Tag Archives: self-critique

be ye kind one to another: civility, blogging & social media

The Internet can be a cruel place. Now that we have means to be interconnected more than ever, the formation of communities is made uh, easier?, but also has the means for divisiveness and harm become easier as well. We see this for example in the sexual harassment that women celebrities are now facing, having photos stolen from their phones (for an excellent discussion on this issue, I would recommend fellow MennoNerd Ryan Robinson’s piece: Rape Culture In Celebrity Photo Theft). I observe the harassment that Women of Color educators/activists face everyday; trolls creating multiple accounts to make racist diatribes and violent threats against persons like Mikki Kendall, Sydette, Trudy, Suey Park, and others. I don’t think I can claim to have encountered a microcosm of what these brave women deal with every day, but when trolls get into my timeline, they usually leave with their feelings hurt because I do them the kindness of confrontation through sarcasm.

Of course there’s a time and place for everything, as the author of Ecclesiastes contends. My good friend Tyler Tully has a good reflection on expanding public theology to cover online behavior. As a Liberation theologian, I understand that all theological statements that are made have political ramifications. The practical is always the theoretical, the abstract really isn’t that far from the concrete. The thing is about a lot of people’s notions of civility or what it means to be “grace-filled” online in the Christian blogosphere is that, as Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig suggests, it is “squishy”: Bruenig: “Anyway, one of the chief defects of demands for civility is that they rarely elaborate as to what they mean by civility.” Not only this, but the rules for civility keep changing, and one right after another, they just keep getting added. We hear from one side, well, yes, I know I needed to be called out, but you could have been a little bit nicer, and then the same civilized party admits later, I needed to be called out to persons who give them similar feedback, but its nicer because their interlocutor may look like them. The civilized party postures as if they believe that all ideas are equal, but in reality their practice reveals something quite different.

What is the norming norm for defining what kindness is? As a Liberationist, I find the Exodus story as the primary paradigm by which Scripture is interpreted. I also like the idea of God’s kindness demonstrated in the narrative. YHWH’s kindness is sort of unruly, and is mentioned a lot throughout the Hebrew Bible. Why NeoMarcionites would want to discard of the First Testament is beyond me! 😉 What is clear however starting with the first chapter of Exodus, YHWH’s kindness is defined first and foremost by observing the cruel treatment of the oppressed Israelites, and then responding to their cries. YHWH the God of Liberation hears the oppressed’s concerns; as a relational God, YHWH first spoke the Word/Wisdom at creation, and now God listens. God’s kindness and compassion are not restricted to ever-fluctuating rules of civility that give those with privilege the advantage. Rather God’s lovingkindness for all persons shines through in God demonstrating God’s preferential option for the poor. It is in the bodies and experiences of the oppressed that have the greatest knowledge of what human wickedness looks and feels like. Conversely, YHWH’s power and glory are made known greatest through those who are labelled as weak in society to shame “the strong,” the powerful, those who falsely view themselves as having the future in their hands, operating in God’s place.

Kindness, in the biblical metanarratives of liberation and reconciliation, is inextricably linked to communal justice, freedom for the prisoner and the enslaved, dignity for the impoverished.  According to the story, Pharaoh  ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill baby boys once they were born. The midwives who feared YHWH showed the infant boys kindness and spared their lives. When Pharaoh asked why infant boys were living, the midwives satirize the essentialist logic of the Egyptians, “declaring” Hebrew women to be stronger (therefore, more capable of reproducing more children, thus the population growth). The Hebrew midwives played with the fears of the oppressor. And in turn for their acts of mercy, Exodus 1:20 says that YHWH was kind to the heroic midwives.

The midwives provide a glimpse of YHWH’s own compassion. YHWH sees, observes, hears the misery of Abraham’s children, and makes it God’s mission to “rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:7).  If kindness involves listening to the voices of the silenced first in the Exodus, the same principle should be applied to our public ethics of civility online.  It is also important to note that the Hebrew midwives, Pharaoh’s daughter in Exodus 2, and YHWH– all three recognize their positions of power.  Their truthful analysis in each case meant a recognition of difference in power, between the lowly and their earthly superiors. The Exodus brand of Kindness requires, #1, listening, and then #2, a joining in the solidarity with those in bondage with a viewpoint that starts from the bottom-up, and neither the top or “the middle way.”

For Christians, Jesus is the Exodus God Incarnate, and embodied an untamed kindness and solidarity with the least of these. The civility party I mentioned previously wants to bracket Jesus as a feminist or civilizing European socialite above his Jewish community. If a public theologian online seeks to be one who wishes to practice lovingkindness and follow the Golden Rule, then the more faithful view point is the kindness we learn of in Exodus.  The marginated do not need other persons, even allies who seek to throw stones; rather, they need accomplices who will join them in the valleys to speak to the mountains, and make them move. 




"Legitimate Rape" and the Reformed Tradition: A Guest Post

As a response to Rod’s post last week on Akin, sexuality, and rape, the conservative Reformed theological tradition [calvinist], Jeremy McLellan, writer and member of the Presbyterian Church in America offered to write a response, that is posted here on Political Jesus. Here’s Rod’s post, as a reference, The Quest for the Historical Mary: Akin, Rape Culture, and Christianity. You can contact Jeremy at jeremy.mclellan@gmail.com or comment in the post below.

Oil painting of a young John Calvin.

Oil painting of a young John Calvin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a member of the PCA and a graduate of Covenant College, I want to address the characterizations and concerns that Rod put forward last Thursday about the connection between Todd Akin‘s comments and our shared theological and ecclesial tradition.

In brief, I want to defend Calvinism from these charges, yet end with how a Reformed member of the PCA might challenge and critique Akin’s statements. I am bracketing off Rod’s broader point about secular Mariologies, which I think are unaffected by what I’m challenging.

First, Rod asserts that the Reformed version of supercessionism separates theology and history, but offers no proof to back up this claim. It is true that like nearly all Christian traditions, we believe the Church to be the continuation of the promise to Israel and therefore reject a “dual covenant” that confers any special parallel status to contemporary Judaism. But this type of supercessionism has nothing to do with how the biblical scholar or theologian regards the Jewishness of Scripture or our own status as Gentiles. After all, Tom Wright and Jimmy Dunn have expressed surprise that members of the PCA (being the theological heirs of Calvin, Ridderbos, and Vos) have spent so much time opposing the New Perspectives on Paul and its cousin the Federal Vision, precisely because the Reformed tradition has always affirmed a much more positive view of the Law as a form of God’s self-disclosure (Jer. 22:16) that is ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Second, Rod writes that the leadership of the PCA “has worked to silence scholars mentioning anything positive about Second Temple Judaism.” It is true that recent scholarship challenges a common way of figuring the “works of the law,” and this might have implications for exegeting passages that mention justification (particularly Galatians and James). So if Jews weren’t trying to earn their way into heaven, then what is Paul using the doctrine of justification by faith to address?

The problem is that no position paper has been published or trial has ever been conducted against “saying anything positive about Second Temple Judaism.” Professors of history and theology at Reformed institutions would find that characterization puzzling. At issue is whether those who reject the common caricature of the Jews (especially the Galatians) as semi-Pelagians also reject the doctrines that were developed with that caricature assumed, such as justification by faith, imputation, sacraments mediated by the Holy Spirit, and the perseverance of the saints. Those in the Federal Vision (post-Shepherd) who have been re-examined or tried for heresy have been exonerated for this very reason.

Third, Rod says the Wesminster Confession of Faith “is THE standard for the PCA in interpreting Scripture,” but this is misleading. The WCF’s first chapter states “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.” The Westminster Standards are not, strictly speaking, HOW we interpret Scripture, but what we believe results from our correct but fallible interpretation of Scripture.

This is important for his other claims, because it’s exactly why PCA Position Papers are not enough to convict anyone of heresy, such as denying the imputation of Christ’s active obedience or affirming that baptism unites (in a limited way) even the reprobate to Christ. It is also why Leithart, Meyers, and Wilkens were exonerated by their presbyteries even though they held those minority positions. While we are certainly to receive the reports as pious advice and they are in some limited sense “what the PCA believe,” we are free to consider them poorly written, cited, and argued.

Finally, Rod asserts that Akin “believes that the blame of rape falls solely on the victims” and that “rape victims are cast as liars in conservative Reformed traditions.” None of the citations he provided support this view. While it is true that Akin cited a pseudo-scientific theory that (if true) might imply that a rape victim who became pregnant was either complicit (as in Augustine) or lying (a possibility foolishly mentioned in the OPC report), neither Mr. Akin nor anyone else I have read has ever said that the guilt falls on the victim. Even if they did, it is inconceivable to me one could place the blame at the feet of John Calvin or the Westminster Divines, since our entire theology rests on our refusal to infer desert from outcome!

A Reformed Response to Todd Akin

What would a charitable yet critical response look like from within the Reformed tradition? What are we to make of Akin’s comments?

The most charitable interpretation of Mr. Akin’s comments would be that he was using the phrase “legitimate rape” within the context of his belief that the female reproductive system had fallible ways of preventing conception if exposed to rape. This is of course false, and its assertion exhibits the kind of motivated reasoning common in the American culture wars. But it does not imply desert any more than the existence of my immune system implies that, if I do catch a cold, I am either complicit in the infection or lying about it to get out of work.

On the other hand, not only was Akin’s assertion false, but what he said was a certain kind of false belief that’s “akin” to thinking blacks don’t take showers, mentally ill people are violent, or gays molest children. If someone repeated those falsehoods, I would obviously correct their facts, but I would also doubt that they knew or listened to anyone who was black, mentally ill, or gay. I would also question whether they possessed the habits necessary to discover such truths, such as proactively checking their facts, listening to opposition charitably, and being willing/eager to be corrected.

In other words, the question is not just whether a politician thinks things that are true or false, but whether they possess the intellectual virtues that lead to the discovery of truth. I don’t fault Akin for speaking untruth, but for a lack of concern for truth in the service of affirming an admirable moral conclusion. This is in some respects a graver problem than intentionally speaking what one knows to be false in order to deceive. Stanley Hauerwas once said, “Lying is actually a considerable moral achievement.”

This needn’t be the case. Our own Westminster Larger Catechism treats these issues in a grave manner. Rape and incest are specifically forbidden (Q139) and we have an affirmative duty to the preservation of others from rape (138). To everyone, including those who are victims of sexual assault, we owe “the preservation and promotion of their good name,” “charitable esteem,” “defending their innocence,” and “an unwillingness to admit of an evil report concerning them.” We are further prohibited from “giving false evidence,” “unnecessary discovering of infirmities,” “raising false rumors,” and “receiving and countenancing evil reports.” We are additionally prohibited from “giving false evidence, “unnecessary discovering of infirmities; raising false rumors, receiving and countenancing evil reports, and stopping our ears against just defense” and “evil suspicion.”

It is quite difficult to imagine anyone bound to that standard believing in good conscience that the victim of rape or incest deserves it or implying without proof that her allegation is false. If they do, the fault lies with them and those who are charged with holding them accountable, not the Reformed tradition or the Westminster Divines.

Still, all Reformed Christians–even the most traditional complementarians in the PCA/OPC–should work to foster the conditions, practices, discipline, and virtues through which knowledge of the truth can be produced. Our own Standards demand it.

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Self-Critique and Me: Rod

An exercise of admitting my blind spots

This is my response to commenter who wanted us to engage in critical self-reflection.

Once upon a time in a far away place, there was this one person who nagged and nagged me, accusing me of having blind spots because this person judged me by my facebook profile rather than actually having a conversation with me. I guess that is the blind spot of social media. We can where as many masks as we want, and try to be as open as possible, and still people will misinterpret your motives.

Without further ado.
First my beliefs:

1) As someone who was born on the margins as an African American male, I have developed quite a hermeneutic of suspicion. So suspicious in fact that I have major trust issues. I try not to let that affect my relationship with God, but with other people, I have a really difficult time, viewing friendships as mostly risks (which, they are, let’s be honest).

2) I, like Chad, uncritically believe in the existence of God, and have never really been bothered by the bourgeousie problem of God’s existence, and it is a class issue really. Who needs God when you have all the material things you need, right? Uh humm. Yeah, I went there. I have not been convinced by other religious arguments even though I have encountered them, so I remain a follower of Christ. Okay, I’ll be honest, I even have a large suspicion of “interfaith” and ‘interreligious” events. I cannot help it. I was raise in a Black Southern Baptist church. No, really, I was. But also, I see major issues that are unresolved, such as racial reconciliation and notions of power differentiation (ah, that trust thing again). I use this blog to randomly bash universalism because there are those persons out there accusing me of being “liberal” and “pluralist” or whatever. Just plain ignorance.. I don’t believe in religious violence or Christian takeovers of culture, whether by force or by “outnarration.” I don’t believe in bashing other religions or pretending that we all have the same beliefs. Those are just different forms of violence under different codes of conduct. So yeah, religious pluralism, I think about it a lot. I tend to come on the side of the story of Israel/Judah and Jesus. The logic of religious pluralism and universal notions of religion just do not cut it for me.

3) I have two warring factions inside. One, it is the iconoclast [the post-colonial ideologue], who sees a tradition passed down from generation to generation or a doctrine or a person who has been idolized for too long (eh, Karl Barth?), and I get this crazy like desire to find a weakness in this person’s or the logic behind that idea. And then when I find that weakness, that blind spot, I push and push, until I find another one, and then another one. I can veg on the couch in self-satisfaction because I just discovered a weapon almost to destroy, well, an idol of sorts. I celebrate my own radical worldview, glorifying in a self-righteousness I so quickly accuse others of.  And then on the other side, there is the outspoken traditionalist, the side that surprises a lot of people. There are a few people in this world who think they have me down pat, like they really know me, as a liberal, or as a conservative, whatever the labels are. I see myself this way. There is a tradition in Christianity, that usually goes unacknowledged but at the same time, is placed into racial stereotypes (oh, blacks are more religious than whites, therefore the men are always more conservative) and I think that is just not true. But I do have a progressive streak in terms of politics and religion, but also a conservative streak in both. I just don’t fit any categories constructed  by the majority. So when I articulate my views, some people will say, well, that’s inconsistent, how can you be pro-life politically, and be pro-womanist/feminist theologically? I think the key issue is my commitment to nonviolence.  While Chad has articulated an interesting position on the GLBTQ equality v. traditionalism debate, I still side on the side of tradition in this case. I however, as I have posted in past blogs, I detest plain and simple, essentialist arguments against the GLBTQ community and consider it a form of violence to call persons who are different names, to denigrate their humanity, as the imago Dei in the Creator.  My views, I believe, calls for nonviolence on all sides, protesting the violence done to the humanity of those who lived in the past (the Jewish authors of the Christian canon) and those who we call the outcasts, who we see in churches, but would not welcome them, as if there is some hierarchy of sin. Another pet peeve of mine. So yes, unlike those who have accused me of otherwise, I do affirm traditional marriage, so quit making fabrications. They know who they are.

4) As far as my racial biases go, I used to see things in “black” and “white” racially; that there was this binary of a “purely” black and “purely” white. I think that was an essentially racist position, in the end. It led to tribalism and a desire to want persons to conform to one standard or the other culturally, while ignoring the idea that culture varies and is not absolute. I still get angry when people accuse me of being “white” because I read a lot or because I have libertarian political leanings. That is just intellectually lazy. I am growing in this area, as everyone should.

Second my words:

1) I make really sexist jokes while claiming to be “anti-sexist.” Yeah, just think of the T.V. show, “The Office.” Okay, enough said.

2) I find myself, more often than not, being more willing to say judgmental things out of my desire for justice rather than encouraging things out of love first. Going back to the iconoclast thing, I love saying things that get me in trouble. Like making fun of cr-Appl and Crac Mac addicts. I don’t know anything about technology. I just love aggravating people, and pretending I do. There, I admit it. Hahahahahhaaha. In yo’ face! You know who you are.

Third, My actions:

1) I have a mean streak. I can be cold sometimes because I get frustrated with life, and it’s not okay. It feels as if I am almost unloving, even towards family members. It’s awful. It’s random, and it does not happen all the time, but on the occasion that it does, there are usually hurt feelings involved. Probably need a lot of prayer in this area.

2). Okay okay, im a procrastinator. I shouldn’t be, and I do get things done, but I get them done on my own time. So sue me. Okay? 🙂

Truth and Peace,