Christians are Facing Persecution in America: Church Burnings and Racism


Chuck Burton / AP

Chuck Burton / AP

Since the Supreme Court decision on Friday the talk is about the coming persecution of Christians, but we act like persecution isn’t already occurring within the United States for Christians. The fact is, Christians in the US have faced persecution since its foundation; the constant threat of being beaten for prayer, for being arrested for going to church, or for even having that church burned (or bombed). Of course, we don’t often think of Christians being persecuted in America because what we mean is we’re afraid of white Christians facing persecution: The black church has faced persecution from its foundation, and continues to face that persecution.

Consider that in just five days, six traditionally black churches were burned to the ground. Not in the 1950s, but in 2015. Yet, the media has remained mostly silent on the issue. That’s simply how it’s been for a number of years. The African American community has fear when pulled over by the police, has fear in their own neighborhoods, and has fear when they go to church.

If a pro-homosexual group or atheist group were burning mostly white churches, there’d be constant news coverage, constant Facebook updates, and the whole circus would show up. As it is, however, these churches represent the African American community, and therefore no one is really talking about it or doing anything to challenge the fact that it’s happening.

An African American church faces a gunman and nine people die. Six African American churches burn to the ground. All of this happens within a week. But it’s the gays getting married I’m supposed to worry about. But what about my black brothers and sisters, who simply wish to worship the same Christ I worship, must fear for their lives in attending their houses of worship. How can we not see that persecution is already here? How can we refuse to act or do anything to help?

I wish I had an answer, but I don’t. I wish I could place some big conclusion here that wraps up everything above, but I can’t. I can’t because it seems that for all our effort to remove the Confederate Flag, we’re unwilling to remove the racism that flag represents. That racism turns into persecution and attacks the central aspect of most African American communities (especially in the South), the church. I wish I could say things will get better, but it seems that most Christians will choose to keep their eyes glued to gays getting married than to the actual persecution that continues to their black brothers and sisters. That the world and media would ignore the plight of our black brothers and sisters is bad enough, but somewhat expected. That we would is shameful and sinful, and it has to stop. Our refusal to deal with the problem of racism – a mostly one-sided problem stemming from white people – is getting people killed and perpetuates fear within the black community. It has to stop.

Great, Now We All Have to be Fabulous: On Gay Marriage and the End of the World


us_gay1Today the United States Supreme Court ruled that states can’t outlaw homosexual marriage. It’s a move that really doesn’t surprise anyone and of course will leave liberal activists saying, “It’s about time” and conservative activists decrying the decision as “tyranny from the bench.” Of course, the world has yet to end, it still turns, day turns into night, we all have jobs to go to, and life goes on.

Of course, reading mostly Christian websites, one would be left with the impression that the government has changed the entire definition of marriage and that the end of the world as we know it is upon us. We’re met with overreaction after overreaction, hyperbolic statements, and hypotheticals that will probably occur at some point in the future (decades, if not centuries, down the road), but not tomorrow. If – as Christians believe – marriage is established by God then marriage was never within the State’s domain. Technically, especially from a sacramental view of marriage, all marriage licenses have been an attempt by the government to reinterpret marriage and all have been equally invalid; under a sacramental view of marriage, only marriages within the Church (or later consecrated by the Church) are truly legitimate. What the State defines as marriage is by nature separate from what the Church defines as marriage (unless we’ve been in a theocracy all these years and I didn’t know it).

Think about it: how does this modern ruling impact the “sanctity of marriage?” The sanctity of marriage was gone long before the movement came about for homosexual marriage. When the American divorce rate is still high (especially for late Baby Boomers/Generation X’ers, and showing no signs of abating for late Generation X’ers/early Millenials), how can we say we hold marriage sacred? When the average American family will spend more time apart due to careers and daycare than they will together and such an economic system is rabidly defended by the same people who decry homosexual marriage, exactly what’s so sacred about marriage? Even on a more base level, for those who have done away with the sacraments, how can marriage be sacred? If there is no sacrament to marriage then it’s impossible for marriage to be sacred. In other words, we did away with the sanctity of marriage long ago, long before there was a movement for gay rights.

That isn’t to say there aren’t some reasons to worry. After all, it’s not impossible to imagine a scenario in which a church is sued because they won’t officiate a homosexual wedding or refuse to rent out their property for a homosexual wedding. If a baker is sued for refusal then what arbitrary line do we place between the baker and the church; regardless of one’s personal beliefs, both engage in a commercial endeavor. Why, then, should the baker be forced to participate but not the church? This is one argument that I foresee coming to the forefront of the next part of the debate. More than likely, people will idiotically attempt to remove the tax-exempt status from churches, forgetting that they exist based on donations anyway and would qualify as tax-exempt regardless of their religious nature (and to ban their tax-exempt status simply because they have a religious affiliation would be a gross violation of the First Amendment).

Yet, even if such a world came to be – and such a world will probably come to be within a few decades to a few centuries – Christians have only themselves to blame. Unlike persecution in the Middle East, where Christians suffer merely for existing, anything that would bear the semblance of persecution within the US was brought about by the hands of Christians. Rather than through prayer, love, and spreading the Gospel, we attempted to ban homosexual unions using the tools of the State. We tried to protect that which is sacred by utilizing that which is secular, which isn’t necessarily wrong (such as using the State to protect the sacred nature of life), but when it becomes the primary tool it becomes wrong. After all, “We war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities.” But for the past three decades the Religious Right has warred against everything, declaring war on people, using the government as a weapon, and such a tactic has consistently backfired.

Had Christians, early on in this debate, recognized that marriage doesn’t belong to the State to begin with and rather utilized civil unions, one must ask if today would have ever occurred. If the State dealt exclusively with civil unions and removed itself from the marriage game, then what would have changed? Rather, Christians attempted to enforce their view of marriage – a view that isn’t even solidified within the Christian community (as Orthodox, Catholics, and other sacramental elements differ on the nature of marriage than say, Baptists, Pentecostals, and so on) – upon a secular institution. They then used the natural to defend the supernatural. But as is the case, always, the natural ate up the sacred.

The world did not end today, nor will it end because of homosexual marriages. Perhaps, and one can only hope, Christians will realize they have to begin acting like Christians. Rather than ostracizing and creating political outcasts, or attempting to legislate the Gospel into existence, they will see the importance of living it. Maybe they’ll finally abandon the Religious Right, dying an undignified and very deserving death in the Republican primary (where all typical Religious Right candidates trail behind Jeb Bush and Donald Trump…welcome to America!). Then again, they probably won’t, but hey, I can dream, right?

Love is the Light in the Darkness: Living in the Wake of Charleston


IMG_1007I’ve chosen to remain somewhat silent since the murders in Charleston, South Carolina. Mostly because what can I say other than, “Sorry?” Not because I’ve ever been an advocate for the KKK or racist ideology, or because I’ve proudly flown the “Stars and Bars” (I haven’t, I grew up in Kansas, so I never understood the infatuation with the losing side’s flag), or because I personally had anything to do with the murder of nine innocent African-American brothers and sisters in Christ. My silence – really, my shame – is that another white person killed black people and there’s very little we’ve done to stop this sort of thing.

Now, at this point some might interject and say, “But Roof is an individual and chose his actions. How can you hold all white people responsible? That’s actually racist!” And to a certain extent such sentiments are correct; what Roof did was the act of an individual and certainly not all white people are to account for his actions. That we don’t have to, however, is part of the luxury of being white in America: We (white people) can claim individuality in a way that others, especially black Americans, cannot.

When we see crime and murder rates within urban centers in America the common cry within white conversations is, “Well they need to get their society together.” When we perpetuate the myth of the absent black father, we always view it as a “black problem.” When riots broke out in Ferguson and later in Baltimore, we blamed the entire black community. When violence occurs within the inner city, the question goes, “Well why don’t they protest that?”

See, when a white man walks into a church and murders nine African-Americans in cold blood, we see an individual person and blame him. But if a black man walks down the street and murders anyone – black or white – we blame the entire race. Or consider that we might blame Al Sharpton, or rap music, or “race baiters,” or the “thug mentality,” or “black culture”  in general. But with Roof we’re not allowed to blame the implicit white supremacy that still exists in the South America World. We can’t blame country music that proudly promotes the “Stars and Bars,” or that such a monstrosity hangs from multiple institutions. We can’t blame the fact that, as a white male, his upbringing undoubtedly left him with a sense of entitlement to a better life and that when that better life wasn’t achieved, he sought to blame someone. That blame, of course, was passed onto non-white people (other than Asians apparently), which is quite typical. We’re not allowed to blame the culture when it comes to Dylan Roof murdering nine human beings, but it’s quite alright to blame all black people whenever a riot breaks out (even though no one dies).

The above only begins to explain why I’ve tried to remain silent in the wake of Charleston. Mostly because Dylan Roof doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He wasn’t raised to love other people, to respect people of all races and cultures, and then because of some medication flipped out and decided to go on a racist shooting spree. His actions result directly from a culture steeped in racism, so much that it’s a battle just to remove the symbols of racism – a flag, street names, monuments to men who fought to enslave other human beings – much less to remove the racism itself. His actions result from a culture where it’s okay to mock African-Americans for “their” culture, to call them thugs, to say they’re less-educated, and so on.

While I grew up in Kansas, I’ve lived in the South for nearly a decade. I’ve learned that when white people in the South get together, in private, horrible things are said. Simple, seemingly innocuous comments even exist within liberal circles. The, “Well they can’t really help it, so we have to help them.” A comment of hate laced with love, a deeper poison than some guy yelling the n-word. I’ve heard a guy speak about his church and just a few sentences later speak of how while Hitler was wrong for what he did, he wasn’t all that wrong in his thinking (had I not objected or said anything, the group would have just gone along without batting an eye). Racism is not only alive and well, but I’d submit that it’s getting worse, especially with younger generations in the South.

What’s worse, what’s sickening beyond all reckoning, is that Dylan Roof’s upbringing occurred in the so-called “Bible Belt.” In a place where Christianity is supposed to be its strongest in America, it remains one of the most anti-Christian places on earth. It is a place where Christ is rendered great lip-service, but the cry to “become all things to all men” falls upon deaf ears. After all, if a piece of cloth holds a symbol that offends another Christian – especially because that symbol stands for oppressing the entire race of that Christian – why not just remove it? Why fight it? Because of your “heritage?” But what is your heritage before the cross? Your “heritage” means absolutely nothing to a God beyond cultures and borders.

Perhaps if these so-called southern Christians recognized that they have far more in common with a Christian from Kenya than a nominal Christian next-door, our nation could begin the process of healing. What heritage is so important that one would sacrifice healing and a relationship in order to preserve it? Such a recalcitrant culture is not the sign of Christ, but the sign of nationalism.

Of course some get defensive and argue, “But what about the American flag itself? The American flag flew over slavery as well, over the genocide of Native Americans, and currently flies over bombing innocent women and children overseas. Shouldn’t we take it down too?” But doesn’t that actually underline the point? Doesn’t it highlight that our hope and identity isn’t found in a symbol, in a flag, or even in a nation? The survivors of the shooting in Charleston didn’t turn to President Obama, or do their senators, or to the American flag, or to any government or national institution; they turned to Christ and they displayed love and forgiveness.

Ultimately it is in the bonds of love, and not the protection of some gilded and fictitious “heritage,” flag, or movement, that healing occurs. If we wish to eradicate hate then we must love, but love begins with sacrifice. That sacrifice might require giving up a Confederate flag, it mights require you to befriend people who are different than you, it might require you to not only recognize your “whiteness,” but to do all you can to remove the negative elements. No one is asking southerners to eradicate sweet tea, pulled pork, or banjos; but the love of Christ should require us to give up symbols of oppression. After all, if the victims of racism can continually forgive (which is a sacrifice), certainly those who perpetuate racism – albeit unintentionally in some instances – can learn to love and sacrifice that which separates them from their black brothers and sisters. Or at least one would hope.

Christian “Atheism”


Originally posted on Five-Cent Synthesis:

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I have developed the habit of reading four to five books at a time, plus dipping into another dozen in between, which may or may not prove very edifying. This, I admit, is a symptom of intellectual intemperance; however I also admit that I am ambivalent about seeking a cure. One I have just begun is Faith and Unbeliefby the English theologian Stephen Bullivant; as a former atheist turned Catholic theologian with a doctorate from Oxford, he appears to have an expansive grasp on both orientations towards reality.

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Of Mad Men and Discredited Russian Philosophers: The Angst of Donald Draper


***DISCLAIMER: Massive Spoilers! But that should be obvious, right?***

 

Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Imagine a decade ago that I came to you and said I had an idea for a show. That idea would be to follow the lives of people who work in the office, in advertising, in the 1960s. You’d ask what happened, and I’d say, “Nothing. Nothing happens. They just live.” Would you green light the show? Probably not, but someone at AMC did and called it Mad Men, and the rest is history. Or at least soon to be history as the show comes to its conclusion.

For nigh on a decade (in show years; and kind of in real years) we’ve witnessed Donald Draper and the rest of the crew grow, develop, and collapse. All the while the question to the casual viewer is, “So when will something happen?” We thought that something was when Pete burst forth with the revelation that Donald Draper is actually Dick Whitman, to which Bernie Cooper gave a “Meh” response. The something was actually nothing. So goes the pattern of the show: Something major occurs, we think this is the *it* we’ve waited for, and it’s met with “meh.”

Yet, there’s an inescapable feeling that indeed something has happened, we just don’t know what that something is. After all, we’ve watched Don Draper live a “man’s dream,” of being successful, of marrying a woman half his age (who’s a french model), of drinking while on the job, and living a life with few consequences. But Don seems unhappy and unfulfilled. He fought to get his job back, only to continue to seek after other things. Don is never happy, nor is anyone else on the show. No one ever reaches the mountain and feels satisfaction, contentment is always a few elusive feet away, and for this we think something might have happened. Indeed, something has happened and continues to happen within the story of Mad Men: The battle for Don Draper’s soul.

No, this is not a Jesus Juke. This is not where I turn around and, much like the irate husband in this past week’s episode, tell Don Draper to find Jesus because “He can do some good things.” Rather, the battle for Don’s soul is fought on the existential level. One could say that the thing happening is the fight and struggle for Don Draper’s existence, for his identity, for his happiness. See, Don Draper isn’t really Don Draper, rather he’s two men. He’s Dick Whitman and Donald Draper. Rather than Draper being a cover so that Whitman could escape the horrors of Korea, Draper is also an entirely other personality.

Whitman is a carefree individual, not quite a hippie, not quite a beatnik, not quite an existentialist. But there’s no doubt that he loves life and desires freedom. In the very first episode of the first season we’re actually introduced to both Donald Draper and Dick Whitman. We see the businessman (Draper), the patriarch of the ideal family of four, living in the suburbs. In the darker elements we see a man living for himself, the ideal objectivist who uses anything and everything for his happiness. We also meet, albeit briefly, with Dick Whitman (though we don’t know his name), in having an affair with a bohemian-style woman, someone who seems incommensurable to the businessman. As the season and show progress the divide between the two personalities grows wider as the two fight for supremacy.  Continue reading

Mary as Mediatrix: An Incarnational View


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Many Christians find the notion that Mary played a role in our salvation extremely blasphemous. They particularly find the ascription of the title Mediatrix to Mary, found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, offensive.  In their eyes this ascription stands in direct opposition to Jesus’s role as the sole mediator between God and man. After all, Sacred Scripture is crystal clear on this matter:

“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5-6 NKJV).

While I completely embrace these words from St. Paul, I deny that they constitute a defeater for Catholic Marian dogma. I contend that the aversion to Mary’s role in our salvation, endemic in so many Christians, is a form of Neo-Docetism. I further maintain that shedding this Neo-Docetist attitude, and embracing an incarnational approach to theology, will help us to understand Mary’s soteriological importance.

The Neo-Docetist Attitude

To be sure, Jesus is the One Mediator between God and men. For it is only through the Word who, “became flesh and dwelt among us,” (John 1:14) that we can be united to God. Mediation is the very point of the incarnation. God, in His love, united Himself to His creation so that His creation might be united to Him: this is the ultimate act of reconciliation. It is, also, the cosmic destiny–or telos–of the universe. As St. Paul states:

“For he [the Father] has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9-10).

But many Christians fail to see any of this.  They fail to see the fundamental importance of the incarnation; and fail to see the work of Christ as including the redemption and renewal of the body and the physical/material world in general.  In consequence, the work of Christ is often narrowly construed. The matter of greatest importance, for many Christians, is that Jesus came to satiate the wrath of the Father so as to take away the punishment necessitated by sin (i.e., Penal Substitutionary Atonement).

Mediation, on this view, only happens through the cross; everything hinges upon the death of Christ. As such, the incarnation plays little to no role in the process and is almost a peripheral issue. This implicit denial of the incarnation lies at the heart of the Neo-Docetist attitude. Unlike Classical Docetism, which explicitly denied the incarnation, Neo-Docetism minimizes the importance of the incarnation to the point where its relevance to soteriology is indiscernible.

As I have argued before, this attitude also leads to the rejection of a sacramental worldview; one in which God works in and through the corporeal world to bring about its renewal. Everything in the Christian faith, given the Neo-Docetist perspective, becomes over spiritualized. Baptism looses its efficacy and becomes just a symbol. The Eucharist is no longer the real presence of Christ, but a sentimental ritual that we perpetuate out of obedience. Works of love play no role in our salvation, which is wrought through faith alone (i.e., a mental assent or acknowledgment of Penal Substitutionary Atonement).

Penal Substitution and Mary

Obviously, if one adopts a Neo-Docetist attitude, Mary can play no role in the mediation between God and man. For if (1) mediation is narrowly construed as Penal Substitutionary Atonement and (2) salvation is merely a sort of mental assent to this doctrine, then it is utter lunacy to ascribe to Mary the role of Mediatrix. Clearly, Mary didn’t take the sins of the world upon herself and die on the cross, thereby satiating the wrath of the Father towards mankind. It must be admitted, therefore, that if we adopt this limited conception of mediation, it makes sense to oppose Catholic Marian dogma. On this view, the very notion of Mary being a Mediatrix is nonsense.

Incarnational Theology and the Role of Mary

If, however, mediation is understood in a broader incarnational sense, the role of Mary becomes crystal clear. For it is through Mary that the Word became flesh; it was in her womb that the Creator and sustainer of the universe took on human nature.

God did not force Himself upon Mary against her will either. As Peter Kreeft is fond of saying, “God is not a rapist.” Mary didn’t have to accept the message from Gabriel; she didn’t have to submit herself to what the Lord was intending to do in her life.  Mary, like you and I, had a real choice to make when she heard the message: she could either choose to reject God, as Eve had done in the garden, or choose to fully submit to His will and trust in Him.  To all of creations great relief, Mary chose the latter saying, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Like us, Mary’s faith in the Lord was made possible by the grace of God; and it was through the grace and love of God that Mary was emboldened to open herself to receiving the Lord. Likewise, it was the power of the Holy Spirit, working in and through the Virgin, that made it possible for the Word to take on flesh; and it was through the incarnation of the Word that God united Himself to man.

It is in this context, the context of the incarnation, that Mary is said to be Mediatrix. For it is through her openness to God that the Lord was able to make his abode among men. As Hans Urs von Balthasar so eloquently explains:

“[in Mary] we see readiness, a receptivity that is totally unreserved: body, soul, and spirit are utterly open, “openings” to God. Here the essential thing is that the body is involved; that the handmaid’s consent echoes right through her, down to the lowliest and most unconscious fibers of her being; her whole self, in its materiality, from its lowest level upward, makes itself a womb for the Wholly Other, for God’s self utterance (and hence his “substance”). Never before had this substance taken up its abode within the straitened dimensions of a mortal body.”

Through the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord, human nature has been restored to its former dignity and purity, and it is once again possible for the creation to be fully united with its Creator.

In all of this, there is but One true Mediator, and that is God. For it is God who creates and sustains the world, and it is God who saves. Mary, on her own, has no power to mediate. This is why the Catechism says:

“Mary’s function as mother of men in no way obscures or diminishes this unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. But the Blessed Virgin’s salutary influence on men . . . flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on his mediation, depends entirely on it, and draws all its power from it. No creature could ever be counted along with the Incarnate Word and Redeemer; but just as the priesthood of Christ is shared in various ways both by his ministers and the faithful, and as the one goodness of God is radiated in different ways among his creatures, so also the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a sharing in this one source” (CCC article 970).

Considered in this light, it is clear that Mary plays a substantial role in salvation history and that her role in no way threatens Christ’s position as the One mediator between God and man.

Baltimore Burns: The Riot of the System vs. the Riot of the People


Source: Newsweek

Source: Newsweek

The riots in Baltimore have, for the moment, seemed to calm down. What’s so unique about these riots, at least when compared to the riots of late (excluding riots caused by sports victories/losses) is they occurred before any decision came down concerning the police who murdered Freddie Gray. Without directly addressing the “rightness” or “wrongness” of rioting, I do have one question: Why is it that 47 years (almost to the day) after the 1968 Baltimore riots, we’re still facing riots of a similar caliber for similar reasons? In 1968 the riot’s trigger was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., while in 2015 the trigger was the death of Freddie Gray. But people don’t riot over the injustice of one death unless injustice is universally experienced amongst those in the community. They don’t riot unless they’ve grown tired of a system where justice does not exist. In 47 years, we’ve failed to create a system where justice exists for urban minorities (or minorities in general).

Violence begets violence, of this there is no doubt. Thus, if we wish to stop the violence of the protestors, we must first – and most importantly – stop the violence of a system that oppresses people. How that is done or what needs to be done is somewhat beyond my scope as I am not marginalized, I am not oppressed, and I speak from a place of privilege. What I do know, however, is that such a system must begin with the truth that all humans, regardless of skin color, are created equal and that such a statement is not a platitude, but a bedrock fact of existence. It means we must allow local community leaders to create a community wherein those in poverty have a way out of poverty (as it is, the majority of black children born into poverty will remain in poverty throughout their lives within the US).

While we must leave the problems of the community to the community, the system itself must look to reforming the schools, the economy, and most importantly, the police. A police force that is engaged in a “war on drugs” eventually looks at citizens as potential enemy combatants, and they look at the neighborhoods in their patrol routes not as places to protect, but as occupied territory. It shouldn’t surprise us then when citizens rise up against their military occupation and riot. While people can lament the “lack of black leadership” in condemning the riots – and such a complaint is empty – if we truly wish to stop riots, then we must first stop the violence imposed upon the urban populations in our cities.

From a Christian perspective, all violence is unfortunate and unwanted. Yet, we only paint ourselves hypocrites if we mock and chastise the rioters for their violence and remain silent on the violence they’ve experienced. It does us no good to point out the evil of burning a nursing home to the ground while ignoring that the Maryland police have killed 109 people since 2010. 70% were black and 40% were unarmed, meaning that while the majority of those deaths were probably justified, there’s reason to believe that many of them were not. The riots in Baltimore didn’t begin a few days ago, or when Freddie Gray died in the hand of the police; the riots began when otherwise good people chose to ignore systematic abuses against African-Americans and ignored the cries for justice.

As Christians we are to call for peace in all situations. Even in the most dire of circumstances where violence seems inevitable and even needed, we still hope for peace. Yet, this hope must extend beyond reactions to violence in the form of riots and also focus on the actions of a system that’s marginalized an entire group of people. Christ came to bring peace to the world, but part of that peace includes restricting an out-of-control system. If the second greatest commandment is to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, how does it display love when we ignore the stories of injustice done to our black neighbors? If we love them we will seek justice and a system in which all men and women are truly free. The next riot is already on the horizon, but if we wish to stop it we need not more police, but more love that injects justice into a broken system.