Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good News for Sharks

I love sharks, and now and then I like to just post some good news (partly because what passes for "news" is almost universally "bad news" in our culture)

Anyway, one thing that fills me with rage is shark finning. Call me crazy, but I'm not sure killing between 30 and 100 million sharks each year for their fins is a good idea. I mean, I love soup as much as the next guy, but maybe we don't need to annihilate every large species of shark on Earth in order to have shark-fin soup.

Every once in a while, a government tries to do something about this ongoing atrocity. In this case, surprisingly, our government.
Interestingly, this piece of legislation was introduced by a Democrat from Guam. I guess maybe something this good just can't come from those continental losers who seem to get us into all of this trouble all the time.
Go Guam!

Not a Sin: the Bible Says...

Those who believe homosexuality is a sin have a very pithy answer to the question why: because the Bible says so. It is a maddeningly over-simplistic answer. A clever retort with no depth that willfully obscures a host of important issues and questions, and intentionally ignores ambiguity in scripture. Nevertheless it is their constant refrain so it must be addressed.

All of the relevant passages of scripture have been pored over again and again by scholars in obsessive detail. I will not rehash that work here, nor pass judgment on it. You can form your own opinion about what various verses of scripture do or do not mean in relation to homosexuality. I will comment here in a more general fashion about the use of the Bible in moral reasoning.

The Bible doesn't "say" anything. The Bible has no will. It is an inanimate object. Everything we take from the Bible we do by effort and interpretation. We do not just passively sit and receive Biblical wisdom, we actively create meaning in our own minds by engaging the text. Furthermore different people frequently come to different interpretations of the same texts (even with access to all the same information), thus it is never adequate to say "the Bible says," but rather you should say "I understand this passage to mean..."

It is a fallacy to say "the Bible says" for another reason, which is that "the Bible" is not homogeneous. It is not one text, but a collection of many texts written over a long period of time by many different authors. Individual texts even show signs of composite authorship or redaction. There is no voice in scripture which can speak for all of the others. We are always only dealing with an individual passage and what we interpret it to mean. This is not to say that there is no relationship between the texts, but only to say that it is a mistake to leap from "this verse in Leviticus says..." to "the Bible says..."

There is still another reason that "the Bible says" is a poor basis for an argument: it is an appeal to authority that obscures the basis of that authority. What reason does anyone have for accepting anything "the Bible says" as authoritative? Because it is inspired by God? How do we know it is inspired by God? Oh, that's right - because "the Bible says". It is circular reasoning. In fact, there is no good reason to accept the Bible as authoritative except on the basis of another, higher, authority: either personal revelation (in which case it is actually our own experience we are taking as authoritative), or the testimony of the Church (in which case it is actually the experience of others we are taking as authoritative). No matter which way you go you find that the basis of the Bible's authority lies in human experience - we experience the Bible either directly or indirectly to be "inspired" by God.

I have not experienced a personal revelation about the trustworthiness of the Bible, but I am willing to trust the Church on this one. However, if it is the Church who has said the Bible is authoritative in the first place, then the Church is in a position to decide how the Bible is used and how it should be interpreted. This is precisely what we have done in the past, deciding that the inclusive ministry of Christ outweighed the pastoral command of Paul to prevent women from speaking in the assembly. It is precisely what is at stake now in the Church's debate about whether or not to ordain homosexuals. It is not that one side is sticking with the Bible and the other is abandoning it (an offensive lie). Rather it is that many in the Church feel that we are within our rights as the Church to understand the inclusive ministry of Christ to outweigh the other considerations against ordaining homosexuals.

In coming to the conclusion that homosexuality is (or is not) a sin, a person must do some moral reasoning. Though it does not appear that way, there is a kind of moral reasoning behind the insistence that "the Bible says" homosexuality is a sin. It is called divine command ethics. It is a type of deontology. Simply put, a deontologist says there are rules that must be followed in all times, in all places, by all people. Being good consists of following these rules. The rules are good because they come from a good authority (in this case a divine command). Deontology falls apart in one of two ways - either the authority can be shown to be unreliable, or the rules themselves can be criticized for their effects until even a deontologist must admit that the rule seems not to be "good" by any reasonable definition.

Allow me to say a few good things about divine command deontology. First of all, no one who believes in God (and believes God is good), can object that following God's commands is a good thing. I DO believe there are some rare examples of universal rules that are reliably correct. For example - thou shalt not murder. Good universal rules tend to be narrow in scope or abstract enough to have different meanings in different situations, for example: Love your neighbor as yourself.

However, deontology in general is weak for its inability to say very many specific things without running into problems. Too many rules do in fact require exceptions. Deontology does not consider things like motive, circumstances, or consequences. Either you broke the rule or you didn't - there are no mitigating factors. Divine command deontology is further weakened by the dubiousness of its authority claim. How can you prove that the rule you have described is, in fact, a divine command?

The Bible, especially, is a notoriously poor source of authority for supporting divine command deontology. The Bible is not a rule book, nor is it a treatise of moral principles. It is rather a collection of many genres of writing. How does one translate poetry into a cohesive moral principle? How does one use history or allegory as a source of authority for alleging a divine command? Most crucially, the Bible shows evidence of internal moral development. The Bible itself doesn't always rely on a deontological approach to ethics. The Bible doesn't always discern what is good on the basis of a divine command.

In fact, as I read scripture, the climactic achievement in moral reasoning in the Bible is the shift toward teleological or virtue based ethical modes. The principle of love is lifted up in the New Testament as the means to discern what is in line with God's will. By being concerned that your motivation is loving, and the consequences are consistent with that love you can be assured that you are already fulfilling all of God's commands. This teleological approach is also seen in the emphasis on "fruits of the Spirit". A virtue ethics approach is exemplified by Paul's insistence that if you develop the virtue of charity in yourself you will automatically fulfill the law.

In summary, using the phrase "the Bible says" as your first and last defence for why homosexuality is a sin must ultimately fail. Firstly, interpretive problems abound that any blanket statement of that sort glosses over far too easily. Secondly, this approach obscures the source of the Bible's authority which is principally in the testimony of the Church, meaning the Church is authorized to change her opinion on the meaning of passages of scripture (and frequently has). Thirdly, it is knowingly or unknowingly a form of divine command deontology which has severe limits as a mode of moral reasoning and is not even the best example of Biblical morality.

Ultimately I think all of these reasons point to the same underlying reality which is that nothing is as simple as "the Bible says." In calling homosexuality a sin you are making a moral judgment which means you must defend your moral reasoning and "the Bible says" is a very poor defense.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Not a Sin: Introduction

Behind all the arguments about ordination and marriage lies the basic argument over whether or not homosexuality is a sin.

It is not.

In this series of articles I will deal in a brief way with the variety of sources usually employed to make a case one way or another. I will ultimately suggest that the best way of determining what is sinful is careful moral reasoning, and I will point out that the dominant modes of moral reasoning on the right - divine command (a kind of deontology), and natural law (another kind of deonotology), are faulty.

Here is a taste of what's to come:

The Bible
Conservatives insist the primary source for arguing that homosexuality is a sin is the Bible. Every relevant passage has been carefully disected and analyzed by people on both sides. I will not rehash that work, but I will point out some big problems with using the Bible as a primary source for moral reasoning. In fact, I contend that our values have little to do with what scripture says, that moral reasoning and value judgments always precede our reception of scripture and claiming the Bible as a source, rather than a support is a lie.

One example of value judgments prior to input from supports like the Bible, is our personal reaction of enjoyment or distaste upon encountering homosexuals. Look at the picture at the top of this article. How does it make you feel? Aesthetics have a huge impact, whether we admit it or not, on our moral judgments. This isn't all bad. It is a good thing for people to be sensitive to violence - to naturally and instantaneously abhor it. But these primitive, instinctual reactions are far from perfect, and they need to be analyzed. Aesthetic values are certainly no replacement for conscientious moral reasoning.

Evidence is growing that homosexuality is biologically conditioned. This is one topic which usually gets brought up by progressives to argue that homosexuality is not a sin. It is indeed relevant, but it is far from a slam dunk. It is not as simple as eye-color, nor as neutral. A genetic predisposition for same-gender attraction doesn't automatically make homosexual relationships morally neutral. Biology is an important counterbalance to natural law arguments, however.

Natural Law
One of the most popular arguments for deeming homosexuality sinful can be summed up in the catchy slogan, "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." Complementarianism asserts that because penises fit into vaginas they should always and only be used that way. I admit that it is difficult for me to treat these arguments with seriousness because they are so shabby, but I will do my best to fairly point out why Natural Law is a horrible mode for approaching the topic of sin or human sexuality, or almost anything.

Does homosexuality harm anyone? That ought to be a defining question in the debate, yet it is rarely addressed, and when it is the answers given are so poor I am apalled. A partner question is, does homosexuality benefit anyone? Are there positive or negative consequences to homosexual relationships? Can homosexual relationships even be differentiated in their consequences from heterosexual ones?

What kind of person does one become by accepting and living out a homosexual identity? Is there evidence in the lives of homosexuals that homosexuality impacts the development of virtue in any way? When we have gotten here we are really beginning to consider matters that will help us show why homosexuality is not a sin.

Gay Culture
As a sort of appendix to the main subject I will briefly put down some thoughts on "gay culture". What is it? What is good about it? What isn't? I venture into this area with some hesitance because I am not an insider to the gay community, but I feel like I can say some relevant, respectful things.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


A plane crash-landed into the Hudson River and everyone aboard survived. Christians around the country were claiming it was God's providential care that kept those people alive.

Two weeks later a plane went down in flames in Buffalo. 50 people died. To be consistent we have to explain where God's providence was in this second case. Was it inability on God's part? He just didn't catch it in time? In which case God is not omnipotent as traditionally claimed. Was it God's will? Did God have some reason for killing those 50 people and saving the ones in the Hudson? Could there possibly be rational gymnastics sufficient to resolve the dilemma in a way that is consistent with the claim that God is just and merciful?

To be clear, I won't accept the usual cop-out, "God works in mysterious ways." That is not an answer, but a way of avoiding an uncomfortable question.

There is a more reasonable, simpler, and more likely to be correct answer: God was not involved. God did not save the first group and ignore the cries of terror from the second. The first group was saved by a combination of circumstance and human action, and the second doomed by the same combination. There is no moral to be gleaned from the continued existence of the people on the Hudson, or from the deaths of the people in Buffalo. It is arbitrary and sad and unfair. End of story.

But of course, the story doesn't end, because we are storytellers we humans, and many of us survive to attempt to make some meaning out of apparently meaningless events. Such meaning making is strange, but necessary, and it can and does result in good things. Various survivors on the Hudson commented to news outlets that seeing their salvation as an act of God gave them renewed courage and deepened their desire to live lives of gratitude and service. Choosing to make meaningful experiences out of meaningless events is how we weave a narrative which informs our actions and gives them context. Everyone has such a personal narrative.

Providence is just this: people making meaning out of their lives by situating them in a grand narrative that includes the inscrutable purposes of God.

As a meaning-making technique it is neutral, neither good nor bad. It is bad, in my opinion, when it turns God into a monster by attributing horrible things to God's will. It is also bad, when it is used as a bludgeon to suppress the emotions and doubts of others. It is good when it helps someone overcome a tragedy, or dedicate themselves to a noble cause.

But bad, good, or indifferent... is it true? Are we just lying to ourselves? Is there any reason to see the hand of God in any particular event, whether positive or negative? Isn't everything adequately explained, even better explained, by natural causes and human behavior?

Friday, March 20, 2009

On Leadership

I come from a commie-pinko-hippie place that fetishizes individual choice and expression. I value personal liberty, even libertine attitudes toward sex, relationships and basically anything which isn't harmful to other human beings. When it comes to decision making I can wax poetic about the virtue of consensus building, spiritual discernment, and attenuated authority. I have been tempted to utter the phrase "can't we all get along," and not just in jest.

I don't know precisely how I landed in this place philosophically. Perhaps it has to do with growing up in California. Perhaps it is my parent's fault. Perhaps it was the liberal-beyond-belief undergraduate program I attended. Perhaps it is something native to me. Probably it is all of the above.

However, no matter what I believe philosophically about communal living, and shared responsibility, and egalitarian power structures, in practice, as a pastor, I make decisions for other people and I bear more responsibility than other people do. I am not just one person in a community of equals. I am a leader, and I find leadership to be indispensable to the health of the church.

Here is what usually happens when a group of people come together to make a decision: most of the group sits in silence while a few people with strong opinions debate back and forth until one side wins out, or someone with authority weighs in and terminates the discussion. Whatever decision making method is employed (voting, consensus, fiat), it is usually a formality. The actual decision was made based on the balance of investment in the group. Whoever was most invested in the outcome usually gets their way.

Sometimes this investment arises naturally. Sometimes people really care about the issue and they are therefore willing to invest in the decision making process to get the outcome they desire. Many times, however, no one cares and no one is willing to invest. A leader is basically someone who is willing to invest for the sake of the community moving forward on an issue where it would otherwise stagnate.

For consensus to really work everyone involved has to be willing to invest. I still hold that this is ideal. I still believe that the best decisions, the ones that accomplish the most in the life of the community, are ones in which the entire community has invested. However, the reality is that this is a rare occurrence. Most of the time a majority of people do not want to invest, and so it falls to a minority to act on behalf of the group. Frequently this minority is the same person or handful of people over and over. This pattern is what ends up distinguishing leaders and followers. Leaders are those who are repeatedly willing to invest in decision making processes. Followers are those who repeatedly defer to others.

No one is a leader all of the time and few people are followers all of the time. Even if we have a strong proclivity toward leadership we usually have venues in which we behave as followers and vice versa. I also don't want to suggest that leaders are superior. A person may be willing to invest in decision making processes for entirely ignoble reasons. The will to power, arrogance, and selfishness can all play a part in why a person might take on a mantle of leadership. Followers, likewise, are not necessarily obsequious. One might choose to follow out of deference to another person of greater knowledge or skill. One might choose to follow out of self-preservation in a climate of mistrust. One might choose to follow simply out of exhaustion. Extroversion and introversion probably have their say in which role we choose as well.

So the question that arises for me is: if my model of ideal community is mutual and consensual, but I recognize a practical necessity for leadership, how can I lead in a way that approaches my ideal?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In Support of Solemnity

We live in a casual culture. The Church, in it's constant struggle to be in the world but not of the world (or however you want to put it), is pulled between getting with the times and maintaining tradition. These poles are misleading of course, because nothing is more traditional than getting with the times, and in many cases nothing is more timely than a carefully maintained tradition. However, I think it is a fair assessment to say that many clergy in the mainline protestant circles I run in have been driven by an iconoclastic impulse against formality and "rigidity" in the church.

This is a broad trend that is not new. It applies to everything from music styles in worship, to the rejection of vestments and clerical regalia, to preaching from the floor instead of the pulpit. It applies to the use of slang, our discomfort with titles, and interest in vernacular paraphrases of scripture like "The Message". It is also evidenced by our rejection of rules, desire for flexibility, and tendency to make things up as we go along instead of following a process that we repeat mechanically. We want to use consensus decision making processes instead of parliamentary structure. We like discernment, but we hate popular votes.

In many ways this describes me very well, and I think I have good reasons for some of these preferences. More and more, however, I find that I don't like where this trend leads. I am strongly convicted that solemnity is actually of huge benefit to ministry, and discarding it is a bad idea.

Even in a culture as thoroughly casual as our own, solemnity is employed to indicate what we hold important. No one acts the same at a job interview as they would at a beach party (generally). By making our rituals casual we signal to the participants that they are unimportant. Far from being approachable it makes us irrelevant. Ritual should transport the participants to an alternate world, not fit seamlessly with daily life. Solemnity is one crucial way we signify that this time, this place, these people are set apart.

Consider some examples...

I get up to preach my sermon, and between the scripture reading and the actual beginning of my sermon I say, "Hey, guys, how ya doin'?" I shift my weight from foot to foot while sifting through my notes until I find my spot and then I say, "Okay, so the sermon today is about..."

I see preachers start this way all the time. It tells the congregation that what they are about to say is totally unimportant. No different from a chat over latte - which is often exactly what they are trying to communicate. However, if a sermon is no different from a casual conversation why the hell would the congregation come to church instead of staying at home and having a casual conversation, with people they probably like better than the pastor? In some cases this is a misguided attempt to be approachable, but in many it is just lazy and unprofessional.

Can you preach with solemnity and professionalism from the floor in street clothes? Yes and yes. However, don't be dismissive too quickly of the pulpit and robe. From years in the theater I know very well how crucial a set and costumes are to a production. Donning the costume and stepping on stage are powerful aids to getting into character. Don't succumb to the temptation to treat the sanctuary like your living room. If you change your clothes from what you would wear day to day, and you change your setting in some small way it will affect your preaching in a positive way, because you won't lapse into incoherent rambling or forget what it is you are doing as easily.

I go to the local hospice for visitation in jeans and a T-Shirt. I come without any prayers, rituals or scripture to share. I just sit and chat.

Don't get me wrong, it is wonderful to go sit and chat with people in hospice. For many people that will be all they want. Some will reject offers of prayers or scripture reading, or sharing communion, and in many cases they won't care or notice what you're wearing. Some WILL notice what you're wearing though and it will effect how they treat you. Especially if there is a big age difference, arriving in too casual of attire will be an obstacle to them accepting your pastoral ministry. Furthermore clothes have the same effect here as in preaching - they remind you of the job you're doing.

What happens though when you run out of things to chat about? What if you have nothing in common with the person you are visiting? What if you are just in a foul mood on the day you are needed for visitation? If all you are bringing is yourself and your conversation you are frequently going to be inadequate. As a minister you have more to offer than yourself. You have the rituals and traditions of the church. Why rely on your witty repartee when you could rely on the Bread of Life?

A long time member approaches me and says they've never been baptized, but since most Presbyterians are baptized as babies and they're already an active member previous pastors have told them that it wasn't important. The commitment that baptism symbolizes is all that matters and since they're already committed to the church there is no reason to perform the sacrament.

If we regard the sacraments solemnly we could never say that being baptized is unimportant. If Baptism isn't even important enough to bother doing then why should we regard the things it symbolizes as important either? Why are repentance, or adoption, or regeneration, or membership in the church things to be valued?

This last example to me is a sign of where a lack of solemnity leads. It starts by saying rituals are merely symbolic actions. If so, then the solemnity with which we normally conduct them, and the rules that govern that solemnity are not necessary. We can jettison both. Once we've done that though, we are left wondering of what importance the ritual itself is. If the ritual is not important then why bother doing it at all? Supposedly only the symbolic meaning of the ritual matters, but what is missed is that rituals are not actions with symbolic meaning. Rituals enact meaning through symbolism. Without the ritual there is no meaning.

Solemnity around the ritual is intended to remind us of the importance of enacting meaning.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"The Problem Is Us"

Here's a moment to remember - utter depravity clearly reflected in This American Life. The time-stamp is around 38:00 if you go to listen, and I highly recommend that you do.

I don't understand the current banking crisis, but I am listening to an episode of This American Life aimed at explaining the crisis in simple terms, and I just heard something that seemed profoundly true to me - "The problem is us."

We currently owe, as a society, 13 Trillion dollars. The GDP for the entire US economy is 13 Trillion dollars. To be clear, that means that we collectively owe as much as the entire US economy combined. The only other time in recent history that this was the case was in 1929, just shy of the economic collapse and the Great Depression.

The problem is us. We owe too much. I myself owe more than Pam and I make combined in a year, almost all of which is educational debt. This is even after spending three painful years getting out from under commercial debts we couldn't handle. I'm part of the problem - in fact, mathematically I'm contributing more than my 'share', it looks like. So the problem is also me.

Yes, we have a bunch of millionaire and billionaire bankers who are hysterically greedy and desperately trying to avoid suffering any kind of consequences for stupid decisions they made while grasping insatiably for profit. They made bad decisions and we are going to bail them out, apparently, dollar for dollar. But they are not the whole of the problem. The problem is us.

This is a problem in all of our hearts - something that, frankly, religion is specifically and superbly equipped to identify and begin to address. It is an insurmountable battle, but the lines, for once in our lives, will be clearly drawn as banks fail and bailouts balloon into the trillions of tax dollars and jobs disappear.

The line is this. We throw our lives away in the pursuit of things which do not, will never, satisfy. And the time always comes when we pay for it. We pay for our trust in eternal growth without consequences. We pay for idolatry.

I'm afraid of what's coming for us, but I can't pretend that it is undeserved, that it is solely the purview of fat, chuckling villains smoking cigars made of $100 bills and taking private jet trips to visit child prostitutes in Thailand. Those villains are still there, but I can't pretend I'm not a villain too. A villain of a lesser sort, but less villainous? Ultimately, perhaps not. Perhaps the difference is only in means.

The problem is us. The problem is me.

Sin is fractal - the edge of every shore is the same no matter how high up or low down you are.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Take That!

Jon Stewart tears CNBC apart, douses the pieces in lighter fluid and throws them in a furnace. Then he scoops up the ashes and launches them into the sun.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sudan Held Hostage

The International Criminal Court issued a warrant for the arrest of the President of Sudan. It is the first warrant ever issued for a sitting political leader. Many have applauded the court for the move, but others have decried the action as vain and injudicious since the court has no ability to enforce the warrant or make an arrest and it has the real possibility of destabilizing the fragile region even further. It certainly highlights the complex development of international law. It will serve as a test case for many potential future actions by international courts.

I cannot make an informed comment on the merits of the evidence brought before the court or the courts decision to issue the warrant. I have only a bare knowledge of the situation in Sudan gleaned from mainstream news outlets, so I will not pretend to be an expert on the subject.

But what President Omar al-Bashir and his government have done in response to the warrant is incredibly revealing. They have ordered 10 major humanitarian aid organizations to depart the country, alleging that they are part of a western conspiracy to undermine the stability and security of the country. These 10 organizations account for a majority of the relief work going on in Darfur and their forced departure will likely mean a crisis for over 2 million people who depend on them for clean water, food, clothing, shelter and medicine.

Whatever al-Bashir is or is not guilty of, ejecting these organizations is a way for his government to make good on a threat to retaliate against any outside attempt to intervene in the conflict. The message is being sent that they not only won't cooperate with international courts, but they will hold their own people hostage if confronted about their handling of the civil war. The terrible irony is that this response can only serve as a massive confirmation of the suspicions which led to the warrant in the first place. The president of Sudan is putting the gun to his people's head, but he is also putting it to his own.

There are lots of legitimate legal and philosophical questions to be explored in a case like this. What is the extent of the sovereignty of nations? How can we hold political leaders accountable to laws and standards they don't recognize? To what degree are international courts legitimately criticized for being hegemonic enterprises? Do race and economics have an unseemly hand in international law?

All of those questions, though, have been overshadowed by al-Bashir's paranoid and inhumane response. He could have mounted an interesting, and possibly credible defense for himself by choosing to either cooperate with the court or ignore the warrant. Depriving 2 million of his own people of clean water is not going to help his case, however.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Covenantal Anarchy: Basic Definitions

In talking about Covenental Anarchy it is helpful to give some definitions so that it is clearer what I think I'm talking about.


A covenant is a clearly-defined relationship in which there are mutual obligations. For this, I take as the example the many covenants which are "cut" in the Old Testament, primarily between God and Israel. It is an agreement of mutual obligation and, theoretically, mutual benefit. Both sides agree to it with knowledge of what it is they are agreeing to, and what will be expected of them.

One thing that is key to consider is that a covenant does not exist without consent. You can't be forced into one - though one might argue that you could be born into a covenant, in the sense that it is up to you to leave it if you choose. That also might change depending on the covenant one is considering (i.e. both Judaism and Christanity have rituals around a person accepting their part in the covenant community)

The covenant is whatever the people involved decided it is. It is worked out ahead of time and then binding commitments are made. It should be beneficial to both parties because the punishment for failing to live up to the covenant is nothing more than not being part of the covenant anymore.

I model my thinking about this kind of covenantal relationship on what I understand to be how God relates to us, and how we are admonished to relate to each other by scripture and the witness of the early church. More on this later, however - I don't want this post to be too long.


Anarchy is simple - no archy, no rulership, no dominion. I don't use a dictionary definition here because I find that dictionary writers often assume that governmental authority is a good thing in a person's life, and I don't agree that it necessarily is.

If you think about non-dominion for a bit, you might realize that violence is entirely out of the question. Every archy, every dominion, relies on violence (with the exception of one - we'll talk about that later). The reason for this dependence on violence is that, at some point, there will be a conflict. In a dominion system, it is the power at the top that holds the monopoly on violence used to enforce its will on those beneath. We negotiate with any given government how much of our free will we will let the government override in exchange for the protections or conveniences that we believe that government offers. Political conflict sometimes boils down to haggling over the price of our autonomy.

The insight I feel like I've received as a pacifist who reads the works of other pacifists and talks to other pacifists is that if we discipline ourselves to choose anything other than violence, then we have to rethink things like authority and autonomy entirely. What I find is that dominion as we tend to practice it now just doesn't work unless there is violence hanging over everyone's head.

So I go looking for another way. Thankfully, there is one dominion, at least, which I believe does not depend on violence - which in fact has as one of its core teachings the absolute rejection of dominion through violence. That dominion is, of course, the dominion of Christ, and that absolute rejection of dominion through violence is demonstrated decisively in the crucifixion and resurrection. Among many other things, these events demonstrate God's commitment to not use violence to enforce dominion under any circumstances - even in defense of the life of God's son.

I find this very reassuring. I call this dominion of God as demonstrated by Christ covenantal anarchy, and I am continually excited to see where it leads us.