Thursday, October 27, 2005

On merit-based admissions in the Ivy League

I ran across an interesting review of a new book that challenges the myth that Ivy League admissions are propelled solely on the basis of academic merit. A couple of points: (1) We should not be all that surprised that factors beyond academic qualifications go into consideration at our nation's most prestigious schools. After all, our current president--for better or worse--was the benefactor of legacy admissions. (2) I wonder whether these findings will reorient the discussion around affirmative action and the aggressive recruiting and admission of minorities at institutions of higher learning. If we can dispense with the myth that academic qualifications are the sole measure colleges use to assess their applicants, can we then admit that the purposeful creation of a diverse student body can be a pertinent--and even commendable--goal of admissions committees?

Jesus, Live in Rochester, NY!

I would have thought that Jesus would find a warmer place to initiate his second-coming but alas he chose the frigid tundra of Rochester, NY for his latest appearance. I have still have trouble discerning the Messianic facial features but then again I never was able to see those encrypted images at the mall either!

It remains to me an interesting question how one can discern between "authentic" and "inauthentic" religious experiences. Perhaps, we can discount easily an appearance of the face of Jesus on the bark of a tree or that of Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich. But what about the stories that have imbued Guadalupe with so much power? Are they in the same category for us? Do our modernist perspectives require us to reject the supernatural, the extraordinary, or the downright weird?

Christianity is a faith that leans upon the testimony of eyewitnesses to the resurrection and to its continued power in believers' lives. Pentecost served as a vital intersection of the limits of human and the power of God in a public setting. These recent theophanic iterations force us to face the "foolishness of the gospel" (see 1 Cor 1:18, 21, 23, 25; 2:14; 3:19) once again and to reassess what that means for us today as a people who usually stress reason above all else.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Moore disses Marshall

The theological attacks continue to emerge from the bastions of SBC "academic" life. Click here to see SBTS's Russell Moore condemn Molly Marshall for daring to question "Christian patriarchy."

Several of Moore's arguments are especially telling and betray the trenchant commitment to ideologies beyond the scope of scripture. First, he is dismayed that Marshall's feminist commitments have led her to advocate calling God "she." That this argument requires no further explanation demonstrates the presumption that God is, in fact, profoundly male in some sense. To presume a primarily male God requires one to ignore instances of feminine imagery used for God (Is 49:15; Lk 15:11-32; see also a list of examples here) and to place women second in the order of creation, for men must be necessarily closer to the image of God if God is Godself primarily male. Such a move reduces the exegetical and theological complexities of Gen 1-2, silencing new reading strategies. Clearly, Moore here is indebted to a patriarchal ideology which is not the necessary outcome of a reading of scripture.

Second is Moore's extraordinarily uncharitable reading of Marshall's advocacy for a deeper appreciation for the Spirit's role in Christian life:
Marshall’s theological revisionism is not limited to gender concerns. In a debate with Marshall at the 2003 American Association of Religion (AAR), I expressed concern about the "eclipse of Christ" on the theological left, including in Marshall’s writings. Marshall countered that her theology represented instead the "recovery of the Spirit." What is at issue is Marshall’s neo-pluralism regarding the doctrine of salvation combined with her panentheistic view of God.
Fortunately, I was actually at this "debate"; it was actually a panel discussion on the future of evangelicalism. If I remember correctly, Marshall noted that Moore now worked from her former office at SBTS though whether he was qualified to sit at her former desk remained in question. That sour grapes may be part of Moore's motivation is hard to say, but what is much clearer is Moore's attempt to wrap Marshall's Christian reflections in a lofty vocabulary which obfuscates her far more nuanced approach.

Moore's strict dogmatism forbids straying from the narrow path of a political ideology imbued with theological power; he notes, "Evangelical feminism is a real and present danger to the church." That he cannot envision the stifling effects of his own narrow ideology only betrays the shortcomings of "Christian patriarchy."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Mohler disses PTS

In my book, it is never a negative thing when Albert Mohler decides to condemn your attempts to live out the gospel. As noted in the excellent documentary Battle for the Minds, Mohler has a way of testing the theological winds for his own advantage and getting rid of fabulous teachers along the way. Along with the upsurgence of fundamentalist hegemony in the SBC, Mohler has gained a significant voice in the media and in conservative Christian cirles as a voice of the church. It never fails that when Larry King wants to ask someone what "Christians think" about a particular issue, Mohler is on the short list. Needless to say, I do not agree with much of Brother Mohler preaches.

And then I receive an e-mail from my good friend Blake. Mohler apparently stumbled unto the blog of a PTS student entilted Pomomusings and drew a great deal of umbrage at how the BLGT group at PTS is expressing their message of love and grace.

Apparently, gay is not okay with Mohler, but that's not particularly surprising. The question that remains unanswered for most Christians, no matter their stance on homosexuality, is how the church can reverse its historical tendency to exclude and condemn homosexuals. While a proclamation of the gospel that does not call us to repentance is a fictive notion of modern liberalism, in my mind, the empty rhetoric of "hate the sin, love the sinner" has yet to be--and probably never will be--incarnated.

Katrina and Race

A friend of mine recently asked for my feedback on an e-mail forward he received. In the e-mail, a Rev. Peterson criticizes the African American community for their response to the disaster of Katrina. You can read the e-mail here. Here are my responses to it. For a far more eloquent response to the history behind the response, click here. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

1) Whether we like it or not, there is a distinct line between what a member of a community can say about her own community and what an outsider can say. In a sense, one earns the right to critique by living out the particular experiences of a community and thus understanding deeply both the struggles and successes of the community. This does not guarantee your accuracy as Rev. Peterson demonstrates, but he has, in a sense, earned the right as a member of the community to critique harshly. Nevertheless, I would be extraordinarily cautious in purveying that privilege to others, especially in this country in which the shadow of racism has yet to be lifted. What I'm saying is that were the words written by the Rev uttered by a white person, they would be correctly deemed as racist; his statement is marked by hasty generalizations and a moral superiority that requires rejection. Yet, in a sense, he has the right to be that wrong! Outsiders do not. I would argue that forwarding the e-mail is a racist move in that it advocates the racist generalizations that make up the bulk of the argument.

2) The generalizations in the argument are simply unforgivable. To label all those who stayed as "primarily immoral, welfare-pampered blacks" neglects those who died in their hospital beds or in their nursing homes. It neglects the children who lost their lives or feared the loss of their lives. It neglects the number of poor whites who were unable to leave the city. Even more, it neglects the kind of socio-economic conditions that an economically stratified city engenders. Were there some "bad" people who stayed behind? No doubt, yet I found it fascinating that the media scrutinized so much the looters while there were decomposing bodies on the streets of a major American city. To extrapolate a moral assessment from the actions of a handful is simply illogical. Even more, we might observe that the anarchic aftermath to disasters is not isolated to certain races or peoples; this is a human phenomenon, not a racial one.

3) The famous "blame game": The fundamental question about Katrina is who is to blame. Nobody wants to take responsibility. Our president was too busy on vacation to realize the devastation until his aides made a DVD for him of the evening news! At the same time, the local government collapsed in the face of this disaster; they deserve blame. But the federal government's role, in my mind, is to use its size and resources when local and state governments fail. Under the tutelage of Mike Brown, FEMA collapsed.

But immediate causes are far too facile to explain this devastation. Katrina is about far more than government competence. It touches the core of the American psyche at the intersection of class and race. Let's leave out the wild rants of extremists right now. Can we agree that a city populated primarily by minorities in this country has the same political clout as affluent suburbs? Is their a moral obligation to treat all communities equally despite their political power? These are fundamental questions we must ask, not only about disaster relief, but about our education system. Stronger levees are not the answer to this pervasive problem.

4) Finally, perhaps the most atrocious bit of rhetoric is his argument that the US would crumble under black leadership. It is amazing that anyone could even fathom this argument today. Only a naive historical perspective permits one to assume that the US thus far has been an unmitigated success under the leadership primarily of whites; that is, Rev Peterson assumes that black leadership would cause the country to take a 180 towards decadence and crime. The litany of crimes is extensive from Manifest Destiny through today. Strides have been made towards a more equitable society, but we are not even close to that idyllic place yet. In the end, we are all humans under the curse of sin. Under black, white, or brown leadership, I think the results would have been much the same: a litany of crimes with a modicum of success and a historical construct that emphasizes the latter at the expense of the former. Sweeping claims like those of the Rev can only be labeled as they are: racist. And, to be honest, those who propagate his ideas share the blame.