What We Say About God

Christians say a lot of things about God. If asked to describe the Creator, many answer: “God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is loving, merciful, and forgiving, but also holy, just, and wrathful.” Without really even consulting the Bible, answers such as this are often rattled off. Sure, many of these attributes are used in various passages throughout Scripture, but what is missing is one of the only two axiomatic statements about God in Scripture, namely, that “God is light.” (1 John 1:5) The other is that “God is love (1 John 4:8),” which often gets twisted—as in the stock answer above—reinterpreted incorrectly to “God is loving.” You see the difference? When God is merely “loving,” he must be compared to a love that is greater, namely the very essence of love itself. So, right off the bat, you can see that a God who is described in only two truth statements leads you in a different direction than a god based off a litany of attributes—which is the god I would like to talk about in this article.

When you take the approach of the Westminster Confession of Faith, where God is reduced to a laundry list of properties, you fall into the trap of presupposing who you think God is. Let me explain. If you say that “God’s justice is perfect,” what are you really saying? How are you defining “justice” and what makes you think your definition is appropriate? Certainly, the only direct revelation we have is that of Christ Jesus. Yet, ironically—as they predate that revelation—many use the writings of the Old Testament as evidence for an understanding of divine justice. This hardly seems proper handling of something as important as the justice of God. Are we called to be followers of Christ or followers of the Bible?

Since we are on the topic of justice, and since the Apostle Paul spent considerable time as a follower of both Christ and of a collection of human writings, I think it is appropriate to consult him for some insight into the matter of divine justice. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes the following: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) So, we should gather that the Father’s judgments are not paralleled by how humanity judges things, which can often be summed up with such phrases as “an eye for an eye,” and “the punishment must fit the crime.” In other words, humanity’s justice is often retributive.

How, then, did Paul view God’s judgments?

Well, just one sentence earlier Paul states that God is “merciful to all.” Even though all are disobedient? Yes, even though all are disobedient. Even those whom Paul refers to as “objects of wrath” in Romans 9:22? Yes, even them!

Is it any wonder Paul then concludes with: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”? God’s justice is not humanity’s justice, at least not in Paul’s opinion.

Now, to make sure Paul is not saying something about the Father’s justice that would contradict that of Jesus, let me ask the following questions: Was Jesus ever not merciful during his life? How did he treat the woman caught in adultery?[1] How did he behave in the Garden of Gethsemane?[2] How did Jesus react to Peter when Peter was about to go all Rambo on Christ’s captors?[3] What did Jesus do when he was tortured and humiliated?[4] What did he utter over and over on the cross?[5] What words did Jesus say to his disciples after the resurrection?[6]

He brought peace.

He brought mercy.

Her offered forgiveness.

I know this interpretation of things will strike many Christians as lacking a certain justice. I get that! In fact, I agree with them. It does lack a certain (retributive) justice. But that is a good thing or we’d all be in trouble. Remember, prior to making the claim that God will be merciful to all, Paul also said that all are held over in disobedience[7] and that “all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)” Given that fact, are we sure we really want God to possess the justice most are arguing for?

Now, before anyone suggests that I believe God is letting unrepentant rapists, murderers, child-abusers, and wicked dictators “off the hook,” let me say that I believe some will experience a form of punishment. That punishment is mentioned in the conclusion of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The Greek verb used is kólasis and denotes a corrective form of punishment. This contrasts with another Greek verb, timōría, which translates to “vengeance.” So, yes, there very well may be correction for some—perhaps me, as Paul states that fire will test everyone’s works[8]—but that doesn’t mean that (corrective) punishment should continue on ad infinitum. Not only would that not be God’s justice, but it is hardly even retribution. Nay, it must be a lower form as retribution requires that the punishment fits the crime. Infinite punishment cannot possibly fit with finite sins.

I understand devoting only a few sentences on word meanings is not a sufficient study. For a deeper understanding of some of the punishment texts contained in the New Testament, I recommend pp. 75 – 101 in The Inescapable Love of God by philosopher Thomas Talbott. For now, a brief mention will have to do.

My point, then, in this article, is to simply suggest that presupposing attributes of God and their definitions is often erroneous. As I hopefully modeled, this seems true with how the justice of God is understood by many. With justice presupposed as retributive, much of what Jesus taught us about God seems to fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. This could be said with other presupposed attributes like wrath, vengeance, and even omnipotence. In my opinion, a theologia crucis, or theology of the cross, changes how we should talk about both the “wrath of God,” as well as the “power of God.” When one begins their theology at the cross, they will inevitably draw different conclusions then if they start their theology at Genesis 1:1. Western Christianity needs to start at Calvary and work backward, rather than forward from page 1 of the Old Testament.

[1] Answer found in John 8:1 – 11

[2] Answer found in Matthew 26:53

[3] Answer found in Matthew 16:23

[4] Answer found in Matthew 26:67

[5] Answer found in Luke 23:34

[6] Answer found in John 20: 19 – 23

[7] Romans 11:32

[8] 1 Corinthians 3: 12 – 13

Image: St. Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin De Boulonge (1591 – 1632). Available via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.


Parenting On The Brink: Wrestling With Fears Too Big to Name

Editor’s Note: This article, by guest author and peace activist Frida Berrigan, was first published on Tomdispatch.com.

Madeline is in the swing, her face the picture of delight. “Mo, mo,” she cries and kicks her legs to show me that she wants me to push her higher and faster. I push, and push, and push with both hands. There is no thought in my head except for her joy. I’m completely present in this moment. It’s perfection. Madeline embodies the eternal now and she carries me with her, pulling me out of my worries and fears and plans.

But not forever: after a few minutes, my mind and eyes wander. I take in the whole busy playground, crowded with toddlers plunging headlong into adventure and their attendant adults shouting exhortations to be careful, offering snacks, or lost in the tiny offices they carry in their hands. It’s a gorgeous day. Sunny and blue and not too hot, a hint of fall in the breeze. And then my eye is caught by a much younger mom across the playground trying to convince her toddler that it’s time to go.

When Madeline graduates from high school, I will be 57. Jeez, I think, that mom will still be younger than I am now when her kid walks across that stage. If I live to be 85, Madeline will be 46 and maybe by then I’ll have some grandkids.  In fact, I’m suddenly convinced of it.  Between Madeline and her three-year-old brother Seamus and their eight-year-old sister Rosena, I will definitely live to see grandkids.  I reassure myself for the millionth time that having kids in my late thirties was totally fine.

And then another thought comes to mind, the sort of thought that haunts the parents of this moment: When I’m 85, it will be 2059, and what will that look like? When my grandkids are my age now, it could be almost a new century. And what will our planet look like then? And I feel that little chill that must be increasingly commonplace among other parents of 2015.

And then I’m gone. You wouldn’t know it to look at me.  After all, I’m still pushing the swing, still cooing and chatting with my buoyant 18-month-old daughter, but my mind is racing, my heart is pounding. This playground will not be here. This tranquil, stable, forever place wasn’t built to last 100 years, not on a planet like this one at this moment anyway.

I look around and I know. None of this — the municipal complex, the school across the street, the supermarket up the road — is built for 100 years, especially not this hundred years. It won’t last. And I can’t imagine a better future version of this either. What comes to mind instead are apocalyptic images, cheesy ones cribbed from The Walking Dead, that zombie series on AMC; The Day After, a 1980s made-for-TV dramatization of a nuclear attack on the United States; Cormac McCarthy’s haunting novel The Road; Brad Pitt’s grim but ultimately hopeful World War Z; and The Water Knife, a novel set in the western United States in an almost waterless near future.

They all rush into my head and bump up against the grainy black-and-white documentary footage of Hiroshima in 1945 that I saw way too young and will never forget. This place, this playground, empty, rusted, submerged in water, burned beyond recognition, covered in vines, overrun by trees. Empty. Gone.

Then, of course, Madeline brings me back to our glorious present. She wants to get out of the swing and hit the slides. She’s fearless, emphatic, and purposeful. She deserves a future.  Her small body goes up those steps and down the slide over and over and over again. And the rush of that slide is new every time. She shouts and laughs at the bottom and races to do it again. Now. Again. Now. This is reality. But my fears are real, too. The future is terrifying. To have a child is to plant a flag in the future and that is no small responsibility.

We Have Nothing to Fear but…

We mothers hear a lot these days about how to protect our children. We hear dos and don’ts from mommy magazines, from our own mothers, our pediatricians, each other, from lactation experts and the baby formula industry, from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration, from Doctor Bob Sears, from sociologists and psychiatrists and child development specialists. We are afraid for our kids who need to be protected from a world of dangers, including strangers, bumblebees, and electrical outlets.

Such threats are discussed, dissected, and deconstructed constantly in the media and ever-newer ones are raised, fears you never even thought about until the nightly news or some other media outlet brought them up. But hanging over all these humdrum, everyday worries is a far bigger fear that we never talk about and that you won’t read about in that mommy magazine or see in any advice column.  And yet, it’s right there, staring us in the face every single day, constant, existential, too big to name.

We can’t say it, but we are increasingly afraid of the future, of tomorrow, afraid for our children in ways that, in themselves, are frightening to bring up. It’s as diffuse as “anything can happen” and as specific as we are running out of ______ [fill in the blank: clean water, fossil fuels, space for people, arable land, cheap food stuffs, you name it]. Even if the supply of whatever you chose to think about isn’t yet dwindling in our world, you know that it will one of these days. Whatever it is, that necessity of everyday life will be gone (or too expensive for ordinary people) by ______ [2020, 2057, 2106].

It’s paralyzing to look at Madeline and think such thoughts, to imagine an ever-hotter planet, ever-less comfortable as a home not just for that vague construct “humanity,” but for my three very specific children, not to speak of those grandchildren of my dreams and fantasies.

It’s something that’s so natural to push away. Who wouldn’t prefer not to think about it?  And at least here, in our world, on some level we can still do that.

For those of us who are white and western and relatively financially stable, it’s still possible to believe we’re insulated from disaster — or almost possible anyway. We can hold on to the comfort that our children are unlikely to be gunned down or beaten to death by police, for example. We can watch the news and feel sadness for the mass exodus out of Syria and all those who are dying along the way, but those feelings are tinged with relief in knowing that we will not be refugees ourselves.

But for how long? What if?

They say: enjoy your kids while they’re young; pretty soon they’ll be teenagers. Haha, right? Actually, I’m excited about each stage of my kids’ lives, but Madeline won’t be a teenager until 2027. According to climate scientists and environmentalists, that may already be “past the point of no return.” If warming continues without a major shift, there will be no refreezing those melting ice shelves, no holding back the rising seas, no scrubbing smog-clogged air, no button we can press to bring water back to parched landscapes.

These are things I know. This is a future I, unfortunately, can imagine. These are the reasons I try to do all the right things: walk, eat mostly vegetarian, grow some of our own food, conserve, reuse, reduce, recycle. We had solar panels installed on our roof. We only have one car. We’re trying, but I know just as well that such lifestyle choices can’t turn this around.

It will take everyone doing such things — and far more than that. It will require governments to come to their senses and oil companies to restrain the urge to get every last drop of fossil fuel out of the ground.  It will take what Naomi Klein calls a “Marshall Plan for the Earth.” In her groundbreaking and hopeful book, This Changes Everything, she writes:

I am convinced that climate change represents a historic opportunity on an even greater scale [than the New Deal]. As part of the project of getting our emissions down to the levels many scientists recommend, we once again have the chance to advance policies that dramatically improve lives, close the gap between rich and poor, create huge numbers of good jobs, and reinvigorate democracy from the ground up.

Which brings me to fear and how it paralyzes. I don’t want to be paralyzed in the face of catastrophic climate change or any other looming calamity. I want to be motivated and spurred to action not by an apocalyptic vision of our local playground engulfed in flames or submerged under several feet of water, but by the potential for the brighter future than is surely within our grasp — within my grasp today and Madeline’s in some future that she truly deserves.

Preparing for the Unthinkable 

Growing up, I heard this a lot: “Don’t be so First World, Frida.”

That’s what Phil Berrigan — former priest, brazenly nonviolent activist, tireless organizer for peace and justice — would tell me, his eldest daughter. If I was flippant or tweenish, that’s what he would always say, “Don’t be so First World.” It was his rejoinder when I asked for spending money or permission to go to the movies. What he meant was: regulate your wants, consider others, be comfortable being alone, put yourself second, listen, be in solidarity, choose the harder path.

My father’s admonishment sounds a discordant note amid today’s morass of parenting messages with their emphasis on success and ease and happiness. But it prepared me for much of what I encountered along the road to adulthood and it resonates deeply as I parent three children whose futures I cannot imagine. Not really. Will they have clean water, a home, a democracy, a playground for their children? Will they be able to buy food — or even grow it? Will they be able to afford transportation? I don’t know.

What I can do is prepare them to distinguish needs from wants, to share generously and build community, to stand up for what they believe and not stand by while others are abused. When, as with Madeline at that playground, the unspoken overwhelms me, I wonder whether I shouldn’t sooner or later start teaching them how the world works and basic skills that will serve them well in an uncertain future: what electricity is and how to start a fire, how to navigate by the stars, how to feed themselves by hunting and gathering, how to build a shelter or find and purify water, or construct a bicycle out of parts they come across on the road to perdition.

The only problem is that, like most of my peers and friends, I actually don’t know how to do any of that (except maybe for the bicycle building), so I better get started. I should also be planting nut trees in our backyard and working for global nuclear disarmament. I can help New London (a water’s edge community) be prepared and more resilient in the face of rising sea levels and be active in our local Green Party.

I know that there’s no simple solution, no easy or individual fix to what’s coming down the road. I know as well that there is no future except the one we are making right now, this second, again and again and again. And in our world, I call that hope, not despair. Perhaps you could just as easily call it folly.  Call it what you will.  I don’t have a label for my parenting style. I’m not a helicopter mom or a tiger mom. But like a lot of other people right now, whether they know it or not, realize it or not, I am parenting on the brink of catastrophe. I’m terrified for my children, but I am not paralyzed and I know I am not alone, which makes me, despite everything, hopeful, not for myself, but for Madeline.


Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

Copyright 2015 Frida Berrigan

Image:  Via Pixabay


The Urgency Of Joy

The urgency of joy.

The phrase has captivated my imagination for some time now, as I seek joy in the midst of a world crying out in pain. In a nation of mass shootings and executions, in a world devastated by war crimes and the crime of war, where working for peace means learning the depths and pervasiveness of violence, despair threatens to seep in through the air I breathe. Hope often evades my grasp, and fear like a weight drags down my every movement.

But when I find myself in a morass of bitterness, my soul gets a jolt of energy from my laughing toddler, or the accidentally insightful comment from my precocious 6-year-old, or the warm hand of my husband on my shoulder. I savor the comfort of these gestures and let them lift me out of my cynicism. And as the tears clouding my vision disperse, I remind myself that joy, too, permeates the world and can be found by those with eyes to see it.

I am training my eyes and mind and heart to find this joy, and it is not always easy. But it is essential. Because these moments of joy are windows of light streaming into a suffocating world, revealing the truth of God’s kingdom beyond the walls of violence we have built up around ourselves. Glimpses of this great truth enfolding us all keep me striving, or at least enduring, for the time when the peace that surpasses all understanding will be consummated.

Knowing that all of creation was made by Love, in Love and for Love grounds and uplifts me. Knowing that Love became flesh in a world of danger and cruelty and tragedy and carved joy out of pain keeps hope from slipping completely from my grasp. But the world remained a dangerous, cruel place for the generation that saw the resurrection, and it certainly remains so today. Jesus came to a world that rejected him and brought joy to those the world rejected by enfolding them in his love. The shunned, the lonely, the victims of economic and military violence, the suffering, the broken – these were the ones to whom Jesus ministered the good news that they, too, were cherished. He held them in their pain. But he did not transform the dangerous world in which they lived, except to release the gradual cure of forgiveness into the atmosphere and model a life of humble compassion for others to follow. The early Christians held onto the joy of finding themselves embraced in Love even as the surrounding world maintained hostility and violence against them. Jesus brought joy to the world not by transforming it into a paradise, but by befriending the broken and broken-hearted.

I know, then, that I am called, as a member of the body of Christ, to reach out in compassion to the suffering in the world today, to spread joy by embodying the love I am continually discovering in Jesus. Followers of Jesus are called to walk where Jesus would walk and love whom Jesus loves – everyone, but especially those who feel shunned by the world. So as my heart and my thoughts go out to the suffering in my own hometown and across the globe, I try not to let grief extinguish the joy that I must carry with me to a hurting world. Indeed, I know that sorrow is but the shadow of joy, for sorrow born of compassion is an expression of love that will turn to joy when the God who loves us all draws us in and wipes the tears from our eyes.

But I am in need of that joy myself, of centering myself in the Source of that joy. It is all too easy for sorrow to choke out hope and become despair, and for despair to become resignation. I know that following Jesus allows for a wide range of human emotion, but it also calls for vigilance against despair and apathy. Yet, with all the horrors of the world, the task of co-suffering with the vulnerable but remaining grounded in the joy of Christ is often overwhelming.

I am striving to open myself to the moment, to keep my eyes and my mind on the people right in front of me and be present to them – my children, my husband, my friends. I can only do so much to help the troubled world, and I can’t let it be at the expense of those whom God has put in my immediate care. So I want to carve out time to give my worries to God and leave them, at least for a while, so I can fully open my mind to those who are with me.

I find joy when I open myself to the presence of people grounded in joy. They need not always be cheerful. But they radiate a security in the knowledge that of all the forces in this world, love is the most powerful and the most permanent. I find joy in my toddler, who knows I love her and runs to me with pure delight in her eyes. The eyes of my 6-year-old fill up with joy when I finally put my work aside to spend half an hour of uninterrupted playtime with her. Joy embraces me in the quiet gentleness of my husband, who knows when to make me laugh and when to simply listen to my concerns and fears. I find joy in genuine friends, in the moments when authentic connections are made. Joy surprises me in the unexpected kindness of strangers. If I lose myself in the sorrows or even the distractions of the world (like Facebook), I shut myself off from God’s image-bearers right in front of me, and thus shut myself off from the joy of God’s love reflected in the people by whose presence I am blessed.

I must open myself to this joy if I am to reflect it to others as I am called. Because we are designed to be in relationship, we cannot give the joy that we do not receive. We are God’s vessels for multiplying the joy born in the ever mutually-flowing love of the Trinity. With this joy we are called not to escape but to bear the pain of a suffering world.It is a daunting challenge we can endure only with eyes to see the good works of a loving God shining through a fearful, frightening world.

Times of tremendous suffering shake my faith to the core. Lord, I struggle to believe; help my unbelief, that I may reflect glimpses of the joy of your eternal kingdom to a world in urgent need.

Image:  Via Pixabay.

MSF Hospital 3

Why Bombing A Hospital Is A War Crime

We tried to take a look into one of the burning buildings. I cannot describe what was inside. There are no words for how terrible it was. In the Intensive Care Unit six patients were burning in their beds.

So said Lajos Zoltan Jecs, a nurse at the hospital the U.S. bombed in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 people: doctors, staff, patients (including three children). This image is now spiraling through the Internet and across the global consciousness.

The hospital was not “collateral damage”; it was deliberately targeted, deliberately destroyed, in multiple bombing runs that lasted at least half an hour. Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), which operated the hospital, contacted its sources in the U.S. government immediately, pleading for the attack to stop — to no avail. The bombing continued until the hospital, with more than 180 occupants, was destroyed.

And we’re left with the aftermath of a mass murderer spree, except the killer isn’t dead or hogtied and shoved into a police wagon. The killer gives a press conference.

Oh same old, same old!

The killer offers condolences, promises to investigate itself. “If errors were committed, we will acknowledge them,” said Gen. John Campbell, commander of American forces in Afghanistan. The killer, as usual, flees from any real responsibility.

But this time, maybe . . . maybe . . . something is different. The organization that ran the demolished hospital, as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, is a Western-based international humanitarian association with media credibility and powerful support outside the Third World. It’s not like we’ve simply bombed another wedding party or killed a few more women and children in an outlying village. On this occasion, those who have suffered also have a global voice.

Jecs’ words cry out from the MSF website: “It was crazy,” he said. “We had to organize a mass casualty plan in the office, seeing which doctors were alive and available to help. We did an urgent surgery for one of our doctors. Unfortunately he died there on the office table. We did our best, but it wasn’t enough.”

And the world, or a sizable piece of it, can put itself inside the burning, deliberately bombed hospital. And the U.S. is accused of committing a war crime.

I’ve been pondering those words ever since they entered the conversation: pondering their moral weight, their heart-stopping, accusatory coldness. My initial reaction was, well, of course it’s a war crime. Indeed, the two words, “war” and “crime,” ought to be inextricably linked. It’s impossible to wage war — especially the way a superpower wages war, with so many weapons of mass destruction at the ready — without violating conventional moral strictures, without killing civilians in mind-numbing numbers, with virtually every action.

So why is this different? Bombing a hospital, especially with deliberate intent — apparently at the behest of the Afghan government, which has hated the hospital for treating the injured regardless what side they’re on — is depraved and utterly reckless. Not only did the U.S. kill patients and staff members from all over the world, who were working there because of a commitment to give help to those in harm’s way, but it destroyed one of the few medical centers in a city with a population of over 300,000.

All of this clearly makes the act a crime by any moral standard, but in point of fact, we’ve been doing this for so long and causing so much horrific damage — in the long term as well as the short term, considering, for instance, the environmental consequences wrought by the use of depleted uranium missiles and bombs — that one more act of carnage, 22 more murdered civilians, hardly seems more “criminal” than all that happened throughout the Middle East before the Oct. 3 bombing.

Nevertheless, I felt a need, in my heart and in our collective heart, to address the bombing’s strategists and apologists with moral directness, of the sort my friend Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a long-time antiwar activist, recently described:

“Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq,” she wrote, “a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: ‘To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.’ We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.”

She encouraged doing this again and, in fact, a public demonstration was held in front of Stroger Hospital, Chicago’s enormous county hospital, protesting the Kunduz bombing. Suddenly I imagined Americans standing in front of every hospital in the country, proclaiming that there’s no difference between bombing a hospital in Afghanistan and bombing one here.

And that’s when I realized the significance of calling the bombing a war crime. Doing so attempts to bring both moral and legal force to bear on what was done and interrupts the post-war-crime press conference. Indeed, the act creates — births — this force: an international conscience.

Because the outrage is global, the time is ripe. To call the bombing of the Kunduz hospital a war crime and act on what must happen because this is the case – to demand reparations, healing and a public rethinking of the aims of this war – is, perhaps, the most effective way people have, at this juncture of human history, to address war itself, to stand up to its powerful perpetrators and put a halt to their uncontrolled behavior.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.


Image: RAW Kunduz MSF hospital atrocity aftermath – bombed for an hour by NATO by RT via Youtube. (Published Oct. 3, the morning after the attack).

bible 1

The Bible’s Authority in Its Proper Place

Since my family recently moved to the Portland area, we’ve been looking for churches to attend. Besides visiting a church, the best way to gain a feel for a church is to visit their website. Specifically, their About Us page.

Since examining church websites, I’ve noticed some pretty strange beliefs out there. Many churches have a list of beliefs that are important to them. What is the first belief on many church websites? The Bible.

On one church begins its list of beliefs like this:

  1. The Authority of Scripture
  2. The Nature of God
  3. Jesus, God’s Son
  4. The Holy Spirit
  5. Salvation
  6. Nature of Man (Sorry, women. You apparently don’t have nature … but if you read the description, you might decide that’s a good thing.)
  7. The Role of the Church

Now, those are all important aspects of Christianity, and I don’t mean to pick on fellow Christians, but the order tells us what’s wrong with American Christianity.

We have elevated the Bible above God. It’s time we stop that form of idolatry. Bibliolatry has no place in Christianity. But, unfortunately, the Bible has become another god, above the Trinity, above Jesus, above the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate the passion that many “Bible believing” churches have. That passion is a good thing, but it’s misdirected. Christians shouldn’t “believe” in the Bible. We are not Biblians. We are Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible. It’s an important book and has authority in my life in that it points beyond itself to God. But the Bible is not a member of the Trinity. It deserves to be respected, but it shouldn’t be elevated above God.

“Bible believing churches” tend to think that “the Bible is the very Word of God – supernaturally inspired in every word and absolutely free from error in the original documents. God’s word is the final authority in all that it says. Therefore, it must be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

But the Bible doesn’t work that way. It contains within itself many disagreements about the nature of God and how events unfolded. For example, did Noah take two of every animal onboard his ship, as Genesis 6 claims, or did he take seven of every animal, as Genesis 7 claims? Does God require sacrifice, as Leviticus suggests, or does God require mercy and not sacrifice, as the prophet Hosea claims? Does God punish children for their parents’ mistakes, as Exodus claims, or is each generation responsible for itself, as the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah state? Did Jesus overturn the tables in the Temple at the end of his ministry, as the synoptic Gospels claim, or did he do it at the beginning of his ministry, as the Gospel of John claims?

Those who believe in the Bible’s inerrancy will do all kinds of interpretive gymnastics to put the round peg of the Bible into the square hole of inerrancy, but it just doesn’t fit. That’s because it’s not meant to fit.

The Bible is a document written by human beings who tried to recognize what God was doing in their lives. But it’s not inerrant. Interestingly, if the Bible were inerrant you would think it would tell us. It simply doesn’t use those terms. The Bible never says, “Hi! I’m the Bible. I’m the inerrant Word of God. Believe in me!”

There are disagreements that run throughout the Bible. Those disagreements are one of the things that I love about the Bible! The Bible models for us how to wrestle with God and ask questions about faith.

The Bible contains human testimony about how God works in the world, but it is not God’s inerrant Word. The Bible points beyond itself to God, and in the New Testament, to the God revealed in Jesus. The Bible even claims that Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible itself.

Jesus warned people about elevating the Bible above himself. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus claimed that the scriptures are limited. You cannot have eternal life by believing in the Bible. In fact, when we elevate the Bible above God, it blocks us from our only access to eternal life.

The Bible is important, but we are not Biblians. We are Christians. We are not called to believe in the Bible. We are called to believe in Jesus.

Christians need to put the Bible’s authority back in its proper place. The Bible’s authority rests in the faith that it points beyond itself to the God revealed in Jesus.

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Photo: michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo

MSF Hospital 2

22 People Killed By US Airstrike On Doctors Without Borders Hospital In Kunduz, Afghanistan

Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq, a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: “To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.”  We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.

Tragically, sadly, the banners must again condemn war crimes, this time echoing international outcry because in an hour of airstrikes this past Saturday morning, the U.S. repeatedly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, a facility that served the fifth largest city in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

U.S./NATO forces carried out the airstrike at about 2AM on October 3rd.  Doctors Without Borders had already notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital.  When the first bombs hit, medical staff immediately phoned NATO headquarters to report the strike on its facility, and yet strikes continued, at 15 minute intervals, until 3:15 a.m., killing 22 people. 12 of the dead were medical staff; ten were patients, and three of the patients were children. At least 37 more people were injured.  One survivor said that the first section of the hospital to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit.

“Patients were burning in their beds,” said one nurse, an eyewitness to the ICU attack.”There are no words for how terrible it was.”  The U.S. airstrikes continued, even after the Doctors Without Borders officials had notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan military that the warplanes were attacking the hospital.

Taliban forces do not have air power, and the Afghan Air Force fleet is subordinate to the U.S., so it was patently clear that the U.S. had committed a war crime.

The U.S. military has said that the matter is under investigation.  Yet another in an endless train of somber apologies; feeling families’ pain but excusing all involved decision makers seems inevitable. Doctors Without Borders has demanded a transparent, independent investigation, assembled by a legitimate international body and without direct involvement by the U.S. or by any other warring party in the Afghan conflict.  If such an investigation occurs, and is able to confirm that this was a deliberate, or else a murderously neglectful war crime, how many Americans will ever learn of the verdict?

War crimes can be acknowledged when carried out by official U.S. enemies, when they are useful in justifying invasions and efforts at regime change.

One investigation the U.S. has signally failed to carry out would tell it how much Kunduz needed this hospital. The U.S. could investigate SIGAR reports (“Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction”) numbering Afghanistan’s “U.S. funded health care facilities,” allegedly funded through USAID, which cannot even be located, 189 alleged locations at whose coordinates there are demonstrably no buildings within 400 feet. In their June 25th letter they astoundingly write, “My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510—nearly 80 percent—of the 641 health care facilities funded by the PCH program.” It notes that six of the Afghan facilities are actually located in Pakistan, six in Tajikstan, and one in the Mediterranean Sea.

It seems we’ve created yet another ghost hospital, not out of thin air this time but from the walls of a desperately needed facility which are now charred rubble, from which the bodies of staff and patients have been exhumed. And with the hospital lost to a terrified community, the ghosts of this attack are, again, beyond anyone’s ability to number.  But in the week leading up to this attack, its staff had treated 345 wounded people, 59 of them children.

Now the region has no hospital at all.

The U.S. has long shown itself the most formidable warlord fighting in Afghanistan, setting an example of brute force that frightens rural people who wonder to whom they can turn for protection.  In July of 2015, U.S. bomber jets attacked an Afghan army facility in the Logar Province, killing ten soldiers. The Pentagon said this incident would likewise be under investigation.  No public conclusion of the investigation seems ever to have been issued.  There isn’t always even an apology.

This was a massacre, whether one of carelessness or of hate.   One way to join the outcry against it, demanding not just an inquiry but a final end to all U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, would be to assemble in front of health care facilities, hospitals or trauma units, carrying signage which says, “To Bomb This Place Would Be a War Crime.” Invite hospital personnel to join the assembly, notify local media, and hold an additional sign which says: “The Same Is True in Afghanistan.”

We should affirm the Afghans’ right to medical care and safety. The U.S. should offer investigators unimpeded access to the decision makers in this attack and pay to reconstruct the hospital with reparations for suffering caused throughout these fourteen years of war and cruelly manufactured chaos. Finally, and for the sake of future generations, we should take hold of our runaway empire and make it a nation we can restrain from committing the fathomlessly obscene atrocity that is war.

Image: Screenshot from AJ+ on Youtube: Doctors Without Borders Hit By Airstrike in Afghanistan

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) She returned from Afghanistan in mid-September, 2015 where she was a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers  (ourjourneytosmile.com).

gun control 5

More Than Gun Control – What We Must Do To Stop Mass Shootings

The scariest thing about mass murderers is just how normal they are.

In the wake of Umpqua Community College shooting last week, the New York Times published an article titled, “Mass Murderers Fit Profile, as Do Many Others Who Don’t Kill.” Here’s a very disturbing line:

What seems telling about the killers, however, is not how much they have in common but how much they look and seem like so many others who do not inflict harm.

What’s so scary about these killers is that we’d really like to have an explanation that makes them “other” than the rest of us. So we say they are mentally ill – unlike the rest of us who are quite mentally healthy – and our society needs to do a better job of caring for them.

While it’s true that we need to do a better job caring for the mentally ill, the vast majority of people with mental illness will never harm anyone. Mass murderers don’t tend to be mentally ill. As Dr. James Alan Fox stated in the Times article, “They’re not out of touch with reality. They don’t hear voices. They don’t think the people they’re shooting are gophers.” In other words, the problem with these shooters have very little to do with mental illness.

What are the signs that someone may turn into a shooter? The Times makes another disturbing claim, “With many of the killers, the signs are of anger and disappointment and solitude.”

Anger, disappointment, and solitude. Those emotions are universal. We all feel them. How do we make sense of that? There’s a darkness that creeps up within all of us – and if we are honest with ourselves, we might just admit the horrifying truth that there’s not a lot that separates us from them.

Desire and Resentment

We are all united with a common desire for fame, notoriety, and love. We fear solitude. Everyone wants to be known. We gain a sense of value and worth in our lives through obtaining more likes and tweets on social media. As mimetic theory teaches us, we inevitably compare ourselves with others who become our models for success.

But what happens when we don’t gain the success, fame, or the love that we all desire? When others don’t validate us, when we don’t achieve the success we desire, we become resentful of our models. As Stefan Tomelleri states in his book Resentment: Reflections on Mimetic Desire and Society, “We live in a world where many people, rightly or wrongly, feel blocked, or paralyzed, in all their aspirations, obstructed from achieving their most legitimate goals” (ix).The more we fall behind our models, the more resentful we become. Our model then becomes our rival and we seek some form of revenge against them for enflaming our desire for something we cannot have. Whenever we feel as if the path to fulfillment of our aspirations is being blocked by the ones who make those desires seem desirable, we risk becoming verbally, emotionally, or physically violent.

Typically, no one ever teaches us how to manage our feelings of resentment in nonviolent and healthy ways. In fact, we are taught the opposite. 9/11 taught us that if someone hits you, you hit them back. Only, you don’t just hit them back, you up the ante. You hit them with “Shock and Awe” to destroy the enemy’s will to fight back.

But Shock and Awe has only “worked” to embed violence deeper within our culture. Violence isn’t just “their” problem; it’s our problem. It infects all of us. Almost every day we hear about another violent attack. For example, just two days after the horrific shooting in Oregon last week, the United States bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, killing 12 medical staff personnel and 10 patients, including three children. The U.S. has defended the bombing, while Doctors Without Borders calls it a war crime.

What’s the truth? The truth is that as long as our nation responds to violence with violence, we will continue to sow the seeds of violence and resentment within our nation and around the world.

What’s the Answer?

We need stricter gun control laws, no doubt. But we need so much more than gun control. We need models who will lead us toward a massive shift in our culture. Resentment and violence infects us all and we need to learn better ways to take responsibility to manage our anger, disappointment, and hatred.

God tells Cain that, “sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7). God speaks those words to all of us. The truth is that there’s a little bit of Cain within everyone. The darkness is within us all. Unfortunately, many of us are too afraid to look at it. We’d much rather ignore our pain than examine it. But the way to master the “sin that is lurking at the door” is to acknowledge it, but like Cain, we typically suppress it. We bury our resentment and anger deep within ourselves, only for it to manifest through violence.

That’s why the ancient spiritual practice of confession is so important. It’s much healthier to talk out our emotions than it is to bottle them up. Without the ability to talk about our frustrations, we externalize our emotions by blaming others. Our shared desire for fame and admiration can then lead us to commit acts of violence when they become frustrated.

Much more than gun control, we must shift our culture of violence to a culture of peace. We need models who will lead us to move beyond resentment and towards an ethic of love, a love that embraces even our enemies.

The answer is to work through our resentment and come out the other side into love. More than anything, we need to be challenged with a daring and challenging mission. In the face of a culture that responds to violence with more violence, we need more people who will step up and model how to return love for hatred, forgiveness for anger, kindness for hostility, peace for violence.

Photo Copyright: flybird163 / 123RF Stock Photo


Doing Good, Becoming Evil: The Pope, Elijah, And Moses

How do we oppose what is evil without becoming its mirror image? That’s the question I’ve been pondering since Pope Francis said this to Congress:

We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.

The Pope’s call to be alert to different types of fundamentalism struck me as the message America needs to hear. We often forget that fundamentalism can appear in economic, political or ideological garb. It can be as secular or political as it is religious, but it is within religion that we find deep resources for understanding and combatting fundamentalism in all its dizzying variety.

The Idolatry of Anti-idolatry

Girardian scholar and professor of Jewish studies at Purdue University, Sandor Goodhart, says that the Old Testament is troubled by a type of religious fundamentalism, what Goodhart calls “the idolatry of anti-idolatry”. The ancient Hebrew zeal to witness to the one true God, Goodhart explains, at times turned the truth of God into an idol. What does that mean? That the dynamic, creative, unknowable God can become hardened into an idea that we think we own and represent in all its fullness.

When we believe we are in possession of complete knowledge of God, then it endows our actions with unassailable goodness. Even actions that we condemn when performed by our opponents will appear good and noble to us when we do them. A wonderful illustration of this comes from 1 Kings 18 where we are told that Queen Jezebel, the Baal worshipper, has been “killing off the prophets of the Lord” (18:4). To demonstrate that the Lord, not Baal, is God, the prophet Elijah miraculously ignites a sacrificial fire that humiliates Baal’s prophets. Elijah then “seized them; and Elijah brought down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.” (18:40)

I’m not sure we are meant to applaud Elijah’s murderous rampage. I think the Biblical text is inviting us to see the similarities between Elijah and Jezebel, despite their insistence on how different they are from one another. They are both so strongly in the grip of religious fundamentalism that they condemn each other as murderers while celebrating murder as justified by their god. Nothing can dissuade them from their belief in their own goodness, not even the blood of their victims. This is what James Alison is referring to when he says that “our self-identity as ‘good’ is one of our most sacred idols. It is one of the things that makes us most dangerous to others and to ourselves.” When we cling to our sense of ourselves as good, despite evidence to the contrary, we have turned our goodness into a sacred idol.

The Elijah Trap

But isn’t killing bad people good? Nothing could be more good and righteous than defeating the worship of Baal, which took the form of routine child sacrifice (Jeremiah 19:5). If so, then the response “Thanks be to God!” after reading 1 Kings 18 would be more than justified. And yet I hope the thought of thanking God for the murders committed by Elijah makes you every bit as uncomfortable as thanking God for Jezebel’s murders.

Of course we no longer have to combat Baal worshippers. Yet we are at war with an enemy whose evil we do not question. So here’s the question I think the Biblical writers want us to ask ourselves: Should we “thank God” for the murder by drone or bombing campaigns, for example, of suicide bombers or religious terrorists? After all, did they not celebrate the victims of the 9/11 attacks? Do they not call for the destruction of the Great Satan, as they call us? But if we celebrate and thank God (or whatever name we give to ‘goodness’) when we kill them, have we become like Elijah, unassailable agents for what is good and right who fail to recognize the Jezebel within?

Unwavering belief in our own goodness has infected our politics as well. Political discourse has deteriorated to such an extent that we treat the opposition party as if they are modern day Baal worshippers. The political battlefield has become no different than a real one: no compromise, no surrender. Only the defeat and annihilation of the enemy will satisfy our thirst for justice.

Have we become the very thing we oppose? Pope Francis wants us to consider that question because just after his comments on fundamentalism he added this:

But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Sadly, polarization is our new normal. At home and abroad, we radiate the “hatred and violence of tyrants” in the name of our own brand of goodness. The Pope is right to call us to reject the Elijah trap of dividing the world into good and evil. In such a world we celebrate our own violence, condemn the violence of our enemies, and guarantee that we are a stubborn part of the problem.

The Moses Solution

Peace. Nonviolence. Freedom. How can we work for our cause without imitating the thing we are against? Pope Francis began his address to Congress with an image that may help. Here’s what he told our representatives:

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

That’s the key, isn’t it? Pope Francis wants our representatives “to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.” Every human face, he said. Not just American faces. Not just the faces of legal immigrants. Not just rich faces. Not just white faces. Not just Christian faces. Pope Francis wants us to see the image of God in every face, black and white, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim, terrorist and terrorized. Even the face of our enemies.

There is nothing more paradoxical than the use of violence in the name of peace, yet that is the very thing America is doing. When no one, not even the self-proclaimed champions of goodness, will relinquish their right to violence, the quest for global peace is doomed from the start. But renouncing our right to be violent is a scary proposition. It most likely will demand that we drop our defenses, rather than prop them up. Or maybe it means that we begin to see what makes for peace and security in an entirely new way. But dropping our guard may be exactly what is required to make us, and the world, a safer place. We won’t know until we are brave enough to try.

Image: Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress. (Photo: Screenshot from C-SPAN YouTube channel)

Kelly Gissendaner screenshot

To Death With The Death Penalty!

On September 30th, Georgia inmate Kelly Gissendaner was executed. Nay, she was murdered. Execution is but a euphemism for what the state did. In spite of countless emails, strongly backed petitions asking for a stay of execution, and even pleading from Pope Francis, a state within this “Christian” nation declared loudly that retributive justice is the correct form of justice. An eye for an eye is the best we can do.

A Life for a life.

In 1998, Kelly Gissendaner was sentenced to death for her role in the murder of her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. Although she did not commit the murder—a man named Gregory Bruce Owen was the one who stabbed Douglas to death—Kelly was given the harshest of penalties because she was the one who masterminded the plan. Then for nearly two decades, Kelly Gissendaner waited to die. But there in prison is where she began to find life. She befriended German theologian Jürgen Moltmann while at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, finding Moltmann’s theology inspiring, as his universalism contends that none are beyond redemption. Gissendaner states:

I will never understand how I let myself fall into such evil, but I have learned firsthand that no one, not even me, is beyond redemption through God’s grace and mercy. I have learned to place my hope in the God I now know.

And in spite of this obvious transformation, in spite of a restored heart, and in spite of Kelly’s Christ-encounter, her life was ended. With the juice from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil still dripping down our collective chins, we cried: “Crucify her! Crucify her!”

Blood for blood.

Who do we think we are? What right do we have to deem who dies and who lives? Wasn’t the woman in John 8 who was caught in adultery deserving of death per the law of the land? And what did Jesus say to those who were armed to the teeth, ready to crush her? “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. (8:7)” Who was without sin in Georgia the other day? The judge? The jury? The executioner?

Some “Christian” nation . . .

What is the point of the prison industrial complex if those who find the peace of Jesus are still murdered? Is it in place just so we can feel better about ourselves—so we can have some sense of “justice”? Oh, and what a sense of justice it is!!! Nearly two decades ago a sick and twisted woman showed no mercy to her husband so today, a sick and twisted society shows no mercy to a restored and healed woman!? That isn’t justice. It is murder

Breath for breath.

So now, we await the fates of over 20 human beings who are scheduled to be executed by the end of 2015. Yes, these people probably committed heinous acts. Yes, they were driven by hate and fear and prejudice and malice and contempt. And yes, if they committed those acts against my loved ones, my initial reaction would be to “kill those bastards!” But I’m more Petrine than I am Christlike and I can almost hear Jesus—the very same Jesus who was also murdered by the state—whispering in my ear: “Get behind me satan!”

My honest hope is that the death of Kelly Gissendaner is not in vain. I hope her testimony can be a wakeup call to the citizens of the United States of America. This country needs a shake up anyway! We need a redefinition of “justice”—retribution exchanged for restoration and reconciliation. We need to exchange our desire for sacrifice for a desire for mercy. We need to become peacemakers, not peacekeepers.

In short: we do not need any more scapegoats!!!

RIP Kelly Gissendaner. RIP Douglas Gissendaner. I pray that reconciliation between you both has already taken place. I also pray that the reconciliatory peace of Christ invades every soul immediately, transforming fear into love, hopelessness into hope, and violence into pure peace. Until that takes place, I pray that more and more of my brothers and sisters continue to work diligently toward creating this lasting shalom.

To death with the death penalty!


Image: Screen shot from YouTube: Audio of Kelly Gissendaner’s Last Statement by Gwinnett Daily Post.

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, October 6, another child of God, Kimber Edwards, is scheduled to be executed for a crime of which he might be innocent. You may read more about his case, and find out how to contact Missouri governor Jay Nixon as well as Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in order to ask for a stay of execution and a reexamination of the evidence, here.


Pope Francis, Kim Davis, and Progressive Purity Codes

Editor’s Note: This article was written and published to Teaching Nonviolent Atonement at Patheos yesterday, before the news came out to clarify the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis. Even so, this article offers a useful perspective on the “scandalous” nature of such a meeting.

By now you’ve heard that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis last week. I’d like to make two things clear up front: First, I love Pope Francis. I think he is making huge leaps in the right direction for Christianity on a global scale. Second, I think Kim Davis was absolutely wrong to deny marriage licenses to gay couples. I firmly believe that her stance against gay marriage is a misreading of scripture and Christian tradition. I believe that Christians can, and should, support marriage equality.

But since we discovered that Pope Francis met with Davis, many Progressives have been in an uproar. Many have tried to explain away their meeting by saying that the Pope didn’t know about Kim Davis or that there was some conspiracy within the Vatican to get Kim Davis a meeting with Pope Francis.

I might lose my Progressive credentials for this, but why are so many Progressives offended that the Pope would meet with Kim Davis? I get that many are concerned that the Pope may have endorsed her actions to exclude same gender marriage, but we just don’t know if that was his intent. Still, there’s another important issue here, and that is purity codes.

It’s as if the Pope has crossed our progressive purity codes. Sure, we love Pope Francis when he hugs a man with boils, meets with prisoners, and advocates for the poor. But meeting with our enemy? Oh that’s too much. So we hunker down to remind ourselves that Kim Davis is the enemy and anyone who fraternizes with our enemies crosses the lines of our purity codes and becomes contaminated with “otherness.”

There’s even this article with the catchy title, “How Pope Francis Undermined the Goodwill of His Trip and Proved to Be a Coward.”

Pope Francis knows that his job isn’t to make us Progressives happy. His job isn’t to get on our program. That’s because our program is so often based in opposition to our enemies. Our purity codes tell us who is in and who is out, who is worthy of love and who we should hate. So let’s just admit it – we hate people like Kim Davis. She makes our skin crawl. Our identity as Progressives is in part based by being in opposition to those we label as Evangelicals or fundamentalists or conservatives. And so we are against Kim Davis.

And many Progressives want Pope Francis to be just like us. Many want Pope Francis to have the same enemies that we have. We want him to hate the same people that we hate. That’s why we’re so scandalized when Pope Francis met with Kim Davis.

But that’s not Francis’s job. His job is to shine the love of God into the world. God doesn’t play by any purity codes, including progressive purity codes. The doctrine of the Incarnation reveals that God isn’t in rivalry with humanity. God didn’t come into the world through Jesus Christ to judge or condemn humanity. Rather, God came into the world to save us from our purity codes that create hostile identities of “us against them.”

The truth is that our enemies are not God’s enemies, because God has no enemies. The highlight of biblical teaching about God is the truth statement found in 1 John, that Jesus has revealed that “God is love.” Period. If that’s true, as every Progressive I’ve met would affirm, then God loves everyone, including those we call our enemies. Including Kim Davis.


Jesus tells us that God’s nourishing sun and refreshing rain fall on the just and the unjust alike. God makes no distinction between friend and foe, righteous and unrighteous. Rather, God loves and cares for everyone.

God loves Kim Davis. The Pope’s most important job is to shine God’s love into the world. That’s what he did by meeting with her. Does God’s love for Kim Davis mean that God endorses everything Kim Davis does? Of course not. Neither does God’s love for me or for you mean that God endorses everything that we do.

As a Progressive, I’m glad that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis. He reminds me, and all Christians, that our mission in the world isn’t to follow our group’s purity codes. Instead, it’s to cross the purity codes that divide us and them. It’s to follow the God who unabashedly loves all people.

For more, see Morgan Guyton’s excellent article, “Jesus would have met with Kim Davis and Gene Robinson.”

Image: Pope Francis and Kim Davis (Photos: Flickr: Pope Francis – by the Republic of Korea, Creative Commons License, changes made; Kim Davis, by Mike Licht, Creative Common License, changes made)