HATRED HAS gotten a facelift. With the help of internet technology and cyberspace marketing, once-decrepit organizations like the Ku Klux Klan are regaining their youthful energy and competing for the attention of increasingly educated audiences. ... Behind the virtual makeover hides the same old-fashioned hatred that bigots have always promoted.
The internet has given hate groups ample reason to feel young again. In the United States, online bigots enjoy full protection under the First Amendment and have access to a potentially limitless audience. Webmasters are anonymous and difficult to silence; leaders suffer few consequences for their followers’ actions. And their strategies for organizational growth are beginning to look more corporate than cross-lit. ...
Virtual haters twist scripture into a white-power pretzel. The most common version of their convoluted hermeneutics is “Identity” thought, a theology that uses the Bible to justify racism and to prophesy apocalyptic judgment against non-white, non-Aryan races.
Identity sites are often eye-glazingly similar. Scripture is quoted at great length and with great gusto. Jews are the seen as the “anti-Christ” or “Satan’s seed.” Persons of color are deemed the “Unchosen” or “mud people.” Self-preservation of the white race becomes an imperative for true “Christians,” regardless of the personal costs involved.
This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the September/October 2000 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article here.
IN THE TERM that begins this fall, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The nine justices will decide: Is a baker with sincerely held religious objections to same-sex marriage obliged—by anti-discrimination laws—to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple?
But underneath the frosting, the case exemplifies a much broader conversation in which religious liberty is pitted against civil liberties. In this ongoing fight, sides are often split down partisan lines, with conservatives championing religious liberty and liberals defending civil rights.
This religious-freedom-vs.-civil-liberties split is frustrating to many. After all, religious liberty isn’t just for conservatives; the First Amendment offers important protections to all people of faith, from Muslims who seek permits to build mosques to Christians who are conscientious objectors to war. At the same time, we care deeply about civil rights, especially in an era when so many Americans face discrimination because of their gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnicity. In a nutshell, we want to support religious freedom for all while also protecting the civil liberties of LGBTQ folks and other minorities. But is that even possible?
Baptist minister and constitutional lawyer Oliver Thomas is optimistic, but not naive. In “Clash of Liberties,” he explains how religious liberty laws morphed from bipartisan efforts to ensure religious liberty for all into tools used by conservatives and liberals alike to press their own advantage. If we’re serious about protecting both, Thomas writes, we’re going to have to do something that’s easier said than done: lay aside our ideological differences and work for the common good.
When we consider the inferior status of women in Palestine in the first century ... Jesus’ attitude toward women is striking. Jesus revealed himself first to women after his resurrection. The disciples ... thought the women were just dreaming. Paul does not include the women in his list of witnesses to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). But the fact still remains: Jesus dared to appear first to women.
The incident of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-30) has radical implications also. Here Jesus blatantly broke three customs: He, a man, talked to a woman in public. He, a Jew, spoke to a Samaritan. Finally, he instructed a woman in religion—a topic reserved only for men. When the disciples saw Jesus talking to this woman they were disturbed, but Jesus ignored them.
Even Paul’s words and actions must have been shocking to his first-century friends. Despite his injunction at one point that women should be silent in the church, he freely recognized women as leaders at other points. In Philippians 4:2 he commended Euodia and Syntyche and called them “fellow workers.” In 1 Corinthians he assumed women were prophesying and participating actively in worship. In Romans 16:7 he saluted Junia, a woman, as an apostle ... In Romans 16:1 he called Phoebe a deacon and, according to the best translation, he said, “she was designated as a ruler over many by me.”
IN SEMINARY we “wrestled” with the problem of evil. Human evil. Systemic evil. The apparent evil of natural disasters. Drawing lines between the horrors wrought by an earthquake and the tragedy of an air crash caused by a mechanical failure. Tracing human culpability for the famine in Ethiopia. I wrote one dandy paper on the failure of process theology to deal adequately with the problem of evil. All at arm’s length, in the relative comfort of a “starving student’s” life.
It’s funny, in a way, that even though I already had worked for years with abused and neglected kids, their experience of evil rarely entered my college musings, at least not in any significant or sustained way. ... Guess what? This girl [an abuse survivor] doesn’t want my “problem of evil” package. Some do, you know. Some of the kids I’ve worked with will ask, “Where was God when I was being abused?” because they want desperately to hear that God was in the picture somewhere. Anywhere. ...
One thing is sure: I can’t “comfort” her into a faith in God. I can’t hope to find some new and dynamic arrow in the theological quiver that will penetrate the armor of her anger and disillusionment. I can’t hope to find some new stuff to put into those old packages. In fact, I have to fight every urge to tamper with my packages, and instead learn to leave them up on the shelf, where, for the most part, they belong.
“My hope for the future is that the church will be an authentic witness to the gospel despite the cost,” Filipino Bishop Francisco F. Claver, SJ, told Sojourners in 1979, “even if it means being crushed.” In the decades that followed, Sojourners reported the involvement of Filipino Christians in the People Power movements against repressive regimes that were often aligned with U.S. military power. Christians who spoke out were branded as communists. Many were tortured and killed by the military or vigilante groups.
But the Filipino church, though pressed, was never crushed. “I’ve been very encouraged by what I have seen in our people,” Karl Gaspar said in a 1988 issue of Sojourners. Gaspar—a Filipino poet, Redemptorist brother, and longtime friend of Sojourners—spent two years in prison in the early ’80s under the regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Yet he remained hopeful, “convinced that God is present despite all that which would negate God’s presence in this village.”
In this issue, Eric Stoner reports on faith-based opposition to Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ president who positioned himself as a “tough on crime” political outsider and declared himself “happy to slaughter” the nation’s 3 million drug users—and seems to be making good on his promise.
THE OLDEST mystics that we have in organized religious expression ... all have similar parabolic insights into contemplation. There is a story about the master saying to the disciples, “Tell me how you know when it is dawn.” And one disciple says, “Master, is it when we can tell the fig tree from the lemon tree at 100 paces?” And the master says to the disciple, “No, that is not how you will know it is dawn.”
So a second disciple says, “Well then, master, is it when you can tell the sheep from the goats at 50 paces?” And the master says, “No, that is not how we shall know when it is dawn.” Then the third disciple says, “Well then, master, how do we know that we have seen the dawn?” And the master says, “We will know that we have seen the dawn when we can see the face of Christ in the face of any brother or sister, no matter how near or how far.”
That’s contemplation. That’s the fruit of the contemplative life.
And unless you’re putting on the mind of Christ, I don’t know if you’ll ever see the face of the Christ in the other, or the face of the cosmic, or the face of the people of God in the other. You may be a highly efficient social worker or a marvelously compassionate do-gooder, but you will not necessarily be a Christian contemplative.
This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the June 1987 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article here.
THE BOOK of Isaiah believes profoundly that God’s promises will prevail in, with, and through geopolitical reality. Note what an “unreal” long shot such a conviction is. I submit that only such a conviction can energize and authorize peacemaking. For without such a passion and certitude, we will soon or late succumb to realpolitik. Thus the root of peacemaking is a theological possibility and not a socioeconomic possibility. That is, the chance for peace rests in the trustworthiness of God and the issue of God keeping faith with God’s promises.
The text that authorizes this odd, subversive conviction has two features that are worth our noting. First, the text is poetry. It is not an argument about policy, but daring, inventive impressionistic rhetoric. Second, the text is poetry on the lips of God as a promise from God. That is, the speech of God is a beginning point for newness. The text, and every use of the text, is a political act as daring and as outrageous as was Martin Luther King Jr. when he said, “I have a dream.”
Peace is a dream that is uttered first on the lips of God, a dream that speaks against all settled political reality, an act of imagination from the throne of heaven in which we are invited to participate.
This article originally appeared in the May 1991 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article in the archives.
I AM NOT really sure about what it means to love God, but I do know what it means to be loved by God; and while God’s love for me is no guarantee against struggles, despair, or suicidal thoughts, it gives me the strength to take the next step. Psalm 139 has become one of my favorite statements about God’s love for me and presence in my life.
The psalmist proclaims, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me; even the darkness will not be dark to you, the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:11-12). I am reminded by this proclamation that God is the ultimate reconciler of the contradictions of life. For even in the darkness God stands at the center and becomes as the light.
Because I am alive today I know that God has stood at the center of my despair and darkness and that out of that presence my will to continue was born. I am aware that I must simply be present to the power and love that have kept me from suicide, and that at the very core of my deepest despair or hottest rage stands God. I will be “held fast by his right hand” because there is no place that I can go either inwardly or outwardly where God is not already present. My hope is further undergirded by the knowledge that the contradictions of life in general and my life in particular are never final.
This article originally appeared in the April 1984 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article in the archives.
"IF I HAD been a journalist at the time of the crucifixion, I would have been hanging around Herod’s palace talking to Pilate and disregarding [Jesus].” Out of the deluge of words spoken at the National Religious Broadcasters’ convention in Washington, D.C., in January 1978, this statement by Malcolm Muggeridge stood out. First, it had immediate personal relevance to this reporter: I was so busy chasing down celebrity Christians for interviews that if Jesus Christ had walked in, I certainly would have rushed by the out-of-place character. ...
At the time of the crucifixion, most Americans would have focused their attention on Herod, Pilate, their armies, their courts, and their rationales for doing what was “necessary” for law and order. Or for morality and family. Or for keeping the economy on an even keel. Or for the integrity and stability of the empire.
Most us of would have done it then, because we do it today. As good American citizens, and as reporters and as consumers of the news, we wittingly and unwittingly tag along with the crucifiers. We are fascinated with power.
The fascination with power carries over from our secular life to our religious life. Come Easter and the resurrection, we feel quite comfortable glorifying God the almighty, the omnipotent. We forget where we were three days earlier. We neglect our complicity in the cross event. And in the process, we ravel the whole fabric of Holy Week.
I AM Nancy Hastings Sehested, messenger from Prescott Memorial Baptist Church, pastor of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church, and servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am a full-blooded Southern Baptist. My mother is a Baptist deacon. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister for 70 of his 93 years. My dad is a retired Southern Baptist minister with 50 years of ordained ministry. ...
By what authority do I preach? ... It is not a new question. It is a question that was asked of our Lord Jesus Christ on a number of occasions. He had not the authority of the religious establishment, nor the authority of the state, but the authority of none other than the Holy Spirit that moved in his midst.
And so, by what authority do I preach and bear witness to my faith? ... By the authority of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, becoming a servant. And following in his footsteps, as a servant of Jesus Christ, who took the towel and the basin of water and exemplified the kind of servanthood that each one of us is called to live under, I found a towel with my name on it. And who was it that taught me this wonderful freedom of the Spirit? My Sunday school teachers. My pastor. My Southern Baptist church, who nurtured me and said, “God calls each one of us, so listen!” And so I listened.
WHILE Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would be enormously proud of the strides our nation has made over the past 40 years, especially the country’s inspiring and groundbreaking election of our first black president, he would be calling on the president, the Congress, and all of us to mount a national, multiracial campaign to free the 36.5 million Americans of all races and places from the noose of poverty driven by low-wage work and to end racial disparities still prevalent in all areas of American life.
Today there are 36.5 million poor people in America, including 13 million children, although our gross domestic product is three times larger than in 1968. He would be pushing our new leaders, and all of us, to achieve long overdue health care for all, beginning with all children and pregnant women; to end the “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” that will afflict 1 in 3 black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 unless we act together with urgency to dismantle it; to expand proven parent-child support programs and establish a high-quality comprehensive early childhood development system ...
We know what to do to end poverty, child illiteracy, and hunger and to ensure every child and person health coverage and job-rich, safe communities. Finding the spiritual and political will to do what is right and economically sensible and necessary is the challenge you and I and our new leaders face.
[After 9/11] Many of us feel a deep desire for revenge and violent retribution. We know how natural that is. We want to strike back at the perpetrators. And it is true: We do need to find and punish them. But we must not let that need be overwhelmed by sheer rage. We need to counter those who want to bomb indiscriminately, to “take them out” with missiles, or even to use everything in our arsenal. ...
Can we together agree that retribution is not the way of Jesus? Can we remain steadfast in nonviolence, despite the skepticism of those who embrace violence as a way of fighting violence? Can we repudiate belief in redemptive violence? Christians must behave as Christians no matter how much our society and churches ridicule nonviolence as idealistic and ineffective. If we cannot be faithful in such a crisis as we presently face, when will we?
Finally, we must cling to God by blind faith in such a time as this. To the question, Where is God in all this? we can answer, Where God always is: nearer than breathing and closer than hands or feet. But just as the clouds of dust and smoke and falling debris blotted out the sun on Sept. 11, so horror of this dimension blots out the light of God. In such a time, we cannot perhaps feel God’s presence, but it is there, and we have to cling to it even as we scream at the silence of God.
WOMEN IN almost every culture and segment of society experience violence ... that is directed specifically at them as women. In the United States, women of color—Latina, African American, Asian, and Native American—experience violence that is specifically focused against them because of both their race and their gender. When misogynist violence combines with racism, the result is a unique and deadly threat to women of oppressed races. ...
Women of different races and economic backgrounds have begun to join together in a movement to end the violence that endangers them all. The women of color who are involved in this movement, however, bear witness to the barriers that hinder such cooperation. Prominent among them is the misunderstanding or ignorance of the particular ways that both individuals and institutions perpetrate violence focused against women of color. It is clear from the historical and current experiences of women of color that racism is an inextricable factor in this violence. They reject, therefore, analyses that blame only sexism and patriarchal structures for violence against women. The problem of misogynist violence can only be fully addressed when the experiences of all women are incorporated into the perspective of the movement for change. Both racist and anti-women stereotypes and attitudes must be overcome before society can become a safe place for all women.
AS SOME of you have no doubt already heard, the Post American [the original name for Sojourners] and our entire community will be moving, in early September, from Chicago to Washington, D.C. ... The Post American, first published in late 1971, began as a quarterly tabloid and has developed into a monthly magazine with a broadly ecumenical, national, and international readership. ... The final decision came less through an analytical process of weighing the pros and cons and more as a result of a growing sense among us all that Washington, D.C., was the right place for us to be.
CAN THE words “Christian” or “faith” appear in proximity to political issues? And if they do, what should they mean? On May 23, a delegation of U.S. Christian leaders came to Washington, D.C., to proclaim to the press and the country’s political leadership that yes, faith and values are vital to the public life—and if they are genuinely expressed they should transform our discourse, policy, and social fabric. What true biblical faith doesn’t do is let religious conviction be manipulated by partisan politics.
“America is fed up with what many in the church are doing, polarizing us into Left and Right. Christians are called to a politics of reconciliation,” said Tony Campolo at a press conference held that morning. ...
Jesus was a feminist, that is, a person who promotes the equality of women with men, who treats women primarily as human persons and willingly contravenes social customs in so acting. The gospels give no evidence of Jesus ever treating women as inferior to men. When the restricted state of women in the Palestinian Judaism of that time is recalled, even this mere absence of a male superiority attitude is extraordinary. ...
IT WAS after midnight at the end of another long, busy day, and I had an early breakfast meeting the next morning. I decided to read a psalm before I turned off the light and, with no particular rhyme or reason, settled on Psalm 127. Although I have read this psalm before, I was completely unprepared for the shock it gave me that night.
Verse two caught me completely off guard: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil.” I was struck right between the eyes. There could not have been a more vivid and disturbingly apt description of my life and the lives of most people I know here at Sojourners and elsewhere.
IN 1968, the [Latin American Catholic] bishops met in Medellín, Colombia, to examine the church’s role in social and political transformation in Latin America. Here the vision of a “preferential option for the poor,” which had been rising up from the base for several years, was first clarified.
“The Lord’s distinct commandment to evangelize the poor,” wrote the bishops at Medellín, “ought to bring us to a distribution of resources and apostolic personnel that effectively gives preference to the poorest and most needy sectors.”
AS I WRITE this, one week after the beginning of “Desert Storm,” the networks have returned to their regularly scheduled programming, responding to polls the third day of the war indicating that Americans were tiring of the coverage. (Considering what we don’t hear, “coverage” seems a wholly appropriate euphemism—just try to verify reports beginning to leak out of the war zone of 100,000 or 200,000 civilian casualties.) War news has become a mere refrain—“Allied forces continued today to pound Iraq ...”—punctuated with videotaped missile strikes or bemasked reporters and the horrific wailing of air raid sirens.
Where do most radical thinkers stand on belief in human progress? In fact, they have not rejected it; they want to speed it up. The commitment to creating the Kingdom of Humanity, in a radicalized form, still undergirds the condemnation of capitalism. Almost all social readings are permeated with the unstated premise that our age is an improvement over all others. ... So what? What is wrong with the conviction that we are actively working with history to build the best of all possible worlds? If nothing else, I think it leads to a distorted reading of the past and a misleading analysis of the present. ...The danger comes in where there is a confusion of God’s ways with our ways—a confusion that is always suicidal for theology.