Current Issue Article Abstracts
Winter 2020 Vol. 55.1
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The essays in this special issue of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies arose out of the work of the “Violence in an Age of Genocide” study group, part of the National Council of Churches Faith and Order Convening Table. In light of the proliferation of extrajudicial killings of people of color in the United States—Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and too many more to name—the majority of these essays address racialized violence against Black people in the U.S. Similarly, these essays are also often directed toward the “white church,” broadly defined, and its need to engage these issues more critically, both theologically and practically. As we reflected on these tragedies, however, another crisis began to form—or, rather, to enter a new stage—on America’s southern border as Latinx families continue to be separated, with frightened children held in makeshift internment camps. Therefore, a few essays also address the racialized violence associated with the U.S. immigration system.
Interfaith and Racist Violence and Genocide: Definitions, Contexts, and Theology
Religious communities have historically been involved to one extent or another in genocide. Christian churches are no exception. Sometimes they are complicit in the violence; sometimes they are its victims. In recent years, when extreme violence seems to confront us continually, whether in one place or another, whether at a particular moment of crisis or painfully over time, many have been quick to designate the violence as genocide. But, do they meet the high bar set by the international community’s definition of genocide? And, what is the church’s response to be? This essay seeks to start a conversation aimed at answering these questions.
This essay analyzes what is involved in structures and patterns of racism that are obvious to one community and yet easily overlooked by another. It contends that this has to do partly with Western culture’s broader postmodern difficulty with truth and partly with the cherished legitimacy of the very institutions that are subtly affected by racism. At a more theological level, it argues that our often unwitting involvement in structural racism may make us susceptible to deception and self-deception regarding the truth about racism in American life. Knowing the truth and exposing our sins against the truth are important if the churches of the United States are going to contribute to the healing of American racism.
This essay explores the question of what makes a martyr by placing the early Christian discourse on martyrdom in conversation with the protest and commemoration practices surrounding recent killings of persons of color by United States law enforcement. It argues that white Christians, who are often skeptical of the application of martyrial language to the victims of such racialized violence, ought to be open to the theological significance of such practices. Doing so will allow us to learn new ways of understanding and participating in God’s justice and victory over the forces of death in our world.
There is hardly any disagreement in calling racism evil, but how can we express this theologically when racism reaches beyond personal, individual acts to a pre-existing, all- encompassing system? In Catholic theology, language of sin does not relate to the reality of systematic racism. This essay proposes recovering an understanding of ritual purity that lies at the root of the Christian tradition. While Christian theology has never been entirely comfortable with language of purity, the historical and sociological elements help explain the mechanisms by which systematic racism functions as a structure of sin.
The term “racial reconciliation” has been rejected by many committed anti-racist Christians for multiple reasons. Racial harmony and equity never existed in the United States and, therefore, cannot be restored. Furthermore, popular understandings of reconciliation imply that all sides must admit guilt, when in reality white people created the myth of white supremacy to further their economic, political, and social goals. Th is essay admits that, while these issues are serious, reconciliation is central to Christian theology and unity. The writer describes two essential components for reclaiming the concept for use in promoting racial equity and unity.
The Intersection of Palestine with Ferguson, Missouri
James R. Thomas
Is there intersectionality between the batt es waged against state-sponsored violence and oppression on the streets of Gaza and the streets of Ferguson, Missouri? This essay examines and compares events in Gaza called Operation Protective Edge to a police crackdown on protest movements in Ferguson, both occurring in 2014. The military action in Gaza launched by the Israel Defense Forces was a reaction to the murder of three teens in Hebron. In Ferguson 18- year-old Michael Brown was shot by white police officer Darren Wilson. The murder of Michael Brown triggered a national wakefulness to the ways policing affects communities of color. Brown’s death came less than a month after a New York Police Department officer used a chokehold on Eric Garner in New York City. The deaths of these two black men was a breaking point in a summer where telephone video and eyewitness descriptions of police violence drew national attention. In Ferguson, protesters rallied by the Black Lives Matter movement ignited the Ferguson Uprising, a series of protests where residents—the preponderance of them black, many of them working-class or low-income—called attention to questions that had long been present in parts of the St. Louis suburb: poverty, inequality, and police violence. The protests were met with police who were wearing elite killing gear similar to that of the Israel Defense Force. The Ferguson protests both added momentum to the national Black Lives Matter movement and generated offense from people angered by TV coverage of protesters who hurled rocks and insults at police. The end game of policing in Gaza and Ferguson is the same. The objective is to suppress the right to free assembly, expression, and association. The mission is to stop unarmed people from protesting against their oppression.
Statements on immigration by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches, and the latter’s member communions all counter a simplistic moral distinction between those who immigrate to the United States legally and those who come illegally by addressing the social and economic factors spurring migration, identifying the flaws in the U.S. immigration system, and calling for solidarity between citizens and immigrants, regardless of legal status. The immigration and refugee policies of the Trump administration, however, reveal that the rhetorical distinction between “legal” and “illegal” has less to do with the law than it does with the arbitrary exercise of power and reinforcing racial hierarchies. The churches must learn to address this darker side of anti-immigrant rhetoric more adequately.
This redacted essay provides a vision of the Reign (basileia) of God in response to the crisis of the mass incarceration of migrants, particularly those considered “undocumented.” It argues that, created in the image of the triune God, we are made to live in vínculos (intimate ties that bind), or perichoretic ties, with our neighbors. Mass incarceration violates these ties. Drawing on biblical notions of justice, particularly to the stranger, this essay ultimately argues that the church is called to be a hospitable community of holistic vínculos in eschatological anticipation of the realm.
Interreligious Dialogue? Interfaith Relations? Or, Perhaps Some Other Term?
Christopher Evan Longhurst
In the mix of discussions on diverse religions in dialogue, the terms “inter-faith” and “interreligious” seem to be used rather arbitrarily. Most people involved in interreligious dialogue and interfaith relations fail to distinguish clearly between them, and even the plethora of literature on interreligious and interfaith studies uses these terms rather fluidly and interchangeably. Specialized lexica also offer no clear distinction in their meanings.
This reflection seeks to offer some amplification of the terms “interreligious dialogue” and “interfaith relations,” asking what, if anything, differentiates them. Are these terms alone sufficient for a comprehensive and inclusive global dialogue around diverse religions?
A Roman Catholic, I recently joined a Muslim group on their pilgrimage to the Holy Land, along with my Muslim husband of fifty years. The trip included visits to sacred sites in Israel, Jordan, and Turkey. Our first visit was to what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Haram esh-Sharif or the Al-Aqsa Compound. Located on a hill in the Old City of Jerusalem, surrounded by massive stone walls, it has for thousands of years been venerated as a holy site by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. However, religious sentiments associated with the site are being overshadowed by political tensions.