Monday, December 21, 2009

The goddess, Belhar & Accra at Stony Point

Two friends, who probably don’t know each other, sent me notices about a conference at Stony Point, “Confessing When Empire Trembles: Belhar and Accra Confessions in Conversation--
A Colloquium on North American & Caribbean Reformed Justice Theology.” I noticed immediately that the title of the conference does not say confessing Christ, but just confessing.

I am unfamiliar with most of the speakers, but one does stand out. That is Rebecca Todd Peters, Professor at Elon University and Editor and contributor to Justice in a Global Economy: Strategies for Home, Community, and World. Peters has also written a contributing chapter to the book
Body and Soul” Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love. The chapter is entitled, “Embracing God as Goddess: Exploring Connections between Female Sexuality, Naming the Divine and Struggling for Justice.”

One announcement about the Conference suggests that the speakers are very good, and another that the Accra Confession is “non-doctrinal” in its critique. Both of these thoughts contribute to my own perceptions of the problems looming in the Church if Belhar is adopted into our Book of Confessions. The
Accra Confession is about economics with a rather hazy socialist point of view. While it makes some good points about the needs of the marginalized and needy it gives economic definitions and interpretations that many in the Reformed churches would not agree with.

Probably Accra’s biggest problem is not the stance it is coming from, socialism versus capitalism, but rather the idea that a confession for the Church could be a confession about economics no matter from which position. A Confession must first confess Christ and then allow all Church problems to fall under his Lordship.

But that Peters is one of the speakers for this conference is telling. She has been very much involved in goddess theology as well as the Re-Imagining movement. Peters' contention is that we need a changing god for our changing times. She sees the idea of an unchanging God being in contradiction to the evil in the world. In Body and Soul Peters is also looking for an image of God that would allow for gay sex and sex without the boundaries of marriage. Beyond sexual issues Peters sees the idea of an unchanging God as obstructive towards the world’s poor.

She writes:

“Given that tragedy and pain are part of the human experience, a theology of an immovable God is woefully inadequate to help the majority of the world’s people make sense of their lives. For people who experience lives of relative comfort and privilege, this theological construct may sometimes suffice. For those with a steady paycheck, a healthy family, a decent education, and the comfort and power to secure a First World existence, the image of God as all good, all powerful, and unchangeable can contribute to a personal sense of ‘blessedness’ or well-being. It enables an interpretation of life circumstances as ‘blessings’ that God has bestowed. As long as one remains inside that world, this theology may remain adequate.”(164)

Peters sets up a straw person since most orthodox Christians find their comfort in Jesus Christ and his redemption. On the other hand if the Christian finds their comfort in material things they have failed to consider the unchanging God of the Bible who demands total discipleship. A changing god or goddess or even a changing universal force is no answer.

Peters goes on to suggest that women’s life changes make a good model for how God could be perceived. Stating that “If God is imaged as a divine being ‘in control,’ then control itself becomes a desirable moral norm,” Peters sees a model of non-control in such sexual reactions as orgasm and erection. She states:

“A God/ess open to change, vulnerability, and partnership exercises a nontraditional form of power rooted in relationality and reciprocity. These, then, can become the moral ground for ethical behavior in the world, including sexual behavior.” (168)

Notice in all of this there is no mention of Jesus Christ. And yet all of the problems Peters is grappling with are wrapped up in him. As the Christian faces evil in the world, including their own sinful nature, Jesus Christ is the Father’s answer. How can a Christian leave that out of the equation? And how can orthodox believers trust a conference about confessions when at least one of its speakers desires to change God’s revelation of himself. And how can we, in the midst of a denomination that allows leadership among those who reject biblical authority and in many cases the Lordship of Christ, trust these confessions when they do not have a strong focus on confessing Jesus Christ as Lord of the Church.

33 comments:

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable - creating a cult following.

John said...

Dear Viola,

I am wondering if you acknowledge Economic Justice as one of the major themes of scripture from beginning to end. Someone counted the rederences to economic justice in the New Testament and came up with one out of every seven verses.

I do believe that we Presbyterians have not emphasized Economic Justice nearly enough and I am glad to see people trying to change that.

However, I do agree with you that the quest for Economic Justice in itself has to be totally related to our devotion to Christ as Lord and Savior. Christ leads us to do what we need to do to bring sustainable abundance to everyone on the planet.

As scripture says, we live in a world dominated by Satan, what Walter Wink and others call "The Domination System." See http://www.cres.org/star/_wink.htm

The church has all too often been identified with "The Domination System." Many of us are working to change that. Are you?

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (the speech containing this famous quote is found at http://www.indiana.edu/~ivieweb/mlkwhere.html)

John said...

Here are a couple of powerful statements -- by Dom Helder Camara and Deitrich Boinhoeffer on the importance of emphaszing Economic Justice and resisting The Domination System:

“When you give food to the poor, they call you a saint. When you ask why the poor have no food, they call you a communist." -- Archbishop Helder Camara, Brazilian liberation theologist

+++

"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Sermon on II Cor. 12:9)

Quotes found at http://www.salsa.net/peace/quotes.html

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

Viola Larson said...

John,

I acknowledge that the Bible has something to say about caring for the needy and oppressed. I don't use the words economic justice because I think that too many progressive Presbyterians use that term in a non-biblical way. If you want a good take on economics and the Bible I suggest you go to Michael Kruse’s blog at http://krusekronicle.typepad.com/kruse_kronicle/2005/08/economic_justic_1.html and read those articles. Michael is a Presbyterian who is on the GAMC. I usually agree with what he has to say on economics. And I aim you that direction because economics is not my forte.

Having said that I must say you have not spoken to anything else I wrote. Of course I agree with Bonheoffer. I generally do not agree with liberation theologians because they do not start with God and his word but instead with human experience. Eventually you will start believing anything when you start with humanity rather than God.

And just let me say about that power thing- Bonheoffer is so right on that. How many times have the orthodox and evangelicals in the Presbyterian Church felt trod all over by the power structures in the Church. It happens at every GA when staff overwhelms the commissioners and push their agenda onto the YADS. That is power. It happened in our Presbytery when Evangelicals did not want to vote for a gay man and were forced into either not voting at all or voting for everyone by consensus because of our moderator.

Viola Larson said...

Anonymous, I not at all sure what you are saying. But if you say anymore please leave your whole name, city and state.

John said...

I completely agree with you that the Domination System functions within the Church ... including the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I have seen people on the Left, Right and Center victimized by oppressive power structures. Satan does indeed work within all humanity. I believe democratic government is definitely God's plan. So far it is far from perfect. Huge efforts need to be made everywhere to allow all people to contribute to the decision-making process and not be bullied by special interests of any kind. But, over the long haul, I do see immense progress. MLK Jr does have it right when he says: "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

reformedpastor said...

John, I completely agree with your observation regarding economic justice. I also agree with Viola's reason for not using the term. "Economic justice" is an expression that has frequently been used to denote two things that I don't think are biblical:

1) A specific means of achieving the goals--there are lots of people who get accused by others of not supporting "economic justice" when what they mean is, "you don't support the means to achieve it that I do." There are valid insights in both liberal and conservative economics, there are times for the application of each, and there are specific circumstances that call for particular approaches. We get in trouble when we get dogmatic about what is, clearly, a pragmatic subject.

2) Defining "economic justice" as "equality." One of the things that most bothers me about a lot of proponents of "economic justice" is that they define it in essentially Marxist terms--everyone must have basically the same. There's no reason, either biblically or ethically, to accept that definition, especially since the only way to obtain it is by coercive force, which in terms pretty much always results in the creation of a new privileged class. I think a much better (and achievable) definition is, "insuring that all people have at least the necessities of life, and the opportunity to better their situation if they choose." That doesn't mean unfettered capitalism, but it does mean that we should avoid income redistribution aimed not at providing for those at the bottom but at narrowing inequalities. Inequalities are absolutely inevitable given the disparities in individual abilities. But a system that prevents people from achieving what they can achieve, or fails to insure that all have the necessities of life, is one that is in need of fixing.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

reformedpastor said...

That should be "which in turn pretty much always results in the creation of a new privileged class." Gotta learn to proof-read before hitting "post."

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

At least one confessional stance was taken in the 16th century about economics: The 39 Articles!

XXXVIII. Of Christian Men's Goods, which are not common.
The Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same; as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

This, however, is mostly a corrective to the radical anabaptist communism that was making headway on the Continent.

Anonymous said...

Viola


I guess your point was that there must be something awry with this conference because though you know little about the other seven presenters; you do know that this goddess and reimagining person, Rebecca Todd Peters, is involved. We are indeed fortunate to have to have those such as you to keep us on the orthodox road.


And you agree with Bonheoffer because many times the orthodox and evangelicals in the Presbyterian Church are trod all over by the power structures in the Church. Do I hear the violins the crescendos of the violins playing? I’ve been to General Assemblies and I’ve seen the war rooms on both sides. Clouds are gathering I am sure for the 2010 assembly. And this is what Bonheoffer was writing about?

John McNeese
Ponca City, OK

Anonymous said...
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Kattie W. Coon said...

I agree with what J.G. said (what Viola just deleted). It's too bad Viola chooses to go after the messenger rather than the message.

I'll quote J.G.’s comment:

"I doubt Bonheoffer was referring to the internal squabbles that divide the church today.

Not with bombs falling, and mass killings going on, and peoples being marched to concentration camps, all this brought about by the powers that sought to control the church.

That would be like a child crying, not because it is hungry, but because it ate too much.

We have become fat and lazy in our wealth, and we think Jesus was calling us to change our hair style.

Dom Helder Camera may have been a liberation theologian, but he was also a man of God. The revolutionaries that wanted "liberation" by the force of arms all go shot. Nobody even remembers their names. But we all remember Dom Helder, and the message of the Gospel as he preached it remains.

I doubt if God will be taking any sides at the GA."

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

John said...

I just found a post at Witherspoon Society which is pertinent to the discussion on Economic Justice:

A Puritan's advice ... on health care reform
Hear these wise words, and challenging, written by the Puritan, Gov. John Winthrop, in his sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity,” said to have been addressed to the ship-load of fellow Puritans in the “Arbella” on their way across the Atlantic Ocean to settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony:

"We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."

What have our conservative friends done to the American Christian heritage? And when will progressives claim their authentic heritage?


+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog + "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (the speech containing this famous quote is found at http://www.indiana.edu/~ivieweb/mlkwhere.html)

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

John,

The unity of the Spirit & bond of peace was the burden of fellow believers caring for one another. You know that as well as I do, and it's disingenuous to try and twist the New Jerusalem theology of the puritans into an argument for a secular welfare state.

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
Do not do that again. Jodie has been asked not to post here. And not for what he said just then, which wasn't that bad at all, but because if he is allowed to post he becomes insulting. What he is doing to my friend Debbie on her blog is an example. For instance this, “Frankly Debbie, I think you've probably been dishonest for so long, with others and with yourself, that you don't even know the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie anymore. You just believe yourself whatever you say.” I don't want that kind of hatefulness here. If anyone tries to argue with me about that or attempts to copy Jodie they will be deleted.

Pastor Bob said...

The Church must believe that it must work for justice for all, including justice in the economic area of life. The real problem is: what method shall we use to promote such justice?

Consider health care as a moral issue that is also an economic issue. The Church must work that all may have health care. But should the Church propose specific methods to achieve this goal? Proposing methods has been the core problem of the Church throughout the ages. As we look back over the centuries of the Church we find that the Church has often been on the wrong side in some economic issues (more often than not in my opinion) and sometimes on the right side. It is very easy to measure the work of the Church in advocating justice as we look to the past. But how do we find it in the present?

What concerns me about this conference is that the choice of speakers does not include a broad enough range when considering both economics and stewardship of God's good earth.

Many of us have attended conferences at which the views of one small section of the Church presents their viewpoints. Then everyone goes home feeling justified. If the Church is to find real solutions for the real world it has to bring together people from a variety of perspectives and have them talk with each other.

This is the method suggested by the Alban Institute for what they call level one conflict. People disagree on the proper way to achieve a goal. The best way to find real answers is to have those people who disagree together and have them seek a method that all can agree upon. It is my experience in the local church that when we operate in this manner we come up with better solutions than we would with forming a group in which everyone agrees.

Pastor Bob said...

The core concern that I have about the Accra confession is that it does not consider a variety of economic models. Yes there are problems in the current world economic system. But what would be a better system?

An example: portions of the American Church and of American society condemn the conditions and pay in factories that produce items for Walmart and Nike. How do the people who work in such factories feel? Sure they are being exploited. But they have jobs where before they had no jobs. Is a job in an oppressive system better or worse than no job at all?

You find this here in America when Walmart is condemned for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the workers at Walmart are just happy to have a job.

So when we work to change inequities in the world economic system we have to be certain that we don't hurt at the bottom.

The best system I see out there is micro economics. Give loans to local people so they can start their own businesses. It works in Bangladesh. It is being tried in parts of Africa.

A better way to look at all of this is to consider the history of industry and jobs in the West. Yes workers were exploited. The conditions were horrible. But after moving through that system we moved on to child labor laws, unions and more justice. Is it possible that those areas where the economic system is about at the point the USA and Europe were at in the mid 1800's or the late 1800s have to go through that model to reach the model the US and Europe have today?

Anonymous said...
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Noel said...

"a theology of an immovable God is woefully inadequate to help the majority of the world’s people make sense of their lives"

You hear that? God is not being helpful. This hermeneutic of "making sense" to people is a precipitate of humanism. God's glory is not a consideration; all that matters is that people are catered to.

It is not the concern of the Church to make the Gospel "understandable" to hearers; it speaks just fine for itself. If the worldly don't like God or his attributes, the Church does not have the liberty to revise them to make them more palatable.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Noel: The Church would never do so. It is indefectible (Matthew 16:18). However, certain ecclesial communities have been known to run off and do silly things like:
1) refuse to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
2) defect from the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

But is that "the Church"? Does it have the marks of the Church?

Resting in the "woeful inadequacy of an immovable God" in whom the martyrs put their trust...

CLL+

Walter L. Taylor said...

I want to add my two cents worth:

one cent: I found Peters' comments intriguing, how the unchangeable God of orthodoxy serves the comfortable and not the oppressed. The Reformed Christians of the 16th century would have disagreed, even as many were forced to leave everything that had behind and begin again in a new homeland. For that matter, the poor and oppressed Christians around the world today do not share the theology reflected in Peters, but are far more orthodox. Peters has built a "straw man." Excuse me, I mean a "straw person"......

Second Cent: I too am intrigued at how liberals who are committed to a secular state would ever begin quoting Puritans about the nature of the state. The comments on "Economic Justice" also intrigue me, given that these same folks want to quote Bonhoeffer (who was not a Socialist, by the way) on the issue of the poor (a good person to quote, by the way), would never quote what he had to say about abortion in his Ethics. I am not particularly interested in knowing what liberals have to say about economic justice until I have heard them say something about the issue of abortion (50 million and rising in the USA). What should the state do to provide for the care of the weakest and most vulnerable, who literally have no voice?

Jodie said...
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Jodie said...
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Fr. Chris Larimer said...
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Viola Larson said...
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Anonymous said...
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Viola Larson said...

Chris,
Now that I have had my coffee and some prayer. I like part of what you said, "Bonhoeffer didn't have a polemic against conservatives. He was part of the Confessing Movement, which stood against the infiltration of radical, statist, leftist innovations on the Church's doctrine.

"Christians today are far too comfortable. They talk too much and do too little."

Well...sideliners, at least. Arthur Brooks, in his Who Really Cares? has shown definitively that in America, it's conservative evangelicals who give the most of their time and their money."

However the rest was what I don't want on my blog. It turns the conversation into a insulting game rather than real conversation. So I did delete you but want you to know that all you said yesterday was great.

I have in fact very much enjoyed the conversation going on here, in particular what pastor Bob and Reformed Pastor, Walter and Noel have contributed since they have clarified so much.

Merry and holy Christmas to everyone.

John Shuck said...

Thank Goddess for Stony Point!

Should be an important conference. Wish I could attend.

Happy Holidays!

Blessed Be,
john shuck
Pagantown, TN

Viola Larson said...

John,
May you have an encounter with the living Lord Jesus Christ this coming year.

A holy Christmas to you.

Jodie said...

Even though I have routinely been the brunt of sarcasm, name calling and insults, from Chris, from you, and others, here and on other blogs, you have never apologized for it.

And you have never apologized for deleting my own posts, no mater how good and positive they have been.

So why is that?

No Christian charity this way? Doesn't it ever come up in those morning prayers of yours? In those "encounters with the living Lord" you so ardently hope for John Shuck.

Well, when you have that encounter yourself, be sure to put me on the agenda.

Curious to hear how it goes.

Merry Xmas

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

Jodie,
you remind me of somebody. How many times have I deleted you today. Do you want a wish from me for the coming year. Do you know I pray for you, that you might be free of what is bothering you.Do you remember in the Scriptures the lady who kept following Paul and Silas around telling everyone they were servants of God until it began to bother the minstry of Paul. Well I pray that you in the coming year will have the freedom that God gave to the woman. Be free Jodie, because of Jesus, of all that is bothering you.

Jodie said...

Viola,

That wasn’t exactly what I asked you, but it is nevertheless an interesting response. Interesting for two reasons. One, that you should see yourself as a Paul or a Silas. Two, interesting also because, to my recollection, I have never said or implied that you are a slave or a bond-servant of the Most High God. Nor have I said that I believe you are “proclaiming the way of salvation”.

I think you deleted me two or three times on Christmas Eve. Now there you go, (again) making snide remarks suggesting I am demon possessed. I “remind you” indeed! Not gracious.

FYI, standing under the firm protective umbrella of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I am well beyond the grasp of any such entities, real or imagined.

On the outside chance, however, that somebody might be influenced and caused to stumble by such allusions, I respectfully request, in the name of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that you retract your calumnious and defamatory remark.

Finally, I do thank you to continue keeping me in your prayers. Perhaps, if I may, I will pray that you be free of whatever bothers you as well.

Maybe I should have been doing that all along.

Viola Larson said...

Jodie,
I equated you with somebody who kept speaking about the gospel yet was nonetheless troubling Christians in their ministry. I was not speaking to you about myself but about the way you continue to get on so many Evangelical Christians blogs and after initially befriending them begin long dialogues where you end by constantly insulting them, sometimes even stalking them on the inter-net.

I do pray for you and will continue. Now please don’t be rude by your continuation of commenting here all the time even when you have been asked not to.