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March Madness of Religion: East Bracket

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Enjoy!

Image result for Bruce LongeneckerBaylor (3): Bruce Longenecker

Bruce Longenecker is professor and W.W. Melton Chair of Religion at Baylor University. He specializes in the origins of Christianity, especially its Greco-Roman context, the life and theology of Paul, and the care for the needy among Christian communities. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Thinking through Paul: A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology and The Cross before Constantine: The Early Life of a Christian Symbol.

Interview: Bruce W. Longenecker on Pompeii (blog)

Faculty Bio Page

 

 

Image result for stephanie mitchemSouth Carolina (7): Stephanie Mitchem

Stephanie Mitchem teaches contemporary theology and women’s studies, emphasizing the experiences and perspectives of black women, both in the US and in the African Diaspora. Her current research focuses on the intersections of social class, gender constructions, racism, and religions. Her book, Introducing Womanist Theology, surveys the contributions and challenges of women of color to theology and the life of the church.

Locating Yourself as an Individual and an Intellectual (keynote address at Meadville Lombard Theological School, video)

Faculty Bio Page

 

cohen_charlesWisconsin (8): Charles Cohen

Charles L. Cohen is Professor of History and Religious Studies and founding Director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions (LISAR) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Lubar Institute seeks to create a better understanding of the Abrahamic traditions and their interrelationships through academic and public discussion.  His current research interests are in American religious history and comparative religion, and he has published widely on these topics, including as co-editor of Gods in America: Religious Pluralism in the United States.

Islam is not the Enemy (with Jonathan Biatch) (article)

Faculty Bio Page | Professional Website

 

robin wrightFlorida (4): Robin Wright

Robin Wright is Associate Professor whose research and fieldwork have focused on Indigenous religious traditions in South America and more broadly, the Americas and the world. Of special interest are beliefs and practices related to shamanism, sickness and healing, intersections of traditional medicine with Western biomedicine, indigenous Christianities, anthropology and advocacy, history of theory in the anthropology of religion. He is the co-editor of Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas

Indigenous Religious Traditions (chapter, pdf)

Faculty Bio Page

 

Read more: East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Michael Shepherd is the editor of Global Theology and an assistant professor of political science and intercultural studies at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA.

March Madness of Religion: South Bracket

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Enjoy!

Image result for bart ehrmanNorth Carolina (1): Bart Ehrman

Bart D. Ehrman is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He began his teaching career at Rutgers University, and joined the faculty in the Department of Religious Studies at UNC in 1988, where he has served as both the Director of Graduate Studies and the Chair of the Department. Professor Ehrman has served as President of the Southeast Region of the Society of Biblical literature and chair of the New Testament textual criticism section of the Society. He has written extensively and is a New York Times Bestseller as well as a frequent guest and commentator about Christianity in the media. His most recent book is “Jesus Before the Gospels”, examining the role of memory in the earliest transmission of stories about the historical Jesus.

Interview discussing “Jesus Before the Gospels” (Youtube audio)

Professional Website | BlogFaculty Bio Page

hegeButler (4): Brent Hege

Brent Hege’s research focuses on the history of Christian thought and contemporary Christian theology, with special attention to 19th- and early 20th-century liberal Protestant theology, continental philosophy and philosophical theology, contemporary constructive theology, and theology and culture. He teaches courses in world religions, ethics, the year-long First Year Seminar “Faith, Doubt, and Reason” and is the author of the award-winning, Faith at the Intersection of History and Experience.

A Liberal Theologian Visits the Creation Museum (audio)

Faculty Bio Page

 

bartchyUCLA (3): Scott Bartchy

Scott Bartchy is Professor Emeritus of Christian Origins and the History of Religion in the Department of History at UCLA and his current research focuses on the socialization of boys and girls into the dominant cultural values and social codes of the various peoples living in the early Roman Empire as the context for understanding the ways in which the developing “Christian” movement reinscribed, remained neutral, or undermined those values. He is also a member of The Context Group, a working group of international scholars committed to the use of the social sciences in biblical interpretation.

Undermining Ancient Patriarchy: Paul’s Vision of a Society of Siblings (Podcast)

Faculty Bio Page

bradshawKentucky (2): David Bradshaw

David Bradshaw is a professor of philosophy and department chair at the University of Kentucky and an Orthodox theologian. His research focuses on the ways that ancient Greek philosophy shaped medieval philosophy and religious thought, and how these, in turn, contributed to the formation of modernity.  Most of his work to date has been on the philosophical roots of the division between the Greek-speaking (eastern) and Latin-speaking (western) branches of Christianity. His more recent work has continued this comparative study with respect to other issues such as divine freedom, time and eternity, the nature of the will, and free will and predestination.

What Orthodoxy Can Contribute to American Intellectual Life (audio)

Interview about the connection between Philosophy and Theology (video)

Faculty Bio Page

Read more: East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Michael Shepherd is the editor of Global Theology and an assistant professor of political science and intercultural studies at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA.

March Madness of Religion: Midwest Bracket

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Enjoy!

millerKansas (1): Timothy Miller

Timothy Miller’s major research focus is the history of intentional communities in America, especially in the twentieth century. For his work in this area, Professor Miller has been recognized by the Communal Studies Association as a distinguished scholar. Additional areas of research interest include American religious history, new and alternative religious movements in the United States, and religion in Kansas. Professor Miller also coordinates the Religion in Kansas Oral History Project.

Faculty Bio Page

 

bergmannPurdue (4): Michael Bergmann

Michael Bergmann’s specialization is in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of religion. Within philosophy of reason, he is an advocate for skeptical theism, emphasizing that one should be critical of the ability of a human person to evaluate the morality of actions of God.

Skeptical Theism and the Problem of Evil (article)

Faculty Bio Page

 

shoemakerOregon (3): Stephen Shoemaker

Stephen Shoemaker teaches courses on the Christian traditions. His primary interests lie in the ancient and early medieval Christian traditions, and more specifically in early Byzantine and Near Eastern Christianity. His research focuses on early devotion to the Virgin Mary, Christian apocryphal literature, and the relations between Near Eastern Christianity and formative Islam. His book, The Death of a Prophet: The End of Muhammad’s Life and the Beginnings of Islam, examines the historical context of the formation of Islam similar to the inquiry to establish a “historical Jesus”.

Discussion of The Death of a Prophet (blog article)

Faculty Bio Page | Professional Website

(Editor’s Note: Go Ducks!)

delacruzMichigan (7): Dierdre de la Cruz

Deirdre de la Cruz specializes in the cultures and histories of Southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines.  Her current book project is a historical and ethnographic examination of several apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the Philippines from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, especially as they articulate with projects and practices of colonial and post-colonial modernity.  In addition to Philippine history and ethnography, her research interests include theories of religion, colonialism and post-colonialism, visual culture, histories and theories of the mass media, and global occultisms.

Discussion of Mother Figured: Marian Apparitions and the Making of a Filipino Universal (Podcast)

Faculty Bio Page

 

Read more: East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Michael Shepherd is the editor of Global Theology and an assistant professor of political science and intercultural studies at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA.

March Madness of Religion: West Bracket

March Madness is an opportunity for college basketball fans to look around the United States at teams that they don’t usually follow and learn about players, coaches, and stories. At Global Theology, I wanted to take a look at the faculty teaching in religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, and related fields to form my own “bracket”. Each person highlighted has a brief description (usually from the school’s department page) and link to a blog, article, video, or book where you can learn more about them.

East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Enjoy!

barazaGonzaga University (1): Patrick Wanakuta Baraza

Dr. Baraza is an ordained priest from the diocese of Kitale, Kenya. He has been teaching African Catholicism and Islamic Civilization in the Religious Studies Department at Gonzaga University since 2005. He is the author of “Rival Claims for the Soul of Africa” as well as “Drumming up Dialogue: The Bukusu Model for the World“.

What GU Students Can Learn in Africa (blog)

 

 

galeWest Virginia (4): Aaron Gale

Aaron M. Gale is an associate professor of religious studies at West Virginia University as well as the director of WVU’s Program for Religious Studies. Dr. Gale’s research has centered upon the Jewish roots of early Christianity, specifically as it relates to the community associated with Matthew’s Gospel. This research has resulted in various publications including the book Redefining Ancient Borders: The Jewish Scribal Framework of Matthew’s Gospel.

Faculty Bio Page

 clarkXavier (11): Adam Clark

Adam Clark, Associate Professor of Theology at Xavier University, is committed to the idea that theological education in the twenty first century must function as a counter-story. One that equips students to read against the grain of the dominant culture and inspires them to live into the Ignatian dictum of going forth “to set the world on fire.”  His courses on Black Theology, Jesus and Power, Faith and Justice and Religion and Hip Hop contribute to the Jesuit practice of educating students in the service of faith and the promotion of justice. He currently serves as co-chair of Black Theology Group at the American Academy of Religion, actively publishes in the area of black theology and black religion and participates in social justice groups at Xavier and in the Cincinnati area.

Religion, Race, and Ethics in “The Birth of a Nation” (audio)

Christianity and Kwanzaa (blog)

Faculty Bio Page

navaArizona (2): Alex Nava

Alex Nava received his MA and PhD from the University of Chicago in Religious Studies.  Since arriving at the University of Arizona in 1999, he has created several courses, including ‘Love and World Religions,’ ‘The Question of God,’ ‘Religion and Culture in the Southwest,’ ‘Rap, Culture, and God’ and ‘Religion in Latin America.’ He also teaches the nation’s first Hip Hop minor program and is the author of Wonder and Exile in the New World.

‘Ghetto Gospel’: Life Lessons From Street Scriptures (blog)

Faculty Bio Page

 

Read more: East Bracket | West Bracket | Midwest Bracket | South Bracket

Michael Shepherd is the editor of Global Theology and an assistant professor of political science and intercultural studies at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA.

 

 

Amos and Black Lives Matter

Pastor Eddie Anderson speaks to the congregation at McCarty Memorial Christian Church in West Adams. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

Pastor Eddie Anderson speaks to the congregation at McCarty Memorial Christian Church in West Adams. (Harrison Hill / Los Angeles Times)

With the Bible spread before him, Anderson read from the Book of Amos — describing a scene of people chanting angrily in the streets, taking over the town square and grieving for the dead.

“Amos said until justice is established we will be forced, we will be called to wail,” he preached before pivoting from the past into the present. “We will wail and say ‘Si, se puede.’ We will wail and say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ We will wail and say ‘No Justice, No Peace.’”

In an article exploring some of the disconnect between the Black Lives Matter movement and traditional civil rights leadership in Los Angeles, writer Angel Jennings highlights response from clergy. In the quotation above, we see an example of utilizing scripture to connect a congregation with the continued search for justice.

Amos is set in the divided kingdom and he is from Judah but he is preaching in Israel. He is the outsider who is both the recipient of injustice and the herald for reconciliation. He begins by declaring the judgement that awaits the nations surrounding Israel (which would have received support and applause from any audience in Israel) before turning his message to challenge Israel itself for how the elite have oppressed the poor.

Amos uses a phrase, looking forward to the Day of the Lord when God will act to establish justice against all oppression. In this scenario, the surrounding nations are called enemies of God, but so is Israel! The prophets message is that a nation’s history is not a replacement for righteousness and covenant as God’s people. As an extension, a church’s history is not a replacement for pursuing justice and righteousness in imitation of Christ.

Read the full article from the Los Angeles Times. Read more about Pastor Eddie Anderson and McCarty Memorial Christian Church here.

Michael Shepherd is the editor of Global Theology and an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA.

Reclaiming Jesus in Diversity

Last spring, I had the opportunity to lead a lecture series on Christology and Whiteness at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA, in which we discussed the various ways that Euroamerican assumptions become the default in the ways that we understand the Christian faith, scripture, and the Church. Additionally, we looked at Black Theology as a necessary critique for this dominant perspective (More on Black Theology here and here) and the need to enculturate the gospel with diversity for its full embodiment.

One of the illustrating points of how a community reclaims Jesus within their own cultural identity was the statue of “Black Jesus” at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA. (For our readers outside of the United States, Detroit is a major city which has experienced significant economic upheaval based on changes in factory manufacturing, which disproportionately affected African-Americans and other minority groups.)

Image Credit: David Schalliol

Image Credit: David Schalliol

The 12th Street Riot in 1967, caused by police brutality and unjust social conditions, lasted 5 days and rocked a community and a country teeming with racial friction as the Civil Rights Movement was gaining force. In the midst of this conflict, a statue of Christ in a grotto of the Sacred Heart Major Seminary was painted.

According to the Seminary:

The story of Black Jesus is moving and was at one time controversial. During the second day of the disturbance [the 1967 riots], an African American housepainter boldly painted the hands, feet and face of the white Sacred Heart of Jesus statue black. Opinions were highly polarized at the time, even among Detroit’s black residents. Some considered the painting an act of faith and racial pride; others saw it as mere vandalism. Over the years, the meaning of the landmark has evolved to almost unanimously symbolize Jesus’ love for all races, and particularly for the city of Detroit and its black citizens. The seminary has steadfastly kept the features of the landmark painted black for four decades, and intends to do so forever.

The paint on the head, hands, and feet of Jesus occupy a small part of the statue’s surface, yet their contrast speaks volumes to the common depiction of Christ. For a community facing injustices, this becomes a reminder that Christ is present with them and not the sole property of the privileged and powerful.

The significance of cultural groups reclaiming the image of Christ in themselves teaches us a few lessons.

We understand the incarnation better.

  • To believe that God entered into the human story and was entirely present within a human form endows an extreme amount of cultural particularity. Jesus of Nazareth was, quite simply, a Jewish man, living in and around the Galilee region in the first century of the Common Era. He spoke Aramaic at least, ate a lot of salted fish, dressed in a common fashion, read Hebrew scripture exclusively, maintained Jewish religious customs, and fit within his social context as the son of a carpenter and, later, a religious teacher. Despite all of these unique cultural factors, neither Jesus nor Christian traditions have required their followers to honor the cultural practices of its leader! For God to inhabit a human is for God to inhabit humanity, in all of its diversity and complexity. (This becomes a running challenge in the first-century church as some Jewish-background Christians want to retain cultural practices as a core component of the faith, while Gentile-background Christians bring their own former religious practices, like ecstatic speech and disassociation with the physical body, to the community. Acts 15 is one of the flashpoints of trying to reconcile these differences.) Christianity has been a translated faith since its inception and continues to adapt to new communities and concerns today. By engaging with how different cultures have applied the gospel in their context, we are inspired to see how to reflect the spirit of Christ in our own communities. To look for and value diversity is to see how Christ is incarnated again and again in different ways.
  • We are challenged to reveal where we have made our own social preferences a stand-in for faith.

    • Taking the time to examine our own cultural conditions is similar to a fish studying water. Because we are unconsciously shaped by so many factors, it is easy to assume that those factors and our experiences are universal. This is especially true if we inhabit social locations of privilege or power. (In 2013, a major news representative crystallized this assumption in an on-air segment arguing that Santa Claus and Jesus were white. Her reasoning? “They just are.” – Video Link) When we assume that Jesus belongs to White culture, discipleship means becoming more White to the exclusion of other diverse and valuable identities. When we assume that Jesus belongs to White culture, discipleship means becoming more White Click To Tweet Once we are aware of this tendency, we can see where they have infiltrated our leadership structures, worship styles, spiritual direction, and have distanced others and their ability to live fully into their identity as a disciple of Christ.

    We learn to see Christ as present in our neighbors and are moved to action.

    • Despite the divisions which may exist due to geography, language, economics, education, there is the possibility to find commonality with people who are, otherwise, complete strangers. Through this association, Christians of one social location can see in another the presence of Christ, if they choose to look! We can see our sisters and brothers affected by adverse weather, or political posturing, or living under threat of violence and injustice. By cherishing their Christian identity first, we protect against the pressures to divide based on social hierarchies. When we see our sisters and brothers treated unfairly, we are motivated to become involved in their struggle because it is no longer their issue, but a family issue. We cannot gaslight and dismiss their experiences, but need to listen, learn, and follow their leadership. As a white, American male, I believe that #BlackLivesMatter as a necessary societal improvement, but I also believe that Jarrett, and Stanley, and Ramon, and Delonte, and Troy, and Gary’s lives matter and that they have something to teach me about living the Christian life. Of course, these influences come from all types of diversity- people of every national origin, economic status, gender expression and orientation, physical ability, political affiliation, language and literacy, and creed. The community that grows despite these differences will look truly peculiar to those outside the Church and creates invitation to share the radical influence of the Gospel. These relationships are also an entrypoint for responding faithfully and thoughtfully to the calls for justice and reconciliation.

    What has been your experience in seeking diversity in the Church? What barriers have you encountered or benefits enjoyed?

    Michael Shepherd is an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA and editor of Global Theology. He can be reached at editor @globaltheology.org or on Twitter at @Global_Theology or @mchlshepherd

     

     

     

    Indigenous Jesus, Reading Luke with Settlers

    Painting by ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ

    Painting by ᐅᓵᐚᐱᐦᑯᐱᓀᐦᓯ

    Dan Oudshoorn (Blog Link) has recently begun a project entitled A Blog Commentary on Luke’s Gospel, Written for Settlers in the Occupied Territories Called Canada, in which he reflects on the gospel text alongside the history and lived experience of indigenous persons to understand more about who Jesus is and challenge the assumptions of “settlers” like himself (and me).

    At the time of writing this post, he had posted the first two entries, and Introduction and a selection regarding Luke 1:1-4. (Part 1 | Part 2)

    Oudshoorn’s treatment in his introduction provides parallels between the historical context of Jesus of Nazareth and the Lukan community with the indigenous people of North America, specifically Canada. Similar to James Cone’s assertion that Jesus is Black (more on this here), the research and presentation provide the means for recovering from the blinders of assuming Jesus belongs to a privileged class (white, male, Western).

    In striking fashion, Oudshoorn describes the similarities, writing,

    It is also what it means to say that Jesus was an Indian, i.e. a Judaean.  Shortly before Jesus was born, the Roman soldiers had passed yet again through the region engaging in a scorched earth, shock and awe campaign to pacify the region and to punish the people for their refusal to be extinct commodities.  Children were taken from parents (like the RCMP and the Indian agent took children away from Indigenous parents and jailed or shot any who resisted) and sold into slavery (sent to residential schools or white families) in faraway lands.  The land that had been a part of the people was taken from them, crops were destroyed, people were forced to become transient labourers, maintaining a cheap labour pool for absentee mega-farmers or for city folks.  The roads were lined with the crucified bodies of able-bodied men – the very bodies that many large family units depended on to earn the money to buy their daily bread.  Sacred places were defiled, taxes were imposed, and temples were built to foreign gods.  Many were killed.  Many women were raped.  And Mary became pregnant with Jesus.

    The significance of Jesus identifying with the Indians lays the foundation for the remainder of Luke-Acts for what it means for the community of his disciples.

    But the story about this Indian whose name Jesus (Yeshua) means salvation, deliverance and rescue – this Indian from a colonized land, from an uprooted people, from a scorched earth, from a single teen mom – is presented as “good news.”  This, after all, is what the word “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον or “euangelion”) means.  From this word we get the title, “evangelist” i.e. one who brings good news” or “one who spreads the gospel” but what we will discover is that the “good news” spreads not so much like light into darkness or leaven in a loaf, but like a virus in a computer system, or like fire in the master’s house, or like revolution in the hills of Saint Domingue in 1791.  Because, and here I’ll say only gesture at what is to come later, this good news is only good news to some people.  It is very bad news to others.

    The second post enters into a conversation about what it means to be a “friend of God”- the Theophilus whom the gospel is addressed to. This section is a challenging polemic about whether to consider ourselves friends or enemies of God. For someone who is attempting to support and encourage recognition of historically oppressed perspectives, this section was personally challenging as it lays raw the need to reflect truthfully about the realities of oppression and one’s own power and privilege:

    We have treated Jesus as if he were a European settler (Roman), God as if God were white (and male), and us as if we are God’s friends.  If we’re going to get this right, we have to try and hear these stories again.

    Please follow the link to Dan’s blog (Part 1 | Part 2) and subscribe. I am looking forward to continuing to read his Commentary as a fellow Settler in Occupied Territory.

    Michael Shepherd is the editor of GlobalTheology and an adjunct professor at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA, USA.

    Following a Transgender Jesus

    jesusSuzanne DeWitt Hall’s recent article, Jesus: The First Transgender Man, wades into the contemporary firestorm about transgender access to public bathrooms in the United States with a reflection about gender identity and biological determination from two- fairly important- characters from the Biblical record: Eve (Genesis 2) and Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, et al.).

    Much has already been written about the flaws of seeing gender as a biological binary as well as how gender roles (and the number of gender options) are culturally formed, but her article approaches the issue using a different tact.

    She writes,

    If we take the Genesis account in it’s literal meaning, as conservative Christians demand that we do, she is also the first case of a transgender woman. God reached into Adam, pulled out a bit of rib bone, and grew Eve from that XY DNA into Adam’s companion. She was created genetically male, and yet trans-formed into woman.

    Then along comes Jesus and the whole pattern is both repeated and reversed. The first couple’s refusal to cooperate is turned around by Mary’s yes, and the second act of cloning occurs. The Holy Spirit comes upon the second Eve, and the child takes flesh from her and is born. Born of her flesh. Born with XX chromosome pairing. Born genetically female, and yet trans-formed into man.

    The significance in considering how these bodies are formed should not be a biology lesson, but ought to lead us to consider how tightly we hold to cultural assumptions about gender and identity.

    This is the same spirit in which we read Galatians 3:28 about other categories,

    There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    The differences between people are not magically erased but they no longer form the basis of our identification and relationship with one another. Any identity, gender included, is to be secondary to our identity in Christ.

    Perhaps a modern reading could include that there is neither cisgender and transgender, but you are all one in Christ Jesus. If this seems scandalous, I believe that we are approaching the original intent of Paul- to show the radical inclusion that is possible within Christian community.

    She concludes her post with a meaningful benediction, writing,

    A quick look at the dictionary for the prefix “trans” tells us that it means “across,” “beyond,” “through,” and “changing thoroughly,” all of which are great terms for the person of Christ. He cuts across all boundaries. He is beyond our understanding. He is through all and in all. He changes us thoroughly into new creations.

    In his person, and in his salvific actions, Jesus is truly the first and forever trans man.

    A special blessing to those brothers and sisters (and all who may find those terms of affection difficult) to know that Christ is present with you in your journey and invites you to live deeply from your identity as a new creation in Him and full fellowship within all of God’s family.

    Seeds of Freedom in the Midst of Slavery

    In the television series Hell on Wheels, the backstory of the character Elam Ferguson is explored in this flashback. In the episode entitled Revelations, he is shown as a boy reading scripture to his slave owner who has placed a bet upon his ability to read but not understand. Following this scene we see him hiding with other slaves in a barn and reading to them from Exodus chapter 6. This illustrates the dynamic of Scripture in the antebellum South in the history of the United States of America. Where scripture was used to enforce slavery, using citations such as Colossians 3 from the beginning of the clip, scripture was also an asset to abolitionists and to slaves themselves who found solidarity in the stories of Exodus.

    To read the account of God’s action to free the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, dispossessed people have found the power to live with strength and dignity, while rejecting the assertions that their inferior status is God’s intention. The Exodus narrative becomes the foundation of Liberation theology and other interpretive models as it presents the fundamental expression of God’s action in the world- to provide justice for the oppressed, not restricted to a solely spiritual or futuristic sense, but a new reality of human existence where all people can live in freedom.

    Discussion Question:

    In your community, how can scripture be used to support existing power dynamics? How can it be used to challenge the status quo?

    (Use of copyrighted material is intended solely for informational and educational purposes.)

     

    Islam and Christianity: Symptoms of a Wider Issue

    Much has been made recently about the comments of a professor from a North American evangelical university stressing the similarity between the faiths of Muslims and Christians. While the questions (and their responses) are not new, they revive passions that rattle the tension between the uniqueness of Christian revelation and the degree of inclusivity of that revelation. vramachandraOn his personal blog, Vinoth Ramachandra, Secretary for Dialogue and Social Engagement for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, shares his thoughts on recent events at Wheaton College (Illinois, USA) and the much larger question of the relationship between Christianity and Islam. He provides an interesting example wherein the roles are reversed, explaining,

    The Malaysian Church, in recent decades, was engaged in a prolonged legal battle with their Islamist-influenced government which prohibited non-Muslims from using the word Allah to refer to the supreme God and creator. Church leaders received directives stating that several words of Arabic origin, including Allah, Nabi (prophet) and Al Kitab (Bible) were not to be used by non-Muslims as Arabic was the language of Muslims. Usage by Christians would sow the seeds of “confusion”. The import of Malay Bibles printed in Indonesia (which used Allah) was effectively banned.

    Christians countered by pointing out that Allah was the common term used to refer to the supreme God long before Islam came into existence in North Africa. Arab Christians continue to worship God as Allah and Malay-speaking Christians have also been using Allah for centuries. Far from sowing “confusion”, it has facilitated communication and promoted mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims.

    Clearly this was more than a matter of official historical ignorance. Islamists fearful of the conversion of Muslims sought to deter the latter from reading the Bible by claiming that Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. They have been successful. Christians lost the legal battle, with dire consequences for the future of social justice and religious harmony in Malaysia.

     
    He continues in his post to sharply criticize Western Christians who rely upon lazy rhetoric to brush aside an entire world religion, with whom Christianity does share a significant lineage, on the basis of wider, cultural suspicions or political media fears, reminding that,

    The actions of the Wheaton College authorities, like much of what is done in the U.S., reach a global audience. I can imagine how they will be seized upon by Islamists around the world as ammunition to deploy against Christians. And how betrayed Malaysian Christians must feel.

    American Christians- especially those studying and working in colleges and universities- cannot remain complacent with theological, historical or political naiveté. Willful ignorance is inexcusable. Americans have ready access to a wide range of scholarly literature and the latest information technologies that the rest of us envy. They don’t have to watch Fox News or listen to the latest chauvinist or demagogue. Some of the finest biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers and historians are found in the American Church (sadly, it is not their works that are exported to the rest of the world).

    Moreover, every American city is multi-cultural and multi-religious. You can meet Christians from all over the world, as well as thoughtful Muslims from every Muslim sect, Jews, Sikhs, Jains or Buddhists. You can have your prejudices dispelled, your viewpoints and worldviews enlarged through such encounters and friendships.

    If American Christians do not avail themselves of the resources and opportunities on their doorstep, they will remain culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and a deep source of embarrassment to the rest of the global Church.

    Three quick thoughts from Ramachandra’s critique:

    1. How to increase the “export” of the finest of North American biblical scholars, theologians, philosophers, and historians- is this a matter of educational institutions, publishing business practices, or other factors? I recall when I was living in East Africa that I could see American televangelists broadcast in syndication yet the library of the nearest theological university was woefully outdated.
    2. Given the presence of a wide diversity of cultural and religious adherents living in proximity to us, the church needs resources that will help to bridge these differences, both in fellowship and dialogue outside of the church. There is a tremendous opportunity to re-think our faith and practice when we are nudged to articulate our understanding to people who have had different experiences and commitments than we have had ourselves. (A useful book in encountering this process is Timothy Tennent’s Theology in the Context of World Christianity, or Soong-Chan Rah’s Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, for a more local application.)
    3. I would like to leave Ramachandra’s final sentence to stand on its own, as it is the most poignant of his entire post. I will only embellish his thought to remind us in North American, or any context, that if these are truly the markers of our churches- culturally marginal, intellectually lightweight, politically reactionary, and embarrassing to the global Church, then there is something unhealthy that must be remedied, but this cannot occur unless we are able to evaluate ourselves with humility and grace.

    View full post: Pocket-Sized Gods? at vinothramachandra.wordpress.com.

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