Six Christian Theologies Scarier Than Halloween

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Here are some Christian theologies that will prove halloween should be the least of our nightmares. This column was originally posted with only five, but given recent events, I have added a sixth, Christian anti-Semitism.

Our American celebration of Halloween has very little to do with observing a Christian “All Hallows’ Eve” before the “All Hallows Day” remembrance of the dead.

On “All Hallows’ Eve,” skeletons, ghosts and graveyards were supposed to be scary reminders of human mortality. Carved pumpkins lit from within, or “Jack O’ Lanterns,” were originally to frighten “evil spirits” away.

Halloween is now more a creation of Gothic and horror literature like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Hollywood horror movies, and the candy and costume industries.

But if you do want to be frightened this week, here are some Christian theological themes that actually are scary:

1. Christian Dominionism

Christian dominionism is the idea that our nation should be governed by Christians according to a conservative understanding of biblical law.  This is the “scariest” Christian theology to me because, as Chris Hedges so well argues, it is fueled by “sanctified” rage.  He warns of how volatile this rage is, and that the “Christian right needs only a spark to set it ablaze.”  What I particularly like about Hedges’ analysis is that he does not move away from the economic and social “despair” of those who have sought out this theology for answers.  The “collapse of liberal democracy” is our common issue.

What is especially scary to me, however, is the wall of rage that seems so impossible to scale to find common cause across a spectrum of differences.

2. Hell and Damnation

Scary images of Hell and damnation have been part of religions for millennia, as Alice K. Turner demonstrates in her beautifully illustrated text, The History of Hell.  These include biblical themes, as “ “Sheol” is where sinners go (Psalm 49:13–14), and hell is “everlasting fire” presided over by the Devil (Matthew 25:41).

These images abound in popular culture as well as in religion, and people who have “near death” experiences have not always written afterwards about heavenly lights, but being “hung over an abyss” with heat blasting below, while “pairs of demonic eyes” glared at them.

But while these scary images abound, a theology of hell is something different than images of demons and fire.  Images of hell as judgment have been used over Christian history to construct a punitive, punishing idea of God that is used like a club to manipulate people, producing true horrors instead of faith journeys.

Over my more than thirty years of teaching at Chicago Theological Seminary, I known many students come to us at this progressive school from Christian conservative backgrounds. They tell horror stories of being told they would go to hell if they did not obey the church, their parents and other authority figures without question. Even when they experienced parental abuse, they dared not tell because they were told that disobedient children deserved punishment. Awakening sexuality, gay or straight, was met with threats of hellfire and damnation.

Theologies of hell and damnation that are used to make human lives a misery are truly scary to me because they help to create and sustain ‘hell on earth’ for many.  They contradict God’s love and mercy.

Christian Evangelical Rob Bell has argued this in his work Love Wins; Bell’s position continues to be controversial.

3. Women Should “Submit”

Theologies that emphasize a hierarchy in creation, i.e. that women were created second, and Eve is to blame for the sin that got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden, are scary to me because they are literally responsible for a lot of violence against women.

In my view, the primary connection between religion and domestic violence is religiously sanctioned subordination of women. Submission itself is institutionalized violence — a structure of unequal power that puts women in a vulnerable position in the home. The front door of such a “religious” home becomes a doorway to violence.

Mary Potter Engel, a Christian theologian and novelist, has called this the “Just Battering” tradition. She models her analysis of the Christian justification of violence against wives on the Just War tradition. Just War principles start with “Right Authority.” In the “Christian home,” ideologies of “submission” mean that only the husband has authority. This makes physical abuse of women “just” in the same way that political authorities can claim a war is “just” if it is authorized by them.

“Submission” is a scary theology that justifies abuse in the name of Christian obedience by women.  See, for example, Kay Marshall Strom, In the Name of Submission: A Painful Look at Wife Battering.

4.  God Versus Evolution

One of the scariest places I have ever been was the Creation Science Museum in Kentucky. As I walked in, I was greeted by a pineapple eating velociraptor in an animatronic Garden of Eden. Yes, according to this museum that presents the “young earth” idea that creation is 6,000 years old, this famous meat-eating hunter-type dinosaur, so scary in the movie Jurassic Park, was a vegetarian before the fall into sin.

“Creation science” is a theology, not a science since it does not use scientific method. It is a scary theology because it is used to deny the real science of evolution and undercut the genuine urgency to stop polluting human activities that are causing violent and abrupt climate change.

I actually prefer the term “global weirding” to “climate change” or “global warming” because those terms do not evoke the erratic and dangerous effects of rapidly accelerating environmental shifts.

If you want to be really, really afraid on Halloween, read the U. N. Report from Rio on the Environment that has been called “longest suicide note in history.”

The report is terrifying not because of its urgent calls for action, but because of its failure to do so.

5.  God Doesn’t Love You If You’re Gay

Homophobic Christian theologies that condemn people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgender are scary dangerous, and they need to be continuously countered.  Some progress has been made, but there is a current deliberate effort to role back even the modest gains in equality for LGBTQ people, and the litany of gay teens who have been bullied and then committed suicide goes on.

In my “It Gets Better” video I made for that creative campaign to give hope to gay teens, I start with “God loves you.”

6. Virulent Christian Anti-Semitism

Christian anti-Semitism is scary, dangerous and baked in to Christian history in a way that has not ever been successfully confronted and eradicated. As right-wing white nationalism grows in the United States, fueled by a president who gins up hate against groups his white Christian supporters deem “outsiders,” the role of Christian history and Christian theology cannot be ignored. The ties between white nationalism and white, right-wing Christian evangelicalism grow stronger each day.

Scary and dangerous, but a ‘that’s not who we are as Christians’ is far from enough.

The Christian Gospels contain what appears to be anti-Jewish sentiment, but read in historical context, these are Jews arguing with Jews. But certain texts have fed murderous anti-Semitsm throughout Christian history, such as John 8:44, in which you have words attributed to Jesus as he is speaking to a group of Pharisees and other Jews around him. Jesus says to them, “You are of your father, the devil.” That one sentence fuels the long Christian association of Jews with the devil.

How could Jews even continue to exist, Christian theologians in history have wondered, since they refuse to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah? Do they in fact work for the devil, or are they somehow part of God’s plan? St. Augustine thought the latter, and he concluded that Jews should suffer in history but not be completely eradicated so they can see how wrong they were when the Christ returns at the Second Coming. See? God’s plan.

Others were not so disposed toward Jewish existence since, despite repression, many Jews would not convert. This infuriated Martin Luther, who declared, “Their synagogues should be set on fire … their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed … let us drive them out of the country for all time.”

Karl Barth, a Christian theologian who resisted Hitler and who helped found the “Confessing Church to confront the “blood and soil” ideology that the Nazis used to create a “German Christian Church,” thought Luther provided the ideas, especially the “two kingdoms” theology, that helped some theologians cooperate with the deification of Hitler.

“Blood and Soil!” chanted the white nationalist neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, echoing this hateful period and their hate led to the death of Heather Heyer, a peaceful counter-protestor.

On October 27, 2018, a gunman attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue during Saturday-morning services in what the Anti-Defamation League called “likely the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the United States.” It is a deadly example of  the rising anti-semitism in the United States, and rooted in “’the ‘blood and soil’ right-wing nationalism that by definition excludes Jews (whom many nationalists do not consider white).”

Many prayer vigils have been held in communities and these are helpful as a visible reminder that many citizens do not agree with this hateful violence.

But, unless we Christians are willing to dig down to the very roots of our murderous Christian history and yank it out, sermon by sermon, year by year and reject it in public wherever politicians and Christian leaders evoke it, we’re a danger to every Jewish person.

Conclusion

There’s so much that’s really terrifying in our world, Halloween shouldn’t be scary any more.

I try to make Halloween fun for my children and now my grandchildren.  Some candy (along with healthy snacks!), fun costumes and community events are a great way to have family fun.  I think Halloween should be fun because there are too many really scary things in our world for kids and the adults who care about them.

What really scares me, not only this week but all year through, are the Christian theologies that prey on our legitimate fears of human finitude, physical suffering, economic uncertainty, environmental destruction, the threat of war in order to accelerate anger and alienation against vulnerable people someone has labeled “others.”

There’s no treat in that, only being tricked.

(I originally wrote a version of this for the Washington Post On Faith section. The WaPo no longer publishes On Faith, but a PDF can be found here: https://www.onfaith.co/onfaith/2013/10/28/five-christian-theologies-scarier-than-halloween-2/25139)

Annunciation and Denunciation: Doing “Public Theology” in Authoritarian Times

Hippopotamus defends territory from elephant, Chobe River, Botswana - Aug 2013

Ever feel like this?

I do.  I can identify with that hippo. Some days I am so angry about what is happening in our country, and indeed, in our world, that all I can do is yell. And when that happens, I cannot write.

Public Theology means writing passionately, but not angrily. I always tell students and those who attend my Public Theology workshops, that you need to honor the anger, but then channel the passion it generates into your writing.

As theologian and ethicist Beverly Harrison wrote in “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love,” “Anger is not the opposite of love. It is better understood as a feeling-signal that all is not well in our relation to other persons or groups or to the world around us. Anger is a mode of connectedness to others and it is always a vivid form of caring. To put the point another way: anger is – and it always is – a sign of some resistance in ourselves to the moral quality of the social relations in which we are immersed. … We must never lose touch with the fact that all serious human moral activity, especially action for social change, takes its bearings from the rising power of human anger. Such anger is a signal that change is called for, that transformation in relation is required.”

I have learned so much from Bev, but this insight is among the most important.

Transformation in relation is required.

To that end, I try, in doing Public Theology, to build a relationship with the reader. If you just blast out your own anger, you take away the space your reader needs in order to enter in to what you write. And that does not transform.

Yet, there is so much that is broken, warped, distorted, and downright cruel in our times that “denunciation” is required. But then, I try to announce the “good news” that this moral catastrophe is not the last word in the quality of our human relationships.

I have listed the readings for my Public Theology class below, but they are not the core of the class. The core of the class is the students’ relationships with one another and with me and with the teaching assistant so that we can, as another wonderful feminist theologian, Nelle Morton, said, “hear each other into speech.”

Just sharing reading and topics will not give you sense of this class. Instead, here are a few writing tips that I also share with the class, that can improve your writing so that you can be heard. Below are some topics I use in the lectures:

First, to write effectively in the public square you need a compelling title and an edgy visual. For example: 

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In that Huffington Post column, the juxtaposition of “Jesus” and “bathroom” has a jarring quality, and the graphic “All Gender Restroom” does the rest. The theological theme is Christology, of course, as today transgender folks who have no place to go to the bathroom are Jesus, who had “no place to lay his head.”

See?

Here are some things Public Theology is NOT:

  • A sermon
  • An essay
  • A “series of reflections”
  • An article
  • A poem
  • A story
  • A meditation

Public Theology IS: 

  • NOT about you, it’s about your readers, so know your readers. Who are they?
  • About one clear topic that is stated, related to a current media hook, and is well supported.
  • Visual: great banner, pictures, video, Tweets
  • Rewritten over and over and over, and short
  • Has a theological frame such as:
    • Who is the human being? This is sinful because…. Salvation means this, and not that…..
  • Public Theology is not theological if you just use a bunch of biblical quotations.
  • Announce the good news. Uplift your readers. Create an empathetic connection.

Some other tips:

  • Do not bury your lead
  • Do not bury your lead
  • Do not bury your lead
  • Write a draft, cut the last paragraph and paste it at the beginning.
  • Rewrite to support that first paragraph.
  • AT MOST people read the headline and the first paragraph.

The reading list for the class is not extensive.

Peggy McIntosh, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

This is an older piece, but identifying white privilege as a severe problem is crucial.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Ta-Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy 

This book contains crucial insights into racism, but the role it plays in this class is to demonstrate beautifully clear writing done with passion.

Susan Thistlethwaite, #OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power

Because, at the end of the day, money is the root of all evil, so follow the money.

Susan Thistlethwaite, Women’s Bodies as Battlefield: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women

Heteropatriarchy structures so much of what is happening in our time.

Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Today’s radical right Christian agenda is fascism.

And there you have it.

 

All Trump’s Batterers: The “Just War on Women” as Political Philosophy

 

Photo attribution

POST UPDATED: In his first public comments since the Rob Porter scandal broke, CNN reports that “The President…did not express any sympathy for the women Porter allegedly abused — instead pointing to Porter’s claim that ‘he’s innocent.’

This is what I wrote earlier this morning:

Have you considered that Rob Porter, until recently Trump’s chief aide, got and kept his high-level White House job not despite allegations of domestic violence against two ex-wives and a girl friend, but because of them?

It is now becoming clear that John Kelly, Trump’s White House Chief-of-Staff, went on record defending Porter as a “man of true integrity and honor” after knowing about the history of domestic violence.

In the Trump administration, domestic violence allegations seem to be a credential, not a liability. Trump himself, Steven Bannon and Corey Lewandowski are at least the ones that are known that work or have worked in the White House.

This is not surprising. Domestic violence, as I warned in late 2016, is the model for Trump’s political philosophy.

Domestic violence as a political philosophy is deeply rooted in Christian theological ideas such as Just War, as developed by Augustine of Hippo, and refined by Thomas Aquinas. Physical violence or threats of physical violence are justified against those who are not at the top of the pyramid of power when they step out of line.

This kind of disobedience gives the controlling power “Just Cause” as I argue in Women’s Bodies as Battlefield: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women. “Just Cause” is the first justification for war in Just War theory. I argue there is a “Just Battering” tradition that provides the justification for violence against women. The “Just Battering” tradition, (of course not given such a clear label!), has been staunchly defended throughout western Christian history in theological terms.

Take what John Kelly asserted, namely that “women are no longer sacred.” The choice of the word “sacred” is telling. Sacred means holy and/or dedicated to God.

The opposite of “sacred” is “profane,” that is impious, ungodly and, very tellingly, disrespectful. When women are disobedient they disrespect the power hierarchy; are no longer sacred and, therefore, violence against them has a “just cause.”

Is it surprising to you, therefore, that someone like John Kelly, educated as he has been in the military in Just War theory, would easily subscribe to the “Just Battering” tradition as based on Just War theory and hire and subsequently protect a batterer? Well, he has actually protected and continues to protect several batterers.

It is also no surprise to me that this same John Kelly would engage in a blatantly racist and sexist attack against Rep. Frederica Wilson and then, when video emerged proving he lied, still refuse to apologize.  Was Kelly persuaded he had “Just Cause” to lie about Rep. Wilson because she dares to be an African American Congresswoman? Is that why he refused to apologize?

The Department of Justice has defined domestic abuse as “any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.” The constant barrage of tweets from Trump, threatening, blaming, shaming, and provocative statements about nuclear war are themselves clear evidence of this philosophy of domestic abuse.

This kind of attitude and action are horrifying in personal relationships, and they are equally horrifying when seen as a broader pattern of an abusive political philosophy.

I have come to believe that domestic abusers are deliberately selected for jobs in this administration, and protected by people such as White House Counsel Donald McGahn and Chief-of-Staff John Kelly, not despite the abuse allegations, but, in my view, because of them.

For some other research I am doing, I have been reading the blog sections of white supremacist, neo-Nazi websites. There is a constant refrain in these: “Trump is an alpha male.” Over and over again, these Nazi-wanna-be’s repeat that. “Trump is an alpha male.”

This is the philosophy in a nutshell, a knuckle-dragging kind of throw back patriarchy that is highly sexist, racist, homophobic, hierarchical and authoritarian. It backs up its understanding of power as heterosexual, white males über alles, that is, “over all,” as the actual Nazis liked to say. These elite white males think they deserve to control all women, people who are the “lazy” non-whites, non-heterosexuals, non-Christians, the poor and working classes, and the differently abled. The control is managed through both threats of violence and actual violence.

In my 2016 column, I recommended ways to counter this political philosophy of domestic violence, and I continue to recommend them. Ways to counter domestic violence have been developed over decades and they continue to be valid because they have been crafted by survivors.

Recognize that this Behavior is Abuse

Raising awareness that there is a reigning philosophy of political abuse is crucial. See, for examples, articles that argue that Donald Trump is Gaslighting America through systematic denial of the truth we can see right before our eyes, like the psychological abuse in the Victorian era drama “Gaslight.” Denial of the truth is a form of psychological abuse, and it is critical to the maintenance of a political philosophy of abuse.

Here’s how you stop this: Use every opportunity to call out #FakeNews and help one another recognize and sustain the truth about what is happening.

Take Away the Weapons 

There are federal and state laws to prevent domestic abusers from having access to lethal weapons such as guns. These must be improved as there are often loopholes, but such laws tend to prevent domestic violence from becoming lethal.

In the same way, the Trump administration needs to be prevented from a first-strike capability with nuclear weapons. Congress must push forward with a ‘no first strike’ bill to take away Trump’s capacity to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ when it comes to the nuclear trigger. 

Trump must be prevented from being able to credibly threaten the world with a nuclear first strike.

Get Legal Help

I have often helped women who are being psychologically and physically abused recognize that what is being done to them is illegal. Their abusers will try to reinforce the idea that it is perfectly fine for a man to beat or humiliate his wife. It’s not. Women in this situation are often helped by securing legal advice.

In the same way, an abusive political philosophy tries to wrap itself in the cloak of legality, but often its actions are completely illegal. The American Civil Liberties Union has named this clearly in their campaign, launched the day after the election, If Donald Trump Implements His Proposed Policies We’ll See Him in Court. Another crucial line of legal defense is held by The NAACP Legal Defense Fund with its long experience in defending civil rights cases. As it becomes clearer and clearer that the recent election has empowered neo-Nazis, the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that has successfully fought the Ku Klux Klan in the past, will be needed to counter the rise of a spectrum of hate crimes.

Support these organizations and volunteer as you are able. It will also be crucial to lobby against extremist judges being appointed to our courts.

Support One Another

The domestic abuser tries to isolate his victim. Support groups are crucial to counter this tactic. I have formed bible studies in churches that have become support groups for domestic violence victims and survivors.

The online Twitter attacks and harassment are a leading characteristic of this abusive political philosophy. Trump has become the “Cyberbully-in-Chief“.

Twitter attacks by Trump models incredibly abusive behavior and there has been a huge increase of cyber-bullying as well as face-to-face bullying since he was elected.

A political philosophy modeled on domestic violence is very dangerous for the United States and the world.

We need to get an abusive political philosophy out of the White House and out of our lives. This is an imperative.

 

The End of Endless War

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Wikimedia Commons

War doesn’t end war. Justice and peace do that.

Today we neither declare wars nor end them. This is the era of “endless war.”

“Endless war” is war for war’s sake. War without end. Profitable. Deadly. Self-perpetuating. And dangerous.

The “war on terror” is an endless war, a war that has no definite enemies, no defined measure of success, and above all, no exit strategy.

America’s longest war, the war in Afghanistan, is another such  war. Donald Trump has just written a blank check to continue this war with a “jumble of ideas” that are often mutually contradictory and have no strategic frame and absolutely no achievable stated goals.

The U.S. began the war in Afghanistan because we were attacked and the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, whom the Afghan Taliban were harboring.

But al-Qaeda is Afghan, and as the Obama Administration clearly saw, cannot be defeated militarily. They must be brought into the political sphere. The use of indigenous Afghan methods of conflict resolution, as the traditional Jirga as recommended by Afghan American Just Peace activist, Muhammad Shafiq in Interfaith Just Peacemaking, has not been tried other than as a stalling tactic by Afghan President Karzai. And, as is clear from the photo of a traditional Jirga shown above, this model will need to include women as Dr. Shafiq points out. This is a huge challenge. But 16 years of war with countless deaths and injuries and disruptions cannot be allowed to extend into a 17th year. It has to stop.

There may be reasons that justify going to war. If going to war is ever justified, it is for very specific and limited reasons. These reasons are self-defense or defense of the “vulnerable other” as St. Augustine said.

The vulnerable others are the civilians in Afghanistan, the victims of armed conflict, conflict over which they have little or no control and most often no defense. In his speech, Trump made their lives even more intolerable, announcing what amounts to the toleration of war crimes in the phrase “lift restrictions and expand authorities in the field.” What restrictions would those be? Well, it is likely those are the restrictions on killing innocent civilians.

This violates Just War theory.

Here’s what has to happen and probably will not because it would require experienced diplomats who know what they are doing. It takes skill and experience to pursue delicate peace negotiations when many parties to the conflict have vested interests that are opposed to each other. There are diplomats who have this knowledge and experience, they are just not in the Trump administration.

Nevertheless, should such experienced diplomats appear (and the State Department could in fact hire some), the Taliban must be included. They won’t negotiate with the Afghan government, whom they regard as corrupt (it is), but it is possible they will negotiate with the U.S. There’s actually will among Iran, Russia, and Pakistan to pursue a political settlement, though of course desired outcomes differ. Again, see the need for experienced diplomacy above. When India is included, as it must be, this becomes even more difficult.

But no peace negotiation will happen unless the U.S. makes it the only goal of its continued involvement in Afghanistan.

Again, it seems obvious, but announcing more war as a precondition to peace is idiotic.

Idiotic it may be, but war as a way to end war is a deeply entrenched ideology.  Endless war is a machine war, the robotic pursuit of violence as a solution to every difficulty we face. Endless war is also an enormously profitable enterprise. “Peace dividends” cut into profits.

But here is the ethical bottom line:

Endless war as a policy is immoral because it is unlimited in scope, unreasoning in its pursuit, and it has no end but the pursuit of more war.

 

“Liberation Theology in Reactionary Times”: Reading List and Lecture Topics

Resist photo

I know that there are those who would like to take the new Chicago Theological Seminary  summer school intensive (June 5-9) but who cannot. I am teaching it with Dr. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes with lectures by Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas and I am certain it will be an astonishing teaching and learning experience.

But if you cannot be with us in person, here is the class description, the required reading so you can read along if you wish, and the lecture titles.

I truly believe global reactionary regimes are a threat to all life on the planet, as witnessed today by the Trump regime pulling the US out of the Paris Climate Accord. Political, social, religious and theological resistance is an imperative.

This class is an effort to help construct a theological resistance that will resource the political, social and religious ones, and also learn from them in a praxis approach.

Let me be frank (what a surprise). White, middle class, self-congratulatory theologies that just make people feel good without engaging them in justice action will not get this done.

Here’s the class description:

This class examines the method of liberation theologies, the sociology of current crises such as globalization that have given rise to reactionary regimes, the state of the United States in terms of the rise of reactionary movements, liberation critiques from multiple faith perspectives, and the social movements to return to democracy.

So, if you’d like to follow along with the reading, first read my textbook in Liberation Theology edited with Mary Potter Engel, Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside.

In addition, these classic texts in Liberation Theology are a must:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison (all editions acceptable)

Gutiérrez, Gustavo 1971 A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation (revised edition, 1988). Orbis.

Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and Godtalk: Toward a Feminist Theology (all editions acceptable)

James Cone, God of the Oppressed (revised edition 1997) Orbis.

Dolores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness 1995, Orbis (all editions acceptable)

We are using these below as required books:

J. D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York: HarperCollins, 2016).

Ronald W. Walters, White Nationalism, Black Interests: Conservative Public Policy and the Black Community (Wayne State University Press, 2003).

Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Orbis, 2015)

The Hope of Liberation in World Religions, ed, Miguel A. De La Torre (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2008)

William Barber with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement (Beacon Press, 2016)

And these are the required articles and book chapters:

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, “Jesus Must Needs Go Through Samaria,” in Christology and Whiteness: What Would Jesus Do? George Yancy, ed. (Routledge, 2012).

Thistlethwaite, “Feminism in a Reactionary Time,” in Miguel De La Torre, ed., Faith and Resistance in the Age of Trump (Orbis Press, September 2017). (This is forthcoming and I cannot publish it separately)

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, “Still the Most ‘Segregated Hour’: Religion, Race and the American Experience,” in The Sage Handbook of Race and Ethnic Studies, eds. Patricia Hill Collins and John Solomos (Los Angeles: Sage, 2010)

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, “With My Face to the Rising Sun: Islam and the Construction of Afro-Christian Tradition in the United States” in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, volume 16, issue 1-2.

Rita Nakashima Brock and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, Casting Stones: Prostitution and Liberation in Asia and the United States, especially Part II. (Fortress Press, 1996).

Our lectures will follow this schema:

First day: Introduction to Liberation Theologies, “Stay Woke!” and Critical Consciousness.

Second day: Religious and Political Reactionary Systems Part I (Global and US)

Third day: Religious and Political Reactionary Systems Part II (White Nationalism and Theological Resistance.)

Fourth day: Liberation Theologies in Multi-Faith Perspectives

Fifth day: Movement Building

Final Project: Write a constructive theology of liberation from the context in which you are engaged.

Remember this: Liberation Theology is not an academic subject. It is a process of engagement in justice and peacemaking, critical analysis of the engaged structures using the social sciences and then the whole subjected to rigorous theological reflection. That is why Gustavo Gutierrez has frequently said, “Theology is the second act.”

This circle of engagement, social analysis and critical theological reflection never ends.

Today, however, we need to speed it up.

Post your questions or comments here and I will reply.

 

 

 

No More War

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 CEMETERY Amnesty International Belgium 2004

Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is a time to remember and to pledge, yet again, that there shall be no more wars of any kind. The so-called ‘war on women’ should be included in these memories and in the pledge to make war no more. But they are not. Below is an excerpt from my book Women’s Bodies as Battlefield: Christian Theology and the Global War on Women.

The Honored Dead, and Living

After the battle of Gettysburg, the dead, especially the Confederate dead, lay for days in the sun and rain and many were hastily shoved into mass graves. For years afterwards, dead bodies or parts of bodies would heave up from thawing ground.

 

Abraham Lincoln believed the mass death at Gettysburg “hallowed” the ground as no dedication could do, for it was their deaths that provided the consecration.

 

It is my argument that the ground at Gettysburg was not “hallowed” but, in following what happens to the body on battlefields, it was a mass grave resulting from mass injury and death.

 

But the bodies of women killed in the war on women do not even get the recognition of speeches, the places they are injured and buried are not considered consecrated by their deaths, and their fatal injuries not regarded as a mark of heroism.

 

Today these fallen women’s bodies are heaving up and demanding their lives be valued, and their loss mourned as a vast human atrocity. They shall not indeed have died in vain if we commit ourselves to end the scourge of the war on women. Their suffering and woundedness shall no longer be hidden, excused or even deemed their own fault. And women around the world who live in thrall to fear and suffering inflicted on them too shall be valued, and their value made plain so that women’s bodies can no longer be a place where violence can be enacted as justified or even sacred.

 

And from this we will learn to study the war on women, and war itself, no more.

Refuse to Tolerate the Intolerable

Photo link.

Yes, white Evangelical Christians helped get Trump elected. A lot.

But there is another Christianity.  I believe with all my heart that in these times of rank intolerance, other Christians can recover the strength of their faith and refuse to tolerate what has become a roll out of intolerable speech and acts by Trump and his administration. 

Dorothee Soelle argues this well, and complexly, in her book The Strength of the Weak: Toward a Christian Feminist Identity. As a German, Soelle knew well that the most ghastly corruptions of a society can occur when massive intolerance for the sheer existence of other people takes hold in law and custom. Often, however, violation after violation is “tolerated” because, after all, ‘what can we do about it?’

Against this counsel of despair, Soelle argues for a “militant” Christianity that cannot help but keep comparing this world with its rampant injustices to the Kingdom of God. And this Christianity will not surrender one wit to the hell on earth that is the life and death of so many. “If we love heaven, we find ourselves less and less able to tolerate hell.” (pp. 69-70).

You might think “hell” is too strong a term for what such intolerance means. It’s not. Hell is obliteration, the opposite, in fact, of creation.

The root of Trump and his administration’s posture of intolerance is, in my view, hostility to the very existence of others and their rights to an independent existence of equal value to oneself. It is, as literary critic, W. R. Johnson wrote, “The rage to uncreate whatever is not itself.”

This kind of raging intolerance, its drive to “uncreate,” is systemic violence. Let me state again that it’s basis is contempt for the sheer existence of other people different from oneself. This attitude often plows the field and makes it fertile ground for physical violence.

I will give a couple of examples from our current context, but there are many more.

At a February 16, 2017 press conference, Trump asked an African American White House Correspondent, April Ryan, to “set up a meeting” with the Congressional Black Caucus, after she asked him about whether he planned to meet with the group to help craft his urban development policy.

The journalistic credentials of April Ryan were ignored, the point of her question was ignored, and Trump attempted to make her into his servant.

This cannot be tolerated. It sends a signal from the highest levels that African American women are not of equal dignity and worth to a white man. They are ‘other.’ They exist not for themselves, but to do the bidding of that white man.

This is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement is so crucial in the face of white intolerance. When an African American woman’s life and work is disrespected, this sends a clear message that she, and other Black women, do not matter. Is it a stretch to see how this kind of intolerance for the basic human dignity of African American women can sow the seeds that lead to the arrest and ultimately to the death of Sandra Bland?

At this same Trump press conference, Jake Turx, a reporter for the Orthodox Jewish weekly Ami Magazine, was called on by Trump because he was looking for a “friendly reporter.” As The New York Times noted, the “young correspondent received a tongue-lashing from the president” after he told Trump, very respectfully, that he was concerned about “an uptick in anti-Semitism” and wondered what the government would do about it. Trump raged at him, and anti-Semitic writers got the point. They “praised Trump’s press conference and used his refusal to condemn anti-Semitism as an indication that ‘everyone is pretty damn sick of Jews.’”

Get it? This is the “rage to uncreate that which is not itself.”

This press conference was a performance of intolerance, a demonstration that there are some classes of people who need not be treated with equal dignity and worth.

Do I have to tell you how dangerous this is for a pluralistic democracy?

Another public performance of this drive to “uncreate” can be seen in the deportations in city after city of residents of the United States who are called “undocumented.” They do not have documents, let us remember, because of years and years of failed American immigration policy to sensibly craft a legal path to citizenship for them.

Instead, the same week as this press conference that was a performance of intolerance, raids began across the United States.

An immigration lawyer in Atlanta said she had heard that the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents were going “door-to-door” in the immigrant community, asking people in a largely Hispanic neighborhood, to present their papers. It was creating “mass confusion” and widespread fear. “People are really, really scared.”

So tell me, do you think a German like Dorothee Soelle would recognize what is happening when racism by the country’s leader is rampant? When anti-semitism is literally performed from behind a podium by this same leader? When agents go door-to-door, rounding people up and taking them away? Do you think she, as a German, would know what it did to a society for such intolerance to be the norm? Do you think she knew what happens to the children who witness these acts?

As with the “Muslim ban” executive order that is very likely illegal, these performances of rage at the sheer existence of others are deliberately chaotic, designed to create fear in the target communities. Equally intolerable, these performances increase and validate hatred among those who are hostile to diversity.

As a Christian pastor and theologian, I agree with Dorothee Soelle. I teach and practice a Christianity that has a prophetic leader in Jesus of Nazareth and this Christianity will not tolerate speech and acts that denigrate the equal dignity and worth of other people. Many other religions, it should be emphasized, also make human dignity and equal worth a core value.

Jesus did not tolerate injustice and oppression in the communities of his time, and I will not tolerate it either.

This is not right, Trump. Stop it.

Love Yourself: Self-Care Subverts Trumpism

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I have had yet another conversation with a friend about how the stress of these times is hurting her/his/their health.

No, Mr. Trump and minions, you may not wreck the health of my friends and neighbors, and you may not wreck my health. First of all, Jesus doesn’t like it.

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?” (1 Cor. 6:19)

Other faiths and humanist traditions also honor the body and teach, in different ways, that care for the body is a positive spiritual practice.

Trump’s political philosophy is based on abuse, as I have written. Psychological abuse as well as physical abuse cause tremendous stress that literally poisons your well being. Taking positive steps to lavish love on yourself and others is (and I am not exaggerating) a life-saving, life-affirming strategy of subversion of this politics.

What follows are some suggestions of things that work for me. Add your own as you wish.

When I first became the President of Chicago Theological Seminary , I was sick all the time. The doctors told me it was ‘executive stress syndrome.’  In other words, the stress was wrecking my immune system.  I had to fix it.

Yoga. I had done yoga on and off since college, but I went back to daily yoga and it helped enormously.  There are forms of yoga you can even do in a chair if you wish.

Meditation. I had not regularly meditated up until I became CTS President. I started then. I have found that meditation allows me to slow down my mind and let go of stress. I follow the meditation methods in Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.   Meditation has largely replaced spoken prayer for me, as I find it better to listen than to speak. There are many such spiritual practices that used regularly slow your heart rate and increase your vitality. The key is “regularly.”

Walk. I am on the board of Renewal in the Wilderness. This is a not-for-profit dedicated to helping people renew their bodies, minds and spirit that often get shredded by our work for justice and peace in the world. Contact with wilderness can refresh you so you can renew commitment to building cultures of compassion.

No handy wilderness near you? There are tips on the RITW website for how to do a local walk. For example, follow this link to the RITW description of how to do a “Beauty Walk.”

Sit. Look. In his book Cabin Fever: A Suburban Father’s Search for the Wild, Tom Montgomery Fate has taught me to contemplate an ant on a blade of grass to encounter the “wild” and its spirituality of renewal.

Music. When I am really, really low, nothing lifts me like the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock. Music heals and transports. Human creativity in music is deeply renewing and a balm to the spirit.

Worship. Whether in a formal religious service or out in the wilderness, on your street or sitting looking at an ant, I find the attitude of praise for the infinite is deeply healing and restful.

Turn off the hate. The hate pours out of our media like the river of slime in Ghostbusters. Be self-protective. I limit my contact with media and take one day off completely from any contact with it.

Block the Face. Get the “Make America Kittens Again” app. The Google Chrome app replaces images of Donald Trump with pictures of kittens. I like puppies a lot, so in this post I put kittens and puppies together. Didn’t you feel better just clicking on that image?

#LoveOneAnother. Share your love of self, friends, neighbors and our whole society with one another. Post affirming things. Notice the life changes of others and enter in to their joy or pain.

Be Present. “Do not be anxious,” says Jesus. Matt. 6:25) Jesus and the disciples had plenty to be anxious about, so this was not a there, there, now, now kind of admonition. Or, as my mother used to say, “Don’t borrow trouble.” Stay in the present and deal with what you can.

Yell Your Head Off If You Want To. When I did domestic violence counseling at a YWCA, there was a vast wood nearby. I would take women out to the woods and encourage them to yell their heads off and express the anger and hurt they had experienced. I plan to go to the Women’s March and yell my head off. Feels quite good.

Please share what works for you. We will get through this, especially if we #LoveOneAnother and ourselves.

 

 

We Are the Princess/Generals We Have Been Waiting For

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Carrie Fisher has tragically died, but what I think we should remember is that she lived a brave life. She didn’t just play courageous women like Princess Leia or General Organa, she had enormous courage and it translated into her acting.

While Fisher is beloved for her Star Wars roles as the kick butt Princess Leia who becomes a seasoned General in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in real life she was a strong advocate for mental health. She bravely shared her own struggles in many interviews, and encouraged honest talk about mental health.

This is what heroism actually looks like.

This lived heroism translated powerfully to film. A young woman of barely twenty years of age grabs a blaster and fights the Empire. Successfully. And the Empire comes back swinging, kind of like mental illness can come back.  So she fought it again. And again. Heroism is staying in the struggle.

Staying in the struggle looks like this mature woman with pain in her eyes and a small smile on her lips leading her people once again against a revived Empire, or leading people to honesty about living with mental illness.

When I get worried about the current Empire that is building its own “Death Star” type team in Washington D.C., and how daunting it may seem to defeat them, I will remember these knowing eyes and this small smile.

You just don’t let the Empire win, whether its name is bipolar disorder, or Trumpism.

What you do is you channel your inner Princess/General and you get some allies who are also flawed and struggling, and you form an Alliance and go out and defeat them, again.

That’s the script.

Thanks, Carrie Fisher.

 

God Knows What You Did, Trump: Psalms for Lament and Healing

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I have been dreaming terrible dreams about sexual violence and the silencing of women as I listen to the unfolding witness of women to Donald Trump’s assaults on them. Trauma is contagious, as Judith Herman so wisely says.

I know I have to deal with it. Perhaps you feel a similar need.

Over a long career of being present to women who have been assaulted, and dealing with my own experiences, this much I know: lamenting the losses and claiming anger, claiming it with holy rage, can be helpful.

The Psalms can be very helpful in doing this kind of raging, healing work.

One thing that has helped me, and I have shared with others in support groups, counseling and classes, is that the great truth, the existential truth many of us call God, is real. There is a knowing that can sometimes (not always, given the ways in which trauma works to fragment memory) be a source of strength.

It is often both the violence and the flat out denial by the predator that can create a private hell for women who are assaulted.  The Psalms have taught me that we are not alone in this hellish situation.

Let me put that another way:

God knows what you did, Trump.

The Psalms can provide a witness to human evil, and to human resilience in the face of evil.

A colleague and I did a study of the Psalms for a church that had recently become aware of sexual misconduct by their pastor over many years. In the bible study, a church member shared that when the allegations of misconduct started to come out, this pastor had said, ‘God doesn’t care about such things.’

There was an audible intake of breath among the group. Apparently quite a few church members had heard this from the accused pastor. My colleague and I shared Psalm 53, and particularly this verse:

               “The fool says in his heart, There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their ways are vile.”

Psalm 53 is a lament because, in fact, the psalmist doesn’t give a ‘there, there, now, now’ kind of response to the fool’s denial. The destructiveness of the fool who denies God is laid out in no uncertain terms. “There is none that does good, no, not one.”

How much has our “rape culture” been created, maintained, even cultivated by those who facilitate the lying by the rapist? It takes a whole lot of people refusing to “do good” to make this rape culture work for the sexual predator, and against the victim. But this can change, and has successfully been changed time and again. What will bring Donald Trump down, of course, is that the women who have been silenced will not stay silent any longer.

Women do survive and heal from sexual assault. It is a kind of ordinary miracle. In our chapter, “A Conversation on Healing and Grace,” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside, Mary Pellauer and I discuss the dynamics of healing from sexual assault as a example of how grace works in the world. Mary, from her extensive work in this field, lays out the way in which a kind of spiritual resilience can be strengthened. But it is, as she points out so well, very messy and it doesn’t always work like that. I strongly urge you to read this dialogue if you have not done so.

Anger at the denial of what the predator has done to you can be named and claimed in the Psalms. Psalm 109, for example, is horrific in the way it calls on God to punish those who have “a lying tongue.” I struggle with such Psalms because I know I have wished for terrible things for sexual predators. Look at the anger there and know you are not alone when you feel that way.

I do know this as well. Anger turned inward can become depression. It needs to be expressed, optimally in a safe counseling environment. Otherwise, it is literally sickening.

Healing can occur as we lament, claim anger, and realize that even as deserts can be made into gardens as they are watered, souls too can flourish again as Psalm 107 so beautifully shows.

That is a dream I look forward to having.