Church

War, Peace, and the Stories We Tell

Chappell

Photo by Rick Reinhard 

“THE IDEA THAT peace is inevitable is as dangerous as the idea that war is inevitable,” says author and peace educator Paul K. Chappell. We’ve been discussing peace in practice for the better part of an hour, and he’s warming to the theme. He puts forward an unlikely premise—that violence is not intrinsic to human nature.

Paul Chappell isn’t what you would expect in a peace champion. A graduate of West Point and a member of the U.S. military for seven years, including as a captain in Iraq, he first honed his fighting skills on school playgrounds, getting expelled for fighting in grade school and suspended in high school. He was bullied as a child for his skin color (his father, a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, was biracial—black and white—and his mother is Korean). Because of his father’s war trauma, Chappell describes his childhood as “unpredictably violent.”

It’s hard now to imagine this former troubled youth, both perpetrator and victim of violence, as the articulate Chappell thoughtfully winds his way through classical theory and national myth. But Chappell’s learned taste for creed over instinct is clear. The army provided the closest thing to family that a young Chappell had ever encountered, he tells me, but despite that deep affection—or perhaps because of it—he began paying attention to the lasting effects of war and trauma on his brothers-and-sisters-in-arms.

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All-Day Sunday Shopping May Be in the Cards in Britain

REUTERS / Suzanne Plunkett / RNS

Pricing signs hang on clothing outside a shop in London on June 3, 2015. Photo via REUTERS / Suzanne Plunkett / RNS

The move would bring London into line with Paris and New York, where no restrictions on Sunday shopping exist.

Strict anti-Sunday shopping laws came into being in the 19th century, under Queen Victoria.

In 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tried to do away with them but she met stiff opposition from traditionalists and Christian churches.

Two decades later a compromise was reached, and most shops are now allowed to open for six hours on Sunday.

Church Discipline Goes Wrong More Often Than You Think

Photo via Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Prixel Creative / Shutterstock.com

Church leaders, I beseech you to study all sides of the situation carefully and prayerfully before you make a judgment on your church member that may alter his or her view of God or spiritual life forever. You have been placed in such a position to be the agent of change, to bring restoration to the individual.

As someone who has felt the sting of this, I ask you to consider these questions: Are we equally investigating BOTH parties? Are we taking the totality of the word of God into examination on this issue? What is the Holy Spirit telling us to do? Does Satan have a foothold of pride or control in my heart?

It’s Time for Moneyball Church

Photo via Intel Free Press / Flickr

Photo via Intel Free Press / Flickr

Religion is notoriously behind on nearly every societal curve there’s ever been. Some say that’s a good thing, as it’s supposed to be countercultural.

But there’s a difference between pandering to cultural trends and being tone-deaf or willfully ignorant. And as one of my old grade-school counselors once said: when you know better, do better.

If we look around us we know that there are better ways to employ the resources we have to affect positive social change, deepen discipleship, and strengthen community of many kinds. But we adhere to mid-twentieth-century models and understandings of how the world works, then look around, asking ourselves why no one cares anymore.

It’s time for Moneyball church.

Finding God in Plain Sight

nanD_Phanuwat / Shutterstock.com

nanD_Phanuwat / Shutterstock.com

We looked at the famous photo of Earth taken from Apollo 8. If you remember, it was the first time we got to see ourselves from the vantage point of another body in space.

The boys wondered why the photo was so grainy. I told them it’s from the 1960s. They seemed to think those were prehistoric times and started talking about pixels.

I told them that the grainy photo of Earth kind of fits what we do at church. We try to help each other find God in this picture. Sometimes when it seems that God is nowhere to be found, we just have to look a little closer and recognize the divine everywhere.

How to Use the Gift of Pentecost

schankz / Shutterstock.com

schankz / Shutterstock.com

The issue isn’t that God does not have power; the issue seems to be more that we do not use the power that God gave to us. While we profess to love God and God’s son Jesus, we are all too ready to dismiss what God gave us in, with, and through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. While we say we are Christian, we bypass too often the words of Jesus and latch onto other parts of the Bible, most often the words of Paul. While Paul’s writings have their own power, they do not have the power of Jesus’ words, nor do they carry with them the promise of the Holy Spirit, which does have the power to sustain and strengthen us.

 

Short Takes: Erika Totten

Rick Reinhard

Bio: Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in Washington, D.C., and the black liberation movement at large. She is a former high school English literature teacher, a wife, a stay-at-home mom, and an advocate for the radical healing and self-care of black people through “emotional emancipation circles.”

1) How did you get started with “emotional emancipation” work?
Emotional emancipation circles were created in partnership with The Association of Black Psychologists and the Community Healing Network. I was blessed to be one of the first people trained in D.C. I had been doing this work before I knew what it was called. My organization is called “Unchained.” It is liberation work—psychologically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

I want to tell people to be intentional about self-care. Recently, we had a black trans teen, who was an activist, commit suicide. A lot of times you need to see a counselor or therapist, which is often shunned in the black community. Because of racism, we are taught that we need to be “strong.” But it’s costing us our lives. As much as we are dismantling systems, we have to dismantle anything within ourselves that is keeping us from experiencing liberation right now.

2) What does liberation look like to you?
It’s a multitude of things, and it changes every day. But mainly it is having the space to be. To just exist. To not have to perform. It is the ability to exist and live life unapologetically. You don’t have to accept me, but my life shouldn’t be in danger because of my skin. And for my children, liberation means walking down the street and not being harassed. Liberation means living.

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Swingers Club or 'Church:' Who Gets to Decide?

United Fellowship Center in suburban Madison, Tenn. Image via Heidi Hall/RNS.

United Fellowship Center in suburban Madison, Tenn. Image via Heidi Hall/RNS.

Goodpasture Christian School sits on a sprawling, bucolic campus seven miles north of downtown Nashville, where 900 students ready themselves for adult lives of college, career, and loving the Lord.

Right next door sits the United Fellowship Center, a planned church where adults will ready themselves to have sex with each other after enjoying a little BYOB togetherness.

It’s the newest incarnation of The Social Club, a whispered-about swingers club in downtown Nashville that left for the suburbs when a building boom took its parking lot. The community went bonkers after zoning hearings revealed the club’s plans to relocate in a former medical office building in Madison — adjacent to Goodpasture and within a mile of an Assemblies of God megachurch.

After months of debate, an emergency city zoning amendment and a state law designed to stop the relocation, the club’s attorney made an announcement: The Social Club would open in its new location as a church.

Protection via the First Amendment effectively silenced zoning complaints — for now. But it sparked conversations about what it means for a secular organization suddenly to label itself a church, and religious scholars seem no more ready to plunge into that debate than American courts have proved to be.

“When I see this case, I do roll my eyes, but I also know Protestant Christians in America don’t own 'church,'” said Kutter Callaway, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

What Struggling Congregations Need to Renew Their Churches

Photo via Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com

Photo via Goran Bogicevic / Shutterstock.com

I am in a lovely college town to help a congregation discern its path forward.

It faces challenges that many church leaders will recognize: leadership, finances, isolation from the surrounding community, not enough young and middle-age adults to carry the congregation forward.

It also has pluses. The members aren’t deeply divided or mired in distrust and disdain. They aren’t afraid of change. They don’t bury the future in grand laments about a lost “golden age.”

I think they have a good shot at turning a corner and building a healthy next phase. I hear reports from across the nation that things are improving for Christian congregations. A new generation of clergy is exploring new ideas. Fresh energy is emerging. Denial is losing its hold, as congregations whose average age is 60 to 65 realize they must change or die.

Denominations are slower to adapt, but they, too, are moving forward in practical ways such as training in leadership and stewardship, and flexible deployment of resources.

Yet for this fresh day to last, church leaders will need to embrace a truth that goes beyond organizational development and resolving present issues. It’s a truth that many congregations simply cannot hear.

That truth is this: There is too much shallowness, not enough depth.

Over the years, in a process that isn’t at all unusual, we have equated faith with attending Sunday worship, maybe pitching in on a committee, and forming friendships within the fellowship. People enjoy belonging to the congregation. They radiate a palpable joy in being together. They seem content.

Blaming the Victim

WHEN I WAS 15, my church youth group was not a safe place. Like most youth groups, there were college-age volunteers who served as counselors and Bible study leaders.

One counselor, Paul, took it upon himself to constantly tell me I wore too much makeup, my clothes were too tight, and that I was a flirt. These actions took place in public for six months while other counselors and students watched and laughed. The interactions came to a head when he commented on my lipstick color and I snapped back at him. He grabbed me, forced me onto his lap, and told me I liked it.

At the time, I just thought Paul was creepy; I now recognize his behavior was sexual harassment. I also recognize that the other members of my youth group, including the leaders, saw his behavior and failed to intervene. Why did this happen? Both Paul’s behavior and the leaders’ silence belong to a larger set of attitudes in our culture—and churches—that allows sexual violence and sexual harassment to become normal, even expected, behaviors.

This set of attitudes is known as “rape culture.” When we fail to confront these toxic attitudes in our churches, we undermine our love for our neighbors, ignore the Bible, and misrepresent God as misogynistic.

The language of “rape culture” emerged in the 1970s as a way for feminists and sociologists to consider why acts of sexual assault were common within U.S. society; since then, it has become an increasingly important phrase for many people working with survivors of rape and domestic violence. While some have raised concerns about the language—fearing that it risks blaming culture instead of the perpetrator—using a phrase such as “rape culture” can help us recognize the broader cultural context surrounding individual acts.

To understand experiences like mine, we must first recognize that rape culture is not just about rape itself, but our reaction to all forms of sexual harassment. This includes:

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