Winter 2021 Vol. 56.1
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More than half a century ago, Lynn White, Jr., launched a debate that is still ongoing. It is difficult to bypass his critical views of monotheistic religious traditions to the present ecological crisis. This essay attempts to review some recent works by responding to White’s central thesis, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” which seemingly offers a negative judgment on a monotheistic religious approach to the environment. Being critical of White’s and his critics’ arguments, it seeks both to present an unbiased and neutral overview and to enrich the present discussions on environmental issues from faith perspectives.
Interreligious Dialogue as a Gateway to the Sustainable Development Goals: A Lebanese Case Study
Ziad Fahed, Anna Maria Daou
Much has been written on the importance of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in the creation of peace and of just and equitable societies; however, the role of religion in general and interreligious dialogue in particular in achieving those goals has not been extensively researched. For decades, religious actors’ and institutions’ role in conflict transformation, peacebuilding, and reconciliation has been overshadowed. This essay offers a critical analysis of the outcomes of interreligious dialogue and of its effect on the implementation of the goals through the work of the Sustainable Network of Religious Leaders in the North of Lebanon, which was launched by the Dialogue for Life and Reconciliation. The network worked extensively on matters related to gender equality and gender-based discrimination, inclusive societies, peace and justice, and creating partnerships for the goals. It pinpoints the successes, weaknesses, and challenges of this type of work and highlights the fact that it is only through comprehensive partnerships that the goals will be achieved. Through the collection of both primary and secondary data, this research aims at opening new doors toward a practical understanding of the role of interreligious dialogue in development and a better empirical analysis of its effects.
A Social Capital Perspective on the Peace Work of Religious Women
Women are often invisible when official religious peacebuilding efforts are effectuated. However, religious women, even though often not allowed into official religious peace initiatives, are still active peacebuilders. The religious peacebuilding efforts of men have been subject to academic discussions and theorization during past decades, while the peace work of religious women has frequently been empirically described but to a much lesser extent theorized. This essay seeks to contribute to theorizing the peace work of religious women to enable more conceptual discussions on how their contribution to peace can be understood. Drawing upon older and more recent empirical descriptions of religious peacebuilding efforts led by women, I suggest that we consider how religious norms, identities, and religious organization are utilized to strengthen and create social capital in these efforts. This is a valuable perspective when seeking to understand peacebuilding efforts by religious women.
The writings of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, provide a fundamental reconstruction of the concept of religion. In this new spiritual orientation, religion is perceived as a dialogue between God and humanity. This dialogical approach emphasizes the historical nature of religion, offers a dialectical conception of the Word of God, reinterprets the concept of the Day of Resurrection, provides a new and allegorical interpretation of various scriptures, argues for the harmony between religion and reason, and defines the true aim of all religions as the spiritualization of life, the liberation of humans from various forms of prejudice, and the promotion of unity and love in the world.
A Vision of the Destination: Theological Imagination, Ecumenism, and Social Transformation
Ikenna Paschal Okpaleke
“The eyes of the mind reach the destination before the legs get there,” so say African elders. This speaks of the power of imagining and envisioning of the world that serves everybody better. An ecumenical vision of a just and peaceful Africa attests to this common wisdom. In this sense, theological imagination remains relevant for any ecumenical vision that intends to bring about transformation in the African continent. This essay argues for the importance of theological imagination in advancing any transformative ecumenical program that targets the social sphere in Africa. The reflection on theological imagination in view of ecumenical transformation will then be tested in three social areas of engagement, namely, education, politics, and gender justice. It focuses on the context of Nigeria because of its peculiar turbulent sociopolitical environment and its challenging, but promising, ecumenical opportunity.
Imago Dei and the Tensions of Ethnic Identity
Wondimu Legesse Sonessa
According to the story of creation narrated in the Bible, all human beings are created in the image of God. As God’s image-bearers, all people need equal freedom, dignity, and justice. However, this core value of humanity is being neglected, and people are mistreating, exploiting, and killing others based on their ethnic origins. A country with a multiethnic society faces the worst challenge in this regard. This essay offers biblical and extrabiblical evidence for addressing the tensions between ethnicity and humanity in the image of God from a systematic theological standpoint, whereby attention is called to a harmonious and peaceful relationship between people of different ethnic heritages.
Meaning and Method in Comparative Theology by Catherine Cornille (review)
Meeting Jewish Friends and Neighbours by Marcus Braybrooke (review)
Forgotten Origins: The Lost Jewish History of Jesus and Early Christianity by Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez (review)
Without Ceasing to Be a Christian: A Catholic and Protestant Assess the Christological Contribution of Raimon Panikkar by Erik Ranstrom and Bob Robinson (review)
Fall 2020 Vol. 55.4
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Special Issue: Reflections on Religion and Race in the Era of Trumpism
Guest Editors: Edwin David Aponte and Laura Levitt
Edwin David Aponte
The following essays had earlier expressions in two biennial meetings of the Society of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in 2017 and 2019, and, as might be expected, all examine aspects of the multilayered and often complex relationships between and among race, ethnicity, and religion. Such exploration is not solely an intellectual exercise, but it is increasingly a necessary thing to do–not only for deeper understanding of these issues themselves but also for addressing many of the moral and public policy challenges of our times. Of course, exploring the connections and intersections among concepts of race, ethnicity, and religion and spirituality within particular contexts of the United States is important in its own right, but such study also addresses the concerns of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies for ongoing and meaningful dialogue among diverse religious traditions.
This essay is a modified version of a talk I gave in the Fall of 2017 at the Biennial Conference of the Society of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, Nashville, Tennessee. I spoke these words not long after white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia. The theme of the gathering was "Revolutionary Love." I was invited to address this issue after I wrote a blog post raising questions about revolutionary love and the categories of race, religion, and ethnicity. Specifically, I wrote about these matters for scholars of religion engaged with the American Academy of Religion (AAR). Returning to these remarks in the Winter of 2020, the urgency of my concerns could not be any more relevant. What follows is, more or less, what I wrote then. My hope is that these reflections will resonate with some of the powerful words of a younger generation of scholars' works on issues of religion, ethnicity, and race—versions of some of the papers that were presented at the association's preconference biennial meeting at the AAR in San Diego, California, in November, 2019.
This essay attends to contemporary Oriental Orthodox solidarity as a postcolonial condition and to the possibilities of communal belonging along different planes of theopolitical intelligibility. Oriental Orthodox debates around what I call the "social hierarchy of theological truth" are mired in colonial histories of civilizational order and the production of the collective experience of Byzantine and Islamic subjugation. The project of making Oriental Orthodox experience visible in the contemporary moment as perennial persecution and perpetual subjugation hinders analysis of the workings of this neo-imperial system that utilizes certain narratives of Oriental Orthodox while precluding the collective's historicity and its enmeshment in other radical frameworks of solidarity. I argue that contemporary Oriental Orthodox experience must be historicized as a means to understand the operations of the complex and changing discursive processes by which such an identity is ascribed, debated, or embraced. By historicizing the identity that such a process has produced, I ethnographically trace how such processes are unmarked in the everyday interactions of Oriental Orthodox in the United States—in the ways history, theology, and collective memory are debated and politicized in the present.
Surrogate Flesh: Race, Redemption, and the Cultural Production of Fetal Personhood
Amaryah Shaye Armstrong
The growth of fetal personhood laws has led to an increase in carceral responses to the loss of a fetus. This carceral response has had devastating racial effects. This essay situates the carceral management of reproduction within a theological mode of production and reproduction, examining how fetal personhood is culturally produced and reproduced within the context of a theology of Christian redemption and its supersessionist sense of peoplehood. I begin by situating fetal personhood within a larger discussion of Christian peoplehood and chosenness, focusing on peoplehood's relationship to political theological crises of legitimacy. In so doing, I recast political theology in light of such Black scholars as Cedric Robinson and Sylvia Wynter, showing how theological resolutions of the crises of legitimacy, meaning, and value depend on the imposition of order—ordering existence and epistemology—against the threat that Black flesh poses to the reproduction of Christian racial distinctiveness and redemption. Second, I consider how white governance supersedes Christian peoplehood as the redemptive theologic of racial modernity that legitimates claims of fetal personhood, by showing how the implicitly white conception of the human that is assumed by fetal personhood arguments recapitulates a notion of theological descent. Theological descent necessitates the proper reproduction of order through racial enforcement in order to secure human redemption. Finally, I draw on the insights of my analysis to perform a political theological reading of anti-abortion advertisements and billboards specifically figuring Black children as "an endangered species," showing how these ads make the fetus and not Black lives the victim of this endangerment. I argue that these are personhood arguments, and, as such, they deploy a Christian redemptive imagination to conjure and capture the living image of Black children, who are made into surrogates for the anti-abortion movements' redemptive politics. As such, they attribute blameworthiness to Black wombs and use systemic racism to produce a blameless fetus. Racism becomes a way of re-blaming Black people for racism. In thinking of race and reproduction together in an examination of the cultural production of fetal personhood, I show how the larger political theological attempt to impose order and governance on Black flesh serves to resolve crises of existential and epistemological meaning and value. The legitimation of carceral enforcement in response to abortion and Black reproduction is thus a means of preserving an anti-Black political theology. This theological redemptive order, in turn, is set over and against the disorder that Black flesh and sexuality represent.
This essay explores the multiple layers of aesthetics in Korean Protestant Christianity, moving between South Korea, the United States, and Haiti, where Korean Protestant Christians began establishing missions in 1992. Following the transnational itineraries of Korean and Korean American Protestants, I will identify two distinct but not mutually exclusive orientations of their aesthetics. The first is an aesthetics of progress, which has been prominent since the inception of Protestant Christianity in Korea. The second is an aesthetics of Koreanness.
This essay examines the theological and socioeconomic impacts of the creation of the Jamaican marijuana industry on the Rastafari faith in Jamaica and, mainly, how Rastas are navigating the forces of governmental regulation and global capitalist control of the holy herb. I argue that the scope of the Rastafari reactions to the dominating force of cannabis legislation in Jamaica is fundamentally a function of their longstanding precarious status in Jamaica. Rastas' rejection of the colonial and postcolonial state, proclamation of black redemption, deification of Emperor Haile Selassie I, and sacralization of marijuana brought them into conflict with the state, thereby reinforcing their liminal position as an "other." Throughout this essay, I draw upon the themes of postcolonial theory to understand the history of colonial and postcolonial legislative repression of Rastafari and how Rastas have deployed strategies of resistance and survival within and against the Jamaican society.
Postcolonial Theology and Intersectionality
Grace Ji-Sun Kim
Many two-thirds-world Christian theologians have turned to postcolonial theory as a more indigenous theoretical way of addressing the sinful effects of colonialism in its various manifestations. These theologians employ, in particular, the postcolonial concept of hybridity as a way of accounting for the complicated political agency of the "subaltern" (oppressed) subject. This concept emerged out of the postcolonial experience to describe the ways in which subaltern subjects sometimes embrace and confront the "master's tools" when constructing new postcolonial identities. What could look like support of the oppressor may, in fact, be a complex process of formulating and activating subaltern agency in relation to colonialist as well as indigenous cultural practices, languages, attitudes, and religions. This essay argues that these are forms of intersectional theologizing.
Reciprocal Inclusivism: A Methodology for Understanding the Faiths of the World
Christopher C. Knight
Based on John Hick's pluralistic hypothesis that Reality is ineffable and beyond adequate comprehension, but the presence of this Reality can be experienced through the linguistic systems and spiritual practices offered by the various religious traditions, this essay explores the place of such a hypothesis in the face of contemporary understandings of religious pluralism, in particular perennialist assumptions about religious differences. The essay aims to place the criticisms and strengths of traditional perennialism in the context of the thinking of two schools of theological thought. The first is embodied in the work of Vladimir Lossky (1903–58) whose understanding of apophaticism is based on patristic Christian insights and remains influential within the Eastern Orthodox Church. The second is the school of thought associated with the names of René Guénon (1886–1951) and Fritzjof Schuon (1907–98), which is referred to sometimes as the Traditionalist school or as perennial traditionalism.
Summer 2020 Vol. 55.3
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Zev Garber combined the `Aḳedah narrative and the Pittsburgh synagogue slaughter and dramatized in oral torah the absolute faith of Abraham and the realized fate of Jews in prayer on Shabbat morning. He raised ethical and moral issues of justice and mercy associated with this absolute biblical test of faith and the lasting influence on the lives and souls of loyalist Jews and others to the Covenant of Abraham. However, Garber's written torah elaborates on old-new language of hate and violence (Antisemitism, anti-Zionism, Palestinianism, Israeli nationalism) that somewhat parallels, contributes to, and prevails alongside the Pittsburgh Shabbat Massacre.
Language is a reciprocal tool: It reveals, and, at the same time, it is revealing. We use language to explain the things that define our world, but, by the same token, the way we use language also necessarily discloses how we explain and define ourselves within that world. In general, everyone can instinctively grasp how a given word or phrase is used to demarcate, even create, that small bit of universe that it encompasses in linguistic terms. But, the subtle aspects of how this same word or phrase might disclose a part of our own identities is less obvious and is less consciously considered in the old-new language of hate and violence. How and why are reflected in this essay that expounds on like and dislike of group-people-religion identity and that somewhat parallels, contributes to, and prevails alongside the Pittsburgh Shabbat Massacre
There is an immutable framework of biblical faith, expressed in Israelite monotheism, namely, that God is both all-powerful and all-just. Such divine attributes, however, have been called into question throughout the course of Jewish history and experience, from earliest antiquity, through the annihilation of European Jewry in the twentieth century, and down to the present. The dual tragedies of the recent synagogue massacres, both in Pittsburgh (October 27, 2018) and at Poway (April 27, 2019), have brought a renewed focus to the most fundamental theodic question regarding the goodness of God in an imperfect world. It is tragically ironic that the weekly parasha read in Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue on the day of the carnage was VaYera' (Genesis 18–22), containing (in addition to the 'Aḳedah) the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham's pointed question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?" Eventually, it would be the Israelites themselves who would reshape the divine image from that of a tribal deity, known as the "God of Armies" in the account of the Exodus from Egypt, to a transcendent emblem of compassion. They would eventually address the troublesome theological issues revolving around divine justice with a powerfully "subversive" treatise of Israelite wisdom literature, the Book of Job, wherein we find two poetic and elegant answers to Abraham's question and to the perennial problem of evil.
VaYera' begins with Sarah's laughter at the announcement of her future maternity. Later she laughs in what seems a self-deprecatory manner at Isaac's birth and her nursing the child. Sarah also speaks. God listens. She insists that Abraham expel Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham resists. God insists that he listen to Sarah. Then Sarah goes silent—a traumatic textual aporia. Bereishit Rabbah and midrashic tannaim suggest a one-dimensional reading of a Sarah bereft at the impending sacrifice of Isaac. Yet, a close reading of VaYera' reveals a powerful woman of royal lineage and priestly powers who brings and withdraws fertility, emboldens and enriches Abraham, and demonstrates agency not typically assigned to biblical women. By considering Sarah not as handmaiden but priestess, not as possession but as princess, and not as victim but as victor, we recognize a Sarah whose passion for life, family, and love determined that a divine call to human sacrifice would not be her legacy. The Abrahamic deity would be worshiped with life, not death. God and Abraham may have listened to Sarah. We gain hope from her wisdom and remember our humanity in the face of inhumanity. As instruction for collective identity in the face of trauma, Sarah teaches us to laugh and to cry, to live and to love, and to act and to rejoice together.
Dancing at "the People's Beach": Spontaneous Dialogue in the New York Sands
Carolyn Renée Pautz
Scholars of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue have largely ignored religions of African derivation in the Americas, such as Candomblé, Vodou, and Santería. This essay contributes to a resultant lacunae in the academic literature in these fields by using ethnography and performance theory (approaches that are also largely unknown in said fields) to illustrate the function of a spontaneous interreligious dialogue on a New York beach between Haitian Vodouists and Freemasons, one that effectively enhanced interfaith understanding on the popular level, as witnessed by a Lucumí priestess and scholar.
This essay explores how Lebanon is modeling interreligious dialogue through the Christian-Muslim celebration of the Annunciation of Mary. It highlights the importance of dialogue in both religions and analyzes the theological foundations of the Feast of the Annunciation. While identifying the commonalities and the main differences in approaching this feast, the essay discusses the challenges that this initiative is facing and explores some practical opportunities to counteract extremism. The methodology utilized in this study is textual analysis, particularly based on the Sacred Scriptures, as well as the writings of researchers and practitioners of interreligious dialogue. It concludes that, among the several forms of interreligious dialogue, the Feast of the Annunciation of Mary offers a pioneering platform that facilitates bridging over misunderstandings in order to deepen spiritual solidarity by celebrating a common spiritual heritage and appreciating differences.
Two Sides of One Coin: Hillul Hashem and Kiddush Hashem
Gilbert S. Rosenthal
Hillul Hashem, the desecration of God's name, and Kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God's name, are two of the most important moral principles of Judaism. Derived from biblical sources and greatly expanded by the sages, they are really two sides of one coin. Hillul Hashem constitutes a public action by a Jew that brings disgrace to God's reputation and sullies the good name of Israel. Actions of Kiddush Hashem exalt God's holy name, add honor and prestige to the Jewish people, and constitute the antidote to Hillul Hashem. The author analyzes how these concepts evolved through the ages. Most people erroneously believe that Kiddush Hashem implies martyrdom for Jewish principles (such as Rabbi Akiva). While martyrdom is the ultimate action of Kiddush Hashem, numerous sources are cited that stress that unjust, immoral, or unethical behavior vis-à-vis Jews and gentiles constitute Hillul Hashem. The author stresses that Israel's mission is to set an example for all nations and faiths to sanctify God's name through justice, honesty, and moral behavior for all peoples.
Questions about Paul's Gospel of Justification
Paul W. Newman
The Pauline gospel of justification is a major factor in current ecumenical discussions between Catholic and Protestant churches. The doctrine needs to be tested by the life and teachings of Jesus, who was centered on the Reign of God. Issues challenging justification by means of retributive justice are the doctrine of return that is central to the prophetic tradition, the emphasis of Jesus on the bilateral covenantal law of love for neighbors and enemies, the discrediting of death penalties in the world, the widespread emulation of Jesus' compassion, the inability of many modern people to believe in a scapegoat logic of forgiveness, and the desperate need of the world for the gospel of the Reigning of God.
Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and Interreligious Hermeneutics: Ways of Seeing the Religious Other ed. by Emma Polyakov O'Donnell (review)
Beyond "Holy Wars": Forging Sustainable Peace through Interreligious Dialogue—A Christian Perspective by Christoffer H. Grundmann (review)
RSM, Women, the Holocaust, and Genocide by Carol Rittner (review)
Eugene J. Fisher
Spring 2020 Vol. 55.2
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This is a report of the annual meeting of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, held September 27–29, 2019, at The Sign of the Theotokas Orthodox Church in Montreal. The theme involves the interface of ecumenical outreach and interfaith dialogue, within the contemporary social and intellectual context. The meeting featured four Canadian and two U.S. speakers from academia and/or grassroots practitioners who have had experience in both ecumenical and interfaith work.
This Romanian-born author heads the Canadian Centre for Ecumenism and teaches at Concordia University, both in Montreal. She describes the sociopolitical concept of ecumenical cooperation and multicultural and interfaith concerns in Montreal and throughout Canada. She emphasizes the need for humility and love among Christians and in their meeting with persons of other faiths.
Interfaith Dialogue at the End of Christendom: The Scriptures of My Dialogue Partners
Patricia G. Kirkpatrick
This McGill University professor discusses the implications of openness to dialogue for both academic and personal development. She urges that interfaith interactions should include the encounter of one another's scriptures for authentic dialogue to occur. She also discusses a "fractal" theory of religious diversity, which needs to go beyond mere tolerance.
This essay discusses how Christian ecumenism and interreligious theology and dialogue may benefit from each other. Beginning with overviews of points of concurrence among world religions and typologies of Christian attitudes toward world religions, it explores the relevance to interreligious dialogue of key notions from ecumenical experience: the identification of appropriate dialogue partners, the importance of understanding the other, "purification of memory," ecumenical and interreligious "gift exchange," personal friendship, and common prayer. Some types of unity sought in Christian ecumenism are relevant in interreligious dialogue, while others are not. Particular obstacles in interreligious dialogue are less significant in ecumenism: interreligious violence, the politicization of religious identity, the "dilution" of religious beliefs, and risks of Christian relativism. Lessons relevant to interreligious understanding and dialogue are sought in the works of Fr. Lev Gillet and Christina Mangala Frost.
This essay explores four main points in outlining the changing relation between ecumenism and interfaith engagement. First, it describes an ironic shift: Where once world mission was the common motive for Christian ecumenical engagement, now differences among Christians over response to religious diversity are themselves of church-dividing status. Second, it argues there is a new urgency for ecumenism as the necessary resource for adequate engagement with the religions—a new way for religious diversity to motivate ecumenism. Third, the essay traces the development of comparative theology as the appropriate theological resource for this new engagement. Fourth, it describes the convergence toward a trinitarian theology as a common element that marks both the recent ecumenical movement and the newer response to religious diversity.
Milestones and Peak Experiences in My Long Ecumenical Journey
John George Huber
This is the banquet address by a ninety-year-old Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor and campus minister with long involvement in ecumenical dialogue around the world. He describes his involvement in intra-Lutheran to World Council of Churches events in which he participated over more than six decades.
This essay intentionally seeks ways that some insights and rituals of forgiveness of sin in African Religion can enrich the theology and sacramental celebrations of the sacrament of penance and reconciliation in the Roman Catholic Church. A case is made for the celebration of this sacrament to represent the cultural contexts of each local church in ways that heighten their appreciation for it.
In the contemporary world, there is a conspicuous lack of interest in religions among people due to secularization, loss of societal values, and distrust of organized religions. The increasing number of scandals and abuses by the hierarchy further aggravates the situation. The division among Christians because of doctrinal differences gives rise to scandals, which are counter-gospel. The new ecclesial movements, which began just before and after the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church, work not only for the revitalization of faith but alsofor promoting genuine ecumenical dialogue with other Christian denominations. This essay examines two ecclesial movements—the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement and the Focolare Movement—that practice and promote ecumenical dialogue at the practical level, thereby contributing to spiritual unity among all Christians. The resources for this study are the documents of the Catholic Church and documents on these two movements.
This essay provides a presentation of the study document, Theology of Diaspora, from the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe and describes how the document refers to the diaspora situation of Protestant communities as both challenge and opportunity. It then pleads for an ecumene that discovers religious identities in diaspora situations as an important topic of theological academic reflection. Finally, it pleads for an ambiguity-sensitive approach, which values the interrelatedness, hybridity, and variety of religious identities in the twenty-first century.
EXPLORATIONS AND RESPONSES:
Role of Religions in the Spread of COVID-19
David Emmanuel Singh
We are ordinarily disposed to look for evidence of the positive role religions play in society. Religion, as Durkheim posited, is a "force" that activates a sense of obligation in the faithful to reach beyond self. This impulse usually results in positive action and behavior. This essay, however, brings together exceptional cases that cut across religions where the ordinary functionalist positivity gives way to negative behavior.
Yoga, Meditation, and Mysticism: Contemplative Universals and Meditative Landmarks by Kenneth Rose (review)
To submit an article for consideration, log on to our administrative platform, Scholastica, at jes.scholasticahq.com.
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.
To submit an article for consideration, log on to our administrative platform, Scholastica, at jes.scholasticahq.com.
Summer 2019 Vol. 54.3
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Not many scholars of religion can claim to have ever had their work appear on the New York Times’ “Best Seller List,” but Stephen Prothero, a professor of American religion at Boston University, can, for that is where his 2007 book wound up: Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know—and Doesn’t.1 One of the book’s greatest merits is its demonstration of just how dangerous for humanity religious illiteracy is. The dangers are compounded in the United States, furthermore, by the fact that it is an ethnically and religiously diverse country, as well as being the world’s third largest country and its oldest democracy, which amplifies the possibility for religious misunderstanding and its legal and political ramifications. If we wed to these factors the reality that the U.S. is home to some of the world’s best hospitals, which attract patients and their families from all corners of the globe, the issue at hand becomes even clearer: The consequences of the combination of religious diversity and religious illiteracy for the contemporary health care profession are serious and many.
Teilhard de Chardin and World Religions*
Teilhard de Chardin had a broad vision of religion and evolution. Religion was less a human phenomenon for Teilhard than a cosmological one, serving a vital role in evolution by orienting cosmic life toward ultimate fulfillment. In this respect, he felt that world religions are still too tribal and separate to satisfy adequately the spiritual needs of the earth. Hence, a new convergence of world religions is needed for a renewed spirit of the earth. This essay examines Teilhard’s insights on the convergence of world religions and his notion that Christianity is a religion of evolution, normative of evolution, and thus the form of a new religion of the earth.
The rise of religious disaffiliation represents one of the most significant events of the last 100 years in religious history. Catholicism in the United States has experienced the greatest “losses” associated with this movement, but Catholic theology has not been curious enough about what sorts of people disaffiliating Catholics are becoming. Scholars such as Tom Beaudoin and Patrick Hornbeck have proposed new directions for theological research by tracking not just what “brokers of official Catholicism” count as normative but also what ordinary and disaffiliating Catholics take to be normative out of their own formation and everyday life. This essay explores the experience of disaffiliation through a research portrait of a conversation between one affiliated religious educator and his disaffiliated former student. The study provides a compelling way into the larger contested conversation concerning disaffiliation. These two perspectives—of the affiliated religious educator and of the disaffiliated former student—offer insight on a growing but underrepresented experience in contemporary theological research. The essay suggests that positive religious life and learning can lead beyond affiliation with the Catholic Church and that, when disaffiliated persons are engaged in conversation, we can learn from them. The purpose of this study, however, is not to find a solution to the “problem” of disaffiliation but to propose a more affirming way to speak of and with persons and groups disaffiliating from conventional religious communities.
The juridical aspect of ecumenism is very important. A sign of reception of ecumenical ecclesiology is its integration with canon law. This essay evaluates the value of the Codex Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium as an instrument in their hands of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome for promoting unity between Orthodox and Catholics. It contrasts it with the ecclesiology of the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue on unity. It also shows that in many important points the ecumenical value of this code of law is limiting more than facilitating and reflects the need to integrate the results of the ecumenical dialogue with canonical legislation.
The topic of race and violence in the United States brings to mind an array of images: lynchings, race riots of various kinds, police brutality, violent crime within some minority communities, and so on. In most of these cases, the word “violence” refers to actions of serious physical harm—a mob committing murder, the burning of a car, the beating of a suspect in custody, a shooting in a drug deal gone bad. While these examples certainly warrant the word “violence,” they only scratch the surface of violence related to race. Describing them with that one word without further comment can obscure important distinctions about the nature of violence related to race and racism. What follows hopes to contribute to greater clarity by drawing upon a key resource pertaining to violence in the ecumenical theological and ethical traditions of Christianity—the just war tradition. We will find, however, that true clarity about violence and racism requires a recognition of the issue’s profound ambiguity.
Medellín through Methodist Eyes
This essay examines the ecumenical aspects of the 1968 conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellín. It begins with the historical context of the conference, showing how Medellín, by focusing on specifically Latin American issues, was a major break from tradition set by previous conferences. It then examines José Míguez Bonino’s reading of the conference, highlighting its ecumenical currents and its focus on liberation of the poor. It discusses the impact of Medellín on the Latin American Protestant ecumenical and evangelical movements, followed by an analysis of how Methodists are to understand themselves in light of Medellín, with a focus on Medellín as an affirmation of the Latin American, catholic, and Wesleyan aspects of Methodist theology.
Explorations and Responses
When studying the great ideas that have changed or could transform the human and the world, thoughts emerge from verba et scripta, thoughts that try to pinpoint fragments of truth, in order to give birth to an exit from roaming into the labyrinth of our microcosm. There is a struggle against egocentric individualism, in order to distance ourselves from the pursuit, the disturbance, the root of the problem and its solution—from the constant “why?” Each era has its own historical background and its own interpretation.
The Ecumenism of the Polyhedron: A New Ecclesiology?
Raniero Cantalamessa, ofmcapp, Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson
The image of a polyhedron, a three-dimensional body with many angles and surfaces such as a prism, was used by Pope Francis for the first time in Evangelii gaudium in a general ecclesiological sense to describe the Church as a whole.1 He used it in the address he gave at the Pentecostal Church of Reconciliation in Caserta—but this time in terms of the ecumenical dialogue among the various Christian churches. It is worth listening to its central part again:
This essay shares some of the aspects of my research journey and the pedagogical approaches implemented during the Islamic Guidance Programme (IGP). The IGP is a faith-based, spiritually embedded intervention that has been designed to cater to the rehabilitative needs of Muslims charged under extremism legislation, as well as those who appear vulnerable to faith-based radical extreme ideology. A spiritually based critical theological approach is adopted throughout the whole process of teaching. As a spiritually based intervention, IGP has its own theological foundations, epistemological principles, and unique teaching techniques that need to be used during the process of rehabilitation of a selected group of participants. This essay presents a summary of these theological, empirical, and educational aspects.
Elie Wiesel: Teacher, Mentor, and Friend ed. by Alan L. Berger (review)
Eugene J. Fisher
Confronting Hate: The Untold Story of the Rabbi Who Stood Up for Human Rights, Racial Justice, and Religious Reconciliation by Deborah Hart Strober, Gerald S. Strober (review)
Eugene J. Fisher
The Sufi and the Friar: A Mystical Account of Two Men in the Abode of Islam by Minlib Dallh (review)
The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel by David B. Capes (review)
Glenn B. Siniscalchi
Spring 2019 Vol. 54.2
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“Living Unity: Ecumenical Shared Ministries” was the theme of the North American Academy of Ecumenists’ 2018 annual conference, exploring forms of ecumenical relationships at the local level in Canada and the United States. Five speakers and a panel of representatives from Ecumenical Shared Ministries (ESM’s) informed the conversation among some three dozen participants gathered for the weekend.
Space for the Other: Ecumenical Shared Ministries
Sandra Beardsall, Mitzi J. Budde, William P. McDonald
Ecumenical Shared Ministries (ESM’s) combine two or more traditions in a variety of contexts and for as many reasons. The space such congregations share suggests resources for an ESM ecclesiology. Ecumenical parishes live with their multiple traditions in a mutual “otherness” that invites reciprocity, mutual indwelling, and communion. Their shared space—“disruptive” of the norms of single-traditioned churches—marks a shared practice of both acknowledging and dying to boundaries across a history that becomes necessarily experimental. Finally, ESM’s witness to the church’s cruciform body of self-giving—in this case, of one tradition to the other—in a sharing of gifts and graces.
Sharing of life and faith is not a question of just occasionally joining hands in a joint project, entered into perhaps once a year. Rather, it is a question of renewed relationships and awareness of one another precisely as Christians. Congregational ecumenism means sharing our faith, our tradition, our prayer, our play, and our mission in the place where we live together. It involves listening, learning, acting, and communicating. The importance of local ecumenism is seen immediately when one reflects that it is groups of people more than sets of doctrinal propositions; it is communities of belief more than systems of belief, which ultimately need to be reconciled.
This essay considers the life work of Catholic Reformer Teresa of Ávila through the unusual lens of the vocational theology of two key Protestant Reformers. It aims to show that although Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s shared opposition to Catholic monasticism was closely connected to their notion of calling, even certain post-Tridentine monastic traditions, such as that of the founder of the Spanish Discalced Carmelites, might be particularly well understood through Protestant-Reformer articulations. The project begins with an exploration of Luther’s and Calvin’s theology of vocation and general implications for sixteenth-century monasticism, continuing with monastic traditions that lent themselves well to the Christian practice of vocation, both in general and among Spanish female religious. From there, Teresa of Ávila’s specific vocational context is studied from within a Lutheran or Calvinist perspective. This seemingly antithetical vocabulary contributes a concluding suggestion that reevaluating seemingly paradoxical elements of early-modern-schism Christianity as potentially meaningful points of connection can contribute both to our historical understanding and to current ecumenical efforts between Catholics and Protestants.
The segregation between faith communities is better explained by exploring the socio-cultural frameworks with which people identify because of their value orientations than by reference to doctrinal disagreements. In most faith communities, not only do such values as charity or justice count, but also important are the sacredness and authority of traditions, people, and places, as well as ethnic recognizability and loyalty to the ingroup. These latter normative orientations explain why it is so difficult for faith communities to engage in ecumenical processes of unification. Given this, the essay explores two sociopsychologically viable ways in which ecumenical unity may be fostered.
Toward a Christian Peacemaking Approach to Jerusalem
Julie Schumacher Cohen
The future of Jerusalem for two peoples and three faiths remains a basis of conflict in the Holy Land. In the context of the Trump Administration’s 2018 move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, this essay lays out and critiques a key motivator—Christian Zionist theologies, including dispensationalism as a subset—while also critiquing non-Zionist replacement theologies. Rejecting these different projections of Christian-centric solutions as insufficiently universalistic or pluralistic, the essay also examines contrasting positions of a variety of other Christian bodies and leaders, including heads of Jerusalem churches. It concludes by offering a Christian peacemaking approach grounded in humility that neither sidelines Palestinian claims nor subsumes or severs Jewish ones but respects the core narratives of Jerusalem as a matter of justice.
Bahá’í Contributions to Interfaith Relations
The Bahá’í Faith “claims not to destroy or belittle previous Revelations, but to connect, unify, and fulfill them,” according to Shoghi Effendi (Bahá’í “Guardian,” 1921–57). Seena Fazel proposed “three bridges that can link the Bahá’í community to other religions in dialogue”: “ethical,” “intellectual,” and “mystical-spiritual.” The Universal House of Justice (elected international Bahá’í council) addressed its public “Letter to the World’s Religious Leaders” (April, 2002) to promote consensus “that God is one and that . . . religion is likewise one.” Shoghi Effendi’s declaration that the Bahá’í Faith “proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind” potentially can promote ideal interfaith relations through reciprocal recognition and respect.
EXPLORATIONS AND RESPONSES
The “Golden Rule”: The “Best Rule”
The “Golden Rule”—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—is doubtless the most widely known and affirmed ethical principle worldwide. At the same time, it has its serious, quasi-serious, and jocund critics. There are also variations of the Golden Rule, such as the so-called “Silver Rule” (the negative articulation: “You should not do to your neighbor what you do not want done to yourself”) and the extrapolated “Platinum Rule” version1 (“You should treat your neighbor as she or he wishes to be treated”). It is worthwhile to spend some energy on each of these “variations” and critics, but most of all I would like to reflect on the meaning, implications, and applications of the Golden Rule for the twenty-first century.
A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict by Naim Stifan Ateek (review)
Lilian Calles Barger
The Life, Legacy, and Theology of M. M. Thomas: “Only Paraticipants Earn the Right to Be Prophets.” ed. by Jessica M. Athyal, George Zachariah, Monica Melancthon (review)
Gandhi in a Canadian Context: Relationships between Mahatma Gandhi and Canada ed. by Alex Damm (review)
Reid B. Locklin
Praise the Name of the Lord: Meditations on the Names of God in the Qur’an and the Bible by Michael Louis Fitzgerald, and: Dialogue of the Heart: Christian-Muslim Stories of Encounter by Martin McGee (review)
The Wittenberg Concord: Creating Space for Dialogue by Gordon A. Jensen (review)
Religion and Faith in Africa: Confessions of an Animist by Agbonkhianmeghe E. Orabotor (review)
Eric J. Montgomery