Archive for the ‘America’ category

Human Trafficking and Changing Habits

May 14, 2010

With all the talk about healthcare and war spending and other ‘politically sexy’ topics being discussed in Washington and the media it breaks my heart that we tend to forget about less attractive issues like human trafficking. Its mind boggling to think that last night 27 million people went to bed as slaves. Think about that. That means that well over two times the population of New York City spent their day today being forced to pick the cotton that we nonchalantly put on as socks and t-shirts, or mining the minerals that make up the components of our high-tech gadgets that we whip out to find the nearest coffee shop, where, as is often the case, we drink coffee and eat chocolate treats harvested by unpaid children.

I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty, especially because I am complicit in all of the above, well except the drinking coffee part, but that’s only because I just don’t like the stuff. However, if you get a bit convicted as you read this perhaps you should assess the changes you may need to make in your life, just as I have to do in my own. Perhaps you are like I was only a few months ago, relatively unaware of the gargantuan problem of modern day slavery that seeps its way into every part of our daily lives. Its not popular to remind people that the food they are eating, the clothes they are wearing and the luxuries and comforts they are enjoying may very well be ‘stained with the blood’ of innocent men, women and children who are forced to produce those goods for companies looking to save a buck and consumers demanding those same savings.

Now there is another, often more sinister, part of the modern slave trade that has gotten some attention in the media, the sex-slave industry. I have to emphasize ‘some’ as I write because last century’s American idol runners up get more attention. Unfortunately it seems that when stories about these abuses air we seem to have moments of conviction that soon get overwhelmed by the grand scale of the issue at hand or by our own apathy and acceptance of the status quo that suits most of us so well.

So what are we to do with a problem of such a monumental scale, with so little public attention and such an ability to blend in to its surroundings? Well there are the usual routes of writing your congressman or protesting certain brands, but I want to encourage us all to try something a bit different. My suggestion is that we all, for one month, try to fast from any goods made by slaves. In tandem with this, I admonish each of us to start educating ourselves about the problem so that we can in turn educate others, and that instead of just boycotting brands that are notorious for their ‘bloody’ production line, we actively seek out ways to support businesses and non-profits that are working towards the new abolition. And assuming that none of you are sleeping with prostitutes, which I sure hope you are not, then a good way to help those in the sex slave industry is to buy jewelry and other goods made by women and children rescued from brothels. And most of all, we need to pray, to cry out to God as a people, the spiritual descendants of the Israelites, who were rescued by God’s almighty hand from the clutches of a tyrannical slave master.

Educate yourselves by checking out this list of resources and ideas, and  join the movement of modern day abolitionists. Also, keep the World Equestrian Games in your prayers as it is expected that thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people will be forcibly brought in to the Lexington, KY area to be sex workers for those attending the games.

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Christian Anarchy and Voting- A Recap

January 8, 2010

A lot of people have been asking me lately about my stance on voting and Christians serving in government offices. Since I have already written a good bit about my particular understanding of the Christian responsibility in political engagement I thought I would just compile all of those posts here so I can direct people to one place.

I thought I would start with this powerful song by Derek Webb.

This concise non-voting manifesto (and updated version) by Professor Tripp York is also a useful resource, and generally sums up my position.

Mark Van Steenwyk also offers his ten reasons for not voting at Jesus Radicals.

This is an excerpt by Andy Alexis-Baker from the book Electing Not to Vote, and this post is specifically about the 2012 election.

In this piece  Chris Smith writes about incarnational theology and non-voting.

Early American church leader, David Lipscomb wrote a great book on the topic of Christians and government. Here is an excerpt on voting. Historian Mcgarvey Ice briefly examines Lipscomb’s nonvoting stance.

Joshua Jeffery follows Lipscomb and talks about the choice not to vote.

Alasdair MacIntyre says in this piece, “The way to vote against the system is not to vote.”

There are often connections between nonviolence and the Christian anarchy. Keegan Osinski and Mark Caudill discuss some of those connections and their reasons for not voting.

I wrote a fairly popular series of posts a while back entitled Would Jesus Vote? The basic idea was to chronicle some of the reasons I believe Christians should be wary of participating in the government on any level. So here they are:  One, Two, Three and Four.

One of my ethics classes required that I write a paper about Christians and political engagement. It was one of my favorite papers of my scholastic career so I thought I would share it with you here.

The term Christian Anarchy understandably makes a lot of people uncomfortable  so I have this post trying to help people have a better understanding of the phrase. After all, as Tolstoy said, “The Kingdom of God is anarchy.”

Kurt Willems has a new series at Red Letter Christians on Jesus and nationalism. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5.

For those of you who arent quite convinced, then at least consider this post before you vote.

I also have several posts that more indirectly get at the issues around the Christian Anarchy stance including this one on True Freedom which lists some of the most important basic understandings of being a part of God’s Kingdom. In a similar vein, this post attempts to demonstrate the radical differences between God’s Kingdom and the nations of this world.

Finally, there are some other issues such as war, abortion, immigration and poverty that play an important part in this discussion so I offer this post of some resources about these issues and this post specifically about war.

My request is that you prayerfully consider these ideas and search out God’s will in your life and in the world, and above all, declare with your life and words that Jesus is King!

Christians and Politics: Abstinence is the Best Policy

June 28, 2009

This is a short paper I wrote, for an ethics class, about responsible engagement of the political sphere by Christians. I of course take the position that Christians should not get themselves tangled up in the worldly political game, but I was required to give a brief positive assessment of competing views so I did that although I am not convinced that the “positives” of other views are truly strengths at all. It is a very basic, perhaps even elementary, assessment but I believe it to be a sufficient introduction to this position.

The Distinct Polity of the Church is Political Enough: Why Christians Should Abstain from Civil Governmental Politics

by Justin Bronson

I am persuaded that the most faithful way for Christians to engage the political sphere is by being a distinct polity unto themselves operating on the principle of imitating Christ’s example of cross-bearing love. In my view this precludes the participation of Christians in government, but requires us to transform the political sphere by questioning the powers, and exposing any sin by openly provoking them to direct their evil towards us just as Christ did. This could perhaps be viewed as a sort of mediation between Niebuhr’s Christ against culture, and Christ the transformer of culture.[i] We participate in what I will call selective engagement, meaning not that we choose when we are going to engage, but how we are going to engage the political sphere; specifically that we reject governmental positions and create our own peculiar polity of Christ-like living.

In Scripture we can see both apodictic and casuistic[ii] teachings[iii], and examples, particularly in the person of Christ; as well as an overarching, at least in the NT, principle of humble, self-sacrificial service[iv] as opposed to “fighting” worldly political battles as the means to transforming the world. This informs a position of selective engagement. Themes such as Satan being the god of this age[v], Jesus’ example of rejection of earthly power[vi], the demonic influence in government[vii] and of Christians being foreigners in earthly kingdoms[viii] all point to an idea of selective engagement. Our primary grounds for this selective engagement is, as already mentioned, the life of Christ. Instead of taking the kingdoms Satan offered,[ix] entering Jerusalem as the conquering earthly king, calling legions of angels,[x] or getting caught up in the politics of his day; Jesus rejected Satan’s offer of power,[xi] entered Jerusalem on a lowly donkey, died alone on a cross[xii], and called all people to take up their crosses and follow him.[xiii] Perhaps the best representative verse of Christ in this light is Col 2:15, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”[xiv]

Many early Christians, the Anabaptist movement, and multiple contemporary theologians/ethicists, have also called the church to be its own polity as a way of influencing the world and subverting the current political sphere. Tertullian will, for this essay, serve as an example of the early Christian call to selective engagement. According to Hollinger, Tertullian believed “Christians were to refrain from political life because it involved emperor worship.”[xv] Although the American context does not require emperor worship, it does demand allegiance. This is something we as Christians cannot give because our sole allegiance is to Christ. This is where I would fall in line with Niebuhr’s assessment of Christ against culture when he says this approach “uncompromisingly affirms the sole authority of Christ over the Christian and rejects cultures’ claims to loyalty.”[xvi]

The Anabaptists picked up on this thinking and refused to let the church be defined by geography, and believed that government was unnecessary for Christians because the church was the their polity.[xvii] The Schleitheim Confession unabashedly declares that Christians should not be involved in government, pointing to the example of Christ[xviii] and the need for separation from the evils of the world[xix]. However, it wasn’t that they, and others like them,[xx] just wanted to be against culture. This is evidenced in Yoder’s critique of Niebuhr’s assessment of Christ against culture. Yoder points to an amalgamation with “Christ transforming culture”[xxi], when he says it’s “about devotion to the way of Christ, which at points conflicts with culture and society.”[xxii]

Contemporary theologians[xxiii] have also delved into this idea, including Stanley Hauerwas who says “The church does not exist to provide an ethos for democracy or any other form of social organization but stands as a political alternative to every nation, witnessing to the kind of social life possible for those that have been formed by the story of Christ.”[xxiv] Martin Luther King Jr. did not completely reject the notion of Christians in government, but he witnessed to the conflict between government and Christian ideals and called for a negotiation that ultimately seeks justice.[xxv]

Christians have also taken opposing views, each with particular strengths. Many, like Calvin, believed the church should indeed be involved in government[xxvi] claiming that those who refused to do so were “frantic and barbarous men are furiously endeavoring to overturn the order established by God.”[xxvii] The focus on God’s sovereignty, even in the political realm, and Christians’ use of the established order to advance kingdom ideals are strengths of this position. Others, like Luther proposed, that it is acceptable, but not necessary for Christians to be involved in government. His distinction between the two kingdoms[xxviii] allowed for Christian participation while not mandating it. He also proposed that the government should not be governed by Christian ideals. This has a particular strength because it attempts to keep the church and the state from getting too muddled while allowing for freedom of Christians to pursue any vocation in which he or she can do good. These views, and similar ones, have the three primary strengths of a broad range of influence and the possibility of “immediate” effectiveness, as well as the necessary power to enact proposed changes. The belief is, if a Christian can rightly participate in government he or she can enact good over a large number of people and possibly in a relatively short amount of time and to a great extent make sure it happens.

All of these things considered, it is my belief that Christians should actively engage society and the political sphere by being a separate and distinct polity. We therefore should avoid direct involvement in government such as serving as a governing official. The witness of Christ, the New Testament, various historical and contemporary individuals and movements have persuaded me that although the church can certainly bring about good through government; ultimately our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ as Lord and we must therefore take up our crosses and not the sword of power. We must imitate Jesus and not Caesar if we are ever going to change the world.

 


[i] Hollinger, Dennis, Choosing the Good: Christian Ethics in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 191-197, 208-213

[ii] Pohl, Christine- Class Handout,  Forms of Ethical Guidance in Scripture

[iii] Luke 9:48, John 10:37

[iv] E.g. Matt. 5:3ff, 16:24, Acts 20:18-21, Eph 6:12, Phil 2:3

[v] E.g. 2 Cor 4:4

[vi] E.g. John 6:15, Luke 4:7f

[vii] E.g. Luke 4:6, Eph 6:12, Col 2:15

[viii] E.g. 1 Pet 2:11

[ix] Luke 4:5f

[x] Matt 26:43

[xi] Luke 4:8

[xii] E.g. Matt 27:46

[xiii] E.g. Mark 8:34

[xiv] RSV

[xv] Hollinger p192

[xvi] Hollinger p191

[xvii] Hollinger p194

[xviii] Boulton, Wayne G., Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey, eds., From Christ to the World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics p286

[xix] Boulton p284

[xx] See for example Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day, Jacques Ellul, Vernard Eller, David Lipscomb and Various Monastic movements

[xxi] Hollinger p208

[xxii] Hollinger p194

[xxiii] Notably Vernard Eller, John Howard Yoder, Greg Boyd, Lee Camp and Richard Hughes

[xxiv] Hollinger p55

[xxv] Boulton p429

[xxvi] Hollinger p209

[xxvii] Calvin, John. Of Civil Government Ch. 20 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.vi.xxi.html

[xxviii] Pohl, Christine- Class notes Christ and Culture in Paradox from Martin Luther

My Favorite MLK Speech

January 19, 2009

Everyone knows Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech” which is certainly one of the best speeches given in modern history, but it is not my favorite speech by this prophetic visionary. I prefer his “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top/ Promised Land” speech given on April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple in Memphis, just one day before he was assassinated. 

In this brilliant homily, Dr. King seems to foreshadow his own assassination. What strikes me most is the way that the truth, “true love drives out all fear,” is evident in both his voice and word. Because he loves God and his fellow man and knows that God loves him, he is confident that even though his flesh may be harmed he need not fear for his soul will rest safely with the Almighty.

This speech gives me chills every time I hear it. Now it is my hope and prayer that I can live a life without fear of those who can hurt my flesh and that I will love unconditionally and serve sacrificially, trusting in Jesus, so that I too will someday see the promised land.

Christians Before You Vote…

November 3, 2008

Before you vote…

Remember your allegiance is to a King and His Kingdom.

Know your unique and real power comes from taking up your cross not your sword (or voting lever).

Keep in mind you are an alien and stranger here on earth.

Be mindful that others may be faithful Christ-followers and disagree with you.

Ask God what He wants for you, the nation and the world. 

Think about other ways to make a difference in the world, even and especially those that require sacrifice.

Make sure that you realize that God is sovereign and is in control no matter who sits in the oval office.

Take into account that not voting is also a faithful witness and an option for Christians.

Christians and Voting, A Non-Voting Manifesto?

October 26, 2008

I liked one of the articles, to which I put up a link in my last post, so much that I decided to provide the full text in this post. You can find the original text here.

A Non-Voting Manifesto?
By Tripp York, Visiting Prof. of Religious Studies, 
Elon UniversityNC

  There are few things imagined in this life more dutiful than the so called ‘responsibility’ of every American to vote. Despite the fact that many decide, for whatever reasons, not to vote, the very idea that voting is an indispensable requirement on each individual goes without question.

            Let me state at the very beginning that any qualms I may have with voting stem from neither apathy nor indifference. It simply makes little sense to me, given that we are as Aristotle claimed, “political animals,” that anyone would or should be indifferent to voting. Christians (whom I am addressing) should be concerned with the goods that constitute the temporal cities of this time between times, and voting is but one means of attempting to seek those goods.    Nevertheless, I often wonder if what has been passed down to us as an unquestioned duty is the only way, or even the best way, to be political? To be even more specific, is it possible that some form of conscientious objection to voting could be understood as an act of politics that is concerned with the good of the polis? Could it function as a witness to a different order, one not predicated on the enforcement of legislation, laws, and the lording of power over one another? If so, what would be the rationale for such an objection, or at least a hesitation, to the act of voting? What sort witness would this attempt to make? In order to answer these questions I have jotted down eight possible reasons why voting could be problematic for Christians. If nothing else, at least dealing with these possible objections should make us more conscientious voters, if we decide Christian civic responsibility entails voting.

I. Romans 13 demands subordination to the government.

Which government? All governments. Paul (while sitting in jail) demanded that Christians are to be submissive to all powers that be because, despite how fallen they are, they, nevertheless, are ordained by God. Rebellion against such powers is understood as rebellion against God and is, thus, not permitted. It makes little sense, therefore, to perpetuate any order that was founded on explicit disobedience to God. The United States of America only comes into being inasmuch as it rebelled against the God-ordained powers of the English monarchy (the irony of this is rich as the most patriotic of souls love to use this text to demand obedience to every whim of their beloved nation-state without recognizing the hypocrisy that made it possible for it to come into being in the first place). To vote for the maintenance of such an order seems to approve of this act of disobedience against God, or at least renders Paul’s command nonsensical as it can be disobeyed if enough time has elapsed from the inception of the said rebellion/revolution. 

II. Jesus requires that his disciples not be like those Gentiles who lord their power over others, even it is for some sort of ‘good’ (Mt 20:25).

Christians are, as Jesus says in Matthew 20:26, not to be power-hungry. Rather they are to be as slaves to one another. Perhaps it would be one thing if the elected officials of this nation were forced to take office; instead these are all individuals who desperately want to be in power and all of whom beg and plead with the common folk for their votes, all to the tune, at least in regards to the last election, of more than $1 billion—$1 billion spent to convince us that we should exalt those who would be like those Gentiles who lord their power over others. If we are forbidden to be like them, why would it be permissible to place them in the kind of posture that Jesus decries? 

III. Capitalism, the socio-economic order that underwrites this culture, is predicated on the seven deadly sins.

Without just one of these sins, it would fold and collapse on itself. For instance, if there was no greed this economy would be destroyed. We are taught to never be satisfied, to never have our fill, to never be satiated, to remain in a perpetual state of want, all in the name of the common good. How is this even remotely akin to the kind of desires that should be produced by ecclesial formation? Goods are only good if they are shared goods, at least according to scripture and early Christian history. Sharing goods in this culture would be a sin. An aside: Let it not be lost on us that immediately after September 11, 2001, the President of the U.S. demanded that the people of this commonwealth respond by neither prayer nor patience—rather he told the people that they should respond by . . . shopping! The saddest thing about this ‘command’ is that this was actually a morally legitimate response by the President (as it would have been for any president for that matter). Had people ceased spending money, the economy would have collapsed. Therefore, in such a culture one responds to terrorism via trips to the mall as well as supplying a lot of missiles and the youth of the country. This is our way of life? This is what Christians are willing to both die and kill for? How can we vote for any potential Caesar under this sort of politic?

IV. While we are on the subject of the seven deadly sins, let’s look at pride.

Outside of the word ‘freedom’—which is by far the most seductive god competing for our allegiance—there simply is no greater form of idolatry than the worship of, freedom. Pride is a term that is uttered again and again by this country’s leaders. For some reason I am reminded by both scripture and tradition that pride is purely representative of the fall of humanity. There is really nothing to be proud about, except as one can boast with St. Paul, our hope in Jesus. Pride has become the very means that Christians have co-opted to this culture, for it is because of pride that we seem to lack the ability or desire to practice repentance, confession, humility and servanthood—all of which are at the heart of Christian discipleship. Voting is, de facto, an exercise in pride. Especially if you find yourself on the winning side. 

V. The kingdoms of this world seem to be ruled by Satan.

Once Satan took Jesus to the mountain-top and offered worldly power: “The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk 4:5-8).      Though the powers may be ordained by God, they are, nevertheless (as with all of creation), in rebellion against God. According to this passage it is Satan leading this rebellion. Satan offers the kingdoms to Jesus because they belong to Satan. He gives them, or at least offers them, to whom Satan pleases. All Jesus had to do in order to rule the world the way most of us imagine it is to be ruled, was to worship Satan. Thus it would appear that all of the kingdoms of the world, though rightly ordained for the maintenance of social harmony, are currently under satanic influence. One way to lead them is to worship Beelzebub, hence, my reluctance to vote for this sort of ruler. 

VI. Regardless of which leader wins, that ruler will expect my allegiance.

That is, of course, a problem in and of itself, as Christians are called to serve only one Master. One way this affects Christians is that leaders of empires simply cannot enact the radical kind of peace Christians are to offer their enemies. Rulers, history has shown, must take up arms against their enemies. They must engage in warring, or at least threats of warring, in order to secure certain goods. This is a far cry from the peacemaking and non-violence which Jesus calls from his disciples. Jesus demands that those who would follow him must turn the other cheek, pray for those who persecute us (ever heard a president pray for an enemy—except that they be destroyed?), and refuse to exercise vengeance, which  belongs only to God.

Yet any nation-state, not just this one but all of them, demands the exact opposite. The literal imitation of Jesus in non-violence must be rejected in order to exist and survive in the world. I would argue that any order that demands that a Christian not imitate Jesus is a demonic one indeed, a stumbling block for Christ-like discipleship. 

VII: The United States may (not) be the greatest Babylon on the planet, but she is still a Babylon.

As William Stringfellow astutely pointed out, if we are to read all nations biblically then we must recognize that they are all Babylons. No nation or culture is the Heavenly Jerusalem or the City of God. They are, therefore, parasitic on the good that is the heavenly city, and the church, as the image of this city on earth, is called to show the state that it is not the heavenly city. This is her task. It is not to buttress the powers that be, but to show them, through her witness that whatever the powers that be are, they are not the church. One way to resist being co-opted by the powers of this world, I imagine, might be to neither vote nor take office. 

VIII: Voting is an attempt to elect someone who will enact, legislate and enforce your political values upon others.

That is the point of voting—to elect someone who will legislate and enforce your convictions. If a candidate promises this, you will support her or him. That is, you expect your candidate to do what you want them to do for the betterment of how you envision the world and how you secure the peace of the city.

This process, in a sense, alleviates the burden of Christians to be the church because now Christians can ask the state require of others our Christian convictions. The church does not need to create an alternative community, does not need to be prophetic, does not need radical discipleship, because Christians now have become the very powers and principalities that Paul claims Jesus has defeated.

By the simple refusal to vote perhaps we can at least see how we have all become seduced by such a power in such a way that we can see how our faith has been compromised and domesticated in the name of something other than the Triune God. 

These simple musings are but a few reasons why I am currently hesitant to cast my vote for yet another Caesar.


   

 William Stringfellow, Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2004), 13.

This concisely articulates some of the reasons I wont be voting and adds a few more that I had not thought of until now. I hope it challenges you to rethink your convictions and introspectively look at what being a disciple of Christ means in your life, as it has done for me. I would love to hear your thoughts.

I thought it would also be pertinent to add some links to the my series of posts called, Would Jesus Vote?

One   Two    Three    Four

Christians and Politics, Some Resources

October 25, 2008

Here are some more resources you might want to read before the coming election. 

Stanley Hauerwas writes about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s view of Truth and Politics, and a review of the impact of John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, and an insightful theological look at abortion.

Gabriel Salguero, The Election, Immigration, and the Gospel.

The Problem with “Under God”, and interesting article by Rodney Clapp.

A Non-Voting Manifesto? A concise but very insightful look at Christians and voting, by Tripp York

An article about a practitioner of Christian Anarchism.

Between Sojourners and the Simple Way? Rethinking Radical, Evangelical Politics in ’08 with John Howard Yoder, a long title but a great article dealing with a few views of post-religious-right Christian political action.

The late great John Howard Yoder on the limits of our obedience to any government in this article. (Its a pdf and it might show up funny in your browser, just open it with a different program)

Some Websites with more resources.

http://www.theotherjournal.com/

http://www.jesusradicals.com/

http://www.christarchy.com/

http://www.jesusmanifesto.com/

http://young.anabaptistradicals.org/

Hope you enjoy!