Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Readings in "Race: A Theological Account" - Postlude and Index

"Maximus [the Confessor] enumerates five divisions within creation that have become distorted," including "humans against each other." It is the "last division, that between creature and Creator, [which] is the highest of the divisions and is the one that is at the heart of all the others.... Christ reintegrates human nature, enacting it no longer within an order of tyrranical division but, rather in an order of 'peaceful difference,' the one-many structure of creation...

A new story of origins, or of birth, is in Christ's flesh given to all. Hence, it is from inside Israel's covenantal story, rather than from some general humanism or cosmopolitanism, that Christ in bringing Israel's story to crescendo reintegrates the differences of creation ...

The Babel story tells of the confusion of language and identity that results from the refusal to hear YHWH's call and the resultant inability to speak rightly or in light of that call. The other story is that of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2) in which one reads of the Pentecostal reimagining and reordering of language and identity on the basis of a renewed auditory capacity...

Walter Brueggemann
Walter Brueggemann offers a similar interpretation of the Babel story of Genesis:
The issue is not simply scattering ... [because] scattering may be either an act of punishment or the plan of salvation. Nor is the issue oneness ..., which may be the purpose of God or an act of resistance. Either unity or scatteredness has the possibility of being either obedient or disobedient. The issue is whether the world shall be organized for God's purpose of joy, delight, freedom, doxology, and caring. Such a world must partake of the unity God wills and the scattering God envisions. Any one-dimensional understanding of scattering denies God's vision for unity responsive to him. Any one-dimensional view of unity denies God's intent for the whole world as peopled by his many different peoples (Genesis, 100-101).

Maximus affirms something similar to Brueggemann ... [when he writes:]
It is as though they [the One and the Many] were drawn into an all-powerful center that had built into it the beginnings of the lines that go out from it and that gathers them all together (PG 91.1081B-C)...
[For Maximus,] Scripture repositions bodies inside the social space of Christ's Jewish flesh and [draws them] into the socio-theological space of his body, [so that] one is drawn into a new body politic."

In true Christian community, then, concludes Carter, God is "making the many one with himself but without in the act of unifying them confusing what is distinctive about the many."

- J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, pp. 347, 351, 364-366

To read the rest of this series summing up Carter's book, follow the index below. Thanks for reading along. I'd be happy to discuss any comments you might have so feel free to leave some.

  • Prelude
  • Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
  • Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
  • Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
  • Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History
  • James Cone and "Theologizing Race"
  • Charles Long and "Signifying Race"
  • Interlude
  • A Theological Reading of Briton Hammon's 1760 "Narrative" 
  • A Theological Reading of Frederick Douglass's 1845 "Narrative" 
  • A Theological Reading of the Writings of Jarena Lee
  • Monday, December 30, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': A Theological Reading of the Writings of Jarena Lee

    This is the eleventh and last (apart from a postlude) in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. (To access prior chapters start here). In the third and final part of the book Carter has been offering a theological reading of three different accounts of slavery that come from black writers, showing how they sought to re-interpret their situation (to some degree) from within biblical-theological narratives of Christ. The first two authors were men in the 1700s and 1800s; the third is a nineteenth century woman named Jarena Lee.

    Jarena Lee's primary autobiographical narratives were her 1836 The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, A Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel and its republication (with additions) thirteen years later. About them Carter writes:

    "[T]he curtness of Lee's opening words, which narrate how she came to be a servant in a white household and how in that state of servanthood she was introduced into Christianity, mimes the general notion of the times: namely, that black existence can become visible only as it is inserted into the narrative of Euro-American civilization" (317). However, by inserting herself into the Psalmist's prayers and interpreting her life as "a black woman's sojourn to 'Zion'", Lee then gives a Pentecostal nuance to her conversion which serves as a "disremembering of her childhood" and "a particular remembering or reconstituting of it as well" (314, 318, see 328-329).

    Jarena Lee
    If "autobiography was for Augustine (and Hammon) a theological feat," so, as far as her story goes, "Lee theologically rereads the world [as well as] the self" by having it "sociopolitically replotted within the scriptural narrative" (323). In contrast with Douglass's narrative of the self-made black man, what Carter finds so interesting about Jarena Lee's "exegetical imagination" is that it constitutes "an ethical performance of a newly 'imagined community'" (323). He explains:

    "A nonmaterialist, mystical return to the solitary self, to the true and authentic individual, a return that leaves material structures in place as on takes mystical flight from them is what one is left with on [some] readings of how spirituality functions in Lee's discourse.... [But h]er discourse follows and in its own way displays the divine economy of God's incarnation. Far from being nonmaterialist, this economy is God taking up the structures of the world into God's own life and transfiguring those structures according to Jesus' cruciform existence. Put another way, Lee's discourse is 'mystical' because it follows the mystery of the incarnation, rather than the disembodiment of modern rationality and racial thinking" (326-327).

    "What is interesting about Lee's narration of her call to preach is that she does not argue for her 'right' to preach in terms of a liberal discourse of 'rights.' Instead she makes a Christological case for her call as a woman to preach," via the Pentecostal birth of a new community invoking the prophecies of Joel (339, see 329).

    What it comes down to is "life in God's covenant. If Douglass's discourse was unable to articulate this new form of life together to the detriment most negatively of black female flesh, then Lee's discourse is more successful. This is because her narrative of the self is embedded within a fuller Christology. According to this fuller vision of Christ, the flesh of Jesus is a social reality, a space into which one enters by the action of the Spirit. As the one who transfigures social reality by drawing creation into the space of Christ's flesh, the Spirit of Christ is the architect of a new mode of life together, that of the ecclesia, the church of Christ" (338).

    Sunday, December 29, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': A Theological Reading of Frederick Douglass's 1845 'Narrative'

    This is the tenth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. (To access prior chapters start here).

    In the third and final part of the book Carter looks at three different accounts of slavery that come from black writers who sought to re-interpret their situation (to some degree) from within biblical-theological narratives of Christ. The first was from the eighteenth century, the second is from the nineteenth: It is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. 

    In Carter's view, Frederick Douglass's Narrative reads "the dignity and the meaning of black life against the backdrop of Christ's passion"---which has the potential to be either "constructive" for the Christian imagination, or to be "a way of reinscribing the problem that needs overcoming precisely at the moment of [its] supposed ... exposure" (289-290). Unfortunately, although it exposes the harshness of slave-ownership, ultimately Carter thinks Douglass's story does more reinscribing than reconstructing.

    The impetus for Frederick Douglass's strike at liberation is the witnessed beating of his Aunt Esther by their overseer Mr. Plummer. It is a scene wherein "violence mediates (in)dignity," and the "articulacy of white existence" so typically "subject[s] black life to a violent 'hush'" (291). Except in this case the black witness is telling the story, and thus the white man "is shown to be the savage, indeed, 'a savage monster'" (292). Like Abel, Aunt Esther's "blood cries out," and issues forth in Douglass's eventual pseudo-redemption.

    Frederick Douglass
    This takes place one Easter morning, when plantation-owner Mr. Covey "sets out to whip Douglass for the weekend's indiscretions" and "Douglass fully resists him" (301). In Douglass's words, "from whence came the spirit I don't know," but "I seized Covey by the throat; and as I did so, I rose" (302). Thus Douglass is able to articulate his overcoming of the slave-master relationship in terms of Christian resurrection. It is a courageous refusal of the terms of the relationship, and yet, not to anachronistically discredit Douglass but to explore the theological moves at stake, Carter asks: To what avail?

    As Jenny Franchot argues, it is Aunt Esther's earlier suffering which propels Douglass's own "self-authentication" as victim, and later it is the foil of her feminine victimhood against which Douglass's masculine self-deliverance is cast (294-295). "By the time one gets to Douglass's account of his adolescent altercation with Covey," Carter writes, "there is a shift in how he deploys the image of Christ's passion. Christ is masculinized so that he is now the emblem of dignified manhood and, shall we say, strength over weakness: Christ overcomes the feminine and thus liberates the race .... into the self-made strength of masculinity" (296).

    "Insofar as this is the case," argues Carter, "Douglass, in the inflection of blackness, simply mirrors the problem of whiteness back to itself. From this one sees in a most poignant way how Douglass has repeated the problematic oppositional logic.... [h]aving [only] inverted the structures of power and authority" (303). Thus, "to the extent that he barricades himself within the citadel of the self-made, Emersonian-Franklinian man, Douglass remains trapped within the self-enclosure of the black masculine that the white masculine created" (312).

    As mentioned, the point here is not necessarily to critique Douglass himself, but to shed light on the way that he, like many after him, was simply unable to "see how in the flesh of Christ crucified a wholly new social arrangement" could be "inaugurated" (306). In Carter's words: "Christian thought has tended to ventriloquize the American social order rather than witness to an alternative form of sociopolitical existence" (307). It thus fails to see Easter as "an alternate mode of being in the world," and "the cross of Christ [as] the revelation of power as the exchange of love" (305-306).

    Saturday, December 28, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': A Theological Reading of Briton Hammon's 1760 'Narrative'

    This is the ninth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. Here is where we've come so far:

    Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
    Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
    Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
    Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History
    James Cone and "Theologizing Race"
    Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

    In the third and final part of the book Carter looks at three different accounts of slavery by black writers who sought to re-interpret their situation (to some degree) from within biblical-theological narratives of Christ. The first is from the eighteenth century, and it features Briton Hammon, whose tale of pseudo-liberation centres on the theme of a Christmas rebirth.

    It is notable for Carter that "Hammon's tale, along with a number of early writings by black authors, was dictated to, even cowritten with, whites" (267). This explains the "pseudo" in "pseudo-liberation" (my words), as Carter would have us see.

    The Narrative of the Uncommon Sufferings, and Surprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon, a Negro Man begins with Hammon's departure for a sea voyage "On Monday, 25th Day of December, 1747, with the leave of my Master." As Carter notes, we are not told why he departs (275). After the experience of a conditioned liberty and considerable peril, it ends "almost Thirteen Years" later with his return to General Winslow of New England, his "good old master."

    In the course of the Narrative Carter counts four "groups [who] are placed in an unfavourable light: the so-called savage Indians, the Spanish, ... the Spanish governor of Cuba ... [and] the British. Although Hammon escapes the Havanan governor on an English warship, out of his element on the angry seas, "even with the British, Hammon remains in need of deliverer" (278-279).

    Although the freedom to take this voyage counts as a kind of (baptismal) rebirth for the outgoing slave, for literary historian William Andrews "Hammon's [scripted] message is clear: 'Let the slave stray outside the known world of stratified white-over-black relationships ... and he will risk a life in limbo. He will become a type of the lost soul, disconnected from civilization's preserving institutions, sustained solely by the survival instinct" (269-270).

    Thus, writes Carter: "The genre of spiritual autobiography affords the Hammon story a way to reconceptualize black existence by joining it to the divine economy in Jesus of Nazareth... [locating the] meaning ... of black existence beyond the confining structures of race" (273). However, he concludes, with Hammon's "'miraculous' return to his original master" we have to ask: "[W]ho is 'Jesus Christ' in the economy of the narrative if not General Winslow himself, who like the Son of God departs from his halcyon abode to enter upon a messianic mission of redeeming sinners---like Hammon?" (279).

    While Hammon does experience something of a release from white supremacy, he is only able to do so provisionally---that is, while remaining within it, and thus ultimately sustaining it.

    Friday, December 27, 2013

    Readings in 'Race: A Theological Account' (Interlude)

    This is the eighth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account---a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along. If you want to catch up, here is a link to the last post (and the ones before that): Readings in "Race": Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

    After some conversation with varied figures such as Cornel West, Michel Foucault, Immanuel Kant, Albert Raboteau, James Cone, and Charles Long, in an "Interlude on Christology and Race" Carter discusses "Gregory of Nyssa as Abolitionist Intellectual," first summarizing the book thus far as follows.


    "In part I of this book ... I argue that behind the modern problem of race is the problem of how Christianity and Western civilization came to be thoroughly identified with each other, a problem linked to the severance of Christianity from its Jewish roots... [In this] Christianity became a vehicle for the religious articulation of whiteness, though increasingly masked to the point of near invisibility....

    In part II, I offer a reading ... of the fundamental problem: how white intellectual formation is in fact a religious, cultural, colonializing, and colonizing formation. In other words, whiteness as a theological problem has been insufficiently treated. At its heart is is a problematic vision of the human as closed within itself, sealed off from possibilities of cultural intimacy and thus reciprocity. Rather than the site of intimacy, culture becomes the site of closure and containment....

    To set up the arguments ... in the final part of this book in which I consider how New World Afro-Christianity redirects modern racial discourse precisely by redirecting modern Christianity, this interlude brieflly engages an aspect of the thought of the fourth-century theologian ... Gregory of Nyssa.... [whose] abolitionism expresses an exegetical imagination that reads against rather than within the social order" (229-231).

    When Gregory of Nyssa discusses Genesis 1's "male and female created He them," he interjects: "'I presume that every one knows that this is a departure from the Prototype; for "in Christ Jesus," as the Apostle says, "there is neither male nor female."' Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided.... 

    [N]otice what Gregory is saying," continues Carter: "He is saying that the historical Jesus Christ---who while being one individuated human person among many is the eternal Son of the Trinity---is, in fact, in his historical concreteness and particularity at the same time the many of human existence.... 

    Thus, as David Bentley Hart says in his interpolation of Gregory: 'The "essence" of the human is none other than the plenitude of all men and women, [and therefore] every essentialism is rendered empty: all persons express and unfold the human not as shadows of an undifferentiated idea, but in their concrete multiplicity and hence in all the intervals and transitions belonging to their differentiation; and so human "essence" can only be an "effect" of the whole'" (246-247, emphasis Carter's).

    As Gregory said: "It is not nature but power that has divided humankind into servants and masters" (250).

    Thursday, December 05, 2013

    Readings in "Race": Charles Long and "Signifying Race"

    This is the seventh in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account--a series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and to encapsulate its intensity for the interest of those who might track along.  

    If you want to catch up, here are the bookmarks so far:

    The Prelude
    Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
    Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
    Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
    Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History
    James Cone and "Theologizing Race"

    "The hermeneutical problem that is America is this: How is America to be narrated?... Getting the 'story' right is not a matter of simply adding 'the invisible ones,' as [Charles] Long says, 'as addenda to a European dominated historical method,' which was Raboteau's plea. Neither is a methodological inversion the solution, one in which black ideological values, or the values of whoever the oppressed group may be, dominate. For Long, the problem is more profound, and thus a solution must be more subtle and nuanced... 'The problem has to do with the pattern, the network, the nexus onto which the facts of ... history are interpreted'" (213-214).

    Charles H. Long
    "Cone launched his theological enterprise as a challenge to Christian theology from the stance of (black) power. But power itself, as Long sees it, was insufficiently interrogated in black theology... [and] as a matter of methodological procedure, black theology, as a distinctly Christian mode of intellectual reflection, does not ascend to the moment ... which as a moment 'precedes the master-slave dichotomy'" (219-220).

    "Central to my first concern regarding how Long interprets existence under the rubric of encounter... is the question of whether in such an outlook the other qua other really appears in its own ... distinctness... But additionally, I question how the notion of 'encounter' is itself being understood. For if the work of encounter is merely to bring the subject to self-realization ... then encounter ... amounts to a kind of solipsism... This means that there really is not confrontation with the other as such" (232).

    What is needed, suggests Carter, "is a positivity of the other and, therefore, a positivity of difference as such. Long's interpretation of Afro-Christianity disavows [this] ... partly, I think, because he has made the decision that the deity understood in Christian terms as Trinitarian does not positively and actually encounter the creature. Rather, the invocation of a Triune God, from his history of religions perspective, is an expression of religious consciousness.... [W]hat goes unasked by Long is this: Is there any significance, as [their] testimonies would have it, to whom black folks, in the examples given, pray?" (225).

    "What is common to modernity's pseudotheological aesthetic of whiteness and to Long's aesthetic of the black religious consciousness is that neither aesthetic 'speaks in tongues' (Acts 2), neither knows how to inhabit languages not its own" (227).

    "Trinitarianism, [properly] understood, renders intelligible the phenomenon of prayer as genuine conversation--that is, as the conversation that decenters tyranny [and] power as the ground of existence. It is the conversation that creates new possibilities of existence" (226).

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': James Cone and "Theologizing Race"

    This is the sixth in a series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account--as series I've been posting to help me keep track of the argument, and for the interest of those who are tracking along. This book has so far felt like an intense and profitable preamble. The best feels yet to come.  

    If you want to catch up, here are the bookmarks so far:

    The Prelude
    Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
    Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
    Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"
    Albert Raboteau and the Telling of History

    "When Christianity was introduced to slaves, Africans converted it... by refusing to accept any version of the gospel that did not harmonize with the African spirit of freedom.... The God in black theology is the God of and for the oppressed, the God who comes into view in their liberation'" (James Cone, quoted on pp. 157, 165).

    "[B]lack theology, understood from this vantage, gestures toward a theology of the nations, one that emanates from and is consonant with a Christian theology of Israel.... [T]he breakthrough in [Cone's] thought [is the perception that] the humanity that the God of Israel assumes in Jesus of Nazareth is the location from which God secures and affirms all of creation in its historical unfoldings.... Jesus' Jewishness is not racially arrayed against non-Jews, but, rather, is the perpetual sign of God's embrace of Jew and non-Jew ... alike" (158).

    "Cone is acutely sensitive to the problem of abstraction in theology.... In Barthian fashion, [he writes]: 'To talk of God or of man without first talking about Jesus Christ is to engage in idle, abstract words which have no relation to the Christian experience of revelation" (160-161).

    James Cone ('Black Theology and Black
    Power,' 1969; 'God of the Oppressed,' 1975;
    'The Cross and the Lynching Tree,' 2011)
    "What is difficult to articulate in Barthian terms is how creaturely truth participates in God's truth.... Barth's answer is that Jesus Christ is the connection. Yet, this in turn raises the question of the connection between Christ and creation, which includes the recipients of revelation, their social location, and the historical exigencies marking the reception of revelation" (175-176).

    "I am not fully convinced by Hunsinger's reading of Barth on this point, nor, I venture to suggest, would Cone be. For the question is not whether our existential moment of faith is dialectically included in the objectivity of Jesus Christ; rather, it is whether the reception of the luminous mystery of faith itself ... has a history" (179).

    Cone's contention is that, "under the ever-greater grace of God, creation truly contributes something to its relationship with the Triune God; for its contribution is always already effected under the aspect of the Son's active contribution, as it were, to his eternal generation from the Father" (178).

    "From Tillich and from Barth, Cone inherits the theological and philosophical problem of how to envisage the I in non-oppositional relationship to the other. In Barth's case, the problem prevents him from being able to conceive of the positivity of the world and therefore of how it can reveal God. It also has the unintended consequence, in his doctrine of election, of leading to a supersession of Israel. This in many respects occurs because Israel, as an index of creation in its opposition to God, stands over and against Christ" (190).

    "This oppositional struggle ... registers in the language of courage, which Cone takes up [into black theology's account of black existence] without sufficiently distancing himself from these specific problems... Consequently, Cone does not challenge the way in which I-ness as a structure of identity-in-self-possession ... repeats the problem.... Tragically, [then], for all its good--and there is much to celebrate...--black liberation theology's attempt philosophically and theologically to salvage the blackness that modernity has constructed by converting it into a site of cultural power ... is not radical enough" (190-192).

    "[W]hat is needed is an understanding of Christian existence as ever-grounded in the Jewish, nonracial flesh of Jesus and thus as an articulation of the covenantal life of Israel.... In short, only a Christian theology of Israel establishes the framework within which to overcome the theological problem of whiteness" (192-193).

    Saturday, November 09, 2013

    Readings in 'Race': Raboteau and the Telling of History

    It has been a few months since my last entry in this series of chapter excerpts from J. Kameron Carter's Race: A Theological Account, but I have still been slowly and surely making my way through it and do want to keep it up. A few readers have said they found it interesting, and since it helps me keep track of the argument, I'm going to carry on. It is proving to be a rich and important book.

     If you want to catch up it should not take too long. Here are the bookmarks so far: 

    The Prelude
    Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"
    Michel Foucault and "The Drama of Race"
    Immanuel Kant and "The Drama of Religion"

    "Raboteau, in his post-Slave Religion literature, begins to clear up the ambiguity surrounding the meaning of black faith. He does so by suggesting a theology of history that ... signals a disruption of the colonizing gaze of race" (127).

    "History challenges religious faith in its 'demonstration to believers of the historicity of their religious doctrines and institutions. In this it serves an important critical and constructive function for religious faith. On the one hand, it does the critical work of being a guardian against 'any religion's tendency to present a triumphalist myth of itself as a timeless, universalist institution preserving the unchanging deposit of doctrine transcending time and disparate cultures.' But on the other hand, history aids theology in the contructive work of '[reminding] Christian believers of the scandal of the Incarnation, the historical specificity and contingency of Jesus and of the 'Jesus movement' in its origins and subsequent development.' In short, in both its critical and constructive roles, 'history promotes an appreciation of [the unique]' and the particular, and thus does important faith work, if not theological work" (143).

    Albert J. Raboteau
    ('Slave Religion' - 1978;
    'Fire in the Bones' - 1995)
    Raboteau asks: "How can you find a vantage point within history from which you can judge the significance of human events?... History functions as a form of self-definition. In its pages we read ourselves" (144-145).

    Raboteau "work[s] toward what might be termed an incarnational understanding of faith and history... It is clear that humanity here is not a 'thing' or a 'nature.' It is a mode of inhabiting the world... Jesus of Nazareth activates human existence in a particular way, under a peculiar or unique set of dispositions.... What makes the human being distinct among creatures is that the human is conscious of its status as creature and what this status entails... Infinite Being ... reveals that [it] can be displayed through the medium of finite, creaturely Being... [Therefore] Being--and here I am speaking specifically of creaturely, finite, and therefore contingent Being--properly understood is dynamic (rather than static)" (150, 153).

    "Jesus Christ in his particularity is a communal person, the ground of a full-orbed body politic. This is thoroughly consonant, says Raboteau, with African spirituality's understanding of the self as a web of relationships... [Furthermore, n]ascent Afro-Christianity expresses the reality of the person Jesus Christ and his covenantal ... existence as a Jew insofar as 'the slave ... resembled Him more than [did] the [slave]master'" (154-155).

    "[T]he theological reading I am advancing of Raboteau's work and for the way in which I read James Cone's and Charles H. Long's work ... is this: creatures present themselves or are visible in such a way that their visibility cannot be captured or enslaved without a massive and violent distortion of their existence as creatures.... The journey of history and faith 'leads not only to knowledge but to compassion'; it is the search for transformed social relations, the anticipation of and yet continued quest for a different way of being in the world. For Raboteau, that way of being in the world is the way of prayer" (154-155).

    Friday, November 01, 2013

    The Privatization of Childhood

    Lately when I've been driving our kids to evening practices I've been lamenting the privatization of childhood. When I was a lad you could be on a sports team or practice an instrument mainly by staying after school. Now instead of all of us putting our funds in a pot and making these things accessible and keeping our evenings largely free, we have slimmed back public school, trimmed down the arts and sports, and made it so you have to have money and time to burn all over town just so your child can play and practice with the other kids. And if your child is good at something, wow is it going to cost you to give them opportunity to play at higher levels.

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    Monday, October 07, 2013


    I turned 38 last month, so in keeping with tradition here are this year's additions to my lists of favourite film, music, and books:

    Films that Stuck with me: Catching Hell

    It is the story of Steve Bartman, a long-time fan who innocently reached for a foul ball at a Chicago Cubs playoff game and ended up being the scapegoat for their disastrous collapse. Along with it we get the story of Bill Buckner, who missed a routine grounder for the Red Sox and likewise took the blame for their World Series loss. In there you get a whole lot of humanity and as I watched it with my sons we were literally on the edges of our seats. My eldest had his mouth dropped open and even walked out of the room at one point because he couldn't bear to see what would happen. When it came around to talk about scapegoating and showed Buckner's pseudo-redemption it occasioned a brief chat with my sons that I won't soon forget.

    Albums I've Lived By: Beach House - Bloom

    From Pitchfork: "Filmmakers call the part of the day right before the sun goes down "the magic hour." It's that brief moment when the waning daylight causes everything to take on a holy, hazy glow. It took Terrence Malick about a year to shoot his 1978 movie Days of Heaven because he insisted on filming only during this time of day, but the results perfectly capture and distend that dizzy, overripe feeling of right before something very good ends. Bloom does that, too. "

    Favourite Fiction:
    Kurt Vonnegut - Slaughter-House Five

    From The New York Times: "Mr. Vonnegut pronounces his book a failure 'because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.' He's wrong and he knows it. Kurt Vonnegut knows all the tricks of the writing game. So he has not even tried to describe the bombing. Instead he has written around it in a highly imaginative, often funny, nearly psychedelic story." I call the main character, Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut's answer to Dostoevsky's The Idiot. If both feature a Christ-figure, but with different things to say about the "foolishness of the cross", well, if you've read the book you'll understand the despondency of Vonnegut saying "So it Goes."

    Favourite Non-Fiction:
    Gregory MacDonald - The Evangelical Universalist

    I could get in trouble for liking this book so much---if one jumps to conclusions about my liking it. But there is an important discussion to be had here, and Robin Parry (originally writing under a pseudonym) guides it well. Other books have recently opened and closed that discussion up in evangelicalism with a high degree of sloppiness, combativeness, and false humility. This does the opposite of that. It opened up windows for me, not only with the case it presented to my inquiries, but with the mode in which that case was made. A very timely, important, well-studied and well-presented book.

    Oh and by the way, last year I listed Manhood for Amateurs as my 37th entry, but I'm changing it to Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the WorldThe former is great, but that was a lean year for me, reading wise, and the latter has been more impactful. I'm still wrestling with Schmemann's book. Not sure what to do with it. A book about the sacraments by an Orthodox scholar really challenges my Barthian sensibilities---in a good way. And it is oh-so beautifully written. Leaves me wonder-ing, in both senses of the word.

    Sunday, September 29, 2013

    The Parable of Breaking Bad

    As the final episode of Breaking Bad looms it is clear that this has been one of the best shows on TV ever. For me it is right up there with West Wing and NYPD Blue, and in some ways much, much better. That's not to say it is a pleasant story. Or easy on the eyes. Viewer discretion is certainly advised. But as a story I can't say I've seen--or even read--much better. Much has been written already about its excellence as a parable.

    So on the eve of its much anticipated finale--which, unlike any show I've ever seen, actually concludes one unified (and plausible) story arc--I wish to register a prediction that is just as much a comment on the show itself. In 24 hours we'll know if I was right. But even if I'm not there are probably some thoughts in here worth mulling.

    At the beginning of this fifth and final season we saw a flash-forward to a moment in time to which we have only now caught up. In that moment Walter White returns home to retrieve a small vial of poison. Ricin, to be exact. Many have speculated who it is intended for, and I won't be the first to say I think it is for Walt himself. But let me explain why. I see three reasons:

    Walter White, season 1, episode 1: The Pilot
    1. This is how the pilot would have ended if Walter White had at that time been as good with a gun as he is with his chemistry. It is well known that episode one was like a microcosm of the whole show, and in that episode when the game was up and he had not only broken bad but been caught with guilt and collateral damage on his hands he did what he could to clear his name with his family and then tried to shoot himself.

    I think this final episode will end much the same, except Walt is better at this killing thing now.

    Looking at it this way raises some intriguing talking points too. In a sense we realize that the whole five-season run exists in the space between Walt's first and last attempts to die. And with all the breaking bad that is left to go, and with the body count that is yet to compile, in a sense and for half a second one wonders if death in the first place might have been a mercy. Yikes.

    2. This is not a show about redemption but about breaking bad. We're talking All the Way Bad. And the furthest bad can go, once it has spiralled outward in all its external havoc and far-flung demise, is to spiral right back in to the suicidal darkness of despair. This will not be a happy ending. If it is it kind of betrays the story being told.

    That's not to say a happy ending would be unwelcome--indeed, a well told story of some kind of redemption could be quite something--but it is to say that this would make for an inconsistent end to the "parable", as it were. As a parable of Breaking All the Way Bad, the furthest it can go is for the poison of Walt's doing to finally be his undoing as well.

    3. One of the common threads throughout Walter White's bad-breaking has been his drive for control. Having played Mr. Nice Guy for too long he finds out he has cancer and then has one too many bad days in a row at the mercy of his eyebrow of a boss and he snaps. He loses it. Or should we say he seizes it. In that first episode we see the rush he gets from being criminally untamed. The worst of it is that he succeeds. And from that day on he is always grasping for control. Insidiously. Madly. Sometimes as if he is controlled by this lordless power. Several times he could have had his way out. But he kept on grabbing for more until he finally found himself "in the empire business".

    The control runs so deep that he's actually cheating death. He's cheating death by managing it for personal gain. And in the end he will cheat death by beating it to the punch. I'm telling you for these reasons, and maybe more, as sad as it will be, the ricin is for Walter White himself.

    I'm not saying I'll find this satisfying, but as an end to the parable it is probably the most fitting.
    If you want to know what I WOULD find satisfying, it would be for Jesse to somehow escape to New Zealand and become a bush pilot.

    Friday, September 20, 2013

    Canadian National Lament

    Oh Canada,

    our home is native land.

    Oh Canada,

    we stood on guard for this?

    God heal our land,

    glorious, and free.

    Thursday, September 19, 2013

    Truth & Reconciliation in Canada. Listen. Live.

    Important follow-up to something which I've talked about on this blog before; namely the Canadian government's 2008 apology to the victims of residential schools and its promise to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to listen to the victim's stories. You can do that now:
    Watch live streaming video from trc_cvr at livestream.com

    Friday, August 30, 2013

    Cannot Submission Mean Leadership?

    After reading this post on the silencing of women in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, a woman in my church made an insightful comment which I've asked her to let me post here:
    "One aspect of the discussion which has puzzled me for years is the tacit assumption that women in public ministry are not in submission to their husbands. How can that be assumed? With it [is also] the assumption that no husband would give permission for his wife to minister publicly. That also cannot be assumed."
    Rev. Eunice Smith

    Wednesday, August 28, 2013

    Freedom Bound (MLK)

    Watching Reverend Martin Luther King Junior's famous "I Have a Dream speech" again today I was struck afresh by one line in particular. At one point the prophet says:

    "They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound with our freedom."

    The obvious question for race relations fifty years later is: Have we? It remains an important question. But what struck me this time is the significance of that question generally: Do we recognize freedom as a socially "bounded" reality? My freedom is bound up with yours?

    It remains an incredibly meaningful speech, chalk full of evocative lines like that one. As I'm sure you know, you can watch the whole thing here:

    Saturday, August 17, 2013

    Online Introductions to Karl Barth

    The thing about Karl Barth is that it's really important for Christians to read him, but it's pretty tough to know how to start. The best advice is just to start. Apart from that, however, thankfully there's an increasing collection of online resources that can help. Here are links to some of both the recently discovered and the more enduring variety.

    This weekend over at Die Evangelischen Theologen, W. Travis McMaken's theo-blog round-up included two that I hadn't seen before:

    First, for an excellent video introduction to Barth (which you can watch in less than half an hour), check this one out, made by St. John's Nottingham and narrated by Aberdeen's Tom Greggs:


    Second, at Canon and Creed, Matthew Wilcoxen (a PhD candidate at Charles Stuart University in Sydney, Australia) has begun blogging a Church Dogmatics Paraphrase--which might be just the thing for those that want to delve into the thing but have need of an entry point. If you are going to try to get to know this masterpiece of modern theology, you might as well begin at paragraph one.

    Beyond these recent discoveries, of course, there are also a few theo-blog "classics" worth checking out:

    If you are looking for a primer on "how to start reading Karl Barth" you still can't do much better than this one by the aforementioned Travis or this one by Darren Sumner at Theology Out of Bounds. 

    And last but not least, if you are looking for something even shorter than a paraphrase, there is always Ben Myers' impressive single-sentence encapsulation of each part-volume of the Church Dogmatics, over at Faith and Theology, which you can access here.

    Wednesday, July 31, 2013

    Readings in "Race": Kant and "The Drama of Race"

    After a summary prelude, Carter spends chapter one of his book analyzing the contributions and shortcomings of Cornel West and Michel Foucault's "genealogies" of race, exploring how they think today's "race problem" came about. 

    In chapter two he clears way for his own suggestions by analyzing the thought of Immanuel Kant, tracing in particular how his lectures on race in the 1770s may inform our understanding of the premises behind his later (more recognizedly influential) works.

    What follows are a few more excerpts that bookmark the progression of Carter's argument, relay some of the ways that Kant has influenced modern thought, and further highlight the mental grids within which today's racial ideas take form. 


    "[B]etween the 1775 course advertisement and its modification into the 1777 essay, Kant modulated his language in an important way.... [T]he specific term 'race' (Rasse), which Kant consistently applied to the Negroes, Huns, and Hindustanis to explain their origins, has for whites now dropped out.... As he sees it, whites are a group apart. They are a 'race' that is is not quite a race, the race that transcends race precisely because of its 'developmental progress' (Fortgang) toward perfection." (88).

    "Although each race suffers from a different kind of imbalance, the core problem for all of them is their inability to be self-governing or autonomous.... None of this, however, applies to whites.... Kant's ultimate concern is with the success of the universalist project of modernity, the project of whiteness as the advance of cultured civilization" (93-95).

    Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
    As Kant says: "[T]he human being is his own final end. Therefore to know the human being according to his species as an earthly being endowed with reason especially deserves to be called knowledge of the world [Weltkenntnis], even though he only constitutes one part of the peoples of the earth.... [What is important is] what he as a free-acting being makes of himself, or can and should make of himself" (98-99).

    "It is this disinteredness or autonomy that positioned the Germans, as Kant saw it, to direct the other European nations in how to lead the species in its mission to cover the globe. They are the most free. Autonomy must lead the way.... But here is where negative examples come in. [The coloured races] cannot abstract themselves from their own bodies and enter into an autonomous way of existence.... [By] focusing attention on the Jews as the sole negative racial other in Anthropology, Kant makes them stand in for all nonwhite flesh.... They are a heteronymous people.... [and] their heteronymous and sensuous nature arises from their religion.... They are the proverbial neighbour next door ... who we fear ... [will] send 'autonomous' equity values plummeting" (102-105).

    "Kant's objective ... was never the overcoming of religion.... In [his] articulation, Christianity is reimagined as 'racially' severed from and ethnographically triumphant over its oriental Jewish roots. Functioning in the modern world as a revitalized Gnosticism ... Christianity, reconstituted as the moral religion par excellence of reason, extols a Jesus who, rather than disclosing YHWH or the God of Israel as the ground of redemption for Jews and Gentiles alike, instead affirms what the human species 'can or should make of itself'" (106-107).

    "In the name of Paul, Kant presents Christianity as the ultimate expression of Western culture and civilization.... Christ's wisdom is continuous with, though it represents a purer form of, the wisdom of the Greek philosophers. The Greek philosophers.... In this moment, Christ ceases to be Jewish. Or, perhaps better: he is a hybrid, though his hybridity comes at the loss of his covenantal identity as a Jew.... For Kant, Christ represents the wisdom of Europe at the moment of its Greek birth" (113, 117).

    There was a lot going on in this chapter, but I think these excerpts represent it adequately. While there may be many factors in the rise of racism, in the end Carter reiterates that any account of race which understates its historically religious rationale misses a pretty key factor. Thus in the next part Carter turns his attention to "the theological problem of Gentile Christianity's refusal to think its existence apart from within the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (121).

    Thursday, July 25, 2013

    The Friends of Roger Ebert

    Stanley Hauerwas said his autobiography would be as much about the friends who made him as it was about himself. With Roger Ebert's memoirs this was even more so. Through his regaling of the details of place and personality, we get our impression of the man. Since Ebert was famous for interviewing others and reviewing their works, I suppose this is apropos.

    This was a captivating memoir--probably largely in part because I liked Roger Ebert, but also because it is so rawly yet excellently written. Some of the best parts are the chapters about film directors and other characters in Ebert's life. I loved how he would capture them in a phrase or two. Here are some of my favourites:

    Ingmar Bergman

    On visiting Bergman on set: "When you are making a film about the silence of God, it helps if everyone feels right at home and there's a pot of coffee brewing."

    "'What kind of crew do you use?' [David] Lean asked him. 'I make my films with eighteen good friends,' said Ingmar. 'That's interesting,' said Lean, 'I make mine with one hundred and fifty enemies.'"

    Robert Altman

    "Altman was a collaborator. Many directors are private and dictatorial. He involved everyone. He and Kathryn moved in a crowd, and actors became like familiy. He directed in a conspiratorial style, as if he and the actors were putting something over on absent enemies."

    Woody Allen

    "At one point, [Soon-Yi] advised him to be more animated when he appeared onstage with his band... 'They want to see you bob a little,' she says, and he gets defensive: 'I'm appropriately animated for a human being in the context in which I appear.' But in the next concert, he bobs a little."

    Werner Herzog

    "Each film has proceeded from an idea of a unique character approaching reality at an oblique angle.... When he uses movie stars, it is for their oddness, not for their fame. But he doesn't make freak shows. His characters are more human than the grotesque fabrications I see in many romantic comedies or violent action movies."

    Gene Siskel

    "[A]nother Chicago media couple, Steve Dahl and Garry Meier ... gave us advice about how to work together as a successful team. Soon afterward Steve and Garry had an angry public falling-out that has lasted to this day. Gene and I would never have had that happen to us. In our darkest brooding moments, when competitiveness, resentment, and indignation were at a roiling boil, we never considered it. We were linked in a bond beyond all disputing."

    "'Do I look okay, Gene?' I asked him one night when we were waiting backstage to go on the Leno show.... 'Roger, when I need to amuse myself, I stroll down the sidewalk reflecting that every person I pass thought they looked just great when they walked out of their house that morning.'"

    In sum, Ebert writes: "Artists like [these] bring meaning to my life, which has been devoted in such large part to films of worthlessness." To Ebert's credit, much of the meaning he found in others came from his own approach to life and to journalism, which he took from the advice of Studs Terkel: "Ask questions... If you don't know anything, just respond by asking questions. It's not how much you know."

    Saturday, June 29, 2013

    Readings in "Race": Foucault and "The Drama of Race"

    Carter spends chapter one of his book analyzing the contributions and shortcomings of Cornel West and Michel Foucault's "genealogies" of race. In this he explores how they both saw today's "race problem" come to be what it is, and comes to the conclusion that in order to come up with a theological assessment one must plumb deeper than they did into the theological underpinnings that (wrongly) enabled it. Last post I shared some excerpts from the section on West, this post is from the section on Foucault--interacting mainly with his 1975-76 lectures entitled Society Must Be Defended.

    "[According to Foucault] the first phase of sovereignty centralized power and sought to increase the strength of the state. But there was an inverse process at work at the same time: the process of decentralization, of individuating....

    In the second phase of modern sovereignty, the individuating process is heightened.... [so that, as James Miller summarizes]: 'The result was a hybrid new art of government, concerned as never before with regulating and monitoring the outward and the inward life of each and every citizen."

    "[When such a thing becomes oppressive, we see how] ancient Israel [can serve as] the fountainhead of a different political ordo, a counterhistorical one .... by defining itself as a collective, a distinct people--that is, as Jews--in contrast to the oppressors.... And yet there is a troubling downside.... [since this] collectivity can also spawn a new form of hegemonic sovereignty, the sovereignty of a collective conceived of as the race."

    "[In the twentieth century we saw how h]istorical discourse functioned ... [so that] the purveyors of history began to view the present as being in a sense ahistorical and replete in itself. Thus, 'the present becomes the fullest moment' ... despite the many (racial) rifts and cleavages that mark it."

    "[Our c]onsideration of Foucault's claims ... suggests an unwitting reenactment of modernity's anxiety about the theopolitical meaning of Jewish existence.... It centers on an insufficient theological grasp of the covenantal status of this people and in its election. Hence, what the lectures have no way of interrogating are the ways in which Israel embodies and is called to a performance of what it means to be a people, more specifically, YHWH's people....

    That is to say, Foucault's lectures cannot imagine Israel as a covenantal people and therefore as a people constituted (however imperfectly) beyond modernity's hegemonic and counterhegemonic alternatives.... In the end, he, as Cornel West did, brackets the theological from his genealogy of modernity and thus from his analysis of modern racial discourse."

    - from chapter one, "The Drama of Race: Toward a Theological Account of Modernity," 
    namely the section dealing with "Michel Foucault's Genealogy of Race," pages 56-57, 73-75.
    next up, chapter two: "The Great Drama of Religion"

    Tuesday, June 25, 2013

    Readings in "Race": Cornel West and "The Drama of Race"

    Having begun with a quote from the Prelude of J. Kameron Carter's "Race: A Theological Account," I figure I just may keep it up with more excerpts. These may be avenues for the odd online conversation or they may not, but at the very least I find it helpful to process the reading if I'm forcing myself to come up with a few indicative excerpts at the end of each section. This is a challenging yet rewarding book.

    "[Cornel] West is careful to distinguish his inquiry into power in relationship to race from what he calls the historiography of the 'revisionists and vulgar Marxist(s),' who focus more or less on power as it operates through concrete historical actors, be they individuals (such as sovereigns or any other potentate) or collectives (such as parliaments or mobs). West tells us that his mode of genealogical inquiry focuses instead on the 'subjectless powers' driving modern Western discourse....

    West's genealogy powerfully shows the epistemological ... conditions that made possible the idea of white supremacy as an expression of modern racism, but it does not provide insight into the mechanisms by which those discursive factors interacted so that modern racism and the idea of white supremacy moved beyond epistemic possibility and into discursive actuality....

    [David Theo] Goldberg, in framing his own critique of West on similar matters, puts his finger on the problem: 'The concept of "racialized discourse" (must) show how, methodologically, socioeconomic materiality ... and ideological conception ... are mutually interactive and codetermining.' Goldberg further argues that to penetrate to the level of how socioeconomic materiality and idealogical conception ... interact is, among other things, to uncover the 'grammar,' or the deep structure, of modern racial discourse."

    (In other words, it is one thing to say that racism comes down to individual vices such as pride and greed, another thing to point to the development of causative societal structures, and another thing still to discuss the underlying patterns of thought or language which have served to enable racial privileging to flourish--often in ways uneasily detected by those who are privileged)

    - from Part One, "The Drama of Race: Toward a Theological Account of Modernity," 
    namely the section dealing with "Cornel West's Genealogy of Race," pages 45, 50-51.
    next up:   "Michel Foucault's Genealogy of Race"

    Wednesday, June 19, 2013

    Readings in 'Race: A Theological Account' (The Prelude)

    "The ancient Gnostics thus ended up with a nonmaterial Christ (one situated between pneumatic and psychic mankind), one lacking interhuman and interlinguistic Jewish flesh, flesh that was not embedded in the history of Israel.... [Here] I tell the story of how the loss of a Jewish-inflected account ... of Christian identity cleared the way for whiteness to function as a replacement doctrine of creation. Hence, the world was re-created from the colonial conquests from the late fifteenth century forward in the image of white dominance, where 'white' signifies not merely pigmentation but a regime of political and economic power for arranging the world."

    J. Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account, pp. 34-35

    Friday, May 03, 2013

    The [Updated] History of the C&MA in Canada as it Relates to Women in Leadership

    The Great Debate by Alex Meek
    The following is based in part on the research presented in Alexandra Meek Sharman's MA thesis at McMaster University, entitled The Great Debate. With her kind permission I am here summarizing two chapters, but I highly recommend finding it at luluitunes, or in McMaster's digital commons. More info on the early years of the C&MA can be found in Barbara Howe's Forgotten Voices. Most of the information after 2000 is collected first or second-hand to the best of my knowledge.
    y interest here is neither to aggravate nor to defame the denomination to which I belong, but to promote an informed and historical perspective as it relates to ongoing denominational discussions. I welcome your questions and comments but also ask you to observe respect for this, my family of churches, as we work through one of the more difficult biblical and cultural interpretation issues of today within a widely varied community of churches. 


    Albert and Margaret Simpson
    1881 - A.B. Simpson, ordained Presbyterian minister, resigns to do evangelistic work in New York. Practical and theological convictions play in to his departure: In the first case, he feels constrained in his fervour to reach as many as possible with the gospel, and in the second case he has differences of opinion with Reformed teaching on baptism and sanctification, as well as healing and eschatology. Before long, an independent congregation grows out of his activities. 

    1887 - Two societies begin: The Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance, intended not as churches or denominations but as service arms for co-operating churches. 

    John Salmon
    1889 - John Salmon, former Methodist pastor, invites Simpson to share his vision in Canada and ends up birthing the "Dominion [i.e., Canadian] Auxiliary Branch of the Christian Alliance." First president is William Howland, and the vice-presidents are John Salmon and Maggie Scott.

    1891 - Salmon has Simpson officiate an ordination service, which causes some to leave the Auxiliary because it is now perceived to be acting as a denomination (which presumably brings them into conflict with their home churches and determines a choice).

    In the early years, in both Canada and the U.S., women are involved in all levels of ministry. A.B. Simson's wife, Margaret, serves as a member of the Board of Managers, as the superintendent of assignment of missionaries, and as financial secretary for many years (see Leslie Andrews paper on Simpson's views on women in ministry here). During this time woman are not, however, referred to as church pastors, ordinands, or elders. Neither does the Alliance self-identify as a denomination, nor its branches self-identify as organized churches.

    1912 - A General Council agrees to a new constitution organizing the congregations/branches that have stabilized and, in this time, begins focusing more intently on foreign missions. 

    1914-1918 - World War
    1918 - Women in Canada may now vote in federal elections

    1920s - Edmonton's Beulah Tabernacle the first C&MA Church in the West. J.H. Woodward calls for help spreading the Word in the area and has four assistant circuit-preachers/ministers, one of whom is Muriel Owen. In the meantime, Margaret Connor begins (and preaches to) new congregations in Denzil, Allenbach, Elk and Major, Saskatchewan. In 1923 Woodward sends a summer student, Catherine McCoy, to help Connor begin a congregation in Greenvale, Saskatchewan. When Connor asks the C&MA to provide a man to take over congregations so she can keep planting more, in the process she is made an official C&MA worker. Later she becomes a pastor at Beulah. These women are not mentioned in this video but it gives a sense of the early days of the C&MA in the West.

    1922 - Miss A.B. Rose preaches to and pastors a congregation in Lac LaBiche. Elsewhere, Raymond Francisco requests that the C&MA send a "really good young man to be a full-time pastor" for him so he can return to school. They send two women: Della Carstead and Grace Johns, from the Canadian Bible Institute.

    1928 - The C&MA forms a District in the West and three women are on the District Executive Committee (DEXCOM), including Margaret Connor.

    1928 - The Third Annual Conference of the C&MA decides to maintain current practice and not ordain women, but to maintain that they are deaconesses, as is the practice for A.B. Simpson south of the border.

    1929 - Myrtle Bradley pastors a congregation in Regina, Saskatchewan, despite it having a male chairman, secretary and treasurer who were apparently capable. Many more stories about women in ministry in the Canadian C&MA during this period can be found in Barbara Howe's Forgotten Voices.

    1939-1945 - World War 2
    1960s-1980s - Second Wave Feminism

    Dr. Harry Turner
    1960 - Dr. Turner, President of the C&MA, declares it has officially become a church denomination and should begin self-identifying as such. The dilemma now, as Alexandra Meek Sharman puts it, is that "[i]f Simpson's ecclesiology was to be followed women should no longer be able to serve as pastors or 'branch leaders' ... [or] the official role of an Elder"  (40). Women continue to minister in roles available to them, still recognized as deaconesses.

    1960s-80s - Significant growth in the Canadian branch of the C&MA, including its school, now called Canadian Bible College, in Regina, Saskatchewan. (I would be very interested in more information from this period).

    1980s - Believing it true to the movement's initial impulses, at least one pastor, Rev. Ross Ingram of Southern Ontario, hires female pastors and places women on the elder's board of his church. When asked to remove women from the board he does not, arguing that his is acting within denominational precedent and is not in contradiction of Scripture's authority.

    Dr. Mel Sylvester
    1981 - The C&MA in Canada (hereafter still just C&MA) becomes autonomous from the U.S.A. and Dr. Melvin Sylvester is elected its first President.

    At this time the organization of local churches is simplified in distinction from regular practice. Until then churches had been run by an Executive Board (of women and men) and given spiritual oversight by an Elders' Board (all men). Now the two were rolled into one, and would operate as the Elders' Board, with less distinction between administration and spiritual leadership. This single Board would by virtue of the change be all male. One of the women affected by this change was Wendy Thomas, on staff at Cedarview Alliance Church in Nepean, Ontario, who at the time of the change was on her church's Executive Board. She did continue to serve in this capacity, however, because the change was in its early stages.  

    1982 - At the C&MA's General Assembly (GA), Pastor Royal Hamel raises the question whether women could serve as Elders. The C&MA's Board of Directors (BOD) commissions a report to be considered at the next GA, in 1984.

    1984 - At the next GA, the comissioned report leads the BOD to release a statement called "The Basic Scriptural Principles of Women in Ministry" and to put forward four recommendations. Two were passed (regarding licensing women for various ministry functions) and one was struck down (which proposed that there be a list or eligible roles written up). The remaining recommendation -- which proposed that women not be eligible for elders' boards, for DEXCOM (the district leadership board), or for the national BOD -- was referred to committee. When the Committee on General Legislation brought it back to the floor the next day it was narrowly defeated and an exegetical paper was requested so a more informed discussion could take place.

    (In the debate that took place there were arguments against women in leadership which drew support from the masculine grammar of eldership texts and which questioned the hermeneutic and commitment to Scripture's authority of those college and seminary professors in favour of women's leadership. Correlations with the ordination of homosexuals were drawn, and the seminary's President argued against such parallels. Apologies regarding some heated rhetoric followed the next day.)

    1988 - After four years the BOD, with the requested report submitted, presents a Statement on women in leadership, which over the course of the debate takes on two new words (indicated in italics) but otherwise is passed as written. In the final report it states "that in the biblical pattern and in the historical practice of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Elders in the church have usually been men. The weight of evidence would imply that normally this pattern should continue." The matter is considered closed, and any further discussion "counterproductive."

    It is in this year that an insertion is made to the accreditation policy which prohibits women from being Senior Pastors, which turns out to be the only such place in C&MA policy where such a restriction is explicit. (Referring also to the 2007 removal of this clause, which also took place without discussion with the constituency, in 2013 the then-new President and the BOD would apologize that this "should have been processed more thoroughly with our Alliance family of churches.")

    1988-1992 - Following the GA, Pastor Douglas Schroeder-Tabah reports on the matter in an article in Christian Week, interpreting it to mean that local churches, should they feel so led, could assign women to the Elders' Board. Surprised by this interpretation, Pastor Peter Ralph of Westside Alliance Church writes the National Office for clarification, only to learn from vice-president Gerald Fowler, in consultation with President Mel Sylvester, that Schroeder-Tabah's interpretation is valid. Some time later when the Westside congregation in Regina asks if they can have women as Elders, Pastor Ralph assures them they may do so in "good faith". Along with two other churches they end up doing so during this time.

    Dr. Arnold Cook
    1992 - The new President of the C&MA, Dr. Arnold Cook, thinks Schroeder-Tabah's interpretation of the prior ruling incorrect, and asks these churches to remove the women from their Elders' Boards. Two comply, but Westside does not, defending its course of action as proper.

    1996 - At GA in Regina, a woman named Jean Daly is nominated to the BOD (as this aspect of the 1984 deferral had not been dealt with in the subsequent 1988 statement on the matter). The current BOD chairman, Rev. Keith Taylor of Beulah Alliance, looks for consistency with general practice in lieu of clear polity on the matter. Some debate takes place, and before a vote occurs the nominee in question withdraws her name. The following day Ross Howell expresses a general sorrow over some of the things that had been said in the course of what was an emotional debate.

    Dr. Miriam Charter
    1998 - The issue as it regard the BOD is raised again, and much healthier debate reportedly ensues. Five motions are presented, and all but one carries. From here on women will be allowed to serve on the BOD and DEXCOM, and will also be able to administer the ordinances. The motion regarding eldership is referred, however, to the next GA. Following the vote to allow women to the BOD (which passed by 60%), Miriam Charter is elected (with 75% of the vote) the first woman to serve on the C&MA's governing board since its early years.

    2000 - After having consulted another commissioned paper on the matter, the BOD suggests that a consensus may not be reachable despite long arguments from many angles, and so seeks to make it possible for local churches to have Elders if they so choose. Some debate takes place regarding a motion to see to it that these Boards still have a majority of men, but the constitution is finally amended according to a statement put forward by Paul Little from the Committee on General Legislation, which said: "The local church may by a 2/3 majority choose to have women on their Board of Elders."

    2007 - The BOD, with the DSs, adopts a new licensing (formerly accreditation) policy which does not carry over language referring to women as Senior Pastors. Only at GA 2012 is there widespread recognition that this was the only place in C&MA policy where a restriction on such a thing was ever explicit. In 2013, new President David Hearn issues an apology that this, along with the 1988 insertion of the clause, "should have been processed more thoroughly with our Alliance family of churches."

    2008 - A motion brought to the floor of GA by the BOD asks for the manual's "Statement on Women in Ministry" to be rescinded. A motion is made and carried to postpone this discussion indefinitely, reportedly for the reason that a debate would detract from the "Kingdom business" at hand (namely the church planting initiatives that were to be put forward).

    2010 - GA is held outside Canada for the first time, in Turkey, and the tabled motion is not brought up again, other than in Round Table discussions. Sometime after this it is noted that the Statement on Women in Ministry had been removed from the C&MA website (but not formally from C&MA polity), replaced with the explanation:
    "The BOD of the C&MA in Canada has ruled that the Position Statement “The Role of Women in Ministry” is inconsistent with legislation adopted by General Assembly (specifically, the Local Church Constitution). Consequently the Board has directed that the statement be removed from the website until such time as the General Assembly considers it appropriate to engage in a full discussion and debate on the issue."
    On an online forum opened up to discuss such issues the first and only objections to the removal of this Statement come from those opposed to the Statement itself, who would like to see a proper discussion about the C&MA's stance on this issue rather than what appears to be the deferral of conversation for the sake of status quo. An apology will come in 2013, instigated by complaints at GA 2012 from some of those in favour of the Statement.

    The opening up of this online forum for official workers in 2010 is part of a BOD response to a GA recommendation for furthered dialogue. Then-President Franklin Pyles commissions three papers on the issue of ordaining women which are meant to explore whether there is anything in the theology or practice of ordination in the C&MA which makes it gender specific. The exegetical paper explicitly sets out to cover ground which has not had as much coverage in prior publications by looking particularly at the gospels. At GA 2012 the papers are called biased by some who would have liked to have again had papers detailing the various theological positions. Despite prior attempts by some to discuss the papers on the online forum, however, interaction was sparse and lacked direction.

    2011 - The 2011 District Conferences host round table discussion of the matter, revealing a wide spectrum of opinion and a good deal of variance not only on gender roles but also on the nature and merits of ordination. 

    Promotion for 2012 GA in Winnipeg
    Spring 2012 - In the lead-up to General Assembly, as a result of their internal investigations and deliberations, the BOD determines that, as it stands, nothing in the polity restricts women either from ordination or from the senior pastorate--despite the use of the word "man" in the ordination policy and the remaining restriction of females from eldership in most congregations (which thereby also restricts from the senior pastorate). This determination was explained for the constituency in statements found here, and in videos found here.

    Summer 2012 - After considerable back and forth in both the preparatory Legislative Committee sessions and then also on the floor of Assembly, at GA 2012 in Winnipeg the delegates vote 380-281 to change the wording of the ordination policy from “men” to “persons,” thus allowing the possibility of women becoming ordained (Pastor Chris Smith gives a full report of the proceedings here).

    In the final moments of Assembly, after several items of business had been tabled for lack of time, a motion was made (and then amended a few times from the floor) and carried which brings the question of whether women can be senior pastors to the next GA in 2014. A later statement released on the C&MA website thus clarifies that ordination "does not grant the right to exercise authority over others nor is it required for individuals to function as ministers including the supervision of sacraments and authority to preach or teach the word. Rather, ordination is the public confirmation and affirmation of an individual’s skills, gifts and calling to vocational ministry." It is not altogether clear whether everyone at GA who voted for or against the ordination of women saw ordination it this way--as a matter of fact the round table discussions showed a great variety of opinion on the matter--but that will have to be discussed in 2014.

    Fall 2012 - After hearing concerns from the constituency, a letter is sent from President David Hearn which makes three apologies/clarifications: The first relates to the removal of the Statement on Women in Ministry from the website in 2009, the second relates to what turned out to be over-reaching alterations of the licensing policies in 1988 and 2007, and the third relates to the alleged bias of the papers released in advance of GA 2012.

    The letter also suggests that the ordination decision will be thought through carefully toward implementation and, to that end, it reveals three significant decisions: The first is that the motion to discuss female senior pastors in 2014 calls for a hold should be put on any such appointments until that time, and the second is that those women whose ministry predates 2012 will have the option whether or not to pursue ordination themselves. The third of these is that those men or women for whom this is a matter of conscience may decline the conferral of ordination after the requirements have been met. (It was my presumption that this referred to the ordinands themselves, but the District Conferences of the summer of 2013 have indicated that some Districts (at least) are granting some allowance for local churches to decline an ordination service as well. It is unclear whether this reconciles with Ordination Policy.)

    Finally, the letter also reveals that "in the coming months, [the President will] be establishing a task force to sort out the separate question of whether women can be Senior Pastors." The details surrounding this "task force" are that it will "bring together those representing complementarian and egalitarian perspectives to design a pathway to see both groups valued and affirmed under the theological umbrella of biblical unity and to assist our family of churches in managing the tension such unity may require."

    Rev Brian Thom ordains Rev Eunice Smith
    2013-2014 - On June 9 the Pacific District ordained Eunice Smith in Richmond, BC--the first woman in C&MA history. In July and August the Eastern District ordained Kathy Klassen at First Alliance in Scarborough and Penny Hall at Emmanuel Alliance in Ottawa, Ontario. On August 6, 2013 the Western Canadian District ordained Helen Chan, who serves as a Chaplain in Alberta.

    Other ordinations have since taken place, including Mardi Dolfo-Smith at North Shore Alliance Church in Vancouver on Dec. 15, 2013, Anita Leung at Vancouver Chinese Alliance Church in early 2014, and Miriam Charter, Carla Olsen Draper, Ruth-Anne Gilbertson, and Patricia Love at Foothills Alliance Church in Calgary on March 16, 2014. (Please let me know if you are aware of others ).

    As it stands, after 13 years since the vote to allow female elders, an unknown quantity of the C&MA's local churches have voted to do so. (Such statistics have not been kept: a credible estimate has it at around 10%).


    This is an attempt to present the facts, but is also open to clarification and discussion. Please feel free to share, ask questions, or prompt elaborations. There is obviously more that could be said. May God be with us as we carry this conversation forward in Christ.