Levellers

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

Baptist Peace Churches #1

I have been writing a book profiling Baptist congregations that do not fit the stereotype. You know the stereotype I mean: fundamentalist in doctrine, triumphalist in denominational pride (often acting as if Baptists, or even their particular Baptist denomination, were the only true Christians), demeaning to women, having a membership that is almost completely WASP, believing that “bigger is better” in all things, neglectful of any work for peace and social justice, etc. 

I have been profiling Baptist congregations that embody Kingdom values of work for peace with justice.  I thought that I might share a few of these profiles on this blog.  There are great congregations like this in many theological traditions within Christianity. I focus on Baptists here because this is my tradition and because the popular view of Baptists is so very different.

I begin with The Second Baptist Church of Suffield, Suffield, CT.  Founded in 1805, Second BC describes itself as “A Beloved Community of Jesus Christ Engaging Faith, Worship, Fellowship, and Loving Action.”

The roots of Second BC, as with almost all Baptist congregations in CT, dates to the “Great Awakening” in the 18th C. led by Congregationalist minister/theologian Jonothan Edwards and the transatlantic evangelist, George Whitefield.  To the consternation of the Congregationalist establishment (“Standing Order”) in New England, Baptists and Methodists (and others) benefitted more by the “New Light” revival than did the Congregationalists among whom it started.  This led to the formation of The First Baptist Church of Suffield in 1790.  This was soon such a large and influential congregation that it needed to form a mission congregation, leading to the peaceful formation of Second BC in 1805. (This was NOT the result of a church split. Second BC had the enthusiastic support of the mother congregation.)

Second BC of Suffield is part of the American Baptist Churches, USA, the oldest Baptist “denomination” in the U.S.–a successor to the old “Trienniel Baptist Convention” prior to the separation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845 (which separated in order to defend the right of missionaries to own slaves!). It upholds the American Baptist emphases on the centrality of Christ and the principles of liberty of conscience, the freedom and responsibility of every Christian and local congregation to interpret and obey Scripture, local congregational freedom, religious liberty and church-state separation, Believers’ baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the priesthood of all believers, the principle of association of local churches (balancing congregational liberty), missions and evangelism, racial diversity (the American Baptist Churches is the most racially diverse denomination in the USA), social justice, and ecumenical cooperation.

Out of the conviction that “believing and doing are one,” Second BC of Suffield adopted the following mission statement:

“The grace of Jesus Christ calls us into
a community of faith
embracing God’s Justice and love for all.
We draw upon the stories of the past for insight,
the experiences of the present for instruction,
and the hope of the future for inspiration.
We welcome all who join us in this endeavor
through worship, education, mission, and service
in the name of Christ. “
Second BC of Suffield is heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity building homes with and for the poor.  They also work with Loaves and Fishes food pantries and soup kitchens in Enfield and Springfield, CT.  They work with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.  They work to defend religious liberty and church-state separation in cooperation with the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, a people’s lobby in Washington, D.C. which is related to 9 different Baptist denominations. 
Second BC of Suffield is a partner congregation of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Since 2005, Second BC of Suffield has been led by their pastor, Rev. David Reed-Brown, an M.Div. graduate of Andover-Newton Theological School, the oldest free-standing seminary in North America. Andover-Newton is an ecumenical seminary related to American Baptists and the United Church of Christ. It grew out of the merger of Andover Seminary (founded in 1807 by Congregationalists), which trained the great American Baptist missionary to Burma, Adonirom Judson) and Newton Theological Institute (founded in 1825 by Baptists).  Rev. Reed-Brown also spent half a year in education at United Theological College, Bangalore, India, which has given him a global, transcultural perspective on church ministry and Christian faith.
If you are ever in Suffield, CT, look up Second Baptist Church–one of many Baptist peace churches.
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June 29, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, church | 7 Comments

Politics and Purism

Dan Hollander, among others, derides me for my support of Barack Obama as president. Hollander, who is contemptuous of pacifism, nonetheless finds me inconsistent as a pacifist supporting a non-pacifist.  Others who have different forms of pacifism than I do also find me inconsistent here.

Well, I do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.  There are no pacifists running for U.S. president and none could get elected in our current climate. (The last pacifist to have a serious shot at the U.S. presidency was William Jennings Bryan, the fundamentalist preacher who was also a champion of the social gospel.  A champion of the poor, he resigned as Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson rather than support U.S. entry into WWI. Alas, all that is remembered of Bryan is his unfortunate and ill-informed opposition to evolution.)

Do I wish that my country was at the point that a pacifist, or even a near-pacifist like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), could get elected president? Absolutely.  And, I wish Obama were closer to a Kucinich position than he is.  But I am certainly going to vote for the person who is MORE oriented toward peace and justice (Obama), rather than the one (McCain) who doesn’t care how long we stay in Iraq and wants a war with Iran, too!

Christians on the Right also make such pragmatic decisions. I know those who do not consider McCain strong enough in his opposition to abortion (because in 2000 he tried to change the GOP platform to allow for exceptions to save the life of the mother or for rape and incest; he is not trying to get those exceptions into the platform this year).  They support him rather than Obama because Obama is openly pro-choice.  Some of these Christians may oppose the war in Iraq, but weight priorities differently than I do.

In politics, as in much else, we have less than pure choices.  But if we understand that our efforts to influence the world in the direction of gospel values takes many avenues–only one of them being electoral politics–then we can vote for the best person available while also pursuing other avenues of change–political and otherwise. [Update: See this article about The Way to a Just Foreign Policy. It outlines the places where Democrats and Republicans seem like they are on different planets and the ways they are both too committed to an imperial U.S.  It also highlights the role of social movements in turning politicians to a post-superpower USA–which is easier if we are electing politicians, like Obama, who already share some of these goals.  Such politicians are easier to push in a progressive direction than one who shares none of these goals, like McCain.0

I support Barack Obama’s candidacy, as I have often stated, not because I always agree with him, but because his values and policies as a whole seem far closer to the values of the gospel than his opponent–as I read Scripture and our context.  (I also thought that was the case vis-a-vis Hillary Clinton in the primaries.  I started out supporting John Edwards because I thought he was stronger than either on those values I give the highest priority.)

I understand if others disagree with me.  And I understand that others may disagree strongly, as I do with support for McCain.  But I do not think I am being inconsistent or compromising my gospel pacifism in supporting Barack Obama.

UPDATE: OF COURSE, I ALSO SUPPORT PUSHING OBAMA WHEN HE’S TEMPTED TO BE A NORMAL, CAUTIOUS POLITICIAN WITH HIS FINGER TO THE WIND.  I AM CHALLENGING HIM ON TELECOM IMMUNITY, ON HIS SUPPORT FOR THE HORRIBLE SUPREME COURT SELL-OUT TO THE NRA ON GUN-CONTROL, ON HIS OPPOSITION TO THE SUPREME COURT’S DENIAL OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT TO CHILD RAPISTS (THEY SHOULD JUST SCRAP THE DEATH PENALTY ALTOGETHER), ETC.  On all these things and many more, Obama needs to be pushed.  That’s how change is made.

Jim Wallis likes to say that instead of changing one politician with his/her finger to the wind, we need to change the direction of the wind.  I mostly agree.  But it helps to have politicians who are open to winds from new directions, even if they are not consistent (and which of them ever is).  We can change the wind and make it a hurricane and McCain will keep spitting into it. 

Nor are presidents everything. We also need to have as many progressives elected to as many other offices as possible.  True and lasting change demands good people on the inside of elected office–and MANY MORE good people on the outside pushing for change.

UPDATE II: My critics, especially Jesse Rivers, insist that I am “in the tank” for Obama because I support him “no matter what.” But I do not support him, no matter what.  Should I:

1)Vote for John McCain who wants to continue to war in Iraq and start one in Iran–who is waffling on his opposition to torture, denounces Habeas Corpus for “detainees” in Guantanemo Bay, Cuba, will continue the Bush war on the poor, wants to fight global warming “only through free market means,” etc.?  I will never do that.  I said a year ago that if retiring GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NB), one of only two Republicans in the Senate to oppose invading Iraq in ’02, were to become the Republican nominee on a withdrawal platform, while Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) became the Democratic nominee on a “continue to occupation” platform, I would vote Republican. I stand by that.  But that’s not what happened. I couldn’t vote for McCain’s platform even if Obama were far less progressive than he is.

2) Not vote at all.  This is sometimes a responsible option.  When elections are rigged, for instance,  mass refusal to vote shows the world their illegitimacy and can even lead to a nonviolent revolution.  But in the current context, to not vote is to endorse the status quo and I cannot do that.

3) Vote for a 3rd party.  IF and WHEN the U.S. gets the electoral reforms (e.g., instant run-off voting; proportional representation and/or the abolition of the Electoral College) that would make other parties viable, instead of “spoilers” that throw the election to the worst possible candidate, this would make sense.  Democrats are too much like Republicans, it is true.  Both are far too controlled by corporate interests, although Obama’s refusal to take lobbying money, and making the Democratic National Committee to abide by the same rule, is a great step in the right direction.  On foreign policy especially, the current Democratic Congress has too often caved in to the Republicans they were elected to STOP.  The Green Party platform, except for its unconditional support for abortion-on-demand, best reflects my values. If and When we get the electoral reforms we need, I will switch my party affiliation to Green–unless the Democrats shape up.  But I can’t vote for a 3rd Party under current conditions.  That would, like not voting, throw the election to McCain as Bush’s third term.

In 2000, disgusted with the way then VP Al Gore ran a campaign too much like his rival, George W. Bush, I voted for Ralph Nader.  In my defense, Bush was leading Gore by 15 points in KY and Bush’s campaign, though awful, was not as bad as his presidency. Nor was Gore as progressive as he became later.  But I feel guilty, because I wonder if my example led many in Florida to vote for Nader and throw the election to Bush. (Leaving aside the illegalities done by the GOP in FL and by the Supreme Court of the U.S.) I keep wondering how much the U.S. invasion of Iraq was partly my fault and the fault of those like me who claimed that there was not enough difference between Gore and Bush to matter.  I WON’T MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN.

If those like Jesse Rivers think any of the above 3 options are more “prophetic” than voting for Obama, who, while not perfect, is the most progressive mainstream candidate the U.S. has had in 30 years, they are welcome to it.  If McCain wins and takes us into Iran, the blood is on their hands, not mine.

June 26, 2008 Posted by | just peacemaking, U.S. politics | 26 Comments

Wow, thanks!

According to my blog counter, over 100,000 of you Gentle Readers have now visited this blog. And that’s since I moved from Blogger to here at WordPress! And, I see that you come from all over the world.

I’m flattered and moved that so many of you think this blog is worth reading–yes, even those of you who mostly disagree with me.

I doubt I deserve to be taken so seriously. Do none of you have lives? But I am humbled.

I’ll work harder to be worthy of this seriousness with which so many apparently take this blog. I’ll try to proof more posts and eliminate punctuation and grammatical errors. I’ll try to post comments and reply more quickly.  I’ll try to engage in more dialogue–although with my attempts to finish my second book and begin my third, I may not be able to do this as much as possible.

At any rate, thanks very much, Gentle Readers.  God Bless You All.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Reasons to Vote Republican

This is just hilarious. Tip of the hat to Howie Luvzus for this one. Share this widely. It’s both funny and tragic–like the last 8 years.  Note: The depiction of the evangelical leader opposed to abortion is an unfortunate stereotype and does nothing to advance the abortion debate. But the rest of this is funny.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Nonviolent Revolutions

One of the commenters to my post on “Dying for One’s Country?” asks about the U.S. Revolutionary War and several ask about fighting Hitler.  This is always asked as if pacifists have never considered these questions before–as if Jesus never considered them, etc.  One could answer in several ways.  I considered writing a sarcastic series of conversations between Jesus and Christians in which, in every era, they explain to the “naive Jesus” that the Sermon on the Mount is impractical because the Romans, Barbarians, Huns, Franks, Saracens, British, Yankees, Germans, Communists, terrorists, etc.–THIS enemy just cannot be dealt with in any other way than retaliatory violence.  But if we believe that, we believe Jesus didn’t know what He was talking about and our whole faith is a lie.

But let’s try a different approach:  Let us assume for the moment that some things are worth dying for–some penultimate values and not just the ultimate value of the gospel–martyrdom for the faith is not the only reason to die rather than submit. Let us further assume that some evils must be resisted even if we die in the resistance.  It does not therefore follow that we must resist VIOLENTLY.  Nonviolent resistance, even nonviolent revolutions in the face of tyrannical regimes have happened more often than we remember.

1) If Christians are not to kill, what about the U.S. revolution? Wouldn’t we still be British subjects?  This could be answered several ways: A. Yes, some would say, and that wouldn’t be so bad. B. Look at Canada and the other nations of the Commonwealth–they gained independence without bloody revolutions.  C.  There are those who point out that the American colonialists initially resisted the British nonviolently and won–the war came later and largely because the colonialists did not realize that their earlier tactics were working. See Walter Conser, et al., Resistance, Politics, and the American Struggle for Independence, 1765-1775 (Boulder, CO: Lynne Reiner Publishing, 1986);

2) What about the U.S. Civil War? Slavery was abolished throughout the British empire without war.  War was not the only answer to the evil of slavery–and, indeed, slavery was only one of the reasons for the war.

3) Here is a partial list of successful nonviolent revolutions:

  • The Russian Revolution of 1907–before the violent Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.  A series of nationwide strikes brought the Czar’s government to its knees without the firing of a shot.  This was one of the models for Gandhi’s earliest experiments in nonviolence.
  • Gandhi’s initial nonviolent campaigns on behalf of Indians in South Africa, 1913-1919.
  • Following WWI, the French invaded Germany to enforce war reparations payments in the midst of Depression.  A nationwide strike and complete nonviolent resistance was successful–the French marched out without ever getting what they came for and with no loss of life.  This led to a slight modification of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.
  • 1930s through 1948, Gandhi leads India to independence from Britain through a series of nonviolent campaigns.
  • During WWII there were several successful nonviolent campaigns against the Nazis–including nonviolent defenses of Jews from the Holocaust.  There was the “White Rose” movement, for instance, in which German women married to Jewish men used Gandhian methods to rescue their husbands from the Gestapo.  Denmark, led by its Christian king, nonviolently resisted the deportation of Danish Jews to the death camps–and lost only a handful of Jews to the Holocaust.  The Bulgarians, who initially welcomed the Nazis, absolutely refused to go along with the deportations. Led by the Orthodox Patriarch of Bulgaria, Bulgarian Christians threatened to throw themselves en masse in front of the trains rather than allow the deportation of the Jews. The Nazis backed down.  In Vichy France, the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, led by the Reformed pastor Andre Trocme, gave shelter to around 500 Jews–though the Nazis seemed to know they were hiding them.  In fact, the Holocaust was most successful in those places (e.g., Poland, Russia) where the anti-Semitism of the populace led to widespread cooperation with the Nazis.  Whatever else the Allied Forces did in their war against the Axis powers, they did NOT stop the Holocaust. In fact, the Allies refused to divert planes to blow up the railroads to the camps, despite repeated pleas by those who knew what was happening.  Also, the U.S. turned away ships of refugee Jews in the years before U.S. entry into the War.
  • 1944: Nonviolent revolutions in both Guatemala and El Salvador, but soon reversed. For more on the histories of nonviolent struggle, including successful nonviolent revolutions, throughout Latin America, see Relentless Persistence:  Nonviolent Action in Latin America, ed. Philip McManus and Gerald Schlabach (New Society Publishers, 1991).
  • The U.S. Civil Rights movement, c. 1955-1968.
  • Several of the revolutions for independence in African nations in the 1950s and 1960s were nonviolent, although others were bloody.
  • 1968–The Prague Spring, was a brief nonviolent revolution in Czechoslovakia from hardline Communism to “Socialism with a human face.” It was later crushed by the USSR.
  • 1974-The Carnation Revolution in Portugal wass completely bloodless.
  • 1977-1979, although the “Islamic Republic” that replaced it, ruled by the Ayatollahs, was quite violent and repressive and remains that way, the student-led revolution in Iran against the Shah was nonviolent. The violent capture of the U.S. embassy and the return of the exiled Ayatollah Khomeini came AFTER the Shah was successfully deposed nonviolently.
  • 1986, the dictator Marcos in the Philippines is overthrown by nonviolent “People Power” despite Marcos’ support by the U.S. government of Ronald Reagan. See Paul S. Mercado and Francisco S. Tatad, People Power: The Philippine Revolution of 1986: An Eyewitness to History (Reuter Foundation, 1986).
  • 1981-1989, the Solidarity movement in Poland leads to the end of Communist rule–despite setbacks and martial law.
  • 1989–The fall of the Berlin Wall. The “Revolution of the Candles” in Eastern Germany, led by Christians, leads to the overthrow of the communist government without one death.
  • 1987-1989, nonviolent singing revolutions across several Baltic states, including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
  • 1989: Nonviolent revolution in Czechoslovakia. Known as the Velvet Revolution.
  • 1989: Nonviolent revolution in Bulgaria.
  • 1991: After a coup by Communist hardliners overthrows Gorbachev in the USSR, Russian president Boris Yeltsin (no pacifist, he!) leads a nonviolent counter-coup–and the peaceful break-up of the USSR. For more on the nonviolent revolutions that brought down Communism throughout Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, see Barbara von der Heydt, Candles Behind the Wall: Heroes of the Peaceful Revolution that Shattered Communism (Eerdmans. 1993).
  • 2000–The Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic survived the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia and NATO attacks in the ’90s. He was ruthless and brutal. No one can argue (as is often wrongly argued about Gandhi’s struggle in India against the British) that he was a “civilized” and “gentle” dictator who did not know how to use overwhelming violence to crush civil resistance.  Here was certainly a “Hitler on a small scale.”  Yet what finally brought down Milosevic was a nonviolent revolution in 2000 led by the student movement Otpor, who studied Gene Sharp’s 3 volume work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action as a guide to strategies and tactics. So this was literally a textbook nonviolent revolution.  See the film, Bringing Down a Dictator, narrated by Martin Sheen.
  • 2003, in the Republic of Georgia, after a rigged election by Eduard Shevardnadze, the Rose Revolution deposed him. New elections were held in 2004 and Mikhail Saakashvili was elected president.  Christians were heavily involved in this nonviolent revolution.
  • 2004, the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine.
  • 2005, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon leads to the end of decades of Syrian occupation and the election of a new and independent government. (Unfortunately, the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and the use of Lebanon by U.S. and Iranian forces for proxy contests have undermined this fragile democracy and threaten to plunge Lebanon into civil war.)

More could be added.  There have also been many instances, successful and unsuccessful, of nonviolent intervention in armed conflicts by unarmed third parties.  This part of nonviolent direct action is the least developed, although several organizations are working on it on small scales.

I am not claiming that organized nonviolent action always “works,” especially not without loss of life on the part of the nonviolent resisters.  However, in war one side always loses and sometimes the war is so devastating that both sides lose.  So, violence has a very poor track record in the defense of such values as justice, freedom, etc.  At the very least, the claim that is often made to pacifists such as myself that often the only choices available are violent action or do nothing apathy is proven false.  One can try other options, including organized nonviolent direct action.  If we spent the resources preparing for such actions that we do preparing for violent military and/or police actions, how many more nonviolent solutions might be possible?

Further References:  There is an excellent documentary film that should be shown and discussed in churches and homes, etc.  A Force More Powerful: Nonviolence in the 20th C. It is available at the link in English, Arabic, Farsi, French, Russian, Mandarin, and Spanish.  There is a companion book by the same title. See also the film about the nonviolent overthrow of Serbia’s Milosevic, Bringing Down a Dictator.  Available in English, Arabic, Farsi, Mandarin, Russian, and Spanish.

Other important volumes on nonviolent action are found here.  These are only a taste of the literature available, too.

June 24, 2008 Posted by | nonviolence, peacemaking | 14 Comments

Things I Believe

Since my theology is regularly smeared and distorted by commenters, I will soon blog through brief statements of my major theological convictions. I will probably use a Baptist confession, noting that they are not creeds and are not in any sense infallible or unrevisable.

But here are some other things I believe that get left out of such discussions:

  • I believe that ordinary people can change the world in both small and large ways–especially if they get organized. Labor unions, community organizing, community development, grassroots political change movements–these are the engines of change from below.  History is NOT all the result of the decisions of presidents, kings, generals, etc. or of vast, impersonal forces.  People movements have changed things before and can do so again–for better and worse.
  • I believe in “complex equality” when it comes to economic justice. (I owe the term to political philosopher Michael Walzer.) Simple equality in economics was the dream of Communism and it cannot work–and to even come close to working for a brief time requires brutal repression.  But “complex equality” is both practical and moral:  As long as poverty is abolished and as long as the gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else is not too large and as long as there is a large middle class and much social movement, it is okay for some to make more than others–and probably necessary for a functioning economy.  If everyone has a home, the rich can buy as many homes as they want–but they are NOT entitled to buy more democracy than others or more power than others.
  • I refuse to believe the legal fiction that corporations are people with rights.  Corporations and their needs should be subordinate to the needs of human beings and the earth.  Corporations should have to draw up charters that show how they will benefit society and their workers–and they should be reviewed every 10 years before charter renewal.
  • Markets are a necessity, but there are no such things as “free markets” and never have been.  It’s a good thing, too. Markets function best with rules and regulations–otherwise you get monopolies or consumer fraud or poor working conditions or dangerous products.
  • Yes, there can be too much regulation in the economy.  It has been decades since Americans have been in any danger of this, however.  In the U.S., the danger is too little regulation and nearly non-existent enforcement of existing regulations.
  • Yes, taxation can be burdensome–even on the wealthy. Over-taxation can hurt everyone. Again, however, and Grover Norquist to the contrary, there is nothing even close to this problem in the U.S.A. Rather, we have state, local, and national governments that cannot function properly because of lack of enough revenue and we have the working and lower middle classes paying too much in taxes while the rich and super rich pay too little.  Further, we are backwards in taxing salaries and wages more than we tax income from dividends. This should be reversed.
  • All people are entitled to the best health care a society can provide–withought regard to ability to pay.
  • We humans have a duty to care for the earth–even if it costs us profits to do so.
  • Not all people are cut out to do university work, but education should be freely available to all who can and desire to make use of it. For those without any desire or ability for scholarship, apprenticeships, job training and placement, vocational education, etc. should be readily available.  No one should be given preferential treatment in university admittance based on wealth or parentage, race, religion, etc.  Nor should anyone who is qualified for entrance be prevented based on the same.
  • Budgets are moral documents. If a family budgets luxuries at the expense of needs for the children, we should condemn them. Likewise, if a local, state, or national government balances a budget by harming children and the marginalized, it shows an extreme moral failure.
  • There is Beauty in the cosmos.  If the problem of evil and pain/suffering is one of the greatest objections to belief in a loving God (and it is), then the existence of beauty and wonder and kindness and generosity and pleasure and joy should constitute one of best evidences for such a loving God and one of the strongest arguments against atheism.
  • There is both order and chaos in the universe.  There is enough order to make it impossible for me to retain a skeptical attitude toward God for any length of time.  There is enough random chaos (not to mention outright evil) to keep me raising questions and doubts even in the midst of my faith.
  • If women, as a general rule, were not morally superior to men, as a general rule, the human species would have self-destructed long ago.
  • Human love is not the answer to everything. The Beatles to the contrary, love is NOT all you need.  But it’s damn close.
  • Sexual reproduction in mammals, especially humans, shows that God is an Artist–concerned with far more than simple functional efficiency.  Asexual reproduction would have been far easier.  It also, as every married couple knows, shows that the Almighty has a huge sense of humor.
  • Deconstructionists and radical forms of postmodernists to the contrary, there is Truth–not just personal truths or (in the words of Stephen Colbert) “truthiness.”  But human comprehension of Truth is always partial, fragmented, and limited.  Failure to remember the first leads to nihilism, perhaps even fascism.  Failure to remember the second leads repeatedly to fanaticism, hubris, every form of religious and political fundamentalism and repression.
  • Democracy is an extremely inefficient form of government and very messy.  Yet, the alternatives keep me returning to embrace democracy again.  As Reinhold Niebuhr reminded us, we humans are sinful enough to make democracy absolutely necessary–and just moral enough to make it possible.
  • Bill Moyers is right: Democracy in the U.S. has been a series of “narrow escapes.”  It remains to be seen whether we have had yet another narrow escape or whether our luck has finally run out and we will lose our democratic republic to some form of national security state.
  • In the words of Stephen Donaldson’s character Thomas Covenant, “Law is not the opposite of Despite.”  Law does not save.  The rule of law is not grace, is not forgiveness, is not all we need.  But  lawlessness is far worse.  We need the rule of law not as an absolute (every society makes bad laws and persons of conscience will need to commit civil disobedience), but as a limited and flawed alternative to rule by personal fiat.  No one–no president or prime minister or king, queen, etc. should be above the law. Richard Nixon once claimed, “When the president does it, it is not a crime.” The actions of Bill Clinton sometimes seemed to endorse that same attitude–and the entire presidency of George W. Bush has been such an assertion.  They are all wrong.  I hope to see Bush stand trial for “high crimes and misdemeanors” not out of any sense of revenge, but for the sake of rescuing our society as a nation of laws.
  • Human justice is imperfect and constantly needs tempering by mercy.  This alone, without any other consideration, would lead me always to oppose the death penalty. (I have many other reasons for my opposition as well.)
  • Children are joyous–and holy terrors.  Children are holy terrors–and the joyous hope of the future. Any possibility of good parenting depends of remembering both truths.
  • My mother, may she rest in peace, taught all her children both to respect elders and to think for themselves.  Not until I became a parent myself did I find out how difficult it is to teach both of these things at the same time.  I want my daughters to question everything–and to listen to me, now, dammit! 🙂

I may include other lists like this in the future–and invite readers to add their own.

June 23, 2008 Posted by | convictions | 6 Comments

Shame on Obama & Dems!

Okay, I’ve been taking a break from political postings and haven’t yet gotten around to my analysis of what progressives could expect from an Obama admin. on domestic issues (I did analyze strengths and weaknesses of his likely foreign policies).  But, because some people claim that I never criticize Democrats (which a perusal of my archives would show to be false), I have to rush this one out, now:

Shame on Democrats in the House and Senate for compromising on FISA Telecom immunity! Shame on Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) for breaking his promise to filibuster any such compromise.  This gives legitimacy to some of Bush’s crimes–spying on Americans without a warrant in violation of the 1978 FISA law (not to mention the Bill of Rights) and giving immunity to Telecom companies who cooperated with this illegality!

This comes on top of yet another authorization for more war spending! C’mon, Dems, grow some backbones–including you, Sen. Obama!

This is deeply disappointing.  How can a president with the lowest approval rating in modern American history continue to intimidate House and Senate Dems who were elected to stand up to him by a public tired of his lawlessness! 

While I continue to push for Obama’s victory, it is clear that this is NOT “Change We Can Believe In” and we will have to hold him accountable, now and after the election. Sigh!

UPDATE: Thank God, Senator Dodd is planning to filibuster this “compromise!” I continue to urge Sen. Obama to do the same.

June 22, 2008 Posted by | civil liberties, U.S. politics | 4 Comments

Dying for One’s Country?

With the U.S. celebration of Independence Day (4 July 1776) just around the corner, I note that Australian Ben Myers has posted the following quote by Alasdair MacIntyre:

“The modern nation-state, in whatever guise, is a dangerous and unmanageable institution, presenting itself on the one hand as a bureaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about to, but never actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a repository of sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one’s life on its behalf. As I have remarked elsewhere, it is like being asked to die for the telephone company.”

Alasdair MacIntyre, “A Partial Response to My Critics,” in After MacIntyre (University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), p. 303.

I have some sypathy for this view, but I find KILLING for one’s country far more problematic for Christians. And, usually, in America, when we urge someone to be willing to die for his or her country, we actually mean “be willing to KILL and/or BE KILLED for your country” (as long as that country is the U.S.A. or an “ally of the moment.”).

I said this in the comments on Ben’s site:

For Christians, “dying for one’s country” is, indeed, problematic–though my reasons for saying so are far more anabaptist than MacIntyre’s. However, FAR more problematic is the ideology of being willing to KILL for one’s country.

People who die for their country in nonviolent revolution or nonviolent defense against invasion or nonviolent defense of a nation-state’s stated values (e.g., democracy, human rights, the rule of law, etc.) against erosions and usurpations of the same are all morally admirable. Depending on the context, there may even be good, gospel-based, reasons for Christians to be willing to die in these kind of contexts–in some senses to die for their country.

However, there is zero justification for Christians to be willing to kill other human beings (persons made in God’s image; persons for whom Christ died) “in defense of their country” or anything else. To kill is to betray the gospel.

Discuss.

June 22, 2008 Posted by | Christianity, church-state separation, discipleship, nonviolence, pacifism, theology | 28 Comments

Hymn#1

I will reprint here hymns and spiritual songs that are excellent, but not as well known throughout Christian churches as others.

Walls That Divide

1)Tho’ ancient walls may still stand proud

and racial strife be fact,

tho’ boundaries may be lines of hate,

proclaim God’s saving act!

Chorus:

Walls that divide are broken down, Christ is our unity!

Chains that enslave are thrown aside, Christ is our liberty!

2)When vested pow’r stands firm entrenched

and breaks another’s back,

when waste and want stand side-by-side,

it’s gospel that we lack!

(Repeat Chorus)

3)The truth we seek in varied scheme,

the life that we pursue,

unites us in a common quest

for self and world made new!

(Repeat Chorus)

4)The Church divided seeks that grace,

that newness we proclaim;

a unity of serving love

that lives praise to God’s Name!

(Repeat Chorus)

5)This broken world seeks lasting health

and vital unity;

God’s people in the Christ made new,

cast off all slavery!

(Repeat Chorus).

Words copyright 1974 by Walter Farquharson.

June 22, 2008 Posted by | arts, hymns, theology | 1 Comment

Movie Review: Prince Caspian

For Father’s Day, my kids and wife took me to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian based on the children’s fantasy novel by the late Oxford don and Christian apologist, C. S. Lewis. If the previous film adaptation of Lewis’ Narnia series (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) suffered from a rather wooden, literalistic approach (with the exception of an opening scene of the Battle of London in WWII, so that modern children would know WHY the Pevensie kids were sent to stay away from their parents in an old house in the English countryside owned by an eccentric Professor), the current film takes far too many liberties with the book in my view. There are large omissions, such as Caspian’s upbringing with his tutor (a half-dwarf) and the way this leads to his knowledge of and love for “Old Narnia,” and sections created out of whole cloth, such as the assault on the castle. An obligatory romance is created.

The explicit Christian themes of the novels, which, however clumsily, were evident in the first film adaptation, are almost entirely missing here. Unless one knows the books, one has no idea from this film that Aslan the Lion is a Christ-figure. (His words to the 2 older Pevensie kids at the end, telling them that they cannot return to Narnia because they must learn more of him in their own world, are changed to say that they must learn to LIVE in their own world.) Scenes which are supposed to convey the difficulties of faith and discipleship become little more than trying to “believe in fairies” while reading Peter Pan in order to save Tinker Bell’s life.

Most disturbing to me is the extent to which this film version completely endorses the “myth of redemptive violence” which is so anti-gospel and which is the dominant religion of our planet–no matter what outward differences of creed people profess. (When people ask me whether or not I believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God, I answer, “Which Christians?” “Which Muslims?” I can tell little difference between the violent God of John Hagee or Pat Robertson and the God of Osama bin Laden–and both are false gods–demons in disguise. On the other hand, I suspect/hope that members of the Muslim Peace Fellowship and members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, whatever differences or even errors embraced by either or both groups, are worshipping the one true God.) C. S. Lewis was not a pacifist and, in my view, this distorted both his Christian apologetics and his Christian fiction. But violence was never redemptive for Lewis. At best, it served a negative, defensive function–an accomadation to a still fallen world. The real action, the real way of redemption, is elsewhere in all his works. In a clumsy fashion (and too much seeming to imply a penal substitution view of the Atonement, which Lewis did not hold) this is conveyed in the film adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But in Prince Caspian, everything depends on violence and greater firepower. I think Lewis would have been horrified. I know I was.

I was also concerned that the Telmarines, the bad guys, were swarthy while the Pevensies (the human heroes) are fair. This seemed to give the whole a racist overtone, although it was relieved by several of the centaurs (all good guys) appearing very dark skinned. There are slight overtones of racial prejudice in Lewis’ original works, but also much evidence that he fought these prejudices and sought to overcome them in his fiction. I was greatly afraid that the Narnia vs. Telmarine struggle in this film seemed to convey a “West vs. Arab/Muslim” connotation. I hope that is reading too much into the film, but there is much pro-war propaganda out today that seems very Manichean in worldview–and not all of it flows from the U.S. White House.

My children enjoyed the film and there are good parts. The adaptation of Reepicheep the Mouse was great. Trumpkin the Dwarf is portrayed fairly well, too. I enjoyed it as a Father’s Day outing with my family. But, if there are to be further adaptations of Lewis’ Narnia books to film, I hope they do a MUCH better job than this one.

NOTE TO COMMENTERS: PLEASE RE-READ THE RULES FOR COMMENTING ON THIS BLOG. IF YOU CANNOT FOLLOW THEM, LEAVE OR BE BANNED!

I AM SORRY THAT I MADE A COMMENT ON CHRISTIAN-MUSLIM RELATIONS IN THE CONTEXT OF THIS BLOG-POST.  THAT SLIGHTLY OFF-TOPIC COMMENT LED TO MANY OFF-TOPIC COMMENTS BY READERS.  DEBATING MY THEOLOGY WOULD BEST BE DONE BY FIRST READING THE MANY POSTS ON THEOLOGICAL TOPICS I’VE MADE, RATHER THAN ASSUMING ONE KNOWS WHAT I BELIEVE BASED ON A REMARK MADE IN THE MIDST OF A MOVIE REVIEW.

June 15, 2008 Posted by | arts | 27 Comments