Monday, April 21, 2008

Krister Stendahl, 1921-2008

Krister Stendahl, "ecumenical bishop," died on Tuesday, April 15, 2008. We heard the news during one of the LERN plenaries at the National Workshop on Christian Unity. Bishop Stendahl served the church in many capacities: as a biblical scholar, professor, dean, and campus pastor at Harvard Divinity School, as bishop of Stockholm, and as an ecumenist. He was one of the early progenitors of the "new perspective on Paul" and an early advocate for women's ordination and the full participation of gays and lesbians in the church. He was a pioneer in both ecumenical and interreligious work.

I had the chance to interview Krister Stendahl in 1983 for the Wittenberg Torch. He was on campus to give one of the series of lectures scheduled to celebrate the quincentennial of Martin Luther's birthday. I remember being struck by his complete humility and graciousness. Another giant in the ecumenical movement is gone.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

National Workshop on Christian Unity

This week I attended the National Workshop on Christian Unity, which ironically (or not?) met this year at the same time as the first Papal Visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United States. The division of the churches and the need for a more united witness was addressed by Pope Benedict during his homily at an ecumenical service at St. Joseph's on Friday. While the Second Vatican Council would commit the Roman Catholic Church to ecumenical work, the NWCU was founded in 1963--before the council concluded--by a group of Roman Catholics to begin educating themselves about ecumenism. In 1969, they invited other Christians to join them and since then, an annual workshop has been held to provide educational opportunities for local ecumenical leaders. Various denominational ecumenical networks, such as the Lutheran Ecumenical Representative Network (LERN), also meet during the NWCU.

The theme for this year's workshop was "Pray without ceasing." Sister Dr. Lorelei Fuchs preached at the opening worship and the new general secretary of the National Council of Churches, Dr. Michael Kinnamon, gave the keynote address. Workshop seminars were held on topics that ranged from specific bilateral dialogues to the Emerging Church movement. I was unaware of this Workshop until I was invited to be part of a panel for one of the seminars (I was part of a panel on "Beyond Bilaterals"that discussed the significance of the United Methodist Church signing onto the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification).

My purpose in writing this brief post is to draw more attention to this event in hopes that some of my current and former students might consider attending and becoming more involved in ecumenical work!

Friday, April 4, 2008

In memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the 40th anniversary of the tragic assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many will remember his stirring words about being "up to the mountaintop" and that someday we would see "the promised land" in the powerful speech he gave to striking sanitation workers the night before he was killed. His central message sometimes gets missed in the video clips and sound bites. King was calling the church to church to preach about and work for economic justice:

We need all of you. And you know what's beautiful tome, is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It's a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and say, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Somehow, the preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor."

It's all right to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we'll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. . .

We don't have to argue with anybody. We don't have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don't need any bricks and bottles, we don't need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, "God sent us by here, to say to you that you're not treating his children right. And we've come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God's children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you."

As Nadia Stefko reminds us, we're not there yet. She writes, "As the nation marks the 40th anniversary of King’s assassination, there’s a lot of mainstream media focusing on the story of the past, the story of what King and the movement he led achieved. While this is undoubtedly important, this report and these workers serve a vital reminder of all that he left for us to do and all that remains to be done. We haven’t achieved King’s vision of economic justice. Forty years later, we’re still out there wandering—hoping we’ll come upon the Promised Land sometime soon."

May this day remind us not only of the great legacy of this man, but of his vision for racial and economic justice and his call to us to join in this work so that all of God's children are treated fairly and with dignity.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

White People Have a Racial History Too

Thank you to my colleague Kevin Dudley for directing me to this important reflection on race and the 2008 election written by Alice Walker.