Category: politics


Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at www.christianpiatt.com. You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Peace,
Christian Piatt

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(I am moving my blog to www.christianpiatt.com. Visit my site and grab the feed link to follow future posts.)

In my previous blog post, I laid out Kevin DeYoung’s (co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)) criteria for being an emergent Christian.I’m not sure why exactly he compiled this list, other than to help promote his anti-emergent book. But I found the whole list very entertaining. And a lot of it is true, at least as it applies to me. But DeYoung’s criticisms of emergents raised a lot of thoughts for me, so I thought I’d take the time to respond to what I see as a handful of his central problems with emergent Christianity.

Emergents throw away doctrine, and thus don’t stand for anything.

Agreed, we tend to reject doctrinal statements and systems of authority that impose them on others, but to say we don’t stand for anything is simply wrong. At the risk of generalizing, I would argue that ALL EMERGENTS are unified by the Greatest Commandment, which was offered by Jesus himself as the perfection of the sum total of all law and doctrine:

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” – Matthew 22:37-40 (from The Message, an interpretation of scripture)

Good enough for Jesus; good enough for me.

Emergents criticize atonement theology because it’s not easy to stomach, or not cool.

From my perspective, hanging your theology on the idea that “Jesus died for your sins” seems like the easy out, rather than the other way around. I understand where the whole “blood atonement” theology, and Paul proposes it a few times in his New Testament letters. But if we look at where he’s coming from, he’s surrounded by sacrificial cultures, including Judaism. But as far back as the story of God stopping Abraham from nearly sacrificing Isaac, it seems to me that the message throughout scripture is “Enough. No more blood.” And if, indeed God can’t tolerate sin without a blood sacrifice in the form of Jesus, then all the forgiveness of sin that Jesus offered in his lifetime didn’t count. And if we want to get slippery and argue that his death retro-actively took care of the sins of the past, then why did he bother forgiving sin throughout his ministry in the first place?

And frankly, I don’t find this easy, convenient or cool to say in a nation where evangelical theocratic values still prevail, but if God felt the need to kill his own child to make things right, I’m not sure I’m interested in modeling my life after such a God.

Emergents focus on “easy” issues to get behind like poverty and diversity, while downplaying the tough stuff, like abortion and homosexuality.

I will agree that some of the more prominent voices in emergent circles have yet to take explicit, strong stands on issues below the belt. And I agree that just not saying anything is not good enough. Hey, it’s not a perfect movement! That said, there are many of us who take issues of sex and sexuality on directly. In fact, I’ve written, edited and contributed to several books that deal directly and explicitly with pornography, sexual addiction, abortion, homosexuality and a host of other uncomfortable topics.

Maybe that’s why I don’t sell many books. Anyway…

Yes, emergents don’t take “a stand” on abortion, because we’re all over the map with what we believe about it. And one of the beautiful things I appreciate about emergents is that we don’t agree on lots of things. We believe that there is a love that is the connective tissue, holding us together regardless of our differences. It’s an ongoing discussion, for sure. And as for homosexuality, most emergents are pretty clear that saying it’s a non-issue isn’t acceptable. Namely, there’s a growing consensus that GLBTQ folks are denied equality, both in the church and elsewhere, because of who they love and how they identify with regard to gender. Even for those emergents who may still not be sure how they feel about the moral implications of homosexuality, I expect most – if not all – of us can agree that we’re called to advocate for all people to have equal standing in the eyes of the church, government and one another.

Emergents reduce the Bible to just another good book by not upholding its perfect inerrancy.

This whole argument about the divinity and perfection of scripture is so tired, I almost didn’t even respond to this. We’ve all heard the debate. But suffice it to say that God doesn’t need a Bible. God didn’t have an ego issue to be worked out in a 66-chapter memoir. and if the Bible was intended to be perfect, it stands to reason we would have been inborn with such understanding, rather than depending on sometimes-contradictory stories, passed down orally through generations, then written, rewritten (and so on), translated and interpreted. I’m sorry, but if the Bible was perfect, there wouldn’t be more than one version and one interpretation. And for anyone says they don’t interpret scripture, you’re kidding yourself.

Just because I may not deem everything factually, historically accurate in the Bible doesn’t mean that I don’t find divinely inspired Truth in its pages. If that’s not good enough, once again, I’ll just go ahead and tap out now.

Emergents don’t like to talk about things like judgment and hell because it’s not attractive.

Actually, we talk about hell quite a bit, but it’s usually helping de-program the deep fear, guilt and paranoia drilled into folks at a younger age about why they HAD to believe and do “XYZ” or else. Again, not all emergents will share a common theology on hell, judgment, etc, but for me it’s clear that the modern notion of hell came from the Greek myths about Hades. Even Jews didn’t have a theology of hell; they believe in Sheol, which was a place of rest for the dead, not of fire and eternal suffering.

Rob Bell’s argument in his book, Love Wins, is salient. He notes that most who embrace a theology that leans on hell also believe there’s an “age of accountability” for children, before which they are not held responsible for their own actions in God’s eyes. Bell says then that the compassionate thing to do is to kill off all of our children before the age of accountability to ensure they will live forever in Paradise. What’s a few lost decades on earth, after all, compared with the possibility of eternal damnation?

There are few who would suggest that God’s love doesn’t exceed that of human beings. So let’s see a show of hands of those who would kill their own child out of love for someone else? And yes, I’ve heard the argument that it shows God loves us more than his own son, but keep in mind, Jesus supposedly “one of us,” in that he was fully human. And Jesus said that whatever is done to the “least of these” is done to him, and therefore, to God. So who could argue that Jesus wasn’t among the “least of these” while being crucified? Totally vulnerable, betrayed, poor, humiliated. Sounds pretty least of these to me.

Finally, who is this sacrifice for? Supposedly for us, but actually it’s to satisfy God’s intolerance of sin. Do we see God as so weak or intolerant that God can’t handle just as we are? Are we really so powerful in our sin? This seems like hubris to me, to even suggest that we can do ANYTHING that can’t be handled, forgiven or tolerated by the One who made us.

One thing I think the author was spot-on about was his criticism of the emergent movement largely holding up white, straight middle class males, while also praising the idea of diversity. This is very true, and we have a long way to go if we’re not going to end up looking like a bunch of hypocrites or opportunists. If we value diversity in all its forms, we have to be much more aggressive about helping this movement more accurately reflect the makeup of those in our midst.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

(I’m moving my blog over to www.christianpiatt.com. Visit there and grab the feed to follow future posts)

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down, quantified, etc. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” if it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along the following clip which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

The following comes from Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). First, see for yourself if you’d qualify as emergent based on his criteria. Then I’ll follow up in a second post with a handful of his criticisms of emergents, coupled with my responses.

After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian:

if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash​’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac;
if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas​, Henri Nouwen​, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard​, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis​, Frederick Buechner​, David Bosch​, John Howard Yoder​, Wendell Berry​, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin​ (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and;
your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin​, Martyn Lloyd-Jones​, and Wayne Grudem​;
if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa​, Martin Luther King Jr​., Nelson Mandela​, or Desmond Tutu​;
if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie;
if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life;
if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found;
if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count);
if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance;
if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid;
if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
if you want to be the church and not just go to church;
if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden;
if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway;
if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us;
if you disdain monological, didactic preaching;
if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you…
then you might be an emergent Christian.

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff. More soon…

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Sometimes I can’t decide if I’m a bleeding-heart Democrat, a Libertarian or an Anarchist at heart. Depends on the day of the week and how much fiber I had for breakfast, I guess.

On the one hand, I feel morally compelled by my faith to advocate for social support programs that help the poor or marginalized. I’ve been a vocal advocate for single-payer universal health care and for so-called “welfare” programs. I’ve also been a member of the ACLU and I’ve spoken out for the rights of people to do, believe or say things I find reprehensible.

So what the hell am I?

When I look to the Bible for guidance, I find many cases where we are called, not just as individuals, but also as a community, to care for those with less than us. So this seems to be an argument for a more left-leaning, almost Socialist kind of system.

But then I consider things like the teachings of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, who point out that it was the creation of coinage that led to the relative enslavement of so many from the Biblical era. Whereas people had lived as subsistence laborers and had bartered for what they needed, the introduction of money allowed governments to control – and therefore, tax – everything from the land to the fish in the seas and lakes.

I also look at the institutional church and convenient marriages that have led to theocracy, genocide, mass persecution and oppression of millions, even to this day, in the name of God. Maybe, I wonder, we’d be better off if the whole thing was dismembered, piece by piece, until we were back to what we started with: a movement consisting of passionate studiers and preachers of the ways of Jesus. No budgets, no staff, no power over others.

In my Utopian imagination, groups like the Church (big “C”) nonprofits, families and individuals would fulfill all of the needs of their sisters and brothers, thus eliminating the needs for such government-run social safety nets. But again, this is just a dream. After all, the counter to this Democratic system of governance is our capitalist economic system that depends on self-interest, greed and excessive consumption.

So what’s the answer? More government? Less government? No government? And the same goes for the church. Are we doing more harm than good?

We can ponder and worry over these kinds of things to the point that we end up paralyzed by it all, but that’s not what we’re called to as Christians. Even Jesus acted or spoke, and then changed course as his eyes were opened to a greater reality (see the story about Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a dog). Fred Craddock actually said something recently in a sermon that helped me sort this out for myself. I know, leave it to Fred to lay some heavy thing on your in his trademark, “aww shucks” way.

Fred was preaching about Jubilee, the time in the Jewish calendar when all debts were to be forgiven. He suggests that this probably never actually happened. So why bother talking about it? Are we making empty promises to string along those shackled with indebtedness?

The notion of Jubilee actually is a necessary hope for us to maintain, Fred says, much like my image of a society that is mutually nurturing enough that we have no more need for nonprofits or government support services. It’s that ideal, whether attainable or not in reality, that draws us forward toward the place where we need to end up.

It’s the same sort of hope that undergirds liberation theology, and that is woven into the words “Thy Kingdom come” in the Lord’s Prayer. Is God’s love fully realized in the world? In some ways yes; in others, not yet. Are government, the institutional church or private nonprofits the silver bullet we seek, or just another cog in an opportunistic, soulless machine?

Well, yeah.

If we maintain that hope of Jubilee, whatever form that takes in our God-inspired imaginations, then the tools we use to strive toward that goal are less important than the aspiration itself. For now, I’ll keep voting, and I intend to keep on paying my taxes, but the day I breathe a sigh of relief and begin to believe that I’ve divested myself of personal responsibility because any of these institutions are taking care of it, I afford them the power to become something much worse.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Un-American in the name of Jesus?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.

YES!

Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Can people of faith cheer for death?
Smells Like Sprit
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. Or something like that.

News spread like a Pueblo West brushfire that Osama Bin Laden, America’s longtime Public Enemy Number One, had been killed in a firefight with Delta Force and Navy SEAL soldiers earlier in May. I wrestled with mixed feelings as I heard President Obama break the news late that Sunday evening, relieved that the manhunt was finally over, but also disturbed by the fatal outcome.

Then I jumped online to chat it up with my fellow Facebookers to see what the pulse of my peers was. The feelings spanned the spectrum, from dismay that our government world embark on secret assassination missions in foreign territory to outright jubilation that the Bad Guy finally got his due.

The latter sentiment really bothered me, though, especially when it came from folks I knew considered themselves to be people of faith. To celebrate the killing of anyone – ever – seems contrary to the tenet that we see (or at least seek to see) God in all of creation. To cheer the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to me an effort to draw a line in the sand between the so-called “sheep” and “goats,” thus ensuring we’re on the side of the righteous.

Are we so sure, though? I’m not saying in any way that the horrendous acts of September 11th, 2001 are justified by any human or divine sense of justice: at least I hope not. But how sure are we that our hands are without similar blemish? And ultimately, how can there ever be peace when the transaction of justice is “blood for blood?”

I guess it raises the question of whether what we are seeking is peace, or our own sense of justice. And when we ascribe what we claim as right and wrong as divinely justified, well, how is that different from what Bin Laden did in the first place?

The whole thing causes me to think back to a story I once read in an August 8th, 2008 post on the Christianity Today website about theologian and author Dietrich Bonheoffer and his opposition to Adolf Hitler. The article says the following about Bonheoffer:

“To this point he had been a pacifist, and he had tried to oppose the Nazis through religious action and moral persuasion. Now he signed up with the German secret service (to serve as a double agent—while traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about the places he visited, but he was, instead, trying to help Jews escape Nazi oppression). Bonheoffer also became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler.”

Bonheoffer later was hanged along with other Jewish sympathizers before he could participate in any assassination attempt. But Bonheoffer himself acknowledges the hypocrisy of trying to kill another human being, no matter their evils, in the name of a faith that ultimately calls for peace and reconciliation.

It was in his humanity, not in his faith, that he found the compulsion to kill Hitler. All the while he recognized the discrepancy with what he claimed as his beliefs, yet felt helpless to resort to any, less violent, solution.

In the pop culture sphere, I think of the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker chops off Darth Vader’s hand with his light saber, only to look down and realize his own hand had become that of his enemy.

How, after all, do we respond like our enemy without becoming that which we hate? Is it even possible?

The answer to that, as I’ve said in columns past, is above my pay grade. But suffice it to say that Proverbs 24, Verse 17, sums up my feelings about how we’re called to react to such a killing;

Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls. Don’t let your heart be glad when he is overthrown.

Freedom not to be free?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

We’ve all watched history revealing itself in real time with the remarkable events in the Middle East. From Egypt and Libya to Yemen and Bahrain, individuals and small groups of protesters are challenging the iron grasps of decades-long dictatorships. It’s enough to give even the most cynical observer a moment of awe-filled pause.

For the most part, the protesters focus on wanting to bring democracy to their respective countries, a situation that would seem to be a natural for American support. The trouble is, we’ve had economically and strategically beneficial relationships with many of these dictators for a long time. By placing our allegiance with the people in the streets, we run the risk that the revolutions may fail, and that we may be left with a tarnished, if not irreparable, relationship with a former partner.

Does the United States support democracy? Sort of. When it’s in our best interests, to be sure. Yes, we’ve stuck our necks out in some cases where we seemed to have little vested interest, but suffice it to say we drag our feet when there an oil pipeline or American military base involved.

But there are other issues at play here, and I’m not sure any of them are discussed at the level where real decisions are made. One came to light for me when co-editing a recent book for Chalice Press called “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics.” In it, a pair of self-proclaimed Christian anarchists made the compelling claim that voting, in itself, is an act of violence.

What? The system we’ve come to hold near and practically worship is inherently violent? It took me a while to come around, and though I don’t entirely see eye to eye with them, they make a good point.

The essence of the argument is that, in a democracy, 50 percent of the people plus one more can subjugate the will and rights of the rest. By not making room for the minority’s interests to be heard and acted on in these instances, the minority is marginalized. This, the authors claim, falls within the definition of inflicting violence from the majority onto the minority.

Kinda like Churchill said, it’s a tragically flawed system, but it’s the best we have. But what about in a context where religious ideology is poised to use majority rule to impose potentially severe limits on many of its people? And what if these leaders, though democratically elected, might set out to impose a legal system that is inherently un-democratic?

Some protest groups seek to impose Sharia, an Islamic system of law based upon truths revealed in the Quran by Allah, and through practices embodied by the prophet Muhammad. Sharia, like many ideological systems, has been interpreted in a number of ways by different people, but in some cases it can seriously limit the rights of women. For example, under some understandings of Sharia, men can have up to four wives, women are told what they can and can’t wear in public, and in some cases, they may not be allowed to vote.

So, do we put our material and human resources at risk to support those seeking democracy in their country, all the while knowing that they fully intend to implement a legal system that many believe violates human and civil rights? Or do we keep propping up the dictators who, by fear and threat of violence, may keep a relative peace in the land where the oil runs freely?

Talk about a moral dilemma. Some might even say it’s a lose-lose scenario. Theologian Walter Wink suggests that any violent or oppressive system that is replaced by violent means run a great risk of becoming that which it despised, changing the rulers but not the rules.

Provided the dictators are overthrown, we can always offer to serve in an advisory role on how to effect safeguards that prevent laws that violate individual or collective rights. But if democracy is really just a means to another ideological end, the new powers that be may have no interest in what we have to say.

If we try to implement certain strictures by force, we run the risk of further solidifying our reputation as an imperial power, intent on taking over the region one country at a time. So do we support the uprisings, knowing that what may emerge is another system of governance with which we have fundamental differences? Or do we stand on the sidelines, convincing ourselves that tyrants like Gaddafi aren’t really so bad?

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I still believe that the greatest change for the better comes from leading by example. For us, this begins with advocating for truly equal rights across the board in our own back yard, including those who love differently or look differently than we. Until that time, our calls for freedom and equality ring hollow in a world that sees the truth beneath the thin veneer.

Newspin

Pueblo Going Nuclear?

(Originally printed in PULP)

Everyone’s aglow about the prospect of nuclear power coming to southern Colorado. Given the ongoing plant disaster in Japan, it seems the timing for such a proposal could not be worse, though the plans for the 24,000-acre Clean Energy Park southeast of town were moving ahead well before then.

Lawyer and local resident Don Banner is at the helm of the proposal, which would develop in three phases. At present, he’s seeking rezoning for the giant swath of land in eastern Pueblo County for a PUD, or Planned Unit Development.

As Banner himself noted, there are scores of factors that would have to fall into place for his plan to work, only one of which is local support. But he claims, too, that the only way to bring together other green energy components of the park. such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, is to go nuclear, to the tune of a 1,000 megawatt plant, give or take a few watts.

There’s plenty of hyperbole around such an explosive issue, so let’s set aside the Simpsons-like images of fish with three eyes long enough to get a little bit more perspective on what’s at stake.

PRO

It’s easy to hedge at plans for a nuclear power plant, reacting with a knee-jerk sense of fear. From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, the fallout from a nuclear plant failure ain’t pretty. But Banner argues that the fears are generally overblown. Chernobyl’s substandard engineering doomed it from the start, and Three Mile Island – the only nuclear plant to fail on US soil to date – cannot be connected to any actual deaths, according to Banner.

The new plant would be far superior to either of the aforementioned plants, he says, and it would be located in a relatively remote area, buffered on all sides by thousands of acres of the Clean Energy Park. As for security, the storage facilities where the spent fuel rods are kept after use have been tested against the heartiest potential air attacks, standing firm in the face of fire.

On the upside, we would enjoy hundreds of Davis Bacon-wage jobs over the several years it would take to build the plant, followed by up to a hundred permanent jobs that pay well above average for power plant work. In addition, more than a dozen interest groups organized by Banner, from local schools to nonprofits, would share in hundreds of thousands of dollars donated back to the community.

The average Joe Consumer would stand to benefit from Banner’s proposal to contractually require the utility company that builds the plant to sell power generated to Pueblo residents, the price of which would be equal to the cheapest rate offered to any other community. Pueblo would benefit from the taxes the plant would push back into the local economy, and Banner suggests that the number of secondary jobs due to the new plant could grow into the hundreds.

Another big question is water.  We’re more or less in the middle of the desert here, and nuclear plants require water to keep the fission process under control. Though Mr. Banner points out that the volume of water needed will depend largely on what kind of plant a developer can place on the land, he projects that consumptive water use (the amount that can’t be returned directly to the water system) could be as low as 125 acre-feet per year.

CON

It’s well and good to claim no lives lost during the Three Mile Island catastrophe, but some studies have projected that upwards of 5,000 will eventually die because of complications related to radiation exposure from the site. This is not to mention the risks to the livestock, land and other natural resources which could be affected for hundreds of years or more, should an accident happen.

So the silos where the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored (on-site, by law, for at least sixty years) may be sturdy, but are we inviting terrorist attacks by having such materials lying around? And, current US law requires that the uranium be removed from reactors and stored before it reaches weapons-grade level. This means it still has the potential to be converted to weapons-grade uranium, which seems to invite trouble.

Most of the construction work would be temporary, and yet we’d be left to contend with nuclear waste for generations. And who is responsible for decommissioning the plant after its projected 60- to 80-year life? If history is an indicator, the plant operators will walk away and leave local taxpayers with the bill.

Pueblo is developing a reputation for being the dumping ground for power plants other folks need but don’t want in their own back yards. How much of the power created will actually stay in Pueblo? And doesn’t having the plant in our county warrant a little bit more of a homeboy discount?

Jobs are fine, but if folks don’t have water to drink, what good is economic development? How many hundreds or thousands of acres of farmland will dry up as a result of water purchased for the power plant, and how many agricultural jobs will dry up as a result? Will the water that passes through the plant damage the streams into which it is released? Is nuclear power our last, best hope to stem the effects of global warming, or are we just passing on the problem in another, possibly more dangerous, form to future generations? Can we afford the water? Are we even sure the net to Pueblo is positive when all is told?

And the debate rages on.

My Take

Comparing the proposed plant to the one in Japan impacted by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami really isn’t fair. Neither is in the cards for Pueblo. And yes, modern plants have many more safeguards than those from decades past. But aside from moral, safety and security arguments, there’s the question of what we want Pueblo to be.

Will we continue to produce for wealthier communities what they need, yet refuse to provide for themselves? And will we use our limited water resources to do so, for the promise of a fleeting handful of jobs and some negligibly cheaper power? Or are we something more?

Our bountiful sun and wind position us to be industry leaders in renewable energy, setting a standard that others around the world will long to follow.  Do we want to invest in decades-old technology that may be at its apex, or should we focus on developing energy technologies that have more potential without the negative environmental impact?

We’ve gotten a start with the likes of Vestas and the proposed solar arrays here and in the San Luis Valley. But we have to believe that we’re more than a repository for the rest of the state’s undesirable industries.

Finally, we’ve created this beat of need for power with our own unbridled consumption habits. If we’re really worried about what the risks of such power sources will be for any community – not just ours, the only real solution is to reduce consumption.

It’s been said that the two-fold path to happiness includes both making more and needing less. Only one is a path that leads anywhere. We have to choose our own path.

NewSpin@ PuebloPULP.com

This is a recording of an radio show I did on KCSJ 590 AM with Randy Thurston for his show, “Pueblo Now.” We discussed the need for alternative media for a community and how consumers figure out what agenda lies behind a media outlet.
Click on the link below to hear the show on my podcast.
Christian

You can check out the article online and more about this great magazine at www.sojo.net

Can I Get A Witness?

Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics, edited by Amy Gopp, Christian Piatt, Brandon Gilvin. Chalice Press.
Reviewed Jess O. Hale Jr.

In the U.S. it seems almost every policy matter gets entangled in a war of partisan politics from which little emerges, too often only a shadow of what is needed. Just look at the results of health-care reform, immigration, and climate/energy initiatives.

With anger from the tea parties — and to a lesser extent the left — challenging both Republican and Democratic politicians, political ferment bewilders and frustrates many citizens of Christian faith who seek the welfare of the city in which they dwell. We do not find a deliberative democracy. Instead, people speaking out of a faith perspective to issues of national importance, such as health reform, are frequently vilified as partisan, even if those outside the partisan and media echo chambers would consider their participation quite tepid.

To speak to this poisoned atmosphere, Split Ticket’s Amy Gopp and her fellow editors have assembled several often powerful essays from faithfully committed 20- and 30-somethings. They sketch a response from younger voices to the challenge of living faithfully as Christians in a broadly conceived politics in American society. As a 50-something in public service, I found this effort to be both powerful and encouraging.

From a progressive yet distinctly nonpartisan perspective, the editors have brought together essays covering a spectrum of policy issues — including health care, gay marriage, immigration, human trafficking, and abortion. Their concerns of method touch on the morality of voting, the theology of empire, and the role of clergy in policy advocacy. In these essays, evangelicals and theological liberals make a common cause seeking faithful politics. Marches, liturgy, legislator visits, and many of the other tools of community and political organizing naturally give expression to these efforts. Men, women, Asians, Latinos, African Americans, gay and straight people — they are all part of this conversation.

Although geared for young adults and a popular audience, the voice of rank and file lay folks regrettably does not find a significant place (oh, for a William Stringfellow!), as the contributors are mostly seminary-trained clergy. Also, I yearned for the honest reflections of at least one young public servant or politician.

A few chapters stand out. Amy Gopp writes of her experience with an interfaith choir in Bosnia, wrenchingly showing us that Christians must embody the practices of peace, reconciliation, and justice that will allow a politics of shared community. Kharma Amos laments the lack of connections that many activists make between “their issue” and the broader spectrum of justice issues, yet curiously she does not seem to contemplate that coalitions within political parties are one way of making those connections. Former lobbyist Kat Banakis makes real the notion behind the Greek word politeuomai as “live out your political life,” because politics matters as a part of the prayer and work of Christians. In “Exodus,” Brandon Gilvin poetically captures the tragedy of trafficking.

Making clear the necessity of a faithful Christian witness to the politics of our time, Split Ticket argues for one that naturally flows out of the embrace of both God’s love and justice. It expresses an independent faith for our partisan times — but it fails to go the last mile to discuss the prudent politics that employs negotiation to bring in at least half a loaf. In the civil rights movement, the black church brought along other people of faith and joined politicians who practiced their craft to enact laws that brought some real fruit of justice to American society. Today, politicians will still have to exercise their craft — but can our faithful witness bring forth a similarly fruitful politics in our more partisan times?

Perhaps Split Ticket’s voices are willing to leave the political end game to the working out of God’s wisdom. However, while effectiveness is not the final word on our work in God’s eyes, a polis where there will not be infants that live but a few days (Isaiah 65:20) is God’s kingdom. For the hope of that polis, I look forward to where the political witness of Gopp and her compatriots takes us.

Jess O. Hale Jr. is an attorney who attends Eastwood Christian Church in Nashville, Tennessee.