Social justice

Why I am going to “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred” and why you should too

Fabulous Fierce and Sacred Logo

In 2 weeks, I’ll be attending “Fabulous, Fierce & Sacred: A gathering of Anabaptist lgbtqa* community” and I think you should too. We’ll be gathering in Chicago at the Cenacle Retreat & Conference Center from the afternoon of Friday, November 21 through noon on Sunday, November 23. It’s sponsored by Pink Menno, Inclusive Pastors and the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT interests I interviewed some of the organizers about why this gathering is so important and here’s what they said:

“There is a widely-felt sense that it is time for a gathering to bring lgbtq people together for celebration, healing, and the sustenance of our vibrant community.” Annabeth Roeschly said, “While some of us have gathered at the bienneal MCUSA conventions, those events bring us together primarily in a spirit of nonviolent resistance and action.”

“Columbus 2009 is when I said yes to the Mennonite Church, when I said yes to being queer and Christian and when I began taking communion again.” said Christian Parks, “I do a lot of work outside of the Mennonite church. I come to this gathering to rest and to renew so that I can be strong. I want to connect to the experience of how resilient queer people of faith are and I want to sink into the story of the people who have come before me. This conference will be sacred space.” (more…)

Economics According to the New Testament

Gold aureus coins with the faces of various Roman Leaders. These coins were found below the floor of a Roman house in Corbridge in 1911. From the British museum.

Growing up, I was often exposed to the idea that capitalism and Christianity go together. Profit and wealth were not simply compatible with Christianity, but were a sign of God’s blessing or your personal piety. I remember going to the Christian bookstore once or twice and seeing large piles of books with that topic specifically in mind, usually by Dave Ramsey, who was recently on the 700 Club for a new book of his. In that interview, one of the first things mentioned is how Ramsey and Robertson agree that wealth is a good thing, and that those who see wealth as bad are wrong, even “gnostic.” I don’t think the heretics here are the “gnostics” who believe that wealth is wrong; rather, I think the heretics here are Ramsey, Robertson, and others in their camp, who seem to have forgotten what the New Testament and early church taught concerning economics.

Ramsey likes to talk a lot about biblical finances. He claims that when he gives someone financial advice that it is done through following what the Bible says. Let’s take a look at what the Bible, specifically the New Testament, teaches Christians concerning finances.

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When There is No Peace: Where are the Saints?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois

I traveled to Ferguson, MO from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, LA. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18 year old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear.

We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.

That evening, we saw how W. Florissant Avenue was closed to all thru traffic beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5 second rule” which required protesters to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protesters who began to gather together.

This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.

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Remembering Our Identity

We are Anabaptists. We are Mennonites. We are distinct from other Protestants and denominations. We care about peace, justice, community. We are a unique and special people.

Many of us feel this way or at least I know, at times, I do. There is a special quality of Christianity that is evidenced in Anabaptism. Yes, we were persecuted by the Holy Catholic Church, but we were also persecuted by fellow Protestants. There is severity and deep conviction in our confession of faith.

Yet, in truth, too often we rest on the laurels of our Anabaptist forebears. We recall or express nostalgia for the countercultural, anti-empire sentiments and actions of those who came before us, all the while colluding with the current empire on many levels in our life. Some of us (even unwittingly) invest in stocks for pharmaceutical corporations and weapons manufacturers, thus endorsing a system that benefit from death and destruction.

Many persons and whole churches have substituted absolute pacifism with Just War Theory. In that regard we have embraced Augustinean Christianity to the detriment of Jesus’ command to love even our enemies who persecute and abuse us. We claim a Mennonite identity, but too often embrace an American identity or political ideology (whether left or right). We fail to recognize the radical calling upon our lives, which is to root ourselves in a Christ identity.

Some of us need a fresh baptism, a next baptism to awaken us to Christ’s calling upon our lives. We may have been baptized in water, but now we need a fire baptism to burn out the iniquity and inequality that pervades our lives. Like a prairie fire that burns the dead things and promotes richer soil, so too do we need the Spirit of fire to prepare us to live more deeply and richly. (more…)

Gay Marriage Is Not Against Biblical Authority

I am uncompromisingly pro-gay marriage and I am unapologetic in my affirmation of LGBT equality. This is one issue that I refuse to compromise on, and because of this, it has gotten me in trouble in the past. One church that it did get me in trouble with was my local Presbyterian Church USA congregation. The congregation and presbytery I was a part of were and are socially conservative, but I was a flaming liberal. Naturally, I found myself in some serious disagreement, and it didn’t help that I was a universalist, pacifist, and straight up commie-pinko. While the local Presbyterian community did not appear very welcoming, I am happy to see that the PCUSA has recently become fully LGBT-affirming at the national level.

Now that this has happened however, I am seeing the same old arguments from my conservative brethren that I have heard over and over again. It happens whenever any Christian denomination becomes welcoming and affirming, and I see the battle lines being drawn in the Mennonite Church as well. This is especially the case in Pittsburgh, because Pittsburgh Mennonite Church just became officially LGBT-affirming, and even lost their pastor because of it. I remember mentioning my uncompromising position on this issue to the local Mennonite conference minister as well, and I think I saw her cringe. If I remember correctly, she said that might be a problem at some point, but whatever.

The main argument that I see from conservatives on this issue is that gay marriage is somehow against the clear teaching of the Bible. Whenever we become open and affirming in our Christian faith, it is because we are ignoring the authority of the Bible. Guess what, I am not open and affirming in spite of the Bible, but because of it! (more…)

Membership is Not Cheap

The Third World is alive and well within North America. The poor are in the apartments with black mold; they are in the food stamp offices and being run out from under bridges. Difficulty and disease and shame mark their lives; they’re stigmatized like lepers. Jesus is among these people; living with them, encouraging them and doing miracles among them.

But you’d never know this by looking at the churches of North America.

A few churches cater to the upper class, but the massive majority of churches throughout North America see themselves as ministering to “communities”, by which they mean communities of the middle class. The poor are left out of the equation of the normal, everyday life of the church. And because of this, the church itself is poorer. Below are four areas in which the poor are marginalized in most modern churches:

1. Cultural uniqueness
The third world of North America is unique, and has unique features. For one thing, its inhabitants tend to use foul language, even the most religious of them. More poor people smoke than middle class people, and they are also more likely to have obvious addiction issues. Poor people tend to be less educated and focus more on survival. But, paradoxically, the poor are more likely to give their last dollar to someone else in need. Poor folks are more likely to rely on God instead of a system or even their own work. These are unique cultural characteristics, not right or wrong, just different. There are weaknesses and strengths in this culture, just as there are in the cultures of the middle or upper classes (or, indeed, in any culture).

The cultural uniqueness of being poor isn’t celebrated, but preached against in the everyday church. Not that every facet of poor culture should be celebrated; but the same is true of the middle and upper class cultures. When we praise the middle and upper class trait of making and following a reasonable budget, for example, why can we not also praise the lower class trait of sacrificial generosity? The church cannot be a culture-free environment, but in our middle-class model of church, where can the poor worship in a manner cohesive to their culture? (more…)

Response by Jennifer Yoder to the Response by Ervin Stutzman

You can read Response by Ervin Stutzman here, if you missed it.

Several days ago I noticed a flurry of activity – a letter signed by 150 pastors calling for welcome of LGBTQ folks, the Executive Director of Mennonite Church USA in response “earnestly desir[ing] that our church be faithful to scripture and God’s call,” articles about these developments, and comment section dust-ups. It seemed appropriate for me to acknowledge this flurry on behalf of my queer Mennonite self, and to make an initial response to the hopes and Menno-speak voiced within that flurry.

First of all, I receive the letter from the pastors as an example of allies (and I believe, a member or two of the LGBTQ community!) in positions of power and with legitimizing credentials standing in the gap for queer folks like myself whose voices are nearly always marginalized in any discussion about our lives and spirits in the Mennonite Church. I receive Ervin’s response as difficult to decipher Menno-speak backed by his authority as Executive Director, and positioned as (perceived) gatekeeper to the Mennonite Church.

Partly as a result of this (perceived) gatekeeper role, Ervin believes the 150 pastors’ beliefs and experiences are his and the board’s to judge and deem worthy of rightness or wrongness. Stutzman declares that he “lament[s] that the individuals and groups at opposite ends of the spectrum of concerns related to sexual identity and orientation are no longer willing to be in patient forbearance with each other.” He sat at the table with members of the LGBTQ community (or as he calls it, people on the LGBTQ spectrum), and believes that his recounting – from a position of power and authority – of these conversations with folks accurately represents LGBTQ and allied experiences in the Mennonite Church, and he bases his conclusion on that belief. His conclusion is that “even among the closest family members of individuals with LGBTQ identity there is no consensus on the moral and theological implications.” I am assuming he means the moral and theological implications of being a member of the LGBTQ community, but the sentence is unclear.

Secondly, I receive the letter from the pastors as a plea to the church to find a better way of addressing our differences. I receive the letter from Ervin as a plea for members of the LGBTQ community to continue bearing the brunt of hatred, of silent treatment, of being ignored, passed over, and mistreated while members of our community stand by, and to be patient all the while. I also receive it as a plea for those who have a deeply held, unmovable, unchangeable belief that acceptance of members of the LGBTQ community is a sign of the spiritual downfall of the church to sit back down in the pews, and forebear.

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Family

You may have seen news lately about different countries considering new harsher penalties for sodomy or whatever language they might choose. It’s happening in Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya and I’m sure many other places.

These days in the US many queer folk are tracking the lawsuits in each state that are striking down the same-sex marriage bans. It’s exciting for sure and I look forward to June of this year when all consenting adults will finally be able to marry here in Illinois.

In the midst of all this though I see news stories of a strong trend in the opposite direction in many other parts of the world. When I see a young man accused of homosexuality being tried and beaten to death in the streets by a vigilante mob I’m shocked! I never worry about this happening to me when I step outside my home in Chicago. While there are parts of this country I worry that I might be physically harmed for being gay I never expect to be put to death due to my sexuality.

The disturbing thing about these laws is that the consequence imposed by the government for breaking these laws is meaningless. The reality is that that people accused of homosexuality may never make it to court and if they do they may even be killed in the courtroom. This is how intense the homophobia is in some countries.

When I read the article about what happened in Nigeria my mind went certain places and I suspect that many people’s minds and hearts do the same. I think about how terrible these people are. I wonder how they can do these awful things. How does someone cultivate this kind of hatred and violence in their heart? Finally I become indignant! (more…)

An Open Letter to the MCUSA

When I began looking for an Anabaptist congregation, I was immediately drawn to the San Antonio Mennonite Church here in the Alamo City. Truth be told, I probably would have stayed within our house-church if it weren’t for the fact that many of our families were moving. But as necessity compelled me to search for a tribe, the Anabaptist emphasis on Jesus discipleship, servant minded non-violence, and its history of persecution welcomed me. I’m glad we found a home in the MCUSA.

Having grown up as the son of an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, I was frightfully aware of the denominational politics our family encountered having served under two SBC Presidents. But Anabaptism offered more than that, with less, or so it seemed.

Theda Good’s recent ordination seems to have served as a sort of catalyst in the ever growing divide between the young and old, urban and rural MCUSA membership. But from my location, these reactionary reverberations seem to find their epicenter on the conservative side of the aisle while the almost certainly inevitable LGBTQ ordination seems to originate on the progressive side. Regrettably, I feign to even use the binary language associated with progressive versus conservative politics, but it seems that such language indicates that we have already bought in to the us vs. them mentality that dominates our American culture.

What about the Third Way?

I’m perplexed as to why we’re having this conversation in the first place. Looking at arguments from “both sides,” I keep asking myself, “where is Jesus in this?” I see Jesus in the calls for humility and servanthood. I see Jesus in the cautionary language encouraging dialogue instead of schism. But I don’t see Jesus in the Soddom and Gommorah rhetoric, and neither do I see it in the practice of ordination.

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Anabaptists on Economics

Originally posted at Koinonia Revolution.

Schleitheim Congregational Order:

“Of all the brothers and sisters of this congregation, none shall have anything of his own, but rather, as the Christians in the time of the apostles held all in common, and especially stored up a common fund, from which aid can be given to the poor, according as each will have need, and as in the apostles’ time permit no brother to be in need.”

Andreas Ehrenpreis:

“They who would enter into life must come through love, the highest commandment; there is no other way through the narrow gate, Matt. 22:34-40; John 14:1-14. Hundreds of Scriptures and many witnesses make it very clear that whoever wishes to have the precious and hidden jewel must go and sell everything, yes, hand over everything they possess, Matt. 13:45-46; Acts 2:43-47. Different interpretations of these texts have been given because people want to keep what they have, but we cannot deny the work and power of the Holy Spirit, by which the apostles set a firm example in the first church in Jerusalem and three thousand were added, Acts 2; Acts 4:32-37.”

“Whoever claims to belong to Christ in love, but cannot give their possessions to the community for the sake of Christ and the poor, cannot deny that they love worldly goods, over which they have only been placed as caretakers for a time, more than Christ. Therefore Christ says, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, Matt. 5:3.” (more…)

The Politics of John Howard Yoder: 41 years of tiptoeing around power

This is cross-posted from As of Yet Untitled

The last two months have seen a growing number of articles on John Howard Yoder’s sexual harassment and abuse of women (for a list of articles, see the Women in Learship Project’s timeline and annotated bibliography) led by Barbra Graber’s July 17 article on Our Stories Untold. Many of these pieces have been in conversation with Dr. Ruth Krall’s important book, The Elephants in God’s Living Room, Volume Three: The Mennonite Church and John Howard Yoder, Collected Essays, which I draw on heavily in this article. I especially recommend her sixth chapter, “John Howard Yoder, D. Theol. 1927-1997: Believer’s Church Theologian and Ordained Mennonite Clergyman,” which looks in detail at Yoder as a case study.

In joining this conversation, I’d like to look particularly at how systemic issues of power and privilege played out in the tiptoeing response of Mennonite church institutions and their leaders to Yoder’s persistent sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women. In her introduction, Krall succinctly names the many power layers of systemic privilege from which Yoder benefitted. He was a “clan-protected, powerful, tenured, white married male.” (Krall, 16) We have much to learn from looking at those layers.

The problem with sexual misconduct

In her introduction to the collection, Krall points out that the term “sexual misconduct,” which has been used to describe Yoder’s behavior, is unhelpful because it does not differentiate between consenting adultery and coercive, violent and dominating behaviors. (Krall, 6).

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Blessed Are the Poor

This post originally appeared on my blog, Koinonia Revolution.

I was reading a really interesting and really disappointing article about poverty and our perception of it yesterday. It does not say anything I did not already know, but it did get me thinking about something when I read this:

Prejudice against the poor increases during hard economic times, said John Dovidio, a Yale University psychology professor.

“Our society is based on the idea that if you work hard, you get more, and if you have less, you deserve less,” Dovidio said.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the case, and you can just turn on one of the major news stations or a political talk show to see it. I personally see it even among members of my own family, which is funny because my family is not very prosperous to begin with. Our society has the assumption that everything is the result of an individual’s actions, which seems to be product of our emphasis on individualism to me. If you are poor, it is because you are lazy, not because you might be mentally ill, handicapped, born into poverty, or unemployed. And if you are rich, it is because you are a “job creator” who works hard. It literally saturates American culture and media. (more…)

Jesus’ bad example: Overturning tables in Phoenix

Image by Dave King www.flickr.com/photos/djking/3728775956/

Oh how I wish Jesus had set a better example!

Let’s be reasonable here. He should have proposed his prophetic action in consultation with the religious leadership far in advance of the Passover feasts. This would have reduced so much stress for the Pharisees and scribes.

He shouldn’t have made his case using sacred scriptures. Too risky, too radical, too much playing his religion card like he knew it all. Why did he have to bring Isaiah or Jeremiah into this, crazy activists claiming God’s house for foreigners, eunuchs and the like! One issue at a time now! How dare he come to the temple with an agenda!

He certainly should have worked within the structures to ensure no one would be offended, no one would risk the chance at dialogue due to untimely, unvetted mention of certain outcasts. Didn’t he know that if you want to include these people, you have to exclude those people.

He should have toned it down at least a little, no name-calling nor blocking pedestrian traffic in the temple. And what’s with the whip of cords!?

Read more and get involved over at overturningtables.org!

The Occupy movement through the lens of love

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Crossposted from As of Yet Untitled

Occupy Love is an ambitious documentary. In an hour and 30 minutes, it attempts to offer a short history of Occupy Wall Street. It traces the roots of the movement back to the streets of Tunisia in December 2010 and through the plazas in Spain in the summer of 2011. In parallel to these clips from recent history, its interviews plumb the big ideas that undergird the Occupy movement. Interviews with activists, writers and thinkers run the gamut from the gift economy to western civilization’s estrangement from the natural world.

Through this eccentric tapestry, the film traces the thread of love. The filmmaker, Velcrow Ripper, asks everyone he interviews, "How could the crisis we’re facing be a love story?"

Ripper’s question brings unexpected responses. Clayton Thomas-Muller, a First Nations leader and an environmental activist, pulls aside his shirt to reveal a tattoo that says, "Love is a Movement."

"When you are born in a community that has been completely devastated by the energy infrastructure that’s been built on the back of our people all across continental North America," Thomas-Muller says, "you don’t choose to get involved in this work. You’re born to it."

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Remembering the Diggers

There is a group from England that many people do not know of, but more people should — the True Levellers or Diggers. As Anabaptists or other radical Christians, I think that this short-lived group of English radicals has a lot to offer us, and it is a shame that they have been largely forgotten. So, I wanted to write a short blog on here so that people can get to know this wonderful group.

The Diggers were one of the many nonconformist Christian groups that arose in seventeenth century England (like the Baptists, Puritans, or Quakers). They were largely centered around Gerrard Winstanley, who also went on to become one of the first Quakers and Universalists.

What makes the Diggers so interesting is their radical economic polices. The Diggers strongly emphasized the Christian ethic expressed in the Book of Acts, and building off of Acts 2:44 and 4:32, they practiced communism. Specifically, they sought to do as modern Marxist and anarchist communists do, and eliminate private ownership of real property (what Marxists and anarchists call “private property in the means of production”). In many ways, the Diggers were a sort of precursor for the Catholic Worker Movement or Bruderhof Communities, because they hoped to achieve their vision by using pacifism, charity, and working of the land (hence the name “Diggers”). (more…)