On the Criminalization Question

November 11th, 2008

In 2007, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, 90,427 forcible rapes were reported in the United States. It is well known that many rapes are not reported, so the actual incidence of rape is greater than that.

Rape is a felony in every jurisdiction in the United States, and has been for a very long time. So does the incidence of rape prove that criminalization is a failure and should be abandoned in favor of rape reduction strategies?

It would be hard to find anyone who would make that argument. But most would agree that criminalization is not enough by itself. We also need other efforts to address the causes of rape. In recent decades, there have been many efforts along this line. But they are not seen as alternatives to criminalization, but as complements to it. To the contrary, at the same time there have been efforts to strengthen the criminal laws against rape.

Now this multifaceted approach to address the problem of rape in our society is not controversial and in fact is generally accepted. But this is not true with regard to all other social ills. In particular, it is not true regarding abortion.

We frequently hear people saying that laws against abortion are not advisable because some would continue to have abortions even if it was illegal. Some say we should abandon criminalization strategies in favor of abortion reduction strategies involving such things as supports for pregnant women.

Abortion reduction efforts are, in fact, critical. We need to address the reasons why people have abortions. There are a whole range of public policies and nonprofit sector programs that can be helpful in addressing the desperation many women feel when they learn they are pregnant. And most of them have very important additional benefits as well. We should indeed be working hard to see these put in place.

The problem comes when people approach the question of laws restricting abortion and other abortion reduction strategies in an either/or manner. There is no real conflict between these strategies. Both affect the incidence of abortion. They are, in fact, complementary. I believe there is a synergistic effect when you move forward on multiple approaches to the problem at the same time.

So I implore all those that are seeking to protect the unborn to avoid either/or formulations and not to attack those who are concentrating on different ways to work for life. I ask those focusing on legal restrictions on abortion not to attack those emphasizing other strategies as not really being pro-life. I ask those emphasizing other approaches not to attack those emphasizing legal restrictions. We are all needed in the effort to get all human life treated with dignity and respect.

Why I’m Voting for Joe

October 19th, 2008

On November 4, we have an Election Day in the United States which will result in the choosing of the next President. Many people have explained for whom they’re voting, and I’ll join them in that. And that often includes why they’re not voting for someone else.

Very few of my friends seem to have seriously considered voting for John McCain, and I don’t think most of them would expect me to vote for him. So I won’t devote much energy to explaining why I’m not voting for him. I will reference him occasionally, but the major issue in the circles in which I move is whether to vote for Obama or for some non-duopoly candidate, so that is what I will principally address in this post.

Why I’m Not Voting for Obama

Since many people are making the assumption that if you don’t want McCain to be President, you should vote for Obama, let me address why I disagree.

I don’t believe in voting for the lesser evil. I think voting for evil is morally wrong. Of course you aren’t likely to agree with any candidate 100%, but it seems to me that you need to view them as on the whole working in the right direction to vote for them in good conscience. Since I believe that the fundamental assumptions that underlie much of the policies of the country are wrong, that means I don’t vote for candidates who basically uphold those assumptions, even if they may tweak them slightly in the right direction. Obama does not seem to reject any major assumption of our system, and has never stood for any significant change to the best of my knowledge, so he is not seriously in contention for my vote.

Let me just outline a few of the ways in which Obama represents the wrong way:

  • He has voted to spend over half of the discretionary budget on the military – current and future mass murder. And his campaign position is that we spend too little on the military, and should spend more. Furthermore, he wants to increase the size of the active duty military forces. [McCain’s official position is virtually identical on all of this, although he did cite the military budget in the last debate when asked where he could cut.]
  • He favors massive escalation of the war in Afghanistan [so does McCain], and military attacks on Pakistan [McCain has criticized him for that].
  • He has said that the first thing he will do when in office is sign the “Freedom of Choice Act” which would outlaw all restrictions on abortion by the Federal, state, and local governments [McCain opposes it]. This is consistent with his record of opposing all abortion restrictions in the past. And while he says he is in favor of reduction in abortions, he refuses to support the Pregnant Women Support Act, a Democratic-sponsored measure which would provide the kind of social supports that make it easier for women to choose life.
  • He favors the death penalty, even though he admits it is ineffective, because he believes in vengeance.
  • He is a strong supporter of subsidies for corn-based ethanol [McCain opposes them]. Simply from an environmental standpoint, this is bad because producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But its most disastrous effect is on the poor. The diversion of corn to ethanol production is a major contributing factor to the precipitous rise in world grain prices we have seen (the International Food Policy Research Institute estimates bioenergy accounts for 30% of the increase). Skyrocketing grain prices mean poor people can not afford the food they need to survive. UN Food and Agricultural Organization Director-General Jacques-Diouf said, “The fact is that people are dying already.”
  • He favors “clean coal” [as does McCain], although experts say that there is no way to make coal production environmentally responsible.
  • He decided to attempt to buy the election with the massive sums he can raise, much of it from Wall Street and other corporatist elements, instead of accepting public funding of his campaign, even though he promised to accept public funding if his opponent did [and McCain has accepted public funding, resulting in having less than 1/6 of the funds Obama has].

Poverty and the “Matthew 25 Network”

There is a group calling itself the “Matthew 25 Network” organized by a Democratic operative which has recruited a number of pastors. Despite the name, it does not exist to encourage people to act in accordance with Matthew 25. It is rather an attempt to use Christ to support partisan political purposes, which is arguably blasphemy. Christ refused to align himself with any of the major religio-political parties of his day, and instead preached and practiced an alternative vision.

The “Matthew 25 Network” exists to support Barack Obama for President. This despite the fact that Obama’s policies are in direct contradiction to the principles Christ outlined in Matthew 25 of supporting the poor and outcast. Not only are his subsidies for corn-based ethanol production currently killing poor people, but his skewed national priorities directly result in killing the poor (most of the casualties from war) and also result in the lack of resources for programs to address social needs. As former President Dwight Eisenhower noted, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

Jesus did not say of the righteous:

For I was hungry, and you used the grain that could have fed me to produce ethanol. I was thirsty, and you used water resources to produce “clean coal” and ethanol. I was a stranger, and you bombed foreigners. I needed clothes, and the money you spent on clothes went for military uniforms. I was sick, and you devoted your resources to wars so there wasn’t enough for health care. I was in prison, and you executed me so the society could wreak vengeance.

If Not a Duopoly Candidate, then Who?

McCain and Obama aren’t the only people running for President. There are some who are on many state ballots, some on a few, and others running solely as write-in candidates. Many of these candidates represent a markedly different vision than that of McCain and Obama.

On many issues, I agree with the positions of Ralph Nader (independent) and Cynthia McKinney (Green Party). However, while these candidates stand for life in many respects, their campaign platforms do not stand up for the unborn, the veritable “least of these” (whom the “Matthew 25 Network” ignores). Nader seems preferable because he did come out in a 2004 interview for banning feticide, so seems at least open to recognizing the dignity and worth of the unborn. Nader is on 45 state ballots, more than any other alternative candidate. So if you’re going to vote for someone on the ballot, I would suggest you vote for Ralph Nader.

I intend to vote for Joe Schriner. He is a Christian who is running as a consistent life ethic candidate. He is right on all the life issues on which Obama is wrong. He is a strong environmentalist, and an advocate of simple living. He had hoped to run in the Green Party primaries, but his campaign was blocked by state Green Party leaders who objected to his being pro-life on abortion. I urge everyone to write-in Joe Schriner for President and Dale Way for Vice President. He is a registered write-in candidate in several states, including my state of Maryland.

The Palins and Changing Gender Attitudes

September 12th, 2008

Sarah Palin has burst onto the national scene with her selection as John McCain’s running mate. She has generated an unusual amount of excitement. When someone generates the level of excitement she has, it is usually because they represent something to people. Somehow, they strike a chord.

Palin is a politician with a generally right wing perspective. It isn’t her views which excite people. There is nothing particularly notable about them. And in fact many who are excited by her don’t share most of her views.

Some call her “hot” but it isn’t her looks which are responsible for the phenomenon. She doesn’t dress provocatively or project an “available” image. And she has generated the most enthusiasm not among men looking for a sex object, but among women – and usually moms. She has an 80% popularity rating among white women, and there has been a remarkable political shift of 20 points in that demographic since she was nominated.

So what does she represent? She calls herself a feminist, but is definitely not aligned with the feminist establishment – mostly upscale white women with a heavy ideology that has never attracted the masses. She lives out the idea that a woman can do anything, and importantly that it is not a choice between having a family and doing something in the world. She is proud of having defeated the “good old boys” in her amazing gubernatorial election where she first toppled an incumbent governor in the primaries and then defeated a popular former governor in the general election. She is definitely feminine and not a man-hater, but unafraid to challenge men in what were traditionally the provinces of men. Her life becomes a symbol with which many ordinary women strongly identify.

Let’s not forget the man she calls “my guy” – her husband Todd. He seems like a “man’s man” – a TV commentator during the convention called him “studly.” Blue collar oil production worker, commercial fisherman, champion snowmobile racer – he really seems to fit the typical masculine image in so many ways.

And yet he is not the stereotypical macho male who feels the need to dominate women. He doesn’t seem interested in dominating his wife. He doesn’t seem to feel challenged by her success, but to be genuinely proud of her. And he doesn’t seem to have a problem with staying home and taking care of the kids while his wife is governing the state. Being “First Dude” is just fine with him.

The Palins have been flexible about roles. There was a time when she was a stay-at-home-mom – the “hockey mom” – and Todd was the breadwinner, and they were largely living “traditional” roles. Now she’s Governor and Todd spends a lot of time on the home front, taking care of the kids. They adjust to changing situations. They seem to have a secure, happy marriage, and love their kids and can adjust when their children don’t do what they hoped.

The Palins present a model of not being boxed in by rigid role assignments. It is a model that in no way challenges marriage and family, but shows that you don’t have to choose between that ideal and doing what draws you regardless of traditional gender roles. Their right wing politics highlights that this is not a way of living associated with a particular political ideology, but is something for everyone across the spectrum.

In some ways, the Palins seem to represent the triumph of the feminist movement. Those who have flown the feminist flag are divided in their reaction. Some have exploded in rage, because Sarah Palin is clearly not one of them. Others admit to admiring her, while being appalled at many of her views. Sarah does not spend her time bashing the feminist establishment, although the only feminist group she has felt able to identify with is Feminists for Life, which itself attracts mostly people with a very different political perspective than hers. And it has been interesting to see the dynamic between Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. They seem to respect each other. Some would like to see Hillary lash out at Sarah, but Hillary doesn’t seem to be interested in that. I think she will keep their differences political, and not make it personal.

In part what we are seeing is a generational shift in attitudes. In that, Palin has a lot in common with Obama. They are of the same generation. Just as Obama is African-American but doesn’t get boxed into being a black politician like prior black candidates, Palin is proudly a woman but doesn’t get boxed into the old image of a feminist politician. So, while there is much going on in America that discourages me, I can see signs of important positive movement in my lifetime on some very important matters. The younger generations just aren’t hung up on race and gender in the way so many Americans were when I was young. They’re more willing to let people be people, and not box them in.

Mary Rider goes to jail joyfully

August 8th, 2008

Guest blog entry from Patrick O’Neill

Note from Bill Samuel: I know Mary Rider from Consistent Life, of which we are both Board members.

My wife, Mary Rider, a mother of eight children, received a 15-day jail sentence for praying during a North Carolina execution.

Mary, cofounder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House in Garner, N.C., was sentenced to 15 days in the Wake County Jail on August 7, stemming from her August 18, 2006 arrest for trespass during a protest of the execution of Sammy Flippen at Raleigh’s Central Prison.

Mary and three others attempted to symbolically enter the prison to stop the execution. At a police line, the four knelt in prayer in the driveway where witnesses enter the prison.

Mary, 48, who has six children age 14 or less, was sentenced to jail after telling Wake County Superior Court Judge Michael Morgan that her conscience would not allow her to pay a $100 fine and $130 court costs into a system that oppressed the poor and carried out executions in her name. A social worker, Mary told the judge she would agree to perform community service in lieu of the fine and court costs.

The judge, a firm and cold man, who frequently undercut Mary’s attempts to defend herself based on Catholic Moral Teaching and the First Amendment, seemed to take personally Mary’s conviction that the “judicial system” is racist and oppressive.

“Ms. Rider has stated that the judicial system is one too flawed and too imperfect,” Morgan said. “I am a member of this system.”

By agreeing to give Mary community service, he was in a sense validating her criticisms of the system, Morgan said.

“It’s easy to open your wallet, pay that money and walk out of court,” Mary’s pro bono lawyer, Tim Vanderweert, told the judge. “It’s much more difficult to perform community service.”

In the course of the three-day jury trial, Morgan did not allow expert witness – renowned Constitutional law professor Dan Pollitt – to testify to the jury as to why Mary’s actions in trying to stop Sammy’s execution were legally valid under the Constitution. Doing so “would invade the providence of the jury,” Morgan said.

He also limited the testimony of Duke Divinity School professor of Christian ethics Stanley Hauerwas, who tried to make the case that Mary’s actions in defense of life were justified by Papal decree and Church teaching.

“I am a Christian theologian, and the subject of theology is God,” Hauerwas told the court. “Catholic moral teaching is the longest tradition of Church history. Since Christians are a people who worship a person who died at the hands of the state, that being capital punishment, Christianity’s relationship to the state is at the heart of what Catholic ethics is about … Christians are not allowed to give their ultimate loyalties to the state.”

In her testimony, Mary shared a story about a time she was called to jury duty at age 18 in Eastern North Carolina. Although she was not selected to sit for the capital murder trial, Mary, who is also a mitigation specialist, said she was surprised to learn that only jurors who supported the death penalty could be seated.

“The only people in the jury are those who believe firmly in the death penalty,” Mary said. “It seems like you’re stacking the cards against the defendant already.”

The judge instructed the jury to only consider the question of whether Mary trespassed or not. Although the jurors were out more than an hour, those initially opposed to conviction were won over. One juror told me after the verdict that since they didn’t get to hear Prof. Pollitt, they were unable to acquit her.

In her sentencing, Mary read the story from Acts when Peter said he “must obey God and not men.”

“I am choosing to suffer for my faith and fidelity to Jesus,” Mary told the judge. “Spending time in jail for me would be an honor. Rather than a deterrent, it would be a privilege to encourage others to do the same.”

The judge said he had no choice but to sentence Mary to 15 days. The jailers placed handcuffs on Mary as her children openly sobbed on the front row of the gallery.

“You’re lucky to have a wife like that, and you’re lucky to have a mother like that,” Professor Pollitt told me and my daughter, Veronica.

Indeed we are.

Mary is expected to be in the Wake County Jail until Aug. 21. To write her:

     Mary Rider
     Wake County Jail
     P.O. Box 2419
     Raleigh, NC 27602

or at her home address:

     124 Perdue St.
     Garner N.C. 27529

FUM – A Friendly Proposal

July 19th, 2008

I served on the General Board and on the Executive Committee of Friends United Meeting (FUM), the largest of the several associations of Friends (Quakers) in the world, from 1990 until 1993. I am not currently involved in the FUM organizational structure, nor am I now a member of a constituent meeting, but I have retained a lively interest in FUM.

For a couple of decades, there has been controversy within and outside FUM over its position on marriage and the proper use of sexuality, particularly as it relates to personnel decisions. In 1991, based on earlier decisions, the following language was incorporated into the FUM Personnel Handbook:

Friends United Meeting affirms the civil rights of all people. Staff and volunteer appointments are made without regard to sexual orientation. It is expected that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood to be confined to one man and one woman.

Since that time, there has been increasing discussion in certain parts of the Society of Friends about same-gender relationships, and some Quaker bodies have moved towards holding marriages or ceremonies of commitment for same-gender couples. The five FUM yearly meetings which are also members of Friends General Conference (FGC), an association with a somewhat different Quaker perspective, have all moved in that direction to varying degrees, and in all of them there is considerable uneasiness with FUM’s position on this issue. However, most other FUM yearly meetings both in North America and in other parts of the world have maintained positions consistent with that of FUM. Over half of FUM’s membership is in Kenya, and Kenyan Friends have been particularly vehement in support of the FUM position on marriage and sexual intercourse.

There has been considerable friction between the five dually affiliated yearly meetings and the rest of FUM. However, in listening to some of the dialogue and reading some related documents, I find considerable desire among many Friends on both sides of the issue to find ways to continue to work together.

I am suggesting that recognition of certain facts and principles may show the way to making a modest step that could ease tensions:

  1. The understanding of marriage has such wide support within FUM that it needs to be understood that FUM is not going to change that basic understanding in the imminent future.
  2. Many Friends who are not in unity with FUM’s position on this do see great value in much of the work of FUM.
  3. There are a number of testimonies and principles held by FUM Friends, but living in accord with most of them is not stated in such direct and absolute terms in the personnel policies of FUM.
  4. While some Friends think FUM requires agreement with the policy in order to be a staff member of FUM, that is not part of the policy and FUM has been willing to hire people for important positions who did not personally agree with the policy.

I think the feeling that FUM has dug in its heels has helped inflame tensions among those Friends who disagree with the policy. I wonder if FUM couldn’t slightly recast its policy in the hopes that this would make it easier for the dialogue to continue, and for the FUM family to unite in support of the programs of FUM. I am thinking of a minute along the lines of this:

Friends United Meeting reaffirms it position as an organization that sexual intercourse should be confined to marriage, understood as being between one man and one woman, while recognizing that not all Friends within FUM are united on that position. FUM also reaffirms the civil rights of all people, and its policy of making staff and volunteer appointments without regard to sexual orientation. It is vital that all persons appointed to staff and volunteer postions in FUM understand and accept that this is the current policy of FUM, whether or not they are personally in full agreement with it. Those responsible for selecting persons for positions with FUM should be sensitive to whether applicants live in accord with FUM’s policy. Where applicants are not committed to living in full accord with FUM’s current position on this matter, those responsible for selection should consider that in the full context of the person’s overall commitment to the programs of FUM and Friends’ testimonies as understood by FUM, and the specific needs for the position under consideration.

I don’t know whether or not Friends will find this suggestion helpful, but I felt led to offer it. Anyone may reprint and distribute this blog entry or portions thereof without obtaining further permission from me. Should any efforts be made to move along the lines suggested, I would appreciate knowing about it.

Reflections After a Water Emergency

June 19th, 2008

On Sunday evening, a 48-inch water main in our area broke. Our water authority gots lots of calls from people with no water or very low water pressure, but it took several hours to find the break since it was in park land down a ravine.

They then imposed mandatory water restrictions – no outside watering, no laundry, no dish washing, etc. They also issued a boil water advisory to last at least three days. Residents were advised to boil water (or use bottled water) used for drinking, preparing or cooking food, cleaning dishes, brushing teeth, etc.

All restaurants – several hundred – in the area were ordered to close, and other businesses (groceries, convenience stores, etc.) selling prepared food were prohibited from selling food prepared after the incident. On the first day, government offices in the area closed. A number of camps and schools also closed.

By late Monday, they had isolated the pipes in the area of the break, and restored water service to the area and lifted the mandatory water restrictions. Restoration did not depend upon repairs, which will take longer. They even had to build a small road in order to get equipment down to the site.

Results from the first round of water testing became available Tuesday evening. None of the samples had any bacterial contamination. Good news, but the State requires two successive rounds of testing with no findings of contamination before a boil water advisory can be lifted. The State and County did decide to allow restaurants to re-open, but under a rather severe set of requirements with tap water, unless boiled, not usable for cooking, cleaning of table services or anything else, hand washing, etc.

On Wednesday evening, the second round of water testing confirmed the absence of bacterial contamination, and the boil water advisory was lifted. The water emergency was over.

All this was quite an inconvenience. But we ourselves never completely lost water. And we use bottled water for drinking, so that was not an issue.

This incident caused me to reflect on our privileged status. Most of the time, we have ample clean water for all purposes, right in our own home. So many do not.

Our situation at the height of our water emergency was much better than the every day situation of a substantial portion of the world’s population. They would be so grateful to be able to live under that kind of situation.

More than one billion people in the world today lack access to safe drinking water – not for a brief interlude due to a water main break but every day year round. And 2.6 billion lack access to improved sanitation. Each year, 1.8 million children die from diarrhea, mostly as a result of drinking contaminated water. Even many who do have access to reasonably safe drinking water have to haul it by hand some distance from their homes.

There is a vast difference in the lives of those of us who live in the world’s more affluent nations in reasonable comfort, and billions who live in poverty. Our status is not due to us being better or more moral than those in poverty. It is a matter of circumstance. Causes of the misery of so many include greed, wars, economic exploitation, and racism. Our profligate lifestyles definitely contribute to the problem.

What are some of the lessons I take away from this?

  1. Be thankful for my many blessings.
  2. Consider the implications of my lifestyle, and how that might change.
  3. Be in prayer for those facing extremely difficult life circumstances.
  4. Use some of my relatively abundant material resources to help those in need.
  5. Work to change national priorities away from militarism towards meeting human needs and increasing equity.

Day of Prayer for Permanent Peace

May 26th, 2008

In respect for their devotion to America, the Congress, by a joint resolution approved on May 11, 1950, as amended (64 Stat. 158), has requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe each Memorial Day as a day of prayer for permanent peace and designating a period on that day when the people of the United States might unite in prayer. [From the President’s 2008 Memorial Day Proclamation]

Memorial Day (today) is a major holiday in the United States. But listening to the news on radio and television, and perusing the daily newspaper, one rarely finds any reference to the official purpose of the holiday “as a day of prayer for permanent peace.” Instead, it is often twisted into a day for glorifying war.

The idea of Memorial Day originated during the Civil War when a group of women buried the dead from both sides of the war and planted flowers on the graves both of the fallen who had fought on their side and those who had fought on the other side. These women who had lost sons, husbands, brothers and others dear to them were moved to make this gesture of reconciliation and of recognition of the horror war imposes on both sides.

Sadly, we continue to live in a world of war. The United States is engaged in two hot (albeit undeclared) wars, and has garrisons in hundreds of countries across the globe. More than half of the discretionary budget of the United States is devoted to military-related purposes, and all three Senators running for President of the United States are calling for even greater spending for the machinery of death.

Meanwhile, across the globe, there are armed conflicts within a number of nations, some of them involving forces from outside the country of conflict. The tragedy of war not only directly causes many deaths and injuries, of civilians as well as combatants, but also results in hunger, homelessness, disease, environmental degradation, and enormous waste of resources that could have been used for good.

Many war veterans have recognized that they need to respond to their own experience of the horrors of war with a commitment to work to end war. See, for example, Vietnam veteran Mac Bica’s On This Memorial Day commentary.

I urge everyone to use this Memorial Day for its stated purpose, and pray for permanent peace. And may your prayers move you to action to end the madness of war.

Personally, I pledge this election year Memorial Day not to vote for any Presidential or Congressional candidate who does not stand for major reductions in the military budget and a change in America’s aggressive posture towards the rest of the world.

Why I am evangelical but not an Evangelical

May 16th, 2008

The catalyst for this post was An Evangelical Manifesto, which I reflected upon in my last post. And my perspective on the subject is deeply informed by two traditions/movements within the Christian church with which I have been heavily involved. One is Quakerism in which I spent much of my life. Another is what is often referred to as the Emerging Church conversation or movement. While I have only formally been a member of an Emerging Church for three years, I was part of a group which had much of the same perspective long before the term Emerging Church had been dreamed of. That little spiritual community which became known as Friends in Christ melded Quaker and what now would be called Emerging Church perspectives in a way that could be called an early precursor of the loose Convergent Friends movement of today. Here I will note that in the long list of Manifesto signatories I could not identify any Quakers or any of the prominent public faces in the Emerging Church conversation.

As I indicated in my earlier post, I fully identify with the definition in An Evangelical Manifesto: “Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.” Playing off that document’s insistence on capitalizing Evangelical, I am saying I am evangelical in terms of the root meaning of that word expressed in that Manifesto definition, but I’m not comfortable with some other aspects of the description of Evangelical, in which the Manifesto is faithful to the tradition of that part of the Christian church. That leads me to seeing myself as fitting the term if left lower case, but not really accurately defined when it is upper case.

The Bible and Authority

The Manifesto, and here it is indeed representative of Evangelicalism, refers to sola Scriptura (by Scripture alone), the “supreme authority of the Bible,” and “the Scriptures our final rule for faith and practice.” It claims this is shown by “Jesus’ own teaching and his attitude.” This is a Manifesto, not an apology, and it doesn’t do references, so I’m not sure what they rely on for that.

I find Jesus saying in scripture that I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6, NIV) This is a radical statement, and one hard for us humans to accept because we want to be able to package up truth in a neat, rational box. Jesus tells us this impulse is wrong. The people that he had such conflict with are precisely the religious leaders of his day who wanted to tie up faith in a neat little box. Relying on purely the written word of the Bible as the Truth doesn’t really quite succeed in achieving the goal of the neat little box, but the urge to make the book supreme is an attempt to move in that direction. Evangelicals also proclaim Christ is Lord, but their emphasis on the written word as the sole determiner of Truth tends to contradict that. I am not an Evangelical because, in the end, I’m not sure that Evangelicalism is really centered on Jesus Christ.

I believe the premier Quaker apologist, Robert Barclay, put this question of authority well in his Apology for the True Christian Divinity. He states that the scriptures do contain revelations of God to the saints, but notes that, “because they are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners.” Barclay notes “that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth” and goes on to make this key argument:

If by the Spirit we can only come to the true knowledge of God; if by the Spirit we are to be led into all Truth, and so be taught of all things; then the Spirit, and not the Scriptures, is the foundation and ground of all Truth and knowledge, and the primary rule of faith and manners

I find Barclay’s arguments convincing. (See also Friends (Quakers) and the Bible.)

My immersion into the Emerging Church conversation has provided me with further insights into understanding the scriptures. I have learned about narrative theology. To me, this provides a way to better explore the richness of the scriptures than a doctrinally centered theology. I can observe that Jesus taught largely by telling stories, and by the story of what he did. Looking at the whole Bible, I can see that it is predominantly stories. By taking the narrative approach rather than a literalist approach, we are better able to explore the many facets of the stories in the scripture and to translate them into lessons for how we can live more faithfully.

The narrative approach sees the narrative as continuing, not stopped at some point in time with what’s in the canon, which is consistent with the early Quaker reluctance to embrace the idea of a fixed canon. When I participated in the Journey Seminar, the membership class for Cedar Ridge Community Church, I appreciated the approach of a journey which included what was recorded in scripture, the history of the Christian church in its many variations, and the life of this particular local faith community. It gave me both a sense of the “cloud of witnesses” and of the importance of the continuing spiritual journey in which I can participate. At the end, to become a member, I signed a sheet of paper that was committing myself to principles of living out the journey with Christ within the context of this particular community, but did not contain doctrinal propositions. This felt right to me.

Protestant?

While what I have just written about is the primary reason for my reluctance to consider myself an Evangelical, there is another (albeit related) concern. Evangelicals hold strongly to being Protestant, in contrast with the alternatives of being Catholic or Orthodox. I feel a reluctance to limit my Christian understanding to just one of the main divisions of the Christian church. This view, too, has been heavily impacted by my involvement in both Quakerism and the Emerging Church conversation.

There has been a debate about whether or not Quakers are Protestants. (See Are Quakers Protestant?) Early Quakers contrasted themselves with both Catholics and Protestants (Orthodox were simply not a part of the religious conversation in 17th century Britain where the Quaker movement started, but I’m sure Quakers would also have contrasted themselves with the Orthodox if they had been), essentially regarding both streams as apostate. In some areas, they saw Protestants as having moved from part of the errors of Catholicism, but not all the way. As regards the scriptures, their argument was in fact primarily with Protestantism.

While identifying with the Quaker reluctance to put themselves in one of the big boxes of Christianity, I became increasingly reluctant to see that solely as rejecting those major streams. My participation (1993-94) in the Spiritual Nurturer Program of the School of the Spirit greatly contributed to that. While the Program was Quaker, the majority of the readings were from the monastic tradition, which has been writing in depth about spiritual nurture for many centuries. I found that I really identified with most of what I read from the monastic tradition. That did not make me want to convert to Catholicism, but it did result in a great appreciation for the spiritual richness within that tradition.

At Cedar Ridge, the teachings and practices draw from all three major divisions of the Christian church. All are seen as part of the story in which we see ourselves. While in the Emerging Church conversation we recognize many ways in which all three traditions have gone astray at various points in history, we don’t have the unrelenting negativism towards them that marked the early Quakers. We also see a lot of spiritual vitality in all of these streams of Christianity. I identify with this perspective.

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This post may be too long, but I hope it gave you some food for thought. I would welcome comments on it.

An Evangelical Manifesto

May 13th, 2008

On May 7, a group of prominent evangelical leaders issued An Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment. It was developed by a Steering Committee of 9, including the President of Fuller Theological Seminary and the Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today, as well as one of my favorite writers and a leader in the Renovaré movement, Dallas Willard. In addition, there were 75 Charter Signatories, including many very prominent names in evangelical circles – conservative, moderate and liberal. Hundreds more have also signed. So this is a very important document.

The document is the latest development in a growing movement in recent years to rescue Evangelicalism (the Manifesto insists on this capitalization, and I am following their lead in this commentary) from the narrow stereotype of a bunch of fundamentalist conservative Republicans whose concerns are mostly limited to a couple of very controversial issues. Another prominent landmark in this movement was the 2004 statement by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility. Much credit for these promising developments should be given to evangelicals who have been actively laboring for many years for a broad agenda of social issues such as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action and Jim Wallis of Sojourners (both Charter Signatories of the Manifesto).

The Manifesto asserts three major mandates for Evangelicals:

  1. We Must Reaffirm Our Identity
  2. We Must Reform Our Own Behavior
  3. We Must Rethink Our Place in Public Life

The wording of these mandates sounds like a call by the signatories to the Evangelical movement; an internal document for those who identify themselves as Evangelical. And it is that, and very rightly so. But it also serves an important function of speaking to those outside the Evangelical community to rectify misimpressions of what Evangelicalism is about. I feel it does a good job of speaking to both of these audiences.

I want to highlight some key elements of this landmark Manifesto (I can only here identify a few; the Manifesto is 20 pages and I encourage you to read the entire document for yourself), and offer some comments on them:

  • In reaffirming Evangelical identity, the Manifesto provides a useful definition: Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth. Personally, I can wholeheartedly identify with that definition.
  • It notes that Evangelicalism should be distinguished from two opposite tendencies to which Protestantism has been prone: liberal revisionism and conservative fundamentalism. This is in fact its historical place, but developments in the last half century came to blur the lines between Evangelicalism and fundamentalism, and I think this point is important. [Side Note: While insisting that Evangelical and its derivatives be capitalized, they don’t extend the same courtesy to fundamentalists.] Again, personally I have sought to distinguish my own faith understanding from either of these tendencies, although I have done it outside of mainstream Evangelicalism.
  • It reiterates the concept of sola scriptura and the “supreme authority of the Bible.” This is well in keeping with Evangelical tradition. Personally, I believe this contradicts the centrality of Jesus Christ and is in conflict with their own definition of Evangelicals. This is a major reason why I consider myself evangelical but not an Evangelical. This is not the place to go into depth on this issue, and I plan a separate post addressing it.
  • The second mandate the Manifesto identifies really constitutes confession and repentance. This is very healthy. It does an excellent job of identifying major areas where Evangelicals have often gone in the wrong direction.
  • In the third mandate of the Manifesto, it does a good job of identifying “two equal and opposite errors” of privatizing faith and of politicizing faith. It correctly calls for engagement with politics, but avoiding identification with party or partisan ideology. I appreciate its call to a civil public square ā€” a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths too. This sets the proper balance.
  • It addresses a key historical issue for the Church in stating, We Evangelicals trace our heritage, not to Constantine, but to the very different stance of Jesus of Nazareth. I think the truth is more mixed, and the Manifesto itself is somewhat weak in its argument in this section. It follows that statement by noting While some of us are pacifists and others are advocates of just war . . . This is a factual observation (and putting the two on an equal plane is a step forward, as pacifists often don’t get much respect), but it is somewhat ironic as the Just War Theory is itself a Constantinian development. In this respect, the Manifesto may represent an important step forward, but also illustrates that there is some distance still to go.
  • Importantly, it shares with the earlier landmark NAE Call a call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics.

While I am not 100% in unity with the Manifesto, I heartily welcome it as an important and positive contribution to the Church finding its way to more truly be the Body of Jesus Christ.

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May 12th, 2008

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