Friday, May 30, 2014

Give Your Soul a Gift: Listen/Watch Maya Angelou This Week

When I read I know Why the Caged Bird Sings in high school, I had no idea who Maya Angelou was, but I am so grateful my English teacher exposed me to her powerful story and her soaring poetry.  I encourage you this weekend to not let Angelou's death just float by in the news cycle but rather to take time to read her work and listen to her words and watch her speak.  Your soul will be better for doing so.  Here are a few places to start:

1973 interview with Bill Moyers--the older Angelou is so fixed in my mind that it is fascinating to see her 40 years younger.  She and Moyers discuss issues of racism and sexism, and it is interesting to think about how far we have come and how much remains the same about our culture. 

1986 interview with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air--hearing her sing the spirituals of her childhood is deeply stirring

And of course you must listen to Angelou read her incredible poem "Still I Rise"

"I believed that there was a God because I was told it by my grandmother and later by other adults. But when I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God, when I understood that, when I comprehended that, more than that, when I internalized that, ingested that, I became courageous."
--Maya Angelou

Grace and Peace,

Recommended Reading 5-30-14

Each week I send out a weekly e-mail of my thoughts to folks in my church.  I include in it what I found worth reading in the past week.   Here's some stuff I found meaningful to read this past week:
  • Our church is a part of the Southwest Early College Campus Faith Coalition made up of churches in Brookside.  SWECC, formerly Southwest High School, is of course right across from our church.  At one point in our church's history, our church had a ministry that provided childcare for teenage mothers attending the school, however, in more recent years we have had less interaction with the school.  The coalition provides a variety of support to students and staff, including the upcoming workday on Saturday morning, June 7.  Currently, CCCUCC's Jan Parks represents us on the coalition, but my hope is that more folks from our church would step up to care for this school--especially since it is across the street from our building.  At this week's school board meeting, members of the faith coalition spoke up in support of SWECC students and administrators.   
  • In the latest issue of The AtlanticTa-Nehisi Coates has written a 16,000 word peice entitled "The Case for Reparations."  I haven't made it through this lengthy article yet, but I have heard Coates interviewed and his approach to reparations for African Americans for the institution of slavery, Jim Crow laws and discriminatory economic policies that continued through most of the twentieth century is powerful and well-argued.  When I first saw this article being talked about, I thought, "What's the point reparations will never happen in our political culture?"  Yet, when I heard and read Coates explain how systematic economic oppression continues to impact African Americans even in the Obama Era, I was educated about so many discriminatory policies and programs that continued well after the Civil Rights Era.  The stories he tells are powerful and provocative.   (Watch Coates' interview with Bill Moyers.  Listen to Coates' interview on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show.)
  •  The debate about French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century continues--making it a surprising beach read.  I'm not going to read a 600 page book on economic history, but I am interested in the implications of income inequality for what I believe are Christian principles of justice, so I am trying to stay up on it.  This article was helpful to me, and to my uneducated mind, it seemed a fair analysis.   
  • CCCUCC's own political scientist, Michael Smith, has a great column this week about how Kansas policies towards immigrants and LGBT people are causing millennial members of the "creative class" to leave the state.  (Pssst. . . these are the kind of young people who might be interested in our kind of church.)
  • This week, a church member recommended to me Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter by the great religion scholar Randal Balmer.  Since Balmer has a history of writing about American Evangelicals, he knows Carter well.  One of the fascinating parts of the book examines the rise of the Religious Right in the late 1970's.  To hear Jerry Falwell tell it, they came together to oppose abortion, but Balmer makes a convincing case that what really drove these fundamentalists to seek political power was protecting segregated religious schools in the South.  Check out the excerpt from Balmer's book at Politico.    
  • Paul Krguman has a column in the NYTimes that argues limits to carbon emissions in order to stop climate change would be far cheaper than opponents argue it would.      
  • I like former emergent church pastor Rob Bell; he is a thinking Evangelical who has used multimedia in wonderful ways.  His book Love Wins which challenged the central tenet of Evangelical Christianity--you are going to Hell if you don't accept Jesus as savior and lord--and some say cost him his church.  Well, Bell is now in California and has a new show on the Oprah Winfrey Network coming out.  Given the fact that I can't think of a single example of Christians on TV that has any integrity, this seems like a bad idea to me.  I hope Bell becomes the exception to the long, sad history of Christians and TV.  

Keep up with things I find worth reading by following me on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Death Penalty Demeans Us All

I have a friend from high school, Doug Ramseur (now interestingly married to a UCC minister), who has made a career of being a Capital Defender.  A Capital Defender is employed by a state to carry out defense work at the sentencing stage of capital crimes.  Since most public defenders are overworked and underpaid and sentencing can involve specialized legal work, Doug comes in when someone has been found guilty of a capital crime and is facing a death sentence in order to give them the best defense the law can allow.  

I can remember when Doug first began this work years ago we were talking about the death penalty.  I offered that the crimes are horrible and listening to the families of the victims is traumatic.  I asked, "How can we help but want the ultimate punishment for such terrible violent acts?"  Doug's response has always stayed with me.  He replied that it was also traumatic to listen to the family members of the offender.  Often, the offender underwent abuse and neglect, suffered from mental illness and/or was himself the victim of violent crime.  Listening to the mother of an offender weep for the misspent life of her son is also haunting. 

Once I reflected on Doug's words, maybe for the first time, I began to think of offenders of horrendous crimes as human.  The acts of violence are so terrible that the normal human response is to recoil in horror and to re-categorize such a person as a monster--the ultimate other that should have no place in this world.  My reluctance  to think of such an offender as human, I realized, had a lot to do with my own desire not to see any similarities between myself and him. 

Over the years since then, once I began to consider the possibility that capital offenders were human too, I have paid attention to the issue of capital punishment.  Study after study continues to demonstrate the inequalities in our justice system.  If you are wealthy enough to hire good criminal defense lawyers it is highly unlikely you will be sentenced or even convicted, whereas a person who only has an overworked and under-trained public defender is almost guaranteed to not only be convicted but face harsher sentences.   Furthermore, the scientific evidence is vast that ethnic minorities receive harsher sentences than Caucasians and are convicted by juries at a higher rate for the same crimes.  Regularly, it seems, various "Innocence Projects" reveal through DNA research or review of evidence that a person on Death Row (usually African-American and male) is innocent.  Debate over the death penalty would be a different matter if our legal system really offered everyone the same treatment.

One of the main arguments in favor of the death penalty is that it serves as a deterrent to crime, but such is not the case in reality.  Crime rates rise and fall regardless of whether or not a state has a death penalty.  Go ahead and google the death penalty.  You will find the sad statistics and studies are readily available to all, but facts are rarely a part of the political discourse.

Kansas City's free weekly newspaper The Pitch recently had an excellent article about Missouri's death penalty by Steve Vockrodt.  Vockrodt effectively and convincingly shows the ridiculous lengths the Missouri Department of Corrections has gone through to shroud its process of lethal injection in secrecy.  The doctor it uses is incompetent, the drugs it uses are untested, and the laws regarding capital punishment are twisted to prevent scrutiny by defense lawyers, medical experts and the public at large.  Vockrodt also wrote an article back in January about Missouri's lethal injection machine, which was designed by Fred A. Leuchter, a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier who was convicted of falsely presenting himself as an engineer.  If this sounds like the plot of a movie, it is, except it's not a work of fiction but a documentary by Errol Morris which details this bizarre story.  Yet, not even those facts can stop Missouri and its executions.  Our legislature and especially our governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, wish to appear tough on crime even if it means using a machine created by a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier.

Of course, one of the main justifications for capital punishment is the oft-quoted "eye for an eye" argument by people--often Christians--who claim the Bible supports it.  Never mind that Jesus explicitly refutes this reading of scripture, Christians, especially "Bible-believing" Evangelicals demonstrate the highest rate of support for the death penalty.  Recently, fundamentalist extraordinaire Al Mohler of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote a defense of capital punishment.  Mohler's weak argument was easily dispatched by Evangelical blogger Shaine Clairborne, who notes that Mohler's pro-death penalty piece didn't mention Jesus at all.  I liked Clairborne's piece, but when I shared it on Facebook one of my church members pointed out an obvious omission in it.  Clairborne expertly points out the flaws in the criminal justice system and then wonderfully points out that Jesus demonstrated that no one is fully beyond redemption, yet he fails to mention the most obvious point of all that Jesus Christ himself was an innocent man put to death by the state.

I would argue that the main reason more Christians are not opposed to the death penalty is because of a bad theological understanding of why Jesus died on the cross.  The dominant understanding of the reason for Jesus' death is wrapped in an understanding of atonement theology that says Jesus' death was necessary, because Jesus takes the punishment we sinners deserve.  The logic of this theology says that God's justice requires suffering and violence in order for God's wrath to be assuaged.  Following this line of thinking, violence can be redemptive and when carried out by those who are righteous satisfies the demands of justice.  Never mind the bit about Jesus being innocent or Rome using violence to control its subjects, God needed someone to die and Jesus did.  Even beyond what this theology says about God and violence, the problem remains that our legal system does not dispatch God's justice, because it lacks God's omniscience. 

The God I believe in desires more than vengeful retribution.  Instead God desires restoration.  For me, Jesus' death exposes the inadequacies and injustices of human legal systems and power-hungry politicians.  Jesus' death demonstrates humanity's need for reconciliation not only with God but with one another.  Rather than a justification for violence, Jesus' death is the ultimate statement about the failure of violence to solve humanity's ills.  A society must have a legal system to function, but that system must always be open to reform, scrutiny and when necessary, reformulation.  As it stands, the states of Missouri and Kansas continue to kill people in your and my name through a system that benefits the rich over the poor and the white over the black and brown.  Most of all, this system denies the humanity of the offenders and diminishes the humanity of all of us.  Until it is stopped, all of us are demeaned by it.  

Grace and Peace,

You can read more thoughts from Chase and keep up with what he's reading on his blog: and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 

Recommended Reading 5-27-14 Ediction

Each week I send out a weekly e-mail of my thoughts to folks in my church.  I include in it what I found worth reading in the past week.   Here's some stuff I found meaningful to read this past two weeks (since I didn't send out any last week:

  • Did you see CCCUCC member Jan Parks' letter to the editor published in the KC Star this week re: the anniversary of  Brown v. Board of Education?  
  • In case you missed it two weeks ago, the United Church of Christ was featured on the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC for its lawsuit against the state of North Carolina's ban on clergy performing weddings not licensed by the state.  The overview of the many "firsts" of the UCC was great to see.  
  • Amidst all the good news for LGBT equality in recent weeks, hopefully you saw the news about MU's own Michael Sam becoming the first openly gay NFL player.  Unfortunately, the St. Louis Rams could still fire Sam simply for being gay, because there is no Missouri law that bans such discrimination.     
  • There's a lot of good news about LGBT equality, but let's not relax our efforts.  As retired Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson writes the need still remains for people of faith to fight for LGBT young people.
  • Have you been following the response to French economist Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century?  Piketty argues that we are in a new Gilded Age of income inequality where the global rich control more and more of the world economy.  The growth of the middle class following WWII, according to Piketty is an aberration from the norm not an inevitability for the future.  What does this mean for Christians?  According to church historian Bill Leonard it is time for us to revisit the Christian reformers who wrote during the last Gilded Age a century ago.  We need Walter Rauschenbusch's "Social Gospel" now more than ever.    
  • Guess what?  Everybody lies about how often they go to church.  White mainline Protestants  have the lowest percentage of weekly church attendance (NO SURPRISE THERE--HINT, HINT), but even they (we) lie about how often we go to church!
Keep up with things I find worth reading by following me on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Only Fools Go Public With Discrimination (the rest of us are more subtle)

The racist words of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling that resulted in him getting a lifetime ban from the NBA and the racist judgments of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy are already in our culture's rear view mirror.  The fact that our nation has basically already moved on says a lot about our fickle media culture and even more about our inability to recognize racism in our midst.  The thing about Sterling that let's us move on so quickly is how blatant his racism was on the tape made by his bi-racial mistress, similarly Bundy's declarations that the "negroes" were "better off as slaves" are so straightforwardly bigoted that they are astounding.   Rarely does it happen that the majority of our culture can recognize and summarily reject racism, because rarely is it so obvious.  Bundy's and Sterling's words seem to belong to another era when rich white men could get away with saying such things.  Today their racism must be masked in howls of outrage over "political correctness" or a Supreme Court ruling that naively declares we are in a post-racial America.  Racism still is intertwined in our culture in ways that are institutional and systemic--forms of racism that are far more difficult to recognize than are the racist words of Sterling and Bundy.

Nehiti Coates, writing in The Atlantic,said it well, "The problem with Cliven Bundy isn't that he is a racist but that he is an oafish racist. He invokes the crudest stereotypes, like cotton picking. This makes white people feel bad. The elegant racist knows how to injure non-white people while never summoning the specter of white guilt."     
The NBA knew about Sterling's racism for years and years, but it did nothing.  It's current abhorrence of Sterling's words seems more to do with the fact that he was stupid enough to get caught saying them.  Again, Coates from The Atlantic:
"Like Cliven Bundy, Donald Sterling confirms our comfortable view of racists. Donald Sterling is a "bad person." He's mean to women. He carouses with prostitutes.He uses the word "nigger." He fits our idea of what an actual racist must look like: snarling, villainous, immoral, ignorant, gauche.  The actual racism that Sterling long practiced, that this society has long practiced (and is still practicing) must attract significantly less note. That is because to see racism in all its elegance is to implicate not just its active practitioners, but to implicate ourselves."

Similarly, the TV and radio talk show hosts along with the bloggers on the internet were quick to anoint Bundy as a hero fighting against the tyranny of the federal government, yet even more quickly they fled from him and changed the subject when he was stupid enough to hold a press conference and declare his racist ideology.  Really?  None of these media people knew he was a racist beforehand?  Really?   

The more "elegant" form of racism that is institutional, systemic and seemingly omnipresent is better illustrated by the essay published by Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang.  Fortgang became a viral sensation after he wrote his piece defending himself from fellow students who ask him to "check your privilege" just because he is white and male.  He feels that his own hard work and that of his family--including his own Holocaust survivor grandparents--is dismissed on account of his gender and ethnicity.   

What the college freshman's essay reveals is his lack of understanding of the pervasiveness of racism and sexism in our culture.   Women continue to earn significantly less than men for the same positions, and they make up small minorities of leadership positions in most major professions.  There are certainly exceptions, but they remain exceptions.  Similarly, African Americans have worse options for employment and housing and are incarcerated at greater numbers than whites--even if they are in the same economic class!   

One of Fortgang's classmates at Princeton, Briana Payton, who is African American and female, wrote an excellent response to Fortgang.  She notes, "Fortgang's privilege is, in essence, the inability to not see [racism and sexism] as problematic because it doesn't affect him."  She goes on to address Fortgang's false claim that we live in a meritocracy where everyone starts from the same place and social conditions: "No one is saying Fortgang did not sow seeds, but checking his privilege is just acknowledging that the ground he tilled was more fertile than the ground others tilled. They could have spent the same amount of time in the hot sun, watering these seeds, but Fortgang might still reap better results because of certain advantages. For example, he says his value of education is a privilege, and it might be. However, his African American counterpart in an underfunded, under-sourced school with the same value of education and work ethic may not be afforded the same opportunities at the end of his high school career. Ultimately, success is when hard work meets opportunity."

What makes Payton's argument more credible is that she acknowledges her own privileges--coming from an intact family and the upper middle class.  If only Fortgang--and so, so many other whites could acknowledge their privileges.  What Fortgang and those who share his beliefs refuse to understand is that he does not face the same suspicion based solely upon his skin color from police, store clerks, teachers and jurors that an African American faces.  The list is long of African Americans who have overcome systemic and institutionalized racism, but that is a credit to their hard work and determination rather than because they started from the same place as their White counterparts.  In a similar manner, gender, class and sexual orientation among others each bring with them subtle yet powerful daily discriminations and "micro-aggressions." 

A Christian response to the "elegant" institutionalized and systemic racism of our culture begins with White Christians coming clean about their own racism and repenting from it.  The next steps involve Christians working with people of all faiths and those of none to dismantle the unrecognized ways racism and sexism (and classism, and heterosexism and. . . ) continue to hold sway.  The few fools like Bundy and Sterling who wear their true views on their sleeves for all the world to see are shrinking in number each day.  We really don't have the luxury anymore of people being blatant about their discrimination.  Our culture's system of oppression is much more difficult to acknowledge and reject.  The Church should be the place where people can achieve the humility necessary to repent and work for change; it's too bad it often is the last bastion of discrimination.         

Grace and Peace,

Recommended Reading 5-9-14 Edition

 Each week I send out a weekly e-mail of my thoughts to folks in my church.  I include in it what I found worth reading in the past week.   Here's some stuff I found meaningful to read this past two weeks (since I didn't sent out any last week:
  • If you are interested in where my sermon will be going on Sunday, check out this article by Diana Butler Bass "The Radical Feminist History of Mother's Day."
  • In case you missed the national news about the United Church of Christ filing a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina over its law prohibiting clergy from officiating marriage ceremonies without a state wedding license (obviously that includes same gender weddings since they are not recognized in NC), you can click here and see information about the case and links to media coverage.  By the way, currently in the state of MO, I officiate strictly religious weddings for same gender couples, because  the state does not recognize same gender weddings--if I were in NC, I could face a fine and jail time.   
  •  This week clergy from across Missouri--most of them African American--went to the state capital to protest the state legislature's failure to expand Medicaid according to the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act.  The clergy--among whom were colleagues from MORE2 congregations and our own Seminarian Karon Harper--chanted and disrupted the legislature.  Some of those clergy were even arrested.  Barbara Shelly's column in the Kansas City Star makes it clear why the MO legislature demonstrates that it does not care about low income people getting healthcare: "The state's current threshold is a tragedy. A parent can earn no more than 19 percent of the federal poverty level, an annual pay of just more than $4,000 for a family of four. Childless adults aren't eligible at all.  The legislature's refusal to expand eligibility has left nearly 300,000 Missourians, mostly working people, in a coverage gap. They make too little to participate in the new insurance exchange and too much to be eligible for Medicaid."  Shame on them!   
  • I may have given up being Baptist long ago, but the kind of Baptist I was raised to be was one who fiercely believed in the Separation of Church and State.  Ceremonial prayers before government meetings violate that separation in my mind, and they aren't really prayers as far as I'm concerned.  Too bad the majority of the Supreme Court feels differently.  Church historian (and Baptist) Bill Leonard argues my point far better than I can.     
  • Speaking of my Baptist days, the Christian ethicist who influenced most of my mentors in college and seminary was Glenn Stassen.  Stassen was an avowed Evangelical, but he felt like following Jesus didn't mean the narrow individualistic ethics of the Religious Right, but rather following Jesus meant opposing the buildup of nuclear weapons and thus he was active in the nuclear FREEZE movement in the 1980's.  He also felt like debating whether a war was just or not was too little too late, so instead he advocated what he called "Just Peacemaking" which means working to prevent wars in the first place through realistic pragmatic steps.  His obituary in the NYTimes is worth reading, as is this piece by UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite (see also the video of Stassen explaining Just Peacemaking).  .   
  • As I have shared with you before, I love tacky Jesus stuff.  If you are ever looking for a gift for me (hint, hint), number 9 on this list of "Thrift Store Finds That You Simply Must Buy" is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about.  
  • I read this article: "Why Nonprofits are Replicating the Startup Model" and I couldn't help but think it was relevant for church in the 21st century.  To use a business analogy--we aren't guaranteed customers anymore, especially when our method of doing business was at its peak a century ago.  The 21st century church needs to have a startup mentality! 
  •  The Pitch continues to do an incredible job of reporting on the unjust nature of Missouri's system of capital punishment.  Their latest issue contains an article you should read if you care about the fact that both MO and KS are killing people in your name.  
  • Roeland Park City Councilman Jennifer Gumby deserves our support.  She's trying to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people but she is facing stiff opposition from other councilmen and outside groups who claim to be "protecting" marriage. 
  • Did you see this powerful story about KC parents supporting their child through a gender identity transition?  
  • Last Sunday I preached about the Christian obligation to respond to Climate Change.  If you are interested in some of the articles  I was working from, here they are: "Cliff Notes for Climate Change?", "Obama's Last Shot",  "What Climate Change Means for Africa, Asia and the Global Poor," and "Fact Sheet" The Connection Between Global Warming and Recent Extreme Weather Events." 
     Also, check out this article about an Evangelical Christian who happens also to be a climate scientist and who is working to change the minds of conservative Christians on climate change.   
  • Matthew Vines, a member of a conservative Presbyterian church in Wichita who happens to be gay, has written a book God and the Gay Christian.  It seems to really be upsetting conservative Evangelicals, and I haven't been able to figure out why.  As far as I could tell the arguments in his book have been around for decades in liberal and moderate Christian circles.  It turns out, he didn't write his book for liberals or moderates but for conservative Christians who hold a much higher view of biblical authority.  Earlier arguments could be dismissed by conservatives as the work of liberals who don't believe the Bible, but now one of their own is using their own tools to speak up for LGBT rights.    
  • Can you name the 10 Commandments?  (I didn't think so.)  Take this quiz to find out some other stuff you didn't know about them.  
  • I think our church's Board of Evangelism should watch Stephen Colbert's idea for boosting church attendance.  
Keep up with things I find worth reading by following me on Twitter and Facebook.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Jews Did Not Kill Jesus

I wrote the following words on Good Friday, but due to the crush of Holy Week for someone in my profession, I did not send them out.  The news cycle has moved on from the shootings at two KC Jewish institutions, but I feel these words are still worth sharing now (and hopefully worth reading).   

I attended the interfaith memorial service for William Corporon and Reat Underwood who were killed last Sunday at the Jewish Community Center and Terri LaManno who was killed a few minutes later at Village Shalom.  The terrorist attack by a white-supremacist maniac shook Kansas City.  The victims were all Christians, but the intended targets were Jews.  Church members who knew I was attending the service looked for me on the TV broadcast, but when all the clergy present were called up to the stage I was in the very back and could not be seen.  That's just fine with me, because I wasn't there to be on TV.  On the back row, I got to put one arm around an Imam and one arm around a Rabbi while we sang "Oseh Shalom."  That was a special moment for me.

One of the speakers at the service declared that Jesus was killed by the Roman occupying army rather than by Jews.  I was glad to hear that said, but I wish he had stated it even more clearly, perhaps repeated it two or three or a hundred times, because the message doesn't seem to be getting out there.  The historical and biblical fact that Jesus was killed by Roman authorities has eluded Christians throughout the centuries and continues  to elude many today.  The idea of Jews as "Christ killers" has been an excuse for atrocities against Jewish people for centuries: ethnic cleansing, pogroms, the Holocaust, etc.  The image of the Jewish "Christ killer" has been propagated by such notable figures as Shakespeare (think Shylock in the Merchant of Venice), Martin Luther and Henry Ford (who distributed the scurrilous tract The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion).  The hateful idea spreads not just by the lunatic fringe spouting conspiracy theories about Jewish world domination but also by preachers in church pulpits around the world who declare, "Jesus was killed by his own people."

To be fair to those preachers who preach, "Jews killed Jesus," they are only preaching from the Bible.  In Matthew 27, the Roman governor Pilate speaks to a crowd who demand Jesus' death.  It reads: "All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!'"  This verse has been interpreted for centuries to mean that not the Roman authorities, not just the crowd saying those words but all Jews in every time are responsible for Jesus' death.  Similarly, the Apostle Paul, who elsewhere has positive things to say about his kin, states in 1 Thessalonians 2: "the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone."  The Gospel of John doesn't help matters much by its depiction of "the Jews" a term it uses about seventy times.  "The Jews" don't come off too well in John, especially in chapter 8 where Jesus says to some Jews who believed in him, "You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires."  If Jesus said that about the Jews who believed in him, how bad were the words he used about the Jews who didn't believe in him?  The idea that Jews are "children of the devil" has inspired depictions of Jews with horns and cloven hoofs for over a thousand years.
Historians and critical interpreters of the New Testament argue (persuasively, I think) that these early Christian writings came about in a time when Judaism and its daughter religion Christianity were parting ways.  Like all family fights, this particular fight got nasty.  Furthermore, it should be noted that the early Christians (many of whom were in fact Jewish) wrote from the point of view of a minority movement rather than a majority one.  These verbal attacks against Jews were read differently when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Furthermore, historians and critical interpreters point out that while some Jewish religious leaders-particularly the Jerusalem elite-may have conspired to have Jesus killed, only Rome had the power to crucify someone.  The decades before and after Jesus' death are filled with plenty of rabblerousers being executed by Roman authorities.  Rome feared the power of crowds to assemble and wreak havoc.  The reason Pontius Pilate bothered to come to Jerusalem every year during Passover was because he was worried about all those Jews gathering together celebrating their victory over another subjugating empire (read Exodus if you've forgotten that story).  A Jewish rabbi who was being hailed as the King of the Jews and the Messiah would not have been tolerated by Roman authorities.  The first and second centuries C.E. contain numerous leaders of Jewish revolts who claimed to be God's Messiah; Rome killed all of them too.  The so-called "cleansing of the Temple" when Jesus drove out the money changers would have been seen as a threat to Jerusalem's religious establishment, but to the Romans it would have appeared Jesus was inciting a riot.  Such troublemakers were quickly disposed of by the might of Rome.

Critical historical inquiry of the New Testament doesn't stop hatred of Jews-at least not in and of itself.  What really changes people are relationships.  When people encounter others as people rather than as an abstract concept, common humanity is found.  Ultimately, interfaith relationships are what reveal the lies of anti-Semitism.  Jewish New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, in her wonderful book, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus, writes these words:  

"To engage in interfaith conversation means to understand that what is dogma to one participant is danger to another, that what is profound may also be painful.  Jews and Christians need to read the texts together.  Christians need to recognize the impact that the problematic [New Testament passages] have had on Jews.  In turn, Jews should be aware that most Christians do not consciously read the texts anti-Jewishly and even resist any anti-Jewish implications.  Although the New Testament can be seen as anti-Jewish, it need not be.  Words-inevitably-mean different things to different readers.  We need to imagine how our words sound to different ears."

For centuries, Christians have declared Jews are "Christ killers" to justify violence against Jews.   We have a lot of years to make up for, so we had better get started calling out that lie.  Let's hope it doesn't take two thousand more years to eradicate it.  May we be bold declaring our love for our Jewish brothers and sisters, so that we might drown out the voices of hatred and violence raised against them.   

Grace and Peace,

Here are some related writings on the subject that I found meaningful to read:
You can read more thoughts from Chase and keep up with what he's reading on his blog: and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Recommended Reading 4-25-14 Edition

Each week I send out a weekly e-mail of my thoughts to folks in my church.  I include in it what I found worth reading in the past week.   Here's some stuff I found meaningful to read this past two weeks (since I didn't sent out any Thoughts last week due to Holy Week):: 
Keep up with things I find worth reading by following me on Twitter and Facebook.