History

Envision 08: Toward Christian Unity in the Public Square

Is Christian unity in the public square an important goal to work toward? Here at seminary there are many people thinking about denominationalism as a theological issue/concern. I went to a conference to think about some of these issues. It was called Envision 08 (www.ev08.org) I helped out with a workshop on Sexuality and Faith. There were many young evangelical Christians who are freeing themselves from the grip of right wing politics there. The conversation was familiar to an Anabaptist like me, but it was like watching people hear the Good News for the first time. Everyone was so excited that faith meant more than rigid rules, hierarchy, and supporting the U.S.A.

The Declaration below, coming from “Envision: the Gospel, Politics, and the Future” at Princeton University June 8-10, 2008, began with an online dialogue of approximately 100 participants on June 2 about religion, social change, and politics. On June 8, a diverse panel of scholars discussed the results of the dialogue.

After attending the conference and hearing reports about the conversations that occurred throughout many aspects of the conference, the panel met and created the declaration. You can sign it if you want. (more…)

Immigration Through the Lens of Anabaptist History

This piece was originally published in the AMIGOS Update for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada for May (see their archive for more info about AMIGOS).

“To authentically respond to immigration,” according to the recent MCC US Immigration Listening Report, “whites must start by seeing immigrants as ‘us’ instead of ‘them.’ White communities and churches who until now have taken little action on behalf of immigrants, must start viewing newcomers as esteemed members of God’s family – just as deserving of justice and love as church friends and immediate family members.”

How do those of us then, who fall into this category, work toward a change in perspective? Could it be that we Mennonites of European descent have forgotten our own history? Perhaps in comparing current themes – government guidelines for immigration, stereotypes faced by recent immigrants, and the role of economic instability in causing people to leave their homes – to our own immigrant histories, the categories of “us” and “them” may become much less distinct. Although the family stories of long-time immigrants are not identical to what is happening today, our history connects us in striking ways with the stories of recent immigrants.

Therefore, as we engage the narratives of our past, first we move to Switzerland in the seventeenth century where government officials did their best to suppress the Swiss Mennonites through heavy fines, land seizure, the threat of capital punishment, and deportations. John Roth notes in Letters of the Amish Division, how a few decades later some Mennonites “defied the mandates and threats of the Swiss government and secretly returned to Switzerland to rejoin their families or to claim their possessions.” (more…)

Jeremiah Wright and Black Liberation Theology

I was surprised to see that there was little discussion about the Jeremiah Wright controversy on this blog; perhaps because it is being discussed in every other forum available.

At any rate, if nothing else, the whole charade has produced a number of interesting responses; I was particularly struck by the series that NPR did on black liberation theology. I think it was a thoughtful way to approach the Jeremiah Wright scandal: they asked the question “where is he coming from?”, and set out to find the answer. If you are interested, I have linked below a number of radio pieces on black liberation theology, particularly interesting is the interview with James Cone, a founding thinker in the black liberation theology movement.

Black Liberation Theology, in its Founder’s Words

The Roots of Black Liberation Theology***

Religious Scholars Discuss Liberation Theology

Understanding Rev. Jeremiah Wright

And here is a great video of a Catholic priest who was stopped on the street by a Fox News team to question him about why he was having Rev. Wright speak at his parish. This priest then goes on to basically own the Fox News reporter and give one of the better interviews I’ve ever seen on Fox News.

Fox News Owned by Catholic Priest
(more…)

MLK and the Mountaintop

Yesterday was the 40th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King and I spent a good part of the afternoon listening to the media coverage. To commemorate the event, I read his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech delivered April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, the night before his assassination. It’s a speech that in hindsight is not only prescient about MLK’s fate, but also prophetic–

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man!
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

(more…)

Mennonite Narratives on Heterosexual Privilege

Last Thursday, I had a conversation with a professor and a fellow student that gave me a window on the Mennonite narratives on heterosexual privilege. We had discussed Obama’s speech and white privilege in class. After class, I asked about heterosexual privilege. My prof and classmate both responded that a concept of heterosexual privilege “trivialized racism” since the sufferings of African-American are so embedded in our culture (I guess with the implication that the sufferings of LGBTers aren’t). My prof even claimed that the bans against single-sex marriage and other anti-sodomy laws were not persecution, but just limited the “freedom” of LGBTers.

This was a quick conversation in passing, so I didn’t really have my wits about me to respond. These are both caring, intelligent people who care deeply about social justice issues. Yet, for some reason, they don’t consider queers a persecuted group. I realize that I also don’t know yet enough about the history of this issue to be really comfortable about a response. However, after more reflection and conversation, I do have a couple of responses / observations —

  • I don’t think that my colleague’s response is really about “trivializing racism.” It’s about not defining the queer experience as a social justice issue. As soon as LGBT is defined as a social justice issue, then the Mennonite Church is on the wrong side of the issue. As long as we can keep this just about Scripture and not how Scripture has been used to persecute or block access to institutions, then the Mennonites can have it both ways — we can advocate for social justice and keep the gays out.
  • (more…)

Advocacy Groups are Dumb.

*This article was originally posted on Christarchy.com. The “Ostrich-thing” makes more sense if you visit me there.*

Advocacy groups are dumb. There. I said it. You don’t have to agree with me, especially if you are part of an advocacy group. But someone had to say it and seeing as I’m the only one around here to take notice I had to speak up. (more…)

Inspirational Lunch

I had a great lunch conversation with two young white men today who are feeling the pressure to “produce and provide” and are looking for alternatives to succumbing to this stereotype and just joining the corporate project. After lunch, I wrote this:

As I think about our conversation more in the understanding of my daily work at a social services agency in town, I am reminded on the necessity to invite anyone and everyone with whatever ethnicity or background (age, sexuality, religion, political persuasion) to participate in the work of healing (and radical positive social change and happiness creation) in our society. There is enough pain to go around. Everyone can have a hand in creating peace. I think a place like where I work, is where push comes to shove, and the realization that we can’t find enough people (of ANY race, class or gender) to facilitate the creation of a new society, and not enough people to persuade others to stop beating each other in inter familial violence). It feels desperate.

There were some black people back during the time of emancipation, who didn’t want to participate in the mainstream US society, and they opted to farm somewhere and live in peace with their indigenous neighbors. Just a random thought about what it would look like if instead of clamoring to be just like white people (when I say white here, i mean the white people that southern black folks encountered…rich, conservative, separatist, tea parties, cult of true womanhood, Victorian, etc) and be accepted into their culture and politics, we searched the alternatives that our indigenous (to Africa) pasts gave us. but we didn’t for the most part. (more…)

Violent Video Game as Church Recruiting Tool

I’m really sad today. I often become sad when I read the NY Times.

I wasn’t sure which article I should write an urgent post about, there were so many. Women are being destroyed in Congo as rape has become the most common tool of war and the crisis has reached unprecedented proportions. I was sure I was going to blog about that–as soon as returned to the computer from a session of weeping–crying out and pleading with God that people in every country would respect women’s bodily integrity. Here is that article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/07/world/africa/07congo.html?th&emc=th

But, I couldn’t write about that one because I got overwhelmed by the next article. Rape and pillaging in wars will never stop as long as long as people in the imperial center do things like spread the gospel using Halo3, a dichotomizing, bloody video game. The article is copied into this post. Here’s an excerpt.

Witness the basement on a recent Sunday at the Colorado Community Church in the Englewood area of Denver, where Tim Foster, 12, and Chris Graham, 14, sat in front of three TVs, locked in violent virtual combat as they navigated on-screen characters through lethal gun bursts. Tim explained the game’s allure: “It’s just fun blowing people up.”

Once they come for the games, Gregg Barbour, the youth minister of the church said, they will stay for his Christian message. “We want to make it hard for teenagers to go to hell,” Mr. Barbour wrote in a letter to parents at the church. “

HOW–with what words, passages, or guiding principles–can we speak to our christian “brothers and sisters” about this? YAR has been a community of support for speaking truth to power. Words of advice, comfort, or challenge as we welcome many more christians by way of accepting Jesus as their savior while they were aroused by the massacring and tag-team destruction they just did?

(more…)

Kill the Indian, Save the Man

As it happens, I didn’t manage to keep writing throughout the week at San Jose. For that, I am sorry. I do want to share one little bit I found interesting during one of the presentations at the conference. One of the items that the delegate body voted on was a resolution (pdf) in support of bill in the US Congress to “acknowledge a long history of official depredations and ill-conceived policies by the United States government regarding Indian tribes and offer an apology to all Native Peoples on behalf of the United States.” Part of the presentation before this vote included some words from Steve Cheramie Risingsun, a Chitimacha Indian who leads Native Mennonite congregations in Louisiana and Alabama. You can read more about it at the Mennonite Weekly Review article.

The thing that I found particularly interesting about this was a comment made by Risingsun. He was talking about the various ways white colonizers mistreated Native Americans, tried to take away their culture, and were generally pretty nasty. He said that there was a phrase that was often used by these white folks: “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”

(more…)

Practical question for a radical: Yea or nay on pentagrams?

I recently received a pentagram necklace as a well-intended gift from someone who thought it was a Star of David. We both had a good laugh when I told her my first association with it was a pagan/Wiccan/Satanist symbol.

Now, I’m not one of those reactionist people who gets wild-eyed at the mere mention of such belief systems, and I’m not freaked out to see such symbols. I did a little bit of reading online and discovered some Christians in the Middle Ages used the pentagram to symbolize the five wounds of Christ, the five senses, and five aspects of good health. That’s certainly not how I think of pentagrams, nor probably most who would see it if I wore it.

If I choose not to wear this necklace, I want it to be for an actual, thought-out reason, not just “it’s evil.” It’s a nice necklace. I have no lack of jewelry, though, so I could give it away and never notice its absence. But I tend not to wear religious symbols of any kind unless there’s a specific reason I’m doing it. (Crucifixes are part of my RenFaire costume, for example.)

Thoughts? I realize this is a periferal issue to what we usually talk about on YAR. But, it could bring up how we view pagans, Wiccans and Satanists. That might be a good reason to wear it: it may prompt thoughtful discussion with people I meet. Or then again, it could just prompt eyerolls and disdainful comments.

Meeting the Church

I haven’t taken much time on this blog to talk about myself. I should say that I am an outsider in this church – my last name isn’t Yoder, Miller, Freisen, or Moshier.

I have only been a Christian for 9 months; the Mennonite congregation I attend (a beautiful place that I hope my new-found YAR friends can come see some day) was evangelical merely by their presence – they were spiritually formative by aligning speech and action and desire and vision. I would not want to be any place else.

I am writing from the convention in San Jose; I have been here since yesterday and will be leaving tomorrow (short time, I know, but I’m a busy guy).

I am coming to learn why it is frustrating to penetrate the Mennonite world: there are a lot of people who make money off of being Mennonite. (more…)

Bible Verse of the Day 07-02-07

This one’s for you, Lora. ;-)

Numbers 1:5-16

“These are the names of the men who are to assist you: from Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur; from Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai; from Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab; from Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar; from Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon; from the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan.” These were the men appointed from the community, the leaders of their ancestral tribes. They were the heads of the clans of Israel.”

:-D

A little help from my YAR friends…

Hey gang,

This is of little importance to the larger dialogues we are having, but it is something of importance to me.

I am currently investigating schools of theology/semiaries. I currently hold an undergraduate humanities degree and want to explore possibilities for Th.D’s or Ph.D’s in theological studies (don’t know the difference there… different kind of job possibilities available?). I have outstanding grades and don’t think getting accepted will be the problem, I just don’t know where to look!

At any rate, I’ve found that the Anabaptist graduate programs, while offering much to the church and doing great work for equipping pastors, don’t seem to do as much in cultivating academic theological scholars.

I’m turning to my Anabaptist friends for help. If you are on the same journey as me or have already begun your journey and have any helpful insights about good Th.D/Ph.D theology schools out there, let me know. The best program I’ve investigated so far seems to be Duke University…. those Methodists/Wesleyan schools seem to have their act together…

The “Evil Pharisees” and Other Stereotypes and Caricatures

brother Volknotions.
Those brethren who are from the Dunkard line well know of what you are speaking: the back-hand of fellowship, shunning of venial sins, public confession of sin, all those old standard and standby hymns and everything else done in lower saxon dialect. Well might descriptions such as “hollow-out legalism”, “legalism of ‘humility'”, “oppressive legalism”, “paying lip-service” suit the Old Faith of our Anabaptist forefathers.

But I wonder if all those “evils” are causing a distorted view of first cent. Pharisees. Are you looking at the Pharisees through the “lens” of your ossified and institutionalized anabaptist experience. Be careful of following centuries of Christians projecting on the Pharisees and first cent. Judaism something that was never there. Let us be careful and not fall into the same mistakes the Church Fathers, the Roman Church and the Reformers did. That is, stereotyping and caricaturizing first cent. Judaism led on by those casuistrical Pharisees (blast them!) Let me attempt a “clarification of thought”.

I will deal with the ‘social justice’ prophets later. But at least for now, you are absolutely right, they were not in the least anti-Jewish or anti-semitic — they were, at times (and when they would get all hot and flustered), racist and anti-goeim: “Damn the Gentiles! God’s wrath will strike them down!” Ah yes, “social justice”. It all depends where your social justicing is standing. (Let us all remember that when we get all lathered up against the “bad guys”.

(more…)

A Mennonite Theology of Culture

I just returned from a 3-week trip to Europe studying Anabaptist/Mennonite history, led by Goshen College professor John D. Roth. We started in the Alsace region of Eastern France, and traveled through Switzerland, Southern Germany, Northern Germany, Friesland in the Netherlands, and then finished in and near Amsterdam. We visited current Mennonite (or historically Mennonite) congregations as well as historic sites in Anabaptist and Mennonite history.

These are thoughts which arose during that trip, but were most recently inspired by Edward Christian’s post on Radical Anabaptism and Radical Biblical Exegesis, as well as Nate Myers’ comments on FolkNotion’s post Is it really a sin?, but I thought they deserved their own post. I’ve done my best to keep up with YAR, but I’m sure these things have been said earlier by others (and probably in better ways), so I apologize for that.

As I read the Schleitheim Confession, I realized — as many modern Mennonites have realized before me — that I didn’t (and don’t) like it. At all. This admission led to a basic question that probably arises from any study of the early Anabaptists: “What am I supposed to do with this? How should I respond to (bad) Anabaptist theology?” And as I say it, I realize that I’ve been taught to think of the latter question as a form of heresy. (more…)