Tag Archives: The Law

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: A Subaltern Ethics Of Peace #AnaBlacktivism

Please read the first three posts in this series before proceeding to read the following essay:

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Intro

Anabaptist Theology & Black Power: Christ The Center

Anbaptist Theology & Black Power: An Anti-Colonial Confessing Church

Tyler Tully’s third and final AnaBaptist distinctive is the naming of the Radical Reformation’s preferred type of moral agency: nonviolence. As Tyler so articulately put it as agents of God’s Shalom,

“More than merely being non-violent on a personal level (a measure that all Anabaptists will not flinch from) we are dedicated to producing God’s Shalom in our communities. Therefore, we stand against violence in all of its forms (Empire, oppression, poverty, war, etc.) while we live in justice as an alternative community. Shalom is more than the absence of conflict (Pax Christi), it is the peace that surpasses all understanding and the project of the Holy Spirit as God’s Reign fosters wholeness through reconciling the hierarchies of class, race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexuality, and ableism.”

If historic AnaBaptist pacifism is an interpersonal practice, it cannot but be a social policy as well. For many Neo-Anabaptists who take their cues from the writings of influential theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, the unquestionable commitment to Christian nonresistant love means that liberation theology and postliberal emerging Anabaptist theology are entirely at odds. Take for example NeoAnabaaptist author Brian Zahnd, who had a conversation with someone who had a question about liberation theology. Zahnd automatic answer, like many post-Christian Anabaptists, “Liberation theology is ultimately violent.”

zahnd libtheo

I challenged him on that talking point. I disagree that Liberation Theology is inherently violent, in fact, it’s problematic to say it is as such given the historical records. What matters more however as I have shown in the previous two posts, is that white Post-Christian theologians continue to dismiss questions of historical inquiry (Elisabeth Shussler-Fiorenza’s gender critique of The Politics of Jesus, for example) in order to put forth a Docetic hegemonic narrative. During the discussion with Zahnd, even my fellow #AnaBlacktivist Drew Hart took the time to chime in,

While Zahnd claims to be AnaBaptist, the one link he provided to support his argument was an essay supporting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s position on liberation theology. It did little to prove that liberation theology, and conveniently excluded the imperial violence initiated by the United States against liberation theology’s communities in Latin America and Haiti. It is interactions such as these that lead me to wonder where do talking points like this come from. As a student of John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas usually remarks in the same manner as Zahnd when it comes to questions about Liberation Theology. LT is violent, not because of anything that liberation theologians have done, but because of the questions that they ask when it comes to notions of “peace” and “nonviolence.”

To use a specific example of a post-Christian white Anabaptist criticism of liberation theology, I turn to an essay by Yoder from Cross Currents in 1973/1974 entitled, “Exodus and Exile: The Two Faces of Liberation.” Yoder’s critique of Liberation Theology centers on his first accepting liberation language as an appropriate way for biblical language to make a leap from the past to the present, and secondly, his asking that there be a more honest account of Exodus, and the biblical narrative as a whole. If the Exodus story is a model for revolution, then what should the nature of that revolution look like? To this effect, Yoder makes a few observations. Number 1: The Exodus was not a program born out of human initiative, but God’s miraculous redemption of enslaved Hebrews. Number 2: The Exodus was more of a social withdrawal with the intent originally of God’s people leaving to worship the Almighty. This means that it was not a some sort of religiously sanctioned political coup. As Yoder put it, “Moses was no Bonhoeffer. The old tyranny is destroyed not by beating it at its own game of intrigue and assassination, but by the way the presence of the independent counter community (and its withdrawal) provokes Pharaoh to overreach himself.” Number 3: The Exodus is about the formation of a people group and not the the product of the event. Yoder explains, “To say it another way, to be oppressed together is not sufficient to constitute a people. Nor being a people yet sufficient to be the people of God. Exodus is not a paradigm for all kinds of groups for all kinds of salvation. Exodus is a particular form of withdrawal into insecurity.”  

Up to this point, Yoder has made points that liberationists basically agree with (with a few minor disagreements), but I now point you to the fourth observation: The community formed at Mount Sinai is the presupposition of Exodus. “The slogan ‘Exodus before Sinai’ presupposes that ‘liberation’ is a single and final event; that is the claim that justifies treating its violence as a legitimate ethical exception. Yet Sinai was to become the place of a new bondage. Exodus leads not to the promised land but to the desert, partly by loyalty to the values of Egypt.” Sinai is, according to Yoder’s narrative reading of Exodus, THE FALL of Israel. “Liberation is from bondage and for covenant, and what for matters more than what from.” So Sinai for Yoder is ambivalently both a fall and a formal, legislative event, for YHWH giving of the Ten Commandments to the judgments of Moses and his fellow judges. Aaron and his golden calf represents liberationists who want to take matters into their own hands to foster social change.

Lastly, Yoder’s fifth observation is asking of liberation theologians, why isn’t there not “some broader review of all the great events which Scripture put in the light of the Word of God at work: the taking of Canaan, the pluralism of the age of the judges, the rise and fall of the Kingdom, the dividing of the Kingdom, exile.” Israel ultimately fails in its experiment with empire according to Yoder, abandoning nationhood and returning to YHWHistic peoplehood after returning to exile. “Ezra and Nehemiah reestablish the community precisely without national sovereignty.” ” Now, in order to agree with Yoder that liberation theology is more about impatient believers who want to have their way with the nation-state, one must presume that liberation theology is nothing more than a nationalist political movement with religious language to justify it. This loyalty to the nation-state and its values, as well as an emphasis on separation on groups for the protection of minorities is probably what Yoder and his subsequent white post-Christian male disciples fear to be violent. However, this would require an anachronistic reading of the biblical text. There is no “nation-state” as we know, empire yes, oppressive institutions such as slavery, yes, but nation-state, no. If anything, Israel is more in line with the city-state structure more common in the Ancient Near East. Also, if I must add concerning Ezra and Nehemiah, while their project started out as noble, its conclusion resorts back to a reactionary exclusion of other people groups, against the prophetic, universalizing & reconciling thrust of pre- and post exilic prophets like Isaiah.

As far as the nature of the narrative that Yoder considers an alternative to the Liberationist telling of Exodus, I want to make a few points to move us into James Cone and Black Liberation theology. First of all, one must call into question the notion of “greatness” of some of the aspects of “the taking of Canaan, the pluralism of the age of the judges, the rise and fall of the Kingdom, the dividing of the Kingdom, exile.” The so-called pluralism of the age of judges is only made possible because the 12 tribes of Israel continue a cycle of remembering and forgetting YHWH who rescued them from Egypt (see Judges 6 for ex.) This forgetfulness leads to THE real FALL OF Israel, in 1st Samuel 8, where the prophet greiviously announces God’s concession of giving the people what they want: a king. But there’s a catch, there are laws the king must follow. Both empire and the exile are not first positive goods, but negative consequences of Israel’s disobedience and unfaithfulness to the Exodus God. The Exodus story of God redeeming God’s people. While Yoder is right to point out that Moses is Israel’s great teacher who was educated by the hybrid experiences as an enslaved Hebrew, an Egyptian prince, and a desert shepherd, Yoder unfortunately depoliticizes Moses in the process. Moses as a former Egyptian prince confronts Pharaoh with YHWH’s miraculous power. Moses prays as an intercessor, sparing many lives of his people. As Open Theists point out, God has a special relationship with Moses where God changes God’s mind on Moses’ behalf. In other words, both examples show that Moses really participates in the liberating mission of God. To be political from a liberationist perspective is to partake in the life of the Exodus God. God both initiates human movement freedom movements as Most Moved Mover, and works with humanity as covenant partners. Moses was a friend of God, remember? In Black Theology and Black Power, the image that Cone uses is the biblical symbol of God as like an eagle carrying Israel (and oppressed communities) on God’s wings.  This symbolic language is to express God’s liberating activity in history, and not only does God redeem us, God allows humanity to co-create with Godself.  

Liberationist ethics therefore is a departure from the virtue ethics and theories that center around social-formation.  Liberationist ethics start from God’s free grace and pathos coming to those on the lowest rung of the social latter.  In this model, God is free to work outside the Church in order to accomplish God’s mission of freeing all humanity from sin for the sake of covenant.  The Exodus God breaks down even the most faithful of dualistic categories, Church and World, to create a Church for the World.  In Cone’s BTBP, Cone recognizes that God can use persons that aren’t even in church for the purpose of liberation.  The Spirit of God inspires persons like King Cyrus (see 2nd Chronicles 6 and even Ezra) to bring about peace and communal justice for the common good. This is why in Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone contends that God can use black culture to reveal Godself. One example of this is when Cone points out in his latest work, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, that “Blacks found hope in music itself–a collective self-transcendent meaning in the singing, dancing, loving, and laughing. They found hope in the stoic determination not to be defeated bu the pain and suffering in their lives” (page 13).

Yes it is true that James Cone would call into question pacifism and nonviolence, but the questions he were asking were not whether or not nonviolent action was legit, but who was exacting violence, and whose violence were we naming! Liberationist inquiries about cases for nonviolence, critiquing the privilege and manner in which pacifists were making their claims is grounded in a theology of the cross. “To speak of nonviolence in a Christian context was to speak of Jesus’ cross, which meant suffering without fighting back violently” (TC&TLT, page 149). But one cannot talk about the Cross without talking about the history of the Lynching Tree in the North American context. We cannot separate the Exodus God’s story of redemption from the history of Jesus suffering with crucified people. #AnaBlacktivism takes the Anabaptist concept of the Third Baptism in order to free pacifist Christians from abusing the Cross. With one of James Cone’s earliest critics from within Black Liberation theology, the late Major J. Jones, we can see nonviolence a theology that we participate in more than a social ethic. With Gustavo Gutierrez, we can affirm that God does choose the oppressed in order to liberate the oppressed and the oppressors. God freely chooses the foolish and the lowly, the persons at the margins for the service of teaching the dominant culture nonviolence as well as the history of violence done to them.  An #AnaBlacktivist theology of nonviolence would make the case for Christ’s model of peacemaking by coming from a place of particularity and the naming of particular forms of suffering. 


This is the fourth and final part of 4 for  my contribution to the MennoNerds Synchroblog: MennoNerds on Anabaptist Convictions. “As MennoNerds, we all have found certain distinctives of Anabaptism to be central in our expression of faith.  This article is part of a MennoNerds Synchro-Blog in the month of May on Anabaptism. For the list of distinctives go here. For the list of articles, go here

Wealth Inequality, Political Power, and the Bible

Monday, Christian Salafia of Homebrewed Theology posted on facebook the above video without comment due to his anger. Is there any reason to be mad at wealth inequality, or income distribution, which some would argue is a different topic altogether? According to the video, 1% of the population of this country owns 40% of the wealth. There is this ideal in economists minds, the video suggests, where there should be an even distribution, or more accurately, where income gaps are smaller than they already are. Income inequality leads to some moral questions for many persons of faith. For some, moral outrage over wealth inequality/income distribution is just another sign of a spoiled citizenry who are $green$ with envy. The problem therefore becomes a privatized one, where individual persons are just acting out of their own personal covetousness against the rich and successful.

agent orange capitalism

What the church of the free market often neglects is that all human economies are tied to political institutions, regardless of our calls to deregulation. Tax breaks for a few multinational corporations is still a government favoring a business. In the United States, political power is ultimately tied to money and status of employment. The private business is ultimately political. Let’s take for example the Constitutional idea that the second Tuesday in November is the day we are to have federal elections. Why? Because November was the Founders’ favorite month? No! It was because of economics, it was the time where the farmers would be the most free to vote after harvest. We live in a post-industrial economy, and our Constitution was and is written for a slave plantation society. Another concrete example of the political and economic working together for the suppression of political voices are federal election laws themselves. For example, in 2010, incumbents raised an average of $9.4 million while their challengers, almost 1/18th of that or $519,000. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue: the wealthy’s access to political power is unrestrained on both sides. Campaign finance reforms as they stand right now, are supposed to limit the influence of money in elections. This is a misguided policy I have come to see. Tax payers in the lowest income brackets are paying for the campaigns of the 1%, handing over more power to the already powerful. Meanwhile those citizens who are qualified to run for office but can’t afford it are excluded because of economics. The implications are obvious: the rich get richer and more powerful, they start more wars to send the poor to fight for them.

It’s blatantly obvious to anyone even marginally read on campaign laws that third parties, the middle and lower classes are at an unfair disadvantage. Apathy for income distribution/wealth inequality (pick your poison) is tacit approval for political oppression.  The 1% may own 40% of the country’s wealth, but they wield 100% of the nation’s political influence, and that should be most disconcerting to us. Scripture warns us time and again not only the dangers of greed, but also what avarice means in the body politic. In the Wisdom literature of Scripture, partiality is looked down upon, especially when it comes to ancient Israel’s judicial system (Proverbs 28:21 & parts of Job for example). Deuteronomy 16 and 17, placing limits on those at the very top of Hebrew society “You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.” (Deuteronomy 16:19 NRSV) In the New Testament, the apostles continue being faithful to YHWH, “God shows no partiality.” (Peter in Acts 10:34, Paul in Romans 2:11) Paul makes sure to remind us of God’s impartiality (fairness) in his instructions to human enslavers and the human beings they enslave (Ephesians 5).

In the end, God cares about the alignment and arrangement of human bodies because the Triune God is Lord and good Creator of all. Human concern for economic inequality and injustice is more consistent with Scripture than religious defenses of capitalism. Any human arrangement, yes system, that continues the devaluing of human life must come under prophetic judgement because God disclosed in the Resurrection that human life is of invalueable worth, that justice for human beings is to be placed above all and any systems.

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Blogging Leviticus: Chapter 3

Continuing a series.

Chapter 3: 1 If the

offering is a sacrifice of well-being, if you offer an animal of

the herd, whether male or female, you shall offer one without

blemish before the Lord. The first thing I

noticed here is that the language has changed slightly from the

previous two chapters. In the previous two chapters, the

descriptions of both sacrifices begin with “when.” When you bring

this offering, here is how you should do it. The first two

sacrifices, while not commanded for this time or that, still carry

with them a mandate that the people of God would be offering them.

This one is different. It says “if.” The second thing is that the

Hebrew word that is translated as “well-being” or “peace” offering

in many Bibles is the word “selamim”, which has “shalom” (SLM) as

its root. The idea of this sacrifice is not that you draw near to

God, not to remember the covenant with God or to help God remember

you, but to get shalom. In Hebrew, Shalom can mean peace, but also

carries with it the larger idea of wholeness. So perhaps this is

the sacrifice you make if you have made the others already, and

yet, like Bono, you still haven’t found what you are looking for…

2 You shall lay your hand on the head of the

offering and slaughter it at the entrance of the tent of meeting;

and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash the blood against all sides

of the altar. 3 You shall offer from the sacrifice of

well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that

covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the

entrails; 4the two kidneys with the fat

that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which

he shall remove with the kidneys. 5Then

Aaron’s sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar, with the

burnt offering that is on the wood on the fire, as an offering by

fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. This

sacrifice, is somewhat like the grain offering, in that not all of

the sacrifice itself is burned completely. In the grain offering,

the majority of the bread goes to Aaron’s sons, to feed them. In

this case, the fat and entrails go to God (actually, the whole

sacrifice goes to God, but God gives back the majority as we will

see later). This begs the question, where does the rest of the

sacrifice end up? In Deuteronomy 12 and 16, we see how this

sacrifice played itself out in the ancient community. When the

animal is given to God, God, rather than being invited to a meal,

as was the custom in the other ancient near east sacrificial meals,

instead receives the offering and sets the meal out for

others and invites them to dine with him. God is the host, not us.

Once the fat and entrails have been offered, the person offering

the sacrifice, along with his family, Levites, any servants, AND

the stranger/outcasts, orphans, and widows were invited to the

meal. And in both references, the word “rejoice” is commanded.

So the idea behind the “well-being” offering is that if you want to

be “made whole” or find “peace,” then you need to take what you

have, give it back to God, and then find your place at the table

which is set by God, and have a party, all along, bringing with you

and blessing your family, those who serve God, those who serve you,

those who are the “other” to you, and those who can’t help

themselves. Sounds like Shalom to me…

6If your offering for a

sacrifice of well-being to the Lord is from the flock,

male or female, you shall offer one without

blemish. 7If you present a sheep as

your offering, you shall bring it before

the Lord 8and lay your hand on the

head of the offering. It shall be slaughtered before the tent of

meeting, and Aaron’s sons shall dash its blood against all sides of

the altar. 9You shall present its fat

from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to

the Lord: the whole broad tail, which shall be removed close

to the backbone, the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat

that is around the entrails; 10the two

kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the

appendage of the liver, which you shall remove with the

kidneys. 11Then the priest shall turn

these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire to

the Lord. The first section details an offering

from the herd. This section details, essentially the same customs,

but using an offering from a flock.

12If your offering is a goat,

you shall bring it before

the Lord 13and lay your hand on

its head; it shall be slaughtered before the tent of meeting; and

the sons of Aaron shall dash its blood against all sides of the

altar. 14You shall present as your

offering from it, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat

that covers the entrails, and all the fat that is around the

entrails; 15the two kidneys with the

fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver,

which you shall remove with the

kidneys. 16Then the priest shall turn

these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire for a

pleasing odor. All fat is the Lord’s. This

last section details the same offerings as above, but with specific

rules concerning offering goats. After these sections, there is one

thing that struck me. The first two kinds of offerings in Leviticus

both had allowances for the poor to bring offerings, a lesser

offering if needed. This offering does not. However, it gets back

to the word used at the very beginning, not when, but “if.” The

Bible assumes that when the peace offering is made, it is not the

poor that will be giving it, but those who have an abundance and

the poor will be invited to participate. Nice. Doesn’t Jesus say

something about throwing parties and inviting the poor?

17It shall be a perpetual

statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you

must not eat any fat or any blood. Fat was allowed

to be eaten at other times, just not for any sacrificial purpose.

And blood was never ok. And still isn’t. Gross…