Can a Christian be a patriot? In one sense, the answer is obviously “yes.” If we mean, “Are there Christians who are patriots?” the answer is not only “yes,” but doesn’t even occur to most American Christians. American Christians confuse Christianity and Americanism so often that they are often HYPER-Patriots. The numerous TV preachers who proclaim that America is “God’s chosen nation,” or some variation of this are an obvious example. So are the numerous politicians and political candidates of both major parties who regularly pray that God will bless America–and never ask God to bless any other nation or show any indication that God cares for any other nation on earth (except maybe Israel).
But if we mean, “Can a Christian be a patriot while faithfully following Jesus?” then the answer is not so clear. Much depends on how we define “patriotism.” If we mean by “patriotism,” “national chauvenism,” or “placing loyalty to one’s nation above all other loyalties,” the answer is “no.” Christians’ first loyalty is to the Kingdom (or Rule) of God. As 1 Peter reminds us, we are called out “from every tribe and nation.”
In 1914, as World War I broke out, as the last train from Germany before the borders closed was about to leave the station, Rev. Friedrich Sigmund-Schulz, a German, clasped hands with the departing Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and said, “We are one in Christ and can never be at war with one another.” This was the beginning of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, but the sentiment expressed is that which should be common to Christians.
A Christian in Iraq (which had a large Christian population before the U.S.-led invasion, but most of them have been forced out since Saddam Hussen was toppled) has more in common with a Christian in Canada than either do with non-Christians in their own countries. If two countries go to war, one side sis not “the Christian side.” Instead, Christians are likely to be in both countries, praying for each other. To kill each other in respective militaries is to place loyalty to one’s nation ahead of loyalty to fellow Christians–sisters and brothers in Christ in one Church and part of the Kingdom of God. So, in the sense that most American churches promote “patriotism,” Christians cannot be patriots and still be faithful Christians.
But if we simply define “patriotism” as “love of country,” without the chauvenistic attitudes toward other countries or the idolatrous worship of the nation in place of God, then it seem to me that a Christian can be a patriot–a critical patriot in the way that the biblical prophets loved Israel but were very critical of her shortcomings. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr was a better patriot–loving what is best about the country while confronting the country with its very real sins–than Bull Conner or J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon. Martin Niemoeller was a better German patriot than the so-called “German Christians” who tried to combine Christianity with Naziism.
The Apostle Paul was certainly proud of his Roman citizenship, but this didn’t stop him from being very aware of Rome’s sins and faults–especially as it kept arresting him!
But patriotism is dangerous for Christians, especially in the United States. In the world’s sole remaining superpower, with a media that encourages blind loyalty, it is far too easy for American Christians to become blind patriots–nationalists. This is especially true if one belongs to an evangelical or Pentecostal congregation where hyper-patriotism is promoted. One needs to develop a global consciousness, an awareness of the universal nature of the Church and the Kingdom to counter the worst temptations of THAT KIND of patriotism.
ALL of us need to be able to say, with Hodgkins and Sigmund-Schulz, “We are one in Christ and can never be at war with each other.”
On my former blog, I once wrote an appreciation, as a Christian pacifist, of the Family Niebuhr. I may reprint it on this blog since I think it was nicely balanced between my genuine critiques of the shortcomings of their perspectives (especially Reinie’s) and an opened-mouthed awe at the gifts God had given this one family and the way they used them for the Church. I -have also written a similar post on the incredible Wesley family–amazed that God sometimes gifts the Church universal with whole families of amazing servant leaders! (Similar cases could be made for the Family Barth, although Karl Barth’s immense contributions usually overshadow the contributions of Markus and Christoph; the Family Judson of pioneering Baptist missionaries; the father-son team of Thomas & Alexander Campbell; the father-son team of Alexander Mack, Sr. & Jr., founders of the Dunker/Brethren tradition; perhaps others.)
This post is similar, although the distance in theological perspectives is not as great as it was between myself and the Niebuhrs. The Torrance family of Scotland are all Reformed and my faith is mostly Anabaptist (with some fragments from Puritanism, revivalism, the Social Gospel, liberation theologies, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann, and some charismatic experiences). But, with Barth as the bridge, I want to pay tribute to the amazing gift of God this family is to church and theology. There are fewer Torrance family members as ministers or academic theologians than it appears because the Torrances are so seemingly omnipresent that it often appears as if every 3rd theologian in (or from) Scotland is named Torrance! Here are my brief, inadequate, tributes:
Thomas Forsyth (T. F.) Torrance (1913-2007) was one of the theological giants of the English-speaking world in the 20th C. He was born in Chengdu, Szechuan, China where his parents were serving as missionaries of the Church of Scotland–a Reformed Protestant denomination flowing from the heritage of John Calvin (Jean Cauvin–1509-1564) and John Knox (c. 1505-1572) and closely related to the Presbyterians in England and North America. His father was an ordained Church of Scotland minister and his mother, whom he thought the best preacher and theologian in the family, was a formally-trained Anglican missionary–very rare for women in those days. Taught in a Canadian school in China, Torrance was horrified to find out on a furlough to Britain that he was woefully deficient in classical Greek and Latin and set about to overcome this through rigorous self-directed study. M.A. in Classics, University of Edinburgh, 1934; B.D. New College, Edinburgh, 1937; Won an academic scholarship to study theology with the Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, who had long been a theological hero. D.Theol., University of Basel, Switzerland, 1946. Invited to teach theology at Auburn Theological Seminary (NY), in the U.S., a Presbyterian seminary which has since merged with Union Theological Seminary , 1938-39. Offered the first position in theology at the new religion dept. of Princeton University in 1939 (at 25!), but had to turn it down because WWII was so obviously imminent. He returned to Scotlan to be with his people rather than stay safe in the U. S. A. Consistent with his Reformed acceptance of “just war theory,” Torrance volunteered as an army chaplain to Scottish troops, but there was a waiting list. He went to Oriel College, Oxford to work on his dissertation, 1940. He wass a parish -minister, Alyth, Perthshire, Scotland, 1940-1943; 1943-45, Torrance saw service in “Huts and Canteens” in Middle East, then was army chaplain to frontline troops in the Italian campaign–repeatedly nearly killed. In1944, for wartime service awarded an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire). He also finished his dissertation and returned to Basel for oral exams. Torrance was awarded D.Theol., magne cum laude, 1946. He married Margaret Spear, an Anglican, in 1946. 1947-1950, Torrance was again a parish minister, Beechgrove Church, Aberdeen, a large parish church that had previously been pastored by such Church of Scotland luminaries as James S. Stewart, A. J. Gossip, and, Torrance’s own professor, Hugh Ross Mackintosh. In 1945, Torrance founded the Scottish Church Theology Society. In 1948, he founded the Scottish Journal of Theology which he co-edited (with J.K.S. Reid) from 1948 to 1982. In 1946, Torrance’s dissertation published as The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers. In 1949, Published, Calvin’s Doctrine of Man as an attempt to settle the debate between Barth and Brunner over the relation of nature and grace, since both appealed not only to Scripture but to Calvin.
1950-1952, Professor of Church History, University of Edinburgh; 1952-1979, Professor of Christian Dogmatics, New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland. 1952, Torrance assembled a team of scholars, including the brilliant choice of Geoffrey W. Bromiley as co-editor, to translate Karl Barth’s massive Kirchliche Dogmatik into the 16 volumes of Church Dogmatics. If Torrance had done nothing else, this would have been a superb gift to the Church universal by itself. The translation and index was not completed until 1977! Torrance retired from Edinburgh in 1979, but continued to lecture and write.
He made significant contributions to the dialogue between science and religion–and in 1978 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion because of these contributions. He was instrumental in forging theological agreement between the Church of Scotland and Eastern Orthodox Christianity over the doctrine of the Trinity. Torrance wrote several books on the Trinity, but also significant volumes on Creation, Atonement, Incarnation, Eschatology, and Pneumatology.
His works often constituted a “bridge” to Barth for evangelicals in the English-speaking world, especially in the UK and North America. He also helped many a North American evangelical become more familiar with Patristic theologians. And, as I can attest from 2 personal meetings, he helped convey a sense of the joy of Christian theology–that theology was a “joyful science” because one was seeking to better understand the gospel of the living God!
A major weakness from my own theological perspective is a lack of attention to theological ethics. Barth’s own approach to ethics (deriving various dimensions of the Command of God from different theological doctrines) may be inadequate–I would argue that it is insufficiently exegetical and neglects the rich narrative ethics of both Jesus and the prophets!–but, at least, he spent considerable attention to these matters. Torrance did not–not even connecting his strong interest in the relation of theology and the sciences to the environmental crises. Nor did this army chaplain during World War II ever write anything (to my knowledge) on war and peacemaking, genocide, church-state relations, etc. In fact, though Torrance should be praised for going beyond his mentor, Barth, in engaging the world of Eastern Orthodoxy, he must be criticized for falling well below Barth in engaging Judaism! There is no hint in Torrance’s work that Christians living after the Holocaust need to confront the history of Christian anti-Semitism, including theological anti-Judaism–a history that distorts our view of Judaism and distorts our readings of Scripture because we fail to grasp how thoroughly Jewish the early Jesus movement was. This must be counted as a major shortcoming of Torrance’s thought.
In 2004, the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Research Fellowship was formed, which gives some indication of the breadth of his continuing influence.
James Bruce (J. B.) Torrance (1923-2003), younger brother to Thomas. Like his older brother, James was born on the mission field in China. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh, with his first degree interrupted by being “called up” by the Royal Air Force in 1944. After his service in World War II, he earned an M.A. in philosophy from Edinburgh, taking First Class Honours and winning the Senior Medal in Moral Philosophy, Logic, and Metaphysics. His influential teacher was Professor John MacMurray. He earned his B.D. at New College, Edinburgh, and then an M.A. from the University of Marburg. The conflict between Barth and Bultmann was at full-tilt during this period and, although James shared his brother Thomas’ regard for Barth’s work, he wanted exposure to the Bultmann first-hand. Like his older brother, he finished his education with a D. Theol. from the University of Basel, where he studied with Karl Barth and Oscar Cullmann. He did some post-graduate study at Oxford and then entered parish ministry, Invergowrie, near Dundee. It is reported that many were brought to living faith through James Torrance’s ministry there. In 1963, as Thomas Torrance moved from teaching church history to theology at Edinburgh, the James was appointed Lecturer in the History of Christian Thought. He spent 16 years on the Faculty of Divinity at Edinburgh, most of them as Senior Lecturer in Christian Dogmatics. On the day he left Edinburgh, a packed Rainey Hall at New College gave him a standing ovation–rare even for beloved teachers and colleagues among the reserved Scots! From 1979 until his retirement in 1989, Torrance was Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen, where he also served as Dean, and was a major force (along with Methodist New Testament scholar I. Howard Marshall) in leading Aberdeen to become, during this time, one of the most dynamic centers of theological education in the world.
During time teaching at Edinburgh and Aberdeen, James Torrance also traveled widely, especially in Canada, the United States, Australia, and South Africa, often lecturing and preaching up to five times in one day! As a result, students flocked to study with him from all over the world. He remained a faithful churchman, extremely active both locally and in ecumenical work.
He published much less than his older brother, contributing articles to dictionaries and scholarly journals, and writing one major book, Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. However, some of his many unpublished works are beginning to be published posthumously. He also co-wrote, A Passion for Christ with his brothers, Thomas and David Torrance.
Ian Torrance (b. 1949), son of Thomas and nephew of James. Currently, serving as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen. Torrance was the younger son of T. F. Torrance and born in Aberdeen, 1949. He grew up in the near-poverty that even academics faced in post-war Britain. Because the government-run schools (what Americans would call “public schools,” but that term means something quite different in the UK) had been hit especially hard by the war, Ian’s family sacrificed greatly and sent him to Edinburgh Academy, and Monkton Combe School in Bath, England. He earned his M.A. from the University of Edinburgh, B.D., University of St. Andrews, and his D.Phil., Oriel College, Oxford University. After his doctorate at Oxford, he was ordained a Minister of the Church of Scotland, and served at Northmavine Parish, Shetland Islands (1982-1985) Territorial Army chaplain,1982-1997; Army Cadet Force Chaplain, 1997-2000; Convener, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland’s Committee to the Chaplains of the Armed Forces, 1998-2002; Moderator, General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 2003-2004; Represented the Church of Scotland at the Installation of Pope Benedict XVI. Co-editor, Scottish Journal of Theology (1982-); Lecturer in New Testament and Patristics, University of Birmingham (1985-1993) (during which time he was on staff at Queen’s College, an ecumenical college for the training of clergy); Professor of Patristics and Christian Ethics, University of Aberdeen (1993-2004); Dean, Faculty of Arts and Divinity, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; Master, Christ’s College, University of Aberdeen, 2001-2004; President and Professor of Patristics, Princeton Theological Seminary, 2004-2012 and then retired and returned to Scotland to become Pro-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen. Torrance has paid more attention to theological ethics than his father and uncle. Although he served as a military chaplain, he opposed the nuclear arms race. Further, during his time as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he used his office to call for the release of Libyan national, Abdelbaset al-Megrah, who was imprisoned (on flimsy evidence) for the Lockerby bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103. Ian Torrance argued that the guilty verdict had more to do with pressure from the U.S. government and fear of al-Megrah as a Muslim than it did with evidence of his guilt in the act of terrorism.
Torrance also opposed Tony Blair and the British addition to America’s “coalition of the willing,” as it invaded Iraq in 2003. He was not a pacifist and had served as a military chaplain. But he believed that the invasion of Iraq did not meet the tests of “just war theory,” and warned that it would lead to a long occupation and would harm the moral reputation of both Christianity and the United Kingdom (and the U.S.A.)–which proved prescient. But Torrance would not make such criticisms from the sidelines. In his role as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, he risked life and limb to visit every unit of British troops serving in Iraq.
Torrance took a different kind of risk when he championed the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of Scotland. His views were very controversial (2003-2004) and did not immediately carry the day, but his prominence and prestige opens the door to serious discussion of these and other, related, matters of sexuality within the Church of Scotland.
Because Torrance hasn’t written on theological ethics, we who were not his students, don’t know much about his method or his views on much besides war and sex, but we do know that he worked hard on this subject throughout his career.
Torrance has written on the Trinity, on Patristics and theology after the council of Chalcedon. He has also been strongly involved in ecumenical work like his father and uncle before him, but, he has gone further than them in also being heavily involved in interfaith dialogue, especially Christian-Muslim dialogue.
I hope he writes more in his retirement.
Ronald S. Wallace (1911-2006), Brother-in-law to Thomas and Uncle to Alan and Ian. Born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1911 and was educated at The Royal High School, Edinburgh and graduated early at 15. At 16 he matriculated at the University of Edinburgh and took a First in Civil Engineering. Perceiving a call to ministry, he transferred to the Faculty of Arts and earned an M.A. in Philosophy, his Bachelor of Divinity from New College, Edinburgh. He was ordained and became a Minister in the Church of Scotland. In 1937, he married Mary Moulin Torrance, sister of Thomas Torrance. They had a son, David, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Heather. Wallace’s nephews include Ian Torrance and Alan Torrance; moreover his son-in-law, George McLeod Newlands, is also an academic theologian. In 1940, Wallace became a parish minister at Pollock Church, Glasgow. During World War II, he was a minister with the “Huts and Canteens” program of the Church of Scotland. After WWII, he became, in 1951, Minister at St. Kentigan’s Church, Lanark. While there, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh with a dissertation on Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacraments. In 1958, he became Minister of Lothian Road Church, Edinburgh. From 1964 to 1977, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology, at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA (USA). From 1977 until his retirement in 1995, Wallace was Professor of Biblical Theology and Dean of the Faculty at Near East School of Theology in Beirut, Lebanon. Upon his retirement, Wallace returned to Scotland and died in 2006. Wallace was an author of books of sermons, several popular commentaries on biblical books in both Testaments, an exposition of the 10 Commandments as an “ethic of freedom,” and a work of historical theology which examined the relationship of Calvin to the city of Geneva and the wider Reformation.
George McLeod Newlands, Emeritus Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, son-in-law to Ronald Wallace (see above). Born on December 7, 1941 in Perth, Scotland, Newlands was educated at Perth Academy, the University of Edinburgh (M.A., Classics, 1st Class Honors; B.D., Ecclesiastical History, 1st Class Honors; Ph.D.; D.Litt.). He did graduate study from 1966 to 1969 on travelling fellowships at the University of Heidelberg, University of Paris, University of Zurich, University of Basel (where he attended Karl Barth’s last seminar and last lecture series). He earned an M.A. in 1973 at Churchill College, Cambridge University. In 1970, he was ordained a minister in the Church of Scotland, Presbytery of Glasgow and in 1982 became simultaneously a priest in the Church of England (License to officiate, Diocese of Glasgow). From 1969 to 1970 Newlands was Assistant Minister in Muirhouse, Edinburgh. Lecturer in Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1969-1970; Lecturer in Systematic Theology, University of Glasgow, 1970-1973; University Lecturer of Divinity, Cambridge University, 1973-1975; Elected Fellow of Wolfson College (Cambridge), 1975; Fellow and Dean (and Chaplain, 1982-1984), Trinity Hall, Cambridge University, 1982-1986; Elected Professor of Divinity, University of Glasgow, 1986; Head of Department of Church History and Theology, University of Glasgow, 1986-1992; Dean of the Faculty of Divinity, Glasgow University, 1988-1990; Principal of Trinity College (Church of Scotland), University of Glasgow, 1991-1997, 2001-; Director, Center for Literature, Theology, and the Arts, University of Glasgow, 1999-2002.
Newland has contributed in both historical and systematic theology and theological ethics. His first work, Hilary of Portiers: A Study in Theological Method (1978) was considered a landmark in the field. In 1980, noting that Barth had done theology from the perspective of faith, and Moltmann from hope, Newland decided to re-think theology from the 3rd of the Pauline theological virtues, love. The result was Theology of the Love of God (1980). He followed this with The Church of God (1984) and his first work on Christian ethics, Making Christian Decisions.
Newland has made major contributions in the theological underpinnings of human rights and in interfaith dialogue. He also went further than Ian Torrance as a straight ally for LGBT concerns in the church. He co-founded Affirmation Scotland, “a ministry of care, compassion, inclusivity, and advocacy” for LGBT concerns within the Church of Scotland.
Alan J. Torrance (b. 1956-), son of James and nephew of Thomas. Like most of his family, Alan was educated at the University of Edinburgh (B.A., Philosophy; M.A., 1st Class Honours, Philosophy). He earned his B.D. with 1st Class Honours, at the University of Aberdeen. He went on to earn his D. Theol. summa cum laude, from the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg. Currently, Professor of Systematic Theology, St. Mary’s College, St. Andrews University, St. Andrews, Scotland. Previously lectured at King’s College, London University (1993-1998), where he was also Director, Research Institute in Systematic Theology. Previous to that post, he lectured at Knox Theologica, l Hall and the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Alan Torrance’s contributions in theology are still developing. He was awarded a Templeton Prize in Religion and Science to develop a course in science and theology at the University of St. Andrews, which he has done.
Alan Torrance’s writings, mostly well received, have been in Christology, theological anthropology, philosophical and systematic theology, and theological ethics. He has reflected on the relation of the doctrine of the Trinity to patriarchy (and its subversion). He has also written on the theological nature of forgiveness and reconciliation and their application to the socio-political realm. He has continued the emphasis of Ian Torrance and George Newlands on the need for inclusion and equality of LGBT persons in the church and society. Although not a declared pacifist, Alan Torrance is the first in this family of ministers and theologians to NOT serve in the military and he has seemed even more critical of nuclear weapons and institutionalized war system than the rest of his family.
Perhaps this amazing family will soon produce female theologians, too. This family of theologians has been an amazing collective gift of God –not just to the Church of Scotland or to the Reformed tradition, but to the Church Universal.
Without a woman there would be no Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel was a 19th C. industrialist and self-made millionaire. He did not believe in inherited wealth. He wanted his heirs to make their own way in the world. He did believe in giving back to society, especially through the advance of the sciences and the arts. So, he when he was drafting his will (without lawyers, whom he distrusted, a fact that later caused problems for the executors of his estate), he decided to leave the bulk of his wealth to various institutions that would award prizes to individuals who made lasting contributions in physics, chemistry, medicine (or physiology), and literature. Originally, Nobel had not intended to include a prize for advancing the cause for peace, even though he was worried that wars were growing more destructive and had begun to admire some elements of the 19th C. peace movement. (The Nobel Prize in Economics was not part of Nobel’s original will. It was added in 1968 by the Swedish Central Bank, the Sveriges Riksbank, and is funded by the Riksbank, not by investments from Nobel’s estate. What we call the” Nobel Prize in Economics” is actually The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Honor of Alfred Nobel.) It was Nobel’s friend and former secretary, Bertha von Suttner, who persuaded Nobel to revise his will to include an annual prize for peace–but until his will was read after his death, even she didn’t know he had heeded her advice.
Nobel’s distrust of lawyers made it difficult to follow his dying wishes. First, his relatives contested the will because they wanted the money. Second, Nobel had lived in several countries and it was not clear which country’s courts should get to decide the case. Third, Nobel had not constructed the will in a way that recognized legal parameters. So, it took several years to sort out. He died in 1895. The first Nobel Prizes were not awarded until 1901.
Even after sorting out the legalities and contested claims, the work wasn’t done. Nobel was very clear about which institutions, he wanted to award his prizes, but he was less than clear on the criteria for deciding the winners. Nobel was a Swedish citizen and so most of the awarding institutions are Swedish. The Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and MedicinePhysiology, are awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded by the Swedish Academy of the Arts. All 5 of these prizes are presented to the winners (laureates) by the Swedish Royal Family at a ceremony in Stockholm. So is the “Nobel” Prize in Economics awarded by the Swedish National Bank in the name of Alfred Nobel. The case with the Peace Prize is different. During Nobel’s lifetime, Norway had been annexed by Sweden, but there was a move for Norwegian independence. Nobel supported Norwegian independence, but didn’t want a war. He designed his peace prize to support the peaceful separation of Norway and Sweden, but also to support their continued friendship (He believed Scandinavian unity was a good model for an oft-warring Europe) and to support democracy. (Nobel had no problem with constitutional monarchy as long as royal families were strictly ceremonial and did not impede parliamentary democracy.) So, alone among the Nobel Prizes, the Peace Prize is not awarded by any Swedish institution, but by a 5-member Norwegian Nobel Committee that is created by the Storting (the Norwegian parliament), but is to include no sitting members of the Storting (past members are eligible). It is awarded not in Stockholm, but in the Norwegian capital of Oslø and it is not awarded by the royal family, but by a representative of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in the presence of the Norwegian Royal Family.
Most of the leaders of the global peace movement thought that Bertha von Suttner would be the first recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, not just because of her role in getting Nobel to create the prize, but for other reasons that will be clear below. But the Norwegian Nobel Committee has proven over the years to be more sexist than anyone expected. Of the 101 individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (it has also been awarded to 20 different organizations and no prize was awarded in 19 separate years, most of them during world wars), only 15 have been women–even though far more than 15 women have been major leaders for peace–as belatedly the Nobel Committee itself has acknowledged. (A few of the organizational winners have been represented by women, but not enough to balance out the incredible inadequacy of only 15 female Nobel Peace Laureates.) Further, some of the men who have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize have later done things that have brought the Nobel Committee and the Prize into disrespect (e.g., Henry Kissinger, Le Duc Tho, who was the only laureate to decline the prize, Yitzak Rabin, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and, to a lesser extent, perhaps, Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama). By contrast, all of the 15 women listed below have been major peacemakers. They may have some controversial biographical details (in a subject as contested as “peace,” it is not surprising that all of the Nobel Peace Prize winners have been controversial in some respect to someone or some group), but no one supporting nonviolent movements for justice and/or actions for world peace have ever looked at one of the women laureates and said, “What was the Committee thinking?” They have often said that about many of the men.
I would certainly argue that more women deserved this Prize than ever received it. Off the top of my head, I list in no particular order, Dorothy Day, Muriel Lester, Dolores Huerta, Mother Jones, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queen Noor (Lisa Najeeb Halaby) of Jordan, Anna Howard Shaw, Dr. Aletta Jacobs, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Maria Montessori, Jeanette Rankin, Vera Brittain, Gladdys Muir, Astrid Lungren, Irena Sendler, Dorothy Height, Hildegard Goss-Mayr, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Deming, Elise Boulding, Sophie Scholl, Simone Weil, Joan B. Kroc, Coretta Scott King, Betty A. Reardon, Ela Ramesh Bhatt, Gro Brundtland, Cora Weiss, Marilyn Clement, Dr. Helen Caldicott, Marian Wright Edelman, Sister Helen Prejean, Elizabeth McAlister, Mary Robinson, Petra Kelly, Kathy Kelly, Betty Bigombe, Amy Goodman, Graca Machel, & Medea Benjamin. That’s not including women who lived before Nobel’s prize was insituted in 1901, nor those who died before they could be honored–although Sophie Scholl and Simone Weil might violate that last (since Nobel’s prize cannot be awarded posthumously). And because my knowledge of global affairs, while arguably better than most Americans’, is nevertheless limited, it leaves out many around the globe. As I said, these just came to me, quickly.
But, despite those caveats, the 15 women who have won the Nobel Peace Prize have been amazing and worthy recipients. Sadly, 3 of the 15 female Nobel Peace Prize Laureates won the same year, sharing the 2011 Prize. The female Laureates are, in chronological order, as follows:
- Bertha von Suttner (1843-1914), 1905. Born: Prague, then a part of the Austrian empire, now capital of the Czech Republic. Living at time awarded the Prize: Vienna, Austria. Died: Vienna, Austria. Sole awardee. Motivation of Nobel Committee: “For her long leadership in the movement for peace and global disarmament.” The Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita von Suttner, née Countess Kinsky Chinic and Tettau was born to the Austrian nobility, but rebelled against her privileged life. Though having been born to the military-nobility caste of Austria, von Suttner joined the 19th C. peace movement and became one of it’s leading voices. She wrote a novel, Die Waffen nieder [i. e., Lay Down Your Arms ], which galvanized the public for demilitarization. She edited a peace journal by the same name and was responsible for organizing for peace throughout Europe. She created and led the Austrian Peace Society and used funds from the sale of her novels (including Lay Down Your Arms) to launch the International Peace Bureau in Berne, Switzerland (which won the Nobel Prize itself in 1910 and whose leadership has produced no less than 14 Nobel Peace Laureates). She had been previously a secretary to the industrialist Alfred Nobel and when he wrote her concerning his plans to draw up his will to use his wealth to fund a series of scientific and literary prizes, Bertha von Suttner persuaded him to create a prize for peacemakers, too. Almost everyone expected her to be the first Nobel Peace laureate in 1901 and by the time she was awarded the prize in 1905, her neglect by the Nobel Committee was so embarrassing that it was hurting the reputation of the still-new Nobel prizes. von Suttner did not rest on her laurels after receiving the Nobel, although she was aging and ill health, she still worked for peace and disarmament and spent the last 2 years of her life (1913-14) trying to prevent World War I–which began 2 months after her death and about whose dangers she had warned for years.
- Jane Addams (1860-1935), 1931. Born: Cedarville, IL, USA. Died: Chicago, IL, USA. Residence at time of award: USA. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: “For her leadership role in the Women’s Peace Conference of the Hague in 1914 and in helping to form the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).” Born to a wealthy Quaker (Friends) family, Jane Addams launched the “settlement house” movement in the USA by forming Hull House in Chicago and virtually creating the field of social work in the USA. A leader in the cause of women’s suffrage and in other progressive causes, Addams was, until 1914, one of the the most famous and admired women in the USA. After the U.S. entered into World War I (1917), Addams’ role in trying to stop it became very controversial and she lost her influence nearly overnight. WILPF was derided during the wave of super-patriotism that swept America during WWI and Addams treated as a traitor (even though Pres. Woodrow Wilson drew most of his 14 Point Peace Plan from the WILPF peace platform!). By 1931, the Nobel Committee wanted to rehabilitate Addams’ image and to draw the U.S. into entering the League of Nations. Addams was already too ill in her last years to go to Oslo, Norway to receive the award. She shared the award that year with another American, Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler (1862-1947), President of Columbia University, advocate of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, international arbitration, and leader of the progressive wing of the Republican Party–ironically, since Butler was one of those who denounced WILPF and groups like it during WWI.
- Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961), 1946. Born: Jamaica Plain, MA, USA. Died: Cambridge, MA, USA. Residence at time of award: USA. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: ”For her long leadership in promoting international peace and human rights, especially as International President of the Women’s International League for Peace with Freedom (WILPF).” Educated as a sociologist (B.A., Bryn Mawr, 1889;M.A., University of Paris, 1891; additional advanced work at Harvard and U. of Chicago; Ph.D., University of Berlin, 1896.), she taught at Wellesley College, rising to the rank of Professor of Economics and Sociology, until her leadership in the peace movement during WWI led to her dismissal from Wellesley in 1917. (Today, Wellesley College has the Emily Balch Peace Institute, which runs Wellesley’s program in peace studies.) Balch’s work with Jane Addams to get neutral countries to intervene to stop WWI made the US government consider her a dangerous radical even before entering WWI. She promoted the League of Nations and disarmament and warned the world of the dangers of fascism and the rise of Hitler and Mussolini before WWII. She became a Quaker although Nazism led her to modify her lifelong pacifism and urge “defense of universal human rights, sword in hand,” but she continued to work toward a postwar peace that would learn from the mistakes of the vengeful “peace” after WWI. She earned a living after her dismissal from Wellesley as a journalist with The Nation magazine. Balch was still considered so radical at the time of she was awarded the Nobel Prize that she received no congratulations from the U.S. government. Like her older friend, Jane Addams, Balch had to share her Nobel with another American: John R. Mott (1865-1955), President of the World Alliance of Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCAs, back when the Y was an evangelical Christian organization), and Chairman of the International Missionary Council, who was awarded the Nobel for his role in promoting peace through Ecumenical Movement of Christianity–who DID receive a congratulatory phone call from the White House!
- Betty Williams(1946- ), 1976. Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom. Current residence: Florida, USA. Residence at time of Prize: Belfast, Northern Ireland. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: “For her role as Protestant co-founder of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement,” (now called the Peace People Community, the first Protestant-Catholic nonviolent movement in Ireland). Although she left Ireland, Betty Williams continues to work for peace and human rights globally with the bulk of her work aimed at defending the rights of children. She is the founder and head of the Global Children’s Foundation. She shared the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize with her friend, Mairead Corrigan.
- Mairead Corrigan Maguire (1944- ), 1976. Born: Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom where she continues to reside. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: “For her role as the Catholic co-founder of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement.” Later renamed “The Community of Peace People,” this was the first Catholic-Protestant grassroots movement for peace in Northern Ireland. Mairead dedicated her life to nonviolence, has pursued her education further since the Nobel, and has become a global champion of peace and nonviolent activism, travelling to more than 25 countries. She has been a fierce critic of all violence: whether of terrorism, of government war policies (in both the UK and USA), of religions, of men against women, etc. She promotes the “seamless garment” ethic of nonviolence which opposes abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and war, and which works through active nonviolence to promote peace with justice and human rights. She shared the 1976 Nobel Prize with her Protestant friend and co-founder of Peace People, Betty Williams.
- Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), 1979. Born in Uskup (now called Skopje), Ottoman Empire (now, Republic of Macedonia). Died: Calcutta, India. Residence at time of award: Calcutta, India. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: “For her work in bringing dignity to the world’s poor, especially as founder of the Sisters of Charity.” An ethnic Albanian whose birth name was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, this lifelong Catholic woman heard a call to become a nun at age 12. Sent to India in a teaching order with her new name of “Teresa” as a “woman religious,” she eventually founded her own order to work directly with the poorest of the poor, especially those dying of hunger and illness. Her order has built homes and hospices for lepers, orphanages, and nursing homes, not only in India but throughout the world. She used her fame from the Nobel Prize to promote peace, nonviolence, disarmament and redirection of world resources to ending poverty and hunger–but also as a vocal opponent of all abortions. (She infamously lectured then-President Bill Clinton on abortion as guest speaker at a White House prayer breakfast!) She was also a conservative opponent of the ordination of women in Catholicism. In 2003, the Vatican took the first steps toward her canonization as a Catholic saint.
- Alva Myrdal (1902-1986), 1982. Born in Uppsala, Sweden. Died in Stockholm, Sweden. Residence at time of award: Stockholm, Sweden. Motivation of Nobel Committee; ”For her dedication and leadership in the work of global nuclear disarmament and global reduction of conventional arms.” Educated as an economist and sociologist, she became one of the founders of the Social Democrat Party of Sweden and became a Cabinet Minister in the Swedish Parliament. Worked in many roles in the United Nations, served as Swedish Ambassador to India, but spent most of her career trying to get nuclear disarmament. Frustrated with both the USSR and the USA, she quit the United Nations over the “game of disarmament.” Founded the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), now a global leader in peace education and research into “what works” to bring peace. During the Cold War, Myrdal sought to spread “Nuclear Free Zones,” by getting non-aligned nations, especially in Europe, to ban nuclear weapons from their soil, thereby putting pressure on the US and USSR to signing and implementing nuclear arms reduction/elimination treaties–NOT just “arms control” treaties that limited the growth of nuclear weapons. Myrdal shared her Nobel Prize with Alfonso Garcia Robles (1911-1991), then Mexico’s Foreign Minister (equivalent to U.S. Secretary of State) who was also a major leader in global nuclear disarmament. Robles had led Mexico to ban nuclear weapons and was working to make all of Latin America a “nuclear free zone.” At the time of the Nobel Prize, he was known as “Mr. Disarmament.”
- Aung San Suu Kyi (1945-), 1991. Born in Rangoon, Burma (now called Yangon, Myanmar). Residence at time of award and currently: Burma/Myanmar. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: ”For her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights.” Daughter of Aung San (Burma’s “George Washington,” general who led Burma to freedom from the Japanese), Suu Kyi’s (pronounced “Sue Chee”) mother (Daw Khin Kyi) was Burma’s Ambassador to India after WWII. Her father had been assassinated in 1947, when Suu Kyi was only 2 years old. There Suu Kyi became a follower of Gandhi. Educated at Oxford (B.A. in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, 1967) Columbia University, Kyoto University, and the London School of Oriental and African Studies, she dedicated her life to nonviolence, democracy, and human rights. She married Michael Aris, British student of Tibetan civilization, with whom she had 3 sons. 1969-1971, works at the United Nations on the staff of UN Secretary General U Thant. Returning to Burma in 1988, she became a vocal critic of the military regime that ruled Burma since 1962 and founded the National League for Democracy. Her NLD won the elections of 1990, but the generals refused to honor the results and Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest (repeatedly, for years at a time). The military regime would have killed anyone else, but one can’t just execute the daughter of country’s national hero! The Nobel Prize gathered world attention and support to Suu Kyi and the cause of Burmese democracy, but only in the 2000s was she released from house arrest. The military government is trying to transition t”for their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines”o democracy because of global boycotts and sanctions, but it remains suspicious of too much change too fast. Nevertheless, Suu Kyi is now a member of the Myanmar Parliament as an NLD member. The military government continues to wage war on ethnic and religious minorities (Christian and Muslim) and some have been critical of Suu Kyi’s decision to work within the (not-yet-democratic) system since 2009.
- Rigoberta Menchú Tum (1959-), 1992 Born in Aldea Chimel, Guatemala. Residence at time of award and currently: Guatemala. Motivation of Nobel Committe: “In recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples.” A Mayan and leader of a women’s group working to end Guatemala’s civil war and for native rights, Rigoberta Menchu was given the Nobel Prize in 1992–the year when much of the world celebrated the 500 years since Columbus “discovered” the Americas, but which indigenous people mourned as “500 years of slavery, racism, genocide, and stolen land.”
- Jody Williams (1950-), 1997. Born in Putney, VT, USA and still lives in Vermont. Jody Williams is founder of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, with which she shared the Nobel Peace Prize. Motivation of the Nobel Committee:”For their work for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines.” The campaign, with the support of many high ranking military leaders, has succeeded in getting a global treaty to ban land mines, but the U.S. has failed to sign it because it would mean removing the landmines in the DMZ between North and South Korea.
- Shirin Ebadi (1947-), 2003. Born in Hamadan, Iran. At the time of the award and currently, she still lives in Iran. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: “For her efforts for democracy and human rights. She has focused especially on the struggle for the rights of women and children.” One of the first female lawyers in Iran, Ebadi was the first female judge, but lost her judgeship when the Iranian Revolution happened in 1979. She is a champion of the rights of women and children in Iran. The Nobel Committee wanted to champion her work and promote progressive change in Iran, but also wanted to highlight the first female Muslim Nobel Peace Prize Laureate at a time when U.S. President George W. Bush was calling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea “an axis of evil,” and had invaded Iraq earlier that year. Many who would have otherwise celebrated her award, such as Nobel Laureate Lech Walesa, were upset because they believed the Nobel should have gone to Pope John Paul II. Since the pope was dying, this was his last year of eligibility–Nobel’s will forbids posthumous nominations and the only Nobel Peace Prize awarded posthumously went to UN Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold in 1961, who died in a mysterious plane crash after his winning had already been announced. The Bush administration, of course, objected that even an Iranian dissident should get the award. Ebadi has continued her work for women’s and children’s rights in Iran.
- Wangari Maathai (1940-2011), 2004. Born in Nyeri, Kenya. Died in Nairobi, Kenya–her residence at time of award. Maathai was a grassroots organizer who combined environmental work with work for women’s and children’s rights. Motivation of the Nobel Committiee: ”For her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.’ Not only was Maathai the first sub-Saharan African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but the Nobel Committee also wanted to stress that work for peace, development, and human rights could not succeed without equal commitment to grassroots work to save/preserve the environment.
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938-), 2011. Born in Monrovia, Liberia which is also her current residence and residence at time of award. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: “For their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Having previously spent a year in prison at the hands of Liberian strong man, General Samuel Doe, and having had her life threatened by former Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor, Sirleaf has long been a campaigner for an end to Liberia’s Civil War(1989-2003, with only brief interruptions) and for full democracy and human rights. In 2005, she became the first female president of Liberia and the first president since democracy was restored at the end of Liberia’s terrible civil war. She won reelection to 2nd term in 2012. As president, she has disarmed the rebels, ended the blood diamond trade, worked to heal the child soldiers, and sought to bring back a developing economy to the once-prosperous, country which was impoverished by the long and bloody civil war. Originally an accountant and the mother of 4 sons, she earned an Masters of Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. In 1997, she ran for President of Liberia and finished 2nd in a field of 13. Sirleaf had worked in several roles in the United Nations. She shared her Nobel Peace Prize with 2 other women: fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee, and Yemenese journalist, Tawakkol Karman (see below).
- Leymah Gbowee (1972-), 2011. A Lutheran and mother of 4 who worked in the healing of child soldiers, Leymah Gbowee became co-founder of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) in West Africa. By the summer of 2002, she was the leader of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which united Christian and Muslim women in nonviolent direct action (including sex strikes, occupation of soccer fields,prayers and public exorcisms, threats of mass disrobings–shaming the men in this culture, etc.) which pressured both Charles Taylor and the rebels to attend the peace negotiations in Ghana–and to not leave the conference until a peace agreement was signed in 2003. The documentary film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008), tells the story of Leymah Gbowee and the Liberian Women’s Peace Movement. With the end of the Liberian Civil War, Leymah Gbowee earned an M.A. in Peacebuilding and Conflict Studies from Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, VA) in 2007 and learned to work strategically in ways she had previously worked “hit and miss” on instinct. She continues to build grassroots peacebuilding by West African women on an interfaith basis. She also continues her trauma and reconciliation work with child soldiers. In 2012 she used her Nobel Prize money to found the Gbowee Peace Foundation of Africa. She continues to work with the Women Peace and Security Network Africa and the Women in Peacebuilding Network. She worked hard on the reelection campaign of President Sirleaf. She is the author of Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War (Beast Books, 2011). She has also served on the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
- Tawakkol Karman (1979-), 2011 . Born in Taiz, Yemen. Currently and at time of award resides in Sana’a, Yemen. Motivation of the Nobel Committee: ”For their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Karman, a journalist with an undergraduate degree in commerce from the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a and a graduate degree in political science from the University of Sana’a, became the public face of the “Jasmine Revolution” nonviolent revolution in Yemen and part of the Arab Spring of 2010-2012. She is the 2nd female Muslim recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. A Sunni Muslim, she is married to Mohammed el-Nahmi and a mother of 3. She co-founded Women Journalists Without Chains in 2005. She is also a member of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate. She led nonviolent mass protests throughout the Jasmine revolution. She was the first Arab woman and the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her heroes in nonviolence and peacebuilding are Mohandas K. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela (for his work in post-apartheid nationbuilding). Receiving the Nobel Prize helped muster more pressure for the ousting of Saleh and the transition to Yemeni elections. Tawakkol has also continued to be a critic of U.S. foreign policy which values stability over democracy and human rights.
I hope that many more women will be added to these ranks and that the Norwegian Nobel Committee focus on nonviolent peace and justice advocates (female and male) from around the world rather than imperial politicians it wants to influence and/or organizations practicing austerity measures in a time of global recession!
I’m not a Methodist. I WAS raised Methodist and most of my family of origin are still Methodist, but I have been an Anabaptist-type Baptist for longer than I was Methodist. So, I present this as an “interested outsider,” rather than an insider. I offer these interpretations especially to Methodist friends and colleagues inviting feedback–agreement, disagreement, modification. alternative proposals, etc. The discussion should prove interesting.
1) Methodism as Modified Episcopalianism. In this perspective, Methodism is a variation on Anglo-Catholic Christianity. Neither John nor Charles Wesley left the Church of England. British Methodists have entered into a covenant with the Church of England. Methodism is an evangelical/pietist renewal (or internal critique) of Anglicanism. In the United Methodist Church, the bishops are the institutional home of this perspective–whether or not they think reunion with the Anglican Communion desirable. (This may also be true for the African Methodist Episcopal, AME Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal denominations, but I have never met a bishop in any of the forms of African Methodism, so I couldn’t say.) Had the Anglican hierarchy welcomed (not resisted) the Wesley’s Evangelical Renewal movement, it would have remained in the Church of England.
2) Santification as Key: Methodism as Holiness Movement. This view doesn’t see the 19th C. Holiness Movement, with dozens of new denominations spinning off from Methodism, as a new development, but as the original heart of Methodism itself. Had Methodism remained true to its Holiness heart, this view goes, there would never have arisen Free Methodists, Nazarenes, the Wesleyan Church, the Church of God (Anderson, IN-non-Pentecostal), etc. Wesley was influenced by Moravians, who were radical Pietists, and also by the “salvation as deification” theme of Eastern Orthodoxy. The essence of Methodism, in this view, is a Pietist-Holiness emphasis that includes both individual and social sanctification.
3) “Heart Religion”: Methodism as Doctrinal Pluralism. This is the theme of liberal Methodism. John Wesley had said that he didn’t want Methodists to be known “for their particular opinions.” Wesley’s conversion at Aldersgate was not an intellectual change of mind, but finding his heart “strangely warmed.” This interpretation allows for a wide diversity of doctrinal conviction, united by an inner salvation experience. Examples would include the Boston Personalists (e.g., A. C. Knudson, Bordon Parker Bowne, Georgia Harkness, & L. Harold DeWolf), the many Methodist Process Theologians (John B. Cobb, Marjorie Schuchocki, Randy L. Maddox, Sheila Greeve Davaney, Schubert M. Ogdon), some feminist and liberation theologians.
4)Methodism as Part of the Free Church/Believers’ Church Tradition. In this view, Methodism’s soteriology and ecclesiology places it among the Believers’ Church traditions that include the Hussites, Waldensians, Anabaptists, Friends/Quakers, Baptists, the Stone-Campbell movement, Pentecostals. The major difference is that Methodists retain infant baptism since Wesley hadn’t attempted to formulate an entire “systematic” theology and accepted the structures of the Church of England. (Anabaptists–and Nazarenes–would say that Methodists are confused about baptism. Infant baptism doesn’t fit their soteriology or ecclesiology.) The social sanctification, the many Methodist struggles for justice and numerous Methodist pacifists are all explained by this perspective say its proponents. Some in this perspective include the late Franklin H. Littel, Justo Gonzalez, James Lawson, James Farmer, Elsa Tamez, Theodore W. Jennings, Donald W. Dayton.
Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive categories. They are different ways to “slice” the same phenomenon. Do my Methodist friends find this helpful? I await your comments and dialogue with much anticipation.
I’m not a Pentecostal. One might fairly call me a semi-charismatic Baptist. The peace organization to which I have the most loyalty and identification is the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America (followed closely by the Fellowship of Reconciliation) (BPFNA). But I want to pay tribute and express gratitude to my friends in Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace with Justice (PCPJ).
Because the vast majority of contemporary Pentecostals (at least in the USA) are extremely militaristic and hyper-patriotic, it surprises many to find that when they began in the early 20th C., most Pentecostals were pacifists and several Pentecostal denominations retained pacifism in their official doctrines for decades (e.g., the Assemblies of God did not change their pacifism until 1967). That story has now been told in several places: e.g., Jay Beaman, Pentecostal Pacifism: The Origin, Development, and Rejection of Pacific Belief Among Pentecostals; Paul Alexander, Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God; Paul Alexander, Pentecostals and Nonviolence: Reclaiming a Heritage.
What is less known is that a group of Pentecostals and Charismatics are working to reclaim that heritage. Think how difficult that must be. But since Pentecostals are 25% of the world’s Christians, the potential for peacemaking if that reclamation is even partially successful is amazing. I have been privileged to meet some of these courageous Spirit-filled, on-fire fools for Christ.
I want to commend them to you. There are far more of them than I can list, but these are my friends in the PCPJ:
Paul Alexander and Deborah Alexander; Eric Gabourel; Marlon Millner and Diana Augsburg Millner; Arlene Sanchea-Walsh; Murray Dempster; Anthea Butler; Dallas Gingles; Terry Johns; Shelly McMullin; Christa Savely; Rick and Jan Waldrop. I’ve probably missed some and to them I apologize.
I hope many of you check out PCPJ, subscribe to their journal, Pax Pneuma, and, if you consider yourself Pentecostal or Charismatic and want to become involved in Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, BOLD peacemaking, think seriously of joining them. This Baptist fellow-traveler will be praying for their every success.
Nota Bene: A version of this sermon was published as an article in The Baptist Peacemaker in 2004.
The War Resister
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of Rev. Cindy’s major theological dialogue partners, says that it is time to put the “protest” back in “Protestant.” Specifically, she wants us to reclaim the prophetic traditions of the church—not absent from Catholic or Orthodox history by any means—that were nonetheless highlighted and emphasized by the Protestant Reformers. The renewed focus on close biblical study promoted, in different ways, by the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrich Zwingli, and the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation like Conrad Grebel, Michael Sattler, Pilgram Marpeck, Hans Hut, Pieter Ridemann, and Menno Simons, led to a recovery of the prophets of ancient Israel for the life of the church.
It has always fascinated me that Israel’s prophets flourished most with the institution of the monarchy. When Israel, and later the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah, desires to have kings “like the other nations,” God must continually give them prophets to remind them to be different from the nations, the empires. We need that, too. The church too often forgets to be different from the particular nations in which it lives. Especially in the United States, we are tempted to be “good Americans” first and “good Christians” only insofar as that doesn’t conflict with the other gods of this nation, especially the great gods “Free Market” and “War Machine.” “I knew just how much trouble we were in,” says the Methodist theologian Stanley Hauerwas, “in the days following Sept. 11, 2001, when politicians and pundits began to tell us that nothing after 9/11 could ever be the same as before.” They were saying that 9/11 was the decisive event in history, but, for Christians, the decisive event in history was the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And if we viewed the 9/11 attacks, and our vengeful response, through Jesus, things look very different.
We, like our spiritual forebears in ancient Israel and Judah, are too often tempted to understand our world and our lives in terms dictated by the empire. The biblical prophets can help us recover our own alternative readings of history. Today, in a time of greed, violence, war, and corruption, I especially want to highlight the life and message of the prophet Jeremiah, who, in the name of God, spoke out against greed, violence, war, and corruption in the Southern Kingdom of Judah 7 centuries before Jesus and did so for 40 long years.
Was the prophet Jeremiah a pacifist? If we mean to ask if Jeremiah was absolutely opposed to all uses of violence, then I don’t think the Scripture gives us enough information to settle the debate. Jeremiah makes no sweeping statements against all war and violence. His writings contain nothing similar to the Sermon on the Mount, nor does he ever suggest a disbanding of Judah’s army. What we can know for certain is that Jeremiah was a war resister. He resisted all the wars of his day and he inspires us to resist the wars of our day.
Consider Jeremiah’s resounding denunciation of Judah’s war plans in chapter 21. Zedekiah, God’s anointed King of Judah, wanted Jeremiah’s counsel in order to make sure that God was on the king’s side in the coming war against Babylon. Did Jeremiah give such assurance? NO! In fact, Jeremiah sounded positively treasonous to Judah’s pro-war party. The prophet claimed that their proposed war was an offense to God and that, if they went to war, God would fight against them and punish them!
Behold,[God says] I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands with which you fight against the King of Babylon. . . . And I myself will fight against you with an outstretched hand and with a strong arm, even in anger and in fury and in great wrath! (21:3-5)
This language is all the more startling when we realize that King Zedekiah’s war aims were so much more justifiable than those of contemporary imperial USA. Zedekiah had no doctrine of “preemptive war,” nor “preventive war,” nor any ambitions for “regime change” in Babylonia. He only wanted the prophet to assure him of God’s approval of Judah’s military resistance to the Babylonian Empire’s plans to annex Judah. King Zedekiah’s war aims were purely defensive and would probably have met the criteria of the later “Just War” tradition—something the “preventive war” doctrine formulated by Bush (and partially continued by Obama) definitely does not.
Yet, even if Zedekiah’s war aims would have passed muster with the Just War criteria of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas (and Luther, Calvin, and many contemporary Protestant theologians), they could not pass Jeremiah’s criteria for divine approval. Using terms as harsh as those Jesus used against the disciples’ attempted defensive violence in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26), Jeremiah thundered against Zedekiah’s plans to resist Babylon with military might.
Why was Jeremiah so sure that God was against the planned violent defense of Judah (including defense of the Holy City of Jerusalem and the Temple of YHWH)? Why was Jeremiah so sure that God wanted no military resistance to the cruel invasion of the Babylonians? Jeremiah understood that foreigners and people of other religions could still be the agents of the very will of God. Like other pre-exilic prophets, Jeremiah saw the coming loss of Judean national sovereignty as the instrument of God’s corrective discipline for an unfaithful people.
Therefore, Jeremiah accepted the Babylonian king as a new overlord, under whom Judah would be safe from other would-be invaders and able to learn a better way to be God’s covenant people. Violent resistance would not succeed in saving Judah’s national sovereignty, Jeremiah knew, but it would result in a much harsher invasion, occupation, and deportation into a long exile. And thus it came to pass.
Jeremiah’s attitude was light-years away from that of contemporary nationalism or patriotism. By the standards of contemporary U.S. Christians, Jeremiah would be a traitor who shamelessly cooperates with the enemy. People of other religions justified in conquering the would-be People of God while God’s prophet consorts with those pagans? Strong stuff. Any Christian wishing to justify a current crusade against Muslims had better leave Jeremiah off the reading list.
Jeremiah insists in chapters 12 and 18 that God is free to make or unmake any nation of people as God’s own—with no exceptions for Judah—or for the U.S. or the modern state of Israel for that matter. To Jeremiah, God is universal and the moral rules of Torah are universal in application. The Way of God cannot be made the exclusive claim of any single nationality, culture, or ethnic group. A people can only demonstrate that they are God’s people by abiding in God’s will.
Jeremiah declares that God’s covenant with Israel/Judah is broken and nullified. He looks for a new covenant that God will write on the hearts of God’s people (31:31-33). Jeremiah anticipates and informs Jesus’ own revolutionary extension of the divine covenant to the Gentiles.
Jeremiah’s call for the men of Judah to “circumcise their hearts” instead of their foreskins will inform the Apostle Paul’s judgment that Gentile Christians do not need physical circumcision to be part of God’s covenant people. (See especially the argument Paul makes to the Galatians.) Women and eunuchs cannot be physically circumcised, but they can “circumcise their hearts” through baptism. Here is a universal invitation to be included in the People of God, but also a universal challenge to faithfulness.
So what is God’s will for any people that would call themselves the People of God? According to Jeremiah, God’s people make justice and not war. In chapter 5, Jeremiah denounces the way the rich people of Judah exploit their poor neighbors. Jeremiah describes the rich of his day as “setting traps” for their fellow human beings and accuses them of having no respect for the rights of other people. He accuses the religious leaders of his day of exploiting their positions and then he declares that the majority of the people enjoy this abominable situation.
All this sounds horrifyingly contemporary and applicable to U.S. Christians. The rich steal from the poor with the help of government. Government tax giveaways to the rich hurt the poor and the common good. The rich convinced the government in 1981 to repeal usury laws that once limited how much interest credit card companies could charge. In the late 1990s, the rich convinced the government to abolish the wall between investment banks and regular banks that had been in place since 1937—allowing huge “too big to fail” financial institutions to gamble with ordinary people’s money—and wreck the global economy. (By the way, that wall between ordinary banks and investment firms was not restored in the recent financial reform law.) Then the rich convinced the government to make it harder for the poor to declare bankruptcy but easier for wealthy corporations to do the same. In the name of “tort reform,” the rich convince the government to limit the amount of damages that courts can award people who have been harmed by corporations. The U.S. Supreme Court rules that government can use “eminent domain” to take private homes and businesses NOT for highways, parks and other public use, but to sell them to big corporations to “develop.” And, in the ultimate insult, that same Supreme Court declares that “corporations are persons” and “money is speech,” and, therefore, corporations may spend unlimited amounts of money electing tame politicians who help them continue to rob the poor.
Meanwhile far too many church leaders support all this “reverse Robin Hood” action. A nationwide study conducted by Baylor University found that frequent church attenders oppose government assistance to the unemployed because they identify the “invisible hand” of the so-called “free market” with the Providence of God! In this messed up theology, if some are rich it is not because they have exploited others, but because God has made them rich and, if others are unemployed or underemployed or even homeless, it is because they have sinned in some way. Nationally famous church leaders glorify violence, promote war, call for assassination of some foreign leaders while defending other dictators with whom they are in big business. Other famous clergy engage in the sexual exploitation of children and then scapegoat vulnerable populations such as minority ethnic groups, minority religions, single mothers, sexual minorities and other vulnerable groups. In 2009, A Pew Study was released that still has me in shock: It showed that the more frequently one attended church in the U.S., the more likely one was to think that “some torture is justified!” It is not hard to guess what Jeremiah would say to us.
Jeremiah also had much to say about exploited laborers and the unfair treatment of resident aliens. In chapters 7 and 22, Jeremiah rails against the exploitation of poor workers and resident aliens. What Jeremiah would say about the current demonization of immigrants and refugees in this country is not hard to guess. One of King Zedekiah’s predecessors, King Jehoiakim, is denounced for exploitation of the poor by building large palaces and employing the poor at low wages to build them. No doubt Jehoiakim defended his “jobs program” by explaining that living wages would hurt competition and small businesses.
Ever since 1981, U.S. labor law has become increasingly weaker and workers’ rights ignored or undermined, along with the ability to engage in collective bargaining through labor unions. Global trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA, and the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, subordinate national labor laws to these treaties, along with using these treaties to override local environmental and workplace safety rules. Now, the government is free to give rich no-bid contracts for rebuilding to corporate cronies and exploit the workers they hire for this necessary work! Further, millions of resident aliens in the U.S. labor in slave-like conditions in U.S. fields and sweatshops (intimidated by the lack of “green cards” into keeping quiet about their abuse). Led by the state of Arizona, state after state in this country is rushing to pass ever harsher laws against undocumented workers and immigrants, culminating in Alabama’s new law that would cut off water to anyone who couldn’t PROVE citizenship!
Like all true prophets, Jeremiah constantly announced that economic exploitation and war were fundamental offenses to God and no amount of “prosperity doctrine” or “health and wealth” gospel by the false prophets of his day or ours can efface that reality.
A prophetic war resister like Jeremiah will not only be unpopular with the rich and powerful, but often with the common folk as well. Throughout the Book of Jeremiah we see him hounded as a traitor and a troublemaker. He was accused of destroying the people’s morale during wartime.
Early in his career as a prophet, the people of his hometown threw Jeremiah into the stocks. Later, he was thrown in prison. Still later, he was thrown into a partially dry cistern where he sank into the mud and experienced continual physical pain.
God wasn’t easy on Jeremiah, either. God forced Jeremiah to prophesy doom and destruction on the people he loved and when Jeremiah tried to be silent, the Word of God burned in his bones like fire! God refused to let Jeremiah marry or have children—a huge curse in his culture. Jeremiah was a priest who was forbidden to serve at Temple!
Having been forced to watch most of the people of Judah taken into Exile by the Babylonians, near the end of Jeremiah’s life, he was abducted and forced to go to Egypt by a group of Judah’s “freedom fighters” who had assassinated the Babylonian governor of their region. The group which kidnapped Jeremiah pressured him into prophesying things that would favor their actions, but he steadfastly refused. He died in Egypt.
Violent, terrorist “patriots” holding war resisters captive sounds very contemporary, doesn’t it?
In the passage we read for today, 29:1-14, Jeremiah writes to the people of Judah taken into exile in the Babylonian empire. He outlines a “mission strategy” if you will, that I think will serve a global church, scattered in exile in the various nations around the world.
“Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage. That they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the Shalom of the city where I have sent you into exile and pray to the Lord on its behalf for in its’ shalom you will find your shalom. ”
It’s a risky strategy. One is not to disappear into the greater culture. One must remain a distinct people—and this will mean resisting many of the customs of the surrounding empire. One has to continue to have children—a sign of hope in a world bent on destruction. But then one seeks the welfare, the shalom, the peace, of the city where one is in exile. Seek BABYLON’s peace and well- being? Babylon who has just destroyed the nation and the temple of God? Yes—and we have to seek the peace of Louisville of the U.S., of whatever city and country God sends us—and pray to God on its behalf. But the empires of our exile may not recognize that we seek their shalom: Our resistance to the values of violence and greed and corruption—our refusal to cheer military victories or delight in the downfall of those named as enemies—our continued welcome to those named by others as “illegal” or “deviant” or “unclean,” all this may make the empire’s inhabitants nervous about us, to say the least. The WAY we are to seek the well-being, the “shalom” of our places of exile may not look very “shalom-seeking” to our unbelieving and other-believing neighbors.
We are likely to be misunderstood, as Jeremiah, was misunderstood—for 40 years of painful witness. Yet, if we too will become “circumcised of the heart” (ch. 4), Jeremiah is an excellent example for us of how to be faithful to God, resist injustice, war, and violence in our day as he did in his.
I have neglected this blog for too long. New posts will be coming soon. Pilgrim Pathways will return to being a blog mainly about Christian theology and related topics from my (ana)baptist, Believers’ Church, “incarnational discipleship” perspective.
- We will go over the “fiscal cliff.” In 2013 it will be fixed early in January along these basic lines: Taxes for those making $250K and up will continue to revert to the pre-Bush/Clinton-era tax rates. Capital gains taxes will go up, though maybe not to the Clinton era. The Obama payroll tax cuts will be extended for another 2 years. Unemployment insurance will be extended. In return for lessening the amount of automatic military cuts, additional stimulus spending will be passed. Medicare and Social Security will not be touched if we go over the cliff.
- The Republicans will try to crash the economy over the debt ceiling. Pres. Obama has ruled out simply ignoring it with the authority of the 14th Amendment, so I predict that if the GOP won’t raise it dramatically, he will use the “platinum coin seineurage” option. That is, U.S. law allows coins to me made in any denomination whatsoever as long as it is made of platinum. So, I predict that if the GOP tries to crash the economy (or hold it hostage in order gut Medicare and Social Security), Pres. Obama will have no choice but to have the Treasury Secretary direct the U.S. Mint to mint between 10 and 20 platinum coins worth $1 trillion each and deposit them in the U.S. Treasury and pay the U.S. bills with them. This will lead to some inflation (and some market uncertainty), but not as much as defaulting on U.S. debt.
- IF these 1st 2 predictions are correct, then I predict that 2013 will see economic growth: New housing starts, an increase in manufacturing jobs, and exports. Unemployment will drop to 6% or lower. On the other hand, IF I am wrong about 1 and 2 and we get either no deal or a bad deal on the “fiscal cliff,” then we’ll have rising unemployment throughout the year until we reach 9% or more. If the GOP forces a default on the debt ceiling (and Pres. Obama doesn’t use the platinum coin option or the 14th Amendment “nuclear option”), then all bets are off. We go into full-fledged depression.
- We will get filibuster reform in the U.S. Senate, but probably not enough reform to stop obstructionism through “secret holds,” etc.
- Immigration reform will pass because the GOP is tired of losing so very badly. It won’t be piecemeal, but quite comprehensive–and the first non-punitive immigration reform since the middle ’80s.
- Pres. Obama will use Executive Orders far more than in the 1st term. Many of them will please progressives, but some will enfuriate them. One that will thrill progressives is that he will finally close Gitmo, no matter the outrage by Congress.
- The Environmental Protection Agency will take stronger action against climate change. However, the Obama administration will try again to authorize the Keystone pipeline and, again, environmental and labor acting in civil disobedience will block this.
- The Middle East will be troubled. (Yeah, I really went out a limb there, huh?) Assad’s regime in Syria will fall, but it’s a 50/50 chance as to whether Syria desolves into an ethnic/religious civil war. Iran will continue to be a thorn in the U.S.’s side, but we won’t go to war. If Netanyahu loses his election in January there’s a slim chance for progress in Israel/Palestine, but I think Netanyahu will be reelected. There may be a 2nd nonviolent revolution in Egypt.
- Gay rights, including marriage equality, will make continued strides in the U.S. and around the world. I predict that, in June, the Supreme Court of the United States, will strike down the federal “Defense of Marriage Act,” the 1994 law that forbids the federal government from recognizing or granting federal benefits to any legally married same-sex couples. I predict that the SCOTUS will also uphold the lower court decision striking down CA’s “Proposition 8,” which amended the CA state constitution to outlaw same-sex marriages. The Court will rule that one cannot vote away rights already given. HOWEVER, I DO NOT think the Supreme Court will rule that marriage equality must be the law of the land throughout the US. It will limit the Prop. 8 decision to CA or anywhere else where marriage equality was won and then voted away. The SCOTUS will continue to allow the struggle for marriage equality to play out state-by-state and “kick down the road” the question of whether or not marriage equality must be legal for all 50 states and any territories of the United States. Meanwhile, marriage equality will become legal in Australia, France, and the United Kingdom even as strict laws against “homosexual behavior” continue to be promulgated in parts of Africa and Asia.
- Pressures will mount on the Obama administration to speed up its exit from Afghanistan and to cease its use of drone strikes. I don’t know who will win in these confrontations.
- My oldest daughter will graduate high school in the top 5% of her class, will be accepted into all 6 of the elite schools to which she has applied–and will have to choose, in part, based on which gives the most financial aid. Her younger sister will graduate middle school in the top 5% of her class, too.
- The Republican “war on women” will continue on the state level and this will continue to cause them electoral grief at both the state and federal level.
- The Supreme Court will strike down at least part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, outraging civil rights groups–and leading to a new 21st C. Voting Rights Act in response.
- Attacks on unions will continue–with wins and losses on both sides. 2013 will be the year of the strike and the boycott.
There have been six major cycles of American political history (with smaller epicycles within them: The Eisenhower epicycle, the Carter presidency, the Clinton years). Each has brought about major political realignments (with two major dominant political parties) for periods of between 15 and 50 years–shifts that have defined the shape of political debate and elections for some time to come. After the ’08 election, many asked if we were seeing a new political realignment, or just a hickup in the long Reagan era. I argued at the time that one could not know until the next election cycle: 2010 seemed to suggest that ’08 was a fluke, a hickup, but I believe that ’10 midterms were the result of two forces: 1) Understandable frustration with the pace of recovery and the promise of the out of power GOP to focus on “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” (a promise they immediately broke–as they focused on EVERYTHING ELSE BUT JOBS!) and 2) the emerging coalition that elected Obama had not yet learned to vote in non-presidential years, leading to a ’10 electorate that was older, whiter, more rural, and more conservative than the nation as a whole. In the presidential election of 2012, we have seen that 2008 was not a fluke. I think it safe to say that it was a realigning election and that this election is consolidating the basic shape of a new political alignment, and a new cycle of political history. The long Reagan Era has drawn to a close. (So, GOP presidential candidates can finally stop arguing over which of them is most like the sainted, mythical, Ronald Reagan–a myth not much like the actual Ronald Reagan.)
First Party System: George Washington, the first U.S. President after the adoption of the Constitution of 1789, thought there should be no “factions,” or political parties. But within his great unity government, there emerged two such factions, centered around 2 rival political visions or governing philosophies. Alexander Hamilton and his followers wanted a strong central government, complete with a national bank and a deliberate strategy to become an industrial society. They became the Federalist Party. Thomas Jefferson led a group that distrusted centralized power–worried that this would erode the republic and bring back something like the monarchy we had just fled. Jefferson’s “Democratic-Republicans” wanted a smaller, weaker, central government and stressed “states’ rights,” and a nation of farmers, both the landed gentry of slave plantations and the smaller farms of freeholders. After the election of 1800, the Democratic-Republicans gained dominance for the next 20 years and the Federalists slowly died off.
The Second Party System: One party rule is unhealthy and eventually leads to splits within the party that cannot be contained. The Democratic-Republicans could not contain the major issues of the day, especially the growing conflict over slavery, within themselves. The new system was a contest between the Whig Party and the Democratic Party. This was Henry Clay’s “American System.” The rich tended to support the Whigs and the poorer voters tended to support the Democrats–who had evolved from the Democratic-Republicans during the Era of Andrew Jackson, the first “populist” president. The Whig Party began to fracture over many pressing social issues, particularly slavery which was becoming ever-more contentious as the Abolitionist Movement grew. This Second Party System–era lasted until 1860, just before the Civil War.
The Third Party System: The end of the Whigs led to the emergence of several smaller parties: The Liberty Party, The Free Soil Party,–mostly focused on ending slavery–with tensions over the details. In this era, the national differences began to split geographically. The North and East, becoming more industrial and urban, and increasingly seeing slavery as a national sin that was greatly at odds with the national identity as a democratic republic, began to identify with the new Republican Party: forged of the merger of the Free Soil, and Liberty parties, leftover Whigs, and the like. Southern and more rural Democrats pushed to keep slavery and to expand it westward while Republicans supporting ending it. This cycle lasted from the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War until 1896, a time not only of war and conflict, but of rapid industrial and economic expansion.
The Fourth Party System: After the Civil War, the Republican Party became a coalition of pro-business types, former slaves, and reformers (often at odds with each other). During Reconstruction, the old Federalist vision of a strong central government, was given new life in the Republican party of the North, which also attracted Progressivists. The South and West supported Democrats. Both sides courted immigrants. This era lasted from 1896 until 1932. With brief exceptions, it was dominated by Republican presidencies. It had been a time of several “boom and bust” economic cycles, Progressivist Reforms (and the birth of the Social Gospel) in clash with industrial “robber barons,” the “Gospel of Wealth,” clashes over American Imperialism (as the U.S. began to rival other world powers) , the long struggle for women’s suffrage, the first grassroots peace movements, and the disillusionment of the aftermath of the Great War (World War I). The beginning of the end of the Fourth System was the election of 1928: Industrialist J. Edgar Hoover, a Quaker, a self-made millionaire, and Republican had been a philanthropic hero during World War I (feeding masses displaced in Europe) and in the aftermath of the Great Flood of 1924 (when he once more organized volunteer philanthropists to rescue victims and help with the aftermath). But Hoover, who had always been the can-do guy, proved completely unable to deal with the Crash of ’29 and the Great Depression. Republicans, like the Federalists and Whigs before them, had always argued for a strong central government–but it wasn’t to play an active role in economics!
The Fifth Party System: Shaped by Franklind D. Roosevelt and the New Deal Coalition. The election of 1932 was a realigning one. Republican dominance since the end of the Civil War came to an end. In response to the Great Depression and the New Deal, the Democratic Party stopped referring to “states’ rights” and pushed the use of the federal government to create social justice. It now attracted the Labor movement and its concerns for workers’ rights, various minorities, Jews, reformers, and, for the first time, large numbers of African-Americans, who had previously been nearly 100% Republican since it was the “Party of Lincoln.” (In the South, many African-Americans continued to be Republican during this period because the South, dominated by Democrats, still strictly enforced racial segregation.) This system, briefly interrupted by the Eisenhower years, lasted from 1933 until approximately 1968.
The Sixth Party System: In the 1960s, the Democratic Party rejected the Southern segregationists fully–ironically during the presidency of Texan Lyndon B. Johnson. Yet his Great Society fell apart due to social unrest in the wake of the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the War on Poverty, the Vietnam War and the movement to end it, the women’s movement and the youth movement. In 1968, Richard B. Nixon, former VP to Eisenhower, mapped out the “Southern strategy” to attract Southern and working class whites, especially less educated white men, threatened by the the Democratic Party’s championing of “hippies, African-Americans, and feminists (and, later, gays). Now the Republican Party revived the old language of “states’ rights,” (which it had long opposed) to attack New Deal and Great Society programs and as a code word for “supporting soft segregation,” and opposing “affirmative action.” Interrupted briefly by the Carter years and the Clinton years, the Sixth Party System initiated by Nixon was fully cemented by Ronald Reagan in the election of 1980. It ended Democratic dominance in the South (between 1980 and 2000, a 20 year period, Republicans completely replaced Democrats as the dominant political party in the South). Nixon and Reagan created a new GOP governing coalition of Economic Conservatives (Libertarians and big business-types, united in their hatred for Labor), Military/Foreign Policy Conservatives (nationalists and neo-conservatives), and Social/Religious Conservatives (the Religious Right coalition of groups opposing mixed marriages, feminism, abortion, contraception, gay rights, etc.).
It seems that 2008 may have been the beginning of the end of this Sixth Party System: the Nixon-Reagan-Bush Era. 2012 seems to confirm that we are seeing a new political alignment. The Obama coalition (youth, women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other minorities) shows that Democrats now begin presidential races with a large block of states in the Northeast, West, mountain, midwest, and Southeastern states that, at least, lean Democratic. Demographics are growing the Democratic dominance. The Republican Party is dominant only with white men and married white women. It is older, rural, less educated, more traditionally religious. But it lives in a world where Millenials (18-29 year olds) are comfortable with pluralism, have international and multi-cultural experiences, are highly educated (even if also highly in debt because of it), techno-savvy, and urban. If I am right, we are entering an era where the Democratic Party begins each presidential cycle with increasing electoral advantages. The Republican Party is reaping the rewards of the Southern strategy: As Mitt Romney proved, it is now possible to win 60% of the white vote and still lose an election badly. The exact shape of the realignment is not yet clear. Republicans maintained control of the House, but Democrats had the House all during the Reagan years and Reagan still drove the agenda. A governing philosophy based on constant tax cuts, ever higher military expansion, disgregard for the environment, anti-labor, and anti-government help is no longer a winning one. The new alignment may not be a 21st C. New Deal/Great Society (this is not yet clear), but it is one that has a definite role for government to play in helping ordinary people. The Reagan era is over. What will the new era be?
So, you may have heard that Pres. Barack Obama (D) and VP Joe Biden (D) were re-elected to a 2nd term Tues. night, November 6th, 2012. But you may have missed the many OTHER victories for social justice in the USA. There were also some losses, as Pres. Obama himself has emphasized, progress comes in fits and starts and zig-zags rather than a straightline. This post is a summary of as many of the victories and losses as I can find so that we get some idea of the current “lay of the land” as we prepare for the next struggles. I list these in no order of priority, just as I remember them and find links:
- Women’s Rights won big. The new Congress in 2013 will have a record TWENTY (20) female U.S. Senators, up from 17 this time. On the one hand, this is pitiful. 1/5 of the U.S. Senate will be female when when women are 51% of the nation? When women have had the right to vote since 1920? Clearly, sexism is still alive and well in the USA. BUT, it is improvement: Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) mentions that when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) was just elected as the first Democratic woman elected to the Senate in her own right. (Before then, widows of deceased Senators were appointed to serve out the remainders of their husbands’ terms–something that still happens.) Only 39 women have EVER served in the U.S. Senate since the body was created in 1789! The new Senate in 2013 will have 16 Democratic women [Diane Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and the newly elected Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), & Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)]and 4 Republican women [Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) will be joined by Deb Fischer (R-NE), an ultra-conservative. Two other GOP women senators: Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX), retired this year.] All 8 of the men running for House and Senate who opposed abortion even in cases of rape were DEFEATED. Women’s health, including the funding of Planned Parenthood, and coverage for contraception, were reaffirmed. Most of the men who ran and won as Democrats were also strongly committed to women’s rights. New Hampshire became the first state to have all female leaders: Electing Maggie Hassan as Governor (D-NH), and replacing two GOP men with Democratic women: Rep.-elect Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH-01)–reclaiming a seat she lost in 2010–and Rep.-elect Anne McKlane Kuster (D-NH-02). NH already had 2 female Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), neither of whom were up for reelection this year. For the first time, every state legislative body had at least one female member. After the 2010 mid-terms, Republicans launched a nationwide war on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights, with huge state legislative restrictions on abortion and attempts at restriction on contraception. However, equal pay for equal work, and other women’s rights were also under assault. The victories of Tues. did not completely reverse or end these assaults, but they did constitute a major rejection of this agenda. Women were key to the reelection of the president: with an 18% gender gap between the 2 candidates.
- LGBTQ Rights won several victories. The reelection of Pres. Obama means that the GOP threat to reintroduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into the military was rejected. In addition, marriage equality was legalized by ballot measure in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State, the first time marriage equality was implemented by popular vote. Further, Minnesota, though not yet affirming marriage equality, strongly defeated a state constitutional amendment to define marriage as “between one man and one woman,” again, the first time such a ballot measure in the U.S. was defeated at the ballot box rather than in the courts. In Iowa, an attempt to unseat one of the state’s Supreme Court judges who had ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009 was defeated. In NY, Rep.-elect Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18) became the first openly gay man who is MARRIED with adopted children elected to Congress and the first openly gay Rep. from NY. Likewise, Sen.-elect Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) will be the first openly lesbian U.S. Senator. The re-election of President Obama also was the first time an incumbent president (and VP!) endorsed marriage equality, wrote marriage equality into the party platform, and campaigned on marriage equality–and WON re-election! That and several legislative victories at the state level means that more progress for LGBTQ folk is surely on the way because of Tuesday’s elections: Several more states will either enact marriage equality or civil union laws (usually an interim step toward full equality as voters see that the sky does not fall, but also that civil unions are still a form of 2nd class citizenship) between now and 2014. At the federal level, I expect a full court press to enact the Employee Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), preventing workplace discrimination against LGBTQ folk and either Congressional repeal or Supreme Court rejection of the ’90s-era “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) which prevents same-sex married couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. The next 4 years could even see the first U.S. Supreme Court Justice who is openly a member of the LGBTQ community. Clearly, LGBTQ rights are on the march–a stunning turnaround from 2004, just 8 short years ago, when attacks on LGBTQ folk, and especially on marriage equality, was a winning strategy around the nation.
- Economic Justice. The gains here are more modest, but real. The reelection of Pres. Obama and an enlarged Democratic Senate means that Obamacare will be fully implemented, not repealed or watered down further, that GOP plans to voucherize Medicare, eliminate Medicaid, and privatize Social Security are off the table, as are deep cuts to social programs and education across the board. Michigan voters repealed their state’s “emergency manager” law which had allowed for corporate dictators to usurp the elected government of any city that faced fiscal difficulties (like something out of the “Robocop” movies–set in Detroit!). Voters in CA rejected an attempt to end all union participation in the political process (while allowing corporations to continue unabated). CA also voted to raise taxes on the rich and to a temporary sales tax increase, to fund education instead of facing more layoffs. As well, CA achieved a Democratic 2/3 supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, enabling it to overcome the infamous Prop. 13 , enacted in 1978, which reduced property taxes to pre-1975 levels and then required 2/3 of each House of the legislature to raise them for any reason–leading to CA’s epic budget woes. The new CA legislature will be able to forge a workable budget AND end Prop. 13 forever–a law which had allowed a tiny, tax-hating GOP minority, to rule the majority for decades. In San Antonio, voters approved a tiny sales tax increase to fund quality Pre-K education. Even in Texas, conventional wisdom to the contrary, Democrats CAN campaign and win on tax increases IF the public knows that they will fund worthwhile things. Voters in a few cities around the country also approved small increases in the minimum wage.
- Civil Liberties. Voters in FL killed an attempt to amend the state constitution to allow taxpayer support for religious institutions and activities (in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 1st Amendment). They also blocked attempts to ban use of public funds for abortions and contraception and blocked an attempt to block implementation of Obamacare in the state. They rejected legislature control over judges. Voters in Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis and in MA authorized medical cannabis. Although it sets up potential conflict with federal law, it shows the end is in sight for the failed “war on drugs” and that a new, sane drug policy will emerge. Prohibition fails and regulation works.
- Diversity and inclusion. With the election of Sen.-elect Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Hawai’i sends the first Buddhist to the U.S. Senate. And with the election of Rep.-elect Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) to Hirono’s old House seat, Hawai’i also sends Congress its first Hindu member–who plans to be sworn in on the Bhagavad-Gita. They join 2 Muslim members of Congress. Native Americans were key to the election of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in North Dakota. Hispanic/Latino voters were a decisive factor in the reelection of Pres. Obama and several other races. Asian-Americans also made gains in representation. The days when old white men ruled everything are ending, something that fills many with fear. But those of us who have embraced inclusion and diversity since the Civil Rights movement welcome the coming rainbow society with open arms.
Losses on election day include: Cannabis legalization in Oregon and medical cannabis legalization in Arkansas. Michigan voters failed to guarantee the right to collective bargaining in the state constitution, although that right is still part of MI law. CA tried and failed to abolish the death penalty by ballot measure–with only 48% of the public approving. Death penalty abolition is making gains, but they are not uniform by any means.
There is clearly much work left to be done. But there is no denying that Tuesday night was a good night for social justice in the USA.