Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
I first met Dr. Robert, or Bob, as most people call him, through the Faith Interview Series I just wrote for Provoketive. He grew up as an Episcopalian, and then left because of “a deep need for me to be more connected with a community that really took my faith seriously.” He spent some time in the Pentecostal movement and after craving a more intellectually challenging environment, eventually settled into the Disciples of Christ denomination.
He is the pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church in Troy, Michigan, and is a founder and active member of the Troy Interfaith Group. His fervent passion for interfaith efforts brings him to a unique place where his faith is no longer behind closed doors. He is no longer just practicing his faith in the safety of his church, but is living with his faith and community as a whole, and this means Bob lives at an interesting intersection between religion and the public sphere.
One thing Bob said to me about his interfaith group is that some people think it’s all about the “inter” and not about the “faith”. “We don’t sit around and talk about how everyone is more or less right. This is not mushy faith.”
But the big question that lingers in a lot of people’s minds is if it’s not mushy, how exactly do you do that? How do you meet and spend time with people who have such drastically different beliefs and practices than you?
When you crack it open, this conundrum opens up into a much larger question for society at large:
With a world that is growing in population, diversity, and proximity, how do you remain faithful to your convictions and beliefs, while still doing the best thing for everybody?
As Bob puts it in the opening of the book, “How shall we live together, peacefully and productively, as one people in the midst of all this diversity?”
This is exactly the question that Bob addresses in his new book, Faith in the Public Square: Living Faithfully in 21st Century America. This is an important subject whose answer is being begged for more urgently every day by this 21st century country.
If I were to retitle the book, I would call it “How to Cohabitate on this Planet with Other Humans and Not Be a Jerk”. There are a lot of things I loved about this book but my favorite things are:
Bob is very knowledgeable about the subjects he talks about. I hate it when books seem off-the-cuff and like the author didn’t do any research outside of their own cranium. Bob includes a lot of historical and political context to conversations that often get cut down to “us vs. them”. He expands and re-frames the conversation to give you far more insight than the three minute bits the talking heads tend to give us.
The tone of this book is like sitting at a barbeque with your awesome, really smart friends. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, and yet well-informed. Books can sometimes be intrusive and try to strong-arm you into accepting whatever it’s proposing, but that was not the case with Faith in the Public Square. Bob has a very open, personable tone that opens your heart. And yet, he is not afraid of putting his thoughts—some of which are unconventional—on the table, which leads into my next point.
Bob talks about an incredibly wide variety of issues that we deal with every day as American citizens. This is not simply a “let’s be nice to each other, shall we?” or “Let’s just read our Bibles and pray and everything will be fine” book. Faith in the Public Square covers all aspects of life where civil concerns and religion intersect, such as the following:
- We should appreciate (at least in part) paying taxes
- Why your employer asking you to say “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not a conspiracy against Christians
- The true meaning of “pro-life” and how the abortion conversation limits itself
- How to approach voting, politicians, and your political values
- The mistakes in the mainstream perception of Islam
- Racism and the position of the presidency
- The increasing danger of “good religion” being in bed with patriotism
- How “the Bible says” is not a good reason to create legislation
These are not easy topics. If Bob wanted to write an easy book he wouldn’t have touched half of these topics with a ten-foot pole. Instead, Bob steps up to the plate to talk about the kind of issues that our pressing in culture that most pastors would never talk about. And this is only scratching the surface of the topics that are covered!
I loved the presentation of the book. One of the greatest things about this book is that it was originally written as a newspaper column, so all of the essays are presented in easy to read, digestible chunks.
With Faith in the Public Square there will be no getting lost in a 500-pager by a stuffy professor with no foreseeable way out. The chapters are 1-3 pages long a piece. Thus, this is a book you can carry with you that you can jump back into easily when you have a few minutes to read, but it is not a watery book at all.
And what if you’re not a church goer? Will this book have anything for you? Absolutely! While it contains topics dealing with religion, it was written for a very wide audience, so even if you have no religion affiliation at all this book is still a great read because everyone–religious or not–will at some point come into conflict between their personal ideals and the greater good.
All in all, I would highly recommend Faith in the Public Square. This book had a refreshing and hard-hitting look at the role of religion in the life of a citizen. I appreciate Bob’s courage in approaching the topics he talked about, and I also appreciate the warm tone he wrote with.
If you want some good theological brain food, a fresh take on civilian life, and a conversation starter to build your religious and civic principles on, this is definitely the book for you.
I look forward to reading more of Dr. Robert Cornwall’s work and I hope you will pick it one up to read for yourself.
To buy “Faith in the Public Square” Amazon, click here.
To buy “Faith in the Public Square” directly from the publisher, click here.
For more of Bob’s writing, check out his blog, “Ponderings on a Faith Journey”.
Find Dr. Robert Cornwall on Facebook here.
Photo credit: image of book and Dr. Robert Cornwall used with permission, Flickr / R/DV/RS (grass and sky photo)