By Jennifer M. Phillips

I’m a veteran of the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s and the expansive language debates of that era. There were numerous conversations in which my male colleagues said, “We understand God does not have gender and that our pronouns are metaphorical.” When some of us read favorite chunks of Scripture about Christ, the Creator and the Spirit using female pronouns, those same colleagues erupted with anger, saying, “That’s a perversion. That’s a heresy.” It became obvious that the Three Persons of the Trinity are VERY gendered in their minds, because while an occasional neutral phrasing raised no complaint, using female pronouns caused visceral and loud protest.

Jennifer M. Phillips

Jennifer M. Phillips

This was heartbreaking to many of us women engaged in these conversations back then. It became clear that some gender-neutral language would be a sop to our requests for change, but any equal use of gendered language about God — even quoting Anselm or Julian — came under attack. I remember hearing a couple of my more conservative male colleagues coming right out and saying that the whole debate was valueless since God does not include the female in “Himself.” The female divine was what Egyptians and Canaanite pagans believed in, they said. No one ever suggested that it might be heretical to use language “of the people” about themselves and that God does not include and may purposefully exclude some of the people from their relationship with God and God’s relationship with us.

There has not been a single Sunday, not a single Eucharist in my life in parishes — 30 years — in which I have not felt a pang of pain at the still mostly exclusive language of the Book of Common Prayer. I have used less exclusive Bible translations, EOW as permitted, new Psalters, and gender-neutral preaching when I can, but there has not been a single service where I haven’t had to work at inserting myself and womankind mentally into the language of liturgy. Read More…

Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

A theological consensus has been formed: Almost all Christian Churches, even in the United States, are clearly and vigorously opposed to the death penalty — for reasons that go to the heart of the Gospel. This is the most ecumenically agreed upon issue still at controversy in society, and a highly significant example of the way the church can reform its theology from within. However, this is also an instance in which it is only the teaching of the church that has changed — not the belief of Christians. The members themselves do not always accept, and they certainly do not necessarily obey, the teachings of their leaders or any sort of magisterium. Regarding this particular issue most American Christians, the proverbial persons in the pew, are still in favor of executions. 
A prime example is Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Scalia is a faithful Roman Catholic who insists that capital punishment is consistent with the traditional Christian position, one that was held through many centuries. He believes that the church is simply incorrect in taking a new position in opposition. Perhaps he would rationalize this with a claim that the reformed teaching of the church leaves just enough of a crack in the door to allow the possibility for executions, and he feels free to swing it open. This is not merely an academic distinction; his theological opinion counts. 

By Joe Morris Doss

Has anyone heard Justice Scalia say “Oops?”

At least 317 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence since that forensic science has become available.

According to an August 21 report released by The University of Virginia, nearly 20 percent of defendants who have been exonerated by DNA evidence were convicted on evidence of a confession to the crime — false confessions in each case.

In 1994 the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear an appeal to the conviction and sentence to death in the case of Mr. Henry McCollum. He had been subjected to hours of tortuous, isolating, and manipulative interrogation to which he had finally succumbed with a false confession. Largely on the basis of that confession, McCollum had been convicted of the brutal rape and murder of 11-year-old Sabrina Buie.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun noted that Mr. McCollum had the mental age of a 9-year-old and concluded, “…this factor alone persuades me that the death penalty in this case is unconstitutional.” He voted to hear the case. Blackmun had, in fact, already renounced the death penalty in each and every case, explaining that he would, “no longer tinker with the machinery of death.” He said that decisions involving the death penalty were too subjective and too prone to human error for the death penalty to be administered constitutionally. Read More…

By Marcus Borg

Not quite a year ago, Joan Chittister, Dom Crossan and I spoke at a  lecture event in Houston whose theme was the same as the title of this blog: “Does Christianity Have a Future?” None of us tried to predict the future of Christianity, even as we all spoke about our hopes for its shape in the future.

Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg

The question whether Christianity has a future is interesting to think about. And the answer is greatly affected by the time span, short or long. Will Christianity still be around a hundred years from now? Yes. Five hundred years from now? Probably. A thousand years from now? Maybe. Five thousand years from now? The further into the future we imagine, the less likely it seems that Christianity will be part of that present.

For many Christians, the notion that there will come a time when Christianity will no longer exist except as past history is a thought that has not been thought.

Christians who think that the second coming of Jesus and the end of this world are near are not at all worried by how long Christianity will last. It doesn’t need to last much longer. Moreover, to those and many other Christians, the thought seems alien. Most of us learned as we were growing up that the Bible and Jesus were the ultimate revelation of God – and thus that Christianity was the exclusive and only revelation, or at least the best. How then could there come a time when it would be no more?

But the realization that there will come a time when Christianity is not (assuming that humans and our descendants are still here a thousand and five thousand years from now) has pedagogical value. It leads to reflecting about what Christianity is, and what its foundational document, the Bible is.

Are the Bible and Christianity the final revelation of God and thus destined to last until time is no more? Or are they humanly-constructed historical products – the fruit of our spiritual ancestors in ancient Israel, early Christianity, and subsequent theological interpretations of what it means to be Christian? Are the Bible and Christianity the revelation of God, and thus exclusive and absolute?

Or one of many revelations in many and perhaps all cultures, great and small, with all of them articulated in the language of their time and place? Is it not obvious that all religions are historical products? They had a beginning and they will have an ending. Just as most ancient religions are no more, so it will be some time with Christianity, whether five hundred or a few thousand years from now. Read More…

By At the Threshold 

The church is concerned with the way in which human beings relate to God, but this relationship is contingent on how people relate to each other, to their communities, and to the world. The Christian imperative to reform the church is a concomitant demand that the church reform society.

Last week, the Supreme Court issued a decision not to decide. The court refused to consider the constitutionality of laws that require each citizen to present proof of identity, an ID, in order to vote. The stated reason was that a decision at this time might cause confusion in the elections that are about to be held. In fact, the “non-decision” is as decisive as it is confounding; the choice to ignore constitutional questions establishes law in this election, and for the foreseeable future. In a bigger picture, it is simply the last move in a pattern of actions taken to roll back the “one person, one vote” decision of the Supreme Court in 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We will examine this pattern in a series of presentations, even if only in a survey. Seeing it, and understanding it, is of first order importance.
We are offering a short series of presentations, but it is a series that begs interactive dialogue between the readers of At the Threshold. Americans, and in particular those who grasp the connection between seeking the common good and seeking God’s will for human society, need to think together about the subject being raised, perhaps especially in this season of election campaigning. Please ask questions, make comments and argue for your views by responding here. We will publish your thoughts (with your permission) in a future AtT email. You can also share your opinion on the At the Threshold Facebook page.
This serial presentation is predicated on two dynamics that are in play within American historical experience. They are common to all political systems, wherever and of whatever form, but in the special American experience of creating and establishing a new form of republican government they take particular paths.
One dynamic is the general and ongoing struggle for domination of governance by one of the three general spheres of society, over against the other two: the polis, the techno-economic, and the cultural. The techno-economic realm has risen to predominance, focused on and driven by business and finance. If it gains sufficient control this would be termed a plutocracy.
The second dynamic, which is the first we will examine, is being worked out in the long American struggle for the right, and the actual opportunity, to vote by all adult American citizens without regard to class, privilege, wealth, power, belief, race, sex, or any other generalized category. This has taken place at the opposition of a significant portion of the citizenry – at every stage of American history – who sincerely and passionately believe that a certain order of elite should have more say in governance than the whole population – more than “the people,” acting through representatives. The age of patriarchs, kings and domination of the “high-born” has come to its end. But the belief in rule by an innately superior elite has not abated, and it has long been upheld by denying the vote to “others,”  those who are not insiders, those who are not “in the know,” those who are not considered “stakeholders.” What were those who believe in government by the elite to do once everyone could vote due to acts of law?
Read More…