Ending the Isolation–A Statement from the Office of Public Witness on the Recent Violence Against Black Churches

 “In recent years there has been a re-emergence of Klan-like hate groups and increases in racially motivated violence around the country.”

Report of Committee on Brethren and black Americans, 1991 Annual Conference

The horrific violence at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in opwCharleston, South Carolina is not an isolated incident. As Jelani Cobb states in his recent New Yorker article, “Even if [Dylann Roof] acted by himself, he was not alone” and the recent burning of 6 predominantly black churches underscores the systemic violence and racism that our black brothers and sisters have always faced in America. Burning of black churches has been an ongoing practice since the Civil War intended to terrorize black communities and leaders.

When black lives and churches are faced with an increased danger, they often feel isolated from the wider, whiter community. While our denomination is predominately white, we are still called to stand in faith and solidarity with all our brothers and sisters in Christ –especially those who persecuted. In response to the shootings at Emanuel AME Church, General Secretary Stan Noffsinger and Director of Intercultural Ministries Gimbiya Kettering sent a letter of condolence and support on behalf of our denomination. We must, as Stan and Gimbiya emphasized in their letter, ask our black sisters and brothers what they would have us do and how we can best stand with them. One way to do this right now is to contact black churches in your community –and let them know that they are not alone.

Crucially, we must also commit ourselves to the task of deconstructing and destroying the racism that lies within ourselves and our church. Our 1991 statement reminds us of the weight and importance of this task saying, “Because racism is built into our way of life, it is extremely difficult to unmask it and honestly face the radical changes that need to be made in ourselves and our institutions if it is to be eradicated.” If we are unwilling to commit ourselves to these tasks then we dishonor the gospel of Jesus and forsake our black brothers and sisters. Paul reminds us in the second chapter of Ephesians that Christ has brought down the dividing wall and destroyed the hostility that once existed between peoples. Thus, any hostility, racism, or violence towards one another is of our own doing and blatantly disregards the reconciling work Christ has done for us all.

It is more important than ever that we call out this racism and violence for the sin that it is, respond to the voices of our black sisters and brothers, join them in solidarity, and live out lives of faith and justice that repudiate racism and follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Christ’s Peace,
Nathan Hosler
Director, Office of Public Witness

*Consider Donating to the National Council of Churches “Burned Churches Fund” to support these churches that have faced this recent violence:  http://nationalcouncilofchurches.us/pages/burned-churches-fund

**If interested in further reflection, the text of Nathan’s sermon given at Washington City Church of the Brethren on this recent violence can be found here: http://washingtoncitycob.org/2015/06/28/there-may-yet-be-hope-a-reflection-on-the-charleston-massacre/

Unnamed: Reflecting On Baltimore

A sermon at Washington City Church of the Brethren on May 3, 2015

By: Nathan Hosler

1 John 4:7-21

A week ago a nearby city was set aflame.

We likely felt many things during this time.

I was also reading for this sermon. Particularly reading and rereading the 1st John passage. Both these events and this passage require such depth of thought that I struggled to make sense and unpack all that needed to be considered. The passage was thick with theological considerations and the events contained layers hard to fathom. The passage begins:

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”

The potency of these words and the words that follow it are shocking when we pay attention and don’t read too quickly. Particularly how knowing and loving are connected in ways that we don’t typically connect.

Likewise the situation and discussions around race and police violence and community response require a depth of consideration that we may find hard to sustain.  What is needed in such a situation? Is it to name the unnamed?  To call out racism in our system—in ourselves? Should we try to “find out” what happened? Reading accounts and forming opinions on who did what and why and how? Do we need to form an opinion on what happened so we can choose a side, stake a position, argue a point? Does the world need me or us to say something, to add words to the cacophony, to argue for justice or truth or the institution or the oppressed community? Should we start with the text or the context? With God or the people?

It is in this situation that it is hard to know where to start.

This passage revolves around a particular, quite clear, and quite dramatic proposition.–

God is love.

'People Are Good'-Annie Howe/ HandOut

‘People Are Good’-Annie Howe/ HandOut

What does it mean for God to be love? We typically say we love—which is a verb—that is we love someone or something. Or perhaps that someone—perhaps God—is loving, but in this we see “God is love.” If we back up just a verse and a half earlier we read the exhortation “Let us love one another.”  This is predicated off of God as the source of love. It reads “for love comes from God.”

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”

And it continues saying not only is God the source of love but those who love are born of God. The passage includes God being defined as love, being the source of love, noting how God demonstrates God’s love, how Jesus’ appearance is the embodying of love, and how we are also to be defined by love as children of God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

That we might live through him.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. God’s love is demonstrated to us through the giving of life. It is not so much that life is the ultimate goal as that it is the concrete expression of God’s love toward us. As such it is not to be taken lightly. Life is not to be thrown away. However, life is not the ultimate goal. At least life as we tend to describe it. As I believe Shaine Claiborne has said, the goal of life is not to get out of life alive. Meaning that life is of great value but in order to live I need to give my life, and not take life or devalue other’s lives because they are a different race, nationality, political opinion, economic position, or sex.

Why are there so many deaths by police in the news recently? Is there an increase or is what has always happened just making it into the news? I recognize that I am a white man and as such feel both compelled to talk about racism and a little anxious. But I feel that I must at least attempt to speak.

I must admit I am unsure what to say. You have likely heard much talk of what happened and how people responded. You likely heard that though there were many strong responses to Freddie’s death these varied in how they were manifest on the street. You also heard people’s responses to these various actions and then heard other people criticizing certain leaders for calling people involved in destruction “thugs.” I was neither there nor am I an expert on all that was said or done. I, as such, don’t feel qualified to comment very specifically but do feel compelled to respond in some manner—at least give some reflect on how we as a church might respond. I am, of course, not assuming that our congregation or denomination is only white. This would further monopolize who is assumed to be “really” Brethren. I am also not assuming that everyone is either white or black as if those are the two binary options. Nor am I assuming that any of these groups are monolithic without cultural, political, theological, historical, or other differences. Though Brethren are not mono-ethnic or mono-culture it is critical to recognize that Brethren persons of color have often been marginalized and experienced racism and prejudice at Brethren events. The January edition of the Messenger magazine bears witness to this. So while this sermon is not attempting to comprehensively address race and racism in our church I felt these few notations were necessary.

In addition to preaching, I am also a doctoral student in theological ethics. One of the books on my shelf that I hadn’t gotten to reading yet was James Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation. The book was first published in 1970 to provide an expanded theological reflection and foundation to the Black Power and Civil Rights movements. So while beginning to think toward preaching this Sunday in light of Baltimore I began reading this work. He begins asserting a basic presupposition that should guide the work of theologians. He writes,

“Theology can never be neutral or fail to take sides on issues related to the plight of the oppressed” (James Cone, “A Black Theology of Liberation: Twentieth Anniversary with Critical Responses,” Orbis Books, p4.)

As such, taking sides with the oppressed is the organizing principle rather than fairness. Because when fairness is the dominant approach the dominant will always come out on top. The dominant can control media and hold sway (or control) institutions. This does not however mean that truthfulness is abandoned but that our stance should be partial towards the oppressed. The default presumption is on the side of the oppressed. This is an expression of love as we have experienced in God.

Regarding Baltimore, when I hear claims of racism my default must be to presume that this is the case rather than my default being to question the claim. This means that my basic default is to trust such a claim rather than the counter claim of the system of the empowered and powerful.

“10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

The logic and flow of this passage continues on quite clearly. God is love. God demonstrates love to us concretely through the coming of Jesus. Since we are in relation to God and God loved us we should love others. Even though we have not seen God we see God manifest and “made complete” when we demonstrate God living in us by loving on another. We also know that we know that we live in God because he has given his Spirit. Because of this we can rely on God and trust God’s love for us. We also can live without fear. We read:

“18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

There is of course the possibility that we get stuck here—with the loving and being loved by God and not fearing because we are relying on the love of God. It is, in fact, a good place to be. We do, however, have the tendency towards narcissism—the tendency to stop with ourselves as if we and our wellbeing are the end goal. This can even happen when we serve our church or our neighbor. It is hard to get outside ourselves. This is, of course, our primary reference point but it also can become our end point.

In these verses the love we experience originates in God and flows to us in Jesus and the Spirit but concretely presently manifest in those around us. We then love but as a response to first being loved. The passage reads,

“19We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. 20For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  21And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

So the love of God is manifest in those around us and must go out from us to our brother, sister, neighbor, and even those deemed our enemy. This is how we experience and show the love of God.

This love must seek justice. It must challenge racism in our communities and globally which prioritizes certain people over others. This love must also challenge the presumption that violence is ultimately effective by confronting the militarization of our police and foreign policy.

We must name what is unnamed.

Seek justice.

Embody love.


TODAY–Immigration Webinar: Ending Family Detention

Today at 4 PM EDT, Join us and others from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition for a webinar on Ending Family Detention and Eliminating the Detention Bed Quota.

Recently participants at Christian Citizenship Seminar advocated to their elected officials for an end to family detention, and hundreds of other people of faith marched in Dilley, TX last weekend, prayed outside the White House, and gathered in Berks, Pennsylvania to end family detention. Children and mothers seeking refuge in the U.S. should not be detained. The Obama Administration closed all but one small family detention center in 2009, yet they were opened again after tens of thousands of Central American children and families fled to the U.S. last year. Some children and mothers have now spent as long as 8 months in jail-like facilities as their deportation proceedings move forward. Now momentum is building to end this inhumane practice again.

Meanwhile, the detention bed quota for Immigration Customs Enforcement, set by Congressional appropriators at 34,000 beds, is driving detention decisions and creating huge profits for private prisons that hold contracts with ICE.

Please join the call to find out what we can do to stop family detention and end the bed quota.

Please RSVP Here


Britney Nystrom, Director for Advocacy at Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service

Rev. Kelly Allen, Pastor at University Presbyterian Church, San Antonio and Co-Moderator of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition

Mary Small, Policy Director for Detention Watch Network

Call In Number
Code 104402

The link for the visual portion is http://join.me/faith4immigration

#SendItBack on International Conscientious Objectors Day: Michael Himlie’s Example

Today is International Conscientious Objectors Day. A day established in recognition of the long and storied history of conscientious objectors across the world. The Church of the Brethren was founded and built by people of conscience and we celebrate our tradition of conscience with a story from Brethren young adult Michael Himlie. Michael has carefully considered his beliefs and we support him in his journey of conscience and faith. Michael shares his story below.

“The official position of the Church of the Brethren is that all war is sin and that we seek the right of conscientious objection to all war. We seek no special privileges from our government. What we seek for ourselves, we seek for all – the right of individual conscience.”

–1970 Annual Conference Statement on War

card purning

Hi everyone! Michael Himlie here! In early April, 2015 I decided to further my stance on war, and not only maintain my position as a conscientious objector (C/O), but also submit my draft card to the Selective Service System (SSS), personally considering myself “deregistered from the Selective Service System”. For those of you that are not as familiar with this, it is not possible to deregister, the SSS does not even file C/O claims during “peacetime”. When I sent in my draft card this is the letter that I sent with it:

To whom it may concern,

My name is Michael Himlie; I am from the Root River Church of the Brethren in the Northern Plains District. This letter explains my understanding of war, and because of my beliefs, why I cannot and will not promote the structural violence of the Armed Forces.

As a very young child I was taught that violence is wrong. Today I believe that every problem, threat, or issue can be resolved nonviolently, that war is a curable disease. The Church of the Brethren, the denomination to which I belong, is considered one of the three historic peace churches. In addition to being active in the denomination, my work with organizations such as Brethren Volunteer Service, Christian Peacemaker Teams, On Earth Peace, New Community Project, and more are further proof of my dedication to a non-conformist lifestyle. Furthermore, violence is simply not an option for me; peacemaking is the only way for me to get to where I wish to go. If I want to bring peace to this world I must first find peace within myself, which I cannot do if I belong to the Selective Service System.

A personal commitment and vocation of being a follower of Jesus does not allow for me to submit to a system of violence, where maiming human life is honored by millions. I will not. Being a follower of Jesus, I will not discriminate, I will love all. With this, I choose to submit my draft card (Selective Service System card) back to the United States of America, signifying that I am no longer a part of the Selective Service System. I will personally be following up, to make certain that my stances are understood and accepted.

In Peace,

Michael John Himlie

After submitting this letter to the SSS I had received the following letter back from them with the enclosure of my draft card back to me.

National Headquarters I Arlington, Virginia 22209-2425
April 7, 2015

Mr. Michael J. Himlie
604 East College Avenue
North Manchester , Indiana 46962

Dear Mr. Himlie:

This responds to your letter postmarked April 2nd expressing your objection to war and promotion of “the structural violence of the Armed forces.” Thus, you enclose your Registration Acknowledgment Card and contend that “I am no longer a part of the Selective Service System.” I am returning your card because there is no authorization under the Military Selective Service Act to remove any man who has registered validly.

Virtually all men in the United States ages 18 through 25 are required by law to be registered with the Selective Service System, even though there has not been a draft since 1973 and none is contemplated in the foreseeable future, and even though they consider themselves a conscientious objector (CO). Registration is both a legal and civic responsibility.

Under the Military Selective Service Act , classification as a conscientious objector (CO) can only be made by a Selective Service Local Board; there is no provision for a self-designation . Further, classifications would only take place if a draft were underway because presently there are no active draft boards in existence nor claims for CO status being considered. In fact, the last draft ended over 41 years ago. However, upon reinstatement of a draft, all individuals who receive a notice to report for induction have an opportunity at that time to file a claim for reclassification, postponement, or exemption, to include CO status . But this opportunity to claim CO status only applies to men who are in our database, are called, and file the claim. Our boards are made up of individual volunteers who are nominated by the State Governor and appointed by the Director of Selective Service on behalf of the President. These uncompensated civilian men and women are from the area covered by the board and are reflective ethnically of the geographic region they serve. The document which describes all claims and the procedures to file for each, our Information for Registrants booklet, can be found at under publications and then under registration materials. Thank you for your observations.


Richard S. Flahavan
Associate Director of Public &
Intergovernmental Affairs

The SSS had returned my draft card to me, assuring me that it is impossible to deregister from the SSS. I feel that it is only right that I send my draft card back to the SSS, encouraging them that they had made a mistake. That I really do not want my card and that I no longer need it, as I consider myself deregistered from the SSS. While this is my personal decision, I have been blessed with the support of On Earth Peace, the Office of Public Witness of the Church of the Brethren, and Dunker Punks Inc.

michael pole

These actions will most likely never change how the Selective Service System works, but rather is to be more oriented towards building community among Brethren and friends who would like to join the movement in sending our draft cards in unity. I would also like to widen our community to those not submitted to the SSS, like women and those under 18 years of age, but would like to stand in solidarity with the Send It Back community. What I am asking is for you to consider sending you draft card back with me, increasing the number of cards sent in unity, every time the SSS sends our cards back to us, as they had sent mine back to me.

draft card

Above you can see a picture of my draft card, and yours probably looks similar. I would encourage and challenge all of you to consider how you can stand in solidarity with this project. I would encourage you even more to consider being in touch, sending in our draft cards together, assuring the SSS that we will not be silent, and we will not submit to a deeply rooted systemically violent practice. If you would like to learn more, and/or join the Send It Back community, please contact Michael Himlie at mjhimlie_23@hotmail.com or 507-429-4243. with it: https://mjhimlie23.wordpress.com/…/submission-of-draft-car…/ Today I received this letter back from the SSS: https://mjhimlie23.wordpress.com/…/selective-service-syste…/

The SSS had returned my draft card to me, assuring me that it is impossible to deregister from the SSS. I am currently working on ways to strengthen this act of nonviolent protest on war, and would like your help! It the coming days I should have more information about how I intend to strengthen this stance, in reassurance of my decision to deregister from the SSS. May peace be with you, sisters and brothers! #‎SendItBack with it: https://mjhimlie23.wordpress.com/…/submission-of-draft-car…/ Today I received this letter back from the SSS: https://mjhimlie23.wordpress.com/…/selective-service-syste…/ The SSS had returned my draft card to me, assuring me that it is impossible to deregister from the SSS. I am currently working on ways to strengthen this act of nonviolent protest on war, and would like your help! It the coming days I should have more information about how I intend to strengthen this stance, in reassurance of my decision to deregister from the SSS. May peace be with you, sisters and brothers! #‎SendItBack

With much peace and love,

Michael Himlie

Office of Public Witness Welcomes Nuclear Framework Agreement Between P5+1 and Iran

The framework agreement reached last week between the P5+1 and Iran is a welcome sign for the future of US relations in the Middle East and nuclear weapons policy more generally. The framework agreement significantly limits Iran’s capacity to produce material for a nuclear weapon in the near future and is hopefully a building block towards more diplomacy with Iran and other important countries in the region. It took political will and courage for all sides to come together despite their differences and hammer out this framework for an agreement that will benefit all sides in different ways. We commend these diplomatic leaders for coming together and finding common ground even after many groups and actions threatened the potential for an agreement. Anytime diplomacy pushes the world towards peace we applaud these efforts, and we also hope that this agreement will lead to a more substantial conversation about nuclear weapons across the globe.Office of Public Witness

As a Church that has publicly declared and believes, “that peace is the will of God and all war is sin”, we believe that much more must be done on the issue of nuclear weapons. It is not enough to simply limit countries that do not currently have these capabilities from getting them. Rather, as the only country to have employed a nuclear weapon during war, we believe the United States has the unique burden of leading the world towards nuclear disarmament. For decades we have called for and worked towards nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament through denominational, political, ecumenical and interfaith avenues, and we hope that this recent multi-lateral agreement with Iran will be the first step in a radical rethinking of our country’s and the world’s relationship with nuclear weapons.

Guest Post: Jenna Walmer Reflects on Her Call and A Visit to the Office of Public Witness

When I was younger, I always thought I was going to be a Physical Therapist. I was going to study Health and Exercise Science, get my Doctorate, and then be a PT for the rest of my life, helping people of all ages recover from injuries, like my PT had helped me. However, I also felt like I needed (and wanted) to study peace or conflict resolution. Being raised in the Church of the Brethren provided me with a passion for peace, and as I grow up that passion burns brighter.

Fast forward to this past summer in Colorado, I had a change of heart. I spent a few days with Seminary professors before National Youth Conference exploring my call. During Exploring Your Calljenna_walmer, we explored ways we know it is God’s will for what we are pursuing. One that especially applies to me is the compelling of the Holy Spirit, or nudges from God.  Over the past few years, the word “peace” has been etched in my heart, and during that week I recognized that this is where I was being ‘nudged’.   During NYC, events such as watching a video about the Nigeria situation and sending a postcard to the Secretary of State led me to feel called to Peace ministry even more.  Who knows where God will lead me with that tidbit, and plans may change. But for now I feel as though I understand what I am called to be and do.

Since I had a change of plans right before my senior year of high school, after I already explored my intended career through previous job shadowing, and finished my college search, I had to essentially start over… but not really. I was already set on going to Bridgewater College for whatever major, so I did not have to go on any more campus tours. However, I was interested in witnessing the tasks of COB’s Office of Public Witness. Since Nate Hosler’s job interested me from his work with Christian Citizenship Seminar (CCS), I thought it would be appropriate to see more of what he does on a daily basis through a job shadowing experience.

I quickly learned that he Office of Public Witness is a small, but mighty office that works on a large variety of topics. The three stay up-to-date with current events that are affecting their more pressing issues, like Nigeria and drones. Also, they are working to implement a more intentional “Going to the Garden” initiative with the denomination advocating for food security.

After the initial time spent in the office, Nate, Bryan, and I went to a meeting at the U.S. State Department Office of International Religious Freedom to inform staff about the atrocities Brethren are facing in Nigeria. This was similar to Congressional visits I have done during CCS. Then, we went to an event at the Wilson Center on resilience and peacebuilding. Events like these are helpful to make connections with other people who are working on similar issues and to become informed about different and up and coming issues.

This visit reiterated that I was called to peace ministry. My plans are to study political science or global studies and minor in peace studies. After learning more about the government and going to the other events, I know I am headed in the right direction. Thanks to Christian Citizenship Seminar, Exploring Your Call, and National Youth Conference, I have been able to accept my call.

-Jenna Walmer

Join the conversation on Palestine and Israel – What can U.S. Christians do?

Advocating for a just peace for Palestine and Israel – What can U.S. Christians do?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

8-9 PM EDT

Dial:  1-866-740-1260

Brethren in Palestine and Israel

Brethren Delegation in Israel/Palestine in 2012

The aftermath of 50 days of fighting has left devastation in Gaza which still struggles under a suffocating blockade. More and more land continues to be confiscated for expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The occupation of Palestinian lands continues unchecked. Israelis and Palestinians both suffer from the lack of a peaceful resolution. Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers look to the international community for support in their efforts to change the status quo and work toward a just peace. With the breakdown in peace talks, what direction should U.S. policy take? How can persons of faith be part of the solution through their public policy advocacy? Join us as we take a look at these questions, hear perspectives from experienced advocates on what churches are doing and can do, and engage in conversation about directions for advocacy.


Catherine Gordon
Representative for International Issues
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Office of Public Witness

Mike Merryman-Lotze
Israel-Palestine Program Director
American Friends Service Committee 

Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

There will be time for questions and answers, as together we seek a constructive way forward in advocacy for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

Sponsored by the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy, a network of national Christian denominations and organizations working for a just peace in the Middle East with a primary focus Israel and Palestine.

If you have any questions please contact the Director of the Office of Public Witness, Nate Hosler, at nhosler@brethren.org

Statelessness & the Least of These: Nationality, Identity, and When You Have Neither

A week ago I boarded a flight from DC to Amsterdam to head to the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on Statelessness and the First Global Forum on Statelessness where participants from over 70 countries were present. We had booked a flight, made sure I had a place to stay, and I quickly packed about 2 hours before leaving for the week long trip. The organizers of the World Council of Churches’ Consultation on Statelessness knew I was coming but other than the airline and the hostel, the Netherlands was unaware of my imminent arrival as was the US of my departure. Though unannounced I sailed through passport control barely breaking my stride.

While as an Anabaptist/Church of the Brethren variety of Christian I am rather ambivalent concerning nationality and the notion of national identity this ease of border crossing (and my presumption that they will let me back in upon arrival in DC) is a level of assurance that is, well, assuring. This is, however, far from universal experience.

The two conferences I have been attending, both the WCC’s consultation and the First Global Forum on Statelessness, deal with people on precisely the opposite end of the spectrum. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million people throughout the world that are stateless. By stateless we mean they are without a nationality and without the benefits that this typically confers. People can be de jure or de facto stateless. The former is when a person is legally without a nationality and the latter is when someone is unable to effectively establish their nationality or whose nationality is either disputed or ineffective.

Nate WCC-Stateless-Hague

Director Nate Hosler with other World Council of Churches participants

Some discussion around statelessness focuses on the lack of identity that people feel. During this part of the discussion is where I feel some ambivalence. As a follower of Jesus, in whom “there is no Jew or Greek” and presumably no American, Canadian, or Nigerian, I hold that the nation-state is not the locus of identity. So while I don’t wish to under value people’s sense of displacement I find the lack of national identity a less poignant of the many concerns bound up in statelessness.

Much discussion however, focuses on those communities and individuals who suffer severely from neglect and active repression. At the WCC consultation we were visited by Imon Khan. He was part of the Rohyinga ethnic minority in Myanmar. In 1982 a change in citizenship laws rendered thousands of Rohyinga stateless. Iman was one of those who ended up in Bangladesh stateless. Eventually after both parents died and someone convinced him that he would easily find a job in the Netherlands he paid a smuggler to get him to Amsterdam.

Upon arrival he was alternately conned out of his money and pushed to the streets. When he visited the consultation he wore a hat pulled low. In addition to telling his story he said he suffered from high blood pressure from the anxiety and uncertainty. Eventually throughout the afternoon and evening he spent with the group he removed his hat and began to relax. Upon leaving he said that this was the first time in his 26 year life that he felt like people had treated him like a human. While I don’t want to over analyze this brief encounter it illustrates the double component of lack of identity and belonging as well as the risk and deprivation that stateless persons experience.

In hopes of helping people like Imon, we drafted a statement affirming the the WCC’s 10th Assembly statement adopted last year on statelessness and recommending ways in which we as member churches can begin or continue to address statelessness in our corners of the world. The statement we released this week set our theological commitments alongside the problem before moving on to concrete recommendations

  • “The underlying theological assumption of active concern for those who are suffering is the belief that all people created by God constitute an inextricable unity. Solidarity and compassion are virtues that all Christians are called to practice, regardless of their possessions, as signs of their Christian discipleship. Compassion and care for one another and acknowledging the image of God in all humanity is at the core of our Christian identity and an expression of Christian discipleship.”
  • “These biblical and theological bases motivate us as churches and Christian bodies to express our Christian commitment and to be engaged in our prophetic witness to speak for the rights of those who are voiceless and marginalized as stateless people.”—(Full Statement Here)

As I board the plane tomorrow and make the journey home I will certainly be thinking about the many things I heard and remembering the many people I met. More importantly, however, I will be reflecting on the ways the Office of Public Witness can bring the issue of statelessness and the people affected into our work.

In Christ’s Peace,

Nate Hosler

We Are Bound Together

In the TV show Big Bang Theory, Sheldon, a brilliant physicist who purports to have a “working knowledge of the universe” but can’t understand basic social practices, develops a sort of flow chart for making a friend. In this episode Raj, Leonard, and Howard, two physicists and an engineer, return to Sheldon’s and Leonard’s apartment to discover that Sheldon as mapped an algorithm for making friends with his nemesis on their large white board which is typically employed for physics equations. He says he has “isolated the algorithm for making friends” and will no longer make the same mistakes made in the child’s picture book “Stew the Cockatoo is New at the Zoo.”

BigBangTheory Poster

The flow chart starts with “ask to share a meal” if not interested invite to enjoy a hot beverage (in this one he even has options listed to suggest) if not interestedà perhaps a recreational activity. At this point in the trial run his nemesis keeps suggesting activities that Sheldon has no interest in. He keeps looping back and his algorithm falters, unable to handle this unexpected turn. Fortunately, Howard is able to jump in and add a loop counter and escape option into the whiteboard chart.

The Matthew 18 passage provides a similar step-by-step instruction but for the purpose of restoring a relationship rather than making a new one. Before we take a closer look at these verses starting at verse 15 however, I want to note some the context of the first part of this chapter.

The context is that of “not losing.” Chapter 18 begins with the question of who is the greatest. Jesus brings a child in to their midst. You must be like this child to enter the kingdom Further more if you welcome this child then you welcome me.

Then from verses 6-14 we have 3 variations of not losing.

  • If you cause one of these children to stumble, that is lost, it would be better for you to be sunk in the sea with a  weight around your neck
  • If you yourself are wandering away dramatic action is needed
  • And third the parable of the lost sheep. In this parable the shepherd leaves 99 sheep in the fold to go out in search for the one that is lost.

So by the time we get to verse 18 we have heard Jesus challenge the disciples’ questions about greatness and we see a recurring theme on not losing.

Into this context we hear “Go”. If your brother or sister wrongs you go to them.  This seems to be a general formula or procedure for addressing wrong doing. This feels like a sort of process flow chart. Remember back to Sheldon and his algorithm for making a friend.

These few verses seem a bit like this but for conflict in the congregation. Go to the person. If that works, great! Process finished. If it doesn’t work then take someone else. If that works, great! If it doesn’t work tell it to the church. If this works, great! If it doesn’t work treat them as if they were a Gentile or tax collector.

The Gentile and tax collectors are those who are outside the community but who we seek to bring into reconciliation with God. And then also reconciliation with one another.

After we get this fairly detailed process of addressing wrong doing we read to more general, not particularly clear, but seemingly related bits.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

What you bind and loose is bound and loosed in heaven. Where a handful of you are, there too is God. Written as it is in at this point it the passage, we see that it is written to give assurance in the face of a difficult task. For all the simple straight-forward elegance of this teaching it is certainly not simple. Or perhaps it is simple but because it is difficult we imagine it to be more complicated than it is. Whatever the case, the assurance is given that we are truly doing the work of God. That God has entrusted it to us– is with binding and loosing. God has entrusted us but God is also with us. God is with us in the non-glamorous gathering of two or three.

So what? Perhaps I can claim that we have a tentative grasp of this passage.

This is a rather straight forward passage. We can do it or we can not do it.  I could have, as On Earth Peace, an agency of the Church of the Brethren, has done and create a guide and workshop expanding on the specific practices that can come out of Matthew 18. This adds even more practicality to the teaching. This material is in fact called “Matthew 18”. Or I could work to convince you that a healthy community and conflict resolution is critical for the well being and growth of a congregation.  This would be the empirical backing for a very practical passage—do it because it works. Or I could also give a deeper theological rationale for why reconciliation is part of our very DNA as followers of Jesus.

These are all important but I am going to take this in a somewhat different direction.

I think it is safe to say that this passage deals with reconciliation. This reconciliation obviously affects the relationships between people but also seems to affect relationship to God.

Furthermore this passage suggests that God is not merely interested in our souls but that salvation is a part of reconciliation and this is bodily.

Some church worlds and Christians focus almost exclusively on the salvation of souls. Some church worlds and Christians focus almost exclusively on how we live and what our faith means materially. In the former reconciliation is with God. In the later reconciliation is with people.

I recently read a book (while waiting for a much delayed flight home from Chicago via New York) called “Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconciliation with Creation” written by Norman Wirzba, Research Professor of Theology, Ecology, and Rural Life at Duke Divinity School and Fred Bahnson a permaculture gardener and pioneer  in church-supported agriculture.

Making Peace With The Land

Wirzba writes:

“Today’s church suffers from a reconciliation deficit disorder. The cause of this disorder is an impoverished imagination. As Christians, we have a hard time imagining that God desires all creatures—human and nonhuman, living and nonliving—to be reconciled with each other and with God. For some reason we have come to think that God cares primarily, perhaps only, about us.”[1]

Reconciliation is the repairing or healing of a relationship. If wrongdoing has caused the damage then it also includes stopping this action and setting things right. Proclaim the Gospel to all—human and nonhuman—proclaim that God is reconciling all things.

Wirzba continues with what he calls “ecological amnesia”:

“Ecological amnesia is so devastating because it leads us to forsake the material world. It contributes to an impoverished understanding of reconciliation because it trains us to think of ourselves as no longer dependent on clean water, fertile soil, diverse forests and fields and multitudes of insects and animals. As amnesiacs, we live an illusory life. We have forgotten what is not only good but absolutely fundamental: that we are bodies bound to each other through webs of food, water, breath, energy, inspiration, pleasure and delight.”[2]

Remember this connection. Remember and be reconciled. This proclamation happens through the sort of classical proclamation of words—through preaching and prayer and song but also happens through our life together. In 2 Corinthians we read that we are actually reconciled. But we recognize that though this may be reality we still have yet to fully embody this—hence the detailed instruction in Matthew 18. Though in status we are reconciled to God and one another we yet have work to do. Though we have been reconciled to all of creation we yet have work to do to fully realize this reality.

So we have specific recommended actions—almost a formula (or algorithm)—for confronting wrong doing and embodying reconciliation in our community. I expanded this to a more general understanding of reconciliation. We then shifted this general understanding slightly to include not only our relationships to each other and God but also to include all of creation. Can this be brought a full circle back to specific guidelines but now to include these three categories of Divine, human, and non-human?

Interestingly much degradation of the environment happens at the hands of people—in this case our process from Matthew 18 is quite effective. We may need to confront (with all requisite love) our brothers and sisters who live as though creation is not a gift from God given for our care.

Kulp Bible College, where we lived in Nigeria, is in the northeast part of the country. It is on the edge of the Sahel, which is dry land savanna, which is the edge of the Sahara. Due to deforestation, global climate change, and damaging farming practices, the desert is rapidly expanding south. Every day during the late afternoon or early evening we would go for a walk or run through the fields surrounding the campus. These fields were forest just 10 years earlier but were gradually cleared so that very little forest remained. One day we saw an overfilled truck bring a load of firewood from the field and unload it just outside campus.

This continued for days with load upon load of firewood being brought in. A local businessman had bought and was clearing land out in the “bush,” the scrubby unused land. He was clearing to grow beans to sell. This action and many others like it was a good short term investment but in the long run undermining the possibility of life in this area.

Secondly, our going to another because of wrong doing assumes we are being attentive to wrong doing. This wrong doing is certainly not limited to everyone else—it includes us. I am one of the wrong doers. At times this is towards others at times this is toward God and at times this is towards Creation.

This reconciliation is thus closely linked to mutual accountability. This accountability and attention to the reconciling of relationships is at the very core of the creation of the beloved community in which God, humans, and all of creation is reconciled and made whole.

–Nate Hosler

[1] Fred Bahnson and Norman Wirzba, Making Peace with the Land: God’s Call to Reconcile with Creation (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012), 21.

[2] Wirzba, 35

Transformed Seeing: Learning from Farm Workers

A little over a week ago I went south to Raleigh, North Carolina for the National Farm Worker Ministry’s board meeting. While my primary objective was to participate in the meetings and activities of the board I did manage to wander the streets of Raleigh the evening before and try out some Carolina BBQ. Today I want to spend some time telling what I saw and reflecting on this in light of the scripture passages we read earlier.

Nate preachning about the farm workers at Washington City Church of the Brethren

Nate preachning about the farm workers at Washington City Church of the Brethren

In Isaiah 51 we read

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn. Look to Abraham your father”

The prophet is calling the people to remember where they came from—to remember that God had delivered them and called them to righteousness and justice. This “remember” reminded me of being in middle school or high school, particularly early on when going out on my own was a newer experience. My parents, rather than listing specific rules that might include things like—“no driving stupidly even though you imagine yourself invincible” or “don’t drink,” they said something to the effect of “remember who you are.” A list of rules would have been tedious and likely not particularly effective. But by saying “remember who you are” they included the entirety of what they had taught and shown during my growing up.

The prophet is calling the people to remember where they came from. To remember they are a people of righteousness and justice and that God delivered them from slavery.

Two days after I arrived home from the National Farm Worker Ministry board meeting I was on a plane to Chicago in order to participate in Church of the Brethren staff meetings in Elgin. Like a good board member I had purchased a NFWM T-Shirt and was wearing it for my day of travel. I had a window seat and was the first person on in my three seat row. While sitting there, looking out the window, and not planning on talking to anyone I suddenly heard—“Oh, we get to sit with the National Farm Worker Ministry.” I looked up to see two women who at first I thought may be Catholic sisters (there are a lot of Catholics in farm worker organizing—and a number of representatives of Catholic women’s orders—nuns—on the NFWM board). It turns out that they were Episcopalian and were professors at Virginia Theological Seminary. It also turns out that they had done work with NFWM quite a long time ago but hadn’t heard much from them for many years.

Now I am in no way implying that they deserted good work and were being unfaithful but my bright red t-shirt that read—“Justice for Farm Workers” reminded them of their past. It reminded them of this particular fight for justice. For these friends, even though they hadn’t been connected with NFWM they had still been concerned and active in struggles for justice, caring for neighbor and the earth. This was not the case for the Israelites. For the Israelites the Prophet is calling them to a radical change back to the way of God. Isaiah calls them to remember who they are–a delivered people—a people of justice and righteousness. Remember where you came from.

While Isaiah in general as a book focuses on Israel’s vocation of justice, righteousness, and relationship to God these few verses specifically remind of several things: where they came from, that the Lord will comfort, that justice will go out in teaching as a light to the nations, and deliverance is coming. This passage focus on these three—where they came from, the salvation of the Lord and (very briefly) that this entails justice. Isaiah reminds us of this as well—we are a people delivered—saved—and called to justice.

On the first day of the meeting we went to visit farm workers. Specifically we visited and listened to farm worker organizers from FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Campaign) and then to labor camps. The founder of FLOC, Baldemar Velasquez spoke to us of his early years of working in the fields and how he came to do this work, which started many decades ago. He started in the fields at age six and organized his first strike at age 12. As migrant farm workers his family moved with the seasons. One year the farmer offered to keep his father on to do handyman work during the winter. Since there weren’t crops to pick Baldemar was able to go to school. He said that the small house the family lived in was so poorly insulated and cold he didn’t need prodding to go to the well heated school.

One of the challenges that farm workers face is that often there are no pay stubs or records of how much they worked and what their pay is. They simply get an envelope with money and have no way of assuring that they are getting paid what they are supposed to. (This pay is also quite low so every bit earned is critical). This is how Baldemar’s father was paid. On one particular occasion he was certain that his envelope didn’t contain all that was owed him. Though he knew it risky, he desperately needed the money, so he decided to ask his supervisor about it. When he did this the man verbally abused him. Young Baldemar was witness to this. It was at this time that he began to question this system. He then told us of successful campaigns in the past, and he told of what they are working on now.

Later in the day we broke up into 3 different groups and visited several labor camps. Sometimes these camps are official but meager structures provided by the farm, sometimes they are unofficial actual camps, and sometimes it is a room or trailer that the workers need to pay rent for. One such trailer visited by a board member on another trip was dilapidated, crowded, and cost each worker $50 a week –which when calculated cost more than the board members child was paying for an apartment in New York City. My group visited two camps.

We went to see—but how do we see?

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world,[c] but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.–Romans 12:1-2

Chapter 12 follows Paul’s describing the Gentile readers’ being grafted into the vine of the family of God. This chapter and these verses are the result of this new relationship and connection to God. “by the mercies of God—to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Note the elements of this. Bodies are presented to God for spiritual worship. While this may feel repetitious it is critical that we keep before us that “spiritual” and “material” are not separated. How we live is not separate from how we worship. Being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, cannot be distilled down to “being a good person” or “worshipping God with a pure heart.”

The passage continues, 2 “Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Don’t be conformed but transformed. Don’t be stuffed into the world’s mold but be changed into something new. This being conformed indicates a restriction. A restriction in how we live, relate to others, see, and hear. One risk of this “world” language is that at times Christians have set a hard barrier between themselves and the “world” which is seen to be corrupt. I would like to make a slight distinction in how I believe the Bible uses “world” and some of the ways we might understand this. The Psalms, for example, celebrate many things in the world. That is they celebrate creation but also celebrate food and relationships. These things certainly can be over celebrated, abused, or worshiped but are in and of themselves beautiful and part of God’s good gifts. There is another, darker, understanding of world that I believe this passage is responding to. It is, for example, the system and habits of greed which place our own selves above others, above God, and above God’s creation. The old Brethren sought to distance themselves from this world by a variety of practices of non-conformity. One small thing was that men did not have mustaches because elaborate mustaches were signs of vanity and were also associated with the military. We also had unadorned churches—which were called meeting houses—so that we would focus on God and not seek to look good.

The passage doesn’t, however, stop with a negative “do not conform” but continues with a “be transformed.” “But be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Being transformed we will know the will of God. Being transformed will begin to see like God. See in the way God sees. Hold this vision of transformed seeing for a bit while I head back to the farm workers.

During a time of reflecting on our experiences meeting farm workers and organizers the day before, a question mark arose. Most of these workers had gone to great lengths to get here and many have stayed for many years. While there have been cases of virtual or actual slavery, in Florida, for example, this is not exactly what we found. My group spoke with a man from Haiti who has been picking tobacco for 34 years. This despite the sickness people often feel from absorbing significant nicotine from handling the tobacco. Another worker we met is soon turning 28 and has been here for 9 years. When he described his home in Mexico with abundant fruits we asked why he stayed. He said he has friends and its “quiet”—that he liked it.  When he brought out a large bucket which holds 32 lbs of jalapeño peppers we asked how long it took to pick—15 minutes. And how much do you make from it?–$1, so that’s $4 an hour. There were probably hundreds of peppers in this large bucket. His fingers were blistered from the repetition of picking for 11-12 hours.

Though these conditions were obviously bad some of the group began to wonder why, if people keep coming and seem content, why do we do what we do? While some noted that this situation was complex, David of the United Methodists urged us not to call it complexity. Call it what it is—a system of greed. “Complexity” gives the impression of moral ambiguity. This is a system of greed and my desire for cheap food is a cause.

This is part of the being transformed. This is part of my seeing being transformed.

One of the participants was a visitor to the board meeting. She is a seminary student interested in food and environmental justice who the director invited to join us. She was in my group and met the jalapeño picking fellow. When we reflected as a group on this experience she spoke and was obviously moved. She said, “For several years I worked in a grocery store. I unloaded boxes of peppers from a particular farm. I saw those boxes at the farm today. (paraphrase)” These boxes were no longer just boxes filled somewhere somehow. They were filled by Sergio. Her vision was transformed.

Now this is not a call to paralyzing guilt but it is a call to attend to the transforming of our vision–to our total transformation. When our seeing is transformed—unsurprisingly, we see differently. How do we see? Who do we see?

Do we see the farm workers hidden from our sight back off the road? Do we see the system with its greed? Do we see our involvement? Do we see the people who abuse the workers?

Do we see Jesus?

“2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Go now, transformed.

–Nathan Hosler