Saturday, January 24, 2009

Being pro-life under a pro-choice president

Barack Obama has already re-opened the funding for international aid to groups that fund contraception and abortion services. Bush had cut that off during his years after Clinton had funded them during his. The seesaw continues. Of much greater concern is FOCA (Freedom of Choice Act), which Obama has promised to sign if the congress passes the bill. That would effectively nationalize abortion policy in such a way that states would be unable to effectively limit any abortions at any stage or for any reason.

I consider myself to be pro-life. Yet I voted for Obama. My decision to vote for him is based on many issues, economic, environmental, military, and more, in which I believe he offers a better direction than do the Republicans. Over all, I believe that his policies will be better for America than would the policies of McCain, even though I highly respect McCain and even voted for him back in 2000 in the Republican primary. This go round I was very disappointed by McCain's choice of Palin and his swinging to the right on issues he is typically more moderate on.

How can someone work on pro-life issues during these upcoming years under Obama? First of all, work on the ground. Help women who need help in carrying their pregnancy through to term. Volunteer or donate to a local Crisis Pregnancy Center. And if president Obama does sign FOCA into law, work to have it overturned as unconstitutional. Nationalizing/federalizing a policy that has tradionally been seen as a state issue may well be challengable as unconstitutional. And work to get state and federal candidates elected who are pro-life, whether they're Republican, Democratic or Independent.

Remember, there are many folks out there who are sympathetic to the pro-life cause, even if they're more "progressive" than is usually found in pro-life circles. There are pro-life Democrats. Click on the link to the right for their site. They're doing great work, and they defy the usual ideological divide. Read what Nat Hentoff has to say. He's a left wing Jewish athiest who's pro-life, and strongly so! See why he believes so strongly in protecting the unborn, it could help broaden the appeal to those beyond the religious right.

Lastly, work for small victories. Look around you. See if there's someone who needs help who might otherwise be left aside and left alone. Help the poor, the sick, the old, the alone, the scared girl not knowing what to do now that she's pregnant. Let her know she's not alone and that there is help. If we focus our energy in this way during the next few years (and I would hope permanently!), the pro-life movement will do what electoral politics has not been able to do in the last 35 or so years. I hope that this is what it will mean to be pro-life in the time before us.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Theology of Gaza

How do we approach the current conflict between Israel and Gaza in light of what scripture says? As I have already mentioned in my previous post, I grew up being fervently pro-Israel. This sentiment was based in part on a particular theology that saw the birth of the modern nation state of Israel as being a fulfillment of prophecy, thus necessitating Christians' and Americas' unqualified support. I also leaned towards Israel in part because of personal affection for many Jewish friends as well as my own reaction against anti-Semitic beliefs held by some in my family. I still wince when I hear antisemitic terms or ideas used in casual conversation, just as much as I do when I hear casual racism as well. Thankfully, my mother was very good in reminding me that Jesus is Jewish and that all of his followers were too. That shaped and continues to shape my understanding of my faith.

However, as regards my understanding of what scripture says concerning who God "blesses" and why, I have sharply changed my own understanding concerning America and Israel. The underlying assumption behind many Christians, especially American Christians, is that God has established a "special" relationship with America, because of its being a "Christian" nation. And likewise God has miraculously brought about the rebirth of Israel. This dual belief sees America's well-being as being contingent to its relationship with modern Israel. The assumption is that modern Israel is coterminus with ancient Israel, and that both are to be allied with if anyone would hope to be "blessed" by God.

But what if these assumptions concerning Israel, both modern and ancient, and America as a "Christian" nation, are wrong? As might be expected by what I've already written, I do believe they are wrong. The basis for my rejection of these views comes from key scriptural passages that speak directly to who God says are his people. In the Old Testament God clearly worked through the tribal framework of the Israelites. Although even then the text makes clear that God worked salvifically through non-Israelites as well. But we see much more clearly in the New Testament that Christ Jesus is the center-point of all history. All of the Old Testament promises point forwards to Christ. All of the New Testament (and subsequent history) points back to Christ. He is the lens through which all of history must be seen. Nationality, race, class, sex, and any separating distinction, are all relegated to unimportance in light of our identity in Christ.

How does this relate directly to the events in Gaza? If Christ is the center of all of history, and all identities are driven by their relationship to him, then that defines the modern state of Israel as well as Gaza. It also defines America in the same way. Scripture declares that God will bless the "seed of Abraham" and he will bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him. Contrary to many Christians who believe that this scripture refers to the modern nation state of Israel, scripture unambiguously states that the "seed" spoken of is none other than Christ himself and no one else. That then means that Israel, America, Palestine, Gaza, etc., are to be seen as normal nations judged in their relationship to Christ. In that light, they all fall under the judgment of being unrighteous because of their unbelief in Christ. Therefore, the only "covenanted" nation is the church. And the church is made up of "every nation, tribe, and tongue."

This means that Israel's invasion of Gaza and indescriminate bombing is to judged by normal international law. Likewise, Hamas is to be treated according to their words and actions as well. In other words, we should look at the whole of the picture, complicated as it is, and judge according to the reason God has given us all.

They all have blood on their hands. But so do we.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Island of Misfit Toys as Church

The island of misfit toys is a place for those who don't "fit in" in any other place. Whenever I would watch the cartoon when I was a child, that part of the cartoon was always my favorite part. It was the place where all the "rejects" were accepted. I like that. As an adult I've spent many years looking for a church that reflected something of that sensibility. In some ways, when I read the New Testament and even the Old Testament, I see a reflection of that "ideal" in how God chooses his people.

Hardly a day goes by that I don't end up speaking to or meeting someone who is an outcast, a misfit, someone who doesn't play well with others and so on. In almost every case, I find that they have felt, and more often than not, have actually experienced, being rejected by various churches because of their oddballness. Sometimes it's their own fault. Sometimes they really are difficult people. Sometimes they're not very good at "boundaries." Sometimes they make those around them feel uncomfortable just by their presence. Believe me, I've seen it and felt it myself.

So what.

Even if this were always true, which it clearly isn't, according to God's way of choosing, none of this is any reason for exclusion. We, if we are to call ourselves "the church," do not have the right to operate according to our comfort zone. In fact, God's way of choosing is explicit in it's basis. It is based entirely and only on his will and desire, apart from any merit in our part. As a matter of fact, whether it's the Israelites in the Old Testament as a people group, or it's individual believers in the New Testament, any time God chooses, it's in spite of us every single time.

Therefore, if we are to entertain any "ecclesiology" at all, it's to be an ecclesiology of inclusion. An immediate objection can be heard already. Doesn't this kind of approach to "doing church" lead to chaos? What about church discipline? Let's look at how Paul handled that pristine first century church in the lovely town of Corinth. After all, don't we all want to be just like the New Testament church instead of having to settle for what's available today?

The hands of God

When the poorest of the poor
have called upon you,
have we been there?

They call upon your name
knowing you will deliver.
Do they know that you have called
us who are called by you
to deliver you
to them?

Israel and Gaza

As I write this, Israel is invading Gaza. This is being done in order to end the missile firings of Hamas into southern Israel. American media is essentially parroting Israeli propaganda. If you watch American news outlets, especially Fox News, then Hamas is the only evil actor involved in this tragedy. Israel is only doing what it can to "survive" against a vast and intractable enemy. I have yet to see any mention of why for every 1 Israeli killed by Hamas rockets, over 100 Gazans have been killed. Is that considered to be a reasonable ratio? So much for an eye for en eye. It might be assumed that I'm somehow anti-Israel by the comments I've made already. Maybe I'm somehow an apologist for Hamas. The truth is, I grew up fervently pro-Israel. I was baptized by a Jewish Christian in NYC when I was 21 years old. I long held that Israel's founding as a modern state in 1948 was borderline miraculous and "clearly" portended the beginning of the end times. I was one of those Christian Zionists the secular left always talks about. Needless to say, I no longer consider myself to be a Christian Zionist, at least as far as the term is currently understood. I have friends who are Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians. I mourn for all those caught in the middle. I mourn how the dynamics of this long conflict have shaped each people's attitudes towards each other. I mourn that both sides have chosen at each stage of the conflict to listen to the most radical expressions from their own midst. One side has brought the matches. The other side has brought the gasoline. And each wants to "prove" that it's all the other side's fault for why everyone is burning. God have mercy on us all.