Life in a (THE) Swing State

If you’re following the political trail of the Presidential race, then chances are you are pretty tired of hearing about Ohio (and Pennsylvania and Florida) . . . but mainly Ohio.  Unless you’ve lived here during one of these very closely contested races, it is difficult for you to imagine the deluge of political propaganda that is thrown at us Ohioans.  Television, radio, Internet, door-to-door, posters, billboards, yard signs . . . it truly is incredible how important my vote has become.  One of the candidates is within a few miles of my house just about every week.  It’s a great opportunity for political education for my children – but what to teach them?

Really it’s just my son who’s old enough to pay attention to this election season and we’ve started fielding his questions – “Are we Republicans or Democrats?  Why are they saying those mean things about the President?  Are those things about Mitt Romney true?  Why do we have elections?’  and on and on we go.  While the challenges of explaining the electoral college to my seven-year-old go without saying, the real challenge I’m having is how do I help frame his reference through the perspective of a sovereign God who is control of everything – assuring him that no matter what happens, God is in control, while at the same time, encouraging biblically informed opinions and feelings about political matters.

I haven’t figured out the answer to this one, but I have been getting a lot of “how not to . . .” illustrations from other Christians in the media, on Facebook, among other places.  This is such a complicated issue, and I don’t have the energy to get into the complexity of it, but there is one specific shortcoming that has been really highlighted in this year’s Presidential election.

When Barack Obama ran for the highest U.S. office in 2008, one of the conversations I found myself having regularly with Conservatives had to do with their fear of his “liberal” Christian connection to people like Jeremiah Wright and his membership within the United Church of Christ.  Were they even Christians?  I talked to more than a few Christians who had serious doubts about that – and that really concerned them.  They were fearful of the idea of social justice (a specific target of a particular Glenn Beck episode I remember watching), of the politicizing of the UCC, among other things.  What has been particularly interesting in this year’s election is how that narrative has changed.  Granted, I have seen a speckling of concerns over Romney’s affiliation within the Mormon Church  here and there by Christians, but it has in no way been to the extent that Obama’s Christian heritage was attacked four years ago.

Obviously, the narrative has been altered in order to best benefit the candidate chosen by the GOP.  This year, perhaps more than any other, highlights how sticky the situation becomes when a religious groups become bedfellows with a particular political party.  Romney’s people know they have to give great care to the public image of his faith convictions.  They strongly state publicly his personal moral convictions about personal matters of morality that will resonate with the broader conservative Christian base, but keep the particulars of his ties to the Mormon church on the back page.

I’m not too interested in having a discussion about the awfulness (or greatness or indifferent-ness) of having a Mormon President.  What concerns me is how easily politically engaged Christians allow themselves to be duped by the media and spinsters – often while they are decrying the impact of the “liberal media” at the exact same time.  Shaking your fist at the established media outlets can give this sense that “I have done due diligence of not getting fooled by those mainstream liars,” and have a comrade with everyone else who says the same thing.  It has become the new rallying cry and the new uniter.  At the end of the day, though, the fact of the matter is we still allow our political ideology to dictate our feelings about things rather than an overflowing faith conviction.  Christians watch political news outlets and listen to their radio programs and then sprinkle some Scripture on top and feel we have a completely biblically justified political position.  Perhaps it is unfair to disconnect the two . . . however . . . in order to be as supportive of a President whose faith is based on, what most conservative Christians, at least, would say, a myth while challenging the faith of an Orthodox (though liberal) Christian illustrates this point poignantly.  We’re allowing ourselves to be united over political arguments that become more and more distant to biblical foundations.  It is easy to deceive ourselves and think that God is of a certain political persuasion (though we’d never admit that) and end up demonizing others – after all, that’s what all these political ads in Ohio do.

As I seek to provide political guidance for my children, I am working to show them the folly of image and hype.  That very image and hype of President Obama that Republicans believed won him the election in 2008 was sorely lacking during the last debate, and, ironically, many Republicans found themselves basking in the same conversation – “He looked great!’

The Christian narrative is one of peace, non-violence, loving the other, considering others before ourselves, taking care of those in need, providing for those who need provision . . . these concerns are all overtly political – unfortunately, seldom does the Christian allow their political narrative to BEGIN here!

Book Review: Who is my Enemy?

We all have a tendency to consume media and interact with people who make us feel comfortable and conform to our current patterns of thinking.  Republicans watch Fox News and listen to Rush, Hannity, and Beck while Liberals watch MSNBC and listen to . . . well, no one since liberals don’t tend to do radio well.  We like to be pushed and challenged, to an extent, but we usually prefer that to happen in extremely sanitized ways.  We tend to write people off the moment they register on our “not-like-me radar.” Whether we admit it or not, our subconscious is on a constant quest to discern certain key words or phrases from those we are talking with or reading to know whether or not we should dismiss them or listen intently to them.  What kind of language do they use?  What key phrases do they refer to?  Who do they reference and quote?  We all have our circles of comfort.

What I like about Lee Camp is that he tends to bring all of us to places of discomfort – probably one of the reasons a lot of people don’t bother with him.  Camp teaches at my alma mater, Lipscomb University, and is really one of their brightest and most audacious professors.   Having studied under John Howard Yoder at Notre Dame, Camp is on a lifelong quest to embody the pacifist, non-violent principles articulated by his academic mentor.  He says as much in his first book, Mere Discipleship.  There, he brings to life issues that are most often left to academic ramblings.  There, he teases out the practical implications of a Yoderan social politick in the life of the Christian.

Camp’s latest effort, Who is My Enemy?, is really a case study in following Jesus’ way of loving your enemy.  He begins by sharing his experience of delivering a lecture at a seminar on conflict resolution at Lipscomb University which addressed the relationship between Christians and Muslims.  Some of Camp’s comments, rightly or wrongly interepreted, set off a firestorm directed at Camp accusing him of everything from ignorance to cowardice.  This experience drove Camp to learn more about Islam and wrestle with Christians’ relationship with Islam (and Muslims, specifically).  The result is a jarring and, often, center-shaking work that all Christians should read – whether they think they’ll ever speak with a Muslim or not.

There is so much good in this book that I want to offer a few posts in which to share my reflections.  For full disclosure, I’m a big fan of Lee Camp and believe that he provides a very important voice among Christians, even though many people would be extremely troubled by his teaching (more on this later).  As a fellow Church of Christ-ite, he also represents my particular background underneath the Christian umbrella well.  While there certainly will be those who question Camp’s philosophy and some of his conclusions, it is difficult to ignore someone who actively pursues those who are different to humbly and peacefully engage in dialogue and share Christian love.  That may be what gives Camp’s words such power – a strong mixture of humility and Christian audacity.

Here’s a (not-too) brief first reflection . . .

One of the most compelling aspects of Camp’s book for me was rooted in an earlier work by William Cavanaugh in The Myth of Religious Violence.  We have all been taught that religions are insatiably violent by nature – at least in dealing with those who think differently than they do.  Their constant warring is largely to blame for many of our world’s problems.  In the West we are taught that Western civilization has solved the riddle to these problems: make religion a private concern.  That’s what has created our great nation of freedom.  The Muslim states, so we are told, have never figured that part out.

The question Cavanaugh raises in this pointed critique of what many take as “common sense,” is what constitutes religion?  How do we so easily assume that Islam is all tied up in the war-making rhetoric and actions of nations like Iran and Iraq, but Western nations like ours are freed of any religious integration?  Cavanaugh’s theory here is that “religion” was a creation of modern Western civilization.  Throughout history, there was no separation from religion and the rest of life.  Although we’ve tried with all of our might, it’s awfully hard to claim that the Bible makes any such claims.  Thus, the more we have attempted to make Christianity a “private religion” in our evolved Western state, the more we have neutered the Gospel as it was given to the first Christians.  The earliest persecuted Christians didn’t seem to think they had been converted to some kind of private personal piety, how could this have become the “common sense” articulation of the Gospel today?

Camp summarizes Cavanugh and makes the following point: “the ‘myth of religious violence’ posits that the violence of religion is unacceptable, but the violence of the secular state is either ignored or seen as legitimate.  The violence of religion is always necessarily irrational, but the violence of the state is seen as necessary for peacemaking.  Once this assumption is swallowed, the violence of the state is justified, overlooked, ignored, or even celebrated by Western Christians, all while believing that the solution is for Islam to become more Western.”  (113)  The end result is that the church has often become nothing more than what Camp calls a “lapdog for the state” and “chaplain for America.”

I know this is a bit jumbled (and long), I’ll try to engage in a little more succinct matter late this week.  I’ll end with this parable in which Camp further makes this point:

“A king went out to conquer, amassing great wealth and power.  There came to him a people who asserted that some other was king, whom they called ‘Lord of Lords.’  The king replied: you may freely worship this one you call, ‘lord,’ you may freely build your buildings and write your books and seek your converts to this one you call, lord,’ while I am your public king.  I shall make the laws, and you shall obey them.  I shall tell you what enemies to kill, and you shall kill them.  I shall give you a marketplace, and you shall seek to maximize your profits and keep all your profits, even at the expense of the poor, or the widow, or the stranger, and thence you shall pay taxes with which we shall wage war against all who threaten your freedom to worship your personal ‘lord.’

“And the people replied: We will gladly do as you say, O king.  Indeed, we shall obey your laws.  And we shall seek great profit and keep all for ourselves.  And we will kill your enemies, for you, O king, have allowed us to pray to our houses of worship, in the privacy of our closets.  Even more,  O king, because you have allowed us to worship thus, we will denounce all those who do not exalt you, and we will proclaim that you have granted us the right to worship, and we shall profess that any who do not obey your laws or maximize profit or kill your enemies are no servants of the private Lord of Lords.  We will hang your standard in our halls of worship, we will honor those who fight your wrars, and we will celebrate those who heedlessly maximize profit.  Oh, grand us such liberty as this, O King!

The king was pleased, and his new subjects served him well and were happy and satisfied.  (115-116)





Superman Not an American???

This little frame from the most recent Superman comic has created quite the platform for discussion.  My previous blog, God, Superman, and the Buckeyes, seems to be the perfect repository for much of recent big news (scandals at Ohio State, and now this??)  This is right in my wheel house.

A couple of years ago I published an article examining the ways in which media portrayals of heroes are little more than an extension of the state seeking to glorify national interests and solidify patriotism in children (think G I Joe, Superman, etc.)  The authors Jewett and Lawrence have done a lot of work in this regard from the perspective of American history.  It seems that this latest turn in the Superman saga sparks a potential follow-up article (which if I can find some time I’ll work on some day , but here are some initial thoughts).

There is little doubt that Superman is the archetypal American “mono-myth” (a term from Jewett and Lawrence).  After all, he has always fought for “truth, justice, and the American way.”  Created by Siegel and Shuster in 1938, the comic had World War II and the Cold War to foment Superman in the American psyche as extension of all that is good in American foreign policy.  2011, however, is a much different time than the 40’s and 50’s.  The global political landscape has changed so drastically that Superman is having to reinvent himself to make sense in today’s global world.

It will be interesting to watch the conservative backlash from this event (and to see if the comic creates a new storyline where Superman’s American citizenry is once again affirmed), and it is one of those instances where we can learn alot about people from popular culture.  No doubt, the underlying impasse for many will be the presupposition that Superman’s renunciation of his American citizenship is predicated on the idea that his quest for truth and justice (and freedom?) finds him at odds with the American economic and political policies in the world.

There’s much more to come on this . . . but I wanted to throw out some initial thoughts of mine . . .

Letter to my Libertarian Friend

I have a good friend from college who’s now a veterinarian in Northeastern Ohio.  He helps contribute to the website: XEKE.COM – I’m sure they’d appreciate your visit, especially those Libertarians who stop by here frequently 😉 I respect Ryan a great deal and I know he does me . . . we just look at the world differently, and banter back and forth on occasion.  He’s smart and respectful . . . just a little off when it comes to politics 😉  Ha!  Hopefully, this will provoke some helpful reflections from many.

I haven’t spent a good deal there, but as I looked over it today, I was compelled to put some thoughts together to share with him.  Mainly, I find it beneficial for my own thinking as I continually work through my own perspectives and test my own thoughts.  In addition, provided they purport to proclaim the name of Christ through their perspective, I thought I would add a pastoral voice.  After bantering through it a great deal, below is the final product I passed on to him earlier today.  I thought through a bunch of things, so I figured I’d post it here as some of you may appreciate looking at some of the issues I raise.

Hey . . . so I am apparently trying hard not to get any work done today and I, through a strange series of clicks that can only happen through our strangely connected world . . . ended up on your libertarian political website and felt (as you can imagine 🙂 compelled to respond.  The sheer divergence of our perspectives on the matters you address is incredible.  I always enjoy our quips back and forth as I test and trial to my philosophical constructs over against many others whose differ.

With a website like yours, it is especially challenging to engage in dialogue because the real dialogue has to take place at a very philosophical level – that’s clearly where we diverge.  So, choosing an issue or current event to go back and forth like talking leaves instead of the root.

I do have to do something today 🙂  so I’ll try to work through some thoughts on my own.  Maybe you can post them on your Reponses section – ha!
There’s a couple of thoughts just in general I’ll make – just kind of observations from looking at four of five articles on your website.  I’ll tell you first of all the vibe that’s most troubling.  It’s probably a personality thing more than anything, but I am constantly bothered by what I come away perceiving as a, “Everyone is morons and if they would just reason it (ie. if they were as smart as me) these problems would go away.”  I can imagine your response at this point would be, “I never said that,” and of course you didn’t, but it’s the vibe I get from watching most political conversations take place.  Glenn Beck is super good at it.  “I mean, I’m just telling you the facts and they must be blind because here it is in black and white . . .” and those on the Left and Right kind of both move according to that drumbeat.  If it was that easy – if all we had to do was look at the facts, these divisions wouldn’t exist, at least they wouldn’t be so sharp.  But that’s the thing, it isn’t just the facts.  I saw at one point you make the reference that you just were going to deal with the facts and ignore the emotions of one of your responder’s comments, as if the “truth” is more important and objective than the emotional response.  Perhaps it is, but it’s awfully presumptuous to believe that you are more privy to those facts and that truth than those who differ with you or could it be that their understanding of the truth has been forever compromised by a situation or experience.  We can rest assured that your response is free of any kind of emotional presupposition?  Often in your responses in regards to racism, in particular, you seem to say, “Just set aside any kind of prejudice or racism that you’ve experienced and just be reasonable.”  But who can do that?  Who can free themselves of their experiences and provide an objective perspective?  No one.  Those experiences are just as informative and important as any “objective” truth, fact, or statistic.  We are an incredible complexity made up of our experiences, educational background, and upbringing.  “Just stick to the facts.  Just stick to the truth.”  There’s always more than the facts.  There’s always more than the truth.  Conservatives like to drone on about the liberal bias of the media.  Fair enough, but let’s not presuppose, as many seem to do, that they’re offering (or can point us in the direction of) the REAL truth . . . the REAL facts (the rest of the story.)  How about saying it’s another perspective?  Maybe a better perspective?  Instead, it can easily wind up being (and I feel this is the way it often is in conservative outlets – maybe liberal too, but there are just way more conservative) well . . . hey, you’ve just been misled.  We love our little Youtube soundbytes and clips.  Whether it’s that clip you posted the other day about some congress woman being referred to as “Ma’am” or the crazy lady who’s made dumb comments about masturbation and witchcraft (SNL spoof was great by the way) – we can throw out all kinds of tidbits that support or challenge us.  The result is that no one can quote an article they’ve seen here or there, or a program they’ve watched because it’s full of blatantly misleading information  . . .  I’m not proposing a cure here, I just believe we (especially as Christians) have to admit our bias going in and move with humility.  How often can you associate that word in political discussions?  I don’t care what point we’re making or what side were arguing, if we can promote a spirit of humility and love through all that we do, we’d probably be doing pretty well.  What is the real value . . .in the end . . .of being right?  Perhaps God can do more in us when we are wrong.  Maybe God wants us to be wrong – to have our perspective shot to hell.
I, as you probably would imagine, am a pretty serious critic of Rand’s libertarian ideals and their enmeshment with the Bible.  With that said, I do not propose to be all that well informed as to the particulars of her philosophy, so you can disregard my critique as uninformed because it is that, however, I am becoming better educated through the recent surge of the tea party and similar Conservatives disillusioned with the established Republican party.  Also I have a slight familiarity with Alan Greenspan’s affinity to her politics and economics.  Interestingly, upon watching a documentary on PBS awhile back (again, here you can write if off as a product of the liberal media and cut me off at the legs, but I’m going forward as though it was reputable), the editors of Frontline proposed that the financial meltdown of 2008 was largely an identity crisis for Greenspan as it represented a challenge to unfurled individualism and capitalism and seemed to work to their ultimate fulfillment . . . and he was forced to go completely against his political and economic outlook in affirming the need for systemic intervention.  That’s about as deep in the water I can go on that matter for now . . .
I would be probably best labeled as a Christian anarchist who finds in the “kingdom of God” (an overt political image) an alternative society living in the here and now for Christians.  In short, my perspective is that you (and those espousing your ideology) have been co-opted by a political ideology that has polluted the Gospel.  Many Christians in your position (it has been my first hand experience) see more in common with a political ally who is not a Christian than a political foe who bears the name of Christ – illustrated in some of your questioning of Jeremiah Wright and (though I didn’t see it, I’m guessing) Ted Strickland – both ordained pastors.  Getting into all this who is a legitimate Christian and who isn’t is not the most productive conversation, but we’ve got to walk cautiously as we demonize other’s perspectives accordingly to their political labels.  While your website is certainly not even close to being the worst, you do raise questions about the validity of ministers based on a message you believe is “false.”  As an aside, much of what Wright teaches parallels the message of the minor prophets and their prophesying against Israel.  Those books aren’t often studied in white-suburban churches . . . they hit a little closer to home.  They are hard-hitting, in-your-face and have a very similar message to much of Wright’s words.  Overall, I’m not saying he’s off his rocker . . . I’m not saying he is . . . I’m saying he’s a Christian whose allegiance is first of all to the kingdom of heaven and should be judged by that first and not by politically-insensitive words.
Perhaps my best critique of your politic is this . . . Rand’s individualistic-driven libertarianism highlights a Western individualism run amok of the Gospel.  It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s “rugged individualism” disguised as some kind of quasi-Christianity.  It completely sets aside the communal nature of the Eastern context of Scripture.  It elevates individual moral decisions over systemic accountability.  (Ie. Jeremiah Wright is judged by his “racist” statements – thus he’s not a Christian, regardless of any kind of systemic impact that he may have on the kingdom.  “All fall short . . .” you know that spiel . . . one of my biggest critques of conservative politics is that it emphasizes personal moral convictions while often ignoring – or at least diminishing the place of larger systems issues of sin in society.)

I wanted to find one matter from your writing that helps illustrate my overarching concern for the perspective you are promoting (in the name of Christ).  Could you please justify the following statement based on a Christ-inspired, kingdom-centered perspective?

“Illegal aliens do not, and should not, receive the same civil rights that true Americans receive. The idea that a pregnant illegal alien can illegally enter our country, give birth to her “anchor baby,” and all of a sudden her child is a citizen is a joke and a fraud. True, we do have THE best medicine in the world. True, our health care system is THE best health care system in the world. True, socialized medicine has failed every where in the world it has been forced upon its people. That being said, a woman who illegally enters our country has no rights, her child has no rights, and tax payers dollars should never go toward health care, education, welfare, etc. to an illegal alien.”
I don’t now which of you wrote this statement (it’s kind of old, but I think the illegal immigrant discussion is a good one to help talk us through some of the ways our kingdom perspective has been co-opted).  By the way . . . the use of inflammatory words (or at least, extreme words) like “a joke” and “a fraud” show that your arguments are not free of emotion either.  But to my point, I find this series of statements disheartening, unfortunate, and, I believe, contrary to the mind of Christ.  To say that anyone has “no rights” is to co-opt the message of Christ for a much more narrow civic message (America).  How does this perspective jive with Paul’s words that in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female”?  I have a suspicion your perspective is that Paul is aiming this perspective at those within the church – whom he no doubt is.  However, it is the life of Christ enacted in the early church.  To be honest . . . I have no side in the argument that “a woman who illegally enters our country . . . tax payer dollars should never go toward health care, education, welfare, etc.”  The Christian has no role in the government – that’s my prevailng thought.  However, I believe it is more in the mind of Christ that my tax dollars go to providing food for this woman than to building another nuclear weapon.  Would you agree?  I think you’d have to do some kind of hermeneutical gymnastics to find a text that would be more supportive of government defense than welfare.  Of course, I completely deny the idea that there is something redemptive in violence – that shows my bias.  There’s some OT texts I struggle with . . . but there’s some NT texts I hope you are struggling with.  As Christians our concern is that the less fortunate and down-trodden are taken care of – I don’t care how it happens.  In the OT, the rich were told to give up what they had so that the poor would be taken care of (leaving gleanings from their fields, the Jubilee year, etc.)  Don’t get caught up in this idea that the Bible eschews socialism at every turn – it’s easier to make a biblical case for socialism than capitalism (consider at an elementary level, which sounds more in line with Christ? a system where the poor and disenfranchised are taken care of by leveling wealth or a system that is based on individualism and competition . . . hard to justify either of these latter on the grounds of biblical texts . . . the argument that the former requires “stealing” from the wealthy . . . well, I don’t know . . . I just know that is the way the entire OT system was laid out . . . and it was never called “stealing.”
OK, I got off topic here for a minute . . . let me make my main point.  I believe the main philosophical underpinning dividing us is that you make a clear distinction between the morals and structure of the civic authorities that I do not.  In order to espouse your position, you have to.  A lot of this comes down to how we interpret Romans 12 and 13.  Chapter 13 is everyone’s favorite passage about submitting to the govt. and right after that we’re told they are given the authority of the sword.  However, right before this in chp. 12 Paul tells Christians not to repay evil for evil but allow God’s wrath to fall.  A clear contradiction – either Christians should be involved in violence or not.  To say they can be under the guise of the state, you have to create that dichotomy – there are things the state can do and has been empowered to do and somehow in the end the means will be justified.  I cannot follow this line of logic.  I believe that the message of Christ completely flipped that mindset upside down.  He said the means must always justify the end.  This means we stand in the face of horrific events like WWII and raise our hands unable to take up swords against what we perceive to be a major evil and surrender our lives trusting that God will move.  God will make it right.  Upon our death, we are left to point the accusing finger at Him for we have refused to continue to contribute to the un-ending cycle of violence.  It largely comes down to our view of the unfolding of history as well.  I believe God is in control of history and that I have nothing to worry about: not the Democrats (or Republicans) or Socialists taking over Washington, not Iran’s nuclear program, not the crisis in Darfur, not global warming . . . I believe the church is called to minister in all these areas . . . the church is the most significant power in our world . . . and it is therefore so disappointing when we give that respect and title over to any government (which many appear to do in their incredibly high view of the U. S. Constitution).

So . . . there’s a long rant that got me out of an hour’s worth of work . . .now I really have to get something done.  I feel compelled to work through some of these issues at times, not necessarily to convince you or anyone else that my opinion is right, but to help me think and pray through my own position.  Much of what I’ve written here challenges you and your perspective fundamentally and I would imagine it will be hard for us to find a middle ground, for the lack of a better image, or even points of contact.  I would encourage you to read some Mennonite and neo-anabaptist theology.  I appreciate your political involvement and concern, I would just encourage you to throw the net out further . . . read from a broader pool, especially when it comes to theology.  There’s an emerging school of theology from the liberation theology camp . . .they’ve been tampering through their emergence in Latin American countries and attempts are being made at shaking out some of its excesses, and I believe, by the time you and I are old, this will be a major perspective among all Western churches.  It’s often called post-colonial theology.  I know we mostly like to read the stuff that agrees with our perspective and ushers us on forward . . . but there is great value for me as I sit and listen to Glenn Beck’s nonsense every few weeks 😉  I make an effort to expose myself only to as much of this that is helpful and upbuilding . . . much of it is not . . . look over much of the writing you’ve done in this camp and ask yourself, where am I most productive?  Where am I building the biggest bridges for Christ?  Don’t get caught up in the addictive realm of politics  . . .

Hope this is helpful . . . at some point or another . . . it has been for me .  . . hope you and the fam are well!  Thanks again for our frequent FB exchanges!
And . . . to something we can agree upon . . . GO BUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   😉
By the way  .  .  . since I’ve taken so long to type this out, I’ll copy this and put in on my blog for my post this week.  I look forward to the conversation.


Glenn Beck and Dealing in Politics

I have made it pretty clear through my posts here that I believe the American political system has compromised much of the Gospel in the American church. It has become difficult to discern the Gospel from the right wing political alignment of the Religious Right. There is certainly a wealth of disagreement when it comes to the nature of the Gospel and politics. Whenever I have some time, I’ll be taking some time to study and work through some of the more critical matters involved here – I’ve recently just touched the surface. I foresee a discourse on Romans 13 coming soon.

For now, I want to take a moment and post a thought or two about Glenn Beck. I used to tune into his show occassionally just to stay abreast of what his very influential show is teaching. I would get so frustrated in watching it I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t very beneficial for me to participate. However, I went to the gym last week and, his show on one of the televisions, I caught wind of his recent attacks on the “social justice” movement. As someone who has read a good bit in this area, I was intrigued as to what this great conspiracy was holding.

I actually dvr-ed the Glenn Beck show (never thought I would do that!) and, when I later watched what ensued, to say that I was outraged, disappointed, saddened, and appalled all at the same time wouldn’t do justice to the range of negative emotions I felt. What Beck says doesn’t bother me much – he is what he is; an entertainer, a personality, larger than life – all that. What I found so appalling was to see two prominent figures in the American church standing behind his shadow and mimic his agenda. All you conservative friends, keep in mind, I have no political allegiance – what appalled me wasn’t so much the Republicanism (I’m used to that) it’s their compromise and public debunking of fellow Christians . . . right next to Mr. Latter Day Saint, Glenn Beck. Beck’s LDS is another topic for another day . . . what I find so amazing is that, by their actions, the president of the leading Reformed seminary (Westerminster) and wellknown evangelical (from Liberty University) more closely align their ideology and perspectives from someone from a false teaching – the LDS than from a liberal-voting evangelical Christian (though they didn’t come right out and say it).

I have been looking for some perspective in addressing this sensitive matter. No doubt any posting in this regard will stir quite a flurry of comments and downright arguing. Is it possible to avoid that? Perhaps not. I found this blog posting over at Vanguard Church that I think has helped me focus this on the pertinent matter.

Glenn Beck is a false prophet. That’s the title of his post . . . and I think Bob, the blog’s author, is getting at the issue. I keep hearing people – Christians – crying out that we can’t get involved in politics, that we must remain neutral. I know what they are saying. I’m not in complete disagreement. However, Glenn Beck’s false teaching and compromise of the Gospel must be addressed. It is perhaps here more than anywhere else where the church’s Constantinian compromise most vividly comes alive. I just read a book by Alan Hirsch entitled The Fogotten Ways. The point is about how the methodology of the church has been compromised by culture to the point that we can no longer envision another kind of church. At one point he makes the point, “the template of this highly institutional version of Christianity is so deeply embedded in our collective psyche that we have inadvertently put it beyond the pale of prophetic critique.” (p. 51). The point of the book is more about the form and life blood of church but I make the same accusation of the church’s involvement with politics. We have become so compromised by political power and might that we have lost our way – we can have put ourselves beyond the pale of prophetic critique.

I don’t expect most people who read this to agree with me. I know my audience much too well. My hope is that you can take a moment and look inside yourself. What factors have led you to these political ties and perspectives that you hold so dearly? Why do you get so energized in the midst of these conversations? Could you be wrong?

I will share this on Facebook . . . not sure that’s the best idea . . . but I hope you can engage in constructive dialogue . . . no matter what your perspective.

Helpful Fruit #4 – A Tradition of Pacifism

It was a trip to Columbus, OH that sealed my fate as a pacifist. I live in Columbus now, but at the time I was living, working, and going to school in Nashville, TN. I was working for a church in Nashville and had been invited to join a couple other former Buckeye residents to their yearly trek to the Ohio State – Michigan football game. I’ll spare you the details (Buckeyes lost, John Cooper fired . . . really, really cold), but the connection to pacifism had to do with the car ride back to Nashville from Columbus. Two friends from church invited me, and one of the friend’s brothers also came and provided our transportation.

Our foray into politics began while we were overnighting Friday at a friend’s house and the topic of the recent election came up. Somehow, (I don’t remember the details of the conversation, but if it was anything like most political conversations I’ve taken part in with Christians, the beginning presupposition of everyone present being a registered Republican probably played a role), the other men found out that I had voted for Al Gore. This (absurd, in their eyes) reality, opened us up to a weekend of political conversation and debate.

Even at that time, I had my suspicions about the benefit of a Christian being involved in the political process (even the less evil democratic political system), but had continued to meddle in the quasi-liberal-slanted perspective of my upbringing. Attending a private Christian school in the South immediately placed me in a smaller minority than the ethnic minorities at the not-long-ago-segregated campus of my alma mater.

It takes approximately six hours to drive from Columbus to Nashville, and that Saturday, after the game was over, our six-hour commute was solely focused on politics. The conservation moved from light joking about the parties, to the serious concern they had over my vote . . . and as I came to find out, my soul. The most tense moment came when the driver challenged anyone to, “Name one good thing Bill Clinton did for this country!” As a college student, that was pretty easy to do because the former President had help sign into legislation a huge college education assistance program that I had benefited from. “He had gotten me a few extra thousand dollars to attend college.” Sounded like something good to me. Turns out, my traveling companion did not see this as in any way “good.” His response began sternly, and grew louder to the point of a yelling crescendo, “It’s my money and I worked my ass off for it, and why should I be paying for your college tuition?” The car sat in silence for quite awhile. Finally, as the tension began to lift a bit, I tried to make the point that I really had no dog in the fight. I wasn’t card-carrying for anyone. My point was simply to force my companions into considering the biblical texts that didn’t easily jive with their political views. “What about Acts 2 and 4 where the Christians met together and sold all they had and shared all they had?” I asked. “And how does the Old Testament practice of jubilee connect with your Right wing political stances?” These were questions they had never been asked before – really, they had never been asked these questions!

I relay this story not to characterize everyone with one broad-sweeping stroke. Certainly, politics are complicated and generalizations are seldom helpful. This experience, however, opened my eyes to the negative side of politics and the divisive and explosive discussions that often result. These events occurred nearly a decade ago, and the United States has grown even more divided along political lines. What a breath of fresh air a church who focused more on kingdom politics than on the tirelessly fallen politics of the nation would be! Never has the world needed the prophetic voice of the church to live out a nonpartisan politic who concerns herself with matters of justice, mercy, and righteousness.

In recent years, pacifism has grown in attention paid by Christian theologians. Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw brought some more academic concepts from people like John Howard Yoder and Jacques Ellul to a more popular-level, lay Christian audience through their book: Jesus for President. Other scholars and pastors like Gregory Boyd, Lesslie Newbigin, and a host of others, are receiving wide readership and extensive exposure. As the West continues to broaden its perspective through the advances of technology and mass media, global concerns are becoming prevalent, and for many Christian traditions, their theological structure is incapable of productive dialogue in this setting.

In my years in seminary at Lipscomb University, it came as a huge surprise that this private Christian school with an overwhelming pro-Republican undertone, actually bears the name of one of America’s most important Civil War-era Christian pacifists (and I don’t think this is overstated): David Lipscomb. In fact, it turned out, Churches of Christ have a ripe tradition of pacifism. Lipscomb’s 1913 work, Civil Government, represents what might be one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated documents produced in America on the topic of pacifism. [The full version of Lipscomb’s work is available online here.]

Scholars in Churches of Christ continue to maintain this longstanding tradition – most notably through the work of Lee Camp (Lee has written the very popular Mere Discipleship, and hosts the Tokens program at Lipscomb) and Michael Casey (“the topic about which he was most passionate and which forms the largest corpus of his published materials was that of pacifism in Churches of Christ . . .” from preface of And the Word Became Flesh, essays written in his honor published this year.) Lipscomb University also has faculty member Richard Goode who teaches in the history department who has been especially formative in my experience, even in my limited interaction with him. In short, the pacifist tradition in Churches of Christ is alive in well . . . at least in the academy.

The challenge before us as ministers within the tradition is to bridge the gap between the isolated tower of academia and the every-day life of the church. In my early years of ministry I see no message as desperately needed in the face of mounting political divisions as this one. At the same time I have experienced the loudest and most acute backlash from conversations in this vein. Nationalism has become the most uniting characteristic of our churches: progressive and conservative churches are equally as likely to sing patriotic hymns in their service and display the American flag prominently in their building.

Certainly, pacifism stands as one of the more hopeful fruits of our tradition. It is also, however, one of the most challenging in teaching and discussing. It is widely said the two topics to avoid in public conversations are politics and religion. What this topic does is jump head first into them both. When it comes to our political allegiances, Churches of Christ are as guilty as any other Christian group of losing our way. It is important for us to rekindle the thoughts and ideas of our pacifist forefathers . . . and be reminded that these are not novel ideas – as the accusation sometimes is made. Not only is there a great history of pacifism within the broader Christian church, closer to home, Churches of Christ share in this rich tradition. We must learn to not be afraid of talking about politics, but we must reframe the conversation. We must overcome the unnecessary obstacles that we have placed in front of those who differ politically and open our minds to a new political reality, a politics of the kingdom of God.

This is not a call for being anti-political (a charge I have been accused of). Quite the contrary, this is a call for a renewed orientation, for allowing God to set our political agendas instead of our governments, and for realizing that our politic is our life, not our vote. We must allow our political agendas to be caught up in the vision of God, not the latest candidate to ascend to power. May Christ grant us some sanity when it comes to charged political matters. May he grant us the confidence and vision of the prophets to speak the Word of God. Those of us in Churches of Christ stand in a great tradition to be able to do so, may we be bold in taking up that calling.

Necessitating an Egyptian/Roman Translation of the Bible

Earlier this year the Patriot’s Bible hit the bookshelves of stores all across the country. There is an interesting video floating around from the editor explaining the rationale behind the compiling of this work, but in the end, I have to side with others who see this as perhaps the culmination of the patriotic idolatry of the American church. I feel this is an important teachable moment for people who may feel uncomfortable with this latest marketed Bible (which by the way, shouldn’t we feel uncomfortable with all of these “specialized” and “marketed” Bibles?) thinking this may go too far. I don’t want to dwell on critiquing this particular Bible here. The few folks that do come by here and read, have a pretty fair idea of the string of that argument. Instead, I’d like to propose another Bible that needs to be compiled.

Stephen Prothero has an interesting book entitled American Jesus: How the Son of God became a National Icon. While I haven’t has a chance to read the book, the description on the back details an important element in American culture. “Our nation’s changing images of Jesus, Stephen Prothero contends, are a kind of looking glass into the national character. Even as most Christians believers cleave to a traditional faith, other people give Jesus a leading role as folk hero, pitchman, or countercultural icon.” (From Dan Cryer, Newsday). Prothero pursues something that consistently shows itself to be true: humans are most likely to worship a deity that looks most like us. Of course Jesus was white. Of course Jesus would be in favor of capitalism. Of course Jesus woudl be in favor of democratic governments. Of course Jesus would be an American patriot – he’d probably wear red, white, and blue to the fireworks. That’s what we do . . . so it must be what he would do. Thus the Patriot’s Bible.

Unfortunately, for us, the Bible was written from the perspective of the oppressed, not the oppressors; from the perspective of the poor, not the wealthy; from the perspective of the powerless, not the powerful. Yet in the halls of our churches and seminaries, the Bible has been slanted toward those perspectives. Jesus, like Bruce Barton’s The Man Nobody Knew, becomes a mirror of successful Americana.

It seems to me we need to come up with a translation of the Bible that would have been read in Cairo and Rome. A Bible that would have stood to convict Pharaoh and Caeasar of their sins of oppression. I’m guessing we wouldn’t particularly care for the language that it would contain, the acts of sacrifice it would require, or the life changes it would mandate. It would, once and for all, specifically address the problems of affluence and excess. Gluttony and abundance would be given more than the scant references contained in the Holy Scriptures.

Our leaders should be spending their time composing a work such as this instead of wasting our time wading through the references to Scripture in the founding documents of the United States as if that somehow makes their genocide of the Native Peoples less significant.

Readings off the Map

In researching for my upcoming paper, I’m reading through a lot of scholarly work on the periphery of theological scholarship. Most folks who check this blog out will probably be pretty unfamiliar with much of this work. I know some of you will have difficulty stomaching some of it, but I think there is great reward in exposure to things we have difficulty understanding and that offends. Stemming from a pacifist perspective, consider the following excerpt from Walter Wink’s book, Unmasking the Powers. (By the way, this book is written with the Cold War as a backdrop, and it has been interesting for me to see the many parallels with today’s works reflecting on the war on terror.)

“This is why the American abolitionist and founder of the Oneida Community, John Humphrey Noyes, could write to William Lloyd Garrison,
‘When I wish to form a conception of the government of the United States (using a personified representation), I picture to myself a bloated, swaggering libertine, trampling on the Bible – its own Constitution – its treaties to the Indians – the petitions of its citizens, with one hand whipping a negro tied to a liberty pole, and with the other dashing an emaciated Indian to the ground . . . The question urges itself upon me – “What Have I, as a Christian, to do with such a villain?”
‘My hope of the millennium begins where Dr. Beecher’s expires – namely, AT THE OVERTHROW OF THIS NATION.’
I have quoted such an extreme view because it helps place in relief the most radical challenge of Revelation 18: its celebration of the fall of the richest and most powerful empire of the time. Are we then to entertain the terrible possibility that the salvation of humanity depends somehow on the decline, destruction or transformation of the United States as a sign of God’s sovereignty over the nations? Rome, yes, but – America? Never! The very suggestion of such a thing will strike many Americans as subervsive. And that reaction itself is an index of our idolatry. A godly people would react ot the treat of God’s judgment with fear, awe, consternation. They would know that no person and no nation is righteous before God. They would say, with Jefferson, ‘I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.’ But Americans do not, on the whole, think that way. To the degree that they are religious at all, they actually believe that God is pleased, beholden to, partial to, and identified with our land.
This is not to deny that, in many ways, our nation may be a more desirable place to live than some other countries. Nor do I wish to ignore the many positive contributions it has made to human society. My point is simply that these contributions in no way mitigate the objective state of idolatry that has been the price we have paid for nationhood.”

Many of us who speak against the perils of our country take great offense and quickly dismiss us as “haters” or the like. I think the merit in Wink’s point here is that it must be possible for the Christian to live critically in the world she is a part embracing the good, but prophetically rebuking the evil.