Guthrie's Gospel

Economic justice from a Christian perspective

Month: November, 2013

The economics of Clement of Rome

Pope Clement I is one of the earliest Christian writers, outside of those included in the New Testament, to have any of his writings survive. He is alternatively listed as the second or fourth bishop of Rome by later Church Fathers and he offers us an important insight into the mind of the Church in the waning years of the first century. Only, one piece of his writing has come down to us today, his Letter to the Corinthians, also called the Epistle of Clement or 1 Clement. In it, among other topics, St. Clement discusses the proper Christian social order.

For St. Clement, the Christian community was one that focused on working together for the good of all. He writes:

37. Let us then, men and brethren, with all energy act the part of soldiers, in accordance with His holy commandments. Let us consider those who serve under our generals, with what order, obedience, and submissiveness they perform the things which are commanded them. All are not prefects, nor commanders of a thousand, nor of a hundred, nor of fifty, nor the like, but each one in his own rank performs the things commanded by the king and the generals. The great cannot subsist without the small, nor the small without the great. There is a kind of mixture in all things, and thence arises mutual advantage. Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

38. Let our whole body, then, be preserved in Christ Jesus; and let every one be subject to his neighbour, according to the special gift bestowed upon him. Let the strong not despise the weak, and let the weak show respect unto the strong. Let the rich man provide for the wants of the poor; and let the poor man bless God, because He has given him one by whom his need may be supplied. Let the wise man display his wisdom, not by words, but through good deeds.

St. Clement emphasizes the radical interdependence of Christian society. We are called to be subject to one another for the mutual advantage of all. We are called to share our wealth with the poor, to show our wisdom through good deeds, and to treat the weak and the powerful with the same respect and love. He does not describe Christian life as being driven by competition or the striving for profit, as the modern capitalist society is ordered. For St. Clement, proper Christian life is defined by unity, cooperation, and economic relationships that see to the basic needs of all people. The Christian life was not one of individualism, but one of community.

St. Clement takes special note of the plight of the poor and the weak when he offers up this prayer:

We would have You, Lord, to prove our help and succour. Those of us in affliction save, on the lowly take pity; the fallen raise; upon those in need arise; the sick heal; the wandering ones of Your people turn; fill the hungry; redeem those of us in bonds; raise up those that are weak; comfort the faint-hearted; (59)

Here, St. Clement is calling on God to aid those in affliction, pity those on society’s lowest rungs, to help those in need, to heal the sick, and to feed the hungry. It takes no great stretch of the imagination to infer that these are the very things we as Christians should do.

For Pope Clement, social concerns were not merely an issue of ethics, but were deeply intertwined with Christian spirituality. For St. Clement, such concerns were an outgrowth of Divine Love. St. Clement admonishes the Corinthians “Let him who has love in Christ keep the commandments of Christ” because “Love unites us to God” and “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls” (49). Love mystically unites us with Christ our God, who suffered bodily death because of His love for us. He has taken us to Himself. It is right and meet then that we set aside our personal pride and abundant self-esteem to live in community and subject to His will. It is right and meet that we should sacrifice our personal excess to make up for the personal lack of others, for this is a far easier sacrifice than Christ’s crucifixion.

Advertisements

Against the heresies of nationalism, “traditionalism,” and racism

To my great grief, I’ve come to the knowledge that there are those in the world who proclaim Christ with their lips but worship race and tradition in their hearts. There are those that make idols of their own races while wearing the sheepskin of Christianity, and there are those who cling to vain human traditions over the saving mercies of God. Lest any encounter such people and be driven away from Christ by their heresy, or, worse still, be drawn into their false worship, I feel compelled to demonstrate that the human theories of nationalism, “traditionalism,” and racism are irreconcilable with Christianity. If the words herein may persuade those who cling to the ideologies of nationalism and “traditionalism” to repent and embrace the one true God, so much the better, for there will be more rejoicing in Heaven for the salvation of one lost sheep than for the entire flock of the righteous (Luke 15:3-7).

O Lord,
Let their hearts be hardened no longer,
Free them from their hateful passions
And impure ways
And guide them in Your Light,
Cleansing them of false doctrines
With your ever-merciful love.
Amen.

It is true that many cultures throughout history have practiced various forms of ethnic separatism and that such practices have persisted into our present time. But should we elevate the traditions of our ancestors and contemporaries to an ideology? That depends. If the tradition comes from Christ, we must uphold it. If the tradition is a mere remnant of historical practice, but does not contradict Christian teaching, then it may be continued as a personal preference, but should never be treated as an ideology. But if a tradition is rooted in the fallenness of humanity, in the multitude of sins we have perpetuated from Adam and Eve, then it is a sin that must be uprooted, for every plant not planted by the Father will be pulled up by the roots (Matthew 15:13).

Christ abolished ethnic seperatism

So, how should we approach the ethnic separatism enshrined in the human wisdom of nationalism and “traditionalism”? While we could certainly cite many passages of the Old Testament and God’s choosing of the Hebrews as His chosen people as proving that nationalism is not only acceptable but even required by God. But such a position becomes far less tenable when we interpret the Bible through the lens of Christ, which as Christians is the only way we should approach the Bible. When we look to the teachings and actions of the God of Abraham and Moses incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that Christ did not come to reinforce the tribalism and ethnic separatism that characterized fallen humanity. He came to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:35-37).

If Christ had come to reinforce the tribalism that characterized the behavior of the Godly, He would not have declared that He came to divide families, the foundations of tribal identity, between those who professed Him and those who did not. He proclaimed the love of God to be greater than the love of one’s relations.

But this alone may not be enough to show that in Christ there ought to be no distinction between ethnic groups, so let us explore the subject further. Christ, by His example, shows us that we are to minister to all people without distinction, not just those who look like we look. When a Roman centurion asked the Lord to heal his servant, He did not tell him “return to your own kind, I came only for the tribes of Judah and Israel.” He said, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7) and then declared “many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11). Nor is this the only example of Christ crossing traditional ethnic boundaries.

When a Canaanite woman comes to beg His help, Christ rebukes her saying “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). In this, He echoes the traditionalist and the nationalist; He echoes the Pharisees who viewed interactions with those outside of their own ethnicity as unclean. But the woman persists. She turns away from the traditions of her own people, who did not worship the one, true God, and embraced faith in Christ, a Jew, and she answers Him “Yes it is, Lord.” He proves the truth of her statement and the foolishness of the traditionalists He echoed by healing the foreign woman’s daughter and proclaiming “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted” (Matthew 15:27-28).

In the Gospel of John, Jesus does more than allow foreigners to come to Him, He Himself goes up to a Samaritan woman and asks for water (John 4:7). She is taken aback, because this is a clear violation of the ethnic separatism that both Jews and Samaritans practiced. She responds, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” and St. John, to ensure that we do not misinterpret her shock tells us “Jews do not associate with Samaritans” (John 4:9). Here then, Jesus is Himself transgressing the racial boundaries that some still uphold. He is not only willing to preach His gospel to her, but to drink from her vessel, to demonstrate that His ethnic identity and her ethnic identity have no relevance to God.

Perhaps no passage emphasizes the unimportance of nationality to God than Christ’s parable of the good Samaritan. Jesus tells this story to make clear what it means to love one’s neighbor. In answering the question of a Jewish lawyer, Jesus tells the story of a man left for dead by thieves. He tells the lawyer that a Jewish priest, passed by the poor man. This was a person who was of the lawyer would identify as being of his own blood, yet Jesus shows the man as acting unrighteously. Next, a Levite, another righteous Jew, ignores the beaten man. Finally, a Samaritan, a traditional enemy of the Jews, takes the nearly dead Jew out of the ditch, cleanses his wounds with wine and oil, binds the man’s wounds, and cares for him at an inn, and leaves money with the innkeeper to make sure that the man’s every need is tended to, promising to pay any extra that might be needed (Luke 10:25-37). Here Jesus subverts the self-righteousness of His own ethnic kin by holding up a Samaritan, viewed as a heretic and a foreigner, as the moral ideal for Christians. Christ told the lawyer to go and do like the Samaritan, to not let his righteousness and love be confined to his own people, but to be willing to serve and love all people regardless of their ethnicity, traditions, or situation. For if we greet only our own people, what are we doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? (Matthew 5:36).

The apostles taught integration, not separation

We may see further evidence of the unimportance of nationality if we look to the practices of the earliest Christians after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven. On the day of Pentecost, we see the Holy Spirit granting the followers of Christ the ability to preach to all the people around them in their own tongues, whether they were Jews who dwelt in various distant lands or if they were Romans, Cretans, or Arabs (Acts 2:4-12) this miracle is repeated for a Gentile audience when St. Peter preached to them and the Holy Spirit allowed each to hear St. Peter’s words in his own language (10:44-46). All, regardless of their ethnicity, were able to hear the Word together. And from these early multicultural moment, Christ’s disciples spread out across the nations, establishing a Church in Samaria, another among the Gentiles of Caesarea, another among the Gentiles of Antioch, and many others elsewhere. St. Philip preached to an Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). The Gentile Christians of Antioch raised aid for the Jewish Christians of Judea (Acts 11:27-30). In Pisidia and Iconia, Paul and Barnabas preached to Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 13:44-14:1). Paul also preached to both Jews and Gentiles in Thessalonica (Acts 17:14) and Berea (Acts 17:10-12). In Athens, St. Paul preached in the synagogue to an audience of “Jews with Gentile worshipers” (Acts 17:16-17). Likewise in Corinth, St. Paul “reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Thus St. Paul did not try to set up a separate church for each nation, but he taught the nations together, in one synagogue, without distinction. All this is a fulfillment of St. Peter’s vision in Acts 10:11-16. In his vision, St. Peter sees all kinds of animals descend from heaven bound by one sheet. These animals are all intermingled. As he wonders what this vision could mean, St. Peter is called to preach to a Gentile audience, which he does without delay for the animals on the sheet, the birds, wild beasts, and creeping things, were all the nations of the Earth, and the sheet was the Word of the Lord. When the Gentiles came seeking him, St. Peter knew that Christianity was for all people without distinction, and he, a Jew, went among the Gentiles without hesitation, telling them “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” and “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:28,34-35).

The multicultural, integrationist witness of St. Paul and the rest of the early Church is further supported by St. Paul’s epistles. In Romans, St. Paul writes that in God’s grace and redemption, there is no difference between Jew or Gentile and challenges those who doubt this by asking “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too” (Romans 3:22,29). In Galatians 3:28, St. Paul tells us their is no distinction between Jew nor Greek because we are all one in Christ Jesus. In Colassians, St. Paul instructs us to “Put to death” whatever belongs to our earthly natures because Christ is in all of us, whether we are a Jew, a Gentile, a barbarian, or a Scythian (Colossians 3:1-11). In Ephesians 2, St. Paul states:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

St. Paul elaborates further on the lack of ethnic distinctions within the Church in 1 Corinthians 12. While addressing concerns about spiritual gifts, St. Paul takes time to emphasize the importance of unity within the Church. And lest we think he is only talking about unity between those that have the gift of prophecy or of speaking in tongues and those who lack the gifts, he reminds us that baptism washes away not only our sins, but also our ethnic identities and past traditions:

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

We are of one body and share one spirit, whether we are Greek or Jew. If we do not live as one body, but declare that only hands should worship with hands, only feet with feet, and so on, we dismember the Body of Christ.

St. Justin Martyr and St. Maximus the Confessor reject ethnic distinction

The Church’s emphasis against the tradition of ethnic separation does not disappear after St. Paul’s martyrdom. The second century apologist St. Justin Martyr and Philosopher, makes clear that early Christians understood Paul’s teachings not as some separate-but-equal doctrine, but as a call to treat all nationalities as there own. He wrote in his First Apology “we who hated and killed one another and would not associate with men of different tribes because of their different customs, now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them and pray for our enemies”. St. Justin does not tell us that Christians encouraged new converts from separate ethnicities to form their own separate Christian communities, but that people from different tribes, people who had different customs and traditions lived familiarly with one another. Moreover, immediately before he says this, St. Justin declares that his multicultural Christian community “bring what we have into a common stock, and communicate to every one in need.” Thus, the Christians of St. Justin’s community worshiped together, regardless of nationality or past traditions. Their worship was not limited to attending the same church or Bible study, but was immersive. People of different nationalities lived familiarly together, treating their possessions as common stock. This deep intimacy across national identities, St. Justin presents as the antithesis of the tradition of ethnic separation which he identifies with strife and violence.

St. Maximus the Confessor, a seventh century monk, wrote in his 400 Texts on Love that

Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, common to all…but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally (1, 71)

and

For him who is perfect in love, and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christian and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all’ (Col. 3:11). (2, 30)

St. Maximus understood Christianity as we should, as a religion of universal love that does not have room for the old pagan separatism of our ancestors. We must love all humanity equally, for we all share one nature, but how can we claim to love all equally when we draw sharp distinctions between different ethnic groups?

Old Testament nationalism is insupportable

And when we look back at the Old Testament, knowing that Christ and his disciples did not preach the ethnic separatism that for so long characterized the Hebrews, we begin to see how the ideas of nationalism and “traditionalism” are not even supportable in the Old Testament. We see that the Hebrews over and over again sinned against God. They worshiped false idols and chose their own human traditions over God’s. If virtue and righteousness was so scarce even among God’s chosen people, how can those of us who are not descended from His chosen race possibly claim that our racial traits and our cultural traditions as points of pride to be defended and cherished? Were not our ancestors even less righteous than God’s chosen?

Furthermore, we see again and again points in the Old Testament that undermine the importance of Hebriac nationalism and thus further undermine any attempts to promote modern nationalism from a Christian point of view. There is the story of the righteous Moabite woman Ruth who married an Israelite. The Book of Ruth makes not mention of any sin in this marriage, but it does show Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law loving each other as equals. When Ruth, after her husband’s death, marries Boaz, another Israelite, the Israelites who bear witness do not decry this interracial union, but bless it, saying “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (Ruth 4:11-12). Solomon took many foreign wives, and though he sinned by worshiping their gods, there was no sin in his marriage to foreigners (1 Kings 11). In 2 Chronicles 2:17, we are told that 153,600 foreigners lived in the tiny kingdom of Israel, but there is no mention that there is anything wrong with these other nations living side-by-side with Israelites. In fact, Solomon recruits them all to help build the Temple of the Lord (2 Chronicles 2:18). The stones of the Temple where there Israelites worshiped, down to the Holy of Holies, were quarried, shaped, and carried by the hands of many nations. Jonah was called to preach to the Assyrians in Nineveh, to preach to the pagan enemies of Israel, and was repeatedly punished by God for his refusal to do so. God was willing to inflict suffering on one of his chosen people so that He might show mercy to countless heathens. Deuteronomy 24 teaches mercy to foreigners, instructing that foreign workers should not be taken advantage of, that foreigners should not be denied justice, and that foreigners should be allowed to gather food from the farms of the Israelites. Leviticus 19:9-10 echoes this last point and Leviticus 19:33-34 instructs, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” If even the Israelites, who were set apart by God as His chosen people, were commanded to love and welcome other nationalities with foreign traditions as they loved themselves, how much more so should we Christians love all people, of all nationalities, wherever they may reside, as we love ourselves and our own nationalities.

We must love all people if we love Christ

Christ also taught us that whatever we do to the poor and oppressed, we do to Him (Matthew 25:31-46). When we declare that immigrants should not come to our country in search of better lives, we tell Christ He is not welcome where we live. When we encourage and enforce racial segregation through the myriad ways, both overt and subtle, that we have at our disposal, we tell Christ He is not our neighbor. When we support economic systems where high status, high paying jobs are occupied primarily by people of one ethnic group, while low paying, low status jobs are occupied primarily by people of another ethnic group, we tell Christ He’s only suited for menial labor. When we support a legal system that targets and incarcerates certain ethnic populations while practicing leniency toward the majority group, we tell Christ He is not entitled to the same rights we ourselves may have.

If we love those who share our national identity or our traditions more than those who do not, we fall short of God’s command. Of course, this is bound to happen. Everyone, myself most of all, falls short of what God calls us to do each day. It is only by His grace that we can be saved and cleansed of sin, and no matter how often we stumble, so long as we repent and renew our effort, we can have faith in God’s forgiveness and mercy. So loving one’s nationality more than others, while a sin, is no greater one than the many others we might commit each day. But it becomes a grave sin when we enshrine it as a belief, when it becomes something not done in passing, but an ideology to be proclaimed proudly and to be acted on intentionally. Then it becomes a rejection of Christ’s command to love our neighbors, without any distinction between them, as we love ourselves. It is a lifting up of our own fallenness as Godliness.

Against Hitler, Evola, and anti-Semites

To profess a relatively mild form of nationalist or “traditionalist” ideology that seeks to reinforce ethnic divisions but does not defend ethnic oppression is no great thing and should not be done, but it pales in comparison to the sinfulness of more extremist forms of nationalism and “traditionalism.”

There are some of those who profess nationalism especially, but also among those who don the armor of “traditionalism,” who do not hide an admiration of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Whether Hitler considered himself Christian or not is an ambiguous matter. Publicly, Hitler made many favorable statements about Christianity. Privately, he also made some positive statements that have been recorded including identifying as a Christian and a Catholic, but he also made statements that opposed Christianity, including those published in Hitler’s Table Talks, a publication whose content seems much disputed among Hitler’s supporters, but seems to be otherwise accepted as legitimate. But let us assume that Hitler truly believed himself a Christian and assume, even if we have no reason to, that the quotations in Hitler’s Table Talks are spurious. Even if we accept that Hitler believed himself a devout Christian, that the Nazis saw themselves as a Christian movement, and that those who admire Hitler and the Nazis consider themselves true Christians, this alone does not make them Christians. If they do not live the faith Christ taught, they have no right to the name Christian and we need not consider them as such. They are like those who call “Lord, Lord,” but to whom He replies, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” because they do not do the will of our Father (cf. Matthew 7:21-23). If we look at the violence of the Nazis, at their torture, enslavement, and murder of millions of European Jews, at their violence against Slavs, Poles, Roma, blacks, the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped, the physically disabled, homosexuals, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, which resulted in hundreds of thousands, if not millions of more deaths, it becomes clear that Hitler and his followers, no matter how fervent their Christian rhetoric, were in no way followers of Christ. Neither are those who continue to uphold Hitler in any positive manner. Further, participation in or support of groups that continue to promote ideology that is in keeping with that of the Nazi Party is a grave sin, whether these groups draw their inspiration from the Nazi movement or from independent sources.

There are also those “Christian traditionalists” who draw parts of the socio-political philosophy from the works of Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola, commonly known as Julius Evola. This again shows how much their beliefs are at odds with Christianity. Evola sought to to revive classical paganism, wrote in favor of the cult of Mithras, expounded on all sorts of bizarre and ridiculous ideas, and declared: “Christianity is at the root of the evil that has corrupted the West. This is the truth, and it does not admit uncertainty.” Evola was opposed to Christianity and Christians ought to be opposed to him. To follow any of the the teachings of Evola while simultaneously claiming the identity of a Christian is to declare oneself at once to be a heretic and an apostate. This is the truth, and it does not admit uncertainty.

Following Hitler and Evola, or coming to the belief independently, there are also those among the nationalists and “traditionalists” that seem to express a special dislike for Jewish peoples. If God wanted his followers to be anti-Semetic, why did he choose the Hebrews as His chosen people and why did He choose to become incarnate as a Jew? If God held the Aryan ideal these people profess, why weren’t the Swedes God’s chosen people? I know there will be nationalists, “traditionalists,” fascists, and the like that will claim silly things like British Israelism/British Identity, or otherwise claim that the Hebrews of the Bible were somehow Aryans or at least of no relation to the Jewish peoples that exist today. Others will claim that Christ was somehow not a Jew. Such claims are so astoundingly foolish and baseless, we may dismiss them without even bothering about refutation. God walked among us in the flesh of a Jew and brought salvation to all people. How can we rightfully claim to hate those descended from God’s chosen?

Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with having pride in one’s heritage. There’s nothing wrong with wanting marry someone from one’s own background. There’s not even anything wrong, necessarily, with associating primarily with people that share one’s skin-tone and cultural touchstones. But when we begin to believe that all people must marry only within their own ethnicity or that one should only socialize with one’s own race, we began to wander dangerously close to idolatry. When we attempt to enforce ethnic separation or treat others with less love than we give those of our own race or tradition, we abandon Christ. When we act in such a way, though we may still honor Christ with our lips, our hearts are far from Him because we are like the blind leading the blind into the pit of Hell (cf. Matthew 15:8,14).

Ultimately, we will know these preachers of nationalism and “traditionalism” by the fruits of their teachings and actions (Matthew 7:15-20) and their fruits will be, as they always have been, rooted in racial prejudice, a concept foreign to Christ and His followers. We are all descended from Adam and Eve through Noah and reunited as one people in our Lord, Jesus Christ, Whose Body is the Church. When we profess nationalism, “traditionalism,” or other forms of ethnic and cultural separatism, we reject Christ. Our Lord called us to take up our crosses and follow Him even as He went to be crucified on behalf of all people regardless of their race or traditions. Instead we proclaim pride above all in our fallen flesh and proclaim ourselves nationalists and “traditionalists.” Let us acknowledge that there is no separate Heaven for the German and Arab, nor a separate Heaven for the Greek and the Roma, nor a separate heaven for the European American and the African American. We all go to meet the same God and face the same Judgement. Should not we then live as God wills on earth as He wills in Heaven (Matthew 6:10)?

Music Monday: My God

“My God” by Crashdog

“My God doesn’t hand out disease as a punishment.
My God doesn’t look with joy on your torment.
My God doesn’t draw back His hand from any child.
My God lives to touch and heal and reconcile.”

St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Prayer of Surrender

Lord Jesus Christ,
take my freedom, my will, my memory.
All that I have and cherish, You have given me.
I surrender it all to be guided by Your will.
Your grace and Your love are wealth enough for me.
Give me these, Lord Jesus, and I ask for nothing more.

Attributed to the sixteenth century founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius of Loyola, this simple prayer reminds us that we are called to live as Jesus lived, obeying the will of God alone.

I’ve have loved this prayer since I first came across it several years ago. It is a hard prayer for me to say, because I am proud, willful and sinful, which is part of why I love it so much. It helps to remind me to be less proud, to be less willful, that I should not live for my own desires or be puffed up by my own achievements, but that I should recognize all is vanity unless I am living in full submission to the will of Jesus Christ who became incarnate to save all humanity. I pray that someday God will fully cleanse me of my willfulness and pride and I might be able to live and not just say the words of this prayer.

I pray also that this prayer may be as inspiring to others as it has been to me.

Music Monday: You Can’t Be a Beacon

“You Can’t Be a Beacon” by Donna Fargo

“There’s a little light in all of us by God’s design,
But you can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine.”

The economics of the Didache

The Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a pious work that gives a glimpse into the minds of some of the earliest Christians. The Didache probably originates in the latter half of the first century or the early part of the second century. While we certainly can’t accord it the same authority that we grant Scripture, we can use it to see how early Christian understood the teachings of Jesus Christ and his Apostles. With that in mind, let us look at how the writer or writers of the Didache understood the proper economic relationships Christians should cultivate.

The text begins by laying out a Way of Life and a Way of Death, echoing Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 21:8, and Matthew 7:13-14. The Didache defines the way of life as Christ’s twofold commandment:

The Way of Life is this: Thou shalt love first the Lord thy Creator and secondly they neighbour as thyself; and thou shalt do nothing to any man that thou wouldst not wish to be done to thyself.

This Way of Life has clear echos of Christ’s teachings in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:35-40, and Luke 10:25-38. The Way of Life also reflects Old Testament readings, including Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Leviticus 19:18, and Tobit 4:15. The Didache expands upon exactly what it would mean to live according to the Way of Life like so:

Give to everyone that asks, without looking for any repayment, for it is the Father’s pleasure that we should share His gracious bounty with all men. A giver who gives freely, as the commandment directs, is blessed; no fault can be found with him. But woe to the taker; for though he cannot be blamed for taking if he was in need, yet if he was not, an account will be required of him as to why he took it, and for what purpose, and he will be taken into custody and examined about his action, and he will not get out until he has paid the last penny. The old saying is in point here:  “Let your alms grow damp with sweat in your hand, until you know who it is you are giving them to.”

The teaching here is clear: as Christians we should share whatever extra we have with everyone in need because this is what God wants us to do (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9, Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, James 2:15-17, Hebrews 13:16, Tobit 4:7-11, Tobit 4:16, Deuteronomy 15:7-11) . However, Christians should also not con people into giving when the receiver is not in need. The sort of avarice that seeks money even when one lives in comfort is condemned. The condemnation of greed is reconfirmed in more general terms when the Didache states “You are not to be avaricious or extortionate” which accords with St. Paul’s teaching that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

The Didache also tells its readers:

Do not be like those who reach out to take, but draw back when the time comes for giving. If the labour of your hands has been productive, your giving will be a ransom for sins. Give without hesitating and without grumbling, and you will see Whose generosity will requite you. Never turn away the needy; share all your possessions with your brother, and do not claim that anything is your own (cf. Acts 2:44-45). If you and he are joint participators in things immortal, how much more so in things mortal?

Again, the understanding of Christ’s gospel is clear. We are to give to all who need unconditionally and not to view what we possess as our own property. All of Creation is a gift from God, but we are like sojourners passing through this world. What we may have gathered in it is no credit to us, but to God. This is what He taught the Israelites in Deuteronomy 15:1-18 when he declares that every seventh year all debts are to be canceled and all Hebrew slaves freed, in Deuteronomy 24:19-22 when he commanded that those who farm leave some of their crops in the field because it belong not to those who toiled, but to those who could not provide for themselves, and in Leviticus where the Lord declares the Jubilee Year in which slaves are freed and property is returned to its previous owners because “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). While there may be room for Christians to possess property in private, there is no room in Christianity for private property in the modern sense. All we have comes from the Lord and belongs to our neighbors.

The Didache professes an economic stance that reflects the consistent message of both the Old and New Testaments. God’s people are to be generous and selfless. We are to seek economic relationships with one another that emphasize giving rather than receiving, that places the common good above personal profits. We should avoid, as much as possible, participating in or promoting economic systems that exploit the poor, and we should reject the notion of private property. That is the economy of the Way of Life.

In contrast to the Way of Life, which is characterized by generosity, humility, and selflessness, the Didache declares that the Way of Death is characterized by self-will and avarice, among many other sins, and is walked by those

who persecute good men, hold truth in abhorrence, and love falsehood; who do not know of the rewards of righteousness, nor adhere to what is good, nor to just judgement; who lie awake planning wickedness rather than well-doing. Gentleness and patience are beyond their conception; they care for nothing good or useful, and are bent only on their own advantage, without pity for the poor or feeling for the distressed. Knowledge of their Creator is not in them; they make away with their infants and deface God’s image; they turn away the needy and oppress the afflicted; they aid and abet the rich but arbitrarily condemn the poor; they are utterly and altogether sunk into inequity.

Those who lack charity and generosity are soundly condemned. Those who ignore the plight of the poor and suffering, but who aid the rich and seek their own material benefit are “altogether sunk into inequity” and do not know God, no matter how much they might profess Him with their lips (cf. Luke 6:46-49). Every day we can see those who walk the Way of Death in America. They cut funding for food stamps and welfare. They seek to evict the homeless from their cities rather than helping to provide them with basic necessities. They pass beggars on the street and give them nothing because they think to themselves, “They’ll only spend it on drugs or booze.” They lay in bed plotting their next corporate merger or how much the next round of layoffs will line the pockets of their stock holders. These are the Godless and the condemned. Let us not choose their way, but the way of Christ, the Way of Life.

 

Typhoon Yolanda and the need to care for God’s creation

When Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) tore through the Philippines, it killed thousands and displaced tens of thousands, creating a situation that one eye witness called “worse than Hell.” The devastation has prompted an outpouring of aid that I pray will remain strong. But it should also prompt us to think about what roll we played in creating Typhoon Yolanda. While it’s not easy to link one storm to human-caused climate change, the pattern of increasingly severe weather that is characterized by superstorms like Typhoon Yolanda, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy and the rising sea levels that worsened the devastation in the Philippines are clearly caused by the destruction humanity and capitalism have wrought on the environment.

The Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, recently addressed a statement those attending the latest round of United Nations climate talks in Warsaw, Poland, calling for “prompt and practical results” to come out of the talks. In it he wrote:

[T]here are no two ways of looking at either the world or God. There is no distinction between concern for human welfare and concern for ecological preservation. The way we relate to nature as creation directly reflects the way we believe in God as Creator of all things. The sensitivity with which we handle the natural environment clearly mirrors the sacredness that we reserve for the divine.

Moreover, scientists estimate that those most hurt by global warming in the years to come, are those who can least afford it. According to the Gospel of St. Matthew, the questions that will be asked of us all at the final moment of accountability will not be about our religious observance but on whether we fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, comforted the sick, and cared for captives.

Our reckless consumption of the earth’s resources – energy, water, and forests – threatens us with irreversible climate change. Burning more fuel than we need in an overpopulated city, we may contribute to droughts or floods thousands of miles away.

To restore the planet we need a spiritual worldview, which brings frugality and simplicity, humility and respect. We must constantly be aware of the impact of our actions on all of creation. We must direct our focus away from what we want to what the planet needs. We must choose to care for creation; otherwise, we do not really care about anything at all.

It is long past time that the governments of the world take real, immediate steps to curb the the global destruction they have condoned by encouraging large-scale exploitation by corporations more interested in profits than people. It is long past times we as a society and as individuals repent for the part we have taken in fostering the materialistic culture that worships Mammon rather than God. It is long past time we realize that our exploitation of the environment is a symptom of our fallenness, not a gift from God.

We should take seriously our role as stewards of the creation that God called “good.” We should also recognize When we protect our environment, we protect the poor and the oppressed as Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who are often forced to live in the most marginal of environments and thus suffer the most during natural disasters. After all, Christ told us He would judge us based on how well we tended to the needs of the poorest and weakest of our brethren (Matthew 25:31-46).

Finally, please consider giving whatever you can to aid those suffering in the Philippines:

Red Cross

Save The Children

Philippines Red Cross 

American Red Cross Donate

British Red Cross Donate

Unicef Donate

Direct Relief Donate

World Food Program Donate

Doctors Without Borders Donate

The Example of Tobit

The Old Testament Book of Tobit is an often overlooked part of Christian scriptures. In part, the neglect of Tobit can be explained by the Protestant rejection of significant sections of the Christian Old Testament, which included Tobit, despite the fact that Tobit and these other books were widely accepted as holy scripture by the early Church and are still part of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scriptures. While one may be a good Christian without ever having read Tobit, if we ignore Tobit, we lose a wonderful example of how to live a righteous life in the eyes of God, a life we Christians would do well to emulate.

Tobit takes place during the Assyrian exile, a time of hardship and persecution for the Israelites who had been taken from their homeland. The Israelites were forced to live among pagans, and according to Tobit, many chose to live and worship as the pagans did, but Tobit remained true to God and did not neglect his duty to care for others (Tobit 1:10-11). In Tobit 1:16-17 it is written:

In the days of Shalmaneser, I did much almsgiving to my brothers. I would give my bread to the hungry and my clothing to the naked. If I saw anyone of my people dead, cast outside the wall of Nineveh, I would bury him.

Tobit did not allow his hardships to harden is heart. In fact, he was so compassionate that he was willing to make himself ritually unclean to bury his kinsmen who had been executed by the Assyrians and left to rot and be devoured by animals outside the walls of Nineveh. More than risking ritual uncleanliness, Tobit was breaking the law by burying executed Israelites and eventually had to flee for his own life while his possessions were confiscated (Tobit 1:18-20).

Tobit eventually returned to his home when the threat of his execution had been lifted. His family prepared a large feast in celebration, and when Tobit saw how much good food there was, he sent his son into town to find a poor person to share in their bounty (Tobit 2:1-2). Even after having hid for weeks in a cave, Tobit’s heart never turned from God or his neighbors. When he saw his own abundance he knew it could supply the need of another (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:14). But before he could find a fellow Israelite in need, Tobit’s son ran back to the house to tell his father that a man laid murdered in the street (Tobit 2:3). Without even touching his food, Tobit removed the body from the market place and buried it that night, even as his neighbors warned that the Assyrians might again seek to execute him for such an act (Tobit 2:4-8). Tobit is willing to sacrifice his life to do what is right even for those who, because they are dead, cannot possibly thank him or repay his selflessness.

Later, Tobit admonishes his son with this advice:

My son, remember the Lord our God all your days and do not desire to sin or to disobey His commandments. Do righteousness all the days of your life, and do not walk in the ways of wrongdoing. For if you walk in the truth, you will be successful in your works. Do almsgiving, do not let your eye be envious (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6-9). Do not turn your face away from any poor man, so the face of God will not be turned away from you (cf. Matthew 25:41-46). Do almsgiving based on the quantity of your possessions. If you possess only a few, do not be afraid to give according to the little you have. You are storing up a good treasure for yourself in the day of necessity (cf. Matthew 6:19-21). For almsgiving delivers us from death and prevents us from entering into the darkness. Indeed almsgiving is a good gift for all who do it before the Most High (cf. Hebrews 13:16).

Do not keep overnight the wages of any man who works for you, bu pay him immediately (cf. Deuteronomy 24:15). If you serve God, He will pay you. Give heed to yourself, my son, in all your works, and be disciplined in all your conduct. What you yourself hate, do not do to anyone (cf. Mark 12:31)…From your bread, give to him who is hungry and from your clothing, give to the naked (cf. Luke 3:11, 1 John 3:17-18, and James 2:15-17). If you have more than you need, do almsgiving, and do not let your eye envy the almsgiving when you do it.

(Tobit 4:5-11,14-15a,16)

We can see in the example of Tobit’s actions and his advice to his son a radical faith and righteousness. Tobit lived out his love for his neighbor even when he risked losing his life. In times of bounty and hardship alike he kept his heart focused on God and sought always to help those around him. He preached to his son the radical charity and almsgiving that is so characteristic of the New Testament. If Tobit could be so righteous even without the example of the Incarnate Christ, shouldn’t we strive to be even more so?

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and a couple videos

Rob Bell caused quite a controversy in 2011 when he published Love Wins, a book that had the temerity to suggest that God loves humanity, and that the central task facing Christians is to love God and to love our neighbors through real, concrete actions. Sadly, this work inspired a large amount of hostile, at times vitriolic, responses. When Love Wins was published, I had never heard of Rob Bell. I don’t come from an Evangelical background and had had fairly limited contact with Evangelical Christians, but even I couldn’t miss the buzz around Love Wins. One of the things I came across was this first video interview with Rob Bell, which I watched to get some idea of what his book was about:

“The book is about the urgency of Christ’s call to respond and live now and partner with God in bringing heaven to earth. The book is about the urgent, present availability of the kingdom, of eternal life now, of conscious connection and vibrant union with the good of the universe who wants to shape us and transform us and meld our hearts and do something about the hells on earth right now.”—Rob Bell

I really appreciated Bell’s emphasis in the interview on God’s love and God’s call to His followers act in the real world in real ways. I fear too often the message of love gets lost in messages of judgement and wrath and that the Christian duty to be a servant to our neighbors too often gets lost in people’s desire for comfort and overemphasis on the purely spiritual aspects of Christianity or the narcissistic and selfish emphasis on personal salvation. Yes, Jesus came to save individual sinners, but he also came to save all people and all Creation, and he asks us to participate in this salvation.

It took me a couple years to finally track down an audiobook copy of Love Wins and listen too it. I found the book to be inspiring and would like to explore it more deeply in a future post, once I can set aside some time to reread it. I’d recommend that any curious Christian who hasn’t yet read Love Wins check it out. Even if you don’t agree with some of the things (or most of the things) Rob Bell says, I think he raises some much needed questions about what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ.

For now, I’ll leave you with another video of Rob Bell from PBS, which unfortunately won’t embed in this post. And remember, even if you don’t care for Bell, God is Love (1 John 4:7) and Christ admonishes us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) for whatsoever we do to them we do unto Christ (Matthew 25:31-46).

http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2047496828/

Tumblr, a racist rape-endorser, and Obamacare

So the other day, I posted this quote to my Tumblr:

We are mystified as to how can good Christian men and women oppose – in some cases in the name of religion — providing health care for it citizens. … Adequate healthcare for all should be championed by evangelical Christians who follow the teaching of Scripture.

I want to challenge my American evangelicals friends to consider whether your views of health care are truly biblical, and to consider whether you have been blinded by a culture of hyper-individualism, economic rationalism, placing faith in market forces. Because to outsiders the anti-Obamacare thing looks like “civil religion,” a syncretistic concoction of Christian teaching, Republican partisanship, capitalistic-worship, and social Darwinism with its mantra of the survival of the fittest.

The quote was taken from “American evangelicalism is defined by political tribalism” on Patheos.

The quote was pretty soon thereafter reblogged by blondetraditionalist, who added this factually inaccurate rant:

I don’t oppose Obamacare because of “hyper-individualism” or “social Darwinism,” I oppose it because it’s the stupidest and possibly one of the most evil laws to grace this nation.
Obamacare is not only unconstitutional, it’s also unbiblical. Forcing people to pay outrageous sums of money for a subpar service they don’t want, or forcing them to pay to NOT have the service, is un-Christlike. Forcing companies to cancel life-saving insurance policies, leaving people with the choice of either going bankrupt while trying to stay alive, or die because they can’t afford the medical care, is un-Christlike. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will create death panels is un-Christlike. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will cause people to lose their jobs or have their much-needed hours severely cut back because employers can’t afford it is un-Christlike. Letting the people who created the law exempt themselves from what they know is a shitty healthcare service, is un-Christlike.
So maybe people who don’t know what they’re talking about should keep their mouths shut.

The rant has become popular enough among some conservative Tumblr’s that I thought I’d address it here. Let’s look at blondetraditionalist’s concerns one by one.

1. Obamacare is not only unconstitutional, it’s also unbiblical.

The Supreme Court ruled Obamacare constitutional:

http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2012/06/28/health-care-supreme-court/

If Fox News is too liberal of a source for you, you can always read the Supreme Court’s decision yourself.

The Bible says very little that could invariably be taken as a condemnation of the Affordable Care Act (surprise). Without a fuller theological argument from blondetraditionalist based on sound exegesis, this one’s hard to answer because it seems so baseless. The Bible, however, does have a lot to say about the importance of healing the sick, which could suggest that Obamacare might be in line with Christ’s teachings.

2. Forcing people to pay outrageous sums of money for a subpar service they don’t want, or forcing them to pay to NOT have the service, is un-Christlike.

Not sure where she’s getting here evidence for “outrageous sums of money” or “subpar service,” but it’s the for-profit insurance companies that set the premiums and define the services of their policies, not the federal government. If you want to view the federal government as the modern-day equivalent of Caesar, the “render unto Caesar” the money with Caesar’s face on it (or Jackson’s, Lincoln’s, Grant’s, Franklin’s) and pay the healthcare tax, as Paul would urge (Romans 13:6).

3. Forcing companies to cancel life-saving insurance policies, leaving people with the choice of either going bankrupt while trying to stay alive, or die because they can’t afford the medical care, is un-Christlike.

People are already being forced to choose between bankruptcy and death. That’s the pre-Obamacare status quo. And health insurance companies could deny policies or charge exorbitant rates for people with “pre-existing conditions,” condemning them to suffering and death or crippling poverty. That’s a large part of what the law is trying solve.

79 million Americans had trouble paying there debt under before Obamacare

:http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-08/cf-7mu081908.php

More than 60% of bankruptcies were do to health care costs:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/06/05/bankruptcy.medical.bills/index.html?_s=PM:HEALTH

Over 47 million Americans lacked health insurance pre-Obamacare:

http://kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/key-facts-about-the-uninsured-population/

4. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will create death panels is un-Christlike.

Death panels were never a thing. Ever. They were never part of the law or any proposed version of it.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterubel/2013/01/09/why-it-is-so-difficult-to-kill-the-death-panel-myth/

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2009/aug/10/palin-death-panel-remark-sets-truth-o-meter-fire/

http://www.factcheck.org/2009/08/palin-vs-obama-death-panels/

http://mediamatters.org/research/2013/10/01/15-myths-the-media-should-ignore-during-obamaca/196181

http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/euthanasia.asp

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/story?id=8295708

5. Instating a universal healthcare plan that will cause people to lose their jobs or have their much-needed hours severely cut back because employers can’t afford it is un-Christlike.

Again, no evidence for blondetraditionalist’s argument. Again, cut backs are made at the decision of the employer and are not mandated by law.

6. Letting the people who created the law exempt themselves from what they know is a shitty healthcare service, is un-Christlike.

Congress isn’t exempt from the Affordable Care Act:

http://www.factcheck.org/2013/05/congress-and-an-exemption-from-obamacare/

http://www.factcheck.org/2010/01/congress-exempt-from-health-bill/

http://www.factcheck.org/2013/08/no-special-subsidy-for-congress/

Since blondetraditionalist frames her opposition to Obamacare in terms of how Christlike she thinks it is, let’s see what she thinks is Christlike. She thinks advocating that women who don’t hate “illegal” immigrants should be raped is Christlike. She thinks reblogging pictures of Nazis is Christlike. She thinks regularly reblogging from racist Tumblrs is Christlike. It’s pretty clear that blondetraditionalist has no idea who Christ was, what He taught, or how to act in imitation of Him.

Remember conservative tumblrites, when you reblog blondetraditionalist’s anti-Obamacare rant, you’re not only spreading lies, you’re also associating yourself with a racist rape apologist. I don’t think that’s what Jesus would have done.