Knowing Our History

There’s a great post over at her·meneutics written by Sandra Glahn on “The Feminists We Forgot.”  In the article, Glahn stresses the importance of knowing our history, and in particular, the importance of the church knowing feminism’s Christian roots.

This “new woman” is not an invention of second-wave feminism either. Betty Friedan did not start the “woman movement;” Christians did. Motivated by the belief that men and women were made in God’s image to “rule the earth” together, these pro-woman, pro-justice believers sought to right wrongs for those who had less social power.

I’ve stressed this before in my post on Cruciform Feminism, and it serves as a good reminder to me that I need to keep digging and learning more about the history of feminism within the church.  The more we understand the historical role of the church in the work towards equality between men and women, the better we can dispel misconceptions about feminism and the church.  This is one reason I plan to start including women from church history in my weekly Frauen Friday series.  Women have had a far more influential role in the church throughout history than we are usually given credit for… again, a lot of this comes from an unfamiliarity with our own Christian history (I am obviously speaking from my own experience here with roots UMC, SBC, and A29 traditions).  I want to do my small part to help change that… starting with the woman in the mirror (cue awesome MJ song)!

As Glahn concludes:

The teaching that women’s involvement is a new phenomenon in church history has been used to silence those whom the Spirit has gifted for leadership. And advances made on behalf of women have been attributed entirely to secular feminism. We ourselves have been complicit, because we haven’t known our own history.

Be sure to read the full article here.  I also highly recommend Julie Clawson’s five part series on Discovering Christian Feminism.  Feel free to list any other references in the comments below!

Has World Vision Abandoned the Gospel?

World Vision recently announced its decision to begin hiring Christians who are in monogamous same-sex marriages.

Does this mean they have abandoned the Gospel?

Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, seems to think so. He says that this is another example of “parachurch evangelical ministries… running headlong… toward the very mainline liberalism to which they were founded as alternative” and that “at stake (in this decision) is the Gospel.

I’m uneasy with Moore’s moral grandstanding for three reasons:

1) The “Divorce” ProblemScreen shot 2013-09-11 at 12.17.40 PM

If evangelical Christians were really concerned with protecting a biblical definition of marriage, then we should have shut the doors on divorce a long time ago. After seeing evangelicals swallow their tongues on this issue (and continue to do so), it’s hard for many (especially us “younger” ones) to hear cries against same-sex marriage, in defense of biblical values, as genuine. Divorce is much more strongly condemned in the Scriptures than gay relationships are. It is also much more prevalent in the church. If Moore believes that marital-purity is essential to Gospel-faithfulness, does he avoid all organizations that hire divorced Christians?

2) The “Endorsement” Problem 

If we grant the traditional view that gay relationships are a sin, we are still left with the nuanced problem of the proper relationship between Christian communities and LGBT people. What part of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels teaches us that standing up for the gospel = strict moral hiring policies? Couldn’t an argument be made that Christians should hire those in same-sex marriages for precisely that reason – so those who are holy can act as contagions around those who are not (look at Jesus’ “contagious holiness” in the Gospels). Since when does “hiring” = “endorsing a moral position” (anymore than hiring someone who is divorced = supporting divorce)? Is this too different from the accusation that Jesus’ table fellowship with sinners made him complicit in their gluttony and drunkenness?

3) The Justice Problem

What is more important: global acts of justice or making sure “the homosexuals” can’t have certain jobs? Christian unity or fights over purity? I’m saddened over what appears to be a largely negative reaction to World Vision over this issue. I can only hope the Christian care of the poor is not hindered because of an in-house fight about which sins are worth banning employment for. Surely Matthew 25:31-46 is an important text for today. In Matthew 25, faithfulness to the Gospel is not seen as commitment to specific and nuanced religious stances on sin, but in ministry to the poor, hungry, and destitute.

I sponsor multiple children through World Vision and will continue to do so. I see no reason not to accept World Vision’s claims at face value – they are punting the theological issue to the church (and you can try to pretend it’s not an issue…. but if you open up your eyes you will see that in reality it is a big issue) and opting for unity at the present time. They have not come out in support of same-sex marriage, much less given up a commitment to the Gospel.

What do you think?
Has World Vision abandoned the Gospel?

What should the proper Christian reaction be to this policy announcement?

Peacemaking: An Exercise in Faith and Imagination

One of the goals in my classroom is to create an atmosphere where the students want to dig deeper into their faith and wrestle with critical issues.  As the year progresses my students learn of a few of my positions that are relatively new to them.  Now most of the students who either have me as a teacher or will have me next year know that I am a Christian pacifist (the adjective is necessary because my reasons for being a pacifist rely on Jesus being who the Bible says he is).  The fact that this reputation has started to precede me has led to some interesting conversations.  I have explained my reasons for being a pacifist and why I think Christians are called to a nonviolent lifestyle, but it is clear from some of their questions that much is still misunderstood about Christian nonviolence.  I am going to list some of the most common questions I get from students once they learn that I am a pacifist and craft a response for each.

1) Do you hate soldiers?

I recently had a student discover that a “Christian” group has made a habit of protesting soldiers funerals (Westboro Baptist).  She then asked me if I approved of what they were doing since I was a pacifist.  I was horrified by the question.  While I don’t think that Christians should participate in the military, I do believe that the act of waving a sign that says “God hates you” at a funeral is an inhumane and deeply anti-Christian act.  My call to Christian nonviolence puts me in direct opposition to the folks at Westboro precisely because I believe that they are committing verbal violence.  I think many pacifists often get accused of dishonoring soldiers and veterans, and it is hard for the discussion to not become personal with so many of us having family in the military.  So let me be clear, the church is called to love soldiers and veterans even if it stands against war.  In fact, the church needs to be proactive in the care of the soldiers who are now starting to come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. There needs to be a safe place where soldiers can talk about their experiences and start to heal from both visible and invisible wounds.  The church must be that place.

2) What would your husband do if you were punched in the face?

This question has actually become a running joke in one of my classes.  Now whenever I ask this class if they have any questions during a lecture, this is usually the first one asked in jest.  It started as a serious question when they found out that both my husband and I are pacifists.  They then created a ridiculous scenario where someone randomly comes up to me and knocks me out (I find Yoder’s response to hypothetical scenarios to be especially helpful here).[1]  The correct response, according to them, was for my husband to beat up the other guy.  He would do this to defend my honor, and if he did nothing that meant he clearly did not care about me.

There are several problems underlying this question.  First, they assume that the role of a man is to protect “their woman” and be willing to use violence if necessary.  This is endemic of our southern culture that identifies males as the proverbial “protector” and females as the “damsel” in need of rescue.  If this is true, the measure of a man is evaluated by the lengths he will go to defend those he loves.  I see this trope all over the place in Hollywood movies but not really in the Bible.  The second problem is that a nonviolent response is viewed as not a response at all.  I told them that my husband would probably not engage with the guy who hit me, but would immediately check to see if I was okay.  They felt this response did not really address the issue, which was equally concerning to me.  Are we so thirsty for blood that we forget about the very person we’re claiming to defend?

3) So as a pacifist are you just supposed to stand back and do nothing?

This question has been asked to me in many different ways.  It usually comes up when there has been a violent uprising in a country or a school shooting (both of which seem to be happening a lot these days).  My students often think that since I am a pacifist, my response to these situations is to not get involved.  According to them, pacifism means you stand back and do nothing in the face of injustice.  Pacifism is often mistakenly associated with being passive.  This is why I prefer the term nonviolent resistance or peacemaking instead of pacifism.  Both of these terms are active and more clearly convey the heart of Christian pacifism.

I think this question reveals both a lack of faith and imagination on the part of many Christians in America.  We say that we trust God, but when it comes to defending our families or our nation, we’re more likely going to trust our guns.  Because we automatically reach for the gun, it is hard to try and think of any other way to stand against evil and injustice.  And we as Christians are called to have a more robust imagination than that.  Our very name points back to the one who did not respond back with violence, but overcame evil with good.  If the God whom we worship was able to overcome all the powers of darkness through “obedience unto death on a cross” what does that mean for his followers?  Are we willing to take up that cross and follow him?  How can we take an active stand against violence without responding in kind?

Christian peacemaking is a virtue that exercises the spiritual muscles of faith and imagination.  Now with any virtue, we are not going to start off as masters of it.  The place where I get the best practice in peacemaking is in rush hour traffic!  If I can get in the habit of always seeing people as Jesus sees people, maybe when it counts, when my life is on the line, I won’t simply be thinking about my survival.  Maybe I’ll be thinking about Jesus and the cross and how that’s changed everything.  I’m certainly not there yet, but I can start by trusting in the Triune God, who brings peace into the violence of our own hearts.

So what is the next step? How can we start to exercise these muscles?

Here are two suggestions for moving forward:

1) Look for examples and imitate

A great example of nonviolent resistance in practice is a local anti-trafficking organization called Elijah Rising.  This organization has some warriors who never lift a sword!  They’re primary focus is to end human trafficking through prayer, worship, and awareness (they also strategically seek contact with the women who are being trafficked).  This group exemplifies a nonviolent pursuit of justice and a faith that believes in the power of intercession.

2) Start doing some reading on the subject

For an excellent place to begin see our fellow blogger Mike Skinner’s posts:

Jesus is Cruciform not Octagonal (A Response to Mark Driscoll)

The 5 Most Common Myths about Romans 13:1-7

Other recommended reading:

War and the American Difference – by Stanley Hauerwas

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions About Christian Nonviolence – by Trip York and Justin Bronson Barringer

[1]  Yoder, John H.. What Would You Do?  Scottsdale: Herald Press. 1983

Evangelicals and the Moment of Conversion

I have grown up my entire life in the Evangelical community.  It is a tradition that places a lot of emphasis on the moment of conversion.  In this tradition, you might commonly be asked questions like, “What is your spiritual birthday?” or “When were you saved?”  This proved to be fairly problematic for me growing up because I couldn’t remember my “moment.”  My parents have told me the story and I vaguely remember my baptism.  I was six years old when I “asked Jesus into my heart” (whatever that means), and I spent the majority of my middle school and high school years wondering if I had done it right.

My testimony wasn’t a tidy well constructed story that had a clear outline of:  before—–>conversion experience——> after.  In the Evangelical community we are taught to share our testimonies in this way, and I struggled to try and fit this mold with minimal success.  I soon came to learn that testimonies are about as diverse as the human population and should not be taught as a formula.  It took a while but I finally learned to release my anxiety concerning my status of salvation.   Part of the reason I was able to do this was simply because I started to live the Christian life while being surrounded by some amazing Christians.  I also started reading spiritual giants of the faith who had much better things to say about salvation than what had previously been presented to me.

I now teach Bible at an Evangelical high school and I must say that not much has changed in this area.  We still preach about the moment and stress the importance of making the decision to be all in for Jesus.  Now don’t get me wrong, I want more than anything for my students to have a deeper relationship with Jesus.  However, what I continue to see in the Evangelical community is an overemphasis on conversion at the expense of any mention of discipleship.  And, dare I say it, I think we have misunderstood what salvation really means in the first place.  So first let me try to identify the problems involved and then attempt articulate a better definition of salvation.

1) The first problem with an overemphasis on conversion is that it primarily focuses on the individual.  The decision is portrayed as one between the individual sinner and God.  This seems like a no-brainer in our overly individualistic society, but unfortunately the above statement is just not true.  Being a sinner is not something that only effects the individual and salvation is not primarily an individual transaction. In fact, salvation is constantly framed in the Old and New Testaments as becoming a part of God’s family.

2) The second problem with the emphasis on conversion is that salvation then gets placed precariously in our own hands.  If its all about the decision, the question often arises, “What do I need to do?”  or “Did I do it right?” or “How do I know I am saved?”  This is a question that used to plagued me and currently plagues my high school students.  We tell them they only need to believe it in their heart, but what horribly vague language!  What does it mean to believe something in your heart? If you don’t, does that mean salvation cannot be yours?  This usually leads to follow up questions like, “If a person accepts Jesus but lives a completely unchanged life is that person saved?”  (Again, what does “accept Jesus” mean?)  This kind of question is only possible if we view salvation as a purely intellectual assent to “believe” in Jesus. (Upon reading this paragraph some may be under the impression that I am a Calvinist.  I am emphatically not a Calvinist.  I am trying to place salvation back into God’s hands, which has been freely offered to all through the invitation of Jesus.)

3) Finally, the emphasis on conversion usually mitigates the effects of salvation to the distant future.  You made the decision now, but you won’t feel the effects of it until after death in an eternal other-worldly bliss.  Salvation = going to heaven when you die and nothing more.  No wonder we have so many youth who don’t feel like they are required to live a Christian lifestyle!

Now, to the heart of the matter.  I think one of the ways we can correct this issue is by intentionally changing our language.  If there is anything I have leaned through studying theology, it is that what we say and how we say it is infinitely important.  Therefore, we must start by crafting a better, more nuanced definition of salvation.  For that definition, I humbly supply the words of Stanley Hauerwas here, who has summed up redemption/salvation quite beautifully:

“To be redeemed…is nothing less than to learn to place ourselves in God’s history, to be part of God’s people.  To locate ourselves within that history and people does not mean we must have some special experience of personal salvation.  Redemption, rather, is a change in which we accept the invitation to become part of God’s kingdom, a kingdom through which we acquire a character befitting one who has heard God’s call.” – Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom

Salvation is not acceptance of Jesus “in your heart”.  Salvation is accepting an invitation to be a part of God’s kingdom.  It then follows that by becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom, we must reject all other things that demand ultimate loyalty from us. To be a Christian means we have given ultimate allegiance to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Now what would happen if we started using this language in our churches and high schools? Framed in this way we communicate that you are saved for a purpose.  We have a job to do in this world that continues the kingdom work Jesus started.  We must resist the false accusation that this kind of salvation is works-based.  Let us not resurrect old debates about free grace vs. lordship salvation.  What Hauerwas offers is a robust, Biblical alternative.  Salvation means we believe that God’s story, told through the scriptures and creation, is the story that helps us see the world as it truly is.  Not only this, but we have been invited to be transformed by that story and participate in the plot!

QOTD: Richard Hays on Reconciling the Moral Visions of OT and NT Texts

From Richard B. Hays, Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics (pp.336-337):

“…the New Testament’s witness is finally normative.  If irreconcilable tensions exist between the moral vision of the New Testament and that of particular Old Testament texts, the New Testament vision trumps the Old Testament.  Just as the New Testament texts render judgments superseding the Old Testament requirements of circumcision and dietary laws, just as the New Testament’s forbidding of divorce supersedes the Old Testament’s permission of it, so also Jesus’ explicit teaching and example of nonviolence reshapes our understanding of God and of the covenant community in such a way that killing enemies is no longer a justifiable option.  The sixth antithesis of the Sermon on the Mount marks the hermeneutical watershed.  As we have noted, the Old Testament distinguishes the obligation of loving the neighbor (that is, the fellow Israelite) from the response to enemies: ‘[B]ut I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’  Once that word has been spoken to us and perfectly embodied in the story of Jesus’ life and death, we cannot appeal back to Samuel as a counterexample to Jesus.  Everything is changed by the cross and resurrection.  We now live in a situation in which we confess that ‘in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us’ (2 Cor. 5:19).  Those who have been entrusted with such a message will read the Old Testament in such a way that its portrayals of God’s mercy and eschatological restoration of the world will take precedence over its stories of justified violence.”