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

Peace Blogger Interview # 5: Lee McCracken

Welcome to the 5th installment in our series of interviews with the folks in the Christian Peace Bloggers blog-ring.  For the previous interviews in this series, see #s 1, 2, 3, & 4. Up today is Lee McCracken who runs the blog, A Thinking Reed.   Welcome to the interview, Lee.

MLW-W:  Let’s get right to it. How would you describe yourself? 

Lee: In the words of my blog description: a thirty-something mainline Protestant, political outlier, aspiring vegetarian, heavy metal aficionado, husband, and coffee addict. (Not necessarily in order of importance). I grew up in western
Pennsylvania and attended college there. I pursued graduate studies in the Midwest, and since then have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Philadelphia, and now Boston.

MLW-W:  I’ve been an “aspiring vegetarian” before and found it quite difficult. But what is a “political outlier?” I’m not familiar with that term. 

Lee: That’s just my way of saying that I don’t really feel like I fit in anywhere on the current American political landscape. Philosophically, I’m pretty conservative, but I think contemporary political conservatism is more or less a disaster. But nor do I think of myself as a liberal or leftist.

MLW-W: I think many readers of these interviews, and not just those in the U.S.,  could make similar comments.   Shifting topics, tell us about your family. 

Lee: I’m married to my wife of six years and we have two cats; I’ve got one older sister who’s married and has two adolescent boys, who all live in the same town where we grew up, as do my parents.

MLW-W:  What do you do for a living?  When not working or blogging, what do you like to do? 

Lee: I work in the editorial department of a large publishing firm. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife, enjoy the outdoors, read books on theology, philosophy, culture, politics, and even the occasional novel, spend time with friends, and enjoy the cultural offerings of the Boston area.

MLW-W: How did you get into publishing? 

Lee: The way I personally got into it was by applying for an entry-level position as an editorial assistant. I had just come out of grad school studying philosophy and had essentially no experience in the corporate sector. While being an editorial assistant isn’t the most glamorous (or high-paying!) job in the world, it provided a stepping-stone to better things.

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

Lee: I’ve been a convinced and practicing Christian since about 2001.

MLW-W: That’s pretty recent to be as well-informed as your blog shows you to be. You must not be kidding about reading theology!  Of what local congregation/parish are you a member? If your local church is part of a denomination, what is it? 

    Lee: I attend the Church of the Advent in Boston (Episcopal), often called the “flagship parish” of Anglo-Catholicism in the

MLW-W:  You mentioned that you have been a practicing Christian only since 2001, but some people come back to the churches of their childhood.  So, were you raised as a cradle Episcopalian? Have you ever been part of a different Christian denomination or tradition? 

Lee: I was baptized in a Reformed church and attended Presbyterian and Methodist churches during my childhood. From about age 15 to 25 I was more or less completely unchurched. My wife and I have been members of several Lutheran (ELCA) congregations since we’ve been married, but we started attending “The Advent” shortly after moving to Boston in the summer of 2006.

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

Lee: Blogging seemed like the ideal way to spare my long-suffering wife my political tirades and inflict them on an unsuspecting world instead. I also initially saw it as a way of “thinking out loud” about various things I’m interested in. One problem I see with blogging is that there’s a temptation to write with more certainty than one genuinely has. What begins as a tentative and exploratory project can quickly become polemical.

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

Lee: I think for me the most important resource provided by my faith has been a certain critical distance over the last six years as we see our nation launching into what our rulers have called a generation-long “war on terror.” I see the role of Christians to be, in part, one of asking tough questions and questioning the assumptions that a lot of modern statecraft takes for granted. Christians of all people should be able to critically examine their own motives and not neatly divide the world into the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness.

MLW-W:  How do you think Christians can foster such critical distance from unthinking nationalism? We know that this kind of national idolatry has been a problem in other times and places in church history, most notoriously during the Nazi period when most German churches and pastors uncritically supported Hitler and turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the sufferings of the Jews. So, what kinds of practices could churches adopt which would help to immunize them against such nationalist fervor and help them be able to pose such critical questions to the nation-state?

Lee: I think Christians need to be reminded that our first allegiance is to God. One way of doing that is to learn the Christian story as the most important story of our lives, rather than the story of any particular political entity. As a liturgical Christian I find the church year with its seasons and feasts to be a good way of learning this story and beginnning to see ourselves in its light.

Another obvious issue is to be better connected with Christians around the world and try to understand how our nation’s policies affect them.

MLW-W: I have been stressing the second part of your answer for some time.  I think U.S. Christians have less contact with Christians around the world than ever before.  It used to be that furloughing missionaries regularly toured local churches in their denomination while on furlough and taught about their host culture (along with drumming up financial support). They also often arranged for representative leaders from their host culture to visit U.S. churches, too. Since most mainline Protestant denominations have been fielding fewer missionaries and instead mostly providing financial support to indigenous leaders in various former mission fields, that contact is much smaller.  I think that one result has been that U. S. Christians usually know only what the mainstream media propaganda tell them about other cultures. Combined with the fact that most Americans are not fluent in any other language than English and many are remarkably uncurious about the world outside our borders, and we have a people that is ripe to believe any nationalist propaganda that comes down the pike.  It’s a very scary situation.

Switching gears, 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? 



Lee: I don’t consider myself a pacifist, though I’m very sympathetic to pacifism and have learned a lot from the writings and examples of pacifists.

MLW-W: Do you consider yourself part of the Just War tradition?  How do you connect JWT to the gospel and to Jesus’ command to be peacemakers? 

Lee: I do consider myself part of the Just War tradition broadly speaking. This is the tradition in which the churches under whose authority I most directly stand are situated, and reason and experience seem to me to corroborate this stance.

Just War theory, as I understand it, is rooted ultimately in the call to love our neighbor. Protecting the innocent from aggression can be, in my view, a legitimate function of the political authorities, just as ensuring social and economic justice is. But the rationale for going to war also delimits it; it’s the commitment to protecting the innocent that gives rise to the limitations JWT puts on the conduct of war.

Jesus’ call to be peacemakers is an important part of the gospel and I see the role of Christians to be to press for nonviolent solutions to problems wherever possible. According to Just War theory war should be a last resort, and I believe our polity has failed to take that seriously enough. So, one of the roles of Christians ought to be to press our leaders not to consider war-making a routine tool of policy.

MLW-W: Are you familiar with the emerging ethic of Just Peacemaking? It attempts to find common ground between pacifists and Just War folk by providing real content to the criterion of “last resort,” spelling out what “resorts” should be tried first. There would still be differences between Just War theorists and pacifists if all efforts failed, but this kind of ethic puts the emphasis on what we should be doing actively for a just peace, rather than on when and if we are ever allowed to make war.  

Lee: I’m not too familiar with this line of thought, but it’s definitely something I’m interested in learning more about.

MLW-W:  Well, in that case, I refer Lee and our readers herehere, and here, as well as here , and here .  Switching gears, again, what led you to join Christian Peace Bloggers?  Since joining have you blogged any posts on peacemaking?  Have they gotten any feedback from readers?

 Lee: CPB seemed to me a good way to bring together bloggers of both pacifist and just war outlooks who share a concern about current U.S. policy, especially in Iraq. I see more uniting than dividing pacifists and JWT-ists with respect to issues like preventive war as well as associated issues connected with civil liberties and the treatment of detainees. I think it’s good to have a critical Christian perspective represented in the blogosphere.  I’ve posted several items on war & peace and have received good feedback from readers, some of it critical, which I like.

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? 

Lee: I’m a long-time fan of Avdat, The Ivy Bush, Leaving Münster, and A Conservative Blog for Peace, (and Levellers too, of course!). I like to read blogs that provide a wide range of viewpoints – theological, political, etc. I think CPB has done a great job bringing together voices from across the spectrum.

MLW-W: Those are some good blogs, by some good Christian thinkers. I’m not sure being a fan of Levellers is “of course,” but thanks, anyway. I agree that the blog-ring has brought together a wide range of voices and approaches to peacemaking and started some interesting cross-fertilization of perspectives. It’s caught on much faster than I had any reason to expect.  MLW-W:  Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them. 

Lee: I’m not much of an activist, but I do try to lend some support to organizations that I think are doing good work. I think one of the more promising recent organizations is the National Religious Coalition Against Torture , which has been spearheaded by theologian George Hunsinger. I happily signed their petition and have tried to use what small influence I have to bring attention to that particular issue. 

MLW-W: That campaign is also one that I have tried to highlight on this blog, along with the recent spin-off organization, Evangelicals for Human Rights and the work of torture-survivor, Sr. Diana Ortiz, and her organization, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International.  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? 

Lee: I wouldn’t necessarily say that my parish is active in “peace issues” as such. We have a wide diversity of political outlooks among parishioners from the ultra-conservative to the ultra-liberal, which is actually part of what I like about it. However, we are involved in the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization which promotes interfaith cooperation in addressing local issues like health care and urban violence. This strikes me as a good thing both in bringing a faith-based perspective to issues faced by the city, but also in fostering cooperation among Christians, Jews, Muslims and others, which seems more necessary than ever.

 MLW-W: What about your denomination or your church’s wider connections to the Church Universal?  Are peace issues a part of those non-local/denominational connections? 

Lee: The leadership of both the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the two bodies I identify most closely with, were vocal in their opposition to the Iraq War. Both are also very involved in overseas humanitarian projects and promoting social justice which, one hopes, will help uproot at least some of the causes of conflict in our world.

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

Lee: I’ve been to Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Italy, and had wonderful experiences in all those places. The Internet has made an unprecedented amount of information from around the world available to anyone with a connection (even if it has also made an unprecedented amount of garbage available). I’d say I get 90% of my news from the Internet in fact. There’s also a plethora of alternative media available online, if you can separate the wheat from the chaff.

MLW-W: What do you think would help folk learn to separate wheat from chaff in either mainstream media or the alternatives available online? 

Lee: This is tricky because most of us have to rely on the accounts of others to know what’s going on – we’re not in a position to be on the ground in Iraq, say. And most people, to be fair, simply don’t have the time to sift through the vast sea of information out there – they’re too busy working, raising their families, etc. For those who have the luxury, I think it’s good to expose yourself to a variety of viewpoints from across the political spectrum as well as to international news. There’s a very noticeable difference between the way certain issues are covered in the U.S. just compared to other Anglophone nations.

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

Lee: Just that I’m thankful for the opportunity to participate in this endeavor.

MLW-W: Thanks for participating. Folks, if you enjoyed this and would find more of Lee’s perspectives, be sure to keep checking out, A Thinking Reed.

April 11, 2007 Posted by | blog-ring, just war theory, peace, sexism | 2 Comments