Bourgeois: Solidarity, Equality & Conscience

Credit: ICPJ

Credit: ICPJ

I really appreciated the presentation by Father Roy Bourgeois last night at an event co-sponsored by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) and Veterans for Peace (http://www.icpj.net/2014/resisting-militarizaiton-fr-roy-bourgeois-speaks-out-against-the-soa/). He emphasized solidarity, conscience and equality as he shared his life story, his work against the SOA/WHINSEC, and why he was dismissed as a Catholic priest because of his support for ordaining women.

A table was stacked with copies of Pink Smoke over the Vatican (DVD), Somos Una América (DVD), and My Journey from Silence to Solidarity (booklet).

“With injustice, silence is complicity.”

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Friday Web Round-up

Today’s list is shorter than usual. I’ve been distracted with other things.

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.

Conversation: Paul and King–Mission, the Powers and Nonviolence

In the seminary class Pauline Theology and Ethics, 40% of our grade is class participation, which includes both in-class conversation and postings on an online forum. Below is a conversation two of us had about Paul and King, submission and civil disobedience (see references for class reading at the end). The week’s topic was Paul and the powers.

Jeff: How are believers and the collective church to relate to the powers—the prince of the air and worldly governmental authority?

In the first of his “powers” trilogy, Walter Wink looks at the various words the Bible (especially Paul) uses for the powers (Naming the Powers, pp. 13-35). Wink concludes that the language for principalities, rulers, authorities and powers “is imprecise, liquid, interchangeable, and unsystematic” (p. 9). Furthermore the “Powers are both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, spiritual and political, invisible and structural” (p. 11). However, to the degree that we are able, we must consider the two types of powers as discrete in some way in order to make comprehensible Paul’s admonitions about how Christians should relate to each.

Read more of this post

>Even more random links.

Articles, Organizations & Websites:

Films & Videos:

>War and Peace

In Peace Research today, I led a discussion of chapter 5-9 of Peace and Conflict Studies, 2nd ed. (Barash & Webel). These are some of the resources I mentioned or drew on:

Films

Books

  • Reason for Hope (Jane Goodall)
  • War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (Chris Hedges)

Social Psychology Experiments

>Three Cups of Freshly Squeezed Ethical Juice

>I posted the following item on my ethics class’s forum. I’d thought I’d re-post here as well:

1) Smedley Butler, AKA “Old Gimlet Eye” (You just can’t make this stuff up):

War Is a Racket (By Smedley Butler)

  • http://www.lexrex.com/enlightened/articles/warisaracket.htm
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_Is_a_Racket
  • “[T]he title of two works, a speech [1930] and a booklet [1935]… in which Butler frankly discusses from his experience as a career military officer how business interests have commercially benefited from warfare.”
  • “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”
  • “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

2) Narco Cinema

Want to disappear down a rabbits’ hole of cultural and ethical surrealism? Then this be for you:

3) Zimbardo & the Prison Hoopla

I might not remember a lot from Social Psychology a decade and a half ago, but at least three things have stuck with me: marshmallows (Mischel), shocks (Milgram), and… prison insanity (Zimbardo).

Zimbardo’s experiment shows that the power differential between those playing the roles of officers and inmates led quickly to social problems. In fact, the experiment was called off after just 6 days because the “experiment quickly grew out of hand. Prisoners suffered — and accepted — sadistic and humiliating treatment from the guards. The high level of stress progressively led them from rebellion to inhibition. By the experiment’s end, many showed severe emotional disturbances” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zimbardo_experiment).

>CPT — Palestine

>Yesterday, David, my professor in Mission & Peace, told about an experience he had while working with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Palestine (Gaza or West Bank?). On the way to a Palestinian family’s home for dinner, he noticed two piles of rubble. At dinner with the host family, the father introduced his son as his little terrorist weapon. David was confused so the man told the story.

The piles of rubble were their family’s previous homes, which had been flattened by the Israeli army. In the middle of the night the army showed up with bulldozers and told the family they had 15 minutes to get out. After the military razed the house, the father took his young boy to a soldier and told him to take the boy since the father no longer had a place to shelter him. I presume it was done with a bit of emotion, and he was arrested for attacking the soldier with a weapon–his son.

Two videos on Palestine:

  • CPT (I can’t find the video I want now. These are available from ’05.)
  • 60 Mins

>Israel & Palestine

>Today in Peace Colloquium, a student reported on her work/internship at Mar Elias school in I’billin, Israel, which was started by the Arab Palestinian Christian priest, Elias Chacour. The student body is composed of both Muslim and Christian students. While there are no Jewish students (if I heard correctly), there are a number of Jewish teachers and professors. Classes don’t meet on Fridays or Sundays, but they are on Shabbat.

If you are interested in this unique school, you can learn more here:

She said tourists can stay at the school for ~$35-40 a day, which includes room and board. In return, travelers spend half the day volunteering at the school and the rest of the time sight-seeing.

We were asked to watch this CBS clip before attending the presentation–Is Peace Out of Reach?

Four of the many resources she had on display:

>Demonstrations

>I recently attended two demonstrations/protests/worship services in D.C. You can read about them here: