Dean Flesher and Dr Sam Park are in South Korea visiting with friends and colleagues there. ABSW is grateful for our connection to Hyupsung University and many others.
In the past few weeks we have heard alarming reports concerning several devastating events around the world. There is an Ebola epidemic in some of the poverty stricken areas of West Africa that, if not controlled, could become a pandemic. Michael Brown, an 18 year old African American male, was shot to death by a police officer in Ferguson, MO and riots have ensued. President Obama has sent weapons, drones, and jets to destroy ISIS convoys and artillery in northern Iraq. ISIS responded a few days later by sending a video of the beheading of US journalist James Foley.
As a seminary community we are keenly aware that we have been called for such a time as this. Accordingly, we have been asking the question “How can we address these events and the ethical issues they embody to help our students, our alumni, our constituent pastors, and our seminary friends weed through the conflicting ideas about these atrocities in order to develop their own conclusions and commitments that they will then act upon?”
In response to this question established courses have been tweaked and new courses created. Here are a few examples:
OT 8174 Introduction to the Old Testament (online). A socio-cultural and theological overview of the Old Testament with foci on basic content, exegetical (interpretive) methodologies, and hermeneutical
(application) approaches related to the most critical issues of our day (violence, war, poverty, immigration, eschatology, and the role of the church). Professors: Flesher/ Guerrero/ Melgar
FT1130 Church Leadership. Developing leadership by providing the tools necessary for administering the church as a transformational agent in today’s culture. Professor: Martin
ST2198 Contextual Theology. A survey of major figures, themes, methods, and theological constructions of Liberation, Black, Latino/a, as well as Mujerista and Womanist theologies. That emerge from contexts of suffering and economic, racial, social, and cultural oppression. Professor: Da Valle
NT2860 Parable Theory and African American Hermeneutics. Reading parables through the lens of African American and Womanist hermeneutics that take seriously the everyday experiences of being African American in the diaspora, and hold commitments to the survival and wholeness of African American females, males, and families. Professor: Amen
BS2??? The Bible and the Newspaper: Poverty, Violence, War and the Bible. A new course that will focus on Hermeneutics, the Bible and the daily news. Professor: Flesher
FT2537 How to Lead Almost Anything: Honing your Leadership Style and Skills to Build Consensus not Chaos. Understanding power vs influence and position vs relationship will enable students to build consensus, cohesiveness, and community. Professor: Miles-Tribble
HM2240 Theology of Preaching. What is preaching in this post-modern, multicultural, and multi-religious world? Students will be guided to formulate their own theology of preaching in their own cultural context. Professor: Park
We are living in a volatile time. The way we think, ideologically and theologically, about the events and crises of our days effects how and where we lead. People’s lives, as well as the health and well-being of our nation, have been threatened for hundreds of years.
Today’s crises are an expression of the pent up energies from injustices suffered. You are invited to join us in the conversation.
To be a Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that good can overcome evil. In this day and time there are so many negative messages in the news: the Boston bombing, young women being held captive for years in a private home, the closing of US embassies around the world due to terrorist threats, young men of color being shot down in the streets…. To be a Christian, to be a person of faith, is to believe that there is a just and good presence that has, can, and will overcome evil.
One of my favorite theologians, Jon Sobrino, speaks about the crucified people. Sobrino teaches at the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, where in 1989 a government death squad entered the Jesuit faculty living quarters in the middle of the night, pulled everyone out of their beds (6 Jesuits, 1 female housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter) and slaughtered them in the University square. These brutal deaths were to be a message to the people of El Salvador that evil was in control. Except that the extremity of the event caused the message to backfire. As a result, the US ceased to support the government armies of El Salvador and the United Nations called for a cease-fire. In essence, this horrific event led to the end of a brutal civil war.
Jon Sobrino, away on a lecture tour, escaped death that night, but has been writing about it ever since. In his liberation theology we hear the call to search our souls for our own part in creating and sustaining the brutality of the cross. When asked at the Presidential lecture of Santa Clara University in 2009 how he would define ‘Liberation Theology’ his immediate response was this: “first we must ask, liberation from what…?” and then he answered his own question, “liberation from ourselves!” He went on to ask the audience, “how have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” This was not a general question, but specifically addressed to those of us privileged enough to be in the audience. “How have we, how are we putting people on the cross?” He concluded by saying, “we must work at taking people down from the cross, and if we are not working at taking people down from the cross, then we are part of the problem.”
Liberation theology brought to the world the challenge of theopraxis. No longer content with the discussion of philosophical systematic ideas about God and the work of God in the universe, liberation theology has challenged the world to put legs to faith. Latin American theologians and the theologians of Black Theology of Liberation in the US have pounded away for decades now crying out for boots on the ground theopraxis that essentially takes people down from the cross. Our global 20th century liberation theologians, of which there are many—far too many to begin naming them in this short blog—have shown us the way….
To be Christian is to be an optimist—to believe that God has, can, and will overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that resources are present to overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth has overcome evil. We need the faith to believe that God reigns and people count. We need the faith to believe that our efforts can and will make a difference. We need to get our boots out, dust them off and get to work!
LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament
American Baptist Seminary of the West
If you have been watching the news this week you know that Congress is once again in a battle over the budget. It seems Friday, March 1, 2013 is the deadline for a 2 percent budget cut across the board. While the majority of our Congressional members might agree that budget cuts are needed, they can’t seem to agree on the “what” and “how” of it. The general population is getting tired of hearing about these battles and has been pleading in various ways for Congress to get its act together and work on behalf of the common good. Here in lies the problem. Not everyone who represents this fine nation in Congress is concerned about the “common good.” It has been made clear over the past year that our bipartisan Congress is off balance—leaning toward the right fiscally, with the result that 1% of the US population has experienced an inordinate and obscene increase in wealth over the past 30 years.
Our US forefathers understood this danger when they put together the plan for a self-governing democratic capitalistic society to be run by the people and for the people. Having paid a dear price to be set free from a class based hegemonic monarchical social and political system the founding fathers of our nation envisioned a society where individuals could be, and would be, treated as equals and provided equal opportunity to strive and thrive. However, it was clear from the start the pairings of democracy and capitalism could create debilitating tensions that needed to be addressed.
Fundamentally, democracy is based on the ideal of political equality. Every citizen is to have the same potential to influence what government does regardless of their financial status. In the marketplace, however, money matters very much. Markets are directly related to “effective demand,” what consumers can and will purchase with real dollars. The consequent result for the US democratic capitalistic structure is that while the rich and the poor are equal politically, they will not be equal economically. This combination could lead to two undesirable extremes: 1) mob rule by asset-less democratic majorities; or 2) oligarchic rule by the affluent. Thus, government’s role is to oversee the enterprise through the creation of regulatory policies that prevent runaway markets and taxation that assures a sustainable distribution of wealth and resources for the whole population. In order to achieve these goals political theorists have created models that focus on the creation and sustaining of a strong middle class. The theory being that the middle class vote will regulate what goes on in the economy, i.e., the median voter will correct rising inequality in wealth as well as poor economic performance.
Unfortunately, this system has not worked well for the US over the past 30 years. During this time we have experienced a constant shift toward highly conservative tax policies and market deregulation. While these phrases “conservative tax policies” and “deregulation” sound positive, and we have been trained to believe this is true, the reality is the constant movement toward more conservative policies has led to our current economic condition in which the rich (the top 1%) are getting richer and the middle class and the poor are losing ground.
Some key terms must be addressed here: conservative, progressive, and liberal. These terms get used frequently in our world and are often applied to differing fields of study with varying results. For example: if I say I am fiscally conservative with regard to US national economic policies I am throwing my hat into the camp of the wealthy and saying I will vote on their behalf so that they will have reduced taxes and experience fewer regulations for their market enterprises. If, however, I say I am fiscally progressive I am announcing my commitment to regulated markets, i.e., markets that will have limits set on their growth potential, and a higher tax rate for the wealthy, i.e., incremental rate increases applied in a stair step fashion to higher income levels. If I declare myself a fiscal liberal, then I am committed to the progressive agenda plus the creation of social programs that will care for the immobilized members of our society.
All of the national policies and decisions mentioned above are the responsibility of the US Congress and those of the State are ruled on by the State Legislature. What has been happening nationally is the concern for this blog. Our nation has experienced a constant conservative policy shift for 30 years that has resulted in runaway markets and an ever widening economic gap between the rich and the rest of us.
Should Congress allow the current plan for budget cuts to engage on March 1st, we will see significant negative effects for our national infrastructure and for education. Representative Bill Pascrell (Rep 9th district of New Jersey) spoke well today (Feb 26, 2013) when interviewed in tandem with Trey Radel (Rep 19th district of SW Florida and Tea Party supporter) on CNN. Radel emphasized the need for efficient government; Pascrell agreed, but emphasized the concern for the “common good.” In Pascrell’s words, “we believe in surgical cuts, not 2% across the board.” In other words, Pascrell believes we need to cut the budget in strategic ways so as not to bring further harm to the middle and lower classes so as to work on behalf of the “common good” of the entire nation.
Fundamentally, we cannot cut our way out of deficit or recession, but must create a strategic balance between “surgical cuts” and increased revenue. What can you and I do? We are still a democracy. Every US citizen has political equality. We must exercise our political equality in every way imaginable. Call and write your state Representatives and your Senators. Flood their offices with appeals and requests. Form grass roots groups that voice the need for equity and justice for ALL people. There cannot be too many voices speaking at this time—there is power in numbers.
“Take Care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD
Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament
American Baptist Seminary of the West
 Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington made the Rich Richer-and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 74-78.
Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament
The State of Things
We are experiencing some very interesting days. The wars continue to erupt in the Middle East, (despite reports to the contrary), the Arab spring has resulted in countries attempting to rework their political systems in the midst of continued unrest, the Euro is at risk of failing, Greece continues to falter and struggle for a means of survival, the Romney/Obama campaigns are roaring along, our economy still has not turned around, poverty in the US is growing at a rapid rate, and voices are clamoring around the world for peace, and justice, and relief. We are living in a tremendously unsettled time.
Added to this global reality is the fact that our nation is experiencing many new trends. And when I say new, I mean trends that have been developing over the past 40 to 50 years. I want to talk about these trends in four major categories: Industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion.
I am taking my data from a book put together by Charles Murray, a well known conservative libertarian political scientist and scholar, who is best known for his controversial 1994 book entitled The Bell Curve. While I do not agree with Murray’s conclusions and suggestions for what next, I am greatly appreciative of the tremendous amount of data he has collected in his most recent book entitled Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960 to 2010.
In this volume Murray begins with a description of the four categories I mentioned earlier: industriousness, honesty, marriage, and religion as the four founding virtues on which our nation was built. He then proceeds to show how each of these four has diminished considerably in the past 50 years. For industriousness he uses data from unemployment records and surveys related to number of hours worked in a week; for honesty he uses data related to crime indexes, imprisonments, and bankruptcies; for marriage he uses data related to extramarital sex, marriage, divorce and single rates, and surveys that report happiness levels in marriage; finally, for religion he uses data from surveys that reported faith commitments (or not), and church attendance (or not).
I do not have space to provide all of the results and conclusions, but want to highlight some that I find particularly relevant to faith communities. In sum, all four categories are declining. It will come as no surprise to learn that employment rates are down in the US, but so too the number of hours worked by those who are employed. Similarly, incarcerations are up and so too bankruptcies. Marriage is on the outs—depicted not only by the divorce rate, but also by the numbers who choose to never marry. And, low and behold, attendance at religious services and commitments to religious organizations are down. Murray’s conclusions? We are going to hell in a hand basket, and if we don’t turn it around quickly we will disintegrate as a nation. Could he be right? Maybe. But, here is what I gained from the data as an active theologian and committed church person. (Heavily influenced by my reading of Tavis Smiley and Cornel West’s book The Rich and the Rest of Us).
High rates of unemployment have resulted in high rates of discouragement and depression, especially in the lower class. This decrease in employment is due in large part to the loss of manufacturing jobs in the US.
The “war on crime” that began in the early 70s has led to an outrageous increase in incarcerations in our nation. Currently, more dollars are spent per person to incarcerate (tens of thousands more) than to educate.
The recent mortgage crisis, the result of unethical strategies and policies (not illegal, but unethical), has led to increasing numbers of bankruptcies.
The number of people choosing not to marry, or choosing to divorce and never remarry, combined with the number of single moms in the US is nearly equal to 50% of the marriageable population.
Now for religion: this is tremendously interesting and important for us today. The number of people attending church, synagogue or mosque is declining – but so too the number of people participating in any type of volunteer organization: rotary, PTA, neighborhood groups etc. In general there is a trend toward a social and civic disengagement.
One of Murray’s most helpful charts and conclusions has to do with levels of trust. In general trust levels have declined throughout the US about 22% in the past 50 years (as low as 15% in 30% of the population). To this statistic Murray has sounded the alarm—and it is at this point I have to agree with him. One of the top issues/concerns in our nation (evidenced by or as result of all the mess I just described) is our inability to trust one another. And, I believe, this is where the church can make a difference!
In Acts 2:17-21 (the Pentecost text) Peter quotes the prophet Joel
In the last days it will be, God declares,
That I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
And your young men will see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophecy
Peter is co-opting the Joel text to explain the moment described; to explain the move of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; to explain the new thing God was doing.
My overview of Murray’s study has shown the new trends in the US. We are a nation of unemployed, underemployed, depressed, incarcerated, poverty stricken, crime infested, non-volunteering, isolated, single parent households that does not trust one another! How will we, how can we untangle this mess? I believe “. . . the Spirit of God will be and is being poured out on ALL flesh.” I believe God is doing a new thing. Will we be part of it?
If there is one place on the planet where people might be able to learn to ‘trust’ it’s the church. It’s time church! It’s time to walk away from the traditions that entangle us—that strangle us. It’s time to walk away from the hierarchy, the board meetings, the ineffective committee meetings, the endless political debates about music, or race, or gender, or sexuality, or politics. It’s time to move toward the new thing. What is the new thing?
The Spirit of God is being poured out on ALL flesh
Your incarcerated sons and unwed mothers will prophecy
Your unemployed will see visions
Your poverty stricken will dream dreams
Even upon the homeless, both men and women,
In those days will the Spirit of God be poured out
And they shall prophesy
The Call to Respond
Will we be willing to hear and to heed? Will we be able, willing, and committed to rebuilding trust?
To undergird the discouraged and depressed; to fight for new public policies, new jobs, and a sustainable living wage for all?
To support the incarcerated and those newly released from prison; to assist their reentry into society?
To fight for new public policies related to the war on crime and education? To insist that the quality of education be improved in our urban areas? To lobby for more dollars in education and prevention than in incarceration?
To recognize single person and single parent households as the new acceptable trend in the US and to create ministries that support and encourage those households; ministries that empower for success?
To work at rebuilding trust in our fine nation by providing a place of support, encouragement, education, and much needed mediation between individuals and organizations: neighbor to neighbor, neighbor to school, neighbor to city council, neighbor to state legislature, neighbor to banks . . .?
I believe a new movement is forming and the church can be, ought to be, is called by God to be at the center of it. We have experienced the industrial revolution; the information revolution; the bio-genetic revolution; and now our country, our nation, our world is ripe for a spiritual revolution!
The Spirit of God cannot; in fact will not be contained in institutional structures. When the Spirit becomes squelched by the structure that is formed around its pouring it will bust out to create a new thing:
– In Joel we see it busting out of the prophetic structures of the Old Testament pointing to the Apocalyptic movement.
– In Acts we see it busting out of the temple structure pointing to the Jesus movement.
– Today we see it busting out of the denominational structure pointing to ???? The occupy movement? The emerging church? What will be the new thing?
– Church . . . The only hierarchy that can hold us back is the one of our own creation!
The Spirit of God is being poured out on ALL flesh. In this year, academic 2012-2013, Let’s get ready for the new thing!