just an apprentice

the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...

Friday, April 29, 2005

More reflections on "Justice Sunday"

There has been some question about who used the language "hostile to people of faith." I think Jim Wallis does a good job of providing clarification in his latest essay. Here is an excerpt below.

An Attempt to Hijack Christianity
Jim Wallis

We can get some historical perspective (on how to interact with other people of faith who have differing perspectives on issues) by looking at how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did it - and he was the church leader who did it best. Once after he was arrested, he wrote a very famous "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," addressed to the white clergy who were opposing him on the issues of racial segregation and violence against black people. Never once did he say that they were not people of faith. He appealed to their faith, challenged their faith, asked them to go deeper with their faith, but he never said they were not real Christians. If Dr. King refused to attack the integrity and faith of his opponents over such a clear gospel issue, how can the Religious Right do it over presidential nominees and a Senate procedural issue known as the filibuster?

After the "Justice Sunday" event, and the controversy surrounding it, some of the sponsors are denying they ever claimed that those who oppose them are hostile to people of faith. Yet their words stand for themselves. In the letter announcing the event on the Family Research Council Web site, Tony Perkins wrote: "Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked...because they are people of faith and moral convictions.... We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

So, I told the Louisville rally that when someone has stolen our faith in the public arena, it is time to take our faith back. "Justice Sunday" was an attempt to hijack Christianity for a partisan and ideological agenda. Those on the Religious Right are declaring a religious war to give their version of faith religious supremacy in America. And some members of the Republican Party seem ready almost to declare a Christian theocracy in America. It is time to take back both our faith and our Constitution.

It is now clear there are some who will fight this religious war by any means necessary. So we will fight, but not the way they do. We must never lie or misrepresent the facts or the truth. We must not demonize or vilify those who are our opponents. We must claim that those who disagree with our judgments are still real people of faith. We must not fight the way they do, but fight we must. A great deal is at stake in this battle for the heart and soul of faith in America and for the nation's future itself. We will not allow faith to be put into the service of one political agenda.

This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up. This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard. This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed. This is a call for clear speech and courageous action. This is a call to take back our faith, and in the words of the prophet Micah, "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Day of Diversity (revised for EHS newspaper)

Day of Diversity reflections
Sr. Miller

Recently I read an essay by a Christian writer, sociologist, and minister who was reflecting on an incident that occurred when he was in high school. These are the sad details of that story.

Roger was gay, we all knew it, and we all made his life miserable. When we passed him in the hall, we called out his name effeminately, we made the crude gestures, we made him the brunt of cheap jokes. He never took showers in PE, because he knew we'd whip him with our wet towels.I wasn't there, though, the day they dragged Roger into the shower room, and shoved him into the corner. Curled up there, he cried and begged for mercy as five guys urinated on him. The reports said that Roger went to bed that night as usual, and that sometime around two in the morning he got up, went down to the basement of his house, and hanged himself.

I am a Christian. I am trying to live my life in community with others who seek to follow the ways of Jesus. I believe the Biblical story provides a moral reference point that reveals a way of living that is True and Good. I believe that Christianity is not, however, just about right beliefs, but also about right living. This way of living is not summed up in propositional statements or moral beliefs, but rather is lived out in the context of a living relationship with God and the community of his followers—the Church. Christianity is not about lobbing moral hand grenades at those who chose to live in ways that go against our deeply held beliefs and values.

I don’t believe that Jesus would have participated in the kind of harassment that Roger experienced. I don’t believe the Bible supports treating individuals, or the community they represent in such a degrading, hateful way. Jesus addressed the sinful condition of individuals, but he always did so in a spirit of compassion—treating the person with dignity.

April 13 was a “Day of Diversity” at Ephrata High School. It started out as a day of silence to increase awareness of harassment and discrimination against the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transvestite (GLBT) community. A group of students met with our principal to protest this type of day at the high school. They felt like it went against their beliefs (Christian), and brought undue attention to one group, whose lifestyle they did not wish to promote or condone.
The day unfolded with an underlying tension that was palpable. Those who supported the "Day of Diversity" wore black clothing displaying messages of tolerance that were clipped on or written directly on their clothing. Others who did not support the "Day of Diversity" made their views known as well. Some wore t-shirts that had messages like- "God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve;" or other shame-based wording (which I can't remember exact quotes). Several people showed up in front of the school with picket signs and sandwich boards condemning those who practice a homosexual lifestyle, and referencing John 3:16.

I cringed when I saw these expressions of Christianity. I respect the right of others to express views different from my own. This is not about the democratic value of freedom of speech. However, I cringed because I believe many Christians missed the point of this day at Ephrata High School.

This was not a Gay Pride day with an agenda of brazenly promoting the homosexual lifestyle. This was not a day to flaunt eroticism, or sexual orientations that go against Christian moral beliefs or faith values. This was a day to recognize that some groups are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment and harassment. Many times they are socially ostracized. The issue of the day was to address this kind of unjust treatment of anybody, not to promote a particular lifestyle or sexual orientation. It was a day to affirm the right of every individual to be treated with respect and dignity.

It is disturbing when Christians use the Bible as ammunition and treat other human beings in a spirit that does not represent the spirit of Christ. I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that at the very least those of us who call ourselves Christians can agree that all human beings should be treated with civility and dignity.

I am convinced that Jesus would not urinate on anyone, no matter what their sexual orientation, or ideological perspective. Nor would he condone this type of behavior. As Christians, we must be able to engage our culture in ways that do not de-humanize those whose lifestyle and perspectives go against our faith and values. Christ calls us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. Can we do any less with our neighbor—the homosexual who is being mistreated, or anyone else who is a victim of harassment and mistreatment?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"Justice Sunday" reflections

This past Sunday was "Justice Sunday" an event organized by several religious leaders and the Republican party to be telecast live from a Baptist church in Louisville, Kentucky.

I think it is wrong to use language like that being used by James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, and Southern Baptist leader Albert Mohler Their message is that those who don't support President Bush's judicial nominees are hostile to "people of faith."

I don’t have a problem with people organizing politically around certain agenda—conservative or liberal. My problem is when people start to say that if you don’t vote like we do, or view issues of justice from our perspective than you are “hostile to people of faith.” That is alienating to those of us who are also trying to be faithful to the Biblical mandates for justice and holiness, but define the issues differently.

It comes across as arrogant to simply consider those who don’t share a particular perspective as “hostile to people of faith.” In fact, it basically considers me or others who share a different perspective on the role of faith in politics as outside the faith. Doesn’t it? Or can I be hostile to people of faith from within the church?

Here’s other questions to ponder. Does God intend for the church to carry out it’s ministry of light and salt witness to the Gospel through the political system? I think we have a role to be a prophetic voice that speaks truth to the powers, but are we too comfortable with the idea that you can legislate morality? Can you change hearts, by imposing certain laws on the country? Is that where God wants us to pour our time, energy, and money into influencing the “moral direction” of the country through political means and the laws of the land? I’m wondering if we can build a Biblical basis for this strategy (i.e in the life and ministry of Jesus, the disciples and the Early Church). Why didn’t Jesus just organize a political action committee to change the kingdoms of this world into the values of the Kingdom of God?

I mean these as honest questions and with the utmost respect. I really am interested in hearing your responses and perspectives!! I don’t pretend to think that I have all the answers!!!


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Worship, Art, Liturgy, Preaching

The biggest draw for me to the event at Asbury this last week, was the convergence of so many streams and traditions. I was so grateful that Father Thomas Hopko was there from the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

One of the signs of hope and healing within the body of Christ was the commitment to be in relationship with others from outside our own traditions. A common practice at Asbury, was that people would reference their own "tradition" as opposed to saying in "my church" or in my "denomination." I sensed in this language a desire to express our need for each other--our catholicity.

The picture of the church in 1 Corinthians 12 of one body with many parts, is one that applies to the church across time and space. We often apply this passage to the local congregation--Sally has this gift, Joe has that one, Mary has the other, and we all need each other. What if we understand that passage in a more universal, historical context. What if my own Anabaptist tradition is just the foot, and the charismatic stream is just the eye... What if the North American church is just the hand, and the church in the global south is an ear... We are incomplete without the whole expression of church.

Another recurring theme throughout the WALP event was that of justice. The final session focused on God's call for us to be "just worshippers." The old divisions between "liberal and conservative" between the social gospel and evangelicals are falling down. The Gospel of the Kingdom deals with sin in its personal AND social dimensions. The church is the eschatological community of Jesus. The Kingdom of God is breaking in even now as we seek to live in the way of Christ. It's not just about getting people "saved" so their souls go to heaven. We are called to see the power of the incarnation, the cross, the resurrection, making all things new. Creation, social systems, as well as individual lives.

So the debt load carried by developing countries because of unjust, tyrants and it's crushing impact on the masses of poor, marginalized peoples is a Kingdom issue. God loves justice.

"For I, the LORD, love justice..."
Isaiah 61:8

Another rich blessing was that I was able to be a part of this event in Kentucky within community--Ira, Elma, and Dawn went along from SMC.