Easter and Drone Warfare: Religious Leaders Deliver an Easter Message to President Obama

Happy Easter! Yes, today is Easter Sunday. Spring is here. We celebrate nature returned to life after a long dark winter. This is a time of physical rebirth that fills us with hope and optimism. It’s a time for planting gardens, cleaning house and just generally starting over.

But today is not just (or even principally) about celebrating spring. Today’s focus is Yeshua returned to life after the tragic events of his arrest, rigged trials, torture, and execution. This is a time to celebrate spiritual rebirth and the fact that a new transformed life is possible not only for Yeshua of Nazareth, but for all of us as individuals, and as members of communities and nations.

Easter promises that all of can enter God’s sphere and live new lives there as though we believed Yeshua’s words about treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves.

Resurrection in that sense means overcoming our fears of death. As Americans supposedly living in the “home of the brave,” we appear to be an especially timorous people. So we arm ourselves to the teeth and pass “Stand Your Ground” laws allowing us to shoot one another if we feel threatened by them. And these days we seem to be threatened by everyone – especially if they’re different in color, nationality, religion (especially Muslim), or sexual orientation. Truth be told: our lack of bravery borders on shameful cowardice.

In foreign policy our monumental American terror in the face of death has brought our “leaders” to implement a policy of remotely controlled death squads (drones). This means that from the comfort of air-conditioned “theaters” our brave drone “pilots” prowl about the world looking for suspected terrorists and “signature” targets. They patrol Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and who knows where else looking for impoverished young men who meet the target profile. The victims are young, poor, and probably Muslim. They are carrying the very weapons we claim the right to bear; they are associates of or nearby others merely suspected of being terrorists.

So we bomb them – and any others who happen to be at hand including women, young children, the elderly and babies. We classify the casualties as “collateral damage.” Better that they die, we think, than that we endure the remote possibility of someday being attacked and deprived of life.

All of that seems terribly out-of-sync with the Christian faith 70-75% of us claim as our own. Yeshua had no fear of death. Or rather, he overcame his fear and endured torture and death on behalf of others. Saving his own life in favor of sacrificing others was not Yeshua’s Way. Quite the opposite.

Imagine if 70-75% of U.S. citizens refused to fight our unending wars simply because we claim to follow Yeshua’s Way. Imagine if we called upon our faith to demand that President Obama and CIA chief John Brennan stop the cowardly drone death squads. A faith like that would be worth embracing; it would make a difference.

In the film clip at the top of this post, religious leaders use the occasion of Easter to express such faith. Their words contrast sharply with the cowardly justifications fearfully mouthed by Obama and Brennan also centralized in the clip. As you watch our officials speak, see them as the fearful, timorous, cowardly bullies their words attempt to disguise.

How might we as believers add our voices to the call of our true leaders in this Easter invitation to rise with Yeshua to a new truly transformed way of life?

(Discussion follows)

Christianity is the Enemy of Humankind (Reflections on the Historical Jesus)

To the least

Last night I concluded a Lenten series of classes on the historical Jesus. As always, the course had its ups and downs. But it was faithfully attended by about 25 soul mates who, like me, remain fascinated by and somehow in love with Jesus of Nazareth.

At last evening’s final meeting, one of the participants – a fierce unflinching seeker of truth, asked the question in the back of everyone’s mind. “So what?” she asked. “If, as we have learned here, Jesus has been distorted beyond recognition by the early church (and especially by Paul and Constantine) why should we believe any of it?”

What a good question! It has forced me to pull together (for myself!) what I have learned from this latest round of studies of the historical Jesus. Let me express them in as clear an unvarnished a way as possible both positively and critically.

First of all, my positive learnings . . . . The study forced me to face the fact that the historical Jesus, un-obscured by later developments is the touchstone for authentic Christian faith. That is, the Jesus of history (vs. the Jesus of later doctrines) trumps all other conceptualizations in terms of being normative for Christian faith. The teachings of the historical Jesus were extremely simple: God is love. God is bread. Salvation consists in sharing food – bread and wine. A world with room for everyone (the Kingdom of God) is entirely possible. Empire is the anti-thesis of love and sharing. It uses religion to enslave. It finds Jesus message of liberation abhorrent. Empire is the enemy.

Second of all, my critical learnings . . . . If anything the Christian Testament makes it extremely difficult to locate the normative historical Jesus. In fact, the canonical gospels often contradict the basic revelations of Jesus. When this happens, those contradictions have to be faced, learned from, and set aside as merely illustrative of the way history and religion are routinely distorted by the rich and powerful. It is evidence of what people either used to believe before Jesus’ revelation, or what they came to believe when the faith of Jesus subsequently interacted with and was domesticated by other cultures and times.

More particularly, examination of the gospels makes it abundantly clear that following the destruction of Jerusalem in the Jewish-Roman War (66-73), the Jesus of history increasingly receded from Christian perception. In his place a Jesus of faith came to prominence. The two are at odds with each other. The Jesus of history strove to liberate the poor. The Jesus of faith became the servant of empire and the rich who run it.

The Jesus of history was a mystic, prophet, teacher, healer, and movement founder. He was intent on reforming Judaism whose leaders had sold Judaism’s soul to the Roman Empire transforming it into a religion of laws, rituals and obedience to the powerful. This Jesus called himself the “Son of Man,” not the “Son of God.” He was perceived by the poor as a “messiah” who would deliver his people from Roman domination. He proclaimed a new social order which he referred to as the “Kingdom of God.” There Rome’s domination model of social organization would be replaced by a sharing model. In God’s kingdom everything would be reversed: the rich would be poor; the poor would be rich; the first would be last; the last would be first; prostitutes and “the unclean” would enter the new order before priests, the rich and the famous.

And although he shied away from accepting the conventional messianic identity associated with “The War” (against the Romans), Jesus’ program of “Good News for the poor” along with his healings and exorcisms confirmed that identification in the eyes of the marginalized and oppressed. It did the same for the Romans and their collaborators to such an extent that they ended up executing him as an insurgent.

The memory of this Jesus of history was preserved and celebrated by the Jerusalem community called “The Way” before its eradication in the horrendous Roman-Jewish War of 66 to 73CE. In obedience to Jesus, they adopted a communal life where food, drink, and material possessions were shared and held in common. Following Jesus’ death, some were even hoping for his “second coming” in their own lifetimes to complete the task of empire-destruction his execution had prevented him from fulfilling.

This prophetic Jesus was replaced by the Jesus of faith who emerged in the post-war world after the Jerusalem church and its leadership had been slaughtered by Rome. At this point, “The Way” (Jesus’ version of reformed Judaism) was replaced by “Christianity.” This religious movement was non-Jewish. It derived from the teaching of Paul of Tarsus (in Turkey) who never met the historical Jesus, and who thought of him in terms of God’s unique and only Son. Paul was a thoroughly Romanized Jewish rabbi intent on acquainting non-Jews with the Jesus he experienced in the visionary psychic experience recorded as his conversion on the Damascus Road.

By ignoring the Jesus of history, Paul’s experience and subsequent preaching laid the foundation for an understanding that centralized a Jesus understood as God’s only Son – a divine being who would have been (and was!) completely unacceptable to the fiercely monotheistic Jews. At the same time, this domesticated Jesus was not threatening to Rome. In fact, he was completely familiar to Romans resembling the “dying and rising gods” of Roman-Greco culture who offered “eternal life” beyond the grave rather than an anti-imperial Kingdom of God in the here and now. In other words, the Jesus of history was co-opted beyond recognition by the Roman Empire.

So what’s the take-away from the study of the historical Jesus? I think the following extremely important lessons:

1. History is unreliable. It has been distorted and manipulated by the powerful to suit their own needs. (If taken seriously, this in itself is an invaluable lesson.)

2. Hard work is required to find historical truth – not just about Jesus but about what happened yesterday!

3. Empire is the enemy. It is a system of robbery whereby the rich and powerful steal resources from the poor they oppress. It is entirely contrary to the will of God (the Principle of Life). It represents a “preferential option” for the rich and powerful. It is absolutely ruthless in its eternal war against the world’s poor and in falsifying history for its own benefit.

4. Those who resist empire can expect to be tortured and assassinated. Nonetheless, from time to time courageous and insightful prophets arise from the non-rich and non-powerful with Good News for the poor. Their very simple message: fullness of life is to be found not in empire, but among the poor and simple of the world (God’s people). Salvation, these prophets teach, consists in sharing the simple realities of bread and wine. In effect: God is Bread.

5. Among the west’s best known prophets of Jesus’ God are Moses, Jesus himself, Gandhi, Bartolommeo de las Casas, Karl Marx, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Dorothy Day, and the nameless martyrs (so many of them women!) inspired over the last fifty years by liberation theology.

6. Most people are in denial about these simple facts. They are powerfully assisted in their denial by politicians, scholars, priests, and the media who make the teachings of the prophets extremely complicated. They have transformed the prophets’ message about sharing bread and fullness of life in the here and now into “religion” and a promise of life after death. As such, religion is the enemy of humankind. Christianity is the enemy!

7. Those who accept these learnings should leave institutionalized “religion,” band together, internalize the teachings of the historical Jesus and change the world!

Anniversary of St. Oscar Romero’s Assassination: Imagine if He Had Been Elected Pope!

A lot has been written in these pages about liberation theology. I’ve defined it as “Reflection on the following of Jesus of Nazareth from the viewpoint of those committed to the liberation of the world’s poor and oppressed.” I’ve called it the most important theological development in 1700 years and perhaps the most important intellectual development since the publication of the Communist Manifesto. (See my blog posts by clicking the “liberation theology” button just under the masthead of this blog site.)

Well, today is the feast day of liberation theology’s patron saint, Oscar Romero. On this day, March 24th in 1980, St. Oscar was gunned down by the U.S. – supported military of El Salvador. He was shot while celebrating the Eucharist in a convent chapel.

His killing was part of what Noam Chomsky calls “the first religious war of the 21st century.” It was fought by the U.S.-Vatican axis against the Catholic Church in Central America. That church had committed the unpardonable sin of taking seriously the call of the Second Vatican Council to live out what the Council called Jesus’ own “preferential option for the poor.” Such doctrinal consistency was unacceptable to the U.S. government and to the pope of Rome.

St. Oscar had been a conservative priest who was appointed archbishop of San Salvador by Pope John Paul II precisely because of Romero’s conservative leanings in both politics and theology. In a country heavily influenced by liberation theology, he could be counted on to continue the Catholic Church’s war against that movement, as well as its support for the Salvadoran oligarchy, the butchery of its military, and the U.S. policy that sponsored it all.

That particular troika brought about in 1977 the killing of Rutilio Grande, a Salvadoran Jesuit priest and close friend of St. Oscar. Their friendship had flourished even though Grande was an advocate of liberation theology.

Following Grande’s assassination, Romero underwent a profound conversion. He passed from being the enemy of liberation theology like John Paul II, his lieutenant Joseph Ratzinger (the future Benedict XVI), and Jorge Bergoglio (the future Francis I) to being its ardent promoter like Grande himself.

As U.S.-sponsored “White Hand” assassination squads did their bloody work throughout El Salvador, St. Oscar denounced the bloodbath in no uncertain terms. Each Sunday his sermons were broadcast throughout the country denouncing the military and reading the unending lists of people tortured, garroted, executed, burned, buried alive, drowned, smothered, shot and raped the previous week.

That is, while Bergoglio was giving at least “silent consent” to those same crimes by the military in Argentina, and while John Paul II worked hand in glove with Ronald Reagan against liberation theology, Romero fulfilled the role of courageous prophet in El Salvador.

For his troubles, St. Oscar received threats daily from the White Hand. He could see that his own days were numbered. “Yes, they will kill a bishop,” he had said, “but may my blood may be the seed of freedom for the Salvadoran people.” Those words and others spoken by the sainted archbishop are centralized in the song featured at the top of today’s blog post. (See the sponsoring website: TheMartyrsProject.com/)

True to his premonitions, on this day 33 years ago, he was shot at the altar.

But what if he had survived? What if (impossibly) he had been created Cardinal? What if he had been elected pope? How different then the church would be. How different the world.

Conversions are possible. St. Oscar changed profoundly.

Can something similar happen for Francis I?

St. Oscar, pray for us!

Pray for Francis I!

Reading the Passion Narrative again for the First Time: The Origins of Submission to Authority and Anti-Semitism

no-jews-allowed

Readings for Palm Sunday: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032413.cfm

Since the beginning of Lent, I’ve been teaching a seminar on the historical Jesus. About twenty-five of us have come together each week to get closer to the Jesus who taught and served the poor in Palestine two millennia ago.

In that context, it’s nearly impossible for me not to read this Sunday’s Passion Narrative from Luke without applying what we’ve been learning at our group’s Wednesday night meetings. Doing so provides a fresh set of ears for understanding a familiar story as if hearing it for the first time. The result can in turn cause us to re-vision and re-conceptualize our lives as Jesus’ followers living under the sway of U.S. Empire.

As part of our seminar’s study, we’ve been watching excerpts the PBS video series “From Jesus to Christ.” It has helped us see that Jesus and his audiences were first and foremost Jews whose lives were shaped more than anything else by the Roman occupation of their homeland. As such, they weren’t waiting for a Roman-Greco “messiah” who, like the Sun God Mithra, would die and lead them to heaven. They were awaiting a Davidic messiah who would liberate them from the Romans.

Roman rule was especially odious for Jews. After all, they believed they had been given the land of Palestine by their God, Yahweh, whom Jews regarded as their land’s rightful sovereign. And yet, at the time of Jesus, Roman occupiers claimed that their emperor was god. In other words, the Palestine of Jesus’ day was blasphemously controlled by a foreign god. That was intolerable for Jews in general and for Jesus of Nazareth in particular.

So on this Palm Sunday, what do you think was on the minds of the crowds who Luke tells us lined the streets of Jerusalem to acclaim Jesus the Nazarene? Were they shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!” (Save us! Save us!) because they thought Jesus was about to die and by his sacrificial death open the gates of heaven closed since Adam’s sin by a petulant God? Of course not. They were shouting for Jesus to save them from the Romans. They looked to him to play a key role in the Great Rebellion everyone knew about to take place against the hated Roman occupiers.

And what do you suppose was on Jesus’ mind? He was probably intending to take part in the rebellion just mentioned. It had been plotted by the Jews’ Zealot insurgency. Jesus words at the “Last Supper” show his anticipation that the events planned for Jerusalem might cause God’s Kingdom to dawn that very weekend.

At least Jesus’ Passover words show that something big was brewing for him – something on a par with the liberation from Egypt that had occurred more than 1000 years earlier. So over bread and wine he speaks of a “new covenant” to replace the old one the rebel Moses had mediated from Yahweh. After spending three years preaching about it, God’s Reign seemed so immediate to Jesus that he evidently thought it might dawn even before their next meal. He says “I will not drink wine with you again before the kingdom comes.”

So Jesus issues new and mysterious tactical orders. The advocate of simple living says “Whereas once I sent you out without money or a change of clothes, I’m telling you now to fill your wallet and pack a suitcase.” The non-violent one tells his friends to arm themselves. The courageous teacher of “the Twelve” warns darkly about intrigue, betrayal and denial by members of his innermost circle. Anticipation of all that causes such stress that Jesus eventually sweats blood over it.

Clearly Jesus had his differences with the Zealots. They were nationalists; he was inter-nationalist who was open to gentiles. The Zealots were violent; Jesus was not. And yet the Zealots and Jesus came together on their abhorrence of Roman presence in the Holy Land. They found common ground on the issues of debt forgiveness, non-payment of taxes to the occupiers, and of land reform. Within Jesus’ inner circle there was at least one Zealot (Simon). Indications might also implicate Peter, Judas, James, and John. And Jesus’ friends were armed when he is arrested. Whoever cut off the right ear of the high priest’s servant was used to wielding a sword – perhaps as a “sicarius” (the violent wing of the Zealots who specialized in knifing Roman soldiers).

But we’re getting ahead of our story. . . Following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus soon found himself and his disciples inside the temple participating in what we’d call a “direct action” protest. They were demonstrating against the collaborative role the temple and its priesthood were fulfilling on behalf of the Romans.

As collaborators, the temple priests were serving a foreign god within the temple precincts. For Jesus that delegitimized the entire system. So, as John Dominic Crossan puts it, Jesus’ direct action was not so much a “cleansing” of the temple as the symbolic destruction of an institution that had completely lost its way.
It was this demonstration that represented the immediate cause of Jesus’ arrest and execution described so poignantly in today’s long gospel reading.

Following the temple demonstration, Jesus and his disciples became “wanted” men (Lk. 19:47). At first Jesus’ popularity affords him protection from the authorities (19:47-48). The people constantly surround him eager to hear Jesus’ words denouncing their treasonous “leaders” (20:9-19), about the issue of Roman taxation (20:20-25), the destruction of the temple (21:1-6), the coming war (21:20-24) and the imminence of God’s Kingdom (21:29-33). By night Jesus and his friends repair to their Garden of Olives hideout (21:37).

Eventually however, Jesus has to go underground. On Passover eve he sends out Peter and John to arrange for a safe-house to celebrate the feast I described earlier. The two disciples are to locate the “upper room.” They do so by exchanging a set of secret signs and passwords with a local comrade.

Then comes Jesus’ arrest. Judas has betrayed Jesus to collect the reward on Jesus’ head – 30 pieces of silver. The arrest is followed by a series of “trials” before the Jewish Council (the Sanhedrin), before Pilate and Herod. Eventually, Jesus is brought back to Pilate. There he’s tortured, condemned and executed between two other insurgents.

The trials point up an interesting and important difference between the Jesus of history and the political project of the author of Luke’s Gospel. In the past, we’ve been told the real charge against Jesus was blasphemy; the Jewish authorities were offended because Jesus claimed to be God. However, under Roman law, the Jewish leaders lacked authority to execute criminals. So they were forced to trump up political charges and involve the Romans who alone had the power to inflict capital punishment.

Clearly, however, this was not the case. As we saw last week with the woman taken in adultery, the Jews had the authority to execute people for religious crimes such as adultery or (in Jesus’ case, blasphemy). If Jesus had committed blasphemy, they could have stoned him using the Jewish form of execution.

Instead, Luke presents Jesus as hauled off to Pilate. And completely out-of-character, and after the presentation of clear-cut evidence that the Nazarene rabbi was “stirring up the people,” and despite Jesus’ own admission to crimes against the state (claiming to be a rival king), Pilate insists three times that the carpenter is innocent of capital crime. Such tolerance of rebellion contradicts what we know of Pilate as described for example by the Jewish historian Josephus.

Contradicting all of this as well, Crossan insists that Pilate had standing orders to execute anyone associated with lower class rebellion during the extremely volatile Passover festivities. In other words, there would have been no drawn-out trial.

What’s going on here? Two things.

First of all, like everyone else, Luke knew that Jesus had been crucified by the Romans. That was an inconvenient truth for Luke’s audience who around the year 85 CE (when Luke was writing) was desperately trying to reconcile with the Roman Empire which lumped the emerging Christian community with the Jews whom the Romans despised.

Luke’s account represents an attempt to create distance between Christians and Jews. So he creates an account that exonerates Pilate (and the Romans) from guilt for Jesus’ execution. Simultaneously, he lays the burden of blame for Jesus’ execution at the doorstep of Jewish authorities.

In this way, Luke made overtures of friendship towards Rome. He wasn’t worried about the Jews, since by the year 70 the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem and its temple along with more than a million of its inhabitants. After 70 Jewish Christians no longer represented the important factor they once were. Their leadership had been decapitated with the destruction of Jerusalem.

Relatedly, Jesus’ crucifixion would have meant that Rome perceived him as a rebel against the Empire. Luke is anxious to make the case that such perception was false. Rome had nothing to fear from Christians.
As we have seen in today’s readings, that assurance itself was untrue. It domesticated the Jesus of history who shines through even in Luke’s account when it is viewed contextually. That’s the vision we’ve been attempting grasp in the Historical Jesus Seminar.

And so what?

Well, if you wonder why Christians have lost their edge . . . if you wonder why they so easily succumb to empires (Roman, Nazi, U.S.) you’ve got your answer. It all starts here – in the gospels themselves – with the great cover-up of the rebel Jesus.

And if you wonder where the West’s and Hitler’s anti-Semitism came from . . .

Thug Pope?

Cia Argentina

Last Friday I published a blog calling for the resignation of the newly elected Pope. Of course, I had no expectation that the pope would resign. We can even hope that as Francis I, Jorge Bergoglio will undergo or has undergone a conversion since the days when his silence gave consent to the brutal military regime of Jorge Videla during Argentina’s infamous “Dirty War.”

Nonetheless Bergoglio’s election forces us to face up to the role of religion under imperialism. The ascendancy of Francis I trains focus on the way both the fundamentalist Catholic Church and its Protestant counterparts habitually lie comfortably in bed with the forces of politico-economic exploitation, war, kidnapping, torture, and murder. As bed fellows they share the guilt of their thug partners.

Put otherwise, religious fundamentalism can easily be seen as the most conservative force in the world. Exhibit #1 is Roman Catholicism. The vast majority of its leaders have always lain supine not merely for Constantine, but for a whole host of dictators who followed including Hitler and with Mussolini. On the whole, Protestant fundamentalists have been no better. To reiterate: fundamentalist religionists are the problem, not just their embodiment in an unrepentant Francis I. If their partners are thugs, where does that leave them?

You see, the pope’s defenders are wrong when they say that archbishop Bergoglio was merely another Argentinian cowed by the military and lacking in the heroic courage of a few bishops and many liberation theology priests during Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1976-’83). At the hierarchical level, I’m thinking of heroes whose faith moved them to defy the military governments the U.S. established throughout Latin America from the early 1960s till the fall of the Soviet Union.

I’m thinking of Brazil’s Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, Dom Helder Camara, or Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga — or of El Salvador’s Oscar Romero, or of Mexico’s Samuel Ruiz. All of them recognized that their status provided them with a literal “bully pulpit” for denouncing the oppression of their impoverished flocks which did not enjoy the relative invulnerability their own ecclesiastical status provided for themselves.

Put simply, Bergoglio didn’t have the courage of those men.

Granted, you can’t fault someone for not being a hero. However lacking heroism was not Bergoglio’s problem as his apologists imply. Even if he was merely silent, he lacked the moral responsibility absolutely required for the Christ-like fulfillment of his office. After all, muted and/or compliant churchmen represent an essential ideological cog in the system of oppression. Since the time of Constantine, they have been used to persuade ordinary Christians that God endorses the policies of their oppressors however brutal.

The hell of it is that many priests and preachers, especially at lower levels, are completely unaware of their role in the system. They think of themselves as good pastors, patriotic citizens, supporters of a brave military, and opponents of Godless Communism. This may have been the case even with archbishop Bergoglio. He may simply have been an unconscious, naive pawn. Nonetheless, he was part of the gang, and so are all religious leaders who end up underwriting oppression.

Like Bergoglio, they should know better because Jesus had to deal with the alliance between religion and colonialism too. The priests, scribes, and Sadducees of his day were an essential part of the Roman system of exploitation. In fact, it’s common to refer to the Temple’s “con-dominium” with Rome. The priests and scribes on the one hand along with the emperor and Pilate on the other, all ruled together. To attack one was to attack the other. And Jesus attacked them both.

Opposing imperialism goes beyond simply firing one’s chauffer or taking the bus to work. It goes beyond saying we’re on the side of the poor. (Even Rick Santorum says that!) Instead popes and bishops have to understand critique and oppose the structures that cause and sustain oppression – economic and political systems along with laws, customs, and institutions like those of church, government, and the military. All of those structures transcend the short reigns of popes, presidents and generals. Those occupants of office come and go, but the systems and laws they serve and enforce remain.

The sainted archbishop of Recife in Brazil, Dom Helder Camara understood that. He once said, “When I feed the poor, they called me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Let’s hope that Pope Francis will not only ask that latter question – the why of poverty and hunger. Let’s hope he will answer it strongly and unmistakably. The poor have no food because keeping them hungry is in the interests of the economic and political system that runs the world – international capitalism.

At the moment, hasty hagiographers are saying that Francis I’s concern for the poor makes him a saint. My prayer is that they will soon be calling him a communist. The alternative appellation is “thug.”

“Thank You, Lord, for Not Making Me a Woman” (Sunday Homily)

Adultery

Readings for 5th Sunday of Lent: Is. 43:16-21; Ps. 126:1-6; Phil. 3: 8-14; Jn. 8: 1-11. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031713-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm

Ten days ago, President Obama reauthorized the Violence against Women Act of 1994. This time the bill was expanded to cover lesbian, transgender and bisexual women. It also recognized the special circumstances of Native American women and of immigrants who according to government statistics are more likely to be raped and/or beaten than other women.

Some of our Catholic bishops disagreed with the legislation. In part, they said recognizing the rights of LGBT women undermined the “meaning and importance of sexual difference.” The changes, they said, might be “. . . exploited for purposes of marriage redefinition.” After all, they reasoned, “. . . marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union.”

All of that is important because in today’s gospel, Jesus quietly decrees his own Violence against Women legislation. Better put, he literally performs (acts out) his own Violence against Women anti-legislation. His defiance of biblical law marks out a position quite different from the one taken by the bishops just mentioned.

Here’s what I mean: Jewish law punished adultery with death by stoning. That was a biblical requirement – one that many Muslims today still honor in their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. However the Jewish patriarchy applied that law differently to men and women. A man, they said, committed adultery only when he slept with another married woman. But if he slept with a single woman, a widow, a divorced woman, a prostitute or a slave, he remained innocent. A woman, on the other hand committed adultery if she slept with anyone other than her husband.

Of course, great injustices were committed in the name of this law. Often rumors and outright lies led to the death of innocent women. In many cases, the ones throwing the stones of execution were men who had spent their whole lives deceiving their wives.

Jesus calls attention to such hypocrisy and double standards in today’s gospel episode. All the elements of last week’s very long parable of the Prodigal Son are here. Jesus is teaching in the temple surrounded by “the people” – the same outcasts, we presume, that habitually hung on his every word.

Meanwhile, the Scribes and Pharisees are standing on the crowd’s edge wondering how to incriminate such a man? As if ordained by heaven, an answer comes to them out of the blue. A woman is hustled into the temple. She’s just been caught in flagrante – in the very act of adultery. What luck for Jesus’ opponents!

“Master,” they say, “This woman has just been caught in the act of adultery. As you know, the Bible says we should stone her. But what do you say?” Here Jesus’ enemies suspect he will incriminate himself by recommending disobedience of the Bible’s clear injunction. After all, he is the compassionate one. He is especially known for his kindness towards women – and others among his culture’s most vulnerable.

But instead of falling into their trap, Jesus simply preaches a silent parable. He first scribbles on the ground. Only subsequently does he s speak — but only 18 words, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

A wordless parable . . . . What do you suppose Jesus was scribbling on the ground? Was he writing the names of the guilty hypocrites who had cheated on their wives? Was he writing the laws the Scribes and Pharisees were violating? Some say he was simply drawing figures in the dust while considering how to reply to his opponents?

The first two possibilities seem unlikely. How would this poor country peasant from Galilee know the names of the learned and citified Scribes and Pharisees? It is even unlikely that Jesus knew how to write at all. That too was the province of the Scribes. The third possibility – that Jesus was absent-mindedly drawing figures in the dust – is probably closer to the mark.

However, it seems likely that there was more to it than that. It seems Jesus was performing some kind of symbolic action – that mimed parable I mentioned. By scribbling in the dust, he was wordlessly bringing his questioners down to earth. He was reminding them of the common origin of men and women?

Both came from the dust, Jesus seems to say without words. The creation stories in Genesis say both men and women were created from dust and in God’s image – equal in the eyes of God. “In God’s image God created them. Man and woman created he them,” says the first creation account (Genesis 1:27). By scribbling in the dust, Jesus was symbolically moving the earth under the feet of the Scribes and Pharisees. He was gently but strongly asserting that they had no ground to stand on. They were hypocrites.

Then his 18 word pronouncement offers Jesus’ own standard for judging the guilt of others. According to that standard, one may judge and execute only if he himself is without sin. This, of course, means that no one may judge and execute another. All of us are sinful.

What genius in this silent parable! As usual, Jesus outsmarts his interlocutors. They ask him an incriminating question. He refuses to answer, but instead turns their own question against them. They want to know about guilty women and the patriarchal law governing their sexuality. Instead, Jesus’ scribbling redirects the question to something more basic – the very ground his opponents are standing upon and to God’s first law regarding human beings, both men and women. Equality precedes patriarchy and its law, Jesus says without even uttering a word.

And that brings us back to our Catholic bishops and their reasons for opposing the Violence against Women Act. As you recall, they were concerned about the “meaning and importance of sexual difference.” Jesus own Violence against Women Act points in the opposite direction – towards sexual similarity and the original unity of men and women that transcends biology.

Later on St. Paul will give clearer expression to Jesus’ basic insight. In today’s epistle, he claims that his understanding of everything has changed since he began living “in Christ.” In Galatians 3: 26-28, he’ll get even more specific. He’ll say “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).

Have the bishops thought about the implications of these biblical words in terms of same-sex marriage? If in Christ there are no males or females, but only persons, does that not mean that any human beings who love one another (regardless of their merely biological differences) may marry?

And finally, Jesus’ silent rearranging of “ground” along with his 18 words seem to call into question the very foundation of the bishops’ right to authoritatively pronounce on sexual matters. They, after all, are the ones who denied, covered-up, and excused sexual deviance on the part of the clergy they were responsible for overseeing – and whose overriding (public) concern has centered on sexual purity. Does that not dictate that the bishops and their priests have no ground to stand upon in the field of sexual morality? Isn’t it time for them to silently slink away along with their Scribe and Pharisee counterparts, and to replace judgmentalism with Jesus’ forgiveness and compassion?

Jesus’ silent assertion of gender equality along with the words Paul adds to Jesus’ mime direct all of us to reconsider our double standards and preconceptions about men and women. Paul’s words in Galatians are especially important. They reverse a prayer first century Jewish men would recite each morning. The prayer went, Blessed are you, Lord, for making me a Jew and not a Gentile, for making me free and not a slave, and for making me a man and not a woman.”

Certainly, Jesus was taught that prayer by his pious father, Joseph. Perhaps for most of his life, Jesus recited that prayer on a daily basis. But something must have happened to him to change his faith. We’ll never know what that “something” or someone was.

We do know however what happened to Paul; as he says this morning he entered “into Christ.” And that turned all his previous perceptions “to rubbish” – including evidently his fundamentalist understandings of biblical law like the one commanding the stoning of adulterous women or alleging the superiority of men.

After all, if Jesus thought like the Catholic bishops I mentioned, he would have thrown the first stone. He alone in that group was without sin. He would have thought, “Forgiving this woman will seem like condoning adultery. And condoning adultery might lead to abortions of the pregnancies that result. Not throwing the first stone will also lessen the authority of the Bible which clearly justifies punishing women for adultery. I’ve got to do it.”

Luckily for the woman taken in adultery (and for the rest of us), Jesus wasn’t a fundamentalist – or a Roman Catholic bishop. He was an opponent of Violence against Women.

Why the New Pope Should Resign: The Pedophilia Syndrome

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Until yesterday’s election of Pope Francis I, I must confess I doubted the ability of the Holy Spirit to influence the election of a successor to recently resigned Benedict XVI. After all, Benedict and his predecessor had so stacked the College of Cardinals that the likelihood of a progressive or reformer being elected seemed impossible. That is, all of the papabile were clones of the previous two popes – all to a man, opponents of women’s ordination, artificial contraception, and of liberation theology. The patriarchy had defeated, it seemed, the very Spirit of Jesus.

However, as they say, the Holy Spirit operates in strange ways. Evidently, she concluded, “I’ll let them elect a clone of John Paul II if they like. But then I’ll take over and allow the scandalous crimes of that clone to become evident. As a result, he’ll have to resign. Then in desperation, the church will turn to a real reformer – this time chosen from outside the ranks of the College of Cardinals – perhaps even a feminine spirit like mine.”

Does that seem so crazy? Let’s move one step at a time. Before thinking about who the next pope should be, or where she should come from, here is the reason for Francis I to abdicate:

To begin with, he shouldn’t resign because he’s ultimately bad for Argentina and Latin America. That is, despite what they’re saying in the media, Cardinal Bergoglio was bad for the poor of Argentina. Remember, he’s a “compassionate conservative.” That means he’s a churchman who talks about combatting poverty, but then ends up opposing progressive politicians like Argentine president Cristina Kirchner.

In this, he’s the analogue of U.S. bishops siding with the Republican Party. All of those bishops claim to support the poor. However they end up doing the opposite. Their positions on the overriding “wedge issues” of contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage put them in bed with the Republicans and their “preferential option for the rich.” In this way, the bishops end up trying to persuade Catholics to vote Republican. Bergoglio did something similar in Argentine politics.

More accurately still, Francis I is the analogue of John Paul II in Poland. John Paul was ultimately bad for Poland (and the developing world as well). True, he opposed the Polish version of communism and seemed to support the labor union, Solidarity. However John Paul actually undermined his country’s sovereignty and the global labor movement by appearing to give papal blessing to international capitalism. That not only impoverished Poland, it weakened labor and progressives throughout the Catholic world.

The election of Francis I promises to do something similar for (to!) Latin America. As politically conservative, he imparts ecclesiastical approbation to rightist governments throughout the region in their efforts to discredit and unseat Latin America’s newly resurgent progressives.

Secondly, the new pope shouldn’t resign because he betrayed two fellow Jesuits during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” During that conflict (1976-1983), and like most of the hierarchy in Latin America, Bergoglio sided with the criminal dictatorship whose leader has since been put behind bars as a ruthless murderer.

According to Horacio Verbitsky and his book, Silencio, Fr. Bergoglio, then Superior General of the Society of Jesus, removed his order’s protection from two of his brother Jesuits accused of “subversion” (i.e. opposition to the military dictatorship). True, Verbitsky says, the future pope adopted a public posture of seeking the Jesuits’ release. However privately he cooperated in prolonging their detention and torture.

Both priests later brought charges against Bergoglio as an accomplice of the military for the priests’ unjust imprisonment. After initially and repeatedly invoking ecclesiastical privilege to avoid deposition about the case, Bergoglio was finally interviewed by prosecutors. According to Argentine human rights organizations, his answers were highly evasive.

No, the real reason Francis I should resign is because of what he did about the von Wernich case. Von Wernich was a police chaplain during the Dirty War. He was sentenced to life imprisonment for aiding and abetting the military in the illegal kidnapping, torture and murder of prisoners during the brutal dictatorship of the Argentine military. According to the New York Times, while von Wernich was being investigated for his actions, and while Bergoglio was a member of the Argentine Bishops Conference, the priest was transferred to Chile under an assumed name. There he served in a parish until his arrest, conviction and imprisonment for the crimes just mentioned. And von Wernich has never been defrocked, even after Bergoglio was elected head of the Bishops’ Conference, nor has any church apology been issued. In fact, the former police chaplain has been allowed to carry on as a priest while in prison.

Now imagine our reaction if von Wernich had been a pedophile. And imagine if Bergoglio had been part of a decision to transfer a pedophile cleric as he evidently was in the case of this serial kidnaper, murderer and torturer. The whole world would be outraged and would demand the pope’s resignation. He would be completely discredited. And yet, a serial kidnapper, torturer and murderer is infinitely more dangerous than a serial pedophile.

The point is that we have exemplified in the case of the new pope the very same syndrome that has been universally descried in cases of pedophilia. It is the same syndrome that plagued the tenure of Benedict XVI and that possibly evoked his own resignation. It’s the Old Boys protecting their own.

As I said, I’m not discouraged by all of this. Instead, my faith in the Holy Spirit has been renewed. Her ways are strange indeed. The papacy is crumbling before our eyes. But it may be the death necessary before resurrection.