Category: spirituality

Osler: The Christian case for gay marriage

I first encountered this story in front of a recording studio in Austin, Texas.  “My mother sent me this,” attorney Jeff Frazier told me.  “It’s a really refreshing perspective.  He says he’s for gay marriage because he’s a Christian!”  I looked at his cell phone and was delighted to see Mark Osler’s name. 

In this piece written for the CNN blog, Osler doesn’t argue that the Bible endorses homosexuality; he says the life and message of Jesus is a compelling argument against withholding any holy sacrament (marriage, baptism) from anybody.  

Mark couldn’t have made this argument so neatly when he was a Baptist at Baylor; but now that he’s wandered down the Canterbury Trail it makes a lot of sense.  In fact, the baptism-marriage connection is breathtaking in its simplicity.  Why hadn’t I thought of that?  Probably because I’m still a Baptist. 

By Mark Osler, Special to CNN

I am a Christian, and I am in favor of gay marriage. The reason I am for gay marriage is because of my faith.

What I see in the Bible’s accounts of Jesus and his followers is an insistence that we don’t have the moral authority to deny others the blessing of holy institutions like baptism, communion, and marriage. God, through the Holy Spirit, infuses those moments with life, and it is not ours to either give or deny to others.

A clear instruction on this comes from Simon Peter, the “rock” on whom the church is built. Peter is a captivating figure in the Christian story. Jesus plucks him out of a fishing boat to become a disciple, and time and again he represents us all in learning at the feet of Christ.

During their time together, Peter is often naïve and clueless – he is a follower, constantly learning. (more…)

White preachers silent on Trayvon Martin case

As I suggest in this Associated Baptist Press article, your average white pastor will have little to say about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  Pastors are expected to serve as prophets, priests and politicians, roles that don’t always mesh easily.  The national debate over racial justice is driven by messy narratives that raise uncomfortable questions about America.  Neither white pastors nor their congregations are negatively affected by the criminal justice system and, if they are, they keep it to themselves.  The possibility that people of color face risks that white folks can scarcely imagine is deeply disturbing.  White preachers who speak of such things are playing with fire.  So we turn our attention to other things.  There are always plenty of other things to talk about on Sunday morning.  Important things, holy things, inspiring things.  Why trouble the faithful with the tragedy of Trayvon Martin?

White churches on sidelines of Trayvon Martin outrage
Jeff Brumley
Associated Baptist Press

SANFORD, Fla. (ABP) — The killing of Trayvon Martin has sparked rallies in black communities nationwide and is now leading to questions about why white Christians aren’t more visibly involved.

Pastors of both races offer a number of theories about the anemic white interest, including an inability to identify with the social disparities faced by blacks to an aversion to associating with controversial African-American religious leaders.

Some white pastors “haven’t been asked” to attend public vigils for the teen shot Feb. 26, while others “are not taking the initiative,” said Alan Brumback, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla.

And yet others “don’t want to be associated with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson,” the white Southern Baptist preacher said.

But that hasn’t kept Brumback from getting involved. He was the only white pastor to take the stage with Sharpton and other black ministers at a recent Trayvon Martin rally in Sanford, where the killing occurred. He has also led his multiracial congregation in intercessory prayer for the boy’s family, the city and police. (more…)

Who Would Jesus Prosecute?

 

Holly Gill is an evangelical Christian who works with FAMM (Families Against Manditory Minimums).  Evangelicals have generally been known as devout backers of the war on drugs, but as Pat Robertson’s surprising take on marijuana legalization suggests, the times they are a-changing.  For evangelical Christians, Gill insists, it all comes down to WWJP, Who would Jesus prosecute.

How Would Jesus Punish Drug Use?

Holly M. Gill

The first and only time I heard evangelical mega-figure Pat Robertson speak in public, he wasn’t calling for the legalization of pot.

I was 21, a junior at Oral Roberts University, playing endless rounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” on my viola with the school orchestra. Robertson was present to give the commencement address to that year’s graduates. I can’t remember what he exhorted them to do, but I’m positive it didn’t involve toking up.

Robertson still isn’t spreading that message, but his recent comments about legalizing pot, the cruelty and irrationality of mandatory minimum prison sentences for drug crimes, and the expensive and failed War on Drugs are refreshing. Our harsh mandatory prison terms for drug offenses are incompatible with Christian principles of justice. This conviction — and the faith I and Robertson share — drove me first to law school and then to Washington, D.C. to work on criminal sentencing reform for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a secular organization. I join Robertson in posing a question all evangelicals should be striving to answer:

How would Jesus want us to punish? (more…)

Santorum meant exactly what he said

By Alan Bean

Rick Santorum has raised eyebrows with a comment about President Obama’s “phony theology”.  According to the surging presidential candidate, Obama’s worldview is driven by “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.”

Aked to explain this remark on Face the Nation, Santorum said he was referring to the president’s environmental views.  According to an AP article:

The former Pennsylvania senator said Obama’s environmental policies promote ideas of “radical environmentalists,” who, Santorum argues, oppose greater use of the country’s natural resources because they believe “man is here to serve the Earth.” He said that was the reference he was making Saturday in his Ohio campaign appearance when he denounced a “phony theology.”

But when reporters asked for an explanation of the “phony theology” remark immediately after it was uttered, the candidate made no reference to environmentalism, explaining instead that the president practiced one of the various “stripes” of Christianity.

So where does Mr. Santorum stand?  Does he think Barack Obama is a genuine Christian or doesn’t he? (more…)

Thinking and shouting in Chicago

By Alan Bean

Three Friends of Justice people are attending the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago this week.  Melanie Wilmoth and I are here, as is the Rev. L. Charles Stovall, Friends of Justice board member and associate pastor at St Luke United Methodist Church in Dallas.  Speaking of Methodists, a contingent of 40 United Methodists from across the nation, led by the indefatigable Rev. Laura Markle Downton, are in Chicago for the conference.  These are the folks who recently convinced their denomination to divest from for profit prisons.

I was bone weary when we entered the old fashioned elegance of the Drake Room for evening worship, but I left pumped and inspired.  The highlight of the evening was a stunning sermon on the familiar story of Daniel in the lion’s den from the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.  Watson preaches in the traditional black style.  In the final ten minutes, brief bolts of organ music punctuated every phrase.  “I know it’s late,” he assured us, “and I ain’t gonna keep you long.  And I hope you know that, coming from a Baptist preacher, that don’t mean nothing.”

Dr. Watson didn’t just preach in the old time fashion, he interpreted the scriptures in the old time style, literally.  If God could deliver Daniel, the preacher told us, God can deliver you. 

Normally, this would bother me.  Isn’t this Daniel in the lion’s den thing just a folk story?  I mean, it didn’t really happen, did it?  And didn’t the author of the story refer to King Darius when it should have been Cyrus?  And can I really believe that if somebody threw me into a den of hungry lions I would emerge unscathed?

I wasn’t the least bit bothered by Dr. Watson’s straightforward exegesis, and I’ll tell you why.  So long as the preacher gets the application right, I don’t really care what school of biblical interpretation he follows.  Watson talked about the lions of mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement.  He compared the steadfast obedience of Daniel to the grace Barack Obama has shown when the lions in his world insisted he produce a birth certificate.  When Watson came to the part where knaves use flattery to appeal to a king’s vanity, Watson talked about black politicians who don’t realize they are being used until the game is over.

The story of Daniel, like so many stories from the Bible, is about remaining faithful in the face of oppression.  Black America understands that message.  Earlier in the day, Susan Taylor, Editor Emeritus of Essence Magazine and the founder of a nationwide mentoring program for at-risk children, told us about her visit to one of the fortresses on the African coast where, for centuries, men, women and children waited for the slave ship to come.  In graphic detail, she described the horrors of the middle passage.  She said African Americans need to teach these things to our children and, if we have forgotten, to ourselves.

This is precisely the kind of stuff that makes white Americans profoundly uncomfortable.  All of that stuff happened so very long ago.  It was awful, to be sure, but why talk about it in polite company; it’s divisive, it just stirs things up.  I didn’t own any slaves and none of you have a personal experience with slavery so . . . let’s call the whole thing off. 

Black America needs to talk about the stuff white America needs to forget.  Or maybe we too need to remember, we just don’t know it yet.

Dr. Jeremiah Wright gave the benediction tonight.  Yes, that Jeremiah Wright.  Barack Obama’s former pastor.  The guy who enraged white America by suggesting that America’s chickens might be coming home to roost.  I was riding in a van with several black passengers when the towers fell in Manhattan.  Their reaction mirrored Wright’s.  Black and white Americans live in two different worlds, experientially and religiously.

There are plenty of white folks who share the ethical commitments of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.  We oppose the war on drugs, we think mass incarceration has been a disaster, and we want to address the conditions that foster violence and joblessness in poor urban neighborhoods.  But you would never hear a white person who believes these things preaching like the Rev. Dr. Lance Watson.  Most white progressives would be offended by biblical preaching.  If religion must be referenced at all, let it be generic religion, devoid of narrative content.   None of that Jesus stuff. 

White progressives (with a few blessed exceptions) associate words like Jesus, Bible, prayer, salvation and deliverence with the religious Right.  And, to be fair, the religious folk you see on the television and hear on the radio rarely reflect the kingdom priorities of Jesus.

Unlike their white counterparts, black progressives can, to paraphrase the Rev. Dr. Freddie Haynes, think and shout at the same time. “If you think,” he told us, “you will thank.  Think about how great our God is and you can’t help but get your shout on.”

Why do white Christians have such a hard time mixing kingdom ethics with shouts of praise.  I’m not sure, but the world would be a better place if we got over it.

Pastor W.G. Daniels waged peace in Fort Worth, Texas

PASTOR 4By Alan Bean

No one can account for the dramatic drop in violent crime.  According to the Washington Post, in 2011 the DC homicide rate reached its lowest point since 1963.  But just across the county line, the homicide rate is experiencing an upswing.  When violent crime drops there is always a reason.  When gang-related violence plunged in Fort Worth, TX, a big part of the reason was the Rev. W.G. Daniels. 

Daniels died this week.  Marty Sabota’s obituary shows that Daniels grasped many of the principles criminologist  David Kennedy outlines in his excellent book Don’t Shoot:

America has four inextricably linked problems that converge in its most troubled communities.   There’s the violence that terrorizes many of its, especially, black and minority communities. There’s the chaos that comes with, especially, public drug markets.  There’s the devastation being wrought on, especially, troubled black and minority communities by our criminal justice in response to the first two problems.  And there’ the worsening racial divide that’s causing.

In Fort Worth, Pastor W.G. Daniels stopped the violence by forging a creative dialogue between law enforcement and the communities most affected by violent crime.  A former police officer who understood the law enforcement mindset, Daniels made the perfect peacemaker.  He knew why his neighbors didn’t want to talk to the police, but he also understood why law enforcement will always concentrate on high crime communities.  Daniels didn’t want the police to ignore the hot neighborhoods; he just wanted them to show more respect and professionalism.  

Getting gang members, community members and the police on the same page isn’t easy, but it can be done.  As Daniels once told the Star-Telegram:

You had gangs like the Crips and the Bloods fighting against each other, but after we conducted a survey, we found that there just needed to be somebody to bring a truce to stop the madness and no better people to do it than pastors who meet every Sunday. We needed to send a message that it would not be tolerated, and by the help of God and Christ we were able to bring about peace.

When people are talking to one another behavior changes.  Open air drug markets move underground, police officers feel more appreciated and behave with a higher level of professionalism, residents of high crime neighborhoods gain a new sense of confidence and self-respect.  Criminologist David Kennedy and pastor W.G. Daniels heal communities because they understand the spiritual nature of the war they are fighting.  (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)