Tag Archives: Religion

Ending Racial Disparity Calls for Non-Traditional Congregations

15.08.16

August 12, 2015

This last week Sojourners magazine gave us Jenna Barnett’s interview—A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Faith in Ferguson—with Leah Gunning Francis, a professor at Eden Theological Seminary professor. The article centered on professor Francis’ thoughts on racial disparities and the real “Ferguson Effect.”

When asked, What role should the church play in current racial justice movements?, Professor Francis said,

In my observation there are congregations that are taking seriously their roles in seeking to be agents of change in the movements for racial justice, but the church writ-large, is not. At some point we need to move beyond statements and posture to actually engaging in these matters in life-transforming ways. One good first step toward this is to open the constructive conversation about race in congregations.

Important in this statement is recognizing some congregations are serious about systemic change in favor of racial justice. However, this desire to engage and to act for racial justice is absent for most Christian congregations (“church writ-large”).

Barnett goes on to ask, What church did racial justice well this year? Professor Frances responded saying,

Compton Heights Christian Church is a modest size Disciples of Christ church in St. Louis. Maybe 25 percent of the church are people of color… They reimagined what it means to be a safe sanctuary…[by opening] their sanctuary doors as places of training, gathering, cooking—and equally important—as places of prayer.

The article gives gristle for a number of conversations. Two come to mind. First is the consideration of how inadequate the church is in conversing the issue of racial justice. One example of this struggle is the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who in 1998 approved an Anti-Racism/Pro-Reconciliation initiative. This initiative called the church to practice faithfulness with regard to the elimination of racism, which exists in all manifestations of the church, to discern the presence and nature of racism as sin, to develop strategies to eradicate it, and to work toward racial reconciliation. Good stuff, but as a whole not the stuff Disciple congregations want to jump in the middle of. As a result, the office of Reconciliation Ministry (whose ministry is to implement a conversation on racial justice) has struggled since it conception due to a lack of financial resources. Continue reading

Pope Francis’ Bolivian Apology: A Call to Conversation or A Religious Appeasement?

July 12, 2015

Many hoped Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, would take a path leading to a new voice from the Church. I don’t know if we are hearing a new voice, yet, but at least the voice we are hearing calls for deeper conversations.

While visiting Bolivia this last Thursday, Pope Francis apologized to Americans whose ancient heritage is the American landscape. The apology was for the Church’s support and involvement in the colonization of the Americas. Though not a direct apology for his predecessor’s support of the genocidal Doctrine of Discovery, the apology is a first step.

The Pope’s apology calls for an interesting conversation during the coming months. For just prior to Pope Francis’ arrival in the US this fall, church structure is in place to canonize Father Junipero Serra on September 23. Pope Francis is concluding a path begun in 1988 when Pope John Paul II beatified Fr Serra.

While many folk may not know Fr Serra, most Californian’s who attended school in California do. Few born and raised Californians did not draw or construct a Mission while in school. For me it was the Mission San Fernando Rey de España located an hour south or so from my elementary school. Mission San Fernando was but one of the twenty-one missions dotting the California coast from San Diego (San Diego de Alcalá, 1769) to Sonoma (San Francisco Solano, 1823). The credit of developing a mission infrastructure where missions were located one days ride from one another goes to Fr Serra. Known for his intellect, the development of the string of missions, and the conversion of California Indians, the church and the state has held Fr Serra in good regard. California Indians, whose ancestors provided the labor to build the missions have, let’s say, a different take. Continue reading

Defining ‘nation’: Guest Post

13.12.05b

Reblogged from Faith and Values in the Public Square:

Prompted by our “Insert Catchy Title Here” debate between Dr. Michael Trice and Rabbi Anson Laytner, David Bell responds to the topic discussing the idea of nation and what it means to be the United States, what it means to be America, and what it means to be the United States of America.

If you missed the original debate posts find the opening statements and rebuttals previously posted on our blog.

By: David Bell

“Are we a Christian nation or a nation of Christians?”  As Dr. Trice noted, “The key word here is nation.”  To answer the question we must first be clear, what is nation?  Language in the United States often uses the term America as if it is the same as United States.  America though, is a landscape of soil, wind, plants, water, animals, and humans.  Whereas, the United States is a social and legal structure residing, with other social and legal structures, in the midst of the American landscape.  It is this social and federal republic legal structure called United States of America, which is nation.

We often do not think the United States a Christian nation because we do not experience the intimate relationship between Church and State—European Christendom—from which pilgrims and puritans separated.  We often support this feeling because of the Constitution’s First Amendment.  After all, if the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” surely, no one religion can dominate the social and legal structure of a nation.  Right?

Read more…

Allow the Doorway to Decay?

13.11.17

November 17, 2013

Martin Marty wrote an article for Sightings called Mormons and Native Americans.  He uses and article by Fernanda Santos, in The New York Times, where she talks about Navajo people reclaiming their roots thanks to the Mormon Church.  Marty concludes saying,

Non- or anti-Mormons, who regard the Book of Mormon as fiction, may question the validity of framing identities on the basis of stories which cannot be verified in conventional scientific or historical terms.  However:

It happens that most families and tribes and peoples live off stories that cannot be conventionally verified.  This is the case with most sacred scriptures, but there is a mythic dimension to the way other stories are received, e.g., those of America’s “Founding Fathers.”  Citizens find identity and motivations, good and bad, from such roots.

Welcome to the company of the Mormon-Navajo Smith family survivors!

Fair enough.  We all live lives based in mythical stories.  Some of my favorite family stories—that I hope are passed down—are those who have grown to mythical proportions with their retelling.  Yet, I find this writing—in a publication (Sightings) claiming the identity, “The cliché about polite conversation is that there are two things never to discuss: religion and politics.  We at Sightings know better (at least about religion)”—religiously wanting and polite.

A conversation concerning mythical stories and how they inform us culturally and inter-culturally is valuable.  However, from a Christian religion perspective, Santo’s article calls for a much different, much need, and much less polite conversation.

Santo’s tells a story about the Smith family and makes  note that when Mr. Smith, a Navajo, talks about being placed in a Mormon home as a child, he says, “Here was an outside group of people telling me I wasn’t just someone who was poor…that I had a great heritage, that I have potential.”  Continue reading

The Doctrine of Discovery Trinity

13.04.06

April 06, 2013

Balancing Theology, Polity, and the Indigenous Voice is an “Item For Reflection And Research” document moving through the process that leads to its consideration at the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in July 2013.  The following is based on an argument I learned from Sarah Augustine about how Christendom (the Christian Church and European nations) justified the Doctrine of Discovery.
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A century before the voyage of Columbus, Pope Nicholas V wrote the papal bull Romanus Pontifex (1455).  The bull followed-up his 1452 bull Dum Diversas which permitted Alfonso V of Portugal to place pagans, specifically Saracens (Muslims) into generational slavery.  In writing Romanus Pontifex Nicholas V enhanced his early bull by allowing the subjugation of non-Christian land and peoples by Catholic/Christian nations.  A century later, in 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued the bull Inter Caetera.  This bull fashioned the last bit of theology needed to endorse the colonization desires of Christian European nations, by asserting that once a Christian nation claimed and subjugated a land and people, no other Christian nation could occupy and claim that particular geographic landscape.  These three bulls, Romanus Pontifex, Dum Diversas, and Inter Caetera are the theological documents of the Christian Church that serve as the Doctrine of Discovery’s documents of origin.  In time, other theological and secular documents led to a political philosophy that cumulated in Emer de Vattel’s 1758 work The Law of Nations or the Principles of Natural Law Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and of Sovereigns, which influenced the development of United States law and legislation.

The Law of Nations is but one of many works making up the body of laws, edicts, bulls, pronouncements, and books that make up the body of work called the Doctrine of Discovery.  Long before Vattel’s work though, the Doctrine of Discovery created a systemic worldwide slavery trade, supported the genocide of indigenous people, and the robbery of non-European land resources.  There are many theological, political, and business oriented writings endorsing the subjugation of non-European land and peoples, however three concepts, two of which are Christian, led Pope Nicholas V, Alexander VI and their successors to believe worldwide European conquest and colonization appropriate: The Great Commission, Terra nullius, and Romans 13.

The Christian Testament’s gospel of Mathew speaks of what folk call The Great Commission.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus reappears to the eleven remaining disciples on a mountain in Galilee.  There Jesus says,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (MT 28:18-20)

The concept to make disciples of all nations became a foundational concept of the Christian religion.  As Christianity grew into a dominate religion of European empires after the Roman Emperor Constantine  legitimized it in 313 C.E., Christian leaders began to take advantage of power gained in a Religion/State relationship and soon the notion of Christianizing the world became embedded into national laws.

Terra nullius comes from the Roman legal concept of res nullius—things without owners.  Res nullius allowed nations to develop the idea of land without owner, leading to the concept of terra nullius.  By occupying and subjugating a terra nullius, a nation obtains sovereignty over that territory.  Such occupation meant indigenous peoples were not only not owners of the landscape they had lived within since ancient times, but because of their primitive-pagan state, they were also not fully human and because they were sub-people without political order they were a people not capable of negotiations.  Thus, all non-Christian lands were open to occupation and all non-Christian people open to perpetual slavery.

The last concept arises from Romans 13 of the Christian Testament.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority?  Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  (vv. 1-4)

Christian European empires used Romans 13: 1-4 to argue they obtained their authority and dominion because God ordained it so.  Such a theological construct gave European empires the God given right to bear the sword and impose genocide upon any land and people whom they believed the wrongdoer.

Together these three concepts allowed Pope Nicholas V, Alexander VI, and successors to argue; the Great Commission imposes an order from God to convert the world to Christianity; Christians and Christian states have the right to occupy and subjugate non-Christian terra nullius; and should the people of terra nullius refuse to become Christian and recognize the States ordained authority, then as a servant of God the State must execute wrath and place the people into perpetual slavery at best, or to the sword at worst.

© David B. Bell 2013

Wombed Is To Life, As Life Is To ???

13.03.28

March 28, 2013

2013 Kids: Day 3
Part 3

The day began with an almost death and ended with the real thing.  Death is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away.  And like birth, everyone does it sooner or later.

As I reread what I wrote yesterday, I noticed I said that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  That got me to thinking, was it dead?  The kid never took a breath.  Can there be life without breath?  Can there be death without life?  The old storytellers of the Hebrew Testament tell the story of Creator gathering up ground, forming it, and then breathing the breath of life into the mud ball.  With breath, forth came human life.  For some of our ancient people life comes with breath.

I choose to think life comes with breath with birth.  Many folk don’t agree and say life comes before breath before birth.  However, defining existence prior to birth and prior to breath as life is accepting society’s norm of thinking in absolutes.  Absolutes like right or wrong, good or bad, moral or immoral, hot or cold, life or death.  Absolutes are problematic because this either-or way of thinking does not allow us to wonder in liminal space.  In other words, by defining everything we know as not death as life we confine the fullness of creation, but when we dull the edges of what we choose to call life and death we enhance the richness of life and death because we become comfortable with the ambiguousness of existence.

Years ago, Belinda and I had a baby after twenty-five weeks in the womb.  Breath was not breathed into and breath was not taken.  So, like the kid from the previous post, was she born dead?  Well, she did not have life as we know it.  She was not a walking, breathing being.  And yet, there was something prior to birth.  Something like life, something real, something extraordinary and unique existed, but that something did not fit the language box of life.  In our want for simpleness, we have not taken the initiative to find a word (or words) which best expresses the state of being lying somewhere between non-human and human existence.  Or have we?  Perhaps we do have a word to talk about unique existence prior to life, but in our sloppiness we have not allowed it to become all it might be.  After all, womb is a fairly decent word that expresses something more than an ammonic sack.  The womb, created at conception, is a unique landscape—at least as unique as the landscape we call earth.  The landscape of the womb is a place of extraordinary existence—every bit as unique as life is on earth.  Therefore, it seems a shame to use the word life to talk about an existence that is extraordinarily different from this breathing walking around life we know.  Instead of describing existence in the womb as life, wouldn’t be more appropriate to talk about being wombed or wombing or wombingful?  Would not such language speak to an extraordinary and creative existence that is equal to but not the same as life?  To value womb and life as different but equally unique existences is to appreciate the rich and imaginative nature of creation.  By letting go of either-or absolute thinking and allowing our language to become creative and imaginative, existence becomes fluid and rich.  Moreover, fluid existence means we can better cherish death.

Cherishing death though, is to find fertile language that honors post-life existence in the way womb honors pre-life existence.  As wombed existence becomes richer when we let go of phrases like life in the womb, post-life existence becomes richer when we let go of words like afterlife.  In doing so, after life or post-life would speak to that existence which comes into being when the breathing walking around life we know, ends.

It is within the human imagination find language that speaks to post-life existence as extraordinary, creative, and equal to life, but not the same as life.  The trick is to find a word(s) (Many that come to mind seem inadequate: Heaven, Hell, paradise, angel, eternity, afterlife, Hereafter, eternity.) that speak to post-life as wombed speaks to pre-life.  There is also the need to find new ways of thinking and descriptions of existence that allow us to imagine post-human as fetus speaks to pre-human.  In doing so, we move away from words and phrases like, life in the womb and afterlife toward constructs like, as the womb is to life, life is to ??? and as the fetus is to human, human is to ???.  With such words, we can better speak to and honor the fullness of our human and non-human existence.

Taking in the fullness of the creativity of our human and non-human existence allows humanity to grasp the richness of death.  The movement, if I might call it that, from wombed to living or fetus to human is that of birth.  Birth in its own right is a transitional moment from one existence to another.  There are times at the farm when we have watched a doe mother give birth to a kid, only to have the kid fully within the ammonic sack and fully outside of mom lying on straw.  This moment only lasts for an instant, but in that instant, one can watch the kid moving and having its existence in two realities at once.  The instant the sack breaks, one begins to understand that birth is a unique transitional moment.  Death is similar and transitional, but not the same as birth.  Unlike birth, where the fetus body becomes the human body, death is a transitional experience into a post-life existence that is bodiless.

The lack of body brings forth the realization that both the wombed-fetus and the living-human experience death.  This lack of body in post-life existence is why I commented that when the first kid of the last doe of the day was born, it was birthed dead.  However, there is one stark difference between the death of the wombed and death of the living.  Those which experience life have the opportunity to experience the movement of being from wombed to life to ???.  Whereas the fetus experiences the movement from wombed to ???, missing the experience of life.  Does missing the experience of life matter?  I don’t know.  But I do feel creation experiences deep loss when either a doe births a kid or a mother births a baby (and I choose to allow the mother to define that existence within her as baby) that is dead.

Death really is weird.  Can’t explain it, can’t explain it away—as might be noted in my reflection.  However, in this season of birth, of Holy Week and of Passover, which is a time of life and a time of death, nailing an explanation for death and life doesn’t seem as important and as taking a deep breath and wondering about the richness and fullness of our (goat and human) existence.

© David B. Bell 2013

The Failure of American Exceptionalism

12.12.31

December 28, 2012

Before the election, I received an email from Daniel, a dear person who served as an intern.  He wondered if “Romney’s statement about the 47%, and the subsequent statements both He and Paul Ryan have made about the ‘American Dream’ and people pulling themselves up out of despair,” is endorsing a sense of superiority based from the Christian Doctrine of Discovery (Doctrine).  I didn’t respond at the time because the best I could do was grumble like many others about how out of touch this wealthy white guy was, and yet I figured the answer must go below the surface of race, culture, and economic injustice.  So, I allowed the question to linger.  Well, lingering got me as far as the “fiscal cliff” debacle.

The fiasco of the “fiscal cliff” has made great fodder for the media and their pundits since the election.  So, to add my two cents worth, it may well be that the lack of Congresses getting along, finding places of commonality, and compromise is an indicator that Romney’s arrogant 47% statement could have been said by most any of the folk hanging out in Congress.  As the fiscal cliff talks unfolded, it became somewhat evident that the people whose work is to find commonality are instead living as if they know their way of thinking and acting are the only right ways of being.  This approach of living absolutes, based on knowing I and my community of like thinkers are correct and those other folk are missing the mark may very well be an aspect of the Doctrine of Discovery rising to the surface.

In an era of European Christendom, the Doctrine fashioned theological arguments holding Christian people and governments as the only people and governments endorsed by God.  Such thinking created a theological and political European worldview sanctioning Christianized European people as better than all others.  This thinking not only allowed European empires to develop a worldwide discovery movement that endorsed the subjugation of land and peoples who looked, talked, dressed, ate, and prayed different from themselves, but also embedded such thinking in many of the landscapes they conquered.  The North American landscape of which the United States claims is one of them.

As U.S. government and business developed and began looking different from their European homeland, so also changed the personality of the Doctrine.  The Christian theological argument of God sanctioning U.S. people and their government as better than all others slowly slipped below the surface (ready to re-emerge when necessary), and more secular jargon took its place.  This transition of Doctrine language is noticeable in three eras of U.S. development: In 1630 John Winthrop uses Mathew 5:14 (Jesus’ sermon on the Mount) to distinguish the future Massachusetts Bay community as the city upon a hill; In 1850, secular U.S. jargon begins to move to the forefront when John L. O’Sullivan claims it is the United States manifest destiny to “overspread and to possess the whole of the continent;” and by 2012 one must have the ear to hear the Christian influence in the popular terminology of American exceptionalism.  This reality means, from the moment of European arrival to the North American landscape, it has been difficult to raise a child in the U.S. and not have them believe themselves better than all others.

Recognizing U.S. citizens are raised from birth to believe they are exceptional to others, there little surprise Romney might believe his “job is not to worry about those [47% of the] people” who cannot be convinced “that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  Nor should it be surprising a Congress, on both sides of the aisle, cannot find common ground, for they were raised to believe they are better than their neighbor.

I think Daniel is on to something.  And I think it is sad.  For even if Congress has come together on the fiscal cliff by the time of this writing (hopefully so…), they were unable to honor one another, unable to honor the people, and unable to honor the landscape of their birth.  Sadly, they have adopted a belief that they (and like thinkers) are exceptional and not prone to mistake, and therefore not called to find middle ground unless forced.

Of course, the Congress arises from the people and as such, their problems are our problems.  At some level, we who are U.S. citizens must admit we believe ourselves exceptional and that we are wrong.  We must let go of Doctrine of Discovery values, and, from the grassroots up, rethink that which we have traditionally accepted as normal and just.  In rethinking, we surely will not get it right or be just every time, but we can create an atmosphere where rethinking is normal and where being wrong is okay.  Should we do so, we just might create a landscape where the voice of all is valued and the need of a scapegoat is something of generations past.

© David B. Bell 2012