Archive for category Social Justice
What type of Church has salvation?
The core of the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth was not the Church, but the Kingdom of God: a utopia of total revolution/reconciliation of the whole of creation. This is so true that the Gospels, with the exception of St. Matthew, never speak of the Church, but always of the Kingdom. With the rejection of the person and message of Jesus of Nazareth, the Kingdom was also gone. Instead, the Church appeared as a community of those who gave witness to the resurrection of Jesus and kept His legacy, trying to live it throughout history.
From the beginning, a bifurcation was established: the bulk of the faithful took Christianity as a spiritual path, in
dialogue with the cultural environment. Another, much smaller, group, under the control of the Emperor, took over the moral leadership of the severely decadent Roman Empire. In organizing the community of faith, this group copied the imperial juridical-political structures. This group, the hierarchy, structured itself as «sacred power» (sacred potestas). This was a very risky path, because if there is one thing that Jesus always rejected, it was power. To Him, the three expressions of power, as they appear in the temptation of the desert –prophetic, religious and political–, when they reflect domination rather than service, belong to the sphere of the diabolical. Nevertheless, this was the path followed by the Church -a hierarchical institution, modeled on an absolutist monarchy that refuses to allow the laity, the great majority of the faithful, to participate in that power. The Church thus comes down to us under a cloud of very deep distrust.
It so happens that love disappears when power predominates. In effect, the organizing principle of the hierarchical Church is bureaucratic, formal and often inflexible. In the hierarchical Church, everything has a price; nothing is either forgotten or forgiven. There is practically no space for mercy, or for a true understanding of the divorced and of the homo-affectionate. Its imposition of priestly celibacy, deeply-rooted anti-feminism, distrust of everything related to sexuality and pleasure, the cult for the personality of the pope, and its pretense of being the only true Church and the «unique guardian of the eternal, universal and immutable natural law established by God», brought it, in words of Benedict XVI, to «assume a directive function over the whole humanity». In 2000, then cardinal Ratzinger repeated in the document, Dominus Jesus, the medieval doctrine that «outside the Church there is no salvation» and that those who are outside «are in grave risk of damnation». This type of Church surely does not have salvation. It is slowly losing sustainability all over the world.
What would be a Church worthy of salvation? It would be one that humbly returns to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, the simple and prophetic laborer, incarnated Son, imbued with the divine mission of announcing that God is here, with divine grace and mercy for all; a Church that recognizes other Churches as different expressions of the sacred inheritance of Jesus; that is open to dialogue with all religions and spiritual paths, seeing therein the action of the Spirit that always arrives before the missioner; one that is ready to learn from the accumulated wisdom of all of humanity; that renounces all power and spectacularizing of the faith, such that it is not a mere facade of a non-existent vitality; one that appears as «advocate and defender» of the oppressed of any class, that is willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom, as did her founder; where her pope would courageously renounce the pretense of juridical power over everyone and instead would be a symbol of reference and of unity of the Christian Proposal, with a pastoral mission of strengthening all in faith, hope and love.
Such a Church is in the range of our possibilities. We need only to immerse ourselves in the spirit of the Nazarene. Only then would it be the Church of humans, the Church of Jesus of Nazareth, of God, the corroboration of the truth of Jesus’ utopia of the Kingdom. It would be a place for realizing the Kingdom of the liberated, to which all of us are called.
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!
The Penn State Tragedy Highlights the Catholic Church’s Failure
Bishop John S. Spong
At first the details sounded painfully familiar. It was, the defendants said, a matter of misplaced loyalties, of valuing the reputation of the institution above all other considerations. This institution had a long history of service and respect. Many people identified themselves with it. It raised enormous amounts of money in both gifts and revenues and did much good work with it. Then, however, there was a dramatic shift in the story line. This was not the Catholic Church still under attack, but Penn State University, whose football team attracted 100,000 people to each home game. Every business in State College, Pa. was dependent on that for its economic well-being. Coach Joe Paterno was bigger than life. His name was a household word across America. His teams regularly competed for the NCAA title. High profile bowl games were an annual expectation. Protecting and saving all that from the taint of scandal seemed to those in charge to be more important than addressing a reality about which all of its top leaders seemed to have been aware. The fact was that a pedophile lived in their midst. He had been there for at least thirty years. He was good in his role of defensive coach. Paterno depended on him. They had worked well together. He would be hard to replace. Keeping both the football program and University’s reputation intact outweighed all other values.
The long-running presence of this crime has now, however, been overwhelmingly demonstrated by indisputable, written data. The sexual abuse of young boys in the showers of Penn State by defensive coach Jerry Sandusky had been both known and tolerated, indeed protected for at least fourteen years and quite probably for far longer than that. Documented evidence reveals that Coach Paterno knew it. Thomas Harmon, the university police chief, knew it. Tim Curley, the athletic director, knew it. Gary Schultz, the university vice president, knew it. Graham B. Spanier, the university president, knew it. It is now clear that no one in the Penn State community encouraged disclosure. The Board of Trustees helped to set that culture. This culture permeated the entire university town of State College. Even janitors and laborers were aware of this scandal, but were not willing to risk incurring the wrath of the university leaders by reporting it. Every level of the university’s life participated in this cultural sickness. A gigantic elephant was in the room that everyone refused to see, pretended that it did not exist and repressed rumors about its presence whenever they arose.
Finally, the dyke built to protect the abuser broke. Violated boys made accusations. Irate parents demanded investigation. The first line of institutional defense was denial. All the top officials, whose names I have just mentioned, circled their wagons, covered up, lied and tried to maintain the fiction that these charges were at best only the imagination of a disturbed boy or, at worst, just one or two isolated events, not a regular and ongoing reality. Ignorance was claimed or feigned. The barn doors were locked and no one wanted to look for the horses. It was business as usual. In time Mr. Sandusky was allowed to retire with honor. Those who knew about his proclivity, named him “coach emeritus.” They provided him with the ongoing use of the university’s athletic facilities, in which his activity of abuse could go on. He was even given a “retirement bonus” just short of $200,000. His crimes continued.
When it became the public scandal that they all dreaded, the board finally acted. The president, the vice president, the athletic director and the coach, who was the icon of the university, were all dismissed. The police chief had previously retired. This was the first step and a necessary one, but that was not to be the last.
The new leaders then appointed and empowered Louis J. Freeh, a man of impeccable credentials, a former judge and the former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to make a thorough investigation and to report his findings publicly to the board. The cover-up had ended. Neither the members of the board nor the officials of the university made any attempts to hinder the investigation, to conceal data or to control his access to it. They were finally no longer willing to protect the institution or even the reputations of key officials. It took Mr. Freeh seven months to complete his work, but when he released his report, there were no longer myths, excuses or rationalizations behind which the guilty could hide. No one was spared, from the board of trustees who formulated and participated in building the culture of Penn State, to the top university officials and the top athletic officials who knew about these crimes and took no action, to the university’s maintenance staff who also knew what was going on, but who were silenced by the power of intimidation. Now the fallout from the report was strewn like debris all over Central Pennsylvania. No, the facts are not yet all in. They never will be. In time more kids will inevitably come forth to tell their painful stories. There will be continuing lawsuits for years that will have severe repercussions on the university and on the state of Pennsylvania. There will undoubtedly be criminal indictments. Mr. Sandusky, already convicted, will not be the only official of that university to face incarceration. There may well be penalties imposed on the university’s athletic program. It could even be shut down for a period of time. If not shut down, the program will surely be penalized, perhaps crippled, with punitive restrictions on scholarships and recruiting. Lots of people will be hurt. Innocent football players will have their college careers aborted and their future hopes of playing professional football compromised. Merchants who make their living in State College will have their incomes dramatically lowered. Potential students will have to decide whether this will be the campus to which they want to matriculate. Alumni giving to the university will drop precipitously. Many will pay the price for the behavior of the few. That is the way it always is in an interdependent world.
To the credit of the university officials, we need to note that, even if it was belated, when they were faced with undoubted and incontrovertible evidence of wrong-doing, they acted. The Freeh report spared no one. It let the chips fall where the evidence led. It forced Penn State University to be honest, to admit its duplicity. It shattered carefully crafted reputations. It risked enormous liability exposure, but it was honest, painfully honest. This report broadcast Penn State’s willingness to pay the price it takes to restore integrity, a process that will not be accomplished in a month, perhaps not even in a decade or in a generation, but it did what had to be done to make it possible for integrity to be recovered in time. No other solution would address the cancer at the heart of this institution. Tarnished reputations are never restored by allowing suspicion to remain uninvestigated and the lack of transparency to continue. Healing begins only when honesty replaces duplicity, rationalization and lies.
I cannot help but compare the Penn State tragedy with the tragedy that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in the last twenty plus years over the abuse of children by priests and the overt cover-up by the bishops and the cardinals. There are obvious similarities: the desire to protect the institution from scandal was present in both cases. The widespread presence of guilt caused an almost identical first response of the leaders. Both institutions circled their wagons to defend the accused. Both institutions practiced denial. The leaders of the church first denied any wrong doing; then they denied that they knew; then they denied that they had acted to protect the reputation of the church, not the lives of its victims; then they denied that these behaviors were widespread; then they denied the fact that these behaviors could only be widespread if a culture of support was in place, a culture that cannot be created in a short period of time; then they denied that they had in the past and still do transfer abusing priests to other jurisdictions, even sending Bernard Law to the Vatican to avoid the specter of this obviously guilty man having to testify under oath before a grand jury. Cardinal Law is a major symbol of an institution’s unwillingness to be honest and as long as he remains a high Vatican official the cover-up is obviously continuing. The fallout of this pattern of denial did not stop at the edges of the Catholic Church, it tarnished the Christ they claimed to serve, it violated the integrity of all Christians and it embarrassed the cause of honesty. They have not yet been honest. If guilt and hiding go all the way to the front door of the Vatican, then that reality needs to be revealed by that Church. The presence of abuse in this church in almost every nation of the world screams out the fact that this is a systemic sickness that tries to hide crimes under piety. This is not the action of a few bad priests, but a signature reality of the whole Catholic Church. This scandalous behavior of abuse and the even more scandalous behavior of hierarchical cover up, denial and continuing attempts to stop the investigation in an effort to protect the church’s reputation, I believe, sounds the death knell for this Church and perhaps for Christianity as well. The coin of the Church’s realm is trust and once trust is lost the decline will be swift and total. Can we imagine anyone listening to the moral pronouncements of this church on any topic when no one believes their honesty is intact on this issue? Rampant dishonesty always trumps a pious witness.
Penn State is guilty, but Penn State will recover, because it did what it had to do and it did it at great cost. The Catholic Church is guilty, but it has not yet begun to recover because it has not yet faced its problem and by not facing it, it is admitting quite publicly that this problem is so deep and so pervasive that they are not able to deal with it. Cover-up is always fatal. Honesty is painful, but it gives hope that there will be a future. Penn State finally acted properly. The Catholic Church still has yet to do so.
~John Shelby Spong
America’s Street Priest
Posted on Jun 10, 2012
By Chris Hedges
The Rev. Daniel Berrigan, undaunted at 92 and full of the fire that makes him one of this nation’s most courageous voices for justice, stands in New York City’s Zuccotti Park. He is there, along with other clergy, to ask Trinity Church, which is the third-largest landowner in Manhattan, to drop charges against Occupy activists, including retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, for occupying its empty lot on 6th Avenue and Canal Street on Dec. 17. The protesters, slated to go to court Monday, June 11, hoped to establish a new Liberty Squareon the lot after being evicted by New York City police from Zuccotti in November. But Trinity had the demonstrators arrested. It chose to act like a real estate company, or the corporation it has become, rather than a church. And its steadfast refusal to drop the charges means that many of those arrested, including Packard, could spend as long as three months in jail.
“This is the only way to bring faith to the public and the public to the faith,” Berrigan said softly as we spoke before the demonstration in the park that was once the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street. “If faith does not touch the lives of others it has no point. Faith always starts with oneself. It means an overriding sense of responsibility for the universe, making sure that universe is left in good hands and the belief that things will finally turn out right if we remain faithful. But I underscore the word ‘faithful.’ This faith was embodied in the Occupy movement from the first day. The official churches remained slow. It is up to us to take the initiative and hope the churches catch up.”
There is one place, Berrigan says, where those who care about justice need to be—in the streets. The folly of electoral politics, the colossal waste of energy invested in the charade of the Wisconsin recall, which once again funneled hopes and passion back into a dead political system and a bankrupt Democratic Party, the failure by large numbers of citizens to carry out mass acts of civil disobedience, will only
ensure that we remain hostages to corporate power.
Berrigan believes, as did Martin Luther King, that “the evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and the evils of racism.” And he has dedicated his life to fighting these evils. It is a life worth emulating.
Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, was ordained 70 years ago. He was a professor at Le Moyne College, Cornel University and Fordham University. His book of poems, “Time Without Number,” won the Lamont Poetry Prize. But it is as a religious radical that he gained national prominence, as well as numerous enemies within the Roman Catholic hierarchy. He and his brother Philip Berrigan, a Josephite priest and World War II combat veteran, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, led some of the first protests against the Vietnam War. In 1967 Philip Berrigan was arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience and was sentenced to six years in prison. Philip’s sentence spurred Daniel to greater activism. He traveled to Hanoi with the historian Howard Zinn to bring back three American prisoners of war. And then he and eight other Catholic priests concocted homemade napalm and on May 17, 1968, used it to burn 378 draft files in the parking lot of the Catonsville, Md., draft board.
“Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children,” Berrigan wrote at the time of the destruction of draft files. “How many must die before our voices are heard, how many must be tortured, dislocated, starved, maddened? When, at what point, will you say no to this war?”
Berrigan was a fugitive for four months after being sentenced. He was apprehended by the FBI in the home of the writer William Stringfellow, whose decision to live and write out of Harlem in the 1950s and whose books “Dissenter in a Great Society” and “My People Is the Enemy” were instrumental in prompting me as a seminarian to live and work in Boston’s inner city, in the Roxbury neighborhood. Berrigan was sentenced to three years and released from the federal prison in Danbury, Conn., in 1972. But he did not stop. In 1980 he and Philip, along with six other protesters, illegally entered the General Electric nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pa. They damaged nuclear warhead cones and poured blood onto documents. He was again sentenced and then paroled for time already served in prison. Philip, by the time he died in 2002, had spent more than a decade in prison for acts
of civil disobedience. Philip Berrigan, Zinn said in eulogizing him, was “one of the great Americans of our time.”
In a culture that lacks many authentic heroes, that continues to preach that military service is the highest good, Berrigan is a potent reminder of what we must seek to become. His is a life of constant agitation, constant defiance, constant disobedience to systems of power, a life of radical obedience to God. His embrace of what has been called “Christian anarchism,” because of its persistent alienation and hostility to all forms of power, is the most effective form of resistance. And it is the clearest expression of the Christian Gospel. Berrigan has been arrested numerous times—“I don’t waste time counting,” he told me—for also protesting American intervention in Central America and the first Gulf War, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has demonstrated against the death penalty, in support of LGBT rights and against abortion. And even in his 90s he is not finished.
“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal,” he said to me, quoting Emma Goldman. He added his brother Phil’s reminder that “if enough Christians follow the Gospel, they can bring any state to its knees.”
“Some people today argue that equanimity achieved through inner spiritual work is a necessary condition for sustaining one’s ethical and political commitments,” Berrigan writes. “But to the prophets of the Bible, this would have been an absolutely foreign language and a foreign view of the human. The notion that one has to achieve peace of mind before stretching out one’s hand to one’s neighbor is a distortion of our human experience, and ultimately a dodge of our responsibility. Life is a rollercoaster, and one had better buckle one’s belt and take the trip. This focus on equanimity is actually a narrow-minded, selfish approach to reality dressed up within the language of spirituality.”
“I know that the prophetic vision is not popular today in some spiritual circles,” he goes on. “But our task is not to be popular or to be seen as having an impact, but to speak the deepest truths that we know. We need to live our lives in accord with the deepest truths we know, even if doing so does not produce immediate results in the world.”
Berrigan says he is sustained by his “invisible witnesses”: those he loves, such as the Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and his brother Philip, who, although all deceased, give him the power and the strength to continue to resist.
“They are not absent,” he said in our conversation. “Their presence is not erased. Their presence is purer and stronger. And their presence is victory over death. It is love. And in their presence I find strength.”
“But what of the price of peace?” Berrigan writes in his book “No Bars to Manhood.” “I think of the good, decent, peace-loving people I have known by the thousands, and I wonder. How many of them are so afflicted with the wasting disease of normalcy that, even as they declare for peace, their hands reach out with an instinctive spasm in the direction of their loved ones, in the direction of their comforts, their home, their security, their income, their future, their plans—that twenty-year plan of family growth and unity, that fifty-year plan of decent life and honorable natural demise. ‘Of course, let us have the peace,’ we cry, but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties.’ ”
Contrast Daniel Berrigan, who lives in a single room with a half dozen other retired priests in a parish house in lower Manhattan, with the imperious rector of Trinity Church, the Rev. Dr. James Cooper. Cooper earns $1.3 million a year, lives in a $5.5 million SoHo townhouse, receives a church allowance to maintain his Florida condo, dips into church funds to take his family on African safaris and oversees the church’s $1 billion in Manhattan real estate holdings from which the church receives as much as $30 million a year. He spent $5 million on a public relations campaign, nearly double the $2.7 million the church gave out in grants, in one year. Ten of the church’s 22-member vestry—its board of directors—have quit over Cooper’s authoritarianism and extravagance.
Cooper, like Berrigan, attended seminary and studied the Gospel, but he has modeled his life after Herod rather than Jesus. He has turned Trinity Church into a temple to greed. He is an appropriate priest for Wall Street. And on Monday, when activists appear in court because he and the other leaders of Trinity Church are determined to prosecute them, Cooper should consider removing the Christian cross from the sanctuary and replacing it with the true symbol he appears to worship—the dollar sign.
“All we have is one another to sustain us,” Berrigan told me. “Community is not magical. It means people are willing to be human beings together. And it means they are willing to pay the price for being human.”
Where Were You When They Crucified My Lord?
Posted on Dec 5, 2011
By Chris Hedges
Chris Hedges gave an abbreviated version of this talk Saturday morning in Liberty Square in New York City as part of an appeal to Trinity Church to turn over to the Occupy Wall Street movement an empty lot, known as Duarte Square, that the church owns at Canal Street and 6th Avenue. Occupy Wall Street protesters, following the call, began a hunger strike at the gates of the church-owned property. Three of the demonstrators were arrested Sunday on charges of trespassing, and three others took their places.
The Occupy movement is the force that will revitalize traditional Christianity in the United States or signal its moral, social and political irrelevance. The mainstream church, battered by declining numbers and a failure to defiantly condemn the crimes and cruelty of the corporate state, as well as a refusal to vigorously attack the charlatans of the Christian right, whose misuse of the Gospel to champion unfettered capitalism, bigotry and imperialism is heretical, has become a marginal force in the life of most Americans, especially the young. Outside the doors of churches, many of which have trouble filling a quarter of the pews on Sundays, struggles a movement, driven largely by young men and women, which has as its unofficial credo the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
It was the church in Latin America, especially in Central America and Augusto Pinochet’s Chile, which provided the physical space, moral support and direction for the opposition to dictatorship. It was the church in East Germany that organized the peaceful opposition marches in Leipzig that would bring down the communist regime in that country. It was the church in Czechoslovakia, and its 90-year-old cardinal, that blessed and defended the Velvet Revolution. It was the church, and especially the African-American church, that made possible the civil rights movements. And it is the church, especially Trinity Church in New York City with its open park space at Canal and 6th, which can make manifest its commitment to the Gospel and nonviolent social change by permitting the Occupy movement to use this empty space, just as churches in other cities that hold unused physical space have a moral imperative to turn them over to Occupy movements. If this nonviolent movement fails, it will eventually be replaced by one that will employ violence. And if it fails it will fail in part because good men and women, especially those in the church, did nothing.
Where is the church now? Where are the clergy? Why do so many church doors remain shut? Why do so many churches refuse to carry out the central mandate of the Christian Gospel and lift up the cross?
Some day they are going to have to answer the question: “Where were you when they crucified my Lord?”
Let me tell you on this first Sunday in Advent, when we celebrate hope, when we remember in the church how Mary and Joseph left Nazareth for Bethlehem, why I am in Liberty Square. I am here because I have tried, however imperfectly, to live by the radical message of the Gospel. I am here because I know that it is not what we say or profess but what we do. I am here because I have seen in my many years overseas as a foreign correspondent that great men and women of moral probity arise in all cultures and all religions to fight the oppressor on behalf of the oppressed. I am here because I have seen that it is possible to be a Jew, a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian, a Hindu or an atheist and carry the cross. The words are different but the self-sacrifice and thirst for justice are the same. And these men and women, who may not profess what I profess or believe what I believe, are my brothers and sisters. And I stand with them honoring and respecting our differences and finding hope and strength and love in our common commitment.
At times like these I hear the voices of the saints who went before us. The suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who announced that resistance to tyranny is obedience to God, and the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who said, “The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.” Or Henry David Thoreau, who told us we should be men and women first and subjects afterward, that we should cultivate a respect not for the law but for what is right. And Frederick Douglass, who warned us: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” And the great 19th century populist Mary Elizabeth Lease, who thundered: “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. The great common people of this country are slaves, and monopoly is the master.” And Gen. Smedley Butler, who said that after 33 years and four months in the Marine Corps he had come to understand that he had been nothing more than a gangster for capitalism, making Mexico safe for American oil interests, making Haiti and Cuba safe for banks and pacifying the Dominican Republic for sugar companies. War, he said, is a racket in which newly dominated countries are exploited by the financial elites and Wall Street while the citizens foot the bill and sacrifice their young men and women on the battlefield for corporate greed. Or Eugene V. Debs, the socialist presidential candidate, who in 1912 pulled almost a million votes, or 6 percent, and who was sent to prison by Woodrow Wilson for opposing the First World War, and who told the world: “While there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” And Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who when he was criticized for walking with Martin Luther King on the Sabbath in Selma answered: “I pray with my feet” and who quoted Samuel Johnson, who said: “The opposite of good is not evil. The opposite of good is indifference.” And Rosa Parks, who defied the segregated bus system and said “the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.” And Philip Berrigan, who said: “If enough Christians follow the Gospel, they can bring any state to its knees.”
And the poet Langston Hughes, who wrote:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
And Martin Luther King, who said: “On some positions, cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ And there comes a time when a true follower of Jesus Christ must take a stand that’s neither safe nor politic nor popular but he must take a stand because it is right.”
Where were you when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there to halt the genocide of Native Americans? Were you there when Sitting Bull died on the cross? Were you there to halt the enslavement of African-Americans? Were you there to halt the mobs that terrorized black men, women and even children with lynching during Jim Crow? Were you there when they persecuted union organizers and Joe Hill died on the cross? Were you there to halt the incarceration of Japanese-Americans in World War II? Were you there to halt Bull Connor’s dogs as they were unleashed on civil rights marchers in Birmingham? Were you there when Martin Luther King died upon the cross? Were you there when Malcolm X died on the cross? Were you there to halt the hate crimes, discrimination and violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and those who are transgender? Were you there when
Matthew Shepard died on the cross? Were you there to halt the abuse and at times enslavement of workers in the farmlands of this country? Were you there to halt the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent Vietnamese during the war in Vietnam or hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan? Were you there to halt Israel’s saturation bombing of Lebanon and Gaza? Were you there when Rachel Corrie died on the cross? Were you there to halt the corporate forces that have left working men and women and the poor in this country bereft of a sustainable income, hope and dignity? Were you there to share your food with your neighbor in Liberty Square? Were you there to become homeless with them?
Where were you when they crucified my Lord?
I know where I was.
Illustration by Mr. Fish
The Tragic Story of Christianity: How a Pacifist Religion Was Hijacked by Rabid Warmongering Elites
By Gary G. Kohls, Consortium News
Posted on January 30, 2012, Printed on February 5, 2012
From time to time, I read about condemnations of religion coming from non-religious groups, especially concerning the all-too-common violence perpetrated in the name of religious gods. Indeed there is plenty to condemn.
Altogether too many religions sects of both major and minor religions, despite verbally professing a desire for peace and justice in the world, are actually pro-war, pro-homicide and pro-violence in practice (or they may be silent on the subject, which is, according to moral theology, the same as being pro-violence).
Obvious examples include those portions of the three major war-justifying religions of the world: fundamentalist Islam, fundamentalist Judaism and fundamentalist Christianity.
I use the term fundamentalist in the sense that the religious person, who ascribes to a fundamentalist point of view, believes, among other dogmatic belief, that their scriptures are inerrant and thus they can find passages in their holy books that justify homicidal violence against their perceived or fingered enemies, while simultaneously ignoring the numerous contradictory passages that forbid violence and homicide and instead prescribe love, hospitality, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Behind the scenes, of course, there are hidden elites — amoral, politically and financially motivated operatives who are embedded in these religious organizations — who, through the strength of their political power, can easily manipulate the followers into clamoring for war, not against their enemies, but rather against the enemies of the ruling elites: the politicians, the financiers and the other exploiters of natural resources.
And so nonviolent portions of the various religions – and they are there, albeit often hidden and censored – can be erroneously painted with the same brush that justifiably condemns the hypocrisy and the violence.
It is certainly true that the Catholic Church endorsed and/or orchestrated the genocide of the Crusades, the Inquisition and many wars of colonization and exploitation — with the origins of these atrocities in fundamentalist interpretations of “holy” scripture.
But I do have to take exception to the blanket condemnation of the entirety of the religion by pointing out one reality — that the original form of Christianity, the church of the first generation after Jesus and even most of the first three centuries was a religion of pacifists, oppressed women, orphans, those forced into prostitution, despised people of all stripes and others of those called “the least.”
Though this history has long since been forgotten or ignored, the earliest followers of Jesus rejected violence, tried to return good for evil, fed the hungry, did acts of mercy and unconditional love and tried to make friends out of their enemies (by caring for them, feeding them, praying for them and certainly refusing to kill them or pay for somebody else to kill them).
Practicality of Nonviolence
It was a hugely successful ethical stance to take. It could be described as an act of divine genius. And it made tremendous practical sense. One bit of evidence of the practicality of gospel nonviolence is the fact that in the first couple of centuries, no early Christian male ever acquired combat-induced PTSD or the soul-destruction that always accompanies that reality.
And no early Christian ever felt depressed, ashamed, guilty or suicidal about killing, plundering or raping innocent unarmed women and children in wartime. The earliest Christians took seriously Jesus’s clear command to love and befriend their enemies, and – despite brutal Roman persecutions – the religion survived; indeed, it thrived.
In fact, by 300 CE, it had grown into one of the largest religions in the empire, at which point the emperor Constantine (who was a worshipper of the Sun god until his deathbed baptism into the “faith”) co-opted the church by stopping the persecutions and granting it power, property and prestige, thus seducing it into becoming the obedient and increasingly dependent state church whose master was the brutal, often satanic Roman Empire and its army generals.
Eventually – and logically – church leaders who were now dependent on the largesse and protection of the empire felt obliged to support it and its troops, pay homage to the emperor and send its young Christian men to violently defend the empire’s borders against the fingered enemy. Or homicidally enlarge the empire if it was profitable for Rome or the Papal State to do so.
Just War Theory
St. Augustine wrote the first Christian Just War Theory (CJWT) in the late Fourth Century, making legitimate, in certain rare circumstances, killing by Christians in wartime, which had been long forbidden to the followers of Jesus.
Soon thereafter, Christianity became a religion of justified violence, contrary to the teachings and modeling of Jesus, and it remains that way until this very hour. However, it is generally agreed among Just War scholars that no war in the past 1,700 years has been conducted according to the principles of the Christian Just War Theory; that if the actual principles were applied to an impending war, they would lead Christians back to its original pacifist stance. And so the principles of the CJWT are not taught to the vast majority of Christians.
So, the blanket condemnation of homicidal religions, especially Christianity, is justified up to the point of acknowledging that the bulk of the Christian church, over the past 17 centuries, has ignored – or become apathetic to – the nonviolent teachings of Jesus (forgiveness 70 X 7, unending mercy, ministering to “the least of these” and the unconditional love of friend and enemy).
Among the realities that keep the churches silent, of course, are the fear of losing the largesse of state-granted tax-exempt status and the threat that their pro-war, dues-paying members might object or leave if church leaders were to speak out prophetically about the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount and the incompatibility of nationalistic militarism with the life and teachings of Jesus.
But the Christianity of the first few centuries, when Christians refused to take up the sword, should not be condemned. Rather, critics of Christianity should start challenging the churches to go back to their roots where evil was not allowed to run rampant, but rather was aggressively and courageously resisted using the nonviolent methods of Jesus and his inspired disciples like Tolstoy, Gandhi, Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Martin Luther King, the Berrigan brothers, John Dear, Kathy Kelly and a multitude of other courageous prophetic voices.
The major motivation for the legendary civil disobedience of those modern-day prophets was their commitment to Jesus and the way he lived his life as pacifist (not passive) active resistor to evil.
The followers of that very real Jesus should be courageously “going to the streets” and saying “NO” wherever and whenever fear and hatred raise their ugly heads and try to provoke violence — no matter if it is coming from the US Congress or the Parliament in London, the Oval Office or # 10 Downing Street, in the Knesset or in the headquarters of Hamas, whether in Tehran or in Baghdad or in the Vatican or in Colorado Springs or in the bowels of the 700 Club – or from within the local parish.
Jesus, a Nonviolent Leftist
Jesus of the Gospels was an outspoken, nonviolent leftist who tried to reform his authoritarian conservative, dogmatic church but also refused to shut up with his call for justice for the down-trodden — even when his superiors threatened him with serious consequences if he didn’t.
The economic model of Jesus’s early church was socialist, where the resources of the group were shared with the widow and orphans and others who didn’t have enough. He would have stood, like the prophet he was, in solidarity with pacifists, socialists, antiwar activists and feminists and surely would have marched in nonviolent antiwar rallies.
Jesus was definitely NOT a punitive, pro-death penalty, pro-militarism conservative. His power came not from the sword but from the power of love.
Jesus would surely have condemned his church’s complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, the enslavement of black Africans and the segregationist, apartheid policies that were designed by various ruling elites to destroy ethnic or religious minorities.
And if the leadership of his church had been found guilty of or just complicit with such acts, especially genocide, Jesus would surely have insisted on the formation of an independent truth and reconciliation commission to respectfully hear the testimony of the victims, the survivors and the families of the survivors and allow those victims to face their victimizers. And then Jesus would have insisted upon his church repenting of the sins, whether committed by them or their forefathers.
The power that Jesus utilized was epitomized by the willingness to do the right thing in the crisis situations even if it involved risks to life or liberty. Fear had no power over him or the martyrs of the early church. His power came out of the holy spirit of love, goodness, mercy and forgiveness and his certainty that, by refusing to do acts of violence, he was doing the will of God.
The practicality of that radical stance resulted in the healing power that Jesus’ disciples and apostles exhibited when they started implementing what Jesus had taught and modeled for them.
War and violence emanates from an entirely different spirit than the spirit shown by the early church. That spirit is the spirit of the unholy, the spirit of the satanic, the spirit of Cain. The willingness to kill was the spirit that was strongly present in such historic figures as Hitler, Goebbels, Himmler, Eichmann, Stalin, Mussolini (all baptized into pro-war, Constantinian Christian churches).
That evil spirit was also present in many saber-rattling militarists throughout history – the most ruthless presidents, Secretaries of Defense, generals, dictators, legislators, gun-running businessmen and trained assassins that have ever lived – from the ancient low-tech, PTSD-afflicted Achilles, who killed up close and personal, looking into the eyes of his victims, to the ultra-modern, high-tech Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines that orchestrate, usually from safe distances, such atrocities as were perpetrated by Christian soldiers against innocent unarmed civilians at Nagasaki, Dresden, My Lai, Baghdad and Fallujah, to name just a few.
A Challenge to the Church
It seems to me that the Christian church must start teaching what Jesus taught about violence – that it is forbidden for those who wish to follow him – or our so-called “Christian” nation won’t be able to stop the deadly suicidal/homicidal cycle of war that has been bankrupting America, both financially and morally, for decades.
Jesus was absolutely right about the satanic nature of killing. The Golden Rule and his warning about the consequences of living by the sword speaks profound truth. According to just those two teachings, we can say that theologically and spiritually, the high-profile pro-war “Christians” that dominate the news are dead wrong.
That brand of Christianity definitely deserves condemnation. What has been criticized by Christianity’s detractors as the norm for Christianity is not the Sermon-on-the-Mount Christianity of Jesus but rather the aberrant “Constantinian Christianity,” a religion that espouses an anti-Christic, punitive theology that justifies killing fellow children of God in the name of the one who forbade it 2,000 years ago.
Church leaders need to repent of their support for (or their silence about) their nation’s state-sponsored terrorism and start acting ethically, as if the Sermon on the Mount mattered.
The Christian church in America MUST take the lead in this or it is doomed — as doomed as was Germany’s dominant Constantinian Christianity of the first half of the 20th century, whose pro-military, nationalist, racist, xenophobic, domination theology permitted torture, genocide and two brutal world wars that ultimately resulted in the suicide of German Christianity, not to mention the complete destruction of the nation by its provoked enemies.
One wonders what would have happened if every German and Russian and American church had been a real peace church, as the founder envisioned? The real question is, will we learn the lessons of history, or is it already too late?
Gary G. Kohls, MD, is a founding member of Every Church A Peace Church and is a member of a local non-denominational affiliate of ECAPC, the Community of the Third Way.
© 2012 Consortium News All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/153939/
Should a Competent Newspaper Publish Uninformed Prejudice?
An article on homosexuality, which appeared recently on the Op-Ed page of the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, calls into question the decision on the part of that paper’s editors to publish this piece. The article, signed by Don Nye of Edina, revealed no competence to address this subject and revealed little more than uninformed prejudice. I understand and appreciate the right of free speech, but where is the line between free speech and an ill-informed public attack on the dignity and humanity of a group of human beings? What is the bar of knowledge that must be met before a vibrant newspaper will refuse to give one’s opinions wide distributions? Does a newspaper print an article that is deeply anti-Semitic with no regard for the offense it will create among its Jewish readers? Does a newspaper in our day print a piece that defends the opinion that the earth is flat and the center of a three-tiered universe? I challenge the editorial board of the Star Tribune to review its decision-making processes and to consider the fact that the primary result of their decision was a massive perpetuation of ignorance.
Mr. Nye posed six revealing questions in his piece. They are now in the public domain. He argues against allowing any change in the public attitude toward homosexuality, since the present attitude represents the “societal norm.” Anyone wishing to change that norm, he maintains, should answer the six questions that he poses. In this column I will attempt to do so.
1 “Were our ancestors all dumb and bigoted because they thought homosexuality was wrong? Some may think that accepting homosexuality is innovative and progressive, but others say that abandoning our previous norm may be presumptuous on our part. In other words, our ancestors may have been right, and we might be wrong.”
No, Mr. Nye, our ancestors were not dumb or bigoted, but they did have limited knowledge and an underdeveloped consciousness. Our ancestors also practiced slavery, allowed children to work long hours in factories, burned heretics at the stake, forbade women from getting an education or voting and treated various sicknesses by bleeding the patient. Would you like to argue that those things were good and that abandoning these “societal norms” was wrong?
2. “Don’t our sexual organs exist for reproduction? How does homosexuality square with that?”
What you do not understand, Mr. Nye is that we all have but one sexual organ and that is our brain. All else is equipment. It is our brains that tell us to whom we are attracted. We now know that a small percentage of the human population, estimates are between 5 and 10%, have brains that orient their affections toward their own gender. The same thing is true in the world of nature. There is no reason to think that because this is a “minority,” it is abnormal.
3. “It is no secret that the human sex drive is a lot stronger than is needed for reproduction. Do we just give into those desires or do we try to control them? The ancients told us that controlling our physical desires is one of the things that distinguish us from the beasts. Sexual desires if, not controlled, easily lead us into trouble.”
Of course, Mr. Nye, sexual desire needs to be controlled. When not controlled violent things occur like rape, prostitution and child abuse. Each of these behaviors is, however, acted out overwhelmingly by heterosexual people. Are you suggesting that homosexual people alone must control their sexual appetites? Rape, as a matter of fact, appears quite unnatural among those you call beasts. I think any sexual behavior that violates another person is wrong. But a sexual act that expresses love and commitment is and can be quite beautiful.
4. “Most everyone still agrees that humans can take their sexuality to where it is morally wrong. Almost all will agree that among other things, adultery, pedophilia and bestiality are wrong. Why should homosexuality that was once included in this group, be moved to normal sexuality? It is based on an argument that there is no moral choice involved in homosexuality, that it is a product of nature? Couldn’t others in the group above use the same argument-they just couldn’t help themselves-they were born with those desires? Why does the nature argument work for homosexuality but not the others?”
What you do not understand, Mr. Nye, is that what you call “The Moral Law” was not inspired from on high. It grew out of the human experience. If there is a victim in love making, it is wrong. If, on the other hand, however, in a sexual encounter both partners find their humanity enhanced, their ability to love others increased and there is no victim, a different judgment is called for, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. When you say that homosexuality was removed from “this list of immoral acts,” you are referring to the book of Leviticus. We have removed a lot of things from the ancient writings of the Torah. Deuteronomy, the last book of the Torah, calls for the execution of children who are willfully disobedient and who talk back to their parents. Leviticus calls for the execution of both partners in an adulterous act, as well as for anyone who worships a false god. Leviticus mandated kosher dietary laws. Those, like you, who want to affirm the condemnation of homosexuality in Leviticus, might want to read the whole Torah and see how much of it you want to take literally.
You might also be interested, as long as you are going to appeal to the authority of the Bible, to know that there is no reference to homosexuality in any of the gospels. Jesus, however, is recorded as commanding us to love our neighbors and when asked who is our neighbor, responded by saying your neighbor is the one for whom you have the deepest prejudice.
5. “Prevalent homosexuality has made its appearance in human history before and has never lasted. Why is it going to work this time when all other appearances failed? Changes in norms require universal acceptance. Why should we go down this road again when many, probably a majority, will always see homosexuality as going against nature, not normal? Can’t we learn from the past that prevalent homosexuality will not work in society?”
Your statement here, Mr. Nye, is both patently wrong and intellectually absurd. Before you enter the public debate on any issue, you have a responsibility to read those who are experts in that field. Prejudice does not constitute knowledge. Scientists now believe that the percentage of persons in the human population that are homosexual has been both constant and stable throughout human history. When homosexuality is culturally accepted, it flourishes in the open, but when homosexuality is oppressed, it goes underground. The numbers, however, do not change because sexual orientation is fixed, an unchangeable given, no one can choose to be gay or lesbian any more than they can choose to be male or female, black or white, right handed or left handed. Changes in norms have never required universal acceptance. You clearly have no knowledge of history. That is why those who can’t adjust to new patterns of life are eventually called “racist” or “sexist” or “homophobic.” There are always some who will never change. What happens to them is that they die and their children change. That has been the human pattern forever. People with your attitude are simply those who are uninformed and out of touch.
6. “Here’s one religious question, directed not toward those practicing homosexuality, but toward those who support others who do. Should we be trying to encourage others to repent of a wrong or pat them on the back as they go down a road that could lead to perdition? The supportive group may consider themselves full of justice and love, but if there is a God who is opposed to homosexuality, as many religions claim, they may be doing indescribable harm to those they are patting on the back and most likely to themselves.”
This final question, which you, Mr. Nye, say is a religious question, reveals, rather, a profound lack of any religious knowledge, to say nothing of scientific knowledge. You are still operating on the outdated theory that people choose to be homosexual. There is not one shred of scientific or medical data to support that. Our task as Christians is to help people to be whole, to free people to be all that they can be no matter where they fit in the vast spectrum of human possibilities. For anyone to oppress another on the basis of a given fact of their lives, whether it be skin color, gender or sexual orientation, is simply wrong. It is an evil act for one person to seek to impose his or her prejudice on another. Of course, bigoted behavior hurts the victim, but it also violates the humanity of the perpetrator.
You seem to think religion cannot be wrong especially if it validates your particular prejudice. Well, Christianity has tortured heretics, killed Protestants and Catholics, supported the Divine Right of Kings, opposed democracy, and encouraged slavery and segregation. The author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” was a former slave trader, who came to the realization that slavery was wrong. Yet Popes have been owners of slaves and the “Bible Belt” is the part of America where slavery was an accepted institution and where it took defeat in war to force Christians to give it up. Christians have tried to re-program left handed children and have carried out crusades to kill “infidels” in the Middle East. Sometimes it is religion that needs to repent! For you to use an appeal to religion to try to validate your deep hatred and dark prejudice is itself shameful. Instead of revealing your lack of understanding in an article in the Star-Tribune, Mr. Nye, I suggest you hold up a mirror to yourself and see yourself for what you are, a deeply prejudiced, significantly uninformed man.
~John Shelby Spong
You are currently browsing the archives for the Social Justice category.
- The Story Behind the Catholic Church’s Stunning Reversal on Contraception
- On Carrying a Scandal Biblically By Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
- Küng still resists the ‘Roman Inquisition’
- A New Inquisition: The Vatican targets US nuns
- Speak and Act as Prophets Did: The Teachings of Dr. King & Rabbi Heschel
- What type of Church has salvation? Leonardo Boff
- an inclusive church
- Analyzing the Miracles Attributed to Jesus by John S. Spong
- The Penn State Tragedy Highlights the Catholic Church’s Failure
- Miracles As Signs to Be Interpreted: Part XIII “Think Different—Accept Uncertainty”
- My Way into an Interfaith Future – John S. Spong
- Is an Interfaith Future a Possibility in Our World? John S. Spong
- America’s Street Priest – Daniel Berrigan
- Part XI: Beginning a Probe of the Miracles Attributed to Jesus – John S. Spong
- The Christ – He Is Not the Savior of the Fallen – part X of Spong series
- The Great Commission explained – John S. Spong
- A Meditation on the Meaning of a Brief Life by John S. Spong
- The Vatican vs. the Nuns by John S. Spong
- Where Were You When They Crucified My Lord? by Chris Hedges
- The Communal Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan
- Understanding the Source of Evil by John S. Spong Part VI “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty”
- Deconstructing the Story of the Fall – part VIII John S. Spong
- The Corruption of Human Life According to the Bible – Part VII Accept Uncertainty by Spong
- Trying to extract the substantive message of Jesus from all the myth and history
- Rescuing Jesus from Traditional and Progressive Christologies By Michael Morwood