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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Central and South America have endured much "aid" from the U. S., often resulting in coups-de-tat, civil wars, counter-insurgency campaigns, wars against the poor and the indigenous, and the rise of leaders who in the words of Bruce Cockburn "kiss the ladies, shake hands with the fellows, and open for business like a cheap bordello; and they call it democracy." Two specific aspects of this imperialist, exploitative relationship with our southern neighbors came up for policy review this week.

One was the restructuring of aid to Colombia. For many years, Columbia has been under attack with U. S. support, destroying the crops of the poor, poisoning their water, filling their bodies with toxins, destroying their villages in the name of the "War on Drugs." The powerful drug cartels have been a formidable foe, and the U. S. corporations who want to exploit Colombian resources have been pressing for military solutions. This week, military aid was drastically cut and humanitarian aid was correspondingly increased. This was an effort supported by Witness for Peace and many others. Find out how your Congressional representatives voted and contact them about it.

The second was the vote to cut funding for the SOA/WHINSEC, where the U. S. trains most of the terrorists who have committed atrocities in Latin America. By six votes, the funding was continued. It was close, but the time had come for this to happen. The new legislature should have listened to the call from the people to stop training torturers and terrorists. The terrible disclosures about torture in Abu Ghraib and in Europe and elsewhere through extraordinary rendition should have opened their eyes. The hoopla over Alberto Gonzales, who wrote the position papers justifying torture, should have made them act. Again, check on your representatives and let them know what you think of their votes.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Continuing the discussion with my students, I am taking a look at the book The Hip-Hop Church by Efrem Smith and Phil Jackson. Efrem Smith is senior pastor of The Sanctuary Covenant Church in Minneapolis, MN, and Phil Jackson is associate pastor of Lawndale Community Church and pastor of The House in Chicago, IL.
  1. Smith and Jackson say, "Hip-hop is not, of course, the first popular movement to use the arts to speak to political, social, and spiritual issues, but it has done so representing the underclass of urban America as well as the African American middle class as it fights assimilation (p. 64)." This claim seems to be central to the argument of the book. Along with it, Smith speaks of the potential to "spiritually hijack" hip-hop culture as a way to proclaim the gospel. What do you make of this perspective on hip-hop culture and the church?
  2. What is the most important theological or practical insight you gained from reading this book?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Today I am taking a second look at the concept of relocation, a primary missiological principle from the work of John Perkins and the Christian Community Development Association. I am asking two students to respond to this mission practice by reflecting on two books they have read. The first, With Justice For All, by John Perkins, addresses the principle of relocation after about twenty years of ministry in Mendenhall and Jackson, MS. The second, To Live in Peace, by Mark R. Gornik, also addresses the principle after fifteen years of ministry in Baltimore, MD. Gornik, having been influenced by Perkins, began his ministry four years after the Perkins book was published. So between them, they represent about forty years of experience and discussion on the idea of relocation.

They are different people with very different backgrounds, including the region of the country, the historical economics and demographics of their locations, their skin colors, their opportunities and accomplishments in formal education, and much more. In both cases, they have moved into neighborhoods where they were outsiders and become part of organizing and community building for change.

What are the barriers to relocation? What difference does it make that Gornik is white, moving into a mostly black neighborhood? What difference does it make that the Perkins family was middle class, moving into a poor neighborhood? Finally, why do these ministry practitioners believe that relocation is so important?

Monday, June 18, 2007

I read one good quote about the Nifong disbarring in the Durham Herald-Sun. The rhetoric on this case, from commentators, principals, and lawyers, gets really high and self-righteous. I am not a fan of Nifong. I don't think the evidence shows that the young men committed rape. I think the case was handled wrong, and I am glad that attention has been drawn on the way that public comments by law enforcement and court officials affect the chances of justice for the accused. Here is the quote from Duke University Law School professor James Coleman.

Everybody wants to say that Mike Nifong is some kind of rogue prosecutor, but in fact, what he did is not that different from what other prosecutors do on a regular basis in cases out of the spotlight.

The defense attorneys and the NC bar officials have spoken in idealistic terms about how prosecutors, and perhaps defense lawyers, too, should handle themselves in public statements. It is a very high standard they are describing. Lawyers I hear on radio or read about in the newspaper do not always reach this standard. I wonder how widely it will be enforced. Is this case the beginning of a new day for respecting the rights of defendants? Let's ask the prisoners at Guantanamo what they think.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

According to the Durham Herald-Sun, in an article printed on June 14, 2007, Marsha Goodenow, an assistant district attorney in Mecklenberg County testified before the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar:

Marsha Goodenow, a senior assistant district attorney in Mecklenburg County, said she believed Nifong's conduct had created "a lack of confidence in the justice system, a perception that justice might depend on who your lawyer is, how much money you have and whether you're white or black."

Nifong handled it wrong. I'm glad he resigned. I am sorry for the young men that they had to endure public ridicule because of false charges. No one should have to go through that.

On the other hand, Goodenow's remarks stretch credibility. The lack of confidence in the judicial system did not start with this case. She is concerned about the "perception that justice might depend on who your lawyer is, how much money you have and whether you're white or black." Any careful analyst of the legal system in the state of North Carolina, in other states, and in the United States, would already know that these three factors have an enormous impact on justice.

Money can often trump justice. Lack of money leaves the accused poorly defended and unable to challenge the lack of evidence against them. Race has enormous impact on justice. Pay attention to jury selection processes. Notice the difference between court treatment of crimes against whites and crimes against blacks. Don't forget the terms "racial profiling" and "driving while black" which were coined to make note of differential law enforcement. Finally, who your lawyer is must make a difference or else people with money would not pay the exorbitant fees to get the lawyers with a record of winning.

Goodenow is worried about perceptions. I think we need to be more concerned about injustice structured into the legal system. Otherwise, all Goodenow is defending is a perception of justice which is a facade upheld by a system of power which continues to exclude the poor and minorities from justice.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Driving from Durham, NC, to Dayton, OH, takes between eight and nine hours in good weather. In the rain, it takes a little longer. I talked a friend into making the drive with me, and we made it to Dayton on Thursday evening in time to check in at our conference and get to the supper we had paid for in advance. Our Sunday return was in rainy weather with a few traffic problems to slow us down.

I did not realize that we had so much to talk about, but both ways we managed to fill the hours with conversations about our work, our friends, our families, and our lives. It is a blessing to have good friends, and it would be even better to make more opportunities to be together.

The conference we attended is the annual joint meeting of two groups. The larger of the two is the College Theology Society, made up of mostly Roman Catholics who teach at mostly Roman Catholic University Departments of Religion. The smaller tag-along group is a sub-group of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. The Association is divided into regions, and this region is called the "Region At Large." We are not from any particular geographic locations, like the Southeast Region or the Southwest Region. Instead, our region began meeting eleven years ago, at the suggestion of the late James Wm. McClendon, that we consider a joint meeting with a sibling society to foster ecumenical exchange and more opportunities for conversation than our usual half-day meetings allow.

Eleven years ago in Dayton, Ohio, some Baptists arrived to participate in the College Theology Society's annual meeting, including having some sessions of their own to present papers and some joint sessions with the College Theology Society sections. Over the years since that time, the NABPR group has met with the almost every year, having as many as 35 participants and as few as 15 (these numbers are approximate). This year, twenty-two people gathered, including thirteen who presented papers.

Much of the discussion focused on ecclesiology, including papers on church-state relations and others on how churches engage with other aspects of culture. Several papers were presented by Baptist students enrolled in a Ph. D. program at the University of Dayton, studying their tradition in dialogue with the U. S. Catholic tradition. These younger scholars brought well-researched and well-argued papers, which makes me believe they are in an excellent program. Their knowledge of Baptist history and theology is excellent, and they are being prodded to study it carefully.

The conversations in formal sessions, over meals, and in the hallways, and in dormitories were rich and invigorating. Talking with new and old colleagues helps encourage me to get on with my research and writing. I got good suggestions concerning publications I am working toward. I heard others developing ideas about which I have been thinking for many years.

So thanks to the NABPR, the CTS, the U. of Dayton, and to friends who made this conference go so well. As the Vice President, I planned this year's program. Next year, as President, I will be responsible to prepare and deliver a presidential address. The meeting will be held at Salve Regina University in Newport, RI. We look forward to having great discussions about Baptist history, theology, and biblical studies there on May 30-June 1, 2008.
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