Category: Ethics and Social Justice


Survivors Need More Than Good Intentions: Why EMU’s attempt at reconciliation with me failed

My name is Megan Grove. It’s been over two years since I originally posted my story on Our Stories Untold as M.G. Two years this past April. The same month that I tried to take my own life at EMU ten years ago. And as these years roll by, bleeding one into the next, I wonder how many people had and continue to have experiences similar to mine. How many people – survivors of sexual assault and violence and people with mental health issues—feel unsupported, untrusted, disbelieved, unequipped, unsafe? How many people has EMU continued to harm due to its handling of sexual assault accusations? I end nearly every email and phone call with my Into Account advocate, Hilary Scarsella, with the words, “I am so grateful for you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Where we left off Let me take a step back, to 2016 when I first wrote my post. While I used my initials in the post and recognized that readers may figure out my identity, I made it clear that if someone wanted to respond to my post they would need to do it through my advocate. I asked that no one attempt to communicate with […]
The post Survivors Need More Than Good Intentions: Why EMU’s attempt at reconciliation with me failed appeared first on Our Stories Untold.

Syndicated from Our Stories Untold

She Thinks My Toyota’s…. Inadequate?

Having devoted two posts in the past week or so to the Jordan Peterson phenomenon and what might account for it, and having expressed qualified affirmation for some of the concerns that seem to animate him, I want to add one final post about 12 Rules for Life, this one addressing what I take to be among the least admirable of Peterson’s ideas. I am aware that some readers might be weary of the topic. I’m sorry. I have to take the book back to the library today, so this is all the Peterson you’ll have to endure around here for a while.
The impetus for this final post came, naturally, from a glance out of my office window into our church parking lot. Adjacent to our church is a large motorsports dealer. We allow their staff to park in our space during the week. What this means for the view out my window is that it is often populated by big, muscular-looking pickup trucks. Sometimes they’re jacked up with massive knobby tires and blacked out rims. Sometimes they have all kinds of defiant looking decals like plastered on the back windows. Often they are hooked up to trailers for pulling skidoos and quads and side-by-sides out to the mountains for weekends full of conquest and beer.
Sometimes the guys (and they’re almost always guys) that emerge from these trucks look pretty much like what you’d expect. Twenty something years old, massive bushy beards, baseball caps yanked down over furrowed brows, tattoos, ripped jeans and big boots. Occasionally they’re finishing off the last of a 750 ml energy drink with names like “Monster” or “Rockstar.” They look like guys who could probably snap me in two without blinking.
Beside all of these impressive looking trucks sits my recently purchased cherry red 2007 Toyota Camry. It has four measly cylinders and sounds like a lawn mower when I start it on a cold morning. Its cup holders look well-suited for a small latte (I doubt they could even handle a Monster energy drink). My Toyota looks… practical, if in an inadequate sort of way. It was recently described to me as looking like “something a grandma would drive.” Which, as it happens, was precisely what I was going for! Er, well…
According to Jordan Peterson, the scene in my church’s parking lot is rather easily interpreted. It’s all about the dominance hierarchy. Men need to be manly in order to get women to respect and, potentially, mate with them. Women respect strength and power and conquest. No self-respecting woman would date a guy who drives a Camry. You can’t probably can’t even roast the tires or do a donut in a parking lot with four pathetic cylinders! Women want risk-takers. Can you even take a risk in a Camry?! Guys who drive Camrys spend Sunday mornings before church picking up the empty Monster energy drink cans that the manly truck-driving men fling aside in disdain. Hypothetically. I’m told.
This is all a little tongue-in-cheek so far. But only a little. Peterson has some very strong opinions about gender and hierarchy. Frankly, some of them seem not only outdated and wrong but potentially dangerous. Consider this passage:

If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with, someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide.

I might have shuddered audibly when I read that paragraph. Particularly in light of the news about Brett Kavanaugh that has dominated recent weeks. Whoever turns out to have been in fact lying in this whole sordid spectacle, the one thing that was never in doubt for me was that Christine Blasey Ford’s story was plausible in principle. There are very few things that are more believable to me than that a group of tough, smart young men, amped up on entitlement and alcohol and manliness, would force themselves upon a young woman sexually for sport and amusement. I’ve been to those parties, I’ve heard the frat-boy language of conquest and bravado. It’s as despicable as it is ubiquitous. Whatever else our cultural moment needs, it is surely not statements about “healthy” women needing tougher men.
Jordan Peterson is not, of course, advocating sexual assault. This should go without saying, but probably doesn’t. But in a cultural context where we are and will be for some time reckoning with the ubiquity of (primarily male) sexual assault, it hard to imagine a more tone-deaf statement than, “If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter.” Peterson’s trying to argue for a recovery of the idea that there are significant gender differences, and I think most of us would acknowledge this. But this whole “Women need manly men who are smarter and tougher than them” seems to me a truly awful, insulting and potentially dangerous way to go about it.
I say this, of course, as a Christian. If I believed that human beings were just another animal (a lobster, say, to use Peterson’s famous example) thrown up from nature’s purposeless clay, I might have more patience for his dominance hierarchy. Nature could well produce—seems, in fact, to have produced—a great many species where males dominate females (and a few where the reverse is true). As it happens, I am convinced that human beings are more than that. We have, together, male and female, been created in the image of God to reflect this image to the world. We have the capacity to reflect on our experience and how we will arrange things in our relationships and social arrangments, even if this reflection takes place within biological parameters. We, of all creatures, can move beyond primal lust and power and the quest for dominance and actually learn how to love. If we were nothing more than accidental bipeds with an overdeveloped frontal lobe, Peterson’s analysis might make a bit of sense. Thank God we’re more than that.
At any rate, it’st time for my trip to the library. I can almost imagine Jordan Peterson sneering at me in my inadequate Toyota. I’m glad I read his 12 Rules. They were interesting. But I won’t be following all of them, and I hope you won’t either.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Tell Me Who I Am and Tell Me Why It Matters

A brief follow-up to last week’s post on the experience of reading Jordan Peterson. The response, whether in online conversation or private correspondence, was largely as I imagined it would be—a mixture of disgust and delight with not much in between (although there was some, it should be gratefully noted). So it goes. Delight and disgust are the lingua franca of the digital age. But I wanted to at least gesture toward a question I alluded to (but did not address) in the post: Why is someone like Peterson popular now?
I suspect there are many candidates who would be more qualified to answer this question than I am. I have only this one book (12 Rules for Life) to base my judgments on. I’ve watched precisely zero Peterson lectures and I don’t follow him on Twitter, so I have no idea what he delves into in those domains. I’m also aware of how truly atrocious the optics of a middle-aged white man talking (somewhat) sympathetically about Peterson are deemed to be out there in the world. And yet, I have a few ideas. Two to be precise.
First, and perhaps somewhat strangely, I think people are attracted to Peterson because he gives us an unvarnished anthropology. He is, if nothing else, a straight shooter. He does not flatter us with platitudes or pat us on the head for giving it a decent try. He names all of our selfishness and deception, all of our mixed motives and weakness, all of our laziness and self-congratulatory preening and posturing. Take this paragraph, for example:

Become aware of your own insufficiency—your cowardice, malevolence, resentment, and hatred. Consider the murderousness of your own spirit before you dare accuse others, and before you attempt to repair the fabric of the world. Maybe it’s not the world that’s at fault. Maybe it’s you. You’ve failed to make the mark. You’ve missed the target. You’ve fallen short of the glory of God. You’ve sinned. And all of that is your contribution to the insufficiency and evil of the world. And, above all, don’t lie. Don’t lie about anything, ever. Lying leads to Hell.

My first reaction to paragraphs like this is, “Hey, dude, take it easy!” My second reaction is, “Er, well, yeah. That’s me.”
I think one of the reasons Peterson is popular is because he pays human beings the compliment of expecting better from us. We are well tutored in the myriad social forces that shape and constrain human behaviour, of the ways in which unearned privilege and unjustified suffering can hinder human flourishing (if in very different ways). We know that to be human is to be yanked around by countless forces, within and without, that lie beyond our control. But we also know, in our heart of hearts, that we can be miserable, selfish, conflicted creatures, and that the world and our neighbour need better from us.
[Incidentally, at morning prayers with some Anglican colleagues today, we gulped and “ahem-ed” our way through these words from the prophet Hosea:
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
    for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
    and no knowledge of God in the land.
 Swearing, lying, and murder,
    and stealing and adultery break out;
    bloodshed follows bloodshed.
 Therefore the land mourns,
    and all who live in it languish…
It occurred to me that Jordan Peterson’s indictment of the human condition sounds not so very different from the Lord’s of Israel… ]
The second reason that I think people might be attracted to Peterson is because he gives them permission to ask existentially significant questions. Questions about God and what God might be like, about suffering and how it might be transcended and redeemed, about moral responsibility, about freedom and meaning, about heaven and hell and what those words might mean, about order and chaos, about coming face to face with the terror and glory of existence. About what, finally, all of this might be for.
These were among the questions that drew me to philosophy back in my university days, and I remember being shocked to discover how rarely they actually made an appearance. We talked a lot about language and logic. We talked about epistemology and empirical verifiability. Important stuff, to be sure, but, not exactly the kind of stuff that sets a soul alight. I wanted to talk about the meaning of life; what I often got was how to parse the meaning of sterile propositions about knowledge claims. I wanted to read Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard; instead, we read Wittgenstein and Popper. Again, it’s not that the latter are unimportant, but… well, you know.
One doesn’t have to agree with all of Peterson’s conclusions (I don’t) but it’s hard not to appreciate someone who has the audacity to unapologetically say, “These big questions still matter, damnit!” To be a human being is, after all, to be a fearful and wonderful thing. Peterson names this, in his own way. I think that at least some people are hungry for this naming.
I could be wrong in this cursory assessment of Peterson’s popularity. I suppose it could be the case that it’s all a smokescreen for what is, at bottom, a patriarchal agenda or the last desperate flailings of a white guy who’s scared of losing his privilege. But having read the book, it certainly doesn’t seem that way to me. I think (or at least I hope!) there’s more interesting stuff going on than that.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Why Abortion Opponents Should Oppose Brett Kavanaugh…and all Other Republicans

Ted Grimsrud—9/29/18
I am acquainted with several people (and know of many, many more) who were troubled by Donald Trump’s lousy character and shady business dealings yet still voted for him. The basic rationale seems to have been: “Sure, Trump is awful. Clinton’s awful too. The difference is that Trump will appoint Supreme Court justices who appose abortion.” The vote in the 2016 election was close enough to imagine that these people may have tipped the balance.
And now Trump is rewarding such choices. First, he got the rigid right-winger Neil Gorsuch on the Court to replace rigid right-winger Antonin Scalia (some analysts have suggested that Gorsuch is even more extreme than Scalia in his embrace of a corporatist agenda, hard as that may be to imagine). Now, we are likely just days away from Brett Kavanaugh (a long time Republican Party operative) joining four other rigid right-wingers to form what will likely be a long-term Supreme Court majority.
It’s hard to say precisely howthis new unequivocally “anti-abortion” majority will act to undermine abortion rights. They may simply overturn Row vs. Wade and allow whatever states choose to to make abortion in all situations illegal. However, I have read commentators who suggest that, realizing such a direct move would energize the pro-choice forces, the Court may move in a more piecemeal direction. They may make decisions that continue to chip away at abortion rights until, while technically legal, abortions become virtually impossible to obtain in most of the country.
A counter-productive strategy
Ironically, though, I believe that this strategy will backfire on those who, out of genuinely humanitarian motivations, desire a sharp reduction (if not complete elimination) of abortion in this country. Basically, in helping to elect Trump and Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, “pro-lifers” have actually put into power forces that are profoundly anti-life (militarist, anti-environment, ruthlessly pro-corporate, pro-mass incarceration, etc.). The “success” of getting an iron-clad “pro-life” majority in the Supreme Court will not only lead to heightened misery for non-wealthy Americans, but ironically likely will do little, if anything, to eliminate abortion.
I believe that the abortion debate is incredibly complex with strong feelings and important truths being expressed across the spectrum. It won’t be resolved in my lifetime.
So, let’s say that Kavanaugh will be confirmed (or, if not, we may expect that some other equally “anti-abortion” person will be). What follows will be more and more legal barriers against abortion, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter with its “anti-abortion” majority in place perhaps for decades.
Will legal changes actually end abortion?
Yet, giving the opponents of abortion all they want in making abortion illegal certainly will notend abortion in this country. It may not even reduce the abortion rate (though it will certainly increase the rate of illegal abortions and the attendant rate of deaths due to unsafe abortions). Many countries that outlaw abortion completely have some of the highest abortion rates in the world (e.g., El Salvador’s rate of abortion is around 30 per 1,000 women aged 15-44)—and countries with the lowest abortion rates have legalized abortion (e.g., Switzerland, where abortion is available with no restrictions as to the reason for abortion, has the lowest abortion rate in the world, around 5 per 1,000). Obviously, there are other issues that drive the abortion rate more than legality.
So, people who truly want to reduce (and even ultimately end) abortion shouldbe asking how Kavanaugh’s likely positions on a wide range of issues would impact the one issue that matters the most in relation to abortion. That one issue is the prevalence of unwantedpregnancies. It seems like a simple point—the reason anyone has an abortion is that they don’t want to be pregnant. If someone doesn’t want to be pregnant bad enough, making abortion illegal will not stop them. And if someone doesn’t get pregnant when they don’t want to, they will not get an abortion.
So, are the policies that Republicans such as Kavanaugh support likely to decrease the cases of unwanted pregnancies? In a word, no. They are almost sure to increase the number of unwanted pregnancies (e.g., reducing funding for Planned Parenthood and in other ways limiting access to birth control; limiting access to sex education; reducing the safety net including programs that provide prenatal care, food stamps, and other social services; heightening the shame associated with unmarried pregnancies).
In general, the Republicans (and remember that Kavanaugh has been a loyal Republican operative for a long time) are pushing a political agenda that moves the U.S. more toward El Salvador (with an ever greater divide between rich and poor and a hollowed out middle class; fewer limits to corporate and police power; stricter legal barriers to access to abortion; an ever-shrinking safety net—not to mention ever-growing militarization and democratic practices growing ever-weaker) and away from Switzerland (with its robust safety net and vital democracy).

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

On Hanging Out With Losers (And Other Existential Detours)

I have a dirty, shameful secret to confess. It’s a secret that will likely lay waste to my credentials as a pastor of integrity and compassion, a thinker of anything resembling depth and insight, a citizen with more or less centre-left politics, or even a reasonably decent and upstanding human being. It’s a secret that I do not expose to the light of day lightly. Truth be told, it would be far safer to keep it consigned to the murky shadows. No matter. My sins must be expunged.
My secret? Last week, I read a book by Jordan Peterson.
I’ll give you a moment to either, a) click away in horror and disgust and vow never to read a thing I write again; or, b) snap to attention in gleeful anticipation of my finally being set straight by someone who knows the score. I know that in theory these two options should not exhaust the list of potential responses but, well, it’s Jordan Peterson. And I’m writing on the internet. So, probably not.
(If you don’t know who Jordan Peterson is, I’m afraid I’ll have to leave you to the mercy of Google. People tell me—rightly, no doubt—that I am too wordy on this blog, so I can’t afford to spend too many words on setting the stage.)
The book in question was Peterson’s bestseller 12 Rules for Life. It’s sold over a million copies, apparently. The man and his message are in demand. I think I requested the book at my local library back in spring (it was likely after some Peterson conflagration in the news) and, honestly, I had pretty much forgotten about it. When I picked it up the library, the librarian looked at me with a sideways glance and a raised eyebrow. Well, this one is certainly… in demand. I felt guilty as I took the book from her, like I was a twelve-year-old sneaking a dirty magazine or something. I smiled, thanked her, slid the book into my coat and beat a hasty retreat.
All I can say in my meager defense is that I am a curious person. Peterson is a lightning rod for our cultural moment. He says things that enrage or inspire people (there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground). He has little patience for political correctness or identity politics or victimhood culture. He says what he thinks (and, apparently, what many people want to say but are afraid to say). If nothing else, I figured it’s worth trying to understand why someone like this is popular now? I do not, as it happens, find explanations like, “Because _____-phobes and white supremacists and sexists are taking over the world” or “Because all those squishy liberals are finally getting a dose of the truth” terribly persuasive or compelling, so I thought I would try something radical and actually read him for myself.
And what of the book? Well, I suppose I would characterize my reaction to it as “mixed.” Peterson’s writing is, in my view, mediocre. He meanders a lot and makes sweeping generalizations that are relatively easy to poke holes in. He essentializes too much. He has some ideas about gender roles and the “dominance hierarchy” that supposedly constrain and dictate human behaviour that I don’t buy. He seems a little too fond of himself, at times. I guess that’s an occupational hazard when you’re a YouTube sensation and a bestselling author.
But I was surprised by how much of the book I found reasonably insightful. Or, at the very least, interesting. If I had to sum up its central message, it would be, “Grow up, take responsibility for yourself, live a life of meaning and dignity.” He tells his readers to project confidence into the world, to be careful who they associate with, to measure success in personal terms (am I a better person today than I was yesterday?) rather than those dictated by the media we consume (am I as popular or influential as person x that I see on Facebook?). He is convinced that there is meaning to be wrested out of the chaos of suffering and temporality that defines existence. There’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about any of this—this is practical wisdom, and these are ancient paths. But he says it in ways that clearly resonate with people who have lost the way and can’t see the path any more.
I came to the book with senses heightened, on high alert to find a monster. Instead, I found a man with concerns that often map on to my own. How do we live well? Where is meaning to be found? What is the purpose of a human life? Even if I don’t agree with all of his answers, I cannot but affirm the questions he asks.
As I closed the book, and as I pondered the 12 rules it contained, a number of objections occurred to me. What about those who start the race of life with a deficit? What about those entrenched in systems of injustice and pain? Not everyone can just roll up their sleeves and start making better choices after all! Questions like these piled up, one on top of another. But then another one occurred to me. Would I want my young adult kids to (mostly) follow Peterson’s 12 rules? I ran through a few of them in my head. Stand up straight (be confident that you have something to contribute to the world). Take responsibility for your choices. Hang out with people who want what’s best for you. Measure yourself according to the best version of you, not some ideal life on social media. Tell the truth. Use your speech well. Pursue what is meaningful, not what is expedient. And then I thought, well, yeah, I probably would.
Having expressed a sort of measured appreciation for some aspects of Peterson’s project, I must also confess that I can’t embrace the whole package. This is largely for Christian reasons. Peterson sees Jesus as a kind of heroic archetypal individual who had the courage to wrest order and meaning out of chaos. This may be partly true, but Jesus embodied a far deeper and more profound ethic than that.
Jesus relentlessly drives those who would follow after him precisely into the places that Peterson would have us escape. In the Beatitudes, Jesus calls “blessed” those that Peterson would call “losers” or “occupants of the bottom of the dominance hierarchy.” Jesus would have me believe that mourning with those in pain, hungering after a righteousness that transcends classical virtue, embracing meekness and poverty of spirit, and seeking the way of peace (as opposed to the ladder up the dominance ladder) is the way to genuine human flourishing. Where Peterson might see me spinning my wheels with unpromising people and situations that are hampering my progress, Jesus might just see something like faithfulness.
Peterson wants me to stand up tall, face the chaotic existential void, and be a heroic individual. Jesus invites me to discover my humanity in impractical love directed outward (and, inconveniently, downward). Peterson has some decent strategies for making our way in a world dominated by hierarchies. Jesus turns those hierarchies upside down and trains us to value things differently.
I can go with Peterson part of the way, but only because I know that Jesus is there to catch and correct, rehabilitate and redirect me when I and those around me fall.
The feature image above is taken from the 2018-19 Christian Seasons Calendar. It was created by Robert Gilroy and is called, “To Serve with Love.” It’s sort of a visual reminder to me that Jesus hung out with a lot of losers and that this sort of hindered his ascent in the dominance hierarchy. 

Syndicated from Rumblings

Interview: Michelle Morrow, LGBTQ Inclusion

Michelle Morrow joins the podcast to talk to Ryan about her own story coming to Anabaptism and her work now with supporting LGBTQ inclusion in the Church. Some questions covered include:

Michelle’s religious background growing up (0:36)
Finding her way to Anabaptism at Fresno Pacific University (1:27)
Transitioning from seeing her future in biblical studies to being in student services and working for LGBTQ inclusion (5:38)
What working for LGBTQ inclusion looks like for her (16:15)
How Anabaptism helps inform what Michelle is doing (21:45)
Whether a church can be loving toward LGBTQ people without being fully affirming (33:30)
Church Clarity and the push for being clear about what a church practices, whether affirming or not (43:19)
Practical tips for those wanting to better include LGBTQ people (52:44)


Michelle’s website:
Anabaptist Collective Facebook group:
Church Clarity: Apple Podcasts | Android | Email | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | TuneIn | RSS

A response to Old Testament violence

Ted Grimsrud—September 17, 2018
The issue of the violence in the Old Testament has troubled and fascinated me for years. How do we reconcile the violent portraits of God with an affirmation that Jesus is our definitive revelation of God and calls us to a pacifist commitment? I have felt pretty resolved for some time that this issue is not a deal breaker for Christian pacifism. But I have yet to sit down and write out a full explanation of how I think we best think about how the OT and pacifism go together. I’m not yet ready to do that, but I think I recently moved a bit closer to doing it.
The two general historic approaches to OT genocide
I recently read and briefly reviewed a new book, Making Sense of Old Testament Genocide: Christian Interpretations of Herem Passages by Christian Hofreiter (Oxford University Press, 2018). Hofreiter surveys various ways Christian writers have “made sense of OT genocide” over the past 2,000 years. He suggests they break down into two broad categories.
One we might associate with Origen (arising in the 3rd century CE, a time when church leaders were essentially pacifist) and simplify by describing it as a view that ultimately suggests that the OT text does not accurately describe historical reality. There are two different versions of this approach—the first, echoing Origen’s own views, reads “beneath” the surface level on an allegorical or theological level, suggesting that a surface, more historical reading gives us an unacceptable view of God as a terrible killer and enabler of killers. The second version of the non-historical approach, much more modern, is to divide the OT between revealed portions (such as the stories that show God in ways consistent with the message of Jesus) and non-revealed (and non-historical) portions such as the genocide texts.
The second general approach we associate with Augustine (and arose after the 4thcentury “Constantinian shift” when church leaders affirmed the moral validity of Roman wars) and simplify as a view that suggests God has the prerogative to command (or intervene with) violent actions to serve God’s own purposes. This approach reflects the views of most Christians over most of history since Augustine’s time in their willingness to fight in and support wars.
However, many pacifists have also affirmed a version of this approach with the notion that God indeed has the prerogative to intervene with violence even while God also chooses to command Christians themselves not to use violence. This approach has the advantage of straightforwardness, in being able to accept the truthfulness of the OT stories as historical events.
Holding together (or not) five key propositions
Hofreiter helpfully provides a set of five propositions that gives us a framework for thinking about these issues (p. 9). An interpretation of the OT genocide texts must in some way come to terms with each of these propositions and with the set of five as a whole.

God is good.
The Bible is true.
Genocide is atrocious.
According to the Bible, God commanded and commended genocide.
A good being, let alone the supremely good Being, would never command or commend an atrocity.

There surely have been Christians who would try to hold that all five of these propositions are true, and that it should be possible to explain how that can be the case. However, as Hofreiter tells the story, the Christian thinkers who have carefully engaged these issues tend to equivocate on one or more of the propositions.
Just taking Augustine and Origen, we see several such equivocations. Origen would have strongly affirmed #1, #3, and #5. His understandings of #2 and #4 were a bit complicated. The Bible is indeed true, but in a spiritual or theological sense, not always in a historical sense. The truthfulness of #5 challenges us to think carefully about #4. God is said, when the Bible is read in a literal sense, to have commanded and commended genocide—but that is not the case if we read the Bible in the best way (according to Origen), which is to say that when the Bible seems to say God commanded and commended genocide, something else actually is going on that we see only when we read the Bible with the eyes of faith.
For Augustine, we could see some equivocation with regard to #1, #3, and especially #5. Augustine certainly would say “God is good,” but this “goodness” could involve God acting in ways that would not be seen as “good” in normal human behavior. Augustine’s God is beyond human understanding and, it would appear, beyond human concepts of moral goodness. So, genocide may not be atrocious when it is commanded or enacted by God. Augustine does not hesitate to use the violence of the OT as a basis for accepting violence in the present if the violence is “just”. Because the Bible is true, in Augustine’s perspective, it must not be the case that God would never command an atrocity.
A different approach
I find Hofreiter’s five propositions to be a helpful way to think about the issues of violence and the Bible. I even think I would, in a sense, affirm all five—but only after defining them in my own way. I’ve never thought before that I agreed with Origen’s approach to the Bible, but if I had to choose between Augustine and Origen, I would certainly side with the latter. Let me sketch my way of thinking about those propositions and then reflect a little on whether this is an Origenist approach.
(1) God is good. I strongly affirm this proposition and strongly agree that it is a foundational affirmation for biblical faith. However, it does not seem totally obvious what “good” means. There are Christians who would say that “good” in relation to God means whatever God wants it to—and that could be something mysterious and beyond our ability as finite creatures to understand. That is, for some, God might do stuff that violates our sense of what is good but it is nonetheless “good” because it is God who did it.
I’m more attracted to the view that “good” is a pretty stable concept and that there are things that could be attributed to God that are not good (as we see in some of the other propositions). I would link “good” closely to “loving.” So, I would rather say “God is loving” than simply “God is good.” And I would add that I understand “loving” in terms of the life and teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. So, Jesus shows us what is good and what God is like.
I would also say that any notion that God is not always loving and acts in ways that contradict love are false understandings. The point, thus, would not be that God could be good in ways that seem to us to be evil because God is above our understanding. It would instead be that thinking that God could act in ways that seem to us to be evil is a false humanidea about God. So, in some sense, our understanding of “good” provides us with a criterion for discerning whether our notion of what God is like is valid or not.
(2) The Bible is true. I tend to agree with this proposition. But what’s a bit complicated about it is what we mean by “true” in relation to the Bible. I want to say that the Bible is “true” in the context of the type of literature it is. It is no more or no less historically accurate than other ancient writings. It is an important artifact offering stories that ancient people told and retold and fashioned into sacred writings that carried weight in the communities that used them. The Bible does not seem to have any special qualities that show that it somehow transcends its own time and place. To say, as one New Testament writer wrote, that the Bible is “inspired” is not to say that it is more accurate historically or less likely to contain mistaken information than other writings. Rather, it is to say, as the author of 2 Timothy 3:16 wrote, that it is useful for instruction and guidance.
It is as being useful for instruction that the Bible should be affirmed as “true.” Christians affirm that the Bible is indeed extraordinarily useful for instruction (i.e., “true”)—about how to live, about what God is like, and about things that are wrong and need to be opposed in life. We approach the OT’s violent portraits of God in the spirit of discerning how they are useful.
The Bible gives us clear understandings of what is “useful” or “true” or “morally faithful” that we may use as we discern the meaning and application of its stories and commands. Most centrally, of course, we get guidance from the life and teaching of Jesus. As Jesus himself insists that his message follows from the law and prophets, we ourselves may find core guidance from the OT. I think the best way to think of the way the Bible is truthful is to think of it as telling a big story with a plot that culminates in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. With many subplots and tangents along the way, the Bible nonetheless may be read as coherent and truthful (even if some of the pieces are best seen as less than truthful).
(3) Genocide is atrocious. This proposition seems self-evident when it stands alone. Of course, genocide is atrocious. But it becomes a bit more complicated when linked with the Bible’s violent stories. We could say that what happens in the stories is not actually that bad when we read them carefully. Or we could say that it’s not truly a “genocide” or maybe it’s not really “atrocious” when God commands or commends it or enacts it.
I prefer, though, to say that whenever some people (or a divine being) massacres large groups of other people that that is atrocious. This is a kind of behavior that is objectively genocidal and objectively atrocious—or, to use other language, evil, wrong, sinful, morally corrupt. And it does not matter who does it or what the rationale is.
(4) According to the Bible, God commanded and commended genocide. This proposition also seems self-evident. There are some interpreters who try to downplay the starkness of the stories, especially in Joshua. However, I think such attempts miss the point of the stories. The Bible intends to present the stories in a stark manner—the God of the story does clearly command and commend the kind of comprehensive slaughter of people that we in the modern world label as genocide.
Our interpretive challenges involve deciding how these stories should be understood historically and discerning why they were told. I believe that if we think of the Bible’s truthfulness in the way I described above (i.e., it’s ability to offer us guidance on how to live) and recognize that it is ancient literature that had the same relationship to history as other ancient literature, we will recognize that these stories should be read as legends and not literal history. When they portray God as commanding and commending genocide, we should not assume that they tell us about what actually happened.
So, our big issue is whywere these stories that portray God in such a problematic way told. We are limited in our ability to answer this question. I believe that one reason why they were retold in the form they were was actually to witness against the idea of God’s people possessing a territorial “homeland” as a means of furthering God’s work in the world. The story of the Conquest is the first step of a story that ultimately shows how inherently violent the territorial arrangement of peoplehood was (and is).
The stories told in Joshua were part of the setting up of Israel as a territorial nation. As the story continues, this territoriality becomes a terrible problem. God and the prophets end up rejecting territoriality as the basis for peoplehood. We learn of this rejection when the corruption of the Judean state ends in destruction—and it is confirmed in Jesus’s non-territorial embodiment of God’s kingdom.
So, we may say, the “God” of the story commanded and commended genocide for reasons that we are not able precisely to determine. But, due to our convictions about God’s goodness (and our convictions about the nature of the Bible), we have no problem with saying that that “God” is not the true God. We may still affirm the violent portraits as truthful in the sense that they help us better understand the peaceable dynamics of the overall biblical story that conclude in the NT with a strong affirmation of the non-territorial kingdom of God as the channel for God’s healing work in history.
(5) A good being, let alone the supremely good Being, would never command or commend an atrocity. Again, we have a proposition that seems self-evident on the surface. And I do strongly agree with it—given the definition I gave to the proposition “God is good” above. If “God is good” means that whatever God does is good because it’s God that does it, then this proposition would not be true.
I believe that our challenge is how to fit this proposition with the propositions about the Bible being true and about God commanding and commending genocide in the Bible. I think we have to accept that the Bible is not always historically accurate but instead contains meaningful stories that find their ultimate meaning in the context of the rest of the stories (that is, in the context of the big story). So, we should separate (1) what we believe about God based on the big story the Bible tells that culminates with Jesus from (2) what some of the specific (non-historically accurate) stories tell us about God. Those specific stories contribute to the big story without being accurate as historical accounts—so they can be said to be truthful and worthy of respectful attention while not being revelatory of the true God in isolation from the rest of the Bible.
Affirming all five propositions (kind of)
As I think of these five propositions as a whole, I think they are set up to be self-contradictory. Of course, we may be expected to say, either the Bible is telling the truth when it portrays God commanding and commending genocide orGod is good, genocide is atrocious, and a good God would never command or commend an atrocity.
As I have suggested, though, I can think of ways in which each of the five propositions are correct. However, I can do that only by careful definitions that almost certainly are different from the more obvious definitions assumed by the formulating of the five propositions. Probably the most significant divergence is in defining how the Bible is “true.” In saying the Bible is true mainly in the broad sense of its big story, I am not troubled by the proposition that “according to the Bible God commanded and commended genocide.” The Bible can be true as a whole and still have specific stories that are not historically accurate and whose truthfulness lies only in how they contribute to the big story.
So, I would say, we may affirm all five propositions, but not as a unified, harmonious whole. They are helpful together as an exercise in clarifying our definitions—and, I think, especially is helping us to reject a literalistic sense of what it means to say “the Bible is true.”
Is my approach “Origenist”? Yes, in that of the two general approaches that Hofreiter discusses in Making Sense of Old Testament Genocide, I do—like Origen—take an approach that accepts that the Old Testament violent portraits of God are not historically accurate. I reject the approach Hofreiter links with Augustine that affirms that God has the prerogative to command violence when that suits God’s purposes.
However, I differ with Origen in where I see the truths in the Old Testament. I do not look for deep allegorical, spiritual, or theological truth that in some sense lies behind the text (I think Greg Boyd in his books The Crucifixion of the Warrior God and Cross Vision is much closer to Origen than I am). Rather, I seek to read the text in a straightforward way and find truth there that is accessible to ordinary readers.
I think the Bible should be read in the same way we read other ancient literature—we take into account the historical settings; we recognize the role of legends, myths, oral traditions; and we think about the purposes the communities had for using these stories and keeping them alive. I would add that as a Christian, I expect the Bible as a whole to make the most sense when we read it as a big story with its resolution in the story of Jesus.

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Pentecostalism May Have Done More for Africa Than All Aid Organizations Combined

Originally published at the Christian Post.
The vast majority of Pentecostals and Charismatics around the world deeply care about social work and poverty alleviation. Research even indicates that Pentecostalism is the largest movement for social justice that has ever existed.
Pentecostal studies are booming. While it used to be the case that Spirit-filled Christians stayed out of academia and scholars viewed the movement as a bit too much “out there”, this is not the case today.
Pentecostal scholars like Amos Yong and Craig Keener are leading experts in their respective fields and there is a massive academic interest in why Pentecostalism has grown so fast and how it impacts society. The social sciences are no longer ignoring how 600 million Spirit-filled believers shape the world.
Five years ago, Pentecostalism and Development: Churches, NGOs and Social Change in Africa was released. This anthology, edited by Dena Freeman at London School of Economics, argued that Pentecostalism possibly has done more for development and poverty alleviation than all international aid organizations combined.
Yes, you read that correctly. Freeman writes:
“Pentecostal churches are often rather more effective change agents than are development NGOs…they are exceptionally effective at bringing about personal transformation and empowerment, they provide the moral legitimacy for a set of behaviour changes that would otherwise clash with local values, and they radically reconstruct families and communities to support these new values and new behaviours. Without these types of social change…it is difficult for economic change and development to take place.”
This thesis is in line with what sociologists Donald Miller and Tetsunao Yamamori discovered a few years earlier. They launched a research project to investigate churches in developing countries that had active social programs to help vulnerable people. When they had explored the terrain, they discovered that 80% of these churches were Pentecostal-charismatic.
They chose to shift their research focus on why this is the case, which led to the book Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. There, they coined the term “Progressive Pentecostal,” meaning a Spirit-filled believer who is engaged socially with their local community to help others (without necessarily being theologically progressive). Last year, I spoke to Donald Miller on how prevalent this phenomenon is. He replied:
“Progressive Pentecostalism is more prominent in developing countries than it is in the Western world. The emphasis on the prosperity gospel overshadows the emergent phenomenon of Progressive Pentecostalism, although these two emphases are not mutually exclusive. For example, sometimes prosperity gospel preachers give members the courage to dream beyond their current circumstances, and this vision becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also, it is important to acknowledge the ways in which Pentecostalism gives dignity to women and people who are poor, telling them that they are made in the image of God and therefore have rights, both personal and political.”
He also stated that the idea that Pentecostals focus more on salvation than social transformation was a false dichotomy. “We encountered many Pentecostal and charismatic congregations that were engaged with their local community, addressing issues related to poverty, drug addiction, mental illness, corruption, etc.”
As politicians and activists eagerly debate how to solve the global poverty crisis, it seems like the Holy Spirit is already doing his fair share of the work.

Syndicated from Holy Spirit Activism

On Departing from the Script

The first thing I did this morning was trudge off to the post office with two very important documents to be sent by express post to the National SCIS Processing Unit of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. An SCIS is a “Secure Certificate of Indian Status,” otherwise known as a Treaty Status Card. Our kids have had Treaty Status numbers since birth, but we’ve not bothered to get an actual card until now. Adulthood and post-secondary studies loom ever more immediately on their horizons and, well, we’re rather keen to secure them whatever financial benefits they’re entitled to going forward.
The second thing I did this morning was answer a call from someone wondering if I was listening to CBC Radio. “You’d find it interesting,” they said. I went online and started listening. Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien was being interviewed and he apparently had some interesting things to say about his time as the Liberal government’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs. He had pursued some unpopular options at the time, including “The White Paper” which was a Canadian government policy paper that attempted to abolish previous legal documents pertaining to Indigenous peoples in Canada, including the Indian Act and treaties, and assimilate all Indian peoples under the Canadian state. That’s the kind of thing that might get you drawn and quartered in today’s political and discursive climate!
It was a fascinating conversation to this point, to say the least. But my ears really perked up when the host asked Chretien about his own son, Michel. Chretien and his wife Aline adopted Michel, an Inuit, in 1970. “How do you process conversations about white parents adopting native children in light of what’s been uncovered by the TRC, etc?” the host asked him. Chretien responded by refusing to even discuss the TRC. Instead, he said that at the time of his own adoption he was told by the chief up in the northern community where Michel comes from, that people will take any baby except an Indian boy. “Indian girls, Latin American kids, African kids, Chinese kids, no problem. But nobody wants to take Indian boys.”
Jean and Aline Chretien said, “We’ll adopt an Indian boy.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for Michel (now 49) or for Jean and Aline. I did a quick google search and found a number of articles itemizing Michel’s brushes with the law over the years. Drugs, alcohol, sexual assault charges, prison time… the list is not pretty viewing. The host on the radio program mentioned this history to Chretien—“You’ve stuck by Michel through some hard times.” Chretien, now in his eighties, responded simply, “It’s what a mother and a father do, what a mother and a father should do.”
I was in high school when Jean Chretien became Prime Minister of Canada. I recall that he was something of a laughingstock to this mostly ignorant teenager and his friends. We made fun of his French accent and the way his face was partially paralyzed by an attack of Bells Palsy in his youth. I had uncritically assimilated most of the anti-Quebec, anti-Eastern rhetoric that drifted around rural Alberta in those days (and today) and Chretien was a perfect lighting rod for all this. To top it all off, he was a liberal, which was almost as bad as being from Eastern Canada back then. He was a figure that was easy to ridicule and dismiss.
I grew up a little during Chretien’s three terms in office. I left behind a lot of the ignorance, stupidity, and cruelty of my youth. I grew to appreciate Chretien a little more, but to be honest I cared little about politics for most of my early adulthood and I didn’t know much more about the man himself when I sat down to listen to the interview this morning than I did as a teenager. Needless to say, my perspective changed over the course of the fifteen minutes or so that I listened to Chretien discussing Indigenous issues and his own family’s story.
I’ve been thinking about these things this morning as my precious SCIS documents make their way to Gatineau, Quebec for processing. I feel somewhat conflicted. I wonder if I am a hypocrite for trying to secure financial benefits for my kids from a system that, like Chretien, I’m not at all convinced is good for Indigenous people. It feels kind of mercenary. But then, I also think that these status cards represent a direct connection to their band, their history, their culture. They are an acknowledgment that Canada has obligations to indigenous people, however inefficiently and inconsistently these obligations have historically been understood and acted upon.
I wonder about Michel Chretien. I wonder if the dark roads he has wandered down are direct evidence, as some say it is, of what happens when non-indigenous parents raise indigenous kids. I wonder what gives people the right to draw straight lines like that. I know plenty of parents who have agonized over their biological prodigals. And the older I get, the more suspicious I am of straight lines and easy explanations anyway. Particularly when it comes to a human life, a human family. It’s so easy to make summary judgments from the outside. It’s so easy to be ignorant, stupid, or cruel.
Most of all, though, I am full of admiration for Jean and Aline Chretien. For taking an Indian boy that nobody else wanted. For standing by him when few else would. For departing from the script. For doing what fathers and mothers should do because they love their children.
Image source

Syndicated from Rumblings

Setting Eve Free

Sister girl, how they’ve had your name locked up for years Said it was you who ate the apple Was led astray by your lusts Bringing down the integrity of the world With your seductive touches And questioning, wandering eyes They said it was you who’ve been entrapping men Bending and folding them in the … Continue reading Setting Eve Free
Syndicated from Ebony Johanna

Will God Forgive Us Our Addiction to Junk?

I’ve often been asked a variation of a single question over the past few weeks. So what insights are you taking out of your sabbatical? It’s a natural enough question, I suppose, even if there’s a bit of pressure built into it. The expectation sometimes seems to be that three months away will have yielded a host of spiritual breakthroughs or ministry strategies or transformative insights. And those, as it happens, are in short supply during these last days of summer. Nothing quite that exciting, I’m afraid. I hope people won’t be too disappointed that I’m returning as roughly the same person that departed several months ago. 
If I were pressed, though, to isolate one conviction that has been impressed upon me anew during my time away it would probably be a deepening awareness of our social context and the negative forces it exerts upon us as followers of Jesus. It won’t surprise readers of this blog to learn that one of the main arenas in which I see this playing out is online. The more I observe how young people engage with their world, the more I see how easily I gravitate away from flesh and blood interactions and towards drifting around according to the dictates and rabbit trails generated by social media, the more I think this is one of the primary obstacles in our world toward producing mature, thoughtful, critical human beings properly formed in the image of Christ.
I recently heard a comparison that stuck with me. Turning our kids loose on platforms like SnapChat, Twitter, Instagram, and particularly YouTube and expecting them to make good decisions is like placing them at a table laden with potato chips and ice cream with a few leafy greens off to the side and expecting them to make wise dietary choices. The system is set up to fail. It very often rewards unhealthy forms of engagement. Just as kids in this situation would (and do, as it happens) grow physically obese, so the digital conditions that our kids are growing up in are producing mentally obese human beings who are conditioned to expect instant gratification at the click of a mouse, and who are steadily becoming less able to resist the lure of a societal machine that is designed to make money off their inability to self-regulate.
It seems to me that the online world and specifcially the social media platforms that capture so much of our attention reward two broad human impulses.

The impulse to be entertained (shocked, amazed, amused, titillated, outraged, etc.)
The impulse to seek attention (measured, of course, by “likes,” “shares,” “retweets,” “mentions,” “reactions,” “views,” and all of the other ephemeral ways we have of calculating value in the realm of social media)

This is what drives probably 98% of the Internet, whether it’s stupid videos, angry message boards, pornography, violence, or just general idiocy and wastefulness. The designers of the algorithms used by social media giants know very well what generates clicks and eyeballs and advertising revenue. They know that the sensational, the stupid, and the sexy is what captures our ever-vanishing attention. And so they prey upon human weakness. It probably goes without saying that tech giants don’t even remotely have our best interests in mind, nor do they care much about the conditions our kids are being formed in. All they “care” about is what will drive traffic and generate revenue for their corporations. And it turns out that what drives traffic are the worst parts of our human nature.
This is not good for discipleship or for anything resembling Christian character formation after the pattern of Jesus. To state the blindingly obvious, the two human impulses that the online world feeds on are impulses that are absolutely inimical to the cultivation of mature Christian faith. Jesus teaches us not to do things for the attention we will gain or for the praise of the adoring masses. Jesus teaches us that the self is not the final arbiter when it comes to what is worthy of our attention, time, and energy. Jesus teaches us to train and discipline our desires, not to click on until we collapse in exhaustion at the end of the Internet. Jesus teaches us that there are parts of us that must die that we might truly live, not to become slaves to dopamine and whatever will produce it. What Jesus wants for us is very often precisely the opposite of what the tech giants want from us. But Jesus certainly has his work cut out for him these days.
Last night, I watched First Reformed, where Ethan Hawke masterfully portrays Reverend Toller, a middle-aged small church pastor going through something of a crisis of faith and identity. At one point, Toller is talking to a young environmental activist who is wrestling with the ethics of bringing a child into a world going up in flames. “Can God forgive us for what we are doing to the world?” he asks Reverend Toller. I sometimes find myself wondering along similar lines when it comes to what we are doing to ourselves and, in particular, to our children. Can God forgive us for the kinds of people we are becoming? Can God forgive us for what we are doing to our kids? Can God forgive us for essentially conducting a social experiment on our most vulnerable population—those least able to understand the dangers, and most ill-equipped to resist the paltry and destructive rewards it offers? Can God forgive us for engineering (or at least offering tacit approval to) a technological system that preys upon human weakness and monetizes our basest instincts? Can God forgive us for effectively abandoning anything resembling robust moral formation and tacitly outsourcing this to the algorithms created by global tech behemoths?
 I hope so, for I am surely one of the chiefs of sinners here.
Image source. 

Syndicated from Rumblings


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