Interstate highway to heaven

highwayinthecloudsLast month CNN reporter Gary Tuchman had a great story about a prayer campaign called Light the Highway. The leaders of the campaign believe that Interstate 35 was possibly prophesied about in Isaiah 35's mention of a "holy highway." Seeing the prayer group in action was impressive as they all fervently shouted out prayers over each other while walking around near I-35 in Dallas. Chao Xiong of the Minneapolis Star Tribune filed a written report on the same group and his story is also interesting. He claims that the band of believers believe that the highway is a road to salvation:

Some believe I-35 might be shorthand that links the interstate to Isaiah 35:8 of the Bible: "And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein."

While some believe the interstate is literally a road to enlightenment and a detour from sin, others say the link is a wildly skewed interpretation of Scripture at best and ridiculous at worst.

Overall, the story is well reported but this lede does a poor job of placing this prayer campaign in the context of broader Christianity. Saying that "some" people believe I-35 is literally a road to enlightenment and "others" don't makes it seem like there are roughly equivalent groups on either side of the equation. Call me crazy, but I'm going to call fiddlesticks on that.

He explains that believers in several states were part of the campaign:

The goal, believers said, was to pray for the overall betterment of the country, forgiveness of personal and collective sins and closeness with God.

"I believe it began a shift in the spiritual realm over the city of Duluth and especially over I-35," said Shannon Stone, a participant whose husband is pastor of Jesus is Life Ministries in Duluth. "I think we'll see a change in the things that are happening, people's desire to live more righteously."

Not everyone buys it, however.

Oh, not everyone buys it? You mean there isn't unanimous agreement within Christendom that an American interstate was prophesied about in Isaiah 35? Are you sure?

Anyway, what I did like about the article was that Xiong went to the people involved for their perspective. He spoke at length with Cindy Jacobs, the self-described prophet who came up with the idea. She said that crime will decrease along the interstate and that government and religious corruption will be exposed. He also spoke with a local pastor who criticized the movement. The article concluded with an interesting bit of analysis from a local academic:

The application of Scripture to current events, objects or people isn't new. The practice is "very much in line with fundamentalist Protestant culture," said Penny Edgell, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in religion in American life.

"It takes these mundane, everyday aspects of life and makes it sacred," she said. "It's about mobilizing the faithful and energizing the faithful."

Making an everyday object sacred crosses religious boundaries. Edgell noted that neopagans casting a spell to bless their home is no different from Christians praying for salvation along an interstate.

"There's a tendency to treat these groups as a wacky fringe," Edgell said. "But I think it's also important to recognize that while that may be true, they tap into deep cultural currents that are really common and important in American society to see the sacred in everyday life. Lots of people want that."

Edgell's analysis is interesting but sociologists are trained to look at religion in this anthropological manner. If you're going to go to an academic, a historian of American religion or a theologian might be better suited. That way you might not have academics who confuse movements such as Light the Highway with fundamentalism.

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