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Sermon by Bruce Hiebert
Langley (British Columbia) Mennonite Fellowship
26 November 2017
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
WN: My scholar friend Bruce Hiebert is ever willing to challenge and provoke. No less in the sermon highlighted below. In response to my response to it, he wrote: “I’m glad you enjoyed the sermon. I never know quite how people will take one of my sermons. There’s a rumour that this one is right up with my “God made a mistake” sermon of 15 years ago (not that I said then that God made a mistake, merely that God probably would have “said” something different had God known how it would be interpreted). Feel free to use excerpts.”
Thanks Bruce! It really got me thinking.
While many of the world’s ills can be placed at Jesus’ feet, and commonly are within secular culture, that’s only because we haven’t finished enacting his revolution for human morality.
The theme of the lectionary readings this morning is the reign of God. I’m deeply troubled by that theme. You see, we are 2000 years into one version of that theme and it’s not a pleasant one. That’s the version of the theme cooked up by Western Christianity and spread across the planet. It’s a theme that puts wealthy, white, males at the top of the colonial pinnacle and pushes the most powerful system of global imperialism and ecological destruction ever developed.
Our planet is in a death march led by the people of Jesus, particularly those most committed to a conservative vision of Jesus. Those who honour Jesus most with their words, actions, and pocketbooks, are those who lead us all to the end of the world, a world of ecological exhaustion, a stinking desert surrounding a whitewashed stack of empty commercial containers.And for this I blame Jesus. The mess we see flows in large measure from the teachings of Jesus 2000 years ago. While Jesus is not completely at fault, there is no question Jesus gave us a set of moral rules that are deeply embedded in this terrible global mess.
However, I don’t think the solution is to backtrack from Jesus, or temper Jesus with the findings of science, or try to syncretize Jesus with other views. I think the solution to the mess is more Jesus. This mess is no doubt in part due to the teachings of Jesus, but I think if we keep following out the meaning of what Jesus taught we will find that his moral revolution is just beginning and the only hope the world has is to take Jesus further. We need more Jesus, not less, even if Jesus is part of the problem
Christians may accept the blame for the ills of global capitalism and industrial scale ecological destruction, but should also get the credit for universal health care, the vote, human rights, the liberation of women, the possibility of innovation, and the improvement of human standards of living. Regulated social-capitalism is no less a product of the Christian imagination than was laissez-faire capitalism. Turn over any problem rock on the planet and you will find ardent Christians working through global networks to address it—including the radical critique of their own efforts.
There is no question the moral imagination of Jesus turns almost every conventional and respected thought about human values and ways of being on its head. There is no question that overturning leads to a world currently in danger of extinction. Yet it is also just as true that almost everything good in the current world is also a product of the Jesus revolution.
What critics of the Jesus revolution don’t seem to want to acknowledge is that every framework of human action has its problems. There are no pure or perfect strategies for human development. Jesus has torn apart the world, but so has every other system of human action. To act is to destroy the world and make the future unknown. The moral choice is of the standard by which we tear apart the world.
My conclusion is that the way forward is more Jesus, not less. We must continue to focus on those at the bottom, suffering in the stinking cities and refugee camps of the Third World, as the standard by which we measure our own moral success. It is that focus which will lead us to new and better global, collective, industrial, economic, and technological solutions.
We do so in faith and hope and trust in a transcendent God who cares for us, even while leaving us to figure it out on our own. It’s been the best approach to our collective well-being to this point and I don’t see why, for all the problems, it isn’t the correct approach to the future. In the name of Jesus we can confront and resolve many of the current problems.
Further, I don’t think there is anything in the Jesus revolution that privileges wealthy white males. If anything, the Jesus revolution is the only real challenge those people have to maintaining their place at the top of the colonial hierarchy. They have prospered because they dominated the culture that bought the Jesus vision, but the Jesus vision says nothing about their legitimacy, cultural, racial, or economic, to continue to run this increasingly global system of human action.
The Jesus vision thrives best on the basis of hard work and innovation in a capitalist system riddled with liberal humanist rights and complex state system of regulation and justice. It is a system with no intrinsic care about whiteness or maleness, and less as time passes.
There is no perfect future. There is only a world with more Jesus or less. I want a world with more Jesus. I’m convinced it is our only hope, especially for those on the outside of planetary success, those who suffer the ills of the current system the most. However, it is up to us to figure it out. Jesus has given us the most revolutionary moral vision the world has seen, but it is a long way from finished.
Please click on: The Jesus Revolution
- Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below.↩
- It continued:
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions.↩
- Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach.↩
-  The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.↩
- A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
In June , the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.↩