Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

Incarnational Discipleship

Contest for Caucasion Theologians: Name Non-White Influences

I have charged that too many white theologians (biblical scholars, philosophers of religion, pastors, etc.) ignore theological voices from persons of color or from outside the Western world. (There are exceptions, who are wonderful.) But maybe I’m not being charitable. So, prove me wrong white theo-bloggers. Name at least 3 theological influences who are persons of color and list at least one major way they’ve influenced you.

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. was the first person I read on nonviolence, even before reading Yoder. His collection of sermons, Strength to Love, is still powerful to me.  I find his last published book prior to his death, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? to still outline the major crises and choices facing the world, especially in the USA. (My dissertation was, in part, on King’s use of Scripture in his political ethic.)
  • James Hal Cone‘s work God of the Oppressed is a classic. His, Martin, Malcolm, and America helped me grasp the importance of Malcolm X.  I learned deeply from his autobiographical, My Soul Looks Back and how to do theological reflection on music from The Spirituals and the Blues.  I am looking forward to his next book, relating the cross to lynchings.
  • J. Deotis Roberts, Liberation and Reconciliation conveyed for me the essence of the gospel.  His work comparing Bonhoeffer and King led me to design a theology course comparing and contrasting the two.
  • Kazoh Kitamori, Theology of the Pain of God helped me become a theopaschite even before I read Moltmann’s The Crucified God.  Later, I saw this theme even deeper from the work of my friend, David Emmanuel Goatley, who left the classroom to head the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention (the largest mission agency of Black Baptists), in his published dissertation, Were You There? connecting the experience of slave Christians to the cry of dereliction uttered by Jesus on the cross.
  • Desmond Tutu, especially his No Future Without Forgiveness. [I’ve been asked to add additional examples.]
  • Elsa Tamez has added to my understanding of grace (and it’s relation to struggles for justice) and the interpretation of the Book of James.
  • Miguel de la Torre (a friend of mine from seminary days) has helped me understand Latino culture, biblical interpretation “from the margins,” how different approaches to sexuality are embedded in different cultures, and much else.
  • Allan Boesak of South Africa has greatly added to my understanding of both Job and Revelation–books better understood by those with less power.
  • Darryl Trimiew, an African-American Christian ethicist in the Disciples of Christ, has done ground-breaking work on economic justice and has reexamined H. Richard Niebuhr’s concept of “the responsible self,” by looking at communities with less power, rather than the empowered selves which HRN took for granted.

I could go on for some time and I regularly interact with diverse thinkers from other cultures on this blog and elsewhere–but I don’t see much of that from other white theo-bloggers (with the exceptions linked above), so I throw down this gauntlet and hope to be proven wrong.

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August 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Brief Note on Glenn Beck’s Horrid Usurpation of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy

I haven’t written on this because it has made me so angry.  But I cannot let it pass.  Saturday was the 47th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  As the climax of that historic march, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” Speech. The real title was “Normalcy: Never Again!” and the “Dream” refrain was a spur of the moment riff–since King’s public speaking style was shaped by Black Church preaching, which is a dialogue in which preacher’s adapt due both to the leading of God’s Spirit and to feedback from the congregation.  Sadly most people known only a few words of the speech and dismiss Dr. King as “the Dreamer,” never seeing him as the nonviolent WARRIOR for justice, peace, and the Beloved Community that he was. (J. Edgar Hoover, the evil, paranoid, and very racist founding Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not describe King as “the most dangerous Negro in America” because he was a harmless dreamer.)  While this was not his most radical speech (I’d give that award either to his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” or the sermon given the night before he was assassinated in 1968, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”), because so very few know the whole “Dream” speech, I am glad my friend Dan Trabue has reprinted it in full here.  I urge you to take your time and read it slowly and ponder it deeply–then go to Youtube and watch/listen to the speech given in Dr. King’s amazing delivery.

But Saturday the nation did not reflect on the March, the speech, and how far we still are from realizing the Dream.  Instead, tens of thousands of (mostly white) people poured into D.C. to attend a “Restore Honor” rally organized by former rodeo clown turned rightwing “news” pundit, Glenn Beck and hear speeches by him and Sarah Palin and others on how today white people are the only victims of racism, Pres. Barack Obama (of whom I am a critic from the Left–as Dr. King would be) is an evil tyrant who hates white people and free enterprise, how we need to have more wars in order to “restore honor” to the nation–and other pure bullshit! (I do not often use scatalogical language and I see this blog as a family-friendly forum, so I hesitate to use that term–but no other will do. The Apostle Paul counted his life before Christ as “all shit” (Phil. 3:8). ) Isaiah’s judgment on those who call evil “good” and good “evil” quickly comes to mind.

That anyone could see Glenn Beck as a contemporary standard bearer for the values of Dr. King shows how much King’s image has been “tamed” over the years.  Maybe it was a mistake to ever make his birthday into a national holiday.  Maybe it helped us forget the “dangerous Negro,” that the Dreamer was a radical democratic socialist who called his nation “the world’s largest purveyor of violence,” who wept over the funerals of 4 little girls killed at Sunday School by white terrorists and said “My dream has become a nightmare,” who called for a “revolution of values” in this nation, who spent the last year of his life organizing a Poor People’s Campaign of African Americans, whites from Appalachia, Native Americans, Mexican-American migrant workers, and others.  This man with a Ph.D. from Boston University was assassinated for marching for the rights of garbage workers in Memphis, TN.  We have too much tamed Martin King when Glenn Beck and his followers can see themselves as his legacy!!

And it enfuriates me that, 47 years later, most white pastors have still not read King’s writings–or the writings of any African-American theologian.  It should be IMPOSSIBLE to get a theological education in 2010 without wrestling with major non-white, non-Western figures.  But it is.  That’s the only way to explain how ignorant voices could portray Rev. Jeremiah Wright as a “hatemonger” based on snippets from one sermon or accuse James H. Cone, one of the founders of Black Liberation Theology, of “reverse racism” and hatred.

It should be impossible to graduate university or even high school without having to read major non-white voices alongside white and Western ones.  How can our children grow up without ever encountering Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Sojourner Truth, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. DuBois or Martin Luther King, alongside Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, and others?  Why is it that nearly every African-American (and Latino/a and Asian) pastor and theologian in this country knows the white, Western intellectual tradition, but so few whites bother to learn anything from others?  That unconscious racism, the “othering” by eliminating those voices from the conversation, is what allows rewriting of history and allows the ignorance displayed by the Glenn Beck usurpation.

Are there conservative African Americans? Sure.  Do Beck and others have the right to gather and make a case for their (individualistic, libertarian) view of society in which corporations can do no wrong, but any attempt at government work for the common good is denounced as “socialism?” Sure.  Do they have the right to try to convince Christians and others that “social justice” is a betrayal of the gospel? Sure.  But should anyone be taken in by their nonsense? No–and they can only be so taken in because of our failure to educate.  We reduce the Black Freedom movement to Rosa Parks sitting down one day and Martin King giving a speech the next day and think, “Poof! Segregation disappeared.” Our amnesia is leading to the resegregation of our schools. We rightly celebrate the first time a non-white person was elected president by a nation where whites are still the majority (although not by the middle of this century when we will have no majority ethnic group and whites will simply be the largest minority). But while Barack Obama gets to live in a White House built by slaves, we have a greater percentage  African Americans in prison than during the darkest days of segregation.  Dr. King would be more concerned about the latter–and Glenn Beck’s libertarian dream is not.

Al Sharpton had a counter-march on Saturday to “reclaim the dream.”  But to reclaim the dream of a non-racial society in which there are no poor people, which is characterized by justice and peace and in which people, not corporations, decide things, we have to first remember what the dream was.  I challenge white pastors and theologians and seminary students to do their part–by introducing themselves and their congregations to voices long ignored and silenced–including Martin King’s.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | civil rights, History, justice, racial justice | Leave a comment

In Memorium: Donald G. Bloesch (1928-2010)

This August has been a hard month on evangelical theologians–or, rather, on those left in this exile as they pass to homecoming.  As I noted earlier, Canadian Baptist theologian Clark Pinnock (1927-2010) died of advanced Alzheimer’s disease on 15 August.  Well, this past Tues., 24 August, Donald G. Bloesch, evangelical theologian of renewal in the United Church of Christ, died as well.

I have read some nasty tributes that have praised Bloesch by running down his denomination, portrayed as a sinkhole of “rank liberalism.”  That is not the way that Bloesch saw his part of the Body of Christ and that has not been my experience of the UCC. Sure, the UCC contains process theologians (Daniel Day Williams, a process theologian first at the University of Chicago and then at Union Theological Seminary of New York, was one of the pioneers of those who used the process metaphysics pioneered by philosophers Alfred North Whitehead and Charlese Hartshorne in the service of Christian theology) and many other classic liberal or neo-liberal thinkers.  But the UCC is congregational in polity and each congregation varies greatly in theology.  The UCC’s theological giants also contain the Niebuhr brothers, Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, the 19th C. historical theologians Philip Schaff (who founded the American Society of Church History) and John Williamson Nevin (founder of the American Theologica Society), minister and civil rights leader Andrew Young (later mayor of Atlanta, GA and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter), public theologian Max Stackhouse, Gabriel Fackre, Enoch Oglesby, and many others who could not be classified as “blindly liberal” in theology.  So I don’t see the need for evangelical theologians in other traditions to try to build the late Dr. Bloesch up by running down his denomination.

Bloesch was raised in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, a German immigrant denomination strongest in the Midwest that was one of the small denominations which merged in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ. (The E & R was itself a merger of two German-speaking immigrant denominations in the 19th C., one more Lutheran (Evangelische) and the other more Calvinist or Reformed, but both using the Heidelberg Catechism–which had tried to bridge the gap between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. ) He went to the major E & R college, Elmhurst College in Illinois (B.A.) and one of its seminaries, Chicago Theological Seminary (B.D.) before earning his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago Divinity School, an ecumenical (usually liberal) divinity school historically connected to the Northern/American Baptists. 

I encountered Bloesch as a young college student trying to find a middle ground between fundamentalism (either in its rationalist/empiricist form espoused by Carl F. H. Henry, or its rigid Calvinist presuppositionalist form championed by the likes of Cornelius van Till) and the liberal modernisms that seemed like watered-down faith.  Bloesch’s Essentials of Evangelical Theology included the entire evangelical tradition, including Wesleyanism, Pentecostalism, Anabaptism, and Pietism– all branches that Calvinist, Lutheran, and Calvinistic-Baptist evangelicals regularly ignored, disparaged, or gave second-rate status as “evangelical stepchildren.”  Bloesch himself was a blend of Reformed and Pietist thought.  He also firmly placed Karl Barth in the evangelical tradition (unlike van Till, or Henry, or, more recently Al Mohler) and saw Emil Brunner and the Niebuhr brothers as having at least one foot in the evangelical tradition.  Thus, his work was firmly evangelical, but also ecumenical and in dialogue with wider figures than most evangelicals in the U.S.  (He later expanded his dialogue to include Catholic and Orthodox voices.) My developing Anabaptist influence found Bloesch too stubbornly Reformed, but I loved the tone and spirit of his writing and his non-separatist ecclesiology.

He spent his life teaching at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa, which is formally connected to the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., but also has historic ties to the UCC and to several small evangelical denominations.  That lifelong commitment to one institution is also rare in this era of careerism. 

In 1985, Bloesch wrote The Battle for the Trinity (ironically, just before a major wave of renewal in trinitarian theology from widely divergent sectors of the Church universal).  Here, Bloesch, a supporter or the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, saw the primary danger as being feminist theology and especially feminist critiques of the use of only masculine imagery for God.  Then and now I saw Bloesch as having the right battle (as opposed to the endless “battles for the Bible” that mostly involved people talking past one another and confused real threats–and some exist–with mere shadows), but the wrong battle lines.  There are feminine images for God in Scripture and in the early Christian tradition! And, the exclusive use of masculine imagery, even by theologians who are well aware that God is NOT male and that men and women BOTH bear the image and likeness of God, does seem to make men more directly in God’s image and to make women only indirectly or less clearly bear the divine image.  So, while we want to avoid goddess language and be careful to let Scripture the way we speak of God, we cannot repudiate all feminine imagery for God–even in worship.  This was one of my major disagreements with Bloesch and with those influenced by his work–work which now includes a seven volume systematic, Christian Foundations.

I also disagreed with his approach to political theology.  Bloesch clearly repudiated the Religious Right, standing up for church-state separation, and a pluralistic democracy with a strong welfare state.  He also was far more outspoken about racial justice than most evangelicals.  But his political thought was controlled by his early doctoral work on Reinhold Niebuhr.  He never learned from either the pacifist witness of Anabaptist theologians such as John Howard Yoder or any form of liberation theology–in which he saw only the threat of Marxism (which he read through the Cold War lenses of Stalin and Mao). In this, he was quite at odds with many in his denomination.

But Bloesch’s approach to the arts and to Christian witness in a secular culture was refreshingly open in an era dominated by the likes of Francis A. Schaeffer.  His push to reclaim prayer and worship at the center of theological life and his openess to the charismatic movement were all major challenges from an evangelical Reformed theologian.  So was his insistence that if the church were to retain a term like “inerrancy” to describe Scripture, it must be only in the sacramental sense of the Word conveying the Spirit and not in rationalist-empiricist forms.

He helped introduce me to the work of Karl Barth (and, to a lesser extent, that of Emil Brunner).  So, though my Anabaptist-Liberationist influences moved my theology into a different orbit, I remain grateful for early helpf from Donald Bloesch. More, I appreciate his humble and pietist tone–which is all too lacking in theologians from many traditions.  The church is poorer without his witness.

August 30, 2010 Posted by | obituary, theologians | Leave a comment

Peacemaker Profiles #3: Mairead Corrigan Maguire & Betty Williams

Máiread Corrigan Maguire, Betty Williams, and the Community of Peace People

by Michael L. Westmoreland-White

Though they shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 1976 and have continued to be very active in peacemaking, Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams are far from household names, at least in the USA.  They deserve to be far better known, both for the roles they played in launching the peace movement in Northern Ireland and since.

First, a very brief bit of background. Before there was a “United Kingdom,” England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man were all independent, neighboring nations. The story of England’s successful wars for sovereignty over these other lands is too long to go into here. Suffice it to say that for a long period of time all of Ireland was ruled over by England, with all the usual oppressive moves, including outrageous rents by absentee landlords, denial of franchise, etc.

Eventually, the greater part of Ireland (the Southern part) won/was granted independence and is today the Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. But that was/is greatly resented by much of the population. Religious differences were part of this strife as the vast majority of native Irish were Roman Catholic, but English colonizers and descendants were Protestant, usually members of the Church of England but also including Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and a scattering of other groups. Protestants in Northern Ireland wanted to remain part of the U.K. and formed Loyalist parties, often armed. Most Catholics in Northern Ireland, who were not represented in governmental decisions and had numerous other inequalities, wanted to merge Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland and thus formed various political movements, many of them armed, called Republican because of their desire to have one, united, Catholic Irish Republic. Over the years, most of the Republican groups used guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics. The Loyalists responded in kind and British troops imposed harsh measures, including many violations of “the rules of war,” resulting in gross human rights abuses. (For more on all this see David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 2002.) That was the status quo for nearly a century. Northern Ireland became synonymous with violence, terrorism, and massive military retaliation and much of that spilled over into the rest of the U.K. as well.

The story: On 10 August 1976, Danny Lennon, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA — a guerilla army of Catholic “republicans”), was attempting to elude capture by the police. The latter shot and killed him. Lennon’s car swerved out of control and onto a sidewalk and into a fence. The car severely injured a young mother, Anne Maguire, out for a walk with three of her children, but the children, including a 6-week old baby, were killed instantly. The event could have been chalked up to just another act of violence and chaos in Northern Ireland, but it horrified the children’s aunt, Máiread Corrigan, and  Betty Williams, who witnessed the event. Corrigan and Williams began organizing the community, both Protestant and Catholic, to oppose the violence. A journalist, Ciaran McKeown, joined them, gave them publicity, and helped write their initial declarations. Thus, the Peace People, which had at one time 14, 000 members, was born.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire (b. 1944-). Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the daughter of a window cleaning contractor and a housewife, Máiread Corrigan had been neither an activist, nor a pacifist, nor even particularly politically involved until the tragedy of 10 August 1976 which took her sister and nephews and niece. A Catholic with mild republican leanings, Corrigan was a product of a rather typical working class Irish-Catholic family. She had attended Catholic schools and 1 year of business school (Miss Gordon’s Commercial College). Since age 16, she had worked in various clerical positions, especially as a shorthand typist. At the time when the movement started, she was confidential secretary to the Managing Director of Arthur Guiness & Co., a large Irish firm. She had done volunteer work for Catholic charitable organizations, especially helping to establish clubs for physically handicapped children. She also worked with young people and in prison visitation.

Once the Northern Ireland Peace Movement started, Máiread Corrigan became transformed. She helped to found Peace House, the headquarters of the Peace People, which also served as an intentional community for the leaders of the movement. She and Betty Williams led nonviolent demonstrations and strikes. They met with British officials and terrorists from the republican and loyalist groups and urged peace.

The three founders of the Peace People, Corrigan, Williams, and McKeown, were honored with the Carl Osseitsky Medal for Courage from the Berlin section of the International League for Human Rights in 1976. That brought them to the attention of peacemakers worldwide. They were awarded the Norwegian People’s Peace Prize (a populist alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize) in 1976 and the accompanying prize money gave Peace People some much-needed funding for their peace education projects. They were also nominated for the Nobel, but no Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for 1976. Instead, the 1976 prize, shared by Corrigan and Williams, was awarded in 1977 along with the 1977 award to Amnesty International.

In the years following the awarding of the Nobel, violence was renewed in Northern Ireland and the Peace People’s numbers and effectiveness dwindled. Only recently has peace appeared to have a real chance to take hold in that troubled land, especially after the signing of the Good Friday Accords. The Peace People themselves had dissensions over the direction that their projects should take. Of the three founders, only Máiread remains with the Peace People. Ciaran McKeown left to return to journalism. Betty Williams left in 1978 and in 1980 emigrated to the United States, but has continued her peace and justice activism in her new homeland.

Anne Maguire, mother of the slain children and Máiread’s sister, never recovered physically from her injuries or emotionally from the loss of her children. She died in 1980. In September Máiread married her sister’s widower and adopted the three remaining children, Mark, Joanne, and Marie Louise. In addition, Máiread and Jackie Maguire are also the parents of John and Luke from their own marriage.

Máiread’s work with Peace People gave her an extended contact with Protestants for the first time. Her peacemaking has included work for ecumenical harmony. She has received a Certificate in Ecumenical Studies from the Irish School for Ecumenics and has continued her work with ecumenical and interfaith organizations. She has become a leader in the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (the world’s oldest interfaith pacifist organization) and active in the U.K. chapter of the Catholic peace organization, Pax Christi International. She is a Patron of Edgehill College (the Irish Methodist Theological College) and Northern Ireland’s Council for Integrated Education. (In the U.S., “integrated education” refers to educating all races and ethnic groups in the public schools, together. Ireland is fairly monocultural in terms of ethnicity, but separated strongly by religion. There “integrated education” refers to educating Protestant and Catholic children in the same schools, with curricula which is fair to the contributions of each heritage. This was a movement started by Peace People.) She has received an honorary doctorates from Yale University, the University of South Korea, and the College of New Rochelle (NY), and special awards from Trinity College (Washington, DC), and St. Michael’s College (VT). In 1978, she was a special honoree of the United Nation’s “Women of Achievement” and the American Academy of Achievement. In October, 1990, U.S. Catholic Bishop Gerald O’Keefe of Iowa named her to receive that year’s Pacem im Terris, Peace and Freedom award. In June 1992, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, headquartered in California, awarded Máiread the “Distinguished Peace Leadership Award.”

Since helping to found Peace People, Máiread Corrigan Maguire has traveled widely in the U.S., New Zealand, Korea, India, Australia, Africa, Bangladesh, Japan, Israel/Palestine, and, recently, in Iraq. In all those places, she has been a voice for peace, nonviolence, justice, and human rights. She continued to urge the IRA to abandon guerilla warfare and terrorism for a political struggle for their goals and made similar calls on Protestant Loyalists. She has supported the ordination of women to the priesthood in her own Roman Catholic Church and called for reform of the church to a less heirarchical and more populist structure and urged it to stand for justice and peace within its structures as well as in the wider world. She has been a guest in Argentina of Aldofo Perez Esquivel, founder of SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia — “Service for Peace and Justice”) and Nobel Peace Laureate for 1980, whom Máiread first nominated for the Nobel. She has been part of the Nobel Peace Laureates’ Appeal for Global Nuclear Disarmament and Creating a Culture of Nonviolence, which began at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1997. Most recently, she has become one of the Councillers for the World Peace Council, based in Canada.

Betty Williams (b. 1943-). Born Betty Smyth, Betty Williams is the daughter of a Catholic mother and Protestant father. Like Máiread Corrigan Maguire, Betty Williams comes from Irish working class stock. Her father was a butcher and her mother a housewife. She was educated in Catholic schools, but married a Protestant (Ralph Williams) from Bermuda. They have two children, Paul and Deborah. (When the couple divorced in 1982 over Ms. Williams’ activism, she married James Perkins and moved to Florida.)  When the tragedy which led to the founding of Peace People ocurred, Betty Williams had no background in peacemaking or activism. She was an office receptionist and housewife whose interests were dressmaking, gardening, reading, and swimming. She had some sympathy with the republican cause, but not for either its methods or the hostilities between Protestants and Catholics. She is widely acknowledged to have been the original driving force behind Peace People. She enlisted Máiread Corrigan and Ciaran McKeown. She was the main drive in circulating petitions and organizing marches, tearing down barbed wire barricades, and initiating common events between Protestants and Catholics. It was Williams who gave the Nobel Lecture/Acceptance Speech for herself and Máiread in 1976 in Oslo on 11 December 1977. (It can be found at http://gos.sbc.edu/w/bwilliams.html)

Betty Williams has adopted the slogan that the Nobel Peace Prize is given “not so much for what one has done as for what one will do.” (One hopes that U.S. Pres. Obama takes up that slogan as a promise.)  Although she left the Peace People in 1978 and moved to the United States in 1980, she has continued to work and speak out for peace, human rights, and nonviolent struggle for justice. Her work since that time has especially focused on the plight of children as she has traveled the globe recording the testimonies of children plagued by war, hunger, disease, child prostitution, and other horrors beyond belief.

Betty Williams has continued to write op-ed pieces against the arms trade, the nuclear arms race, and for the U.S. ratification of major UN human rights treaties. In 1992, she met with the newly-elected U.S. President, Bill Clinton, and VP Al Gore, and recounted the horrors of Burma and East Timor in their presence, urging vigorous U.S. engagement to transform those situations. She wrote an article about that encounter that was widely published. That same year, Governor Ann Richards of Texas appointed Williams to the Texas Commission for Children and Youth. She has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws (Ll.D.) from Yale University, the Schweitzer Medallion for Courage, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for the promotion of human rights, and the Frank Foundation Child Assistance International Oliver Award. In 1992, she chaired the international committee celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Children’s Defense Fund and its founder, Marion Wright Edelman.

Betty Williams has written and spoken constantly around the world for peace and now is a special lecturer for Nova Southeastern University in Tampa, FL. In 1995, she was awarded the Rotary Club International’s “Paul Harris Fellowship” and the Together for Peace Foundation’s Peace Building Award. In 1995, her concern for children’s welfare led her to form World Centers of Compassion for Children International, an international network working to protect children’s rights and promote children’s welfare. Her advisory board consists mostly of other Nobel Peace Laureates, economists, futurists, child advocates. Her new organization has Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status at the United Nations where Betty Williams has striven to present children’s voices about their own problems to global leaders.

Additionally, Betty Williams serves on the Council of Honor for the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, and is a Patron of the International Peace Foundation in Vienna, Austria. She is the Chair of the Institute for Asian Democracy in Washington, D.C., and an honorary member of the Club of Budapest. Like her friend Máiread Corrigan Maguire, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize did not crown Betty Williams’ peacemaking efforts, it propelled them across her lifetime and, apparently will continue to do so into the future. In January 2002, she gave a speech at the University of Miami admitting to students her profound anger over the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 — and her firm resolve that violent retaliation was the wrong response, continuing rather than breaking the cycle of violence. Students interviewed afterwords for the Miami Herald said that hearing a Nobel Peace Prize winner admit publicly that her first emotional reaction to the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania was “Nuke ’em!” made them more open to her later discussion of why such an emotional response should not guide our actions and to her analysis of how nonviolent peacework could do more against terrorism in the long run than a military response.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams show that sometimes tragic circumstances can yield to the healing brought by  active nonviolence. At first their actions were spontaneous. Neither woman had a history rooted in pacifism, in activism for social justice, or in training in the theory and practice of nonviolence. All this they picked up as they went along. Today, Máiread Corrigan Maguire has become a major voice for Christian nonviolence, in and out of her own Roman Catholic communion. Betty Williams’ relation to the church is more low-key, but she, like her friend Máiread, has become a complete pacifist deeply rooted in a spirituality of nonviolence. In Williams’ case that spirituality is nourished by many sources, including the works of the 14th Dalai Lama, but also Catholic and Protestant Christian pacifists, past and present. Their story also shows that a nonviolent movement may begin spontaneously, but then it has to form community and organization and connect to the longer nonviolent narrative in order to remain a vital force. These women, the movement they started, and the organizations with which they are connected today, are vibrant chapters in the ongoing history of nonviolence.

A few resources for further exploration:

David McKittrick and David McVea, Making Sense of the Troubles: The Story of the Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York: New Amsterdam Books, 2002.

Sarah Boucher, Bettina Ling, and Charlotte Bunch. Máiread Corrigan and Betty Williams: Making Peace in Northern Ireland. Feminist Press, 1994. For ages 9-12. Part of the “Women Changing the World” series for young readers put out by Feminist Press.

Susan Muaddi Darraj.  Máiread Corrigan and Betty Williams: Partners for Peace in Northern IrelandForeward by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell.  Chelsea House Publications, 2006.  Young adult.  Darraj traces the roots of the conflict back to the 12th C. before focusing on the modern conflict.  Part of the Modern Peacemakers series.

Máiread Corrigan Maguire, The Vision of Peace: Faith and Hope in Northern Ireland, ed. John Dear, S. J. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1999. Major writings and speeches by Maguire, edited by Jesuit priest and nonviolent activist/theologian John Dear.

Colin Irwin. The People’s Peace Process in Northern Ireland. Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

August 29, 2010 Posted by | blog series, ecumenism, heroes, History, Just Peacemaking, nonviolence, pacifism, peace | Leave a comment

Theological Mentors # 3: Molly T. Marshall

Continuing my irregular posting of tributes to my intellectual and spiritual roots. Currently Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall is President of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, KS (since 2004), the first woman to head a Baptist seminary or divinity school in North America. She is also Professor of Theology, Worship, and Spiritual Formation at CBTS, an American Baptist seminary that now also has strong ties to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

I first met Molly in January of 1986 when I arrived on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. Molly, a former missionary to Israel, campus minister, youth minister, and interim pastor (one of the earliest ordained women in the SBC), had been hired in ’84 as Asst. Professor of Christian Theology. I was first introduced to her as Dr. Molly Marshall-Green. [Let me take this opportunity to quench a persistent rumor. She remained married to Douglas M. Green, M.D., a retired family doctor. They have never been divorced. But Molly’s hyphenated name had never been legally changed and was causing her considerable problems in the SBC. So, she dropped it to just use her original surname in ’88.   Douglas M. Green, M.D., Molly’s faithful husband and, formerly, my family doctor,  passed away this past Pentecost Sunday, at the age of 85. He was considerably older than Molly and had grown children and grandchildren from a first marriage.  An obituary is found here.]

I was looking forward to taking classes with Molly. I had come from a church with women deacons and was theoretically in favor of women in ministry, although at that point I had never met one. But I was also nervous. Molly was widely rumored to be an “extreme feminist theologian,” and, although I had specifically determined to take every controversial professor at SBTS to learn the truth about conservative charges, I was a bit nervous. The extent of my previous exposure to feminism had been to vote (and lose) for Florida to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

I found a gracious woman who pushed students to explore ideas fearlessly, including those of “raging liberals.” But Molly’s favorite theologian, to judge by numbers of quotations in class, was the Apostle Paul with a close second going to the Reformer Martin Luther! Yes, she had studied with the Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson, a fascinating figure who combined a conservative approach to the New Testament with a very liberal theology! But, no, Molly has never been a universalist–I read her dissertation from cover to cover in one long day in the library to check out that rumor!

A graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University, she earned her M.Div. and Ph.D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY), mother seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention.  She has done additional graduate work at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem, Cambridge University, and Princeton Theological Seminary.  Ordained in the Southern Baptist Convention, her credentials were later affirmed by the American Baptist Churches, USA.  She is a member of Prairie Baptist Church, Prairie Village, KS.  Previously editor of the Dissertation series of National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion (NABPR), of which she was president in 2004, Molly now serves on the editorial board of American Baptist Quarterly, and The Review and Expositor. 

Like many Baptist theologians, she is a creative eclectic–powerfully influenced by her teacher, Dale Moody, by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, by Jürgen Moltmann, Letty Russell, Elizabeth A. Johnson, Elizabeth Schuessler-Fiorenza, but also writing in creative dialogue with conservative evangelicals like Bernard Ramm, Clark Pinnock, and, in New Testament Theology, George Eldon Ladd. In class she assigned texts by a wide range of authors, often asking students to compare and contrast an evangelical text with another from a different tradition–and never telling them where they must “come out” at the the end. Hardly the radical others made her out to be!

I remember asking Molly once, after reading a strong feminist critique of all-masculine God-language at the same time I was reading both St. Athanasius and Jürgan Moltmann on the Trinity, if it were possible to take the feminist critique of God-language seriously while remaining a thoroughgoing Trinitarian. Molly got that twinkle that all students and colleagues know portends a quip from her irreverent sense of humor, “Oh, yes, but you will forever after be doomed to very complex sentences!” And so it has proved–helped by my thoroughly Trinitarian feminist teacher.

In 1988, Molly survived a hostile trustee board and was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor at SBTS. But the story was not over. When Al Mohler was elected to succeed Roy Honeycutt as President of SBTS in 1994, it was with clear instructions to fire Molly Marshall. But firing a tenured professor is not easy. He accused her of violating the Abstract of Principles, the statement of faith that all faculty must teach within at SBTS. What he meant was that she violated Mohler’s supposedly infallible interpretation of the document. When Molly voluntarily wrote a long paper expositing her understanding of every article of the Abstract and offered to meet to discuss point-by-point, Mohler sent the dean to tell her that it was no good, “they already had the votes” on the trustee board. Molly had been convicted by president and trustees of heresy without any formal charges or the chance to defend herself fairly. Molly tried to follow Jesus’ directions in Matthew 18 to go to her brother and make peace, but he, the supposed inerrantist, refused to follow Jesus’ words and even meet with her. She considered suing since being fired is usually disastrous for any academic career. She agreed to resign if she were allowed to finish supervising her remaining Ph.D. students–putting others before herself even in the face of pure evil and vicious lies. (The contrast can be seen in the fact that Molly never mentions Mohler or says anything about the current SBTS, whereas he has bad-mouthed her seminary and her in articles and his blog and on his radio show.)

Fortunately, in the graceful providence of God, the story does not end there. At the end of ’95, Central BTS hired Molly as full Professor of Christian Theology, Worship, and Spiritual Formation. She and Douglass moved to Kansas, the American Baptists accepted her SBC ordination, and she has enjoyed a powerful ministry as guest preacher in many pulpits while working with a small, 100 year old seminary. She is still, as I knew her, a “midwife of grace,” to theology students and church members alike.

I owe much to this woman:

  • She introduced Kate and myself and later officiated at our wedding.
  • Our oldest daughter, Molly Katharine White (b. ’95) is named after her. (The elder Molly calls my daughter “Molly the Younger,” while my daughter calls her namesake, “Dr. Molly.”)
  • I learned to read very widely in theology and to think theologically–integrating Scripture, the traditions of the church, and input from human experience.

Conservatives who think of her as a heretic are ignorant and most have never met her. She began each class with a hymn and doubtless still does. She sight-reads from her Nestle-Aland Greek NT as she lectures or preaches. She quotes large sections of the Church Fathers (and some of the newly rediscovered Church Mothers!) from memory, and can often be found volunteering time and money for the poor and marginalized, especially (for deeply personal reasons) prisoners and their families.

I like to think the student has also influenced the teacher. Although she still loves Luther, over the years I have noticed her pay more attention to the Anabaptist tradition and its impact on early Baptists. (She could, of course, gotten this from many places, but we all have our little conceits and this is mine.) Perhaps that was reflected in her stint as Bible study leader for the 2004 summer conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

In addition to numerous scholarly and popular articles, dictionary articles, and chapters in edited books, Molly has written three monographs: 

No Salvation Outside the Church? :  A Critical Inquiry (NABPR Dissertation Series) (Edwin Mellon Press, 1993.) A revision of her 1983 Ph.D. dissertation comparing and contrasting the views of Emil Brunner (other faiths may contain some truth, but salvation is exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ), Karl Rahner (all salvation is through Christ, but some persons of other faiths may be “anonymous Christians” whose faith is, unknown to them, directed savingly to Jesus Christ), and John Hick (we live in a pluralistic world and there are many routes to God). Marshall comes closest to Rahner, pushing for the uniqueness of Christ’s saving act on the cross, but seeing that saving act have consequences beyond the church and beyond explicit Christian confession.

What It Means to Be Human: Made in the Image of God (Smyth & Helwys Press, 1995; 2d. ed., 2008).  (Upon publication, Molly joked that her old foe, Al Mohler, president of SBTS, was writing a sequel, “What it Means to Be Divine: By One Who Is.”) This is a strong, contemporary theological anthropology written in a popular style.

Joining the Dance:  A Theology of the Spirit (Judson Press, 2003).  Here is a strong work in Pneumatology that draws on the contemporary renewal of Trinitarian theology and written for laity as well as theologians. 

I have long waited a monograph from her on the atonement in feminist perspective.

Her blog, Trinitarian Soundings, is only irregularly updated, but usually worth reading.

August 28, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, blog series, theologians | 2 Comments

Does the U.S. (and It’s Churches) Need an Exorcism?

I was reading Willard Swartley’s wonderful book, Covenant of Peace as part of my preparation for a sermon series on “Paul the Peacemaker.” In his section on “Principalities and Powers,” Swartley emphasizes (contra Walter Wink) that the NT writers didn’t just believe in semi-personal forces in and through institutions and political structures, but actual spiritual beings. We Westerners need to resist the temptation to demythologize too much if we are to understand Paul rightly–the Powers and Authorities did refer to governments, and other institutions, but ALSO to spiritual BEINGS–however much that troubles us.  Witness to the Powers could rightly include exorcism when Paul began to plant a church in a new city or new part of the empire.

So, while I’m reading this, the news is going on in the background and it’s more about the Islamophobia sweeping the U.S.–this time politicians are opposing a mosque NOT in lower Manhattan, but in Murfreesboro, TN! So, then it hit me that I’ve been thinking of the fear and hatred rampant in this nation since 11 September 2001 (calming down some from late ’06 to Spring of ’09, but now back larger than ever) as a kind of mass psychosis or group insanity.  But maybe I should think of it more theologically as possession.  Since 9/11, a Spirit of Fear (and hate follows fear) has possessed this nation (maybe especially in our churches).  So, maybe we need an exorcism (or several)?

The Spirit of Fear has led to two wars, to torture, unlimited detention (now bipartisan), Islamophobia, anti-immigrant hatred (especially toward Latino/as), a resurgence in OPEN, BLATANT racism of a kind not seen so virulently in years, fear of the poor, fear of any attempt by the government to help anyone (SOCIALISM!), fear that any action to help the environment is some kind of Communist plot, resurgent homophobia, etc., etc.  The U.S. churches seem to be caught up in this as much as, or more than, the rest of the nation. (I don’t presume to speak for other faith groups.) Last year, the Pew folks put out a study showing that those who attend church twice a week or more are more than TWICE as likely as the national average to support torture! (This is probably the greatest catechetical failure in basic Christian ethics since the majority of U.S. churches supported SLAVERY!)

Should Christian peace groups call for days of fasting and prayer to cast out the spirit of fear (of the Other) in our churches? Should we let it build for weeks?  Should such a campaign culminate in Prayer pilgrimages to sites that represent the Spirit of Fear? To the Arizona-Mexican border? To lower Manhattan near Ground Zero (inviting Jewish and Islamic groups to travel too)? To Congress? The White House? To the offices of major media outlets–and major fear mongering pundits?  To the Pentagon? 

This has gone beyond a political problem.  I wonder if we need to respond with spiritual weapons–the only weapons the New Testament authorizes for Christians in the first place.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | exorcism, liturgy, oppression, peace, spirituality, theology | 4 Comments

Peacemaker Profiles # 2: Diane Nash

Diane Nash (1938 -), Unsung Heroine of the Civil Rights Movement
by Michael Westmoreland-White

In the 20th Century, nonviolent mass movements began to build upon the experiences of earlier movements. This is abundantly clear in the case of the many connections between Gandhi and the Indian Freedom Struggle and the U.S. Civil Rights Movement (or African-American Freedom Struggle). The experiences of the Indian Freedom Struggle were reported and analyzed closely by Black newspapers in the U.S., newspapers that were distributed far outside their primary geographical circulation in the lobbies of the Black Church, African American barber shops and beauty salons, and in local chapters of the NAACP. Further, numerous African-American leaders traveled to India and met with Gandhi or (after Gandhi’s 1948 assassination) colleagues at Gandhi’s ashram. One such African-American was a young Methodist ministerial student whose pacifist convictions led him to become a conscientious objector to the Korean War, one of the first African-Americans to be granted C.O. status by the Selective Service Board. This young man was James Lawson and he studied organized nonviolence in India before returning to the United States to finish seminary. Lawson had hoped to do graduate studies at Harvard University, but Martin Luther King, Jr. convinced him that the Civil Rights movement needed him in the South. So, Lawson enrolled as a graduate student in theology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, one of the few prestigious institutions of the South willing to admit a few black students yearly.

Nashville was part of the segregated South, but not quite as virulently racist as many more cities deeper in the South. For instance, Nashville boasted of being the home of several African-American institutions of higher learning: Tennessee State University, The American Baptist Theological Seminary, Meherry Medical College, and Fisk University. In the Fall semester of 1959, Lawson began offering workshops in nonviolence for the students of these institutions on the premises of First Colored Baptist Church (whose pastor, Kelly Miller Smith, was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith organization dedicated to nonviolence) and Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, near the campus of Vanderbilt Divinity School. A white student at Fisk University named Paul LaPrad told a young woman at Fisk named Diane Nash of these workshops and she soon joined a small group of African-American students whose names would read like a Who’s Who of future Civil Rights leaders: Bernard Lafayette, John Lewis, and James Bevel. By November, Nash had become the unofficial leader of the group.

Diane Judith Nash was a light-skinned African-American woman with green eyes who had been born and raised in Chicago. Although used to the racism of the North, she knew of the more blatant indignities heaped on African-Americans only through the stories of her father, who was from the deep South. In Chicago, Nash had even won several beauty pageants over white rivals as a teen, something that would never have been allowed in the South. She came from a middle-class Catholic family and had, at one time, even considered becoming a nun. Instead she enrolled as an English major at Howard University in Washington, D.C., before transferring to Fisk University in Nashville in 1959. In Nashville, Nash had found the segregated restrictions overwhelming and personally degrading. So, although she was initially skeptical about Gandhian nonviolence, she joined Lawson’s workshops determined to challenge Nashville’s Jim Crow laws. Some of those workshops took place at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, TN, a center for popular education for social change founded by a white Christian radical named Myles Horton. At Highlander, Nash met and learned from Septima Clark, a 60 year old organizer of unions and educator in voter registration for the NAACP, white ministers Glenn Smiley (United Methodist, an organizer for the Fellowship of Reconciliation or F.O.R.) and Will D. Campbell (Baptist, a liason between the National Council of Churches and the Civil Rights movement), and other African-American leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and C. T. Vivian.

Back in Nashville, it was time to put these workshops to use, especially as nationally the Civil Rights movement was in a stall. On 7 February 1960, the students began the Sit-In Movement in Nashville, attempting to be served at the lunch counters of downtown department stores such as Woolworth. As the sit-ins continued, the press soon began to focus on Nash as a spokesperson because she was articulate and poised in front of cameras, doubtless due in part to her past in beauty pageants. The exposure placed her in extra danger. She once overheard white teenage hoodlums mutter, “That’s her. Nash. She was on TV. She’s the one to get.” Indeed, when white mob violence was released on the sit-ins, Nash was sometimes singled out for violence. But as a practitioner of nonviolence, she found courage in herself that she didn’t know she possessed. When the students decided not to accept bail or pay the $50 fines for their arrests (or allow others to pay them), Nash was chosen to explain their decision in court. She addressed the judge with respect, but without the fawning subservience Southern whites expected of African-Americans. “We feel that if we pay these fines we would be contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction of the defendants.”

By April 1960, the sit-ins had cost Nashville tourist dollars and the downtown sector was suffering as whites stayed in the suburbs rather than shop downtown. The mayor, Ben West, tried to intervene and negotiate a compromise. He addressed a crowd of African-Americans (with small numbers of white supporters) and told them of his attempts at negotiating with the lunch-counter owners. He suggested at the end that they all pray together. Nash spoke up. “What about eating together?” West replied, “We should also try to arrange that.” Nash: “Then, Mayor, do you recommend that the lunch counters be desegregated?” Put on the spot, West answered, “Yes.” The crowd erupted in cheers. Soon the lunch counters were desegregated and the movement went on to successfully challenge segregation at Nashville’s movie theaters and churches.

Toward the end of 1960, the Nashville students began to communicate with student movements in other Southern cities, notably in North Carolina. They decided to create an organized movement for the entire South and named it, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC, which members and others alike began calling “SNICK.” Diane Nash left college to work full-time as a SNCC field worker. At first, SNCC had two branches, one for voter registration work and one for nonviolent direct action. Nash led the direct action wing of SNCC, along with her old friends John Lewis, Bernard Lafayette, and James Bevel, to whom she would soon be married.

In 1961, CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), led by James Farmer, revived a nonviolent strategy they had successfully used in 1940, the “Freedom Rides” in which white and black activists rode interstate buses (Greyhound and Trailways, then separate companies) together into the South where segregated seating was still the law. Federal laws demanding desegregation on interstate buses and in bus stations were not enforced. The Freedom Riders were to test compliance. In the deep South, they encountered mob violence that injured several of the Riders and threatened to destroy the rides. Nash contacted SNCC for students to take up the rides by substituting for injured CORE riders. She herself rode one of the buses into Mississippi where she endured both mob violence and imprisonment.

After this, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the organization founded and headed by Martin Luther King, Jr., hired Nash and James Bevel as field workers and liaison with SNCC, seeking to bridge the trust gap between the more militant (but still nonviolent) students and the older and more moderate leaders (mostly African American ministers) of SCLC. She also tried to build bridges to the NAACP which considered both SNCC and SCLC to be far too radical. NAACP had been committed to a strategy of legal challenge in the courts and was threatened by the nonviolent direct action campaigns. In these roles, Diane Nash Bevel was more than competent. Her articulate speaking bridged communication gaps between the various civil rights organizations and her good looks frankly charmed most of the (male) leaders of other organizations.

Nash was to learn the suffering that comes with nonviolent action in oppressive contexts. In May 1962, she was jailed in Jackson, Mississippi, for teaching black children the tools of nonviolent direct action, just as she had learned them from Lawson and others. She was four months pregnant, but was still sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment. On appeal, Nash only served a short time before release. Nash was also a major organizer for the 1963 campaign in Birmingham. Despite all these leadership roles, the sexism of both the press and the major civil rights organizations soon eclipsed her. In the 1963 March on Washington, not one woman was scheduled to speak. Nash was introduced by A. Philip Randolph, chair of the march, as “one of the outstanding women of the civil rights struggle,” but she was expected to fade into the background sweetly after that introduction.

Nash continued to play a vital role in the Freedom Movement. It was Nash who designed the plan used by the SCLC for their successful campaign in Selma, AL, in 1965. She also became a liaison to the peace movement and the early actions of the women’s movement. After 1965, however, Nash seemed to cut all ties to the SCLC and SNCC. SNCC had changed leadership that year, and its new head, Stokely Carmichael, took SNCC away from a commitment to nonviolence under his leadership to embrace the slogan “Black Power,” which he coined. The continued sexism of the SCLC and its dominance by clergy also alienated Nash.

Today, Nash, now divorced from James Bevel because of his serial adulteries, has returned to Chicago, completed her education, and is an educator. She has yet to write a “movement memoir,” but gave a full interview in 1998 that became part of the book, Free At Last? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It by Fred Powledge (Boston: Little, Brown, 1991). Nash remains involved in quiet ways in organizations working for racial justice and reconciliation and with the peace movement. She has remained committed to nonviolence as a way of life.

August 22, 2010 Posted by | biographies, blog series, civil rights leaders, heroes, History, peace, racial justice | Leave a comment

Major Writings of John Howard Yoder

Major Writings of John Howard Yoder (1927-1997).

1958 The Ecumenical Movement and the Faithful Church. Herald Press.

1959 Peace Without Eschatology? Herald Press. An early Yoder critique of “liberal” Christian pacifism.

 1961a As You Go: The Old Mission in the New Day. Herald Press.

 1961b Anabaptism in Flanders, 1530-1650: A Century of Struggle. Translated from the Flemish by JHY. Herald Press.

 1961c The Christian and Capital Punishment. Herald Press.

 1962 Christ and the Powers. By Hendrikus Berkhof. Translated from the Dutch by JHY. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Considering the huge influence since then of the “Principalities and Powers” theme in both NT studies and contemporary theology, Yoder’s translation of Berkhof has to count as one of his major contributions.

 1964a. The Christian Witness to the State. Faith and Life Press. Rev. Ed. 1977. New edition by Herald Press, 2002.

 1964b Discipleship as Political Responsibility. Herald Press. Rev. Ed., 2003.

 1968 Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Pacifism. Church Peace Mission, 6. Herald Press. Desperately needed back in print!

 1970 Karl Barth and the Problem of War. Abingdon Press. Now reprinted with other Barth essays. See below.

1971 Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism. Herald Press. 2nd Ed., 1976. Revised and Expanded, 1992.  This is one of my favorite of Yoder’s books on pacifism and helped me to locate myself and to understand others.

1972a The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Revised and Expanded Edition, 1994. Yoder’s most influential work and rightly so. I’d be willing to say that any minister today who has not read this book needs to. I have now worn out 3 copies of the first edition and one of the 2nd.

 1972b The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism. Herald Press. Reprinted Wipf & Stock, 1998.  This is a good place to begin in reading Yoder.  It contains his longest reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, among other great essays.

 1973 The Legacy of Michael Sattler. Classics of the Radical Reformation, 1. Herald Press. Edited and translated by JHY. This made the life and major writings of this early Anabaptist leader available in English for the first time.

 1977 The Schleitheim Confession. Translated by JHY. Herald Press. The earliest Anabaptist confession of faith.

 1981 Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological MethodPosthumously published by Brazos Press, 2002.

 1983a Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution: A Companion to BaintonEdited by Theodore Koontz and Andy Alexis-Baker and posthumously published by Brazos Press, 2009.  This companion violume to Roland Bainton’s classic work, Christian Attitudes to War and Peace circulated privately for years and was used by Yoder in a course taught (“Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution”) at both Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and the University of Notre Dame.  It is thinner in places that Bainton covers well and thicker where Bainton is thin.

 1983b What Would You Do?: A Serious Answer to a Standard Question. Herald Press. Revised and Expanded 1992. The first half of the book is Yoder’s attempt to answer the standard question to pacifists, “If a violent person threatened a loved one, what would you do?” The second half of the book are alternative answers by other pacifists: Count Leo Tolstoy, S. H. Booth-Clibborn (early British Pentecostal), C. J. Furness (Fellowship of Reconciliation, writing during WWII), Henry T. Hodgkin (British Quaker, Cambridge philosopher and one of the founders of the F.O.R.), Joan Baez (American Folk Singer), Dale W. Brown (Church of the Brethren theologian), Dale Aukerman (Mennonite theologian), Tom Skinner (African-American former gang member turned evangelist), anonymous missionary, Gladys Aylward (British missionary to China), Terry Dobson, Dorothy T. Samuel, Sarah Corson, Angie O’ Gorman, Peggy Gish (Church of the Brethren), Art Gish (Church of the Brethren), Lawrence Hart (Mennonite minister and traditional Cheyenne Peace Chief).

 1984a The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel. University of Notre Dame Press.
The first major collection of JHY’s perspectives on method in Christian ethics, advocating a non-Constantinian view of the Church.

 1984b When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking. Augsburg-Fortress Press. Revised Edition published by Orbis Books, 1996. This is one of the first and most serious pacifist attempts to take the Just War tradition seriously and reflect on what it would take to make such a moral system work. Many Christian Just War thinkers have been profoundly challenged by this work to strive to get their churches to recognize the difficulty and seriousness of JWT and not simply “baptize” whatever war or weapons or tactics governments want Christians to endorse. As a former soldier turned pacifist, this work influenced me to study JWT more thoroughly than most people who consider themselves in the JW tradition. I have used this to enlist JWT folk against particular wars.

 1985. He Came Preaching Peace. Herald Press. A collection of Bible lessons for adultsThis is another good place for beginning Yoder readers. Makes an excellent study book for adult church groups.

 1987 The Fullness of Christ: Paul’s Vision of Universal Ministry. Brethren Press.

 1989 Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism. Edited and Translated by H. Wayne Pipkin and John Howard Yoder. Herald Press. This is the first major collection of Hubmaier’s writings in English. Invaluable to historians of Anabaptism.

 1991a A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People the World’s Renewal Has Begun. Co-written with Douglas Gwyn, George Hunsinger, and Eugene F. Roop. Herald Press. This was a joint peace statement issued by the Historic Peace Churches and the Christian section of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. JHY represented the Mennonites, Gwyn the Friends/Quakers, Hunsinger, a Presbyterian, represented the FOR, and Roop the Church of the Brethren. JHY is the major author. I think I detect elements of Hunsinger, but since both Yoder and Hunsinger were deeply influenced by Barth, it’s hard to tell. Most of the book is classic Yoder.  Whereas the Reformed tradition has traditionally explicated Christology by the roles of “prophet, priest, and king,” leaving out the sage of the Wisdom writings, here all four Christological “offices” are expounded.  With each, the Declaration shows how the Church,  the community called out by Christ, participates in these offices, and the implications for nonviolence, peacemaking, and war resistance.

1991b The Death Penalty Debate: Two Opposing Views of Capital Punishmnent. Word Books. Co-written with H. Wayne House. House, an influential figure with the Conservative Baptist Association, argues in favor of capital punishment for murder. Yoder argues against. The comparison and contrast highlights issues of biblical interpretation and moral reasoning.

 1992 Body Politics: Five Christian Practices Before a Watching World. Abingdon Press. 2nd Edition, 2001.

 1994 The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical. Edited with an Introduction by Michael G. Cartwright. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Some excellent essays, but Cartwright’s introductions are far too long, making the resulting volume over-large and  unnecessarily expensive.

 1996 Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture. Abingdon Press.
Co-written with Glen H. Stassen and D. M. Yeager with a previously unpublished essay by H. Richard Niebuhr.

 1997 For the Nations: Essays Public and Evangelical. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Here
is some of Yoder’s most subtle reflections on the relation of “church,” and “world.” The title is a deliberately chosen reply to the work of Yoder’s friend and sometimes follower, Stanley Hauerwas.  This was the last book Yoder published before his unexpected death in late December 1997.

 2001 To Hear the Word. Wipf and Stock. Posthumously published reflections on biblical hermeneutics.

 2003a The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited. Edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Revised and Expanded in 2008. A major work in Jewish-Christian dialogue, it circulated privately for years and was never finally published until after Yoder’s death.

 2003b Karl Barth and the Problem of War and Other Essays on Barth. Edited by Mark Theissen Nation. Cascade Press.

 2004 Anabaptism and Reformation in Switzerland: An Historical and Theological Analysis of the Dialogues Between Anabaptists and Reformers. Ed. C. Arnold Snyder. Translated by David C. Stassen and C. Arnold Snyder. Pandora Press. This is the first translation in English of Yoder’s Th.D. dissertation at the University of Basel, previously published only in German.

2009.  The War of the Lamb: The Ethics of Nonviolence and Peacemaking.  Ed. Glen H. Stassen, Mark Theissen Nation, and Matt Hamsher.  Brazos Press.  Yoder was planning this book when he died. He had outlined it and had extensive notes on which essays to include. It is brilliant.

2010a. Nonviolence–A Brief History: The Warsaw Lectures.  Ed. Paul Martens, Matthew Porter, and Myles Werntz.  Baylor University Press. In 1983, in the midst of the Cold War, Yoder went to Warsaw, Poland and gave these series of lectures, deep in dialogue with the Catholic tradition.  They influenced Lech Walesa and the Solidarity-led nonviolent revolution in Poland.

2010b.  A Pacifist Way of Knowing:  John Howard Yoder’s Nonviolent Epistemology. Ed. Christian E. Early and Ted Grimsrud.  Cascade Books.  Gathers together essays of Yoder, some previously published, some unpublished until now, that show Yoder’s epistemology–how his commitment to pacifism controlled his dialogical approach to knowledge. This is one of he most important and least explored/appreciated facets of Yoder’s thought and the editors to us a great service by publishing them here. 

Yoder often had to be pushed by friends to publish writings that he, a perfectionist, did not think all that important. So, doubtless more posthumous collections will continue to appear. I know, for example, of a series of lectures that Yoder gave throughout Latin America during the 1970s. They were extraordinarily well received and the mss. have circulated in Spanish and English ever since, but the lectures have never been published in either language. Yoder was a true polyglot who was conversationally fluent in English, German, French, and Spanish, with advanced reading capability in Dutch, Flemish, and Portuguese as well. He carried on dialogues in nine (9) different languages.  Toward the end of his life he was studying modern Hebrew and Arabic in hopes of spending an extended stay in the Middle East. Considering all the sufferings of that area, I wish God had spared him for that trip alone.

At another time, I will give a brief bibliography of some of the best of the (growing) number of secondary studies on Yoder, but it is far more important for people to wrestle with Yoder’s thought directly, although reading Yoder takes practice! Do not attempt speed reading on his works!  But the struggle is worth it.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | books, ethics, heroes, history of theology, theologians, theology | Leave a comment

Theological Mentors # 2 Glen H. Stassen


Glen Harold Stassen (1936-) is my beloved teacher, mentor, occasional writing partner, and friend. Considering that he was the supervisor for my doctoral work in Christian ethics (my Doktorvater, as the Germans put it), some who know me well probably wondered why, if I were going to list mentors on this blog, I didn’t put Glen first. The answer is simple, if a bit embarrassing: I had to find a picture! Stassen is a Baptist ethicist and peace theologian who has lived and worked in several Baptist denominations, and taught on the faculties of Baptist, mainline Protestant, and evangelical institutions.

Born in Minnesota (the grandson of German immigrants) to Harold and Esther Stassen, Glen’s father became the youngest governor of Minnesota and the Stassens were part of the old ethnic German Baptist Convention (now called the North American Baptist Conference and using English in worship)–which had earlier produced Walter Rauschenbusch. Glen and his sister, Kathleen, grew up speaking German in the home and English outside. When WWII began, Harold Stassen resigned as governor of MN and joined the U.S. Navy. (Harold Stassen later wrote the first draft of the United Nations’ Charter, was a special envoy for peace in the Eisenhower administration, ruined his career in attempting to get Eisenhower to drop Nixon from the ticket for the second term, and repeatedly ran for president of the U.S. as a liberal Republican. His influence on Glen is enormous.) Glen, newly converted and baptized as a teen, saw the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as a warning of judgment by God on a war-mad world. He went to a Quaker high school in Philadelphia when his father was president of the University of Pennsylvania. There he met a teacher who had volunteered as a “human lab rat” for alternative service as a conscientious objector. This impressed Glen with the idea that military courage was not the only form courage took.

Initially educated at the University of Virginia in nuclear physics (B.A., 1957, cum laude), work for the Navy and Air Force in nuclear research soon convinced Glen that enough people were solving the mysteries of the atom–and not enough were working to keep the atom in check. He soon discerned a calling to the ministry. Up to this point, Stassen had been involved in North American Baptist and American Baptist circles, but he had met and married Dot Lively, a Southern Baptist, and, after investigating seminaries, decided to enroll at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  At SBTS, the teachers who influenced him were Henlee H. Barnette (Christian Ethics), and Eric C. Rust (Philosophical Theology).  He also met the famed Clarence Jordan who came to Barnette’s ethics class and told the students that segregation was like a mortally wounded horse:  it would kick and do much damage before it died. Unfortunately, Stassen arrived just after a clash between the faculty and seminary president had resulted in the firing of most of the professors with whom he had wanted to study. (13 professors were fired in this “Battle of Lexington Road,” and it took nearly 2 decades for the seminary to regain its former excellence and reputation. Now, since the presidency of Al Mohler began in ’94, that reputation is again in the toilet outside fundamentalist circles. ) Glen transferred to Union Theological Seminary of New York where his major influences were James Muilenberg (Old Testament), W.D. Davies (New Testament), the early Barth scholar Paul Lehmann (who, along with a young Robert McAfee Brown introduced Stassen to the thought of Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer), the Christocentric liberal  process theologian Daniel Day Williams (who introduced him to the thought of H. Richard Niebuhr) , and, the Union giant of that day, the Christian Realist Reinhold Niebuhr (Christian ethics). R. Niebuhr’s Christian realism was reinforced at Union by Roger L. Shinn and John C. Bennett.

While at Union (B.D., 1963), Stassen continued involvement in the civil rights movement that he had begun in Virginia and Kentucky, travelling from NYC to Washington, D.C. for the 1963 March on Washington only to meet his father in the crowd when neither knew the other was coming. 

Stassen earned his Ph.D. (Theological Ethics and History of Christian Thought) at Duke University (1967, magna cum laude), supervised by Waldo Beach, but most thoroughly influenced by theologian Frederick Herzog (a creative Barthian and one of the earliest white North Americans to interact with both Latin American and Black Liberation theologies), and Lutheran historian and Reformation scholar Hans Hillerbrand (who introduced Glen to the study of the Anabaptists).
Stassen’s dissertation, The Sovereignty of God in the Thought of H. Richard Niebuhr, has never been published.

Another strong influence was his fellow doctoral student, Lonnie Kliever. Stassen and Kliever were both Baptists who had gone to Union Seminary and now were doing doctoral work also outside Baptist circles–a rare phenomenon in those days–and both were involved in movements for social justice. (Kliever would eventually leave Baptist life and become a United Methodist.) He also continued his involvement in the civil rights movement and in the struggle against the Vietnam War. In both cases, he worked mostly as a strategist and organizer.

Other major influences include Menno Simons, Richard Overton, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Howard Yoder (they were friends and dialogue partners for decades), James Wm. McClendon, Jr. (another Baptist theologian influenced by Yoder and Anabaptists), the Jewish political philosopher Michael Walzer, Heinz-Eduard Toedt, and Juergen Moltmann (they co-authored a brief book).  His ongoing friendship with Stanley Hauerwas includes much agreement, but also much continued debate.   Recent dialogue partners include biblical scholars Ched Myers, Walter Wink, N. T. Wright, Bruce Chilton, Marcus Borg, Willard Swartley, the late Rabbi Pinchas Lapide, R. Michael Lerner, Cornel West, philosophers Nancey Murphy, and Rene Girard.

Stassen has done additional study at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of Heidelberg. He has taught at Duke University, Kentucky Southern College (now part of the University of Louisville), Berea College, Harvard University (Visiting Professor) The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (1976-1996), and as Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary (1996-Present).

He has worked in or helped to found several organizations for peacemaking, worked behind the scenes to negotiate the removal of the short and middle range nuclear weapons from Europe, has testified at capital punishment cases and developed a strategy for defense attorneys in captital cases, founded and worked on advocacy for the mentally retarded (his youngest son was misdiagnosed as such during a time when almost no help for the mentally retarded existed in Kentucky) and assisted nonviolent human rights and peace movements in East Germany (Stassen was present when the Wall came down), Kazakstan, Central America, South Korea, Eastern Europe, and Southern Africa. He keeps up an amazing correspondence with students in each of these areas of the world, coming to lecture for them and connecting with church groups(usually Baptist or Mennonite) in all these places.

When I was his student, I argued that the implications of his theology and ethic of “just peacemaking,” led logically to pacifism, gospel nonviolence. In 2000, Glen finally began to call himself a Christian pacifist. The influence of Martin Luther King, John Howard Yoder, and the New Testament, had finally pushed beyond the influence of his father and of Reinhold Niebuhr (though he remains grateful to both).

Aside from friendship, I have learned the following from Glen Stassen:

  1. He reinforced my dedication to biblical scholarship–staying abreast of current work, but being unafraid to tackle one’s own exegesis and to buck professional consensuses in the cause of Christian ethics.
  2. I was already committed to nonviolence when I met Glen, but he gave me an approach to Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount that made concrete, pragmatic sense. Just peacemaking, like Jesus and the biblical witness, is not primarily against something (war or violence or injustice), but for the in-breaking Rule of God including taking risks in transforming initiatives for justice and peace–just as God took a transforming initiative for human salvation in sending Jesus.
  3.  Discipleship divorced from sound theology is rootless and leads to a “thin” ethics and even burnout. Doctrine divorced from concrete discipleship (nachfolge Christi) is irrelevant and leads to a docetic, disembodied Christ unrelated to the biblical Jesus.
  4. He deepened my appreciation for Bonhoeffer and Yoder and taught me to appreciate the Niebuhr brothers more than most pacifists ever do. Glen reinforced my historical bent by introducing me to HRN’s dictum, “History is the laboratory of ideas.” Any ethics or politics that only works in theory, under ideal conditions, is not of much use.
  5. Glen also reinforced my interest in the early history of Anabaptists and Baptists.

Throughout his early career, Glen published little, concentrating on classroom and church teaching and on social activism. But as he has neared retirement, his publishing output has increased, since his developing theology of “incarnational discipleship,” and ethic of “transforming initiatives” has been reaching a mature form.  His writings are increasing and the numbers of his doctoral students who are also playing major constructive roles in church leadership grows constantly.  He has been considered one of the Twentieth Century Shapers of Baptist Social Ethics and has been influential as well in mainline Protestant and evangelical circles.  His “just peacemaking” practices have also begun to influence activists and peace studies academics, though they have not yet made much influence in public policy. 

I predict that in the future there will be numerous doctoral dissertations done on Glen’s work and that his influence will continue to grow.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | Baptists, biographies, blog series, ethics, heroes, history of theology, Just Peacemaking, pacifism, peace, testimony, theologians, tradition | 2 Comments

Theological Mentors #1: John Howard Yoder

I’m reprinting and updating the “Mentors” series from my old blog, Levellers.

John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) is one of my mentors and heroes.  In fact, of people with whom I never had the pleasure of studying directly, no one has been more influential on the shape of my theology, ecclesiology, and ethics than John Howard Yoder.

 He was the most important Anabaptist theologian since Menno Simons(1496-1561). Educated at Goshen College and the University of Basel, Yoder taught at both the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and at the University of Notre Dame. Most famous for his work, The Politics of Jesus (1972), which destroyed the popular image of Jesus as an apolitical figure, and described  Jesus’ mission as creating a new people whose nonviolence, mutual servanthood, and economic sharing, constituted a political threat to the Powers and Authorities. Although trained mainly as a historical theologian, Yoder wrote in several fields in ground-breaking ways: biblical studies; church history; theology; Christian ethics. Although “mainstream” Christians often read Yoder as representative of “the Mennonite view,” Yoder was often controversial in his own denomination, challenging it to renewal.

Yoder was influenced at Goshen College by Harold Bender, the first Mennonite to be elected president of the American Society of Church History.  Bender successfully sought to renew North American Mennonite life through both ecumenical contact and renewed attention to the 16th C. “Anabaptist Vision.” Largely due to Bender’s influence, Mennonite scholarship in church history became well-known before contributions in other fields.

After college, Yoder, like so many Mennonites of his generation, volunteered for mission, relief, and development work in post-War Europe, aiding in renewal both in European Mennonite life and beyond. (Yoder met and married the French Mennonite schoolteacher, Anne Marie Guth, through this work.) During this work in Europe, Yoder simultaneously enrolled in doctoral studies at the University of Basel and engaged in the early post-War development of the ecumenical movement with the founding of the World Council of Churches, thereby presenting the Churches of the Reformation with their first sustained encounter with a representative of the Radical Reformation since the 16th C. The influence went both ways: Work for peace was placed on the WCC agenda from the beginning, and Yoder became deeply influenced by the work of both Karl Barth and, even more, by the growing “Biblical Theology Movement” of the era.

Those remained the dominant sources in Yoder’s creative synthesis: Bender and 16th C. Anabaptist sources; Karl Barth; the “Biblical Realism” of one major strand of critical biblical scholarship. Later influences included post-Vatican II Catholic thought (Yoder taught for years at the University of Notre Dame); the “Believers’ Church Conferences,” which brought representatives of many different Free Church or Believers’ Church traditions together and began a lifetime dialogue between Yoder and certain strands of Baptist thought; the nonviolent strand of the U.S. Black Freedom movement; a sustained and lengthy interaction (both approval and critique) with Latin American Liberation Theology; and post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian dialogue. A true polyglot with an incredible ear for languages, Yoder carried on these many dialogues in nine different languages.

Painfully shy but with a booming voice and glowering countenance, many believed Yoder to be aloof or arrogant, but it was rather that John had few “people skills.” As many will attest, it was difficult to be his friend. Yet, both personally and through his work, Yoder touched numerous lives. He encouraged my own work as the external reader of my dissertation and in an email a few days before his unexpected death. At his funeral, I met people from around the world, including a young white man from South Africa who, influenced by The Politics of Jesus, refused to be drafted into the apartheid-era South African army and served time in jail in response.

Suffice it to say that my intellectual and personal debts to “JHY,” as he was often called, are immense.   I first read him just after I left the U. S. Army as a conscientious objector (1983) and The Politics of Jesus gave deeper biblical grounding to my nascent pacifism. I’ve worn out 4 copies of that classic, now–3 of the first edition and one of the 1994 expanded revision. (I ordered a new copy today.)  In the last couple of years many of Yoder’s unpublished writings have been published posthumously.  New secondary studies are shedding light and giving rise to different schools of “Yoderians,” just as their are rival interpretations of Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer–and, yes, Yoder belongs in such exalted company though his humility would never let him admit that.

For those seeking an accurate basic introduction to his work (since reading Yoder takes practice!), I recommend highly Mark Thiessen Nation’s,  John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions(Eerdmans, 2005).  I’ll try to write another post giving a good basic Yoder bibliography.  I also recommend Marko Funk’s helpful reading notes at Reading Yoder.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | biographies, blog series, ethics, heroes, history of theology, testimony, theologians, tradition | Leave a comment