Because of Jesus…

Some may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging as much lately. I wish I could blame it all on the workload of being a full-time seminarian mixed with a couple of part-time jobs, but the reality is all of that busy-ness actually makes me want to blog more. Of course, it doesn’t suddenly create the time to do so, but nevertheless the desire to blog isn’t the reason I haven’t blogged.

Honestly, my lack of blogging is due more to the fact that there are heavier things to blog about. For example, this summer I took American Church History with one Professor Randy Woodley and while we would read speeches from Martin Luther King Jr., a news story would break about how another black individual (or nine individuals at a Bible study) was killed at the hands of white men (usually police officers). Or when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages must be recognized in every state, how quickly many Christians responded with messages of mourning and lament even though the founders of many of the conservative institutions fought for equality of all. In those situations, my words would not do much to improve any situation or to lessen the pain within these communities. All anyone who is not directly involved can do is draw attention to the voices who are directly involved.

And basically that’s what I have been doing: re-tweeting and sharing the voices who have been speaking against injustice in these arenas as well as others. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to be enough. Sometimes it seems as though my friends on Facebook or Twitter won’t pay any attention to what I share because they don’t believe racism exists or they believe a “biblical marriage” has a simple, straight-forward definition contrary to what the Supreme Court thinks. What does it take for these perspectives not to be changed entirely, but to be challenged a little and given the space to think or process for themselves? What is needed in order for the voices of the slain black men, women, and children at the hands of police to be heard? What is it going to take to value each other’s life equally?

I will not even begin to pretend to have the answers, but I have a few hopes. One hope is that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have a little more room to talk. Both Republicans and Democrats can be (and often are) seen as the enemy – as the group that is trying to ruin the country. Our political atmosphere has long been removed from the realm of equal dialogue and sharing of perspectives because it has become so fused with the need to beat one’s opponent that we’re reluctant to admit where we have agreements – or even worse, where our political parties are actually wrong. Removing the politics from the discussion enables for voices to be heard.

Which leads to my second hope: that we would de-politicize these issues so that we might have room to listen. This is by far the most important aspect of removing the political labels because in either political party the people who are less likely to be heard are the underprivileged black, Latino/a, Native, LGBTQ, and female voices. So the opposite of these categories – the cisgender, heterosexual, white male – is primarily the one who desperately needs to listen. But the same challenge can extend to others who are not this category and yet retain some aspect of privilege. For example, I’m not white, but I am a cisgender, heterosexual male, so in conversations revolving around sexuality or how women are treated, I desperately need to shut my mouth and listen. It doesn’t mean I can’t ask questions, but it does mean that I better spend more time listening than asking.

And this leads to my third hope: that we would sweat it out as we listen. Randy Woodley challenged the class with this idea in an (unpublished?) article he wrote, but the idea is basically that when it comes to “sitting at the conversation table,” we must remain seated as our privileges are exposed. And yes, we may even be guilty of abusing these privileges, in which case it is even more imperative that we remain seated and sweat it out. If we are seeking to be true allies and help those who are underprivileged, then we can’t say that we’ll listen and get up from the table after five minutes because we got too uncomfortable or we found the words directed at us to be offensive. Here’s the thing: if we are privileged, then we are not in the right to be “offended” when this privilege is called out. We’re merely experiencing what happens when our privileges are removed. So if you’re white and hearing about “white privilege” for the first time, remember that it is not racism to call out the dominant race for the systems their ancestors put in place that subordinate other races. Like John Metta talks about, race is a difficult topic because it is almost always centered around white feelings. We must sweat it out when our privileges are called out.

When all of the above is implemented, then comes one more hope: that the privileged do not suddenly become the leaders/experts in the issues of the underprivileged. An example comes from male feminists or white guys in the Black Lives Matter movement: they read a book by a feminist woman or hear a sermon from a black preacher about police brutality and think they ought to take up the leadership of those causes. This is not how systemic oppression changes. It is merely the reincarnation of the same systemic oppressions with new masks of equality. So when a man points out his own feminist leanings and proceeds to take over a conversation, that man then undermines his feminist values (because feminism seeks the equality of all specifically by focusing on the inequality of women). So yes, this means that I cannot take over the discussion about women’s equality; we must empower the underprivileged to have equal footing as the privileged.

Some may not find any of this to be in accordance with Christian values, but the truth is that it has been my faith in Christ that has led me to all of these issues (and for what it’s worth, treating them only as “issues” is a privilege in and of itself). It was Jesus who led me to feminism and womanism. It was Jesus who led me to accept the marriages of the LGBTQ community as God ordained. It was the suffering and lynching of Jesus that led me to lament the suffering and lynches of the black community (yes, when a black child is shot dead for playing with a toy gun, that is a lynching). It was Jesus who taught me that every person was made in the image of God. All that I have been challenged with is really expanding my definition of what God looks like.

Even with this brief outline of why these things matter to me, I am drained. Why? Because it is quite likely that as I have written these words, someone in the U.S. has been killed because they’re black, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, Native, Mexican, Muslim, a woman, or some combination of these. Or some prominent Christian leader has said another racist thing about people he does not understand or care that much about to begin with (*cough, cough* Franklin Graham *cough, cough*). With as much as I could write about these issues, change still seems incredibly far off. But that does not mean that I can not hope in God who has poured the Spirit into us through Jesus of Nazareth.

May we all find the courage to follow where the Spirit leads and end oppression.

God bless.


Sundays With St. Paul: “Uphold the Law” in Romans 3:31…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

For our discussion this week we were instructed to look at Romans 3:31 and discuss what Paul meant by “we uphold the law.” It seems that throughout Romans Paul is anticipating pushback from his Jewish audience about their “chosen-ness.” Romans 3 begins with a question of what the “advantage” of a Jew even is in light of their newfound faith in Christ, which goes to show Paul knew what he was writing would threaten the privileged status of the Jewish community. Sanders and Thielman were our guides in this week’s discussion.

In his discussion of the preceding verses to 3:31, Sanders notes “that the term ‘boasting’ in Rom. 3:27 picks up the same term in 2:17, 23.”[1] In those verses, “boasting” is an “assumption of special status on the part of the Jews.” Discussing the same verses, Thielman says, “Paul criticizes the Jew who relies on and boasts in the law, but the reliance and boast of which he speaks are in the possession of the law, not in its observance.”[2] So, then, Paul seems to have been addressing Jews who felt their privileged status (not by anything they’ve done, but by what they possess) being lessened by “this faith,” as he says in Rom. 3:31.

If Romans 2 is likening the Gentile “law” to the Jewish law – in the sense of practice, rather than knowledge of – and Romans 3 shifts to the “advantage” of a Jew, then it seems Paul is, overall, readjusting the Jewish role in this newfound Christian faith: It isn’t to convert all the Gentiles to Judaism (as is indicated by being so adamantly against circumcision and separation at the dinner table in Galatians), but rather to teach the Gentiles of what it means to “love one’s neighbor.”

Of course, I’m borrowing from Thielman’s discussion:

“If possession of the law gives the Jew no advantage over the Gentile on the day of judgment, as Paul has argued in chapter 2, then what is the value of the Jews’ supposed election? Paul replies that the benefit of being a Jew is great, despite what he has said previously. The reason for this is that the Jews have been entrusted with the ‘oracles of God.’ They possess, in other words, ‘form of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ (2:20) and therefore, as 2:17-20 says, have an advantage over Gentiles in knowing God’s will. Gentiles may possess some intuition of God’s requirements and so have an elementary understanding of the law in themselves, but the Jews’ possession of the law is so great an advantage that they can instruct the Gentiles in the knowledge of God.”[3]

With Paul’s likening of the Gentile to the Jew in 3:29 and his dismissal of “boasting” in 3:27, it then seems that 3:31 is a capstone to his argument for equality between Jew and Gentile; “[upholding] the law” is only possible after equality is established.[4] If Jew and Gentile are equal, then the “advantage” Paul refers to in 3:1, as Thielman explains, then becomes about what they are to do: teach the Gentiles “in the knowledge of God.” It seems to me that Paul redefines the Jewish possession of the law not as a point for a privileged status, but rather for a role of responsibility – to teach the law to the Gentiles who do not have it.

What do you think Paul means in Romans 3:31 in light of what’s discussed here? Is there another part of Romans 3 that you think is crucial for understanding Paul in 3:31?

[1] E.P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Fortress Press, 1983), 33.

[2] Frank Thielman, Paul & the Law: A Contextual Approach, (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 179.

[3] Thielman, 175

[4] I mean “capstone” in the sense of establishing equality; not an end-all to the discussion. Paul continually emphasizes this equality throughout Romans.