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Topic: Future Church

No Vision or Leadership from National Council of Churches
2/9/2017 4:22:31 PM

The United States has a strong history of influence from the historic Protestant churches with their theological roots in the Reformation. Those churches should now be joining together to create a kind of "Protestant Council" made up of the bishops/leaders of these churches to sponsor theological conferences, communication centers, and an authoritative public voice to counter-act the negative religious right with its base in Southern racism. Lack of doing so is partly what has led the nation to flounder in its understanding of itself and its history which helped create the conditions leading to the election of Donald Trump. Yes, we Protestants are partly responsible. Way too many pastors have been practicing political neutrality. Or, they want to engage only in listening to the views of others, never having anything to say themselves.

I just read a statement by Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches. I reproduce part of it below. He makes some valid points but they are mostly excuses for failing to present any compelling mission or purpose for the Protestant Church today. The NCC should go away, we need a wholly new approach.

We often grouse about the fact that young people are not joining our churches so we then try to change the music to what we think they will like. No, what they want is something important to do with their lives. That's been the strength of Protestants, calling people to a vocation in this world with meaning and purpose. But we no longer are doing that for anybody, certainly not young people. With all the extremely important matters pressing upon public life today, not least is the actual future of the earth God made, a Protestant leader should be able to write something better than this:

"I suspect ecumenical discipline has always been a challenge. There are plenty of people and churches that won’t talk with or accept one another because of any variety of differences. Additionally, as church membership declines in the United States and elsewhere there is a significant temptation, not resisted by all, to turn inward and forget or diminish ecumenical life and relationships. I see this happening time and again and my colleagues from across the globe affirm this is an international phenomenon.

Some plea for more centralization and coordination among Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans, peace churches, etc., perhaps along the lines of the Vatican. I do not see this happening. In fact, throughout the world, we are witnessing an explosion of new Christian denominations, some of which have a tenuous and questionable basis in authentic Christianity.

In the U.S., there are many local congregations, carefully planted and nurtured by denominations, are seeking to go their own way. They don’t want to work through issues and conflicts in their own churches, much less among the larger body of Christ!

Still, gathering together with other general secretaries reminds me how rich and deep are our relationships and how committed to one another and to the cause of Christ are a great many Christians. The modern ecumenical movement is, in many ways, lived out today through councils of churches. I pray it remains so."

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Where Are the Reverends in Justice Movements?
2/3/2017 6:03:54 PM

I have never really liked the term "reverend" and don't like when I am called that. I am a pastor. But Harry Belafonte, whose songs I listened to as a young man, uses the term in an interview at the New York Times. He bemoans the lack of reverends in current justice movements, like in the 1960s, and so do I.

In fact, I believe that mainline Protestantism at all levels should now make it its mission to provide space and support to political resistance movements. We are now in a real existential, religious, political crisis which challenges the basic substance of our Christian faith.

Mainline Protestantism has allowed itself to be marginalized by a false form of Christianity, an Americanized, commercialized religious right. Pastors have been afraid to speak up, and often can't even articulate the issues because the church has not provided the places to do so for fear of alienating people who give a lot of money. Those days are over. It is time to speak and act and provide space for others to do so. Then we will also maybe grow our churches because people will see that we have something to say. The fact is, actually preaching the gospel has never been more important.

Here is some of what Belafonte said:

"Though he was encouraged by the energy in the Black Lives Matter and Occupy movements, he felt that both lacked an ideology to make real change. But he was hardest on people of his generation, who he said did not follow through on what they started.

“The rewards for what we achieved in the civil rights movement have more than corrupted the movement,” he said. “What happened in the black community, when they finally won the right to vote, they picked the ones who they knew, which is not to be unexpected. But the ones they knew were all the leaders. They knew Jesse.

“They knew Andy Young. They knew John Lewis. They pushed them right into the electoral political sea. Go run the state. Go run the government. Become a senator. I even encouraged them to do that as the next step to the civil rights movement. When you get the opportunity for that presence in government, let’s fill it with our best. Well, our best were guys in the movement. Once they went off into electoral politics, they abandoned the community. They abandoned that work. They abandoned that developmental process.”

“I think [Trump] is an opportunity for the left to take this wake-up call. We need to be much more radical in what we do and how we do it than we have been up to now. The liberal community has compromised itself out of existence. The black community has been so passive in its response to this onslaught. Labor is strangely silent. All those reverends that were part of the progressive front are no longer heard from in any appreciative way. And out of that vacuum comes Trump.”

Way to go Harry!
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Back to the Catacombs for the Real Church
12/8/2016 7:29:32 PM

Early Christians in Rome could not communicate openly with one another in public and so had to meet in secret and bury their dead in catacombs, passageways dug below the city. The beliefs of these Christians contradicted the "common sense" assumptions of those in power in the Roman empire. The idea that the purpose of life was to "love God and neighbor" was against the ideology of the time, just as it has now again become against the dominating religious and political beliefs of our time with the election of Donald Trump. He represents an alien form of Christianity called the "prosperity gospel" which teaches that riches are evidence of God's favor, the purpose of life is not service to others but to make as much money as possible.

Eighty one percent of so-called "evangelical Christians" voted for this man which means that pastors of these "Christians" have been preaching a false gospel. Those pastors now must be called "phony", they merely pretend to be talking about what's in the bible. They are not "real" in the sense of following the real Jesus Christ who did not sell his soul for money, who did not preach that the richest among us received God's favor. These pastors and false Christians have responded to a presidential candidate who preached hatred and bigotry and who is going to do great harm to this country. The poor and marginalized, the sick and the elderly, the mentally ill and disabled, even the homeless and the working class, are going to be allowed to suffer and die by the millions without access to income, housing, health care. Hatred and violence are now at the center of the political process in the United States. Donald Trump was elected by intentionally speaking lies, and those who voted for him seemed not even to care that he was lying.

But it will become so dangerous to speak this way about Donald Trump that the real church following the real Jesus may have to go underground again, just as in ancient Rome. This is going to be difficult because there will be vast social upheaval coming up. Trump and his primary followers are highly irrational; his policies will not be based on social and environmental reality. He will do immense harm. It will be be hard for us to "love God and neighbor" in these circumstances but to even talk about it will require that we do so more in secret than out in the open.

So, go find someone you can trust, get together and tell the truth to one another, but be careful because the public space of the world is now dominated by some very threatening powers. Reading this article by a group of historians may help in understanding this election in the context of American history.

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Protestants Need a Pope
9/30/2015 3:40:01 PM

The recent visit of Pope Francis to the United States reminded me of a proposal I made years ago. It has to do with communication and power. A figure like the pope has the power to command attention which means that those in the media use their many technical resources to focus on the pope and what he says. And that means further that many more millions of Americans were able to hear the message that this pope had to offer, a message of hope, grace, mercy and love which is, of course, the central "orthodox" message of the Christian church. Those right wing so-called Christians who have made abortion and opposition to same-sex marriage the central message of the church lately are really unorthodox cultural extremists. No, Pope Francis has not changed his mind on those two issues, but he has stopped making them the central issue. And that is something very significant.

Protestants have not had a central figure like the pope to command attention to the message and agenda of Protestants. This means that the media literally pay no attention to historic Protestantism. It only reports on the crazy right wing extremists and television pastors. Billy Graham was never the central figure of Protestantism but that is how the media presented him. This greatly confused the witness of historic Protestants.

I think Protestants should form a very strong "Protestant Council" which would elect a leader who could function as a major public spokesperson for historic Protestantism. Then the media would know where to turn to get the voice and views of real Protestantism, not the negative and hostile attitudes of the religious right which is mostly from the South and is a religion which has been Americanized, commercialized, and politicized and has allowed itself to be used and abused by one of the political parties of this nation which has very badly skewed the political atmosphere. The Republican Party has become more and more irrational to the point that it has made itself incapable of compromise and of governing. This is due to that party's association with hysterical religion.

That is why it is so important for the historic Protestants to organize and make it possible for Americans to hear the more rational and compassionate voice of those of us who have been thinking about these major issues facing the country for years. We historic Protestants have a long history of understanding issues of church and state and social and economic ethics. But few hear our voice because we are splintered in so many divisions. It is crucial to organize a new Protestant Council today.

For more on this see this essay on "A New Protestanism".

Here is a summary view of the Pope Francis visit:

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Bonhoeffer's Vision: An Outcast Church on the Margins of Society
4/25/2015 3:08:34 PM

Michael Hollerich, professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas, has written an interesting review of a biography by Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in the magazine First Things. Hollerich uses a phrase for Bonhoeffer's view of the future church that struck me: "an outcast church on the margins of society." The comment came within the context of asking the question of why the church, both Protestant and Catholic, was not able to mount an effective resistance to Hitler's politics. Hollerich does not think it had to do with any particular theological construct but to an institutional failure to do anything but preserve the status quo. His thinking is worth a long quote:
Charles Marsh is convinced that part of German Protestantism’s failure under Hitler was theological in character. If Protestantism hadn’t suffered the internal erosion of its orthodox substance in the long devolution that began with Kant and the Enlightenment, he suggests, it might have been less vulnerable to the ideological blandishments of National Socialism and its promise of a German national rebirth. He shares this conviction with many others—Evangelicals, Barthians, “radical orthodox,” and so on.

But there are reasons to doubt it. Consider the parallel case of German Catholicism, which experienced nothing like a comparable doctrinal collapse, apart from certain individual exceptions such as Karl Adam and Josef Lortz. Nevertheless, its institutional acquiescence in Hitler’s wars and genocidal programs was as supine as that of German Protestantism. It is true that Catholicism escaped the devastating schism that divided the dissenting Confessing Church and the official German Evangelical Church, and it did not suffer the same measure of Nazi penetration. But as research has shown, its unity was preserved at the cost of silencing voices in the hierarchy who pleaded for a more confrontational resistance to the Nazi state.

So theology wasn’t determinative. What mattered was the profound need on the part of both Protestant and Catholic communions to retain their historical stake in German national life. Different though their status was—Protestantism as the historical religion of state in Prussia and elsewhere, Catholicism as anxious protector of its endangered milieu—both churches were prisoners of the desire, above all, to preserve a threatened status quo. Institutional resistance was out of the question. Protestantism in particular could not surrender the claim to be a Volkskirche, a true national church and the spiritual custodian of the German people. This was the preoccupation, even among Confessing Christians, that ultimately disenchanted Bonhoeffer and led to his visionary anticipation of an outcast church on the margins of ­society. We can appreciate the measure of that disenchantment if we remember that he had taken membership in the Confessing Church so seriously that he once said that whoever knowingly separated himself from the Church separated himself from salvation—for which he was roundly denounced for “Catholic” thinking.
The so-called "evangelical" religious right in this country views itself as the savior of an "exceptional nation", the United States, as if this country has a divine mission in the world. In that way it is like the church in Hitler's Germany, pomoting imperial ambitions and as a religious expression with its roots in the South it is associated with white racial superiority not unlike the Nazis. It is important to remember that Billy Graham was a Southern Baptist and helped the Republican Party win elections by associating it with the interests and values of white Southern religion. (See also a new book by Kevin M. Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.)

It is the mainline Protestants who now experience themselves as "outcasts" in today's public consciousness. Maybe that's not a bad thing. They are exactly where Bonhoeffer thought the church should be.

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The New Political Mission of the Historic Protestant Church
3/16/2015 4:05:24 PM

The text below was written for the editor's notes for this article on the website:

The historic Protestant Church has always been primarily a mission church meeting real needs of real people in the communities they serve. One of the greatest needs of people today in local communities across this country is a political party which actually represents the real interests, values, and goals of the vast majority of Americans. The so-called corporate media only represents business interests and it is the corporate media that likes to think it can decide who will be the political leaders in both of the current parties. Both the Republican and Democratic Party are today corporate parties, they do not represent the issues and policies real people care about.

The church should raise its prophetic voice against both these parties and help people in communities form a new political party such as an American Labor Party. As labor unions have been destroyed over the last years so has the quality of life for working class and middle class Americans. Working people have helped Democrats to win elections and then when in office those Democrats betray the interests of those working people. Republicans used to represent real Americans other than business owners but today the Republican Party is literally the party of Tea Party Southern racists and big business and financial interests.

Poll after poll shows real Americans want clean air and water, a fair living wage by which parents can provide for their families, safe and clean neighborhoods where you don't have to worry somone with a gun is going to shoot your children, and a world that doesn't allow investment in a massive military and secret police to keep wars going with poor people overseas. Neither of the current political parties are concerned with these issues because big business doesn't care about them either.

The biggest need of the American people today is fair and honest political representation. The need has become urgent and recognition of the need has become widespread. Read this article and then call some neighbors and friends and sit down around coffee and cookies or wine and cheese and begin some new political conversation leading to a new political party for America. Then call the pastor of your local Protestant church to schedule use of the church basement for a wider conversation. It was in such church basements of Lutheran churches in East Germany that organizing took place leading to the overthrow of the authoritarian government there about twenty five years ago. The authoritarian corporate domination of our own government must also be overthrown now by real people in real communities across the nation.

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Historic Protestant Speech is Not Free in America Today
1/14/2015 5:14:13 PM

The killings of the staff of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris is causing me to think even more seriously about the relation of church and state in western societies. The "ultimate" authority in these societies appears to be the place of "free speech" but the press in this country (USA) is anything but free. It is owned and operated by corporations, for the most part. And now we have a case when the entire western world, including the right wing Fox News, is demanding that a cynical, pornographic magazine is the ultimate site of worthy speech even though it published extremely offensive material against a major religion in the world. Here we have militarily all-powerful, mostly now atheistic European/Western societies berating Islam in the name of free speech?

Even the head of the state of Israel comes to a public march of thousands in Paris this past Sunday to denounce those terrible Muslims for using violence against what they consider blasphemy. But just let your mind think about the last several decades and how much violence has been used systematically against Muslim peoples! Just think of what the U.S. has done in Iraq! Think about the fact that it is the extreme violence used in Iraq that has caused the emergence of ISIS. It is the reliance of this country on military might, to protect business interests around the globe especially oil in the Middle East, which is the actual cause of what is happening now in Syria and elsewhere. It is the U.S. that has sent its armies into Arab countries destabilizing their societies and causing immigrant Muslims to flee to Europe. It is the massive injustice done to Palestinians by Israel that has been inflaming Arab hostility for many years now.

Now a few Muslims kill a few pornographic(*) journalists in Paris and the leaders of western societies finally express some emotion about the fact that lives are being lost. We seem to want free speech for these journalists, but we refuse to hear (or even begin to publish) the cries of injustice and outrage of those suffering in former colonized areas of the Middle East over many decades now. Just think if we had used half the money we have spent on the military in that part of the world and instead spent it on schools and hospitals and universities and assistance on democratic governance. It is the United States which is the violent country. Everyone else using violence is just following our lead. We have to stop it.

But, of course, we will not stop it. Our whole economy now depends on vast military government spending in every congressional district. The U.S. since WWII has come to believe that military violence is the only way. And this belief is now destroying the country, not only overseas but also within our cities and local communities, where we hire more and more police to protect the few wealthy from the many poor and minorities. This is a recipe for decline, but current political structures are filled with politicians who believe in violence and are willing to lie to the people. They say we need more and bigger armies. They say we need more and more police. They say we need more and more lethal technology by which we can kill thousands without taking responsibility. These lies will destroy the country as can be seen clearly now by those with the eyes to see.

I think it may be that only people with some religious faith, people whose commitment is not ultimately to a particular ideology or nation, who are able to "see" the truth of what is happening now. The views I am expressing here are not unusual. They are for the most part the tendency of thought for most of the leaders of what is called "mainline Protestantism" in this country. It is a form of thought embedded in the ecumenical Protestant history of this country which promotes international institutions rather than military dominance, inclusive understandings of religion, economic justice for all especially the most vulnerable, the use of science to address human problems, and increasingly important commitment to care of creation or environmental sustainability.

It is that Protestant faith which is significant today and has become more and more important. It is that substantive faith which can be cynically derided too. But it is worthy of serious attention as what society should consider as its ultimate concern. But the media systematically refuses to report the thinking and events of the historic Protestant churches. Historic Protestants are excluded from the public media today. The corporate powers do not want to be criticized.

Instead, the major media, when they do report on religion, tend to snicker at the strange beliefs of the religious right, white Southern forms of Baptist and Pentecostal religion which emerged as a backlash to the liberal victories of the 1960s, especially the gains of black people and the promotion of equality for women and gay people.But in the process the media don't realize they are actually helping to build up the significance of the religious right as seemingly credible religion. It is important to realize the religious right has become an Americanized, commercialized, politicized form of religion. It can no longer even be considered "Protestant" because it has severed any connection it once had to historic Reformation Protestantism. And this thought may seem unusual to many only because the major media so completely ignores the theological substance and activity of historic Protestants.

The historic Protestants built this country. It has never been a "Catholic" country. But the unexpected recent election of a new pope has resulted in a person who himself is speaking in a way that reminds us of historic public Protestant values in this country. The previous pope wanted strange alliances with the religious right. Pope Francis in many ways sounds like a historic Protestant. If this country is to have a future it now needs the guidance again of the historic Protestants who actually believe something rather than sick secularists who make a living attacking the beliefs of others.

So, as for the Charlie Hebdo case, I am happy President Obama didn't go to Paris to march in support of a pornographic political journal.

* If you dislike the reference to Charlie Hebdo as pornography please take a look at this article in The Atlantic where this paragraph is found:
In September 2012, amid violent protests across the Muslim world at the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the film Innocence of Muslims, Charlie Hebdo printed several of its own depictions. One particularly vulgar cartoon showed Muhammad as a sort of porn star, naked, prostrate on his knees, his buttocks spread, his testicles and drippy penis dangling between his legs, with a star over his anus. The caption read, “Mahomet: a star is born!”
Looking at many of the covers of this magazine it becomes quite apparent that these cartoonists exhibit a childish obsession with the penis and vagina. They want to make money by shocking people and ridiculing serious beliefs. At the same time it appears to me that this magazine exhibits very serious anti-Muslin hysteria and that's why so many western leaders decided to march; they are leading their peoples on another anti-Muslim crusade in Europe. The magazine represents both political and sexual pornography, not responsible free speech.

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Thinking about a New Protestantism
11/21/2013 7:55:16 PM

One of the virtues we promote at this website is "thinking". It is amazing to me how many problems can be solved not by getting more facts but simply by thinking things through, looking for the internal logic of whatever it is we are looking at. Thinking means to see the relationships among different things or actions, to see patterns over time, to see the significance of certain events and what follows from them. I think today that it is more and more important to take the risk of interpreting history, thinking about the figures, events, and texts of historical eras, and being careful about the lenses used by which history is viewed.

The Reformation period is crucial for Protestants. It created a certain way of understanding things. Martin Luther looked at the church in his time and evaluated it according to what he read in scripture and what the people of his time were actually experiencing. He ended up creating, or at least symbolically representing, not just a Reformation but a Revolution in religious faith and understanding.

In a series of presentations at the congregation where I belong, Augustana Lutheran in Portland, Oregon, I have just finished a series I have called The New Protestantism. It is an effort to remember the Reformation and use its core beliefs to evaluate what Protestantism means today. It focuses on mainline or "ecumenical Protestants" and suggests that these churches have undergone such a profound change that it is possible to speak of them as constituting now a "New Protestantism."

The biggest change is that Protestants have shifted from being the most important voice of moral authority in the culture to being nearly silent in public consciousness. What we Protestants haven't done is to face the consequences of this fact. And we haven't summoned the courage of our historic convictions to critique that expression of Christianity that now dominates public space, the religious right, which has so distorted the faith that it no longer can even be called either Christian or Protestant. And it has become so politically entangled that it no longer is a source of transcendence by which to evaluate current public and private institutions. In fact, it has affiliated so much with the Republican Party that it is disabling to that party's capacity to put forward rational and helpful public policies.

I am interested in responses to these presentations. So take a look and let me know what you think.

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A Reformation Pope
10/2/2013 4:42:20 PM

It is worthwhile reading the whole interview of Pope Francis in America magazine titled A Big Heart Open to God. Here is the new Pope thinking about the whole Catholic Church as well as the Jesuit order from which he comes. He appears here as an extremely open and engaging person ready to talk about himself and that which has influenced him over the years.

As a Lutheran pastor one of the most remarkable features of this interview was the emphasis the new pope placed on the word "proclamation." It appears several times in the interview. Here is an example:
The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.
In one sense, this quote represents the central thrust of the Reformation in the 16th century. The medieval Catholic Church, which powerfully dominated society at the time, had become an oppressive system of rules, regulations, and structures of strict control over the lives of people. It was Martin Luther and later John Calvin in Geneva who challenged this oppressive system and called for a return to the original message of the bible, which was a "proclamation" of salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the original meaning of the word "evangelical," to publicly proclaim the good news of liberty from sin, fear, death, and the power of evil in the world.

To read the words of Pope Francis, that proclamation should come before "small-minded rules" makes me think of him as "a Reformation Pope." It is not that rules are not important, as the reformers understood, but that if the rules are made more important than the gospel message then the power of the spirit of redemption is not available in the living of one's life.

The Pope says again that the moral consequences follow from the gospel:
We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel. The proposal of the Gospel must be more simple, profound, radiant. It is from this proposition that the moral consequences then flow.
And he follows this up with this:
I say this also thinking about the preaching and content of our preaching. A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation. There is nothing more solid, deep and sure than this proclamation. Then you have to do catechesis. Then you can draw even a moral consequence. But the proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. Today sometimes it seems that the opposite order is prevailing.
I consider this rather astounding. Catholic leadership has too often over the past decades relied on obedience to the authority of the hierarchy. When I sat down to read the statements of popes on abortion a couple years ago there was a distinct lack of compelling logic between the general Christian affirmation of life and the very specific claim that every step in the reproductive process is somehow absolutely divine. So the statements ended up saying that whatever else is true, abortion is wrong because the pope says so. Well, that's not enough; people of good faith reading the scriptures could come to different conclusions.

But the real center of faith and life is neither rules nor papal authority but the proclamation of salvation. Living in the power of that proclamation Christians can remake the world as new creation. What a profound difference it will be for the ecumenical church to live now within a public consciousness filled with the spirit of such an open, honest, proclaiming pope.
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Occupy Theology: Obama has Broken the Hearts of the Young
5/20/2013 3:04:59 PM

An indication of the future of the church may have been presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting in Chicago last November. A panel discussion took place on a new book, Occupy Religion: Theology of the Multitude by Kwok Pui Lan and Joerg Rieger. A video of the discussion is available featuring five panelists: Miguel De La Torre, Iliff School of Theology; Jung Mo Sung, Methodist University, Sao Paulo; Kevin Minister, Southern Methodist University; Rita Brock, Faith Voices for the Common Good; and Hannah Hofheinz, Harvard University. The two authors then responded to the panelists comments. Joerg Rieger teaches at Southern Methodist University and Kwok Pui Lan at the Episcopal Divinity School. Presiding over the discussion was Lane Van Ham, University of Arizona.

Just think about this: The bible is viewed as authoritative scripture by millions of people even today, Yet the bible is the account of the history of a small and obscure people named Israel in the middle east. It is not the history of great empires which is viewed as scripture, such as Egypt or Assyria or Babylonia, which dominated Israel. No, the scripture viewed as authoritative understanding of God is an account of a group of ex-slaves which tried to make a nation for themselves but were finally destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 AD.

And the New Testament consists of four accounts of the life of an obscure peasant teacher from Galilee in Palestine crucified by the Romans, along with writings of some of his followers as they formed what is now the Christian church.

It is not the deeds of the most powerful which are considered the most important to remember. It is the experience and teachings of the least powerful actors in history which are lifted up in holy scripture.

If this is true, and if one wants to look around to see where that biblical God may be doing something today, it will not do to look at the rich and the powerful. One must look to the experience and thinking of the least powerful.

Now, such people are not in the news, they are generally ignored. But there was a brief outbreak of the least powerful people in society in what has become known as the Occupy movement, mostly young people, many fairly well educated but with big college loans, along with the homeless who gravitated to the tent cities established in cities across the nation. The movement made economic equality a central public issue talking about the super-wealthy one percent over against the rest of the people, the 99 percent.

It was a fairly brief moment. But it did raise up the issue of inequality in the public consciousness, the same issue as was raised in the history of Israel and among those first followers of Jesus. It was a rag-tag group of the young and the homeless but it is among just such people that the divine spirit of the one known in the scriptures is at work.

So I am looking forward to reading the Occupy Religion book. It may be a guide to the church of the future. The Occupy movement did not want to associate itself with either of the major political parties. It was a movement emerging from deep within civil society. It challenged the authority of leaders within both current corporate and governmental institutions, just like in the bible.

One of the panelists, Rita Brock, said something that struck me as especially important right now. She had been involved in the 2008 Obama election campaign and experienced the great hope young people were placing in Obama. I myself was involved in that campaign and also was impressed with how much young people hoped he would bring change to politics and governance. But from her involvement in Occupy Rita Brock said that Obama has "broken the hearts of young people." I think they put too much faith in one man. They did not realize how vicious the attacks on him would be, how irrational the Republican Party has become. They did not realize that the Democratic Party itself, its primary leaders and consultants and professional politicos, are not really ready to create a new political movement. They have been captured in mind and heart by the same corporate forces which dominate the economy and military.

Obama can only do so much. I mentioned this to a friend who then said something shocking, something I don't even want to have to think about. He said that if Obama actually tried to change the dominance of corporate power he would be killed. If you have a whole lot of money you want to keep it and you will do almost anything to do so. It is a sobering thought, one that is probably all too true.

So the young are broken-hearted. But the real church following Jesus is, indeed, on the side of the broken-hearted. Good news cannot come from the current political system. It is possible for the good news of the gospel to create some new space in the world for alternative political movements. Helping in that process is the task of any credible public theology today.

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Hope for the New Pope
3/14/2013 3:26:01 PM

I was in my car listening to the radio when I heard that white smoke was coming out of the Vatican chimney, a new pope had been elected. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was about to address the people. I pulled the car to the side of the road to listen. Then it was announced that the new pope would take the name "Francis" and immediately a sense of hope filled my soul.

Years ago I had led a class on Francis of Assisi in a lay theology series in Chicago. Two things about him came to my mind. First, Francis is remembered for his care of creation, a sense of spiritual relationship with all of God's creatures including the animals. This is the opposite of the modern domination of nature, the industrial destruction of animals for human consumption. Maybe the new pope will lead the church to a new focus on care for creation and ecology.

Second, Francis is known for his advocacy for the poor and his own simple life style. He famously stripped himself naked before worshipers in church to begin his life of monastic poverty. This was a rejection of his father's occupation as a purveyor of fine cloth and garments. The new pope too is known for his simple life style and advocacy for economic justice. Maybe this witness of the church will find further expression in a new papacy.

I am troubled to hear he is entirely traditional concerning sexual ethics, abortion, contraception, gay marriage. But in his first speech before the crowds he did raise up the characteristic piety of the virgin Mary in Latin America, a clear image of femininity in divine being. Maybe this will lead him to be more open to change in the Catholic church concerning leadership of women.

Another troubling concern is his relation to the military junta in Argentina in the 1970s. I will be watching for more information about this involvement.

But for now I feel a sense of hope for the new pope and the future of the church.
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