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repentance and transformation as a progressive Christian

I read two articles today that helped me crystallize something that I’ve been struggling to articulate to myself. Handsome and I have had a few into-the-wee-hours-of-the-morning conversations about “but what does it mean to be a Christian? What’s the point?” I’ve taken a radical departure from “being a Christian means you get to go to heaven when you die,” and yet I haven’t been able to put into words what I’ve replaced it with, especially since I came to the realization recently that nothing about my life would significantly change if I stopped believing in Jesus as God.

So, what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean for me to follow the teachings of Jesus?

Well, interestingly enough, my answer peeked out at me from “Here’s How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel” by Chelsen Vicari, in a description of “Cafeteria-Style Christians” (which I’m almost certain I fall into):

This group picks and chooses which Scripture passages to live by, opting for the ones that best seem to jive with culture. Typically they focus solely on the “nice” parts of the gospel while simultaneously and intentionally minimizing sin, hell, repentance and transformation.

I understand where Chelsen is coming from with this. I no longer believe in the doctrines of Original or Inherited Sin, and I do not believe that hell exists. Without those, the evangelical understanding of the Gospel evaporates rather quickly. I no longer “witness” to “the lost,” and I’m am very much unconcerned with whether or not those around me are “saved.” For the evangelical Christian, this is probably the worst form of heresy. According to many evangelicals, I have probably forsaken anything resembling Christianity.

But, the second part of my answer came from another article critiquing progressive Christianity, this time from an insider– “The Purity Culture of Progressive Christianity”:

For progressive Christians moral purity will fixate on complicity in injustice. To be increasingly “pure” in progressive Christian circles is to become less and less complicit in injustice. Thus there is an impulse toward a more and more radical lifestyle where, eventually, you find yourself feeling that “everything is problematic.”  You can’t do anything without contaminating yourself.

That paragraph stood out to me because while I agree with the general truth of this statement– I think “becoming less complicit in injustice” is one of the goals of progressive Christianity– I disagree with Richard’s conclusion: this impulse isn’t a problem. It’s where the repentance and transformation that I believe is absolutely central to the Gospel comes into play for us heathen liberals.

One of the questions Handsome asked me this weekend was if I’d convert to another religion, like Buddhism. I said no, because of all the theologies I’ve studied I still find Christian theology the most fulfilling … however, that doesn’t mean that I particularly enjoy every thing Christianity espouses. Say, for example, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” I hear that and my gut reaction is uh hell no. No way. That teaching right there is hard.

(Note: Some scholars, like Walter Wink, have made convincing arguments about the radical implications of “turn the other cheek” and “give him your coat also” and “go the second mile”– that Jesus meant these to be forms of non-violent resistance to oppression.)

I believe that the story arch of Scripture is one bent toward liberation. I believe that Jesus came to set the captive free, and that I am morally compelled to dedicate my life to that task. If I am participating, furthering, or aiding any system that oppresses and harms, then I am not doing what Jesus has asked us to do.

This is where I disagree with Chelsen: the “new Christian Left” is not minimizing repentance and transformation. In fact, since I’ve become a liberal, I have found that following Jesus’ calling has become even more transformative and demands constant repentance and renewal. Personally, I see the sort of repentance that I tried to live out before as petty. I felt remorse for such small-minded things– trivial, meaningless things. Things like wanting to look fashionable, or saying curse words. Today, when remorse comes, it is because I just realized how my internalized misogyny caused a friend of mine to sink deeper in self-hatred, or how my clueless racism made the office a hostile work environment for a black colleague.

I believe that Jesus asks us to be transformed, to be renewed, because of how deeply entrenched these systems are in our lives. It takes nothing less than sorrowful and soul-achingly-deep repentance to overcome racism and bigotry, and I believe that striving to undo the countless lies we’ve been steeped in is the single most transformational act we can accomplish.

The love, grace, and compassion required of all Christians isn’t easy, as Richard’s article and the article he quotes from highlights. Everything becomes problematic because everything about our world– ourselves, our cultures, our government, our policies, our relationships– urgently calls for a metamorphosis that can only be accomplished when we dedicate ourselves to the daunting task of beating our swords into plowshares. We are all, every moment of our lives, complicit in one form of oppression or another, and changing that reality will happen over generations, not moments.

I understand feeling burnt out, which is something we should all do our best to guard against. But I am hesitant to embrace criticisms of liberal Christianity that accuses us of being “fundamentalist” or those that paint the movement as one of “outrage” or “mobs with torches.” Occasionally I feel the anger we feel can be misdirected— we are a movement composed of flawed human beings, after all– but I disagree with those who look at progressivism and see a “Crusader mentality.” Having people point out the things we all do as oppressive, as harmful? It’s unpleasant. I understand the desire not to have our faces shoved in the brutal ugliness of the bigotry that still lives inside of us. Yes, self-care is needed. Yes, the “everything is problematic” situation is exhausting.

But I think that Jesus’ message is challenging. I don’t think it’s going to be comfortable, or pleasant, or anything less than the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. Taking up our cross and following him is a gruesome picture, not one filled with bunnies and rainbows and unicorns. I die daily and sell everything that you have are radical, mind-bending declarations. We have a commitment to seeing justice run down like the waters, and sometimes that’s going to ask hard things of all of us.

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  • Lark

    This was super-encouraging. Needed it today. Thanks

  • Hi Samantha, i read your blog regularly. I appreciate the courage and strength it takes to work through in-breed faith issues. I have spent 50 years in the conservative Christian community and I mostly agreed with their statements. About 5 years ago, I hit a wall and nothing in my faith system made sense. I have been redefining everything from God to repentance.I no longer claim to be a Christian but I do still consider myself a follower of Christ. I also have found truth in some Buddhist teachings. I do miss the community that goes along with embracing everything the traditional church believes. Have you found a community that fills the void of leaving the traditional church?

    • Connie, if I may….My “evangelical migration” as I like to call it, began 25 years ago after having been embedded within Moral Majority leaning evangelicalism. I’ve wrestled with most of the same things Samantha has described here…all these questions are similar for everyone I’ve met that is on this journey. And, as you’re discovering, it is a very difficult transition. The first hurdle is the deconstruction process which is necessary before one can begin reconstructing their faith/beliefs…terms that TRR loath and use against us.

      .Secondly, TRR still thinks that mainline churches/clergy are the same socialistic liberals as they were in the ’60s and ’70s when it comes to the bible and Jesus as God incarnate, etc. etc. etc..

      I like to say that I found Jesus in the Episcopal Church…in Christ and gospel centered preaching….and I found Jesus in the lives of faithful, God-loving parishioners. It’s an authentic faith.

      Having said that, I mention as something for you to consider (totally up to you), that you poke around and see if you can find a spiritually energized Episcopal or other mainline church. If you’re not familiar with liturgical worship format you may be uncomfortable for a while so don’t be afraid to take it slow.

      • Hi nhkeeper, thank you for your kind words. They are encouraging. I may try the Episcopal church although it would be way out of my comfort zone. But then again the last five years have been all about change!

        • Caroline M

          Try it! I grew up PCA (very conservative Presbyterian) with an evangelical bent, and when I first tried an Episcopal church it was hard. The beauty was amazing, but the services can be confusing for an evangelical. Try going and just absorbing. I know, I know, we’re trained to participate with everything we have or it’s not “good worship,” but accept that you can’t fully participate until you know what’s going on. You may be surprised!

        • Tim

          For what it’s worth, I also traveled the Canterbury trail. I would add my endorsement to much of what’s been said here about that, although I think there are other good places as well that an ex-evangelical could go for community and spiritual life, and liturgical worship takes about five years to get really comfortable with I think.

  • sara

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!!!
    This put my feelings into words.

  • Melissa

    Wonderful. Thank you.

  • Today when I feel remorse for … say … judging someone who is gay (for example), I no longer have any reason to justify myself as better than them, thereby soothing my conscious with the false assertion that being straight is better somehow. I always knew I was behaving badly, but oddly enough, back then behaving badly was the right thing to do.

    So, yes, everything can be problematic, including how deeply regret asserts itself. It’s also interesting how much less fear is involved in that emotion. Currently repentance looks very different, too…. I change! No dithering or gnashing of teeth necessary. Just honest acknowledgement of having done badly, and new choices (or education toward better choices, anyway).

    God’s presence and love is so integral to who I am now that I can’t imagine not seeing the entire universe and even time itself in light of it, which has sent me down heresy alley, from what I’ve been told. There was a time when I had to “talk about God” to sense that presence, as if I were conjuring the almighty into existence out of verses and prayer…. *stops rambling*

    Thank you. This resonated with me.

  • Interestingly enough, I’d read both those articles as well. For me, growing up in evangelical Christianity was so incredibly difficult. I felt the need to be perfect. That I had to confess every single sin or I wasn’t forgiven. I was taught that asking for blanket forgiveness wasn’t enough. And that I had to give my testimony. To tell others about Christ. And well, I was never comfortable with that. I continued to call myself a Christian even though I spent a solid decade struggling with what it meant.

    Here’s the point I’ve come to. Others may disagree and I’m certain, my former church would call me heretical.

    To be a Christian, I have to love others, treat them with empathy and compassion, and to do my best never to hurt others. And while I continue to follow the Bible, I do not believe it is the inerrant word of God. I leave room for allegory and misinterpretation and historical context and intended audience and all that. It is not a crystal ball that I can flip open and get what God is trying to tell me. I believe knowing the history of the church and what it has done right and wrong and in-between is important for us to move forward. I do not believe in passing judgement on anyone for what they do. That is not my job. My job is to love others to the best of my ability. (Best of my ability means that I also love and take care of myself and set appropriate boundaries as necessary.)

    Really that is what it comes down to for me. Side note: I’ve long since decided that if I weren’t a Christian, I’d be a pagan. There is a giant part of me that really relates to the pagan belief system more than any other religion. It feels right in some ways.

  • Nelson Keener

    Samantha….Thanks for broaching this issue. I’ve been thinking about this same question for a number of years. If being a Christian is not about “getting in,” as Rob Bell says (and I agree) then “Why am I a Christian?” Could I articulate this in a “30 second elevator speech” in marketing vernacular?
    Also, “What is a Christian?” Could I lucidly describe these questions/thoughts in a 100 word treatise?

  • I’ve been doing some evaluation of my beliefs in the months since my father died. About a month or so before, a family friend approached me and asked if I had shared the gospel with him yet. I didn’t know how to answer, because religion wasn’t a subject he was willing to discuss, and little did this woman know that forcing it wasn’t going to do either of us any good. That prompted me to really reconsider what I think about hell, which I guess is where he went since he didn’t formally “accept Christ.” I started REALLY thinking about it for the first time, and realized it makes no sense to me. Which then lead to questioning whether the Christian god is good, to whether he’s even the ‘right God’ at all.

    In a way, I envy the fundamentalists for being so certain. I used to be like that. But to say your particular theology is 100% correct when there have been 40,000 denominations since the first century, multiple biblical translations, and even scholars who debate over translating certain verses is amazing to me. How does anyone know? I don’t think any of us have it 100% figured out. In which case, who among us is really going to heaven? Seems like all of us are a little bit heretical.

    • Beth, my response below following trampslikeus2 was in response to your post. I hit the wrong “reply” tab.

  • In the early church there were only 3 sins that could jeopardize your relationship with God — murder, apostasy and adultery. I always viewed the last as a sin against community rather than a sin against God, since, at the time, marriage was largely a matter of property and contract
    Stripped down to these 2 out of 3 basics, I form my Christianity Not completely convinced on need to have s priest act a intermediary with God being a integral component of Christianity either. Much of what was “heresy” appears now to be more rational
    Do not underestimate the corrupting influence of Saul of Tarsus and Roman controlled Nicea in the “shaping of Christianity” to be a religion of occupation and rule.
    Hard to strip out the politics and cultural regulation to isolate core principles. Understandable since gospels were late transcription of 100 – 300 oral traditions that won the Nicea “beauty contest” presided over by a designate of the Roman emperor

    • I say that the bumper sticker, “Jesus Saves” (and, yes he does) doesn’t represent the gospel fully/correctly. The Gospel/good news is that “Jesus Saved.” We shouldn’t (don’t need to) ask people if the are saved? We need to tell them they ARE saved.

      My mother was always concerned about her grandchildren making it to Heaven. I assured her that the God of the Hebrew Testament always addressed and referred to the Children of Israel as a complete entity. When keeping the “whole of Scripture” in mind, Salvation and redemption would deliver everyone.

      As I contemplated God’s salvation and redemption I am led to believe that it is universal. Even evangelicals believe God gave his word to Abraham that he was the first among the Children of God.

      If that is true, then does that mean that all of humanity that lived and died before Abraham is out of God’s “loop” and are destined to eternal destruction?

      If the Jews who rejected Jesus can not be saved, then wouldn’t that mean that Jews who lived and died BEFORE the resurrection will be God’s eternal Kingdom. But those who were born before and lived through the resurrection, but don’t “accept” Jesus are destined to eternal damnation?

      Jesus scandalized the Jews by saying he was now going to include the Greeks in his plan of redemption. Does that mean that Gentiles who lived and died before Christ will, by default, gain or be lost to God’s redemption? After all, the claims of Christ couldn’t be rejected before the resurrection. Either way, are pre-resurrection people automatically “in?” Wouldn’ that be unjust to those who now “have to believe” to get in…Or if pre-rez people won’t “get in” it would be unjust to them because there was never the opportunity “to believe.” If God is anything, he is about justice. That what God’s (present) Kingdom is about…we are here to confront injustice.

      • Technically, at least based on my training, the Jews are First Covenant people. Their saving is not dependent on compliance with the Second Covenant
        My view is different from yours. If God really is all knowing and all powerful would he trust his message to a bunch of illiterate fishermen and political hacks and expect them to even understand it much less accurately convey it?
        I think not.
        It is apt that religions are referred to as “faiths” because although many “believe” only one – if anyone- knows and God ain’t talking
        Organized religion IMO runs amok because it never doubts the inaccuracy of the recorded message. So people quibble about the almost certainly inaccurate recording/interpretation of indirect witnesses often driven by agenda
        Based on this point of view (mine) it not only is permissible but required for adherents to interpret and filter religious doctrines and “truths”.
        Great theologians (e.g., Augustine, Luther, others in other religions) were not afraid to question orthodoxy and even the ostensible text of the message of their beliefs). IMO it is incumbent on us to follow their example.

        • It’s implied that the pre-Jesus Jews were saved if they were already following God. If Jesus is truly the word, and the word was with God all along, then they were already worshiping Jesus without knowing it (needless to say, that teaching is problematic among Jews today…).

          I would say that God leans more on the side of compassion than anger, and his mercy is bigger than what we can possibly imagine. This is where I think Rob Bell was greatly misunderstood when he said that God’s mercy is big enough that hell COULD be empty – I don’t think he said it actually IS empty. He was just using extreme language to make a point, but many evangelicals couldn’t handle the thought.

          • What kind of God could exclude good people of any faith from reward for a good life? Are we dealing with the God of Job?

            You and I are in agreement even if most organized religions are not

            Didn’t Francis, though, suggest that Jews were not subject to typical Christian doctrines of redemption as first covenant people. I know he backtracked … On account of politics … But it seemed that he was solid on that before the firestorm

            So many contradictions and hostile reactions when people question what is “just faith” a la “blessed is he who has not seen but yet believes” Yet people conflate “belief”, which can tolerate disagreement, with “truths” which are either by its nature either correct or incorrect

            Is the real enemy fundamentalism in any religion in which it appears?

          • “What kind of God could exclude good people of any faith from reward for a good life?”

            That’s one of the items on my laundry list of Things That Confuse Me About Evangelicalism: the Catholics get slandered for basing salvation on works, per the verse in James about how faith without works is dead. Yet in Protestantism, “You shall know my followers by their fruits.” ie, works! So which is it?

            I don’t know about Francis, but I’d agree that fundamentalism in any faith is damaging. Not just because it forbids asking tough questions, but because of their reluctance to humbly admit they might not have their theology 100% correct. I feel like I say that a lot just to cover my ass 🙂

          • This fun. Although you should be warned that I mostly post erotica here lol. A conversation with a very smart very thoughtful conservative Christian female friend gave me an idea for something legitimately provocative but also likely to be viewed as particularly scandalous. Stay tuned so that you can report me (smile)

    • I watched a documentary on the Gospel of Judas and it mentioned some of the other gospels that had been left out. Some of what they said didn’t sound unreasonable to me as a modern Christian. I think it is important to remember that the Bible as we know it today was shaped by men.

    • While it’s true that the official canon of Scripture was decided/declared at Nicea, I’ve always thought that the whole argument that it was made up out of hole cloth right there under Constantine is … deeply flawed. Many early church documents include discussions of what books should be considered canonical, and those were written long before Christianity became a tool of the Roman Empire.

      The early church already had a Canon before Nicea. It was loose, and different bishops had slightly different lists, but they all resembled the Canon we have today.

      Does that mean that the church wasn’t making decisions about “heretical” books and excluding some because the majority disagreed? Of course not. However, they were doing that independent of government oversight.

      • The church had a canon. And has s canon. But it included some shortsighted decisions that are to be presumed divinely guided. The doctrine of trans-substantiation comes to mind. To disagree was considered major heresy. Government interference was not the only issue. Politics and personal idiosyncrasy is and remains an issue.

        What I am trying to articulate is that the actions of the church are shaped by the society that existed at the time of the action. That society was not advanced. No fish Friday was a dietary response due to protein source shortage. Ban on married priests was as religiously motivated as the Statute of Uses. All religions have this

        As time goes on religious response to cultural or societal need becomes holy writ

        While I personally am now fan of St Paul, I believe most would agree that he was more influential in shaping the church than most of the apostles. Paul was not there from the beginning. He interpreted and shaped what he was told. When stories are retold inaccuracies and augmentation creep in

  • Here are three books that might help make sense of the quandary a migrating evangelical faces.
    http://amzn.to/1B08gP9 Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail by Robert Webber
    http://amzn.to/1Moomc3 Simply Christian by N. T. Wright
    http://amzn.to/1Ad3iQ3 Being Christian by Rowen Williams
    Robert Webber’s book particularly resonated with me because he talks about his own journey from being a graduate of Bob Jones to a professor at Wheaton College. This work is faithful to Scripture and the gospel and holds the essence of the Christian faith in tact while untangling it from the Religious Right.

  • crazylikeafox

    Out of curiosity, what do you think of the afterlife? I think there’s certainly a Heaven, and I always had a hard time believing in an eternal Hell. At the sane time though, if there isn’t something then people like Mengel got away with everything, which doesn’t seem at all fair to his victims. I think therersome kind of punishment after death, but for extreme cases and it isn’t eternal damnation. I aslo think there’s an eternal Heaven that awaits everyone. At the very least, I do believe there’s an afterlife

  • I went to a typical Baptist college: forty miles from the nearest known sin. Living in the dorm there were all these really stupid rules. The college took the attitude that our parents place their trust in the institution to watch over us. Big Brotherism to the nth degree. It was so liberating when I started seminary. The attitude then was, “If you need the seminary to provide rules for your conduct, you need to rethink why you are here.” Internal control over external control. Childish and immature Christians are slaves to preachers who think and dictate their actions keeping them in bondage by rebuking any attempt to grow spiritually (asking questions) as sinful. A mature Christian is led by the Spirit and a quest for growth not by a wannabe rock star preacher.
    Samantha and Handsome’s long discussions show their desire for growth and maturity. If only more believers would want this instead of being Christian robots blindly believing what the preacher says from his sermons. I like Samantha’s comparison of repentance before and after she left her abusive leaders. It was not only moving from trivial to important issues, but from childish to adult sensibilities. Immature Christians are about forcing others to bend to their will through fear and threats of doom. Samantha became concerned about other people and how she may have hurt them and restoring a damaged relationship. Big difference. Humility instead of arrogance.
    In my mind this sums up Paul’s comparison in Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
    I like using the metaphor of immature versus mature instead of fundamentalist or progressive. Isn’t what is going on in Alabama and Georgia concerning same sex marriage a colossal temper tantrum?

  • minuteye

    I have never met or even heard of someone who calls themselves a “Christian” and yet follows every single instruction in the old and new testaments. Even if they’re giving a theological justification for doing so (saying the new testament means parts of the old testament doesn’t apply anymore, for instance) that’s still being selective.

    So criticizing “Cafeteria-Style Christians” for picking and choosing what parts of the bible to follow seems like tremendous hypocrisy to me.

  • I ask you to be kind to the self you were, that grieved that you did not get to enjoy the “petty” things. Don’t underestimate the weight of culture. Are there bigger issues? Sure. But are you going to solve them in one fell swoop? No. And you certainly won’t do it if you’re arguing with yourself about whether you’re good enough by someone else’s standard.

    It would be a good idea to go back and read the essay “Everything is Problematic” itself: http://www.mcgilldaily.com/2014/11/everything-problematic/ — I try to read where arguments are coming from so I can better understand them; I don’t know if this is a habit of yours, but I recommend it. In it, she speaks to experiences I’m having as I come out the other side of upwards of a decade of castigating myself: not a good enough ally, internalizing my own oppression, what kind of feminist/queer/gimp do I think I am?

    I’m the kind that I am. And it’s enough. I may not be hardcore enough to want to go to protests on my birthday, but I’ll speak up when I see a problem, a real problem, not a disagreement between factions. I keep doing the good I can in my everyday life, understanding that this kind of change is also necessary. I don’t let the opinions of complete strangers control me anymore. I take it in and I keep what makes sense. With concrete goals and real-world solutions, I can work for change within a realistic context. I am no longer Sisyphus.

    I send hope that you will find a similarly comfortable place to land.

    • I did read the original article, and my response was that she was struggling with a combination of college (and therefore perhaps immature) activism and scrupulosity. Many people have that sort of mental/emotional reaction to environments like radical activism, and to some overly scrupulous people it might always be unhealthy.

      Obviously I’m not her, but I didn’t feel that the article accurately portrayed or criticized radical left-wing activism– it seemed fairly limited to a college student’s perception of it. That’s fine, and it was certainly thought-provoking and segments of it resonated with me, but only to a point.

  • Tess

    I did like Beck’s critique of our tendency of separating people into “the good guys” versus “the bad guys”…it’s a very human thing to do, and it seems most of us are pulled towards tribalism no matter where we are in life (groupthink as well). Part of the solution to this, I think, is to recognize intersectionality–oftentimes we are both oppressing and oppressed in some way. We are all in this together and everyone is doing both good and bad–we can improve the ratios, but we’ll always be doing some bad as well, and we’ll always be wrong about something. This is not to excuse injustice, but to be honest about its pervasiveness so that we are better at fighting it, and never to be convinced we’ve figured everything out.

    Because of this, I also agree with much of what you say here–that everything is problematic. The world is broken. The antidote, as I see it, is to be part of the process of making all things new. We can at least work to make things get less problematic. These points mean that I’m not sure there’s a complete tension between everything Beck said and everything you said, though I definitely see how some will run with his post in negative directions.

  • Tim

    I like this. It’s so common, in embracing any system of thought, religious or political, for us to use the system in part to make us feel better about ourselves (we’re so much smarter, so much nicer, so much more moral than “them” whoever “them” is) and to justify our behavior toward “them”, whether it’s selfishness, anger, hatred or actual violence. Using a system of thought to critique yourself, and to move from that to repentance and transformation is not the norm for human social behavior, but it is at the heart of Christianity, I think.

    You talked a little about the story arch of Christianity being toward liberation and justice. I think it not only tells us what moral behavior is in those areas (i.e. radical non-violence); it also gives us a unique hope that following the moral path will be effective.

    We have hope that one of the underlying assumptions of progressivism (i.e. that progress actually occurs in history – for example, moving from a world in which slavery is the norm for almost all cultures everywhere to a world in which slavery is more and more condemned as immoral by many cultures). There is no compelling secular narrative that explains progress or gives an assurance that there will be progress or that it is natural or inevitable. But Christianity is full of that narrative. The very first story (before the story of the fall) is a story of progress from a world that was good to a world that was better to a world that was still better.

    We also have hope that there really will be justice done, even if we don’t always see it. I am all in favor of pursuing human justice, for example, rapists. I’ve seen it work, I’ve seen a sexual offender convicted and imprisoned, and there is a lot of good in that, in the public declaration that the offender is the one at fault, and not the victim, in removing the offender from the life of the victim, and in teaching the offender about the impact and severity of his offense through the disruption of his life via incarceration. However, for everyone who receives justice in this way, there are a hundred more who “get away with it” and live apparently happy and carefree lives. And even in the case of those who go to prison, is there really complete justice for the victim? What has been taken away can never be fully restored by the punishment of the offender. Christianity, through the story of the cross and the resurrection, gives us hope of a better, more complete justice, that is fully equitable and restorative. Not talking about a literal instantiation of Dante’s metaphor (which I think is where most fundamentalist imagery of hell comes from, I think, though subconsciously); just talking about a hope for real, equitable and restorative justice for the victims of violence and oppression and the possibility of real forgiveness for us, we who have (in our ignorance or arrogance) been complicit or really oppressors ourselves.

    And we have hope that non-violence will really work. A dear friend of mine is home from Iraq with her two little ones, just for a couple weeks till she goes back to rejoin her husband in Erbil. And she spoke to me about the difficulty of loving, really loving, members of ISIS, who have been responsible for taking so much away from them, including the lives of loved ones. This is a hard one. But she feels that this is what they are really called to, and she shared with me her reading of 1 John 4: that members of ISIS act with such a complete lack of empathy (of love) because they are so completely ruled by fear – by a spiritual fear of punishment if they are less than “perfect”. But perfect love casts out fear. A radical non-violence in the face of that kind of violence isn’t just a great moral choice, it is actually a paradoxical but powerful way to change the world. That is our hope.

  • Good one!

  • Bob n PA

    The Central Conference of American Rabbis Press has recently published a book, Lights in the Forest, asking a host of rabbis to answer twelve “essential questions” regarding Judaism and Jewish life. Replace Judaism and Jewish life with Christian and Jesus’s life and the questions become what you and Handsome were debating. It’s a fascinating blog post you have here.