Unity in Diversity

Introductory note: Diversity can analyzed in at least three spheres—behavior (action and lifestyle), belief (what we hold to be true), and belonging (social cohesiveness). This post focuses on the third category—the social aspects of unity—though the other two are lurking between the lines as well. All three areas relate to spiritual gifts, so I’ve included diversity of gifts in this consideration as well.

Which is true: “birds of a feather flock together” or “opposites attract”? Reality defies a simple answer. Social psychologists tell us it depends on a number of factors, including the level of relation one is considering (e.g., friends, romantic partners, clubs, etc.) and the type of characteristic under consideration (e.g., male-female [different gender = opposite] in heterosexual couples [both heterosexual = same]). While both forces are a social reality, it’s the flocking together of similar people that has been on my mind lately.

Social sorting is normal and natural. We develop bonds with people who share our interests, whether the commonality is professional, religious, political or recreational. Often multiple factors influence who we connect with (e.g., people in my faith community who have children the same age as mine, or people in my office who share my political views and are the same gender as me).

I do this. You do this. We all do this in some way.

Unity in Uniformity

This selection process is not entirely beneficial. We can easily cut out of our lives nearly everyone whose differentness makes us uncomfortable. We may only reach out to people of the same age, race, and socio-economic level. We may only make friends with people in our own denomination or religion. We may un-follow or un-friend everyone on Facebook who posts quotes for that other political party. This is the comfortable route. This is the least unsettling-path. This is also the best way to lose a broad perspective on life and the world.

Unity in Diversity

In my understanding, social diversity is a central feature of the kingdom of God. Jesus worked to break down the dividing walls of age, race, ethnicity, gender, social status, economic level, and all of the other major divisions.

Jesus welcomed the young children who the disciples tried to push away.

Jesus taught women (not just men) and had them travel with him.

Jesus called the rich tax collector and the poor fishermen to follow him.

Jesus sent his followers to every corner of the globe.

Jesus prayed that this diverse group would be unified (John 17:11-23).

Paul understood this social revolution and highlighted its significance for the church. We should not jump too quickly over the emotional content of these lists:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28, NIV)

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11, NIV)

Paul also spoke to the need for people with various gifts to be unified in one body (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4).

John wrote of the diverse group of humanity gathered in the age to come.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9; see also 5:9)

Ellen White, an early leader in the Seventh-day Adventist church, spoke much of unity in diversity.

From the endless variety of plants and flowers, we may learn an important lesson. All blossoms are not the same in form or color. Some possess healing virtues. Some are always fragrant. There are professing Christians who think it their duty to make every Christian like themselves. This is man’s plan, not the plan of God. In the church of God there is room for characters as varied as are the flowers in a garden. In His spiritual garden there are many varieties of flowers.—Letter 95, 1902 (Evangelism, p. 99)

It is the Lord’s plan that there shall be unity in diversity. There is no man who can be a criterion for all other men. Our varied trusts are proportioned to our varied capabilities…. Each worker is to give his fellow workers the respect that he wishes to have shown to himself.—Lt 111, 1903. (2 Mind, Character & Personality, p. 423)

Unity in diversity is God’s plan. Among the followers of Christ there is to be the blending of diverse elements, one adapted to the other, and each to do its special work for God. Every individual has his place in the filling up of one great plan bearing the stamp of Christ’s image…—Lt 78, 1894 (2 Mind, Character & Personality, p. 800)

I believe God’s call for the church is to be an inclusive, diverse body. I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to overcome the forces that push us away from each other. I believe the church is to be a community that shows the world how people of different ages, income brackets, races, genders, political orientations, and other factors can live in harmony with love and respect.

I want to stand in that diverse group (Rev. 7:9), and I want the church to be a foretaste of that day now. May we live up to that high calling, and may I do my part by asking God to open my heart, mind and home.

Reflection Questions

  1. When have I experienced unexpected hospitality and inclusiveness? How did this make me feel, and how did it affect my own approach to others?

  2. What social division is most obvious in my life? That is, what is the characteristic that most of my friends have in common? What are the benefits and problems with this social situation?

  3. What steps might I take to move beyond this barrier (in #2)? What changes in attitudes, words and actions might I need in order to reach out to people who are different in this way?

  4. What social divisions has my congregation overcome? What divisions persist? What factors contribute to this division, and how might God move through me to change this?

  5. In a world polarized by political dissent, how can Christians demonstrate better communication both within the church and in the broader society?

  6. All religions and denominations have boundaries relating to belief, behavior and belonging. This is how one is distinguished from another. What are the positive and negative aspects of these boundaries? What purposes do these serve, and when or how might they become a problem? How do we decide where to draw these boundaries, and how do we decide how absolute or porous these various barriers should be?

  7. How might these themes be applied to relations between Christian denominations or between Christians and those with other religions or worldviews?

Plank Versus Sawdust

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Jesus’ teaching on self-assessment is important to me in many contexts. Beyond the purely individual application, I think it is appropriate material for contemplation anytime I find myself differentiating between my group and “the other.”

I support self-evaluation and discourage judging the other party. I’m Seventh-day Adventist, and I think we should focus on dealing with abuse within the church instead of pointing fingers at others religious communities that struggle with abuse. I’m a male, and I think guys should speak about “reproductive ethics” to other guys instead of telling women what they should do with their bodies. I have dark hair, and I hope I never hear another “blond joke” from anyone who wasn’t born with bleach-blond hair. And I’m also white. I think that the white community should focus on fixing its own issues rather than telling other racial groups what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

This came out again for me in the recent killing of Michael Brown. It’s just seems wrong to hear white people talking about what black people should be doing–stop rioting, stop speaking a certain way, stop getting into trouble with police. With our nation’s history of white people always getting the race issue wrong–genocide of First Nations, slavery, Jim Crow laws, the prison-industrial complex, treatment of Chinese immigrants during building of the railroads, policies of disruption in Central America, etc.–how are we in a position to tell anyone else how to act morally? Why do we think we have it right this time (see this Tim Wise video)?

If the rioting doesn’t make sense to you, then dig into it deeper. White people riot too. Find out what about the human experience brings this out. If demonstrations and protests don’t make sense to you, then dig deeper. All people groups demonstrate. This is not unusual behavior, so if you can’t understand why these people in this community at this time would feel motivated to speak their minds publicly, then look into their stories more deeply. You can judge from a distance or you can get closer and begin to understand. You may never agree with certain actions–I certainly don’t (and this applies to my views of violent people and groups regardless of race or economic level)–but if you don’t understand, then you need to go deeper.

So, my white friends, let’s refrain from telling other groups how they should act, especially if we aren’t friends with a number of people in “the other” category, whatever it might be. Instead, let’s focus on getting things right with ourselves–right thoughts, right attitudes, right words, right actions. We’ve got some planks to deal with before we try to deal with anyone else’s sawdust.

Above all, may we play our part in supporting the beloved community. This is to be on the right side of the “race question,” the right side of history, the right side of eternity.

– – –

NOTE: See my earlier list of articles on the killing of Michael Brown–link.

News and Commentary on the Shooting of Michael Brown [UPDATED]

I asked my communities on Facebook and Google+ to share the most insightful articles they’ve read about the recent killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a Ferguson, MO, police officer. Even though Brown was not the only unarmed black male to be shot in the last few days, it is the situation receiving the most press. Here are the articles people shared with me, plus a few that I’ve added to the mix (listed by date):

READ: DOJ Report on Civil Rights Violations in Ferguson, Criminal Probe of Officer Darren Wilson (DemocracyNow!, 4 Mar 2015)

Most Shocking Parts Of Ferguson Police Report (Sevilla, KRON 4, 4 Mar 2015)

Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police (McKenzie, Black Girl Dangerous, 12 Aug 2014)

So, to get folks back on track to focus on what matters most here—the killing of yet another unarmed Black teenager—I’ve compiled this list of 6 Things To Stop Being Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By the Police.

We’ve Been Here Before (the beautiful due, 12 Aug 2014)

my god, my god, what year is it?

In Defense of Black Rage: Michael Brown, Police and the American Dream (Cooper, Salon, 12 Aug 2014)

The police mantra is “to serve and to protect.” But with black folks, we know that’s not the mantra. The mantra for many, many officers when dealing with black people is apparently “kill or be killed.” It is that deep irrational fear of young black men that continues to sit with me.

11 Things White People Should Stop Saying to Black People Immediately (Clifton, Mic, 14 Aug 2014)

A growing number of black people have been ruthlessly beaten, shot and killed by white police officers of late, a fact all too easy to gloss over for white people who will continue moving through American life with white privilege. White privilege means not having to deal with the disproportionate impact of police brutality, racial profiling and exclusion from everyday social settings and public accommodations.

When Terror Wears a Badge (Herring, Sojourners, 14 Aug 2014)

Over the past three weeks there have been four separate incidents that have led to the deaths of four unarmed black men at the hands of police. For many black people, myself included, the moments following these tragic events are filled with despair, sorrow, anger, and frustration. Each incident serves as a reminder that as a black man in America, my life holds little to no value in the eyes of the general public.

Ferguson Perspective from a Cop’s Wife (Neace, 14 Aug 2014)

I’m frustrated.  I’ve watched the news and heard all the reports…the rants…the chants…the demonstrations.  Perhaps it’s time to hear the perspective of a cop’s wife on the situation in Ferguson.

In which I have a few things to tell you about #Ferguson (Bessey, 14 Aug 2014)

I have waited patiently for more white Christian bloggers to speak up, particularly the Americans, trying to give them precedent to respond, but I have been disheartened by minimal response there. I want to come alongside the African American voices already writing and advocating, even in this small way.

I Don’t Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson (Barthwell, XOJane, 14 Aug 2014)

How do I talk to white people about this!? How can I possibly explain the rage, fear, sadness, and every other emotion I don’t have a name for yet as I watch these events unfold?

Rand Paul: We Must Demilitarize the Police (Paul, Time, 14 Aug 2014)

If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.

Get the Military Off of Main Street (Beavers & Shank, New York Times, 14 Aug 2014)

The police response has shocked America. The escalating tension in this town of 21,200 people between a largely white police department and a majority African-American community is a central part of the crisis, but the militarization of the police is a dimension of the story that has national implications.

While You Were Talking About Gungor, Driscoll, and Walsh (Schell, OnFaith, 15 Aug 2014)

While the white Christian world debates who’s going to hell, the African-American community is already there, and nobody seems to give a damn.

The Police Are the Issue in Ferguson, Not Michael Brown’s Character (Klein, Vox, 15 Aug 2014)

This case is not about whether Michael Brown was One Of The Good Ones. It’s not even about whether he robbed a convenience store. The penalty for stealing cigars from a convenience store is not death. This case is about whether Wilson was legally justified in shooting Michael Brown….

Later on Friday afternoon, the Ferguson Police Department clarified that Brown was stopped because he was jaywalking, not because he was thought to have been involved in a robbery. So, as far as we know, Darren Wilson had no reason to believe Brown was involved in any kind of violent crime at all. Which makes the Ferguson PD’s decision to release the robbery photos today, absent this context, look even more like an attempt to sow doubts about Brown’s character.

How We’d Cover Ferguson If It Happened in Another Country (Fisher, Vox, 15 Aug 2014)

How would American media cover the news from Ferguson, Missouri, if it were happening in just about any other country? How would the world respond differently? Here, to borrow a great idea from Slate’s Joshua Keating, is a satirical take on the story you might be reading if Ferguson were in, say, Iraq or Pakistan.

4 Dead Unarmed Men and the Police: What You Need to Know (Edwards, The Root, 15 Aug 2015)

Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford.You should recognize these names. They all belong to unarmed black men who were killed by law enforcement since July 2014 for seemingly inexplicable reasons: allegedly selling loose cigarettes, allegedly holding a toy gun in the toy section of Wal-Mart, allegedly running away after a scuffle with the cops, and allegedly complying with police and lying down on the street. All of these cases are in varying stages of investigation.

Black People Are Not Ignoring ‘Black on Black’ Crime (Coates, The Atlantic, 15 Aug 2014)

There is a pattern here, but it isn’t the one Eugene Robinson (for whom I have a great respect) thinks. The pattern is the transmutation of black protest into moral hectoring of black people.

Behind A Twitter Campaign, A Multitude Of Stories (NPR, 16 Aug 2014)

Earlier this week, media outlets across the country (e.g. NPR, the Los Angeles Times, TIME, Mashable, the New York Times ) devoted coverage to a hashtag — #iftheygunnedmedown — aimed squarely at them. (Us.)

Michael Eric Dyson spells it out for white people: Police won’t ‘kill your child’ (Edwards, Raw Story, 16 Aug 2014)

“Especially white people, whose white privilege obscures from them what it means that their children can walk home and be safe, they’re not fearful of the fact that somebody will kill their child who goes to get some iced tea and some candy from a store,” he remarked. “Until that equality is brought, the president bears a unique responsibility and burden to tell that truth.”

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race (Abdul-Jabbar, Time, 17 Aug 2014)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

Eyewitness: ‘The Police Force in Ferguson Is Lying, and I Am Bearing Witness’ (Wilson, Sojourners, 18 Aug 2014)

I have never had 50 guns trained at me before, running with camera gear, hands in the air. The inexcusable and irrational level of violence is terrifying. Towards the end of the evening, more looting did happen. But there was none before the police attacked us repeatedly.

5 Things Ferguson Got Terribly Wrong over the Weekend (Bogado, ColorLines, 18 Aug 2014)

But authorities in Ferguson continued to make even more trouble over the weekend, especially when it came to dealing with journalists during the ongoing state of emergency. Here are just five of the ways Ferguson continues to get things wrong:

“A Human Rights Crisis”: In Unprecedented Move, Amnesty International Sends Monitors to Ferguson (DemocracyNow!, 18 Aug 2014)

After a week that saw a militarized police crackdown and the imposition of a nighttime curfew, Amnesty International USA has taken an “unprecedented” step by sending a 13-person delegation to monitor the developments in Ferguson, Missouri. It is the first time the Amnesty organization has deployed observers inside the United States.

Iraq Vet: Ferguson Cops Have Better Armor and Weaponry Than We Carried in a Combat (Rivera, The Raw Story, 18 Aug 2014)

In my year in Iraq, I lost track of how many times my guys asked me why so many Iraqis viewed us with distrust when we were trying to help them. The question would arise while we were walking the beat with Iraqi police officers, manning checkpoints, or in our forward operating base after we went off-duty.

Invariably, my response went something like this: “Imagine that you’re back home, OK? Suddenly, you got a whole mess of Iraqi soldiers in your town. They’re all over the place, doing the same things we’re doing right now. How do you think you’d react? You’d probably get pretty hot, right?”

Ferguson: Nixon Would Make a Solitude and Call it Peace (Knapp, Center for a Stateless Society, 18 Aug 2014)

American “police forces” of today, on the other hand, are de facto military organizations, occupying  the communities they claim to “protect and serve.”

An uproarious, moving John Oliver is perfect on Ferguson (VanDerWerff, Vox, 18 Aug 2014)

John Oliver’s monologue on the protests in Ferguson in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown is exactly as angry and hilarious as you might want it to be.

Ferguson Police Busted – Attempt To Defame Shooting Victim Blows Up In Their Face (VIDEO) (Downes, Addicting Info, 18 Aug 2014)

When the Ferguson police department released the name of Darren Wilson, they also chose to release video footage which they claimed was of Michael Brown robbing a convenience store for some cigars. The problem is, the video shows Michael Brown at the register, paying for the cigars.

Reparations for Ferguson (Coates, The Atlantic, 18 Aug 2014)

Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body.

Caller Says She has the Officer’s Side of the Ferguson Shooting (McLaughlin, Ford & Yan, CNN, 19 Aug 2014)

The renewed tensions came after the preliminary results of an autopsy that Brown’s family requested were released, as was a new account of what allegedly happened in the moments immediately before the teenager was killed by a local police officer.

Michael Brown shooting: ‘Stark racial divide’ in American views (Botti, BBC, 19 Aug 2014)

Over a week after teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, events there remain fluid and tense. In response, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll at the weekend to gauge how Americans view what has happened in Ferguson. The poll’s results shows an America divided along racial and political lines over the complex issues at play in the shooting’s aftermath.

Wake Up, America: Why We Can’t Afford to Ignore Ferguson (Guess, Red Letter Christians, 19 Aug 2014)

But this change can only start when we all open our eyes and acknowledge the truth of injustice that has been played out for way too long by local police forces across the country. We can’t just cover our ears and eyes and hope this storm goes away.

Not As Helpless As We Think: 3 Ways to Stand In Solidarity With Ferguson (Evans, Sojourners, 21 Aug 2014)

But when it comes to violence and oppression, we are rarely as helpless as we think, and this is especially true as the events unfolding in Ferguson force Americans to take a long, hard look at the ongoing, systemic racism that inspired so many citizens to protest in cities across the country this week.

Alex Landau’s Bloody Beating By Denver Cops Goes National Thanks to Echoes of Ferguson (Calhoun, Denver Westward, 20 Aug 2014)

Last Friday, the morning after communities across the country held rallies to protest police violence against African-Americans — and, specifically, the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — National Public Radio’s StoryCorps ran a particularly appropriate piece. It focuses on Alex Landau, an African-American who was adopted by a white couple as a child, grew up in Denver and had his own unfortunate encounter with cops when he was nineteen — one that left him beaten and bloody.

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson (Jones, The Atlantic, 21 Aug 2014)

Clearly white Americans see the broader significance of Michael Brown’s death through radically different lenses than black Americans. There are myriad reasons for this divergence, from political ideologies—which, for example, place different emphases on law and order versus citizens’ rights—to fears based in racist stereotypes of young black men. But the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people.

Ferguson Feeds Off the Poor: Three Warrants a Year Per Household (Daly, The Daily Beast, 22 Aug 2014)

A report issued just last week by the nonprofit lawyer’s group ArchCity Defenders notes that in the court’s 36 three-hour sessions in 2013, it handled 12,108 cases and 24,532 warrants. That is an average of 1.5 cases and three warrants per Ferguson household. Fines and court fees for the year in this city of just 21,000 people totaled $2,635,400. The sum made the municipal court the city’s second-biggest source of revenue.

EXTRA

A National Shame (Sales & Smith, Sojourners, Sojourners, Aug 2014)

These police killings of black people emerge out of a culture and system of white supremacy. In such a context, police killing of black people is not a black problem. It is an American problem that shreds the curtains of democracy.

18 Things White People Should Know/Do Before Discussing Racism (Drayton & McCarther, the Frisky, 12 June 2014)

Discussions about racism should be all-inclusive and open to people of all skin colors. However, to put it simply, sometimes White people lack the experience or education that can provide a rudimentary foundation from which a productive conversation can be built. This is not necessarily the fault of the individual, but pervasive myths and misinformation have dominated mainstream racial discourse and often times, the important issues are never highlighted.

White Privilege Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means (Rage Against the Minivan, May 2014)

I realize now, as I hope Tal can someday realize: white privilege isn’t about me individually. It’s not a personal attack. White privilege is a systemic cultural reality that I can either choose to ignore, or choose to acknowledge and attempt to change. It has nothing to do with my worth as a person or my own personal struggle.

Mapping the Spread of the Military’s Surplus Gear (New York Times, 15 Aug 2014)

State and local police departments obtain some of their military-style equipment through a free Defense Department program created in the early 1990s…. Highlighted counties have received guns, grenade launchers, vehicles, night vision or body armor through the program since 2006.

Racial Reconciliation 2.0 (Carrasco, Christianity Today, 18 Aug 2014)

A founding philosophical principle of CCDA is reconciliation, which is defined in two ways. First, reconciliation is about reconciling humanity to God through the saving work of Jesus on the cross. Second, reconciliation focuses on racial reconciliation, bringing together people from different ethnic groups in relationships that reflect the vision of Revelation 7:9, a great multitude of people from every tribe, nation and tongue, united in worship of Christ.

Last night I was reading about activism in the Philippines that looked at “five aspects of the damage created by poverty” (Salvatierra & Heltzel, Faith-Rooted Organizing, 157-158). Elements of it reminded me of Ferguson. Number 3 is cycles of denial and explosion. “The cry of grief, rage and terror can be disabling. To manage daily tasks, the cry must be suppressed, where it builds internally until it finally erupts. Oppressed people often live with these cycles of denial and explosion, which complicates  the process of analyzing problems and finding solutions: during periods of denial, the person ignores the problem, which interferes with a clear and comprehensive analysis; during periods of explosion, the person becomes the problem” (p. 158).

Crazy Radical Environmental Fruit-Nuts

In the past month or so I’ve watched two very intriguing documentaries about environmental activists who go to prison for their actions. Readers of this blog know I advocate for nonviolent social action, and I just want to highlight that again in the context of these two films.

The first is If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (PBS, film website, Wikipedia, IMDB, DemocracyNow!) which follows the story of Daniel McGowan. As a member of the ELF, McGowan had participated in arson as a tactic for social and environmental change. The film simultaneously tells the ELF’s story and follows court proceedings against McGowan.

If a Tree Falls is compelling story-telling. It is a provocative look at the sociological, psychological, and political factors that radicalized the local environmental activist community. I appreciated that the filmmakers allowed the activists and the law enforcement personnel to be complex; they weren’t dumbed down to one-dimensional caricatures. These are complex issues with complex actors, and I value that this messiness was allowed to come through.

More recently, I watched Bidder 70, which looks at the actions of Tim DeChristopher relating to conservation and climate change (film website, organization, Facebook, IMBD, Peaceful Uprising). Rather than take a violent or destructive approach like McGowan, DeChristopher interfered with an auction of extraction rights by holding up his bidding number, 70.

I have a deep respect for people who find creative and meaningful ways to live our their values. I respect even more those who dedicate themselves to pursuing this integration of values and living in peaceful or nonviolent ways.

Reflection Questions

  1. Am I as committed to my values as these two young men are?
  2. To what degree have I integrated my values and actions? What holds me back from doing this more fully?
  3. What sacrifices am I willing to make to live what I believe and to promote my values?
  4. What role did community play in the lives of these two men? How did community influence them before, during and after the actions noted in these films?
  5. In the area of environmental activism, what is needed today? What issues, strategies and tactics are most important at this stage in world history?

BONUS

Want to find more films that address some of these same themes? Check out the follow twelve films on protest and social action:

  1. Encounter Point (2006, documentary)
  2. Budrus (2009, documentary)
  3. 5 Broken Cameras (2011, documentary)
  4. The Singing Revolution (2006, documentary)
  5. This Is What Democracy Looks Like (2000, documentary)
  6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008, documentary)
  7. Rage Against the Machine: Revolution in the Head and the Art of Protest (2010, documentary)
  8. 180 South (2010, documentary)
  9. A Force More Powerful (1999, documentary)
  10. The Edukators (2004, movie)
  11. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2004, movie)
  12. Amazing Grace (2006, movie)

News Round-up

Religion

Education

Politics

Environment

Food

War +Violence + Peace

Business  Ethics

World

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Modern (Evangelical) Church History

Reading two books I received for Christmas, I came across the following accounts of modern evangelical history. Though these are not exactly “scholarly” sources, they present the history as I have previously heard it described. Ron Sider speaks a bit about this history in the collection of interviews, Heaven and Earth. Also, look for the reflection questions at the end of this post.

moneyThe Man Who Quit Money (Mark Sundeen, 2012)

For those not raised fundamentalist, the Rapture seems a cartoonish fairy tale. But in the past half century the notion has become mainstream. As the percentage of Americans belonging to mainline Protestant denominations has steadily dropped since the mid-1960s from a quarter to a tenth, those belonging to evangelical or fundamentalist churches have held fast at about 25 percent. Factoring in population growth, that firm percentage reflects an increase in numbers. In the popular imagination, the child’s nightmare has been replaced by the Apocalypse of the Book of Revelation, with its four horsemen and pits of boiling sulfur. Those raised in the faith accept as fact that this world’s days are numbered. Clocks will stop, and time as we know it will cease. (pp. 29-30)

The year was 1946, decades before fundamentalism reached the mainstream. “Born again” and “personal savior” were phrases cried out under revival tents, not under the dome of the United States Capitol. Billy Graham’s evangelical crusades would not begin until 1948, and Jerry Falwell would not found his church until 1956. (Though some might quibble, I use the terms “fundamentalist” and “evangelical” interchangeably. Both describe a faith based more on literal Bible reading than on membership in an organized church.) As the size and scope of secular government increased during the New Deal and World War II, and mainline churches focused on social justice instead of personal salvation, more Christians responded to what looked like the apocalypse–D-day, Auschwitz, Hiroshima–by seeking the moral certainty of scripture. (p. 33)

Among evangelical Christians, all of whom await the Second Coming of Jesus, there are historically two camps: postmillennialists and premillennialists. For most of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most were of the “post” variety, meaning that they expected the Messiah’s return after the thousand-year reign of peace. In order to hasten His arrival, they set out to create that harmonious world here and now, fighting for the abolition of slavery, prohibition of alcohol, public education, and women’s literacy.

The chaos of the Civil War and industrialization cause many evangelicals to rethink their optimism. They determined that Jesus would actually arrive before the final judgment. Therefore any efforts toward a just society here on earth were futile; what mattered was perfecting one’s faith. As historian Randall Balmer writes, these believers “retreated into a theology of despair, one that essentially ceded the temporal world to Satan and his minions.”

This schism widened in the twentieth century. After the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial in which fundamentalists were humiliated by the national press, premillennialists retreated into their own subculture, shunning the politics and causes of the times. “They turned inward,” writes Balmer, “tending to their own piety and seeking to lure others into a spiritualized kingdom in preparation for the imminent return of Jesus.” (pp. 36-37)

redRed Letter Revolution (Shane Claiborne & Tony Campolo, 2012). This excerpt adds more details to the history of the terms fundamentalism and evangelical.

During the late 1800s, scholars in Germany created a critique of the Bible that really tore traditional beliefs about the Bible to shreds. They raised questions about who the authors of Scripture were and suggest that much of the Bible was only the rehashing of ancient Babylonian myths and moral codes. In addition, theologies came out of Germany from the likes of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albrecht Ritschl, Ernst Troeltsch, and others who raised serious doubts about such crucial doctrines as the divinity of Christ and his resurrection from the dead.

There was a reaction to all of this “modernism”–the name given to this recasting of these new Christian teachings that were attempts to be relevant to a rational and scientific age–and a collection of scholars from the Unites States and England got together and published a series of twelve books called the Fundamentals of the Christian faith. These books were an intelligent defense of the traditional doctrines that we find outlined in the Apostles’ Creed.

It was in reaction to those books that Harry Emerson Fosdick, a prominent liberal preacher in New York City, preached a sermon called “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” which was printed and circulated throughout the country. Thus the term fundamentalist was born.

The label fundamentalist served us well until about 1928 or 1929. From that time on, and especially following the famous Scopes trial in which William Jennings Bryan argued against Darwin’s theory of evolution, fundamentalism began to be viewed by many as being anti-intellectual and naive. Added to this image of anti-intellectualism was a creeping tendency among fundamentalists toward a judgmentalism, by which they not only condemned those who deviated from orthodox Christian doctrine but any who did not adhere to their legalistic lifestyles, which were marked by condemnation of such things as dancing, smoking, and the consumption of alcohol.

By the time the 1950s rolled around, the word fundamentalist carried all kings of negative baggage…. About that time Billy Graham and Carl Henry, who was then the editor of Christianity Today magazine, began using a new name: evangelical. Again, orthodox Christians had a world that served us well, and did so right up until about the middle of the 1990s. By then, the word evangelical had lost its positive image with the general public. Evangelicals, to a large extent, had come to be viewed as married to the religious Right, and even to the right wing of the Republican Party.

When preachers like you [Shane Claiborne] and me go to speak at places like Harvard or Duke or Stanford and are announced as evangelicals, red flags go up and people say, “Oh, you are those reactionary Christians! You’re anti-woman; you’re anti-gay; you’re anti-environmentist; you’re pro-war; you’re anti-immigrant; and you’re all in favor of the NRA.” Defending ourselves, we say, “Wait a minute! That’s not who we are!” I think evangelicalism also has been victimized by the secular media, which is largely responsible for creating the image by treating evangelicalism and the religious Right of the Republican party as synonymous.

It was in this context that a group of us, who were sometimes referred to as “progressive evangelicals,” got together and tried to figure out how to come up with a new name for who and what we are. We kicked around various names and eventually came up with the Red Letter Christians. We wanted people to know that we are Christians who make a point out of being committed to living out, as much as possible, what those red letters in the Bible–the word of Jesus–tell us to be and do. We’re not into partisan politics, though we have a bias for political policies that foster justice for the poor and oppressed, regardless of which party espouses them. (pp. 3-5)

Note: Donald Dayton provides a history of evangelical social reformers in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (1976).

Reflection Questions:

  1. Where does my faith tradition fit in this history? Where does my family fit?
  2. How have world events shaped church history and theology?
  3. How would you change church history (the reaction to world history) if you could?
  4. What is at stake with labels and public perception?
  5. Are the red letters central to my Christianity? Why or why not?
  6. What is the relationship between the red and black letters of the Bible, between what Jesus said and what came before and after him?
  7. If you’re a Protestant Christian (the assumed main intended audience of the book), what elements from mainline Christianity and from evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity do you value or accept? If you’ve read the introduction to the book, you know the question could be expanded to include what elements of Catholicism (and Orthodox) are also meaningful to you?
  8. Is there any value in contemplating this history, or is it all nonsense or simply not relevant for our world today?

Superiority Complex (with minor revisions)

I wrote these thoughts in an email to family members, and then I decided to post this portion of the email here as well:

In the past month, some of you know that while I was at an SDA gathering, I overheard a racist conversation about the moral degeneracy of American Indians. I’m still trying to figure out how to address one of the participants, but I know I’ll be sharing a bit (e.g., this article [look for the 85 stat] + thoughts on the moral degeneracy of the US ethnic cleansing efforts) with a certain teen who also heard the comments (these 2 book also fits the conversation–Disruptive Christian Ethics and A People’s History of the US). American white culture has no moral high ground to talk down to anyone, let alone members of First Nations. My lack of direct intervention in their conversation demonstrates my own moral shortcomings; not what Sophie Scholl would do (WWSSD?). [i had mentioned this film about Scholl earlier in the original email]

Dominant groups like to overlook their flaws while focusing on supposed flaws of those outside the dominant culture. “They” are drunks. “They” are lazy. “They” are greedy. “They” are sex addicts. “That whole group is X, and my group isn’t.” Stereotypical prejudice.

The article linked above mentions rape as a tool of war. A recent example: “Christian” Serb forces used rape camps to demoralize Muslim Bosniaks during the last Bosnian war. 20,000-50,000 (or more) women raped by “Christian” soldiers. White people, Europeans, North Americans… It’s ridiculous to hold ourselves up as virtuous while pointing out the flaws in others. I had to roll my eyes (and follow-up later) about a visiting speaker who in his sermon extolled the virtues of American culture with roots in northern Europe… when the quote he used was from the same period as slavery. Why are we (Christians of Euro descent, CEDs) so blind?!

And speaking of possible blind spots and racism… Some still insist there is no such thing as white privilege here. We (CEDs) have such a hard time seeing it, like a fish trying to see water. And I’m not claiming to have eyes entirely wide open either; I’m on a learning journey too. The rejoinder that all kinds of people of various backgrounds “make it”–even the president is African-American–so privilege doesn’t exist misses the crux of the cultural phenomenon that is white privilege. Quick example, white is the default; what George Bush did in office wasn’t attributed to his whiteness, but Barack Obama has to be careful about being forceful or else the media writes about “the angry black man” (but that example opens up a whole batch of cans of worms). I believe we (everyone, not just CEDs) would all benefit from prayer and reflection on the fundamental attribution error, which is in no way limited to racial issues.

Christians are no better than anyone else. White people are no better than anyone else. North Americans are no better than anyone else. Adventists are no better than anyone else. Middle class people are no better than anyone else. Males are no better than anyone else. Peace activists are no better than anyone else (one study found that peace and justice activists in one denomination have higher rates of domestic abuse than than the general population of that denomination). [these characteristics were chosen by me because they are descriptions of me] We all have the same fundamental human nature, though I agree that the interplay between culture and genetics and history means we are not identical at micro or macro levels. Nevertheless, we share the same fundamental human nature with the same capacities for good and for evil.

Next time we feel better than someone–either an individual or a people group–let’s remember that we share a common humanness with them (unless the individual has an inactive amygdala or limbic system contributing to true sociopathic/psychopathic tendencies; and then that’s something beyond the differences of traits–personality, character, virtues and vices–that make up the geography of human individuality. in that case, yes, your genetics has arguably made you a more moral person than the axe-murdering sex fiend who is biologically incapable of experience empathy, fear or remorse. so congratulations on that; let the moral gloating commence).

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:1-2).

Love, Justice and the Law (revised)

At times I have had conversations with people who object to the language of social justice because they believe (a) that justice is only a legal term about punishing criminals and giving people who have been wronged their legal due process, and (b) that social justice is really about mercy and compassion, not justice. dollarIn Less Than Two Dollars a Day, Kent Van Til takes on this very argument (p. 154):

Someone else may object that, while helping the needy is certainly a laudable thing, doing so is an act of mercy or love, but not justice. Again, I believe that the Bible speaks against that notion. The Bible makes commands: leave the gleanings in the field, declare a Year of Jubilee, redeem the property of your brother, do not hold back the wages of a hired hand, be open-handed toward any of your countrymen who are in poverty and need, and so forth. All of these are, very simply, commands. Not one of them is found in a biblical appendix labeled “For the Especially Merciful.” Furthermore, this objection is based on a false distinction between love and law. Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” and “if you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 14:15; 15:10, NRSV). Law and love are not at opposite poles to each other in Scripture; the support each other. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia reference on “justice” puts it well:

The major point is that God’s justice is no abstraction at odds with an equally abstract mercy. To the contrary, as the description “a righteous God and Savior” implies (Isa. 45:21), God’s justice seeks concretely to express His mercy and to accomplish His salvation (Jgs. 5:11; Ps. 7:17; 35:23f.; 51:14; 71:15; 103:17; Isa. 46:13; 51:5f.)…. By these requirements [“To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8)] God’s goodness is structured into the social order.

To bring this to a real-world situation today, what does God’s love, justice and law say to human trafficking, as described in this video by the Shae Foundation:

Learn more at the Shae Foundation, 3Angels Nepal, Tiny Hands International or International Justice Mission.

Healthcare, Religious Freedom & Coercion

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I got into a conversation about Hobby Lobby with my father-in-law. The basic point being that the Hobby Lobby owners object to providing the morning-after pill in their employee healthcare package. For more details on the case and context, read here:

This is a big issue, touching on a number of important themes–healthcare, faith in the public sphere, employee rights, religious freedom, and government authority, to name a few.

From the outset I should say that I am personally opposed to the linkage between healthcare and one’s employer. From my HR grad class, I know the broad strokes of this history and rationale (here & here), but it does not serve us well today. I do not believe healthcare costs should be a business expense, and I don’t think it wise for people to get this particular type of insurance through their place of work. But that’s another issue deserving its own blog post. 🙂

So given that (a) I disagree with the situation that presents the problem in the first place, and (b) I am a Christian writing from a certain (there is more than one) Christian perspective, let’s move to a consideration of just two of the issues that are before us. First, there is the question of business operation in a pluralist society. Where is the balance between owners’ and workers’ rights?

I will not solve this, but will only point out that this healthcare conversation is one of many on this issue of rights. We will never settle on just where the sweet-spot is, so while we attempt to locate it, let us come to some measure of acceptance of the fact that we never will come to a final conclusion. Should owners be allowed to pay their workers whatever they desire? As a society we decided no, and put this into law by prescribing a minimum wage. Should owners be able to fire whomever they wish? As a society we decided no, and put this into laws on wrongful termination or dismissal. Should owners determine the type of healthcare their employees receive? This is now under consideration. Should owners who are Jehovah’s Witnesses be free to offer insurance that does not cover surgeries since these procedures require blood transfusions? Where is the line? Libertarians argue that this should be granted, and prospective employees are free to apply to or avoid the establishment. Others argue that employees should have the freedom to get the same coverage from any business that is not directly church-owned or operated. This is an interesting question that will have its day in court.

Secondly, I want to address the issue of government coercion. This is a significant question for Christians. Three portions of scripture often come up in this context, and all three should be noted here.

1) “And they sent their disciples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. 17 Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?’ 18 But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, ‘Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.’ And they brought Him a denarius. 20 And He said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ 21 They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then He said to them, ‘Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.’” (Matt. 22:16-21, NASB, Biblegateway.com).

We see Jesus limiting what is Caesar’s, and yet acknowledging that taxes are due him. The state can coerce taxation. At exorbitant amounts. For highly immoral actions. In the book Less Than Two Dollars a Day, Kent Van Til states that

it is clear that the government does have the authority to coerce. It coerces me to pay taxes, to drive responsibly, to support public education, and so forth. It even coerces me to help finance things that many believe are evil–such as fighting unprovoked wars, aborting unborn children, and building anti-ballistic missile systems that don’t work. (p. 155)

The mention of war is especially relevant for me. Whatever disdain the owner of Hobby Lobby has against the morning- or week-after pill, it is matched by my disapproval of much that is done by the CIA and the US military, both of which I have been coerced into funding for years through my taxes. When will Christians feel as much outrage for violence done in their names through the School of the Americas/WHINSEC as they do from the morning-after pill? Do we not know what has been done or do we just not care? Mr. Green, I encourage you to learn more about your military and CIA (start with Smedley Butler to see this is nothing new). Maybe you can add them to your letter.

2) “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Rom. 13:1)

The best commentary on this that I’ve read is the chapter on the topic in John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (see #6). Basically, Yoder explains that “subjection to” is not equivalent to “obey.” We obey as far as we morally can, and then we refuse to do evil, taking the punishment for our just actions.

Where is this line that we will not cross? That is a great debate. As is shown from the verse above, coercion by the state to pay even for immoral activities is within the line. That is, the Roman government used the taxes Jesus sanctioned to pay for all kinds of things a Jew or Christian would not approach.

3) “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.'” (Acts 5:29)

This is sanction for refusing to obey the government’s dictates when they call us to do things that are directly opposed to God’s word. Again, in relation to verse #1, this does not include taxes. Those who demand and use taxes will be accountable for those actions.

Summary: None of this is simple. However, in general terms we see that we are called to pay taxes even for “bad” things, that we are to be subject to authorities, and that we are to obey God rather than men when the two call us to directly perform different actions (taxes excluded).

As I stated at the beginning, I wish no company in the US had to deal with healthcare, but since that is how our society is currently structured, I do not see a biblical basis for refusing to make a payment coerced by the US government simply because I disagree with it. It is fully Mr. Green’s right to advocate for a changed law; however, I don’t believe he can make a biblical argument against paying the tax if the law does not change.

Your thoughts and reactions?

NOTE: A follow-up post will cover more from Alan Kreider, Ellen White & Jesus.

Love and Shopping

Recently, I’ve written two posts on living in such a way as to care for others–Love and Service and Now What?. In the latter article, I wrote this:

I bought chocolate before “enlightenment,” and I will buy it after, but now I look for the Fair Trade stamp of approval. I look for organic food because I know the workers weren’t subjected to pesticides and herbicides in the fields, and I know it is better for the planet.

I decided to write this follow-up post to clarify that I don’t mean to argue that “shopping well” is the central or defining characteristic of “living well.” Temporarily setting aside spiritual issues, this is inadequate even from purely environmental or societal perspectives. Consider the analysis of Annie Leonard in the short video, “The Story of Change.”

This is especially relevant at this time of year when millions of people are ramping up for Christmas binge shopping. For a different Christian perspective on this holiday, check out Advent Conspiracy:

And if you do feel the need to shop this Christmas, might one of these options fit the bill: