Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Homosexuality and Gluttony

I’m working through Greg Boyd’s book “Repenting of Religion:  Turning from Judgment to theLove of God.”  As with most of Greg Boyd’s book, the ideas challenge both main-stream evangelical thought (or more accurately – pop culture theology) as well as my own personal life.  In the chapter “Forbidden Tree” he discusses how the sin of wanting to have the knowledge of both good and evil is the sin of placing yourself in judgment over another; doing what only God alone is positioned to do – declaring what is good and/or evil about another person.  Boyd argues that we destroy our Christian witness by casting these judgments all over society and the only appropriate time to make these judgments upon another person is when they’ve invited us into a relationship with them in which we can share these opinions with them, what he calls a “covenant relationship.” 

Religious people, Boyd argues, often create religious idols of their beliefs.  We get self-worth from doing certain “good” things and avoiding “bad” things.  While religious people would look down on someone who gains their self-worth from their money or sex-appeal, Boyd argues that drawing our worth from anything other than the love of Christ (money or religious rules) is idolatrous, no matter what religious jargon we use to justify what we’re doing. 

You’ve likely noticed that religious people tend to make a big deal about sins they don’t struggle with, but others do, while minimizing the sins they struggle with more regularly.  In so doing, they overlook and rationalize their own sin while over-emphasizing and demonizing the sins of others and, in so doing, excluding them from their churches.  The perfect example of this the demonizing of homosexual sex while ignoring gluttony. 

This entire section is powerful and pertinent to some conversations among evangelicals.  I will start by typing out the first few paragraphs before uploading scanned images of the next few pages. 

“Religious idolaters, of course, don’t recognize their idols as such.  On the contrary, part of their religious strategy for getting life is to contrast their ‘true’ beliefs and ethical behaviors with the idols to which secular people cling.  But as a matter of fact, religious idols are just as idolatrous as secular ones.  Indeed, this is the most prevalent and enslaving form of idolatry throughout history….
The standards used to judge others invariably favor the religious people doing the judging.  These standards are, after all, part of their strategy for getting life.  Hence, the sins a particular religious community is good at avoiding tend to be the ones identified as most important to avoid in the mind of that community, while the sins a community is not good at avoiding tend to be minimized or ignored altogether – regardless of what emphasis the Bible puts on these sins.
To give an example, few churches target overeating as sin.  Yet the Bible as a good deal to say about the sin of overeating (gluttony).  In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, the inability or unwillingness to control one’s eating was viewed as being on a part with the inability or unwillingness to control one’s sex drive.  Lust and gluttony were two major evidences that a person was undisciplined, governed by ‘shameless passion’ (Sir. 23:6; 4 Macc. 1:3,27).

If this section intrigues you, I strongly recommend that you read the rest of the book.  I’ve pulled another quote from pages 16 and 17 that sums up the goal of the book. 

“Whatever else Christians are known for, they are generally not known for their distinctive love.  Rarely are people drawn to the conclusion that Jesus is Lord simply because of the radical, God-like love the see among Christians and experience from Christians.
Why is this?  What keeps us from living in the place I described above [proving God is real through our love of others]… We position ourselves as judges of others rather than simply as lovers of others.  Our judgments are so instinctive to us that we usually do not notice them.  Even worse, they are so natural to us that when we do notice them, we often assume we are righteous for passing judgment?  Because of this, it is easy to overlook the fact that our judgments are blocking our love, keeping us asleep, preventing us from living in the truth God created us to live in.

We have failed to understand and internalize the biblical teaching that our fundamental sin is not our evil – as though the solution for sin was to become good – but our getting life from what we believe is our knowledge of good and evil.  Our fundamental sin is that we place ourselves in the position of God and divide the world between what we judge is to be good and what we judge to be evil.  And this judgment is the primary thing that keeps us from doing the central thing God created and saved us to do, namely, love like he loves.
Because we do not usually understand and internalize the nature of our foundational sin, we usually think our job as Christians is to embrace a moral system, live by it, and thus to be good people in contrast to all those who are evil.  In fact, I shall argue, God’s goal for us is much more profound and much more beautiful than merely being good; it is to do the will of God by being loving, just as God is loving.  More specifically, I shall show that God’s goal for us is to discover a relationship with him and thereby a relationship with ourselves and others that returns us to a state where we don’t live by our knowledge of good and evil.  Indeed, the goal is nothing less than for us to participate in the very love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share throughout eternity.”

Pg. 89 into 90
[The Pharisees] are vigilant about their own beliefs ad behavior as well as those of other people.  The Pharisees looked better than Jesus’ disciples and the Pharisees knew it.
In fact, however, this hyper vigilance is evidence not of genuine spiritual health but of an inner emptiness and sickness.  It is evidence of a spiritual pathology.  The very attempt to fill the emptiness of their lives by their beliefs and behaviors rather than God prevents them from ever getting their emptiness really filled.
Not that the emptiness cannot be placated for periods of time; it can.  If people’s idolatrous religious strategies for getting life are successful, as they were with the Pharisees, these people will derive some surrogate life by believing they do all the right things, embrace all the right interpretations of Scripture, hold to all the right doctrines, engage in all the right rituals, and display the right spirituality.  They will get even more surrogate life by looking down on those who don’t do and believe all the right things as they do.  Indeed, they may experience even more surrogate life by entertaining a “holy anger” toward those who do not conform to their way of thinking and behaving (a fact that perhaps explains the remarkable divisiveness within Christianity).  But the positive feelings offered by religious idols are fleeting.  The emptiness returns, driving religious idolaters to further futile attempts to get life by their religion.

Pg. 192
For as a matter of fact, none of us have “arrived.”  It’s just that, for self-serving reasons, we’ve decided to categorize some sins – our sins – as acceptable and other sins – their sins – as condemnable.

If we view ourselves and everyone else through the lens of the cross rather than our knowledge of good and evil, we will see that our self-serving categorizations of sin are as unnecessary as they are illegitimate.  In Christ, we all stand condemned and forgive and righteous.  Hence, the prostitute, the greedy, the murderer, the obese, the homosexual, the rude, the unbathed, the drunk, the poor – even the Pharisee if he is willing – are to be welcomed back to the garden with enthusiastic celebration.

Pg. 197
If, for example, a church treats gays with the same compassion religious judges treat their own overweight people, its leaders will likely be condemned as “compromising the Word of God” by these judges.  Such a church is sinning against the (self-serving) knowledge of good and evil from which the religious judges feed.  Consequently, the judges will likely feel as though their god has been assaulted, and, as a matter of fact, it has!  As idolatrous people often do when their gods are threatened, they may rate.  They did so with Jesus and there’s every reason to believe they will do so with communities that look like Jesus.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When War is Unjust

I just finished the book "When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Christian Just War Theory" by premier teacher and writer on the subject of Jesus, violence and Just War Theory, John Howard Yoder.  While Yoder believes Christians are to follow Jesus' teaching and example by not participating in violence, he stated in another book that he should spend less time trying to convince people to not use violence and more time educating the on the Christian Just War Theory that most Christians claim to follow.  He realized that if Christians were educated on CJWT and committed to living it out, wars would be rare, if not non-existent.

Here are Yoder's thoughts on CJWT from this book.

Pg. 68
Counter to the standard history, the just-war position is not the one which has been taken practically by most Christians since Constantine.  Most Christians (baptized people) in most wars since pacifism was forsaken have died and killed in the light of thought patterns derived from the crusade or the national-interest pattern.  Some have sought to cover and interpret this activity with the rhetoric of the just-war heritage; others have not bothered.  The just-war tradition remains prominent as a consensus of the stated best insights of a spiritual and intellectual elite, who used that language as a tool for moral leverage on a sovereigns for whom the language of the gospel carried no conviction.  Thus just-war rhetoric and consistent pacifism are on the same side of most debates.  When honest, both will reject most wars, most causes, and most strategies being prepared and implemented.

Pg. 78
Does any church teach future soldiers and citizens in such a way that they will know beyond what point they cannot support an unjust war or use an unjust weapon?

Until today church agencies on any level have invested little effort in literature or other educational means to teach the just war limitations… The understanding of the just-war logic that led American young men to refuse to serve in Vietnam came to them not primarily from the ecclesiastical or academic interpreters of the tradition but rather from the notions of fair play presupposed in our popular culture.

Those who conclude, either deliberately or rapidly, that in a given situation of injustice there are no nonviolent options available, often do so in a way that avoids responsibility for any intensive search for such options.  The military option for which they so quickly reach has involved a long lead time in training and equipping the forces… Yet the decision that nonviolent means will not work for comparable ends is made without any comparable investment of time or creativity, without comparable readiness to sacrifice, and without serious projection of comparable costs.

Pg. 80
In sum, the challenge should be clear.  If the tradition which claims that war may be justified does not also admit that in particular cases it may not be justified, the affirmation is not morally serious.  A Christian who prepares the case for a justifiable war without being equally prepared for the negative case has not soberly weighted the prima facie presumption that any violence is wrong until the case for the exception has been made. 

Pg. 94
The Gulf War had a just motive, namely, counteracting an aggression, but “by its own inexorable inner logic” it escalated and inflicted unjustifiable levels of damage.  Thus the theory is “untenable and needs to be abandoned.”  The only justified war would be “pure defense against an aggression actually taking place.”  There are other remedies for the injustices war seeks to rectify.

The ideal appeal to institutions of world order, which, if they existed, ought to make war unnecessary, avoids coming to grips with the tragic choice of martyrdom when the good is authentically overwhelmed.

Pg. 95
Just war thinking:
- tends to obscure the ambiguity of justice claims in conflicts where typically both sides are responsible.
- tends to avoid the imperative of repentance, which is a precondition for reconciliation and self-restraint; thereby it fosters self-righteousness.
- tends to respond only to one episode instead of seeing events in historic continuity.
- condemns overt military action but not other (systemic, institutional) evils.
- credits the intention to avoid targeting the innocent without holding the belligerents responsible for actual disproportionate and/or indiscriminate consequences, undervaluing the suffering caused by calling it collateral or unintended.
-tends to reationalize unilateral action in an age when decisions should be shared.
We may note that while each of these observations implies a serious limitation to the adequacy of just-war thinking, they do not sweep it aside in favor of pacifism, realism, or something else.  If carefully taken account of, these considerations would contribute to a much more refined and dense just-war analysis, which could issue in a heightened capacity for restraint and a greater capacity to give one’s own government a blank check.

Walter Wink, another well-documented and empathetic interpreter, names the following shortcomings:
- No Christian body has ever used the just-war criteria to declare unjust any war in which its government was engaged.
- No war Christians have supported has in fact met the just-war requirements.
- No deliberative process appealing to the repertory of just-war criteria has taken place in the lead-up to any of the major wars of the West.
- The decisive criteria have no clear and objective definition; for example;
     What is the “legitimate authority” in settings of guerrilla insurgency?
     If “aggression” is always wrong, who really started this particular conflict?
     Does democracy change the definition of who the combatants are? 
     Does “total war” change the definition of noncombatancy?

Pg. 98
[There must be a] rejection of public triumphalism.  Back at the beginnings of the just-war tradition, Augustine commented that the acceptance of any killing was “mournful.”  Such regret in the face of killing even when justified was implemented by the rituals of penance for killing even in a just war.  Discerning observers of the American response to the 1991 Gulf War pointed out that a ticker-tape victory parade celebrated just days after tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths demonstrates that the resort to violence in that case was not reluctant and mournful, as the Christian case for just-war requires, but rather triumphal.  The same issues surfaced in Great Britian when some clergy refused to be as happy about the country’s victory over Argentina in the war for the Malvinas/Falklands as was Prime Minster Thatcher.

Pg. 110
In 1993, after the Gulf War, it judged that the bombing of civilian infrastructure, the most morally problematic issue to arise from the Gulf War, “can amount to making war on noncombatants.”

Pg. 112
A particularly serious gap is any lack of provision under US law for selective conscientious objection, that is, objection to military service in particular circumstances because of a conscientious judgment that a given war or military action is contrary to just-war norms.  The Catholic church in the United States has long sought such protection as a corollary to the acceptance of the just-war tradition.
Simply put, if it is morally and even obligatory to engage in a just-war, then it is morally impermissible to participate in an unjust one and one would be morally required to refuse to serve under such conditions.
The failure of the military to revise its own regulations to process selective conscientious objectors, and of the Congress to allow for selective objection on just-war grounds continues to put those who adhere to the just-war tradition in jeopardy.

Pg. 114
In a culture of violence, to be sure, the uses of the just-war tradition can easily degenerate into “a weapon to justify a political conclusion or a set of mechanical criteria that automatically yields a simple answer” quite inconsistent with the underlying intention of the tradition to prevent conflict and to discern the moral limits of justifiable force.

Catholic teaching affirms that “a citizen may not casually disregard his country’s conscientious decision to call its citizens to legitimate acts of defense.”
At the same time, the teaching maintains that “no state may demand blind obedience.”  Accordingly, as we have seen, the church in the United States has actively supported legal protection of those who conscientiously refuse to participate in any war (conscientious objectors) as well as for those who cannot, in good conscience, serve in specific conflicts they consider unjust or in branches of the service (e.g. strategic nuclear forces) which are required to carry out morally repugnant policies (indiscriminate killing).

Pg. 116
In sum, civilian leaders and officials, like military personnel, should be prepared to bear the onus of selective conscientious objection.  While the price one may pay today is not as heavy as it once was, the effectiveness of the just-war tradition as a system of moral constraints on the use of force depends very much on the willingness of conscientious men and women to pay a price for their moral convictions.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Christ and Violence by Ronald J Sider

I just finished a short but powerful book by Ronald Sider, Christ and Violence.
Here are some of the better quotes from this book.

Pg. 24
[Jesus] informed Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world in one specific regard – namely that His followers did not use violence (John 18:36).  Obviously He did not mean that the messianic kingdom He had inaugurated had nothing to do with the earth.  That would have contradicted His central announcement of the eschatological Jubilee which He expected His followers to begin living.  But He did mean that He would not establish His kingdom by the sword.
To a people so oppressed by foreign conquerors that repeatedly over the previous two centuries they had resorted to violent rebellion, Jesus gave the unprecedented command: “Love your enemies.” 

Pg. 25
Jesus’ way is entirely different.  For the members of Jesus’ beginning messianic kingdom, neighbor love must extend beyond the limited circle of the people of Israel, beyond the limited circle of the new people of God!  All people everywhere are neighbors to Jesus’ followers and therefore are to be actively loved.  And that even extends to enemies – even violent oppressive foreign conquerors!
It is exegetically impossible to follow [Martin] Luther’s two kingdom analysis and restrict the application of these verses on love of enemies to some personal sphere and deny their application to violence in the public sphere.
As Eduard Schweitzer says in his commentary on Matthew, “There is not the slightest hint of any realm where the disciple is not bound by the words of Jesus.”
Pg. 27
The radical, costly character of Jesus’ call for love toward enemies certainly tempts us to decisively weaken Jesus’ message by labeling it an impossible ideal, relegating it to the millennium, or limiting its application of personal relationships.  But that is to misread both the text and the concrete historical context in which Jesus lived and spoke.  In his original setting, Jesus advocated love toward enemies as His specific political response to centuries of violence and to the contemporary Zealot’s call for violent revolution.  And He spoke as one who claimed to be the Messiah of Israel.  His messianic kingdom was already breaking into the present, and therefore His disciples should and could live out the values of the New Age.
To be sure, He did not say that one should practice loving nonviolence because it would always instantly transform enemies into bosom friends.  The cross stands as a harsh reminder that love for enemies does not always work – at least in the short run. 
Pg. 30
It was the resurrection which convinced the discouraged disciples that in spite of the cross, Jesus’ claims and His announcement of the messianic kingdom were still valid.

Pg. 34
Because Jesus commanded His followers to love their enemies and then died as the incarnate Son to demonstrate that God reconciles His enemies by suffering love, any rejection of the nonviolent way in human relations involves a heretical doctrine of the atonement.  If God in Christ reconciled His enemies by suffering servanthood, then those who want to follow Christ faithfully, dare not treat their enemies in any other way.
It is a tragedy of our time that many of those who appropriate the biblical understanding of Christ’s vicarious cross fail to see its direct implications for the problem of war and violence.  And it is equally tragic that some of those who most emphasize pacifism and nonviolence fail to ground it in Christ’s vicarious atonement…
Certainly the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world was a unique element of His cross that could never be repeated. But that fact never prevented the New Testament authors from discerning in the cross a decisive ethical clue for the Christian’s approach to opponents and enemies, indeed even friends, spouses, and fellow members of Christ’s body.

Pg. 38
In every strand of New Testament literature and with reference to every kind of situation (whether family, church, state, or employment), the way of the cross applies.  Jesus’ cross, where He practiced what He had preached about love for one’s enemies, becomes the Christian norm for every area of life.  Only if one holds biblical authority to irrelevant that one can ignore explicit, regularly repeated scriptural teaching; only if one so disregards Christ’s atonement that one rejects God’s way of dealing with enemies; only then can one forsake the cross for the sword.
To be sure, church history is a sad story of Christians doing precisely that.  After the first three centuries when almost all Christians refused to participate in warfare, Christians repeatedly invented ways to justify violence.
And each of us if we think honestly about the costly implications of suffering servanthood, will understand within ourselves how temptingly plausible it is to consider Jesus’ nonviolent way in an impossible ideal, a utopian vision practiced only in the millennium, or some idealistic teaching intended only for personal relationships. But if one recalls Jesus’ historical context, one simply cannot assert that this is what Jesus Himself meant.  Claiming to be their Messiah, He came to an oppressed people ready to use violence to drive out their oppressors.  But He advocated love for enemies as God’s method for ushering in the coming Kingdom.  And He submitted to Roman crucifixion to reconcile His enemies.

Pg. 44
I think activist nonviolence rather than nonresistance is the more faithful application of the New Testament teaching.

Pg. 45
Lethal violence is different.  When one kills another person, one treats him as a thing, not a person.  Hence Jesus’ teaching excludes lethal violence as an acceptable option for Christians.

Pg. 47
Indeed, one should love one’s enemies, even at great personal cost.  The good of the other person, not one’s own needs or rights, are decisive.

Pg. 48
Thus Jesus’ saying is compatible with the use of economic, legal, or political power to oppose evil as long as love for the oppressor as well as the oppressed is both the means and the end.

Pg. 55
This eschatological hope for the restoration of the whole of creation including the principalities and powers underlines the fact that the Christian dare not choose between a creation ethic and a kingdom ethic.

Pg. 57
To announce Christ’s lordship to the principalities and powers is to tell governments that they are not sovereign…
Again, it is clear that merely to witness in a biblical way to the principalities and powers is to engage in dangerous, subversive political activity.
But is that all we are to do? Is it correct to say that we should witness to the state and other principalities and powers but not take the offensive against them?  I think not.  I doubt that the absence of offensive weapons in Ephesians 6:10-20 means that we are merely to defend ourselves against the powers.  Everyone agrees that we are to witness boldly to the powers.  But surely that is an offensive act, not a defensive one.  One can take the offensive with words just as much as with actions.  Ephesians 6 calls us to arm ourselves with the truth, with the gospel, and with the Word of God.  The kind of words we are summoned to speak to the powers surely involves taking the offensive unless one wrongly supposes that bold proclamation is merely a defensive approach.

Pg. 59
In reference to Romans 13
Neither Jesus nor the early church ever supposed that to be subject to government meant to obey its every command.  Jesus and the apostles knew that whenever government commanded what was contrary to God’s command, it must be disobeyed.  “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) was their working principle.  But even in their refusal to obey, even in their civil disobedience, they continued to be subject to government.  They did not rebel.  They did not take up the sword to overthrow government.  On the other hand, when government commanded things contrary to God’s will they regularly refused to obey, and then accepted the penalty for their disobedience.

Pg. 60
We should resist the evils promoted or perpetuated by governments.  We dare not rebel against government and cast off its authority.  We can and should try to make our government – no matter how good or bad it is – more just.  We dare not – however unjust it may be – try to destroy it.  We can engage in political lobbying, voter power, economic boycott, political demonstration, civil disobedience, tax refusal, even total noncooperation and still be subject to our government.  As long as the methods are those of loving nonviolence, as long as we refuse to consider the oppressor an enemy, as long as we submissively reject rebellion and instead respectfully accept the penalties that are imposed, we remain subject to government.  Scripture commands us always to be subject to government.  It does not command us to obey without condition.  And wholehearted subjection to government is fully compatible with the most vigorous nonviolent resistance to governmental injustice because the goal is not rebellion but improvement of the government to which was are subject precisely as we resist.

Pg. 63
Precisely as we plunge deeper into the centers of power of secular society, we will need even more urgently to strengthen the church as a counterculture of Christians whose visible commitment to the radical values of Jesus’ new kingdom is so uncompromising that the church’s very existence represents a fundamental challenge to surrounding society.  Unless we are based in that kind of kingdom counterculture, our movement into society will be useless because we will merely become one more empty echo of an unjust status quo. But that need not happen if we maintain the sharp biblical distinction between the church and the world and if our primary identity and allegiance remains with Jesus’ new community of believers.
Pg. 67
Probably few people reading this book will have killed another person.  Many would choose going to jail rather than going to war.  But joining the army is not the only way to participate in murder.  Established economic structures can destroy people by the millions.  Slavery did that.  Child labor did that.  Both were as legal as they were lethal.  Legal structures can be violent.  Therefore we must face a very painful question: Do we participate in economic structures that help destroy millions of people each year?

Pg. 68
Not even the Dominicans who work on the sugar plantations have profited.  The sugar plantation workers earned less in real wages in 1978 than they did in 1968 – in part because the Dominican government installed by U.S. marines have destroyed the cane cutters’ labor union.  The U.S. has invested more money per capita for police training in the Dominican Republic than in any other Latin American country.  And those police have made widespread use of torture to suppress any opposition to the dictatorship which ruled for over a decade.  Fortunately that government was replaced in 1978, thanks in part to President Carter’s vigorous support of the results of an election which the armed forces wanted to annul.  But that former government has made it possible for Gulf and Western to use a vast part of the country’s best land to grow sugar for you and me at a handsome profit to the company.
Now who is responsible for the thousands of Dominican children who die each year of malnutrition?  Just the top leaders at Gulf and Western?  Just the Dominican Republic’s elite who profit by cooperatin with Gulf and Western?  Or are you and I also implicated?
Jacques Ellul has pointed out that unjust economic systems can be as violent as rampaging armies:  “I maintain that all kinds of violence are the same... the violence of the soldier who kills, the revolutionary who assassinates; it is true also of economic violence – the violence of the privileged proprietor against his workers, of the ‘haves’ against the ‘have-nots;’ the violence done in international and economic relations between our societies and those of the third world; the violence done through powerful coporations which exploit the resources of a country that is unable to defend itself.”  One can only agree with James Douglass:
“In the contemporary world of affluence and poverty, where man’s major crime is murder by privilege, revolution against the established order is the criterion of a living faith.  ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me’ (Matt. 25:45).  The murder of Christ continues.  Great societies build on dying men.”

Unfortunately it is not true that our society’s wealth is simply the result of God’s blessing and hard work.  To a significant extent, our affluence depends on unjust economic structures that make us rich and Latin Americans hungry.  Fully one half of all the cultivable land in Central America is used to grow export crops (sugar, coffee, bananas, flowers, and the like) to sell to the U.S., Canada, and other rich nations.  That land ought to be used to grow food for the masses in Central America where 60 percent of the children die of malnutrition before they are five years old.  But it is used to grow sugar and coffee and bananas for North Americans because we can pay for it and the starving children’s parents cannot.

Pg. 70
There is an important difference between consciously willed, individual acts (like lying to a friend or committing an act of adultery) and participation in evil social structures.  Slavery is an example of the later.  So is the Victorian factory system where ten-year-old children worked twelve to sixteen hours a day.  Although both slavery and child labor were legal, they destroyed people by the millions.  They represent institutionalized violence or structural evil.  Tragically, most Christians seem to be more concerned with individual sinful acts than with participation in violent social structures.
But the Bible condemns both.  Speaking through His prophet Amos in Amos Chapter 2, the Lord declared,
This is what the Lord says:
“For three sins of Israel,
    even for four, I will not relent.
They sell the innocent for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals.
They trample on the heads of the poor
    as on the dust of the ground
    and deny justice to the oppressed.
Father and son use the same girl
    and so profane my holy name.
Biblical scholars have shown that some kind of legal fiction underlies the phrase “selling the needy for a pair of sandals.”  This mistreatment of the poor was legal!  In one breath God condemns both adultery and legalized oppression of the poor.  Sexual sins and economic injustice are equally displeasing to God.
Some young activists have supposed that as long as they were fighting for the rights of minorities and opposing militarism, they were morally righteous regardless of how often they shacked up for the night with a guy or a girl in the movement.  Some of their elders, on the other hand have supposed that because they did not lie, steal, and fornicate, they were morally upright even though they lived in segregated communities and owned stock in companies that exploit the poor of the earth. God however, has shown that robbing one’s workers of a fair wage is just as sinful as robbing a bank. 
God clearly revealed that laws themselves are sometimes an abomination to him.
Psalm 94
20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—
    a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
21 The wicked band together against the righteous
    and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress,
    and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins
    and destroy them for their wickedness;
    the Lord our God will destroy them.

pg. 72
God proclaims the same word through the prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 10:1-4
Woe to those who make unjust laws,
    to those who issue oppressive decrees,
to deprive the poor of their rights
    and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
making widows their prey
    and robbing the fatherless.
What will you do on the day of reckoning,
    when disaster comes from afar?
To whom will you run for help?
    Where will you leave your riches?
Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives
    or fall among the slain.
Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away,
    his hand is still upraised.

There is one other aspect to institutionalized violence or structural evil which makes it especially pernicious.  It is so subtle that one can be ensnared almost without realizing it.
God inspired His prophet Amos to utter some of the harshest words in Scripture against the cultured, kind, upper-class women of his day:
Amos 4:1-2
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria,
    you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy
    and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”
The Sovereign Lord has sworn by his holiness:
    “The time will surely come
when you will be taken away with hooks,
    the last of you with fishhooks.
The women involved probably had no contact with the impoverished peasants. They may never have realized clearly that their gorgeous clothes and spirited parties were possible only  because of the seat and tears of toiling peasants.  In fact, they may even have been kind to individual peasants they met.  (Perhaps they gave them “Christmas baskets” – once  year).  But God called these privileged women cows because they profited from structural evil.  Hence they were personally and individually guilty before God.
We must conclude, I think, that if we are members of a privileged class that profits from structural violence and if we do nothing to try to change things, then we stand guilty before God.  Structural evil is just as sinful as personal evil.  And it hurts more people and is more subtle.

Pg. 76
We are all implicated in structural evil.  The patterns of international trade are unjust.  An affluent minority devours most of the earth’s nonrenewable natural resources.  And the food consumption patterns in the world are grossly lopsided.  Every North American benefits from these structural injustices.  Unless you have retreated to some isolated valley and grow or make everything you use, you participate in unjust structures which contribute directly to the hunger of a billion unhappy neighbors.
But that is not God’s last word to us. If there were no hope of forgiveness, admission of our complicity in guilt of this magnitude would be an act of despair.  But there is hope – if we repent. 

Pg. 77
We need change at three levels: 1) our personal lifestyles, 2) the church, and 3) secular society.  In each case, the goal is peacemaking… First we need to pursue simpler personal lifestyles.  As the Catholic saint, Elizabeth Seton, has said, “The rich must live more simply that the poor may simply life.”

Pg. 79
It is a farce to ask Washington to legislate what the church refuses to live.
The church should consist of communities of loving defiance.  Instead it consists largely of comfortable clubs of conformity.  A far-reaching reformation of the church is a prerequisite if the church today is to commit itself to Jesus’ mission of liberating the oppressed.
The God of the Bible is calling Christians today to live in fundamental nonconformity to contemporary society.  Affluent North American society is obsessed with materialism, sex, economic success and military might.  Things are more important than persons.  Job security and an annual salary increase matter more than starving children and oppressed peasants.  Paul’s warning to the Romans is especially pertinent today: “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold” (Romans 12:2; Phillips).  Biblical revelation summons us to defy many of the basic values of our materialistic adulterous society.

Pg. 89
It is in that kind of [small group] setting – and perhaps only in that kind of setting – that the church today will be able to forge a faithful lifestyle for Christians in an Age of Hunger.  In small house-church settings, brothers and sisters can challenge each other’s affluent lifestyles.  They can discuss family finances and evaluate each others’ annual budgets.  Larger purchases (like houses, cars, and long vacations) can be evaluated honestly in terms of the needs of both the individuals involved and God’s poor around the world.  Tips for simple living can be shared.  Voting patterns that liberate the poor, jobs that are ecologically responsible, charitable donations that build self-reliance among the oppressed and direct actions campaigns that successfully challenge unjust multinational corporations – these and many other issues can be discuppes openly and honestly by persons who have pledged themselves to be brothers and sisters in Christ to each other.
My second proposal on the church begins with the assumption that it is a tragic farce for the church to ask Washington to legislate what it cannot persuade Christians to live.

Pg. 83
The United States has trained large numbers of police who have tortured thousands of people working for social justice in countries like Chile and Brazil.  Multinational corporations in the United States work very closely with the repressive governments.  Events in Brazil and Chile demonstrate that the United States will support dictatorships that use torture and do little for the poorest one half as long as those regimes are friendly to U.S. investments.

Pg. 85
Our most fundamental Christian confession is that Jesus is Lord.  But He won’t be Lord of our family life and allow radio and TV commercials to be Lord of our family budget and multinational corporations to be Lord of our business practices.  If Jesus is our Lord, then He must be Lord of our business practices, our economic lifestyle, Lord of our entire life.
The Historical Peace Churches are a biblical people who have opposed theological liberalism.  But still I’m afraid that we are in danger of falling into theological liberalism today.  We usually think of theological liberalism in connection with issues like the bodily resurrection and the deity of Jesus Christ.  And that is correct.  Theological liberals have fallen into terrible heresy in recent times by rejecting those basic doctrines of historic Christianity.  But notice why that happened.  Modern people became so iof impressed with modern science that they thought they could no longer believe in the miraculous.  So they discarded the supernatural aspects of Christianity and abandoned the resurrection and the divinity of Christ.  They allowed the values of surrounding society rather than biblical truth to shape their thinking and acting.  That is the essence of theological liberalism.  In our time, we are in desperate danger of repeating exactly the same mistake in the whole area of justice and the poor.  We are allowing surrounding society rather than Scripture to shape our values and life.  Have not our economic lifestyles and our attitudes toward the poor been shaped more by our affluent materialistic society than by Scripture – even though the Bible says as much about this set of issues as it does about the atonement or Christology?
If we want to escape theological liberalism, if our confession that Jesus is Lord is genuine, then we must cast aside the secular economic values of our materialistic society.  Now I know many of the people in our churches don’t want to do that.  They don’t want to hear the Bible’s radical call to costly discipleship.  But that simply raises in a more painful way for every church leader the basic question: Is Jesus really our Lord?
Many pastors, Sunday school superintendents, and other church leaders agree that we should be concerned with the poor and work for peace via justice.  They are willing to talk carefully about these things as long as the message is not too upsetting to the congregation, as long as it does not offend potential new members and hinder church growth.  But they don’t make it clear, as Jesus did, that we really have to choose between Jesus and Mammon.  They are afraid to teach and preach the clear biblical word that economic systems perpetrate instutionalized violence and murder because that would offend business people.  One wonders whether it is Jesus or church growth, whether it is Jesus or vocational security, whether it is Jesus or social acceptance who finally is our Lord.

Pg. 87
Is Jesus or surrounding society our Lord?  If we intend to follow the risen One, then I think we will discover that He calls us to be peacemakers through economic change – through more simple personal economic lifestyles, through more simple church lifestyles, and through action designed to change economic systems that produce violence by statute.

Pg. 99
I dream of a time when it will be the norm rather than the exception for our people to authenticate our word about peace with lives of costly, nonviolent identification with the oppressed.  For tens of thousands that will mean leaving comfortable rural or suburban surroundings to join the poor of the earth in their struggle for justice – by making our homes in the black or Spanish speaking inner cities, in the Appalachian Highlands, in unjust third word settings.  When tens of thousands of our people have done their homework so they are competent to discuss pending legislation with Senators, when tens of thousands of our people are going to jail, when we are being tortured and getting martyred in a nonviolent struggle for justice in the inner cities and the third world, then we will have the right to talk about nonviolence.
Of course, not all of us should move.  For others, identifying with the oppressed will mean talking and working against unjust structures here and abroad so persistently and single-mindedly that our scholarly societies, our professional colleagues, our business associates and political friends will discover that we worship the God of the poor not success, that we will accept social disgrace, professional failure, unemployment, even imprisonment for civil disobedience rather than forsake our identification with the oppressed.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Allah: A Christian Response

I recently finished a fascinating book “Allah:  A Christian Response” by renowned theologian Miroslav Volf.  The book is very much worth the read, as Volf tackles the theological question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God, though they clearly  have some different perspectives on God.  By the way, the title “Allah” is simply Arabic for God, just like “Theos” is Greek for God or “Dieu” is French for God.  In fact, Arabic speaking Christians also use the title “Allah” to refer to the God worshipped by Christians and Jews. 

I won’t go into all the theological arguments of the book, though I would recommend the time and energy necessary for wading through Volf’s arguments, but in keeping with a main theme of this blog, I will share some of the quotes on the Christian call to love our enemies and to avoid violence.  The call to love our enemies has a particularly poignant applicability when dealing with Muslim extremists. 

Enjoy the quotes.  And have I mentioned this book would be worth a read?  Well, it is. 
Pg. 177
God’s love for the ungodly and human love for enemies are inextricably tied together.  Over the centuries, Christians have not been very good at loving their enemies, to say the least.  We have left a trail of blood and tears as we have marched through history.  Still, human disobedience doesn’t annul the divine command, especially not a command that is so close to the center of the gospel and so bound up with the nature of God.  That’s why even those who transgressed egregiously the command to love enemies still felt compelled to try to reconcile their conduct with the command.  For example, in a letter to Sultan Mehmet II after the Ottoman leader had sacked Constantinople in 1453, Pope Pius II noted, “We are hostile to your action, not to you.  As God commands, we love our enemies and we pray for our persecutors.”  At the same time, the pope went on organizing a crusade against the mighty sultan – which is not, in my judgment, the way to love an enemy.

Pg. 178 –
The point of loving one’s enemies – of “repaying” persecution with blessing, and wrongdoing with forgiveness – is not to put up with evil.  It is to resist being “overcome with evil” and to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).  Martin Luther makes the point eloquently.  The followers of Christ are supposed to “grieve more over the sin of their offenders than over the loss or offense to themselves. And they do this that they may recall those offenders from their sin rather than avenge the wrongs they themselves have suffered.  Therefore they put off the form of their own righteousness and put on the form of those others, praying for their persecutors, blessing those who curse, doing good to the evildoers, preparing to pay the penalty and make satisfaction for their very enemies that they may be saved.  This is the Gospel and the example of Christ.” 
The ultimate purpose of loving one’s enemies is clear: “that they may be saved” from their evildoing and that goodness may triumph.

Pg. 179 -
In New Testament times, Christian communities were a persecuted minority with no aspirations to become a political or military power.  If any fighting were to be done to protect those communities or if any retribution were to be exacted to avenge the injuries they suffered, God was the one, not them, to fight and to exact retribution (see Rom. 12:19; Rev. 19:2).  Violence against enemies was displaced onto God.  God fights Christians do not – neither in their own name nor in the name of God.

Pg. 180 -
“As Muslims,” they [many Muslims] write, “we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them – so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes.”  Muslims are “not forbidden” from “dealing kindly and justly” with those who are “just” toward them (Al Mumtahinah, 60:8).  Muslims can be kind to non-Muslims as long as they are not against Muslims.  But Muslims are against those who wage war against them.  This is an understandable stance, and it is compatible with the requirements of justice.  But that’s not love for one’s enemies as Christians understand it.  To love, we have to be for someone.  That is the teaching and the example of Christ.  For Christians, this is not just a noble way to live out one’s faith, a supererogatory act, but an explicit and repeated command of God.

Pg. 203 -
Prejudices are errors born of ignorance, self-absorption, resentment, and fear – all stances incompatible with the active love of neighbor enjoined on Muslims and Christians alike by their common God.  The best way to fight prejudice is by knowledge – not just knowledge of people’s beliefs and practices, but knowledge of their feelings and hopes, their injuries and triumphs as well.

Pg. 212 -
It is wrong to compare the best practices of one’s own faith with the worst practices of the other faith.

Pg. 241 -
Religion, as seen as a marker if identity (see Chapter 10), has swallowed up allegiance to the common God.  Even though God is on everybody’s lips, religion has become the godless (or maybe religion is godless partly just because God is on everybody’s lips).  The consequence?  Each community thinks only of its own injuries and hopes, pursuing only its own interests and its own good.  Neither cares for the other or for the common good.  It would take all allegiance to God in love and fear to cure them from self-preoccupation and excessive fear of others, my friend suggested.  To care for the common good, and not just for our own good, in the face of powerful impulses to protect the group and enhance its power, the God of truth, justice and love must claim us.

Pg. 256 -
Extremism does not have a single cause, (say, perceived injustice suffered or dangerous religious convictions); it always has multiple causes – political, economic, cultural, religious, and more.  And if the causes are many, the solution cannot be one.  Multipronged approaches are necessary – from struggles for greater justice in international relations, to the re-crafting of political institutions, to reforming judicial systems, to improving the quality of education and media, to fostering religious understanding and the purification of religious convictions.
Now the exception.  I reject military approaches to combating extremism, though I support nonmilitary coercive measures, such as policing and economic sanctions.  Far from being effective in combating extremism, the use of military force only exacerbates the problem.  If I am correct – I am aware that I am making a controversial claim and that people much more knowledgeable than I disagree with me – that’s an important pragmatic reason against military solutions.  But in my judgment, moral reasons are even weightier than pragmatic ones.  The war in Iraq, partly waged to combat extremism, was an unjust and therefore morally unacceptable war; to a lesser degree the same is arguably true of the war in Afghanistan.
There is a consistent Christian tradition, prevalent in the early church and then resurfacing during the Protestant Reformation, that condemns all use of military force as incompatible with the way of Christ.  But even from a classical Christian perspective, shaped by Augustine, which embraces the just-war idea, these wars or any other wars that may be waged to combat extremism must be condemned as unjust and incompatible with Christian convictions.  Some key criteria for just war cannot be met – above all, just cause for war (because combating extremism through military means as a rule involves preemptive use of force) and immunity for noncombatants (because terrorists hide among civilians), to name just two.  At best, what could be defended within that tradition is targeted attacks against terrorists themselves or their direct supporters.

Pg. 258 -
To start with, remember this is a book written by a Christian and addressed to Christians.  It is a Christian take on Muslim’s convictions, an account of how Christians should relate to Muslims, not  prescription for what Muslims should believe and how they should live.  Can a book addressed to Christians have any bearing on Muslim extremism?  It can.  Note that highly negative views of Islam are widespread among Christians.  True, I know of no Christian who acts on these views by using terrorist means, but many do so by inflammatory rhetoric and advocating an all-out clash between Muslim and Christian civilizations.  Extremism on one side often feeds extremism on the other side; negative views and negative actions often elicit corresponding and even augmented negative view and actions in return.  So combating highly negative – and importantly, inaccurate and prejudiced – Christian views of Muslims is a significant contribution to combating Muslim extremism.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Returned, Finally (part deux)

"Guess who's back, back again?"

We are back in Gardner after finishing our year in France.  It was an incredible year that I will not try to summarize here but will simply direct you to the blog I kept during the year, http://millermissioncorps.wordpress.com/.

We are about to embark on another European adventure, this time with MNU Europe.   I was thinking that I'd continue blogging about MNU Europe on the other site, but since I posted so many pictures I've used up almost all of the storage, I think I'll jump back on this blog.

I will also continue to post on issues of justice and nonviolence, including notes from the books I'm reading.  

We also have a new ministry adventure we're pursuing, though it won't start until we return from Europe in September.  So more on that later.

In the meantime, I'll work to get some content going again on this blog.