Issues of Race in Politics, Music, TV and Sports

by Bo Sanders 

[I initially wrote this for Ethnic Space & Faith
but thought it would be fun to cross pollinate.]  

Despite what the caller said on this week’s ‘Take Them to Task’ segment from the Smiley & West show said, race is still an issue in North America – not everyone is color blind. In fact, here are four stories that caught my attention in the past couple of days in the areas of politics, music, TV, and sport:

 Politics:  Much analysis is being done – and will continue to be done – about the U.S. Presidential election.  I had heard leading up to November 6 that if Gov. Romney was to win, he would have to do it with the largest percentage of white voters in recent history.

While he did not win yesterday, the ethnic breakdown was stark and is causing much consternation in conservative circles. Whites, and especially Evangelicals, reports say, voted over 80% for Romney. It is almost exactly the opposite (some reports say as high as 93%) of Latino voters went for Obama.

My only point is that if you think that the election of a Black president makes this a post-racial country, you have another thing coming. Race is still an issue and will continue to be an issue as we move to 2048 when Whites will not be a majority in America.

How will we lead? How will we transition? How will we hear new voices? 

Music: You may have seen the uproar over the music group No Doubt’s new video “Looking Hot”. Rolling Stone describes it this way:

The clip for the second single off their long-awaited new album, Push and Shove, featured a Wild-West theme, replete with tee-pees, feather headdresses and smoke signals. After releasing the video on Friday, No Doubt quickly drew complaints for using the stereotypical imagery, with threads such as “Appropriating Native American culture” appearing

The band did apologize and did remove the video.  Continue Reading …

Evil Is as Evil Does

Earlier this week I wrote about Dealing with Demons – a progressive take, and in it I mentioned that the Devil was a personification of when evil is too big and too bad for us to comprehend as a human result … we outsource to an ancient, cosmic bad guy.  Many were able to track with the demon thing but some hit a snag with the Devil thing.

Then what is evil?  Where does it come from? Is it real? Is it ontological? 

Let me entertain the 3 suggestions that were brought up by responders to the blog: Augustine, Process and Relational Reality.

Augustine had a theory called “privatio boni”. Back in my apologist-evangelist days I would explain it like this:  Evil isn’t something, it is the absence of something. Like darkness is not a thing, it is simply the absence of a thing. Wherever you do not have the presence of light, you automatically have darkness – so where God’s will is not obeyed, you automatically have sin and evil.

Of course, the problem with this is that it predicated by God being “all powerful” or omnipotent. Augustine explains:

For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil. For what is that which we call evil but the absence of good? In the bodies of animals, disease and wounds mean nothing but the absence of health; for when a cure is effected, that does not mean that the evils which were present—namely, the diseases and wounds—go away from the body and dwell elsewhere: they altogether cease to exist; for the wound or disease is not a substance, but a defect in the fleshly substance,—the flesh itself being a substance, and therefore something good, of which those evils—that is, privations of the good which we call health—are accidents. Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good. And when they are cured, they are not transferred elsewhere: when they cease to exist in the healthy soul, they cannot exist anywhere else.

An alternative to that comes from Process thought – which does not see God’s power as coercive (able to unilaterally act however God wills) but persuasive, engaging the possibilities of each moment, complete the contingencies of the past, to bring forward the possibility of a preferable future. John Cobb explains in Process Perspectives II that there are many factors that create the multi-layered web of evil. Human sin is just one element. He also names

  • Chance and Purpose
  • Survival instinct
  • Communal Identity – and fear when it is threatened
  • Deep held but mistaken beliefs
  • Institutions
  • Obedience of authority

among others, as potential ingredients in the creation of evil.

 I want to make it clear that the systemic evil of degrading the Earth in our current situation is not primarily the result of individual sins of unnecessary wastefulness by those who know they are falling short of the ideal. The systemic evil results from our industrial-economic system. This system came into being out of a great mixture of motives. Some of them were narrowly selfish, and some of the decisions people made in the process were no doubt sinful. But not all. Some people rightly saw that the development of this system brought prosperity to nations and eventually to most of their people…

Since I believe that to some extent we all miss the mark or fail to fully actualize the initial aim, I do not exclude sin as a causal element in the establishment of this system. My point is only that to explain the rise to dominance of this system primarily in terms of sin is extremely misleading. The evil results from a mixture of good intentions, ignorance, and sin. It is also profoundly brought about by the power of the past in each moment of human experience. (p. 135)

 A third option for thinking about this is a Relational Approach. I first encountered this through reading Native American approaches to theology with my mentor Randy Woodley (who’s new book Shalom and the Community of Creation  just came out).

If you go back to the story of Eden and can resist the temptation to retroject a Greek understanding of ‘original sin’ and substance into the story, you will see that it is primarily about relationship. What happens in Eden is a fracturing and a resulting alienation in 3 directions:

  1. humans from God
  2. humans from each other
  3. and humans from the earth that sustains them.

As Genesis continues, the fractures stretch out and the impact of the alienation is greater and greater. Soon brother kills brother, generations are fractured … then tribes, peoples and societies.

I love this approach! Once you get away from the substance/material approach the whole Gospel reads differently!  God’s relational covenant with Israel and the resulting Law, Christ’s relationship to the God and ushering in a new covenant which radically altered (and began to repaired) our relationship to God – to each other – and to the earth which sustains us (where do you think bread and wine come from?)

The gift of Holy Spirit re-connects us in an inter-related family of God. The perichoretic reality of the Trinity is about the relatedness of the Godhead and not primarily about matters of substance and matter (ousia). Evil in this picture, is that which results from brokeness and fracturing, which leads to alienation, and is then complixified through  exponential increase of family systems, tribalism, social structures, societal realities and institutional frameworks … it becomes so big and so bad that it is nearly unimaginable to our mind. At this point we are tempted to outsource the badness to an ‘entity’ which is the personification of evil.

So those are three really good ways of beginning to address the problem of evil. They all have strengths and weakness – but in the end, they are better than saying ‘the Devil made me do it’.

I will end by quoting Cobb again:

 The ways in which even what is good in human nature and society can and does become destructive are so numerous and so effective that the mystery is how good sometimes triumphs over it. This is where I see the need to emphasize God’s directing and empowering call to novel forms of goodness.

John B. Cobb Jr.. The Process Perspective II (p. 137). Kindle Edition which sells for $7.63

What God doesn’t say and how not to read the Bible

The unpleasant topic of what God doesn’t say has shown up in three different conversations this week (and its only Tuesday!) :

Tony Jones gave a little pushback to Daniel Kirk (a recent guest on Homebrewed) about homosexuality and the Apostle Paul. Both Paul and homosexuality are hot topics right now so the discussion was vibrant.

Kirk is clear about those infamous Old Testament ‘clobber’ passages but is a little more allusive when it comes to the New Testament. He pulls what appears to be equivalent to an ‘argument from silence’ saying that Jesus would have commented on it if he wasn’t OK with the dominant view of his day. Tony makes this argument:

Apply that logic to any number of other moral or ethical issues, and I’ll bet that Kirk and his fellow evangelical biblical scholars don’t agree. For instance, Jesus was silent about:

  • Slavery
  • Abortion
  • The death penalty
  • Corporal punishment
  • Racism
  • Rape

I could go on. Does that mean that we should argue that Jesus was implicitly endorsing each of these? Of course not.

The same line of reasoning has been showing up over and over again in blogs written by women about issues of church leadership, image-beauty, and marriage.

 It is tough to argue about what the Bible doesn’t say. 

I actually try to pull this off in the latest TNT (Eschatology and Resurrection) when it comes to reading the Old Testament. I use the story of Lot’s daughters (Genesis 19) and point out that there is a noticeable lack of commentary in so many places in the Bible. In that Genesis 19 narrative it never says “and what they did was wrong” or “and they should not have done that”.   It just tells the story.

I compare this to the Canaanite conquest when the Israelites come out of slavery, violence, and oppression – into a new land – and then become violent and oppressive to the inhabitants. It reads to me like a cautionary tale about groups who escape violent oppression and come into a new area will always think that A) God is on their side (which is different than saying ‘God is with them‘  B) God has prepared the land especially  for them C) that God wants them to kill the current residents

 I got this idea of the cautionary tale from a book called Native and Christian – specifically two essays entitled The Old Testament of Native America by Steve Charleston and Canaanites, Cowboys and Indians by Robert Allen Warrior.

These three topics: homosexuality, women’s roles in church & home, and religious violence are not just arguments from history … they are on our doorstep knocking angrily everyday of the 21st century. They also share something else in common: the make arguments from silence about what is not in the Bible.

Here is where it gets even stickier. I was reading an old article by Roger Olson (also a former podcast guest) from Christianity Today 10 years ago. He was illustrating how American Christianity came to be and specifically the influence that the 1800’s had on our contemporary situation.

I also stumbled into Tad Delay’s blog about American Populism in early American religion, dealing with The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch. Tad explains :

The language of a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” a sinners prayer for salvation, and a strong emphasis on unschooled individuals reading the Bible without need for rigorous theology came out of this period. Those with any training or expertise were openly spoken of as the enemy. The most flamboyant and charismatic circuit preacher garnered fame- which was certainly a goal of many- but to be charismatic, you had to convince the hearers that the message was simple. So, the message became very simple.

And this is where I get really nervous. A plain & simple reading of the Bible is one thing – a surface understanding I am always encountering and navigating. That is one thing. But arguments about what God didn’t say and what is not in the Bible are complex and nuanced. Our popular simplistic impulse leaves us in a pickle – one that I am not sure we  commonly have the tools to get out of and one that leaves us with an increasingly irrelevant message that our young people simply walk away from.

If everything needs to be understandable to anyone … we might be in trouble when it comes to reading the Bible in 21st century.


Keeping up with Epperly

I was so pleased to turn on the Doug Pagitt radio show podcast and hear the voice of Bruce Epperly. Several months ago I had the chance to interview Dr. Epperly – he made my job pretty easy.

As we get ready for 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation – which will feature conversation partners like Epperly – I wanted to highlight 3 recent connecting points with his work.

Doug Pagitt Radio Show (hour 2)  – also available on I-tunes

Blog about the Incarnation over at Patheos

A quote from his book “Process Theology: a guide for the perplexed

The world emerges from the dynamic interplay of flux and permanence, in which the eternal and unchanging finds its relevance through its relationship to the temporal and changing world, and the temporal and changing finds completion in its role as contributing to the ongoing universe, embraced by God’s everlasting and ever-expanding experience of the universe… God is not the exception to the dynamic nature of the universe but rather the dynamic God-world relationship is the primary example of creaturely experience in its many expressions. – p 21

I find Dr. Epperly’s thinking and writing to be so accessible and helpful for really wading into a thoughtful engagement.

Two other points of interest: 

You can get Doug Pagitt’s books – like Church in the Inventive Age – on Kindle instantly if you need a book for the plane flight home this holiday season.

My mentor Randy Woodley was on Doug’s show for Thanksgiving to talk about Native American theological and historical perspectives. It was a fantastic 46  minute interview


a thought from the blog listed above:

…God is present in every moment of experience as the source of possibilities and the energy to embody these possibilities in everyday life. Accordingly, we are all, in varying degrees, incarnations of divine wisdom and creativity. The greater openness toward God’s presence in our lives, the more God can be present, guiding, energizing, and inspiring our lives.  Jesus’ uniqueness is not to be found in an absolute discontinuity between God’s presence in his life and God’s presence in our lives, but in the nature and intensity of God’s presence in Jesus’ life.