Ted Grimsrud

Question authority

In Anabaptism, Anarchism, Biblical theology, Pacifism, Politics on July 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm

Ted Grimsrud

Sermon preached at Shalom Mennonite Congregation—July 27, 2014—1 Samuel 8:10-18; Romans 13:1-4; Mark 10:42-45

I want to talk this morning about political philosophy. Now, I don’t suppose many Mennonite preachers today—or ever—have done sermons on political philosophy. But like I say to Kathleen when she asks, on occasion, what in the world are you doing, I say, I’m just trying to keep you guessing.

Actually, I think Mennonites should talk about political philosophy—and understand that we have important resources for political philosophy in our tradition. The key theme, I think, is authority. Mennonites are not nearly faithful enough to our Anabaptist heritage in relation to authority. Not that many Mennonites I know have been socialized to question authority—though doing so was essential in the beginning of our movement in the 16th century. I’d like to float a provocative thesis this morning—when we question authority we take a necessary step in developing what we could call an Anabaptist, or , to be more presumptuous, an authentically biblical, political philosophy—that is, to question authority can be an act of faithfulness.

A political awakening

But first, let me tell the story of the beginning of my political awakening. When I was a kid, I lived for sports. Sixth grade was when we first had school sports where we played other schools. After football and basketball, we’d have both baseball and track. In my eighth grade year, we thought we’d have good teams—I was excited.

Then, something terrible happened. I still remember the moment clearly. We walk into our classroom one morning and see this written on the board: “Students who wish to compete on the baseball and track teams must have crew cut haircuts. There will be no exceptions.” Now, Elkton (Oregon) Grade School in the late 1960s was not a hotbed of hippy subversion. I had only recently let my hair grow out from my standard crew cut, but it wasn’t even as long as my hair is now. Nor was anyone else’s. But there were several of us who believed this was an unreasonable demand and refused it.

Pacifism, God, and the punishment of children

In Justice, Pacifism, Restorative justice, Salvation, Theology, Uncategorized on May 17, 2014 at 10:05 am

Ted Grimsrud—May 18, 2014

[This paper originated as a presentation at the conference, “Mennonites and the Family,” at Goshen College in October 1999. It will be published later this year in Ted Grimsrud, Embodying Peace: Collected Pacifist Writings, Volume 4: Historical and Ethical Essays (Harrisonburg, VA: Peace Theology Books]

What difference does it make to assert that nothing is as important for our theology as pacifism (i.e., the cluster of values which include love, peace, shalom, wholeness, kindness, mercy, restorative justice, nonviolence, and compassion)?

I propose that one difference pacifism makes (or should make) is to cause pacifists to look critically at all justifications for violence – and to question all theological underpinnings for such justifications. In this essay, I will focus critically on one case – theological underpinnings that help justify acting violently toward children (what is commonly called corporal punishment).

I want to discuss six points concerning the theological problem of the justification of violence against children.

(1) Human beings tend to be reluctant to act violently toward other human beings. We usually require some kind of rationale to justify such violence. We must believe some value is more important than nonviolence. For Christians, this value or conviction is usually expressed in terms of “God’s will.”

(2) A theological framework, that I will call “the logic of retribution”, underlies the rationale for the use of violence against children. In “the logic of retribution,” God is understood most fundamentally in terms of impersonal, inflexible holiness. God’s law is seen to be the unchanging standard by which sin is measured. Human beings are inherently sinful. God’s response to sin is punitive. Jesus’ death on the cross is necessary as a sacrifice to provide the only basis for sinful human beings escaping their deserved punishment.

(3) Consistent pacifists must raise theological concerns here. When God is understood, as with the logic of retribution, primarily in terms of impersonal holiness, legal requirements, and strict, vengeful justice, the biblical picture of God as relational, compassionate, and responsive is distorted.

(4) Not only is it justified according to problematic theological assumptions, corporal punishment also has problematic practical consequences. It may well intensify the dynamic of responding to violence with violence, actually educating young people into the practice of using violence. It may also contribute to a stunted experience of life for its recipients.

(5) Given that all theology is humanly constructed, we may (and must) reconstruct our understanding of God in order to foster consistently pacifist theology and practice.

(6) Foundational for such a theological reconstruction, the Bible may be read as providing bases for a “logic of restoration.” According to the logic of restoration, God’s holiness is personal, flexible, dynamic, and relational. God’s justice is concerned with restoring relationships and community wholeness, not with punishment, vengeance, and balancing the impersonal scales of an eye for an eye. God’s mercy is unconditional, not dependent upon human beings in any sense earning it.

Good grief

In Biblical theology, Theology on April 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Ted Grimsrud

Sermon at Shalom Mennonite Congregation—April 6, 2014—John 11:35

The scripture text this morning is short, in fact don’t yawn or anything like that when I read it or you might miss it. But you probably know it. It’s the shortest verse in the Bible. The King James Version of John 11:35 says it this way: “Jesus wept.” The New Revised Standard Version is a bit more expansive: “Jesus began to weep.” I guess those translators couldn’t stand it that an entire verse had only two words.

Small verse, big message

I want to take these two (or four) words, this little Bible verse, and make a big statement. At this point of Jesus weeping, of Jesus experiencing deep grief—the word translated “wept” could actually be translated “wailed and lamented;” it signifies something quite intense—when Jesus weeps he shows us the intersection between the divine and the human like nothing else he ever did. In his grieving, Jesus most clearly shows us what God is like.

It’s notable that the Gospel of John, of all the gospels, shows us that Jesus wept. John’s Jesus is the most divine of the four gospels, the most—we could almost say—superhuman of the four Jesuses presented in the gospels. Yet John makes the point that Jesus weeps. I want to say that this fits; the most exalted, God-manifesting Jesus is the one who weeps, the one who grieves.

The godness of God is seen in God’s grief. The divine presence in humanity is seen, as much as anywhere, when we grieve. Our grief marks us as creatures made in God’s image, as creatures who possess the spark of God—even as our grief also marks us as human, all too human, fragile creatures, all too fragile.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually think of grief as all that great of a thing. I think of the few moments of deep grief that I have experience and I would be more than happy to have bypassed those moments. Though, as I reflect a bit, I realize that what I would want to bypass are the experiences that led to the grief, not the grief itself—grief was a response on the way to healing.

Let’s think about how we use the word grief. But first a tangent.

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