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

Faith and Theology: Propositions by Kim Fabricius

Ben Myers, of Faith and Theology, has posted some of fellow theology blogger Kim Fabricus’ great lists of 10 propositions on various subjects. Although I don’t always agree (with anyone), these propositions are always thought-provoking. They not only reflect excellent theological reasoning (mostly), they also lead readers into better theological reasoning. I highly recommend them. They would make great starting places for adult church studies, for instance.

Faith and Theology: Propositions by Kim Fabricius

September 24, 2006 Posted by | blogs, theology | 1 Comment

On the Tyranny of the Majority

Today’s “Mainstream Baptists” blog has a great post on the “tyranny of the majority,” and shows why democracies need to balance the principle of majority rule with respect for fundamental human rights–even, or especially, the rights of minorities. So, for instance, in a nation in which 80% claim to be Christian (so where are they on Sunday?), it is vital that we protect the rights of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Wiccans, atheists, and other non-Christians. Tomorrow, as often in the past and in other parts of the world, it may be Christians in the minority. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Mainstream Baptists: On the Tyranny of the Majority

September 24, 2006 Posted by | democracy, human rights. | 1 Comment

Update: All Saints’ Resists IRS Persecution, Refuses to Turn Over Records.

As the L. A. Times reports here, All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA is refusing to turn over all its records to the IRS as requested. Good on ’em. As the article shows, even Richard Land, of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a cheerleader for the Iraq war and someone who has greatly weakened Baptists’ historic defense religious liberty, recognizes the IRS as abusing its power! As I previously posted, All Saints did not endorse a candidate (something forbidden to tax-exempt non-profits in the U.S.), but simply preached a peace sermon in the last election cycle. Churches have ALWAYS been able to preach on political ISSUES (but not endorse candidates or parties). The IRS is attempting to intimidate any church that is critical of the government. If they get away with it today for anti-war sermons, tomorrow they may come after churches that oppose abortion (or support it, depending on who is in office), or express any opinion on any controversial matter!

Many churches do abuse their tax-exempt status by explicit political campaigning and should either stop or be willing to give up tax-exemption. But if a church cannot discuss moral issues or take stands on controversial matters, its ability to fulfill the prophetic dimension of ministry is dulled. (This has been my major criticism of government funding of faith-based initiatives: What the government funds it can control.) Just because All Saints used a creative drama to have “Jesus” debate “Bush” and “Kerry,” does not mean they endosrsed a candidate. How many churches would’ve been fined or lost their tax exempt status in the ’90s for criticizing Bill Clinton’s adulterous affairs if this standard had been used???

I share All Saints’ peace views, but no matter our views on peace and war, we should unite with our sisters and brothers in resisting this clear government abuse of power.

September 24, 2006 Posted by | church-state separation, citizenship, peace, politics | 2 Comments

Follow Up: Military Recruiting in High Schools

Previously, I linked to Dr. Mike Broadway’s letter to the Superintendent of Durham (NC) Public Schools about the dangers of military recruiting. In this follow-up, Mike interacts with his response from the Superintendent.

earth as it is in heaven

September 23, 2006 Posted by | blogs, peace | Comments Off on Follow Up: Military Recruiting in High Schools

I Am Not a Heretic?

I didn’t always like the choices involved in the quiz and I think in terms of narrative and process ontologies, rather than Greek “substance” ontology, but the results didn’t really surprise me. I’ve always known I’m far more theologically orthodox than my many critics believe. Care to test yourselves?

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you’re not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant

Are you a heretic?
created with QuizFarm.com

September 23, 2006 Posted by | love of enemies, theology | 4 Comments

Declare Peace Campaign

As reported here, nationwide civil disobedience campaigns are attempting to pressure Congress to find a path out of the Iraq war. I am in favor of this campaign, of course, but it won’t be easy to find a way out of Iraq. That’s the definition of “quagmire.” Many of us, including myself, warned before the invasion that it would be difficult to leave once we toppled the Saddam government.

It could have been different: The invasion would have still been immoral, but if we had gone in with 100,000 troops we might have been home by now. What would it have taken? Protecting hospitals and civilian infrastructure instead of oilfields. Not dismantling the Iraqi army, but only the top generals who might face, along with Saddam, crimes against humanity trials. Strict oversight of rebuilding efforts, with no tolerance for graft or war profiteering and an emphasis on quick rebuilding of the country. Internationalizing the occupation force quickly, building no permanent U.S. bases. Quick transition to democratic rule.

Now, it will be difficult to get the UN or any other international force to replace the U.S. forces. Without that, the incipient civil war could become full scale upon U.S. leaving. But neither can we stay since our presence is fueling both the indigenous (nationalist) insurgency and “al-Qaeda in Iraq,” the post-invasion violent jihadist (jihad also takes nonviolent forms) umbrella group of foreign fighters whose purpose is to make Iraq ungovernable.

Unfortunately, as with Yugoslavia, we may have to divide Iraq in order to prevent its self-destruction. If this is the route taken, I hope “Iraq” becomes the name of a confederation which itself could lead to a future reunified nation. There are problems with this solution, too: Turkey won’t want an independent Kurdish state on its border as a rallying point for the PKK (Kurdish separatists in Turkey) and neither the West nor the rest of the Middle East wants a Shi’ite state on the border with Iran. Nevertheless, when war has ruined the good outcomes, sometimes one has to choose the best of the bad alternatives that remain.

In the meantime, I would hope that NGOs like Christian Peacemaker Teams would continue training Muslim Peace Teams to create indigenous nonviolent movements that could help reunite Iraq and provide a visible alternative to armed insurgency.

September 23, 2006 Posted by | peacemaking | Comments Off on Declare Peace Campaign

What is "Liberal Theology?"

Since I identify with neither the classic liberal theology of Schleiermacher, Ritschl, & Harnack, nor with the neo-liberal tradition of Tillich, I have always resisted being called a theological liberal. But the definition of Joel at Connexions is one I can affirm. If “liberal” theology is defined in terms of method, rather than content, then I am a liberal, I guess. I still prefer other terms (“Anabaptist,” “liberation theologian,” etc.), but this shows the differences with fundamentalism or even the method of conservative evangelicalism quite well. My thanks to PamBG for linking to Joel’s article.

September 23, 2006 Posted by | liberal theology | 13 Comments

Torture: Just Say No!

John McCain caved in and the Senate will allow a flawed compromise that, while it doesn’t redefine the Geneva Conventions, will still allow torture, secret prisons with the absence of habeas corpus (and, potentially, life imprisonment without ever being guilty of anything), and trial by military tribunals rigged to be able to ensure convictions–which is not a trial, but a “kangaroo court.” (What could have endorsed McCain to betray his fellow torture survivors and his own integrity? Did Bush promise an endorsement in ’08?)

Faith leaders in Connecticut are working to insist that their Representatives act on the belief that torture is always wrong. This is part of the wider National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which I urge all of you gentle readers to join. Without faith leadership, we cannot guarantee that our political leaders of either major party will put moral principle above expediency–especially if it means they look “tough on terror.” Evangelicals have been mostly silent on the torture issue (with some major exceptions), and at least some younger evangelicals are calling their elders on this appalling moral silence. As Rick Phillips puts it, “Are evangelical leaders really unable to see the moral issues involved, or is (as I think more likely) our political alliance with the Republican Party simply leading us astray on this issue? If the price of fighting for biblical morality in America means that we cannot always speak out for biblical morality, then perhaps we should rethink our tactics.” (My emphasis.)

Meanwhile, truth continues to break through the smokescreen of official propaganda. Bush closed the secret prisons (and admitted their existence) in part because CIA interrogators refused continued cooperation. But the fate of some CIA detainees is still unknown. The recently retired top CIA expert on Islamic extremists has slammed Bush admin. tactics for losing a generation of goodwill among young Muslims who could have become pro-Western if not for this admin.’s immoral and stupid policies. This echos the views of Colin Powell & many other retired generals, intelligence experts, and federal judges (whether Democratic or Republican appointed). And the treatment of Mahrer Arar, innocent Canadian civilian, sent by both Canadian and U.S. incompetence to Syria for torture, is a loud wake up call.

Contact your representative today and tell them that if they support this flawed torture bill, you will not remember them fondly in November. Then call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) and urge the President to quit trying to bend the rule of law and remember his loudly proclaimed Christian faith on this issue. Make this a church congregational campaign and keep mentioning your church’s name since Bush considers Christians his base. Then write an op-ed to your local paper.

If the U.S. church is silent on torture, future generations will look back in horror, the way we do now at the German church’s silence on Hitler, the cooperation with apartheid by most white churches in South Africa, and with segregation by most white churches in the U.S. South, and the justification of slavery by so much of American Christianity in the 19th C. These are legacies of shame–not examples to emulate. It’s time to step up and speak out.

Update: As related here, several human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, have already denounced the “compromise” between McCain & Bush on detainee treatment. Add your voices to the protest.

September 22, 2006 Posted by | human rights., torture | 5 Comments

Christian/Muslim Interfaith Dialogue

I consider interfaith dialogue to be both a genuine way of witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ (a way of conversation that listens and expects to learn and doesn’t just drown out the other), and a necessary part of peacemaking. In our current context the most urgent need is for greater Christian/Muslim dialogue and understanding. This needs to go on at the grassroots level with groups from local mosques and churches gathering to inform each other about beliefs, customs, rituals, etc. Only by truly knowing our Muslim sisters and brothers can we keep from bearing false witness against them.

When I have made such statements on other blogs, I have been accused of either believing in universal salvation (that is for God to decide, not me), in believing that “all religions are equal,” whatever that would mean, or in denying the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is not true. I am a Christian. I would be overjoyed if every Muslim became Christian–just as every Muslim I know would be overjoyed if we Christians (whom they consider to have some truth, but to be imperfectly worshipping and serving God) would convert to the “Straight Path.” As far as I can understand, Islam and Christianity, though holding to several common beliefs, also hold mutually incompatible ones. We disagree over some very important things: Although Muslims believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, they deny that he was God incarnate and deny his Sonship (“God has no sons.”). They deny both the crucifixion and the resurrection. They deny the Trinity and, like our Jewish sisters and brothers, suspect that the Trinity either means that Christians cannot do math or that we aren’t really monotheists.

These are significant areas of disagreement. I don’t want to minimize them. Nor do I wish to avoid discussing them–although sometimes it helps to build relationships of trust before tackling really strong differences.

My concern is to defend the religious liberty of Muslims, to avoid bearing false witness against Islamic neighbors by sweeping generalizations that compare the best of Christianity against the worst exemplars of Islam, and to work together with Muslims for justice and peace in the world.

Currently, I see a debate going on WITHIN the major world religions over whether the pursuit of justice (as each sees it) or the advance of their faith can use violent means. The question of whether Islam is or can be nonviolent is something only Muslims can decide. I know which side of that debate to cheer for; I’m pulling for my friends in the Muslim Peace Fellowship and similar organizations and for the heritage of Khan Abdul Gaffer Khan, “the Frontier Gandhi” who led a nonviolent army of Pathans along the Indian Afghanistan border (in the area now between Afghanistan and Pakistan) that was the most disciplined part of Gandhi’s nonviolent movement. But I cannot, as a Christian, say which group is heretical according to Islamic teachings. I can say that, from the inside, about Christianity. The nonviolence of Jesus and the early church was RIGHT and the abandonment of this nonviolence and embrace of “just war theory” by the later church constitutes a massive heresy. Yes, for 16 centuries now, the MAJORITY of Christians have been heretics. I work to call the church universal to repent and re-embrace the nonviolence that Jesus taught and practiced.

We Christians have an advantage in seeking to reform our faith: Throughout much of the Christian world, there is widespread literacy. People can read the New Testament and see that they violent false preachers like John Hagee are blowhards who don’t have a clue. By contrast, illiteracy is widespread in the Islamic world, making the average Muslim even more vulnerable to manipulation by fanatics posing as scholars. Considering how widely Christians confuse militaristic nationalism with the gospel, I believe we should spend less time criticizing Muslim violence and more time criticizing our own compromises with violence–and praying for the success of reform movements like the Muslim Peace Fellowship.

Meanwhile, we need to continue to seek better understanding among all faiths, especially the three monotheistic faiths.

September 21, 2006 Posted by | evangelism, interfaith, Islam, religious liberty | 6 Comments

JPT Practice # 5 Advance Democracy, Human Rights, & Religious Liberty

It should go without saying, but recent years have proven otherwise: One cannot and should not try to “advance democracy” by means of military invasion or coercion. Democratic movements must arise indigenously. Established democracies seldom go to war with other democracies and, not needing to fear uprisings from repressed peoples, can spend much less on military budgets. (The U.S. is a glaring exception here, but is thereby becoming less democratic; more a plutocratic oligarchy.) As Roger Williams, Richard Overton and others knew long ago, the lack of human rights and religious liberty is a major cause of war. Protecting and spreading these norms works for just and lasting peace.

Since established democracies rarely fight other democracies, spreading democracy works to create “zones of peace.” Note: Democracies sometimes do support non-democratic regimes which violate human rights and sometimes democracies fight “proxy wars” through other nations. Democracies are not perfect. They are quite capable of bad behavior. Just Peacemaking theory supports advancing democracy for 2 reasons: 1) Self-determination and self-rule are goods in themselves. 2) Since democracies seldom fight each other and tend to spend less on military preparations and arms, the more democracies, the fewer wars overall. See further, Spencer Weart, Never at War: Why Democracies will Never Fight Each Other (Yale Univ. Press, 1998); Rudolf Rummel, Power Kills: Democracy as a Method of Nonviolence (Transaction, 1996); Bruce Russett, Grasping the Democratic Peace: Principles for a Post-Cold War World (Princeton Univ. Press, 1993).

But the question naturally arises, How does one “advance democracy,” if one rules out doing so by military force from without? Well, for one, one doesn’t sell arms or otherwise support a dictatorship–no matter how much it may look in the short term interest of one’s nation. One also can offer incentives and reward moves that are steps to democratic reform. If a democratic movement develops indigenously, one can support it diplomatically and can sanction a nation which tries to suppress such a movement, especially if the movement is nonviolent. If a democratic movement wins, but is suppressed by a military (e.g., Burma), one can refuse to recognize the non-democratic government as legitimate. Trade sanctions and other tools can be used to pressure the government into recognizing the democratic elections.

One must also support universal human rights. This can be done through government agencies and international bodies (e.g., the UN, the International Criminal Court, etc.), but NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, etc. also have vital roles to play. It is difficult, if not impossible, to promote human rights abroad while violating them domestically. The campaign against the U.S.’ use of torture, secret prisons, domestic spying, and other human rights violations is a vital part of the struggle against global terrorism and for peace.

A vital part of this practice is the promotion of religious liberty for everyone. That includes standing up for the religious liberty of those with whom one disagrees. Christians must support the religious liberty of Muslims, Jews, Budddhists, and atheists, as well as defending the religious liberty of Christians. One cannot try for special privileges for one’s own religion. Government should be religion neutral.

Pope Paul VI coined a phrase which became a by-word of Catholic missions in the 1970s and 1980s, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Working nonviolently to advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty, sows seeds of peace domestically and globally.

September 21, 2006 Posted by | just peacemaking | 1 Comment