Valerie Elverton Dixon

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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'Except by Prayer and Fasting'

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 09-05-2013
© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk / Flickr.com

© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk / Flickr.com

Editor's note: Sojourners is taking part in Pope Francis' Saturday call to pray for peace. Will you join us?

We learned the story in Sunday School.

Jesus and his inner circle — Peter, the rock, and James and John, the sons of thunder — came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and found the disciples facing their own inability to cast an unclean spirit out of a young boy. Annoyed with the disciples, Jesus says to the father: “If you believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23) The father replies: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24) Jesus casts out the unclean spirit. Later, when the disciples ask why they were unable to do it, Jesus says that some only come out through prayer and fasting.

For anyone to think that it is a good idea to use chemical weapons in warfare is evidence of the presence of an unclean spirit. A cycle of violence and vengeance in war is also evidence of an unclean spirit. War itself is evidence of the presence of an unclean spirit. Such is the case in Syria. The leaders, both religious and secular, have been possessed of a spirit that causes them to be blind to the brotherhood and sisterhood of all of humanity. They cannot hear reason or speak truth.

As the world considers an appropriate response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, and as the U.S. Congress contemplates giving President Barack Obama its approval to launch limited military strikes against the Assad regime, those of us who call ourselves believers face our own challenge and responsibility. What do we believe? The Bible tells us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven: “A time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:8) The Bible also says that we ought to submit ourselves to authority: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Romans 13:1)

The Preciousness of the Person

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 06-05-2013

The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision Is Key to the World's Future. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

A Just Peace President: How We Can End the War on Terror

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 06-04-2013

President Obama spoke on US counterterrorism strategies at the National Defense University this month. Photo via StockPhotosLV

In his remarks at the National Defense University two weeks ago, President Obama stopped just one sentence short of declaring an end to the so-called “war on terror.” This is and always was a misnomer. It is a category error. A “war on terror” cannot be fought with armies and weapons of warfare. Terror is a response. Terrorism is a tactic. A terrorist is a criminal who ought to be apprehended, tried, and if convicted punished through the criminal justice system.

The Obama administration has been careful about using this term, speaking more about a war against al-Qaeda than an overall war on terror that is nothing but a declaration of perpetual war. President Obama said: “Our systemic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”

He did not go so far as to declare the war on terror over.

It Is Time to Honor the Spirit of the Republic

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 04-12-2013
Bill of Rights, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com

Bill of Rights, Cheryl Casey/ Shutterstock.com

Meaning happens when the purposes of the writer come together with what the reader thinks is important. Since all aspects of any one thing cannot be perceived all at once, we focus our attention on this or that aspect of a thing depending upon what we want to achieve. This is why we can read a particular text many times and find new insights each time.

This is also why we cannot agree on what the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution means. The amendment reads:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Many of us who support restriction on the kind of guns and the size of ammunition magazines that private citizens can own focus attention on the clause, “a well regulated Militia.” On the other hand, many who do not support restrictions on the kinds of guns private citizens may own focus attention on the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”

Respect for a Father’s Grief

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 02-05-2013
Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

Neil Helin testifying in a Connecticut gun violence hearing.

We know we are addicted to something when that behavior damages our relationships with people. When alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, or work is more important than mother, father, husband, wife, child, friend, or neighbor, we know we have a problem. Similarly, we know that we are worshipping an idol when a created thing becomes more important than the Creator, when we put our faith in our fears and a dead thing that cannot love us back becomes the object of our ultimate concern. We know we are worshipping an idol when our devotion fails to cause us to love and to respect our neighbor.

In a Connecticut hearing about gun violence, Neil Heslin — a father whose son died in the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School —asked why any one individual citizen needs military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. People in the room answered by quoting the Second Amendment. In this case, the Second Amendment was more important than this father’s pain. Their lack of respect for his pain indicated a deficit of both compassion and love, not only for this grieving father but for a grieving nation.

Let us be clear. The Second Amendment is not holy writ, and a gun is not God. Far too many Americans have made these created things, these inanimate objects more important than the compassion we ought to have for one another. This is fetishism. This is idolatry. This is morally wrong.

Death in Broad Daylight: A Childhood Memory

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 01-30-2013
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama signs executive orders on new gun law proposals with children. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When I was a little girl, my mother and I prayed together every night:

Now I lay me down to sleep.

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And then I would ask God to bless a list of people who were on my mind.

Every night I spoke about my own death, but death was not real. It never occurred to me that I would die or that my parents would die.

One day when I was in the fifth grade, we heard gun shots outside our school. Our teachers did not let us go outside for recess that day because a woman had been killed, caught in the crossfire of a domestic dispute between her son and his wife. By the time school was out, the body had been removed; there was no yellow crime scene tape. There was still blood on the ground to mark the spot of this tragic death. The next day it would be washed away.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Difference Between Power and Violence

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 01-16-2013
Photo: Kaygorodov Yuriy / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Kaygorodov Yuriy / Shutterstock.com

Violence does not equal power.

Martin Luther King, Jr., understood this. Yesterday was King’s 84th birthday. This year the national holiday to honor him will coincide with President Barack Obama’s second inaugural ceremony. And, all of this happens in the wake of one of the worst mass shootings in the nation’s history. One month after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — which left 20 children and six adults dead, plus the killer’s mother, found dead in her home — the country grapples with the issue of gun violence. If the country is to come to consensus on the issue, we will have to distinguish between violence and power.

Vice President Joe Biden gave recommendations to the president regarding gun safety on King’s birthday. The questions the media are asking already abound:  What recommendations can the president implement through executive order? Can an assault weapons ban pass Congress? Will victims and gun safety advocates be able to persuade Congress to pass meaningful legislation? 

There will be varying interpretations of the Second Amendment, and there will be some who will argue that guns are necessary for self-defense. We will have the discussion as to whether or not the gun culture in the United States has taken on religious proportions.

Just Peace Theory and Foreign Policy

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 10-18-2012
Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com

Global respect illustration, Stephen Coburn /Shutterstock.com

Just peace theory begins with the idea that peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building is a day-by-blessed-day proposition. Unlike just war theory, it does not begin when violent conflict is imminent. There are 10 just peacemaking practices that have a record of success. A just peace foreign policy employs these practices for the purposes of both national security and of international peace.

The 10 just peacemaking practices are: support nonviolent direct action; take independent initiatives to reduce threat; use cooperative conflict resolution; acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice, and seek repentance and forgiveness; advance democracy, human rights, and interdependence; foster just and sustainable economic development; work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system; strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights; reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade; encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary association. (Just Peacemaking: the new paradigm for the ethics of peace and war Glen H. Stassen editor)

Cooperation, interdependence, human rights, and democracy are important elements of just peacemaking practices. I say this is a power-with, not a power-over model of foreign policy. This is not a model of weakness, but one of strength. The strength comes from building relationships and partnerships with other nations on the basis of mutual respect.

Just the Facts Ma’am: Economic Analysis from the Congressional Research Service

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 10-15-2012
Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

Just the Facts signage, Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock.com

When we listen to political debates about which public policies will strengthen the economy, it is easy to get lost in a statistical maze. Each side presents economic data in a way that supports their own theory of the case.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a branch of the Library of Congress that can help us make our own assessments regarding public policy. According to the CRS website, its purpose is to provide “authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan” analyses to members of Congress. 

The relationship between tax rates and the economy is an issue in the current campaign. Thinking about this issue, the CRS looks at empirical data that may or may not confirm theoretical models or ideological assumptions. Thus, like the early TV detective Joe Friday, they want “just the facts ma’am,” and then they try to reach conclusion from these facts.

What Chief Justice Roberts Did Not Say

by Valerie Elverton Dixon 06-28-2012
Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images.

SCOTUS Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr. Photo by PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP via Getty Images.

In 2009, during the debate over health care, I devoted a good deal of my time arguing in favor of President Obama’s efforts to provide some form of universal health care to the people of the United States. I argued that universal health care is a human right. I argued that providing a way for people to get medical care without the worry of going bankrupt or of having to be shackled to a job because they or someone in their family needs health care is a matter of establishing justice in our country. It is a matter of distributive justice.

In the Supreme Court decision upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA a.k.a. Obamacare) Chief Justice John Glover Roberts, Jr., writing for the majority of the court, in effect said that the act is constitutional because Congress has the power of taxation. He quotes Benjamin Franklin: “Our Constitution is now established . . .but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Opponents of the ACA argued that the individual mandate that requires people to buy health insurance was unconstitutional. They argued that it was an overreach of governmental power to require someone to buy something. Supporters of the ACA argued that the individual mandate was constitutional under the powers granted to Congress under the commerce clause and because Congress has the power of taxation. The penalty imposed on people who do not buy health insurance will be collected by the IRS when a person files h/er income taxes. The penalty or tax only applies to people who can afford to buy health insurance but who choose to not buy it.

The chief justice’s opinion does not judge the morality of the law. Roberts does not speak of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the goals it sets for the entire human community, including universal health care. He does not speak of the concepts of liberty and justice for all, that the government has an obligation to its citizens to make health care something that is available to all.

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