Bible

Exploring Theology of Disability for LGBTQI Advocates

By J.C. Mitchell

I am looking forward to the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  I am not very excited that I have to travel from Seattle to Orlando, but traveling alone I will get a lot of reading completed.  I am already creating my list of books I need to know, since I have not figured out osmosis, not from due from the lack of trying to sleep with a book on my chest.  I have a long list but you are welcome to add to the list as well, if you will seriously take this book I just read on your own list.

The book is The Bible, Disability, and the Church; A New Vision of the People of God, by Amos Yong.    In a sentence it is a book that carefully creates a Biblical hermeneutics of suspicion of the presumed ableist perspective.  I believe his method is commendable, especially by admitting in the preface that through thanking Kerry Wynn, “[…] to how deeply I myself was mired in a normate (able-bodied) worldview, and irony indeed […]” (xi),  There were a few places where I may have disagreed; for example, I uphold only the authentic Pauline writings and Yong is fine with all traditionally attributed to Paul.  You would imagine some differences between a Pentecostal Scholar who was born in Malaysia, and a Disciples Minister raised in New England, and that is partly why I recommend this book, because so many of the recent books I have read have been people of European decent. 

Some of you may know that the theology of Disability has been pivotal to my theology and it became very personal, as my son lives with autism and is very limited in communication.  However, I write this book review for those that are allies of LGBTQI persons, for I know those working with the theology of disability is quite aware of Yong’s work.  (I confess I was delayed in reading this 2011 work, but as I admitted, my reading list is long).  I do not know where Yong stands on the issues of LGBTQI, and I started looking for such information, but then realized that the truth I know and the truth I read will not be affected by his stated beliefs elsewhere.  Yes it may be harmful and even wrong, but we cannot only read theology of only those we agree with entirely.

The importance of this work is how Yong handles the scriptures that are and have traditionally been read to marginalize and oppress people with disabilities.  This is of course an issue for the LGBTQI community as well, but truly with less problematic scriptures.  For instance, Jesus says nothing about homosexuality, but the healing passages have been often used against people with disabilities.  And let me note that it happens by conservatives and liberals alike, but the normate worldview blinds one from their insensitive readings of scriptures.  Therefore, I believe seeing how a careful reading that is aware of the able-bodied assumptions will help LGBTQI advocates to do the same with the few scriptures used for oppression.

Not only is it important to be able to deal with the scriptures, but what I really believe people will get from  LGBTQI advocates reading this is how our normate (able-bodied) worldview influences our reading of the scriptures and thus our theology.  By exploring this assumption, it will help in explaining the assumptions of those that have been influenced by hetero-centric assumptions, while learning about another population that needs liberation. 

[T]here is nothing intrinsically wrong with the lives of people with disabilities, that it is not they who need to be cured, but we, the non-disabled, who need to be saved from our discriminatory attitudes and practices, and that people with disabilities should be accepted and honored just as they are. (118)

Go ahead and replace the words disabilities and non-disabled as you want, but know also by admitting you have been influenced by the normate worldview, as both I and Yong are also not immune, will help us all understand how to love the other and include everyone. 

Amos Yong Book On Rainbow Flag.jpg

Work Cited:

Yong, Amos. The Bible, Disability, and the Church; A New Vision of the People of God.  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; 2011. 

Growing Peace

By Rev. Mindi

I lived in the Boston area for ten years, attending seminary in Newton, just blocks from the Marathon route on Comm Ave (Commonwealth Avenue for non-Massachusetts peeps).  For the first six years I could walk to the same spot where Centre Street crosses Comm Ave and watch for the runners I knew. One year the youth of my church and I made posters for one of our members running the race, staying until we spotted her and could give her our high-five blessings of encouragement.  My last four years, I lived in Framingham, Massachusetts, closer to the start of the race, and I would drive to downtown Framingham early before the road was closed, park my car at the Assembly of God church and meet my friend, Pastor Bob, and we would set up our chairs along Rt. 135, near the Dunkin Donuts.  But it was in my first visit to Boston in 1999, when I was checking out seminaries, that I first saw the small tortoise and hare statues that grace the end of the Boston Marathon in Boston on Boylston Street.

I am still recovering from Newtown, so I don’t feel like the weight of what has happened in Boston has fully hit me yet. A colleague remarked to me after Newtown that many of us were “walking around with PTSD.” With social media, 24/7 news coverage, instant photos (whether real or fake)—the bombarding of information so quickly, the plethora of connections we now have (many of us know someone now, perhaps through friends or family, or maybe a Facebook friend of a friend, for example), we all feel like we know someone there, whether we do in our day-to-day life, or not—more of us are experiencing closeness to these events, to these people who have suffered loss.  In turn, we are suffering collective PTSD.

Of course, whenever something like this occurs, there are reminders that many others in the world live with this kind of terror on a more regular basis. Whether its suicide bombers in Palestine and Israel, drone strikes in Pakistan, IED’s in Afghanistan, or car bombings in other parts of the world that barely register a blip on U.S. news, if at all, there are probably many more people around the world who suffer from collective PTSD on a more regular basis. 

And just like after Newtown, some of the first articles of advice on dealing with violence are geared toward how to talk with children about the events. Good stuff. We need those resources and I’m glad they are there, just as I’m glad that the quote from Rev. Fred Rogers keeps resurfacing about looking “for the helpers.”  We all need those reminders, not just children.

But we need more. We need to do more than just talk to our children about this. We need to do more for all of us. 

I believe, as followers of the Prince of Peace, we have got to live out God’s ways of peace. There’s just no other way.

We need to work on eliminating the language of violence from our vocabulary. We need to work on practicing peace in our daily lives, with our family, friends and neighbors. We need to live into the ways of peace by being aware of where the products we buy come from, how they were harvested or mined, and what happened to the people who worked for those products.  All of the little things we can do.

And then we need to get beyond ourselves. We need to grow our churches into peace churches. We need to say that in the name of Christ, we will no longer live into the violent ways of our world. We will no longer allow violence to have power, to have the final word.

By becoming peace churches, we have the opportunity to transform our communities through education, service and outreach—all the same things we always try to do for our own church growth, but instead, now we are doing it for God’s Shalom.  We have the opportunity to partner with other peace and justice organizations. We are doing this because we want the world to be transformed. 

So I urge you to check out the peace resources offered by the Disciples Peace Fellowship or the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America or other Christian Peace organizations, and work towards growing a peace church. Peace isn’t just something we teach to our children; we still have much to learn ourselves, and there is much for us to do in the work for peace, together.

Between Death and Redemption

By Joe Pusateri

As we approach Easter, I have been confronted many times with many variations of the same theological question.  None posed it more directly than my own five-year old, who asked, “Why did God kill Jesus?”

When I was called into the ministry, I vastly underestimated the amount of time that I would spend trying to explain to people the difference between oppressive empires and God.  Of course, as a cynic, I expect empires to attempt to wield the power of God.   I never dreamed how successful the former would be at impersonating the latter.

Ten years ago this month, the leaders of our nation made the decision to invade Iraq.  To the 24-year old I was at the time, the official case made by the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein’s regime was an imminent threat to the security of the United States and the free world seemed compelling enough.  I was no enthusiastic supporter of war, but only because I was raised to never be an advocate of war.  I was effectively nudged, however, into the complicit space of reluctant non-resistance.  I figured, “I guess it’s inevitable.  War is not preferred, but I guess we have no choice.”

Now that a decade has passed, I can say only with shame that it took me quite a few years to realize that my own lack of critical examination allowed me to stay ambivalent and silent while more than a few brave souls risked alienation in a culture of rabid fear and patriotism in protest as the so-called War Against Terror opened a new front.  I can speak boldly now against the sins of my nation’s foreign policy, beating my chest before like-minded pacifists, over the silent bodies of 4000 American soldiers and perhaps half a million dead Iraqi civilians.

Across the media, and from both of the dominant political camps, the range of reflection and criticism of the war seems to fit all within the one statement of “it was too expensive and mismanaged.”  Iraq, like Vietnam, was simply another example of the government’s inability to control costs.  The doves cry out that the problems of Iraq/the Middle East are better solved by methods less costly than war, while the hawks believe that critical mistakes such as disbanding the army or failing to secure weapons depots were the unfortunate mistakes that led to an insurgency and its collateral costs.  Conspicuously absent is the suggestion that our obligation to hasten the end of the “problems” of the Middle East is perhaps to stop funding or arming oppressive regimes, especially if the US government expects citizens to take seriously its pledge to uphold the ideals of democracy and human rights.

And I am offended, albeit not surprised, that there is no suggestion by anyone that the United States government was morally wrong in its preemptive war against Iraq.  What made the US misadventure in Iraq a failure was not its human and financial costs, not its faulty intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction, and not its strategic miscalculations.  What made the US War in Iraq a failure was blatant disregard for human life, its disregard for the principle of universality (namely the idea that one cannot impose standards on another that one is not willing to meet itself) and the immediate disregard of international law and the consent of the governed.  To this last point, I strongly urge one to consider that throwing aside international structures that were designed to hold Nazi war criminals to account is to share moral real estate with the Nazis, and to resist the notion that effective propaganda in the lead up to the war counts as “consent of the governed.”

Finally, as a clergyperson, I have the sacred duty of looking into the eyes and holding the hands of human beings from their birth to death.  I hold the sanctity of life and the dignity of personhood in the highest regard, regardless of race, gender, nation of origin and political commitments.  To those who would accuse me of dishonoring the brave citizens who have risked and given their lives under the orders of this country, I take great offense.  To the contrary, I believe that exploiting the dedication and oath of a soldier is far more dishonorable (and dehumanizing) than to call to account those who trample law, order and decency and send soldiers away from their families and neighbors in order to defend imperial doctrine.

As a Christian, the most faithful thing I can do is speak truth at the right time, at the right place, and to the right people.   It is easy to take a stand against a war machine that is already far out of sight, which has already crushed one nation and endangered the world.  Even as the discussion of nuclear annihilation floats carelessly around the Korean peninsula and US drones bomb peasants in Pakistan, it is a piece of cake to stake a claim for peace.  It is easy to defend a case for justice and reconciliation with freethinking adults in an open society, even with those who disagree.  What keeps me up at night is the prospect of having to endlessly get down on one knee to explain to the five-year old daughters of the world that God did not murder Christ, that it was people who killed Jesus.  People like us, who were told they were doing the right thing for God and country, for law and order.  God, on the other hand, is the one who raised him, and will surely one day raise all of the crucified Iraqi children, sacrificed American soldiers and all the rest of us from the terrible weight of war.

Calling the People of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to Be a People of Grace and Welcome to All

What follows is the latest copy of the resolution that has been submitted for consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, July 13-17.  It is a resolution Calling the People of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ to be a People of Grace and Welcome to all . . . regardless  of "race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical or mental ability."  This iteration of the resolution has undergone a number of revisions.

Since there continues to be much speculation about what such a resolution might look like, we thought it might be helpful to release the resolution that has already been submitted for consideration by the General Board, with the understanding that because of the process such a resolution must go through, it is fairly certain that some revisions will be made to the content.   However, this is the text of the document submitted by the congregations listed below.

Additionally, here is a link to a Description of the Need for a Resolution, along with some FAQs.  

~ (Derek Penwell)

WHEREAS, we, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), understand ourselves to be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, called to welcome others even as we have been welcomed by God [1] and to practice hospitality to one another,[2] as well as to strangers;[3]

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture affirms that all people are created in the image of God and share with all others in the worth that comes from being unique individuals,[4] which has been reiterated at past General Assemblies (2001, 2005, 2011);

WHEREAS, we affirm that as Christians we are many members, but are one body in Christ.  We are members of one another, each with different gifts.[5] We affirm that each of us is called by Jesus to love our neighbors as ourselves,[6] and that we are called to the ministry of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church itself;    WHEREAS, Disciples affirm baptism as the primary call to ministry, and offer baptism to all who profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior;

WHEREAS, Disciples profess that the nature of Christian discipleship is profoundly informed by a common table, which is central to the act of worship. This emphasis on communion calls attention to the radical nature of the hospitality extended by Jesus, who welcomes all to be received at the Lord’s table of grace. In centering our worship on the Lord’s table, Disciples  recall that our very birth as a movement came at Cane Ridge in reaction to limitations being placed on this welcome;

WHEREAS, Disciples emerged as a movement centered on a call to Christian unity as our “polar star.”  We recognize that cutting off anyone who seeks the hospitality of the Lord’s table is an act of disunity;

WHEREAS, Disciples have been engaged in a process of discernment on the question of the participation of all Christians regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the life and ministry of the church since 1997 with mixed results; WHEREAS, we know there are people who are devalued and discriminated against within society, and more sadly within the church, because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity;

WHEREAS it is also recognized that we find our identity around the table, holding each other dear even when we disagree; and that the church from its beginning has understood that God’s Spirit leads congregations to differing interpretations of scripture, but that each are called to transcend our difference and to claim one another in unity;

AND WHEREAS, it is understood that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) operates with a congregational polity whereby local congregations have final say in matters of conscience;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)  to recognize itself  as a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children–inclusive of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to affirm the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither are grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but are a part of God’s good creation;

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly calls upon all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a people of grace and welcome, to acknowledge their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all Christians, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or cognitive ability.

[1] Mark 12:31 [Statement of Identity of the CC (DOC), Disciples.org]

[2] 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9

[3] Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2

[4] Genesis 1:26–7

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:18–20

[6] Matthew 7:12

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Louisville, KY)

Midway Hills Christian Church (Dallas, TX)

Chalice Christian Church (Gilbert, AZ)

Fireside Christian Church (Denver, CO)

Little White Chapel (Burbank, CA)

First Christian Church (Eugene, OR)

Tapestry Ministries (Berkeley, CA)

St. Andrew Christian Church (Olathe, KS)

Lafayette Christian Church (Lafayette, CA)

First Christian Church (Concord, CA)

University Christian Church (San Diego, CA)

First Christian Church (Vallejo, CA)

New Covenant Community Church (Normal, IL)

First Christian Church (Lynchburg, VA)

Central Christian Church (Indianapolis, IN)

First Christian Church (Orange, CA)

Open Hearts Gathering (Gastonia, NC)

Bethany Christian Church (Tulsa, OK)

Pine Valley Christian Church (Wichita, KS)

Foothills Christian Church (Phoenix, AZ)

GLAD-Pacific Southwest Region (Irvine, CA)

GLAD Alliance

Proclaiming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a People of Grace and Welcome to All

What follows is a copy of the resolution that has been submitted for consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Orlando, July 13-17.  It is a resolution Proclaiming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ a People of Grace and Welcome to all . . . regardless  of "race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability."

Since there has been much speculation about what such a resolution might look like, we thought it might be helpful to release the resolution that has already been submitted, with the understanding that because of the process such a resolution must go through, it is fairly certain that some revisions will be made to the content.   However, this is the text of the document submitted by the congregations listed below.

Additionally, here is a link to a Description of the Need for a Resolution, along with some FAQs.  

~ (Derek Penwell)

Proclaiming the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) a People of Welcome and Grace to All

WHEREAS, we, the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) understand ourselves to be a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, called to welcome others even as we have been welcomed by God [1] and to practice hospitality to one another,[2]  as well as to strangers;[3]

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture affirms that all people have worth and are created in the image of God and share with all others in the worth that comes from being unique individuals,[4]  which has been reiterated at past General Assemblies (2001, 2005, 2011);

WHEREAS, we affirm that as Christians we are many members, but are one body in Christ–members of one another, and that we all have different gifts.[5]  With Jesus we affirm that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves,[6] and that we are called to the ministry of reconciliation and wholeness within the world and within the church itself; 

WHEREAS, Disciples affirm baptism as the primary call to ministry, and offer baptism to all who profess their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior;

WHEREAS, Disciples profess that the nature of Christian discipleship is profoundly informed by a common table, which is central to the act of worship. This emphasis on communion calls attention to the radical nature of the hospitality extended by Jesus–an act that welcomes all to be received at the Lord’s table of grace. In centering our worship on the Lord’s table, Disciples cannot but remember that our very birth as a movement came at Cane Ridge in reaction to limitations being placed on this welcome, and later in Thomas Campbell’s Declaration and Address;

WHEREAS, Disciples emerged as a movement centered on a call to Christian unity as our “polar star,” who must recognize that cutting off anyone who seeks the hospitality of the Lord’s table is an act of disunity;

WHEREAS, Disciples have been engaged in a process of discernment on the question of the participation of all Christians regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the life and ministry of the church since 1997 with mixed results;

WHEREAS, we know there are people who are devalued and discriminated against within society, and more sadly within the church because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity;

WHEREAS it is also recognized that the people of God find our identity around the table, holding each other dear even when we disagree; and that the church from its beginning has understood that God’s Spirit leads congregations to differing interpretations of scripture, but that each are called to claim one another in unity, transcending our differences;

AND WHEREAS, it is understood that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) operates with a congregational polity whereby local congregations have final say in matters of conscience;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declares itself to be a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children–inclusive of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) affirms the faith, baptism and spiritual gifts of all Christians regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that neither are grounds for exclusion from fellowship or service within the church, but are a part of God's good creation;

FINALLY, BE IT RESOLVED that all expressions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), as a people of grace and welcome, are encouraged similarly to declare their support for the welcome of and hospitality to all Christians, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability.

[1] Mark 12:31 [Statement of Identity of the CC (DOC), Disciples.org]

[2] 1 Timothy 5:10; 1 Peter 4:9

[3] Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2

[4] Genesis 1:26–7

[5] 2 Corinthians 5:18–20

[6] Matthew 7:12

Douglass Boulevard Christian Church (Louisville, KY)

Midway Hills Christian Church (Dallas, TX)

Chalice Christian Church (Gilbert, AZ)

Fireside Christian Church (Denver, CO)

Little White Chapel (Burbank, CA)

First Christian Church (Eugene, OR)

Tapestry Ministries (Berkeley, CA)

St. Andrew Christian Church (Olathe, KS)

Lafayette Christian Church (Lafayette, CA)

First Christian Church (Concord, CA)

University Christian Church (San Diego, CA)

First Christian Church (Vallejo, CA)

New Covenant Community Church (Normal, IL)

First Christian Church (Lynchburg, VA)

Central Christian Church (Indianapolis, IN)

First Christian Church (Orange, CA)

Open Hearts Gathering (Gastonia, NC)

Bethany Christian Church (Tulsa, OK)

Pine Valley Christian Church (Wichita, KS)

Foothills Christian Church (Phoenix, AZ)

GLAD-Pacific Southwest Region (Irvine, CA)

GLAD Alliance

God's Table: Playing Musical Chairs and Losing

By George Rizor

I’m a pastor for a Christian denomination where communion is one of only two sacraments observed.  It’s pretty important to us.

Recently with the debate over homosexuality in the church, including membership, ordination, same-sex marriage, etc., communion has frequently defined the analogy for the debate.  It often appears in the form of ‘how do we be inclusive and welcoming of all people to the table?’

As our society has made strides in social and legal equality for those LGBTQ persons who have been historically disenfranchised, the church has lagged behind and struggled with not only a debate of basic, fundamental rights for the LGBTQ community, but also has had to deal with religious, scriptural and ecclesial questions.  It’s not just ‘is it right?’, but ‘is it right in the eyes of God and in our faith tradition?’

In our denomination, I have heard a question related to LGBTQ equality in the Christian Church expressed using the table analogy.  That question distills to something like this: ‘If we embrace the liberal perspective and make room at the table for LGBTQ persons, are we pushing away from the table the more conservative folks, who in many instances have tolerated the change at the table as we made room for those who had been disenfranchised?’

An interesting question, but one that has some assumptions and presumptions that must be addressed to honestly answer the question of including in the faith process versus excluding (and pushing some away from) the faith process.

It has to do with an economics concept: that of Nash equilibria (John Nash, the real-life subject of the movie, “A BRILLIANT MIND,” and Nobel-winning economist) and zero-sum versus non-zero sum games (or economies or life, for that matter).  Zero-sum and non-zero sum, even if you’ve never heard of them, are very important to our fundamental understanding of the nature of God and omnipotence.  A zero sum game like Monopoly assumes that if one person wins another must loose.  There are a finite set of resources and players compete for them.  A zero sum game must end in a win-lose manner.  A non-zero sum game like The Prisoner's Dilemma assumes that there are not limited resources and that players can play the game, collaborate and orchestrate a win-win ending.

I'd like to suggest - again not addressing the issues that have been debated regarding liberal/conservative and why we've had to 'make room at the table' —our society and culture tends to be 'zero sum' and to perceive life as having a fixed, finite set of resources for which we must compete. And therefore, if someone 'gets' another person must 'lose.'  Our national economies and our personal economies are generally built on zero-sum assumptions.  Negotiations, competitions for jobs, personal economic transactions, etc. all speak to a notion that we have to do better than the next person, because if we are to win, it will be at their expense and vice-versa.

Now—we run into a real puzzle when we ascribe zero-sum thinking to faith journey.  Basically, if we adhere to a conventional and scriptural understanding of God as infinite and omnipotent, it is not possible to 'push someone away from the table.'  God's table can accommodate everyone.  That means that making room for someone at the table or pushing someone away from the table must encompass two aspects that have to be examined: first, what is the nature of God's table, through Jesus Christ, exemplified by Jesus' example and teaching?  Are there limitations?  Most important, is the table in any way exclusive?  Is there anyone who cannot be accommodated at the table?  Does God set a table where mutual exclusivity can exist?  Is it possible that if one person/group/identity is permitted at the table, another person/group/identity must be denied?  Can mutual exclusivity be applied to any two persons/groups/identities within God’s creation?

Can we—in any way—assess the breadth, depth and elasticity of God’s ability to accommodate all the diverse components of creation?  Even if we were able to discern whom God, through Jesus Christ would accept/reject, is that our purview?  Basically, how do we decide if God’s love is zero-sum, or even can approximate zero-sum, with some being permitted ‘at the table’ meaning that others cannot be present?

A completely separate issue is the second aspect: If we decide, ‘yes, God’s table will accommodate some and not others,’ who fits which category?  That’s where most of the equality/inequailty debate in the church today has centered.  But the reality is: are we trying to retrofit belonging to a belonging template that doesn’t exist?  Have we rushed so haphazardly to decide who is worthy and who is not worthy that we have ignored the fact that such debate seems to limit God and to set our human, finite, limited understanding as the model for God’s table?

Is zero-sum and mutual exclusivity a function of our societal and cultural existence that has slopped over into our definition of God’s nature and how God conducts ‘business’ with humankind?  And if that’s true, is it legitimate and defensible?  Our understanding of the nature of God needs to be addressed and understood before we begin contemplation of someone being pushed away from God as a result of human perceptions and actions.

Maybe, just maybe, God’s table is larger than our ability to imagine and more accommodating than we can possibly conceive.  Here’s hoping . . . 

Women Responding to the Call of God

 When Jennifer Harris Dault put out a call for Baptist women’s call stories, I was excited for the opportunity to share the story of God’s call on my life (from my perspective, of course).  I quickly wrote out my story, edited it a bit, and sent it to her.  Many months later, The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God was released.  I purchased the book for my mother for Christmas and waited for my copy to arrive in the mail, excited to see my name as a chapter in this collection.

However, when I sat down to read this canon of twenty-three stories of Baptist women called into ministry, I forgot about the details of my own story.  As I read, chapter by chapter, story by story, woman by woman, I heard my story in the voices of these women.  Women who had faithfully responded to that inkling, that nudge, that Divine Word, that altar call, that prayer to follow Jesus by going into ministry, and all of whom at one point or another faced incredible challenges to following that call.  More often than not, it was a male voice telling them, “No.”  Not the voice of God, not the Bible, but the voice of pastors, teachers, even husbands and fathers, saying “No” simply because she was a woman. 

Even though my call story is included in this collection, it isn’t complete by itself. As I read their stories, I recalled other moments when men said “No” simply because they were a man and I was a woman. I also now remember times when other women told me I needed to learn my place.  I remember friends and family who believed they were being loving by telling me I had no place in ministry whose words were crushing. 

But I also remember so much more now.  As I read these testimonies, I feel pride in remembering all the encouraging voices on the way—pastors, parents and grandparents, teachers, friends—all who saw the gifts of God in me and pulled me along the way.  I recall my own personal experiences with God when I heard, or felt, very clearly that God was indeed calling me to be a minister.

While this book is written by Baptist women and their experience, I believe there are many women in other traditions who have experienced similar discrimination, and I hope, similar places of encouragement along the way in their faith journey.  Baptists, of course, bear our own unique name and burdens, stereotypes and generalizations, and there are many former Baptist women serving in other traditions now, but I believe this book can be a work of encouragement for all women pursuing the call to ministry. 

As I read this book with my story in it, as a fifth-generation ordained American Baptist minister (and the first woman, with my mother following after me), I wonder about my grandmother and the other minister’s wives in my family and their daughters.  I wonder if they ever wondered if God was calling them into pastoral ministry but set it aside, believing that they were fulfilling that calling by being a pastor’s wife. I wonder how many women have been denied even the possibility of dreaming about being a minister. 

In more conservative and evangelical circles there is a continuing debate about Biblical equality and women in pastoral leadership roles.  In the progressive/liberal churches, we often assume that debate has been settled.  Yet I know my colleagues in other traditions, and I in my American Baptist tradition know our name has been rejected from church search committees because we are women. We know that churches still refuse to consider a woman, even if the batch of profiles they receive from their regional office are full of women’s names, even when we know that over 60% of seminary students today are women and that number continues to grow. 

The Modern Magnificat brings a challenge to the church universal: women will follow the call by God, despite the attempts of denominational bodies or local churches, despite the naysayers in the pulpit and on the parish committee.  Will the church be the one to change and accept that God calls all people, or will the church continue to hold on to false interpretations of Scripture used to justify power-holding and power-over others?  For there is no other purpose of denying women into ministry: besides the numerous Biblical examples from Deborah to Phoebe, besides the traditions of women partnering with men in ministry throughout church history, the need to hold power and authority over others is what perpetuates the denial of women into ministry—or indeed, any group considered a minority in power. 

While there are other great books out there on women in ministry, written from academic theological perspectives, read this book of women whose own stories, who own narratives share their experiences of denial and perseverance, of challenge and most importantly, hope. 

(You can read the introduction of Jennifer Harris Dault’s book here).

Extravagant Community

By Tim Graves

I cringe when I hear Christians respond to the "spiritual but not religious" by extolling the importance of community. Yes, we all need community for spirituality. We are social creatures. 

But, while there is truth in this response it is based upon an unproven assumption. That is, that the "spiritual but not religious" lead the lives of hermits never talking with friends about their faith journeys. The community-defense also assumes that community must take an organized form. It does not.

[caption id="attachment_1067" align="alignright" width="358"] They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Acts 4:35 NRSV Photo by Tim Graves[/caption]

More troublesome about the community-defense, however, is that it allows followers of Jesus to avoid our own failings. Too often churches are not places of community. Community is about caring for one another in deep ways. It is about assuring that everyone has their basic needs met. The reality is we spend more time worshiping consumerism and capitalism than we do sharing with our neighbor--even those within our churches. 

Too many churches have within their midst those struggling in very real ways while others live in relative laps of luxury. Aside from this being contrary to the teachings of our purported savior, the attitude of the relatively wealthy community members disturbs me. In my experience, when help is provided it comes with strings and pettiness. We reflect the resentment of a culture that elevates rugged individualism to idolatry.

Within this context of blaming the victim, we operate not out of extravagant love but out of begrudging duty. We do not believe that Jesus fed the whole crowd with a few loaves and fish. We fear that if we give too much to someone, even someone within our own community, there will not be enough for us. 

Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Mark 12: 29-31 NRSV (Read in context.)

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.Acts 4: 32-35 NRSV (Read in context.)

Trustworthy God of Abundance,

You give extravagant,

   undeserved grace.

We give out of love,

   limited by our human fears and worries.

Help us to trust in your abundance,

   help us to love you as you love us.

Help us to give lavishly to others,

   within the koinonia,

   and to the whole human family.

RECLAIMING THE FAMILY OF GOD

Us, not ThemHere, not There Now, not Later

A Sermon by Doug Sloan, Elder Terre Haute Central Christian Church Sunday, May 6, 2012

I want to begin by thanking Dianne Mansfield and Phil Ewoldsen for their participation in a very important and successful meeting that took place yesterday, Saturday, May 5, 2012 at Central Christian Church in Indianapolis. This congregation [Terre Haute Central Christian Church], through its board and elders, is one of four congregations [now five] sponsoring a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. Elders and representatives of those four congregations met with the pastor and an elder of the Oaktown congregation, which has deep reservations and sincere concerns about the resolution. The meeting was serious – most of the time, we are talking about a gathering of Disciples – and spiritual. I came away from the meeting feeling hopeful. New ground was broken and a path was cleared for similar conversations elsewhere in the region that involve congregations with the same reservations and concerns as Oaktown.

Also, I want to thank my wife, Carol, for “encouraging” me to stop and think and – in this case – step back ten yards and punt. I can’t help wondering how much better off the history of the church and how much easier Christian theology would be if Paul had been married. Imagine the difference there would be in all of Christianity if Paul had been married to a woman who had looked at him with equal amounts of disdain and concern and said, “Paul, honey – KISS.*”

Being family is not always easy.

My father was quiet and laid back. My mother was gregarious and active. My younger brother, Dennis, was a jock. I was not. In high school, I was in choir, plays, and on the speech team. Dennis ran cross country and played trombone in the band – with band, especially marching band, being more for social enjoyment than satisfying any musical ambition.

Dennis also liked to ride his 12-speed bicycle. Dennis and his riding buddies thought nothing about jumping on their bikes and pedaling from New Castle to Muncie and back between lunch and supper. Muncie is approximately 25 miles north of New Castle – a round trip of a good 50 miles. You have to understand, they would return from these little jaunts with no signs of having exerted themselves.

One day, a trip was planned to our Uncle’s house on the southwest edge of Muncie – and I decided to join them. How hard could it be? The trip to my Uncle’s house was a great ride – we took county roads and stayed off the state highways. We had a nice visit with our Aunt Marjorie and Uncle Kenneth and our cousin Joy Ann and her boyfriend, Phil – and the girl who lived next door to Phil.

Well, the time came to return home. We jumped on our bikes and started pedaling home. A few miles south of Muncie, it happened – my lack of experience with long-distance bicycle rides caught up with me and hammered me with the great-granddaddy of all leg cramps. Every muscle in both legs, above and below the knees, tightened into an unbreakable searing knot. Whatever fantasies I ever had about being “the man of steel” – this wasn’t it. The ride came to a screeching stop in front of someone’s house – to this day, I don’t know who those poor people were. Dennis knocked on the door to ask to use the phone to call our parents. Meanwhile, I had hobbled to the porch to get out of the sun where I promptly collapsed in excruciating pain which I expressed without restraint at the top of my lungs. Eventually, my father arrived and took me and my bicycle home. I never took another bicycle trip with my brother – and my brother has never harassed me about it or held it against me.

Being family is not always easy.

I hear that it has been this way for a long time.

When King David died, the crown went to his son, Solomon. When Solomon died, the crown went to his son, Rehoboam.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of an encyclopedic book titled, “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History.”

Rabbi Telushkin has this to say about King David’s grandson: "Rehoboam has three bad traits; he is greedy arrogant, and a fool." (p. 84)

From I Kings 12, here is a summary of what happened after the death of King Solomon. King Solomon had imposed high taxes and forced labor to build the temple. After the death of Solomon, the people approached Rehoboam and asked, “Your father made our yoke heavy. Now, therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke that he placed on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam told them he would have an answer for them in three days. His father’s advisors, who are older, suggest kindness and moderation and thus gain the eternal allegiance of the people. The younger advisors, who had grown up with Rehoboam, suggest a ruthless denial of the request. Rehoboam listens to his younger advisors. When the people return in three days, Rehoboam informs them that he will be even tougher than his father. And the people said, “We’re outta here.” [Hoosier translation of the original Hebrew] Ten of the twelve tribes form their own kingdom and Rehoboam is left with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The ten tribes name their kingdom, “Israel.”

208 years later, Israel is destroyed by Assyria. 136 years after the destruction of Israel, most of Judah is exiled to Babylon.

Here is the rest of the story. When the Assyrians destroyed Israel, some of the people escaped to Judah, formed their own province in the north of Judah and called it Samaria.

Take a breath and change gears – we are jumping to the United States in the 1860s. Think about the animosity between the North and South just before the Civil War. Now, think about that animosity between the North and South and no Civil War. Instead of Civil War, there is only the constant animosity. That is the relationship between Judah and Samaria in the first century during the ministry of Jesus. Back to the United States; what kind of stories do people in the north like to tell about southerners? What kind of stories do people in the south like to tell about those damn yankees? It was the same way between Judah and Samaria. Remember the animosity and the stereotyped jokes that had to have existed the next time you hear the story of the Good Samaritan or the story of the Samaritan woman at the well.

NRSV John 4:7-21 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, .....and Jesus said to her, ..........Give me a drink. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, ..........How is it that you, a Jew, ...............ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, ..........If you knew the gift of God, and ...............who it is that is saying to you, ....................‘Give me a drink,’ ...............you would have asked him, ...............and he would have given you living water.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. ..........Where do you get that living water? ..........Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, ...............who gave us the well, ...............and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?

Jesus said to her, ..........Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, ...............but those who drink of the water that I will give them ...............will never be thirsty. ..........The water that I will give ...............will become in them a spring of water ...............gushing up to eternal life.

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, give me this water, ...............so that I may never be thirsty or ...............have to keep coming here to draw water.

Jesus said to her, ..........Go, call your husband, and come back.

The woman answered him, ..........I have no husband.

Jesus said to her, ..........You are right in saying, ....................‘I have no husband’; ...............for you have had five husbands, ...............and the one you have now is not your husband. ..........What you have said is true!

The woman said to him, ..........Sir, I see that you are a prophet. ..........Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, ...............but you say that the place where people must worship ...............is in Jerusalem.

Jesus said to her, ..........Woman, believe me, ...............the hour is coming when you will worship the Father ...............neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

Two interesting observations about this story.

The first observation is this: Jesus would go the synagogue of whatever village he was visiting. The custom of the day was to invite such a visitor to participate in the worship service. This gave Jesus the opportunity to share his message. Yet, only a couple of stories exist about his synagogue visits. All of the other stories about his ministry – about the teachings and interactions of Jesus – take place outside the synagogue.

The second observation is a question and a challenge: With whom did Jesus interact? Go home and explore the four Gospels; start with Mark, then Matthew and Luke, and finally John. With whom did Jesus interact? Here is a hint: anyone. The early church heard this message and followed it.

NRSV Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ..........Get up and go toward the south ...............to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, .....a court official of the Candace, .....queen of the Ethiopians, .....in charge of her entire treasury.

He had come to Jerusalem to worship .....and was returning home; .....seated in his chariot, .....he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

Then the Spirit said to Philip, ..........Go over to this chariot and join it. So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ..........Do you understand what you are reading? He replied, ..........How can I, unless someone guides me? And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The eunuch asked Philip, ..........About whom, may I ask you, ..........does the prophet say this, ..........about himself or about someone else?

Then Philip began to speak, and .....starting with this scripture, .....he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.

As they were going along the road, .....they came to some water; .....and the eunuch said, ..........Look, here is water! ..........What is to prevent me from being baptized?

He commanded the chariot to stop, .....and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, .....went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

When they came up out of the water, .....the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; .....the eunuch saw him no more, .....and went on his way rejoicing.

But Philip found himself at Azotus, .....and as he was passing through the region, .....he proclaimed the good news to all the towns .....until he came to Caesarea. [END OF SCRIPTURE]

The eunuch, because of his incompleteness, would not have been allowed to participate in certain acts of worship at the temple in Jerusalem and there were parts of the temple where he would not have been allowed to enter.

Both of these stories were clear messages of inclusiveness to and by the early church. Additionally, a very clear attribute of the ministry and message of Jesus and the conduct of the early church was that ministry and message occur out there, not in the synagogue. While ministry and message are public, they are not to be overtly offensive, not in-your-face abuse, and they do not demand change as a requirement to hear the message or to receive ministry. Change can occur and it happens through the resurrection and transformation that is experienced when the ministry and message of Jesus is embraced and internalized.

We speak of being children of God, of being in the family of God. We speak of how this includes everyone, that it is a global perspective. We gladly talk about having an open table where all are invited. Really?

We are open and affirming – we welcome anyone regardless of sexual orientation. What about the homophobic? They, too, are children of God.

We happily talk about welcoming all regardless of race, color, or ethnicity. What about the racist, the Neo-Nazi, the KKK? They, too, are children of God.

We would welcome attorneys, judges, police officers, prison guards – anyone involved with law enforcement. What about the car thief, the burglar, the robber, the home invader, the child molester, the rapist, the murderer? They, too, are children of God.

Would we welcome the invisible people? The illegal immigrant, the homeless, the people who have chronic mental illness and are receiving little or no mental health service? They, too, are children of God.

Being family is not easy. There are 4 terrible prices to be paid if we truly accept and embrace this radical ridiculous notion that there are over 7 billion of God’s children on this planet.

1) If we accept each other as real brothers and sisters, then we are going to have to overlook a lot – and that includes stupid disastrous bicycle rides. For example, just in this room, it means affirming that in our worship service, there are no mistakes. [I have lost count of how many times this act of grace in worship has saved my butt.] When applied globally, the price to be paid is: There is no “them”, only us.

2) If we accept that we have 7 billion brothers and sisters, then we lose “there.” The Republic of Congo is not there, it is here. Syria and Iran and Pakistan are not there, they are here. Mexico and Venezuela are not there, they are here. They are as much here as we are in this room.

3) If we accept that we have 7 billion sisters and brothers, then we lose “later.” If Dennis phones from his home in Churubusco saying that he has an emergency that requires me to be there, I’m outta here. I know – We know – that the same is true between many of us in this room. It should be true for all of us who are here – all 7 billion of us. How do we respond “now” [?] – because “later” doesn’t exist.

4) The most terrible price to be paid is that in the presence of evil, we cannot be silent and still. In the presence of evil, we are called to shout, “This is wrong!” and we called to move against it. Evil exists. Evil is when a person is murdered, abandoned, or excluded from their rightful place in life because of prejudice or ignorance. Evil is when people are treated as “them” “there” and we decide that their need for justice or compassion can be dealt with “later.”

Consequently, if we accept that we have 7 billion siblings – and if we accept that “we” are “here” “now” – then we are going to settle our differences in vastly different ways. We are going to settle our differences as family. We are not going to settle our differences as winner-take-all antagonists and not as an act of conquest. We are going to change the way we intervene in conflicts and feuds – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in harmful practices such as genocide and slavery and exclusion based on prejudice and ignorance – and we are going to intervene. We are going to change the way we intervene in the oppressive practice of living in empire instead of community – and we are going to intervene.

Being family is not easy.

My apologies to those who have already heard this story. I am telling it again because it is the only one I have to end this message.

At one point during his short troubled life, my son, Chad, was arrested and incarcerated in the Greene County jail. Having neither the emotional nor financial resources to pay his bail, I rationalized it as an example of “tough love.”

At 4 o’clock in the morning there was a knock on the front door. There stood my brother, Dennis, with Chad. Chad had phoned Dennis, who at the time lived in Muncie. Dennis had made the 3-hour drive in the middle of the night, from Muncie to Bloomfield, and bailed Chad out of jail and brought Chad home, and then Dennis made the 3-hour drive back to Muncie.

My question to Dennis was something along the line of “What were you thinking?” My brother’s response to me was “What else was I to do? He’s family.”

Being family is not easy. The Good News is that there is no other way than – all of us here and now – be the family of God living in the Kingdom of God – and respond to each other one-to-one with generosity and hospitality and healthy service – and as a community provide justice and compassion – and that we be and live and share the Kingdom of God by embracing and exuding the unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God.

Amen. _________________________________

* In this case, KISS = Keep It Short and Simple

Turning the Tables: Why Conservative Christianity Bears the Burden of Proof

By Derek Penwell

Word on the street has progressives engaged in a “war against religion,” or if not a war, then at least a Monty Python-esque call to “run away” from all that is good, Christian, and decent. A column by Russ Douthat in yesterday’s New York Times, as Diana Butler Bass points out in her wonderful response , rehearses the old trope that liberal mainline denominations are dying because they are liberal. Without naming it, Bass draws attention to the fallacy of the liberal-kills-churches meme, that is, the confusion of correlation with causation, by offering the reminder that conservative churches are also experiencing decline.

The tired charge that liberal mainline churches are dying is, ironically, itself difficult to kill off. This fact has caused liberal churches for at least forty years to find themselves always on the defensive. Underlying this indictment of liberal Christianity is the assumption that a progressive reading of scripture and its ethical conclusions are somehow an accommodation to a purely secular system of meaning, while conservative interpretation is self-evidently the gold standard of biblical faithfulness.

What I want to challenge is the persistent and difficult-to-kill assumption that conservatives occupy some kind of religious and ethical high ground, and that any deviation from a particular kind of conservative orthodoxy isn’t merely a matter of interpretation, but is tantamount to initiating hostilities against God, motherhood, and the flag—all of which, interestingly enough, are conflated in some people’s minds. But that’s another article.

The smug certainty with which some conservative religious and political types believe not just that they occupy the side of truth on every issue, but that they occupy the side of God’s truth is alarming—not because they believe these things of themselves so uncritically (self-righteousness is a time-honored religious and political posture on both sides of the ideological divide, after all), but because so many in the culture agree to cede them this authoritative land of milk and honey.[1]

In fact, I not only want to challenge certain popularly held assumptions about the rightful place of the Right at the center of theological discussion, I want to suggest that if a war on religion is being waged, it’s main combatants aren’t progressive Christianity, Barack Obama, or left-leaning political types at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. I want to set down a more radical charge:

The real war on religion is being waged by those on the Right who read the bible not as the story of God’s saving interaction with the world through the unfolding of God’s reign, but as foundational for a conservative politics of self-interest or as a blueprint for a post-Enlightenment cult of individual piety.

There. I said it. The greatest damage to Christianity comes at the hands of those who display their devoutness with such practiced conspicuousness.[2] Jesus spends the better part of the Gospels crossing rhetorical swords with those who have arrogated unto themselves the mantle of God’s special emissaries for a publicly muscular show of religious devotion.[3] Ironically, Jesus, when faced with an opportunity to cash in on his religious popularity, always seems to strike out in the opposite direction.

I am weary of playing defense against fundamentalism, as if it holds some sort of privileged theological position that requires a special deference, as well as the expectation of an explanation from those who would deviate.

It’s not that I resent having to come clean about my own hermeneutical presuppositions, to be required to set down the story I’m telling about how I interpret scripture. What makes me unutterably weary is the popular assumption that a fundamentalist reading of scripture is somehow the hermeneutical true north by which all interpretations are to be judged. The assertion that the bible is to be read in a common sense fashion, as close to literally as possible, is not only itself merely one interpretative strategy among other strategies, it’s also a fairly recent development in the history of interpretation.

If, for example, one holds that LGBTQ people should be embraced and welcomed as full participants into the life and ministry of the church, the popular assumption among some is that one makes such moves in spite of rather than because of one’s reading of scripture. I have been asked on more than one occasion why I don’t “just quit pretending to be be a Christian,” since I “obviously don’t believe the Bible.”

Apart from the general incivility of such dismissiveness, claiming that Christians who don’t read the bible in a “literal” or “common sense” way are cynically attempting to circumvent taking scripture seriously is captive to its own set of prejudices, which are most often transparent to the speaker. That form of biblical interpretation (viz., “The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it”) is question-begging in its most basic sense.

My hunch is that much of what gets put forward as the practical policy implications of fundamentalism have at least as much to do with conservative economic systems as with biblical interpretation. If progressive Christians have merely uncritically baptized liberal ethical systems when it comes to issues like homosexuality—as is often suggested by our fundamentalist brothers and sisters—why is it not the case that the conservative embrace of tax breaks for the wealthy, the adoption of a do-it-yourself attitude toward healthcare, welfare, and unemployment benefits, and the enthusiastic correlation of patriotism and militarism are merely a baptism of conservative (or worse, libertarian) ethical systems?

So, here’s what I’d like to see: A turning of the tables (or perhaps better, a “turning over” of the tables)—a rebalancing of the burden of proof.

  • I’d like to see a fundamentalist defense from scripture of such policies as cutting taxes for people who already have enough for several lifetimes. How does one “literally” read the prophets or the Gospels and come away thinking that protecting the ability to purchase another yacht or vacation home at the expense of those just struggling to feed their children is something Christians ought to have any stake in?
  • I’d like to see someone defend from scripture fighting for a healthcare system, the chief motivation of which is to figure out ever more ingenious ways to deny coverage to those who can least afford it.
  • I’d like to see a scriptural justification for treating undocumented workers not with Christian hospitality—if not as potential friends and neighbors, then at least as fellow children of God—but as an insidious threat to “our way of life” (in which “our” refers to American and not Christian).
  • I’d like to see how scripture works as a legitimator of arms stockpiling in the service of military adventurism in other countries (see, in particular, Iraq).
  • I’d like to see how the bible comes to the aid of those who would stand idly by while LGBTQ kids endure the dehumanizing and often deadly effects of bullying.
  • I’d like to see how the bible can be put to use defending the belief that our ultimate loyalties to flag and faith are interchangeable, that to have invoked one is ipso facto to have named the other.

I don’t see these arguments being made in convincing ways; and my fear is that this is so because these arguments don’t need making in our culture, since everyone already knows that if Pat Robertson, or James Dobson, or Gary Bauer, or Ralph Reed, or John Piper, Albert Mohler, or Mark Driscoll say it the burden of proof is on anyone who would disagree with them.

If Jesus is any model, turning over tables in the temple is a necessary, if potentially perilous practice.

  1. Before you start emailing me, let me just say that I know, love, and am related to some fine people who read scripture differently from me. I regret, however, that the hard won devoutness of these folks is a moral commodity traded on by religious entrepreneurs and politicians hoping to plant the victor’s flag on the cultural landscape.  ↩
  2. I am using Christianity and religion interchangeably, not because I assume that Christianity is predominant or that other religions are merely placeholders for the “real” truth of Christianity, but because some Christians do assume something very nearly like this. Other religions, generally speaking, stand to lose considerably more than Christianity when a “war on religion” has been identified in the United States, since certain constituencies within Christianity tend to protect a form of Christian hegemony against all other religious comers—often with deadly enthusiasm.  ↩
  3. See, for example: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:1); “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matt. 23:14); “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to sit at the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38–40). You get the point.  ↩

Radical Thanksgiving

By Rev. Mindi

I was going to write a whole post about how we as progressive Christians can reclaim Thanksgiving as a spiritual practice of giving thanks and giving back from what God has given us on a daily basis, to acknowledge and honor the fact that the tame little story we learned in elementary school about the Pilgrims and Indians is based on a white myth that we Euro-Americans keep retelling to the next generation because the truth about genocide is too uncomfortable for us to bear… but that might wait for another day. Or maybe from this one brief paragraph you’ll garner enough insight for yourself (and read this great article on the Huffington Post asking the question Do Native Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving?)

But then this happened. The Church of England, by a margin of 6 votes, was unable to allow female bishops for the first time.  By six votes. 

And suddenly I’m thinking back over almost 400 years of not only the struggles for religious freedom, but also the freedom of call, and the freedom to speak.  I think of not only the Separatists in England that later became known as the Puritans and Pilgrims, but of the very few (less than ten) who left the Separatists in Holland to return to England after being influenced by the Anabaptists and began meeting as the first Baptists in England, meeting in secret.  I think of Roger Williams in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, banished back to England but fled to what is now Rhode Island, who not only had radical beliefs about baptism and the separation of church and state, but also believed that the Native Americans already knew God and that he was not called to convert them but to become friends with them.  And I think of the women who began to preach almost 400 years ago in small New England churches along with the women who were burned at the stake in Salem.  This tension of the freedom of the Spirit and the need to control to the point of death go hand in hand over our last four hundred years.

We’ve come so far and yet we take steps backward every step forward.  We continue to forget our history and even disguise our stories in overreaching myths.  My Southern Baptist sisters, from the same roots of religious freedom and the separation of church and state that was established along with the First Baptist Church in Providence, RI, still face expulsion for ordination, along with the congregations that call them.  And now my Anglican sisters, who have only been able to be ordained for twenty years, are faced with the stained-glass ceiling because of a few who might be uncomfortable, for those who claimed this was a cultural issue and not a biblical issue.

But this is a Biblical issue.  It is a Biblical issue when we ignore our history and repeat the mistakes of the past—didn’t the prophets teach us this when the people ignored the poor and the widows and the orphans and left the way of their God?  Isn’t it a Biblical issue when we ignore the basic human rights of others and treat entire cultures as not worthy of survival, as the ancient Israelites faced and as Native Americans have experienced, and how many groups around the world continue to experience, while Christians have stood by or mainly been silent (as happening in Gaza and Israel)?  And isn’t it a Biblical issue when we silence voices speaking out against injustice, and deny rights and responsibilities to individuals based on our DNA such as race, gender, and sexual orientation?  Didn’t the Syrophonecian woman challenge Jesus herself to be heard?  Didn’t Priscilla and Phoebe serve in equal roles as Paul?  And didn’t Paul himself say there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28)?

It is a travesty that women cannot be bishops in the Church of England just because it makes some people uncomfortable.  It is outrageous that this is said in the name of tradition.  It is unthinkable that this is not seen as a Biblical issue but a cultural one, and that the very people who do not want the Church of England to give in to the culture of today use their own culture of tradition as their excuse.

The world around us has had women in leadership in just about every position. While the U.S. still waits to have its first female president, many other nation-states including the United Kingdom have moved forward.  The U.S. had a record number of women elected to Congress this year.  And yet, for some reason in these people’s minds, while God would allow a woman to rule a country (as the Queen in the United Kingdom, who is also technically the head of the Church of England, ironically), while women can do just about anything today, they cannot lead in a church. 

There is nothing Biblical in that argument. Instead, it is giving in to a very old culture and tradition that states the way things have been is the way they should be.  White men rule the world, so therefore white men should continue.  Our version of Christianity is the right way to believe, so others must convert.  Our culture is superior, so others must become Westernized.  And so we continue to perpetuate the myth that we continue to teach to elementary school children: our version of history is the right one because it’s neat and orderly and makes us look good.  In the church, we perpetuate that myth as well: because we’ve always had male bishops and male church leaders, it’s the right one because it’s neat and orderly.

To truly be counter-cultural, to truly be revolutionary, to truly be Biblical and living into God’s ways, we have to learn from our past mistakes and know that God is continuing to lead us forward.  The way of the world is to stick with the culture and traditions of the past; the Biblical way, and the way of God, is to continue to seek God’s insight in our own lives, to come to new and greater conclusions of God’s inclusive love, as Paul did in his letter to the Galatians, as Jesus did when he was challenged by the Syrophonecian woman, as the prophets did long ago when they challenged the status quo.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Eat, drink, and be merry.  Give thanks to God who has given this beautiful earth as our dwelling place.  But let us stop perpetuating myths, and let us give thanks to those who have challenged, who have spoken out on behalf of the marginalized, and who continue to lead us forward. Remember and mourn with our Native American brothers and sisters, with our Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters, and with our Anglican brothers and sisters.  Let us give thanks to God, who always gives us another chance to learn from our mistakes, and to grow in our understanding of God’s great love.

Oh, and P.S. To hear some great stories of women who are challenging authority and leadership culture in the church, check out this book by Jennifer Harris Dault, released yesterday: The Modern Magnificat: Women Responding to the Call of God.  My call story is included in this collection.

Identity without Exclusion

By Tim Graves

I always stumble over the question. You know that simple one, "Where are you from?" Not only have my wife and I lived on both coasts and lots of places in between during our thirty-three year marriage, I moved around a lot as a kid.

The failure to provide a simple answer, I know, confounds people. We use place as a marker of identity. We also use education, skin color, political party, Myers-Briggs score, and religion as ways of labeling and identifying others. We seem to be hard-wired to define ourselves. The problem is that we too often define ourselves in contrast to others. 

At their best, identity markers start a conversation. At their worst, these labels  exclude and demonize those who are different. Labeling puts people into a definition. When we label others (or ourselves) we diminish the divinely gifted uniqueness of an individual. 

Political or religious fundamentalism has a tendency to define itself in contrast to the other. If you subscribe to the tenets of the inside group, you're accepted. If you do not you are evil or, at best, misguided and naive. Fundamentalism preys on exclusion and fear setting impenetrable boundaries around itself.

This approach to identity, can result in grandiose claims that hurt others. For example, Dennis Marcellino said in a recent post that "The Bible does say that if a person votes for a democrat (the promoters and supporters of sin) and were to die without repenting of that, he or she is going to hell." Marcellino is identifying his beliefs against the beliefs of others. 

A positive identity does not rely on putting others down. While I share a professed Christian faith with Mr. Marcellino, I identify my beliefs positively. For example, the primary Christian narrative of inclusive, extravagant love and resurrection helps me to make sense of my experience of the Divine. It gives me hope for the future. 

Regardless of someone else's beliefs, I find meaning in the Gospel of Jesus. This positive identification does not dismiss another person's journey or experience. My faith is not contingent upon your agreement or disagreement. (Though, my faith is challenged within the faith by the checks and balances of the Koinonia.)

In our efforts to psychologically and emotionally cope with our changing culture and uncertain times, it is critical that we define ourselves positively. When we define ourselves against others, we risk falling into hatred and dehumanization of others. To fall into hatred or dehumanization of others is to fail to live up to the potential with which we were created.

‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ Matthew 22: 36-40 NRSV (Read this passage in context.)

It's All Made Up Anyway

By Tim Graves

"The Holy Trinity's all made up, anyway!" My friend thought I was joking. I wasn't and I'm not. I'm not an atheist; I believe in God. I'm even  [caption id="attachment_960" align="alignright" width="300"] Painting by Anthony J. Kelly. Image retrieved from Rev. David Eck's blog.[/caption]

trinitarian with a higher sense of the Holy Spirit than many other mainline Christians. Still, it's pretend.

I perceive a divinity that connects us, that flows through us, and encourages us to lovingness. Our stories and theologies -- including trinitarian theology -- reveal truths that are beyond the rational, scientific explanation. They are not, nor were they ever intended to be literal, historical retellings of facts. 

Through the Christian biblical narrative, however, God continues to speak. For me, Jesus is,

"the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father." (John 14:6-7b CEB Read this passage in context.)

This is the path upon which God has lured me. This is the only way for me to be the loving, unique person that God created me to be. It is in the life of Jesus, that I enter into a relationship with the love that underpins all of creation. It is in the human Jesus that I learn how to be who God calls me to be.

Jesus functions as a gate for me (John 10: 1-10 CEB). However, just as it is naive and ineffective to expect all children to learn via only one modality (e.g.; visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), it is naive to think that God's love only opens through one gate. The arrogant teacher is one who thinks there is one -- and only one -- way to reach all children. This assumes the gifts, skills, challenges, and experiences of each individual is the same. 

Arrogant Christian spirituality, is one that projects its own gifts on all. When we do this we deny the truth reflected in Paul's writings to the Corinthians. That truth is that as we seek to follow the One, we each have unique roles and gifts.

Certainly the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? (1 Corinthians 12: 14-17 CEB Read this passage in context.)

Though Paul wrote to a squabbling community of Jesus followers, to expand this truth beyond Christianity is to hear the voice of God in a new time and place. Paul -- and the other authors of the canon -- wrote contextually. That is, the biblical writers spoke to specific people in a specific era, place, and culture. When we read and study the texts thoughtfully, communally, and prayerfully, we hear God's voice for today. We can find truths.

The gospels interpret the life of Jesus as he challenged the prevailing human-defined circle of acceptable behaviors and the people that were worthy of God's love. The Good News of the unfolding Realm of God (love) is that it is for all of us. God's love is expansive and extravagant! The One is love. The One, who I call God, reflected in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament reveals an arc of loving inclusiveness and justice for all.

To find God through Jesus, does not require dismissing others. On the contrary, to follow the teachings of Jesus is to engage in loving, respectful relationship with others. Other peoples have stories, metaphors, and narratives that describe their experiences of the One, the divinity that I perceive. Just as the Christian Bible reveals truths, the sacred writings (or verbal stories) of Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Rastafarians, and others reveal truths. They reflect the ways that others have experienced the One I call God. Is it hard to perceive that the mysterium tremendum that is God, might speak to others in ways that make sense to them?

Rather than limiting God, I accept the Trinity as a metaphor that helps me to describe how I experience the One. It helps me to follow the Divine's call on my life. I don't need to idolize it into a literal fact anymore than I need Jesus to be the only way to the extravagant, expansive love of God. 

Good Soil Among the Rocks

By Tim Graves
‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ Mark 4: 9 NRSV
 
In our too-human rush to judgement, we can miss the central point of the teachings of Jesus. In the parable of the sower, Jesus emphasizes the receptivity of the soil - of our hearts - to hearing the Good News of love for all. He does not suggest the sower should withhold seed. Rather, he describes what we see all around us. Not all seeds or love we share take root. 
 
Nonetheless, Jesus calls us to plant seeds of love extravagantly. We may fear there is not enough love, withholding seeds from those we deem unworthy or bad risks, but this is not what Jesus teaches. It is not our role to pre-judge others and withhold our love-seeds from the rocks. To do so, is to assume that we know where the Realm of God will take root and blossom. Sometimes the seed planted among the rocks, finds good soil where we least expect.
 
Photo by Tim Graves
Again he began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ Mark 4: 1-9 NRSV (Read in context.)

Idolizing the God of Moderation

By Tim Graves

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1: 26-27 NRSV (read in context)

Living closer to nature, we live closer God. By slowing down, we see the subtleties of creation. We see the nonstop transformation of the world. There are deaths and resurrections all around us. Dry creek beds, surging waterfalls, ice storms and debilitating heat all come to an end. The Divine energy  pulses and vibrates throughout it all. (This is also reflected in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.)

We experience and observe the resurrecting nature of the One I call God in Creation. It is where we can take our rightful place as one creature among many. We are called to practice a dominion over the earth that reflects the image of God (Imago Dei) within us. That god does not control us. The One who loves us with abandon and feels our every emotion creates and transforms with us. Without pausing, God prods us to reflect God's loving creating nature.

Responding to this call requires empathy. Empathy with the salmon struggling upstream and with our kindred humans fighting for dignity and justice. Without empathy we fail to reflect the Imago Dei.

[caption id="attachment_1094" align="alignright" width="336"]A blooming flower grows through a crack in the asphalt. Nature is filled with death and resurrections. Photo by Tim Graves[/caption]

Yet, we idolize a god who does not feel or transform. We isolate ourselves from the opportunities to empathize and love.

In our modern world of air conditioning we forget that a little sweat is a good thing. Instead of feeling the warm summer blowing on our face, we insulate ourselves. If we feel moisture on our skin with the thermostat set to 78, we sequester ourselves at 72 degrees. We live in a world insulated from the nature of God and one another.

Moderation and comfort are our idols. But without the highs or the lows, the anguish and the exuberance, we do not experience the One who is always creating, the One who dances in joy and weeps in despair with us, the God of the ancient Hebrews who heard cries and responds in mercy. The God who grows through the crack in the asphalt demanding that beauty win, that love win.

Subverting the American Creation Myth

(From Isa 61 - 5.13.12)

People who imagine history flatters them (as it does, indeed, since they wrote it) are impaled on their history like a butterfly on a pin and become incapable of seeing or changing themselves, or the world. 

 This is the place in which it seems to me, most white Americans find themselves.  Impaled.  They are dimly, or vividly, aware that the history they have fed themselves is mainly a lie, but they do not know how to release themselves from it, and they suffer enormously from the resulting personal incoherence.  This incoherence is heard nowhere more plainly than in those stammering, terrified dialogues white Americans sometimes entertain with that black conscience, the black man in America.

The nature of this stammering can be reduced to a plea: Do not blame me. I was not there. I did not do it. My history has nothing to do with Europe or the slave trade. Anyway, it was your chiefs who sold you to me. I was not present on the middle passage.[1]

In the so-called colorblind America of the 21st century in which we live, there is a conversation that we need to have.  And when I say “we,” I am imploring you to remove the race-less spectacles we’ve been told to wear, so that we can acknowledge the extraordinary colors of the human family, and see where a great many of us have been divided and conquered along those lines.  When I say “we,” I’m talking about American white folks.  Specifically, I’m talking about my people.  And as an upper-middle class, straight, American, white male between the ages of 18-35, I know how our collective posterior can tighten at the mention of a talk about race.  I understand the uncomfortable position to be put in where there seems to be no good answer to any question put to the white man about race in America today.  Can’t we just move past this?  Wasn’t the Civil Rights Movement victorious?  Can’t you see that we have a black man in the White House?  I understand the hot flush that runs up the back of our necks for something we can’t quite name, and the incredulous frustration over the guilt that is sure to be heaped upon us.  I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys being force-fed shame over original sins committed years before his birth.  And I certainly understand the response of good white people of every political stripe to advocate the move to colorblindness, so that the race-less virtues of merit and accomplishment, of strong families and solid faith, may overcome the social challenges of the regrettable behavior of distant ancestors.  So let me assure you that while this conversation is sure to be difficult, it is one that we must have in order to move forward along the great arc of human history bending towards God’s justice.  And while we must all accept our responsibility to do the heavy lifting of kin-dom building, I promise you that shame and guilt are not burdens we are designed to carry.

As people of faith, we have ways to engage the truth of God, of who we are and of what we are designed to do.  And while we may all agree that Biblical texts are an entry point to that engagement with the divine, careful study of how those texts have interacted and responded to the world since its original composition is crucial in order to sift the Word of God out from a desert of lies and misinformation.

As we examine the Genesis creation story handed down to us through the descendants of Abraham, let us consider the Babylonian creation myth, Enûma Eliš.  This narrative tells of gods who war with one another, who resort to violence, and who create the world out of the corpse of the defeated.  The gods who have been conquered become servants of the victorious, until it is decided that humans are to be created in order to assume the burden of labor for the gods.  This story served the dynastic kings, who were legitimized by the supreme deity, in order to preserve and maintain the Babylonian power structure.  You see, it was necessary to assure people who were forced to labor for the building of the empire that they had been created for slavery.  If the status quo must be protected, then it becomes critical to tell a narrative that asserts the righteousness of the status quo.

The Abrahamic faith narrative, however, reveals that God has a way of subverting unjust power structures the status quo.

The ancients who first heard and recorded the creation story we find in Genesis 1:1-2:4a, people who were aware the Babylonian myth, would have detected the bold and subversive claim that humans were not created for slave labor, but rather to rule over the created world and all the abundant life within it.  The Genesis story claims that human beings were not conceived at the end of a series of bickering, failures, annoyances and war among the god, but rather created intentionally good.  We see in Genesis the boundless delight of God, pleased with God’s creation of male and female, made in the very image of God.

So God created humankind in [God’s] image, in the image of God [God] created them; male and female [God] created them.  God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:27-28, NRSV).

And the climax of our creation story is not that the point of life is for toil under the oppression of the state, but for Sabbath rest.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.  And on the seventh day God finished the work that [God] had done, and [God] rested on the seventh day from all the work that [God] had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that [God] had done in creation (Gen 2:1-3, NSRV).

You see, we have a remarkable story of who we are and what we are designed to do in this grand mystery of incarnation, in this beautiful and abundant world.  But the power of this story is uniquely revealed when we consider the dominant narrative that it challenges.  The power structure says that humans were created as an afterthought for the leisure of the gods.  Genesis says that we are created in the image of the Divine.  The power structure says that humanity was created for endless toil.  Our God says that we created for empowerment and the benevolent rule of an abundant world.  The power structure says that life is a burden of work from the cradle to the grave.  God declares a holy day of Sabbath rest.  God compels us to have faith that creation is so abundant that six days of work will fill seven days of life.

So what does this have to do with the conversation that we must have about race today?

When I say that the world is abundant, that God wills us to have prosperity and leisure, upper-middle class white people like myself hardly skip a beat.  We look at our broad, green lawns and clean suburban streets and think to ourselves, “of course.  I have been blessed by God.  The abundance of God is evident in my life.”  When we excel in our private or parochial schools, graduate college, secure comfortable, air-conditioned jobs, and vacation in resorts overflowing with amusement and pleasure, we earnestly think to ourselves that the American dream has come true.  We logically associate our dedication and resourcefulness to material success and earnestly believe that anyone who perseveres with such industriousness can have the leisure and consumptive lifestyle that we enjoy.  We figure that it must be something about the determined American character of sacrifice and hard work, combined with the favor of God’s blessings on exceptional people that make the United States of America the greatest nation on earth.

But the fact of the matter is that we have been sold a lie.

We’ve been duped.

And like the Babylonian creation myth that was circulated among ancient people in order to protect an oppressive power structure as well as the elites who were privileged by it, we too have been told a story about our origin and identity that simultaneously privileges a few with power, and oppresses a great many without.  And just as the Genesis creation story subverts a narrative of social control, we too must confront the lies that have blinded us with a liberating faith that speaks truth to power and seeks to dismantle unjust social structures for the kin-dom of God.

The reality is that hard work and ingenuity are admirable values that are worth preserving.  But the truth of the matter is that the world we live in provides access and advantage to some people, so that hard work has the suitable environment to manifest itself in material prosperity, while preventing a great many people from having enough to even survive.  Extensive data reveal that inadequate schools, ethnic and racial disparities in health care, vastly disproportionate rates of employment and incarceration among our sisters and brothers of color are undeniable.  And the myth of individualism, that in order for someone to make it in our world is to pull herself up by her own bootstraps, is not only false, but dangerous.  This is the contemporary Babylonian myth sold to us by a selective telling of our American history.  It is the fiction of an egalitarian nation that earned its wealth with every drop of honest sweat.  But the creation myth of this nation leaves out the millions of Native Americans whose land was stolen and whose people were forcibly displaced.  The story fails to acknowledge that the great wealth of this nation was built on centuries of slave labor, justified by an emerging capitalist ethic and doctrine of white supremacy.  The selective history defames the bravery of impoverished folks who were conscripted to fight and die in wars abroad.  It overlooks the tremendous irony of black and brown men and women who fought overseas for rights they did not enjoy at home.

Now some may say, “sure, we are not a perfect nation.  There have been many sins committed in the past.  But we are beyond that now.  Slavery is over.  Jim Crow has been outlawed.  Haven’t we evolved?  Can’t we move forward?”  The answer is no.  So long as white folks like me benefit from an unresolved and impartial telling of history, and so long as folks of color continue to suffer disproportionately from that same past, then truly we are held captive still.  For it is not the sins of malicious people from which some of us have benefited and others have been abused.  It is the inherently unjust system by which this nation was born and operates still that enslaves us all.  And yes, we are all in bondage.  Some of us are bound by the system as the privileged, and many others are held captive under the weight of its machinery, oppressed generation after generation.  Those of us who are the privileged prisoners are duped into giving our consent to an abusive system that crushes our sisters and brothers under God.  We are taught that our possessions and good fortunes are blessings.  But the truth is that they are the bribes of the empire, paid for with the lives of the oppressed.

And here’s the thing.  This is not about guilt.  None of us built this unjust society by ourselves; it was not even built in our lifetime.  We should not feel guilty.  We should feel angry that we have been coerced into being accomplices to crimes we would never knowingly commit.  We should come to grips with the truth that our economy has been built on two lies:  that scarcity requires us to compete for limited goods, and that the aim of life is unconscious and unbounded consumption.

And here’s another thing.  We need not fall into despair.  Trust me, it’s tempting to leap into the abyss of hopelessness when we open our eyes to the extent of abuse against the most vulnerable and innocent, to the depths of injustice against all of God’s people.  We must look again to the revelation of God in the scriptures, in the person of Jesus Christ, and in the movement of the Holy Spirit among us.  But we must have this conversation of the injustice of race in this nation in order to hear what the voice of God has to say in defiance and revolution against such sin and evil.  Because as long as we do not hear the suppressed voices of the marginalized, we cannot hear the voice of God.  So long as we hear only the seductive coddling of the empire, we are deaf to hear anything else.

The Genesis creation story told an ancient people that the myth of the Babylonian Empire had sold them a lie for the sake of social control.  Today, the same truth that we are created fundamentally good in the image of God in order to rule justly in the world subverts the contemporary lie that maintains an oppressive status quo.  It is difficult to see such systemic sin in the world from the perspective of privilege, when we have been told our own selective historical myth, but that is precisely why we must not shy aware from having the difficult conversation of race in our society.  We need to see that truly we are all held captive, so that we realize that no one can be scapegoated for injustice, neither the oppressed nor the privileged.  This is a system that must be recognized and defeated, because as Christians, we believe in something greater for which we strive as the Body of Christ.  We are not guilty of the past we did not commit.  But we are responsible.  We are obligated to respond to what has happened, because we follow Jesus Christ who responded to the sins of the world with indomitable love.  First we are going to need a shift in perspective in order to dissolve our blindness, and we’re going to need the faith in a God big enough, powerful enough and compassionate enough to replace the empires of humanity with the kin-dom of God.  And to find that God, we are going to need to listen to the lived experiences of people of color who do not share our historical illusions, and to follow closely the narrative of love and liberation we find in our sacred texts.  It is the true story of where we came from.  It is the story of who we truly are and what we were created to be.  And through our faithful lives, it will be the story of how a God who is madly in love with us flows into the world to overturn dehumanizing powers to set us free.

It’s time to reclaim our identity.


[1] James Baldwin, “The White Man’s Guilt” Ebony, August 1965

Obama's Announcement and What It Means for "Liberal" Christians

This is something that, you know, we’ve talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others.

.

But, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I’ll be as president.

~Pres. Barack Obama

That President Obama’s announcement of his support of marriage equality for LGBTQI people was met with consternation by many in popular Christianity shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. That his “brand” of Christianity fails to be persuasive to a portion of the Christian world should surprise no one either. It is common to dismiss anyone who supports hospitality to those created LGBTQI by God as deluded (at best) and evil (at worst).

What I continue to find troubling, though, is the extent to which people who oppose marriage equality maintain that any support of it by those who call themselves Christian is some kind of hermeneutical dodge. The working assumption seems to be that if you fail to employ some form of traditionally conservative interpretive schema, you can’t reasonably expect to call yourself Christian. Because everybody knows that “liberals” don’t actually believe anything important about God or the Bible or following Jesus; they’re just trying to baptize their godless agenda and impose it upon the unsuspecting majority of real Christians.1 What many people apparently find too difficult to fathom, however, is that some people—among whom I take President Obama to be one—hold these “liberal” positions not in spite of but because of their commitment to following Jesus.

On a “liberal” reading of scripture, “loving one’s neighbor” isn’t a frothy placeholder for moral action nobody cares much more about than to feel it deeply in the heart; it is the very thing of which moral action is an embodiment. Put more simply, to progressive Christians “love” isn’t so much something you “feel” about God or another person, but a way of life that seeks to demonstrate its own authenticity by seeking justice and peace for those kicked to the margins by the powerful—which is to say, by seeking to love those whom God loves, but for whom love in this world is often illusory.

The greater (and more damning) criticism of “liberal” Christians is not that they don’t believe the Bible, but that they don’t live up to their claims about “justice” and “peace.” This is a real danger in progressive Christianity. Talking about justice and peace, without actually going to the trouble to see it realized rightfully leads to charges of hypocrisy—that is, failing to walk the walk.

In President Obama’s case, however, the criticism has for some time been reversed: His words about justice and peace for LGBTQI people weren’t matched by his deeds (e.g., refusing to uphold DOMA, doing away with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, etc.). His failure, according to his critics, was in not being willing to “talk the talk.” In other words, people from both ends of the spectrum were inveighing against him for failing to say in words what he was already doing in practice—a perhaps rarer, but no less damning criticism.

Since I don’t hear the you’ve-also-got-to-talk-the-talk line of argument very often, it got me to thinking about denominational officials, who privately will offer reassurances that they are in support of affirming the full inclusion of LGBTQI folk in the life of the church, but who publicly find it difficult to articulate that support. I understand why taking a stand publicly in support of a controversial issue presents all manner of political land mines, and it makes a certain amount of sense when politicians hesitate to do it. Even religious officials must weigh the political costs of taking, what we religious types call, a “prophetic stance.” But whereas in the case of our political leaders (to our shame, I would argue) we tend to expect political calculations to trump the integrity of personal convictions, one would hope that we haven’t yet reached that level of cynicism about our religious leaders.

Is it to be the case once again that the church can’t quite get its theology straight until the culture shows it the way? Because, let’s not fool ourselves, inclusion is the way things are inexorably headed.

The upshot of it all? If David Kinnaman is right, as Rachel Held Evans deftly points out, what our continued silence risks is the better part of a whole generation coming to the conclusion that they can find better ways to spend their time because they believe the church and its leadership to be “anti-homosexual”. And while I realize that speaking openly about support for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters carries its own risks, I think—like President Obama, it would appear—that silence is a risk no longer worth taking the.


  1. I know that description may sound like an exaggeration of a seriously held position, dear reader, but in my own defense, you haven’t read the kind of correspondence I receive. I do know that there are serious people who disagree with me about the issue of biblical interpretation, but they don’t seem to have maintained good relations with the gatekeepers of the interwebz—since their voices are routinely drowned out by that seemingly professional class of the perpetually aggrieved. ↩

RECLAIMING EASTER

Easter is about resurrection and transformation - today. Easter is not about the torture and execution and resurrection of Jesus. Easter is not about an event that happened one time to one person a long time ago. Easter is not about an 11th-century feudal theology .....of "penal substitution" or "substitutionary sacrifice." Easter is not about a 4th-century theology of "original sin." Easter is not about a sadistic abusive murderous blood-thirsty God. Easter is not about a narcissistic mercenary God .....whose love and grace are so shallow and tenuous and inadequate .....that the favor or forgiveness of God can only be earned or purchased. Easter is not about useless promises of an eternal post-mortal utopian etherial existence. Easter is not about using the sharing the Good News as a form of conquest. Easter is not about hate.

Easter is about the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about us living the life and message and path of Jesus. Easter is about the resurrection of the disciples - all of us who follow Jesus. Easter is about disciples living and being - here and now - the Kingdom of God. Easter is about disciples working together as the living body of Christ. Easter is about the Good News.

What difference would it make if an ossuary was found that undeniably contained the bones of Jesus?

To the message of Jesus – that God is personal and present and immediate and available and is characterized by love and grace, whose passion for us is to provide justice and compassion and generosity and hospitality and service, and who invites us and welcomes us and includes us and embraces us without exception or conditions – that message would not in any way be changed or diminished.

Something happened on Easter morning. Until that morning, the disciples still saw the message of Jesus as an unassembled upside-down puzzle with no idea as to what image would be revealed by the completed puzzle.

What happened on Easter was a transformative epiphany. The women had it first - a profound comprehensive epiphany. It was the best of epiphanies. When the women shared their insight with the others, the others had the same epiphany, the same transformation.

It was as if every piece of the puzzle had been turned upside-right and sufficiently assembled that the picture could be easily discerned. After all the questions that had only received Jesus’ annoying and unsatisfying answers and after repeatedly hearing the puzzling parables and confounding aphorisms of Jesus, compounded by the grief and depression and repressive fear of the preceding weekend, the impact of this epiphany had to have been earth shaking. It was such a powerful experience that it felt like an earthquake strong enough to roll away massive tombstones. It was so revealing, it was as if the curtain covering the Holy of Holies had been ripped asunder and the presence of God could be plainly seen by anyone who had the courage to look. It was so personal that it was as if Jesus was alive - speaking to them and sharing meals with them - a tangible presence. The life and message and path of Jesus did not die on the cross. The life and message and path of Jesus lives like a fire that hovers over us and smolders within us and breathes as powerfully and disturbingly as a noisy rampaging wind storm. The life and message and path of Jesus can be heard by anyone at any time and regardless of where they were born or what language they speak.

In those first few years, this same epiphany happened to Paul and hundreds of others. Repeatedly, it was such a powerful experience that people were transformed. The isolation and desperation and fatalism of day-to-day living in an oppressive empire supported and legitimized by imperial dominionist theology was replaced by the dual realization that the character of the one true God is: .....* unrestrained love and unconditional grace - .....* always present and immediately available to anyone anywhere anytime, and .....* that life does not require participation in the empire - .....* not its political activities, not its cultural domination practices, .....* not its imperial civic theology, not its military conquests, and .....* not its greedy and isolating economics.

This same profound epiphany, this same earth-shaking resurrection, this same life-as-if-from-death transformation is still happening today.

The Good News has 3 inseparable messages: 1) The universal accessibility of the personal and persistent 1) unrestrained love and unconditional grace of God; and 2) The feeding quenching clothing healing visiting welcoming compassion and 2) the reparative rehabilitating restorative justice of the Community; and 3) The inclusive hospitality and joyous generosity and healthy service of the Individual ............................................................RECLAIMING CHURCH - REDUX

This is resurrection and transformation! This is the Good News! This is Easter! Alleluia!