Category: Ethics and Social Justice

Interview: Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here

Austin Channing joins the podcast to be interviewed by Katelin Hansen about her new book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Some of the topics covered include:

Background for the book (1:38)
Stories from Austin’s experiences in primarily white Christian spaces (4:25)
The intersection of Christianity and white supremacy (20:00)
The readership of the book being broader than anticipated and the pervasiveness of racism across different evolving systems over time (36:35)

(This interview was much more of a back and forth conversation naturally flowing from one idea to the next than most, so separating them into distinct topics was not nearly as easy) Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS


What If

Yall. I havent written a blog post in a really long time. Are you all still reading these things called blog posts? I hope so because I want to share a thought thats forming in my heart. The world sucks. (You've probably noticed this.) And it feels like every day is an emotional battle. How much do you invest in the daily news? How much do we need to escape for our own sanity? How much do I give? How often do I volunteer? Should I go to the border, to the airports, to DC, to the march shutting down the highway? How do I balance everything else that life requires- my friends, my work, my family, my hobbies. How do I fight despair, apathy, bitterness? So many questions. Sigh. But here's the thing Ive been wondering. What if we were made for this? I dont mean that we are made to suffer, or that "God intended this" stuff. I mean. What if instead of longing for ease, we were made for more- made to advocate, made to dig in, made to speak out, made to dive into nuance, made for complexity, made for this moment. We are not the first generation to face hard things. Slavery. Genocide. Internment. Mass Incarceration. Segregation. Exclusion. Discrimination of all kinds. But throughout history people decided to rise up. Sometimes they reaped the fruit of their efforts; sometimes they didnt. What if we believed the fight for justice was worth it, regardless of whether or not we get to enjoy the benefits? We still have lots of hard questions to ask. When to rise up and when to take a nap, for example. But what if we believed in the core of our being that we are strong, that we are creative, that we here to participate in making a difference?What if we believed so deeply in our own capacity to rise to this occasion that getting to work wasnt a tiring chore, but a life-giving opportunity to invest in something larger than ourselves?What if   
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Just Get It Together, Goshen College: In Support of Women’s Soccer Players Speaking Out

I was sexually assaulted within the first few weeks at Goshen College. I have always known I am not alone in that fact. That is the story for many college students, and many students at Goshen College. My trauma was exacerbated and compounded by the response of the administration. Since writing about how my Title IX complaint was taken on by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), the OCR has finished its investigation. My claims of Title IX violations and retaliation were substantiated by the federal government, and Goshen College signed a Resolution Agreement. My healing was able to begin when Goshen College signed this agreement with the OCR that has nine requirements and deadlines. I was able to feel like I could rest from the three year struggle to feel valid and safe after this particular incident. This agreement was not just for my healing. My fight was not just for me. It was so that others would be safe, feel supported, and be heard. There is a battle going on between, on one hand, the former and current players of the Goshen College women’s soccer team, and on the other, the college’s administration. There has been financial, physical, verbal, racial, and […]
The post Just Get It Together, Goshen College: In Support of Women’s Soccer Players Speaking Out appeared first on Our Stories Untold.

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Wondering about the American Civil War

Ted Grimsrud—June 25, 2018
I grew up in western Oregon. Until I was 17, the farthest east I had ever been was Wallowa Lake in the northeastern corner of the state. Then, the summer after my junior year in high school, my family took a road trip out to Virginia to meet my new niece. My dad, who was a history teacher with deep interest in the Civil War, was thrilled to get to visit battlefields, museums, and other key Civil War sites. It was pretty interesting, but we had to leave to return home way too soon and only scratched the surface.
Ever since Kathleen, Johan, and I moved to Harrisonburg, VA, in 1996, I have felt guilty that I have not given much thought to the Civil War. My dad (who died in 1984) would be furious if he knew how I had wasted my time here by not paying more attention to Civil War places and materials. My apathy might finally be ending.
Did slavery actually end?
In the past few years I have learned about the impressive work of Bryan Stevenson. In his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014), Stevenson details his work as an attorney who has devoted his energy to saving the lives of people treated unjustly by our criminal justice system. He established the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, as the headquarters for his work.
Living in Montgomery has exposed Stevenson to the long and deep history of American violence toward people of color. He led an effort to establish a museum that would recognize the terrible toll of lynching in our country. This museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and its accompanying Legacy Museum opened their doors in late April this year. With this opening, Stevenson has been asked to talk in various settings about the legacy of such terroristic violence. He is extraordinarily clear and straightforward in the story he tells. A few weeks ago, I listened to an extended interview he gave the Washington Post.
Stevenson made a comment that got my attention. He stated that slavery never actually ended in the United States. It only evolved. This statement came simply as an observation, not as a strong thesis that he laid out a detailed rationale for. But his discussion of the tradition of Jim Crow segregation and lynchings by the thousand in the generations following the legal ending of slavery following the Civil War and his allusions to the ongoing plague of mass incarceration that has especially targeted black Americans offer anecdotal support for his statement about slavery’s evolution (and correlate with Michelle Alexander’s arguments about the dynamics of mass incarceration, especially in her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness).
So, then I wondered. Let’s assume that Stevenson’s comment about slavery has at least some truth to it. I recognize that such a broad and perhaps shocking statement—slavery didn’t end, it only evolved—requires quite a bit of scrutiny before being taken as a statement of fact. I assume Stevenson means “slavery” in a more metaphorical sense and not in a strictly legal sense. I think it is undeniable that the ending of slavery in the legal sense did not deliver very much that was positive in terms of the betterment of the lives of its victims. And it is becoming more apparent all the time that the vicious legacy of white supremacy in the United States remains all too present.
This, then, is my question: If it is true that in ways that genuinely matter, slavery did not end but only evolved, what does that say about the Civil War? And, more broadly, I will add another question that directly relates to my interests as a peace theologian (see my book, The Good War That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters: The Moral Legacy of World War II), what does the failure actually to end slavery say about the use of warfare as a tool for social justice? I should note that Stevenson does not speak directly to these questions—they are mine, not his.
What about the Civil War?
I want to investigate these questions. What I have pretty much always heard about the Civil War is that it was a terrible tragedy, the source of massive death and destruction, but in the end a necessary evil that delivered the much needed and otherwise unattainable ending of slavery in the United States. The promise of the ending of slavery and integrating its victims fully in American society has been slow in being fulfilled, but this first step still was essential. So we should be grateful for the terrible costs that were paid and the undeniable achievement that was gained. Probably the most famous articulation of this way of thinking about the Civil War is Ken Burns’s lengthy documentary, The Civil War.
What, though, if Stevenson’s assessment of the fate of slavery in this country is accurate? Should that change how we look at the Civil War? Was it actually in almost every area that matters in relation to genuine justice for those who were forcibly relocated to North America and so brutally enslaved a failure? If that is the case, then surely we should not be thinking that the Civil War was a necessary, albeit tragic, step toward the justice we all would agree has been so necessary. And, perhaps, as well, we should quit looking to war itself as ever serving as a tool for social justice.
Rethinking the abolitionist movement?
Another question that arises for me, then, is a question about the pre-Civil War movement to end slavery. The standard account of the abolitionist movement usually includes a kind of condescending conclusion in relation to the branch of that movement that opposed the use of violence to end slavery. Doesn’t the Civil War—and its success in finally ending slavery—prove that nonviolence simply doesn’t work in the end to overcome truly profound systemic injustice?
Well, if we follow Stevenson’s comment, we are left with some issues in relation to the standard account. If slavery actually did not end, then the central point about the Civil War’s effectiveness vis-à-vis nonviolence must be rethought. It would appear that the war actually was not effective, and perhaps in the long run made the condition of the enslaved people worse.
What should we make of the abolitionist movement? I have long admired those activists who fervently sought to end slavery. I have especially admired abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison who combined their commitment to ending slavery with a commitment to nonviolence. But if slavery actually didn’t end (in Stevenson’s sense), shouldn’t that cause us to reassess what the abolitionists did and didn’t do? Perhaps most urgently for me, I would like to understand how erstwhile abolitionists responded to the emergence of the Jim Crow regime in the South.
The moral legacy of the Civil War?
If we are going to consider the moral legacy of any war, a good place to start is to consider that immediate cost of that war. If we assume that war is morally problematic—which is what all actual moral reflections do when say the benefits must outweigh the costs, since there are significant costs—then we must consider what that war did cost so we can compare that cost with the benefits.
So, what did the Civil War cost at the time it happened? How many people were directly killed or died as consequence of the war? What about other human damage—serious wounds, the psychological costs, destruction to infrastructure, nature, farm animals, etc? I don’t know the answer to these questions but it seems important to be attentive to the immediate costs as one learns more about the war.
Then there are longer term and more intangible costs. One book I have read on the Civil War and morality is a fine book by historian Harry Stout—Upon the Altar of the Nation: A Moral History of the Civil War. Stout’s book is very helpful, even eye-opening. He does a nice job of critical analysis asking important moral questions. However, he ends the story abruptly with the war’s end in 1865. I think we also need a “moral history” of the consequences of the war. Did it accomplish what was claimed for it to justify the financial expense and the lives of the soldiers?
A related set of questions have to do with what the war actually achieved. Did it succeed in accomplishing what it seems to have been started and pursued in order to achieve? What is it a success on its own terms? These questions do not have obvious answers. They need to be critically investigated. I will ask these questions on behalf of the war effort of the North. Obviously, the war was a major failure in terms of the war aims of the South.
The kind of lens I will choose to use in evaluating this story is the lens of the ostensible rationale for the war, the cause of ending slavery. However, I want to look more deeply than simply the legality of the formal ownership of slaves. It does seem clear that slavery in that sense did end. But what about the underlying issue of the respect for the humanity of formerly enslaved people? This is the kind of issue that seems to be in mind for Bryan Stevenson when he says slavery did not end but only evolved.
How did the war impact the dynamics of addressing the context for slavery? What did the seemingly successful ending of the Civil War actually mean for how American society thought about and acted toward former slaves? What about issues such as actual freedom for liberated slaves—economic development, access to education, safety, and similar dynamics. Maybe we could think ahead and apply Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “four freedoms” that helped provide a direction for the ideals behind the prosecution of World War II—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. How available did these freedoms become for former slaves? This seems like quite an important question in considering the moral legacy of the civil war, particularly if we think of it as a necessary and justifiable war required for the ending of slavery. What if slavery ended only in a formal sense and the actual freedom of slaves was not in reality a result of this terrible and horrendously costly war?
The long-term effects of the Civil War
Besides the impact in the decades afterwards of the Civil War on the lives of those the war was supposedly fought on behalf of, I also want to understand better other long-term effects of the war. What was the impact on the general attitude about warfare in the United States going forward? Did the “success” of the Civil War lead to a more optimistic view of the usefulness of war in general? What about the pre-war militaristic sensibility in the South—was that weakened or strengthened afterwards?
What is the connection between the Civil War and the smaller wars in the years to follow that subdued the resistance of Native Americans to the expansion of “civilization” to the West? It does seem notable that such major figures in the Civil War such as Union generals Sheridan and Sherman played huge roles in the “Indian wars.”
Then there is the tremendous expansion of the availability of firearms after the war when millions of soldiers returned to civilian life taking their weapons with them. How did this impact life in the years after the war? How about the impact of the Civil War on the frequency of domestic violence in the years after it ended?
Finally, what were the consequences of the short-lived exercise of trying to impose a new political order on the former Confederacy through the work of the occupying federal troops in the South? What did it mean for black southerners when their protectors were taken away? What have been the effects of “unreconstructed” white supremacists exercising mostly unchecked political power in the South in the years after the ending of Reconstruction only 12 years after the war ended?
The agenda of this project
My intent is not to focus on “what if” considerations. I won’t be emphasizing how things might have been different. My interests are more in trying to learn from what seems now to have been a failed effort bring about social justice through massive violence. It’s not so much: How could things have been different? More so, it’s: Can we learn from the mistakes of the past? How can we free ourselves from the pervasive myth of redemptive violence that has led us to valorize the Civil War for achieving something it actually did not achieve but likely made worse?
I also want to look more closely at the second big effort to try to effect social justice for black Americans—the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Clearly the Civil Rights movement took a diametrically different approach toward social change than the Civil War. What is to be learned from the differences? Is it possible successfully to argue on behalf of nonviolence as a much better approach to these issues than warfare?
But, also, what were the limitations of the Civil Rights movement? What is left to be achieved? And how?
Behind all this, I also want to think theologically. Themes such as human dignity, social change strategies, a vision for the “beloved community,” working for hope and energy in face of impervious oppression, and many others all have theological roots. Is it possible to imagine an overcoming of the problems of racism, white supremacy, domination, and the like without a deeper theological analysis than we have had?

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Have we really fallen this far?

Last week Fariborz Karami committed suicide. And I don’t think many Australians noticed. He was just 26 years old, and he had been held behind bars for 5 years without any hope of safe release. His mental health had been deteriorating for years. But I don’t think many Australians cared. Worse still, I don’t think … Continue reading Have we really fallen this far?
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What does Romans 13 actually teach?

Ted Grimsrud—June 18, 2018
What does it mean for the United States to be a “Christian nation”? For many, it seems to mean that people should support the political status quo, and they will quote the 13th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans to support that support (“be subject to the governing authorities”). We find this most often when Christians want to offer “biblical support” for obeying the state’s call to go to war. But it comes up in many other circumstances as well.
Just lately, our evangelical Attorney General used Romans 13 as a basis to demand acceptance of Donald Trump’s policy of separating would-be immigrant children from their parents when they are arrested trying to cross the border into the US. Many commentators have noted that such a use of Romans 13 is not appropriate. I agree, but I also think that when this passage comes up in a public and controversial way, it is good to take the opportunity to offer some suggestions for how this oft-cited text might best be read.
The message of Jesus
The first step for thinking about the issues that Romans 13 are purported to address (our relationship to the state, our responsibilities as citizens, et al) is to start with Jesus—just as the New Testament itself does. Though Paul wrote Romans decades before the gospel writers wrote the gospels, the early church used these writings in a way that placed the gospels first. I think we can assume that the stories about Jesus that make up the core of the gospels circulated from the time of his death.
Paul himself insisted he simply reinforced Jesus’ message. If our basic question in looking at Romans 13 is a question of social ethics, we need to set the context for Paul’s own life and thought by taking note of what Jesus did and said that establish his own approach to social ethics.
The social ethic Jesus articulates has as its core two key elements: imitate God’s love even for God’s enemies (Luke 6:35-36) and practice a style of life utterly different from the “natural law” behavior of people in the world (6:32-34). That is, go beyond simply loving those who love you and doing good to those who do good to you—love even your enemies.
Jesus embodied an approach to politics where compassion, respect, inclusion of outsiders, non-retaliation, forgiveness all stood at the center. He taught his followers to subvert the standard political dynamic of Empire where the rulers lord it over their subjects. “Not so among you!” (Mark 10:43).
Those who make Romans 13 central to their political theology act as if Paul then came along and intentionally moved things in a different direction from Jesus. Does Paul make the necessary adjustment of Jesus’ radical ethic to something more realistic and responsible in the “real world”? Is Paul a teacher of accommodation that helps make Christian faith politically relevant? Or, is it rather the case that Paul actually reinforces the radicality of Jesus original message?
Before we look at Romans 13 itself, let’s note a couple of key elements in Paul’s thought more generally.
Paul’s social analysis
Paul introduces a way to speak of the structures of human life using the language of the “principalities and powers.” He refers to realities beyond simply our individual persons. He has in mind our institutions, traditions, social practices, belief systems, organizations, languages, and so on. This Powers language speaks metaphorically about the discrete “personalities” and even “wills” that these structures have.
(1) The Powers are part of the good creation.  They were brought into being by God as a “divine gift” that makes human social life possible.  When God created human beings, necessarily elements of human life such as language, traditions, and ways of ordering community life all came into existence alongside the individual human beings.  And like the original human beings, the Powers were also good.
(2) The Powers are fallen. They are so closely linked with humanity that when human beings turned from God—spoken of traditionally as “the fall”—so, too, did the Powers.  It is as if the Powers, as part of created reality, turn against human beings when humans are alienated from God.  The fallen Powers then seek to take God’s place as the center of human devotion, often becoming idols.
(3) The Powers remain necessary.  In spite of their fallenness, the Powers retain their original function. Human life still requires ordering; we still need elements of life such as language, traditions, and ways of organizing our communities. The Powers are still used by God in the sustenance of human social life. Consequently, the Powers are both a huge part of the problem human beings face in living in our fallen world and a necessary part of whatever solutions might be found.
(4) The Powers must be redeemed.  What is required for a potential resolution of the “Powers dilemma” is that the Powers be transformed (they cannot be abolished or ignored). The Powers must be “put in their place.”  We need them but they should be our servants (on behalf of life) not our masters (idols that make us become like them).  Such a putting the Powers in their place can only happen when we see them as what they are—creatures, not God substitutes.
(5) Jesus does redeem the Powers. Jesus lived free from the Powers’ control and as a consequence was crucified. In his death the Powers (representatives of religion and politics) collaborate. However, Jesus remained free from their allure, even in face of the deadly violence.  In doing so, he brings to light their true character. As Colossians 2:15 states, on the cross he “disarmed” the Powers, “making a public example of them and thereby triumphing over them. In Jesus’ resurrection, it becomes clear that his challenge to the Powers was endorsed and vindicated by God.  In Jesus, God has ventured into the Powers’ territory, remained true to God’s loving character, and defeated them.
Living in a broken world
Paul knew, all too well, that freedom in Jesus must be lived in a broken world.  So, he reflects on how Christian freedom may be lived most faithfully in an unfree world. Pauline writings concerning subordination in interpersonal relationships may deepen our analysis of how Paul reinforces and applies Jesus’s ethic.
Paul does not simply endorse status quo power arrangements that require those in the “lower” positions to give all their power to their “superiors.” Paul writes to people in the “lower” positions and treats them as responsible moral agents who have full (and equal) worth as human beings with those of higher social status.  These addressees, according to Paul, have indeed been liberated in Jesus and welcomed into full membership in Jesus’s assembly.  However, likely these addressees are not in positions to claim that liberation fully while at the same time remaining wholly committed to Jesus’s path of loving their neighbors.
Paul echoes Jesus in holding up two equally crucial convictions.  We are free in Jesus and we are called to love even our enemies.  In this love we refrain from smashing existing social arrangements.  Paul’s points on “subordination” are best seen as part of his thinking on the processes of negotiating this liberation/path of love tension.
The main term that Paul uses, hyptoassesthai, could best be translated something like “subordinate yourself to,” better than flatly “submit to.”  It is not connoting slavish obedience.  It is best defined in relation to Jesus.  According to Paul in Philippians two, Jesus, being free, subordinated himself for our sake and gave himself for us.  And, Paul emphasizes in Philippians 2:5, believers should “let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
In Romans, Paul cares about mutual subordination among the Christians in Rome.  He emphasizes, by the end of the book, the crucial importance to the Roman Christians of loving one another (13:8-10), refraining from judging each other (14:1-12), avoiding making one another stumble (14:13-23), pleasing others and not oneself (15:1-6), and recognizing that the gospel is for Jews and Gentiles together (15:7-13).
Paul advocates a genuine revolution against the Roman Empire’s hegemony; his readers are called to conform to Jesus’s way in resistance to the world’s (12:1-2).  However, the revolutionary means he advocates are consistent with the healing mercy of God extended to the entire world.  The certainty Paul has—and all followers of Jesus should have—in the world-transforming efficacy of God’s healing mercy undergirds lives of patient love, extended even (as with God Godself) toward enemies.
The broader biblical context for “Romans 13”
Romans 13 (specifically 13:1-7) often serves as a counter-testimony in the Christian tradition to the belief that Paul taught nonviolent resistance to the Roman Empire—calling for submission, not resistance. I believe such readings of these verses fundamentally misunderstand Paul’s thought.
Our interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 should begin with consideration of the broader context of biblical politics.  From Egypt in Genesis and Exodus, then Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and down to Rome in the book of Revelation, the Bible tells us that empires rebel against God and hinder the healing vocation of God’s people.  The entire Bible calls people of faith to follow Torah in seeking to love God and neighbor. And it shows how to navigate the hostility, domination, idolatry, and violence toward this healing vocation that almost without exception characterize the world’s empires.
Romans 13:1-7 stands within this biblical framework of antipathy toward the empires.  Hence, we should turn to these Romans verses assuming that their concern is something like this: Given the fallenness of Rome, how might we live within this empire as people committed uncompromisingly to love of neighbor?  Paul has no illusions about Rome being in a positive sense a servant of God.  However, we know from biblical stories that God nonetheless can and does use the corrupt nations for God’s purposes.  Yet these nations also remain under God’s judgment.
Romans’s message
The message of Romans as a whole reinforces the broader biblical perspective—both on the problematic nature of human empires and on the relevance of the message of God’s healing love to the faithful response to the reality of empire.
Paul discusses two major strains of idolatry in chapters 1–3: (1) the Empire and its injustices that demand the highest loyalty and (religious) devotion and (2) a legalistic approach to Torah that leads to its own kind of violence (witness Paul’s own death-dealing zealotry before he met Jesus). However, Paul believes these widespread problems provide an opportunity for him to witness to the universality of God’s healing response.  Indeed, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Nonetheless, all may find salvation in Jesus.  The sovereignty of hostility to God ultimately bows to the sovereignty of God’s healing love.
In Romans 4–8 Paul further develops this message about God—reflected in Abraham’s pre-circumcision trust in God that serves as our model (chapter 4), in God’s transforming love even of God’s enemies (chapter 5), in Paul’s own liberation from his idolatrous “sacred violence” (chapter 7), and in the promise that creation itself will be healed as God’s children come to themselves (chapter 8).
Chapters 9–11 involve Paul’s deeper wrestling with his own earlier experience as a God-fearer who had failed to recognize God’s mercy revealed in Jesus.  However, Paul’s failure (and the failure of many of his fellows) did not stop the revelation of God’s mercy.  This mercy will have its healing conclusion even with the unfaithfulness of so many of the chosen people.
Finally, in chapters 14–16, in response to his certainty about God’s mercy, Paul sketches the practical outworking of living in light of this mercy—all for the sake of spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth (i.e., “Spain,” 15:28).
Romans 12 and 13 should be read as a single section (contrary to the common practice of isolating 13:1-7). And this section should be read in the context of this broader flow of thought in the book.  In this section, the first word is a call, motivated by God’s mercy, to refuse to conform to the power politics of the world (“Do not be conformed to this world,” 12:2). Such nonconformity takes the positive shape of mutuality within the faith community and suffering love in response to enemies. Then comes 13:1-7, followed by a reiteration of the call to love in 13:8-10.
Zeroing in on Romans 13
What, then, does Paul actually say in these seven so-often cited verses?
(1) Paul calls for a qualified subordination in relation to government.  These verses begin with a call to subordination, not literally to obedience.  The term here that is often translated “submit” actually is better translated “subordinate yourselves.” It reflects Paul’s notion of how God orders the Powers.  The subordination has to do with respect for God’s work through the social structures of the world—not with unconditional obedience.  For example, the person who refuses to follow directives from the state that are discerned to be immoral but accepts the consequences for doing so is being subordinate even though not obeying.
(2) Paul intends to reject any notion of violent revolution. Paul rejected a reaction to the tyranny of the Roman Empire that relied on violence, even in the face of Rome’s devastating anti-Judaism and overall tyranny.
(3) Paul also intends to relativize the affirmation of any particular government.  Though opposing violent revolution, these verses do nothing to imply active moral support for Rome (or any other particular government). Paul here echoes Revelation 13, a text often contrasted with Romans 13.  Both passages advocate subordination in relation to whatever governing Powers are in place—even along with the implication (more clear in Revelation) that this particular government is idolatrous and blasphemous.
(4) God orders the Powers—a different notion than ordaining the Powers.  God is not said to create or institute or ordain any particular governments, but only to order them. This sense of “ordering” implies that God’s participation in human life is more indirect than often understood.  All states are “ordered” by God and thus in some sense serve God’s purposes.  However, no states are directly blessed by God as God’s direct representatives—least of all the Roman Empire that executed Jesus.
(5) Nothing here speaks to Christians as participants in the state’s work. When Paul mentions several functions in 13:3-4, he does not have in mind tasks that Christians themselves would take on. He expects readers to give what is “due to the authority” (13:6-7), but none of this involves direct work for the state. Whatever it is that the state does, Paul does not endorse Christians themselves having a responsibility to perform tasks that violate the call to neighbor love.
(6) Paul calls for discrimination.  “Pay to all what is due them” echoes Jesus’ call for discernment. When Jesus stated, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” he meant: Be sure not to give Caesar the loyalty that belongs only to God.  Paul writes in 13:7, “render to all what is due them.”  In the very next verse, 13:8, unfortunately often not noticed when we quit reading at 13:7, Paul states “nothing is due to anyone except love.”  This is Paul’s concern—is what Caesar claims is due to him part of the obligation of love? Only that which is part of the call to love is part of the Christian’s duty.
Romans 13:1-7, when read in light of Paul’s overall theology, may be understood as a statement of how the qualified subordination of Christians contributes to Christ’s victory over the Powers.  Christians do so by holding together their rejection of Empire-idolatry with their commitment to active peacemaking.  Their most radical task (and most subversive) is to live visibly as communities where the enmity that had driven Paul himself to murderous violence is overcome—Jew and Gentile joined together in one fellowship, a witness to genuine peace in a violent world.
Paul’s punch line in Romans 13 comes at 13:9-10: “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor.” Only by not reading past 13:7 have interpreters been able to imagine that Paul here offers a rationale for participation in violence. However, the paragraph break between 13:7 and 13:8 is not present in the original text. When Paul wrote “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities,” (13:1 NRSV translation), he meant that truth to complement the call to love all neighbors.
Living without idolatry
Peaceable faith communities empower a freedom from the Powers idolatry.  These are some of the imperatives from Romans 12–13 for living out such freedom:
• Nonconformity to the world of violent nation-states is fueled by minds that are transformed, being shaped by God’s mercy shown in Jesus rather than by the culture’s “elemental spirits.”
• Active love for one another leads to a renunciation of vengeance and a quest to overcome evil with good rather than heightening the spiral of violence with violent responses.
• Respect God’s ordering work in human government that, fallen and rebellious as it may be, still serves God’s purposes.
• Commit to doing good (following Jesus’ model that implicitly recognizes that genuinely doing good as defined by the gospel could lead to a cross) and repudiate temptations to seek to overcome evil with evil through violent resistance.
• Work at discerning what belongs to God and what is allowable to be given to Caesar.
• Make an overarching commitment to authentic practice of Torah, summarized (following Jesus) as love of neighbor.
What truly matters
Romans 13 calls upon Christians to hold together two uncompromisable convictions: resistance to empire and commitment to Jesus’s way of peace.  Resistance without pacifism ends up only heightening the spiral of violence and serving the domination of the fallen Powers.  Pacifism without resistance validates the stereotypes of the cultured despisers of pacifism—parasitic, withdrawal focused on purity, irresponsible.
Jesus and Paul both challenge people not to let the Empire set our agenda or determine our means of resistance.  We must not, in seeking to overcome evil, add to the spiral of evil ourselves. The true problem with Empire is not that some empires are not benevolent enough in their domination. It is the practice of domination itself.  Resistance to Empire that serves God’s intentions for human social life must repudiate domination itself.  Resistance that leads to more domination ultimately is not nearly radical enough.

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

On the Occasion of Your Seventeenth Birthday

Hi kids,
It’s your seventeenth birthday today, so I suspect you know what’s coming by now. That’s right, another long-ish and perhaps not altogether welcome letter from your dad. This is the third year in a row that I’ve subjected you to something like this (see here and here). I apologize. Kind of. Well, not really. I suppose next year these letters will have to stop, what with you officially reaching adulthood and all that. So I’d better take advantage of these last two birthdays to dump all of my wisdom (or at least nostalgia) on you before you launch out into the grown up world.
Speaking of grown ups and adulthood, I saw a young man—maybe twenty or so—walking around the other day with a t-shirt that proudly displayed a slogan that said something like, “I tried adulting today, but adulting is hard.” It’s a chuckle-inducing expression that you see a lot today. I suppose it’s meant to convey the idea that sometimes being an adult is complicated or isn’t all it’s cracked up to be or isn’t worth the effort or something like that. Or maybe it’s like a kind of social endorsement of laziness and apathy—a kind of shrug of the shoulders, an indifferent “meh” to the perceived demands of an oppressive world that inconveniently insists that we grow up.
Based a few decades spent “adulting” myself, I can tell you that the slogan on the t-shirt is both true and not true at all. It’s true in the sense that it’s not always easy to grow up, to take responsibility for yourself and your actions, to learn how to think through complicated issues in a world that seems to endlessly settle for (demand?) simplistic slogans and reactionary shouting in place of careful thinking and measured responses. It’s hard to find your place in a world that demands self-definition as a cultural imperative. It’s intimidating to think about finding meaningful work in unstable economic and political conditions. It’s complicated to start dealing with things like student loans and job applications and mortgages and (far off in the distant future!) parenting. So, yes, adulting can be hard. It can be very hard.
But on the other hand, adulting is not hard. At least not in the ways that matter most. Adulthood can, in many ways, simply be another word for “maturity.” Physical maturity, certainly, but far more importantly emotional, spiritual, moral, and relational maturity. Adults are those who treat all people as human beings, who are kind and concerned about the welfare of those many deem expendable or inconvenient. Adults don’t believe something just because it comes from the mouth of someone who is rich and powerful. Adults aren’t impressed by empty rhetoric that relies on bullying and threats. Adults are suspicious of the propaganda and marketing language that fuels and inflames our cultural discourse on so many levels. Adults have the capacity to be self-critical—to recognize that we all have our blind spots and self-serving ways of understanding and moving through the world. Adults recognize that being right isn’t always (or even often) as important as being loving. And if they are paying attention, adults are always growing in the knowledge that love is a much deeper (and more demanding) word than most of the ways in which it is thrown around out there in the world.
As I’m sure you’ve observed, there are many people out there who are technically “adults” according to the dates on their birth certificate, but who are miles away from this kind of maturity. They are petulant and lazy, they are sloppy thinkers and endlessly blame others for the things that go wrong in the world and in their lives. They are unkind and reactionary, abusing power to get their way and exalting themselves by pushing others down. They are impatient and hypocritical, merciless and arrogant. Some of these people occupy some of the most influential positions in our communities, nations, and world. But there is little worth admiring in such people. They remain childish (which is different than “childlike”—see below) in the ways that matter most. I hope you will continue to set your sights far higher than this, even if it sometimes requires setting them lower on many popular metrics of scorekeeping.
And I think you also realize that there are some people who are technically “children” but who are already leading the way when it comes to adulting in the best ways. Sometimes it is people your age and younger that put the rest of us to shame when it comes to calling out the things that should not be in our world—things so many of us have lazily accepted or given up caring about. I have seen this in both of you throughout your lives, in the ways that you have a soft spot for the outsider, the neglected, the ridiculed and ignored, in the way that you don’t chase after the herd, always panting after what is popular and socially acceptable. This makes me very proud. There are many times when I aspire to adult in the ways that you already are.
Jesus talked once about how adults needed to become like little children if they wanted to enter the kingdom of God. It’s a weird thing to say, on the face of it. Taken literally, it seems like Jesus saying he wants us to be childish or something. But I don’t think that’s true at all. I think he’s telling us some of the best ways of “adulting” in faith and in life involve the simple things that many children exhibit almost instinctively—things like trust, integrity, curiosity, openness, wonder, forgiveness, and joy. These are the kinds of adults the world needs. Those who “adult” well are often those who simply follow one of Jesus’ most basic commands: “Do to others as you would have them do unto you.” A pretty simple thing, when it all comes down to it. But also a pretty hard thing. Adulting is like that—it’s hard and not hard at the same time.
Anyway, I hope you both have the very happiest of birthdays today. And I hope you remember that you are loved dearly, by your mother and I, certainly, but more importantly by the God who made you, the God who loves you more truly and fully than even we can, no matter how well you manage to “adult” in the years ahead. I hope your lives will be spent living into, embracing, and emulating this deepest of all loves—a love that holds and heals, sustains and enlivens, forgives and redeems the world.
Thanks for beings such awesome kids who are already adulting in inspiring ways. I suppose your mother will have to take most of the credit for that.
Love, always.
For those who might be wondering about this “blogging sabbatical” that I keep trying (and failing) to observe, I can only apologize and promise to keep trying. One of the ways that “adulting” is hard for me is, evidently, resisting the urge to write sappy public letters to my kids on their birthday each year.  

Syndicated from Rumblings

Interview: Shelley Campagnola, Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support

Shelley Campagnola from Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support joins the podcast to talk about their work and the current state of refugee acceptance in Canada and the United States. For more on MCRS, visit
Topics include:

How MCRS supports refugee claimants and why these claimants are seeking help (1:15)
The Mennonite roots of MCRS (4:06)
Other help for refugees in the Kitchener-Waterloo area (5:30)
The Christian/biblical basis for helping refugees (7:45)
The general process for a refugee in Canada (10:12)
Main differences between Canada and the U.S. and how they welcome refugees (20:40)
The length of the refugee claim process (25:12)
The safe third country agreement and how that impacts refugees to Canada and the U.S. (27:31)
Increasing fear of the “other”, including refugees, in North America (31:26)
How to help MCRS in their work (44:26) Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

How the Bible Sounds in Occupied Territory

One more reflection based on my time spent in Palestine and Israel over the past few weeks. After this, I shall endeavour to give this “blogging sabbatical” thing another, better, try.
It’s an interesting thing how geography and social location affects the way you read and hear Scripture. Most Sundays, I am reading and hearing Scripture as a relatively comfortable, white, middle-class Christian in a more or less peaceful country where religion often occupies a peripheral (at best) role in most people’s thinking and living. This affects how I read and hear the words of the Bible. My default, whether I want this or not, tends to be to listen in ways that will more or less endorse and validate myself and those who are like me. This is, as I said, most Sundays. Last Sunday, however, I worshiped in Palestine.
It was a tiny little Lutheran church where we gathered in Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem. It was a mixture of Palestinian Christians and foreigners who happened to be lingering around the town of Jesus’ birth. The liturgical forms in the service were familiar enough, even if the language wasn’t. But they had transliterated the readings and prayers and it was possible, with a bit of effort, to follow along. The Scripture readings were done in both Arabic and English. And given what we had seen and heard in the previous week about how the Israeli occupation was affecting our Palestinian sisters and brothers, the readings sounded, well, different.
Psalm 35:1-10
We began the service by responsively reading from this Psalm. I am used to reading psalms like this through the lens of either the ancient Israelites or the suffering church. But it was impossible, in this place, to not hear through the ears of those who presently find themselves on the wrong end of the score in the Holy Land—those who are harassed and harried by teenage soldiers wielding automatic weapons, those who endure endless checkpoints and discriminatory policies restricting where they can go and when and how, those who are increasingly sequestered into urban ghettos by legislation that seems cruelly crafted to drive them from their farms and their land.

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
Take hold of shield and buckler, and rise up to help me!
[S]ay to my soul, “I am your salvation…”
For without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life. Let ruin come on them unawares. And let the net that they hid ensnare them; let them fall in it—to their ruin.
Then my soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. All my bones shall say, “O Lord, who is like you? You deliver the weak from those too strong for them, the weak and needy from those who despoil them.”

I don’t really have anyone contending with me in Canada, no real need for a shield or buckler. But my sisters and brothers from Beit Sahour do. They long for a strong arm of deliverance from those too strong for them.
It is grimly ironic that those who see themselves as descended from the same David who penned this Psalm, those who were once the weak that needed rescue from those who despoiled them, are now the ones that Palestinian Christians are praying for deliverance from.
Luke 16:19-31
The rich man and Lazarus… One enjoyed the best things in life while the other experienced only suffering and deprivation. Both die. The rich man ends up in torment in Hades and cries out to Father Abraham, with Lazarus by his side, saying, “Please, just a drop of water for my agony!” Father Abraham says, “Well, you’ve had your good things, haven’t you? You’ve been on the right end of the score for quite some time, and now the tables are turned.”
Father Abraham.
It must be such a complicated thing for Palestinian Christians to reckon with the word “Israel” in their Scriptures. But here, Father Abraham, patriarch of the nation, speaks a word of hope to them, to those who endure water shortages and intermittent electricity in the blistering heat of summer, to those who look over the (large and imposing) fence and see their Israeli neighbours with unlimited access to water and gleaming shopping malls and newly paved freeways (that Palestinians can’t use)…
Father Abraham says, “Comfort is coming, even across this vast chasm.”
1 John 4:15-21
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
This land is often called “holy.” Everywhere you go, it seems, something holy happened once upon a time. This is the place where Abraham died or where David did this or that or where Rachel is buried or where Jesus was born or where Muhammad went on his night journey. This is where God has apparently done a great many special things for a great many special people in a great many holy books. But what makes a land “holy?” What makes it matter to God? How would we ever know?
According to 1 John, it would seem rather simple. A land is “holy” because of the presence of love and unholy where this love is absent. God abides in those who love. And, presumably, takes his leave of those who persist in enmity and strife and all manner of unlove. God has little interest in this or that chunk of dirt where this or that thing happened in this or that holy book—at least not when it isn’t accompanied by love.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.  We love because he first loved us.  Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

Like I said, the bible sounds different in occupied territory.
I took the picture above at Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. The man in this picture is the father of the boy in the poster below the UN sign. It is his thirteen year old son who was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in that exact location. The father now spends most of his days volunteering at the UN center for his refugee camp.

Syndicated from Rumblings

BGWG 14: Farewell

Ebony and Steve return for one more episode of Black Gal, White Guy to say farewell to the show as they move on to focus on other things. Some of the topics include:

Steve’s recommendation: the podcast VS. (1:38)
Ebony’s recommendation: Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown (3:55)
Ebony and the Kinky Curly Theological Collective (8:20)
Steve and Village of Hope leaving Portland (14:45)
Ebony’s concerns (23:55)
Steve giving space for other voices (27:50)
Ebony’s parting words for listeners (31:25)
Steve’s parting words for listeners (35:15)

Note: they did actually record this a while ago and I (Ryan, the editor and distributor) did not realize it until recently – I had stopped regularly checking after they told me they were wrapping up, so I didn’t realize they had recorded one more episode a few weeks later. Oops. Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

Somewhere to Be

I know I’m technically on a “blogging sabbatical,” but I decided to interrupt it to offer a few reflections and observations on a trip I’m presently on to Israel and Palestine. One of the things we consistently hear wherever we go in this conflicted area is, “Tell others what you have seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.” It’s a serious call, and one that I feel an obligation to respond to given the privilege that I have of being here. Here are some assorted stories and reflections from my first few days here.
At 5:30 yesterday morning we made our way to the main checkpoint that Palestinians must take to get from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. We were coming a bit later in the morning—most Palestians (men, mainly) arrive before 4:00 am in order to ensure that they can get through in time to get to work on the other side by 7:00 or so. After a briefing from a few humanitarian monitors of the checkpoint, we proceeded through a labyrinth of cages and turnstiles and barbed wire and metal detectors and soldiers. We wanted to get a sense of what it was like to be a Palestinian for whom this is a daily reality.
But of course we only got a tiny sense of what it was actually like. It was far emptier than earlier in the morning. We got to sleep in until 5:00 am to get there rather than waking as early as 1:00 am to travel from surrounding villages to arrive at the checkpoint by 4:00. We had no need to consider if our employer would be waiting for us on other side, no cause to worry about a medical appointment we might miss, no anxiety about whether we might be turned back once we finally got to the Israeli soldiers, often for reasons as simple as expired paperwork or the fact that there were reports of someone in our village who threw a stone at an Israeli vehicle. Or less. We didn’t have a hard day of labour in the hot sun to look ahead to once we made it through the lineup (which can take anywhere from half an hour to two hours, depending on how many metal detectors they decide to open at any given point of the day). We didn’t have any anxiety about whether we’d even have a job waiting for us on the other side nor did we have to struggle with the grim irony that surely must accompany the common reality of Palestinian day labourers building helping to build Jewish settlements on what is supposed to be their land. We didn’t have to think about doing it all over again tomorrow morning. And the morning after that. And the morning after that… We got through with barely a disinterested glance at our passports and made our way back to the hotel for hot coffee and breakfast.
At one point when we were walking along the long walkway that felt like a livestock chute, an older Palestinian man said to me, “Welcome to our checkpoint, what do you think?” I shook my head and mumbled something like, “I don’t quite know what to say when I see something like this… What do you think?” He just smiled and said, “Every day,” before hurrying off past me. I suppose he had somewhere to be.
We spent part of Sunday touring through the Old City of Jerusalem. At one point, my wife and I wandered down from the Al Aqsa mosque toward a lookout point that faces over toward the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives. There was a structure there and I offhandedly asked the guy beside me if he knew what it was. He proceeded to summon his Holy Land tour leader to come over and answer my question. What followed was some interesting theology.
“Well, you see, this is the East Gate but the Muslims have walled it off and built a cemetery on the other side… And of course we know that when Jesus returns he will touch down on the Mount of Olives and make his way over here to institute the new temple… But he can’t set foot in the Muslim cemetery, of course (of course?)… Luckily, it was recently discovered that there was a fault line on top of the Mount of Olives… And of course (of course?) we know that this fault line is designed by God to literally split the earth in half and pave the way for Jesus to triumphantly reenter Jerusalem. My face must have looked rather blank as I pondered this image of king Jesus parachuting down from heaven onto the Mount of Olives to be ushered via earthquake through the remains of a Muslim cemetery to reestablish a Jewish temple. An interesting eschatological path to take for the Prince of Peace. Jesus, too, apparently, has somewhere to be.
As I reflected upon these two experiences, I wondered what might happen if the Holy Land tour guide I met would walk through an Israeli checkpoint. I wonder if he might get a glimpse into the grinding, soul-crushing daily reality that his theological fervour feeds into for ordinary human beings. Would he pause to wonder if his need for the nation state of Israel and Jerusalem in particular to be a staging ground for his particular version of eschatological pyrotechnics legitimates the kind of struggle and suffering for ordinary people that is obvious at the checkpoint? Would he soften his position in any way? Would he think twice before mapping out Jesus’ triumphant (and violent) return to Jerusalem for eager tourists every day? Or would he only see tens of thousands of potential terrorists being daily herded like cattle through a maze of steel and barbed wire?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. Obviously. I don’t know the answer to very many questions when it comes to this part of the world. But I do know that if this land is ever going to turn into somewhere to be for both Jews and Palestinians, it is going to require a determination to imagine things from the perspective of the other and to at least try to see a human being where it’s so easy to see only an enemy. It’s going to require Jesus-y things like forgiving what seems impossible to forgive, in turning cheeks that have been stung too many times with violence. It’s going to require walking miles that we have little interest in walking to places we would rather not go because we’re convinced that there has to a better future around the bend.

Syndicated from Rumblings

The Errancy in End-Times Theology: Could It Just Be Racist?

The unfolding crisis in Gaza forces me to put to paper something that I have been wrestling with over the last month, though honestly, a period of years. As someone who grew up reading the Left Behind series almost as religiously as I read my Bible, I understand how Evangelical Christians are viewing the move … Continue reading The Errancy in End-Times Theology: Could It Just Be Racist?
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

Let Us Remember: Slavery Built America

American slaves are just as much veterans as those who have served in the military.

Today is Memorial Day. A day where we celebrate our ‘victories’ and mourn our losses, while respecting those who have sacrificed. The past two years, I have written pieces regarding my frustrations and moral qualms with Memorial Day. While I could write further on the subject, this year I don’t want to be re-writing the same old thing. What I want to do, instead, is show how if we demand to participate in this day of remembering what our ‘freedom’ costs, we must remember the African slaves and anti-Black culture that dominates America. Without our racist practices, and without the free labor that slavery provided, our capitalist society, our war machine (and thereby war effort), and the ‘liberties’ we have today would be nonexistent and would have failed. Our heinous, evil practice of dehumanization is what got us to where we are today. Freedom costs us – it costs us our conscience. Which begs the question – are we really free?
Much ink has been spilled to show that without slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, the economic strength of America would be much more fragile. When one wants power, one must take it from someone else. Whether that be nationally, culturally, or individually. America is great at it.
Unfortunately, I do not have the time to put forth a well written piece, so my hope here is primarily to compile resources to show that we must remember that we are not the good guy. I repeat: WE. ARE. NOT. THE. GOOD. GUY. We have enslaved. We have pillaged. We have raped. We have destroyed. We have killed. All for our own selfish needs (don’t tell me we were justified in WWII. We refused to assist until we ourselves were bombed. We entered for selfish motive. I mean, let’s not forget we refused to help out the Jews seeking refuge while they were being burned alive.) – no questions asked. How dare we celebrate that? To do so is to spit in the face of Christ – The Suffering. The One who would rather die than kill. Who would rather carry a cross than a gun. But it is also to spit in the face of the 20 million Africans enslaved in the making of the American Empire. Without their forced free labor, without their lives being totally given to the American machine, without any say on their part, the American experiment would not have been nearly as successful as it is, economically speaking. Without the 200-300 years of slavery (slavery isn’t over. Don’t get me started on the subject of mass incarceration and unpaid/underpaid prison labor), we would not have had the resources to ‘win’ the wars we did. Oh the irony of a country that celebrates the “self-made man.” No such thing. If you’ve made it, you’ve made it because we have a history resting on a precedent of human bondage.
May God have mercy on us.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but in the broader narrative of American history, these black slaves, so dearly unappreciated, gave at least as much as veterans in the military. They gave the entirety of their existence. To this day, American culture is such that we have to consistently yell over the sea of white: Black Lives Matter. If we don’t, we forget. Heck, when we do, we’re deaf. Black people are the unsung heroes of this nation. They built it. We forced them to. They gave us our ‘victories.’ They are veterans. They deserve to be recognized. Celebrate Blackness this Memorial Day, not greed, not war, not murder!
As I always try to do, I want to be clear: I am not trying to de-value American veterans. While I think war is anti-Christ in nature, and to participate in killing is contrary to the message of Jesus Christ, I respect veterans. They are truly an underappreciated, disregarded piece of American culture. I appreciate that they have sacrificed their time, their energy, their limbs, their minds. They have given a lot. I would just argue, they did so for the wrong reasons. They did so for America, not for Christ. Christ has absolutely nothing to do with allegiance to a nation. That does not, however, diminish their importance as human beings. That does not mean Christ does not love them, nor does it mean I do not wish to try to myself, in my own frail way, of course. That does not mean when they come back home injured, bleeding, scared, alone, that we should discard them. We should care for them, help them along – welcome them with open arms. If you have served in the military, whether for this country, for North Korea, or the Nazi regime – you are beloved to Christ. But…so is the person you were sent to fight.
Below are some articles regarding how 300 years of slavery made our capitalist system possible, and therefore, our victories at war (given our economic abilities) possible. I encourage you to research, research, research. Ask questions. Seek to understand the world outside your own experience.
Peace be unto you.

Syndicated from Interdependently Independent


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