Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Free Speech - Again

Our very smart son-in-law pointed out that the idea of a corporation as a person is enshrined in federal law, but he also provided a  quote from Thomas Jefferson that indicated his concerns about the role of corporations in this nation:
I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
Even though I am wrong in my inclination to refuse to give corporations the rights of persons, I think I'm right that the speech which is protected under the Constitution is primarily public speech and that the protection is not absolute. Private speech generally needs no protection and it is the right to speak in the public square that needs protection. But protected speech doesn't mean speech without consequences. Just as the private speech of a child who swears at his parents will certainly have consequences, so the public speech of persons or corporations should not be without consequences. Target, in its support of a pro-business candidate who opposes gay marriage, has learned that its protected speech may have serious consequences. Will I be willing to continue shopping at Target? I haven't decided yet, but losing customers is a possible consequence of that protected speech. 

The framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were not, I believe, concerned to protect anonymous  speech. Corporations, given the recent Supreme Court decision, are free to speak by supporting political candidates, but I believe that that speech should not be anonymous.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Campaign Finance and Free Speech

I don't know enough about the campaign finance bill that was blocked by a filibuster today to know whether it was good legislation or not. However the comments of some of the opponents of the bill were, in my opinion, pure hogwash. How, I would ask some of these men who work for us, is requiring corporations and unions to disclose their political contributions a violation of free speech? (And I won't even ask the question of how the constitutional protection of a person's right to freedom of speech got extended to corporations.) I value my freedom of speech, but inherent in that valuing is my willingness to be open and honest about my convictions and opinions. I do not post anonymous comments on other blogs and I have no problem with those who read this blog knowing who and what I am. If corporations are so ashamed of the political speech they support with their money, what does that say about the integrity of those corporations and those who run them?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Divinity of Jesus Revisited

There have been a few responses – here and on Facebook – to my previous post. MadPriest – one of my favorite bloggers – commented on the problem of dualism, “the splitting of the spiritual and the bodily” which leads to seeing matter as inferior to spirit. Dualism is not part of the tradition of Jerusalem, but of Athens, and the witness of the Scriptures is that matter is good. The Christian's hope for eternal life is not for a disembodied life, but for the resurrection of the body."

Another comment focused my thinking on the question of the two natures of Jesus the Christ. Again I see the underlying problem with much of our Christology as a dependence on substantialistic philosophical language. Again its the tradition of Athens that has led us to think in terms of being, rather than of being-with, which is the tradition of Jerusalem. “Does Jesus have two natures?” is wrong question, or, at least, a question that we can't answer. The questions that we can answer are, “Is Jesus one with us in our humanity?” and “Is Jesus Emmanuel God-with-us?” The apostolic witness, with no mention at all of two natures, was that in this human person they met God. In some way, which they could not explain, Jesus was the revelation of the God of Israel, the one true God. We try to explain that at our peril and always get it more or less wrong. We shouldn't stop thinking about God, stop reading and writing theology, but we need to be willing to see where some theology might lead us astray.

What seems to me to be lost in much of the talk about the divinity of Jesus, is that Jesus was – and is – theocentric. The man we meet in the Gospels was centered upon God, upon Abba. He pointed not to himself but to Abba, and unless our Christology is theocentric, rather than christocentric, we are missing the point. Seeing Jesus as the one who perfectly represents God to us and us to God is, I think, much more helpful – and faithful to Scripture – than the two natures Christology. Representation is relational, and not substantialistic, and the Good News is about God's desire to be in relationship with us. While it may border on heresy, my reading of Scripture has led me to believe that God wants to be God only in relationship with us and with all creation. Or, as my friend Fr. Aaron Usher used to say, Jesus invites us to get intimate with the ultimate.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Divinity of Jesus

I read conservative blogs from time to time, especially ones that address issues in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. On some of those blogs there have been assertions that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church doesn't believe in the divinity of Jesus. Although I have to yet see anything close to clear proof of those assertions, they does raise an important concern for me: the implicit denial by many Christians in North America of the humanity of Jesus.

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has suggested a very challenging way of understanding Micah 6:8:
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
According to Brueggemann, we must walk humbly with God because that is the way that God walks with us, not only in the person of Jesus, but throughout the story of God's relationship with the Hebrew people.

In North America, we have so frequently focused on the omnipotence of God that we have nearly lost sight of the Good News of God's power being manifested most perfectly in the humiliation of Jesus on the Cross. We like an all-powerful God, largely because we like to think of ourselves as powerful, as masters of our own lives. We defend the divinity of Jesus, as if anything about Jesus needed defending, because we want an all-powerful Savior on our side. And having formed in our minds an image of this all-powerful Savior, we run the risk of seeing Jesus as not really human, not really one of us, not really one with us.

Christian faith, if is true to the witness of Scripture, is faith in a human person, Jesus of Nazareth. This is the person whom I trust, the one in whom I believe God has been revealed fully. This is the one who, far from being experienced by his disciples as all-powerful, was content to be weak and humiliated out of love for us. This is the one whose humanity we deny at our peril.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tea Party?

I have made it a habit to refer to people and groups by the name which they prefer. However, I do reserve the right to comment on the appropriateness of the name that groups choose.

Growing up in Massachusetts, I heard the story of the Boston Tea Party when I was in school. How much of what I heard was entirely accurate, I can't say. What does seem to be true about that Tea Party is that it was a somewhat risky venture. The participants could have ended up in prison. It was also a protest against the levying of taxes on colonists who had no representatives in the Parliament.

Today's Tea Party movement shares neither of these characteristics with the Boston Tea Party. Participating in this movement carries no risk of imprisonment and the taxes which these Americans don't like were levied by their representatives. There can be no cry of "Taxation without representation is tyranny" from these tea partiers. There problem is not tyranny, but their own failure to elect to Congress enough people who agree with their agenda.

And what is that agenda? From where I sit, it appears to be simply anti-federalist. What this movement seems to want is a radical diminishing of the role of the federal government. To achieve the tax cuts that this movement appears to want, without cutting the defense budget, there would have to be major cuts in expenditures for such programs as Head Start, Medicaid, WIC, and Section 8 housing assistance. To follow the agenda that the tea patiers seem to me to advocate, might well lead to the abolition of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education.

Of course, I am an alarmist, but there are times to sound an alarm, and this may be one of them. When I worked as the Director of the Erie County Commission on Homelessness, I often heard and used the phrase, "balancing the budget on the backs of the poor." I understand that the members of the Tea Party movement are, like most of us, experiencing some difficulties during the recession. I understand how common it is for people to look for someone to blame when things aren't going well. This nation is facing some serious problems, but laying the blame on the federal government and diminishing its role in our common life isn't the solution.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Race Still Matters

Recently there has been a ripple or two of comments on the blogosphere about the NAACP's resolution asking the leaders of the Tea Party movement to condemn the racist signs and actions of some people in the movement. Movements are, of course, not always tightly organized and the leaders of the Tea Party movement can't control the actions of those who show up at rallies. But they can be clear in their condemnation of racist signs or actions.

As far as I know, there have been no such condemnations from the movement's leaders. In fact there have been assertions that the NAACP has made more money out of race that the slave traders ever did. There was also what its author, Mark Williams, described as a parody, a letter from the leader of the NAACP telling President Lincoln not to grant freedom to slaves because “Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. This is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop.” Williams, whom I believe to be one of the leaders of the Tea Party movement, removed the parody from his website after tea partiers were invited to meet with leaders of the NAACP. He removed it but, in explaining its removal, he did not apologize for writing and posting the letter, actions that I consider to be racist.

The white, middle-class members of this movement don't seem to get it. As they experience some pain during this recession, they seem to forget just how privileged they are. Unlike people of color, they will not be stopped by the police because of their skin color. They or their parents and grandparents haven't had the experience of being unable to buy a home or rent an apartment in some towns or neighborhoods because of the color of their skin.

Certainly people of color have not been the only targets of discrimination. “Irish need not apply” signs and other forms of discrimination were far too common at the end of the 19th century. Fifty years ago I lived in a town where Jews couldn't buy homes. Racial and ethnic prejudice are still part of our common life and denying it, as the Tea Party leaders seemed to have done, doesn't help at all.

I hope that when the leaders of the Tea Party movement and the NAACP meet it will be an opportunity for the leaders of the Tea Party to get it, to understand the nature of their privileged status in this country and to see that race still matters.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bishops Are Bishops

The General Synod of the Church of England has decided to move ahead - slowly, to be sure - towards the ordination of women to the episcopate. During the Synod meeting a proposal from the two Archbishops was narrowly defeated. I don't fully understand the proposal, but I think that it would have provided that if a woman became your Bishop and you didn't believe that women could be Bishops, you would have the right to a male Bishop whose authority was not granted by the woman Bishop but by the Church of England. I think that's right, but it was a bit confusing. Without that provision, under those circumstances, the male Bishop would have the authority delegated to him by the female bishop. 
The objections to this from Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical groups came quickly and there are predictions that many in the former group will head for Rome. While I have some sympathy for those who hold in conscience minority positions - after all my pacifist position has been a minority one - I find the logic of the objections a bit weak. If I held that it was impossible for a woman to be a Bishop, or in Holy Orders at all, why would I want to remain in a church which purported to have women Bishops? Wouldn't every action of such a church be suspect because women were exercising authority which they cannot have? Wouldn't the conscientious choice be to leave?
I don't want folks with whom I disagree to leave. It saddened me when parishioners left Saint Matthias Church after the General Convention consented to the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. It saddened me, but I realized that conscience made it impossible for these folks to belong to a church that had a partnered gay Bishop. 
When I was struggling as a teen-ager with  my pacifist convictions, I was very thankful for the support of one of my high school teachers who was a member of the National Guard. He accompanied me to a draft board hearing and assured them that, although he didn't agree with me, he recognized that my convictions were genuine. I hope that I can have the same attitude towards those who disagree with about the ordination  of women, I will continue to pray for those sisters and brothers in the Church of England who struggle with this uncomfortable situation, as leaving or staying would both be difficult. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Liturgy of Democracy

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. (Winston Churchill)

I had the opportunity yesterday to speak to some young political campaign workers. I ended talking about the hard work of citizenship, work that far too many in this country don't even recognize as work that belongs to them, let alone work that they are willing to do. Liturgy, a word that now is used only in ecclesiastical circles, originally meant the public work of the people in sustaining the life of the city - the polis - and that meant politics.

Politics is the way in which we make decisions about our common life, and thus politics is far too important to leave to our elected officials. Voting is not the beginning and the end of our work as citizens, even though many of us don't even show up for that work. Engaging with elected officials between elections is one of the responsibilities of citizenship that is neglected by most of us. We can't be bothered or we think that our opinions don't matter and so, while we grouse to our friends about the decisions that are made in Congress or the state legislature, we never write or e-mail or call the people whom we elected to represent us. When we are silent, the voices that are heard are those of lobbyists and others who understand how to influence political decisions.

It doesn't take many calls or letters or even e-mails to get an official's attention. One Roman Catholic nun with whom I once worked said that twenty letters from constituents about an issue was a deluge. A legislator's staff member said that the phones had been ringing all day with calls about an issue - there were seventeen calls. We are mistaken if we think that legislators don't pay attention to the opinions of constituents. And we are dead wrong if we think that it isn't our responsibility to help shape the decisions that are made about our common life.

I heard someone said that serving others is the rent we pay for living on this earth. I agree and would add that active involvement with politics is the rent we pay for living in the United States.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Communities of the Diaspora

In the final volume of his trilogy on Christian theology in a North American contest, Douglas John Hall quotes comments of Rabbi Dow Mamur of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto about Christians and Jews meeting one another:
They often come from the same realization that our society is, alas, no longer dominated by Christianity but by the neo-paganism that goes under the name of secularity. Both Christians and Jews find themselves in the Diaspora; because of their history, Jews are better equipped to live in it.

Not long ago I spent an afternoon with a group of Bishops talking about want it is like to live in the Diaspora. It brought home to me the truth of how much we need each other - not for conversion but for comfort; not for politics but for testimony. This is, indeed, a time for all women and men of good faith to stick together.
While I am not at all sure that our North American societies were dominated by Christian faith, but rather by the ideology of Christendom, I think Rabbi Marmur is right that Christians have a great deal to learn from Jews about living in the Diaspora. In fact, I think that embracing our vocation as communities of the Diaspora is necessary if we are to be faithful. Nostalgia for the time when belonging to a church was normative in American society will do us no good. Even though there are mega-churches with thousands of  worshippers each Sunday, if we are at all honest we know that churches and other religious institutions are no longer as important to society as thy were fifty years ago.

Living in the Diaspora involves hard work, the hard work of thinking about the Christian faith, about ethical decisions, about how our faith shapes our life in society. This is the kind of work that Jews have done for centuries, the work that was necessary if they were to avoid being crushed by Christendom. This is the kind of work that Christians need to do if we are to withstand the temptation of conformity to the world's standards. The Christian faith, like the Jewish faith, is counter-cultural. We are called to stand against the world for the sake of the world, to bear witness in the world to the Good News of God's love for the world. That has been, I believe, the witness of Jewish people for centuries. That is to be our witness now as marginalized communities of the Diaspora.