Levellers

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

Brief Thoughts on N. T. Wright

nt-wright.jpgAs my biblical and theological readers probably ALL know, Nicholas Thomas (Tom) Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham (U.K.) and a renowned New Testament scholar. He is a prolific author of both scholarly works and popular works for laity. (He also has a secret career of dancing a silly dance over at Chrisendom, thanks to the superb technical skills and bizarre humor of biblio-blogger, Chris Tilling! If your life would not be complete without seeing an Anglican bishop dance a silly jig, you can find it here.

Not being Anglican, I have no thoughts on how good or poor Wright is as a bishop or priest.   However, I have been fascinated by how controversial he is in certain circles as a New Testament scholar.  In some circles he is widely admired and in others viewed quite negatively.  In Pauline studies, Wright is either praised or disrespected for being one of the proponents of the so-called “new perspective on Paul,” which holds basically that Paul was not a Lutheran-before-Luther and that “justification by faith” is more of an ecclesiological concept than one about individual salvation. Paul remained far more Jewish in his thinking than is usually credited. I don’t find this very controversial, and I am mostly surprised that this perspective is thought so “new.”  Surely it dates back at least to Krister Stendahl (Dean of Harvard Divinity School in the ’60s and later Lutheran Bishop in Sweden) and his famous essay, “Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West.” E.P. Sanders’ Paul and Judaism, and James D.G. Dunn have also promoted this view.  When I went to seminary in the mid-’80s, I understood it to have become nearly a consensus.  So, in this area, Wright seems to me to be neither a brilliant pioneer, nor some kind of arch-heretic. He has, I believe, consolidated the arguments for this perspective and, in his What Saint Paul Really Said, has popularized a view that had not previously “trickled down” from scholars to the pew. Perhaps that is what makes this aspect of Wright so controversial. 

But Wright is not only a Pauline scholar, but a Jesus scholar, part of the so-called “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus.” He is controversial here, too. Liberal scholars like John Dominic Crossan (and, to a lesser extent, Wright’s friend, Marcus J. Borg) believe that Wright is basically a “scholarly fundamentalist” who defends far too much of the Gospels’ materials as historical, including the bodily resurrection. For this reason, many evangelicals have become major fans of Wright, but others have assailed him, because his interpretation of Jesus and the Gospels is far more Jewish (and political!) than many evangelicals find comfortable.  And many are furious at Wright’s realized eschatology (following his teacher, G. B. Caird, and, before him, the legendary C. H. Dodd), which revels in apocalyptic imagery, but reinterprets it in ways that rule out a literal end of the world or even, apparently, a literal Return of Christ. (So, although the Crossans of this world continue to dismiss Wright as just one more evangelical, it is not your average evangelical whose hero in Jesus studies is Albert Schweitzer!)

Here, I agree with about 90% or so of Wright’s work.  I find his description of the Jewish milieu of Jesus’ day convincing, and his rooting of Jesus in it spot on.  I find his “politics of Jesus” similar to the perspective of John Howard Yoder (except that Wright seems to hesitate to draw the full pacifist conclusions of his view, as Richard B. Hays has pointed out) and, with quibbles over details, highly persuasive.  I share an amillenial outlook, but I demur at being as completely preterist as Wright is. Both Jesus and the N.T. writers clearly speak of a close to history when the fullness of God’s Rule will be established at Jesus’ parousia (future return–literally “unveiling”). Wright says that he prefers to call his eschatology “inaugurated,” to “realized,” but the former usually leaves room for a future dimension that he seems to omit.  I can’t follow him there.

In short, I find Wright’s work significant and helpful, but I can’t be counted either in the camp with those who think he hung the moon, nor with those who dismiss his fans as adherents of “Wrightianity.”  I find him to be more original and creative in Jesus studies than in Pauline studies and such creativity risks making large errors in order to make real advances. Those content to simply add a few footnotes to scholarship risk less, but make less progress. Anyway, that’s my $.02 worth.

Update: 1) Thanks to Jonathan Marlowe for reminding me to link to N.T. Wright’s webpage here. It contains much information about Wright, but also many of his sermons, lectures, papers, etc. on a variety of topics. 2) In places of agreement, I forgot to mention that Wright’s overall approach to Jesus’ studies (and to NT and early Christianity generally) is based on two principles that I share (and had adopted before I ever heard of Wright): A. A commitment to historical evidence and to realizing that, for Christianity, historical research is important–and not unconnected to faith. Thus, Wright and I (along with many others) completely reject the semi-gnostic attempt to secure faith by sealing it off from historical research which, in different ways, is done by fundamentalism, by some followers of Rudolf Bultmann (it’s an open question as to whether or not they are reading Bultmann himself right at this point), and some followers of Karl Barth (again, whether Barth himself is implicated is debatable), and by the conservative Catholic scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson. B. However, Wright just as thoroughly rejects the extreme historical skepticism (in the principles set out by Van A. Harvey in The Historian and the Believer) and methods of the Jesus Seminar types, even in the less-extreme versions represented by Wright’s friend, Marcus Borg.

3) Confession-time: Unlike many evangelicals, I find much of value in Borg’s work.  As I discussed here, Borg is one of my favorite liberal scholars, though I do not consider myself “liberal,” theologically. (Politically, I am, for a U.S. context, very liberal, although I prefer the term “progressive” because of my identification with the early Progressive movement.) I love the book co-written by Borg and Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, not least because it is a great example of how two Christians can disagree strongly while remaining friends. Overall, I am more in sync with Wright’s portrait of Jesus than with Borg’s, but there are a number of places where I thought Borg had the better of the argument.

4) I found out this past Advent, that an argument I constructed in seminary in the ’80s for the historicity of the Virgin Birth has much in common with a recently published defense by Wright. (This is what happens if you don’t publish quickly and often. Later, everyone thinks you’re just cribbing from a more famous person!) HT: Darrell Pursifal (Dr. Platypus) for calling this to my attention last Advent. My argument came more from thinking through hints and clues in the work of the late, great, Catholic scholar, Raymond Brown, but if Wright has made similar arguments then maybe I was onto something and not just having semi-fundamentalist holdovers from my past. 🙂 As I pointed out here and here, however, I do not think the emphases of the NT birth/infancy narratives have much to do with the question of whether or not Mary was physically a virgin when Jesus was born.  The tendency of evangelicals to focus on that question and miss the major themes of these narratives may be very close to straining at gnats and swallowing camels.

5) The resurrection is a different matter. I have not yet read Wright’s book on the resurrection (It’s on my birthday wish list to be posted this weekend. Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.), but the description in several reviews shows an overall approach that I would approve–one I learned from such diverse sources as the late G. E. Ladd, my teacher, Gerald Borchert, my teacher, Frank Tupper, and Wolfhart Pannenberg.  I cannot agree with Marcus Borg that the resurrection is wholly “history metaphorized,” instead of “history remembered.” There do seem to be legendary or metaphorical details, as well as contradictions on details between the Gospel accounts (and the attempts of someone like Craig Blomberg to harmonize every one of those details do not persuade me). But the underlying event happened in our history–in space and time–even though it changes the nature of history, is eschatological, and is not just another event like Caesar crossing the Rubicon. I cannot agree with those like Crossan who believe that the body of Jesus was thrown in the garbage dump (Gehenna) and eaten by dogs and, with the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15), I hold that if Jesus was not raised, Christian faith is vain–an illusion. The spiritualized resurrections that people like Borg, Crossan, (or Bultmann?) embrace strike me as dualist, gnostic, and, more to the point, something that no first C. Jewish writer would have described as a “resurrection.”  So, if the reviews are correct in their description, I expect that I will agree with Wright’s book on the resurrection, and like it as well as Jesus and the Victory of God.(Now, the question is, will Wright understand, with Barth, and Moltmann, and Pannenberg, that Christ’s resurrection is the “prolepsis of the future?” That is, will he/does he see what the resurrection of Jesus means for the future dimensions of the Christian hope? I’ll have to wait and see.)

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March 30, 2007 Posted by | Bible, Jesus, New Testament, nonviolence | 22 Comments

Peace Blogger Interview #4: Aric Clark

clark-aric.JPGWelcome to the next in our series of interviews with the members of Christian Peace Bloggers, blog ring. Today, we interview Aric Clark, whose blogging nom de plume is “The Miner,” who is a Presbyterian seminary student and who blogs at Mined Splatterings. Welcome to the Peace Blogger interview, Aric, even if the picture you sent looks MUCH younger than the one on your blog profile! 🙂

MLW-W: How would you describe yourself? 

Aric: Husband. Father. Adventurer. Student. Preacher. In that order… 

MLW-W: Interesting. I am finding the self-descriptions in these interviews to be very fascinating. Since you place “husband,” and “father” first in your list of roles, tell us about your family. 

Aric: I am wed to the incredible Stacia Ann, father of Avery, and soon to be father of another child (June15th). We are hopeless romantics and travelers with a passion for exotic food, archaeological digs and, um, Hot Wheels.

MLW-W: Congrats on a great family and your and Stacia Ann’s upcoming birth! Er, do you want to explain about the passion for Hot Wheels? Or archeology? Have you been on any digs? 

Aric: Well, the Hot Wheels are my son, Avery’s passion–so I get to play with them a lot by default. It’s really a great lesson in reordering priorities.  As for the archeology, I haven’t worked on any digs, but I’ve just had a fascination with it since childhood.  If I wasn’t going into the ministry, archeaology would be my other option. I devour National Geographic, and, if given the opportunity, I visit every dig or site I come within a hundred miles of–and I have far more fun than most people at museums.

MLW-W: Okay. Well, friends and family of Aric, think about giving him a gift subscription to Biblical Archeology Review  for his birthday or Christmas, right? Well, you’ve partly answered these next questions, already, but, what do you do for a living?  When not working or blogging, what do you like to do?

 Aric: I am full-time student in the M.Div. program at San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, CA.  However,  I work plenty of part-time jobs to make ends meet. The most recent ones have been waiting tables, painting houses and a paid internship. I am a very social person, so much of my free time is just spent in conversation. I also love movies and the theater. I host a weekly game-night where we cycle through different pen and paper RPG’s. I write fiction. I read, a lot, both fiction and theology.  

MLW-W:  Tell us something about your faith. How long have you been a Christian?

 

Aric: There are two answers to this. On the one hand, I was baptized as an infant and raised in a Presbyterian household. On the other hand, I wasn’t very engaged in church or active discipleship until about three years ago after returning from some pretty dramatic experiences overseas. My call to ministry and commencement of active discipleship were pretty much simultaneous.

MLW-W:  Of what local congregation/parish are you a member?  

Aric: I am active in two congregations. My home church, which is supporting me through seminary, is Federated Church of Placerville (a Presbyterian/Methodist congregation), CA which is in the Sierra Nevada foothills on the way to Lake Tahoe. Nearer to seminary, and where I have been attending regularly lately, I am involved in First Presbyterian of Richmond, CA which is near Oakland.

MLW-W:  Were you raised in this particular tradition? Have you ever been part of a different Christian denomination or tradition? 

Aric: I was raised Presbyterian, but my family attended worship only rarely – as such I managed to avoid being indoctrinated, but I also missed a lot of formation. Although, I’ve never been actively a part of another denomination or tradition I have experience of many traditions. I have lived with Buddhist monks in Taiwan. I spent a month in an Orthodox Monastery in Greece. I have frequently attended worship at Roman Catholic and Anglican churches when overseas.

MLW-W: Say something more about these experiences in Taiwan and Greece, please. 

Aric: During my undergraduate education I participated in a program called Comparative Religions and Cultures (which you can read more about here). As part of that program I spent time learning Chan meditation, doing dharma talks, sleeping, eating and observing life at the four major Buddhist “mountains” in Taiwan. We Christians have a lot to learn about nonviolence and compassion from Buddhists.

MLW-W: I agree and know several others who would, as well.  

Aric: While in Greece I did a similar thing at an Orthodox Monastery, which was unquestionably the most spiritual experience of my life. I adored the daily rhythm of the divine office, communal meals, observation of silence, vigils. That would be my third option for a vocation if ministry or archeology didn’t pan out (and I was unmarried).

MLW-W: How did you get into blogging?   What do you like about it?  Are there problems you see with blogging?

Aric: Friends dragged me into it. I love that it’s a public conversation. I adore getting comments on my blog – especially when they disagree with me. The main problem with blogging is that it takes up a fair amount of time that could arguably be better spent elsewhere. It is a bit narcissistic, isn’t it?

MLW-W: How do you relate your faith to issues of peacemaking? What sources of strength have you found? 

Aric: To me these are one and the same. The enterprise of the Church is carrying out Jesus ministry – the goal of which is to bring God’s Shalom to the whole of creation. For me it is not possible to be Christian without also being a peacemaker.

MLW-W: Do you have (a) military experience? (b) experience in nonviolent struggle? (c) experience in conflict resolution/transformation practices?  Describe your experiences with any or all of these. 

Aric: My father was in the army when I was very little, but that is my only connection to the military. I have always been active in local peace protests, at least as a warm body in the crowd – not usually as an organizer, though I’ve recently been thrust into the role of social-justice minister at a congregation where I am interning so I expect I’ll be doing more of this.

MLW-W: Do you consider yourself a pacifist? If so, say something about how you see nonviolence (or nonresistance) and its connections to the gospel.  Were you raised a Christian pacifist or did you convert to this view and, if the latter, tell us something of how that came about? 

Aric: Yes. I was not raised a pacifist, but I am a Californian and my family has always been very liberal and generally anti-war (despite my father’s time in the military), so it is obvious from which vector I came into the church. However, as I read the gospel there is at almost every point a strong condemnation of the use of coercive power of any kind. I honestly think the burden is on the JWT and others to show how they possibly think violence is acceptable, because the scripture seems rather strongly opposed.

MLW-W:  What led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers?  Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking?  Have they gotten any feedback from readers? 

Aric: Largely I decided to join this ring as an encouragement to myself to step up my engagement on this issue. I am, and have always been very passionate about peacemaking, but it has not always played the central role in my active life that it deserves. I have posted several times about the build-up in the media of the case for war against Iran. I am still livid that our nation was so easily misled about
Iraq.

MLW-W. Do you read any of the other blogs in the blog-ring? Which ones do you like and why?  Have you alerted any readers to your blog about these blogs (or specific posts on them) which you like? 

Aric: Obviously, I read Levellers. I got to you through some of your fantastic comments in Kim Fabricius’ diatribes over at Faith and Theology. I’m also a follower of Fire and the Rose. I don’t always agree with David[Congdon], but his writing is definitely thought provoking. I just recently found the Jesus Manifesto through this ring and I plan on digging into it quite a bit.

MLW-W: Thanks for those kind words about my blog. I found Mined Spatterings  from your comments at Faith and Theology, too. Ben Myers has the best theology blog on the web, in my view. And I share your high view of D.W. Congdon’s Fire and the Rose. I like his Barthian theology and the way he connects that to social justice and peace views very directly. Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Aric: I’ve been involved in World Peace Prayer Ceremonies all around the globe. I helped plan the event in Scotland three years ago which the Dalai Lama came for. I’m involved in Wesley Clark’s movement to stop a war with Iran.

MLW-W: Good movements and much work.  Have you ever been a part of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship or the Fellowship of Reconciliation? 

Aric: No.

 

MLW-W: Well, you are very busy already, but I think that you’d find the PPF right up your alley.

MLW-W: Does your local congregation take peace issues seriously? Give us some example, if “yes.” If “no,” what could you do to raise awareness about this in your local congregation? 

Aric: My home church has been very active in the past in funding aid workers to go into war-torn regions and provide relief or to help refugees. There is always much more we could be doing in this regard, though I think it is more important for the local church to teach their members how to live nonviolently and to give a consistent message in the local arena rather than to try and campaign nationally and have little impact.

MLW-W: What about your denomination?  Are peace issues a part of those non-local/denominational connections? 

At the denomination level the PC[USA] is right now very torn and focused on internal strife rather than witnessing to the world, which is tragic. There have been a few letters to congress and the president issued by General Assembly opposing the Iraq War, opposing our present stance with Israel and encouraging action in the Sudan. However, there has been very little outside this.

MLW-W: Well, that’s more than many U.S. denominations.  You have already said something about global travel, do you want to say more? 

Aric: Yes. I have lived extensive time abroad. In the context of ethnographic study I have lived and worked in Brasil, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and the UK.

MLW-W: Explain “ethnographic study,” please. 

Aric: What I mean by that is I was involved in educational programs that used ethnographic methods (participant observation, semiotic anthropology, daily journaling…). Basically, I went places, got involved in projects or communities and analyzed my experiences with social-critical tools.

MLW-W: How well do you stay abreast of global events and have your experiences abroad shaped how you view such events? 

Aric: I make a consistent effort to stay informed though I have grown quite cynical about most news outlets as providing accurate coverage. I always lament how many critical issues are ignored in our country in favor of detailed coverage of celebrity gossip.

My experiences have unquestionably impacted, nay completely reinvented, my view of world events. It is impossible for me, now to simply accept someone else’s blanket judgment about another culture or region no matter how much expertise that individual has. I’ve been through too many “eye-opening” moments regarding other cultures to hold too strongly to any one point of view as though it
were absolute truth. I am, therefore, always trying to read the news as though I were Persian or Korean or Arabian.

MLW-W: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? 

Hmm…I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts?

MLW-W: Thank-you, Monty Python. Thanks for joining us, Aric, and continued blessings on your seminary work, church life, and especially blessings for Stacia Ann’s  healthy pregnancy and birth in June.

March 27, 2007 Posted by | blog-ring, discipleship, peace, sexism | 6 Comments

NRCAT Seeks Exec. Director

I considered applying for the following, but they are asking for more years of experience in certain areas than I have. So, I am passing on the information to others.   I have highlighted the work of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture since Princeton theologian (and fellow Barthian-pacifist!) George Hunsinger started it last year in order to mobilize the U.S. religious community against torture globally, but especially that torture sponsored by the U.S. government in the so-called “war on terror.”  Now, the organization is ready to hire its first Executive Director. The press release, including how to apply, is below.  BTW, for non-U.S. readers, 501(c) 3 organizations are tax-deductible non-profit organizations under the U.S. tax code. _________MLW-W.

NRCAT Executive Director Job Description

 

NRCAT description:  The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization of over 100 U.S. religious organizations, formed in January 2006 to end U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.  NRCAT is incorporated in the District of Columbia, and pending completion of the application process for independent 501(c)3 status, its fiscal agent is the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy, a 501(c)3 organization. 

 

NRCAT is governed by a Board of Directors and Participating Members Council.   The Executive Director is responsible to the Board of Directors for NRCAT’s effective operations and well-being.  NRCAT is an equal opportunity employer.

 

Qualifications:

  • A minimum of fifteen years’ experience in administration of faith-based agencies.
  • Senior management experience for at least three different faith-based agencies.
  • Graduate degree in theology or religion. 
  • Proven ability to manage finances and personnel, develop media strategy, coordinate communications and resource planning, and raise funds.
  • Knowledge of and experience with U.S. religious networks of numerous faiths and belief systems, including (at minimum) Roman Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical Christian, main-stream Protestant Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities.

 

Responsibilities:

  • Mission:  Oversee efforts to implement NRCAT’s goals and objectives.
  • Develop national moral consensus about U.S.-sponsored torture:  Will work with NRCAT staff and volunteers to create awareness in the general public about NRCAT’s position on the issue of torture.
  • Liaison with religious leaders:  serve as NRCAT’s primary liaison with influential religious leaders from a wide variety of faiths in the United States, sufficient to activate their participation in a variety of NRCAT projects and events.
  • Member relations:  instill and provide leadership for a organizational culture reflecting NRCAT as the embodiment of the highest values of our member religious communities – within and among NRCAT’s various projects, councils, committees, and the Board of Directors.
  • Media:  Develop, expand, and maintain media relations and communications.
  • Outreach:  Plan and implement strategies for increasing NRCAT membership, including inclusion/organization of state and regional affiliates, as well as single-faith leadership councils (e.g. Jewish Leadership Council).
  • Resources:  Encourage development and use of a wide variety of anti-torture materials suitable for use in the various religious communities that NRCAT draws from and serves.
  • Personnel: Hire and supervise senior and administrative staff.
  • Fund-raising:  manage grant proposals and reporting, major donor cultivation, individual donor rolls, and annual contributions from member organizations.

 

Salary:  $55,000 per year plus benefits.

Starting date:  May 1, 2007

 

Application packet:

  • Deadline for applications:  April 4, 2007.
  • Application packet:  include cover letter, resume, and at least two references.
  • Email packet to NRCAT c/o Suzanne O’Hatnick, suzanneohatnick@comcast.net

March 26, 2007 Posted by | economic justice, human rights., interfaith, nonviolence, torture | 4 Comments

Slavery Today

Today, 26 March 2007, is the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade throughout the British Empire.  The role of William Wilberforce and other British Christians in this struggle is the subject of the new film, Amazing Grace, named after the famous hymn composed by John Newton, former slave trader converted to Christianity and abolitionism.  But in many different forms slavery continues today in many parts of the world, although the brutal chattel slavery of Africans by which Europe built the nations of the “New World” in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean has long been ended.  A slave is , by definition:

  • Forced to work — through mental or physical threat.
  • Owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental or physical abuse or threatened abuse.
  • Dehumanised, treated as a commodity or bought and sold as ‘property’.
  • Physically constrained or has restrictions placed on his/her freedom of movement.
  • Many forms of slavery exist today: hereditary, kidnapped children who become child soldiers, kidnapped children (mostly girls, but some boys) sold into the sex industry, other forms of coerced sex trade, many forms of child labor, coerced work in prisons (often for high profit and cheap goods), slavery in mines for minerals that fund wars and terrorism (as in the highly accurate film, Blood Diamond), slavery in the drug trade, coerced labor in developing nations by transnational corporations based in rich nations, and much more.  The International Labor Organization estimates that as many as 12 million people are enslaved in some form of coerced, unpaid, labor. Various forms of (usually covert and illegal) slavery exist on every inhabited continent of the globe.

    Anti-Slavery International has been working for the complete and PERMANENT abolition of slavery since it was founded in the U.K. in 1789. (Although open to people of all faiths from the beginning, Anti-Slavery International’s founders were prominent British Christians, especially Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists.) Consider joining, donating, or volunteering to work on one of their many campaigns, today.  200 years after the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1807, 174 years after the abolition of slavery throughout the British empire in 1833, 169 years after Parliament abolished the “Negro Apprentice System” in 1838, 134 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in Confederate-held lands, 132 years after the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution (abolishing Slavery) in 1865, 86 years after the passage of the international Convention on the Abolition of Slavery in 1926 and 51 years after the passage of the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery in 1956, this kind of call to action should be COMPLETELY unnecessary. Sadly, it is not.  The struggle continues–only these days most Christians in the developed world are completely ignorant that the problem exists.  To our everlasting shame, there STILL are Christians who defend slavery “biblically” and who justify the chattell slavery of Africans(and Native Americans) for the colonization of the Americas as God’s way of introducing Christianity to pagans! (Don’t tell me no one argues this. I have heard conservative U.S. ministers make such arguments as recently as 5 years ago.)

    Preach a sermon, write an op-ed or letter to the editor of a local paper, do what you can to raise awareness of the continuing plague of slavery and slave-like coerced labor. Investigate to find out how many goods you consume are produced under conditions of coerced labor and boycott them. Organize, contribute, speak out, speak up. Silence equals consent. 

    Update: Melissa Rogers notes that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is today holding hearings on “Legal Options to Stop Human Trafficking.” The timing couldn’t be better. Contact the members of the Judiciary committee and urge them to forge strong legislation on this issue and to tackle the many forms of slavery/coerced labor today and put into place strong penalties for any nation or corporation which knowingly buys or sells goods made with coerced labor, any company engaging in “sex tourism,” etc.  Again, raise the profile of these issues in churches, your local papers, and other outlets.  The public should not be so blissfully unaware of the extent of this great evil, today.

    March 25, 2007 Posted by | economic justice, human rights. | 2 Comments

    Catholic Archbishop Calls for Nonviolent Resistance to Zimbabwe’s Dictatorship

    Pius Ncube, Catholic Archbishop of Zimbabwe, has called for Zimbabwean Christians to take the lead in nonviolent resistance to the brutal rule of President Robert Mugabe, the revolutionary leader who has undermined the democracy he created in 1979 and instituted a brutal dictatorship.  The Archbishop’s call came soon after the latest beating and jailing of the leader of Zimbabwe’s political opposition. He volunteered to be on the frontlines of such nonviolent confrontation with the army and police and called for Zimbabweans to put away fear and follow the example of other nations who had faced dictators with unarmed faith and determination.  A spokesperson for Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF Party has replied that Archbishop Ncube is “an inveterate liar” and a tool of British and American interests.

    Let us keep the people of Zimbabwe in prayer as we hope the churches, of all denominations, respond positively to the Archbishop’s courageous call.

    March 25, 2007 Posted by | Africa, economic justice, human rights., liberation, nonviolence, Obituaries | Comments Off on Catholic Archbishop Calls for Nonviolent Resistance to Zimbabwe’s Dictatorship

    GLBT Persons in Church: The Case for Full Inclusion,6

    I have much neglected this series of posts in setting up the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring and with many events, but I haven’t forgotten it. For the previous posts in this series, see one, two, three, four, five, and this one. We come, at last, to the New Testament.  We shall have to spend much time (I anticipate 2 posts) on Romans 1, but first, we need to deal with 2 other brief verses in the Pauline epistles that are often cited on this subject.  As we will see, the verses are quite brief, and there are major issues of translation and interpretation.  Because of this, I will first quote the relevant passages while leaving the key terms untranslated.

    1 Cor. 6: 9-11:  “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Reign of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor μαλακοι, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers, will inherit the Reign of God. And such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”

    1 Tim. 1:8-11: “Now we know that the Law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the Law is not laid down for the righteous, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers, ande murderers of mothers, for manslayers, sexually immoral folk, άρσενοκοίταις, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”

    Both these unusual terms have been translated in some modern translations by the term “homosexuals,” or, in older translations, as “sodomites,” but, as I mentioned earlier in this series, the term “homosexual” (and its equivalent in other languages) did not exist until the late 19th C. when it was coined to refer, as we now do, to persons whose sexual orientation/attraction is toward their own sex and not the opposite sex.  And, as also mentioned, we do not find anywhere in the Hebrew Bible or Greek New Testament, any nouns built off of the place name “Sodom.” The terms “sodomy” and “sodomites” to refer to a range of sexuals behaviors considered illicit, especially between persons of the same sex, dates to the Middle Ages, as we have seen.

    These verses include standard “vice lists” which were common in pagan Greek literature, especially from the philosophers, to list disapproved behaviors. Skipping over all the other interesting features about the use of these vice lists in the NT, let us work with our strange terms left untranslated.  Μαλακοι (“malakoi”) literally means “soft ones.” Some translations have rendered it “effeminate males,” but since what counts as “effeminate” appearance or behavior varies from culture to culture, we have to probe further into the likely background. Robin Scroggs, William Countryman, Victor Paul Furnish, George Edwards, and many other NT scholars think that there are two common Greek practices that Paul is condemning in the 1 Cor. passage. First, was the widespread (but often condemned even by Greek philosophers like Plato) practice in the Greco-Roman world of rich men taking young male protoges and mentoring them–but with part of that mentoring including using them sexually.  In this VERY patriarchal society, men married to have offspring, but women were not considered intellectually or spiritually equal to men, and so it was improper to attempt having any “soulmate” kind of mutual love between the sexes, even between spouses.  One turned, instead, to other males. In Plato’s ideal, this male-to-male love was non-sexual (from where we get the term “platonic love” or “platonic relationships”), but Plato himself acknowledged that this ideal was often not met–both in terms of equality and in terms of the love being non-sexual. Instead, these rich elite males would take young boys who were barely pubescent and forcibly make them the passive partners in sex. They made them “soft” or “effeminate” by forcing them to shave body hair, etc., to minimize their masculine appearance.  It is possible that this is the practice that Paul is condemning in 1 Cor. (and it is certainly one part of what is in view in Rom. as we will see in a future post), but the problem is that if μαλακοι refers primarily to these “effeminized males” then Paul would seem to be blaming the victims in saying that they will not enter the Reign of God.

    Another possibility, which I think more likely in 1 Cor. 6, is that the “soft ones” are male prostitutes which we know existed in the 1st C. Greco-Roman world. Especially common were male temple prostitutes and we have evidence that there were some at the temple in Corinth. If this is the reference for μαλακοι, then Paul is condemning male prostitution, especially temple prostitution, which, we have seen earlier in this series, was a major factor behind the condemnation of male on male sex acts in Leviticus.

    The term used in 1 Timothy is άρσενοκοίταις (“arsenokoitais”) which appears only here.  It appears to have been a word that the Pauline disciple who wrote 1 Timothy (or Paul, himself, if Paul is the author) made up to describe a practice that he found repugnant but had no ready word for. It combines the terms for “male” and “bed.” The reference is clearly sexual, coming directly in the vice list after πόρνοις (“pornois”), “sexually immoral ones.” Robin Scroggs, again, argues that this probably refers to those men who used the male prostitutes’ services and/or to those male child abusers who effeminized and forced themselves on their young protoges.

    If this is accurate, then these two verses are condemning not just ANY FORM of male-to-male sex, but a very exploitive (and even idolatrous in the case of temple prostitution) form. The contemporary equivalent would not be gay couples in longterm relationships trying to get permission to be married, but the horrible “Man-Boy Love Association” which is condemned even by most gay activists and which argues that it should be legally and morally okay for middle aged or older men to have sex with teen and pre-teen boys! I condemn the Man-Boy Love Association and would do so even without specific guidance from these Pauline verses because such relationships are clearly harmful and exploitive.  As we have seen throughout this series, exploitive sex is alway, ALWAYS wrong. (This is why I am glad that Kentucky has become one of the first U.S. states to make marital rape illegal, even though the very CONCEPT of marital rape was unknown until the recent past. For most of history and most cultures throughout history, men were considered to own their wives and wives had no right to ever say “no” to husbands when the latter wanted sex.)

    Would Paul (and the Pauline author of 1 Timothy) also have condemned non-exploitive same-sex relationships?  Those, like myself, who argue for revising traditional church teaching and welcoming and affirming gay & lesbian Christians in our churches argue that we do not know the answer to this because Paul does not address the questions being asked today. He had no knowledge of non-exploitive same-sex relationships analogous to heterosexual marriage.  Traditionalists argue that Paul also condemned even loving same-sex acts and relationships among equals.  But traditionalists do not have much to work with in these two brief references. They rest almost their entire case on Romans 1: 24-27.  It is to that passage that we shall turn in the next installment in this series.  Stay tuned.

    March 23, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, GLBT issues, homosexuality, New Testament | 62 Comments

    Al Gore to Congress: Act on Global Warming NOW!

    You can see highlights of Gore’s testimony before Congress here or his entire opening statement here.  Gore challenged lawmakers to cut carbon emissions by 90% before 2050 using stronger proposals than anything currently on the legislative table.  In addition to scientific data, concrete proposals, and an academy award for his slideshow-turned-documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore brought over 500,000 messages from citizens to Congress supporting swift, decisive action to prevent/reduce the catastrophic climate change caused by global warming.  Although no-nothings like Sen. Inhofe (R-OK) called global warming “a hoax,” the majority of lawmakers seemed receptive to Gore’s message, although it will take much citizen action to get the strong changes he is recommending. (Gore called the first hearings on global warming in Congress in 1973 and they are still dragging their feet about doing anything!)

    Among Gore’s concrete proposals are:

    • An immediate national freeze on new carbon emissions, affecting everything from cars to lawnmowers to coal-fired electric plants.
    • Changing the tax code to reduce payroll taxes and increase taxes on polluters, especially those who put greenhouse gasses like CO2 into the air.
    • Following Australia’s lead in banning incandescent light bulbs in favor of new compact (and far more energy efficient) flourescent light bulbs.
    • Raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars–something the major car companies themselves asked Congress for clear guidelines on just this week. Will oil company dollars to Congressional campaigns trump concern for the planet AND the clear desires of Detroit automakers?
    • Creating a “carbon neutral home mortgage association” which would allow homeowners to more easily finance energy-efficient renovations.  This last may sound radical, but Jimmy Carter did something similar in the 1970s when, after installing solar panels on the White House roof (removed by the first Pres. Bush), he got Congress to pass tax credits for homeowners who installed solar panels to their roofs (or windmills, etc.). My parents took advantage of this with our Orlando home and some years we actually generated enough of our own electricity to sell some BACK to the power company.  Reagan led in cancelling these tax credits for homeowners in 1981–at the same time he started rolling back fuel standards for cars, and we’ve been going in the wrong direction ever since.

    The folks at Environmental Defense now have a page called “Ask the Green Car Guru” to help consumers concerned about the environment.  They have also worked with Yahoo! to develop a Green Car Center that does rather comprehensive ratings and shows what criteria are used in order to help consumers make wise choices.  The Union of Concerned Scientists have called for passage of the Safe Climate Act (which falls short of Gore’s proposals, but would be a step in the right direction), and its engineers have designed the Vanguard, a safe, affordable, and green mini-van.

    So, the ball is now in our court as citizens to convince Congress to act and as consumers to convince companies to give us the green technologies we want.  We also need to make lifestyle choices for the planet:  live closer to our work, insulate our homes, walk, bike, and ride public transportation whenever possible, etc.

    March 22, 2007 Posted by | ecology, global warming | 4 Comments

    Democrats’ Risky Fund-the-War-With-Timetable-Proposal

    Why is the U.S. House of Representatives poised to give Bush nearly $100 billion more to fight the Iraq war as long as the troops are brought home by 2008? According to polls over 90% of Democratic voters want Congress to refuse ALL future funding and demand the troops home in 2007. Even 25% of registered Republicans back that move.  Approval of Congress has dropped to 38% in the last month because of perceived weakness on ending the war–their clear mandate from November’s elections.   Like many others, this has made me very angry, but I have been involved in politics long enough to see the strategy–a slick strategy that could work, but has risks.

    It all hinges on 2 calculations: (1) a desire not to seem to cut off funding for the troops and leave them vulnerable in the field.  They wouldn’t actually be doing this. There is enough money already in the pipeline to keep the troops safe and bring them home in an orderly withdrawal. But the Democratic leadership does NOT want to be “swiftboated” and so is wary of even appearing to be causing risk to the troops. (2) They are counting on Bush’s threat to veto any legislation with a withdrawal date and with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to filibuster any attempt to get such out of the Senate.

    Follow me here, because (2) is tricky. If the senate passes the same funding legislation with a withdrawal date AND BUSH VETOES IT, then Bush gets no more funding (thanks to not having  line-item veto power). Thus, it would be the president, and not Congress, who “cut off funds for the troops.” If McConnell blocks passage of this in the senate, the bill fails and still no new funds for the war are passed–and public opinion is marshalled against the Republicans (not the Democrats) and more pressure arises for a swifter end to the war.  If, on the other hand, Bush doesn’t veto this, he has, at least, set a deadline for troop withdrawal–for the first time since invading.

    But, the big risk is that the Senate will pass a different version of the bill and then, in a reconciliation committee, the deadline will be dropped, and Bush will get all the money he wants without the deadline he doesn’t want.  This is less likely with Democrats in charge of appointing such a reconciliation committee, but it is still an unacceptable risk. And January 2008 is too long to wait to end this war. 

    So, I urge everyone to call 800-828-0498, 800-459-1887 or 800-614-2803 and demand that Congress refuse to fund one more dime for the war. Instead, they should pass Rep. Barbara Lee’s amendment that would demand withdrawal NOW.  There is little chance that such would pass the Senate and no chance that it would pass in large enough numbers to override a veto (stopping a war is much harder than starting one!), but at least they would cut off further funding for it. 

    March 21, 2007 Posted by | Iraq, U.S. politics | 5 Comments

    Updates on Zimbabwe Crisis Available

    The problem with having friends all over the world is that you worry about them. News stories about famines or floods or wars or human rights abuses, etc. are never just abstract “crises,” but moments in which you pray for people you know face to face.  I met Henry and Hermina Mugabe in seminary. He is now the Principal of the Baptist college in Zimbabwe. A brilliant man whose dissertation was the first attempt at an indigenous Shona Christian theology, Henry had to flee his homeland during the revolution of the late ’70s and moved temporarily to South Africa, where he met Hermina, and finished his undergraduate education. Later he studied at the great World Council of Churches’ center at Bossey, Switzerland. I met them in the U.S. during seminary and doctoral work as Henry and I had several classes in common–and, since Kate and I didn’t have kids, then, we sometimes babysat for the Mugabes.

    When the Mugabes returned to Zimbabwe in the early ’90s, they were already worried that Pres. Robert Mugabe (no relation–at least, no close relation), once hailed as Zimbabwe’s George Washington, had stayed in power too long, and was eroding the democracy he had helped to launch. Neither they nor we had any idea how bad it was going to get. I try to keep up through the BBC, the only English-language news agency that still tries to cover Zimbabwe, but with all foreign journalists banned from Zimbabwe, even the BBC has a hard time following things accurately.  Now, I have discovered the blog, Observations of Africa, by Leon Johnson (who, with his other blog, Observations from the Sidelines, has joined Christian Peace Bloggers), which has many updates on events in Zimbabwe. Now, I can, at least, pray for my friends in a somewhat more informed way.

    March 20, 2007 Posted by | Africa, blog-ring, economic justice, human rights. | 1 Comment

    How Various “Peace Offers” Appear to Many Palestinians

    palestine_landloss11.jpg This post is copied from Never Give Up, Sami Awad’s blog on nonviolent resistance from a Palestinian perspective. Sami also got it from someone else.  I met Sami a few years ago at a meeting of the Fellowship of Reconciliation when I was working for Every Church a Peace Church which has also partnered with Sami’s organization, Holy Land Trust. I was also able, at that meeting, to introduce Sami to Gary Percesepe, then the Coordinating Director of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, which has created new ties, there.  I am glad to report that Sami has just become the newest member of Christian Peace Bloggers. Check his blog out and get a perspective on Palestine-Israel that is impossible to find in the U.S. news–and probably rare in much of the world’s media.  By the way, when I look at the accompanying maps, I am reminded forcibly of how Native Americans have been forced onto ever-smaller Reservations–and we all know where that policy left the indigenous peoples of North America. And now, “How Various ‘Peace Deals’ Look to Many Palestinians.”:

    • United Nations “Partition Plan” to the Palestinians: You are going to have 47% of the 100% which was originally yours.   
    • “Oslo Agreement” to the Palestinians: You are going to have 22% of the 100% which was originally yours.   
    • Barak’s “Generous Offer” to the Palestinians: We are going to give you 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours.   
    • Sharon’s “Peace Plan” to the Palestinians in 2,000:  We are going to give you 42% of 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours, and this 42% will remain under continuous curfew.   
    • “American Christian Zionists” to the Palestinians: According to our version of the Bible you are entitled to 0% of 42% of 80%  of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours.
    • The “Road Map” to the Palestinians that Bush envisions: IF you stop your resistance to the occupation (which we call terrorism), and your refugees give up their right of return to their ancestral homes, and you agree to only elect officials acceptable to Bush and Olmert, and you agree to lock up all your resistance fighters, and you agree to drive your cars only on roads that Olmert assigns for your use, and you do not object to the ‘wall’ that Sharon started building & Olmert is finishing, and you agree not to claim Jerusalem as your capital, and you agree that your children’s school curriculum only includes courses and books approved by the Israeli government, and you agree not to give birth to more than three children per family, and stop complaining about the new law that prohibits Israeli Arabs from marrying Palestinian Arabs, while it allows them marry any other nationality in the world, —THEN President Bush, will consider putting pressure on Olmert to consider negotiating with you on the 42% of 80% of 22% of the 100% of the land which was originally yours.

    March 19, 2007 Posted by | Israel-Palestine | 2 Comments