Tim Nafzinger: Financial Institutions and Babylon

At OLSX, St. Paul's. Photo credit: Duncan C., http://www.flickr.com/photos/duncan/6281021255/

As part of the Word and World mentoring circle that I belong to we have been reading Protestant theologian William Stringfellow and talking about the Occupy Movement.

Here’s a concise insight from Tim Nafzinger:

>>It’s very interesting, in light of our recent discussion on William Stringfellow’s An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land to read George Monbiot’s column in The Guardian naming the Corporation of the City of London (the official name of the square mile in London that houses many of the world’s most powerful banks and financial institutions) as “Babylon” in yesterday’s Guardian. Note this is a completely different legal entity from the London where 3 million people live. Monbiot writes:

It’s the dark heart of Britain, the place where democracy goes to die, immensely powerful, equally unaccountable. But I doubt that one in 10 British people has any idea of what the Corporation of the City of London is and how it works. This could be about to change. Alongside the Church of England, the Corporation is seeking to evict the protesters camped outside St Paul’s cathedral. The protesters, in turn, have demanded that it submit to national oversight and control. …

[The City] has also made the effective regulation of global finance almost impossible. Shaxson shows how the absence of proper regulation in London allowed American banks to evade the rules set by their own government. AIG’s wild trading might have taken place in the US, but the unit responsible was regulated in the City. Lehman Brothers couldn’t get legal approval for its off-balance sheet transactions in Wall Street, so it used a London law firm instead. No wonder priests are resigning over the plans to evict the campers. The Church of England is not just working with Mammon; it’s colluding with Babylon.

Fittingly enough, from a Stringfellow perspective, this private banking world is often just referred to as “The City.”

Monbiot’s naming and shaming (along with the resignation of three Church of England clergy members) seems to have had its effect. This morning the Church of England stopped its attempts to evict Occupy London. Now it’s just Babylon against them…<<

Thanks Tim.

The Good Book and Gay Marriage

Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Yesterday in Minneapolis, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) crossed an historic threshold as Presbyterians in the Twin Cities area voted to eliminate all official barriers to the ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as ministers and lay leaders in their 2.4 million member denomination.  With their vote the Twin Cities Presbyterians were the 87th Presbytery (a regional governing body) to vote yes, giving the denomination the majority of votes needed to approve the landmark change.

In light of this historic event and other debates closer to home, I want to repost a 2008 item below.

***************************************

One of my faith heroes and friends, Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a United Methodist serving as pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, recently engaged in a faith-based debate for Newsweek about what Scripture teaches on same-sex marriage. I found it very insightful. His dialogue partner was Barrett Duke from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Their online discussion was a follow-up to the Newsweek cover story by Lisa Miller, Our Mutual Joy.

It’s this kind of thoughtful interaction that can help people of faith grow together in Christ—while hopefully (in my opinion) moving us toward a Christian faith that asks about the “content of one’s character,” one’s fidelity to God, and how one manifests God’ love both materially and spiritually to the poor and the least of these, rather than sexual customs or mores.

Another interesting exchange to recommend is Jon Stewart’s interview with Mike Huckabee on social conservatism and gay marriage. Respectful, funny, and enlightening.

Here’s a bit from the Newsweek exchange, but read the whole thing:

Bill Wylie-Kellerman: I found the cover story by Lisa Miller quite good over all, and stimulating, raising a number of things about which I’d like to talk, beginning with the very nature of marriage in church and society. That is actually a matter of some theological confusion. I love the Bible, and stake my life in the biblical witness, and it is that which calls me to the struggle for full inclusion of gay people and their gifts. I know we disagree.

Barrett Duke: Greetings. I look forward to our conversation. This is a very important topic, not only for the church but also for our culture. I believe Christians must submit to the Bible’s teachings, and I believe the Bible is unequivocal in its teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful. That being the case, it is impossible for me to accept same-sex marriage, which legitimizes a sinful behavior.

I think Lisa Miller’s NEWSWEEK article was atrocious. It was obviously biased in its attitude from the start. It is evident to me that Lisa already had her mind made up and was simply interested in trying to convince her readers that she was right. Of course, she is within her right to do that, but she was hardly honest in her treatment of the Bible in the process. She dismissed it without even giving it opportunity to speak. Her comment, “Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition …” was offensive and uninformed. My objections to same-sex marriage are very much rooted in the Bible. If NEWSWEEK actually intended to be an honest mediator of this issue, they should have published pro and con articles by respected Bible scholars rather than engage in such blatantly obvious opinion journalism.

Wylie-Kellerman: By laying out a clear argument, public conversations are invited. I also know it was a great breath of air for gay folks to read a theologically literate argument on their behalf. They are so constantly hit over the head with Scripture, to which we must surely come.

Ms. Miller called the mix of civil and religious elements of marriage an often “messy conflation of the two.” I agree. On the one hand, a marriage is a civil contract between two people and the state with certain rights, responsibilities and privileges implied. On the other, it is also often an act of worship between two people before God, surrounded by prayer and support from a worshiping community and with the presence of ongoing pastoral care. It seems to me only over the former that the state should have authority. In the Episcopal Church, for example, marriage is one of the sacraments. In Methodism, it is a service of worship. This means we have the intrusion and participation of the state in a sacramental act of worship. That’s more than messy.

Duke: I’m sure some considered the article a “breath of air,” but they have not been well served. It is not a theologically literate argument. It didn’t even deal with many of the key Bible passages. Reading Ms. Miller’s article, one could get the impression that the New Testament is silent about the subject of homosexuality, which of course it certainly is not. Furthermore, my objections to same-sex marriage are not based solely on the Bible’s teachings. The Bible informs my opinion about this issue, but the question I think we are trying to answer is, what does God have to say about this? It is clear that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Since I believe that the Bible is God’s word, and I have good reason for this belief, then it must mean that God condemns homosexual marriage, so the Bible cannot be used to help create an argument for same-sex marriage. Whether one wants to create a nonreligious, i.e., civil, marriage or not, it doesn’t change what is the clear biblical teaching about homosexual behavior.

Wylie-Kellerman: I want to go forward here speaking out of the conversation which I hear going on in Scripture, one pertinent to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people. The direct sanctions in the Levitical code against male homosexual acts arise during the period of the exile. They are part of the purity code that set boundaries against assimilation into Babylon. Much of those laws concern dietary restrictions. Think Daniel and Meshach and friends and their refusal to consume the imperial diet. The boundaries of the community are being proscribed and protected by the code. As I understand it, the body itself becomes the image of community. So all of the body’s entry and exit points, all orifices are regulated: what goes in as resistance to the empire—like kosher table—has served Judaism’s cultural identity throughout the Diaspora. By the time of Jesus, however, these boundaries had been turned on their sides. The purity code was turned against women, the sick and disabled, and poor people. They were the unclean.

At great personal cost, Jesus set about in his life and ministry to welcome the unclean into his community and to his table. He violated the purity code with his body, even finally on the cross. In the Book of Acts (chapter 10), the Holy Spirit urges Peter in a vision to eat unclean foods, and he says that would be an “abomination.” Precisely so. But the Spirit persists, and he accedes, which really means he is able to welcome and eat with a gentile, Cornelius, otherwise unclean, then on his way to visit. St. Paul spends a lot of his correspondence thinking this through in writing about the law (more than the purity code, but really set in motion by its stricture). For him the issue is whether the “wall of hostility” (Ephesians) would run down the middle of the common table, even the communion table, dividing Jews and gentiles in the Christian community. In the church, the movement is toward fuller and deeper inclusion. It is that which culminates in Paul saying there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female for we are all one in Christ. In the context of the American freedom struggle, this was understood by the church (sometimes poorly and certainly belatedly) to imply, there is neither black nor white. Today I hear the summons to say, in Christ, there is neither gay nor straight.

Continue reading “The Good Book and Gay Marriage”

Is Sheol in Preston Hollow, Texas?

Whilst reading in the prophet Isaiah, I popped down to the grocery store to buy orange juice for Sojourners’ Mardi Gras pancake breakfast tomorrow. With the prophet’s searing poetry still curdling inside me, my eyes fell on that this week’s edition of that fish-wrap, scandal rag The Globe trumpeting:

globecoverbushorig1Just weeks after leaving the White House, depressed and paranoid George Bush is suicidal, insiders fear. In a blockbuster world exclusive, sources tell GLOBE the ex-President is boozing up a storm – and reveal why he is terrified of Barack Obama and his own wife Laura. Don’t miss a single word!

It seems that life in the Bushes’ new home in Preston Hollow, a wealthy Dallas suburb, is not all he expected it would be. It struck me that the prophet Isaiah is much better at explicating the daily headlines than I am and in words much franker and bolder than I usually give myself permission to use. Isaiah 14:6-10 says:

You persecuted the people with unceasing blows of rage and held the nations in your angry grip. Your tyranny was unrestrained. But at last the land is at rest and is quiet. Finally it can sing again! Even the trees of the forest–the cypress trees and the cedars of Lebanon – sing out this joyous song: `Your power is broken! No one will come to cut us down now!’ In the place of the impotent there is excitement over your arrival. World leaders and mighty kings long dead are there to see you. With one voice they all cry out, `Now you are as weak as we are!

In fact, Isaiah describes Yahweh’s specific instructions to Israel to taunt the deposed leader of an empire, saying, “When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon”  (Isaiah 14:3-4).

Theologian Walter Brueggemann, in his explication of Isaiah 1-39, makes the argument for why this taunting is important, saying that when the people are free from their oppression then “one of the important opportunities, in such freedom, is to engage in a mocking song against the tyrant.”

Brueggemann goes on to describe the toppled ruler’s arrival in Sheol:

“Sheol” is not a place of punishment, but it is where the dead are kept in their impotence. As the deposed oppressor arrives in Sheol, now completely removed from authority and utterly impotent—a suitable resident for Sheol—all the others who used to be active authorities and great powers in the earth (now become impotent) present themselves as a welcoming committee for the new arrival in Sheol. They gather around the new arrival and recognize him as one of their own, formerly powerful, now completely powerless.

In high irony, the poet [Isaiah] has them welcome the new member of the powerless to their company—“You are like us”—powerless, no longer a force to be reckoned with. … The speech “rubs it in,” so that this now feeble has-been should be recognized for what he is, completely broken and irrelevant, warranting no attention at all. (Isaiah 1-39 by Walter Brueggemann, 1998, p. 127-128)

elliottsorig-crop1In light of Isaiah’s description, it seems entirely appropriate that Kyle Walters, president of Elliott’s hardware store in Dallas should offer George Bush a job as a store greeter, saying, “Like you, many of our greeters are retired from the corporate world, so we’re sure you’ll have no trouble making new friends.”

How many American retirees have had to do just this in order to make their Social Security checks stretch farther and cover their medical expenses?

And, the LA Times reports, that while the former first lady is working on a book, “the former president has yet to interest a publisher in his memoirs. In fact, several have advised him to wait a few years until his reputation is less, well, in need of a good hardware polishing.”

Of course, having compassion for George W. Bush, the man, the husband, the father, is part of the Christian calling, as is extending him the hand of mercy when he repents of his sins.

But for President Bush who sought the status of emperor and who claimed divine right in his exploits; who tortured strangers in secret prisons; who opened the nation’s treasuries to privateers; who unleashed the dogs of war on civilians for the purpose of working out old vengeances and hoarding resources, I have a few good taunts left in me.

In fact, I imagine that, right now, Sheol may have taken up an address in Preston Hollow, Texas.

“Some Songs Required” a poem

I wrote this strange little poem a few years ago. It wasn’t prompted by anything happening in the Middle East, but as I revisit it now, there is some element of lament that resonates with my current lament for the people in Gaza and Israel.

Some Songs Required
Psalm 137

by Rose Marie Berger

Down the river from Babylon
there was a city of Dales,

not quite like Zion. In Nutdale,
Elmdale, and Oakdale people sat

two by two in boxes neatly stacked
where they wept without knowing why.

Upriver, Babylon heard only their singing
in a special language of clicks and snaps;

not in the stringed language of the lyre,
that riffled and flowed over the feet

of the Stored Ones. True too that the Dale-dwellers
babbled in a tongue fewer and fewer of them

could understand. Instead they stared:
at each other, at the river, pointing out the little

heads of children, afloat like golden boats
on the current. While Babylon, teeth sharp

from gnawing on its platinum
bedpost at night, reached down its

right hand to touch the flag hanging
limp between its legs. A single gold tear

slipped away to tell the others.