Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Today in Church History

On 29 July 29 1794, in a converted blacksmith's shop in Philadelphia, former slave Richard Allen assembled a group of black Christians who had faced discrimination in the local Methodist Episcopal Church. They formed the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the mother church of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, now known throughout the world.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Today in Church History

On 26 July 1833, having abolished the slave trade in 1807, Britain's House of Commons banned slavery itself. When William Wilberforce, who had spent most of his life crusading against slavery, heard the news, he said, "Thank God I have lived to witness [this] day." He died three days later.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Today in Church History

On 25 July 1918, Walter Rauschenbusch, Baptist pastor and theologian of the Social Gospel, died. His books, including Christianity and the Social Crisis and The Social Principles of Jesus, influenced many—among them Martin Luther King, Jr., who observed that "Rauschenbusch gave to American Protestantism a sense of social responsibility that it should never lose.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Honoris Causa or Honoris Fraude?

A number of recent articles in Ethics Daily (see here and here) have sought to expose as fraudulent high-profile conservative religious leaders in the U.S. and Canada who hold academic and, more commonly, honorary doctorate degrees from unaccredited institutions that generally require little or no academic work in exchange for a degree.

While white North American Baptists are making a fuss over this practice, it continues to be a widespread and, largely, unquestioned part of Black church tradition, both in North America as well as the Bahamas. Here in the Bahamas, for example, it often seems as if the country has more D.D.'s than M.D.'s and when one hears somebody being addressed as "doctor" it is rarely in reference to a physician. One of the reasons that honorary doctorates are so widespread is due to an unaccredited U.S.-based institution that comes here each year and hands them out like candy. Even so-called "earned" doctorates are not much more credible, generally being issued from fly-by-night correspondence schools in the U.S. that are really no better than advanced Sunday school when it comes to academic rigor.

So why has the popularity of unaccredited honorary and correspondence degrees remained largely unquestioned in the Black church tradition? In part, this is because for many years Black clergy were not allowed to attend accredited schools where they might have earned an academic doctorate. Consequently, the Black church has offered the same respect and status to its clergy who have acquired a doctorate degree through alternative means as is commonly bestowed upon those who have had the opportunity to earn one through an accredited institution. Given that opportunities for Black clergy to earn a legitimate doctorate (e.g., Ph.D., Th.D., or D.Min.) are much more prevalent in North America today than in decades past, is it possible that the value of unaccredited doctorates will begin to decline in the Black church? I'm not sure. But here in the Bahamas, where accredited theological education is still hard to come by, I suspect that non-accredited degrees will remain popular for a long-time to come.

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Today in Church History

On July 24, 1725, John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace" and other hymns, was born in London. Converted to Christianity while working on a slave ship, he hoped as a Christian to restrain the worst excesses of the slave trade, "promoting the life of God in the soul" of both his crew and his African cargo. In 1764 he became an Anglican minister and each week wrote a hymn to be sung to a familiar tune. In 1787 Newton wrote Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade to help William Wilberforce's campaign to end the slave trade.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Just Peacemaking: A New Ethical Paradigm

My friend Michael Westmoreland-White has recently posted an index to his blog series on the ten practices of just peacemaking. I'm providing a link to that index here and would strongly encourage others to read through the series and consider how these practices might be applied in their own contexts.

As a college student, I remember having many frustrating and, generally, non-productive debates (or, more precisely, arguments) with my roommates about the merits of pacifism versus militarism. My biggest problem, of course, was that I was rarely able to offer credible alternatives to war and the few that I could manage to come up with (e.g., the violent resistance of Gandhi and King) were often dismissed as being unpractical methods of resistance to modern warfare. Thanks to Glen Stassen (and the many colleagues that have joined him in this endeavor), just peacemaking theory--based on a synthesis of Christian ethics and international relations theory--seeks to scientifically identify and articulate those specific practices that help to promote peace in our global, local, and interpersonal relationships. It bypasses the age old ethical debate of pacifism versus just war theory by focusing on the practices that actually work when it comes to peacemaking.

For pacifists, then, just peacemaking theory provides credible and scientifically proven alternatives to war. For just war theorists--all of whom would argue that war should only be used as a last resort anyway, just peacemaking theory offers an inventory of "first resorts" that can and should be attempted before opting for war as a last resort. In other words, the brilliance of this theory is that it stakes out common ground where pacifists and just war theorists can work together to further world peace.

As you might suspect, the practices of just peacemaking are hardly foolproof and, of course, don't prove effective 100% of the time. So even if they are practiced diligently, there will still be occasions where pacifists and just war theorists may have to part ways as the latter opt for war as a last resort. Nevertheless, if these practices were better known and more widely implemented, the reality is that we would probably find ourselves in a world where war and violence were much less commonplace than they are now.

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A Critique of Bahamian Theology and Religion

As I tend to be suspicious of anonymous newspaper columnists, I don't normally read the weekly column by "Simon" in the Nassau Guardian. Last week's column, however, offers a helpful critique of the shortfalls and limitations of Bahamian popular theology, particularly as it was articulated by the Bahamas Christian Council at this year's Independence celebrations.

Amongst other things, "Simon" challenges the prevailing ethos of prosperity theology which teaches that bad things never happen to God's faithful.

Moreover, the notion that God has spared the Bahamas from natural disasters and has instead allowed other lands to be ravaged is spiritually presumptuous and scientifically problematic.

To wit, why do natural disasters happen to good people in various locales on the planet while seemingly more sinful people are spared from calamity? Perhaps it has more to do with geography, chance and the scale of national development.

The thousands who perished in Myanmar did so because of an accident of geography, and because of substandard housing, bad infrastructure and a corrupt government. Not at the caprice of a vengeful God.

Natural disasters tend to ravage the poor because they do not have the means to protect themselves, as do the more affluent.

Additionally, "Simon" points out that the Christian Council (not to mention other publicly outspoken preachers) tend to disproportionately focus on narrow questions of personal morality while ignoring broader questions of social concern.
Rather, the focus was on the usual host of sexual sins and personal morality, while other issues of human dignity and social solidarity were largely ignored.

Access to health care, poverty alleviation, educational reform and the preservation of God’s earth, gave way to a relentless preoccupation with fornication, homosexuality and adultery.

It is not that such matters should be ignored. But a myopic focus on these is like cutting the Bible into a third and ignoring the rest of Scripture.

Since I have sought to address both of these concerns in my own teaching and ministry (see here and here), I am glad to see that others concur.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Today in Church History

On July 11, 1656, Barbados expatriates Ann Austin and Mary Fisher became the first Quakers to arrive in America. Officials promptly arrested them and deported them back to England five weeks later.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

COB Grants Resident Tuition to Non-Citizens

As the recent documentary Can you see us? makes painfully clear, Bahamian-born Haitians face a great deal of social and legal discrimination here in the Bahamas. Since Bahamian-born children of foreigners are not automatically granted citizenship on the basis of birth (but instead must wait until they are eighteen to apply for it and, even then, wait years for their applications to be processed), one of the biggest problems facing Haitian young people aspiring to pursue a college education is that, until recently, they did not qualify for resident tuition rates at the College of the Bahamas and, instead, were required to pay the non-resident tuition rate. Needless to say, this policy has prevented many otherwise qualified Haitian-Bahamians from going to college simply because they were unable to pay the non-resident tuition rate, which is double that of the the resident rate.

Thankfully, those days are behind us as C.O.B. has recently approved a new tuition policy which reclassifies most Haitian Bahamians (as well as Bahamian-born persons of other nationalities) as residents for purposes of tuition. In other words, Bahamian citizenship is no longer the sole factor in determining who does or does not qualify for resident tuition. C.O.B. is to be commended on this change in policy as it will go a long way towards making a college education more accessible to the growing number of people--Haitian or otherwise--who were born here, grew up here, and continue to live and work here. Hopefully, the Bahamas government will now follow C.O.B.'s lead and make efforts to more quickly and efficiently process the backlog of citizenship applications from the many Bahamian-born persons who consider the Bahamas to be their home.

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Chilean Baptists Ordain First Woman Pastor

While the ordination of women is pretty much a non-issue amongst moderate and progressive Baptists in the United States, it's still fairly uncommon and, in some instances, quite controversial amongst many (but certainly not all) Baptist groups in Latin America and the Caribbean. But that is beginning to change. On March 1st of this year, Margarita Campos--a Chilean Baptist--became the first Baptist woman to be ordained in Chile.

My colleague Mayra Giovanetti of Chile reports:
Women pastors from Central America, Chilean Mission’s leadership, and missionary colleagues came to Margarita’s ordination which marked a historic event in our Convention and the Baptist Church New Redeemer in San Bernardo that she pastors. Three of the guests were missionary colleagues Sheila Heneise, Mylinda Baits, and Magda Aguirre. Our local colleagues Dwight and Barbara Bolick were also present. Margarita rejoiced with all the love and prayers she felt from those physically present and those who sent her notes of encouragement and congratulations. You will read more on the 2008 Global Servants Guide.
Mylinda Baits, a fellow missionary from Costa Rica, adds:
The women in ministry in Chile have suffered under a strong gender preference in pastoral ministry, but are now seeing a new day and freedom to live out their callings, because of this one woman's patient perseverance to hold onto to God's truth and purpose for her life. Having not experienced such strong resistance in following our own callings, Ruth and I were surprised by how precious and significant the ability to speak God's Word and be heard was for our sisters in ministry who have had to struggle against structures and prejudices that want to silence instead of celebrate them. To see the joy expressed, the humbleness honored, and the truth told was a gift to each of us present. Not only were we privileged to be a part of a historical event, we were blessed to see God at work, breaking down barriers and building up the whole Body of Christ which is neither male nor female, but one in Christ.
This event does indeed signal the dawn of a new day for Chilean Baptist women. Congratulations, Margarita!

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Happy Independence Day, Bahamas!

Celebrate and join this weekend's festivities.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Quote of the Week

"When people live under oppressive structures, they turn to the Bible for the strength to survive another day, not to figure out how long a day lasted in Genesis 1. The Bible is not read with the intellectual curiosity of solving cosmic mysteries; rather, most people on the margins look to the text to find guidance in dealing with daily life, a life usually marked by struggles and hardships. Debates over the scientific validity of the Scriptures become a luxurious privilege for those who do not endure oppressive and discriminating structures."

Miguel De La Torre, author of Reading the Bible from the Margins and Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology

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Today in Church History

On 9 July 381, Nestorius, the first patriarch of Constantinople, was born in what is now Maras, Turkey. Nestorius attained fame for his teaching that Christ had two natures and two persons (rather than two natures in one person), which the Council of Ephesus in 431 condemned as heresy.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Want to make a difference in your community?

Try this.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Today in Church History

On 5 July 1865, William Booth founded The Christian Mission to work among London's poor and unchurched. Later, he changed the mission's name to the Salvation Army.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Today in Church History

On July 1, 1896, abolitionist writer Harriet Beecher Stowe died. She averaged nearly a book a year, but Uncle Tom's Cabin remains her legacy. Even one of her harshest critics acknowledged that it was "perhaps the most influential novel ever published . . . a verbal earthquake, an ink-and-paper tidal wave."

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