Monday, March 08, 2010

Micah 6:8 on the Skids

Princeton Seminary recently sent me a continuing education opportunity from their Institute of Faith and Public Life. The chief discussion will be around what it means to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly" from within an integrated theological and ethical framework.

For that, they've made a lovely little banner. Have a look.

Notice anything? They've taken the Micah 6:8 trifecta and given us examples of people they believe embody those virtues. They even color code them for us. Let's have a look.

Do Justice = Rev'd Martin Luther King, Jr. Okay...fair enough. MLK is one of my all-time favorite Republicans. And social justice that seeks to alleviate suffering through addressing all the causes of poverty (rather than simply looking at the symptom - not much money) is a worthwhile effort on the part of Christians that doesn't always get its proper attention from conservative-minded persons.

Love Mercy = Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Um...this is a strange call. It's not as though he worked to help out the Jews. While he did seek to assassinate Adolf Hitler, I'd hardly equate that with mercy. (And if it is, then just war theory and ministries of compassion just got a whole lot more interesting.) And the Hebrew word hesed here translated has strong overtones of COMMITMENT and LOYALTY. Again, not a virtue that first comes to mind for someone plotting the overthrow of his government and the military defeat of his own nation. (Granted, I think he was unflinchingly loyal to the historic church and his Confessing Church movement embodied that.)

Not only is Bonhoeffer not a notorious do-gooder, but do-gooding isn't even the point. What God requires is not doing good for good’s sake. What God requires of his followers is that they be committed and love being committed to God. Which makes it all the more curious that, right next to him - but colored in a way that doesn't tie her to a specific virtue, is a very paragon of mercy to others and commitment to God in Blessed Theresa of Calcutta. This woman embodied mercy (humility, too...though the left would excoriate her as anti-justice because she rebuffed them for murdering our unborn). What is Princeton saying with this?

But this isn't the strangest appellation or slight, either.

Walk Humbly = Mohandas Gandhi, Esq. Okay...his simplicity of dress and lifestyle indicate an epitome of living for others. I'll grant that. Humility, though, is a hard virtue to peg on someone who overthrew British rule in his home country. Moses, who cast off Egypt's chains, was meek - but he wasn't particularly humble.

Moreover, sheer humility is not what is in view in the Scriptures. Read it again: walk humbly with your God. Your God is covenant language. And it's used in Micah's burden against the Israelite's idolatry. "You've fallen to idol worship, and it has produced a profound effect throughout your entire society!" he says.

Here's the problem. Gandhi was a committed Hindu. He'd read the Bible and knew a great deal about it, but kept to the faith of his forbears.

Let me ask you...have you ever been to a Hindu temple?

And that's just the outside.

Hinduism is full of idolatry. And Ghandi was an idolater. He was concerned about the poor...I'll grant it. But he hated the Creator, and proved it with every act of devotion rendered to the idols. (We know where that worship ends up demons.)

Mohandas Ghandi is not humble in the biblical sense. He was an arrogant, prideful, self-glorifying idolator who shook his fist in the face of God every day of his rebellious demon-worshiping life.

Princeton has made some extremely bad decisions in how they've cast this seminar. (Which may or may not be helpful.)

If you're a regular supporter of theirs - either personally, or through giving within the PC(USA), I advise you to let them know what you think.


Stan said...

I'll agree with all your points here. Something that I was wondering, though. They nicely color-coded who was what. So ... what was Mother Theresa in all that? Here picture is there in blue. What does that correlate to?

I'm particularly disturbed by the Gandhi reference, as you point out. When our best example on what the Lord requires of us is a non-Christian (read "anti-Christian" by his own admission), there's a problem.

Viola Larson said...

Bonhoeffer could be tied to mercy much more than you may know. He was actually arrested for helping Jews cross into Switzerland-a secret plan put together by some in the military, the same ones who planned to assassinate Hitler.

Add to that he was very vocal among the Confessing Church for the Jews. So much so that Barth writes about it after the war. On top of that he was against abortion and writes about that in his book Ethics

Tim said...

So, for examples, they give us a theological liberal, a neo-orthodox Lutheran, a Roman Catholic, and a Hindu. Ok...

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Irena Sandler was tortured by the Nazis for helping the Jews. D. Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and shot for sedition. There are plenty of better examples of "loving mercy / hesed" than Bonhoeffer, great as he is. But the whole thing is messed up.

Tim - for mercy, you could do as lot worse than Theresa.

Viola Larson said...

I guess we have found something to disagree about. How novel: )

Fr. Chris Larimer said...

Wait...that's going to start to unravel the vast right-wing conspiracy we've set up! And of course, conservative Christians are so narrow minded that they can't possibly hold amity for someone who disagrees on the smallest point? What ever shall we do?

Thanks for the info on his work for the Jews...any source on that? (I hadn't encountered it...but at LPTS they mostly focused on his work among African Americans and then his endorsement of overthrowing the government - and yes, this was in the days of Obama ramping up his rhetoric.)

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

As I have noted on my own blog recently I find it ironic that the same people that have done everything in their power to undermine the authority of Scripture still feel the need to cite Scripture (especially the Old Testament which they have Marcionized) when it suits their own agendas.

Reformed Catholic said...

I agree Ben. Chris, I admire your naivete suggesting that we in the PCUSA can do anything about what happens. I've not noticed that anyone in the PCUSA outside of a local Presbytery giving a fig about what the person in the pew thinks, or says.

Fr. Chris Larimer said...


Curmudgeonly clergy aren't going to be able to change the culture - but an empowered and attentive laity can. Don't neglect that - call people's attention to problems. Phone the EP and the trustees of the seminary and the president and the office of theology & worship. You have a voice and you can do something about it.

Kepha said...

Interesting post. Given that the 20th century did in--for political reasons--more people than suffered for the wrong kind of Christianity or none at all during the 15 centuries between the conversion of Constantine and 1811 (Ruggles v. New York, in which the New York State Supreme Court upheld the imprisonment of a man for blasphemy against Jesus Christ), no other era is more in need of doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.