Surveiling Dakota Land Defenders Has Biblical Resonance

Two recent articles (see below) document what land defenders fighting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines have been reporting anecdotally: they are being aggressively surveiled and treated like enemy combatants, not Americans. As Sojourners publisher Joe Roos said during the Reagan era, “The real goal of most domestic surveillance is political control. The suppression of domestic political dissent and the containment of social change movements lie more at the heart of our government’s intentions.” And Bill Wylie-Kellermann reminds us that “In truth, [surveillance] is an ancient tactic of the powers, one with which Jesus contended and coped.”

Wylie-Kellermann continues, “An eye for surveillance material in the New Testament is a little like paranoia; it begins to stare back at you from every page. In a recent re-reading of the four gospels, I counted easily more than 40 instances where Jesus or his followers are being watched, watched for, or sought. Add to that some 25 or more references to plottings against him and his friends, and you begin to get the creeps. At the point in John where Jesus himself is accused of being “paranoid” (7:20), we can take sympathy. He has good reason to be. In general, the gospel of John (so often revered as the least political) appears to have the most abundant material on surveillance. There we are granted a dramatic view most privy to the counsel of the authorities, and there the actions of Jesus in response are most versatile and conscious. Of the synoptics Luke is the most explicit about the plots: “So they watched him, and sent spies, who pretended to be sincere, that they might take hold of what he said, so as to deliver him up to the authority and jurisdiction of the governor” (Luke 20:20). These agents do deliver. At the trial those political charges are brought, with a host of witnesses to back them up.”

There is nothing new under the sun and our authentic witness for the integrity of creation continues to provoke responses in the Powers That Be. So, beloved, be “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves.”–RMB

Paramilitary security tracked and targeted DAPL opponents as “jihadists,” docs show by Antonia Juhasz for Grist

“As people nationwide rallied last year to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s attempts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, a private security firm with experience fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan launched an intrusive military-style surveillance and counterintelligence campaign against the activists and their allies, according to internal company documents.

Its surveillance targets included everyone from Native American demonstrators to the actress Shailene Woodley, along with organizations including Black Lives Matter, 350.org, Veterans for Peace, the Catholic Worker Movement, and Food and Water Watch. The records label the protestors “jihadists” and seek to justify escalating action against them.

The activities of the company spanned, but were not limited to, the four states through which the pipeline passes: South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The documents also show that its surveillance efforts continued after the breakup of the Standing Rock camps this winter, including at ongoing pipeline protests in southeastern Pennsylvania, Iowa, and South Dakota.

The internal documents from the firm, called TigerSwan, take the form of situation reports, or “sitreps,” prepared between September and April for its employer, Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. The records detail a range of tactics that experts from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Lawyers Guild, and Electronic Frontier Foundation say would likely be illegal if conducted by law enforcement. …” Read more here.

Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics used at Standing Rock to ‘Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies’ by Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, Alice Speri at The Intercept

“… The situation reports also suggest that TigerSwan attempted a counterinformation campaign by creating and distributing content critical of the protests on social media.

The Intercept is publishing a first set of TigerSwan’s situation reports from September 2016, which describe the company’s initial operations. We are also publishing two additional situation reports dated October 16 and November 5, along with PowerPoint presentations shared with law enforcement that correspond to the same dates. The names of private individuals whose actions are not already in the public record, or whose authorization we did not obtain, have been redacted to protect their privacy. The Intercept will publish the remaining situation reports in the coming weeks.

In addition, The Intercept is publishing a selection of communications, obtained by public records requests, detailing coordination between a wide range of local, state, and federal agencies, which confirm that the FBI participated in core Dakota Access-related law enforcement operations starting soon after protests began last summer. Finally, we are publishing two additional documents, also in the public record, that detail TigerSwan’s role spearheading Energy Transfer Partner’s multipronged security operation. …” Read more here.

Feast Day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Flossenberg memorial to resistance members killed April 9, 1942. 2 Timothy 1:7: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."
Flossenberg memorial to resistance members killed April 9, 1942.
2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

Bill Wylie-Kellermann studied Bonhoeffer with Paul Lehmann, Bonhoeffer’s friend and colleague at Union Seminary NYC. The life and times of Bonhoeffer are instructive for us today. Below is both Bill’s reflections for today, 70 years after Bonhoeffer’s execution by the Nazis.

And also reflections from Victoria Barnett, staff director of the Committee on Ethics, Religion, and Bonhoeffer scholar at the Holocaust at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both reflect on Bonhoeffers 1942 Christmas letter.

“We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the power-less, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.”— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christmas letter to friends and co-conspirators (1942)

Seventy years ago today, just weeks before the fall of Berlin in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was marched naked into the yard of Flossenberg Concentration Camp and hanged with piano wire for being an enemy of the Nazi state. He was 39.

Bonhoffer may be said to have literally written the book on radical discipleship. For several generations his Cost of Discipleship has provoked conversion, focused hearts, signified the way. It is perhaps most famous for its opening meditation contrasting “cheap grace” – grace as commodity, principle, doctrine – with “costly grace” which is grace to die for – the way of discipleship and the cross. “When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die.” … — Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Read the rest of Bill’s post at Radical Discipleship here.

Vicky Barnett is the coeditor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works project, the English translation series of Bonhoeffer’s complete works (Fortress Press). Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church movement are viewed quite differently between Christians and Jews.

In December 1942, Bonhoeffer sent a Christmas letter (“After Ten Years”) to his closest friends in the resistance. In a bitterly realistic tone, he faced the prospect that they might fail, and that his own life’s work might remain incomplete. He may have wondered, too, whether his decision to return to Germany and to work in military intelligence had been the right one. “Are we still of any use?” he wrote:

We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?

The necessities of subterfuge and compromise had already cost him a great deal. He pondered the different motives for fighting evil, noting that even the finest intentions could prove insufficient. “Who stands firm?” Bonhoeffer asked:

Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call.

In this letter, one of Bonhoeffer’s most moving and powerful writings, the various threads of Bonhoeffer’s life and work came together. He had been one of the few in his church to demand protection for the persecuted as a necessary political step. He had called upon his church, traditionally aligned with the state, to confront the consequences of that alliance. The church struggle, as he wrote Bishop George Bell in 1934, was “not something that occurs just within the church, but it attacks the very roots of National Socialism. The point is freedom. . . .”

Continue reading “Feast Day of Dietrich Bonhoeffer”

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.

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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”

Gentrification’s Violence and the Conundrum of the Neighbor

Bill Wylie-Kellermann

My mentor and friend Bill Wylie-Kellermann, wrote an exceptional reflection on living locally in Detroit and practicing restorative justice in the face of hate crimes.

Looking for real justice: What we can learn from a Corktown attack
is a well-crafted example of radical Christian witness in place. I encourage you to read Bill’s whole essay. Here’s an excerpt below:

Last Friday, Steve DiPonio, a resident of Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, pleaded not guilty in Wayne County Circuit Court to felony charges related to the October beating of a homeless man, Charles Duncan, also of Corktown.

DiPonio, according to witnesses, first used his pickup truck to harass several men, including Duncan, bedding down for the night in an alcove of Holy Trinity School, flashing his lights and revving the engine. Then, it is alleged, he beat Duncan repeatedly with a baseball bat, tied his feet with a rope and pulled him toward the truck, threatening to drag him to the river. Neighbors intervened. The prosecutor’s office might well have charged this as a hate crime. Both the weapons and the symbolism bear a terrible weight.

As pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal at Michigan and Trumbull, both of these men are known to me. I count them each as neighbors. I’m struck that when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he told a parable about a man beaten and left for dead by the side of the road (Luke 10). In our story at hand, I notice a parable of community and hospitality as well.

Charles Duncan has made his home variously in Corktown for at least a decade. He is a regular guest at our soup kitchen, Manna Community Meal. Charlie is a chronic alcoholic, subject to seizures, but a truly gentle person, even if he can get exercised over the fate of certain Detroit sports teams. The homeless folks of Corktown are by no means all alcoholics, but then neither are all the alcoholics in Corktown homeless. He is currently in rehab. And through the District Court preliminary hearings, he has, by my lights, been courageous to keep appearing for all the proceedings. Grant him this heart: He stands up and refuses to be terrorized. He insists by his witness that you don’t have to own property or even rent it to be a member of this community. He declares himself our neighbor.

Steve DiPonio is also our neighbor. For many years, he’s lived down the street. He cares honestly and perversely about Corktown. He is a skilled handyman in neighborhood projects. He participates vocally, even loudly, in community meetings, and was formerly part of the Corktown patrol (think: Neighborhood Watch with yellow lights and walkie-talkies). He was not on the patrol the night of the beating, and has since been removed from its rolls. However, the assault with which he is charged fits into a larger pattern of violence against and harassment of homeless people in the neighborhood. Homelessness is being criminalized and profiled. By looking at someone on the street, it’s presumed one can tell who belongs in the neighborhood — and who doesn’t. Harassment is extended to young people of color as well.

… What happened to Charlie may be seen as the blunt end of gentrification. Poor folks will be pushed to new margins. Homeless people for neighborhoods without homes.

Read the rest here.