Violence as a Theological Concern – Describing Violence Theologically

When talking about violence, how do you imagine it? How would you define it? Many images and definitions can come to mind. Violence is essentially hurting another person. But defining violence as only hurting another person is pretty shallow. Can violence be more specific? Of course, violence is visible in the wars countries engage in, school shootings, gang violence, reducing to numbers the people who have passed away from COVID, the murdering of Black people on the streets, and even holding Brown men, women, and children in cages; Different images come to mind, different specific images.

To say that violence is to hurt another person is limiting. Violence does consist of hurting another, but violence is also more. That is one problem with trying to define violence; definitions impose limits on words and concepts and leave out important considerations that should extend the meaning of those words not limit meaning. It is one thing to say that one has been violent by hurting someone and another to say that one has been violent by killing someone. It is still another thing to say that one has experienced violence and has seen it; Experiences like the killing of a Black woman, such as Breonna Taylor. The shift is from generalities on violence to essential and vital considerations regarding race and gender and how real bodies experience specific acts of violence.

This is not to say that definitions are not needed. Still, it is to say that we need to learn how to describe more fully what we experience daily, in this case, how we experience violence. In the case of Christians, we need to be able to offer theological detailed descriptions of the violence that permeates our social fabric, name it for what it is, and wrestle with the tensions.

Now, violence… what is violence? What does it mean to view violence as a theological concern? Once we discover what violence is, what should we do about it? Those are the question that the series seeks to answer, or at least it is an attempt to do so. In his poem titled Questionnaire, Wendell Berry, an incredible poet (amongst other things), does a fantastic job of naming violence and being honest with the questions that said violence produces. This is how it goes:

1. How much poison are you willing

to eat for the success of the free

market and global trade? Please

name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much

evil, are you willing to do?

Fill in the following blanks

with the names of your favorite

evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared

to make for culture and civilization?

Please list the monuments, shrines,

and works of art you would

most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and

the flag, how much of our beloved

land, are you willing to desecrate?

List in the following spaces

the mountains, rivers, towns, farms

you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,

the energy sources, the kinds of security,

for which you would kill a child.

Name, please, the children whom

you would be willing to kill.

The poet poses a questionnaire that names the idols to which we offer blood sacrifices. The poet exposes the myth of goodness, the stories that we tell ourselves and others that justify the violent means that lead towards “good” ends. These myths permeate our lives through commercials, language, wars, and results in committing acts of crime and violence in the name of culture and nationalism; in the name of progress. We build our lives on the backs, blood, sweat, and tears of others – for the opportunity to participate in the free market and live the “American dream.” As the poet says, we kill others and their children to protect our own. Berry calls us to break the silence and open our eyes and name the costs of serving our idols.

Addressing violence then is not a secondary concern to spiritual matters or even heavenly matters. Addressing violence and naming it for what it is, is central to the revelation of God in Scripture and the life of the Christian. You see, the Bible is not merely a book about topics and prayer. The Bible consists of stories about how God confronts and deals with violence in the lives of his people. God confronts violence in different ways.

The goal then of these writings is to provide theological nuances and insight into how God calls Christians to be a people of peace, non-violence, by the Spirit of Jesus and through daily actions. It is to be able to name the violence that we experience on a daily basis, expose it, name it for what it is, and align our lives more faithfully with the reign of God and Scripture as reference.

Three Things to Look Out For as LAFC Returns to Play

The Los Angeles Football Club is back! 

The MLS season picks back up for LAFC this Saturday, August 22nd, with a clash against city rival LA Galaxy. In their last encounter, LAFC beat the Galaxy 6-2. The hope is that LAFC can continue to play with intensity and keep the momentum from the MLS is Back tournament. 

With the beginning of anything, there are always things to look out for. Here are 3 things that, in my opinion, are worth keeping track of. 

I. The Return of Carlos Vela 

Carlos Vela decided to opt-out from the MLS is Back tournament because of family concerns but will be returning for the restart. LAFC had a very productive tournament regardless of the elimination. What was exciting was how offensively productive LAFC was without its top goal scorer, assister, and captain. Regardless, no one wants to play without their top playmaker, and Vela is ready to make another statement. In a recent press conference, Vela praises Rossi and Rodriguez for their contribution to the team and points out that in watching LAFC play in the MLS is Back tournament, he noticed a lot of spaces that were he their he would exploit. It sounds like Vela has one thing on his mind: win and bring an MLS cup to LAFC. 

II. Six Games in 21 Days = Rotations?

With the restart, LAFC is going to play a game every 3-4 days, and that includes travel to Salt Lake and Seattle, and the last three games will take place in Los Angeles. In an interview, Bob Bradley notes that it is hard for every player to start every game, especially with a game in such quick succession. With that being said, how often will Bradley rotate players, and who will be rotated? LAFC has demonstrated that they have game-changing depth with the likes of “Pancho” Ginella, Jose Cifuentes, and Bradley Wrights Phillips. There are also now homegrown and academy players such as Bryce Duke Christian Torres, Erik Duenas, and Tony Leone; Will they get their opportunity? 

III. Defensive Opportunities

In his last interview, Bob Bradley notes that one of the team’s areas is on the defensive side of the ball. According to Bradley, LAFC is not a team that gives up many chances, especially within the penalty area. LAFC is looking to have a better defensive record and seek to hold teams to scoreless shutouts. According to Bob Bradley, it comes down to the reaction of the player closest to the ball and the awareness of all the players to be ready for the play. Football is a game of moments, in which wrong decisions can cost a team much. On the defensive side of the ball, LAFC needs to avoid individual errors and avoid giving the ball away in the middle of the park when in transition, leaving the defense exposed. In the five games that LAFC played in the MLS is Back tournament, LAFC allowed 9 goals. In the 2019 season, in the first five games of the year, LAFC only allowed 5 goals followed by 3 games in which they scored 11 goals and received 0 goals. LAFC has proved to be a team with an excellent defensive record, and it is definitely something to watch out for in the restart.

Bob Bradley talks about the defensive opportunities at 1:20 and squad rotations at 9:00

LAFC is set to play 4 out of the 6 games at home in the Banc of California Stadium; Will the Banc (with no supporters or fans) serve as a fortress for LAFC? Can that help LAFC improve their defensive record? 

All in all, the Black and Gold are back. Enjoy it!

Takeaways from LAFC vs. San Jose

LAFC is officially back. After three losses, back to back, LAFC finally get a win with a scoreline of 5-1 over the San Jose Earthquakes. LAFC has played SJ 5 times and has beat SJ 5 times with an 18 goal difference in favor of LAFC. In this game, many things went in favor of LAFC – here are the takeaways.

LAFC Suffocated SJ

If there is one thing LAFC is known for – it is the massive amount of pressure that they place on opposing teams. From the beginning, LAFC heavily pressured SJ both while SJ was in possession, and as soon as LAFC would lose the ball. The pressure was heavily suffocating that LAFC’s first and third goals were a result of that pressure. LAFC’s constant pressure is forced SJ to make mistakes, and this time LAFC was able to capitalize on them. It is worth noting that in this game, SJ ended the first half and match with more possession but committed individual errors and was unable to create dangerous scoring opportunities.

Midfield Showcase

There was also a new midfield rotation with Ginella playing as the “central defensive midfielder” with Kaye and Cifuentes in more advanced roles. This midfield provided stability to the middle and possession team without a large number of giveaways or dispossessions. In comparison to the last two games, LAFC made better decisions while in possession, and it was shown in the low amount of turnovers.

What was quite impressive was the midfield fluidity, especially between Kaye and Ginella, who were able to move into more advanced spaces knowing that one of them was going to cover the middle. Cifuentes did a great job of moving the ball into dangerous spaces and demonstrated great ability to move into dangerous positions in and around the box. Cifuentes even set his own goal up. In defense, the full-backs and the midfield did an excellent job of tracking back, staying organized, closing down the passing lanes, and disrupting SJ’s passes and crosses from the flanks (except with that last goal).

After this game, making the decision between who starts in the midfield will surely be tough.

Take the Shot

LAFC also demonstrated that they have different ways of scoring. LAFC was able to create opportunities off the counter-press, shots in the box, shots outside the box, crosses from the flanks, and build up through the middle. Diego Rossi’s first goal is a great example. Rossi’s goal was a product of the counter-press. Rossi saw the chance, and he took the shot almost from nothing. In this game, LAFC had 19 shots with 8 on target. LAFC took their chances, and the scoreline reflects that. 

All in all, LAFC had a great game. Every player contributed to the win, and it would surely take a whole other piece to mark out what each player did well. In comparison to the Galaxy and Seattle, SJ did not drop back and played with a mid-block. SJ came out to meet LAFC head to head, and SJ paid the price.

On Sunday, LAFC will meet the Galaxy in Carson, and surely LAFC should expect a similar game-plan – a mid-block, a crowded middle, and a man-mark on whoever plays as the defensive midfielder. This win indeed fills LAFC with confidence going into the LA Derby.

3 Takeaways from Seattle vs LAFC

It has been an event-filled week. This game against the Seattle Sounders comes after a week of protests and strikes in the NBA, MLB, WNBA, and the MLS. The protests come after the brutal shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This game also comes after a loss to the Galaxy.

This game against the Sounders was the second of games after the Orlando tournament in which LAFC beat the Sounders 4-1. This game turned out differently as LAFC lost 3-1. Here are three things we learned from this game. 

I. Possession is not everything. 

LAFC is known for a style of play that consists of dynamic possession that ends in incredible goals. LAFC likes to play with the ball and create dangerous opportunities that result in incredible goals, but that was not the case in this game. LAFC had 55% possession and 498 passes. LAFC did create shooting opportunities, including one goal and three other shots on target, but did not seem dangerous. Last time around, Seattle had 59% possession, and LAFC’s press and counter-press forced Seattle to make mistakes. LAFC had 23 shots, 8 on target, and only 347 passes. LAFC was more efficient last time around, and the team managed to get into dangerous positions and force mistakes. LAFC was once again missing a playmaker; This was evident in Rossi having to drop down to get the ball and create. 

II. Giveaways 

Against the Galaxy, LAFC gave the ball away about 15 times in the first half. Although LAFC was much sharper in the first half against the Sounders, in the second half, the second and third goal originated from two giveaways – one from Blessing and one from Segura. The Sounders, a much faster team off the counter, punished LAFC. Possession is not everything. If not accompanied by dangerous and line-breaking passes, giveaways in the middle of the park make things worse.

Latif loses ball right before
Segura gives ball away

III. Bright Spots 

There are a couple of bright spots in this game. Cifuentes continues to improve and demonstrate that Bradley can rely on him. Cifuentes combined with Bradley Wright-Phillips and assisted Diego Rossi for the first goal. Cifuentes is smooth on the ball, can take on opposition one-on-one, and create, although his playmaking was kept at a minimum. Another bright spot is the debut of Christian Torres, LAFC academy player. Torres demonstrates positivity in his play, looking to drive the ball forward and create attacking opportunities. To come in against the Seattle Sounders, while down 3 nil, was big. It can only go uphill for Torres. I am positive the LAFC faithful support him and wish to see him succeed.

LAFC’s next opponent is San Jose. Hopefully, LAFC can turn things around at the Banc and gain confidence for the LA Derby that comes up the following Sunday. 

3 Things We Learned from the LA Derby: LAFC vs GAL

As soon as the schedule for LAFC’s restart was released, supporters of the Black and Gold were excited and counting down to game day as the first match was against the city rival, the Galaxy.

The game went against LAFC, and they lost to the Galaxy 0-2. This was the first time LAFC lost at home against the Galaxy with the head to head record leaning in favor of the Galaxy with 3 wins, LAFC has 2 wins, and 3 draws.

Here are three things we learned from this game.

LAFC is not the same without Atuesta

LAFC count on, arguably, the best player in the MLS – Carlos Vela. But as much as Vela contributes to LAFC, the team is not the same without Atuesta. Vela is the top goalscorer and leader of LAFC, but one can argue that Atuesta is the heart of the team. Atuesta is a creative midfielder who offers continuity to plays under pressure, distributes the ball effectively, and is an essential part of what makes LAFC’s attack dangerous and edgy. Atuesta’s vision and playmaking abilities were missed. Although LAFC had more possession than the Galaxy, LAFC did not present any danger while in possession. What was not seen in this game is the line breaking passes that Atuesta provides.

LAFC’s Defensive Woes Continue

As previously mentioned by Bob Bradley, LAFC aimed to work on the defensive side of the ball. This game has proved that there is still room for improvement, especially in defending set-pieces. The press was not as visible this game, and in the second half, LAFC were caught on the counter with a wide-open Lletget inside the box. In both matches against the Galaxy, their goals have come from the right side, in either the form of a cross or a run down the flank.

LAFC did not Look like LAFC

All in all, LAFC had a terrible game. This game was the chance for LAFC to have a winning record over the Galaxy. In my opinion, the Galaxy does not have a better team than LAFC even with Chicharito and Dos Santos on the field. Regardless, the Galaxy outplayed LAFC. The Galaxy was more organized, was defensively disciplined, and took advantage of their chances. To LAFC’s detriment, Galaxy did better in one-on-one situations, resulting in opportunities for the Galaxy. There were some silver linings such as: Cifuentes’s ability to get into the half spaces and drag defenders with him. At the beginning of the 2nd half, Rossi dropped down in order to drive the ball forward, get more involved, and took shots when he had the opportunity; Although it was not enough. Blackmon continues to demonstrate that he is good in coming out the back and good on one one situations.

What should be noted is that this game is not an indictment on LAFC as a whole. LAFC played horribly, but games like this have not been the norm. It was only Vela’s first game back so some patience is needed. Vela did come out of the game injured so let’s hope to hear good news in the coming days. And let’s hope for a better result on Wednesday, against Real Salt Lake at the Rio Tinto Stadium.

From Club Legend to Savior? Koeman the New Barca Manager

             It has been a couple of crazy and hectic days in and out of Football Club Barcelona. When the Champions league seemed within reach, Barcelona fell to Bayern Munich in humiliating manner. After the match, team captain, Gerard Pique, would go on to state that the club was in desperate need for structural change. Pique admitted fault in the loss and volunteered to be the first one out the door if need be. Since then, the Blaugrana supporters have been calling for the resignation of the president of FC Barcelona, Josep Maria Bartomeu. If you have been following the club’s moves the last couple of days, you already know that the elections for a new president will take place on March 15th, 2021 and he will not resign.

             After such a devastating loss, something has to change, right? Amongst the changes occurring in the board of directors, the one change that has overshadowed them all has been the removal of Quique Setien and the installation as manager of club legend, Ronald Koeman. But who is this Ronald Koeman? Most Barcelona faithful know who Koeman is, but for those who do not, this article is for you.

             Ronald Koeman is mostly known and remembered as the man who scored the goal that would initiate FC Barcelona’s presence and dominance in Europe. Koeman was part of the “Dream Team” and played under the leadership of another Dutch and Barca legend, Johan Cruyff. Apart from helping Barca obtain their first UEFA Champions League title at Wembley Stadium against the Italian side, Sampdoria (1992), Koeman would also help the club win the La Liga title four years in a row (1991-1994). Koeman was known for his defensive prowess as center back, his ability to drive the ball forward into the midfield, and his powerful right-footed shots that would result in meaningful and memorable goals for the club. Koeman is a club legend and has given much to the club. Regardless, Koeman is not coming to play for Barca but to coach and manage Barca. What does Koeman offer Barca as a coach and manager, especially during this turbulent time for the club?

Koeman, the Coach and Manager

             Koeman has an extensive resume as a manager. His managerial career began as an assistant coach to Guus Hiddink for the Netherlands national team right around the 1998 World Cup along with Frank Rijkaard (another Barca legend). After the World Cup, Koeman would become an assistant coach of Barcelona under Louis van Gaal (1998-2000). Koeman would eventually become the manager of clubs such as:

  1. Ajax, whom he coached for 151 matches with a record of 94 wins, 30 draws, 27 losses.
  2. Benfica, whom he coached for 45 matches with 25 wins, 10 draws, 10 losses.
  3. PSV Eindhoven whom he coached for 61 matches with a record of 38 wins, 11 draws, 12 losses.
  4. Valencia, whom he coached for 34 matches with a record of 11 wins, 9 draws, 14 losses.
  5. Feyenoord whom he coached for 118 matches with a record of 69 wins, 21 draws, 28 losses.
  6. Southampton whom he coached for 91 matches with a record of 94 wins, 30 draws, 27 losses.
  7. Everton whom he coached for 58 matches with a record of 24 wins, 14 draws, 20 losses.
  8. The Netherland national team whom he coached for 20 matches with a record of 11 wins, 5 draws, 4 losses.

Koeman has experience across Europe’s top leagues. Furthermore, Koeman has a knack for identifying talented young players and making them better. Some notable names that came up under Koeman’s coaching and management are Sadio Mane and Virgil Van Dijk at Southampton and Rafael Van der Vaart, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Wesley Sneijder at Ajax. Koeman has also demonstrated an affinity for possession-based football with teams that demonstrate sleekness on the ball and play with flair. Koeman now has the opportunity to demonstrate his knack for raising talented young players and playing “Cruyffian” football at FC Barcelona. How Koeman will line up the team is too early to tell, but the Barca faithful expect that he will help Barca return to a Cruyffian way of playing football even if it has that “Koeman twist” to it.

Last Thoughts

Can Koeman be Barca’s savior? Is Koeman the one who can kick-start the engine that will lead to Barca’s return to Spanish and European glory? It is too early to tell. But one can hope. Koeman was part of that “Dream Team” that led Barca to European glory for the first time – he has a love and appreciation for the club. I mean, who in their right mind would accept the task of leading Barca out of the doldrums? Only someone who is confident in their skillset and mindset and whose dream is to win it all as coach of Barca. Regardless, why would Koeman accept the job with no promise of continuation?

Earlier this year, Koeman suffered a heart attack. Before the pandemic and before the heart attack, Koeman was offered the Barca job, but he refused as he was committed to the Netherlands national team. The Barca train came by once, and he said no. Now, the Barca train has come again, and it may very well be the last time. The time has come. Is Koeman what Barca need? Can Koeman save Football Club Barcelona?

Eloísa y la Regla de San Benito Pt. I

Al examinar la historia de la iglesia, se puede ver el ascenso y la caída de movimientos eclesiásticos que dan forma al significado de lo que es ser cristiano. Desde el siglo VI hasta el siglo XII, el movimiento monástico fue uno que daría forma al pensamiento y a la conversación teológica de su tiempo. Este ensayo trata de examinar a uno de los líderes del movimiento monástico del siglo VI, San Benito y la Regla que estableció como respuesta teológica a su preocupación de cómo vivir una vida fiel a Dios y a la incertidumbre que estaba presente. Además, los escritos de Eloísa serán explorados como una “contra voz” al papel de la Regla en el siglo XII y como busca la acomodación de las mujeres en las instituciones monásticas y eclesiásticas de su tiempo. En este ensayo se explorará los siguientes puntos: 1) una mirada menor al contexto histórico de Benito y la regla; 2) el propósito de la regla; 3) La respuesta de Eloísa a la regla; y 4) las tensiones teológicas que surgen de el paralelismo de Benito y Eloísa y el tipo de implicaciones que resultan que nos pueden ayudar a reflejar acerca de la naturaleza de la teologia y lo que significa para la mujer y sul rol en la iglesia.

La creación del orden monástico fue una respuesta al caos y el desorden de la caída del imperio de Roma también como a la invasión de las tribus germánicas.[1] En medio del caos y el desorden, las órdenes monásticas servían como formas de preservación de la cultura y el conocimiento de los mundos pasados.[2] Es en un contexto de desorden que Benito de Nursia se convertiría en una de las principales figuras del monaquismo occidental. Benito eventualmente llegaría a crear lo que se conocía como la Regla como una respuesta al desorden sociopolítico de la época. A través de la regla Benito inculcaría en la institución monástica un profundo compromiso con la obediencia a Dios, un discipulado fiel y la estabilidad en un mundo que parecía permanecer en flujo. En comparación con el monaquismo oriental, el monaquismo de Benito se centraría en la soledad y la comunidad, crearía la posibilidad de que “seres humanos falibles” pudieran responder fielmente a Dios, y también era una respuesta al clasismo, ya que nadie debía recibir un trato especial.[3] La regla surgió en una sociedad donde los ricos consideraban degradantes a las personas que ejercitaban el trabajo manual y en respuesta los monasterios mostraron que los logros más altos, el intelecto y lo espiritual podrían formar una pareja con el trabajo físico y manual. Sin embargo, el fundamento de la regla estaba en el mandato de Jesús de amar a Dios y de amar a su prójimo como uno se ama a sí mismo.[4]

La Regla se creó con el propósito de “volver a Dios”.[5] El motivo central resida en la formación de personas a quien realmente servirían a Cristo, el verdadero rey y Señor. La Regla era una manera en que los monjes median si estaban viviendo en obediencia o desobediencia a Dios. La función de la Regla era guiar a las personas de dos maneras principales: 1) ayudar a los monjes a recorrer el camino de la salvación, es decir, vivir como discípulos fieles y 2) los caminos de la Regla debían resultar en poder dar un testimonio fiel del amor de Dios al mundo, es decir, tenía un aspecto proto-misional.[6]

Benito describe el objetivo de la regla como capaz de conducir a los monjes y monjas a los “lugares más altos de la doctrina y la virtud”.[7] En sí, había una preocupación por alcanzar la “perfección”, pero esa preocupación estaba no sólo en alcanzar alguna forma de conocimiento místico, sino que la preocupación con la perfección estaba en ser verdaderamente obediente y fiel a los caminos de Dios. Seguir la regla conduciría a virtudes como la humildad, que era fundamental en la Regla. Benedicto señala que hay doce grados de humildad. Los doce se ocupan de enseñar a los monjes a temer a Dios y permitir que el temor de Dios sea lo que da forma a su vida interior, su propia voluntad, su relación con Dios, así como su relación con el mundo.[8] Lo que es bastante único acerca de la regla benedictina es que la regla no sólo empujó a sus seguidores a perseguir la virtud en áreas de la virtud. Más bien, la regla benedictina era más práctica. Es decir, la regla posicionaba al monje de una manera en la que alcanzar la virtud también había lugar para la práctica de buenas obras.[9]

La regla también tiene sus aspectos meticulosos que tratan de cómo los monjes deben vestirse, cuándo deben orar, qué deben orar, cómo y cuándo celebrar, cómo deben dormir, cómo lidiar con la disciplina y cómo proporcionar hospitalidad.[10] Sin embargo, lo meticuloso de la regla no resolvía los problemas que surgían. Eloísa crítica con gracia la forma en que la Regla no acomodaba a las mujeres.[11] En su carta a Abelardo, Eloísa le pide a Abelardo, que era un padre en la fe para ella, que considere dos cosas: 1) pide que Abelardo le enseñe sobre los orígenes de las monjas y el valor de su profesión como monja; 2) Establecer una regla apropiada para la forma y el estilo de vida de las mujeres – algo que los padres de la iglesia no habían hecho.[12]

Para la segunda parte, veremos cómo Eloisa responde a la Regla y cómo comienza hacer pregunts sobre las implicaciones teológicas de la regla y sus implicaciones en el “rol” de la mujer en la iglesia y la naturaleza de la teologia.

[1] Justo L. González. The Story of Christianity. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. (New York: Harper. 2010). 277.

[2] Justo L. González. A History of Christian Thought. (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2014). 166.

[3] González, The Story of Christianity, 281.

[4] García M. Colombas, La Regla de San Benito. Traducido por Iñaki Aranguren. (Madrid: Biblioteca de autores cristianos). 6.

[11] Pedro R. Santidrian, Cartas de Abelardo y Eloísa. Traducido por Pedro R. Santidrian y Manuel Astruga. (Madrid: Alianza Editorial). 162

[12] Cartas de Abelardo y Eloísa, 153.

Guess Who is Back?

If you haven’t noticed, I abandoned this blog for almost three years. In the last three years, I have been working my way through a Master’s degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. Now that I have a little bit more time in my hands I want to share my writings and thoughts with you.

Although there are a lot of ideas that I have and that I am working on, I want to start by sharing some of the things I have either written in the last couple of years or things that I have learned along the way.

The writings will consist of both English and Spanish writings as I pastor and lead in a church that is multi-generational and multi-cultural.

I am excited to get my work out here and I look forward to responses and comments! 🙂

The Beloved Community and Exclusion

The aim of this essay is to attempt to synthesize as well as compare King’s and Volf’s views on the theme of exclusion. Both King and Volf view exclusion as a form of sin and as a direct violation of God’s creation. This exploration of the theme of exclusion will look at four points: 1) exclusion as sin in both King’s and Volf’s writings; 2) King’s and Volf’s theological models that support resistance to exclusion; 3) King’s theological anthropology; 4) the implications of viewing exclusion as sin for both the church and for public policies on immigration.

Two common ethical issue in the writings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Miroslav Volf are the issues of inclusion and exclusion. Although both authors use different words and come from different contexts one can argue that both are referring to almost the same thing. King refers to Volf’s “embrace and exclusion” as “integration and segregation”. Furthermore, both King and Volf view the moral dilemma of exclusion from two different social locations. King’s experience of exclusion was that of racism against Black Americans in the United States. Volf’s experience, although not exactly like King’s experience of racism in the U.S., was one of ethnic and identity conflict in Yugoslavia. Both King and Volf experienced a kind of “cultural cleansing,” one that manifested in segregation and one that manifested in violence and war. The moral challenge that both King and Volf pose to spaces of exclusion is, “can space be created, and can there be a readjustment of identity so that ‘the other’ can be embraced?”[1] Volf develops a politics of embrace, which in “Kingian” language would translate as “a politics of inclusion” or a “politics of the beloved community.”

 

Exclusion as Sin

Volf views exclusion as a form of sin.[2] Exclusion is sin in that it does not function as “differentiation,” which honors the dignity of the individual self. Exclusion is sin in that it is an attempt to cut the bonds that connect one to the pattern of interdependence present in the creation.[3] Exclusion is placing oneself in a position of sovereign independence and attempting to reconfigure the aim of the creation. Furthermore, exclusion entails viewing the other as an inferior being who must either be assimilated by being made like the “superior” self or be subjugated by the “superior” self. Exclusion then is a form of violence against God’s intention for human beings – life in community.

King views exclusion as a form of sin, as well. King describes segregation as a form of “social leprosy”.[4] Segregation, similarly to Volf’s view of exclusion, was dehumanizing. King pushed the subject further by saying that, “He who works against community is working against the whole of creation”.[5] For King, life in community was the ultimate goal of human existence and fulfillment.[6] Segregation then violated two main pillars of King’s theology: 1) God’s intention for creation, which was life in the beloved community, and 2) the dignity and worth of human beings, particularly Black Americans.

Theological Models of Resistance

It is not enough to identify exclusion and its effect on people. King names the exclusion that was segregation and seeks to overcome it and resist it. Now, in what ways did King and Volf use biblical and theological models to fuel the struggle against segregation and exclusion?

King’s understanding of God was both communal and political. King viewed God as a person; A person who human beings were able to enter into fellowship with.[7]. For King, God was personal and that meant that God was present and a partner in the various struggles in life. God is not some impersonal force that remains at a distance from creation but is present and is struggling alongside human beings. On the other hand, Volf understands God as standing in solidarity with humanity through the sufferings of Christ on the cross. For Volt, the sufferings of Christ on the cross are not merely Christ’s alone, but they are the sufferings of the poor and the weak.[8] In his crucifixion, Christ identifies with the sufferings and struggles of the oppressed and disinherited.

As seen on the cross in which Christ suffers and as seen in the embrace of the Trinitarian God, King did not believe that any progress would be obtained through the proliferation of violence. Christ does not overcome violence with violence. Instead, Christ overcomes violence by receiving the violence of humanity on his own body and overcomes through non-violence. For King, Christian love was the willingness to go to any extent to restore community and Christ was the perfect example of that.[9]

Theological Models and Anthropology

King’s understanding of God also had a direct impact on his anthropology. King’s anthropology was informed by his African American communal and political spiritual tradition.[10] King believed that the “self” is only a complete self in relation to others. What King points at is the interrelational nature of human beings.[11] According to King, the well-being of the self and the well-being of others is interconnected in community. That is why exclusion and segregation are detrimental. Exclusion and segregation violate human design and human dignity. In other words, exclusion dehumanizes human beings. This is where King’s emphasis on the “beloved community” adds to Volf’s identification of exclusion as sin. If exclusion is sin, then King highlights that inclusion is life – for some, even salvation and healing.[12]

King’s anthropology was also informed by the racism he experienced. King’s anthropology stood in direct contrast to white racist anthropology. White racist anthropology claimed that people of color, particularly Black Americans, were not in equal standing to white Americans. King claimed that every human being is free and equal and must be respected. The worth of human beings is transcendental because it is not determined by skin color or social status but by an intrinsic relatedness to God.[13] For King, any ideology or system that did not uphold the interconnectedness of human beings, and that did not uphold the value of every human being was opposed to God’s will for humanity and was attempting to disrupt God’s creative order.

Lastly, what are the implications of Volf’s and King’s views on exclusion and inclusion for Christian ministry and public policy today? Firstly, Christian ministers need to be able to take on the prophetic and public role that King displays. King called out the systems of oppression that dehumanized people of color. What is quite saddening is that there were churches that were against the Civil Rights Movement. Some churches remained quiet and simply watched. Volf notes that theologians and pastors should not participate in the legislation process of policies or to push for specific policies to pass. Although I understand that it must be left “to the experts,” that is not what King displays should be the role of Christian ministry in the struggle for justice. What if churches do not have experts? What if the so-called experts are the ones perpetuating oppression in the name of wisdom? Like King states, there comes a time where we can no longer wait.

Secondly, Volf is right in saying that our theology must inform and influence the policymakers. Today, in the conversation and topic of immigrant rights, the sin of exclusion is one that our country is culpable of. Although much progress has been made with the passing of policies like DACA and policies that facilitate obtaining citizenship after years of residence – more can be done. In the last four years, DACA has been under threat of removal, and in this year alone, laws have been passed or revamped in order to keep colored immigrants out of the country. One policy is the finger-print test given to people who show up to ask for asylum in the US. The finger-print policy is fueled by the assumption that immigrant people of color pose a criminal threat to the US. These anti-immigrant policies have been backed by anti-immigrant rhetoric that criminalizes immigrants and manifests in the separation of immigrant families within the border of the US and Mexico.

King and Volf inspire a reimagining of the practice of Christian ministry and how that ministry ought to function prophetically in criticizing policies that exclude and oppress. The next step is to consider what changes need to be made. Policies that exclude the “other” even the “immigrant other” are destructive. King in this instance would fight for the integration of the immigrant other not exclude them.

[1] Miroslav Volf. Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2019). Kindle Location 290.

[2] Volf, Kindle Location 1650.

[3] Volf, Kindle Location 1663.

[4] James Melvin Washington. A Testament of Hope. (New York: HarperCollins). 121.

[5] Martin Luther King Jr. Stride Toward Freedom. (Boston: Beacon Press). 106.

[6] Hak Joon Lee and Peter J. Paris. We Will Get to the Promised Land: Martin Luther King Jr’s Communal-Political Spirituality. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock 2017). 91

[7] Lee, 86.

[8] Volf, Kindle Location, 587.

[9] Washington, 16.

[10] Lee, 88.

[11] Washington, 122.

[12] It causes me to think of how salvation has been seen in individualistic forms.

[13] Lee, 89.

“Even in Exile” – Thoughts on God’s Faithfulness 

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“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV

Seasons change.

We can see it in nature. The cycle of seasons looks different in various parts of the world. While it is summer in Los Angeles, it is winter in Sydney (imagine celebrating Christmas during summer?)

Just like there are different seasons in nature, our lives go through different seasons as well. These new seasons can be marked by a new job or a new relationship. They can also be marked by the loss of a job or the end of a relationship. Nonetheless, we all go through these changes.

Change can also be overwhelming. It can cause feelings of insufficiency or fear. How then do we face change?

When we are going through a change of seasons the key is to stay planted in God’s love and faithfulness.

Jeremiah spoke of such stance. Jeremiah knew that the people of Israel were about to face one of the biggest changes in their history, exile and captivity. His call to the people of Israel was to trust God. In trusting God, the people of Israel would be able to withstand the coming season.

You know you are planted when change comes and you choose to trust God. You can be in exile or you can be in the promised land but your trust in God remains.

Eventually, God delivered Israel from exile. If you recall, God had once delivered Israel from the oppression of Egypt and now God had delivered Israel from the oppression of Babylon. God, once again demonstrated his love and faithfulness toward Israel.

Rest assured that the God that has been faithful to you, will continue to be faithful. He delivered you once from Egypt, He will surely deliver you again from Babylon. God will NEVER leave you nor forsake you. That is a promise.