When the living God sends new mercies, when God is ready to do a new thing, it is important that we do not stand as an obstruction because to do so separates us not only from our sisters and brothers, but it separates us from God.
In the current discussion about LGBTQIA rights in general and same-sex marriage in particular, the questions for believers are: what is God doing? What does God require of me? I am a Bible-believing Baptist. I say: God said it. I believe it. That settles it. It is my reading of the Bible that leads me to support equal rights and respect of LGBTQIA people and their loving committed relationships. I have addressed the primary biblical texts that most people quote to support their opposition to Gay rights in an essay published on-line at the African-American Lectionary: Why I Believe Homosexuality is NOT a Sin
However, the reason I support LGBTQIA rights has to do with my understanding that to love, serve and worship God through a commitment to follow Jesus means that I love with an imperative to love with a radical love. Such love requires me to be wary of traps that would have me love the tradition and its laws rather than to love God with all my heart, mind and soul and my neighbor as myself.
I say and say again that President Obama is a just peace president.
Peace people, including myself, have a list of complaints against this president, including the use of targeted drone assassinations of American citizens without due process of law. However, I still say that, for the most part, this president’s foreign policies reflect just peace theory.
Many people are familiar with just war theory. This thinking dates back millennia, and we can find it in both religious and in secular philosophical traditions. There was a moment in human history when it was the middle way between crusades, or total annihilation of populations and pacifism. Today, since total war is no longer considered moral, just war is the extreme position and just peace theory is the middle way between just war and pacifism.
While just war theory thinks about when it is right to resort to war – jus ad bellum; the righteous way to fight war – jus in bello; and the moral way to end war – jus post bellum, just peace theory thinks about how to prevent the moment of crisis that makes violent conflict thinkable or even necessary. Just peace theory also considers ways to reach a positive peace after violent conflict, a peace where combatants no long want to fight each other. Just peace theory sometimes intersects with both pacifism and with just war theory.
In his remarks on Afghanistan, President Obama indicated a just peace approach that intersects with jus post bellum. My interpretation of just peace theory relies on three pillars – truth, respect and security. In his statements earlier in the day to the American warriors, President Obama told them the truth that there are still very difficult days ahead where some will be wounded. Some will die. In his remarks to the nation, he outlined efforts that will help secure Afghanistan, and will work toward building a strong civil society with democratic institutions that will respect human dignity and human rights.
The flash controversy sparked by comments made by Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen saying that presumptive Republican nominees for President Mitt Romney’s reliance on his wife’s reports regarding women and the economy were meaningless because Ann Romney had never worked “a day in her life” has taken us back to an old discussion that in my opinion misses the point.
I must confess that it took me a long time to warm to feminism, especially to the writings of Betty Friedan and the ideas of the “Feminine Mystique” that argued for women leaving the ennui of a suburban housewife’s life to employ her mind and talents in the paid workforce. I was the first generation of women in my family who had a choice about whether or not to work outside of the home. My mother was a school teacher; my grandmother was a cook in white homes in the south; and my great-grandmother was a share cropper. Her foremothers were slaves.
I also did not warm immediately to this idea because my question was then as it is now: what about the rights of the women who will do the housework and raise the children while women are working outside the home?
I have been a married stay at home mom. I have been a married work outside the home mom. I have been a single work outside the home mom. And, in every instance, my family and I needed help. We depended upon community. Hillary Rosen told the truth when she pointed out that Ann Romney may not be the best source of information on the economic difficulties that most women in this society face. I have no doubt that Ann Romney has household help. I do not picture her dusting the inside of the car elevator in the Romney’s house. My questions: Is the household staff paid a decent wage? Do they receive benefits such as social security and health care? How much vacation time do they receive?
When radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” who ought to post sex videos on-line, he not only revealed his own crass, crude ignorance, but he committed acts of verbal abuse. His comments were a kind of violence against women.
Violence is a violation. It is a hurtful demonstration of a basic lack of respect. Those of us who are concerned about intimate violence, violence in personal relationships, tell our sisters and brothers to walk away from a partner the moment they call you out of your name. Verbal abuse is often prelude to physical abuse. If a person will call you a “slut”, s/he will hit you, and if a person will hit you, s/he will kill you. Such relationships are not only toxic, they are tragic.
In his book “Violence”, philosopher Slavoj ZiZek describes subjective and objective violence. Subjective violence is “violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent” (1). Objective violence is that which is symbolic and systemic. Symbolic violence is the violence embedded in language, and systemic violence– a.k.a. structural violence – is the various violations of human dignity that are embedded in our political-economy.
According to Zizek, subjective violence “is experienced as such against the background of the ‘normal’ peaceful state of things. However, objective violence is precisely the violence inherent in this ‘normal’ peaceful state of things” (2). Rush Limbaugh’s comments calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” were “irrational explosions of subjective violence” that become all too rational when they are seen to spring from the ground of objective symbolic violence that allows it.
While working on the introduction to a book I intend to publish in the next few months, I am reading “Radical Love: Forever Changed” by Donna Lowe and Kimberly Parker. In the introduction to part three, Lowe and Parker write about how little things from our past – a certain sound, a television program – may cause us to relive painful emotions. The point they make is that we ought to be intentional about not allowing ourselves to become trapped in those responses. This is the purpose of spiritual disciplines. This is the work of radical love.
The debate about the clash of rights around the Obama administration’s decision to require employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception – even some Catholic institutions– has taken me to such a painful place.
President Obama announced an adjustment to the policy that no longer requires religious institutions to provide such coverage, rather the mandate shifts to insurance companies. This accommodation has satisfied some Catholic organizations, but the Catholic Bishops remain dissatisfied. However, the discourse around this issue is still painful.
When I was a little girl, I saw ugly, angry, violent images of people in the south claiming that the push to end apartheid in America was a violation of their rights –states’ rights, free association rights, property rights. However, the civil rights movement was about making sure that every citizen in the nation enjoyed equal protection under the law.
When my children were children, we watched this battle told in documentary form in the series “Eyes on the Prize.” As a seminary professor, I used this series as a resource in my class on the civil rights movement. This class included the conservative reaction to the movement, including anti-abortion demonstrations. Over the years as I have watched the “culture wars’ in the United States, I have often thought that religious people wanted to use the government to advance their religious agenda.
In the movie “Red Tails”, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, we see how religious icons serve as “windows into the Kingdom of God.” The images that the fighter pilots take into combat with them help them to see a kind of divine transcendence that gives their lives meaning. The icons help them to come closer to God.
One of the major characters in the movie is the skilled, fearless, self-confident, improvisational and independent-minded pilot nicknamed “Lightning.” He is a womanizer who falls in love at first sight with an Italian woman named Sophia. He tells his friend, Easy, who is also the leader of the squad: “I spotted something. I just saw a goddess who is going to bear my beautiful children.”
His love for Sophia becomes his transcendence. In a conversation with the squad members, his belief system contrasts with that of Deacon, a pilot who worships Black Jesus and credits him with the protection and success of the squad. Lightning says there is “no sanctified mojo running the world. Things are as they are.”
I still sometimes dance in the car while waiting at a red light. However, back in the day, when I had less sense than I have now, I would throw the car in park, jump out and dance in the street. When Whitney Houston sang “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, the joy, the exuberance, the hope, the possibility was too much to contain inside the car. The imperative: turn the volume up, put the car in park, jump out and dance. Celebrate life.
When she sang the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Super Bowl, this unashamed, unapologetic peacenik who at the time was completely disgusted by the first Iraq War, who then and now is suspicious of cheap, political patriotism, who hates with a perfect hatred the flag-waving jingoistic aspects of war – any war – got goose bumps. Her voice reverberated across the globe. My children and I stood up in the living room and cheered. To paraphrase Marvin Gaye: she made me want to holler and throw up both my hands. Peace theory IS patriotism. I was reminded of my patriotic duty.
Then, when we went to see “The Preacher’s Wife”, the movie with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, the entire sound track, especially her rendering of “Joy to the World” compelled us to go to the record store when the movie was over. The imperative: go to the music store. Go directly to the music store. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
I confess that it is incongruous for a peace theorist to recommend that people go to see a flag-waving war movie. The contradictions of this notwithstanding, I hope that people will go to see Red Tails, the movie about the Tuskegee Airmen produced by George Lucas and directed by Anthony Hemingway. I urge people to see the movie so that it will make money and thereby take away one Hollywood excuse for why it does not make more movies about African-American heroes and sheroes. If this movie makes money, perhaps it will be easier to get big-screen movies or television movies or mini-series made about people such as African-American diplomat Ralph Bunch or activist and educator Mary McLeod Bethune and others.
George Lucas spoke with Jon Stewart about the difficulty in getting Red Tails made. African-Americans are supporting the movie; however, this is an important movie for everyone to support.
First, I say and say again that war is the worst crime that humanity perpetuates against itself. Mahatma Gandhi was correct when he called war organized murder. Former French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin was also right when he said “war is always the sanction of failure.” When the first projectile flies, we see a failure of imagination, communication and diplomacy. Just peace theory hopes to make the principles of just peace accepted universal principles that will guide the moral thinking and political commitments of people across the globe.
When people ask me the wolf at the door question – what does the world do with people such as Hitler and regimes such as the National Socialists in Germany when they threaten the world’s security? – I say that peacemaking is a day to day work and that the logic of peace ought to make the logic of war unthinkable. We stop the wolf before he gets to the door. The world is not there yet.
“God does not call us to be successful. God calls us to be faithful.” Prathia Hall
I learned this wisdom from Prathia Hall, an African-American preacher/teacher/civil rights activist/scholar friend. She was my predecessor in Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH. I was also privileged to spend time with her at the end of her life in 2002 when I moved to the Boston area to teach at Andover Newton Theological School. Again, I was arriving as she was leaving.
It was Prathia Hall’s “I Have a Dream” prayer that was the inspiration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ” I Have a Dream” speech. Prathia Hall was of the generation that cleared away much of the conceptual resistance to the idea of black-woman-as-scholar that made my way in the world easier. She knew from her experience as a trailblazer that the path of progress is long and hard, and that we would have to fight the same battles over and over again. She constantly reminded me that our duty is to keep on keeping on, to be faithful in our love and in our work even though it may not seem at the time that we are having success. The goal is justice, including economic and social justice.
Faithfulness is the steadfast, immovable, determined, loyal, conscientious, commitment to a standard, an ideal, or goal. Many of us who believe in God believe that God, transcendence, Divine Love, compels us to a particular work. We feel an irresistible mystery urging us on. The question for many of us is whether this “call” is from something outside of us, or rather an expression of something within, a deep desire that is also a mystery. That divine command, the imperative placed on our lives, could be a combination of both.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has taken to quoting a hymn of the American civil religion.
“Oh beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain. America! America! God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brother hood from sea to shining sea.”
Religion is the transcendence that serves as ligature to bind us together, and for many Americans, America is that transcendence. Americanism becomes religion. Mormon, Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, Atheist, Jewish and others all bend the knee to the nation and to its God.
The problem with the civil religion is that its transcendence is not transcendent enough. Its moral horizons are limited to the short-term interests of the nation as perceived by flawed individuals working within a deeply flawed political/economy. And when a politician stands up and proclaims his love for the country while loading his stump speeches with lies upon lies, that moral horizon has dwindled down to the puny size of one politician’s political ambitions.
Yet, even the traditions of the civil religion recognize that the country is ever in the process of perfection. Verse two of the hymn Romney quotes says:
“O beautiful for pilgrim’s feet, whose stern impassioned stress a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness: America! America! God mend thine every flaw, confirm they soul in self control, thy liberty in law.”