Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Genocide to Pluralism

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 -- Week of Proper 11, Year Two
Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1902; Amelia Bloomer, 1894; Sojourner Truth, 1883; and Harriet Ross Tubman, 1913, Liberators and Prophets

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 977)
Psalms 45 (morning)       47, 48 (evening)
Joshua 8:1-22
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 26:47-56

Today's calendar observation is a fascinating one.  For a brief introduction to the stories of these four liberators and prophets, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog:  http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

There is a lot to think about in the conversation between scriptures today. 

The story from Joshua tells of the destruction of the town of Ai.  Joshua and the Israelite army are engaged in what is sometimes called a "Holy War."  The Hebrew word "herem" or "charam" dedicates something to God's exclusive use.  In Biblical times that which was given to God was burned or otherwise destroyed so it could not be used by humans.  Whatever is devoted or banned is "most holy to the Lord."  In a Holy War, armies believed that God fought for them and therefore God would be given the spoils of the war, persons or things, which would be destroyed on the spot.  In regular warfare, the people might be captured for use as slaves and the cattle and valuables distributed among the army as booty.

As we read earlier, the whole of Jericho was placed under the ban.  The whole community of Israel was compromised and threatened when Achan took some of the valuable devoted things from Jericho and hid them away for himself.  In our story today, we learn that the people of the city of Ai and its town was placed under the ban, but the army could keep the livestock and other spoils of war. 

It is troubling to read of genocide and ethnic cleansing carried out in the name of God.  These tactics were universally common in biblical times among all armies and cultures.

In Romans and in Matthew we read some clues about other ways of living together with differences. 

At Jesus' betrayal and arrest, a disciple takes a sword to defend him, and strikes the slave of the high priest.  Jesus' response in Matthew's gospel is, "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword."  Jesus says that he has the angelic power to defend himself militarily, but chooses not to do so for a higher purpose.  He is willing to become victim rather than victimizer.  His victory will be non-violent.  In Luke's version, Jesus' response to the sword attack on the slave is a stern rebuke, "No more of this!"  From this and other passages, some traditions of Christians have articulated a pacifist theology of non-violence, including for some the tradition of conscientious objection to military service.  It is hard to imagine the God that Jesus points us toward authorizing genocide or ethnic cleansing. 

Paul begins to deal with differences in Romans 14.  He is offering some instructions about how people from different backgrounds, with strongly held opinions, may live together as people of faith.  Presumably the issue is created by the complications within Christian communities when Jewish and Gentile people live and worship together, bringing their very different cultures and beliefs within the same Church.  Yet some of Paul's words also seem to offer wisdom about how we might live together with neighbors of different religions and beliefs.

"Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?  It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.  And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand." 

The phrase "their own lord" is interesting.  We could read it to mean a principle that another holds as truth or the way another understands God and God's requirements.  The differences that Jewish and Gentile Christian brought into the church could have seemed like living under different "lords"  -- different customs, ethics, taboos, theologies, beliefs.

Paul urges deep charity toward those who believe differently.  He affirms tolerance and pluralism over many things, including dietary laws and sacred customs.  He tells the community not to pass judgment, for "we will all stand before the judgment seat of God."  Once again, he offers a phrase that might be read from an inclusive, universalistic perspective:  "For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise for God.'  So then, each of us will be accountable to God." 

Paul's argument could be read in an inter-religious way.  Do not pass judgment on servants of another faith tradition.  They will stand or fall according to their own traditions, and they will be upheld, for God is able to make them stand.  Every religious devotion will ultimately offer its worship and praise to God.  So let them be accountable to God, not to us.

When we read the way scripture and tradition has been used to oppress slaves, people of color, and women as we celebrate the courageous ministries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman today, we are reminded how wrong we can be in our certainties.

From genocide and ethnic cleansing to peaceful coexistence and charitable pluralism.  That seems like a divine journey.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lowell - Most often your reflections say it all. To comment seems unnecessary. When you talk about acceptance, tolerance, compassion and understanding among peoples of different faiths and not using scripture to justify killing or enslavement, I really have to say, "Hallelujah." I pray the church, Episcopal part, anyway will see this as its mission. Not to convert, but to spread God's peace.......Caroline

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the post, Caroline.

Thomas Keating has written one of the finest things I've ever read recently. In the Contemplative Outreach newsletter, his title column "Seekers of Ultimate Mystery" begins with a wonderful context for thinking about the multiplicity of religions. (the column continues toward a different focus) Here's a link to the online version:


At 10:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

God pointed the Hebrews to kill then all, I don't know where your confusion is. It's not troubling for me to read about the genocide because I don't take the liberty to question God or his will.

Your attempt to paint Paul as some kind of pluralist is also ridiculous and embarrassing.


Caroline, the Great Commission, you should check into it.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Read Fr. Keating's article. See if it doesn't offer a more Christ-like way to be faithful. More than mere tribalism.



P.S. Keating is a Roman Catholic Trappist monk who has helped revive the ancient Christian contemplative prayer practice.

At 1:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, couldn't get the page to load, but the intro said "Many paths lead to the Source. Some call this Source the
Absolute, the One God, the Holy Trinity, Brahman, Great Spirit,
Allah," this is right from the mind of Satan if he is saying many paths lead to God. I am not sure if apostacy is the right word, but he has certainly abandoned Christ.


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