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

Christians Arrested at White House in Peace Protest

According to an email full of news reports I received from Glen Gersmehl of the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq Friday Night was a huge success–making me all the sorrier that my transportation plans fell through and I was unable to attend.  3,200 Christians from many different denominations filled the National Cathedral and more filled overflow congregations. Over 700 Christians took nonviolence workshops and dozens were arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House–despite the fact that the police were handing out $100 fines for trespass, more than double the usual fine.   Glen Gersmehl  told me that Lutheran Peace Fellowship members passed out over 16,000 cards/fliers to the crowd with principles of nonviolence listed. A reports on the event can be read here.  Some Christian Peace Bloggers made it (unlike me–ride fell through) and have begun to report on their experiences.  DLW of the Anti-Manichaeist reports here  and Jonathan Marlowe has two parts of a series on his blog, The Ivy Bush.  Below is a list of all the organizations that participated in Christian Peace Witness for Iraq:

   If you don’t see your denomination or church-related peace group in that list, contact them and ask why. Then ask that they take a more proactive lead in ending this war (and promise your support–financial and otherwise).

In all, the reports seem to say that this was a success in church leadership for peace–more than the interfaith/non-religious march in D.C. on Saturday in which numbers were down because of a winter storm in the Northeast that cancelled 60-90 busloads of people. I was very sad that my transportation snafu prevented me from attending. The events around the nation this weekend commemorating the 4th anniversary seemed to go well (we have 400 peopl in little Louisville, KY–in a conservative state!) and more groups are still planning sit-ins in the offices of Congress, as has been happening around the country for a month.

Alas, my joy at these actions is tempered by the email I received from my friend, Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem. Palestinians are in danger of being forgotten by the world because of Iraq and preventing war with Iran. I will write more on this crisis VERY soon and introduce all of you to Sami Awad. Since Sami now has a blog, Never Give Up,  I am going to try to get him to join Christian Peace Bloggers.  Sami –and the entire, amazing, Awad family–have been leaders in nonviolent struggle for justice and peace in the Middle East for a long time and readers of his blog will become far more informed.

March 18, 2007 Posted by | citizenship, foreign policy, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, nonviolence, Obituaries, peacemaking | 3 Comments

St. Isaac of Ninevah

isaac.jpgIn his Peace Blogger Interview, Patrik Hagman told us some about St. Isaac of Ninevah, who is the subject of his doctoral dissertation. For a brief biographical sketch of St. Isaac, click here and see the profile at the Catholic Peace Fellowship’s “Saint Archive.”

March 16, 2007 Posted by | saints | 1 Comment

Sen. Hillary Clinton Vows to Continue Iraq Occupation if Elected!

Well, now we can be ABSOLUTELY SURE that we should not vote for Hillary! See the story here.  Of course, with her huge money and media, she could buy the Democratic nomination and present us with the wonderful choice of her or an even bigger warhawk in the G.O.P. (now that Hagel has said he’s not running). So, since Kerry Walters points out that Hillary, like most politicians, is a great poll-watcher, let’s let her know just how unacceptable this position is. If you are a U.S. citizen, phone her Senate office at (202) 224-4451 and/or contact her by email here and here.  Let her know in no uncertain terms that you will not vote for any candidate not doing all she can NOW to end this war and prevent war in Iran.  Then contact other campaigns (Obama’s, Edwards, Richardson’s, Kucinich’s, etc.), perhaps even some of the Republican campaigns (Romney, Guiliani, Brownback) and tell them what you just told Hillary–and that you will be watching them to see how different they are. 

I should point out that, after the House of Representatives stripped language from the appropriations bill that would have required Bush to get Congressional approval before attacking Iran (which the Constitutions requires ANYWAY), Rep. Dennis Kucinich dared to buck Speaker Pelosi and say that impeachment may be the only way to stop this president and his illegal wars. To thank Rep. Kucinich and ask him to introduce articles of impeachment, email him at info@kucinich.us .

Of course, even if Bush and Cheney are impeached, the Republicans may block their removal in the Senate–unless some can be won over by the strength of the case.  But it’s hard to attack Iran if you are being tried for impeachment at the same time!

March 16, 2007 Posted by | human rights., Iraq, peacemaking, politics, U.S. politics | 7 Comments

Evangelicals and Human Rights

I have previously blogged on the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the interfaith campaign to end all torture, including so-called “necessary” torture used in interrogations in the “war on terrorism,” and including techniques such as waterboarding.  This campaign, led by Princeton theologian George Hunsinger, is extremely important, and it gathers Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other persons of faith together, united against this barbarism.  I have been pleased that some evangelical Christians, such as Glen H. Stassen, David P. Gushee, Jim Wallis, and others, have been part of this campaign from the beginning.  But, knowing that many evangelicals hesitate to join any organization or campaign that links them with non-Christians or even non-evangelicals, I was worried that the majority of U.S. evangelicals would stand aloof from the work of NRCAT, giving tacit approval to the evil of torture.

Fortunately, David Gushee has now led in creating a new organization, Evangelicals for Human Rights, which has drafted its own Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror.  The National Association of Evangelicals has signed onto the statement which not only declares torture immoral, but gives strong theological reasons for protecting human rights.  This development is huge since many U.S. evangelicals have been taught that all talk of “rights” are selfish and secular.  This declaration sets the record straight (and even cites one of my articles on the pre-Enlightenment history of human rights). If it catches on, it removes any semblance of legitimacy to torture and other human rights violations, even among that segment of the U.S. electorate which has formed the hardcore of Bush’s base–white evangelicals (African-American and Latino evangelicals have never been behind these policies, not even condoning them by silence).  Some of the same leaders who drafted the NRCAT statement, George Hunsinger, Glen Stassen, Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, etc. are found here with Evangelicals for Human Rights, but others, such as Asbury Seminary’s Christine Pohl, World Vision’s Roberta Hestenes, Cheryl Bridges Johns of the Church of God Theological Seminary, Yale’s Miroslav Volf and Nicholas Wolterstorff, are prominent in the drafting of this new statement.  Emerging Church guru, Brian McClaren, who seems to have coined the term “generous orthodoxy,” is one of the initial signers.

I have signed both the NRCAT and the EHR statements on torture and I urge you to do so, as well, and use the resources as teaching tools in your churches.  It was Richard Overton, General Baptist and leader of the Levellers, who first coined the term “human rights” and who enunciated the strong Christian basis for support–well before the the watered-down Enlightenment concept of human rights.  In my ‘teens (the 1970s), Christian support for and defense of universal human rights was almost a given.  I’m glad to see that such a heritage is being recovered, after being eroded during the last several decades, and abandoned wholesale after 9/11.

March 15, 2007 Posted by | economic justice, human rights., torture | 4 Comments

Peace Blogger Interview #3: Patrik Hagman

patrik_hagman.pngWelcome to the 3rd Christian Peace Blogger Interview.  The first 2 posts in this series are here and here. Up this time is Patrik Hagman, a theology student and blogger in Pargas, Finland. Welcome to the Christian Peace Bloggers’ interview, Patrick.

MLW-W: How would you describe yourself? 

Patrik: Very determined and rather confused at the same time. 

MLW-W: Interesting answer. Since I could describe U.S. President Bush the same way, maybe it’s a good thing you aren’t head of a country. 🙂 Determined about what? Confused about what? 

Patrik: When I know what I want, I can do what it takes to get there. For example, writing my thesis comes rather naturally for me. On the other hand, I have no idea what I really want to do with my life. 

MLW-W: Okay. I see what you mean. Well, can you tell us about your family? 

Patrik: I’m married. 

MLW-W: Congratulations. You want to elaborate any? 

Patrik: Not really, I’m kind of private about such matters.

 MLW-W: Alright. Moving on. You’ve hinted that you are a student. Is that right? 

 Patrik: I’m working on my PhD in Theology on the 7th century ascetic, St. Isaac of Nineveh.

 MLW-W: I’m no expert in Medieval ascetics, but I have to say that I have  never heard of St. Isaac of Ninevah. Do you want to say something  about him and what drew you to him as a thesis subject? 

Patrik: He was born in what is now Qatar and lived most of his life in what is now (the ruins of) Iraq. He was bishop for five months until he reached the conclusion that  a bishop is not a job for a sane man. So he spent his life in prayer, instead, and wrote these magnificent, 
beautiful texts about spiritual life. He is not so well known in the West, but in Russia he is considered one of the most important [Church]Fathers and he has had tremendous importance in the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, for example. The West is catching up. I’m studying his asceticism; I can’t say what originally drew me to him, (I have my suspicions…) but today I am actually seeing things in his life and thinking that might actually be very relevant in our time. His asceticism is a way of living in a corrupt world.

MLW-W: Wow! St. Isaac sounds fascinating. Well, when you aren’t studying or blogging, what do you like to do?  

Patrik:  In my free time I like to interact with my friends, play and listen to rock music and practice karate. 

 MLW-W: Well, practicing karate will certainly help dispel the  stereotype of the “wimpy pacifist.” 🙂 

Patrik: Yeah, I see how people can find that strange. For me, karate practice has little to do with violence, it is more about learning to control my body and get some exercise. It is a very fun way to keep in shape. But of course, you also have to face the question what you would do in a situation where violence is a real option and your training might give you an advantage. Those are difficult questions.

MLW-W: I was teasing, some. I have known other pacifists who were students of the martial arts. I know a former police officer-turned-pastor who is a black belt in Kung Fu (don’t ask me what type). He said that the training helped him deal with anger and the knowledge that he could respond to violence with violence, made the commitment to nonviolence deliberate and stronger. 

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

Patrik: Hmm. I don’t really like these kind of questions. I was raised in a believing family and was baptized as a 14 year old. 

 MLW-W: Well, I certainly don’t want to make you uncomfortable. Do  you want to say something about why you dislike these types of   questions? Personal? Theological? Cultural? 

Patrik: Well, it’s just that I feel spirituality is a very personal matter,  and I really dislike the kind of loud spirituality that many  Chrisitans seem to prefer. 

MLW-W: Of what local congregation/parish are you a member? If your local church is part of a denomination, what is it?   If your local congregation is non-denomination, how do you identify your church tradition (i.e., Evangelical, Pentecostal, Emergent Church, Liberal, etc.)? 

Patrik: Another tricky one. I am a member of a Baptist congregation in my old home town. There is no Baptist congregation where I live now, and I regularly go to the Lutheran Church here but I have no plans for converting. I consider me a kind of ecumenical post-confessional, a member of the One, Holy, Apostolical and Catholic Church, wherever it exists. Any tradition that values the sacraments I feel at home in. Sometimes they have a problem with me, but that is their problem.  

 MLW-W: A fellow Baptist! I’ve met a Finnish Baptist before at a  meeting of the Baptist World Alliance. But I take it from your  answer that Baptists aren’t all that large in Finland. Do you want  to say something about Baptist life in Finland? 

 Patrik: Well, there are two Baptist movements in Finland, one Finnish  speaking, very conservative Southern Baptist kind, and one Swedish  speaking that has a tradition of more interaction with society, that  maybe is more rooted in the British [Baptist] tradition but also find people like Martin Luther King important. Both movements are very small[N.B.: According to the European Baptist Federation’s official statistics, Finnish-Speaking Finnish Baptists have 11 congregations with 692 members; Swedish-Speaking Baptists in Finland have 19 congregations with 1, 290 members. It should be noted for pedobaptist readers that Baptists do not count children or unbaptized adolescents as members and, in Europe especially, often have more adults attending who have not committed to joining by baptism than they do baptized members–precisely because they take committed discipleship very seriously.-MLW-W], so if the guy you  met is Swedish-speaking, he’s likely to be a friend of mine.

MLW-W: Actually, I don’t know. We communicated in a mixture of his limited English and my (even more) limited German–since he had studied several foreign languages. I think many resonate with being ecumenical and post-confessional  and your (small “c”) catholic sympathies. You say you feel at home with any tradition that “values the sacraments,” but that is something that some parts of the Baptist family have not always been  great about (although British Baptists are recovering a sacramental emphasis). Do you find the Lutheran emphasis personally refreshing or does Finnish Baptist life have a greater sacramental emphasis than some  other parts of Baptist-dom? 

 Patrik: Not really; this is a problem I have with my own tradition. I value the [Baptist] countercultural tradition, the disregard for authorities  (religious and secular) and – when it works – the sense of community  in the congregation, but I think it was a great mistake to de-value the sacraments. An unfortunate by-product of the much needed revolt  against what was around at the time. 

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

Patrik: As a kid we belonged to a Pentecostal Congregation. No ties in that direction though. 

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

Patrik: I wanted a place to develop my ideas for how theology should react to the fact that our culture and very possibly our civilization is in decline. I like what everybody else likes: the contact you get with similarly-minded people around the world. I dislike that it tends to take up to big a part in my life.  

MLW-W: Your blog’s title is unusual, “God in a Shrinking  Universe.” Since the cosmos is still expanding, I assume this title  refers to media communications connecting people? Tell us some more   about this theme, if you would? 

Patrik: Not exactly. It is an adaption of a Muse tune, that goes “you’re a god in a shrinking universe” which just struck me as a great way of  telling someone he’s not much good. But what I mean with it is that  our universe is shrinking in the sense that our culture has lost most  of its vitality and we are using up the world’s resources. I want to use my blog to explore what it means to believe in God in that  scenario. A lot of the theology that is done today is based on an idea  that “everything will work out all right” on a very unconscious level,  I think. I think we will very soon see that that kind of theology is  not useful anymore. I’d like to work out a theology that does not  revert to “God is punishing us” as soon as the trouble starts.

MLW-W: Now, that is fascinating and very helpful. I recommend readers go to Patrik’s blog and especially check out his posts on “ideas for a theology of decline.” This brings us to a central question of this interview series: How do you relate your faith to issues of peacemaking? What sources of strength have you found? 

 Patrik: I see the Church as a place where we practice life as it is lived in the coming existence, and peacemaking is certainly a central part of that. The Eucharist is a place where people come together regardless of political background, race, class, gender and celebrate together. There is no better symbol for peace than that. 

 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. 

Patrik:In Finland we have mandatory military service for all males with two possible alternatives: (a) jail for those that reject the military system completely and (b) civilian service which is a rather pointless 13 month service in some form of society based activity. I chose the latter and worked in a school. As I was young when I made this choice it was based more on instinctive dislike for the military’s authoritarian system than pacifism, but I’m glad today that I made that choice.  

MLW-W: I knew that much of Europe had mandatory military service, but I am  glad that Finland has an alternative service option. Apparently, one  doesn’t have to declare one’s self a conscientious objector to get  such an option, either, as was true in the U.S. when we had military  conscription.

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?

Patrik: Yes. I think I said enough about that in [the last question]. Pacifism was kind of a declining tradition in my religious surroundings when I grew up. Some of the Baptist leaders went to jail during [World War II]. In Finland this was an extremely tough choice to make and even today people get angry about that. But, as I said, when I was growing up one did not talk much about it. War was too distant a concept then.

 MLW-W: Yeah, 50 years later, people here are still upset with C.O.s from the “last good war,” as many see World War II.  If we  reach further back in history, Finland was historically threatened  by Russia. Does that shape views concerning war and peace, now or is   it primarily more recent history?

Patrik: Yes, Finland had its own WWII against Russia. [Jail for conscientious objection] must have been an  extremely difficult decision to make. Finland has because of those  wars a very strong militaristic tradition – it is considered very important for a male to have done well in the military service. It is  not so bad now, but even ten years ago you would have had trouble  getting certain positions if you had taken the alternative service.  But the Finnish defense is really a defense – apart from UN  peace-keeping there have been no Finns in active war duty since WWII.

MLW-W: Is Finland part of NATO? Are there chances that Finland could be sucked into something like the NATO involvement inAfghanistan? I doubt that conscientious  objection would seem so abstract to many, in that case.

Patrik: Finland is not member of the NATO, though there is an ongoing  discussion about it. Many politicians are for joining, but the people  are hesitant. We will see what happens.

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?  Patrik: A good idea I’d like to support. Not really, because I haven’t blogged much at all lately. MLW-W. Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Patrik: Nothing organized, no. I was in Rome when the Iraq war broke out. It was a wonderful moment to be in, the city just exploded in these huge spontaneous demonstrations.  

 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? 

Patrik: Not really. The Lutheran Church in Finland is too closely tied to the state to be very radical in any question, really. 

MLW-W: Well, maybe there could be a chance to hook up with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. Finland doesn’t have an IFOR branch or affiliate, but Sweden does and might want to help sponsor such a group.

MLW-W:  Have you travelled outside your home nation? How well do you stay informed with global events? 

Patrik: Of course. I’m not much for tourism, but I’ve been in many European nations, and spent a little time in Syria andTurkey. I stay informed by reading a lot, both on-line and in books. Blogs are good for this too.  

MLW-W: I asked the question about travel because most  Americans seldom do. Even half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives  do not have a passport! I think our lack of knowledge about the  world contributes to our militarism–or, said differently, I am   exploring the question of whether travel to other cultures gives one  a global sensitivity that may reinforce peacemaking attitudes. 

Patrik: Oh it does. I have to tell you, and I hope it is not offending anyone,  but everyone here was predicting that Iraq would come to this before the war started. It is a mystery to most Europeans that the Americans  did not see what they were getting into. It may have to do with more  traveling or (slightly) better news media.

MLW-W: Actually, that is a mystery to a significant minority of Americans, too. What was it like in Syria and Turkey? Do you have friends there?

Patrik: No, I only stayed for a few weeks. It was a wonderful experience, especially Syria. It is a much more alive culture than Western culture  today, people seem to care for each other, families are really close,  people are helpful. Of course there is also a growing resentment for  the West, but what else could you expect when we have treated them as we have. I was just walking around desperately trying to show them that not all Westerners are like Bush and Blair. Must have acted  rather silly.

MLW-W: Somehow, I doubt you were perceived as silly. Patrik, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed.  I continue to look forward to reading God in a Shrinking Universe.

March 13, 2007 Posted by | blog-ring, blogs, pacifism, peace, peacemaking, sexism | 4 Comments

Peace Quote

“Christians no longer take up the sword against nations, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.”–Origen (c.185-254) who wrote the earliest “systematic theology.”

March 12, 2007 Posted by | peace, sexism | 1 Comment

Theology and Popular Culture

One of my favorite series of books is the Popular Culture and Philosophy series put out by Open Court Press.  It contains volumes on The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All; Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts; James Bond and Philosophy: Questions are Forever; Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale; The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer; Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box; and, Ben Myers will be glad to know there is even a volume on Bob Dylan and Philosophy: It’s All Right, Ma, I’m Only Thinkin.’  There are many other volumes and more planned.  The contributors include well-known Christian philosophers, but not only Christians.  Philosophy often involves very difficult concepts and illustrating them through popular culture (as Socrates/Plato used allegories and even Jesus told parables) can be a great way of helping convey these ideas.  But I think the series is important for more than pedagogical reasons. It’s also helpful to think critically about culture, not just “high brow” culture, but popular culture–in praise and criticism.

I could wish that there were a similar series (as well done) for Theology and Popular Culture.  Some isolated books exist, but nothing like this series in breadth and quality and outright fun, although Baker Book House’s Engaging Culture series is a good step in the right direction.  Theology should not take its cues from culture, pop or otherwise, but it should/must interact with the various cultures in which it finds itself.  Too often preachers and theologians have either jumped on a cultural bandwagon or given a knee-jerk condemnation.  (I think it’s ironic, for instance, that in the ’80s The Simpsons was regularly denounced from evangelical pulpits for Bart’s potty-mouth and other reasons, but these days evangelicals often heap it with more praise than it deserves.  It’s a TV show–out to entertain and make money. It has good and bad dimensions. But it does what good art should–and raises many of the right questions.) Critical interaction in light of the gospel is the better way to go.  Some theologians have been fairly good about this–but not enough and too few pastors have learned to use popular culture to foster theological reflection/discussion in local churches.  Here’s my vote that we work on changing this quickly.

In the meantime, check out the Popular Culture & Philosophy series.  I have learned from many of the volumes–and not only from the specifically Christian contributions. I have read about half of the volumes, and plan on getting most of them, if not all. (I’m not sure I would get as much from some volumes on movies, shows, or popular past-times like poker which I do not share or have not seen.)  But what I like best is that the series is fun and helps convey the truth that philosophy can be (should be) fun. I believe that should be even more true about theology–which participates in the joy of the gospel.

March 11, 2007 Posted by | theology | 4 Comments

Peace Quote

“No Taüfer [the word translates as “baptist,” but refers not to Baptists as we know them, but to the Dunkers] will be found in war, and few in prison or on the gallows because of their crimes.  The majority of them are inclined to peacefulness . . . It would be desirable that the whole world were full of these “debauched baptists” . . . . May God keep all Taüfer in God’s grace so that they may not turn toward evil once more and then their outcome will be as mentioned above, namely the eternal life of joy.”–Alexander Mack(1679-1735),founder of the “German Baptist Brethren” or Dunkers/Tunkers, later called The Church of the Brethren.

March 11, 2007 Posted by | peace, sexism | Comments Off on Peace Quote

Peace Quote

“Do we really believe that Christianity will perish unless it be defended by war? . . . If we do believe that, then we have deliberately passed a vote of no confidence in Christianity.  If Christianity needs this kind of defense then there is little that is really divine about it. . . . We must conclude that a faith which needs the defense of modern warfare is not a faith which even deserves to survive.”–William Barclay, Scottish New Testament scholar (1907-1978).

March 10, 2007 Posted by | peace, sexism | 3 Comments

Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

DON’T FORGET: On 16 March ’07, one week from today, the 4th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Christians will gather all over the U.S., but especially in the National Cathedral in D.C. as part of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. There will be opportunities for civil disobedience (for those so led) and also for petitioning members of Congress to do everything in their power to end the war quickly.

I had planned to be in D.C., but my transportation arrangements never materialized. So, I will be part of the local efforts in Louisville.  There will also be interfaith and “secular” efforts that could certainly use Christian presence as witness. But given that the U.S. president is fond of constantly mentioning his Christian faith, and even of implying that God “told him” to invade Iraq, and given that this has caused many Muslims around the world to perceive the war as a Christian crusade against Islam, it is imperative (and long overdue) that Christians have an even where as Christians we declare that we do NOT support this war.

March 10, 2007 Posted by | Christianity, just peacemaking, pacifism, peace, sexism | 2 Comments