Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Weekly Action: Petition for Ceasefire

This blog has recently joined the Weekly Action Coalition. More on that later. Here’s the action:

We received this e-mail from our Weekly Action Coalition partner, Thoughts of an Average Woman.Dear friends, Right now a tragedy is unfolding in the Middle East. Thousands of innocent civilians have been killed or wounded in the bombings in Lebanon, Palestine and Israel and the death toll is rising every day. If the US, Syria or Iran get involved, there is a chance of a catastrophic larger war. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has called for an immediate ceasefire and the deployment of international troops to the Israel-Lebanon border, and been strongly supported by almost every world leader. This is the best proposal yet to stop the violence, but the US, the UK, and Israel have refused to accept it. I have just signed a petition calling on US President Bush, UK Prime Minister Blair, and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert to support Kofi Annan’s proposal. If millions of people join this call, and we advertise our views in newspapers in the US, UK, and Israel, we can help pressure these leaders to stop the fighting. Go to the link here and sign up now!

July 31, 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Weekly Action: Petition for Ceasefire

Arab Christian Leader: Errant Bible Reading Misleads U.S. Christians

Dr. Martin Accad, the Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, has been stranded in the U.S. since the Israeli/Lebanese war started. As rep0rted earlier in this blog, he has written two heart-rending accounts in Christianity Today about the way Christians in the Middle East are abandoned by U.S. Christians who uncritically support Israel. Now, in an article for Ethics Daily.com here: http://ethicsdaily.com/article_detail.cfm?AID=7693, Dr. Accad says that one problem for U.S. Christians is a widespread misinterpretation of Scripture: Confusing biblical Israel with the modern political state of Israel. The “new Israel,” Accad reminds readers is the universal Christian community and not ANY political entity. I would add that even in the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophets had no trouble criticizing biblical Israel.

Accad rightly criticizes “Christian Zionism” (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Zionism ), a widespread belief in U.S. folk theology that believes the modern state of Israel’s founding in 1948 was the fulfillment of prophecy. This leads to an incredibly uncritical support of Israel that discounts Israel’s victims, whether Muslim or Christian. Accad also has strong words against U.S. foreign policy, showing why its Middle East militarism and economic imperialism is perceived throughout the Arab world (both by Muslims and Christians) as a new crusade. Because the U.S. and Israel are so close as allies, this leads Arabs to respond to Israel not as a nation of refugees with an inherent right to exist in security, but as a pawn in Western, especially American, imperialist moves.

There is plenty of blame to go around. I will certainly not hesitate to criticize Arab autocrats or Muslim fundamentalists, especially groups using terrorist tactics. But Accad is right that it is very difficult for Christian leaders in the Arab world to confront Muslim leaders over the violent ideologies of (some versions of) Islamic teaching when they can point to uncritical Christian support of American and Israeli violence. Until American Christians repent of our violence addictions and return to the nonviolence of Jesus and the early church, we will have a very hard time talking about others’ violence without smelling of hypocrisy. The belief that Christians can kill people is another “errant Bible reading.”

July 31, 2006 Posted by | Christian zionism. | Comments Off on Arab Christian Leader: Errant Bible Reading Misleads U.S. Christians

Hope: Next Generation Christian Peacemakers

On Saturday, 15 July 2006, I noted in this blog that, unlike some aging peace & justice organizations, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America was in good shape because of the extraordinarily high quality of leadership from youth and twentysomethings who have been involved in “peace camp” since their childhood. In fact, one amazing aspect of our yearly gatherings (as well as other regional events, friendship tours to global places of conflict, etc.) is their intergenerational character with ages from infancy to old age distributed roughly equally.
See here:
http://anabaptist418.blogspot.com/2006/07/were-in-good-hands-young-leaders-of.html for that earlier article.
The picture above is of one of these young leaders, Rachel (“Rae”) Hunter, an experienced teacher (in subjects as varied as high school theatre and middle school science) and published author and poet. Having literally grown up in the BPFNA and herself a long-time member, Rae has often led worship and workshops at “peace camp.” She currently serves as pastor to the BPFNA Board. Deeply rooted in her Baptist heritage, she has also had considerably more ecumenical and interfaith experience than many do at twice her age. A product of an interracial marriage, Rae’s whole life has been one of “border crossings” in pursuit of the in-breaking Rule of God.
As I pass kicking and fighting firmly into the land of Middle Age (when I turn 45 next April, I will no longer be able even to say I am in my EARLY ’40s!!), I am tempted sometimes to despair at the world my generation has left for the next–despite all the best efforts of many. But when I see the quality of young leadership in the next generation of Christian peacemakers and justice seekers like Rae Hunter, my hope revives. There appear to be dark days ahead, but our many Rae Hunters will carry the Light into those dark days.

P.S. Call the White House Comment line again today and explain that an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon is not a contrast to a longterm peace. Press for a ceasefire now for the sake of innocent lives, especially those of children. 202-456-6213

July 30, 2006 Posted by | heroes, peacemaking, saints | Comments Off on Hope: Next Generation Christian Peacemakers

International Law and the Israel/Hezbollah Conflict

Human Rights Watch has just published an excellent Question and Answer guide on the Hezbollah/Israeli conflict on who has broken which international laws. Check it out at

I don’t get Bush and his echo, Blair. They won’t call for an immediate ceasefire because they want a longterm, permanent peace? Like this is an either/or? Surely it is obvious to ANYONE that we need an immediate ceasefire in order to stop the innocent deaths, NOW, while we work on a longterm solution? Could it be that Bush/Blair don’t want a ceasefire because their “longterm solution” includes expanding Israel into Southern Lebanon, just as they have re-occupied Gaza? Could it be that they don’t care how many innocents are killed as long as their dream of a “democratic” (read: “pro-Western and committed to giving cheap oil to the U.S.”) Middle East is realized? (Never mind that the early, fragile, democracy in Lebanon is being undermined and that this past 18 days has managed to unite the Arab world behind Hezbollah and against Israel. Nice going, Bush/Blair, you’ve once again managed to STRENGTHEN a terrorist group.)

Bush is so confused. Stem cell research, he claims, is murder because it destroys human embryos (which would otherwise be destroyed anyhow). Well, this has some logic to it. I am troubled by some aspects of this research and I find that the in vitro fertilization procedure that creates these “surplus embryos” to also be morally suspect. But IF one claims that every embryo is a human life that must not be sacrificed in order to possibly save other lives, then how is it that one can justify the killings of so many Iraqi, Palestinian, and now Lebanese civilians (already born persons, including, post-womb children!) as “collateral damage” in the promotion of democracy?? To help clear up his confusion call 202-456-1111 and demand a ceasefire even as we work for a just and sustainable peace.

July 29, 2006 Posted by | human rights. | Comments Off on International Law and the Israel/Hezbollah Conflict

Guest Blogger: Jesus & Abortion

Friends (and other readers):
I don’t usually invite guest columns for this blog, but I felt that a conservative acquaintance got a raw deal by some of my fellow progressives. Lex Cathedra is his blogger handle and he asked a very probing question during a debate on abortion, but was simply dismissed. Originally, Lex asked to post this as a comment on my previous “Religious Liberty Dimensions in the Abortion Debate” column, but I argued that enough time and new entries had happened that only he and I would see the column. So, I’m giving him a front and center podium. I have removed personal names from his post, but everything else is just as Lex sent this to me. I will hold my comments until others have had a chance. As usual, I will publish any comment on the subject and not containing bad language.

Now, before I turn you over to Lex, please call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) and urge President Bush to use our full diplomatic pressure in the Middle East for an immediate ceasefire and for our governmnet to take quick steps to push for peace in the entire Middle East.
Michael the Leveller.

“Of course Jesus would make abortion referrals. He helped anyone who had a need.”

This answer was given in response to a direct question of mine in an e-mail to [BLANK], who is affiliated with [a national progressive organization.][Blank]is one of [the organization’s]”pillars” and regular article contributor.

I replied to him, “YOUR Jesus would make abortion referrals, not mine.”

I mentioned [this person’s]position and mine in an e-mail to a friend that I’d made [there], and here’s how he replied:

“Interesting reaction to [bland’s]post. Here’s mine; My Jesus would have seen if there was any other way and if there wasn’t then only reluctantly and with great sorrow make the referral especially if the mothers life and health were at stake. To me, abortion is the “court of last resort”. It is, after all, an invasive surgical procedure. Aside from the political ramifications that I’ve already talked about regarding women’s equality, I also see it as necessary to protect the health of the woman.

Let me ask you this. Would your Jesus force a woman to carry the child of her rapist if she didn’t want to?”

Here’s how I replied:

“When Jesus sent out the disciples to heal in his name, they did so. Healing was normative, as it was in the early Church. Why isn’t it normative today? I can’t fathom THAT Jesus referring any woman for an abortion. He’d have healed them instead, and I dare say that [Blank] has reinvented Jesus to conform to what he, [Blank], would do in such a situation, i.e., make an abortion referral. Projecting onto Jesus -how shall I describe it? – our lack of faith in God’s promises and abilities, is disappointing, to say the least.

Is it wildly unrealistic for a Christian to believe in miracles today? Does [your denomination] teach Dispensationalism?

My Jesus would so bless the rape victim that she would, for love’s sake, not only forgive her rapist but also carry the child to term. If the only way that we can describe it is in terms of her being ‘forced’ to carry an unintended pregnancy to term, haven’t we misunderstood the power of God? In no way do I see the Jesus as revealed in the NT referring her for an abortion because of how the child was conceived. We’re the ones who rather PRESUME that he would do just that.”

Other faith traditions will do what they think they must. My concern is with Christianity. What do you think Jesus would do?

+++++ Lex Cathedra

July 28, 2006 Posted by | abortion | 17 Comments

Costly, Faithful Witness

In the Baptist Peace Fellowship (and similar groups) I always meet the most incredible people of faith who are willing to suffer to follow the leading of God in their lives. Here is Linda Mashburn who was arrested and sentenced to several months in federal prison for nonviolent civil disobedience. She “crossed the line” (criminal trespass) with many others at Ft. Benning, GA as part of the movement to close the notorious “School of the Americas” (renamed WHINSEC in a vain attempt to keep critics from calling it the “School of Assassins”) where U.S. tax dollars are used to train most of the leaders of human rights abuses in Latin America.

Wearing prison gray in solidarity with her former fellow inmates, Linda shared with us the plight of the growing population of women in prison–many innocent through a misapplication of conspiracy laws, and all but a tiny fraction of whom were convicted of nonviolent offenses that would have drawn probation or fines for wealthy white males accused of the same crimes. Prisons are the new slave labor as more and more industries, especially clothing, use prison labor for new sweatshops. Despite Matt. 25’s parable of Sheep and Goats, very few U.S. Christians know anyone in prison, nor have we made much of an effort to investigate and challenge the injustices of the prison system–now the fasted growing industry in the U.S. When we are involved in prison ministries, these tend to be restricted to evangelistic efforts. Those are noble and should be continued–but our ministry should also include investigation and addressing of the injustices of the prison system. Jesus is in prison waiting for us.

July 27, 2006 Posted by | saints | Comments Off on Costly, Faithful Witness

Teaching Children Fair Trade

Husband/wife team Andy Loving and Susan Taylor are two of the great treasures of my church, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty. (Yeah, I know, but I lost the vote for a shorter name.) Andy is seminary trained and has been involved in a number of organizations working with and for poor people. Susan has a Ph.D. in economics, but dislikes both the banking and academic scenes. They run a socially-responsible investment company called “Just Money Advisors” and, in the words of my pastor, “are always finding new ways to turn money into justice.” Here they are leading the children’s sessions at the Baptist Peace Fellowship’s “peace camp,” teaching about the Fair Trade movement and how it differs from so-called “free trade.” They taught the kids about Fair Trade Chocolate and led them to make and sell Fair Trade Brownies with the proceeds going to help the Fair Trade Chocolate movement bringing sustainable income to African farmers. They were tasty. Who knew economic justice could be fun and tasty?

July 27, 2006 Posted by | economic justice | 2 Comments

Angry Religion vs. Merciful God

Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Senior Pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, CA was the featured preacher for Baptist Peace Fellowship’s summer “peace camp.” One evening, using the Book of Jonah, Dr. Smith’s sermon contrasted angry religion (hoping that God will smite our enemies) and the God of mercy, who continues to save those we’d rather God didn’t. In Jonah’s case, he’d have preferred that God destroy rather than save the Ninevites. Will angry Hezbollah find God’s surprising salvation of Israel? Will angry Israelis be surprised to find God save the Lebanese or the Palestinians? Will my angry self find that God saves: the Religious Right? Al Mohler? George W. Bush?

July 27, 2006 Posted by | Baptists | 3 Comments

Abolishing Nukes

Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) introduced legislation (H.R.950) calling on the president to begin multilateral talks to abolish nuclear weapons. See http://www.commondreams.org/news2006/0726-26.htm for details. In the midst of all the war and suffering in Iraq, Gaza, Lebanon, and so many other places, and remembering that 06 August in the 61st anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan (a civilian city and not a military target) when the U.S. became the first and only nation to use nuclear weapons in war, I find Congressman Kucinich’s legislation to be an incredible act of HOPE. Hope that the dead need not have died in vain and hope that humanity can turn from the path of our own destruction, with God’s grace. Kucinich keeps plugging away as one of the few voices of peace (in EITHER major political party) in war-numb, violence-deaf, cynical Washington, D.C. Kucinich voted against the Iraq war and keeps calling for a quick timetable for withdrawal (HR 35), rejecting permanent U.S. bases in Iraq (H.R. 197), co-sponsors the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill (HR 2631), sponsors the creation of the cabinet-level Dept. of Peace (HR 3760). Regarding the spiral of violence and the apparent lack of concern of the Bush administration, Kucinich asked, “What are they waiting for, the Apocalypse?” See http://www.commondreams.org/news2006/0721-11.htm (Unfortunately, I fear that some really are wanting this Middle East war to jump-start Armageddon.)

Let’s share Dennis Kucinich’s politics of hope and reject the pervasive politics of fear. Call your own Representative on the House switchboard, 202-225-3121 and urge your Congressperson to support HR 950 and work to end ALL nuclear weapons. While you have her or him on the line, urge passing one of these other wonderful actions for peace, too. Now, with phone in hand, call the White House comment line ( 202-456-1111) and ask WHY Sec. of State Rice rejected an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Lebanon (at the cost of how many more lives?). Ask the White House, “What are you waiting for? How many more must die before the time is “right” to end this bloodshed?” Then sit down and write a quick letter to the editor of your local paper DEMANDING that the president intervene for peace before one more innocent life is lost.
After all, hundreds of dead civilians and thousands of displaced persons are not really part of a “culture of life,” right?

July 27, 2006 Posted by | nuclear weapons, peacemaking | Comments Off on Abolishing Nukes

Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb

Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb, one of the first female rabbis in Judaism, used “theatre of the oppressed” to share with the Baptist Peace Fellowship. She is the founder of the Muslim-Jewish Peace Walks and on the board of Jewish Voice for Peace. At peace camp, she spent quite a bit of time working with the children–to interesting effect. My youngest daughter, Miriam (7), discovered that Miriam is R. Gottlieb’s Hebrew name. R. Gottlieb showed my Miriam how to write her name in Hebrew and now my youngest has announced her intention of becoming a rabbi. Molly (11), her older sister, bossily told my Miriam that she couldn’t become a rabbi because she wasn’t Jewish. Says my Miriam, “I believe in God and the 10 Commandments and have the same name as Rabbi Miriam and Moses’ sister, the prophet. Jesus was Jewish. What’s the problem?” Now she’s asking for Hebrew lessons and about how Gentiles become Jewish. Have I ever mentioned how messy this Baptist belief in liberty of conscience is? 🙂

July 26, 2006 Posted by | heroes, peacemaking | Comments Off on Rabbi Lynne Gottlieb