Saturday, February 19, 2011

Blog Transition

Future posts for this blog project will be available here.

I will no longer be updating this Blogger-based blog, but the project will continue on Wordpress. Even though all previously posted articles have been imported into the Wordpress blog, I will leave these here just in case someone has linked to them.

Peace, Jeff

Monday, February 14, 2011

Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Came across the Peace and Collaborative Development Network today, "a free professional networking site (with over 18,650 members from around the world) to foster dialogue and sharing of resources in international development, conflict resolution, gender mainstreaming, human rights, social entrepreneurship and related fields."

"PCDN seeks to create horizontal networking and information sharing for individuals and groups around the world. Members can chat with each other, create blogs, add to discussion topics, and share current research, experiences and challenges from the field. The Network currently has over 18,500 members and is receiving 300,000 hits a month."

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Economic Justice

One of my courses this semester is Economic Justice and Christian Conscience. Here's the class description:

How can economic relationships be made to more fully reflect God's concern for justice? The question will be set in the context of economic faithfulness being seen as joyful response to God's bounty and goodness. It will be explored by examining various perspectives on the meaning of justice, on economic "development" and North-South relations, on economic systems and theories, on economic production and the natural world, on business ethics and labor-management issues, on economics in the church (mutual aid, etc.), and on issues of economic faithfulness for the individual Christian (stewardship).

These are the required textbooks:

  • Blomberg, Craig. Neither Poverty nor Riches
  • Foster, Richard. Freedom of Simplicity
  • Reed, Esther D. Good Work
  • Rempel, Henry. A High Price for Abundant Living
  • Sider, Ronald J. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger
I wish I could do a full degree in economic ethics. Topics that interest me: globalization, international development, corporate social responsibility (CSR), consumerism (spiritual, environmental and sociological connections), debt (personal & national), neoliberalism, fair trade, Jubilee (history, theology sociology), poverty (causes, effects, solutions), wealth distribution (The Economist addressed this recently), and economic anthropology.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Peace Theology (with a dash of SDA flavor)

Slightly Update: 7 Feb 2011

A friend just asked me on Facebook what I meant by peace theology. I'm sitting in a coffee shop, which means I don't have books to quote from, except for one by EG White in my bag. My only tools are Google, Bible Gateway and White's book, Welfare Ministry.

Basically, I meant that the Bible couches its conversations in a framework of peace (shalom & eirene), especially, but not only, in the New Testament. For starters:
Peace is a broad term; the biblical usage goes way beyond our common conception of "absence of violence." Any injustice breaks peace as much as outright war. Righteousness and justice are integral to peace, and in contrast to how we normally use them, they are quite related (Colson Center, IV Press). An understanding of the Jewish words for compassion and justice helps make these connections (e.g., 7 words, Just Action). Peace is a very relational word--right relations, harmony, the weak are safe, there is no oppression/injustice, needs are met.

Thus the peace Jesus brought definitely included peace and reconciliation with God, but it did not stop there. If we are to be faithful to Jesus and the gospel of peace, we must not stop there! People say to me, okay, they post online comments to me like, "Do this peace thing on your own time. Don't distract the church from the work of preaching the gospel." But this limited definition of Jesus and the gospel is reductionistic and misses Jesus' point. Jesus' way was not abstract theology, it was love, it was peace, it was relational, it was lived. A few examples from Jesus and the early teachers:
  • Matt. 23:23 -- Justice is more important than tithe. But which have you heard more sermons about?
  • Matt. 5:23-24 -- Relational reconciliation should precede religious expressions. Steps are given in Matt. 18.
  • Matt. 22:36-40 -- Love of God and others are inseparable.
  • Matt. 25:31-46 -- Sheep and goat designations based on loving actions, not abstract theology.
  • 1 John 3:17 -- Love of God doesn't exist when love for others is also lacking. Compassion, mercy, justice, love and meeting needs are all elemental to God's shalom.
I shouldn't just limit this to the New Testament since peace and justice are prevalent in the Hebrew Scriptures as well. Matt. 23:23 listed above echoes Amos, who said God hated their religion that lacked justice (Amos 5:21-24). This also echoes Micah 6:8, quite possibly the most well-known verse in this essay. Isaiah actually connects justice with God's presence, a connection I, as an SDA, interpret as applying to the end of the age. Is. 56:1 makes God's approaching salvation the motivation for pursuing justice, not a reason to neglect it. Deut. 16:20 also comes to mind in this regard--"Follow justice and justice alone."

Ellen White saw this social dimension as part of the gospel, not as an optional add-on. She writes, "Much more than mere sermonizing is included in preaching the gospel....The union of Christlike work for the body and Christlike work for the soul is the true interpretation of the gospel" (Welfare Ministry, pp. 32-33). The first 30 pages of that book just emphasize this over and over, especially in relation to Isaiah 58.

We see this in the early church as they lived the gospel of peace. It brought together men and women in amazing new ways, same with Jews and gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor. Social relations were turned upside down. Unity with God brought amazing peace to relations as never before. Paul (not to mention the prophets and Psalms and...) says way too much about peace in relationships to limit the ministry of reconciliation to our relationship with God alone (1 Cor. 7:15; 12:13; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-17; 4:3; Col. 3:11; 3:15; 1 Thes. 5:13, and more). The Bible just doesn't make this divide like we do (just like it doesn't divide justice and righteousness; which might affect one's reading of Matt. 5:6).

It can be argued that there is no good news of God apart from living the truth in community (1 John 1:7). We are not used to this language because we are used to using terms foreign to peace, justice and righteousness of the early church. Our lenses have been significantly affected by our post-Constantinian world view, as well as by post-enlightenment and post-Luther theologians. Here are two examples of how these lenses affect our selective reading of the Bible and God's priorities. Common:
NT (Eph 2:8-9): For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

HS (Is 1:18): “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.
In context (adjacent verses to those above):
NT (Eph 2:10): For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

HS (Is. 1:17): Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
When we read Jesus' inaugural address that laid out his ministry, we see that justice, oppression and the spirit of the jubilee were central to what he was doing in proclaiming what his kingdom looks like.“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

Even the Magnificat or Mary's Song rings with these themes (Luke 1:46-55), as does Jesus' later verification of his ministry to doubting and troubled John (Matt. 11:4-5). And we remember that John prepared people to meet Jesus by focusing on ethics when he could have just as easily highlighted the scriptures that were later considered by the early church to be prophecies pointing to Jesus (Luke 3). I believe this is important for the SDA church because we focus greatly on the 3 Angels' Message but we tend to neglect balancing our message with Is. 58. White instructed us, "
The whole of the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah is to be regarded as a message for this time, to be given over and over again" (Ministry of Healing, p. 29, emphasis added).

This lead my thoughts in two directions. First, this emphasis on justice (again, integral to peace) is consistent with Jer. 9:24 and 22:16, where doing justice is tantamount to knowing the God who exercises justice. This connection between (a) knowing that God exercises justice and (b) us doing justice makes sense when we remember that as the church we are Christ's body on earth (1 Cor. 12:27), we are to do his work.

Second, Jesus was clear about how citizens of his kingdom live. How does Jesus end both the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7; Stassen's triads, see also Kingdom Ethics) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:17-41)? With the comparison of the wise and foolish builders. He meant action, not abstract ethics for a perfect world that will never exist this side of the resurrection and 2nd coming. He asks,
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46). This fits with Matt. 7:21-23 about doing God's will. James echoes this (1:22); no wonder Luther didn't like the book. I believe all of this is consistent with Abraham's original call to teach righteousness and justice (Gen. 18:19).

The summation of righteousness, justice, reconciliation, fellowship, and love is peace. This is peace theology. I should have included a section on empire theology; maybe I'll add it later. And any theology has to take into account complex teachings (e.g., Luke 12:51), but that would greatly expand this already lengthy essay. This isn't meant to be exhaustive, just an introduction. For more on peace, I highly recommend starting with the following (notably, all by Mennonites/Anabaptists, but others like Stassen, Wink, Hauerwas, Brueggemann, Grassi, Arnold, and others really should be on the list as well, like this Jewish book):
The original question that sparked this post was in reference to a class I took in Guatemala that looked at how to live peace theology in a violent society. We studied how churches have worked to promote a culture of peace and justice in a historical context of massive human rights abuses. They risk death threats when they stand with abused women. They give of themselves to help those economically destroyed when husbands and sons have been disappeared. They walk with lawyers to thwart a culture of impunity. They build schools for people groups ignored by government development projects or targeted by government violence. They teach conflict resolution classes to infuse society with new ideas for dealing with differences. For more ideas, see the organizations we visited.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Rigoberta MenchĂș -- My Suffering Country

Rigoberta MenchĂș is an indigenous/Mayan humans rights advocate from Guatemala who has won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here is a poem of hers that appeared in the January 1991 edition of Prism Magazine. Learn more about her here: Story, Foundation, Bio, Wikileaks.

“My Suffering Country”

I crossed the border, my love,
I don't know when I'll return,
perhaps in summer when Grandmother Moon and Father Sun
greet each other again one sparkling dawn.
While all the stars rejoice,
they will herald the first rains.
The pumpkin Victor planted the afternoon he was murdered by soldiers
will begin to sprout again.
The peach trees will bloom, and our fields will bloom. We will plant lots of corn,
corn for the children of all our land.
The bee swarms shall return
which so many massacres and so much terror drove away. Rugged hands shall again hold vat after vat to collect the honey.
I crossed the border drenched in sadness,
I feel great sorrow in this dark and rainy dawn,
which goes beyond my existence.
The raccoons cry.
The monkeys cry.
And the coyotes and the mocking birds are silent. The snails want to speak.
Mother Earth is in mourning,
stained with blood.
She cries day and night from so much grief.
She misses the rhythm of the mattocks and the machetes, the rhythm of the grinding stones.
Each morning she is anxious to hear
the laughter and songs of her glorious children.
I crossed the border with dignity.
My sack is filled with so many things from that rainy land. I carry undying memories of Patrocinio,
My sandals that were born with me,
The scent of spring, the scent of the moss, the caress of the cornfields,
and the proud scars of our childhood.
I carry my colorful guipil for the fiesta when I return. And yes, I carry my bones and my sack of corn, for come what may, this sack will return to where it came from.
I crossed the border, my love.
Tomorrow I shall return when my tortured mother weaves another guipil.
When my father burnt alive rises early once again to greet the sun from every corner of our little farm.
Then there will be rum for everyone, there will be tortillas and children's laughter
and joyful marimbas.
Fires will be lit at each farm and each river
to wash the maize flour at dawn.
We'll burn torches of pinewax to light the pathways, the gullies, the rocks and
the fields.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The God that Failed

You can access my final reflection essay for Peace & Justice: Latin American Perspectives here (resources are listed here). The six-page limit meant I couldn't include a number of thoughts I had originally intended to explore--violence in the introduction of Christianity to Guatemala by the Spanish, the ways that the United States has made life hard for its neighbors and brought the immigration issue on itself despite being considered by many to be a "Christian" nation, the Christianization of Rwanda before the genocide*, the spread of America's prosperity gospel, and the disconnect between theology and ethics.

On this last point, I see no direct link between basic theological questions and ethics. Since Jesus repeatedly taught about ethics and most of theology is about non-ethical questions, it follows that theologians are concerned with questions that were not Jesus' focus (Matt. 23:23). Once a month I join a conference call with peace activists from nearly every Christian branch--Orthodox, Catholic and a selection of Protestants (historic peace churches, mainline, evangelical). We represent the peace fellowships of our various denominations. There is no direct connection between our views on eschatology, ecclesiology, soteriology, the virgin birth, creation, the nature of Mary, or the atonement with our ethics of peace and justice. Within each group are those concerned with peace and justice as well as those who see these as distractions from preaching the true word of the Gospel. Maybe there should be a link between basic theology and ethics, but I don't see it in the real world.

The essay could be summarized with a phrase like Culture trumps Jesus. Or maybe Culture trumps religion, or even Empire trumps religion. In the end, I believe G. K. Chesterton was on to something: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

May there be peace (which includes justice) on Earth!

Essay: The God that Failed

NOTE: The complexity of the issue leads me to seemingly contradictory conclusions--(a) ethics and theology are virtually unrelated, and (b) both Protestant and Catholic theology undercut Jesus' ethics. Yes. :) These theologies, in my view, can and have short-circuited ethical thought and practice, but they don't mandate or require this fissure. As evidence, many who believed in indulgences and many who accepted salvation by grace alone with no room for discipleship still cared about ethics. And others didn't/don't.

NOTE 2: In Retrospect, I think I should not have interspersed factoids about the US throughout the essay. It would have been stronger to focus on the comparisons in part 1 and then include a later section arguing something like: It would be incorrect to think that only the exported version of Christianity has problems and that it works fine in the US and Europe. Look at these cultures to see that Christianity has historic problems there as well (greed, persecution of dissidents, extreme individualism, environmental damage, misuse of power in the church and in government, etc.), even if these three particular markers show especially low scores in Guatemala and Kenya.

*For a brief comment on Adventist failures in Rwanda, see Monte Sahlin's AToday blogpost (second to last paragraph).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Resources for SEMILLA Class

In January 2011 I took Peace and Justice: Latin American Perspectives at Semilla, an Anabaptist Seminary in Guatemala City. Here is a description of the class from the syllabus and following are links I compiled throughout the experience.

This course is an approach to the Anabaptist-Mennonite understanding and practice of peace from a Latin American perspective. It explores the main conflicts, situations, and challenges of Central America. It examines the basic theological and spiritual convictions related to peace and justice that sustain the Church mission and testimony in these lands. It also provides an overview of how the Anabaptists have spent trying to follow Jesus Christ and to preach and live his message of peace in the midst of the challenging situations and struggles of this context. This course is offered at the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA) in Guatemala.



  • Recycled Life -- Documentary about the city dump in Guatemala City that we visited.
  • Return to El Salvador -- The website has the trailer and the first 7 minutes, along with a short film (Marcelo) on a related topic. It’s by the same director (Jamie Moffett) who made The Ordinary Radicals.
  • El Norte -- “Two indigenous youths…flee Guatemala in the early 1980s due to ethnic and political persecution. They head north and travel through Mexico to the United States, arriving in Los Angeles, California, after an arduous journey.” Trailer
  • Romero
  • Sin Nombre -- Trailer
  • The Corporation -- Companies behaving badly.
  • 180° South -- Less related to our studies than the other films. It’s more for those interested in adventure sports and ecological conservation.
Food films: Andre recommends:


Joon recommends:


o "War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."

o "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."