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.

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus

Yesterday my mother shared the following quote with me. She is reading Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg, and she knew this would be meaningful to me:

The gods of Israel’s neighbors concerned themselves with sacrifices and ceremonies.  They were not terribly moral, and they were often fickle and cruel.  The God of Israel was unique in tying worship of him with compassion for others.21 When his people began to believe that rituals were all he required, God sent prophets to remind them that justice to the poor was his greatest concern.  This was the heart of Jesus’ teaching too. (p. 79)

21 See John Walton, Ancient Israelite Literature in Its Cultural Context (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1994), 229-47.

She also shared these:

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

SEE ALSO:

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).

Thoughtful Bits on a Screen

In the past week or so, I’ve watched the following:

(1) Budrus. “The film is about non-violent demonstrations conducted by the residents of Budrus (a Palestinian town in the Ramallah and al-Bireh Governorate) during the early 2000s to protest against the building of the Israeli West Bank barrier inside of the village” (Wiki).

(2) No Impact Man. “The film, which premiered September 4, 2009, follows Colin Beavan and his family during their year-long experiment to have sustainable zero impact on the environment” (Wiki).


(3) Finding Your Roots — Samuel L. Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, and Ruth Simmons. “The ancestral pasts of actor Samuel L. Jackson, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Brown University President Ruth Simmons.” My wife thinks there’s a chance I’m related to one of the three. You can infer how that would work.

>More Random Links

>19th Century Restoration Movements — Civic Engagement

I assembled a collection of writings from 19th century American religious restoration and renewal movements as part of a peace research class. After mentioning the project presentation on Facebook, there were requests for more info. This is difficult for me to understand. Really.

Here are the groups/movements covered (this list is by no means comprehensive of the period):

  1. NY Peace Society
  2. Stone-Campbell (Churches of Christ)
  3. Wesleyan
  4. Presbyterian
  5. Seventh-day Adventism
  6. The Church of God (Anderson)
  7. Pentecostalism

The original presentation had approximately 100 slides, a 4-page hand-out, and 85 minutes of verbal description. To make it a bit more accessible, I’ve cut it down to ~65 slides.

To learn more about this era, read ch. 16, “Pacifism in the Nineteenth Century” in John Howard Yoder’s Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution.

Slideshow: 19th-century-restoration-movements-online-mini

>Evangelical Social Heritage

Today I’ve been reading Donald Dayton’s Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (1976) for a project on 19th century restoration movements and social justice. Great book. Here’s a thought from Charles Finney:

Is it possible, my dearly beloved brethren, that we can remain blind to the tendencies of things–to the causes that are operating to produce alienation, division, distrust, to grieve away the Spirit, overthrow revivals, and cover the land with darkness and the shadow of death? Is it not time for us, brethren, to repent, to be candid and search out wherein we have been wrong and publicly and privately confess it, and pass public resolutions in our general ecclesiastical bodies, recanting and confessing what has been wrong–confessing in our pulpits, through the press, and in every proper way our sins as Christians and ministers–our want of sympathy with Christ, our want of compassion for the slave, for the inebriate, for the wretched prostitute, and for all the miserable and ignorant of the earth.

May the Lord have mercy on us, my brethren. (p. 24)

(Dayton’s source is Letters on Revivals–No. 23: The Pernicious Attitude of the Church on the Reforms of the Age.)