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Liberal/Leftist/Progressive/Radical: What do they mean?

Liberal/Leftist/Progressive/Radical: What do they mean?

I know these are contested terms. And that such categorization often falls short and becomes unhelpful. And it gets tricky when someone seems progressive on issues of race or gender/sexuality but is a fiscal conservative. People are rarely consistent and never entirely rational. Nevertheless, here’s how I slice and dice the terms radical, leftist, liberal, and progressive.

Being a “leftist” doesn’t just mean “super, super liberal.” Nor does being a “radical” just mean “super, super progressive.”

The difference between a leftist and a liberal comes down to who you think should be in control. A leftist wants to subvert the status quo and throw the bosses and leaders from the top of the mountain. A liberal wants to challenge those bosses and leaders to do better.

Sometimes leftists go along with liberal approaches for short term gains. And leftists and liberals often have a similar diagnosis for what’s wrong with society.

But a leftist is a “radical” because they want to cut all the way to the root of the problem: which is the very nature of the relationships that under-gird systemic oppression. They know that you can’t simply chastise systemic evil away by appealing to the better angels of the Ruler’s nature. Because, after all, the problems are inherent to the system.

Now, when I hear the word “progressive,” I assume they are either a liberal whose heart is with the radicals but they don’t really believe revolution is possible. That to search for it could do more harm than good. And so they attempt to make the best of a bad situation. OR they may be a radical who is trying to roll with the liberal apparatus until real opportunities arise.

A full-on liberal is a capitalist. They believe that this economic theory is the best we’ve got and we just need to make it work by having sound and just intervention from the government. They hate racism, but not so much that they’d sacrifice the sanctity of private property to enforce reparations. They hate sexism, but not so much that they’d stand up to our allies that treat woman as second-class citizens. They find war distasteful, but necessary. Same with policing and prisons. And on an on. They are generally content with the world as it is, but they just want it to be a bit more compassionate and civil.

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CHRI$TIAN COMPLICITY IN WAR

CHRI$TIAN COMPLICITY IN WAR

Last week, USA Today published an article listing the 20 companies most profiting from war. They write:

Total arms sales among the world’s 100 largest defense contractors topped $398 billion in 2017 after climbing for the third consecutive year. Notably, Russia, one of the countries with the fastest growing militaries over the last decade, became the second largest arms-producing country, overtaking the United Kingdom for the first time since 2002. The United States’ position as the top arms-producing nation in the world remains unchanged, and for now unchallenged.


The article goes on to list the top 20 defense contractors, a list topped by Lockheed Martin:

Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, the largest defense contractor in the world, is estimated to have had $44.9 billion in arms sales in 2017 through deals with governments all over the world. The company drew public scrutiny after a bomb it sold to Saudi Arabia was dropped on a school bus in Yemen, killing 40 boys and 11 adults. Lockheed’s revenue from the U.S. government alone is well more than the total annual budgets of the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency, combined.

Their list of twenty top war profiteers is limited to defense contractors. They don’t factor in companies like Halliburton, which (as of 2013) has made nearly $40 Billion in profits from the Iraq war.

You know who else is profiting from war? You. If you invest your money through organizations like Thrivent Financial.

According to data gathered by dontbankonthebomb.com (a project of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate ICAN and PAX), Thrivent Financial, as of early 2018, had a total of $297 million invested into the military industrial complex. These companies include BAE Systems (which builds fighter-bombers, combat drones, nuclear submarines and nuclear missiles), Huntington Ingalls (which builds aircraft carriers), Lockhead Martin (the world’s largest defense contractor who builds, among other things, the Trident II DF nuclear missile), and Orbital ATK (which produces missiles, large-caliber ammunition, grenade launchers, and warheads).

Boom.

Thrivent Financial is a Fortune 500 not-for-profit financial services organization headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Appleton, Wisconsin and founded by Lutherans. Of course, the major financial service organizations (Berkshire Hathaway, Allianz, JP Morgan Chase, etc) are awash in war profiteering as well. Call me old-fashioned, but I expect more from organizations who link their mission exist to help Christians “be good stewards of the gifts God has given them“.

Our world is mired in violence. The United States has 800+ military bases in 80 countries. We are currently engaged in conflict zones in Niger, Uganda, Cameroon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and more.

Are you, by investing with Thrivent Financial unwittingly participating in war profiteering?

Thrivent started as a Christian mutual aid organization but is now a Fortune 500 company making profits from death. How does this square with Jesus’ call to love our enemies, welcome the stranger, and serve “the least of these.”

To take a step towards challenging Thrivent Financial, add your name to these petitions on Change.org or CodePink.

And, while you’re at it, if you invest elsewhere, search them on dontbankonthebomb.com.

For deeper steps, visit ThriventDivest.com.

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The Politics of Jesus 4: The Radical Thread in the Hebrew Scriptures

The Politics of Jesus 4: The Radical Thread in the Hebrew Scriptures

For most Christians, the Bible has a fundamentally conservative emphasis. A superficial reading of the Bible reveals a God who thinks of himself as a sort of Warrior King, who sanctions state enacted genocide, and who promotes a string of saintly kings, like King David. When Jesus arrives, it is to start a Kingdom of God that, apparently, seems content to co-exist with earthly rulership. In fact, Jesus himself says to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and Paul advocates being good subjects to the governing authorities. Therefore, Christian radicalism is a contradiction in terms, right? 

Furthermore, the sorts of ideas many Christian radicals hold are also glaringly unbiblical. Like nonviolence (many biblical heroes were prolific smiters). Like communism (certain patriarchs were “blessed” with vast property–which they didn’t share equally with all). Like egalitarianism (Paul tends to affirm male leadership, Jesus praises a Centurion who holds a position of authority, etc.). The Bible seems to be the enemy of liberation. 

While it is outside the scope of a blog post (or book) to tackle every challenge that traditional readers of Scripture advance against radical political stances, I can offer a short overview to serve as a simple lens for seeing Scripture differently. I’ll try to note other resources for those of you who’d like to dig deeper.

To really address the myriad of issues that emerge from an radical reading of Scripture, one would be better served by a commentary series. What I’m offering here is a super simple overview, not a complete survey. If any Bible scholars out there want to publish a Radical Bible Commentary, I would not only be happy to buy a set, but also would have great ideas for who should contribute.

Let’s start at the beginning. Many read Genesis as an anti-civilizational text. It begins with the story of humans living in harmony with nature and upholds that as a pristine ideal. As Ched Myers suggests,

…in the “primeval history” of Gen 1-11 Israel’s sages—redacting older sources and probably writing in the aftermath of the failed monarchy—also attempt to explain [the rupture from primal life]. Eden can be interpreted as a mythic memory of the old symbiotic lifeways: humans, creatures and God dwell intimately and richly together (Gen 2). 

From “The Fall” by Ched Myers in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature

When paradise is lost, humans are relegated to hard agricultural toil.

The first act of violence is committed by the agriculturalist (Cain) rather than the nomadic herdsman (Abel). As we know, agriculture emerges with the advent of civilization. It is this murderer who establishes the first city. Later, as humanity “progresses” all sorts of crazy things happen, like when human population spikes, the “sons of elohim” have sex with women, people become increasingly wicked, and God sends a flood to reboot creation. Later, when folks gather to build a huge tower that reaches to the heavens, God scatters the people. For the most part, Genesis is remarkably negative about the civilizational project and its subsequent imperializing tendencies. God even has to drown the earth to knock back the evils of civilization.

Again, Myers writes:

The “Fall” in Gen 1-11, then, is not so much a cosmic moment of moral failure as it is a progressive ‘history’ of decline into civilization—exactly contrary to the Myth of Progress. The biblical primeval history thus should be considered not only as “mythic memory,” but also as perhaps the first literature of resistance to the grand project of civilization—rightly warning against its social pathologies and ecocidal consequences. 

From “The Fall” by Ched Myers in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature

The rest of Genesis follows the story of the first patriarchs, who YHWH has called out to become a people who will follow YHWH into a promised land. Throughout Genesis, trouble happens when the Jews favorably interact with imperial powers or try to settle too soon. While it is true that the patriarchs had many possessions, it is a stretch to infer from their wealth modern notions of property rights. Pre-agricultural nomadic peoples were tribal. While the patriarchs were hardly egalitarian, their understanding of ownership was much more communal than modern Western notions. The wealth of the tribe or clan or family was for the benefit of all. And, it would seem, that God’s vision for Jubilee would push the communality of goods and lands even further.

Every seventh year was a Sabbatical Year, during which the land is to lie fallow and agricultural activity is to cease. At the end of the year, all debts are to be forgiven. The year at the end of seven Sabbatical cycles is the year of Jubilee. At that time all land was to be redistributed back to its original owner. If these practices were kept (along with the additional stipulations to provide for aliens, widows, and others), there would be little room for economic injustice.

Exodus tells the story of a people enslaved by the Egyptian empire and how YHWH delivers them. You know the story: YHWH calls Moses (in the burning bush theophany) to lead the Israelites out of slavery into a Promised Land. Of course, once they are liberated, the people grumble and complain–desiring a return to Egypt instead of the long journey in the wilderness. In Exodus, we see a “story of Israel’s communal bonding around the mountain at which they encounter YHWH, with no need for ‘sacrifice’ of animals or enemies.”  As a result of their grumbling, YHWH keeps them in the wilderness for forty years.

Then, apparently, Moses passes the mantle of leadership to Joshua—a sort of military hero who engages in war against the indigenous peoples of Canaan.  The people successfully settle and are attacked by their neighbors, leading YHWH to raise up “judges” to lead the people in combat against the enemies of Israel. 

YHWH sets up a brilliant economic and political reality, which will follow Jubilee economic practices and, instead of having a centralized government, will employ temporary leadership as need arises. Instead of a king, God dwells among them to rule directly rather than ruling through kings or priests. For example, one of the leaders who emerges, Gideon, tells the people, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.” (Judges 8:23) Unfortunately, Gideon’s offspring attempt to set up a dynasty.

The people keep complaining for a king, and eventually YHWH relents. Saul–who fits the people’s idea of a king–sucks. He dies in battle and David (after some oft-told bible stories transpire), becomes king. The kingdom splits during the time of David’s grandson. Conflicts between the prophets and the kings become common place as Israel becomes increasingly like its neighbors, leading to the eventual demise and captivity of both the northern and southern kingdoms.

This story–from Exodus to the monarchy–is one of centralization and waywardness. As Wes Howard-Brook writes, 

As it stands in its canonical order, the story conveys a relatively (and deceivingly) simple message: the shift from a twelve tribe confederacy under YHWH’s rule to a human monarchy “like the nations” (1 Sam. 8:5) was a disastrous betrayal of the unique status of Israel as YHWH’s “chosen people”…Israel “converted” from the religion of creation to the religion of empire, with predictable results.

From Wes Howard-Brook’s Come Out My People, p. 95

It is important to highlight some of what makes this a “deceivingly” simple message. It is simplistic and foolish to assume that the days of David and Solomon, with a monarchy centralized in Jerusalem and worship centralized in a Temple in Zion, should be considered a golden age. There is, according to Howard-Brook, a tension (or out-right contradiction) between the pro-monarchic “Zion Theology” that placed YHWH in the Jerusalem temple” where Solomon “could be understood as truly empowered by YHWH with ‘wisdom’” and the prophetic “Sinai theology” where “Solomon’s ‘experience’ can be written off as either wishful thinking or simply as propaganda.” In other words, the Hebrew Scriptures present a sort of argument between the religion of Empire (where a faithful, powerful, secure, wealthy and vast nation is centralized in Jerusalem, where YHWH and king dwell) and the religion of Creation (where a faithful people live in Jubilee, encounter YHWH in creation and amidst people, and live as kin without an earthly ruler). 

As we read through the prophets, when God speaks, it is usually through a prophet who challenges the king’s power and who stands outside of the machines of the monarchy. So much could be said here. The emphases of the kings are very different than those of the prophets. It is astonishing how much the prophets link idolatry and exploitation of the poor. The kings often centralize wealth and power. The prophets challenge that trend. The prophets, it would seem, still hold God’s Jubilee vision in their imaginations.

One of my favorite proto-anarchist sections from the Hebrew Scriptures is Ezekiel 34. God judges the “shepherds” or rulers of Israel, essentially striking them down to become the people’s sole Shepherd. Incidentally, this may be the passage that Jesus had in mind in his “sheep and goats” story in Matthew 25. Here’s a choice quote:

I myself will feed my sheep and I myself will
make them lie down, declares the sovereign
Lord. I will seek the lost and bring back the
strays; I will bandage the injured and
strengthen the sick, but the fat and the strong
I will destroy. I will feed them–with
judgment!

Ezekiel 34:15-16
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Chris Pratt, Hillsong, and the Violence of “Open but not affirming”

Chris Pratt, Hillsong, and the Violence of “Open but not affirming”

Chris Pratt (left) was recently called out by Ellen Page (right) for supporting an anti-LGBTQ church.

Last week, award-winning actress Ellen Page made the news by calling out her colleague Chris Pratt (not to be confused with Chris Pine, Chris Hemsworth, or Chris Evans).

Chris Pratt attends Zoe Church in Los Angeles, one of a number of megachurches associated with Hillsong around the world. A number of celebrities (like Justin Bieber) also attend.

According to Ellen Page, Hillsong is “infamously anti-LGBTQ.” She later elaborated:

Rejecting this charge, Chris Pratt responded:

It has recently been suggested that I belong to a church which ‘hates a certain group of people’ and is ‘infamously anti-LGBTQ.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” he wrote. “I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone. Despite what the Bible says about divorce, my church community was there for me every stop of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk. They helped me tremendously offering love and support. It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender.

This may seem nice and inclusive. However, Hillsong and Zoe Church may welcome queer folx through the doors, but they continue to name the “homosexual lifestyle” as a sin. And they aren’t upfront about it.

It is a violent bait-and-switch, wherein a trendy and hip church is welcoming to a point, but enforces heteronormativity.

And it isn’t only Hillsong (and Zoe Church) that is guilty of this. Thousands of churches across the country are covert about their official stances on sexuality and gender.

It is time for churches to be open about their support (or lack there of) of LGBTQ+ folx.

This latest media flare-up reminds me of a time in March 2017 that a number of my friends and I held a Queer-celebrating communion gathering outside of Wooddale Church – Loring Park.

Wooddale is a megachurch network in the Twin Cities that similarly poses a friendly face towards queer folx, while denying their full inclusion. And Wooddale’s Loring Park campus is smack-dab in the middle of a Minneapolis neighborhood particularly known for it’s active and thriving gay community.

As their service ended, we unfurled a banner that read, “(Y)our Queerness is made in the image of God. #SilenceIsSin”, confronting the way in which many churches have ignored the epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness or the growing incidents of violence against transgender women.

Make no mistake: these social crises are the direct result of religious teaching against LGBTQ+ people.

As we engaged congregations leaving worship, they were honestly confused. Some folks swore up and down that their hip church was Queer-friendly. They didn’t believe that Wooddale supports reparative therapy, or that they formally condemn the “homosexual lifestyle.”

As I was engaging one young couple about this, a small group from the same church surrounded and berated my friend Marty, who was dressed in full drag, telling Marty he’s an abomination and going to hell.

In the following weeks, I met with with a couple church members and, later, the pastor. The pastor said all people are welcome but he stands by the bible’s naming of homosexuality as a sin. He said, and I quote: “If the Bible told me to sleep on my lawn, I would.”

He refused to say anything about whether or not his church would ever allow queer folks to be formal members or serve in any leadership capacity. He also stood by their practice of reparative therapy saying, “If people want to be free from homosexuality, shouldn’t we offer that as a service?”

At the same time, he defended their decision to be covert about these things, for the sake of the “Gospel.” After all, he said, “God loves each of us just as we are, but enough to challenge our sin.” He felt it was important to stress inclusion at the outset and challenge sin later on, as a process of discipleship.

Such a stance by Wooddale Loring Park, Hillsong, Zoe Church, and the thousands of other churches just like them may seem hospitable. But it is violent.

It is abusive to befriend someone out of a desire to change them.

It is violent to trick people into thinking they’re fully a part of your “church family” only to reveal the truth of their second-class membership later.

It is violent to preach a gospel of LGBTQ exclusion while transwomen experience violence daily for their gender and while 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ folx, usually due to their parents’ religiously-informed rejection.

If you attend a church and they haven’t made a public show of solidarity and inclusion, don’t assume they embrace queer members or leaders. Dig deeper.

If you’re a leader at a church that is covert about it’s stances on sexuality and gender, stop being sneaky cowards. Be honest. Have integrity. Make it plain. Otherwise, you’re doing violence.

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