Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Lex Talionis versus Lex Orandi.
  Say what?   These are Latin phrases standing for the Law of Retaliation versus the Law of Prayer.   I had never really thought about them in regard to racial reconciliation until I was listening to a lecture about Cyprian, a Bishop from North Africa, who had to deal with whether or not the Church should forgive those who had betrayed their faith (lapsi) during a time of persecution and made sacrifice or burned incense to the Emperor of Rome.

   We know the Law of Retaliation in terms of “An eye for an eye.”   The Law of Prayer is the one found in Mark 11:25.  In this passage Jesus is teaching about prayer. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”  Or, as when Jesus taught his disciples to pray what we call “The Lord’s Prayer,” he adds, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  Matthew 6:14-15.

    The Bishops of North Africa came to a decision about demanding “penance” for those who had betrayed their faith, but they also came to the conclusion that eventually they had to forgive them and receive them back into the Church.  Some of the Bishops had lost all their property, some had been in hiding during the persecution, some had been tortured and had not given in to the demands to deny their faith.  They had lost family and friends to the Roman persecution and seen fellow Christians slaughtered for their faith.  It must not have been easy to forgive these traitors.  There was another group of Christians (Rigorists) who felt that those who had betrayed their faith should never be forgiven or brought back in the Church.

    I confess that I have a problem with the teachings of Jesus about forgiving others, especially when I am praying or before I pray.  My problem is not with his authority, or the truth of it.  My problem is I don’t want to do it.  These are usually simply personal issues of offense; someone who has betrayed me, slandered me, said something mean to me or about me.  They have hurt me, and I can’t seem to get over it or shake it.  Then Jesus says, “when you stand praying…”  Which of course is every day for me, every day I come before the Lord to pray, or if you think he is speaking of formal worship then I have to face the issue every week.

   So how about those who bear the scars of racism and racist attacks?  How about those who have experienced loss due to prejudice and bias, or have been and are insulted, or who feel the suffering of their people as a minority in a majority world, read and hear a long history of oppression, see present instances of ignorant, mean, and harsh hostility based on race?  Suppose these people who have experienced suffering or are sensitive to this suffering are indeed Christians, and suppose some of the racists also call themselves Christians?

   It is one thing of course to call sinners to repentance, no matter what those sins might be.  This is what believers and the Church of Jesus Christ should be doing against all sin, racism and injustice included; calling for an end to it, calling for repentance for it, calling for evil and sin to stop.  What happens when there are people who do repent, at least in owning up to their sin, who are sorrowful for it, who confess it?

This is exactly I think where Cyprian found himself, trying hard to believe these people were really sorry for what they had done, trying to figure out how they could move toward repairing the damage, prove their loyalty, and make their way back into fellowship.  I think it reasonable for those of us who have been racist in our hearts and actions to bring forth fruit worthy of our repentance, and do the demonstrable work of pursing reconciliation- and not just ask for a “make me feel better” card.  I think Cyprian and the other Bishops were also trying to figure out a way inside themselves to let the bitterness go, to truly and completely forgive.

   The hurt inside us makes Lex Talionis seem so reasonable.  Justice demands a payment, a recompense, a pound of flesh.  Forgiveness often seems like a miracle, and it seems that way because it really is one, a miracle given by God inside our hearts and without which we can’t really claim to know God, or to love Him, not really.   We either forgive or we don’t get forgiven, and that to me seems really harsh of God and I personally wish he would cut us some slack about hating people and be more understanding about it.  I suppose a father who gave his only son to die for and completely forgive his enemies has a right to expect the same from us.  The really good news in the theology I believe is that not only does he demand it, but he provides miraculous grace to do it.  Lord, give us more grace!

Monday, October 1, 2018


   I feel caught between a rock and a hard place in the conflict between sympathy for the victims of sexual assault or abuse and the rule of law.   Many of my friends cast this current conflict at the hearing for the Supreme Court in the light of power versus victims.  Many people are simply saying, “believe the victim!”   Others are reminding us that a person is considered innocent until “proven” guilty.

   I want to do both.  If someone is indeed a victim I want to believe them, love on them, protect them, and even avenge them.  Whatever in my feeble and inept ways I can I want to be there for them, try to understand, listen, and weep with those who weep. 

   In my own family I have seen someone ripped apart by the abuse they suffered, and I admit that I will never adequately know how that has affected their fears, feelings, self-image, confidence, sense of security, and ability to trust.  I have marveled at how they have clung to the grace of God, and by the power of God have been able to give of themselves, have courage, and even speak frankly about the effects of abuse on their life. It is undeniable to me that abuse radically shapes a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.

   Some may say that the hearings are not a trial, so it is okay to bring accusations without proof or corroboration.  I have seen this kind of equivocal situation in the context of the church, usually in the case of church member versus pastor, or elder.  There too it might be looked at as a victim versus power.  When Ruling Elders of a church allow a member to come to a Session meeting and bring accusations against a pastor, or even another member, without witnesses or proof, but solely in the name of keeping the peace by allowing someone who feels aggrieved the opportunity to vent their feelings, it is not only destructive and detrimental to the protection of the church and its authority but simply wrong.  Equivocation between parties is not justice, though it might appear to be so by adjudicators thinking they are keeping the peace.

    There is a movement to erase all boundaries of protection for a person's reputation in the name of giving comfort and safety to those who claim to have been abused.  Ultimately this is corrupting to the rule of law and is more akin to lynch law where the mob makes decisions on their emotional response to a situation.  

   We obviously have a dilemma, as a society, when it comes to such things.   How much time should we allow victims to bring forward their stories?  Is it ever too late to bring something up from the past, especially if it is some kind of sexual abuse?  My answer would tend to be that there should be no time limit, but there should always be the limiting factor of who is told, and the limiting factors of standards by which people are believed.  We have to protect children, or those abused as children, and women, and we have to give them a way to bring their story and accusations forward, while at the same time not giving way to a flood of hysteria that takes away all safeguards for people who are innocent of those charges.

    We don't have to look far to see the danger, first in the Bible with the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife, then to the stories of black men lynched at the word of white women that were later found to be lying, and even to present day as men are finally let out of prison when DNA proves they could not have done the crime for which they were incarcerated.  

    I feel ashamed as an American to see all this played out at the Senate hearings.  I am ashamed that the Senate would ever let someone step forward to make an accusation about someone without corroboration, prior to their public appearance.  This is equivocation of the worst sort, with political gamesmanship and the weaponizing of public opinion. 

     I am ashamed of teen-age drinking parties, where parental supervision seems to get lost or be abandoned.  I am ashamed of men who try to rape women, and most especially of those who sexually abuse children.  I am past shame and into anger when it comes to and kind of religious authority using their position to sexually abuse children.  I am ashamed of myself when I think of where, and how, I learned about sex and what I wanted and tried to do and get away with in my teen years.

   I am grateful for the cross of Christ where I found forgiveness and the power to be delivered from really intense sexual bondage.  I am sad that our society seems to know so little about forgiveness, or grace, and can't seem to provide either one to victims or perpetrators.  I don't think this reality TV has helped us very much, except to realize that there has to be a better way for the Senate to advise and consent to the President's choice.