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Why Morality Belongs in the Justice Conversation

“The temptation of this age is to look good without being good.”[1] Brennan Manning

Justice requires more than wanting to change the world, but being willing to change ourselves along with it.

The word “morality” seems to have fallen on hard times these days. It is often taken as synonymous with purity, seen as negative or outdated or pertaining to a certain subset of culture such as the Religious Right.

Morality, however, literally means:

of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong.

It is a broad and ethical category. In fact, the word “ethics” itself traces back to the classical period and simply refers to the study of morals.

Ethical systems throughout history have sought to define how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the greatest number of persons. They have sought to work these out within the discipline of philosophy referred to as Moral Philosophy.

There’s another term for the pursuit of the greatest pleasure and least pain for everyone: social justice. Ethics, morality, and moral philosophy are all ways of trying to work out what justice in society should look like and the civic or moral responsibility we all bear in bringing social justice to fruition.

Thus, right from the outset, justice and morality seem intrinsically linked.

Yet this is not how we treat the two in contemporary usage.

Whether its an overreaction to the use of moral language by the Moral Majority and the Religious Right in the 80s and 90s, or whether it’s a modern phenomena of wanting to fight for justice at a distance without recognizing our own moral responsibility, we have uncoupled the two concepts and even tend to set them against one another.

I find this troubling.

Early on in my career as I worked to promote justice language in the church, I had to fight hard to show that morality implied justice—that sin, purity and the like could not be separated from the biblical requirement for justice and sacrificial love for and on behalf of the other.

These days, I feel like I’ve almost been put in the reverse position—that in our talk about justice, we cannot separate it from the biblical requirement for morality.

Just as James 1:27 calls us to a pure religion that looks after orphans and widows in their distress, it also calls us “to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.”

We’re fond of grabbing the first half of that verse in justice circles, but we don’t know what to do with the second half. But there they are, justice and morality informing each other in the same biblical injunction.

When we look back in history we see many examples of justice and moral categories going hand in hand.

I have an old antique copy of Photo Magazine I picked up on eBay. The cover article, from 1955, discusses what we call sex trafficking, but back then was known as white slavery. The lead quote reads, “Europe’s sin merchants have gone into the export trade… selling smuggled female cargo to the world.”[2]

Sin and slavery. Personal profit and exploitation.

Joel 3:3 echoes something similar, “They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.”

Drink and slavery. Personal pleasure and exploitation.

In Hebrew, the concept of justice is expressed by several words. The primary ones are the two relatively synonymous words tsedek and mishpat. In English, we translate the Hebrew words tsedek and mishpat as either “righteousness” or as “justice,” depending on context. This is because the Hebrew sense of the words tsedek and mishpat linked the personal and communal components of “just” or “righteous” living.

The idea of living uprightly could not be limited to personal ethical conduct or exclusively limited to community reform. Rather, it was the outworking of a deep knowledge of God, which drives one to live uprightly and walk justly.

Dr. Gerry Breshears, a theology professor for more than thirty years at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, explains what the Hebrew word tsedek means: a life in which all relationships—human to human, human to God, and human to creation—are well-ordered and harmonious.

Justice, rightly understood, speaks to the right and equitable relationship with God and with people. Justice is like a mosaic. It’s not only about single pieces – it’s also about all the pieces working together in a stunning whole. Morality is a necessary piece of that mosaic. When we are thinking only about justice as related to specific causes or single aspects we are missing part of the picture or we are looking at the fruit of virtue with no regard to the roots of virtue.

If we don’t include morality in the conversation, or as part of a more holistic view of religion and justice, we run into problems.

A lack of morality, or simply selfishness, robs our motivation for becoming just.

Likewise, the presence of immorality is coupled with and often precedes gross injustice—just as pornography and sexual exploitation sit on the same continuum.

In short, the long-term health of communities and relationships that justice requires are measured every bit as much through the lens of morality as they are the promotion of justice and fairness.

Another way of putting it might be to say, if justice is a Coast Guard ship that sails in order to protect and rescue people, morality is its sea-worthiness or integrity. A sinking ship can do very little to help those who are drowning.

Justice and morality are inseparable. Justice requires righteousness and righteousness demands justice.

It’s important that we think of justice—the systems, structures and policies that disadvantage or oppress people or races—and not personal responsibility alone.  It is also important that we think of morality—my hidden selfishness, my latent racism, my consumerism and individualism—and not just global or structural justice alone.

Justice is a “me” problem as well as a “we” and “them” problem.

In short, we need to be reminded that morality belongs in the justice conversation. For as Tolstoy framed the dichotomy, “Everybody thinks about changing humanity. Nobody thinks about changing himself.”


[1] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel  (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000), pg. 122

[2] Hugo Dufy, “White Slavery: Report on Europe’s Missing Women” in Photo Magazine, January 1954.

Breathe


Kilns College was able to partner with The Voices Project—an initiative started by Leroy & Donna Barber— by hosting a retreat for the second time this weekend. These small gatherings, that we’re calling Breathe are opportunities to bring leaders of color in urban settings into a shared space for lament, healing, equipping and encouragement as they seek to promote reconciliation in their churches and communities from a Christian perspective.

True education isn’t simply a matter of content but also includes the personality and voice of the teacher, his or her life experiences and the unique, incarnational truth that each of us carry with regard to the issues we are acquainted with and most passionate about. The concept of The Voices Project and these retreats is to help promote and equip community leaders that need to gain broader exposure within the church, rather than the church always telling and teaching their stories and experiences for them.

Additionally, these retreats provide an opportunity for people who are passionate about race in America to serve others in tangible and practical ways that are needed. Far too often people feel either helpless or try to insert themselves in ways that aren’t helpful. But working to serve others through the context of a retreat (opening homes, raising funds, canvassing the community for donations of meals, etc) is a beautiful way in which we are able to truly bless one another. If you’re interested in future Breathe gatherings hosted by The Voices Project and Kilns College, email Leroy Barber.

The State of Graduate Education in America


Photo Credit: Thomas Le Ngo, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Melissa McCreery
Part 1 in an ongoing series

We need to take a fresh look at the purpose of graduate education. Why do more than three million people in the United States pursue a post-baccalaureate degrees each year?

Actually, let’s start with why those three million people shouldn’t be pursuing graduate studies.

You shouldn’t pursue an education because you feel you have to — or worse, feel you’re suppose to. You shouldn’t pursue post-baccalaureate studies because you feel pressured to do so. You shouldn’t pursue it solely to line up a job, and you certainly shouldn’t pursue it to put off the ‘real world’. If that’s your approach to continued learning, you’ll be sorely disappointed with the experience, and the outcome.

You should pursue a graduate degree to challenge yourself. To expose yourself to thoughts, opinions and ideas that you aren’t familiar with, or maybe don’t agree with. You should pursue your education to wrestle with complicated thoughts, theories and practices and to learn from historians, philosophers, theologians and contemporary thought leaders. And finally, you should pursue continued learning to allow the space in your life to put these thoughts and theories into practice. We should always be striving to grow and to learn and, to some extent, to make ourselves uncomfortable.

In 2008 Kilns College was founded on the belief that the sort of education described above was lacking in the higher education landscape, and that it should not only be readily available to students, but available at a minimal cost.

The Kilns administrators made a commitment at that time to stand apart from the traditional higher education model. To imagine other possibilities. There are more than 200 institutions of higher education in the United States alone, so rather than being a small fish in a very big, very established, very traditional pond, we decided to imagine what was beyond that pond. What others either hadn’t dared to imagine or lacked the space to create fully.

Our first order of business: Tackling that troublesome cost issue

The average cost of graduate education today is $30,000 for public institutions and $40,000 for private institutions. Given those large numbers, it’s not surprising to learn that on average, graduate students borrow slightly more than $57,000 for their schooling.

That’s a frightening number.

A report by the Federal Education Budget Project found that 40% of the $1.1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt is from graduate and professional degrees rather than bachelor’s degrees. And yet, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, graduate students make up only 16% of the total higher education student population.

Those numbers are even more frightening.

Recent articles in prominent higher education journals have reported that students, on one hand, backlash against these exorbitant costs; yet on the other hand expect lavish learning experiences (wealthy athletic programs, beautiful campus spaces, start-of-the-art gymnasiums, the newest [and fanciest] computer labs, etc.)

Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean at UC Hastings College of the Law stated in an article for Huffington Post, “Very few institutions, much less their ‘customers,’ are eager to offer a no-frills version of higher education. [Student] expectations continue to rise, but their willingness to pay has begun to fall.”

I actually don’t believe this statement to be true. Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I believe students, at heart, want nothing more than a profound learning experience that allows them to be challenged and changed and transformed. An experience that allows them to be part of a broader conversation and network of voices and individuals.

They’re drawn to the extravagance because that’s what’s placed before them. That’s what is marketed and sold by institutions in competition to “out due” one another, to “win” the student and to bump their enrollment figures.

But when did an authentic learning experience become synonymous with frills anyway? With bells and whistles? With luxury and excess? Shouldn’t true education be marked, not to “equip [individuals] with the proper instruments of exploitation so that they can forever trample over the masses,” as Martin Luther King Jr. stated in an article written for his college newspaper in 1947,  but to “enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”

Let’s look a little deeper.

How does an award winning football team benefit a graduate student’s education? Now please don’t mishear me, I’m a big time sports fan and I think college football has it’s place (to an extent) in helping to shape an undergraduate experience, but a graduate experience? Let’s be honest, we’re all allegiant to our undergraduate athletic programs anyway.

How does an elaborate gym facility benefit graduate students? You can usually purchase a student rate gym pass at a local gym anyway. And it’s a lot cheaper than $40,000 a year.

What about those fancy libraries? While they’re absolutely beautiful pieces of architecture and provide great study space, how do they really improve the learning experience for the ever- expanding distance learning student demographic? Most online and on-site students use electronic library services and prefer to study at a trendy coffee house.

And let’s not even waste time of those five-star resort-style student housing complexes that seem to be popping up around the country! How does a student of theology, or medicine, or law or philosophy benefit from a multi-story, deluxe living space? Yeah, we’d all love  to live in a luxury penthouse apartment, but does that really speak into our education? Or just our student loan debt?

When you peel away the extravagant and the unnecessary, you find that you actually can quite easily offer a truly great education for $8,000 – $12,000 per year.

A Successful Model

With limited overhead, Kilns operates distinctly outside the reality of most institution, and we’re free to imagine, dream and create. To focus every dollar on truly engaging students in their learning experience.  Not a dime is spent on elaborate brick and mortar buildings, lavish gymnasiums, under-utilized student unions or over-the-top arenas and stadiums. The Kilns model of learning costs the student just over $8,000 per year.

Unfortunately a growing number of institutions today aren’t able to consider such a model. They have no choice but to carry burdensome costs carried through already existing (and often expanding) campuses, growing athletic programs and modern campus facilities — all needed to compete with one another. Traditional institutions aren’t able to sift through the frills, the whistles and the debris that’s weighing them down to find the diamond that is true education.

So how do we do it? How does Kilns keep its cost low and its learning experience rich?

Simply put, we cut out the crap and focus instead on the good, the true and the beautiful.

Stay tuned for future posts on the State of Graduate Education in America series

The Grand Paradox for Small Groups

I’m getting ready to lead a small group at our church this September on The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith. In just the last 2 days I’ve heard 2 stories of people using the book for friends and family members going through depression and other difficult life situations which only gets me more excited about taking people through the content. The Grand Paradox is a comprehensive look at faith and how it plays out in the life of a believer, even when it gets messy. If you’re interested in leading a book study in your city or for your church, I’d be happy to interact with you or help in any way I can—you can also find small group resources here. If you are able to engage the book in this way, I’d love to hear your feedback.

Where is There Injustice?

This summer the justice and missions interns that were part of the Antioch Internship program read and discussed Pursuing Justice along with several other projects they did for the church and the community. Below is a lament written by Kimber Walbek that was a response to what she learned this summer, partly influenced by her reading. Thanks for sharing, Kimber!

I thought I saw it in a picket fence,
In a rally or a strike,
“We defend the unborn babies!”
A woman shouts into her mic.

I thought I saw it in her eyes,
That girl who is locked away,
Sold to the system at 3 years old,
And raped ten times a day.

I thought it was with that older man,
Who sits with his dog lone,
“Will work for food,” his sign reads,
While people pass by on their phone.

I thought it was in the climate,
Tainted from global warming,
All the chemicals sprayed on crops,
And our ignorance slowly forming.

I thought injustice was on the outside,
Ruining the world surrounding,
But then I looked deep within me,
And saw all the injustice abounding.

I confess to hate murder,
Yet my words are filled with hate.
I easily oppose sex slavery,
Yet the lust in my heart is great.

I am a proponent of freely giving,
Yet I hold my wallet tightly,
I say I care about the world,
Yet take my overconsumption lightly. 

Jesus–please forgive me,
Injustice didn’t start out there,
But the world has hate and evil,
Because I truly do not care.

Where there is hate in the world, bring love
Cause lust and destruction to flee,
Bring healing to the broken, a path to the lost
But make the justice start within me. 

Welcome Leroy Barber to Kilns College

Leroy is a good friend and has been a part of what we’ve been doing at Kilns College for a long time. He is a recognized thought leader in the areas of justice, race, church and Christian missions. There are few people whose voices I respect more than his.

We’re excited that Leroy is joining Kilns College as a College Pastor to deepen our focus on spiritual formation and how students at Kilns are interacting with the subjects of theology and justice at a heart level, in addition to the academic level.

I recently sat down with Leroy to talk about the new position and ask him a few questions.

KW: What is it that you like about Kilns College?

LB: Kilns has a concentration on justice that focuses on hearing from leaders of color as part of the core of its teachings. This creates a view of justice from those most often affected that balances theological study that usually come mostly from European thought.

KW: What is your hope for your role and joining the staff?

LB: I think as people study justice and theology their heart should also be challenged. As a pastor, my gift is to help connect head and heart. Deep theological study and deep spiritual growth need to be intentionally done together giving both an equal place.

KW: You’re raising support for this role, why? 

LB: I think this is an important part of what students should get as they study. I went to a small school and I have a heart for places that do great work but can’t afford to have certain positions. While this is a part time role it can be meaningful for our students.

KW: Why does it matter that we keep love of God and love of neighbor in the conversation with academics?

LB: Our spiritual journeys and knowledge of God don’t mean much if it doesn’t connect with people. It’s like faith without action: dead.

KW: Education can become an easily overlooked issue–from your perspective, why does it deserve more attention and effort than we give it credit for?

LB: I think education is a key, especially for people of color, to transcend some of the challenges they face around the world. The scriptures are full of leaders that come from challenging backgrounds. Education can be a tool to transcend our circumstances and I think that once you know who you are and what God has called you to do in the world education is a joyful experience at this level.

I’m excited about Leroy’s ongoing interaction with Kilns students. If you’d like to learn more about the projects he’s been working on, check out his latest book, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, White Who’s More Precious In God’s Sight?: A call for diversity in Christian Missions and Ministry.

If you want to learn more about programs at Kilns College, you can learn about our graduate degrees here.

Human Creativity and the Future of Education

Below is a fascinating and provocative video on the nature of creativity and the challenges to modern education in a rapidly changing world.

If the British accent of Sir Ken Robinson or the topic don’t get you, the hand-drawn illustrations are worth it alone!

Enjoy.

Art. Imagination. Antioch Kids.

I don’t always write about our intern program at Antioch.

I don’t always write about our children’s program.

I don’t always write about our arts ministry.

But when one of our former interns creates twelve banners for the kids wing (door length) that are this amazing, it makes me want to write about it!

Thanks to Paul Crouse for sharing his gifts and for taking the time to invest into Antioch Kids. These banners will fascinate and stir imaginations for years to come as children and parents walk the halls of Bend High on Sunday mornings.

(Below are six of my favorite. To see the others, come by Antioch anytime.)


Dealing with Spiritual Doubt in the Pursuit of Justice

Below is the video of a talk I recently gave at The Justice Conference Asia in Hong Kong. It’s on a topic from The Grand Paradox that I’ve been speaking about a lot lately — doubt — and how it affects and relates to the pursuit of justice.

Dealing with Spiritual Doubt in the Pursuit of Justice from Kilns College on Vimeo.

Why Neighborhood Matters: Christian Conferences, Consumption & Everyday Life

Guest Post by Jon Huckins

As I sat on my porch overlooking the streets of my urban neighborhood and the sparkling lights of downtown San Diego, I thought to myself, “There is no place I’d rather be. THIS is where life happens and where peace is made real.”

Just 30 minutes before, I had gotten off a plane from a 24 hour trip to Chicago for the Justice Conference where Jer Swigart and I co-hosted the Faith and Peace Track representing our organization, The Global Immersion Project.

The time was incredible as the room filled with pastors, leaders and practitioners from countries spanning the world who created a dynamic environment of collaboration, excitement and activism. The mysterious and enlivening story of Jesus was palpable.

As we taught through our content on Everyday Peacemaking, we told story after story of ways peace — which we define as the holistic repair of relationship — is not only being realized in the midst of global conflicts, but on the streets of our neighborhoods. With each story I told about my kids, wife and faith community (all whom have committed to live the Jesus Way on the streets of our neighborhood of Golden Hill), I was stirred more and more with gratitude for the gift of a community of practice.

Teaching, training and inspiration matter, but only in so much as they move us to everyday practice in place. That is the discipleship challenge. Jesus wasn’t one who gave a sterling sermon, got folks fired up and then retreated to the hills (although he would do that too). Jesus LIVED the content he taught in the muck and messiness of everyday life on the streets of his Galilean neighborhood. 

We live in a culture that values hype. It may be the best intentioned hype in the world, but if it only stirs excitement for a one-off experience and doesn’t train and mobilize people into the not-so-glamorous realities of everyday life, I question whether it does more harm than good. 

When we strive for some lofty “ideal” that never translates into reality, we’ve missed the point. And, that’s why a neighborhood and community of practice is a necessity for everyday discipleship (peacemaking). Our neighborhoods (whatever the may look like!) are the context in which the Jesus Community is called to embody the Resurrection life in a broken world.

The day after I got home from the conference, my community came together for our weekly worship gathering that rotates between our homes in our neighborhood. We spent the whole evening pausing to reflect on different places in our neighborhood where we have seen and experienced God’s kingdom made real in both the beautiful and broken realties of everyday life. We looked at pictures and shared stories that have come to life in our rec center, local parks, back alleys, yoga studios, coffee shops and front patios.

It was a cathartic experience. When you’ve given yourself to a place year after year, it is easy to get discouraged and forget how much life has transpired and how much transformation taken place.

In that moment, I thought, “I’m all for participating in conferences…but they must remain a means to an end that looks like transformed people and places.”

So, let’s celebrate moments of collaboration, teaching and training while putting them in their rightful place as a means to fuel our everyday life and practice. Just like anything, Christian conferences can become yet another opportunity to simply consume for consumptions sake. Sadly, that actually distracts and demobilizes the Church from being the Church.

Friends, we were made for so much more than a one-off high. And, the world desperately needs the Jesus Community to live into its vocation as an instrument of peace every single moment of every single day in the unique contexts we inhabit.

What a gift to come together and celebrate our common hearts and vision. Now, let’s go get after it. 

Are We Captive to Capitalism?

Guest Post by Emily Hill

Two years ago I quit a successful corporate career to go back to graduate school and study theology and social justice. The sudden change in my life circumstances—including income level and perceived societal standing—combined with my studies has led me to a painful conclusion: my life and faith were much more influenced by American ideals and culture, than they were by the life of Christ and witness of the church in history.

And I’m not the only one.

In Democracy Matters, philosopher Cornel West wrote, “Power, might, size, status and material possessions — all paraphernalia of the nihilism of the American empire—[have] become major themes of American Christianity.” Similarly, theologian and academic Soong Chan-Rah cites consumerism as one of the areas of captivity for the Western Church, a church that in many ways is indistinguishable from the values and norms of society at-large.

But God calls believers away from allegiance to worldly empires and to allegiance to Christ alone.

Unfortunately, our culture is often simply the air we breathe. We do not notice all the ways it affects us, nor do we consider all the underlying values and assumptions it carries. We need to stop, extract ourselves from our culture for a moment and examine it to see how it actually fits with our faith.

Among many important cultural and systemic issues to examine one important, yet often overlooked system that must be examined is our economic system—capitalism. In modern American culture capitalism is either praised or demonized, yet few of us really understand the system itself, its tendencies, and its underlying values.

It is the engine beneath much of the economic prosperity the nation enjoys and it has come to be heralded by many as the only way to act. Capitalism—driven largely by the idea of free-markets, though there are some other key aspects that differentiate the system from others—has triumphed over socialism around the world, and many view it as a moral victory.

In an article in The Atlantic, theologian Harvey Cox deftly analyzed how the language of the markets as described in the news and throughout the business world, has taken on god-like characteristics including omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. He notes that Americans do not even realize it has taken this place in their lives and therein lies the danger—they do not know they have chosen a different god than the one they may profess with their mouths.

Though many argue it can be a force for good, pulling the poor out of poverty and generating positive social innovation, it also has a history of slavery, exploitation, and coercion.

Neither blind, uninformed support of the system or blanket accusations are helpful. Rather if we’re concerned for living justly as Christians, we must examine the economy that supports our daily lives. No doubt theologians would make poor economists and vice versa. Yet, if we were to submit economics to theology first, how would that change the way we live? If our allegiance is to Christ it must be considered.

Without critical reflection and theological engagement our participation in the economy will be driven by culture rather than Christ. For example, in America, this culture is a culture of individuality that pursues “free” choice at all costs. Choice and this perceived freedom become our gods, as does upward mobility. We have become slaves to this empty desire that never satisfies and detaches us from others with many consequences.

Economics is more than statistics, the stock market, or The Wall Street Journal. It affects how we are motivated, our personal desires, how we value others, and relationships with our neighbors both locally and globally.

Without pausing to consider the economics that affect our daily lives, Christians are blindly worshipping the markets and living according to its values without understanding how those values match those of Christ. Not only could we be living according to values that are different than God’s values, they could be dead set against them.

Christians must learn to live according to God’s kingdom—including God’s economy—in the midst of the American capitalist economy.

We need a theology that shakes us from American nationalistic tendencies and provides guidance for how to operate within the economy, and ultimately, we need communities that embody that theology.

C. Christopher Smith on the Slow Church Movement

C. Christopher Smith is a member of the Englewood Christian Church community on the urban Near Eastside of Indianapolis. He is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books and co-author of Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus. He is currently finalizing a book with the tentative title Reading for the Common Good.

KW: What was the inspiration behind starting the Slow Church movement?

CS: My co-author (John Pattison) and I were fascinated by the Slow Food Movement and other Slow movements that have arisen in its wake over the last 30 years. Slow Food works to promote top quality, local and organic foods, but on a deeper level their aim is building community. This community-building takes shape in many ways, but especially the sorts of bonds that are formed as people come to know the farmers who grow their food, and also the community of the table that is nurtured as we share good food together with families, friends and/or neighbors, food that is worth lingering over and having conversations over. This emphasis on community resonated with the call for our churches to be communities of God’s people, a call that is too often minimized amidst the individualism of our day. I should add that we very intentionally close the name “Slow Church” – and not “Slow Christianity” or “Slow Religion” or “Slow Faith” – to emphasize that our call to community is at the very heart of the Gospel, and that in the overwhelming individualism of today, the call to focus on being the church, is its own sort of slowness and messiness.

KW: How do you think the church today exhibits the 4 aspects of McDonaldization? (Efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control)

CS: Here are a few ways in which these aspects manifest themselves, but I would challenge readers to ask themselves how their own churches have been overly enamored with these values of McDonaldization.

  • The Individualization of the Gospel. Reducing the gospel to a story about Jesus and me. This shift is especially driven by the desire for control and for efficiency – i.e., you don’t have to have the messiness of having your faith bound up with that of other broken human beings.
  • Overemphasis on the Worship Service in the Life of the Church. In most settings, it’s easy to control what goes on in the service, and to a lesser extent to predict what people will walk away from it with. In contrast, it’s much harder to control all the sorts of interactions that take place as the church disperses and embodies its faith in homes and schools and workplaces throughout the week.
  • Over-reliance on the energy and work of pastors and staff – It’s much more efficient to have a pastor say this is the vision for our church, versus asking questions together as a congregation: Who are we? What is God doing in this place? Etc. Too often we expect pastors/staff to do work that should be shared across the congregation – caring for the sick, listening and providing counsel to those who are struggling, building relationships with neighborhood groups, etc. – and these high expectations can lead to pastoral burnout.
  • Measuring our success numerically – It’s tempting to use numbers (size of our congregations, amount of money in the offering, etc.) to define our success/failure as churches. This temptation to quantify is at the heart of what sociologists mean when they refer to the value of “calculability” within McDonaldization.  These numbers can be helpful, but the truest measures of our success are qualitative, not quantitative: deeper faithfulness in following Christ or deeper, transformative relationships with our neighbors, for instance.

KW: What are the principles of the Slow Church movement and how were they developed?

CS: The key virtues of Slow Church, which overlap and intersect in substantial ways with one another, are Ethics, Ecology and Economy.  We adapted these virtues from the Slow Food Movement that is focused on food that is good, clean and fair, taking one of these and interpreting it into language that is more familiar to Christian theology. Here’s a short version of what we mean by each of these:

Ethics: Our primary focus needs to be on the quality of our faithfulness to the way of Jesus, and as part of that faithfulness to cultivating deeper life together in churches and neighborhoods.

Ecology: Our call to follow Jesus comes within God’s mission of reconciling all things. The gospel is not primarily about Jesus and Me, or even about Jesus and our particular local church, but rather about bearing witness to God’s work in reconciling all creation.  One important consequence of the belief that God is reconciling all things is that we need to be particularly attentive not only to what we believe God is calling us to do, but also to HOW we go about pursuing that end. If God is reconciling all creation, no one or no thing can be taken for granted.

Economy: A careful reading of scripture reveals that at the heart of the economy of God’s kingdom is God’s abundant provision for creation. This conviction stands in contrast to the principle of scarcity – that there are not enough resources for everyone – that undergirds all major economic systems, including capitalism. Certainly there is real scarcity in the world – people dying from hunger or from lack of clean drinking water – but this scarcity is not what God intends for creation. It stems from sins like greed and from complex geo-political histories that prevent resources from flowing to the places in which they are needed. We embody the economy of the kingdom, as we respond to God’s abundant provision with first gratitude and then generosity, sharing abundantly as God has shared with us.

KW: What role do specific practices play in the movement?

CS: We identify practices – all of which have deep roots in the Christian tradition – that will lead us deeper into each of the key virtues of Slow Church that I described above: ethics, ecology and economy. We don’t advocate that churches necessarily must practice all of these things, but rather that they may want to experiment with some of these as they seek a deeper life together. We also emphasize that the way in which these practices unfold may look quite different in various local church settings.

Here’s a quick overview of the practices we recommend:

Ethics:
Stability: Rootedness of individuals in a particular church community, and rootedness of a church in its place.
Patience: Learning to enter into the struggles of others instead of to avoid them.

Ecology:
Work: Diligently laboring to bear witness to God’s love and reconciliation
Sabbath: (The flip-side of work) Learning to pause from work, to trust in God’s provision, and to know others in ways that run deeper than their work identity.

Economy:
Gratitude: Paying keen attention to the resources (human and otherwise) that God has provided in our churches and our neighborhoods and leveraging those resources to draw us into deeper forms of community.
Hospitality: Perhaps the most intimate form of generosity, in hospitality, we share the abundant resources that God has given us within the context of relationship: sharing our church buildings, our homes, our dinner-tables with one another, with our neighbors and with the stranger that God brings to us.

Perhaps the most important practices that we recommend, however, are eating together and talking together, because it is in these very basic practices – and ones that churches all too often do not take seriously enough – that we discern the shape of our life together and discern what other practices we are going to undertake together and how we are going to do so.

KW: What is your hope for those who read this book?

CS: Our hope is that people would read it with others in their church, and that they would be inspired to experiment with some (or even one) of the practices that we suggest are helpful for guiding churches into a deeper and more connected life together. The book’s final chapter suggests the image of “church as dinner table conversation,” and we especially hope that after reading the book, people would explore how their church might begin to create deeper practices of eating together and talking together.

KW: What are other resources you would recommend for people who are trying to slow their lives down in order to focus more on spiritual community?

CS: Reading, and talking in our churches about what we are reading is an important practice, that helps to slow down and to grow into a deeper faith. We’ve included a long list of recommended reading (tied to each of the chapters in our book) at the back of the book, which is also available online here.  If I could narrow this list to only two must-read books, I would recommend The New Parish by Dwight Friesen, Tim Soerens and Paul Sparks, which helps us imagine deeper connectedness between our churches and the neighborhoods in which they exist, and Jesus and Community by Gerhard Lohfink, which makes the compelling case that the people of God is at the very heart of what God is doing in the world.

Wynand de Kock on Generative Theology

Dr. Wynand de Kock is married to Marianne and has two daughters, Carmen and Zoé. He was appointed as Principal of Tabor Victoria at the beginning of 2007.  Originally from South Africa, he immigrated to Australia in 2004 to take up the position of Vice Principal at Tabor College Victoria.  He is Professor of Practical Theology, Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University, Executive Officer, Committee for Advancing Christian Higher Education in Australia (CACHE), and Global Associate, Office of Innovation and New Ventures, Eastern University. In his 2014 book, Out of My Mind: Following the Trajectory of God’s Regenerative Story, Dr. de Koch explores the impact of God’s story in times of uncertainty and doubt.

KW: Can you briefly tell some of your personal story that led to this book?

WdK: As a South African, I grew up under Apartheid in a very religious, Christian environment whose theology was designed to legitimate the social ideology of racial segregation. The Afrikaners’ story, that we were God’s elect who were given a new land, made sense to me for most of my childhood and as a result, I grew up in silent agreement with Apartheid. But over time I began to see that my world was not as it seemed. Think of movies like The Matrix where Morpheus tells Neo, “You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad”, or The Truman Show where things were falling from the sky and he was getting one explanation but he knew that couldn’t be right. Eventually what I had been taught didn’t make sense, and this set me on a lifelong journey.

KW: What were some of the instances that led you to begin to question the social construct and theology you had been taught in apartheid South Africa?

WdK: It’s really been a process but the Soweto uprisings in 1976 and the death of activist Steve Biko in 1977 were some of the earliest images and instances that began to cause me to question what was going on. There was also a brutal attack on a black man in front of our house and I remember our family was specifically intimidated by the police because we had planned to make a case and draw attention to what had gone on. Later, while I was attending university and still very much of a right-wing thinker, I heard Bishop Desmond Tutu speak, and he really pulled the rug out from under my feet. As a student in the United States, while I was taking “care” of a little black boy who suffered the consequences of his mother’s addictions while she was pregnant with him, I realized that my country had also been on some kind of drug when it was pregnant with me – and my generation. I reflect on this in the book when I say: I was so locked up in my own mind of racial prejudice that I could not even compete with the stuffed toy animal. I knew then that I was a prisoner in my own mind. To be free, I needed to get the splinter out of my mind” (p.26).

KW: How would you describe the generative theology that you write about in the book?

WdK: I’ve been greatly influenced by people who are able to keep things in tension, something that’s important in life but is difficult to do. I came to see that there is a developmental aspect to doing theology, to being a follower of Jesus, where at some points in your life and faith development you just can’t see or understand certain things even as you truly desire to follow Jesus. The reality is we can get stuck and become stagnant. That is the opposite to being generative.

Erik Erikson, a German-born American developmental psychologist, introduced me to the concept of being generative. In his theory, humans in their adult stage can either be stagnant or generative. To be generative is to live our lives for the next generation; our work is then not for ourselves but for the next generation; we become stakeholders and destiny shapers in society.

Theology that is generative employs and generates generosity in the on-going integration of questions, traditions, beliefs and actions in a bid to avoid the entrapment caused by dogmatism, traditionalism, pragmatism and faddism. These “-isms” are evidences of stagnation; they appear when we are more interested in giving answers than listening to the questions of our time. Theology that is generative will therefore employ and generate generosity in believers as we attempt to make sense of life.

As adults we should be willing to live and extend ourselves for the sake of the next generation—to make a way for them. We don’t want to just find the answers for now, but to hold the answers we find lightly as we discern the trajectory of God’s story, so that the next generation can work with them without feeling that they are being strangled by our answers.

KW: Can you talk about the role of creating space?

WdK: Making space is really important to the idea of generative theology. When you are generative, you’re creating room for others to be human.

I believe this is the first act of creativity— to make space for life. When I look at the creation story, I see the first safe, generative place, that we have a description of. In fact, we find Adam and Eve as adults, so they were supposed to be generative, making room for those to come after them. And God places them in a space that is their own, but also with the possibility of an intimate relationship with him. He created a space for them to live outside of him, but by him and for relationship with him.

If that kind of space is not there, there can be no oxygen in the room or a place for conversation.

In that space he asks Adam and Eve to take care of the garden, so there is a need for formation in this space, where we help each other to grow up and be all that we can be.

Lastly, in that narrative, God promises to renew what has been broken—to regenerate it. In the book I say: “It is not only true that our lives are being regenerated as a result of what happened at Easter; it is also true that our lives are becoming vehicles of Easter—lives that resist entropy and stagnation” (p.75). That is also what it means to make space for life, and I think all of that leads to a generative and generous world.

KW: What is your vision of the Openseminary and how has it been shaped by the experiences you shared above?

WdK: The Openseminary, in partnership with higher education providers, such as Eastern University in Philadelphia, employs a generative theological methodology that I designed 15 years ago in South Africa. The approach delivers graduate theological education through the six purposeful actions, practices, of the Christian church: Doing Theology in Context, Community, Worship, Proclamation, Service and Formation. These purposeful actions become the windows through which biblical, historical, theological and ministry disciplines are considered. Theological knowledge is acquired just as one would acquire language as a child. We work individually and in small learning communities to answer those questions in practical ways that can be applied in ministry contexts. Even though those answers may be the best answers for now we anticipate that in time they too will create opportunities for new questions to emerge, and so theology continues.

I believe that every time we find answers to questions in our context, it helps the immediate need, but it also opens the future to the next generation as they wrestle with their decisions. Therefore, the process moves us from generation to generation and we don’t feel like we have to live with the answers of the past. Karl Barth described this process as a theologia viatorum, a theology of pilgrims.

KW: What are some of the most important aspects of your experience and this theology that American Christians need to hear? Global Christians?

WdK: I think the West works with propositions and we are preoccupied with answers—we think that we need answers without fully understanding the questions. We need to rediscover the importance of questions of ultimate concern and be willing to listen carefully to the questions coming from others in our context. I agree with Jean Vanier, we need to honor what we don’t know. This is a real challenge in a world that thrives on certainty, even unreasonable certainty. For Christians however, truth cannot be divorce from love, because we are in an unfolding story of God’s great love. Jesus’ way is the way of love and Jesus truth is a truth of love. I agree with NT Wright when he says that what Jesus was to the Jews, the church needs to be to the world, today.

This has not always been my view of God. The god of Apartheid, the god of my childhood was an unpleasant, bloodthirsty, despot over nations, whose actions seemed capricious and his attitudes towards sin petty. But as my mind changed about God, I have discovered that God is a happy God who makes space for life. As my mind changed about God, I have discovered God’s generosity as he invites us to enter the dance of the Trinity. Those who join God in his story are infused with his passion to create space for life, to destroy stagnation and to liberate those who are entrapped.

This becomes a new Pentecost in a way. Not one where we speak in tongues necessarily, but one where the love that is poured out in our hearts by the Spirit washes away racial divides, brings justice into the corners of the world where it otherwise would not have gone if it wasn’t for individuals who followed Jesus there, create space for life there, and become generative in those places.

KW: As you stand alongside others who are undergoing deprivation or experiencing injustice today, what are some of the ways you maintain hope and faith?

WdK: God is a dynamic being who is on a mission in this world and Theology that has God as its subject could therefore not be a static, academic exercise. Theology is a verb, not a noun. It is a story that we are in. I am filled with hope when I hear stories of people who have joined God in what he is doing. People who can tell of how justice arrived in the dark corners of the world, how they followed Jesus there to create space for life. Yes, the story of Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk inspires me, but more so, the story of people who in their weakness found their calling, found the small thing they could do with great love, to quote Mother Teresa. Every one of these stories thickens the story in which we live, that build a Theology that transforms lives and communities. That gives me hope and strengthens my faith.

An Unfinished Cookie and A Broken Heart: On Raising Leaders


Photo Credit: Yann Gar, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Jer Swigart

I had just gotten off a call with the White House and several Universities in which they briefed us on the failure of the most recent peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.  The conversation quickly evolved to the violent outcomes that occur when leaders wield power for personal gain rather than steward it for the flourishing of others.  Finally, the call found its primary objective: forming Millennial (ages 18-30) leaders.

To begin, the White House Corespondent offered this: “If we’re going to see peace realized, we need leaders who are willing to take political risks for the sake of peace….We need to bring the next generation of risk-taking leaders to the table.”

The conversation that unfolded produced a list of desired traits, characteristics, and competencies of Millennial leaders.  We imagined the kinds of risks that would need to be taken and decisions that would need to be made by next generation leaders that would usher in a mutually beneficial tomorrow.  As the call came to a close, we found ourselves on the front end of a riveting conversation focused on the question: “How can we best accompany Millennials as they seek to become leaders who steward power well and who take great risks for the flourishing of others?”

With this conversation fresh on my mind, I found myself on an in-home dinner date with my vivacious and compassionate six-year-old daughter.  I had prepared one of our favorite meals: Chicken Tikka Masala with basmati rice and garlic naan.  As we enjoyed our food, Ava got curious: “Daddy. Did Indians make this food?”

Wanting her to understand the difference, I asked, “Now, do you mean Indians from India or do you mean Native Americans?”

“What’s the difference?” she inquired, ever ready to learn something new.

I got the iPad and we did a Google image search.  First we looked at images of Native American children and then of Indian children.  We discussed the similarities between them as well as the differences.  Next we listened to Native American music followed by Indian music and had a similar conversation.  Finally, we found both India and North America on Google Earth and had a conversation about home.

Our chat seemed to be coming to a close with a shared conclusion that Indians (not Native Americans) had helped us make our dinner, so I got her a cookie and small cup of milk and began to wash the dishes.

Suddenly, I heard Ava whisper, “Daddy!  What’s this?!”

I walked back to the table to find that she had continued to look at images of Indian children and had stopped on a picture of a starving Indian baby.  As I began to explain hunger to her, I realized that, while she had encountered hunger and poverty in her short life, this was the moment she was being undone by it.  I shared with her that one of the reasons hunger happens is because people who have enough aren’t very good at sharing it with people who don’t have enough. I shared with her that the world needs more people who are courageous enough to give away things like food and money and power so that babies don’t go hungry anymore.

Tears began to roll down her cheeks and, for the first time in her life, Ava put her cookie down, leaving it unfinished in her cup of milk.

Quietly, she got up from the table and got ready for bed.  I tucked her in, prayed with her as she cried out a prayer for the hungry kids in our world, and prayed over her, that God would use this moment of healthy heartbreak to form her into a leader who courageously walks in the Way of Jesus for the flourishing of others.

And then, as I watched her fall asleep, I recalled my conversation with the White House earlier that day and was both inspired and convicted.  It is true that we need to imagine compelling strategies to develop leaders.  But the best strategy for forming the next generation into the types of people who take courageous risks for the sake of others’ flourishing involves meaningful conversation with our kids around our dinner tables.

Of the two conversations had that day, the latter overwhelmingly trumped the former.

Kilns Update & Interview with Ed Underwood

I’ve been sharing a lot recently about how much I’m excited about the new Master of Arts in Innovation & Leadership at Kilns College— let me tell you a little bit more about why.

First, we live in an age of anxiety. Globalization and technology have brought on a high rate of cultural change and everywhere people feel like they’re struggling to keep up. This new program not only speaks to leadership, management and efficiency, but develops a robust theology of creativity and speaks to the role of imagination and innovation in navigating change and adapting to shifting cultural dynamics.

Like the justice degree at Kilns, this course will be full of theology, history, sociology and provide a rich platform for students to explore and develop thoughts in their own unique areas of interest.

The new Masters in Innovation and Leadership is the 2nd of 3 Master of Arts programs the Kilns will eventually offer (with the third being a 2 Year Masters in Theology and Culture beginning in Fall of 2017).

Additionally, the new degree allows us to add to our rich list of adjunct professors and voices who shape the conversation. Among those is HD Weddel, former Principal of the Year in Oregon and who I was able to brag about in a previous post, and my friend and mentor, Ed Underwood. Ed is the Sr. Pastor of Church of the Open Door and has been at the forefront of developing emerging leaders for decades.

In fact, Ed has taught at the university level for 30 years, in an Army veteran and has a Th.M from Dallas Theological Seminary.

I’m excited for everything Ed will bring to this program, and I’m excited to have him joining us in Bend. I thought it would be cool to hear a bit from him about why he’s committed to be part of Kilns College and why he is specifically excited for this degree.

KW: Why are you committed to Kilns College?

EU: Through most of church history social reform was viewed as a corollary to the gospel. As recently as 1873, renowned British preacher Joseph Angus spoke on the expectation that the gospel transformed hearts toward other-centeredness at the Evangelical Alliance:

“Christianity is a universal philanthropist. It trains the young; it feeds the hungry; it heals the sick. It rejoices in the increase of the elements of material civilization. But it maintains that all these agencies are subordinate. The divine method of human improvement begins in the human hearts through evangelical truths, and it spreads from within outwardly till all is renewed.”

As he spoke these words a reactionary movement was birthing among more conservative evangelicals. Academic and social trends sparked a profound mistrust of science and philosophy. The hopelessness of world events ignited a preoccupation with the world to come.

By the time I met Christ in the Jesus Movement of the 60s most Bible believing churches had disengaged from intellectualism and issues of justice. It bothered me that what mattered most to my generation—civil rights, the war on poverty, and the war in Vietnam—were rarely mentioned. But what did I know? I had to admit that Jesus had rescued me from the mess of my life, so I decided to focus on the spiritual side of life. And if what they were telling me about the end times was right, I better get about the business of telling people about Jesus before the world ended.

The Holy Spirit has used forty-plus years of walking with the Savior, exegeting the text, studying theology, and building and living in community to reconnect my heart and my mind and to return me to my more radical social justice roots.

This is why I’m committed to the vision of Kilns College. Those of us who believe in the Bible and orthodoxy should let the world know that we want to be defined by what we’re for, not what we’re against. We should be on the forefront of reclaiming intellectualism in our historic faith and redeeming the language of justice.

KW: Why are you specifically excited about the new degree in Innovation & Leadership? 

EU: My role in this vision is to integrate this vision into leadership training. More specifically to answer the question: How do those of us who say we care about the kingdom of love and justice in this world ensure that our leadership lives out the message we’re committed to.

Who can doubt the need to build high trust leadership cultures in our churches and organizations that stop chewing people up and spitting them out in the name of missional vision? It’s absolutely true that we can’t give away what we don’t possess. Until we become intentional about maintaining atmospheres of grace in leadership we’re going to continue embarrassing the gospel by the hurtful and unjust ways our leaders relate to one another.

I’m thrilled to play a small part in closing the gap between what churches and Christian organizations say about the kingdom of love and justice and what we live inside our leadership cultures. The new degree in Innovation and Leadership provides the context for me to offer insights from my years of study and experience in discipleship, education, and leadership.

Discipleship is Christian-talk for mentoring, but it’s a special type of mentoring. To make disciples is to build into others in such a way that they are encouraged to follow Christ and live for him in this world. The love of the lamb of God is the bedrock of discipleship that calls us to follow Jesus, to go to dry the tears of this world. But until that love is modeled by mentors and experienced by those they lead, our lofty desires have no sustaining power.

That’s where my heart is. I long to build deeply into the few who will live out kingdom values and lead the many in the Way.

Do you resonate with the need for creative leaders, advocates, and culture-shapers with a sound theology of influence?

Have you always wanted to pursue your Masters, but never thought you could or that it would be relevant to your context?

Contact Melissa McCreery for more information on how you can join us in Bend or online via our Distance Learning platform.

Lost in the Clouds

My dad was an exchange pilot with the Dutch Navy flying the P-3 Orion back when we lived in Holland. On one occasion, he was returning from a long ocean surveillance mission to an airfield at Land’s End in England, where the weather had deteriorated into heavy fog. With less than an eighth of a mile of visibility, he had to make several landing attempts until finally the copilot saw the runway lights emerge at only a hundred feet above the ground. When they finally landed, the fog was so thick that my dad couldn’t see where he was or where to turn. The tower helped them by sending a “follow-me” truck to guide the airplane to the ramp.

He was forced to rely on instruments many times in order to get back to his base.

When my dad told me his zero visibility stories, he explained how, without sight, one’s equilibrium can be thrown off. Vertigo, he told me, is thinking you are turning when you are actually level, or thinking you are actually level when you are turning. Because you can’t see, your inner ear begins sending your brain false signals. When experiencing vertigo a pilot must be disciplined and rely on his or her instruments, otherwise they might steer the aircraft into the ground while mistakenly believing they are flying straight and level.

Sooner or later, Dad said, a pilot will find himself in a cloud, or fog, or haze and will have to rely solely on instruments. The instrument panel provides an artificial horizon that pilots must trust regardless of what their senses are telling them. It requires training to develop the confidence to overcome our natural instincts and trust what the instruments are saying.

Zero visibility landings can only be accomplished when you have total faith and trust in what your instruments are telling you, even when your senses contradict what you see plainly before you.

The paradoxical nature of the Christian life can give us an awkward sense of not knowing up from down. But I have learned that God’s commands, our trust in His promises, and our reliance on His guidance are the instruments by which we fly.

The temptation when we’re living in the midst of the paradox is to pull back, recoil, lean more on our own understanding, and resist entering into God’s plan for us. In times of uncertainty, we can begin to steer ourselves away from God and toward our own sense of reason. But Proverbs 3:5–7 says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.

The secret to understanding where to go in life is found not in navigating our way to safety, but rather simply trusting in God’s leading. Trusting that He is good. Trusting that even if we don’t like where He takes us, He’s taking us there for a reason.

Partially adapted from The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God, and the Necessity of Faith.

Create an Open Space to Experience Life Together

Guest Post by Melissa McCreery

If I’m being really honest with myself — something I try to do from time to time — sometimes I don’t like women very much. Now I know what you’re all thinking. Um, but aren’t you a woman? Yes, I am. And while I like myself just fine (more or less) and I like my friends and my mom and a number of other amazing beauties in my life, I just don’t love women as a whole— the group of them.

And I know for a fact I’m not alone. Yes, I’m looking at you. You, who always has a very convenient reason to not attend the yearly (or heaven forbid monthly) women’s event at your church. You, who would rather go with the guys to the baseball game than your second Mary Kay party of the year.

All too often, us women do a far better job of tearing each other down than building each other up. We compare ourselves to each other and beat ourselves up if we come up short. We judge ourselves based on how we measure up to our Pinterest selves — (come on, you know you do!) We can be too harsh and too quick to judge (ourselves as much as others). Rather than celebrating in each other’s successes and triumphs, we notice every stumble and flaw.

I’m know I’m guilty of this.

So imagine my surprise when I felt God tugging — in his still and sure way— on my heart, and convicting me about my love/hate relationship with my gender. I’ve since found myself repeatedly drawn to women, so many of whom are leading voices in Kingdom work.

God created women in his image — So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). We— each of us — have a specific role to fill in this world. One centered on the unique gifts and passions God gave us. One focused on love and leadership and service and affirmation. While our specific callings and passions may vary, in order to fulfill our calling well we need a community of women (and men) to support, encourage and affirm us. We need churches and ministries that do the same.

I’m incredibly fortunate and beyond blessed to be able to travel around the world for my job, and can I tell you something I’ve noticed? While there are many universal characteristics of women all around the world (there’s a reason Maybelline is sold in more than 129 countries worldwide) I think those of us in the United States have a few things to learn from our peers around the world, who have overcome the isolation and fear of transparency and built beautiful, safe open spaces for honesty and collaboration.

On a recent trip to Jerusalem, I met a group of women who were members of The Parent’s Circle — an organization for Palestinians and Israelis who have lost a direct member of their family to the conflict permeating the Holy Land. As I sat across from these women, I couldn’t even begin to imagine walking in their shoes. Israeli women who have lost their sons, daughters and husbands at the hands of Palestinians were cooking, working, sharing, and laughing (yes, laughing!) alongside Palestinian women who had lost their sons, daughters, and husbands at the hands of the Israelis. Together, they are working to create an open space to dialogue about the conflict in the region and to promote peacemaking efforts. Together, they are loving one another and loving their communities. Together, they are living life.

I can say the same of the women of Musalaha — non-profit organization that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, as demonstrated in the life and teaching of Jesus.

I can say the same of the women I met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who were survivors of sex trafficking and chose to face their demons and work alongside other women to share their experiences and to rehabilitate young girls just recently rescued from that life.

Can I say the same of myself?

Can you say the same of yourself and your community?

I think in many cases I can. I’m optimistic and encouraged by gatherings such as The Well Conference, Kilns College, and others around the world that are creating space for women (and men) to grow and flourish.

And if these women around the world can come together in community and in Christ— through some of the most horrific circumstances, I have hope that we can bridge the divide between mothers and those of us who are not; between stay-at-home moms and mothers who work outside the home; between democrats and republicans; between those with means and those struggling to pay their bills; between Christians and non-Christians.

If a self proclaimed “Avoider of Women” such as myself can be transformed and inspired by women around the world, and prodded to share in this crazy journey with others, then there is hope for all of us.

Women, let’s embrace the open spaces in our lives that allow us to be honest and brave and compassionate. Let’s collaborate and grow and learn together.

Missionaries of Mercy: Evangelicals and Catholics for Justice

Guest Post by Peter Goodwin Heltzel

“Writing theology is like writing a love letter,” said Gustavo Gutiérrez, the author of A Theology of Liberation, on Wednesday May 6th at Fordham University in New York City. As we passionately write love letters to our beloved, so we should write theology passionately about our God. Merciful love is the heart of the Gospel and is expressed in the way that we care for our neighbor, especially the poor.

“A poor church for the poor,” is the manifesto of Pope Francis, who has tapped into the prophetic fire of Liberation Theology to revitalize the Catholic Church. Pope Francis has invited Father Gutiérrez to speak on Tuesday May 12th in Rome at the Caritas Internationalis Assembly, a gathering to discuss Catholic relief and development work. The Catholic Church is claiming its prophetic vocation, a transformation that has been inspired by a faith-rooted, grass-roots theology of liberation in the Americas.

Growing up in poverty in Peru, Father Gutiérrez heard the cry of his people and knew he must respond like God, with compassion and love. Climbing Mount Horeb, Moses found the burning bush out of which God declared his compassion, saying, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering” (Exodus 3:7). God heard the cry of captive Israel and promised their liberation. God’s liberation of Israel from Egypt was heard as Good News by the poor in Latin America and by African American slaves in the United States.

“The God of Exodus is the God of history and of political liberation more than he is the God of nature,” writes Gutiérrez in A Theology of Liberation. Throughout Scripture, we see God’s merciful love for the poor and oppressed demonstrated through Spirit-led eruptions of freedom in the travail of history. God loves all people and longs to see them flourish. When Israel disobeys the ten commandments, God raised up prophets to call them back to communion with God. The prophet Micah sums up the prophetic imperative: “What does the Lord require of you, O mortal? But to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).  In a Hebrew chiasm is a literary device used by poets that unveils the main idea in the middle. Tucked between justice and humility, merciful love is at the heart of Micah’s message and is at the heart of Jesus’ teaching of Kingdom of God.

Mercy reveals a deep mystery of the Triune God. Walter Kasper, Pope Francis’ favorite theologian, writes in his new book Mercy“Mercy expresses God’s essence, which graciously attends to and devotes itself to the world and to humanity in ever new ways in history. In short, mercy expresses God’s own goodness and love. It is God’s caritas operativa et effectiva. Therefore, we must describe mercy as the fundamental attribute of God.” As God’s love in action, mercy embodies God’s compassion for all creatures.

How are we as evangelicals doing in our ministries of love and justice? As I argued in Jesus and Justice: Evangelicals, Race and American Politics there has always been a vibrant stream of prophetic evangelicalism in the United States, grounded in the faith-rooted struggle to abolish slavery. Evangelical theologian Ron Sider writes in “An Evangelical Theology of Liberation”:

“Wesley, Wilberforce and Charles Finney’s evangelical abolitionists stood solidly in the biblical tradition in their search for justice for the poor and oppressed of their time. But 20th century evangelicals have not, by and large, followed their example.”

Why is it that our evangelical forbearers fought so courageously to abolish slavery? Jonathan Blanchard, the founding President of Wheaton College (my alma mater), represented the Ohio State Anti-Slavery Society as a delegate to the 1843 World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. Charles Finney, the President of Oberlin Seminary, used to sign people up for the abolition movement during the altar call when he was inviting people to come to Jesus. Since Jesus proclaimed a message of “liberating captives” (Luke 4:18) these evangelical abolitionists sought to continue Jesus’ ministry through liberating slaves. Prophetic evangelicals of the 19th century understood that evangelism must walk hand in hand in with justice.

Without “skin in the game” in the struggle for racial justice, white evangelical attempts to convert people to Christ ring hollow.

In the early twentieth century, evangelicalism experienced what David Moberg calls “The Great Reversal,” retreating from its commitment to social justice into a fundamentalist cultural isolationism. During this period there was also a transformation in evangelical eschatology. Post-millennial theologians like Blanchard and Finney thought their activism was helping to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, while early twentieth century fundamentalist embraced a pre-millennial dispensational theology that taught a “rapture” from the earth, which was going to burn as part of God’s redemptive plan.

After World War II, a group of neo-evangelical leaders like Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, and E.J. Carnell began to forge a more irenic evangelical vision of transformation, institutionalized at Christianity Today, Fuller Theological Seminary, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Park Street Church in Boston. While arguing for a more socially engaged evangelicalism, their theology leaned toward the “Old Princeton” theological vision of B.B. Warfield and Charles Hodge. Caring for the poor, racial reconciliation, and economic justice were not the top priority for post-war neo-evangelical leaders.

Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger  was a wake up call to evangelicals to end their consumptive spending habits and commit themselves to caring for the poor. Sider was the first white modern evangelical to develop an evangelical theology of liberation from the subject position of the poor. Concerned about the dichotomy between evangelism and social concern, Sider sought to forge a prophetic evangelical vision that shared God’s love with all people and cared for the community of creation.

On November 23, 1973 in a YMCA Hotel on South Wabash in Chicago, Sider gathered evangelical leaders across the spectrum for the Thanksgiving Workshop on Evangelical Social Concern. Neo-evangelical leaders like Carl F.H. Henry, Vernon Grounds, and Frank Gaebelein gathered with prophetic evangelicals like Donald W. Dayton, Sharon Gallagher, Wes Granberg, William Pannell, John Perkins, Eunice Schatz, and Jim Wallis, who had launched The Post-American magazine which would become Sojourners at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1971. Theologians from the Peace-church traditions who attended included Dale Brown, Samuel Escobar, and John Howard Yoder, whose book The Politics of Jesus was a manifesto for the prophetic evangelical movement.  The spirit of revolution was in the air in the 1960s and 1970s with the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the peace movement, and the environmental movement inciting social upheaval in the US. In November 1973 the Watergate Scandal was being discussed every night by Walter Cronkite on CBS Evening News. Amidst the travail and turmoil, conservative and progressive evangelicals crossed their boundaries to seek common ground and co-authored The Chicago Declaration for Evangelical Social Concern which expressed a strong evangelical commitment to racial, economic, gender and environmental justice.

With the eruption of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in America today, it is an opportune moment to cross boundaries once again. As a missionary of mercy, Father Gutiérrez crossed boundaries to care for the neighbor, especially the poorest of the poor in Peru. As a missionary of mercy, Ron Sider crossed boundaries to help the evangelical world unify its commitment to evangelism and justice.

Gutiérrez writes, “A spirituality of liberation will center on a conversion to the neighbor, the oppressed person, the exploited social class, the despised ethnic group, the dominated country…Our conversion to the Lord implies this conversion to the neighbor. To be converted is to commit oneself lucidly, realistically, and concretely to the process of the liberation of the poor and oppressed…To be converted is to know and experience the fact that, contrary to the laws of physics, we can stand straight, according to the gospel, only when our center of gravity is outside ourselves.”

In this passage, Gutiérrez is deepening our understanding of conversion. While we as evangelicals often think of conversion as an individual experience of accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior through an act of faith, Gutiérrez challenges us to see conversion as a process that transforms all dimensions of our life, including how we treat our neighbors. A spirituality of liberation, calls me as a white evangelical man to be converted to “the process of the liberation of the poor and oppressed.” In the United States, this means whites, like I, need to have the compassion, courage and humility to be converted to our neighbors, our black and brown sisters and brothers. The experiences of blacks and whites in America are vastly different. Given the legacy of slavery and segregation in America, a disproportionate amount of African Americans become trapped the violent system of poverty, and as whites we need to do our part to help them out.

There are signs of hope. Catholics and evangelicals are joining together in the fight to end poverty and racial injustice through Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT). A creative faith-rooted organizing, Ron Sider played an important role in the establishment of CCT in 2001, the largest ecumenical fellowship in the US, that includes Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, and African American churches. In 2014, CCT resolved to “encourage Christian communions, denominations, and organizations to promote realistic and ambitious goals for ending poverty in our country and worldwide – perhaps joining the world community in working to end extreme poverty and hunger by 2030 and helping to make hunger and poverty a priority for the U.S. government by 2017.” The poor are crying out and churches are responding in seeking new collaborative ways to address the scandal of widespread poverty in the United States and around the world.

In the spirit of Micah and Mary, Jeremiah and Jesus, Gutiérrez and Sider, let’s pray that God’s Spirit will empower evangelicals and Catholics to be Missionaries of Mercy to all God’s children in the community of creation.

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