proselytization. 1 person liked this
Is interfaith dialogue important? Why or why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Yes, it’s important. Generally, when you understand someone and her beliefs more completely, it’s a good thing. But the way in which such conversations take place is also crucial, and we should take care to avoid some of the pitfalls of the ecumenical conversations among Christian groups over the past half-century. Too often, such conversations devolve into a theology of the lowest common denominator of agreement. Interfaith conversations (a term I prefer to “dialogue,” which implies only two voices) must never elide real differences in anticipation of some pyrrhic agreement or consensus. To the contrary, all voices in such conversations should speak freely and fully without compromise or fear of censure. 1 person liked this
Do you feel comfortable discussing your faith with others? Why/why not? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator I’m very comfortable doing so. In fact, I enjoy doing so.
Do you feel that you have a duty, because of your faith, to put your beliefs into action? What are some of those actions? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Yes, I do have such a responsibility. Because Jesus called his followers to be peacemakers and to care for “the least of these,” I have a duty to act accordingly and to encourage others to do so as well. 1 person liked this
Are religious beliefs compromised by engaging in politics? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator Yes, inevitably. Roger Williams, the Puritan-turned-Baptist of the seventeenth century, warned of the dangers of too close an association between church and state, religion and politics. He wanted to protect the “garden of the church” from the “wilderness of the world” by means of a “wall of separation.” His fear, which turned out to be remarkably prescient, was that the integrity of the faith would be compromised, even trivialized, by too close an association with the state. History, tragically enough, has borne out his worries. Let me cite one recent example. I was one of the expert witnesses in the Alabama “Ten Commandments” case, when Roy S. Moore, then chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, plopped a 2.5-ton granite monument emblazoned with the Decalogue into the lobby of the judicial building in Montgomery, Alabama. Judge Myron Thompson ruled – correctly – that such action violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, especially because Moore had steadfastly refused to allow any other religious group to post its religious principles in that space. As workers were preparing to remove the monument, one of the protesters screamed, “Get your hands off my God!” Now, unless I miss my guess, one of the commandments etched into that monument said something about “graven images.” I can think of no better illustration of Roger Williams’s point. Yes, religiously-inflected voices should be heard in the arena of public discourse. But we must always remember that religion functions best on the margins of society, not in the councils of power. Whenever religion lusts after power and influence, it compromises its prophetic voice. 1 person liked this
Has 9/11 had any impact on your thoughts about religion? Are you more/less interested in learning about other religions? Do you feel more/less comfortable expressing your religious beliefs? your photo/ link/ video has been held for approval by a moderator The tragedy of 9/11 has made it clear to me the importance of understanding the faith of others, to root out misconceptions and misunderstandings. If nothing else, 9/11 pointed out the perils of such lingering misconceptions.

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Published October 11, 2010

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