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

For the Love of God–and Some Theologians!

I want to reflect on the U.S. Supreme Court decisions this week and some other matters at the intersection of faith and politics, but I am very busy right now getting ready to leave town for a few days. Hopefully, I can get to that before the weekend is out.

Meanwhile, I want to draw attention to the series “For the Love of God” in which guest writers at Faith and Theology spoke about why they loved certain theologians and how those theologians impacted their love for God.  The series happened last year, but I only discovered Faith and Theology (and theology blogging) at the tail end of that series.  That discovery was a major catalyst in the evolution of Levellers from a blog that strictly focused on “religious social criticism” in a U.S. context to a broader concern with biblical and theological matters as well.  So I’m glad that Ben Myers has now indexed the series.  Part I is here and Part II is here.  Enjoy.  I hope Ben decides to run a second series since I have an entire list of other theologians who would make good subjects and I would love to write an entry as to why I love the late John Howard Yoder!

June 29, 2007 Posted by | blogs, theology | 3 Comments

Encountering Tradition

I have mentioned that Ben Myers has been hosting a series of guest posts called “Encounters with Tradition” over at his Faith and Theology blog. The series is by and about Christians who have moved from one tradition to another. Well my contribution, “Becoming a Global Baptist,” is now up.  To see all the entries to date, click here.

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, Christianity, testimony, tradition | Comments Off on Encountering Tradition

Blogosphere Round-Up

If you liked the theological confessions meme, Ben Myers is keeping a running tab on the spread here.  Guy Davies, the Welsh Calvinistic Baptist “Exiled Preacher” has been interviewing Christian bloggers and has now interviewed Ben Myers. Check it out.  Actually, most of the interviews in his series have been good, especially the ones on Byron Smith, Michael Bird, and Cynthia Nielsen–very amusing and informative, too. (I, therefore, forgive Guy for letting his “theological monkey,” David Skye, refer to me as “stroppy bearded.”)

My fellow Baptists know that we are experts at dividing and fighting, and amateurs at reaching out to each other. Nevertheless, the American Baptist Churches, USA and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are giving it a try this week. The ABC’s Bi-enniel meeting and the CBF’s annual General Assembly are both being held in Washington, D.C. this week–and these two Baptist denominations are holding several joint worship services. How good and pleasant it is when sisters and brothers dwell together in unity.  Big Daddy Weave (Aaron Weaver) is blogging much of the CBF itinerary on his blog, including some of the joint services.  This year will be the first time in the CBF’s young history when its General Assembly will be presided over by an African-American, Rev. Dr. Emmanuel McCall, the current CBF Moderator (and, once upon a time, the SBC’s person in charge of “Black Church Relations”).  McCall is also an adjunct professor at the CBF-related McAfee School of Theology (Mercer University) and the recently retired founding pastor of Christian Fellowship BC in Atlanta, which was founded deliberately to be a black majority open congregation affiliated with both National Baptists and the CBF. 

The Supreme Court of the U.S. handed down several decisions this week restricting student free speech, giving a victory to government sponsored aid to religion (via claiming that taxpaying citizens had no legal standing to sue over the matter!), and overturned a form of campaign finance reform by saying that “issue ads” by independent advocacy groups could run up through elections.  I will try to make time to comment on these in the near future, but Melissa Rogers has blogged extensively on the “faith based initiatives” decision and its church-state implications.

Bruce Prescott is “live blogging” the “Ministers and Politics: How to be Political without Being Partisan” Conference sponsored by the Baptist Center for Ethics in connection to the CBF and ABC meetings.  Check out his summaries of the messages of Melissa Rogers, Tony Campolo, Greg Boyd, and Jim Wallis.  I hope their entire speeches will be available online, soon.

Bob Cornwall has passed on useful insights from Church World Service about immigration reform from a Christian viewpoint.  Read them and then contact your senators (or, if you are not American but have friends in the U.S., pass this on to them!) since if we do not get a bill through this week, the issue will die until at least 2009, which is quite unjust.

Thom Stark has been blogging on Torture and the Eucharist. Brilliant and compelling, but not for the squeamish.

All for now, gentle readers.

June 27, 2007 Posted by | blogs | 1 Comment

Theological Confessions Meme

As started here, there is now a theological confessions meme. I confess that I hesitated to play because, just as some of the others have phrased their “confessions” in ways that might make some folk angry, so my own contribution is likely to ruffle feathers–and I do that enough anyway.  But, here goes anyway.

I confess that Dispensationalists in general, and “Christian Zionists” in particular, get on my LAST nerve! In the interests of fraternal correction and Middle East peacemaking, I should strive gently to show disciples of Hagee & Co. where they have misunderstood the Election of Israel in God’s economy. Instead,  what I want to do is throw something at them–and I have to restrain myself with great exertion!

I confess, despite the above, that I believe the “parting of the ways” (J.D.G. Dunn’s phrase) between synagogue and church was the greatest tragedy in church history, dwarfing even the Constantinian warping of the church into the chaplain of imperial power.  Any theology, and any ecclesiology, which fails to reckon thoroughly with God’s continued covenant loyalty to the Jewish people is deeply, deeply, flawed.

I confess, though I have learned many things from the late Hans Frei, I find him to have one of the most turgid writing styles in late modern theology. He constantly puts me to sleep.

I confess that before last year, I never heard of John Piper, Rick Warren, or Max Lucado.  Now that I have, I don’t think I was missing anything.

 I confess that if double predestination turns out to be true, and some people have been “elected to damnation” from eternity, I will be very, very angry with God.

I confess that I often prefer to read science fiction and detective novels when I should be reading biblical studies, ethics, and theology.

I confess I think my aesthetic sensitivities are underdeveloped (my eyes glaze over when someone mentions “theology and the arts”) and this is one of the reasons I find it difficult to grasp people like Hans Urs von Balthasar.

I confess that, after wrestling with the issues and my own homophobia for over a decade and a half, I stand with the revisionists on the church’s sexual theology, vis-a-vis sexual minorities.  Although I am still strongly committed to an ethic of either celibacy or monogamy, I now(for several years, actually) support monogamous marriages for same-sex couples, too. Lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift and I see no evidence that it is automatically granted to all gay or lesbian Christians and LESS evidence that sexual orientation can be “cured.”  If this leads to charges of “depravity” by Jim West or wider charges of defection from biblical authority, and if it leads (as I have evidence it already has) to lost job opportunities in church-related posts–so be it. My gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered sisters and brothers have to endure far more just to be given permission to live without hiding.

I confess to being extremely tired of hearing Christian theologians (usually male; often, but not always, evangelical) dismiss all feminist theology by flippantly referring to Mary Daly or Rosemary Radford Reuther (and I have learned from the latter), without ever seriously wrestling with or even reading the likes of Letty Russell, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Sarah Coakely, Elizabeth Moltmann-Wendel, Phyllis Trible, Mercy Amba Odoyuye, Elsa Tamez, etc.  No one of either gender is beyond critique, but the major currents of feminist (womanist, mujerista, etc.) theologies should be important dialogue partners to all serious theologians, today.

I confess that I find it very disheartening that so many theological bloggers, often with excellent theological educations, are so dismissive of, or even ignorant of, the thought of major liberation theologians–from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and from marginalized populations in Europe and North America. 

I confess that although I know that correcting heresy is an important task of theology, I fear authoritarian heretic hunters far more than I fear liberals and heretics.

I confess that I have weak electronic skills. I never owned a computer until it was time to write my Ph.D. dissertation (making do on an electric typewriter before then) and used it only as a glorified wordprocessor until the dissertation was finished. I have never owned a cell phone, blackberry, video game, etc.  I don’t know what a “podcast” is.  But the new i-phone looks so cool, it may awaken the long-buried techno-geek within.

Many of the people I love and trust the most from my church are enamored of communal living on a subsistence farm.  People I admire like Wendell Berry, Dorothy Day, and Clarence Jordan, shared this utopian dream of small farms as ideal church communities.  I confess that this sounds like hell to me. I am a confirmed urbanite.[NOTE: This is not to disrespect either farmers or my friends with dreams of communal farming. I worked my grandparents’ farm in summers. I have great respect for farmers–I just don’t want to BE one.  I do think that peak oil and global warming will spell the end of SUBURBS–and good riddance.]

I confess that despite my love for the liturgical richness of Orthodox, Catholic, and Anglican worship, my abhorrence for authoritarian heirarchies would keep from ever joining those communions even if I did not feel the commitment I do toward Free Church ecclesiology.

I confess that although I agree with Barth in preferring Mozart to Bach, I love jazz, blues, and Southern rock even more.  The Reign of God had better have some place to get funky.

I confess that one reason I am so very adamant in insisting on a BODILY resurrection (for both Christ and believers) is that I find it quite impossible to believe in disembodied souls.  The Christian Hope is not for “spiritual afterlife” or “heaven when we die,” but for Resurrection, for the New/Renewed heavens and earth in the fullness of God’s Revolution. One reason I simply cannot get behind “spiritual resurrection” views (Bultmann’s or Willie Marxen’s, Crossan’s or Borg’s, etc.) is that I find that HARDER to believe than bodily resurrection (though the latter is also a difficult conviction to sustain in a world where “what’s dead stays that way”). If all I were offered was a spiritual resurrection, I couldn’t be a Christian at all.

I confess that I am a personalist and existentialist (but preferring Kierkegaard, Dostoyevski, and Camus to Sartre or Heidegger or Tillich). If there is any major heresy to which I am constantly tempted, it is humanism.

I confess I find Cornel West more helpful than John Milbank, Jeff Stout more helpful than Stanley Hauerwas, Paul Ricoeur more helpful than Hans Frei or George Lindbeck, Seyla Benhabib, Iris Marion Young, and Michael Walzer, more helpful than John Rawls on the one hand or Mary Ann Glendon on the other.

I confess I hope the universalists are right and eventually all are saved and all is redeemed.  But I cannot bring myself to actually commit to such a view because my sense of impending JUDGMENT is so real. Thomas Jefferson once remarked (thinking of slavery–including his own inability to free his slaves on his own) that he trembled for his nation when he remembered that God is just.  I feel that way not only about my nation, but about the Church, especially the evangelical churches of the U.S.–many of whom are still cheerleading war and torture, have rejected the Sermon on the Mount, could care less about the poor, neglect God’s good Creation, foster hatred for Muslims, etc.  I think on these things and I hear God saying in the voice of Amos, “the Day of the Lord will be for you darkness and not light.”

I confess that I have heard Carl F. H. Henry preach twice and both times I was “underwhelmed.”

I confess to being clueless as to what the “Emerging Church” movement is about.  Every time I read an explanation, it seems fuzzier than before.  I fear that it is “rootless,” but I don’t want to pass judgment without understanding.  But the “Friends of Emerging” take the prize for vague descriptions.

I confess I am sometimes envious of the success of other theologians when my own “career” has only resulted in a few small publications and the loss of teaching posts.  This envy is sinful, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t exist.

I confess that I think far too many people read John Howard Yoder through the lenses provided by Stanley Hauerwas and I believe this to be a mistake.  Hauerwas is important, but he differs with Yoder on many points and, at each of those points, I think Yoder was right and Hauerwas is wrong.

I confess that, despite my commitment to pacifism, I love martial arts movies and the James Bond films–despite their thorough participation in the “myth of redemptive violence.”

Well, this could go on forever, so I’ll stop now.

June 26, 2007 Posted by | theology | 17 Comments

R.I.P. Brevard S. Childs (1924-2007)

childs.jpgI saw the sad news last night from both Jim West and Ben Myers that Brevard S. Childs (1924-2007), one of the most important Old Testament scholars the U.S. has ever produced, died Saturday.   I waited until I could find out more than just that stark notification of his death, however, before posting this brief tribute.  Dr. Childs apparently died Saturday afternoon from complications from an injury sustained in a fall in his home. He was 83.

A brief obituary is on the website of Yale Divinity School here.  Brevard Childs, Stirling Professor of Divinity at YDS from 1958-1999 was a major shaping force in post-WWII approaches to Old Testament study, especially insisting that the Hebrew Scriptures be studied by Christians as the Old Testament, a vital part of Christian Scripture.  I was only influenced by Childs second hand, both through his writings and because he had been THE most influential teacher of my teacher, Pamela J. Scalise.   To read Childs’ work was, for me, to understand viscerally that critical biblical study did NOT stand in tension with a commitment to the Church’s canon (although Childs never offered any substantive argument for the Protestant canon over the Catholic canon or the Orthodox canon). He would review the entire modern history of biblical interpretation in his commentary, but then ask the all-important question of what it meant to interpret a particular book or passage in canonical context, that is, as part of the received text that the Church confesses as Scripture, including what it’s placing (e.g., between which books) by later editors in the shape of the canon might mean for how we should read this final version of the text.

Childs’ focus on the final version of the canonical text had few followers among biblical scholars (others with a “canonical focus” like James A. Sanders or Rolf Rendtorff had different foci, with Sanders concentrating on the process by which a text became part of the canon–or various canons), but it probably did inadvertantly lead to many biblical scholars shifting from an exclusive concentration on reconstructing historical events behind the biblical text and paying more attention to the final texts themselves–though most others did this through the tools of literary theory.  Other Old Testament theologians concerned seriously with the texts as Scripture, such as Walter Brueggemann or even the evangelical Anglican John Goldingay, were more comfortable focusing on the diversity of the texts and the tensions between their various perspectives, whereas Childs’ focus was on reading the Scriptures as a unified whole. Some evangelical theologians, such as Charles J. Scalise, found Childs’ work to be a helpful bridge from biblical scholarship to doctrinal theology.

Dr. Childs’ unexpected death is a loss not only to the world of academic scholarship, but also to the church–and the church’s attempts to read the Old Testament as Scripture and shape its life together accordingly.

June 25, 2007 Posted by | Biblical exegesis, Hebrew Bible/O.T., Obituaries | Comments Off on R.I.P. Brevard S. Childs (1924-2007)

Peace Blogger Interview #8: Pam Garrud

pamgarrud.jpgWelcome to the latest Peace Blogger interview. To see previous entries in this series, click 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, & 7.

 Up this time is Pam Garrud, born and raised in the U.S., but living for the last 18 years in the United Kingdom where she has had a successful career in the pensions industry. Now she is a probationer Methodist minister who runs two blogs, Pam BG’s Blog, and Pam BG’s Book Blog. Welcome to the Peace Blogger interview, Pam.  

MLW-W:  Tell us something about yourself? 

Pam:  I would describe myself as a trainee minister, a wife, a friend and a daughter.  Being a new minister for only several  months, I feel that the ‘trainee’ identity is stronger than the ‘minister’ identity at the moment! 

MLW-W: I can relate.  Tell us about your immediate family.  

 Pam:  My immediate family is only my husband and me;  we were married in our mid 30s and have not had children.  I have grown nieces and nephews in the UK and a mother, father, sister and brother in the Midwest of the US, my place of origin. 

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

Pam:  Since September 2006, I am a full-time Methodist minister.  I sing in a choral society and I enjoy singing very much.  I also enjoy reading, films and traveling, but I feel that I don’t get to do any of these too often at the moment! 

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

 Pam:  I don’t think I can name the date and the time that I chose to follow Jesus.  I was born into the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, a strict and non-mainstream version of Lutheranism and I attended Lutheran School from age 5 to age 11.  Certainly during that time, I ‘accepted Jesus’, although ‘decision theology’ is not part of Lutheran thinking.  I DID reject Christianity for awhile in my young adulthood, but my ‘coming back’ wasn’t so much a ‘coming back to God’ as an understanding that the God who revealed himself to me in prayer was actually the God of the Christian tradition.  The image I’d got growing up of the Christian god was something like ‘God hates you but he has to send you to heaven because Jesus died for your sins.’  Gradually, I understood that this image was inaccurate in terms of Christian teaching. 

MLW-W: Was the controversy over biblical inerrancy, which later split the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (and the exiled non-inerrantists became the catalyst for the merger of several Lutheran denominations into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ), a part of your experience as a child?

 Pam: My experience as a teenager was the theological debates around fairly hard-core fundamentalism and whether or not women could become ministers.  My congregation was very conservative in this regard.  That congregation is still Missouri Synod and the senior pastor is the same person who was pastor when I was a child!

 MLW-W: So, now you are a probationer Methodist minister. Tell us about the church you serve.  

Pam: British Methodist ministers are appointed to ‘Circuits’ consisting of a number of churches.  My Circuit has three ministers and twelve churches;  I serve four churches.  British Methodism is in communion with the United Methodist Church but we are an entirely separate denomination.  (I say this because most other European Methodist churches belong to the UMC.)

 MLW-W: Okay, for those not “in the know,” tell us something about the differences between British Methodists and United Methodists? Methodism began in Britain in the 18th C., out of the revivals led by John and Charles Wesley, who were Anglican priests, right?   

Pam: This is a very historical question.  John Wesley sent Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke to America in the 1780s.  They didn’t have email back  then! 🙂  Methodism developed separately on both sides of The Pond – splitting and uniting at various points in each country.  Basically, the UMC and the British Methodist Church are in communion but separate denominations in terms of policy and governance. 

Theologically, Wesley  gave the ‘Articles of Religion’ to the American Methodists; this was an amended form of the Anglican 39 Articles. The British Methodist Church never had the Articles of Religion.  We also have a different form of church      governance.  The British Methodists have never had bishops.  

 MLW-W: Have you spent time in any other Christian denominations? 

 Pam: I have only been a Methodist for 7 years!  I was raised conservative Lutheran, as I said, and I have attended churches belonging to the United Reformed Church (URC) and the Anglican Church in the UK.

 MLW-W: In coming back to church, you attended Anglican and URC congregations. What drew you to Methodism?  How did you, in a successful career, discern a call to become a Methodist minister?

 Pam: I’m not really a ‘denominationalist’ and the churches I attended were mainly because they were in my neighbourhood.  However, I did become Methodist because, after moving house, my parish Anglican church turned out to be a very conservative evangelical church.  I tried to stick with it for a couple of years and then complained to a Methodist friend who said ‘Why don’t you try a Methodist church?  Your beliefs are very similar to what I grew up with.’  And I did.  I stayed because I felt that Methodism was what I’d been looking for.  I’m the first to recognise that no institution is perfect and, goodness knows, we have our problems.  But Arminian theology is exactly what I believe. I like the way the British Methodist church is governed because it’s largely democratic and I like the pragmatic approach toward worship and spirituality.

  I always say that the way I discerned my call to ministry was by pushing one door to see if it opens, then pushing the next, then pushing the next.  The way the British Methodist Church enabled me to do that was unique.  I’d already suspected that I was called to ministry before leaving the Anglican church.  Now, the Anglican church in the UK is pretty mainstream, but there were a lot of people in that particular congregation who believed that that bible forbids women to preach.  Furthermore, the bishop of that diocese belonged to ‘Forward in Faith’, the Anglo-Catholic stream of Anglicanism that doesn’t believe in the ordination of women on grounds of tradition.  In order to go forward for ministry in that environment, I would have had to be very determined and absolutely certain of my call.  But I wasn’t actually so certain that I was ready to go forward in an unsupportive environment.  Because all candidates for ministry in the British Methodist Church have to be trained and accredited as Local Preachers (lay preachers) before proceeding toward ministry, I was able to test my calling gradually.  Although being a minister is quite different from being a lay preacher!  I joined the Methodist Church in the month of October and began training as a Local Preacher the following March.

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

Pam:I’ve only just come up to my first year in blogging.  Since about 2000, I’ve participated in Christian discussion groups.  First on the Usenet group ‘uk.religion.christian’ and then on Beliefnet’s Methodist groups and latterly on Ship of Fools.  I’d noticed the blogging phenomenon during the last five years but it seemed uninteresting to me compared to the interactions on the discussion groups.  One day I finally decided to take the plunge into blogging;  I’m not sure I had any specific reason other than that there seemed to be a growing blogging community. 

MLW-W: You also have a book blog and the books you have explored there are theological works–so far.  What has this experience been like? 

Pam:  I think it probably will remain a blog about theology books.  What’s the experience like?  It’s helped me to make sure I know the contents of the books.  It’s easy to read a book and forget bits of it, but doing the blog means I have to know the content.  It also feels like pressure!  For instance, I’ve finished reading Stephen Sykes’ ‘The Story of Atonement’, but I’ve only blogged chapters 1 and 2. 

 MLW-W: Where did you get your theological training? A Methodist seminary, university department of religion, or, a seminary/theological college attached to a university? What was that experience like for you?  Were issues of peace and justice part of your ministerial formation? 

 Pam: I went to Wesley House, Cambridge.  I think ‘seminary/theological college attached to a university’ is the most accurate description.  We don’t get to choose where we go.  The church pays for our training and tells us what to study and which college to attend.  Peace and justice issues were not a part of the ministerial formation.  That said, you need to understand that ‘justice issues’ (if not ‘peace’ per se) are so firmly a part of our tradition that people tend to take it for granted.  We will probably all tell you that we don’t do as much as we feel we ought to do to promote justice;  but I doubt that many people would argue that justice has nothing to do with Christianity. Methodists were a significant force in the founding of the British Labour party.  

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

 Pam:I don’t consider ‘peace’ as being a special issue.  For me, ‘peace’ is grounded in the great commandment and the central tenet of Christianity of self-giving (agape) love   If forgiveness is at the heart of our relationship with God, then I think that it must also necessarily be at the heart of our own discipleship.  I don’t understand how I could say ‘God forgave me, but there isn’t anything particularly important about the idea of forgiveness apart from my own personal salvation.’  But forgiveness and peacemaking can be difficult things. 

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? 

 Pam:I consider myself a pacifist but I do not have academic grounding in either peacemaking or Just War theory.  Reading Chris Baker’s views on Just War, I’m actually fairly close to his view but I want to step over the line and say that when we make the understandably hard decision to defend those we love, we must accept that we are sinning.   I was not raised a pacifist.  In my upbringing in the American MidWest during the 1960s and 1970s, ‘justice’ was considered more important than forgiveness and [that view of]justice required retribution in order to be satisfied. 

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? Pam: Someone asked me to join. J [MLW-W: I asked Pam to join soon after forming the blog-ring. At that early date, we had no female voices and I had already read Pam enough to know she was committed to nonviolence and deeply influenced by the writings of Rene Girard.] I did try blogging on why I’d joined Peacebloggers, but it got no reaction.  

 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?

 Pam:  I read your blog regularly and Chris Baker’s blog regularly.  I confess that I’ve not really used the blog ring to look for other peace-bloggers.  I tend to read blogs which resonate with me. 

MLW-W:  Outside of blogging, do you participate in any other peace-related activities or organizations? If so, tell us about them.

 Pam: As a result of having been asked to join the Peace Bloggers ring, I decided to join the Methodist Peace Fellowship.  I’m not convinced, though, that ‘peace’ is my central and primary calling. 

MLW-W: Since joining the Methodist Peace Fellowship, have you had any meetings or time to form any views of its strength/weaknesses? (Since pastoring leaves you with so much “free time.” 🙂 )  In the U.S., the MPF is defunct, sadly, although another group, Methodists United for Peace with Justice tries to unite all the Wesleyan groups in the U.S. for peacemaking–but most United Methodists seem completely unaware of it.  Peacemaking and nonviolence are, however, high on the agenda of the Methodist Federation for Social Action.  Again, I am not sure how widespread awareness is of these groups in United Methodist circles–though once they were very strong.  So, is the MPF a strong presence in British Methodism? Do you have the feeling that most of your congregation would know what you meant if you said you were an MPF member?

 Pam: I confess that I’ve not really got involved yet.  I don’t know if there are any local meetings.  The Methodist Peace fellowship is part of the larger, ecumenical group, The Fellowship of Reconciliation.  I don’t think most individuals in my congregations would know what it was.  [Nota Bene: In Britain and much of Europe, the Fellowship of Reconciliation is an ecumenical, but specifically Christian, peace organization. The International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR) and the U.S. branch, however, are interfaith organizations, as is the case for nations in which Christianity is a minority religion. Founded in 1914, at the outset of WWI, the branches of IFOR have been a major force for faith-based pacifism and nonviolence.] 

 MLW-W: Well, you may have already answered this, but, 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? 

Pam:  One of my congregations takes peace-issues seriously and sees them as central and primary to being a Christian – in much the same way that I do.  Another one of my congregations has more of a problem with pacifism.  In the UK, one is still up against the legacy of World War II and the feeling that being a pacifist is somehow trampling on the sacrifices that grandparents and great-grandparents made for the country;  and these were real sacrifices. 

 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? 

 Pam: The Methodist Church of Great Britain has made a number of statements on the UK’s involvement in Iraq. However, as a denomination it does not have a pacifist agenda. 

MLW-W: What of ecumenical peace efforts?  The U.S. churches (due to the media prominence of the Religious Right) are widely perceived as warlike and bloodthirsty.  British society has become very secularized,but are Christians perceived as concerned for justice seeking and peacemaking or not? If not, what could be done to change that perception? 

Pam: I could be wrong, but I think that most mainstream churches here would be seen as being ‘for’ justice and peace.  I think we’d be viewed as largely ineffectual by secular society, but I think we’d be viewed as being ‘for’ these things.  For instance, here is a link to statements made about Iraq in 2003 by the denominations belonging to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland: http://www.ctbi.org.uk/intaff/iraq/index.htm .

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

 Pam: Well, I was born in the US and have been living in the UK for 18 years;  I also lived in Belgium for two years in the late 1980s.  I don’t think I stay as informed about global events as I ought to, but I try to look at the websites of different newspapers as well as watching mainstream television news (BBC and ITV).

MLW-W: Thanks for joining us Pam. I’ll continue to read your blog and follow your journey.

June 23, 2007 Posted by | blog-ring, Christianity, nonviolence, peacemaking | 4 Comments

School of Assassins Survives–Barely

The campaign to close the School of the Americas/WHINSEC, the notorious “school of assassins” in Ft. Benning, GA where U.S. military and intelligence services train Latin American torturers and death squads, came closer than ever yesterday.  But we still fell six votes short of success.  At 11:52 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time) Wednesday night, 206 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the McGovern/Lewis amendment to defund SOA/WHINSEC. One cowardly Democrat voted “present.”  12 Democrats and 7 Republicans failed to vote for one reason or another. And, alas, 214 Representatives (172 Republicans and 42 Democrats) voted against the amendment, that is, voted to continue funding SOA/WHINSEC, America’s own tax-supported “terrorist training school.”  214 elected U.S. Representatives failed America and the world, failed to stand up for human rights, justice, and democracy.  214 Congresspersons voted to keep funding our own version of state-sponsored terrorism–a hypocrisy that tells the entire world that our vaunted claims to wage “war on terrorism” and desire to spread democracy is a lie. 

U.S. citizens, to see how your Congressperson voted and either thank them or rebuke them, click here.  Again, I am extremely happy that my freshman Representative, John Yarmuth (D-KY) not only voted to defund the SOA/WHINSEC, but was one of 111 co-sponsors–the most the campaign to close SOA has ever had.  I will email him today and thank him and encourage him to continue in this fashion. I also plan to email each of the 23 Republicans who voted to defund SOA/WHINSEC since their votes took extra courage.

Now, we need to make closing SOA/WHINSEC a test question for every presidential candidate–a test of how serious they are about defending human rights and the rule of law.

Now, we regroup and reorganize during the summer Congressional recess. We meet with Representatives and Senators at their home offices and prepare to reintroduce legislation to close the School of Assassins in the Fall.  Every Fall, thousands of protesters come to Ft. Benning and protest the SOA–with hundreds of arrests for civil disobedience.  But, in my view, this is not enough. The crowds outside Ft. Benning are “old news” to the media.  Simultaneously, we need to have protests and civil disobedience at the offices of every Representative who voted to continue the funding–we need the issue to be LOCAL news in every Congressional district in the nation.

We WILL close the SOA–and the Guantanemo Bay Gulag, and the secret U.S. prisons scattered around Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and central Asia. We will restore Habeas corpus. We will end torture.  We will reverse the “Military Commissions Act.”  UPDATE: We will close the immigration “detention centers” in the U.S. (HT: Jeff Noble, who gives this link: http://subtopia.blogspot.com/2007/02/circus-of-detention.html ).

Will any of this usher in the Kingdom of God? Of course not.  But these steps toward justice do bear witness to the values of God’s Rule.  These penultimate goods prepare the way for the merciful coming of the Lord, as Bonhoeffer said.  Failure to enact such limited, human, justice; failure to prepare the way; does not prevent the Lord’s coming–but then that coming is in judgment and not mercy.  We are already reaping in terrorism and war, the seeds we have sewn of injustice and violence.  The SOA is a multiplying seed of injustice, violence, and oppression.  Sewing the wind, ensures reaping the whirlwind.  Closing the SOA sews seeds of justice and in due season that, too, will reap its rewards.

The School of Assassins is doomed. It’s time is near. We will never give up.  It stands there in Ft. Benning as the Berlin Wall stood early in 1989–unaware of how soon it was coming down brick by brick.  And great will be the fall of it.

June 22, 2007 Posted by | economic justice, human rights. | 4 Comments

This Day in Church History: Council of Ephesus; Edwards Fired

22 June 431  The Council of Ephesus (The Third Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church) opens. It will condemn “Nestorianism,” the belief that Jesus Christ was two separate persons (rather than one person in two natures). Church historians have cast doubt as to whether or not Nestorius himself really believed the heresy named after him or whether he was simply a very poor writer!

22 June 1750 Jonathan Edwards, a Congregationalist minister in Colonial New England, is dismissed from his prominent pulpit for attempting to restore the concept of church discipline and church of visible saints.  Edwards, together with his young bride, Sarah Pierpont Edwards, became missionaries to the Native Americans after this dismissal.  He would go on to become THE theologian of the Great Awakening (inventing sociology of religion by his careful descriptions and analyses of the phenomena associated with religious revival) and the first great American theologian.  Failures and firings can be opportunities instead of dead ends.

June 22, 2007 Posted by | church history | Comments Off on This Day in Church History: Council of Ephesus; Edwards Fired

Job Opening: General Secretary of the National Council of Churches

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (commonly called the “National Council of Churches” or NCC) has begun a nationwide search for a new General Secretary to replace retiring Gen. Sec., Rev. Robert “Bob” Edgar, a United Methodist minister and former U.S. Representative from eastern Pennsylania (1975-1987) who has been elected president of Common Cause, the citizens’ advocacy group.  Although NCC Presidents serve 2 year terms, the General Secretary is the head of the day-to-day workings of this ecumenical organization representing 35 different Christian communions or denominations, both Protestant and Eastern Orthodox.

To see the qualifications for the post, nominate someone, or apply yourself, click here.  To see the member denominations of the NCC, click here.  To read the NCC’s statement of faith, which must be thoroughly Christian yet broad enough to be ecumenically inclusive, click here

June 21, 2007 Posted by | ecumenism | 1 Comment

This Day in Church History: Birth of Reinhold Niebuhr

niebuhrr.gifKarl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), called “Reinhold” or (by friends, family, and some students) “Reinie,” was born 21 June 1892 in Wright City, Missouri.  The son of German immigrants, Reinie’s father, Gustav Niebuhr, was a leading minister in a small ethnic/immigrant denomination called the German Evangelical Synod which, shaped by the Heidelberg Catechism, united German Lutheran and German Reformed Protestantism. (In 1934 the German Evangelical Synod merged with the Reformed Church in the U.S., which also used the Heidelberg Catechism and had immigrant roots from Germany and Switzerland, to become the Evangelical and Reformed Church. In 1957, the E and R Church merged with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ, just 50 years old this year.  The Niebuhr family stuck with its denomination through all these ecumenical mergers.)

Reinie was born into an amazing family that produced church leaders.  Among the latter, not only was his father Gustav a minister, but his mother, Lydia Hosto Niebuhr, served as unpaid, de facto  co-pastor to her husband and, later, to Reinie during his extended bachelorhood. Reinie’s sister, Hulda Niebuhr, became one of the earliest ministers of education in American congregational life and served as Professor of Religious Education at McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago.  Reinie’s younger brother, Helmut Richard Niebuhr, became a famous theologian, philosopher, and ethicist at Yale University Divinity School.  When Reinie finally married, his wife, an Englishwoman (and one of the earliest women theologians from the Church of England) many years younger named Ursula Keppel-Compton, became Chair of the Department of Religion, Barnard College, although her own career was cut short when Reinie suffered a stroke. Reinie’s nephew (H. Richard’s son), Richard Reinhold Niebuhr, is Hollis Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard Divinity School and an expert in the theology of Schleiermacher.  (Harvard Divinity School has just announced the creation of a new Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Chair of Divinity whose occupants are expected to combine expertise in contemporary Christianity, ethics, and society.) H. Richard’s grandson, Gustav Niebuhr, is the religion reporter for the New York Times, combining the family’s church-related interests with the journalistic vocation of Reinie’s older brother, Walter.

Reinhold Niebuhr’s education showed the hardships of a Midwestern immigrant boy. Gustav encouraged education, but the family struggled financially.  Reinie’s English was too bad for him to attend public schools, so he went to a boarding school run by his denomination.  Then he went to Elmhurst College in Illinois, a denominational school. Today, Elmhurst is considered a very high quality church-related liberal arts college, but when Reinie attended it was little more than a junior college. He then went to Eden Theological Seminary, another denominational seminary that, at the time, did not even offer a degree program. He did well academically and managed to win admission to Yale Divinity School, but his first year there was probationary because of his poor English and because Elmhurst had left him several credits short of Yale’s normal admission standards.  Although his early struggles with English gave Reinie initial troubles, his fluency in German quickly allowed him to catch and surpass his classmates in reading contemporary German theology.

After an early career as a politically-involved “Social Gospel” style pastor in Detroit, Niebuhr’s first book, Moral Man and Immoral Society, won him an appointment as Professor of Applied Christianity and Social Ethics, at Union Theological Seminary in New York. This was a presidential appointment that was resented by other faculty members since Reinie had no Ph.D. and his published work was considered “unscholarly.” Reinie referred to himself as a “mongrel among purebreeds” at Union.

Despite these inauspicious beginnings, Reinhold Niebuhr would become the most influential American theologian of the 20th C., writing over 20 books, at least 1,500 articles, founding at least 2 journals, and preaching in countless pulpits across the United States.  In 1939, he delivered Scotland’s prestigious Gifford Lectures, which were published as The Nature and Destiny of Man (2 vols. 1941, 1943), his most important work.  He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. Today, Elmhurst College has a Niebuhr Center and there are endowed chairs of Christian ethics named for Reinhold at both Eden Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary of New York.

Niebuhr’s “Christian Realism” attempted to recast the Social Gospel into a view of human nature and of sin and history more informed by Augustine, Luther, and Calvin than the optimistic versions of the Social Gospel were.  Initially a liberal pacifist, Niebuhr’s experience in helping unions struggle in Detroit, and also working for racial progress, made him appreciate Marxist social analysis and the need for organized power.  The rise of fascism in Europe led Niebuhr to break dramatically with pacifism and become the most influential apologist for Christian non-pacifism, but his later criticisms of post-war imperialism (Britain in India, France in Algeria, the U.S. in Vietnam, etc.) showed Niebuhr’s strong understanding of the limits of military power to shape history.  Niebuhr believed that human sin would keep Christians from ever following Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount–which would remain as a judgment on all our efforts.  Although I think he failed to understand the power of active nonviolence and that his view of history was not open enough to the ongoing work of God in the world, I always think my fellow pacifists need to read Niebuhr and learn from him. Optimistic pacifists (rather than ones grounded in biblical hope) are too easily “burned out.”

Niebuhr’s flaws and limitations are many, but his thought should not be quickly neglected.

June 21, 2007 Posted by | church history, theology | 6 Comments