Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just War Conclusion

The Just War paper turned out pretty darn good, imho. Here's the final paragraph:

  The goal of the Just War tradition should be to make each subsequent war more just than the last. Interestingly, to do this requires well-trained standing armies. Standing armies are anathema to a lasting global peace. As Walzer puts it, “[o]ne does not abolish war by fighting it well; nor does fighting it well make it tolerable” (45). Yet until the time comes that “the wolf shall live with the lamb,” this tradition serves to reduce the amount of suffering resulting from war by restricting both when it is fought and how it is fought.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Afghanistan and Just War

I just saw this story this morning: insurgency and thought of Michael Walzer's Just and Unjust Wars. While I don't have time to go into too much detail or properly cite, the issue at hand is legitimate authority. If legitimate authority is only ever taken to mean "the government," then revolutions against oppressive dictators are never just. Walzer nuances the idea of legitimate authority to include insurrection against an established government. He believes if the insurrection has enough popular support to be self-sustaining, it thus becomes a legitimate authority.

It doesn't appear that the Afghan insurgency has reached that level yet, or that it is anything other than a military organ (as opposed to having a political wing as well), but it is worth keeping an eye on.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

First Step Toward a Thesis

I won't be defending my thesis until Fall 2011 but for some reason I got a bug up my butt to start putting stuff down on paper (well -- in a word processor).

Just Sex: A Theory for the Moral Use of Sexuality

Obviously comes out of my Just War research. There were just too many similarities between war and sex to overlook. Of course, taking the analogy too far will go from clever comparison to false analogy so I gotta be careful how far I take it.

The question is basically: "When is it OK to have sex?"

The traditional rule of "No sex until marriage" is simple and easy to apply when it comes to judgement (not to mention how hard it is to apply in practice!), but views marriage as a state of being as opposed to a process. It also has other drawbacks. I wouldn't use "obsolete" because I don't even think it would have been a great rule for 2000 years ago, but it seems less applicable in the 21st century as we put off marriage longer and longer.

Rest assured I will not be arguing for wanton hedonism and multiple sexual partners.

I'm sure there will be more to come in future posts.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An Open Letter to Howell, Michigan Schools Superintendent

Background on this topic: News article

Dear Mr. Wilson,

This message is to show support for Mr. McDowell and to protest his one-day suspension. McDowell acted within the professional bounds of an educator in restricting the speech of his students. The classroom is not an anything-goes environment nor is it the realm of fully protected free-speech that other environments are. It is the space where we educate and nurture our youth.

A message such as “I don’t accept gays” is neither educative nor nurturing and should not be tolerated in a school. This message is vastly different from “my religion teaches that homosexual acts are a sin.” Saying “I don’t accept gays” in fact completely negates the humanity of someone who is gay. “I don’t accept that you are my equal as a human” is the message behind those four words.

Violence against homosexuals is real. Whether it is the mental violence of bullying, the physical violence of assault, or the lethal effects of suicide, we are all to be held accountable for the societal environment that results in these acts. And these acts begin with such statements as “I don’t accept gays.” Let the churches debate over the sinfulness or not of homosexuality. Let the schools accept all of our youth into its learning and nurturing environment.

People are dying—no, CHILDREN are dying right now because of incidents such as these. The actions taken by the district against Mr. McDowell do nothing to help this reality.


Here is Mr. Wilson's response in its entirety (including a copy and paste of a separate news article):


Thank you for expressing your opinion.  I would assume by your comments that you do not understand the facts regarding our decision to discipline a teacher for bulling a student.   The following article may help you better understand what happened:
November 2, 2010 
Superintendent made all the right moves in Howell controversy
Union wrong to characterize incident as gay-bashing
By Steve Gunn
EAG Communications
     HOWELL - We knew Ron Wilson was taking on a big challenge when he left Cass City  to become superintendent of Howell Public Schools.
     Howell has been a hotbed for labor unrest in recent years, and it didn't take long for Wilson to encounter his first major scrape with the local union.
     It began Oct. 20, when students at Howell High School participated in a statewide "anti-bullying" day. A few students broadened the meaning of the demonstration by wearing purple shirts to signify their support for gay teens who face daily harassment.
     Jay McDowell, a teacher in the district and president of the Howell Education Association, also wore purple that day.
     During one of McDowell's classes, he chastised a female student for wearing a belt buckle featuring the "stars and bars" of the old Confederate States of America. A male student protested, saying the belt buckle should be allowed if gay rights symbols are allowed.
     The student went on to say that he doesn't approve of homosexual lifestyles, based on his Christian beliefs. Another male student joined the protest, and both were kicked out of class.
     The parents of one of the students contacted the school, and Wilson reacted by investigating the incident and giving McDowell a one-day suspension.
     "As the superintendent of Howell Public Schools, it is my responsibility to assure the fair and respectful treatment of all students and staff," Wilson wrote in a prepared statement. "In keeping with this responsibility, I disciplined a teacher consistent with board policy.
     "The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of free speech. The first amendment and its application in school has been tested and upheld in the courts as long as it is not disruptive to the delivery of education. Defending everyone's right to free speech is not always easy, but living in a democracy rarely is easy. Regardless of my personal feelings, I must defend the rights of all students."
Misinformation campaign
     Predictably, Wilson's action was greeted with a tidal wave of protest.
     Messages rolled in from across the nation, accusing the superintendent of promoting homophobic attitudes by disciplining McDowell.
     "I've received several hundred e-mails, most of them form letters from different groups around the country," Wilson told the Insider. "Most of them said they were disappointed that we had to discipline a teacher who defended gay rights and the rights of teachers.
     "When I responded, and explained that I took the action I felt necessary given the circumstances, many of them wrote back saying that they didn't understand what really happened. Some of them were even apologetic."
     Most of the angry messages were prompted by misinformation spread by local union members who were angered by the suspension, according to Wilson.
     "This was a situation where the union president was disciplined, and because his actions were indefensible, they twisted it to be a gay-bashing incident," Wilson said. "It definitely was not that. Even our local diversity council said that this was not a diversity issue - it's a labor-management issue."
     The Howell Education Association issued a statement saying, "We...are proud that Mr. McDowell has the moral fiber and integrity to stand up to intolerant speech as well as symbols of hate in our community and in our classrooms."
     That's not quite what he did, folks. McDowell staged a political protest of his own through the clothing he chose to wear, then became intolerant of students who disagreed with his position. If he didn't want a debate, he should have worn something different, or allowed the students to express themselves in a similar manner. 
     Following the incident, a local newspaper and radio station served the school with freedom of information requests, demanding copies of the investigation and discipline records.
     The union tried to block the release of the information, but Wilson found no legal reason to hold it and informed the HEA of his decision.
     "Personnel records are subject to FOIA," Wilson said.
     Wilson said he believes the union wanted the district to withhold records detailing the facts for as long as possible, so its campaign of misinformation would have more effect.
     "I think it was just a stall tactic," Wilson said. "The longer the correct information was not out there, the more it bolstered their letter writing and Facebook campaign."
Rights must be protected
     We don't believe there is anything wrong with students or school employees showing support for gay teens, who are frequently the targets of heartless bullying.
     School officials are correct to encourage compassion and tolerance toward others. God knows our society has a shortage of both qualities.
     The purple shirt demonstration was prompted by a recent rash of gay teen suicides across the nation. Perhaps by seeing a few of their classmates and teachers showing support, some troubled kids gained the courage to push on with their lives, despite the inexcusable treatment they receive.
     But as a teacher, McDowell had the responsibility to tolerate opposing points of view that were prompted by his clothing. He may have found the student's comments to be mean-spirited and insensitive, but in America we have the right to be mean-spirited and insensitive.
     McDowell was simply defending his idea of political correctness. There is nothing in the Constitution to back up his position.
     As Wilson put it, "Had Mr. McDowell told the kids that he was going to kick them out of class if they didn't believe in Christian lifestyles, I would have pursued the issue just as vehemently. It's a matter of first amendment freedom of speech."
     We were particularly troubled by the HEA's willingness to block public access to records regarding the incident.
     Too often school employees - particularly union leaders - forget that public schools are funded with public dollars, and the public has a right to know what happens in those schools.
     School employees sometimes forget that they are public employees, just as much as a mayor, state representative or governor. Their actions, particularly on the job, should be completely open to public scrutiny.
     Wilson did what the law said he was supposed to do.
     We have just one word of caution for Wilson. HEA leaders are known for attacking superintendents who make decisions they don't like. Not long ago they were successful in convincing the school board to fire a superintendent who frequently took tough stands against the union.
     We hope Howell school board members recognize a strong, principled leader when they have one, and keep him around for as long as possible.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Wow, That's a Long Bibliography

Sorry for the formatting. Not willing to spend the time to make it look neat on blogspot!

"Asking the Tough Questions.” Broadcasting & Cable 29 Mar. 2004: 30. PDF.
Burghardt, Walter J. “A Just War? In Iraq?” Living Pulpit 14.4 (2005): 18-19. PDF.
Calabrese, Andrew. "Casus Belli: U.S. Media and the Justification of the Iraq War." Television & New Media 6.2 (2005): 153-175. PDF.
Casey, Shaun. “Just War and Iraq? Ethical Theory Says No.” Word & World 23.1 (2003): 94-96. PDF.
Colson, Charles. “Just War in Iraq: Sometimes Going to War Is the Charitable Thing to Do.” Christianity Today 46.13 (2002): 72. PDF.
Fredrickson, David. “Pauline Ethics: Congregations as Communities of Moral Deliberation.”
The Promise of Lutheran Ethics. Ed. Karen Bloomquist and John R. Stumme.
Minneapolis: Fortress P, 1998. 115-129. Print.
Gumucio, Cristián Parker. "War and Armed Conflicts: The Ambivalent Role of the Communications Media.” Return of the Just War. 24-32. London: SCM Pr, 2001. PDF.
Himes, Kenneth. “Intervention, Just War, and U.S. National Security.” Theological Studies 65
(2004): 141-157. PDF.
Lull, Patricia. “Just War and Iraq? Ethical Action Requires Conversation.” Word & World 23.1
(2003): 95-97. PDF.
Maguire, Daniel. “The Abnormality of War: Dissecting the 'Just War' Euphemisms and Building an Ethics of Peace.” Horizons 33.1 (2006): 111-126. PDF.
McCormick, Patrick T. “Saving 'Citizen' Ryan: Supporting a Just War or Just Supporting the
Troops?.” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 29.1 (2009): 109-126. PDF.
Mellor, Noha. "War as a Moral Discourse." International Communication Gazette 71.5 (2009): 400-427. PDF.
Niebuhr, Reinhold. Love and Justice: Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Niebuhr.
Philadelphia: The Westminster P, 1957. Print.
Reimer, A. James. Christians and War. Minneapolis: Fortress P: 2010. Print.
Riswold, Caryn. “A Theological Response to 'The Case for a Pre-emptive Strike.'” Political
Theology 5.2 (2004): 201-213. PDF.
Robinson, Paul, Nigel de Lee, Don Carrick. Ethics Education in the Military. Cornwall: Ashgate,
2008. Print.
Robinson, Piers, et al. "Testing Models of Media Performance in Wartime: U.K. TV News and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq." Journal of Communication 59.3 (2009): 534-563. PDF.
Stiltner, Brian. “Just War: Second Thoughts on Iraq.” Christian Century 12 Dec 2006: 34-35. PDF.
Taylor, Ian. "Surveying the Battlefield: Mapping the different arguments and positions of the Iraq War debate through Frame Analysis." Westminster Papers in Communication & Culture 5.3 (2008): 69-90. PDF.
Walzer, Michael. Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations. 3rd ed.
Basic Books, 2000. Print.
Weigel, George. “Just War and Iraq Wars.” First Things 172 (2007): 14-20. PDF.
Yoder, John H. When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking. 2nd ed. Eugene: Wipf &
Stock, 2001. Print. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

On Don't Ask Don't Tell

This is a hot button issue lately and I suppose begs a post.

There certainly seems no reason to me to keep DADT in place in to in any way differentiate between homosexual soldiers and straight ones (outside of the mundane). Any rule that is aimed at homosexual soldiers is by definition discriminatory. There simply does not appear a valid reason for keeping DADT or an even more restrictive rule in place. There is also evidence from other countries that homosexuals serving openly in the military does not adversely affect morale or effectiveness.

DADT is by definition discriminatory. Countries that have opened the ranks are not adversely affected. What reasons remain for keeping any restrictive rules on military personnel that happen to be homosexual?

Many in the military have said there will be huge problems for those currently serving if openly homosexual soldiers are allowed to serve. This is a very important argument. We cannot simply ignore the reservations, emotions, and worries and the thousands (if not millions?) of those currently serving. I do not believe, however, that it should have any bearing on whether homosexuals should serve or not. Where it DOES matter is how the inclusion of homosexual soldiers is put into effect--the logistics of an integrated military.

The best analogy I can think of for this issue is the segregation and later integration of blacks in the military. There were many similar arguments for maintaining a segregated military. At the end of the day, however, it simply was not the right thing to do. The white-male military had to "deal with it" and "get over it." It is in this "dealing" and "getting over" that I think is the most delicate part of the process and requires the most care in addressing the opinions of those currently serving.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Personal Introduction to Just War Theory

This semester I'm taking a course called "Religion, Violence, and Conflict." I figured it'd be a great chance to get a good foundation in Just War theory and pacifism. Personally, I've been a pacifist since discovering the idea via Leo Tolstoy as well as an excellent write up by a blogger at Cramer Comments. There is always something not-quite-right about pacifism though. When faced with a situation of self defense (or even worse, defense of a loved one), pacifism always seems against nature. I still believe, however, that Christ was explicit in what we SHOULD do. Whether we have the faith to do it is a different story.

But Just War theory is approached from a different perspective. It isn't as individually focused but is more socially focused. How should societies (re: nations) react to aggression, belligerence, human rights violations, etc. It's a bit more complicated when viewed on a grander scale.

So far I've read a very good (and thorough!) book by Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars. It's quite a read, but by the end gives as good an overview as one could imagine. I've moved on to Love and Justice by Reinhold Niebuhr to focus on Just War arguments during WW2 and beyond. My initial thesis was that WW2 led to a revision of Just War theory making it easier to go to war. Because I believe WW2 to be an exception and not a rule, this would have made theory LESS just instead of MORE just. The jury is still out on it though.

A different course I may take is to look at what other concepts are necessary to arrive at a jus ad bellum and jus in bello. What are the sine quibus non for Just War that may not pop into our heads as easily as aggressor identification and combatant/non-combatant status?

Three points have popped out at me and will most likely form the basis for my paper.

1) A well trained military is needed for a just war. Not only in technical aspects such as aiming (good aim, after all, could be the difference between hitting a combatant or a child), but also moral training in all the points that Walzer brings up. Just War theory is inherently casuist in nature--rules are made only after the fact and are fluid. Yet studying the historical cases is what ethicists do and these inform decisions for new cases. A soldier in the field is often expected to make a moral decision in a matter of moments. This can't happen in a vacuum. Moral training is necessary as well as all the other military training.

2) An open, national conversation must take place. This is most obvious in the time leading up to war (jus ad bellum), but is also important if any of the means used in the conflict become controversial (jus in bello). The decision to go to war cannot be made solely by politicians or military leaders. The entire public must be included in the discussion. I also feel that voluntary enlistment is the only way to go. If the case can't be made convincingly enough to raise a military voluntarily, then the case for war may not be just.

3) An accurate and free press. The conversation above cannot take place if there is not a free and high quality press. Conversation is based on facts as well as feelings and faith. If the facts are wrong, the conclusion may be wrong. The most blatant (and recent) example of this is the current war in Iraq. If the conversation was based upon Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and affiliations with Al Qaeda, then the conclusion could be ill-founded. If the conversation were based on truth, we may have arrived at a different decision.

There is a lot more to be said about all three of these, but that's why it'll be a 20 page paper.

Other books on my to-read list:

And a bunch of journal articles I haven't gotten to yet. . .

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reclaiming Christian: On Anne Rice and Identity

Recently Anne Rice announced she's quitting Christianity. While I can't find the entirety of her statement, here is what the news included:

"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. . .. In the name of ... Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."

I think it's obvious that Rice is working with a pretty inaccurate definition of "Christian." By what she says she obviously still clings to Christ and wants to lead a Christ-like life. Perhaps renouncing institutional religion or Roman Catholicism may have been more accurate, but there is still an interesting point to be made about "Christian."

The question "What is a Christian?" would get numerous responses from numerous people. Same with "Who is a Christian?" or "How can I tell if someone is a Christian?" So who defines "Christian"? Who decides who defines it? I would imagine the answer would be "society" but that simply regresses to "Who is society?" At the end, what we are dealing with is identity.

Sure, we like to think that we provide our own identity. We decide who we are. Yet there is no doubt that society/culture has a huge influence on determining who we are. From women being told they'll never be President to Nemo being told he can't do something because of his "lucky" fin, what people tell us about us influences what we think of ourselves.

So is Rice reacting in some way to what society/culture is telling her a Christian is? I say yes. Society/culture over the last several decades has defined "Christian" as the religious right. This is mainly imposed upon us through the media, but it also plays out in churches, work, and families. It's been a great PR battle that conservative Christians have won. In the overwhelming majority of instances when "Christian" is used in the media or in conversation, the basic image we get is of the conservative Christian. I doubt many people would think of Dorothee Soelle, Martin Luther King Jr., or St. Francis.

But the religious left is also to blame for this narrow definition of "Christian." Liberal Christians have done just what Rice has done--abandoned the Christian identity. If asked "Are you Christian?" they may reply with "Well I'm spiritual but not religious" or "Well. . . yes, but I'm not THAT kind of Christian." There's been a sense of shame involved in admitting being a Christian for many liberal Christians. This means that the only voice available to balance out the image that the religious right is offering is silent. There is no group to counteract the predominant image of Christian identity.

That is why liberal Christians must reclaim "Christian." The goal is not to shift the Christian identity to the left so that it excludes the right. That would be just as inaccurate and unfair as the status quo. What is desired is a broadening of Christian identity so that it includes the right AND left and everyone in between.

Liberal Christians must answer the question with pride: "Yes, I am a Christian." No qualifiers. No shame. If the conversation continues, they can feel free to add "but I am for birth control use" or "I'm against institutional violence of any kind" or "I'm for taxing the richer half of society in order to provide for the poor."

Reform will never come from outside of the Church. Leaving "Christianity" and then expecting it to somehow "miss" you and become more inclusive for you will never happen. Reclaiming "Christian" and reforming from inside the Church WILL work. This has been done and is being done now. And my same advice goes to conservatives who feel the Church is becoming too liberal--don't leave. We won't miss you. Stay and claim "Christian."

Monday, April 19, 2010

7 Months in the Making!

This long overdue post literally couldn't have happened without 7 months passing since the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I could have, of course, written something else but didn't feel inspired. Since the Churchwide Assembly and resulting chaos, I have done a good deal of research on the subject of sexuality both in and out of the church as well as homosexuality in specific.

Through the research I've conducted as well as a 20 page term paper I've written, I have actually found myself being drawn back "into the fold" of the Lutheran church. It has been years since I would self-identify as "Lutheran" but I've even gone so far as to change my Facebook information to reflect my return. I would imagine, for many people, the 2009 Churchwide Assembly may have had the opposite effect--while not turning them away from the Lutheran church, it may have turned them away from the ELCA.

The aspect of my research I'd like to focus on is the conversation (abstractly speaking) that has taken place over the past 3 months between my father and I. Upon reading Faithful Conversations, a resource published by Augsburg Fortress (publishing wing of the ELCA), I suggested my father read it as well. While not wanting to speak on his behalf, I think it is safe to say that he disagreed with the ELCA's decision and was deeply disturbed by it.

So my father and I would exchange notes so to speak on the different essays on Faithful Conversations as well as go down tangents based on some other reading I had done for class. The net effect of all this study and talking was that he remained against the decision and I remained for it (and even more). Yet this experiment was a success because in the end we were able to understand and appreciate, while not agreeing, with each other's position. I could sympathize with my father's frustration with having to accept a decision he viewed as an incorrect interpretation of scripture, but my father was also able to accept that scripture could be interpreted in a way to allow for homosexuals as priests without having to rely on logical or hermeneutical gymnastics (at least I think he is!).

This mutual appreciation for divergent views is of utmost importance right now in my own church. People are upset with the ELCA, the synod, and each other not because they disagree, but because they haven't had a covnersation about the topic. The "pro-group" can't relate to the "ant-group" because they haven't heard their explanation and vice versa. A mature conversation between all parties (and there are not just two but many) is needed not to come to an agreement, but to come to an understanding.

If having this conversation can lead me to embrace being Lutheran as well as bringing my father and I closer together, there is no reason to fear having the same talk among a congregation.

For those interested in pursuing this conversation further I recommend the following resources:

The Church and the Homosexual by John McNeil--This is written by a Jesuit and is not impartial. His goal is to set forth and new theology that is accepting of homosexuality.

Faithful Conversation (ed. by James Childs)--This is the collection of essays I mention. It is impartial on the whole, though some individual essays take a side.

Background Essay on Biblical Texts by Arland Hultgren and Walter Taylor--An exegetical exposition of the Bible passages dealing with homosexuality. Impartial as both authors provide differing views. Available for free at

This last resource is part of Journey Together Faithfully which is a three part series on the church and sexuality. Part 2 is specifically about homosexuality