Those It Is Acceptable to Hate

This summer some of us from our church meet every other week to discuss a query dealing with some issue related to things happening around the world. A few weeks back we talked about a query dealing with the oil spill and how it is or is not affecting us, and our larger society. We kind of think of our group as the world problem solving small group, of course we say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Our last meeting we discussed the Arizona Immigration law, our thoughts on it and what is it about now made that law possible. I felt we had a really helpful and meaningful conversation. We had a small group of people there but a spectrum of ages were represented, and we actually had a woman who is an immigrant from Germany there, and another woman who was in a bi-racial marriage, has children from that marriage and is half Hispanic herself. She was able to talk about racial profiling in a very real way.

This got me thinking about today, and the history of those who are for one reason or another stuck on the outside, and are seen as “abnormal” or “alien” by another group (often those in power). The Arizona law is the symptom of something that runs through the course of human history. We continually find ways to make hate acceptable. Continue reading Those It Is Acceptable to Hate

We All Know That Reality has a Well-Known "Conservative" Bias

2282847042_a117183473One of the things my favorite (fake) newscaster Stephan Colbert says on a regular bias is that “Major media has a well-known liberal bias.” And this is definitely something many people believe. This perspective has cropped up again recently all over the web, and yes on The Colbert Report has helped, with the new Conservative Bible Project. The ridiculous (and copy-cat) assertation that this project intends to make is that the bible has “a well-known liberal bias.” And as ridiculous as it may first appear I think they are actually right, but not in the way they think.

It seems to me that we could easily consider that major network news and papers such as the NY Times are not in fact liberal at all but rather conservative in that they all seek to put reality “as it is” on display. That is, all major network news from MSNBC to FOX seek to expose or reveal what is happening “out there.” After all isn’t that what news is supposed to be? The opinion section or segment is sectored off for a reason. “News” tries to relay information about reality, about what happened that day, or that week, in your neighborhood and around the globe. It may also seek to expose what is true about this or that issue, person, event, etc.

The problem then isn’t the object of news, the events that transpire, but rather our interpretation on that reality. What gets relayed about the “truth” is where things get a little tangled up (to say the least). Thus in my mind, it’s not that some news is good and some is bad, instead the point is to realize all interpretation is slanted, all interpretation of reality runs through a filter (our own or someone else’s) and thus has a bias. In other words, all news is opinion to some extent. The question becomes for much of how media is handled in this country, which kind of interpretation will sell better, or that tells me what I want to hear the most? Which source, according to me, interprets those events in a way that makes sense to me, connects with me intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, etc?

On the other hand, it seems like very little of what passes as “news” is “progressive” (I admit to be taking some liberties with this term “progressive”). I am taking “progressive” here to mean not taking reality at face-value, what it is, but rather what it should be. Progressive in this way means owning up to the fact that it is embedded in an interpretation of reality, and that it is putting it’s best presentation forward in a compelling way. Here then “conservative” signals trying to tell the events of the day “objectively,” and pretends to report without (subjective) interpretation, and certainly both “conservative” and “liberal” media are guilty of this. In both cases, on the right and left, these modes of relaying information are rooted in the Enlightenment, a kind of “Just give me the straitght-up facts Johnny” mentality that conceals its own embeddedness.

So what is the “progressive” alternative? I take much of blogging, zines, and other subcultural forms of communication to be more progressive (laying outside both liberal and conservative). This is because these forms of media, while they are often upfront already about their biases and influences, just read the about page on virtually every blog for instance, but they are often more interested in imaginating another society, an alternative way of approacing this or that situation, and offering critique of the status quo. And that’s what is so threatening about these progressive forms of “news,” and cultural re-writing. It isn’t content with leaving reality where it is, or concealing its biases (a position that threatens those still pretending to be objective) but pushing it along, changing it, subverting, in the name of some other narrative.

(I am not on the other hand insisting that we should not read/watch major news networks, just that we recognize and are upfront about theirs, as well as our own, positioning.)

Now that I’ve said all that, I can return to the real point of this post and make my hypothesis: the problem with the Bible for those in the conservative Bible project is not that it is either conservative or liberal, but that it is progressive in this manner. In this way it exceeds the categories, continues to be re-interpreted afresh and challenge the status quo of reality. My reading of Jesus is that he is especially active in this regard. Scripture puts forth an alternative vision of reality, an entirely different way of living and approach one another, politics, economics, society, religion, etc. It is not an upside-down viewpoint as so many like to say, it is instead present the world as it should be, or right-side up. And for those who have an interest in stability, safety, and maitaing power “the way its always been” the Bible can be rather unsettling. Jesus’ message was unsettling even for his own followers, we should expect that 2000 years removed from that we will still find people trying to dodge the society that Jesus sought to put in place. And this will bother more than just one side of our polarized society.

[Image from Chris233]

One (Growing) Perspective on Evangelicalism and Politics

I was recently asked why as an Evangelical I don’t follow the standard issue Evangelical party platform, here’s how I start to answer that question.

Heated political rhetoric comes and goes in waves. Currently in the United States, we’re riding a tidal wave named “Health Care Reform.” Everyone, especially Evangelical Christians, has come out in all their stripes and colors. Within this dialogue, if we can call it that, there is much debate about whether or not religion should keep its two-cents to itself. Some on the left say, “keep it out of the public square,” while others on the right try to bully their way in, like a party they weren’t invited to. (This all operates under the assumption that there really is some religion-free, neutral space like a “public square,” which I have great doubts about). My confession is that I often feel rather hopeless after hearing both these sides. It is as though both groups are predetermined machines whose course cannot, will not, be altered.

But on my more upbeat days my response to all of this is something different from either of our two caricatures above. I am interested and active in politics because I am a Christian, yes, even an evangelical one at that. Yet, I gladly do not identify with either the left or right because for me to be a Christian is to pledge allegiance to only one political party, Christ’s kingdom. The Christian church is at its very core political. That is it is, or at least should be, deeply concerned about all, or at least many of the things, that often get shoved into our “public” discussions. Things like war, poverty, abortion, capital punishment, caring for the sick, hunger, marriage, etc. are all issues that concern the very practice of what it means to be Christian. These are not voting blocks or single issues to be fought over. These are real life, embodied, questions that impact real people in our congregations.

If I get my ethics from the Sermon on the Mount, then as a Christian I play politics to a radically different drum beat. These are ethics, that is a way of embodying core convictions, that are closer to poetry than they are mathematics. This poetry makes little sense to the logical, rational and the powerful. Yet deep within Jesus’ sayings, his parables, and his miracles is a world of reversals, subversions, and love where the losers are winners, the mournful rejoice and the wounded are healed. It sides with the weak, the poor, the orphan and the widow. This is how the world looks like right-side up. These “ethics” are the throbbing heartbeat of Jesus’ movement and the church.

Rather than reducing people and politics down to a single issue as the right does so well, or pretending as though a neutral religious- (or conviction-)free zone could possible exist in our world (as the left obsesses over), Christians following the poetry of the Kingdom of God slice this another way. The church is itself a politic that answers to God, to Jesus’ ethics, rather than the king’s. We are to embody love of enemy, we are to do good to those who abuse us, we are to welcome the “alien” among us, and we are to give daily bread to those praying for it. Therefore, whether or not we live in a country that votes, has soldiers “protecting those freedoms!” or has leaders who believe the proper religious dogmas (often at the expense of actually living those dogmas) is all beside the point. Yes, I (typically) vote and help where I can within the established political system. I live in a country that (still) allows for disagreement and participation (though those on the fringes of the Right seem to favor less difference of opinion, maybe even difference of conviction, with growing fervor even in a free country such as ours), and the outcomes are still (for the most part) not predetermined. But I am not required to do this as a Christian, it is not our duty to transform the world by the means of the world. My duty is to love without measure and pray with my life that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, even if (or when) it costs me everything.  As Christians, or people seeking to practice daily the Sermon on the Mount, I cannot see how this would ever be done with violence, lies, greed, exploitation and other under-the-table charades.

Views on The Current Political Milieu: McClendon and Bonhoeffer

Yesterday, I read through McClendon’s chapter on Bonhoeffer’s life. In the chapter he explores Bonhoeffer’s influences, his theological and spiritual development, and his work with an underground seminary that sought to support and uphold the confessing church in Germany during Hitler’s reign. Finally, as his fellow Christians in the confessing church gave into, surrendered and many even joined Hitler’s cause Bonhoeffer returned home and joined his family and close friends in a plot to ultimately assassinate Hitler.  McClendon explores the question of why did Bonhoeffer resort to this plan as he was himself a dedicated Christian pacifist? I want to offer McClendon’s conclusion as a reflecting point that seems fitting for the Church in our current religious and political milieu of the United States:

“My Thesis, then, is that Bonhoeffer’s grisly death [He was sent to the gallows] was part and parcel of the tragic dimension of his life, and that in turn but an element in the greater tragedy of the Christian Community in Germany….they had no effective communal moral structure in the church that was adequate to the crucial need of church and German people (to say nothing of the need of the Jewish people; to say nothing of the world’s people). No structures, no practices, no skills of political life existed that were capable of resisting, christianly resisting, the totalitarianism of the times” (211).

Do we have as Christians have the practices and structures not only to resist the violence and the capitalistic impulses that seek to overrun our own allegiance to Christ’s kingdom first? So often we reject what we know is right to go out and do it alone, yet the call is to obedience rather than vigilantism. Over the last year and a half, or so, I’ve seen Christians on all sides of the political spectrum acting rather unchristianly towards those on the opposite sides (regardless of whether those on the other side are Christians or not). We need to remember that whatever the government does, whether it is our own U.S. government or another government in another part of the world, those acts never nullifies our ethics. We must continue to be formed around Jesus’ call and parable in Matthew:

“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’” (Matt 25:40-43 NRSV).

We are never relieved of the duty to love our enemies (typically calling someone socialist or fascist, at least in the context of the US, is not a form of love), do good to those who HATE US, love without measure, see the Light of Christ in ALL people, to feed, clothe, and yes, even care for the wounds and sicknesses of those in need (Luke 10:29-37, etc). Today the totalitarianism we face is hatred, anger, fear, exploitation and allegiance to someone, some thing, some political party other than Christ’s Kingdom alone.

This is a call for the whole church, on every side. We are all responsible to be witness to the Present Christ within us, as to witness the present Christ in those we most despise. The only way we will be able to do this is through the practices of confession, repentance and the most difficult of all, forgiveness.

We need to turn the crux of the problem off “them” and bring it back to “us.” We must refuse this binary, we must continue to turn this back on ourselves. McClendon does this at the conclusion of his chapter on Bonhoeffer:

So the correct Bonhoeffer question to put ot one who believes as I do that violence is not an option for the disciples of Jesus Christ is not the often-heard “Then what would you do about Hitler?” Quite possibly there was nothing that Dietrich Bonhoeffer alone could have done about Hitler, except possible to help a few Jews escape Germany and help a few friends of a better German future make contact with their Christian friends in other countries. The correct – because realistic and responsible – question has been better put by Mark Thiessen Nation: “What would you do with a church which choose to go along with a government that systematically eliminates Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals, and mounts a war that would lead to the deaths of more than thirty-five million people?” (Nation, 1999). That question makes it clear that (from the standpoint of Christian solidarity) it was not Brother Bonhoeffer but we who failed:

Not the preacher nor the deacon but it’s me, O Lord, Standin’ in the need of prayer.

James Wm. McClendon Jr. Ethics: Systematic Theology, Volume 1 p. 212

We need to learn to sing this from deep within our hearts. And if we cannot do it in our hearts we need to prayer for the desire to do it, for the strength, and for a community who will do it together, rather than continuing to create the (very unJesus-like) split between us and them. May our real-life actions, as well as our facebook updates, blog posts and comments, twitter posts, text messages and forward reflect the Kingdom of God, and no longer the kingdom of this world.

May God help us.

We Too Need an "I'm Sorry Day": Concerning the Recent Abortion Murder

We Need an I'm Sorry Day Jarrod McKenna’s posted on the God’s Politics Blog about the “I’m Sorry Day” Australian’s celebrate every year as a remind that “there is no future without confessing and seeking to heal the pain of the genocide of Aboriginal peoples and the evils that created the ‘stolen generation.’” It’s a good short post and he links to, what looks like, an excellent new Aboriginal contextual theology book “The Rainbow Spirit Theology: Toward an Australian Aboriginal Theology

And I think we Americans, especially those of us who are Christians, need an I’m Sorry Day as well. With what seems like increasing intensity our “culture wars” continue to appeal to fear and doomsday, we continue to close our hearts to people who need us, we shout and curse those who live differently (whether for right or for wrong) then us, and yes, we kill in God’s name. Repentance and forgiveness are meant to be key markers of the faithful church, yet we have somehow allowed these practices  to all but disappear in our communities.

As many of you know by now George Tiller, a doctor who conducted late-term abortions, was murdered Pentecost morning in his church while we he ushering on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, moments after services had begun at Reformation Lutheran Church, Dr. Tiller, who was acting as an usher, was shot once with a handgun, the authorities said. The gunman pointed the weapon at two people who tried to stop him, the police said, then drove off in a powder-blue Taurus. Dr. Tiller’s wife, Jeanne, a member of the church choir, was inside the sanctuary at the time of the shooting.

NY Times

I didn’t hear about this until later in the day when I listed to some of Jay Bakker’s sermon where he expressed a mixture of grief and anger over what happened Sunday morning. I too am grieved over this death, in the same way I am grieved over aborted births. Killing of any kind is simply wrong.

But we should not be surprised that this kind of gruesome “Christian terrorism,” as I’ve called it elsewhere, continues to happen either. So much of the rhetoric around this particular topic, and a few others, are so hateful, so inflammatory, and in your face, that violence is the only possible end. Whether it is physical violence such as this murder, the violence brought on by severed relationships (whether family or friend), systemic violence that continues to oppress particular demographic and ethnic groups, or violence of language, it is not the way of Jesus. Matching wrongful behavior with more wrongful behavior continues the logic of the world, and ultimately displays our own disbelief in the power of God’s kingdom to bring about redemption and salvation amidst sin and destruction. When we lash out in violence like this we don’t show fidelity to the kingdom, rather we betray our own atheism.

Christian leader Frank Schaeffer wrote a moving piece this morning titled, “How I (and Other “Pro-Life” Leaders) Contributed to Dr. Tiller’s Murder,” where he confesses his, and his father’s, roles in this death:

In certain passages he [Frank’s father, Francis Schaeffer] advocated force if all other methods for rolling back the abortion ruling of Roe v. Wade failed. He compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler’s Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion. I said the same thing in a book I wrote (A Time For Anger) that right wing evangelicals made into a best seller. For instance Dr. James Dobson (of the Focus On the Family radio show) gave away over 100,000 copies.

And since that time Schaeffer, and many others, have come to realize that this is going to far in the wrong direction and only contributes more to the problem them helping to come up with solutions that are rooted in God’s loving and peaceable kingdom. Schaeffer takes the remainder of the article to confess and ask forgiveness:

The same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as “murderers.” And today once again the “pro-life” leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words. The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I’d like to say on this day after a man was murdered in cold blood for preforming abortions that I — and the people I worked with in the religious right, the Republican Party, the pro-life movement and the Roman Catholic Church, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words.

I am very sorry.

And so I think we Christians need to follow suite and say we are sorry for contributing to death of all kinds, from the unborn to those (whom we may) feel are worthy of death. We are sorry for the hate speeches, the racism, the prejudice, the homophobia, and the fear we instill in our communities about those who do not live the way we do. This is not how Jesus would treat others, this is not how he would respond. This is not what the church was meant to look like. I am sorry, for my own lack of faith and my own violent responses to things I personally disagree with. I am sorry that to disagree with another often means to break fellowship with, to alienate, reject or push away from rather than to go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, and lovingly pray for our enemies. I too find it very hard to overcome differences and confess I need the Holy Spirit to help me in this area.

May we church have an “I’m Sorry Day” and offer freely the forgiveness we’ve been freely offered.

Is It The End Of Our SUV Lifestyle?

I just finished reading Tom Sine’s recent book, “The New Conspirators: Creating The Future One Mustard Seed at a Time,” for a review in a Friends’ periodical. It’s a book I highly recommend for those of you involved in ministry currently, or are interested in getting into ministry (however that may look) at some later date, and are looking for compelling examples of faith. It is full of great testimonies of people living for the kingdom of God.

In his book, Sine discusses at length problems of wealth and the “democratization of luxury” in America; a shift necessary for consumerism to keep on the rise amidst a growing celebrity culture. This has led to what he calls our obsession with an “SUV lifestyle,” where bigger, better and more are the underlying motivations. This kind of lifestyle (and economy) based in consumption creates real problems for our well-being and faith-practices as a church:

…as we see growing pressure to spend more tie at word and more time consuming and producing media, we will have less time for other things, among the family, friends, church, prayer and scripture – and certainly less time to be involved in serving others (Sine 2008, 157).

This is a similar point that Michael Budde makes in his outstanding book, “The Magic Kingdom of God:” that the practices of our culture are quite often based in a counter-narrative to the Gospel. These “worldly” practices are powerful disciple-forming activities that most of us in the church are more influenced by than the practices of Jesus.

Reading the Times this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder if with the passing of yet another stimulus package marks the end of this lifestyle for many of us. We know the penchant: “Our economy is in crisis, we better buckle down and be responsible. Scrimp and save!” I won’t deny that this is indeed true or that we ought to do what’s suggested, but if Sine and others are right, with every crisis comes opportunity for the church to rethink its mission and respond to where God is at work.

I see this “crisis” as a chance for the church to start paying attention more to the pulse of those in our neighborhoods. Surely everyone in our pews is effected by this in one way or another. No longer are we just talking about helping the guy who is out on the corner everyday with a cardboard sign asking for money to help him get back home, now we’re talking about people losing their homes, and people who live right next door to our homes. We are all learning that treasures hoarded on earth do indeed rust.

Here is our opportunity to get serious about “breaking bread,” not just with those in greatest need among us, but with those who find themselves unexpectedly in deep want. Both need generosity, but one will break our archetype of “those in need.” May we, the church, regain the discipline of saying “no” to worldly treasures and practices, and again say “yes” to the practices of the kingdom. My hope is that instead of panic and fear, marks that characterize far too much of our church, we will live with an open-hand and be true sharers of all that we have with all who need; and show that God’s economy is based on giving rather than taking. For a church rooted in the divine economy, no bailout will be necessary.