Levellers

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

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.

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

An Anabaptist-Liberation Christianity: A Beginning Bibliography

Emily Hunter McGowin asked for a working bibliography on an approach to Christianity that is centered in discipleship to the nonviolent Jesus and is characterized by a rejection of worldly values like materialistic consumerism, militarism and violence, gender heirarchies, envioronmental exploitation and support for the death penalty–a perspective that embraces a discipleship with radically different values: simplicity and economic sharing, nonviolent struggle for justice, risky peacemaking motivated by love of neighbor and love of enemies, equality, covenantal caretaking for Creation, an approach to crime characterized by healing and restorative justice.  Well, Emily, there may be several approaches like this. The tradition I know is informed by several key movements in church history:  the early Church before the Emperor Constantine’s “conversion” turned the Jesus movement into an imperial religion; some of the monastic reform movements; the Anabaptist strand of the Radical Reformation of the 16th C.; The “echoes” of  Anabaptist radicalism in 17th C. movements such as the Levellers and Diggers, in the earliest phases of Baptist and Quaker beginnings; the Evangelical revivalist reformers of the 18th & 19th Centuries who opposed slavery and war, fought for gender equality and an end to child labor; the Social Gospel movement; the nonviolent strand of the Black Freedom movement; and some versions of Liberation theology.  Below is a working bibliography for those without a seminary or graduate education.  I hope it is helpful.  In a different bibliography, I will address specific issues like capital punishment or “homosexuality.”

Arias, Mortimer.  Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus: Announcing the Reign of God (Fortress, 1984).

 Augsburger, David.  Dissident Discipleship:  A Spirituality of Self- Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (Brazos, 2006). 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship.  (Macmillan, 1954.)

 Camp, Lee. Mere Discipleship:  Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World.  (Brazos, 2003).

 Costas, Orlando. Liberating News:  A Theology of Contextual Evangelization (Eerdmans, 1989).

 Dayton, Donald.  Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (Harper, 1976).

 Escobar, Samuel and John Driver. Christian Mission and Social Justice. (Herald Press, 1978).

 Newbigin, Lesslie.  The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. (Eerdmans, 1989). 

Nuñez, Emilio A. Liberation Theology (Moody Press, 1985). 

Sider, Ronald J. Genuine Christianity:  Essentials for Living Your Faith  (Zondervan, 1996).

Sider, Ronald J. One-Sided Christianity?  Uniting the Church to Heal a Lost and Broken World (HarperCollins, 1993). 

Swartley, Willard M. The Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology (Eerdmans, 2006).

Stassen, Glen H.  Living the Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Hope for  Grace and Deliverance (Jossey-Bass, 2006).

Stassen, Glen H. and David Gushee. Kingdom Ethics:  Following Jesus in  Contemporary Context (IVP, 2003).

 Wallis, Jim.  The Call to Conversion (Harper, 1981).

 Weaver, J. Denny.  Anabaptist Theology in the Face of Postmodernity (Cascadia, 2000).

 Weaver, J. Denny.  Becoming Anabaptist (Herald Press, 2005).

 Weaver, J. Denny. The Nonviolent Atonement (Eerdmans, 2001). 

Williamson, Jr., George.  Radicals:  Anabaptists and the Current World Crisis (Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, 2005).

 Yoder, John Howard. He Came Preaching Peace (Herald Press, 1985).

 Yoder, John Howard.  The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, rev. ed.  (Eerdmans, 1994; Orig. ed., 1972).

August 18, 2007 Posted by | anabaptists, Christianity, nonviolence, peacemaking | 4 Comments

Evangelicals: A Major Force Behind High Rate of Executions in Texas

Like Jonothan Marlowe of The Ivy Bush, I find this article nauseating.  Texas is the capital punishment capital of the USA, which makes it one of the most pro-execution places on the planet, since the U.S. trails only China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and the Sudan in numbers of executions in 2006. In 2005, the U.S. was 4th in numbers of executions, trailing only China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. [ Data Source.] Great company to keep.  The article in question shows that a major factor in the huge Texas support for the death penalty, is the extremely high percentage of U.S. evangelicals in Texas! 

How revolting. “Evangelical” means “gospel centered,” but apparently Texas evangelicals have completely missed the gospel. If we declare “Jesus is Lord,” then we worship and serve One who was, Himself, the victim of unjust state execution.  Have these “evangelicals” missed all of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, enemy love, forgiveness, and leaving vengeance to God? (Reconciling God’s compassion and wrath as displayed in Scripture is a major theological problem that we won’t solve here and now. But it is worth noting that throughout Scripture we are commanded to imitate God’s compassion and forbidden to imitate God’s wrath or vengeance.)

In his post on this, Jonothan notes that he has been determined to hold onto the label “evangelical” as a self-description, but that articles like this make it very difficult. I understand completely.  A global view is helpful:  Around the world most evangelicals (and other Christians) are against the death penalty.  The current campaign in Italy (which abolished the death penalty long ago, as with most of Europe) to spread death penalty abolition throughout the world was started, not by Italian Communists or secularists, but by Italian Christians. It began in the evangelical Protestant community, although the campaign was quickly endorsed by the Vatican and spread rapidly through Italy’s much more dominant Catholic community.  If any politician in the UK or Australia or Canada or Europe or South Africa tries to drum up support for a “bring back the death penalty” campaign, their pastors or bishops rebuke them publicly and they get angry letters from Christian constituents–the exact opposite of what happens in the U.S.

It’s almost as if “evangelical” means something in the U.S. completely different than anywhere else.  Everywhere “evangelical” means gospel-centered: Protestants who give supreme authority in matters of faith and morality to Scripture (often-but-not-always using the label “inerrant” for Scripture), who make personal conversion and justification by faith central.  But in the U.S.–AS ALMOST NOWHERE ELSE–“evangelical” has the additional meaning of “politically right wing–in favor of militarism and the death penalty, hating universal healthcare and public education, neglecting the poor, contemptuous of the environmental fragility, lustful for wealth, etc.

So, Jonothan, I suggest that if we “gospel-centered” Christians in the U.S., who follow the nonviolent, compassionate Jesus, crucified and risen, as Lord, want to keep the term “evangelical” without constant embarrassment, we do more give the term the same connotations as it has globally and strip it of its uniquely American connotations. Otherwise, the term is useless.

It is also clear that we will never abolish the death penalty in the U.S. without the support of the churches. So, how do we grow abolitionist Christians–in Texas and throughout ever pro-death penalty state in the U.S.?  How long do we let state-sponsored revenge and the cycle of violence take God’s Name in vain?

August 14, 2007 Posted by | Christianity, death penalty, scandal | 20 Comments

Gushee on Christian Leaders and Politics

My friend David P. Gushee, finishing his tenure as Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University in Jackson, TN is about to begin a new venture as Professor of Christian Ethics, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA. (Hat Tip to Aaron Weaver and Melissa Rogers for this news.)  Dave has just written a provocative article for the Jackson Sun listing 17 “rules” for “Christian Leaders” regarding political involvement. (Hat Tip to Bruce Prescott.)  He defines “Christian Leaders” broadly to include pastors, youth ministers, missionaries, evangelists, leaders of parachurch organizations that are not registered lobbies, theologians and professors of Christian ethics, among others.

 (One question to ask in the following reflections is whether Dave has defined “Christian leaders” too broadly. What about the town councilwoman who is also an Elder in her local Presbyterian church? Does this mean that a Baptist deacon body cannot include any registered lobbyists? When Jimmy Carter was U.S. president, should he have quit teaching Sunday School?)

Dave has the U.S. scene in mind and has proposed these “rules” (some are actual legal requirements if churches expect to stay within the IRS tax codes as non-profits, but others are non-legal suggestions) as a way to counter the toxic partisan politicization of the gospel in the U.S.  I leave it to those in different contexts to judge how much or how little applies in their own context–I think quite a bit would apply in any constitutional democracy–and some even wider.  I list Dave’s rules as he wrote them, but then I will ask questions about a few that may need modification, even though I agree with his overall perspective.

1. Christian leaders must not officially or unofficially endorse political candidates or a political party.

I completely agree with this one.  I also think the pattern, common in Europe, of naming certain political parties with the word “Christian” in them is a bad idea.  It gives the impression that Christians should only join party X–even if party Y or Z has a platform more in keeping with biblical principles as one understands them.  In the U.S. far too many conservative Christian leaders have tried to make it sound as if Christians must be registered Republicans.  A few (very few) Christian leaders have tried to do the same with the Democratic or Green or (rarely) Socialist parties.  As I have said before, political parties are all flawed and while one or more may, at a given time and place, be more in line with gospel values than another, this is likely to be transient and Christians should be of independent spirit even if registered as a member of one party or another.  No candidate or party should ever think they have a “lock on the Christian vote,” as if we were just one more special interest group.

2. Christian leaders must not distribute essentially partisan or single-issue voter guides that purport to be apolitical or nonpartisan.

I’m on board here.

3. Christian leaders must not publicly handicap or comment upon the political horse race.

I’m not as certain here, at least not as broadly as Dave has defined “Christian Leader.”  Of course, my hesitation may have to do with the fact that I did handicap the upcoming presidential race a few months back.  None of us likes to think we have screwed up, and I certainly wouldn’t have done this if were (currently) on a church staff or employed as religion faculty, or still employed by Every Church a Peace Church, etc.  Does having a religion and politics blog make one a “Christian leader?”  What do you think? I understand Dave’s concern, here. Such public “handicapping” can influence support for a candidate based on whether so and so thinks s/he can win, rather than on the issues.  Also, under the guise of handicapping chances, a minister or other religious leader could actually be endorsing a particular candidate.  Hmm.  Should I refrain from further handicapping to be on the safe side??

4. Christian leaders must not provide private or public advice to particular politicians, parties or campaigns concerning how they can strategize in order to win evangelical or Christian votes.

I am definitely on board here. I have privately rebuked a few fellow theo-bloggers for this and am not happy with UCC minister Chuck Currie for playing this kind of role with a particular candidate–even though I largely agree with Currie and like much about the candidate he is advising.  Giving politicians, parties, or candidates moral advice on e.g., items of social justice and/or making them aware of the concerns of a certain faith-group about issue X is one thing.  Teaching said pol how to “woo” those voters is another–it is a form of nationalist seduction with the “Christian leader” in the role of pimping out his or her segment of the church!

5. Christian leaders must not calibrate their public teachings or writings in order to affect the outcome of political elections or to gain and hold the support of politicians.

This is a strong temptation that REALLY needs to be resisted.  Suppose candidate X is “pro-choice” on abortion and minister Y is pro-life.  Minister Y may believe that, overall, candidate X is the best candidate on the full range of issues and want said candidate to win over candidate Z who is vocally “pro-life,” but seems to stop caring about human life once it has left the womb.  Nevertheless, Minister Y should not cease his or her preaching a pro-life position in order to help candidate X win.  Same with many other issues.  Once in office, too, politician X should be confronted with the full range of moral concerns–including the ones s/he doesn’t share.

6. Christian leaders must not attend political rallies or campaign events of one candidate or party unless they are prepared to attend rallies and events of all candidates and parties.

This seems overly broad, given Dave’s very broad definition of “leaders.”  I can see this rule for pastors and for famous Christian leaders, but for the more obscure, I would make a distinction between attending the rally as just part of the crowd and attending as a platform speaker–clearly an endorsement.  Last year, I went to a rally for then-candidate John Yarmuth (now the freshman U.S. Rep. from KY’s 3rd district) with my daughter (12) who is very interested in a future in politics.  Barack Obama, not a presidential candidate at the time, was the keynote speaker and I thought the experience would be both exciting and educational. No one knew we were there, nor was our presence any kind of “Christian endorsement,” so I felt no compulsion to go to a similar rally for then-incumbent Rep. Anne Northup–the only elected official I have ever had who NEVER, not even once, voted the way I asked her too.  But this rule does make sense for those on church or para-church staffs.

7. Christian leaders must not invite political candidates to speak in church pulpits or on church grounds unless they are prepared to invite all political candidates of all parties to do so.

Agreed.  In fact, without such a “come one, come all” rule, the church in question is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status. But I would go further and say that it is a bad idea to allow a sitting politician or candidate to speak in pulpits or on church grounds. I don’t like it when the Religious Right does it, and I don’t like it when Democrats use (mostly African-American) pulpits to show how concerned for racial justice they are. There are other venues.

8. Christian leaders must not identify the potential or actual victory of any politician as a victory for God or God’s kingdom.

Absolutely.

9. Christian leaders must limit their direct contact with politicians or staff in order to avoid even the appearance of undue loyalty or involvement.

This rule would seem less necessary in other contexts, but given the extreme politicization of the U.S. churches since c. 1980, this is good.  Of course, Christian leaders still have the right to petition leaders like any other citizen and they might want to voice concerns, but if they are regularly seen in circles of power that will give the appearance of being part of a “kitchen cabinet,” or of being a lobby, etc.

10. Christian leaders must not engage in voter registration campaigns or get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at mobilizing the voters of one political party rather than another.

The last clause in this sentence is key.  Voter registration per se is a good thing.  Partisan mobilization, as if the churches were part of the grassroots efforts of party x or politician y, threatens the integrity of the gospel.

11. Christian leaders must not direct the funds of their churches or organizations toward direct or indirect support for a particular political candidate or party.

In fact, this is illegal in the U.S. context, although it happens more often than one would believe. 

12. Christian leaders may not sidestep these rules by drawing a distinction between their activities as a “private individual” over their service in their public role.

This one I think may depend on how broadly one defines “Christian leader.” But definitely pastors, para-church officials, and the like are far too identified with the church to be able to make a public/private distinction credible.  When I was a pastor, I would not even tell my congregation to which party I belonged–although I had no problem discussing ISSUES from the pulpit.

13. Christian leaders must offer Christian proclamation related to that large number of public issues that are clearly addressed by biblical principles or direct biblical teaching.

Dave’s point here is a warning against reducing our moral teachings that have political implications to one or two “hot button” issues.  Abortion is a moral issue–but so are nuclear weapons.  Justice for the poor is talked about more from Genesis to Revelation than probably any other moral issue–but it doesn’t get the “air time” in many Christian circles than others with much less biblical support.

14. Christian leaders must encourage Christian people toward active citizenship, including studying the issues and the candidates and testing policy stances and candidates according to biblical criteria.

Just because Christian leaders don’t endorse parties or candidates doesn’t mean we should encourage apathy or quietist withdrawal. We want to equip folks so that they will be able to discern the leading of the Spirit themselves.

15. Christian leaders must model and encourage respectful and civil discourse related to significant public issues as well as political candidates.

The erosion of civil discourse has long been noted and is now at a half-century low.

16. Christian leaders must model and encourage prayer for God-ordained government, its leaders and their policies.

One can, as my friend Thom, following John Howard Yoder, does, question whether God “ordains” government or simply “orders” it, uses it pragmatically.  That is a valid exegetical and theological debate. But there should be no debate over the many biblical commands to pray for leaders (whether we like them or not).  Failure to do so is simple disobedience to God.

17. Christian leaders must teach and model respect for the constitutional relationship between religion and the state as these are spelled out in the First Amendment.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., the church is not to be the master of the state, nor the servant of the state, but the conscience of the state.  The early champions of church-state separation, such as Roger Williams, did not believe such foolishness as “religion and government have nothing to do with each other.” Rather, they held (rightly, in my view) that only if the institutions of government and religion were separated, would the churches (synagogues, etc.) be free to give a prophetic word to the state.  The U.S. pattern is controlled by the opening 2 clauses of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor abridging the free exercise thereof;” and by the final clause of Article VI of the Constitution, “no religious test shall ever be required as qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

July 12, 2007 Posted by | Christianity, church-state separation, citizenship, human rights., politics | 10 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

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

Christian Peace Witness for Iraq

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

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

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

Living Faith

“Orthodoxy as we find it in many a creed comes to us wet with the blood of our spiritual forefathers [and foremothers] and rank with the smoke of the stake. True Evangelicalism is a message not of doctrinal precision, but of life. The teaching and life and resurrection of Jesus reveal that God is Love, and that the supreme good of life is to be loving, like God. That is the essence of the gospel. . . . No man [or woman] or group of men [or women] can be said to be actually devoted to the cause of Christ who will not practice the Golden Rule in the spirit of sacrifice born of the mind which is of Christ.”

Shailer Mathews, Dean of the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in his address, “The Sufficiency of the Gospel for the Salvation of Society,” presented to the Baptist World Congress meeting in Philadephia in 1911 (Congress Proceedings, 82, 87).

This quote is from one of the more theologically liberal of Baptists, but I have seen similar expressions from more conservative Baptists. Though not unique or exclusive to Baptists, it is the heart of Baptist perspective on faith at our best. One of my favorite hymns also expresses it well, “My faith has found a resting place, not in device nor creed; I trust the Ever-Living One; his wounds for me shall plead. I need no other argument, I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”

January 22, 2007 Posted by | Christianity | 10 Comments

On Being a Christian (with apologies to Hans Küng)

This is not, strictly speaking, a theology blog like some of those on my links, Faith & Theology, Chrisendom, Euangelion, etc. This blog is intended more as religiously inspired social commentary. It could be considered an exercise in liberation-style political theology, I suppose.

At any rate, conceiving of the blog as having a particular focus, I have tried to avoid topics other than those I consider part of the blog’s purpose–although, I have tried to break monotony with humor, family photos, news about my church, bio sketches of mentors and heroes, and book reviews, especially of books I think important to the Radical Reformation heritage of (Ana)baptists. My feeling has been that if people want to discuss other things, there are plenty of blogs available.

Despite that, however, I find myself needing to prove my bona fides. An annoying twerp I have banned from this site has been telling many, many people that I am not “born again,” and that I try to have Christian discipleship without regeneration and other lies–thus prejudicing potential evangelical readers against me. I resent heavily needing to set the record straight, but ignoring this whisper campaign has not worked.

So, here goes: I was raised in a United Methodist home of a type that would once have been called “evangelical liberal,” but those two words are almost never placed together anymore. The majority of my family is still UMC, but my brother’s family is Pentecostal (Assemblies of God), and there are also Presbyterians, Church of Christ, and Roman Catholics in my extended family. As a teen I went through a period of adolescent rebellion that included skepticism and considering myself an agnostic: Ironically, I ceased to go to church just as my father, following a second-career call to ministry, was ordained a United Methodist deacon and was continuing education toward ordination as an elder. (I know my father was embarrassed, but he wisely gave me space and both he and my mother prayed for me–talking to God about me when it was impossible to talk to me about God as my mother later put it.)

At 18, helped by Black Baptist, Methodist, & Pentacostal friends, I was “born again.” (My debts to African-American Christianity and the Black Church remain HUGE.) I do not like the way this term is used by many in American evangelicalism to refer either to a subjective experience or to some kind of contract with God that makes discipleship optional. That is not the way the phrase functions in the Gospel of John where it is better translated, “born from above.” Nevertheless, though I am tempted when asked about when I was “saved,” to reply in Barthian style, “on Golgotha,” there is a subjective experience that accompanies the objective work of God-in-Christ. And, in my case, that conversion experience was extremely powerful.

However, I had already enlisted in the U.S. army when I experienced saving grace and therefore had no chance to be formed in a Christian community that would mold me in Christian character before I departed for basic training. Fortunately, a high school friend who was opposed to my joining the army challenged me to memorize the Sermon on the Mount during basic training. So, I spent my days learning to be a soldier and my “spare time” memorizing the largest block of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels, including the beatitude on peacemakers and the commands to love enemies, etc. It caused much cognitive dissonance.

About a year after enlisting I found myself stationed in Heidelberg, Germany–or West Germany as it was then. Since I was trying (with very mixed results ) to learn German, I stopped going to the chapel on post and started attending the small Baptist church in Heidelberg which, at the time, had both a German service and an English service with the same sermon. I attended both trying to get better at my German. This was at the beginning of the huge European peace movement of the ’80s and the pastor preached often on Christian peacemaking. I remember him quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. often. (Strange that I had to go to Germany to learn to take seriously the words of my own countryman.) I became convinced that Christians must be peacemakers, not warriors. I was baptized and applied for conscientious objector status and a discharge–which, after much grief, was granted. I became a Baptist and a C.O. at the same time–and this was like a second conversion for me.

Enough testimony. Salvation is a large biblical concept that is too often reduced in American evangelical circles to either a one-time event or to “fire insurance.” But there is a past, present, and future to salvation: I have been saved; I am being saved; I shall be saved.

Moreover, in both Old and New Testaments, God’s redeeming work in the world is mainly concerned with creating a people and calling them out to mission: WE are being saved together. It is in THIS sense (and this sense only) that the ancient word is right: extra ecclesiam nulla salus—outside the church is no salvation. By grace, God enables us to participate in God’s redeeming work in the world. Discipleship, following after Jesus, is the very shape of the Christian life–not an option that born again individuals can choose or reject.

The church is both the foretaste and the primary agent of the Kingdom or Rule of God which has broken into history and is coming in fullness at the Eschaton. That Rule of God come into history, not some disembodied existence in “heaven,” is the goal of Christian faith, as Byron has been arguing over at Nothing New Under the Son.

I have touched on far more than can be explained in one post. This entry opens up a huge range of topics–one reason why I have avoided it previously. Yet, that avoidance gave the false impression that I am ashamed of the gospel or of God’s converting work in my life. I hope this sets the record straight.

October 10, 2006 Posted by | Christianity, faith, testimony | 7 Comments

Israeli Bombings Prevent Christian Aid in Beirut

EthicsDaily.com reports that the efforts of Lebanese Christians, such as those at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and the Beirut Baptist School, have been forced to quit offering shelter and other aid to displaced refugees in Lebanon because the Israeli bombings of Beirut have forced their evacuation. Meanwhile that same news report tells us that one-time Baptist, Pat Robertson, has been praying with Israeli PM Ohlmert for an Israeli victory. Robertson is quoted as saying, “For all our sake, Israel cannot lose.” It is children’s lives which are being lost–so much for the “pro-life” stance of Robertson. It is peace which is being lost. It is the new and fragile democracy in Lebanon being lost. And, with remarks like Robertson’s or biblio-blogger Joe Cathey‘s, it is the reputation of the gospel that is being lost.

August 10, 2006 Posted by | Christianity, ethics, Israel, peacemaking | Comments Off on Israeli Bombings Prevent Christian Aid in Beirut