Can You Love the Enemy Who is Trying to Kill You?

In the wake of Charlottesville, the Internet can be divided into two (three) people: the people crying that we should all “love our enemy;” the people shouting “They are literally trying to kill me;” (and the neo-Nazi defenders, who promote killing the aforementioned people; don’t even go down that rabbit hole).

The crux of the argument between the first two groups: Can You Love the Enemy who is Trying to Kill You?

Can You Love the Enemy Who is Trying to Kill You?

Spoiler Alert: if you’re Christian, you have to find a way from here to there. Jesus himself says the problematic phrase “Love your enemies.” But there are some twists and turns before we get there.

The problem with the enemy-loving question, especially on the Internet, is that most people argue from a Kantian perspective. To be perfectly objective, Immanuel Kant is a German philosopher who tried to universalize his own privilege as a mechanism for ethical discernment. Those calling for enemy-loving are often trying to universalize a moral claim in order to apply it to someone else. More pointedly, they tend to be privileged people suggesting that because I am white and I have been your enemy, you must love me. People who have done wrong have a vested interest in convincing the wronged to love their enemies. This is why Kant is insufficient.

Taking Kant out of the equation, we have two other starting points.

Immanuel Kant Birthday

John Stuart Mill at Kant’s Birthday (from Existential Comics).

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New Testament Anti-Racism: Bitches and Hood Rats in the Kingdom of God

Everybody’s a little bit racist, or so the song goes. But what about Jesus? The more time I spend with Matthew 15 (and I’ve been spending a lot of time with it), the more clearly it becomes a racially-motivated exchange. It’s one of the problem passages of the New Testament where Jesus comes out looking racist. It’s the story of the Syro-Phonecian woman who needs a miracle. To call her Syro-Phonecian is putting it nicely; Mark puts it nicely in his parallel version (7:24-30).  But Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, a derogatory, outdated term that recalls a long history of racial tension between Jews and Canaanites. Where Mark tries to de-escalate the situation, Matthew reports that sparks were flying and tensions were high.

Jesus was only in Tyre and Sidon–a non-Jewish territory–because he’d gotten into a kerfuffle with the Pharisees and was laying low. Jesus left his rural Jewish homeland to spend a couple weeks hiding out with the Gentiles (read: pagans and hedonists). It’s not that Jesus and the disciples want to be around the Gentiles, it’s more that they don’t want to put their lives at risk by standing too close to an angry Pharisee. Continue reading

State of the Mennonite Union: Pastors Week Recap

Most of us live day-to-day in the microcosm of one local church community. For the last four days, I’ve  tasted of the macro-North American church, trading good and bad news at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s annual Pastors Week. Here are top five moments for me, from longest to shortest (not counting the food, because the AMBS vegan chocolate chip cookie is its own theology and ecclesiology).

1. When it comes to GLBTQ debates, our denominational staff is close to hopeless. If you’ve worked with a conference minister or MC USA staff in the last year, you know this already. But it was striking how much of the week was burdened by fear of this summer’s impending sexuality “conversation” (or, if you prefer, “explosion”) at the Kansas City convention. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator of MC USA, spoke to us on Wednesday, which was also her birthday. Perhaps this statement is enough to explain why our denominational leaders are so hopeless.

I call her ESA because her name is 7 syllables.

I call her ESA because her name is 7 syllables.

This hour-long lecture was the most direct I’ve seen ESA–she talked race, sexuality, and ecclessiology. About 35 minutes in, she said, “I am married to a conservative man. We have struggled with the LGBT issue and we will never agree. But we will love each other anyway. But I don’t know if we have that love in the church.” During Q&A time, I asked, “You–and all of our denominational leaders–are tired. We, as pastors, aren’t getting any hope from you. If we can’t get hope from you, how do we sustain our optimism? What is your good news for us?” Continue reading

Defining Racism

My post the other day was a little… provocative. I was pleasantly surprised, the comments (on the post and in social media) were largely thoughtful. I agree with many: racism is more spectrum than category; flowcharts privilege the binary and the binary is bullshit; my focus on black-white race relations is also a binary; race relations is a problematic term anyway; and plus, it’s rude and polarizing to call someone racist.

This last one I agree with less. In the circles I run in–this is at least partly generational–“racist” isn’t an pejorative term. It doesn’t connote the KKK as much as the flaws we all have: “hey, that’s racist, please check yourself.” So I apologize to those who took “racist” as an insult. It’s not. It is bad to be racist, but it’s also honest to be racist. Again: only once you admit the problem can you begin solving it. So let’s roll back a couple steps and define “racist.” I’m going to use a story about white/black, because that’s my own experience. Continue reading

Is Your Church Racist?

This Sunday, one of the freshmen in the youth group asked, “Is our church racist?” I wasn’t sure how to respond–you don’t want to tell a 14-year-old everyone who has raised her is racist, unless you’re really, really convinced that it’s true. (Luckily, I didn’t have to say anything, because I work with excellent co-teachers who are quick on their feet.)

But. Her question provoked me. There are lots of white churches. What makes a white church racist? So I made this handy flowchart.

Slide1

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Ferguson, the Rivers of Babylon, and Racism

In my congregation, there is mixed feeling about what happened in Ferguson. In my heart, there is not. I, as a young white adult who has lived in predominantly black communities, am absolutely convinced this has everything to do with racial inequality. I value the dissenting voices in my congregation, but since I have this space I want to explain how white voices (especially skeptical ones) can makes sense of the outcry following yesterday’s announcement.

Yesterday, the Grand Jury in Ferguson announced their decision not to indict the police offer who killed teenager Michael Brown in August. Two days ago, I finished a sermon series on the Psalms. But today I have one more Psalm, for Michael Brown. Continue reading