Who’s in Charge?

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Democracy is supposed to maximize the agency of the individual citizen, to give everyone, to the extent possible, the opportunity to control her or his own destiny together with fellow citizens. Today, few of us in the United States who are ordinary citizens feel that we have much of a say. We share a profound sense of being out of the loop, in some else’s control, helpless. This is leading to rather scary possibilities. I make no secret of my most immediate fear that could come of this: election of a pseudo-strong-man hyper-nationalist who will “take charge” by running over whole categories of population that he opposes and seek fatuously simplistic solutions that will not come close to working, but instead can be devastatingly counterproductive. Whatever may come in the fall, the fact is that our collective sense of being out of a political ballgame that feels rigged begs some analysis and evaluation.

It will not surprise anyone that people of faith are unsettled by the institutional decline of the church and by the overwhelming secularization of western culture. A society that has no faith in religion, and takes so little interest in transcendent reality, will become faithful only to matters that cannot ground us and are bound to fail us. If being out of touch with reality is the definition of insanity, then it is hardly surprising that human society seems increasingly crazy, for it is more and more out of touch with the fullness of reality. It is especially dismaying to a Christian to grasp how misunderstood the gospel of Jesus Christ is within this society – despite the assumption that it knows all about it. In fact, the Christianity that is popularized in American society comes closer to the first century pagan religious understandings of God and humanity than to the vision of the man from Nazareth. But let’s come back to this after some consideration of facts “on the ground.”

We will need to think about this in a series of offerings. This will be more productive if you contribute to our thinking about why we feel that we lack the personal agency that we once enjoyed. Nothing would be more helpful than a conversation. I would be happy to post whatever you have to say.

I have to begin with an admission that I don’t understand the world as clearly as I used to think I did.

I wrote a book (The Songs of the Mothers) in which I asserted that the world is changing so much and so rapidly that the church, as an incarnational faith, was going to have to change in order to adapt to it, and serve it as the body of Christ. Thus did I predict the coming ecumenical reformation and issued a plea that we begin reforming now – even if full and ecumenical reformation is not so immediately at hand.

I based this assertion regarding the church’s reformation on the premise that there have been only three watershed reformations (The Constantinian Settlement of the Fourth Century, the Gregorian Reformation that established the Medieval Church, and the Protestant and Catholic Counter Reformations of the Sixteenth Century) and they came about because of two simultaneous forces. First, there was, in each instance, so much pain being experience by the faithful within the church that the internal call for reform was insistent. But at the same time, the world was changing so profoundly that the church too had to adjust just as radically, by way of reform.

That brings us to the question of what is forcing change in the world today. Historically it takes a turning point crisis or a technological revolution to bring about the magnitude of change the world is in the process of going through. Today we have both. We will begin our discussion there.


The Power of Guns and the Power of Symbols In the Making of a Violent Society

Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Guns are powerful. Symbols are powerful. There is a connection here that must be recognized and appreciated. How they are used together is crucial.

There was a time, as early as the 19th century, when western people regarded symbols as mere signs of something else; a sign that wasn’t the real thing but represented something that was. This was before the discoveries of modern science, such as neurology, and the advances in certain scholarly disciplines such as those of anthropology, psychology, literature, and religion. Now we realize how experience of the symbolical is among the most powerful ways for human beings to be in touch with, and form our sense of, reality. The impact of something genuinely symbolical is to inform us of what really is, and to experience it even when what we are experiencing seems abstract, or extra-sensory, or perhaps “other worldly.”

A gun is a powerful symbol. It is a sign of something very powerful indeed and through the way we experience guns we find ourselves defining and shaping reality to suit what it stands for, in terms of and responsive to what it represents.

Every dramatist knows a certain rule: “if a gun appears on stage it has to be used.” That rule must not be broken, because a gun is such a powerful symbol. It represents something that becomes expected upon sight and that something is so absolute, prodigious, and profound that it overwhelms all other expectations and must be fulfilled. The audience letdown if the play does not fulfill the expectation of what it’s mere presence represents will overwhelm whatever does happen on the stage and cause disheartening disappointment.

The Christian Church that uses sacraments understands symbols. A sacrament is a symbol of the transcendent. We say that the church is the body of Christ. We say of the Eucharistic sacrament that it is the real presence of the body and blood of the risen Lord. We say that the use of water and oil in baptism employs elements of the earth to reveal, and effect, a reality that includes but is also transcendent of the physical universe. We say that that marriage is a symbol of the love of God for people and all of creation.

The Church understands the symbolic power of a gun.

To cut to the chase, let us say that we understand how allowing everyone to have guns without controls over who has them and what they are used for is shaping our society into one that is more and more violent. In the time in which gun control has become a pressing issue of debate the amount and use of violence has increased dramatically, together with the anger, depression, prejudice, frustration, and mental instability that are the underpinnings of violence. Studies, we understand, show this quantitatively and qualitatively. But the ordinary person living in the United States does not need a scientific study; we experience it. We can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel in our gut that increasing level of violence on the roads, in the markets, in entertainment and the news, within our groups, and pervading our communities.

Perhaps it is worth noting that those churches that do not oppose the proliferation of guns, that do not take a strong position in favor of gun control, are churches that do not have sacraments and perhaps do not recognize the power of symbol as clearly or with as much experience.

It helps to comprehend how guns-out-of-control forms a symbol of violence-out-of-control. But even if some Christians lack full appreciation of the symbolical power of guns, surely it would be difficult to imagine that the man from Nazareth would have stood with the gun lobby.

The Christian Church must rise together and demand gun control.


Where Is the Leadership of The Military and Law Enforcement in Protecting Us Against Guns in the Wrong Hands?
Written by: Joe Morris Doss

Shame on you, Officials of Law Enforcement!

Shame on you, Leaders of the Military!

Trained officers who use guns professionally, and lead men and women who use guns professionally, know what these killing instruments are for and what they are not for.

Why are you not standing up and demanding that society rid itself of the wrongful use of guns through controls you know very well how to set up and employ?

Why are you not leading the rest of us in the establishment of laws that limit the use of guns to what you as professionals understand to be intentions that are suitable and right?

We take note that you do not allow anyone to go onto military posts with a gun – including soldiers – with the singular exception of military police. Yet, you say nothing as criminals, drug dealers, gangs, and kids walk the streets of American cities, towns, and villages with guns in their pockets – as innocent citizens are killed in our land each and every day.

The truth is that you have the standing, authority, and respect to succeed in providing the leadership needed for gun control. Why do you fail us?

You talk about providing leadership, but you fail to provide it at the most fundamental level of your professional aims. You claim that the very purpose for your existence is to protect citizens, but you fail to do the single most obvious thing you can to actually protect us – prevention of violence. Prosecutors and judges, people throughout the system of criminal justice, claim that they are working for our protection – including putting away human beings who use guns wrongfully – and yet do nothing about having the guns themselves put away.

Enough!

You are guilty. You are in neglect of your duty.

You are called upon to turn about and act in accord with your purposes as law enforcement and military leaders. You are called upon to demand laws that effectively protect the innocent people of the United States from the foolish proliferation of weapons of war and crime!


The Sound of Glass Cracking in the Proverbial Ceiling
Written by: 
Joe Morris Doss

Put aside the matter of choosing for whom you personally will vote. The fact that each of us will have the opportunity to vote for a woman has to be recognized as a highly significant moment in American history, and it is my hope that all Americans – Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike – are, at least to that extend, proud of our democracy. Equality is hard to come by for some categories of persons, and throughout history, women – more than half of the human race – have suffered inequality that should now be viewed as shocking. The day is coming, and this nomination is a big step forward, when all forms of discrimination against women will be unacceptable.

I offer my viewpoint as a white male who knows something about authority and power that seems to come without necessarily being earned. I am a husband and a father, and therefore someone who realizes the need to empower women at a very personal level. I am a leader of the church, and therefore committed to the welfare of all of her members. I am a theologian and therefore someone who understands the religious and moral issues relevant in the quest for equality and justice. I am an attorney and therefore someone who is familiar with the Constitutional and legal issues at hand. But I offer you my personal perspective on discrimination against women especially as a pastor.

The first thing I have to say is really outrageous. That is, it is outrageous that it has to be said at all: Every human being is equally a child of God. Women are equal to men, and to one another, and women are due nothing less than that recognition and that standing. It simply is not enough to acknowledge that, it has to be constitutionally established and made effective within our legal, political, social, and religious spheres.

In fact, I have an outrageous question: If Mrs. Clinton is elected, should she be paid at the same level as her husband when he was President? Noting that most women holding the same job as a man do not receive equal pay, it is an outrageously meaningful question, and one that must be removed in the only way possible.

The next thing I have to say to you as a pastor is very important but seems too little considered. Those of us who participate in a system that discriminates are the people most in need of being freed from it. Martin Luther King spoke as a pastor to those who cannot see the harm to themselves in prejudice and actions of discrimination. From a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama, he shed the light of reality on fellow clergymen who wanted to avoid the struggle of their day in obtaining equality for all human beings:

“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.” 

Finally, I want to say how obviously this nomination makes the case against discrimination within the institutional life of God’s church. The church is intended to be the pioneer for justice in society, but when it comes to women the church is being dragged kicking and screaming into the inevitable realization that it is its own worst enemy. The faith community in which I have a formal role as a bishop, together with most of the mainline protestant churches, has been and remains guilty enough, though decisions have been made to begin correction of our path. But when one sees the determined prejudice and discrimination against women in the very largest of our communities, ranging from the fundamentalist evangelical churches to the sacramental Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, one is staggered by the realization of how far the Christian church is from the way of our Lord. We must call each other to reform whatever is required in order to fully include women in all of the life of the church, including all leadership roles, into which they are baptized!

The model for Christians is Jesus himself, and despite the failures of his church down through the centuries of patriarchal domination, despite the way certain parts of his church still oppress women in his name, Jesus himself treated women exactly as he did with men. We see that he surrounded himself with women; He not only gathered them and associated with them, he made them part of his inner circle. We see how much trouble he got in because of his interaction with women. He was declared unclean and unworthy of leadership in that patriarchal society. We see that the first person he appeared to after the resurrection was a woman and it was this woman he chose as his first apostle to send with the news and spread it as The Good News.

Matters like racial bigotry and the oppression of women was, and for some Christians remain, examples of religious conscience. It is the religious conscience that has to change! The inequality of women and all offenses against justice must be prohibited in the church as well as in law. For where justice is violated we may find religious beliefs, but we will not find God.