Jesus and homosexuality, part 2

Ted Grimsrud—April 27, 2012

I appreciate the several thoughtful responses to my post, “Jesus and homosexuality: What did he do?” They have encouraged me to do some more thinking.

The direct relevance of Jesus’ message for homosexuality

My cyber-friend Bill Samuel suggests that the essay “had no final conclusion” and “seemed to sort of wander away from the original topic.” While I may want to challenge his assessment a bit, I do take this as a challenge to try to complete the circle a bit more forcefully and suggest direct application of the account of Jesus’ “politics of compassion” for how churches today might negotiate the “homosexuality issue” (I have felt uneasy about using the word “homosexuality” for some years, but I have the sense that the word has somewhat less of a negative feel about it more recently—and we still don’t seem to have an alternative single-word term).

I ended the post with four somewhat general points about Jesus’ relevance for our day: his practice of welcome to all kinds of people, his direct challenge to those practicing a boundary-marker-centered faith, his willingness to suffer for the practices of welcome and challenge and call upon his followers to do likewise, and his foundational priority upon healing mercy as the locus of his ministry.

The final, seemingly obvious but admittedly unstated, point would be simply to say that Jesus’ message would seem clearly to require communities of his followers to embody his way of welcome in relation to homosexual people in their midst. Such communities should also make a special point of welcoming into their midst homosexual people who are currently outside their doors. In fact, this issue might well be one of the clearest test cases for how serious Christian communities are about embodying the way of Jesus. Continue reading “Jesus and homosexuality, part 2”

Jesus and homosexuality: What did he do?

Ted Grimsrud—April 21, 2012

In two of my classes during this just-ending semester (both classes mainly made up of first-year college students—Introduction to Theology and Ethics in the Way of Jesus), we had lengthy and helpful discussions about homosexuality. Preceding these discussions, in both classes we looked closely at Jesus as our source for theology and ethics. So, as would be expected, a good part of our discussion about homosexuality focused on how Jesus’ message might relate. What follows are some reflections, first put down on paper a number of years ago, in response to the “what about Jesus?” question.

Jesus as our model

Over the years, a popular Christian saying has been, “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD)?” This question, seemingly, serves as a personal reminder to keep the Savior in mind as one goes through life. In the end, a cynic could suggest, the Jesus of this slogan bears a strong resemblance to the young George Washington, who said, “Father, I cannot tell a lie”; he is a person with a strong focus on personal ethics.

“WWJD” does not seem to have much direct relevance to social ethics. What would Jesus do in the face of current church and societal struggles regarding homosexuality? Are we simply left with our individual preferences that we speculatively project onto a symbolic icon?

On one level, we are pretty much in the dark. We cannot speak with authority about how Jesus would respond to our debates because he said nothing about them. However, as followers of Jesus, we cannot simply ignore these questions. As I reflect on the relevance of Jesus for our social morality, I want to rephrase our slogan. Rather than speculate on “what would Jesus do?” I want to focus on something more concrete: what did Jesus do? I am hoping not so much to find a definitive resolution for today’s issues, as to find more clarity about the social ramifications of Jesus’ way—ramifications that do provide guidance for communities of Jesus-followers today.

Even though Christian creedal theology gives short shrift to what Jesus did during his life (e.g., the ancient Apostles’ Creed skips from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “crucified under Pontius Pilate” in its christological confession), historian Jaroslav Pelikan is surely accurate when he writes in Jesus Through the Centuries, “As respect for the organized church has declined, reverence for Jesus has grown. . . . There is more in him than is dreamt of in the philosophy and Christology of the theologians. Within the church, but also far beyond its walls, his person and message are, in the phrase of Augustine, a ‘beauty ever ancient, ever new’ ” (pp. 232-3).

Continue reading “Jesus and homosexuality: What did he do?”

Someone else who has problems with World War II…

Ted Grimsrud—April 20, 2012

As I have been working on my research and writing project that I am now calling, “The ‘Good War’ That Wasn’t—And Why It Matters,” I have drawn a great deal of inspiration from a book from several years ago that also expresses deep skepticism about the moral legitimacy of this war. I posted the following reflections on this book almost four years ago when I first started my site. I think it’s worth a revisit as I put the finishing touches on my book.

As could be expected, Nicholson Baker’s  Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (Simon & Schuster, 2008) has received mostly hostile reviews both in the mainstream media and among academic historians. I think it is a terrific book, though. It was one of the most absorbing 400+ page books I have ever read.

Describing the lead up to World War II

The book is made up of hundreds, probably close to 1,000, short vignettes that trace the events leading up to World War II and its prosecution until the end of 1941 (which, for the U.S., marked our country’s entry into the War).

These vignettes are mostly simple, descriptive statements; only rarely is Baker’s voice apparent. An example of an editorial comment, though, may be found on page 452: A December 10, 1941, Gallup poll had shown that two-thirds of the American population would support the U.S. firebombing Japanese cities in retaliation for Pearl Harbor. “Ten percent—representing twelve million citizens—were wholly opposed. Twelve million people still held to Franklin Roosevelt’s basic principle of civilization: that no man should be punished for the deeds of another. Franklin D. Roosevelt was not one of them.” Continue reading “Someone else who has problems with World War II…”

Are human beings violent by nature?

Ted Grimsrud—April 12, 2012

One of my classes recently discussed the issue of human nature and violence—a perennial vexing discussion. Are we genetically determined to be violent as expressed in much contemporary writing by biologists, et al, as well as political thinkers? If so, is pacifism simply unrealistic, terribly naive, even problematically romantic?

Of course, we did not resolve the issue. It’s something I keep thinking about. I think it is important to state the case for human beings as not inherently violent.

Three viewpoints

We may speak of three general viewpoints concerning human nature, what I will categorize as the “hard-wired view,” the “blank-slate view,” and the “flexible view.” Continue reading “Are human beings violent by nature?”

Christian attitudes toward war: Rethinking the typology

Ted Grimsrud—April 9, 2012

The challenge for Christians (and everyone else, of course) to think morally about warfare and the preparation for warfare remains as important, if not more important, than ever. Fortunately, Christian moral theologians have brought forth a bit of a revival of such moral reflection with a number of recent books after many years of relative quiet in this area.

These are a few of the books that I am aware of: Daniel M. Bell, Jr., Just War as Christian Discipleship (Brazos, 2009); Mark Allman, Who Would Jesus Kill? (Anselm, 2008); W. Michael Slatterly, Jesus the Warrior? (Marquette University, 2007); A. James Reimer, Christians and War (Fortress, 2010); J. Daryl Charles and Timothy J. Demy, War, Peace, and Christianity (Crossway, 2010); and Andrew Fiala, The Just War Myth (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).

In general, though, writing about moral reflection on war and peace from Christian perspectives tends to repeat the general typology that was introduced by historian Roland Bainton over half a century ago in his Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace. Bainton sees three categories: pacifism, the just war, and the crusade.

In a short discussion in a textbook I use in my introductory ethics course, Robert Stivers reiterates Bainton’s typology, though he somewhat confusingly uses the term “Christian realism” for the just war type (Robert Stivers, et al, Christian Ethics: A Case Method Approach, 3rd edition [Orbis, 2005]). Like Bainton does, Stivers presents the “crusade” type as essentially being a thing of the past for Christians, meaning that what we have to do with mainly is pacifism and just war.

The more I think about it, though, the more problematic I see this typology to be—at least in the sense that it leaves too much out and over-simplifies what is left. One of the main problems is that only a tiny minority of Christians would hold to either pacifism or the just war (as usually defined). Continue reading “Christian attitudes toward war: Rethinking the typology”

Reflecting on Jesus’ Cross

Ted Grimsrud—April 6, 2012

I was part of a panel during Holy Week at Eastern Mennonite University on “Heaven, Hell, and the Cross of Christ.” Each of the five speakers was given five minutes. That’s right, five minutes….

A challenging assignment indeed. The point was to stimulate discussion for the audience, largely made up of college students who, by their attendance, were signaling an interest in theological reflection. It was a worthwhile evening. The five speakers, perhaps a bit surprisingly, mostly reinforced each other’s perspectives and the discussion was lively but respectful. And, for me personally, certainly the discipline of trying to say something meaningful and coherent in five minutes was useful to submit to.

However, we left one rather significant issue on the table that didn’t get addressed. The audience constructed a list of questions for further discussion following the opening presentations and some small group processing. We worked through most of the questions, but ran out of time before we could to get to them all.

The question left unaddressed had actually been addressed to me and one of the other panelists by name. When I saw the question, I began working on a response in my head. So I was a bit sorry that we didn’t get to it. The nice about having a blog, though, is that I can address the question here. Continue reading “Reflecting on Jesus’ Cross”

Was John Howard Yoder a Heretic? (Part II)

Ted Grimsrud—April 3, 2012

This is the second part of a response to Paul Martens, The Heterodox Yoder(Cascade Books, 2012). The first part may be read here.

Does Martens make the case that indeed John Howard Yoder was heterodox? In a word, “No.” However the reason this is largely an unhelpful book is not because he fails finally to persuade. As I said above, a careful and clear argument that Yoder was heterodox (i.e., did not affirm “the particularity or uniqueness of Jesus Christ as a historical person and as a revelation of God,” page 2) could still be quite instructive.

The problem with The Heterodox Yoder is that Martens does not provide bases for a constructive conversation. In the end, there are three important elements of such a conversation that he fails to engage.

Martens does not clearly define “orthodoxy”

Even though he starts with a kind of definition of “orthodoxy” that will presumably govern his analysis and critique of Yoder’s thought, Martens actually is thin and vague about what he means by orthodoxy. And, he does not return even to this thin and vague definition of orthodoxy in relation to christology as an on-going and stable criterion for evaluation as he goes through Yoder’s thought. In his discussion of Yoder’s 1950s-era writings, in the analysis of the Politics of Jesus, in the discussion of Yoder on Jewish-Christian relations, and in the treatment of Yoder on ecumenism, Martens does not do what one would expect if he trying to make a case that would overcome the assumption many readers would have that Yoder had a vigorously “orthodox” christology (defined in terms of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as a revelation of God).

He does not compare Yoder’s main ideas that are surfaced in this survey with the criterion for orthodoxy. Not even once does Martens try to explain how Yoder departs from Martens’ understanding of an orthodox christology. Continue reading “Was John Howard Yoder a Heretic? (Part II)”

Was John Howard Yoder a Heretic? [Part I]

Ted Grimsrud—April 2, 2012

Paul Martens concludes The Heterodox Yoder (Cascade Books, 2012), his provocatively titled study of John Howard Yoder’s theology, by acknowledging that the object of his study was not a “heretic” but rather was “heterodox” (page 144). It’s not quite clear what the difference between those two terms are—maybe by “heretical” Martens means “directly contradicting the creeds” and by “heterodox” he has in mind being “openly critical of ‘orthodoxy’” (page 144). Martens writes that he prefers the term “heterodox” “because it acknowledges Yoder’s Christian context while also indicating the unorthodox manner in what he construes as authoritative in defining true Christianity” (page 144).

Martens doesn’t say this, but perhaps he likes “heterodox” better because it doesn’t sound as harsh….But, actually, how is asserting that Yoder was “heterodox” different than asserting that he was “heretical”? Either way, this seems like a pretty serious charge.

These two terms are hard to differentiate. Both heresy and heterodoxy are defined in relation to some “orthodoxy.” Perhaps the main difference is that heresy is more commonly used in relation to formal declarations—you don’t have “heterodoxy trials.” But the practical meaning of both terms when used in a theological context seems almost identical: wrong belief in relation to “orthodoxy.” In everyday contemporary usage (when formal heresy trials are quite rare), when we call someone a “heretic” we are not thinking of the formal sense of a person being formally declared such by some official body. I am willing to grant Martens his choice of terms and from now on out I will follow his use of “heterodox.” However, in my head I am going to hold on to the term “heresy” as well to help remember the seriousness of Martens’ charge.

What is “orthodoxy”?

Regardless of whether Martens something different by “heterodox” than he would by “heretical,” the next question follows, what is “orthodoxy.” In relation to Martens’ own ecclesial location (a former Mennonite, currently a Baptist teaching theology at Baylor University) and Yoder’s ecclesial location (a lifelong Mennonite), what is the “orthodoxy” against which Yoder’s theology is to be measured? This would seem like a pretty important question. Continue reading “Was John Howard Yoder a Heretic? [Part I]”