Category Archives: Ethics

On Vestments and Character: Some Wisdom from the Philokalia

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For my devotional reading, I’ve been working through the collection of centuries-old Orthodox teachings called the Philokalia.  I was struck this morning by some words from St. Neilos the Ascetic.   He writes about the dissonance, in his day, between the holy garments worn by monastics (called the “habit”) and the life they live.  I think it has something to say to those of us who wear clergy vestments as well (even if you’re Baptist and that means a suit!).  Here goes:

Today, a person wears the monastic habit without washing away the stains on his soul, or erasing the marks which past sins have stamped upon his mind; indeed, he may still take lustful pleasure in the fantasies these sins suggest.  He has not yet trained his character so as to fit his vocation, nor does he grasp the purpose of the divine philosophy.  Already he has developed a Pharisaic superciliousness, being filled with conceit by his robes.  He goes about carrying various tools [the Bible, perhaps?] the use of which he does not understand.  By virtue of his outward dress he lays claim to a knowledge which in reality he has not tasted even with the tip of his tongue.  He is a reef, not a harbor; a whited sepulcher, not a temple; a wolf, not a sheep; the ruin of those decoyed by his appearance. (“Ascetic Discourse,” The Philokalia: Volume 1 [New York: Faber & Faber 1979], 204).

Whew.  Hard words.  Such language represents a stringent spirituality that is absent from nearly all Protestant contexts these days.  They are humbling and powerful, to me, as one who wears another kind of robe.

Peace to you today, and grace to all those who wear the robes.  May our character reflect our vocation.

 

P.S. For more Orthodox inspiration, check out Ancient Faith radio.  It’s like K-Love, except it is spiritually profound and has theological integrity.

I call THAT real…

This is officially my new favorite country song.  And I haven’t listened to much country lately.  I used to listen almost exclusively to country, but more and more I find that it is only parroting the worst aspects of other popular forms of music like rock & hip-hop.  Being a big Johnny Cash fan, I know country has always had elements of drug use and sexuality.  I’m not sure if I’ve gotten more sensitive to this stuff or if it is more and more pervasive.  Either way, I just don’t have much patience for it anymore.  I think the music you listen to shapes you.  It’s not about “not being stained” or thinking that everything secular is dirty.  For me, I guess, it’s about what keeps me focused on God and the man God has called me to be.  It seems to me that country today is just as likely to celebrate very ungodly lifestyles as any other kind of music, and I just don’t need to fill my head with that on a regular basis.

But, James Wesley just gave me a reason to celebrate country music again.  Given all the reality TV on CMT (isn’t it owned by MTV, also a fine purveyor of “reality” trash?), it will be a miracle if this gets much air time.  But man we need to hear this message:

500 Channels and there ain’t much on tonight
But reality shows about some folks so called lives
A pretty girl cries cause she don’t get a rose
But she’ll find love next year on her own show
And they call that real

Real, is the hand you hold 57 years
Real, is a band of gold trembling with fear
And it’s the first long tear down an old man’s face
Watching his angel slipping away
His heart so broke, it’s never gonna heal
I call that real

Where I live, housewives don’t act like that
And the survivors are farmers in John Deere hats
Our Amazing race is beating the check
Praying that the bank ain’t ran it through yet

Real, like too much rain falling from the sky
Real, like the drought that came around here last July
It’s the damn old weevils and the market and the weeds
The prayer they prayed when they plant the seeds
And the chance they take to bring us our next meal
I call that real

Real, like a job you lose ‘cause it moves to Mexico
Like a momma and a baby with no safe place to go
Like a little dream house with a big old foreclosed sign
Like a flag draped coffin and a 21 gun goodbye
I call that real

This hit me especially this morning because Snooki visited nearby recently (on a Sunday! Surely there should be a law…) to a packed Barnes & Noble.  As a society, we are idolatrously glorifying the lives of people who literally contribute nothing to society.  Moreover, the  lifestyles celebrated in “reality” shows have nothing to do with how 99.9% of people actually live.

I serve a congregation of wonderful people.  None of us are perfect.  Some of us have lost children; some have had cancer; some of us have suffered from mental illness.  We’ve lost jobs.  We’ve raised good kids.  We’ve had arguments, but found healing.  We’ve worked hard, even for bad people, and continued to serve each other in retirement.  I love these people.  I love how real they are.

So please, media, stop trying to sell me something that is fundamentally sinful, wrong, malformed, and galactically unreal.  Thank you James Wesley (awesome last name BTW) for a country song I can celebrate once more.

Rethinking Christ & Culture, Again

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In contemporary theological conversation, H. R. Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture is both loved and hated, adored and despised.  Admirers will tell you it is a theological “classic” that deserves a reading by each successive generation, while detractors will (and I’ve seen them do it!) spew venom and the mere mention of the title.  For those unfamiliar, in this work Niebuhr gives a typology of Christian responses to culture.  Thus, he argues, throughout the course of time, the ship of the church has navigated its way through the world with 5 identifiable responses/reactions to its surrounding culture:

Christ against Culture. For the exclusive Christian, history is the story of a rising church or Christian culture and a dying pagan civilization.
Christ of Culture. For the cultural Christian, history is the story of the Spirit’s encounter with nature.
Christ above Culture. For the synthesist, history is a period of preparation under law, reason, gospel, and church for an ultimate communion of the soul with God.
Christ and Culture in Paradox. For the dualist, history is the time of struggle between faith and unbelief, a period between the giving of the promise of life and its fulfillment.
Christ Transforming Culture. For the conversionist, history is the story of God’s mighty deeds and humanity’s response to them. Conversionists live somewhat less “between the times” and somewhat more in the divine “now” than do the followers listed above. Eternity, to the conversionist, focuses less on the action of God before time or life with God after time, and more on the presence of God in time. Hence the conversionist is more concerned with the divine possibility of a present renewal than with conservation of what has been given in creation or preparing for what will be given in a final redemption.

Props to Wikipedia for the descriptions above.  In the ensuing decades since the publication (1951) of his book, Niebuhr has been the subject of sustained critique for various reasons.  Some claim that his vision of “culture”, always a nebulous term, is undefined and unhelpful in the Yale professor’s telling.  Others say that it was an insidious work because it obviously favored the last model, ‘Transformation’, to the detriment of the others.  Thus, Yoder writes, “Behind this posture of humble nonnormative objectivity, it will become clear to any careful reader that Niebuhr has so organized his presentation as to indicate a definite preference for ‘transformation.’. . . ‘Transformation’ takes into itself all the values of its predecessor types and corrects most of their shortcomings.”

But there, I think, is the rub.  Many of Niebuhr’s critics, in my view, are those whose views have been most marginalized (or exposed by?) his work.  Thus, those usually raising the loudest ruckus against Christ and Culture are those who feel dismissed by it.  These would include Yoder, his protege’ Hauerwas, and all of their theological fanboys (of which there are many, at least in the blogosphere).  A more reasoned and helpful reading of Christ & Culture recognizes its shortcomings but still finds value in the discussion.  This, I think, is supplied by Geoffrey Wainwright in the opening chapter of his massive co-edited volume The Oxford History of Christian Worship.  His background in ecumenical discussion and interest in liturgy and missiology shines through brilliantly here:

“Rather than taking [Niebuhr’s] five “typical” attitudes as fixed and divergent stances of the Christian faith toward all human culture, it may be more appropriate to see them as indicating the possibility of, and need for, a discriminating attention on the part of Christians toward every human culture at all times and in all places.  Whereas a particular cultural configuration may appear as predominantly positive or negative in relation to the saving purposes of God, it is likely that most cultures will contain some elements to be affirmed; some to negated, resisted, and even fought; some to be purified and elevated; some to be held provisionally in tension; and some to be transformed.  The liturgy can function not only to sift but also to inspire a surrounding public culture.” (The Oxford History of Christian Worship [Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006], 17)

Such a nuanced take on Niebuhr’s work is, unfortunately, rather novel these days.  Those who critique it have good reason, on occasion; unfortunately, just as frequently as they have cause to critique it, they throw the baby out with the bathwater and seek to make it anathema for contemporary readers.  This is a shame.  Wainwright has given us a measured and helpful response that will hopefully keep Christ & Culture part of our discourse for decades to come.

Note: The Yoder quote comes from Gathje’s article found at:

http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2641

Why Do Wars Happen? Bellicosity and the 21st Century With Jeremy Black

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Just finished reading Jeremy Black’s excellent Why Wars Happen.  This is the the third of Black’s books that I’ve read, and while they’ve all been thought-provoking, less than easy to read, and extensively researched, this has been by far my favorite of his works.  Black, a prolific author and Professor of History at Exeter University, is a leading authority on military history and a proponent of overcoming euro-centrism that has been so common in the field.  (Of course, military history is itself a field that is no longer in academic vogue.)

While I’ve read and enjoyed single volume histories of warfare from scholars such as John Keegan,  the focus of this tome is on causality.  For that, Black focuses on culture, and in particular, “bellicosity” – that is, the cultural attitudes, inclinations and institutions that encourage violence.  Black takes us on a wide tour, starting in 1450, that spans the whole world and attempts to analyze violence between different cultures, violence within cultures, and civil wars (itself a helpful typology).  One of the most interesting aspects was his ongoing discussion of the sheer difficulty of defining war.  For instance, how do we differentiate war from rebellion?  Is ethnic cleansing war or crime?  Are mass uprisings wars or revolutionary movements?

By far, the chapter I enjoyed most was the next-to-last chapter on warfare in the 1990’s up through today (granted, this was written pre-9/11).  He aptly narrates the decline in bellicosity of Western societies and describes factors associated with this shift.  Thus, he says,

More generally, in the post-1945 world, there has been a growing abstraction of death and suffering, a process linked both to medical technology and secularism…ordinary people have become more and more comprehensively insulated from personal pain, and are less accustomed to consider it normal and reasonable…Another relevant, but complex, shift is due to changes in patterns of expendability amongst young adult males…smaller families have made every child precious, and the cult of youth in modern Western consumer culture is not a cult of organized violence.

As regards to literature and organized violence, he writes,

…anti-war attitudes dominate serious adult literature in the West and have done so for several decades, with war presented as callous disorder in popular works such as Joseph Heller’s Catch-22…within academic circles, peace studies are more acceptable than those of war. (Why Wars Happen [New York: NYU Press 1998] 223, 224)

These quotes are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  Be warned: he does not write for a popular audience (in my opinion!).  As much as I like and respect Black (whom I’ve had occasion to meet more than once), his work is no easy read.  I was a history major, and yet his knowledge is so vast and his examples so numerous, I confess I had a difficult time reading this book at sustained intervals.  Nevertheless, the juice is worth the squeeze.  If you are interested in the causes of war, and not interested in simple answers or idealistic, modern/liberal gas, this is a book well worth your time and effort.

For theologians, in particular, this book raises a significant question:  If, as Black suggests, the decline in bellicosity is a Western paradigm over the last 20-40 years, then how can the recent rediscovery of Christian pacifism (especially in the work of Yoder and Hauerwas) be deemed “counter-cultural”?  If Black is right, Christians pacifists are in fact riding the cultural tide.  Interesting.

Oliver O’Donovan, Church Discipline, and the Current Catholic Scandals

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Ask a typical Protestant what “church discipline” means, and you will probably get a blank stare.  “Are you talking about keeping the youth in line on a mission trip?” they might ask.  No.  Most Protestants probably will not know the word “excommunication.”  In our age of worshipping the individual conscience, Protestants have (contra the New Testament witness) abandoned any real sense of church discipline.  This is both an overreaction reaching back to Reformation criticisms and a capitulation to modernity.  As Professor O’Donovan narrates it, “the Enlightment swept away church discipline from all but sectarian Protestant communities.”  Unfortunately, the laxity with which Protestants treat church discipline at all levels, but especially at the level of laity, seems to be present in Roman Catholic treatments of scandalous priests.

What was lost?  For O’Donovan, the chief concern ought to be the public integrity of the Church, not first and foremost the well-being of the individual.  “The point,” he argues, “is that discipline does not exist first to serve the penitent; it exists to enable the church to live a public life of integrity.”

Of course, discipline applies not only to lay persons but also to clergy.  Unfortonately, all churches tend to approach disciplining the ordained as if they are walking through molasses.  On one level, this is not surprising: all systems will protect its own, and the closer you are to power within the system, the more likely you are to be protected.  All the various Church communions, on some level, simply protect their own.  This seems to have, in some Catholic dioceses, gotten out of hand.  I think that the whole narrative of “those sexless old white men need to marry so they will stop molesting children” is overplayed and viciously simplistic.  Likewise, I do not think the corruption goes all the way to the top, though it is natural to want “the buck” to stop with the Pope.

O’Donovan, both in Resurrection and Moral Order and in his magisterial Desire of the Nations, has a  vested interest in the public witness of the Church.  In the case of Church discipline, he sees the major turning point as “the fateful exchange of public penance for private.”  Thus, all discipline was rendered a matter of the penitent’s spiritual good, and the need of the community to exhibit an unblemished face was forgotten.  In his schema, it seems, any priests facing church discipline would and should do so publicly, sparing their own private interests for the sake of the Church’s witness.

In his discussion on the consequences of lacking true church discipline, I found O’Donovan quite prescient.  Tell me if you hear the current Catholic scandals described almost exactly:

Although the scandal may arise from private fault, though not inevitably, the function of discipline is to address the public problems that it poses for the church’s common life.  Until this is recognized, our churches will continue to be vexed by the all-too-familiar pattern of misunderstanding in which the people find themselves humiliated by some scandal and demand a firm line of their clergy or  bishops, the bishops think the people harsh and unforgiving, the people think themselves betrayed, and everything is at cross-purposes.  That is the necessary fruit of an attempt to render private and, in and individualistic sense, ‘pastoral’ what are in fact the church’s rites of public justice, namely, the avowal of repentance and the assurance of forgiveness. (Resurrection and Moral Order, 169)

Oliver O’Donovan on Context and Theology

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In one of the most interesting chapters of Oliver O’Donovan’s  remarkable Resurrection and Moral Order, we find a brief meditation on the relation of moral theology to culture.  Here he shows sympathy with Karl Barth, who ran afoul of the vast majority of German theologians that chose uncritically to make “the great new cultural fact of their time and place” the starting point for the theological task.  What follows is a discussion of Barth’s conflict with Brunner, with a sidebar to Tillich.  O’Donovan concludes:

It is hard to see how such an approach can become more than a work of ideology, in which the gospel is proved to be ‘at home’ in our favoured cultural setting, whatever it may be…What has now become painfully clear is that the theological tradition which springs from such thinkers [does this include Barth??] is unable to deal convincingly with those liberation-theologies which most blatantly subject the theological enterprise to the sectional perceptions of a single cultural group (‘black’ theology, ‘feminist’ theology, etc.).  It can show embarrassment at them, or it can be patronizingly interested in them; but it cannot now complain at being excommunicated, and assert the universality of theology, since all the time it has understood the theological task as a discreet exercise in cultural accommodation. (90)

O’Donovan, as you may have ascertained by this point, is not an easy read.  As little sense as it makes, it appears to me that he is including Barth alongside these other, clearly accommodated, theologians.  I’m happy, however, to be corrected by keener readers of O’Donovan.  It’s worth noting that this conversation takes place within his chapter entitled ‘Knowledge in Christ’, which is a meditation upon epistimology.  He is attempting to carve out a space somewhere between the classic defense of natural law in Aquinas (though he does no like the term ‘natural law’, preferring created order) and the  “Nein!” of Karl Barth.   Thus he ends up both appreciative and (con cajones) critical of these two powerhouses.  He seems to clearly stand with Barth epistimologically, though not ontologically.  In other words, he affirm’s Barth’s sole reliance on the Word of God for Christian knowledge, and yet he critiques Barth for not appreciating the usefulness of created order (redeemed at the Resurrection) to the theological and moral task.

The above quotation was from one of his small-print, “Barth-esque” sidenotes.   A sampling of what precedes this sidebar may help illumine the whole, and help us understand O’Donovan’s qualified appreciation of the created order to theology:

…revelation in Christ does not deny our fragmentary knowledge of the way things are, as though that knowledge were not there, or were of no significance; yet it does not build on it, as though it provided a perfectly acceptable foundation to which a further level of understanding can be added….the Christian moral thinker, therefore, has no need to proceed in a totalitarian way, denying the importance and relevance of all that he finds valued as moral conviction in various cultures and traditions of the world….But neither can he simply embrace the perspectives of any such culture, not even – which is the most difficult to resist – the one to which he happens to belong and which therefore claims him as an active participant.  He cannot set about building a theological ethic upon the moral a priori of a liberal culture, a conservative culture, a technological culture, a revolutionary culture or any other kind of culture; for that is to make of theology and ideological justification for the cultural constructs of human misknowledge. (89-90)

There seems to be an important distinction here between what is “useful” and what is of first importance to theology.  While theology can and should make use of the insights gained from various cultures, no single culture can ever be an uncritical basis of the theological task.  That distinction belongs, as we learn from Barth, solely to God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

I quite enjoyed O’Donovan’s description of liberationists as those who “subject the theological enterprise to the sectional interests of a single cultural group.” My own feeling is that the experience of those various cultural groups is important to critical thinking about Scripture and tradition, and to theology.  As O’Donovan insists, theology does not have to be indifferent to these various perspectives.  For instance, my courses in black church theology and history taught me to appreciate the Black Christian experience in America as instructive for what it means to live “on the underside of modernity.” (The phrase is J. Kameron Carter’s.)  But such experience, valuable though it is, is rendered into sand when it is forced to be a foundation for theology (Matthew 24:27).  The Logos, after all, God in the flesh, is the only ground that theology can take without being merely another culturally-conditioned construct of “human misknowledge.”

What Sports Would Jesus Watch?

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In one of my seminary classes dealing with gender issues and Christian faith, we read Chuck Palahniuk’s remarkable Fight Club.  Interestingly, this was the one male-oriented book we read for the class (like most gender classes, “gender” really means “women”).  I recall the women in the class, including the professor, being horrified at the popularity of the story and the movie.  Many questioned how people could be attracted to such naked violence.  There was poo-pooing all around until I brought up the fact that many people in the room like violence in a form that most of us consider innoccuos: sports.  The point was valid; even ardent pacifists that I know enjoy inherently violent sports like hockey, football, and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA).

Thanks to a post over at Sherdog, I found the following quote in a piece by Adam Groza at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in California (which I’d never heard of until reading this post):

UFC and MMA amounts to violence porn, a term which has been applied to movies with wanton violence such as “SAW,” where violence is not part of the plot, it is the attraction. Violence for violence’s sake, as opposed to instrumental or redeeming violence, desensitizes the viewer to the graphic horror of watching two people pummel each other for the sake of entertainment. UFC and MMA offer exactly the kind of violence condemned in Psalm 11:5. Ezekiel 7:23 decries, “the city is full of violence.” Why are Christians supporting violence in the city?

I think the comparison of SAW is ignorant and egregious.  I can’t stand the SAW franchise, but that is a matter of taste more than morality.  Futhermore, what Groza calls “violence for violence’s sake” I would simply call honest violence.  Much of the attraction of our favorite sports stems from the violent aspects: fights in hockey and wrecks in NASCAR come to mind.  UFC fighter (and compelling wordsmith) Chael Sonnen makes this point about football:

The UFC is the only thing that has violence that isn’t fraudulent. Football…they put up these end zones, but you take the end zones out people will still come. You take the tackling out, and it’s gonna be a ghost town in those stadiums. UFC will tell you what you’re going to get – straight ahead – and you can buy a ticket if you like the ride.

Groza goes on to say that the UFC exploits women because of the ring girls.  I suppose he’s never seen cheerleaders at any other sporting events? Another glaring omission is any mention of boxing.  Anything true about the violence of MMA – if you know the sport – is even more true of “the sweet science.”  And yet, for numerous reasons, people who are horrified by MMA still see boxing as a gentleman’s game.  Such views only showcase a lack of exposure to the emerging sport.

I think Groza has a point when he shares some of the more disturbing examples of churches using MMA to market evangelize.  While some churches host sporting events like Super Bowls and some will have basketball leagues and even karate classes, as a pastor I would not be comfortable making a UFC pay-per-view a churchwide event.  However, I think there are many things an individual Christian can do that a church ought not sponsor (like watch reality TV, for instance).

This is another example of a severe bias against MMA in the larger culture, and more evidence that the sport has yet to arrive.  From an ecclesial perspective, it is true that Christians should always hold a critical eye to their society; that much in Groza’s piece is useful.  But if MMA is untouchable because of its violence, so are many other of America’s favorite pastimes.  In other words, if one argues that MMA is anathema for the church, then we can only say that a larger blindspot has been uncovered.

Weighing In (Foolishly?)* On Prop 8

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This time, I’m going to let someone else do the arguing for me…

The majority of Californians, including two-thirds of the state’s black voters, have just had their core civil right — the right to vote — stripped from them by an openly gay federal judge who has misread history and the Constitution to impose his views on the state’s people.

Most arguments about gay marriage that center on civil rights focus on the “right” simply to get married – even though marriage licenses are issued by states as a privilege granted, not a right with which one is born.  Driver’s licenses, likewise, represent privileges granted by states, not simply a right that any Tom, Dick, or Harry is “owed.”

What is most interesting about the CNN piece I quoted above – other then that it appeared on CNN’s website! – is not so much the substance or the “what” but the who.  The author, “Bishop” Harry Jackson is an African-American pastor in Maryland.  He, of course, is qualified and able to make a civil rights argument in a way that I- privileged white male that I am – never could.

And it’s at least questionable that the judge in the case is gay.  This is a bit like having a Grand Dragon judge the legality of  a Klan march: it is by no means a moral equivalence, of course, but in both cases the judge’s personal stake in the argument would be so great that no thinking person could possibly wonder at the outcome.

More interesting to me is the makeup of the Californians who voted in Prop 8 in the first place.  Many of my liberal friends (yes, I have them, and they like me) cheered with facebook statuses and twitters saying “about time” and “equal rights for all” and “down with bigroty” and the like when the news came that the proposition was overturned.

Really?  Who do you think did the voting in Calfornia?  Is there suddenly a tea-party majority in the state that boasts LA and San Francisco and UC Berkely?  No.  The folks that voted in Prop 8 are also the folks that voted in Obama.

There is a real discussion to be had here.  It can’t be as simple as “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve,” but neither is it as simple as “Everyone in favor of Prop 8 is a homophobic bigot.”  Perhaps this seems like a pointless observation in today’s political climate, with our Glenn Becks and Michael Moores.  But for those of us, at least, who claim Jesus of Nazareth as Lord and Savior, we are called to do better than our surroundings.

Too often we don’t.  Too often we fall unwittingly into the camps of the larger culture, parroting the very talking heads whom we should be questioning, doubting, and for whom we should be praying.  Jesus was never a shill for any party, though God knows people tried hard to own him.  We, too, should be so dedicated to him that we can make the same claim.

*I say “foolishly” because this particular issue gets more attention than it deserves, especially in Christian circles.  I daresay that if we were this concerned about poverty, everyone would be fed by now.  If nothing else, we have allowed our fascination with homosexual culture to completely dominate all our thoughts about sex, marriage, and relationships.  In bowing before the golden calf of the gay marriage argument, the Church has all but lost its witness on issues like sex before marriage and divorce.  And of course, it is foolish because it is doubtful this will change anyone’s mind.  But hey, let’s be honest, this blog is more about letting me vent and opening up a dialogue to sharpen my own saw – I’m pretty sure your mind is made up.

This Week in Clergy Ethics: Pastor Involved in Baiting Police

A pastor in Indiana is in hot water after apparently organizing a staged brawl at a public event to showcase – or test – the local police force’s response to a fight between two black men.

Reportedly, the two men involved in the altercation – at first verbal, then physical – were “trained” actors who were put up to this distasteful performance by a local pastor.  The organizes had requested a local officer come and give a presentation, and during the event two men in the crowd suddenly began fighting.  Says the source article,

James Harrington, pastor of the Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, said he set up the scenario to test a white officer’s reaction to a fight between two black men.

“Their job is to protect and serve, and even though they have families and children, that they don’t put any regard to their safety,” Harrington said. “I don’t think it was dangerous because it was in a controlled environment.”

Harrington denied that the officer was injured.”We are trying to do anything that we can to save the lives of our children,” he said. “We have to have live demonstrations of violence carried on by professional actors who are trained to do what they do.”

Seems like an odd way to help one’s children.  Am I being unnecessarily cynical in thinking that the intended outcome was perhaps a too-violent response from the police officer involved that could be used to fuel public outrage?

In any case, ’tis a strange way for a pastor to reach out to his community.  The officer involved was sent to the local hospital to be treated for back spasms after one of the – ahem – actors threw him to the ground.  The officer drew his taser (a show of commendable restraint) after being thrown and at that point was told that the incident was a ruse.

At least the pastor’s church has been smart enough to claim plausible deniability.

Charles Cousar on Galatians 3:28

In preparation for my sermon I came across a quote in Charles Cousar’s commentary from the Interpretation series.  He expresses a sentiment that I first learned from my teacher, Douglas Campbell, but puts it in a succint fashion that is worth sharing:

Galatians 3:28 has enormous implications which Paul himself could hardly grasp, much less implement, and which remain for the church to carry out. (Cousar, 87)

How true.  Campbell taught me to see that what Paul did to the division between Jews and Greeks is a far more radical shift than he often gets credited for.  Yes, Paul could in places be friendlier to women, and more programmatic in his (potential) opposition to slavery.  But if Gal. 3:28 is understood in its context, the place of women and other minorities in our churches becomes a no-brainer.  Alas, we still have a ways to go.