Salt That Has Lost Its Saltiness

Throughout the pages of scripture, Old Testament and New, you will find dozens of verses admonishing people of faith to welcome and care for strangers, especially immigrants and refugees. Take Leviticus 19:34:

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

And, of course, we can’t forget that Jesus himself was a refugee for the first few years of his life. So when he says in Matthew 25:40 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” we should take that verse quite literally on the topic of immigration.

This week, President Trump signed an executive order suspending America’s refugee program and barring travel from several nations. Among myriad other unjust consequences, this executive order erected a legal barrier to thousands of desperate people around the world seeking safe harbor in the United States. Even people who have already waited through years of vetting. Even people who were on planes to the United States when the order was signed.

Each year, tens of thousands of people from around the world come to the United States as refugees. These are people fleeing their homes because of terrorism, war, genocide, and natural disaster. When the United States closes its doors to these people, thousands will have no option but to return to their unsafe homes, were many of them will suffer and die.

Thankfully, many people are speaking out against the president’s executive action. This includes thousands of faith leaders, including the leaders of our denomination. Sadly, however, many Christians approve of our nation’s decision to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people. In fact, it’s safe to say that nearly every one of our nation’s leaders who supports the president’s executive order identify as Christians.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt. 5:13). Nothing says “salt that’s lost its saltiness” quite like church folks that don’t stand up for immigrants and refugees. There are few topics about which scripture speaks with such frequency, consistency, force, and clarity.

But it’s not enough just to talk about this issue. Yes, we should voice our outrage and reach out to our civic leaders to demand action. But we all also have to make the decision right now, including me, to make the drastic changes required in our personal lives to truly articulate a posture of welcome to immigrants and refugees. We have to open our congregations, our communities, and our own front doors to the immigrants and refugees in our community who need help.

I’m calling on every Dunker Punk to commit to being a personal sanctuary for immigrants and refugees in your community. When people ask us to justify why we stand with immigrants and refugees, we must be able to offer our own lives and experiences as evidence of our conviction. We’re all willing to say we stand for justice, now, it is time to prove it. Now, it is time to live it.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

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Franz Jägerstätter: A Little Known Witness

franz2   When remembering great peacemakers throughout history many extoll the lives and witness of Gandhi and Martin Luther King JR., but few even know of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter. If his life his life had taken another route there would be little to tell and he would only be remembered by his friends and family as a devoted father and husband and devout Catholic, but instead he found himself caught between the might of Nazi Germany and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Following his savior when even the Church told him to submit to Hitler, he died a martyr for peace. In 2007 that same Church venerated him, beatifying him and setting him on the path to Sainthood.

Born on May 20, 1907 out of wedlock to Rosalina Huber and Franz Bachmeier, the younger Franz’s biological father served and died in World War I. In 1917 Rosalina married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted his new wife’s son and gave him his surname. He received a basic education in the one-room schoolhouse of his hometown of St. Radegund, Austria, aided by his step-grandfather who encouraged the boy to become an avid reader.[1] From 1927 to 1930 Franz left his hometown to work in iron ore industry in Eisenerz, Austria. During this period he struggled with intense doubts about his faith and temporarily stopped attending church, but returned to his hometown with a renewed and strengthened faith.[2] Despite this, Franz developed a reputation as a wild man, he was the first person in his hometown to own a motorcycle, and even fathered his oldest child, Hildegard Auer, out of wedlock. Franz took responsibility for his daughter, visiting her often and sending gifts of food and especially meat, a rare commodity at the time. Hildegard’s mother Theresia later recalled that “he had begged her forgiveness, and that they had parted in peace.” Before his marriage he and his future wife visited the Auer family offering to adopt Hildegard, but neither her mother nor grandmother wished to part from her. Ten year old Hildegard amazed her family with how deeply she mourned the death of her father.[3]

On Holy Thursday 1936 Franz married Franziska Schwaninger, which proved to be a turning point in his life, making “a different man” out of him. Franziska was a very religious woman, who even considered becoming a nun before her marriage. While her husband was devout before their marriage, even contemplating becoming a monk, but with Franziska’s influence became notably more pious, taking communion more frequently and reading the Bible together with his wife each night. For their honeymoon the couple traveled to Rome on a pilgrimage, something very unusual and very expensive for the time. Franz hoped to make this a tradition, intending to make a pilgrimage with his wife ever ten years. The two were deeply in love, with Franz remarking in a letter, “I could never have imagined that being married could be so wonderful.”[4] The couple had three daughters: Rosalia, born in 1937, Maria, born in 1938, and Aloisia, born in 1940.[5] Attending mass daily, Franz became sacristan of his home parish in the summer of 1941.[6]

Franz viewed the rise of Nazism in nearby Germany with suspicion and distrust. In January 1938 he experienced what he believed to be a vison from God that firmly convinced him Nazi ideology was incompatible with Christianity. He recalled:

At first, I lay in bed without sleeping until it was nearly midnight, though I wasn’t ill, and then I must have slept a little after all; suddenly, I was shown a fine railway train, which was driving round a mountain; not only the adults, but even the children were flocking towards this train and the crowd could hardly be held back; how few adults there were who did not get into the train in that place, I would rather not say or write. Then suddenly a voice said to me: ‘This train is going to hell.’ At that moment, it seemed to me that someone took me by the hand. ‘Now we are going into purgatory,’ the same voice said to me, and the suffering I saw and felt there was so terrible that, if the voice had not told me that we were going into purgatory, I would certainly have believed that I was in hell. Probably only a few seconds passed while I looked at all this. Then I heard a swishing sound, saw a light, and everything was gone. I then immediately woke my wife and told her all that had happened. Of course, until that night, I could not really believe that the suffering in purgatory could be so great… At first, that moving train was quite a riddle to me, but the more that time passes, the more the moving train is unveiled to me. And today, it seems to me that this image represented none other than Nazism, as it was closing in or creeping up on us at that time, with all its different organizations attached – for example, the N.S.D.A.P., the N.S.W., the N.S.F. and the H. J. etc. In other words, the whole Nazi movement and every organization which sacrifices and fights for it.[7]

He was the only person in St. Radegund to vote against the annexation of Austria by the Nazis.[8]

While firmly against Nazi ideology, Franz’s opposition to serving in the German armed forces developed slowly. Conscripted twice in 1940, each time he was able to return home without seeing battle due to his “reserved civilian occupation” as a farmer and responsibilities as a father.[9] During basic training he was vested as a novice of the Third Order of Saint Francis, a lay religious order dedicated to living according to the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. He made his vows a year later at his home parish.[10] After this experience, Franz returned home, resolved that he would not serve in the military again.[11] In his own words:

When our Catholic missionaries went to live in a heathen land in order to make Christians of them, did they too go with machine guns and bombs in order to convert and improve them by those means?… Other peoples do, at the very least, have a right to ask God to bring peace and to strike the weapons from the hands of us Germans. Isn’t it a real mockery if we ask God for peace when we do not want Him at all, for otherwise we would have to finally lay down our weapons – unless perhaps the guilt we’ve already heaped on ourselves is still too small? At most, we can ask God to allow us to come to reason, so that we can at last realize that other human beings and peoples also have a right to live in this world. Otherwise, God must certainly thwart our plans by His might, or else we Catholics of Germany will force all the peoples of the earth to bow under the yoke of Nazism. Almost everyone wants to gloat over the stolen booty, yet we want to lay the blame for everything that has happened at the door of only one individual![12]

Franz discussed his decision with his family, friends, clergy, and even the local Bishop. Many tried to talk him out of it, one priest even accusing him of being suicidal and refusing to grant him absolution after the issue was brought up in confession. Bishop Joseph Calasanz Fliesser urged him to remember his responsibilities to his family and argued he could not be held moral culpable for his actions as a soldier as he would be simply following orders, the very argument later used by the defense in the Nuremberg Trials. Franz could not accept this, stating “We may just as well strike out the gifts of wisdom and understanding from the Seven Gifts for which we pray to the Holy Spirit. For if we’re supposed to obey the Führer blindly anyway, why should we need wisdom and understanding?”[13]

In February 1943 Franz Jägerstätter received his third conscription. His mother mobilized relatives and neighbors to try and change her son’s mind about his refusal serve, but he would not be moved.[14] He presented himself to his company at Enns but immediately stated “that, due to his religious views, he refused to perform military service with a weapon, that he would be acting against his religious conscience were he to fight for the Nazi State…that he could not be both a Nazi and a Catholic… that there were some things in which one must obey God more than men; due to the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’, he said he could not fight with a weapon. However, he was willing to serve as a military paramedic.” Franz was imprisoned for several months, finally being condemned to death on July 6, 1943 for “undermining military morale.”[15] At 4pm August ninth he was beheaded.[16] Offered a Bible to read in the days before his martyrdom, Franz replied “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.”[17] On May 7, 1997 the District Court of Berlin annulled Franz’s sentence. On June 1, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI declared Franz Jägerstätter a martyr. In a ceremony at Linz Cathedral on October 26, 2007 the Catholic Church officially declared Franz Jägerstätter to be Blessed, one step away from Canonization and being declared a Saint.[18]

Franz Jägerstätter’s life and martyrdom serves as an inspiration to not just to Catholics, or even only Christians, but to all people. He would not betray his Lord by being swept up in the tide of Nazism, nor would he fight as a soldier and attack another’s home. Even when his family, friends, and church told him he should submit to the government’s demands he refused to betray the teachings of Jesus. When most of his peers compromised and stayed silent, Franz Jägerstätter spoke out. In the face of increasing nationalism and xenophobia both in our own nation and around the world, his legacy is vital now more than ever. While most of us Dunker Punks will probably never be asked to make the same sacrifice he did, the witness Blessed Franz Jägerstätter challenges us to reexamine our own relationship with God and just how committed we truly are to his teachings. What sacrifices are we willing to make in following Jesus? Are we willing to confront the comfort and privilege American society has given to many of us, to challenge the complacent and nonthreatening role American Christianity has played in the larger culture for so long? How are we to react when people we love and trust tell us we’re wrong, if we suddenly find ourselves arguing with those we see as stalwarts of the faith?  How are we called to take up our Cross and follow Christ?

 

[1] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[2] Putz 12

[3] Putz 15-17

[4] Putz 19-23

[5] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[6] Putz 57-58

[7] Putz 41-42

[8] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[9] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[10] Putz 55

[11] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[12] Putz 70-71

[13] Putz 72-74

[14] Putz 81

[15] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[16] Putz 117

[17] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[18] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

Work Cited

“Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.” The Holy See. The Vatican, n.d. Web. 25

Jan. 2016.

“Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.” Diözese Linz. Katholische Kirche in

Oberösterreich, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Putz, Erna. Franz Jägerstätter Martyr – A Shining Example in Dark Times. Grünbach:

Steinmassl, 2007. Print.


12112414_614679188671785_6960613993930677693_nNolan McBride is a Religious Studies and History major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys singing, reading, and has a bit of an obsession with icons. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

A Dunker Punks Agenda for 2017

With the end of one divisive and tumultuous year comes the specter of another. 2016 may be over, but its partisan divides and humanitarian crises linger. In our own denomination, divisions surrounding same-sex marriage, climate change, and other topics rage on.

Dunker Punks have an important role to play, whether in response to national and international events, struggles in our own communities, or policy debates in the Church of the Brethren. We are committed to carrying the light of Jesus, meaning we will study his life and instruction, dedicate ourselves to him, and reflect his love and wisdom to the world.

With a New Year comes time for reflection, rededication, and inspiration. Though it is not intended to be exhaustive, here is a list of five priorities that I suggest for Dunker Punks for the next year.

1. Read the Sermon on the Mount

This is a bread and butter issue for the Dunker Punks. We can’t meet 2017 as disciples of Christ without continuing to study his wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed with three straight chapters of Jesus giving precise instruction of how we ought to live our lives. And if we truly want to call ourselves Christ’s disciples, we have no choice but to take his words seriously.

This is a bread and butter issue for the Dunker Punks. We can’t meet 2017 as disciples of Christ without continuing to study his wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed with three straight chapters of Jesus giving precise instruction of how we ought to live our lives. And if we truly want to call ourselves Christ’s disciples, we have no choice but to take his words seriously.

Maybe 2016 was such fraught year because so many people failed to live up to the Sermon on the Mount. How would foreign affairs have been different if we accepted Christ’s teachings about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) or loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44)? How would our politics have differed if we had chosen to be salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) or a light to the world (Matt. 5:14).

This year, crack open the Sermon on the Mount and even try to commit it to memory. Most importantly, internalize it, and implement it in the way you live.

2. Get to Know Someone Different

There’s no way to deny it: we’re divided. Internationally, we view those from different nations with distrust and fear. Nationally, we vilify those of a different race, national origin, citizenship status, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Within our denomination, we draw battle lines based on who’s progressive and who’s conservative. In our congregations, we stake our territory in the pews, and we divide ourselves based on age and preferred worship style.

The Gospel scriptures overflow with examples of Jesus breaking down such boundaries. He healed lepers (Matt. 8, Luke 17) despite Jewish taboos that ostracized them. In John 4, he speaks intimately with the Samaritan woman at the well, even though cultural attitudes vilified Samaritans and forbade men and women to interact like this. He also reached out to those in power, healing a Roman soldier’s servant (Luke 7) and interacting with tax collectors like Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and his disciple Mattew.

We should follow Jesus’ example, striving especially to personally know the oppressed: the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. There is no better way to break down our own prejudices than by getting to know those different from us. And there is no better way to become an advocate for justice than by understanding and witnessing injustice.

And we strive also to get to know those who think differently to overcome ideological divisions. Social media has made it easier than ever to curate our friends, associates, and information to suit our ideological beliefs. But we can’t see the humanity and goodness in our ideological opposites unless we strive to get to know them as people, not just vessels of ideas we oppose.

3. Hold Our Leaders Accountable (And Pray For Them)

After a fraught politics season that lasted nearly two years, it’s tempting to disengage. And it’s important to give ourselves a little time to heal and breathe and breath of fresh air. But as people of faith, the decisions made by our national, statewide, and community leaders are too consequential to ignore. As disciples of Christ, we are sworn to stand with “the least of these” (Matt. 25), who are so often the subject of important political decisions. Therefore, it’s time to dust off our shoulders, stand in solidarity with the oppressed people around us, and get ready to engage.

This is equally true whether we have a Republican or a Democrat in the White House or which party holds the majority of seats in Congress. It’s true whether we voted for or against our state legislature, governor, or mayor. Justice should be a nonpartisan issue, and, for our purposes, it’s a non-political issue as well. It’s simply what we are called to do as Christians.

We’ve heard adages about power and how it corrupts. Like them or not, our leaders are in positions of power, and often their agendas come on the heads and shoulders of the powerless. It’s our duty to soberly, skeptically, and diligently observe them. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and our sole allegiance is to Jesus. When earthly leaders strive to oppress others to meet their own ends, or to wage war, we have to be there to stand in their way.

However, we should also remember to pray for our leaders and wish for them success. We should hope that leaders call an agenda that advances justice, equity, and human rights. And we should work with them to advance those goals, not out of loyalty to them, but to Christ.

2017 will be a momentous political year, as we transition to a new president and a new congress, as we participate in local elections, and as we experience international events. Dunker Punks must be there, must be present, and must be ready to act.

4. Break Out of Politics

On the other hand, we can’t allow politics to define us or constrain our vision. It’s easy to be consumed by politics, to let it drain our time, energy, and emotional fortitude. But in an age of harsh partisan divides and extreme gridlock, politics can also obscure from our vision the humanity of others, and it can be fruitless, wasting our time and dampening our spirits.

To be sure, we must engage in politics because we have to challenge and change systems that create injustice. However, we also have to bring the light of Christ to every other corner of the social landscape. Our role is to be engaged disciples of Christ in culture, education, social movements, our faith institutions, family, and community, just as much as politics. This means reflecting Christ’s love and wisdom in each of these settings. Our role is to serve others in addition to challenging political leaders, just as Jesus performed intimate acts of service like healing, in addition to advocating broader social and political reforms.

In 2017, let’s not allow ourselves to be consumed by politics. After an explosive election season, it’s vital to remember that there is more going on in the world than just Donald Trump. The world is bigger than that, and smaller. We have to fix our eyes on Jesus, allowing him to transform our hearts, so we can go out and transform the world around us, both through small acts of love, and grand gestures of solidarity.

5. Get Involved!

I’ll conclude this by urging you to get involved with Dunker Punks, and also to lean into opportunities to lead and serve in your communities and congregations. As far as Dunker Punks goes, you can click here to join our movement. I also encourage you to contact us about getting involved in new and creative ways, such as writing for our blog or leading a service project. You should also check out our wonderful podcast, which is sponsored and produced by the Arlington Church of the Brethren.

2017 is here, and with it come new challenges as well as new opportunities to transform ourselves to look, think, and act a little bit more like Jesus, so we can transform the world around us to look a little more like the God’s Kingdom. Here’s to a happy, productive, and worshipful new year!


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

Seeking Peace in Trump’s America

I’ll cut right to the chase: the world has seldom needed the peace witness of the Church of the Brethren more than it does right now. In two months, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States. The commander-in-chief of the world’s largest, most well-funded, and most-powerful military will be a man who has shown himself to be erratic and impulsive, especially when provoked.

During the Presidential campaign, the president-elect was not subtle about his disposition towards military force. He said that he “loves war,” and promised to be “the most militaristic” president ever. He campaigned on a promise to reinstate torture and has advocated for killing not just suspected terrorists, but their entire families as well. He has promised to “bomb the shit” out of middle eastern villages. He proposed sending ground troops into Iraq and Syria. He has advocated for nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Japan. He has refused to “rule out” using nuclear weapons himself, even questioning repeatedly why we can’t use them.

This is to say nothing of Trump’s policies on refugees, on immigrants, on Muslims, on LGBT people, on people of color, on climate change, on police use of force, on healthcare, and a whole suite of positions that endanger people in the US and around the world. It’s to say nothing of his divisive and inflammatory campaign tactics, which inflamed racial and religious divisions, emboldened bigotry, and inspired hate crimes.

We must be clear: the world’s greatest threat to peace isn’t ISIS, or Russia, or North Korea, or Iran, or China. It is the United States under a President Trump.

Throughout our history, the Church of the Brethren has stood up to violence and been a voice calling from the wilderness for peace, diplomacy, and nonviolence. We follow a God of love and the Prince of Peace. We worship and disciple ourselves to a man who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who hate us. For as long as Donald Trump occupies the Oval Office, it is on each of us in the Church of the Brethren to mobilize and organize against his dangerous, reckless, and violent approach to public policy. Christ said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” It is time to get us some blessing.

This is not to say that we should not pray for Mr. Trump. We should. It is certainly not to say that we should attack, demonize, and mistreat his supporters. We should not. But the world is watching the United States with fear and anxiety in their hearts. And they’re watching the church, too. What we do matters. The stands we choose to take matter. Will we be a voice for the powerless and seekers of peace? Will we continue to be one of the world’s historic peace denominations? I hope so. I plan to show up, and I hope you do too.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Camp Blue Diamond Campers Learn About Annual Conference, Propose Possible Queries

This July, high school-aged campers at Camp Blue Diamond’s youth camp had the chance to learn about the Church of the Brethren’s query process at annual conference. Then, campers were asked to split into groups and form questions that they would pose to standing committee and annual conference about Church of the Brethren polity.

The theme at Camp Blue Diamond this summer was Fearless Faith: Courage in Community. The whole unit was on living in the Church, part of a four-year cycle from Inside Out that rotates between units on God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Church. Fearless Faith: Courage In Community explores scriptural examples of people finding the courage to grow in their faith through the people around them.

Each day had a subtheme: “Courage to Show Up,” based on the story of Abram; “Courage to Trust,” based on the story of Ruth and Naomi; “Courage to Forgive,” based on the story of Joseph; “Courage to Stand,” based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; “Courage to Change,” based on the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10; and “Courage to Connect,” based on the Great Commission.

It is a timely exercise for young members of the Church of the Brethren to study scriptural examples of living in faith communities. In the Church of the Brethren, we’re grappling with what it means to be a community of believers in the midst of deep disagreement and anxiety over the long-term health and viability of our community. These sorts of questions can only be dealt with if future leaders of the church have a seat at the table today, so it’s vitally important that young people can learn about the processes for affecting change within the COB.

Our chaplain for the week was David Witkovsky, the chaplain at nearby Juniata College. On Thursday, “Courage to Change” day, campers learned about Peter changing his views about Jewish taboos around food when he received a vision from God inviting him to kill and eat foods that were not considered kosher. Later, when Peter was invited to visit Cornelius, a gentile (another taboo), he remembered his dream and met with Cornelius.

Campers were then encouraged to think about ways God might be calling them to change. Then, they were invited to consider how they would like to see the church to change. Finally, David encouraged campers to submit possible questions that they would like to see put forward as queries to standing committee.

The questions that campers submitted centered around three themes:

  1. Welcoming
    1. How can the church break the stereotype of being hypocritical and discriminatory?
    2. How can we be less intimidating and more welcoming to those who want to connect with the church?
  2. Service
    1. How can we better serve local communities?
    2. How can we move beyond talking about service and actually put service initiatives into action?
  3. Youth Outreach
    1. How can we encourage more youth to join the church?
    2. How can we grow leadership opportunities for young people?
    3. How can the church do a better job of providing meaningful and accurate Christian education related to topics like sexuality and health?

In exploring how the Church can become more welcoming, the campers asked pointed questions: “How can the church break the stereotype of being hypocritical and discriminatory?” and “How can we be less intimidating and more welcoming to those who want to connect with the church?”

Campers pointed out that these are important question for the Church to consider as it grapples with declining and aging membership. How can the Church hope to bring in new people, when it has a reputation of excluding and discriminating?

Campers also cared deeply about encouraging the Church of the Brethren to continue emphasizing service. They pointed out that a COB congregation ought not to just be a place of spiritual education and fellowship for the community, but should also give to the community. Moreover, they pointed out that requiring service of a church’s members is itself an essential tool of spiritual education.

Around this theme, campers asked, “How can congregations better serve local communities?” More specifically, they asked, “How can congregations move beyond talking about service and actually put this aspect of faith into action.” Campers pointed out that service is often something wrongly reserved solely for young members of the Church. While it’s great to have service trips with the youth groups and work camps for COB youth, shouldn’t churches create service opportunities for members of all ages? Simply put, campers wondered, why is it that things like attendance and tithing are expected of adults, but not service? Shouldn’t service be a central aspect of what it means to live a Christian life?

Finally, campers posed questions about how the church can do more to involve young people. At the most basic level, they asked what the church can do better to bring in young people. How can churches alter worship styles or create programming that appeals to youth?

But youth campers didn’t just want youth to be invited to attend church, they also challenged the Church to do more to create leadership opportunities for young people. How can the Church of the Brethren do a better job of educating young people about its policy-making process? Should the COB do more to put youth and young adults on the Annual Conference ballots for denominational leadership? Shouldn’t committees studying the COB’s future vitality include the voices of its future generations? Should congregations send youth delegates to Annual Conference?

Overall, the youth campers at Camp Blue Diamond were very aware of challenges facing the Church, and they were excited about being invited to consider how the Church needs to change. I noticed that when asked how the Church needs to change, they didn’t ask specific polity questions, such as about same-sex marriage. Instead, they asked broader process-related questions: How can the church be more welcoming? How can the church involve young people in leadership? They didn’t pretend to know all the answers, but they understood the challenges facing the church.

And the campers took the prospect of change in the Church seriously. They wanted to see the church change, but they also knew that change itself can alienate people, if not approached carefully. The last question campers asked was: “How far can change go without undermining the Church of the Brethren’s identity?”

I invite you to join the conversation! What changes would you like to see in the church? How would you answer the questions that the campers at Blue Diamond asked?


podium

Emmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

 

How do advocates for racial justice move forward after Dallas?

Just before I was going to go to bed tonight, I saw news of several police officers being shot in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter protest. As the story developed, I watched in horror the news of at least eleven officers shot and four dead by two snipers with high-powered rifles. By tomorrow, we’ll know more information. We’ll likely wake up to knowledge about who conducted the shooting and why, and we might (though I pray not) learn of more police officers or other individuals killed or injured.

As with so many instances of horrific violence lately, there are no words. To see any lives claimed by senseless violence (and I believe that all violence is senseless) is indescribably tragic. No doubt, these officers did much to serve and protect their communities. No doubt, they had loved ones whose lives will be forever changed. Jesus reminds us that blessed are those who mourn. So today, we must stand with their mourning families.

This is uncomplicated: murder is evil, violence is evil. Unequivocally, this was wrong, senseless, and shameful.

Yet of course, this moment is made woefully complicated in another sense by the Black Lives Matter protest during which it unfolded. As I’m writing this, we don’t know whether this shooting was connected to the ongoing protests in Dallas or if the shooter had grievances against police connected with the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and so many of Black men and women at the hands of police.

These are things we will learn with time. We may learn that this shooting had nothing to do with police violence, but was the doing of people with an ax to grind against the police who saw an opportunity and took it. Clearly, this was a planned ambush, not the doing of a crowd lost in anger. Regardless, we must not forget that the protests in Dallas and across the nation were nonviolent, and these acts of violence have nothing to do with the black lives matter movement and don’t represent a legitimate struggle for justice. Since its beginning, black lives matter has been a nonviolent movement that has rejected the use of force or violence. This was not sanctioned by any legitimate justice actor.

I have been unapologetic and outspoken in insisting that Black lives matter. This shooting does nothing to change the fact that Sterling, Castile, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and countless other black people have been victims of a pattern of racist policing in the United States. I have no plans to change my tone or beliefs on demanding racial justice and comprehensive police reform.

But Jesus blesses those who mourn, so tonight I stand with the mourning families of the police officers who died or are still fighting for their lives. And I stand with the mourning families of Sterling and Castile. It is because I oppose violence that I participate in Black lives matter. It is because I oppose violence that I denounce any violence against police.

If the shooters in this case were trying to advance the cause of racial justice, they have hurt their cause beyond anything words can describe. They have sullied the reputation of a nonviolent movement for racial justice. They have tarnished the names of Sterling, Castile, and so many others. As advocates for justice, we must be of one voice in denouncing violence and offering prayer and comfort to the injured officers and the family of those officers who died. Nonviolence is the only appropriate tool in the fight for justice. It is only by refusing to be violent that we can ever hope to achieve social change.

As people of faith, we must be the first to stand for racial justice, and we must be the first to demand peace and oppose any attempts at violence. There are no words except for the living word of God: Jesus Christ, the prince of peace.

I am reminded of how Jesus advocated that the oppressed people of his day handle the state actors that wielded the sword of oppression. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus says, “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, walk with them two miles.” He was referring to the occupying presence of Roman soldiers, who would force Jews to carry their supplies, but only had the legal authority to make someone carry their supplies for one mile.

By advising occupied Jews to go two miles, Jesus showed oppressed Jews how to expose the evils of oppression by magnifying its damage by doubling the penalty. But Jesus’ advice also empowered Jews in this situation by giving them the final say in their actions, instead of the occupying soldiers. Finally, by walking two miles, Jews and soldiers had more time to break down the dividing walls of oppression. There was more time for Roman soldier and Jew to see one another as human beings rather than oppressor and oppressed.

Again, words fail in a situation like this. I don’t have all the answers. But this is a moment upon which we must prayerfully reflect upon the words of Christ. He brought good news to the poor, and freedom to the oppressed. But instead of coming as a warrior and wielding a sword, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and preached peace and nonresistance.

And he came not just as a messiah for the downtrodden, but as the savior of all people, Jew and Gentile, Roman soldier and Jewish subject alike. We must work for justice, but we must also strive for reconciliation. Violence is our enemy, not one another.

May we keep these slain officers in our prayers. May we hold slain black lives in our prayers. May we prayerfully strive for truth and reconciliation. May we press on with nonviolent action. May we form a beloved community in which Black lives matter and no police officer fears to serve and protect.


podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and onFacebook.

Alton Sterling’s Life Mattered

Last night, Alton Sterling was killed by police while selling CDs in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, LA. Police were called to the scene after receiving an anonymous tip that someone near the convenience store might have been carrying a firearm. While it is possible that Sterling did have a gun, disturbing video of the shooting makes clear that Sterling was not a threat to the police officers that shot him. Sterling was pinned to ground when an officer shot him at point blank range without warning or cause.

Shootings like this defy adequate words or explanation. It is not enough to simply offer thoughts and prayers to Sterling’s family, nor is enough to chalk up Sterling’s murder to the work of “a few bad apples.” Sterling’s death is yet another stark reminder that we must mobilize and demand comprehensive justice and police reform in the United States, and we must insist on confronting head-on the evil and powerful specter of racism that still exists in the United States today.

As disciples of a God who urges us to love all nations and all people as unconditionally as he loves, yet who also demonstrates special concern for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden, it is our sacred responsibility to confront the evil and sinful factors that led to Sterling’s death.

While it is impossible to know what was in the officer’s heart when he shot Sterling, we know that hundreds of Black men and women die during encounters with the police every year. Disproportionately, Black and Brown victims of police violence are unarmed. In almost all cases, armed or not, police were capable of confronting the situation through non-lethal means but chose not to. While there is a disturbing trend of police violence against all people, Black and white, people of color are more likely to be confronted by police, and police are quicker to use lethal force against a person of color than a white person.

There should be little doubt, therefore, that Sterling’s death is the result of a racist justice system and racist policing practices. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Sterling’s killer was “racist” in the sense that he knowingly and maliciously harbors prejudice against African Americans. It does mean that as a result of implicit biases and ingrown stereotypes supported by media and culture, Sterling’s killer was more willing to pull the trigger on him than a white man. Alton Sterling’s life didn’t matter as much, because of the color of his skin.

No doubt, in the following days, the media will parade a negative narrative against Alton Sterling. The media will make Sterling out to be a “thug,” – a racial codeword that they will no doubt use. They will dig up past criminal accusations against Sterling and bring out acquaintances to say he was violent. They will focus on the gun that might have been in his pocket and speculate about whether there was marijuana in his system.

I’m not going to listen, because it doesn’t matter. Here’s the bottom line: Alton Sterling was a beloved child of God. A person who’s life was just as precious as any of ours.

I can’t pretend to understand how Sterling’s family feels after losing their loved one, nor can I pretend to know the fear and anxiety all people of color must feel when they see the police. I know that I will never be killed by police for selling CDs outside of a convenience store, regardless of what’s in my pocket.

All I can do is insist that my condolences are not enough. If I really grieve for Alton Sterling, if I really believed his life matters, I will do everything I can to see that real, substantive change comes not just to our laws but also to our hearts. Ultimately, I know that the degree to which I believe Alton Sterling matters is the same degree to which I believe God matters.

podium


Emmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of DunkerPunks.com, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.