Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Of Boycotts and Girlcotts

I have been musing on the question of boycotts recently. Some prominent people have said that they will boycott the opening ceremony at the summer Olympics in Beijing. Others are still planning to attend. The Dalai Lama has asked people not to boycott the games. What is a person of conscience to do? And what is an appropriate and effective response to injustice?

In 2005 I wrote a commentary about the "girlcott" of Abercrombie & Fitch for one of Buffalo's public radio stations. I believe in boycotts and girlcotts even when I suspect that they will not bring about significant change. I believe in them because they are a way of saying that I will not participate in or support something which I believe to be unjust. They are a way of responding to what St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome. Here's how J.B. Phillips translated Romans 12:2:

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

My Quaker activist mother would have liked "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould," my activist mother who used to tell me, "You may not be able to change the world, but you better work to keep the world from changing you."

I know that the absence of world leaders or even some athletes at the summer Olympics won't convince the Chinese government to change its policy in Tibet. It will take much more than a boycott to do that. I also know that the International Olympic Committee's hope that China would improve its human rights record in the lead-up to the games has not been fulfilled. Neither the awarding of the games nor a boycott of the games has or will convince the Chinese government to change.

If I can't change the world - or even the Chinese government - I'd better work to keep the world from changing me. I'd better work to make sure that I don't support - even indirectly - something that I believe is unjust. I'd better work to keep the world from squeezing me into its mold. Others may choose to tune in to the games this August, but I won't.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Way to the Father

The placing together in the Revised Common Lectionary of the story of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:55-60)and Jesus' statement, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6) presents us with the temptation to see ourselves as superior to the Jews who crucified Jesus and stoned Stephen. These Jews, after all, rejected the one who is the way, and the truth, and the life, and we Chrsitians have embraced him.

Resisting that temptation - indeed, rejecting it forcefully - requires first that we remember that the conflicts that are reported in the Gospel accounts and in Acts are conflicts within the community of God's chosen people. As a Christian I am not part of that community. As a Christian I know only too well that my embracing of Jesus as the way, the truth and the life is not something that I have done of my own accord. It is pure grace, an undeserved gift of God that I have been able to say yes to God's invitation to follow Jesus.

But if we get beyond using these texts as an excuse for anti-Semitism - and we know that they have been used in that way - we are still faced with the temptation to use the words of Jesus' as an excuse for denying that there is any truth to be found in other religious traditions. I received a gift to help me in standing against that temptation in a quote that a colleague sent me:
"Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.' Your western ears hear Jesus saying that he is the only way to God, but that is not what he says. He is an eastern mind speaking to eastern minds. They hear the emphasis being on the Father (Abba). What Jesus is saying is that he is the only way to come to know God in personal relationship similar to that of a child to "daddy". This does not weaken a sharing of the gospel, as you might think. Instead it allows a Christian to say to someone of another faith, that Jesus offers something unique, a close relationship to God." (Dr. A. B. Masilamini, a Baptist theologian and evangelist in India)
Far from being a denial of any truth that there is in other religious traditions, these words of Jesus simply affirm something that is central to our faith as Christians. We are able to call God "our Father" with boldness and with thanksgiving. God has claimed us as God's very own children and we are, in the words of our Baptismal liturgy " marked as Christ's own for ever."

I pray for the day when Christians will stop using texts like these as weapons against other people of faith and will focus on following Jesus in the way.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Year of the Gate

There was an interesting story on the blog Father Jake Stops the World about a "prophecy" that the Bishop of Pittsburgh had been sent by a preist in the Church of England. Apparently Bishop Duncan saw that "prophecy" as supportive of realigning his diocese with the Province of the Southern Cone or some other "orthodox" province of the the Anglican Communion. When I read the "prophecy" I found in it, surprisingly, encouragement for those who are in favor of what the Rev'd Gray Temple, Jr. calls "sacramental equality" for all Episcopalians. Here are three of the sentences in the "prophecy" that I found encouraging:
There are new beginnings ahead for those who have been waiting patiently for their moment to come. Obstacles are being removed. The Father is breaking his children out of a sense of captivity to past restrictions.
I believe that we are at a time when "new beginnings" are possible for Episcopalians, a time when we will see the removing of the obstacles that we have placed in the path of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members of our community. God has alredy begun to sweep away some of those barriers and, in the words of the "prophecy" sent to Bishop Duncan, " The anointing for new beginnings is on many in this year. The time of frustration and exile is coming to an end. This is the Lord’s time for his people to rise up and follow him through the gates of opportunity."

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

You Break It - You Pay For It!

In the ongoing debate about the war in Iraq, we need to remember the sign we often see in gift shops - "You Break It - You Pay For It!" Iraqi society is broken and the US is responsible, although not alone, for breaking it. Many Iraqis and people in Syria and Iran have their share of responsibility for the broken Iraqi society, but the US must take its share of the blame. However bad Sadaam's regime was - and it was very bad - the US invasion and the gross mistakes of the Bush Adminstration have made life in Iraq in many ways worse that it was under Sadaam.

As much as I wish the US could simply walk away from Iraq, I know that the Iraqi people deserve better from us. Continuation of the current Bush policy will not, I believe, make the situation any better, but walking away could make it much worse. I think that the US needs a new strategy, one that includes both military disengagement and smarter diplomatic engagement, one that sees Iraq's neighbors Syria and Iran not as our permanent enemies, but as potential allies in cleaning up the mess that all of the parties have made.