allies

Open Letter to the College Senior Detecting Colonial Prejudice

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The reality is that modern Christianity in the Americas was built upon the genocide of indigenous people, the theft and commodification of land, and the enslavement of black people. It wasn’t simply an ethical glitch of bad people with otherwise good theology. No. This was praxis, linked with liturgy, linked with worldview, and, beyond that, to imagination. Will you continue to believe that modern “Christianity” is essentially good but was simply misused by bad people? Or, will you have the unflinching courage to critically examine Christianity’s role in horrors, in inequality, even in your own alienation?

Free to Be He

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MANHOOD SEEMS to be in crisis today, for a host of reasons ranging from silly (a feminized church because of too many altar girls?) to serious (a porn and video game epidemic, alienating boys and men). Carolyn Custis James’ Malestrom gives needed context by pointing this crisis of masculinity back to humanity’s very fall into sin and the patriarchy that sin generated. She calls this patriarchy the “malestrom”—a societal whirlpool that sucks men into a broken way of life and destroys them.

The malestrom is unfortunately familiar to us, although James explores its contours in compelling detail. Sin manifests itself in men through a patriarchal hierarchy that leads us to resort to violence to establish status. The dominant model of what it means to be a man is to father children, provide for them economically, and protect them from the outside world. In light of this, how can we be surprised that we have hurting men and boys in our church who don’t fit in that model?

James tells biblical stories of men who pushed back against the patriarchal order to better reflect the image of God—men and women together in a “blessed alliance” to bring God’s kingdom. These stories culminate in the example of Jesus as the ultimate man who lived fully into a healthy masculine identity. 

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What You Can Do

Illustration by Ken Davis

Organizing around military testing and student privacy has the capacity to produce a rare commodity in social activism: concrete, measurable results. Activists are able to view data on how many students take the ASVAB from year to year and track progress.

1. The National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy’s website provides the most up-to-date data on ASVAB testing in every state and territory, including how many students in each state are taking the test and which “release option” schools have chosen.

2. Civil liberties groups are natural allies in this work, but it is just as important to reach out to parent-teacher associations and teachers’ unions.

3. Talk directly to school principals and guidance counselors, educating them on Option 8 and urging them to select it for their school.

4. After securing local victories, move on to statewide efforts. Some states have found legislators willing to sponsor an ASVAB Option 8 bill, similar to those passed in Hawaii and Maryland.

—Patrick Elder and Seth Kershner

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Subverting the Myth

I MET PASTORS Harvey, Alton, Charles, and Joel in Houston’s 5th Ward, a black neighborhood that in 1979 earned the title of “the most vicious quarter of Texas.” I was drawn there by a sermon I’d preached on Psalm 23 called “An experiment in crossing borders.” In it I asked my congregation, “What border is God leading you to cross? And who is waiting for you on the other side?”

Little did I know the profound impact that sermon would have on me.

Nearly five years later, I remember when these men stopped being “pastors at black churches on the other side of the 5th Ward border” and became “my people,” deeply connected as members of the body of Christ.

It was a moment of profound truth-telling, when I realized I was controlled more by the values of Western “racialized” culture than I was by the liberating gospel of Jesus and the alternative community to which I had given my life. It became clear to me that I’d affirmed myself and my identity through the lies of racial privilege, and done so at the expense of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Michael Emerson, a sociologist from Rice University, provides us helpful language to understand how race works. Rather than analyzing racism (concretized for most of us through powerful images of slavery, hooded white supremacists, separate drinking fountains, and individual acts of hate), he invites us to analyze how our society is racialized.

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Cell Phone Spying: Would Jesus Even Care?

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Rally against mass surveillance in October in Washington, D.C., Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

As if it wasn’t chilling enough to learn that NSA cronies are poring over your web browser history, now we discover that Barack Obama sits in bed at night and listens in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone calls to Domino’s.

Okay, maybe those are a bit of a stretch, but quite a buzz has been generated as of late about the revelation that the United States does, indeed, monitor the communications of leaders from allied nations, including the cell phone activity of Chancellor Merkel. For some, the collective reaction has been more of a collective shrug, as if such impositions should be expected from a global superpower that generally prefers to maintain that status. But for others, there’s a clear sense of shock and outrage.

For starters, let's clarify: nations cannot be friends.

Changes in Attitude

DURING STEVE SLAGG’S freshman year at Wheaton College in Illinois, a gay-rights advocacy group called Soulforce announced that it was embarking on a nationwide bus tour of conservative Christian colleges that had campus policies against homosexuality to facilitate some of the first open conversations about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Wheaton College was one of their stops.

“We were talking a lot on campus about Soulforce and what we were going to do about them,” remembers Slagg about the spring 2006 tour. “It felt like nobody was really aware of the fact that there were people in this community who were gay.”

So Slagg decided to come out. He started with friends and classmates, but he also spoke with campus groups, and he held a meeting on his dormitory floor. He was interviewed in the campus paper, The Record, under the headline “Gay at Wheaton,” and numerous classmates approached him for private coffeehouse conversations around campus.

The pressure and attention grew to be too much, and Slagg quickly receded into normal campus life.

But during Slagg’s senior year, after feeling as though the conversations around homosexuality on campus had not changed, he wrote an essay for a new campus literary journal, The Pub, about being gay at Wheaton. “We exist,” he declared. “The most harmful and pervasive lie I’ve encountered at Wheaton has been that homosexual students either don’t exist at Wheaton or aren’t worth considering. Outrageously enough, I believed this lie for most of my freshman year.”

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Key LGBT Resources for Christians

As illustrated in "Changes in Attitude" and "Retelling the Story" in the July 2012 issue of Sojourners, the conversation of Christianity and homosexuality is deepening beyond the culture wars. A number of valuable resources have emerged that appeal to a variety of audiences and viewpoints. While this is not an exhaustive list, below are a few books, resources, and blogs worth exploring.

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