Resources on Racial Justice

I have not read widely on racial topics, I admit up front. At a recent conference on race and justice, I learned about two books that look like important ones to engage.

  1. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (Michelle Alexander). We watched this presentation that she gave in 2013. From a gender perspective, the book looks like it might compliment Disruptive Christian Ethics: When Racism and Women’s Lives Matter (Traci West). I mean, it sounds like Alexander is focusing more on men, and West focuses on women in this book.
  2. The White Racial Frame: Centuries of Racial Framing and Counter-Framing (Joe Feagin).

Here are a few other related links:

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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).

Random Articles about Christianity

I haven’t posted anything about religion for a while. Here are some articles that have caught my attention, plus one I wrote for Adventist Peace Fellowship:

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)

Friday Web Round-up

Economics

Human Rights

War, Peace & Social Change

Psychology

Environment

Religion: List

Random: List

Ashoka: Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility

While watching Beyond Corporate Social Responsibility today from Netflix, these two unrelated quotes stood out to me:

Time & Imagination (13:07)

In 1997, I and my wife, Mara, Decided to take a sabbatical. A year of learning, of traveling, of doing nothing…. At the end of this year…an idea came to create in Brazil Instituto Ethos for business and social responsibility. In fact, practically all the initiatives I’ve taken that have resulted in creating new endeavors, new organizations happened at times of doing absolutely nothing. One of the great risks today, with the issue of stress, with people not having time for themselves, with their full schedules, is that they don’t leave room in their minds. They don’t leave room for their imagination, for their creativity, for anything new to happen. It is essential for anyone who really wants to undertake new things and think about the meaning of things to leave room in their time, in their schedule, so that new things can come.

Personal Responsibility (43:55)

Whenever anyone says that the problem is too big to be solved by each one of us, that he feels to small and weak to change the world, I always say, “It doesn’t matter if you will be able to do those things, if they will have any consequence on the world. It is important that you do your part.” It is important that you do everything that must be done in your beliefs, because everything you do will reflect on future generations and will reflect on your children. And it’s awful if one day your child should come to you and say, “You knew the world was in danger. You knew the environment was being destroyed. You knew about social conditions. Why didn’t you do your part?” So it is very important to build an honorable life, a dignified life, and try to do things. Because one day you will have to evaluate your life, and when you have a positive balance, there is no better gratification.

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.

Now what?

“Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” –Buddhist wisdom

I wrote earlier about my understanding of God’s priorities (more for SDA readers). If/when a person comes to believe that God is more interested in peace, justice, righteousness, compassion and love than in esoteric theology or ritualistic religiosity, everything changes. True, we still must carry out the basic tasks of life — chop wood, draw water — but we go about even these things with a new mindfulness.

If justice is a weighty matter to God (Matt. 23:23), then the way I live becomes more important than my hour or two of religious engagement per week. I begin to realize that my daily actions affect others, so I want to live in such a way as to embody peace, justice and mercy. Peter Rollins considers this in his blog post I Believe in Child Labour, Sweatshops and Torture:

Take the example of buying chocolate from a corner shop. If I know, or suspect, that the chocolate is made from coco beans picked by children under the conditions of slavery then, regardless of what I say, I believe in child slavery. For the belief operates at a material level (the level of what I do) rather than at the level of the mind (what I tell myself I believe). And I can’t hide in supposed ignorance either for if I don’t know about how most chocolate is made it is likely that my lack of knowledge is a form of refusal to care. For the very fact that there is Fair Trade chocolate, for example, should be enough for me to ask questions about whether other chocolate is made in an unfair way.

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 go about my daily tasks in ways that look out for other people and for creation itself.

So the way I go about the small things of life changes, but bigger picture things begin to change as well–my expectations of the church in the world, the way I desire my business to operate, my political values, the purpose of education, the use of my free time. Everything begins to change.

Peter Rollins tells a story about a priest who has an unusual gift–the people he prays for lose their faith (“Finding Faith” in The Orthodox Heretic). Eventually the priest realizes that by helping someone lose their faith, they are allowed to open their eyes to themselves and to the world, thus enabling them to live more fully or rightly without religio-blinders.

This new vision eventually leads to regaining a type of faith on the far side of no-faith. That is, if I think going to church and believing “true” theological statements is what God is after, I’ll focus my attention there. I may not have time to help others and I may not be interested in their experiences, but as long as I practice my religion and hold “right” beliefs, all is well. I can keep being religious so I don’t need to be good. But if I lost that faith in religiosity, I would then see that all I have left is a selfish existence. That selfishness needs to change in order to live rightly, and this was hindered by my focus on religious pursuits.

If my “site of resistance” is the church, attendance can be just a valve to let off pressure so I can go about supporting the status quo. Without that release valve, the pressure builds, and I see that the place to release my energy and resistance is where it matters most–in the world where people (and the systems that affect people) dwell. For most of us, we will likely continue with some form of religious expression and continue to hold a concern for theology, but we begin to see these things differently in light of the bigger picture of God and God’s world. They are not ends in themselves; they are not the focus.

For the Christian who begins to believe that love, compassion, peace and justice are paramount, some changes require very little reflection. “Now I will chop wood and draw water for my family and for someone else in my community who needs these things.” This is direct, local and uncomplicated. However, moving to broader questions (e.g., access to the forest or the well, access to education on how to chop and carry, the possession of a home to carry the water to), then answers become more complicated. The quest for “social holiness” is not always simple and obvious. Consequently, I believe that resources and community are important for taking the steps of living out these values. A healthy community provides support, creativity, insight, grace and meaning. I recommend the following resources for personal and small group reflection leading to action:

BOOKS

WEBSITES (organizations + publications)