Only one of the three articles presented in this week’s Culture Briefing takes on last week’s disturbing attack in Charleston directly. The other two, however, are not wholly unrelated—for one of the central questions of our time is the question of difference. How, we seem to all be asking, can the many live together in common cause?
In “Mercy and a Manifesto,” New Yorker editor David Remnick places the grace and fortitude of Mother Emanuel and her people within a historical context, reminding us that moral cultures develop over time. “To study the history of the black freedom movement,” Remnick tells us, “is to be astonished by its collective capacity for forbearance.” The collection of thoughts (if they deserve the word) comprising the “manifesto” attributed to Roof display a dark, pernicious, regrettable, and all-too-real history of their own; and situating the dramatic declarations of forgiveness by the victims at Roof’s initial appearance within that history highlights how much the church in all its forms has to learn from congregations like Mother Emanuel.
In the second piece you’ll find an abbreviated version of a thesis Colin Woodard first published in American Nations. This brief piece from Tufts Magazine attributes some of the basic and abiding challenges to self-governance we face to substantial cultural differences across distinct geographic areas. For Woodard, there is not one America, but, in fact, eleven distinct Americas that each look at “violence and everything else” in their own way.
The final piece is a brief recounting of H. Richard Niebuhr’s overlooked work, The Social Sources of Denominationalism, written by Peter Leithart for First Things. In that original work, Niebuhr showed how the fragmentation of the church in early 20th century America was most fundamentally along economic and social lines rather than theological ones. For Leithart, the abiding value of Niebuhr’s insight and analysis resides in the relation of a true ecumenism and the church’s mission to the world. “It is probably always true,” he says “but it is certainly true now: Only a catholic church can be a missional church.”