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Friday, October 26, 2007

Then & Now

From NPR this morning:
Fifty years ago, 80 white pastors in the Atlanta area took on segregationists in the Deep South. They took their beliefs to the front page of Atlanta's main newspaper in 1957, issuing what has been called The Ministers' Manifesto.
I find the manifesto striking for two reasons. First, it stirs my soul to read these words, "Because the questions which confront us are on so many respects moral and spiritual as well as political, it is appropriate and necessary that men who occupy places of responsibility in the churches should not be silent concerning their convictions." Amen to my Southern brothers from so long ago.
But I also want to quote this, "To suggest that a recognition of the rights of Negroes to the full privileges of American citizenship, and to such necessary contacts as might follow would inevitably result in intermarriage is to cast as serious and unjustified an aspersion upon the white race as upon the Negro race." Notice that the position is not that intermarriage is right, but that both the white and Negro race understand that it is wrong, and thus, one should not expect it to happen as a result of integration. They made a grand, perhaps dangerous move, but they were not fully evolved.

In spite of the discomfort in making such a manifesto, even in spite of the fact that they didn't/couldn't get it perfect, they had to speak. They had to speak because, to quote another out spoken religious leader from the period, "[T]he Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice." MLK, Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

What is our civil rights issue? Where is the church called to speak with its prophetic voice to today's world?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran

Brian McLaren has written a piece about the dangerous saber rattling concerning Iran, here.He concludes the piece with a pair of compelling questions. Here they are:
What will we [Christians] do if we wake up and find our government has attacked Iran while we were sleeping? What actions - public and private - would be appropriate?
What can we do now to decrease the possibility of that occurring? What will we wish we would have done in the weeks and months before the morning after?
Iraq is so very hard to deal with now. We have moral obligations to the people there. We have stirred up a hornets nest and created a generation of America haters. It is really hard to know what to do. Imagine if we had never invaded.

Would George Bush start a war even though he knew the public was overwhelmingly against it? Even if the facts on the table suggest that it is unwise and immoral?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Fourth

Now we begin the fulfillment of the law. Here is what Jesus says about murder:

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,[FN1]' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
[FN1] An Aramaic term of contempt. Matthew 5: 21-26.

So, you are not only prohibited from killing, but from being angry. Is this purely aspirational? Does Jesus really expect his followers to not be angry? I don't know, but I know that it matters whether you make an effort to find solutions during a conflict rather than just prove you are right. In other words, you live a better life by doing more than not murdering.

Here's another question: Is some separation of church and state inherent in this passage?

Does Jesus acknowledge one set of laws that are to be compulsory and a second, fulfilled perhaps, set of laws that require willing compliance? There are a whole slew of things I believe in that I don't want mandated by law but that I think are important. Is that dichotomy, a Christian distinction as well as a Western distinction?

Monday, October 22, 2007

The occupation of Iraq is wrong, according to some.

This is old news, but my pastor mentioned it on Sunday, and I wanted to share. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) passed the following resolution at its general assembly.


. . . .
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathered in Ft. Worth, Texas on July 21 – 25, 2007, after due reflection and a respectful discussion, go on record as conscientiously opposing the war in Iraq as an action inconsistent with the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, and a violation of the traditional standards of just war, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this General Assembly reaffirm the following statement (included in the letter of February 18, 2006, from the U.S. Conference of the World Council of Churches addressed to the delegates at the WCC Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil) that "we lament with special anguish the war in Iraq, launched in deception and violating global norms of justice and human rights" ; and
. . . .

If you follow the link, you can review the justifications for the resolution. This is an example of the church participating in politics. It is also an example of the church expressing an opinion on policy rather than values. So, it gives me pause. However, I know that it also gives lots of other members of the Disciples church pause. And this decision, was not one entered into lightly. In fact, if the church has a failing in this regard, it is that it too often tries to be all things to all people and fails to act.

The point is, this resolution provides an argument by authority for me that the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq violates in contrary to Christian values.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sermon on the Mount, Third

So far, the sermon has given hope for those in distress and challenged the rest of us to have a faith that has impact on our world. The next part is what we in the law would call guidance on statutory construction. Jesus tells us the relationship between his ministry and the Hebrew law:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-20. We are about to hear a bunch of specifics about how Jesus is fulfilling the law. Basically, changing the mandates from requiring on certain behavior to require behavior with a state of mind. Good. I think there is profound truth in that. We are good when we refrain from killing, we are better we love those who hate us.

But, before Matt can point it out to me, the Law and the Prophets also say things about stoning people to death for this that and the other. For that matter, the Law talks about what to eat.

Question: How do most Christians rectify this specific statement from Jesus that he is not abolishing the old law, with our disregard for the dietary laws and other customs of the Judaism?