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

What Series Should I Tackle?

Okay, Gentle Readers, here’s your chance to influence the direction of this blog in the near future.  I am considering several different options for a series of posts. I can’t do them all with the time I have available. I might do more than one if there seems to be interest. Even anonymous people get to vote, though I take people who sign their names more seriously. So you get to help me decide which would be more helpful:

  1. Creation, Evolution, and “Intelligent Design”  I’d explain the theological doctrine of creation and why it is perfectly compatible with evolutionary biology and geology. I’d explain what makes a theory scientific and why “Intelligent Design” is not a scientific theory and, therefore, should not be taught in science classrooms–although it would be perfectly fine as an alternative in a comparative religions course or a philosophy course. 
  2. Ethics and Theology  Taking back up my brief series on Theology as a Craft, this would explain the relationship of Christian ethics and theology.
  3. Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.  My 2 posts on baptism, stemming from reflections on my oldest daughter, Molly’s recent baptism, have led to a controversy on another blog, with believers’ baptism being challenged both by a priest in the Independent Catholic movement (as a form of heretical “rebaptism”), and by a former Quaker.  Following the lead of Disciples’ blogger, Bob Cornwall, I thought I might take the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order document Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry and exposit and critique each section from a Believers’ Church perspective, beginning with baptism.  It’s not meant to be Anti-BEM per se, however, as the document is a fine piece of ecumenical theology–striving for consensus.  I will state my affirmations wherever I can and my reservations only where I must.  When I first read it, I was surprised to find that I had more objections in the “ministry” section than the other two put together–stemming from my strong belief in the priesthood of all believers.
  4. Ecological Virtues: What skills, habits, and practices should characterize individuals, congregations, and societies in an age of ecological crises?
  5. Champions of Nonviolence:  Profiling heroes/heroines of nonviolent struggles from different cultures, contexts, and eras.
  6. Exploring the Baptist Vision:  In 2009 the Baptist movement of which I am a part (a section of the larger “small b” “baptist” or Believers’ Church or Free Church movement) turns 400 if we date things to the transformation of John Smyth’s exiled congregation in Amsterdam from a Separatist to a Baptist congregation in 1609. (Since Smyth and most of this congregation soon merged with the Waterlander Mennonites, some would postpone the birth of Baptists per se to 1611, when Smyth’s protoge, Thomas Helwys, took a few that refused to merge with the Mennonites and founded the first Baptist congregation on English soil at Spitalfields, outside London.) This series would explore what has been most distinctive about Baptists over the centuries and ask what, in a post-modern, ecumenical, (post-denominational?) age is still worth preserving and what needs abandoning or modification or re-thinking.
  7. Christians and Education: Exploring contributions and controversies.  Especially would focus on the role of churches in the founding of universities.

Or you can suggest another topic, but if you feel strongly about it and I don’t–then get your own blog. 🙂  Any series will doubtless be interrupted by comments on events large and small or what pleases or irritates me on any given day.


October 7, 2007 - Posted by | blogs


  1. I vote for creation and Intelligent Design (which, by the way, should be taught in public schools alongside evolution, but I’ll hear you out if you decide to pursue this topic).

    Comment by James Pate | October 7, 2007

  2. I vote for #1 or #3 (or both!). I’m pretty sure I’ll agree with everything you write concerning ID and evolution, but I think we might have more to discuss regarding baptism. Both topics are of interest to me (not that the others aren’t).

    Comment by D. W. Congdon | October 7, 2007

  3. I vote for #5 and #6

    Comment by Tauratinzwe | October 7, 2007

  4. Oooh ooh ooh, ‘Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry’ definitely.

    Comment by Aric Clark | October 7, 2007

  5. I was sort of hoping that you’d eventually finish off your series on GLBT inclusion in the church. That being said, I vote for “Exploring the Baptist Vision.”

    Comment by haitianministries | October 7, 2007

  6. Michael,

    I like all of them — that being said — considering our little debate about Baptism, the BEM series looks like it might be an interesting way to go. In fact maybe we could do some cross posting along the way.

    The baptist history one is interesting because of the timing, but you have some time before 2009, so maybe post it later!

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | October 7, 2007

  7. Daniel, I haven’t forgotten the GLBT series. It got put on hold because I have misplaced my notes on Romans 1 and am trying to get a new copy from my source. I remember the general outline very well (I don’t have an eidetic memory, but it is very well trained), but I want to make certain I have the argument there EXACTLY right because so much hangs on that passage for those who hold to inerrancy or something close to it. When I do re-start that series, I will give a set of links to all the previous posts in order to catch up new readers. I am sorry for the delays on the GLBT inclusion, folks.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 7, 2007

  8. Definitely #5. you can explain why your friend gushee doesn’t fit this description (by Tauratinze–nice blog, BTW), especially the last sentence:

    We hear the phrase “pro-life” a lot from radical anti-abortion activists. Many are not truly pro-life since they don’t value the fetus conceived by rape or incest as they do others. They are not truly pro-life since they are willing to execute criminals — their lives don’t count. They are not truly pro-life since they advocate war — lives of “enemies” don’t count.

    True–he may not willing to execute criminals but he advocates war and thus the lives of enemies don’t count, and thus he is pro-death.

    sorry if I am harping on this but I get madder and madder the more I think about it. a pro-war position will undermine the case against torture because people will want to know why you can kill in war but not torture. the ONLY consistent position is radical opposition to BOTH.

    Comment by Justin | October 7, 2007

  9. I’d vote for Ethics, but that’s mostly because its on my mind and I’m taking a seminar in virtue ethics. I’m curious about how you ‘do’ ethics and why…

    Comment by Doug Hagler | October 7, 2007

  10. Number 3 looks most interesting from your descriptions. Looks like you are already invested in that one as well.

    Comment by jmeunier | October 7, 2007

  11. Justin, #5 will not include David Gushee because he is a just war theorist. I am used to having friends who disagree with me–you apparently aren’t. I am a pacifist who used to be a soldier and I come from a family with a long military tradition. So I am used to having strong convictions on nonviolence and peacemaking, but interacting with others who are JWT without calling them pro-death. You seem more upset with Dave Gushee than with pro-torture people. I don’t get that. Drop the harping or get lost.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 7, 2007

  12. ok, i will get lost. but it was Tauratinzwe is said they were pro-death. I just quoted him. but i get the point, if a “friend” is pro-war he is not “pro-death” but if an “adversary” is pro-war he is “pro-death”. My apologies, though, if I offended you. I will get lost. PEACE!

    Comment by Justin | October 7, 2007

  13. Ethics and theology please, with application to the political realm.

    Comment by Master Nine | October 7, 2007

  14. Look, the point is that JWT vs. nonviolence is a different thread. Do I think that a seamless garment of life ethic is the most consistent? Of course. But I will ally with JWTers against particular wars and against torture (which is ruled out by JWT as well as nonviolence). I’m sorry I sounded peavish, Justin, but you kept bringing this up again and again in different threads. Do I think Dave Gushee and other JWTers are wrong about war? Absolutely! I have made the point rather forcefully from time-to-time. But someone who justifies torture is worse–far worse.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 7, 2007

  15. O.K., so far that’s 2 votes for Creation, Evolution and “I.D.”; 2 votes for Ethics & Theology; 4 votes for the discussion of BEM; 2 votes for Champions of Nonviolence; 2 votes for Exploring the Baptist vision.

    I’ll leave the list up for at least a week, but this looks like I will have to do more than one (in addition to finishing the GLBT issues series). Of course, I am not bound to go with the majority, but seeing where most interest lies will certainly weigh heavily in my decision.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 7, 2007

  16. I vote for #4 ecological virtues, or #5 champions of nonviolence, but the others sound interesting too.

    Comment by BruceA | October 7, 2007

  17. Hi Michael, I lived in Louisville, KY more than 5 years ago and I am Cuban and right now I am a student at Lancaster Theological Seminary, but I was Baptist in Cuba and here I left the Baptist Church but I love the good doctrine and read about people much more educated than me. Thank you!

    Comment by Lazaro Garcia | October 7, 2007

  18. I cast my vote for #1. I have recently commented on my blog that I confess to considering the possibility of evolution as God’s means of creating but am too ignorant of the subject to make any informed decision. So #1 would help me out immensely.

    Comment by Nick Norelli | October 8, 2007

  19. Well, I’m sorta late to the voting and out-voted, to boot. Nonetheless, I’d vote for the Ecological Virtues first and Ethics and Theology second.

    Comment by Dan Trabue | October 8, 2007

  20. I’d probably vote for BEM. Then again, I’m a walking ecumenical movement….

    Comment by D. P. | October 8, 2007

  21. You’re not late, Dan. This will stay up all week. You are outvoted so far, but that could change. Oh, and I have received one vote by email for #1. I didn’t expect email votes, but since my email is listed on the blog, that’s okay.

    D. P., I thought you were a walking platypus.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 8, 2007

  22. I’d be most interested in #2 or #4, although a combination of the two would be kicky: What’s the relationship between theology and ecologically-minded ethics?

    Comment by Sarah | October 8, 2007

  23. Michael,

    One of your regular readers here (and irregular commenters) with another vote for Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry. I meant to comment on those posts (perhaps I will after this, though a bit late, I understand) as I quite enjoyed them, and they came right after I conducted a baptism service at our church.

    My second-place vote would be for Champions of Nonviolence, but I assume those will slip in now and again anyways.

    Pax Christi,

    Comment by Lee | October 8, 2007

  24. I’d place a couple of votes then for the Ecology posts.


    (Can we vote early and often and under assumed names?)

    Comment by Dan Trabue | October 8, 2007

  25. Dan, er Gus, you can try!

    Thanks for the visits Sarah and Lee. It’s good to see names that are more than “the usual suspects” around here. 🙂

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 8, 2007

  26. I’m sure that whatever thread you pursue, it’ll be interesting and insightful. But as a comment on one of the sidebars to the comments: I don’t see JWT as being necessarily anti-torture at all, and least not in substance. JWT defenders, as we’ve seen for years, also defend torture. The latest round of defense is either to rename torture, or to take the moral high ground (sarcasm on my part here) and argue for its legalization and “supervision.”

    Comment by Kerry | October 8, 2007

  27. Kerry, if someone defends torture, under whatever name they want to give it, they have left JWT even if they still use the name. Torture is “justified” under the “crusade” or “holy war” paradigm which states that because the enemy is GOD’s enemy, any action taken to defeat the enemy is okay. JWT principles in the Middle Ages were a direct challenge to the crusading mindset. See Roland Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace (Abingdon Press, 1960); Lisa Sowle Cahill, Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Fortress, 1994). John Howard Yoder, foremost pacifist theologian of the 20th C., pointed out that many individuals and churches who CLAIMED to operate under JWT actually endorsed any war their government asked, which is not JWT but blind nationalism. See Yoder, When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking rev. ed. (Orbis Books, 1996.

    We pacifists are few and likely to remain few in the near future (absent a huge outpouring of the Holy Spirit–which I don’t rule out). So, I am glad to use JWT allies to oppose particular wars or to restrain barbarisms like torture in war–all the while pressing for nonviolent alternatives.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 8, 2007

  28. 2 or 7.

    Comment by rgillingham | October 8, 2007

  29. Well, the conventional distinction between “crusade” and “just war” is a convenient abstract one, but not so handy in the real world. There’s a chronic temptation, of course, for what begin as “just” wars to end as “crusades” because in the actual pursuit of them, jus ad bellum justifications get focused on at the expense of jus in bello ones.

    Michael Walzer is a defender of JWT. So is Jean Bethke Elshtain. Both of them defend torture on a “limited scale” as compatible with JWT. Henry Shue, in his classic article “Torture,” spells out the JWT justification of torture in a nutshell (in order to refute it): JWT allows for killing under certain circumstances. Surely torturing is less morally onerous than killing. Therefore JWT must allow for killing under certain circumstances.

    I agree with you that JWT is better than nothing. My only point is that JWT historically has become like the Ptolemaic theory of the solar system: so encumbered by ad hoc qualifications to fit circumstances that it’s both byzantine from a theoretical perspective and, frequently, opportunistic from a moral one. From a Christian perspective, it’s simply not acceptable. The Christian pacifist’s calling, as Dorothy Day said, isn’t to oppose particular wars or to enter into expedient alliances, much less to win arguments or stop wars. The Christian pacifist’s calling is to witness to the nonviolence taught and practiced by Jesus.

    Comment by Kerry | October 8, 2007

  30. Well, I’ve gotta go with number 1.

    Comment by Chris Tilling | October 8, 2007

  31. Thanks, Chris. Kerry, Walzer and Elshtain have been greatly criticized by fellow JWTers for accepting torture, too. In fact, since Elshtain has moved from being a conservative political scholar to a full-fledged apologist for all things Bush, she has lost the respect of most academics.

    I love Dorothy Day, but I respectfully submit that her “vocational” understanding of the task of pacifists is not the only one out there. Day was something of an anarchist and refused to vote her entire life.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | October 8, 2007

  32. Michael: I’m interested in #1 & #3. Kevin

    Comment by Kevin Borders | October 8, 2007

  33. Anything but #1!

    Comment by graham | October 9, 2007

  34. #1 .. particularly if you plan to tackle the implications of biological evolution to an Evangelical and/or Baptist expression of the Christian faith. Things like “origin of sin & evolution”, literal Adam & evolution in light of Rom 5 etc. – just a couple of simple things like that to whip through in a couple of posts.

    Comment by Steve Martin | October 9, 2007

  35. Mike,
    I’d be interested in the creation-evolution discussion.

    Comment by Fish | October 9, 2007

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