President

Rethinking Peter and the State

I recently wrote about Romans 13 and the state. I mentioned that I did not believe that text was even about the Roman government. I believe, based upon the evidence I have seen, that Romans 13 talks about reconciling Jewish and Gentile Christians in relation to the religious, community authorities. Tyler Tully picked up on this and wrote a far more detailed analysis of this here and here, which I strongly recommend reading.

Today, another questionable text in regards to the New Testament and the state has been brought up, this time from Peter instead of Paul:

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:13-17 ESV)

This passage is a bit different than Romans 13. Unlike Romans 13, this passage is pretty straightforward. Romans talks about vague authorities, the sword, and taxes, and it is surrounded by teachings on religious instruction and ethics. Simply put, Romans requires a lot of unpacking in addition to looking at possible translation errors. On the other hand, this passage from 1 Peter is pretty much independent, and any issues in our reading of the text would primarily originate from possible translation errors. (more…)

Inauguration Thoughts: The State is Still the State

Yesterday was truly a big day in U.S. history. The inauguration of the first African-American President is truly a turning point for our nation, especially given our abysmal history on race. Moreover, it was encouraging to hear Senator Dianne Feinstein’s reflections on the nonviolence of Martin Luther King, President Obama’s message that we need not choose “between our safety and ideals” and his call to diplomacy and international aid over sheer violent force and military power, and Reverend Joseph Lowery’s prayer that one day we will “beat our tanks into tractors.”

Nevertheless, I had a difficult time getting too emotional or excited over this change of guard. For, while yesterday was historical from the perspective of the United States, it was a pretty small speck when history is viewed rightly. As John Howard Yoder tirelessly argued, the locus of history is not with the state but with God’s work through his church. The state is merely the context in which the real drama of history can unfold.

So, while the words and symbolism of the inauguration may be moving, the sobering fact is that the state is still the state. Yes, Obama seems more intent than Bush on using diplomatic tactics to secure peace, but his message to our “enemy” was still virtually the same: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

Not much room there for Jesus’s message to love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, and turn the other cheek. But this is as should be expected, because the state is still the state.

Ironically, with this change of guard many of us ‘open-minded, progressive’ Christians will begin to forget that the state is still the state. We will start to put our faith in the ideals of the state and our hope in its progress. As blogger Halden recently argued, now more than ever is it imperative (though difficult) to be resolute in our anti-empire polemics. It was far too easy to maintain a prophetic witness to the state when those in charge overtly sanctioned military aggression, torture, and seemingly unbridled increase of personal power. But when those in power seem to share many of our ideals, the temptation will be to give them a pass when they deem military violence necessary in this or that situation. And it will be difficult for us to make the unfashionable charge that those in power sanction the unjust extermination of the least of those among us. Indeed, to increase the irony still further, it may be the conservative Christians who begin to recognize with more clarity the separation between church and state (as many of my students, for example, ponder whether or not Obama is the anti-Christ!). They will now be the ones to speak prophetically, though their witness will be narrow and tainted by their continual use of political means to grasp for power. (more…)

Three Interesting Articles on the Subject of Whiteness

I have found a few interesting articles that have come out from person of color perspectives on aspects of Christian “progressivism” or “monasticism”.

Here’s one by Chanequa Walker-Barnes on New Monasticism and White Privelege

Here’s one by Anthony Smith at Emergent Village on the tendency for “not voting” in progressive circles
Here are responses by Brian McClaren and David Fitch.

Then there’s this piece by Tim Wise on how white privelege is manifesting itself in the US presidential election.

Jesus for President: An Ecumenical Campaign

I wrote a report for the office of Interchurch Relations (MCUSA) on our district’s sponsorship of the Jesus for President campaign stop in North Carolina. You can read part of it below.

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The Jesus for President campaign came to Raleigh, N.C. on July 22nd. Chris Haw, Shane Claiborne, and their crew took the stage at 7pm. People started filling the seats at 6:30, anticipating the acclaimed campaign. For two and a half hours, Shane and Chris spoke about Jesus and politics to an attentive crowd. Although our Mennonite district took the lead role in bringing them to town, we were a marginal presence. With no money spent on advertising, we drew around 650 people to a midweek event. Duane Beck, pastor of Raleigh Mennonite Church, had the idea of inviting the Jesus for President tour to make a stop in our area.

The district pastors (including myself) enthusiastically approved. With the support of our Eastern Carolina District of the Mennonite Church, we explored our ecumenical networks to form a coalition of sponsors. Pastor Spencer Bradford of Durham Mennonite Church approached the North Carolina Council of Churches, which gladly agreed to help sponsor the event. Since our Mennonite churches have small worship spaces, Duane Beck found a partnership with First Baptist Church in downtown Raleigh which agreed to host the campaign. Though the Mennonites did most of the legwork, various churches came together to bring the Jesus for President crew to town.

People of different Christian traditions came to hear Chris Haw and Shane Claiborne preach the gospel of Christ’s peace. In many respects, the evening felt like an evangelistic crusade. One member of my congregation even said that it reminded her of the Campus Crusade rallies she attended as a youth. (more…)

Jesus for President Report

As I reported to ya’ll a while back, our Eastern Carolina District of MCUSA brought Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw to town in July for a Jesus for President campaign stop. Laura Graber Nickel from our church in Chapel Hill, N.C., wrote a news piece on the event that ran in The Mennonite this past week (look here). But the editors took out a lot of good stuff. So, with Laura’s permission, below is her full report on the event. Enjoy.

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On a July evening in Raleigh, NC, every one of 500 seats in the First Baptist Church auditorium was occupied. The 200 people without a chair leaned against the walls and sat on the floor. Next door at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters, another crowd gathered to cheer their candidate for president. But back in the church auditorium, through storytelling, song and worship, Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw described an alternative political perspective: Jesus for President.

The pair is promoting their co-authored book, Jesus for President, nearing the end of a month-long nationwide tour that has attracted crowds of 500 to 1000 people at every stop. In Jesus for President, Claiborne and Haw ask Christians to think differently about their political and religious allegiance, re-evaluate the church’s role in the arena of American power and politics and examine the way they live their faith day to day. “We’re saying that we see in Jesus not a presentation of ideas,” said Claiborne, “but an invitation to join a movement that embodies the good news with the way that we live in this world.” Their message includes a strong emphasis on peace and puts a high value on communities of believers who reject the world’s ways and live their lives according to Jesus’ teachings; both familiar themes to Mennonites. (more…)

DNC Artistic Political Convergence

Hey all, long time no… something. Thought I’d let you know about this in case any of you were coming to Denver for the DNC. Cheers.

The LIDA Project, artistic curators of BINDERY | space in downtown Denver, will be opening it’s doors to artists and activists for an artistic political convergence during the week of Democratic National Convention and is issuing a call for entries. LIDA is seeking actors, writers, directors, performance artists, puppeteers, dancers, poets, musicians, seasoned troupes and emerging theater groups to perform their shows and participate at the DNC Convergence Center at BINDERY | space, an intersection of political activism and artistic insight. 


Virtually any type of performance is welcome to apply. Categories include: cabaret, comedy, dance, drama, improvisational, magic, multimedia, musical theater, performance art, puppetry, storytelling, variety, burlesque, sideshow, street theater, spoken word, and other creative madness. Performances with relevant political context will be given priority.

The Convergence dates are 22 August – 29 August, 2008. Visit www.lida.org for information. Please send a brief proposal of your project to lida at lida dot org. Include the title, a short description of what you intend to do, number of performers and technical staff, and any other technical requirements.

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BINDERY | space
Once a book bindery in function, this warehouse in the heart of downtown is a reincarnated new urban art space for performance of all kinds. BINDERY | space, curated by The LIDA Project, envisions a local home for national and local performing and multimedia artists on the edge. Fresh and experimental, BINDERY | space will foster artists and events that promise to challenge, incite, and inspire.


Top Ten Heresies of the American Church

I wasn’t going to post this here, but after reading Conrad Kanagy’s insightful book, “Road Signs for the Journey”, it seems that us Mennonites need a few reminders of who we really are.

You see, a “heresy” is, according to I Timothy 6, a teaching that is in opposition to the teaching which Jesus gave. So we need to examine our own churches and see where we stand in realtion to Jesus, as opposed to in relation to the Confession of Faith.

So here’s my top ten:
1. Prejudice against the lower class
When Jesus says “blessed are you who are poor.”

2. Thinking salvation = comfort
When Jesus says, “Woe to you who are wealthy, for you have already received your comfort

3. That the only good leaders are seminary-educated leaders
When Jesus says, “The greatest among you shall be your slaves.” (more…)

United States: the last best hope of earth

Bush hands the mic to McCainI just read John McCain’s victory speech after today’s primaries. This passage caught my eye:

They will paint a picture of the world in which America’s mistakes are a greater threat to our security than the malevolent intentions of an enemy that despises us and our ideals; a world that can be made safer and more peaceful by placating our implacable foes and breaking faith with allies and the millions of people in this world for whom America, and the global progress of our ideals, has long been “the last, best hope of earth.”

(more…)

On the Separation of Church and State

I wrote this for the Brethren Mennonite Council blog but thought I’d cross-post it since it’s been quiet here for the last few days. If you need more context, you might check out the previous post on the BMC blog about the Human Rights Campaign/Logo Presidential Forum that j alan meyer mentioned here a while ago.

At this point, it seems somewhat likely that beginning January 21, 2009, a new Democratic administration of the United States will start working to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and beef up Hate Crimes laws. Glad to hear it. What isn’t clear yet is whether the discussion around same-sex marriage/civil unions will be about “what is achievable,” “states rights,” “a man’s journey,” or “the separation of Church and State” (all themes from the recent HRC/Logo forum). The Democratic front runners (the Republicans declined the invitation) want us to know that they are all for lgbt equality … as long is it doesn’t interfere with their chances of getting elected by including marriage equality. It is encouraging to hear that in the coming election, the most electable Democratic position is 90% gay friendly (not as good as 100% gay friendly but I’ll take what I can get for now). We’ve come a long way in the last few years but plenty of work remains.

I don’t have more to say about either Edwards or Richardson for now but I think Clinton should fire whoever came up with those states rights talking points. Didn’t we learn anything from the civil rights movement? States Rights is code language for “long, painful, tortured journey to someone else’s equality” now just as much as it was forty or fifty years ago. She should know better than that.

What I really want to address is Obama’s call for the separation of Church and State, which, for him, somehow means separate but equal (he, of all people, should know where that gets us). I first heard him go down this road during the CNN/YouTube debates. He didn’t seem to have a very good grasp of his own talking points and he ended up confusing even himself with his tortured explanation. He did quite a bit better in the HRC/Logo forum as he seemed to have prepped with his aides more and at least didn’t confuse himself. When he was done I said to myself “well…that’s almost a good idea.” (more…)