Bonhoeffer: Token of the Love of Christ

I have been slowly making my way through The Cost of Discipleship (Bonhoeffer, 1937). Here is an excerpt from Ch. 9, “The Brother,” which covers Matthew 5:21-26.

Let the fellowship of Christ examine itself and see whether it has given any token of the love of Christ to the victims of the world’s contumely and contempt, any token of that love of Christ which seeks to preserve, support and protect life. Otherwise however liturgically correct our services are, and however devout our prayer, however brave our testimony, they will profit us nothing, nay rather, they must needs testify against us that we have as a Church ceased to follow our Lord. God will not be separated from our brother: he wants no honour for himself so long as our brother is dishonoured…. He who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar.

There is therefore only one way of following Jesus and of worshipping God, and that is to be reconciled with our brethren. (p. 145)

This quote emphasizes two important Christian themes–compassion (tokens of the love of Jesus) and reconciliation (forgiveness and renewed relationship).

Questions for thought:

  • Who are today’s victims of the “world’s contumely [rudeness] and contempt”?
  • How can I and my congregation give these people a token of the love of Christ?
  • Who am I (or who is my denomination) estranged from?
  • What would be the first step toward reconciliation in this specific situation?
  • What part have I played in the separation?
  • How can I make amends?

On Health and Healing

The story of Bhava Ram learning to get up and find new life is inspiring to me. It reminds me of these three documentaries:

CRAZY, SEXY CANCER (2007)

MAY I BE FRANK (2010)

FAT, SICK & NEARLY DEAD (2011)

Watch this third one for free on Hulu.

>A Just Forgiveness — Review

>My review of A Just Forgiveness is now up at Adventist Today. Here’s the first paragraph:

Aquinas and Augustine developed the philosophical foundation for just war.[i] Glen Stassen promoted just peacemaking.[ii] Gerald Schlabach argued for just policing.[iii] Now, Everett Worthington Jr. attempts to build a framework for just forgiveness by asking, “How can Christians forgive without excusing wrongdoing?”

[complete article]

>Darfur Diaries

>At our last movie night, a friend handed me a book, Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival. It works a tricky balance as part adventure log, part history lesson and part activist investigation. Brutal.

While not covering the details of systematic burning, pillaging and raping, the reader still gets a sense of the desperation and hope. It was interesting to read the sentiments of the displaced people; some wanting revenge, others just wanting to return home. All wanting peace, someday.

One item on the author’s agenda list is to convince the reader that the general media has over simplified the conflict into a North/South, Arab/African, Islamic/Christian dichotomy. Instead, the author believes that the government is using divisions between groups to cause chaos, keep it in power, and obtain the resources it desires. Thought provoking.

Now I want to watch the documentary—Darfur Diaries: Message from Home.

>Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Martin Luther King, Jr., is celebrated today. I’m in favor of living his wisdom, rather than just honoring his life with words.

King lived the third way, rejecting both violent revolt and passive acceptance of injustice. He taught and lived the way of nonviolent activism. Government leaders will attend photo ops today at African-American churches and ceremonies for King, but they seem less likely to bring King’s philosophy to bear on the “war on terror.”

In addition to his revolutionary efforts for civil rights, I also respect that King worked to end the Vietnam War and economic inequality. Justice, he was a man of justice.

My memorial to King will be his own words:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

Life’s most urgent question is: what are you doing for others?

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.

Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.

Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.

Never succumb to the temptation of bitterness.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one’s soul.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.

The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live. Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.

The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the postive affirmation of peace.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

We must use time creatively.

We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

>Capital Punishment & the Cycle of Violence

>Chris Blake, author of Searching for a God to Love and Swimming Against the Current, has written a great article for Adventist Today about the death penalty, torture, Saddam Husein and Sabbath School. This is well worth your time.

The Day Saddam Came to Sabbath School (January 1, 2008 – 12:00am – Chris Blake)

>New Jersey Bans Capital Punishment

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This week New Jersey became the first state in some 40 years to ban the death penalty (New Jersey bans death penalty, Yahoo News, 17 Dec ’07). I applaud this bold move. There have been two other stories in the news over the past few months that have bolstered my support of New Jersey’s decision.

First, there was the case of Willie “Pete” Williams. He was convicted of three crimes including rape in 1985, but recent DNA evidence exonerated him after spending nearly 22 years behind bars. Although Williams was not on death row, his case is still relevant for the capital punishment debate. How many innocent people have already been executed and how many are innocent people are currently facing death at the hands of the state? Once someone is “capitally punished,” there is no way to reverse a wrongful conviction. (Picture copied from The Christian Science Monitor.)

“Williams’ troubling story provokes discomfort in a nation that prides itself on a justice system where the accused are innocent until proven guilty. So far, DNA evidence has directly exonerated 208 wrongly convicted people in the United States, according to the Innocence Project. It’s unknown how many prisoners now locked up in American jails could be freed by new testing of DNA evidence” (Innocent man shares his 20-year struggle behind bars, CNN, 26 Oct ‘07).

The second recent news item involves Thomas Arthur, who was not allowed to use DNA evidence in his defense (Court Rejects Ala. Death Row Challenge, Fox News, 26 Nov ’07). Arthur is currently on death row. Now I don’t know the briefings and precedents in the case, but if a legal system gets in the way of a defendant being able to use all available scientific means of proving one’s innocence, then that system needs to be overhauled. Part of that renewal and renovation needs to be banning the severest punishment from which there is no chance of freedom.

While the cases of Williams and Arthur demonstrate the possibility for error and thus for killing an innocent human being, there are other factors that argue against the justice of the death penalty. For starters, I believe that capital punishment is not a deterrent against premeditated crimes or crimes of passion.

Also, race is a major factor. For example, “In Georgia, over the last decade, prosecutors have been more than twice as likely to seek the death penalty when the victim was white than when the victim was black” (Capital Punishment Debate, Wikipedia). “About 80% of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50% of murder victims generally are white” (Fact Sheet, Death Penalty Information Center). This is not justice. This is fear and racism and double-standards.

Despite examples such as Williams and Arthur, some families of victims in New Jersey are upset about the death penalty ban (Some decry N.J. death penalty abolition, AP, 18 Dec ‘07). What would I want if my family members had been abducted, raped or murdered? Would my view of justice be different given those circumstances? It is easy to sit at a computer and pontificate from a safe distance.

The story of Bud Welch, which I read in Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, gives me hope that I could still be against capital punishment even if it were a more personal issue. Welch lost his daughter, Julie Marie, when Timothy McVey bombed the government building in Oklahoma. At first Welch wanted to kill McVey himself, but he started to change as he thought about his daughter’s belief that redemptive violence is a lie and that capital punishment simply continues the violence. Eventually, Welch made contact with the McVey family and began speaking against the death penalty.

These arguments are enough to persuade me to be against the death penalty, but I understand that all of the research, websites and books supporting both sides of the argument demonstrate that this debate is not going to go away any time soon.

Now let’s consider the issue from a Christian perspective. Isn’t the death penalty biblical?

Yes, it was a punishment instituted by God during the development of the Hebrew nation—an ancient theocracy formed after 400 years of slavery. I appreciated Julie Smith’s recent thoughts on this early phase of the Israelite nation. So the question is not, was the death penalty ever right, but what is right for today? Does God support it now? We struggle because we think God’s first words on a topic should be the last without regard for human development.

No, God never changes (Numbers 23:19; James 1:17), but let’s consider the development of morality at both the historical level and the personal level. God doesn’t change, but his expectations of us and his way of relating to us do seem to change, just as a parent relates differently to a 6-year-old and a 16-year-old. Don’t parents use different discipline and training tactics over the years of a child’s development?

Is it possible that society has gone through a developmental process similar to Kohlberg’s stages of moral development? Is it possible that God has been leading us from a pre-conventional mindset that focuses on obedience and punishment to a post-conventional maturity that understands and responds to universal ethical principles?

In Sex God, Rob Bell points out that the Mosaic laws concerning rape were way ahead of their time. In most near-eastern cultures, women had few if any rights. By stating that a man would have to marry and financially support a woman he raped, God was jump-starting human ethics.

But he wasn’t finished. God takes this infinitely further when Jesus states that a man is committing sin when he simply lusts after a woman (Matthew 5:27-28). When we objectify a person and view them solely for what they can give us, we have violated the Imago Dei in them. God wasn’t static in his teaching on sexual relations; he developed the theme as we were seemingly ready for it. God does this with all of our spiritual formation. He only teaches us what we are able to understand at a given time (John 16:12-13).

I believe the same is true for capital punishment. Originally, it was the punishment for some civil crimes and religious sins in the theocracy, but we again see Jesus spiritually and practically tweaking the message in the New Testament. In the famous story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus told the rabble that the first stone thrower should be someone who hadn’t sinned (John 8). The Old Testament law said she (and the man) should be stoned, but Jesus added a stipulation, a rather significant stipulation.

This naturally brings up at least three questions. Should these verses be in the Bible? Does this forbidding of the death penalty apply to all crimes or just adultery? Should this criterion of a sin-free law enforcer apply to all civil and criminal punishments? Let me address these questions in a different order, though I in no way delude myself into thinking I can adequately answer them.

Some argue that because the story of the woman caught in adultery is not in the earliest and “most reliable” manuscripts, it should not be held with as high of esteem as the rest of the New Testament. I disagree with this. It may not be in the earliest manuscripts, but it was in quite early ones. It’s not like it was added in the 18th century to fit a certain religious or political leader’s present needs. Also, I believe God is powerful enough to guide the development of his holy book. This gets into the murky topic of canonization, so I will cut this digression short for now.

Does this teaching apply to the punishment of all illegal activity? For example, should only patrol officers who’ve never exceeded the speed limit be allowed to give out speeding tickets? I believe we can agree that this is not practical or necessary. While we do respect that Gandhi quit using sugar before telling the boy that he should not eat it, we do not need this level of sanctity in order to have a functioning judiciary and law enforcement system.

So if we’re comfortable concluding that Jesus’ teaching does not apply to the punishment of all categories of criminal activity, does it apply to all crimes currently punishable with the death penalty in the U.S. or just cases of adultery, which is no longer punished with death? I have a difficult time answering this in a way that can convince anyone who disagrees with me. I believe that it does apply to all instances of the death penalty, but I have very limited biblical evidence or logical arguments to support me.

However, I do appreciate the following lyrics from the song “My Enemies are Men Like Me” (Derek Webb):

Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication.

It’s like telling someone murder is wrong,
and then showing them by way of execution.

This discussion naturally brings up the possibility of God distinguishing between murder and killing. For this you’ll need to read works by Geisler, Lovin and Smedes rather than this blog.

>ISSUE: Forgiveness

>The Amish community is just amazing to me. Beautiful. If only there were more people like them in the world. If only I were more like them. Here are excerpts from two articles regarding the recent slayings:

‘Life has to go on’ for Amish community (MSNBC.com, 3 Oct 2006)
Spirit of forgiveness rules the day in face of school shooting tragedy

John said he wouldn’t do a television interview. The Amish believe pictures are a sign of vanity, and pictures on TV are an even worse way of indulging in the evils of the world.

But John was willing to talk about the horrible school shooting that brought so much evil to this peaceful world. “We’re very concerned that no message of revenge gets out,” he said. “We believe in forgiveness.”

Don’t misunderstand John or the other members of his community. Don’t let the 18th century clothes he wore, plain black slacks held up by suspenders, plain white shirt, his straight beard, and otherwise clean shaven face and straw hat, don’t let that make you think for one second that he doesn’t hurt, grieve or mourn.

His faith teaches him to believe all of this horror will help bring him and his neighbors closer to their God, closer to each other and closer to “the English.”

The True Meaning of Forgiveness (The Daily Nightly, MSNBC.com, 4 Oct. 2006)
All around the family watched, crying softly, even the little children, who listened as their grandfather told them not to hate the gunman who did this.

“Forgive,” he was instructing them. “Forgive, as God forgives us…”

Rev. Rob Schenck called it the most powerful moment he’s seen in 25 years as a minister.

This forgiveness seems especially incredible coming on the same day the coroner is reported to have counted almost 20 bullet wounds in the body of a 7-year-old girl.

An Amish woman told me perhaps the good that might come of this tragedy.

“We can tell people about Christ and actually show you in our walk that we forgive, not just say it but in our walk of life,” she said. “You know you have to live it. You can’t just say it. ”