Category Archives: Church & State

The Republican Party is Everything Wrong with America


THE REPUBLICAN PARTY IS EVERYTHING WRONG WITH AMERICA

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There was a time when Republicans were decent people, drawn from the mainstream, who loved their country and believed in the American Dream for all people. Those days are now long gone. The Republican Party has become the party of obstruction, the party of bitter and unremitting partisanship, the party of the one percent, the party of the billionaires and the big corporations, the anti-science party, the party of “voodoo economics” to quote from George H.W. Bush. It is the party of big wars, big deficits, and an unrelenting attack on the poor and middle classes.

Governance

The Republican Party has become the party of obstruction. The Republican Congress has voted to end the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) over fifty times. This type of relentless partisanship is destroying our ability to govern ourselves as a nation. Republicans believe in shutting down the government whenever they do not get their own way. This has happened at great cost to our nation and tarnished our reputation around the globe. It has hurt our credit rating and caused billions of dollars in damage to our economy.

The Republicans stated in 2010 that the party’s primary goal was to keep Obama from getting a second term in office. They were so willing to attack and obstruct Obama and his legacy that they did not mind damaging the nation in the process.  The GOP can now best be described as the Get Obama Party.

The House of Representatives has been Republican since 2010, and the Senate since 2014. And yet no one can suggest one thing that this Congress has accomplished. Here the fifty-plus votes to end Obama Care do not count as an accomplishment. Where is the Republican jobs bill? Where is the Republican immigration reform bill? Where is the Republican tax reform bill? Where is the Republican voter protection bill?

The Republican Party complains bitterly that the government is failing the nation. And yet, the Republicans control both houses of Congress, hold 31 governorships, and until the recent death of Antonin Scalia, controlled the Supreme Court. Perhaps it is time for Republicans to acknowledge that the gridlock in Washington is of Republican origin.

How can we elect Republicans who say that they do not believe in government to actually govern the nation? How do we elect people who believe that government is the problem to run our government?

The Senate Republicans have refused to even hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. The lengthy delay in the confirmation process is unprecedented. The Constitution of the United States clearly spells out the confirmation of federal judges as a principal duty of the Senate. And yet the Senate has refused to do its constitutional duty. The excuse given is that Obama is in the last year of his presidency. But historically this has not been an issue. Ronald Reagan nominated a Supreme Court Justice with just 13 months left in office.

To prevent Senate obstructionism, we need a constitutional amendment which states that should the Senate fail to conclude confirmation hearings within 90 days of any nomination, the nomination will automatically be confirmed.

Voter Suppression

The Republican Party is conducting a major campaign of voter suppression. It is trying to keep the poor, the legal immigrants, the minorities, and the aged from voting. There has been precious little voter fraud in the Unites States, unless of course you count the Republican drive to disenfranchise voters. Requiring government ID’s to vote seems like a sensible idea, but not to anyone who lacks such a document. In the State of Alabama, the State has closed voter registration offices in majority black counties. So, if a citizen from one of those counties wants to register to vote they will be forced to travel long distances just to register. In the bad old days there was a poll tax that kept poor people from voting. This was declared unconstitutional by the 24th Amendment passed in 1964. In 1966 the Supreme Court struck down poll taxes even for state elections. Republicans are seeking other means of voter suppression to replace the poll tax. The voter ID laws are a part of that effort.

Apart from the voter ID issue, states can suppress voting by closing registration offices, allowing (or planning) ballot shortages at non-Republican polling places during elections, circulating inadequate and even erroneous information about poll times and locations. States can ignore absentee ballots from certain counties or districts, or fail to process registration papers. These tactics were used in the presidential election in Florida in 2000. The effect of these and other irregularities in Florida was to elect George W. Bush as president by less than 400 votes.

On top of this the Republican Party has engaged in wholesale Gerrymandering as a method of disenfranchising democrat and minority voters.

It is clear that we need a new voters’ rights act that will protect our electoral process, and insure that every vote counts.

The Party of the One Percent

The Republican Party represents the interests of the billionaires and the big corporations. Its patron saint is the unrepentant Ebenezer Scrooge. Its motto is: “I got mine, and to hell with everyone else.”

Of course not all Republicans are billionaires. The party is also full of very poor people who do not know that they are being played. All Republicans should be advised as follows: Republicans are either billionaires or suckers. Check your pockets to see which you are. There are many poor Republicans that are still waiting for their share of wealth from Ronald Reagan’s “trickle down” economics.

Republicans seem to have two and only two ideas for building the economy. Since Reagan took office in 1981 these two basic platform planks have not changed, even though they have proved to have been disastrous for the economy.

The first Republican principal is, “More tax breaks for the richest.” Never mind that the rich are far richer than they have ever been. Never mind that the gap between the rich and the poor is unprecedented and growing daily. It appears that the only way to incentivize the rich to build factories and businesses is to grant them ever larger tax breaks and subsidies. Republican “logic” goes like this. We need to incentivize the wealthy by giving them more money. But when talking about the poor, Republican “logic” reverses itself. Doing anything to help the poor, such as by increasing the minimum wage or providing food stamps will dis-incentivize them and keep them from wanting to work.

Even if we assume for a moment that the Republicans are on the right track, should not the tax incentives and subsidies be tied to actually creating more jobs? What is to stop a billionaire from simply using the proposed tax cut to purchase a fifth or sixth house in the south of France?

The Republicans tell us that America is the most overtaxed nation on Earth. This is a total Republican fabrication. Our tax rates are actually lower than many developed countries. But to sell their key economic talking point they must repeat this ridiculous lie even knowing that it is untrue. When counting up the tax burden, Republicans are loathe to mention the payroll taxes paid by every worker on the first $118,500 of earned income. This tax is paid by all wage earners and self-employed persons without deduction or exception. A favorite dodge of the Republicans is to talk only about income tax rates, and not about payroll taxes (FICA and Medicare) paid by all poor and middle class workers, but from which the wealthy are substantially exempted.

Our country is a consumer market, with over 70% of our GDP generated by consumer purchases. The Republicans have got this all backwards. If you want to increase jobs and economic growth the best method is to increase the size and purchasing power of the middle class. When poor people become middle class they have money to spend, and those who started out in the middle class will have even more money to spend. That consumer spending increases demands, and leads to more business activity, growth, jobs, and increased wages.

There are an endless list of ways to increase the size and purchasing power of the middle class, including:

  • Increasing minimum wage
  • Day care
  • Early childhood education
  • Affordable and available medical care
  • Unemployment insurance
  • Job training
  • Making higher education more affordable
  • Building and repairing our infrastructure

The Party of Deregulation

Apart from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Republican Party stands for deregulation. Again, the “logic” here is that government, including all government regulations, is bad while unrestrained greed is good. It is not that deregulation is totally bad. Economies and societies function best when there is the right balance of regulation. But to Republicans, the correct balance seems to mean no regulation at all.

The Republicans tell us that we are the most regulated country on Earth. Again, this is a total Republican fabrication meant to sustain their talking points.

In a totally unregulated environment, the vulture capitalists are free to pillage, plunder, lute, and pollute to their hearts content. Without regulation we would have poisoned food, children working in coal mines, catastrophic environmental degradation, and financial fraud of epic proportions. We need the right balance of regulations to restrain the excesses of the marketplace which would otherwise be driven only by greed.

Thinking of environmental regulations alone, we are living in the sixth great extinction event. This latest extinction event is called the “Anthropocene Extinction Event,” meaning that it is totally caused and controlled by human activity. Global climate change is not something that will happen in the distant future. It is already happening today. We have more severe storms than we have ever had. We have massive flooding, forest fires, and droughts. Each month, including the just finished month of July 2016, is the hottest month on record in world history. We may have already doomed our civilization. We cannot continue with business as usual. We need to cut carbon emissions, reduce pollution, maintain wildlife habitats, foster sustainable agriculture, and find ways to mitigate the damage already done.

The Party of Deficits

The Republicans love to blame the Democrats for deficits. It is Obamacare, proposed increases to the minimum wage, early childhood education, and lower college costs and student loan costs that break the bank. But the Republicans can spend money on tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for corporations, and endless Bush family wars in the Middle East that last for decades without conclusion or even progress. The Republicans would cheerfully shred the entire social safety net for the poor and middle classes in order to give even more breaks for the wealthy.

Likewise, the Republicans refuse to invest in our crumbling infrastructure. To any rational person, when your roof leaks you fix it, for to postpone would incur greatly increased future costs. The owner of the roof would fix the roof even if it meant borrowing money to do it.

Infrastructure improvements do far more than just to maintain our present capital assets. They are an investment in the future. In the 1950’s President Eisenhower saw the benefit of the German autobahns, and made the building of our Interstate Highway network a priority of our country. It is hard to imagine what our country would look like today without the Interstate highways. Our commerce would be greatly diminished over what it is now with the Interstates. Products would cost us much more. Transportation would be much more difficult, time consuming, and costly. It takes vision to invest in the future. What is the best time to plant a tree? The answer is forty years ago.

The Party of Privatization

Republicans will tell you that government is the problem and the private sector is the solution. While this may be true in part, it does not apply everywhere and to everything. Particularly it does not apply to most government functions. If we really believe this our roads would all be toll roads built and maintained by private companies.

The Republicans are trying to kill the United States Postal Service by forcing it to prepay all pension obligations. There is no other organization, either public or private, that must deal with such an onerous financial drain. This requirement, if not reversed, will result in the death of the USPS, and the privatization of all mail delivery. The private companies will “cherry pick” the deliveries that they want, and abandon the unprofitable routes.

The Republicans want to privatize Social Security. This would be impossible from many standpoints. To begin with, there is no pot of money set aside by Social Security to pay for my retirement. As I am still working, the money I pay in on Tuesday goes out the door on Wednesday to fund the benefits of those already retired. The government, starting under President Reagan, has looted any reserve funds from Social Security so as to fund the burgeoning deficit. The simply is no funds available to place into private hands to be invested for future benefits.

A further concern is that if individuals are made fully responsible to invest their own retirement savings, the possibility of a total meltdown is unavoidable. Instead of having retirement savings managed by Social Security, imaging a situation wherein people’s retirement savings decisions are determined by commissioned sales representatives at such firms as Morgan Stanley or the now defunct Lehman Brothers.

There is always risk in the market. As President Obama once noted, “Some people bought Google early while others bought Enron late.” Social Security is supposed to be a financial safety net and not a lottery.

Republicans want to privatize healthcare. Under typical Republican plans being proposed, instead of Medicare, the elderly will receive a monthly voucher and told to go purchase their health care on the open market. Good luck with that! It is clear that this plan will only help big insurance, big pharma, and their highly compensated sales people.

The Party of Religious Tyranny

The Republicans are the party of Religious Tyranny. The United States was NOT founded as a Christian nation. Rather, it was founded as a haven of religious freedom by Europeans that had endured centuries of religious warfare and persecutions stemming from sectarian divisions. The freedom of religion begins with being free from someone else’s religion. Freedom of religion means that each of us has the right to worship God in our own communities, and in our own ways, or not at all. It is not a license to discriminate against others or to impose our beliefs upon them by force of law.

Republicans support the effort of right-wing Christians to teach creationism in the schools. Creationism is nothing like a science. It is religious mythology pure and simple. It is no more valid than the Australian Aborigines creation stories, the Mayan creation stories, or those of the followers of the Norse Gods.

Right-wing Christians act like they have authority over all manner of public morality. Republicans have supported these fundamentalists in imposing their religious and moral views upon the nation. Gay marriage is not an issue of public morality, but rather of private relationships. No preacher, priest, or politician can tell anyone who to love. Abortion is a similar example. I do not need the permission of a Catholic bishop to have a vasectomy, or to make any other type of family planning decision for myself or my family. Religious freedom is freedom from the religious tyranny of others.

Limits on reproductive freedom deny the personhood of all women. Women are more than just mandatory incubators. They, as everyone, have the fundamental right to control their own body and destiny. Family planning decisions belong to the woman and her family, with advice from her health care providers. This is not the domain of priests, preachers or politicians.

The Ten Commandments should never be displayed at any public office or meeting. The First Commandment “You shall have no other Gods before me,” stands is direct conflict with the First Amendment “The Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion…” The harm of displaying the Ten Commandments at a courthouse is very real. For example, suppose a Buddhist comes to the courthouse seeking justice. A judge, jury member, or other government official sees the Ten Commandments and considers the Buddhist to be an idol worshiper and a heathen who is unworthy of American Justice. Now Buddhist do not worship idols any more than Catholics worship candles. But the Buddhist has already been denied justice due to the prejudice of the official.

The Republican Party is consistently on the wrong side of every issue. They claim to be the party of limited government, but they want to invade our bedrooms and to regulate every aspect of our personal lives. People are to be supported and big companies are to be regulated. As usual the Republican Party gets this and everything else backwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When does life begin?


The Christian notion of quickening

Icon of the Council of Nicaea, the First Ecumenical Council

Icon of the Council of Nicaea, the First Ecumenical Council

When does life begin? This one question has caused more turmoil than almost any other over the past several decades. Some would say that life begins at conception. Others would say that life begins at birth. People fight passionately about this issue. It is hard to strike any sort of a compromise. The belief systems of the two opposing sides have no common ground even to discuss the issue, let alone to formulate some sort of middle-way position.

There is nothing in the Judaeo-Christian scriptures that deals with the issue of when life begins. The science of conception was simply unknown to the ancients. Generally, if a man planted his seed in a woman normally nothing would happen. But on occasion, a baby would be born some nine moons later. What went on inside a woman’s womb was indeed a mystery, or perhaps even magical.

The Nicene Creed gives us insight into early Christian tradition. If only Christians could absorb the insight contained in this ancient creed and thereby find, not a compromise, but rather a common language and point of reference to discuss when life begins.

When the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity, Christianity was instantly transformed from a church of martyrdom and persecution into the established religion of the Roman Empire. Before this time there had not an opportunity for the church to come together and to formulate its common doctrine. In the early centuries the church was a persecuted, underground movement. Because of the martyrdom and persecution without, as well as chaos and confusion within, it had no time to stop and codify its message.

Now with the help and blessing of the Emperor, the Christian Church came together in Nicaea in 325 A.D. to begin its life together as the established religion of the Roman Empire. One of the treasures of this First Ecumenical Council was the Nicene Creed.

Contained within this broadly ecumenical creed is one small morsel that provides an early Christian perspective on when life begins. And that phrase is,

 And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. (emphasis mine)

The reference to “the quick” refers to those babies that have become perceptively animated within their mother’s wombs. When a mother feels the first kick, the life force of the baby is asserting itself as a life form. Now, for the first time, the mother knows that she is carrying a child, as opposed to just some excess weight. The baby is now developed enough to make its presence known.

First there is an embryo developing into a fetus. The quickening marks the point of transition to a child in utero. With the quickening the child is now a full human being.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:41)

There is an analogy to this point of transition contained both in Roman Catholic doctrine and English common law that says that a child under the age of seven is incapable of committing a sin or a crime. Before age seven the child is simply not aware of the moral implications of his or her action. For the child, attaining the age of seven marks a transition point. The child is now considered to be morally responsible for his or her own actions.

One could argue that the point of quickening, just like the age of seven, is an arbitrary boundary in a process of continuous development. And I believe that we would all have to agree to that assertion. However, as difficult as it is to set boundaries between one stage of development and another, we can all agree on at least the concept of boundaries. A nursing infant is surely innocent. With a six-and-one-half-year-old boy, or a seven-and-one-half-year-old child, we may well argue about his or her ability to know right from wrong.

The notion of the quickening at least gives us a framework and a common language to talk about when life begins. It may not be the most perfect border between fetus and child, but at least it gives us a starting point.

Quickening in the human child begins somewhere from the 16th to the 22nd week of gestation. This is four to five months, or nearly one-half of the way through the gestation period. This is literally a “middle ground” for our discussion of when life begins.

The Nature of miscarriages

There are approximately 4.4 million confirmed pregnancies in the United States in any given year. Of these confirmed pregnancies, approximately 900,000 will end in a miscarriage, or one in five. Another 26,000 babies will be stillborn. As many pregnancies go unconfirmed, and lead to unknown miscarriages, it is hard to estimate the actual percentage of miscarriages to live births. But estimates range from one in four to even one in three. (For statistics on miscarriages see hopexchange.com).

Miscarriages happen for many reasons such as the failure of the egg to implant, or implanting in the fallopian tubes. If the egg implants in the fallopian tubes this will cause an ectopic pregnancy that if left untreated will be fatal for both the mother and fetus. Other reasons for miscarriages include a lack of proper development of the embryo/fetus, and the health of the mother, including malnourishment.

When the religious right insists that full personhood begins at conception it does not seem to square either with Christian tradition or the science of conception. If full personhood begins at conception, then we should expect that all fertilized eggs develop successfully and emerge as live births. But this is not at all what happens in nature.

I believe it is more logical to consider a fertilized egg as an attempt at birth, an attempt with perhaps a 75% chance of success.

Quickening signals the beginning of viability in the fetus. It is a time when the fetus declares himself/herself to the world. It marks a transition from a lump of tissue to a developing person. A fertilized egg is little more than a genetic blueprint. It is merely an attempt to create new life. The developmental process is an arduous journey with many risks and unknowns.

A watershed moment that goes far beyond LGBT issues


Supreme Court

June 26, 2015 is a date that will go down in history. On this date the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage across the whole country. This is a great victory for the LGBT community. But even more, it is a watershed moment in the campaign for religious liberty. This decision represents a severe blow to the religious right who would seek to impose its religious beliefs and morality upon the rest of us by force of law.

In 2008 the right to same-sex marriage in California was affirmed by the courts. In response to this development, the Catholics and the Mormons teamed up in an odd and unholy alliance to create and promote Proposition 8. Such politicking by tax-exempt religious groups was done in defiance of federal laws, and in violation of the their 501(c)3 status. The Proposition 8 campaign was successful, resulting in the elimination of same-sex marriage in California once again. But in the larger picture this campaign became a lightning rod for gay rights across the country. Proposition 8 energized the movement for gay rights and eventually lead to this watershed moment in our history.

Today’s Supreme Court’s decision is a smack down of biblical fundamentalist, and of self-appointed right-wing religious organizations that claim to speak for God in all matters of public morality. It is a total smack down of the Catholic Church and its self-appointed role of society’s moral guardian and rule maker for all forms of gender roles, sexual expression, and reproductive rights.

The Supreme Court’s rejection of the tyranny of the religious right will have ripple effects far beyond the LGBT community. It will hinder the fundamentalists attempt to replace science in our schools with their own religious mythology.

It will eventually cause us to remove the Ten Commandments and other religious documents from our court houses and public chambers. As a pastor I can tell you that the Ten Commandments is a totally cultic expression of faith that has no place in American civil government. The First Commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before me,” is in direct opposition to the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

America is not a Christian nation. Christianity came to America as a colonizing force, destroying native cultures and religious traditions. Those Christians coming from Europe were religious dissidents, seeking freedom to live and worship in America as they chose after having endured centuries of religious warfare and persecution in Europe. Christians do not own the country. We are a pluralistic society representing many walks of faith journeys, and people with no spiritual journey at all. The Judeo-Christian Bible does not speak to the breadth of all of our religious traditions. And even within the Christian tradition there are many interpretations. I resent it deeply when anyone tries to impose their understanding of the scriptures upon me as if they speak for God. And, as a Christian I refuse to accept that Christianity has as its core values ignorance, bigotry, hatred and fanaticism as many vocal so-called “Christians” would have us believe.

America belongs to all of us. We are Christians, Jews, Wiccans, Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs. We are the religious, irreligious, atheist and agnostic. We are blacks and whites and browns. We are the athletic, the able-bodied, and those with special needs. We are young and old, healthy, sick and injured, and those facing death. We are straight and gay. We are stupid and smart, ignorant and educated, wise and foolish. We are rich and poor. We are all a part of this great nation. The Fourteenth Amendment gave equal rights to all. And no preacher or politician can ever change that basic truth.

The Litmus Test for Public Office


EVOLUTION

The litmus test for public office should include one simple concept, namely the belief in evolution.  We live in an age where the denial of scientific fact is rampant.  We live in an age when Republicans do not seem to believe in science at all.  They do not believe in evolution, global warming, stem cell research, or birth control.  The Bush 43 White House was known for its bad science.  It took climate studies and had them “spun” by oil industry lobbyists.  It opposed stem cell research and the distribution of condoms in Africa to quell the AIDS epidemic.

It does not matter if a candidate is running for a local school board or for President of the United States.  We cannot afford to have ignorant, backward people in either position.  Evolution is a matter of scientific fact.  It cannot be voted on in a school board meeting or a state legislature.  Just as we do not vote as to whether the earth revolves around the sun or vice versa, evolution is not dependent upon public opinion or any sort of vote.

Science is radically skeptical and self-correcting.  If a scientist proposes a false hypothesis, other scientists will review it and either support it, refute it, or offer an alternative explanation.  The test of scientific understanding is in the laboratory and not in the political arena.

Evolution is as real as gravity.  It has survived 150 years of scientific scrutiny.  Everything in the universe evolves.  Stars, planets and even galaxies are born, evolve, and eventually die.  Even the very atoms of our bodies were created in super nova explosions of dying stars. Planets are created and some become habitable for life.  Live evolves from the most simple single cell live forms into greater and greater complexity as time goes on.  From our one known example it appears to take about 4.5 billion years for a planet to spawn a civilization.

Saying that we do not fully understand evolution is no excuse to reject it, because the same thing could be said about gravity.  Even after Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, there is still much about gravity that we do not understand.  And yet we know that it is real.

The rejection of evolution is possible only through the most willful ignorance.  That is not a quality that we need in our elected leaders.  If a candidate is ignorant about evolution, then we could rightfully expect that they are ignorant about a host of other subjects as well, from history to economics to human behavior.

The rejection of evolution is rooted in the preference for ancient religious mythology over scientific fact.  I say that not as some sort of atheist or radical secularist, but as a confessing Christian and a pastor.

The biblical world view was of a flat surface covered by a dome, like a dinner plate covered by a large, inverted salad bowl.  The dome was called the “firmament.” Those who reject evolution on religious grounds ought logically to affirm the “flat earth” theory deny that the earth is round.

Galileo proclaimed that the earth revolved around the sun.  His views were attacked by the church as “unchristian” for the next 350 years.  We can be pretty sure that Galileo was right.  We use Galileo’s architecture of the solar system to send space probes to Jupiter, Saturn and beyond.

Stem cell research promises an extraordinary advance in human health and quality of life.  It ought not to be stymied by narrow-minded religious bigotry.  Imagine a time when the paralyzed walk again through spinal regeneration and the blind see through newly regrown eyes and optic nerves.  Diseased hearts, kidneys and livers will be regenerated by stem cell injections.

We are currently discovering that the LGBT community is a threat to the established order.  Nor are they a singularly heinous class of sinners as many so-called Christians would have us believe.  Rather, they are simply diverse groups of people wanting to live out their lives according to their created sexuality.  Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value.  It is not an expression of religious devotion but rather a persecution of those who are different.

Global warming is real.  It is affirmed by over 95% of scientists working on climate issues.  The ice in the Arctic, Antarctic, Greenland and the Tibetan plateau is melting at an ever-increasing rate. The long-sought Northwest Passage is now open for navigation. I expect that within my life time it will be possible to take a cruise ship to the North Pole.

We are in the midst of the worst extinction event in 65 million years.  Global weather patterns are getting progressively more disturbed and destructive.  We are seeing catastrophic hurricanes, floods, droughts and fires on a planetary scale.  How long before our food supply dwindles or fresh water becomes more valuable than oil?

We need leadership that has a 21st Century worldview.  We need leadership that is well-educated and enlightened, and at home in the modern world. We need leadership that is fluent in science and can understand and respect what science is telling us.  We need leadership that is grounded in scientific fact, knowledge, logic and critical thinking.

 

The Disgraceful Reign of Joseph Ratzinger


RatzingerGrace is a high theological word.  It stands for God’s love of all humanity.  It stands for our salvation through God’s often unrequited love of us, and not through our own deeds or worthiness.  Grace is the epitome of everything that is divine, loving and inclusive.

The reign of Joseph Ratzinger has been a disgrace in every sense of that word.  Grace is a sign of God’s love and compassion to all God’s children.  Ratzinger has talked trash to Christians of other Communions.  He has asserted that Protestants are merely deluding themselves into thinking that they have “churches.”  He has stated that Protestants have no “Church”, no legitimate priesthood, no sacramental ministry, and no hope of salvation.

He rather likes the Anglican Communion, and nearly accepts them as equals.  Anglican Priests, even married ones, are welcomed into the Roman Church, and can even bring their wives with them.  Apart from that, there is only one other Christian community that Ratzinger could reluctantly accept, and that is the Orthodox Communion.  But, according to Ratzinger, the Orthodox Church still has one fatal defect.  And that defect could be cleared only if Orthodox Communion would submit to the Bishop of Rome and accept him as its Spiritual Sovereign.

Ratzinger is the only monarch with absolute power.  The world has grown and matured since the Fifteenth Century.  But Ratzinger just does not get it.  Ratzinger is thoroughly grounded in Middle Ages, and has marched backwards towards that future throughout his entire reign.  He claims to rule by divine right, much like King James I of England.  And this divine right extends not just over the Roman Church, but as spiritual sovereign over all who would call themselves Christians.

Let us pray that the new pope is cut of a different cloth.  May the next pope not try to undo all the good works done by the Second Vatican Council, but rather rebuild the whole eucumene.

Despite his pious words to the contrary, he has done little if anything to clean up the mess caused by child sexual abuse in the Church. Rather than punish the perpetrators, he instead rewards them with high-level posts in the Vatican.  Bernard Cardinal Law is a good example of such an elevation.

The government of Ireland closed its embassy to the Holy See in response to this crisis, and Ratzinger’s handling of it.  Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny accused the Holy See of obstructing investigations into sexual abuse by priests.

 

Rachel Held Evans — Shedding light on “Biblical” Values


Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I wanted to share with you a statement by the blogger Rachel Held Evans.  I love her way of reading scripture.  Her blog can be found at www.rachelheldevans.com and is well worth checking out.

As an evangelical Christian, Rachel has shown light on some of the more ridiculous claims of fundamentalism.  Particularly, she has shown very clearly how the fundamentalists have tried to usurp the Christian values discussion, and how they are trying to control our courts and legislatures in order to make their distorted values the law of the land.

 
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My Take: The danger of calling behavior ‘biblical’

Editor’s Note: Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger from Dayton, Tennessee, and author of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.”

By Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN

On “The Daily Show” recently, Jon Stewart grilled Mike Huckabee about a TV ad in which Huckabee urged voters to support “biblical values” at the voting box.

When Huckabee said that he supported the “biblical model of marriage,” Stewart shot back that “the biblical model of marriage is polygamy.”

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

It may come as some surprise that as an evangelical Christian, I cheered Stewart on from my living room couch.

As someone who loves the Bible and believes it to be the inspired word of God, I hate seeing it reduced to an adjective like Huckabee did. I hate seeing my sacred text flattened out, edited down and used as a prop to support a select few political positions and platforms.

And yet evangelicals have grown so accustomed to talking about the Bible this way that we hardly realize we’re doing it anymore. We talk about “biblical families,” “biblical marriage,” “biblical economics,” “biblical politics,” “biblical values,” “biblical stewardship,” “biblical voting,” “biblical manhood,” “biblical womanhood,” even “biblical dating” to create the impression that the Bible has just one thing to say on each of these topics – that it offers a single prescriptive formula for how people of faith ought to respond to them.

But the Bible is not a position paper. The Bible is an ancient collection of letters, laws, poetry, proverbs, histories, prophecies, philosophy and stories spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own.

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Nowhere is this more evident than in conversations surrounding “biblical womanhood.”

Growing up in the Bible Belt, I received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women in the home, the church and society, each punctuated with the claim that this or that lifestyle represented true “biblical womanhood.”

In my faith community, popular women pastors such as Joyce Meyer were considered unbiblical for preaching from the pulpit in violation of the apostle Paul’s restriction in 1 Timothy 2:12 (“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent”), while Amish women were considered legalistic for covering their heads in compliance with his instructions in 1 Corinthians 11:5 (“Every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head”).

Pastors told wives to submit to their husbands as the apostle Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:1, but rarely told them to avoid wearing nice jewelry as the apostle instructs them just one sentence later in 1 Peter 3:3. Despite the fact that being single was praised by both Jesus and Paul, I learned early on that marriage and motherhood were my highest callings, and that Proverbs 31 required I keep a home as tidy as June Cleaver’s.

This didn’t really trouble me until adulthood, when I found myself in a childless egalitarian marriage with a blossoming career and an interest in church leadership and biblical studies. As I wrestled with what it meant to be a woman of faith, I realized that, despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” from the Bible, any claim to a “biblical” lifestyle requires some serious selectivity.

After all, technically speaking, it is “biblical” for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt, “biblical” for a woman to be required to marry her rapist, “biblical” for her to be one of many wives.

So why are some Bible passages lifted out and declared “biblical,” while others are explained away or simply ignored? Does the Bible really present a single prescriptive lifestyle for all women?

These were the questions that inspired me to take a page from A.J. Jacobs, author of “The Year of Living Biblically”, and try true biblical womanhood on for size—literally, no “picking and choosing.”

This meant, among other things, growing out my hair, making my own clothes, covering my head whenever I prayed, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church (unless I was “prophesying,” of course), calling my husband “master,” even camping out in my front yard during my period to observe the Levitical purity laws that rendered me unclean.

During my yearlong experiment, I interviewed a variety of women practicing biblical womanhood in different ways — an Orthodox Jew, an Amish housewife, even a polygamist family – and I combed through every commentary I could find, reexamining the stories of biblical women such as Deborah, Ruth, Hagar, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Priscilla and Junia.

My goal was to playfully challenge this idea that the Bible prescribes a single lifestyle for how to be a woman of faith, and in so doing, playfully challenge our overuse of the term “biblical.” I did this not out of disdain for Scripture, but out of love for it, out of respect for the fact that interpreting and applying the Bible is a messy, imperfect and – at times – frustrating process that requires humility and grace as we wrestle the text together.

The fact of the matter is, we all pick and choose. We’re all selective in our interpretation and application of the biblical text. The better question to ask one another is why we pick and choose the way that we do, why we emphasis some passages and not others. This, I believe, will elevate the conversation so that we’re using the Bible, not as a blunt weapon, but as a starting point for dialogue.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rachel Held Evans.

Churches, Politics and 501(c)(3) Status


Churches and other non-profit organizations organized as IRC 501(c)(3) organizations are forbidden to support or oppose political candidates, to involve themselves in legislative issues, or to support or oppose ballot initiatives.  And yet this very clear demarcation in the law often goes ignored with impunity.  Some churches appear to operate as national political parties in total defiance of the restrictions of their 501(c)(3) status.

501(c)(3) status is given to the following types of organizations:  Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations.

While there are many forms of non-profit organizations that are tax exempt, donations are tax-deductible only when given to 501(c)(3) organizations.  Therefore, 501(c)(3) organizations have a privileged place in American law and tax code. Your house of worship typically shares this privileged status along with your little league, community theater group, animal shelter, food pantry, and non-profit university.

In order to maintain this privileges status, any 501(c)(3) organization must refrain from political activity.  Failure to so refrain from political activity may cause the impositions of sanctions by the federal government, including the revocation of the organization’s 501(c)(3) status, plus the levying of excise taxes under IRC 4955.  The question we must ask is, “Why are these legal sanctions so often ignored?”

There is a big difference between a church and a political party (or political action committee), or at least there should be!  Contributions to a political party or PAC are not tax-deductible, while contributions to churches and other charities are fully tax-deductible. When churches are allowed to operate as political parties using tax-deductible donations, this undermines the whole purpose of the privileged 501(c)(3) status and creates an uneven playing field in the political arena. When most church organizations are respectful of their privileged status and compliant with the restrictions entailed thereby, other church organizations flagrantly abuse their status.

The law is clear that any improper political involvement can trigger sanctions.  Quoting from the IRS website:

An organization does will not qualify for tax-exempt status under IRC 501(c)(3) unless it “does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office”.  http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-tege/eotopici02.pdf (“I. Election Year Issues” by Judith E. Kindell and John Francis Reilly)

501(c)(3) organizations have every right to advocate for issues and causes.  Such issue advocacy might include homelessness, immigration, environmental issues, reproductive rights, spay/neuter campaigns or any other conceivable topic.  However, there is a very clear line of demarcation between advocacy and engaging in political activities.  The following is a partial list of prohibited political activities:  Endorsing or supporting pro-life (or pro-choice) candidates.  Publishing approval ratings of politicians based upon the organization’s objectives.  Support for (or opposition to) any legislation or ballot initiative.  Production or distribution of voter guides.  Any fundraising for or contributing to candidates.

501(c)(3) organizations have been given a privileged tax status.  They have every moral and legal obligation to refrain from violating that status through their elicit participation in the political process.  We need to hold them accountable.

Same Sex Marriage


Below is a comment that I posted to a Roman Catholic blogger and legislator, Rebecca Hamilton, who opposes same-sex marriage.  Her blog site can be found at PublicCatholic.com.

Rebecca,

There are a number of reasons that I will disagree with you profoundly.

1) My wife and I married when we were both in our late fifties. There is no chance of conception or child-birth, and yet we were granted an ecclesiastically and legally sanctioned marriage. Our desire is to spend the rest of our lives loving each other as intimate partners. My question is this: What would be so bad if we were two men or two women seeking the same relationship? Why should government and/or the church oppose such a union?

2) We need to separate church from state. One solution would be for the state to stop talking about marriage altogether. Perhaps the state should only recognize civil unions. If a couple wants to be “married” that could be an ecclesiastical union.

3) Why should the Roman Church be granted any authority over non-Catholics? While I am a Christian and a pastor, I certainly am not under the domination of the Pope or his bishops when it comes to my spiritual life or my personal freedoms.

4) The church should support loving, committed relationships, whether or not that these might be “traditional” marriages. When people talk about the “gay lifestyle,” they are talking about anarchic sexual practices, and not committed intimate relationships. The church should encourage all people to live in committed, loving relationships regardless of any other circumstances.

5) Gay marriage is no threat to anyone not involved. Gay is not a disease that can be caught, not a social trend. Rather, it stems from the profound self-awareness of certain people that they are simply and permanently attracted to members of their same-sex. It will not cause a breakdown of traditional marriage. It will not stop us from reproducing.

6) Gay bashing is neither a Christian virtue nor a family value. The only word for it is persecution. In the past our religious traditions have been used to persecute minorities, women, and the poor. Not too long ago laws against “miscegenation” prevented interracial marriages.  Colonialism was based upon the belief that the world of the white man had a religious obligation to “save” the savages. And so we enslaved them for our own economic gain and prided ourselves on our piety for so doing.

7) Our current marriage laws give a host of legal and financial advantages to couples, including everything from tax breaks, social security payments, tax-free employee benefits, immigration rights, and many more. We need to make sure that same-sex couples can enjoy the same legal and financial rights as opposite sex couples.

8) Jesus never mentioned sex in any of the gospels. Think about that. Just because we are obsessed with people’s private lives, there is no justification for such persecution of those who are simply born differently sexed. It is interesting to note that Jesus talked about eating at every opportunity. He talked about clean and unclean foods, clean and unclean people, because eating was considered to be the most intimate thing that people could do together. Jesus was constantly criticized for eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Perhaps this should tell us of how he would deal with Gays today.

The American Heritage of Religious Dissent


Conservative Christians, especially those of the biblical fundamentalist variety, will tell us that America is a theocracy under their God’s rule.  They will tell us that America is a Christian nation, born of a divine covenant. They will attempt to use government and civil authority to compel us to live according to their God’s design. They will proclaim that if only we will follow their God, their God will bless us and our nation.  But if we should stray from their God’s ways we shall be destroyed.

There is also a Roman Catholic brand of fundamentalism that finds its foundation not in the scriptures, but in Roman Catholic doctrine on such issues as reproductive freedom.  Often biblical fundamentalists will unite with doctrinal fundamentalists to impose their social agendas upon society.

The conservative Christians will attack modern science, and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology.  They oppose the teachings of Darwin, even though Darwin’s work has prevailed against more than one hundred and fifty years of scientific challenge.  If these biblical literalists were consistent, instead of just opposing evolution and Charles Darwin, they would need to oppose Copernicus, Galileo and all that those who have followed for the last five hundred years.

The biblical world view consists of a flat earth covered by the firmament, which was an inverted dome,  and separating the waters from above the firmament from the waters below the firmament (Genesis 1:7-8). This view of the earth can be envisioned as a dinner plate covered by an inverted salad bowl.  Furthermore, the earth was created in 4004 BC according to Bishop Ussher’s literalist chronology.

In the same manner as these fundamentalist attack science and attempt to replace it with their own religious mythology, these fundamentalist endeavored to stifle our democracy and to replace it with a fundamentalist theocracy which they would control.  If any American really believes that they would like to live in a theocracy, they should live for a while in a country such as Iran or Israel just to see what that would be like.

The conservative Christians will tell you that America was founded by Christians for Christian purposes.  But the part that the conservative Christians will not tell you is that America was settled by religious dissidents who were seeking religious freedom.  The Reformation in Europe brought in its wake centuries of religious warfare and persecutions.

The religious persecution that drove settlers from Europe to the British North American colonies sprang from the conviction, held by Protestants and Catholics alike, that uniformity of religion must exist in any given society. This conviction rested on the belief that there was one true religion and that it was the duty of the civil authorities to impose it, forcibly if necessary, in the interest of saving the souls of all citizens. Nonconformists could expect no mercy and might be executed as heretics. The dominance of the concept, denounced by Roger Williams as “enforced uniformity of religion,” meant majority religious groups who controlled political power punished dissenters in their midst. In some areas Catholics persecuted Protestants, in others Protestants persecuted Catholics, and in still others Catholics and Protestants persecuted wayward coreligionists. Although England renounced religious persecution in 1689, it persisted on the European continent. Religious persecution, as observers in every century have commented, is often bloody and implacable and is remembered and resented for generations.

“America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition).” America as a Religious Refuge: The 17th Century (Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, Library of Congress Exhibition). Web. 27 May 2012. <http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html&gt;.

European Persecution

Many conservative Christians seem to have forgotten the lessons learned in this violent and painful era of European history and seek to impose a new era of religious subjugation, domination and persecution.  They have forgotten that religious warfare and persecutions in Europe were the result of heavy-handed governments trying to impose uniformity in religious faith and practices by force.

The freedom of religion is a core American value, born out of the lessons learned in centuries of religious conflict in Europe. Freedom of religion is essential to our democracy.  It is also freedom from religion.  Every American is endowed with the inalienable right to worship God in a way that they choose, and/or to avoid religion all together.

America, and its great democratic traditions, was, is and always must be, a land of religious freedom, free of religious oppression and tyranny.  It must also be free of any coercive religious doctrine imposed by the government upon its citizens.

The Declaration of Independence contains these words:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

This great expression of human rights contains the mention of the Creator.  But what people often fail to realize is that this statement is Deist and not Christian in its tone and content.  Deism, as defined in Wikipedia, is,

”a religious philosophy which holds that reason and observation of the natural world, without the need for organized religion, can determine that the universe is the product of an intelligent creator.”

Note that this passage from the Declaration of Independence contains no appeals to religious affiliations, religious doctrines, or sacred scriptures of any type.  Rather, it is born out of the Deist notion that God can be perceived through logic and observation of the world.  The Deist God of American civil religion is much like the “higher power” in a twelve-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  The Deist God of American civil religion exists without sacred scriptures, creeds, sacred history, or religious affiliation.  The God of the Deists is abstract, formless and devoid of doctrine.  Therefore, no one may presume to speak for God, or to cite divine sanction for their own personal political agenda in the public life and governance of our nation.

We are a free people, free to worship God in our own way,  or not at all. We do not need “permission” from religious zealots or ecclesiastical authorities  to make our own religious or spiritual choices.  Our government must, under the constitution, be neutral on all religious questions, and must always defend our religious liberties against all oppression, either civil or ecclesiastical.

NOTE:  The recent political campaign by Rick Santorum, wherein he tried to deny reproductive services to workers at Roman Catholic related institutions was not an act of “religious freedom” for the Roman Catholic Church, but rather would be an act of religious oppression by the Roman Catholic Church against its non-sectarian workers.  The Roman Catholic Church has the right to create any rules it wants for those under religious orders. It also has the right to encourage various religious practices to its membership.

But it has no right to dictate the reproductive choices for a any workers not under religious orders.  For example, a Methodist or non church going accountant working at a Roman Catholic Church related hospital must not be denied the right to a vasectomy or an abortion because such practice might run counter to Roman Catholic doctrine.   And the Roman Catholic Church has no right to deny health insurance coverage to this hypothetical employee for these purpose.  If the hospital is hiring from the general public, then it is operating in the public domain, and therefore must follow all of the rules for all public employers.

Greg

John Calvin and the American Experiment in Democracy


United Church of Cloverdale

Sermon: The Theology of Liberation

Amos 2: 6-8

07/04/10

Greg Bentall

Before there was a Thomas Jefferson, before there was a Jean-Jacques Rousseau, before there was a John Locke, there was John Calvin.  John Calvin, the progenitor of the Reformed Tradition, of which we are a part, first propounded the modern notion of freedom and democracy that has been an ever growing force in western culture since the Sixteenth Century.  Although Calvin was a pastor and theologian, his writings did much to shape the modern world, and by the term “Modern World,” I mean everything since the year 1500.

Calvin opposed tyranny in all of its forms, whether it was the ecclesiastical tyranny of the popes and bishops, or the civil tyranny of the kings and feudal lords.  The Reformed Tradition, true to its Calvinist roots, has always been a political institution.  We are concerned with social justice, the ordering of society, the restraint upon tyranny, the recognition of divine dignity which is the birthright of every human being regardless of her or his worldly condition.

The birth of our nation was deeply and profoundly rooted in Calvinism.  Calvinism was brought to our shores by:

  • English Puritans
  • Scottish Presbyterians
  • Dutch and German Reformed
  • French Huguenots.

The Declaration of Independence was the annunciation that the thirteen united STATES OF AMERICA could no longer live under British tyranny.  This document was a bold expression of pure Calvinism, and a guiding force to shape the great American experiment is democracy for centuries to come, both at home and throughout the world.

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

But the democracy being created was not for all.  At least not back in the Eighteenth Century when these glorious words were written.  These “self-evident” truths applied only to land-owning, white males.  The sexism in this glorious document was quite intentional.  “All MEN are created equal.”   Women were excluded from the political process.  Also excluded were slaves and Native Americans.  These were considered to be less than human, and therefore were not considered to be endowed with “inalienable rights.”  In the counting of population, for example, a slave was counted as three-fifths of a man.

But these high and noble words have grown beyond their original meaning.  Having once articulated these lofty sentiments our nation has been propelled to extend their meaning.

  • The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment broadened the understanding of citizenship, to include freed saves, Native Americans, and people of foreign birth.  It also established the doctrine of Equal Protection Under Law, a principle that we continue to struggle to implement.
  • The Fifteenth Amendment gave the right to vote to all males, regardless of race or color.  It specifically extended the right to vote to former slaves.
  • The Nineteenth Amendment gave WOMEN the right to vote.
  • The Twenty-Fourth Amendment ended the poll taxes that had previously prevented many poor, especially minorities, from voting.
  • The Twenty-Sixth Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.  [Eve of Destruction:  “You are old enough to kill, but not for voting.  You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’.” 
  • The proposed Twenty-Eighth Amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment, has only been ratified by 35 states, and it requires ratification by 38 states to become part of the constitution.  Congress passed the ERA in 1972.  Because of the time delay the ratification process may be voided, even it this amendment were to be approved by three more states.  There are many who believe that the Equal Rights Amendment is actually unnecessary, as the issues addressed in it were already settled by the Fourteenth Amendment under the “Equal protection” clause.

One of the great realities of life is that we EVOLVE towards what we ENVISION.  Even if our view of democracy in the Eighteenth Century was less than adequate, the mere fact that we embraced democracy in PRINCIPLE has meant that we have been driven to an ever deepening understanding.  Where we focus is where we end up going.

+++

The forces of democratization, launched by John Calvin centuries ago, continue to impact the world and its people.  Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest has been instrumental in developing Liberation Theology.  Although Gutierrez is a Catholic, his theology includes much of Calvin’s teachings, particularly about the dignity of all people.

Liberation Theology aims to lify the poor and downtrodden out of their lives of poverty, misery and oppression.  It teaches that each person has value as a child of God, regardless of her or his worldly condition.  It teaches that all people should have access to the necessities of life, and to participation in the political process.  It tries to form community among all peoples and nations, all races and tribes, and all economic strata of every society.  It speaks to the yearnings of the poor and oppressed wherever they might find themselves.

Living in this country makes it hard to understand the poverty that passes for normal in much of the world.  I had some interesting discussions with the poor of many lands during my travels.  I was once asked by some church people in Mexico if poor people in the United States had cars and owned refrigerators.  I told them that this was mostly true.  They were shocked and amazed, for to them, owning a car and a refrigerator would make them wealthy.

Once I toured the garbage dump in Mexico City.  Many families and their children, literally hundreds of people, lived in the dump, and survived by scavenging materials to be sold for recycling.  The parents and children would walk barefoot on mountains of broken glass and rusted cans to find salvageable materials for sale.  Shelters consisted of tin and cardboard shacks, or even lean-tos, erected on top of the garbage heaps.  There were no schools, no sanitation, no clean water, and no medical care available.  And the worst part of this deplorable situation was that there was a long waiting list of families who were waiting to GET IN to the dump, because it offered them the prospect of a BETTER life.

I have worshiped with members of Christian Base Communities.  Such groups often meet in people’s houses to study the scriptures and pray.  In  Christian Base Communities it is required that each meeting end in some action item that will improve the lives of the people attending.  This might be planning a community garden, or finding a way to tutor the children, or providing for one of their members who are even more destitute than the rest.

These people learn from the scriptures, and from their prayers and meditations, that they are Children of God, and worthy of respect.

+++

When I was in college, preparing to enroll in seminary, I studied German and Greek.  German has long been the language of choice for all budding theological students.  German has been the language of theology for the past five hundred years.  Or, perhaps a better way to say this is that German has been the language of EUROCENTRIC theology for the past five hundred years.  But the Eurocentric model has become old and stale.  New voices from the Third World are now changing the axis and focus of Christianity.  If I were preparing for the ministry today I would study SPANISH instead of German.  This would be to read the emerging works of people like Gutierrez, who have brought freshness and urgency to theological studies that has been lacking in the old Eurocentric model.

The old, Eurocentric establishment, and especially the Catholic Church, is deeply fearful of the new liberation.  In 1984 and 1986 the Vatican issued edicts condemning the Liberation Theology movement as being Marxist in orientation, and therefore dangerous to the established order.  We need to remember that the previous pope, John Paul II, was a person who fought communism in his homeland of Poland.

But the Liberation Theology movement is anything but Marxist.  It is religious and not atheistic.  It stands for human dignity and freedom, and not political subjugation.  And when the movement advocates for such economic necessities as land reform and workers rights, it is grounded in prophetic Christianity and not Marxist ideology.

The irony for the Roman Catholic Church is that there are vastly more Catholics in Latin America as there are in Europe.  The three largest Catholic nations on Earth are:

  • Brazil
  • Mexico
  • Philippines

But is will be a long time before we find a Latin American pope, or any significant Catholic leadership from Latin America.  The old order will be slow to change, and resistant to the end of Eurocentrism.

But the winds of freedom and democracy are still blowing.  And this spirit cannot be held back.  In Christian Base Communities I found people who had discovered their worth as Children of God, and who had come to understand that they were worthy of full participation in the human community.  And once this message got loose, there was no way to stop its spread.

Greg