Interfaith Solidarity

I’ve heard two stories lately about interfaith solidarity that really impressed me.

First, Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was taken prisoner in WWII. A Nazi prison guard demanded to know who of Edmonds’ men were Jewish. Edmonds refused to single them out, but instead declared, “We are all Jews here.”

Even with the threat of death, he didn’t change his answer. This courageous act saved the lives of the Jewish soldiers. The story goes:

Nazi leaders had told the Jewish soldiers to assemble outside their barracks one morning, to be taken to labor camps where they would almost certainly die.

But Edmonds, of Knoxville, Tennessee, ordered the entire contingent of 1,000 U.S. servicemen to join them, saying the Nazis had to kill all of them or none.

Even when threatened at gunpoint, Edmonds didn’t budge, and his gambit worked. The Nazi official backed down and around 200 Jewish soldiers stayed in captivity with the others until they were liberated.

You can learn more of the details here (“‘We are all Jews here’: U.S. soldier honored after leading revolt against Nazi prison guard who demanded Jews step forward so they could be killed,” Kieran Corcoran, Daily Mail, 2 Dec 2015).

Second, a similar situation recently occurred in Kenya, but this time it was Muslims protecting Christians. The BBC reports:

A group of Kenyan Muslims travelling on a bus ambushed by Islamist gunmen protected Christian passengers by refusing to be split into groups, according to eyewitnesses.

They told the militants “to kill them together or leave them alone”, a local governor told Kenyan media.

At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border.

Learn more about this brave stance here (“Kenyan Muslims shield Christians in Mandera bus attack,” BBC, 21 Dec 2015).

What would I do if I had been in that camp or on that bus? Would I have the courage in the moment to stand up for others? Would I express that level of solidarity? I’m thankful for those who such a brave example for us to ponder. May I be shaped and formed by these stories.

On the Murder of Nine African-American Christians in Charleston, SC [UPDATED]

These articles offer commentary that I either appreciate or will soon read. 🙂 I’m thankful for the articles people share with me, but I’m having a hard time keeping up. I’ll keep track of my list here, updating as I learn more. Listed in reverse chronological order:

Somewhat related:

Foolishness of Faith

I get why some people stop going to church because it feels stale, lacks relevance for their daily lives, does a poor job of fostering meaningful relationships, and seems disconnected from the real needs of hurting humanity (and ends up actually hurting far too many people).

I understand why some people give up on the church because too often it is more concerned about air conditioning than the condition of the environment, about politics than compassion, about the order of service than community service.

I can see why people lose faith in faith when science so often tells a more compelling story about humanity’s place on the planet with more systematic evidence and more seeds of hope.

I deeply grasp why the suffering, abuse, torture and violence in the world makes it virtually impossible for many to believe that a God of love could be behind all of this.

What is actually baffling to me is the reality that so many of us still participate in a church community at all, still believe any of this stuff at all. It seems like a miracle that any of us find some measure of freshness after a few thousand years of reading the same book and singing songs about the same themes, that some of us find something at church that speaks to our modern lives, that some of us find a measure of community and connection, that some turn their churches outward to care for others, that some care about God’s created world, that some still even believe that God created life and cares about all life, that some people find ways to embrace both God and science, that some people see the God of love trying to use us to overcome violence with love. It’s miraculous–it appears to me–that for many of us, after our orbits have swung wide into the world during the week, we still come crashing back together to explore something we can’t see, touch, smell, taste or hear, at least not directly. Why don’t our trajectories move inexorably apart? Why do we come back together, even when so often fighting our own desires not to? Why do we sing and pray? What is this gravitational force that keeps calling us back to community, back to a place where we share questions, experiences and unusual casseroles at potluck?

I get why so many of my friends have left the church community and/or given up on trying to find truth in the pages of the Bible. I don’t have any less respect or appreciation for them. I’m just surprised that not everyone has done the same.

I raise my glass to all who are seeking community, seeking truth, seeking meaning, seeking creativity, seeking peace, seeking justice, seeking love, seeking joy, seeking goodness, and seeking beauty even in the dark corners of the human experience. May you find or create what you need, and may you encourage others in the quest as well. And if there is a God, as some of us still believe, may this God be very close to each of us, helping us know and experience the way, the truth and the life…

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:

Friday Web Round-up

MISC PEACE, JUSTICE & HUMAN RIGHTS

ENVIRONMENT

 

Friday Web Round-up

Economics

Human Rights

War, Peace & Social Change

Psychology

Environment

Religion: List

Random: List

Volf: Religion’s Internal Resources for Peace

volfNear the end of  A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, theologian Miroslav Volf considers what is needed for people of various religions to engage in dialogue or to share public space without turning to violence.

The only way to attend to the problem of violent clashes among differing perspectives on life–whether religious or secular–is to concentrate on the internal resources of each for fostering a culture of peace.[1] For each, these resources would be different, though again they may significantly overlap. (p. 132)

That is, every religion has a unique basket of resources that can be useful for making peace. Each basket will have something in common with each of the other baskets, and they will each have resources not directly shared with the others. Therefore, followers of each religion need to utilize what is found in their own basket when encountering “the other” or experiencing conflict (which should be differentiated from “violence”).

I first encountered this general argument while reading Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (David Little, Ed., 2007) while working on an independent study in grad school. In the concluding chapter (“Religion, Violent Conflict, and Peacemaking”), Little attempts to bring together the central themes that emerged in the material presented by the various contributing authors (roughly 400 pages of historical accounts of religion in violence and peacemaking). The first commonality between the peacemakers is a hermeneutics of peace, “an interpretive framework that begins with the conviction that the pursuit of justice and peace by peaceful means is a sacred priority in each of the traditions presented” (p. 438). The books’ narratives demonstrate that in the real world–and not just in books by theologians such as Volf–believers of various religions do in fact find resources which support peacemaking.

Maybe it is worth noting the flow or evolution in the conversation with a series of questions:

  1. Must Christianity (and all religions) be violent?[2]
  2. What set of peacemaking resources are available for adherents of each religion or worldview?
  3. Despite these resources, why are religions so often associated with violence?
  4. If a hermeneutic of peace must be constructed, is it really at the center of each (any?) religion or is it merely imposed on the religion by overly optimistic or sentimental peaceniks?
  5. How can people of goodwill encourage others to develop a hermeneutic of peace?

Wee have already answered the first question by noting the collection of essays edited by David Little. These accounts demonstrate that religion can be a tremendous nonviolent force for peace and justice.[3]

The second question is best answered by adherents of each religion, meaning I am not prepared to provide a list here (lacking specific knowledge, general wisdom, and time to list the resources I am currently aware of). However, I do appreciate how Volf answers this question regarding Christianity, noting two resources in particular. We’ll briefly explore the first of the two here.[4]

In regard to the Christian faith–the faith I embrace and study and the faith that is a good contender for having a legacy as violent as any other–developing its resources for fostering a culture of peace would mean at least two things. The first concerns the center of faith. From the very start, at the center of Christian faith was some version of the claim that God loved the sinful world and that Christ died for the ungodly (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6), and that Christ’s followers must love their enemies no less than they love themselves. Love doesn’t mean agreement and approval; it means benevolence and beneficence, possible disagreement and disapproval notwithstanding. A combination of moral clarity that does not shy away from calling evil by its proper name and of deep compassion toward evildoers that is willing to sacrifice one’s own life on their behalf was one of the extraordinary features of early Christianity. It should also be the central characteristic of contemporary Christianity. (p. 132)

If you are a Christian, do you agree with this description of the “center” of an orthodox Christian faith? How would you buttress or counter this assertion? If you disagree, what do you see as the center, and how does this impact Christianity’s ability to be a force the common good?

If you are an adherent of another faith tradition, what do you see as the resources for peace within your tradition? What are the most obvious tenets or tools? What elements require more imagination or “work” in order to be viewed as seeds of peace? What appears to foster violence or conflict more than peace, reconciliation or harmony?

Turning to the third question, why are religions so often violent if they have such profound resources for peacemaking? This is a grand question that deserves blog posts and books and libraries, but most simply I believe there are two reasons for the connection. (1) Most religious texts include descriptions of violence and use violence as a metaphor even when not directly addressing the topic of violence. For example, Christians wrestle with the “holy wars” of David and Joshua (as do Jewish peacemakers) as well as Paul’s war metaphors (e.g., armor of God in Ephesians 6:13-15). Even people desiring peace must wrestle with “sacred” material that does not sound very peaceful. This is where Little’s “hermeneutics of peace” is used. With this “framework, particular texts, doctrines, and practices contained in one’s own tradition–and often in the traditions of others–are examined for guidance in the process of elaborating and implementing the fundamental commitment to peace and justice” (Peacemakers in Action, p. 438). (2) People of all religions and worldviews share common emotions of anger and hatred with desires for revenge, which are all natural reactions to both real and perceived injustices. Resources for peacemaking are up against a mighty challenge that is the wounded human heart. Certainly, other reasons could be cited as well, but these–the religious texts and the human heart–are sufficient for the present purposes.

This point leads us to the fourth question–if a hermeneutic of peace must be constructed, is it really at the authentic center of each religion? This presents the struggle to properly (or effectively?) interpret the religious texts and traditions that have been handed down to us. Christians have used the Bible to argue for and against a number of social issues, including slavery, various wars (and war in general), women’s rights, environmental protection, and laissez-faire capitalism. Similarly, writings in Jewish and Islamic traditions have been used to advocate both peace and violence. Moving beyond the Abrahamic faiths, as a Hindu, Gandhi turned to the Bhagavad Gita (in addition to the Sermon on the Mount) for continual inspiration for nonviolent peace- and justice-making despite the Gita’s battlefield setting.[5] A lay person may be tempted to conclude that conclusions about interpretation likely say more about the interpreter than about the actual text under consideration.

This raises an important topic for interpreters of faith, the difference between what theologians call exegesis and eisegesis, though at a more macro level than is usually meant by these terms. Briefly, exegesis is the process of studying a passage of scripture to understand what it means, what the author was originally attempting to communicate. Alternatively, eisegesis is reading into a verse one’s own meaning. We battle this same tension at the level of determining the overall meaning or purpose of God and our particular religion. Christians struggle to determine what we believe God intended as the center of Christianity, not just what we want it to be. Guidance for undertaking this important work is beyond the scope of this post; I simply want to highlight the struggle and the call for humility that our limits demand.

Regarding Volf’s assertion regarding Christianity’s first peace resource, questions that arise include: Is “serving the common good” Christianity’s purpose, or is that an imposition of a modern value onto an ancient text? Since it is so easy to interpret Christianity in a way that supports either violence or peace, how do we know whether we are taking meaning from the Bible or reading our meaning into it? Presuming “Christianity” proceeded from “God,” how do we know whether God intended the movement to be one of peace? What is our hermeneutic of peace and how is it established?[6]

This line of questioning naturally moves toward the fifth question listed above: If we are convinced that peace and justice are central to our faith, how do we convince others within our religion who care little for such themes. Returning to Volf to address this question, I believe their is wisdom in his assertion that we need a “hermeneutical hospitality” (p. 136). This approach is not only important in inter-faith dialogue, but also in intra-faith conversation. Volf describes hermeneutical hospitality in this way:

Each should enter sympathetically into others’ efforts to interpret their sacred texts as well as listen to how others perceive them as readers of their own sacred texts. Such hospitality will not necessarily lead to agreement in the interpretation of each other’s respective scriptures. And it will certainly not lead to overall agreement among different religious communities for the simple reason that they hold distinct–even if, in some cases, partly overlapping–texts as authoritative. But such hermeneutical exchanges of gifts will help people of faith to better understand their own and others’ sacred texts, to see each other as companions rather than combatants in the struggle for truth, to better respect each other’s humanness, and to practice beneficence toward one another. (p. 136)

Here we see both give and take, sharing and listening. Gifts are given in both directions. Am I willing to receive or only to give? Am I willing to listen to people who view topics of peace and justice differently than I do? Am I willing to listen to people who hold a religion that is very different from mine? Stephen Covey may not have had world religions, peace, justice and violence in mind when he wrote his best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but in the end Volf and Covey aren’t so far from each other–“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

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[1] Volf here points the reader to consider, A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (2009).

[2] See Chase & Jacob, 2003.

[3] See also Disruptive Religion, Smith, 1996.

[4] The second resource focuses on “identity,” which relates to boundaries. This feature seems to relate to all traditions or people, so I am not addressing it directly here, though I do think it is an incredibly important topic. Maybe I’ll focus on it in a future post.

[5] For more about Gandhian interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and Hinduism more broadly, see the first two chapters of Gandhi and Jesus (Rynne, 2008).

[6] I have previously posted thoughts on this topic at Spectrum — “Theology of Peace” Part 1Part 2Part 3.

The Interrupters

The documentary The Interrupters is both deeply moving and troubling to me. It looks at the work of street leaders in Chicago who are putting their lives on the line to interrupt violence in their neighborhoods. While the interrupters do meet as a group and do intervene in group situations, the one-on-one conversations and the personal relationships developed by the interrupters stand out as the most powerful locations of change.

I will never have street cred in Chicago. I will never speak peace on those corners. But who can I reach out to in my own sphere of influence? Who needs me in my neighborhood or apartment complex? How can I be a peacemaker and a mentor here? Those are the questions the film raises for me.