Updated: Aug 9, 2021
Dialogue with evangelicals to build alliances that help overcome American Supremacism.
Supremacists focus on America First, especially White Americans above others, versus America taking a role within the international community to increase social justice for all (including future generations, nonwhite immigrants and environmental protection for the planet.
Ideologically, churches and synagogues can play an important role in this dialogue. They provide a space where people with differing beliefs about civic policies can come together within the same social space and discuss issues. Even in this COVID-19 era, congregations are using zoom for virtual group meetings.
To live up to their full potential, however, many synagogues and churches need to make critical theological corrections, or they can become tools for various types of religious Supremacism rather than communities that promote inclusive compassion, social justice and socioeconomic well-being. Indeed, without certain theological corrections vital to inclusiveness they are vulnerable to inadvertently increasing hostility toward “outsiders.”
My phrase, “theological corrections,” is based on social justice and compassion, as well as having support in Biblical scholarship. Because the Judeo-Christian tradition, past and present, has played an important role in shaping Americans ideological biases, even among those who now take secular positions, it’s worth noting Biblical influence.
If the United States government, when pushing continental expansion, had subsidized missionaries who lived within an inclusive rather than an exclusive tradition of chosenness, they might have recognized that Native Americans also felt themselves as chosen to inhabit the land where they live as a gift; the inverse of those who would slaughter them because they felt that they had been chosen to receive Native American land as their gift.
Chosenness is presented within divergent themes of exclusiveness and inclusiveness in both the Old and New Testament. I am directing my comments primarily toward the inclusive theme because it has often received less attention; in the inclusive-chosen tradition everyone is understood as God’s people; or in secular terms, all people, all collectivities are given positive regard as special.
“Chosenness” when understood in the exclusive sense, has led to collective feelings of superiority and entitlement that have left destructive marks all the way from ancient Israel’s violent invasion of Canaan to their contemporary relationship to Palestinian lands. These competing understandings of chosenness have marched through time from ancient Israel to New England Pilgrim settlers (in Europe called Separatists because they did not want to be contaminated by non-chosen) to America’s exclusive sense of “Manifest Destiny,” America First, American Exceptionalism, etc. which led to the genocide of non-chosen (so perceived) Native Americans, the invasions of Spanish-legacy nations in the Western Hemisphere, to global trade relationships that have sought “entitled” unilateral advantage (exploitation) above reciprocal advantage. (Implicitly legitimized because it was transferring resources from the non-chosen to the chosen) Oftentimes for America, “chosenness” has meant entitlement for Whites, as in the setting of immigration quotas for different ethnic groups depending upon their degree of “whiteness”; as pronounced by Trump, when he indicated he would love more immigration from Norway than from what he called shithole (sic.) African countries.
The concept of “chosenness,” by contrast, when it is understood inclusively is supportive of social justice for all. The choice for chosenness to be understood inclusively is obviously, ethically arguable. Inclusive chosenness is also found within the prophetic traditions of Judaism and informs the choice for inclusiveness in the divergent themes of “chosenness” within the New Testament.:
Chosenness, interpreted as exclusion, was railed against by the prophets. Amos gives voice to Yahweh as proclaiming an inclusive chosenness, 9:7:
Are you not like the Ethiopians to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord?
Did I not bring Israel up from the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?
Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggeman, comments,
The initial question in this text would likely evoke a response of no from Amos’s listeners. No, we are not like the Ethiopians because we are chosen. But Amos intends a yes. Yes, Israel is like the Ethiopians, thereby subverting the claim of chosenness as exclusive.
…Yes, God “brought up” Israel from Egypt; Yes, God “brought up” the Philistines from Caphtor; Yes, God “brought up” the Syrians from Kir.
…Israel is regarded by God just like the other peoples, just like the others in dependence upon YHWH. …Amos asserts that God has many chosen peoples, including Israel’s adversaries.
Chosenness, as an experience of a people receiving land and/or other blessings from Creator, is described by the prophets as a blessing “for all nations” for “all peoples.” Israelis are admonished to perceive their chosenness as non-exclusive.
In Micah 4:1–5 and Isaiah 2:2–4 the prophets offer an anticipatory vision of a coming drama in Jerusalem. In the vision “all nations” and “many peoples” will come to Jerusalem to be instructed in the ways of peace and justice.
Micah 4: In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
… He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; 4but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.
The Jerusalem temple will no longer be a place for exclusive worship of an Israelite God. Now it is envisioned as a place where all nations will worship the God of all peoples. Especially telling of inclusion is Micah 4:5. This verse characterizes the procession of people’s coming to Jerusalem as each purposing to learn the ways of peace, as having many different faith affirmations. Each people in the procession will have its own faith commitment and be motivated by “it’s God,” who is not perceived as the God of Israel. That is, Israel’s conception of God has no monopoly on the pilgrimage of peace. Other people with other perceptions of God can join the parade.[i]
The prophets are calling Israel to perceive their chosenness as shared with all other beings as articulated in the covenant statement that followed the story of the great flood. God established the inclusiveness of Divine presence and love, saying, “I have set my bow in the clouds, a sign of the covenant between me and the Earth and every living creature.” (Gen. 9)
One with “All Our Relatives” – "mithuouyasin” – a Lakota word that has become intertribal because of its shared meaning. Often it is spoken at pivotal places in ceremonies and after individual prayers, as a reminder that the concerns of our hearts are to be for all beings, not only other people and tribes, but also other species and aspects of Mother Earth. “Mitaqouyasin,” is a word for the spiritual inclusive Way of Life found not only among Native Americans but also as a theme within the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition (albeit a theme that is often dormant.)
Isaiah, 19:24–25, in this passage declares that shared worship is a part of inclusiveness. He imagines a new map of the Near East where there will be free passage between the several nations and shared worship between Assyria, the northern power, and Egypt, the southern power (v. 23). Then, in verses 24–25 the prophet goes further and imagines God constructing a new regime of chosenness:
On that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.”
In the New Testament, inclusiveness again echoes through the words of the prophet, Isaiah, whom Jesus quoted when he cleaned out the temple: “...all who hold fast my covenant, these I will bring to the holy mountain; and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:7)
A deeply rooted aspect of the human psyche wants to be the “most special.” Perhaps it is seated in our DNA? Or perhaps it is rooted in the necessary specialness of infant to the mother, required for the care necessary to thrive? Across cultures, it is a challenging developmental task to balance the need to be special, to have self-esteem, with family and community needs for resonance and inclusiveness. The psychological challenges are intertwined with cultural challenges to groups and nations. Instinctual enthusiasm is generated within an experience of a group or a nation that is felt to be most special, be it an athletic team or at a larger scale, being a part of nationalistic fervor. The formidableness of this challenge is what necessitated the prophets to repeatedly say “woe unto you and your people,” whenever chosenness became exclusive. Looking at American socioeconomic political divides, we have noted some of the destructive consequences of exclusive chosenness, as in manifestations of racism, as in the United States’ sense of “Manifest Destiny,” and we could add “Christian supremacism,” “White supremacy,” all forms of excessive Nationalism and such racist movements as neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.
Going back to the New Testament, it took Peter being shaken up in a trance state for him to be pulled out of his needs for religious exclusiveness and to embrace religious inclusiveness.
Acts 10:9 ff. reads,
About noon,…Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat; and while it was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet coming down, being lowered to the ground by its four corners. In it were all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air. Then he heard a voice saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” This happened three times, and the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.
Soon Peter’s revelatory understanding was tested by an invitation to visit the home of Capt. Cornelius, a Gentile. Arriving at Cornelius’s home, Peter stated
“You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. … “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. …While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…
In the New Testament, the admission of gentiles into the fellowship of the church was the decisive shattering of old exclusive notions of chosenness Now, in the United States, we continue to face the central value issue as to whether or not we utilize our chosenness, our exceptionalism, to exclude ourselves from the common interests of the planetary community, or, do we undertake to do our part in addressing world problems of climate change, extinctions, bondaged labor and poverty?
The inclusive tradition of chosenness is a foundation for congregations to be able to provide study groups, book readings, etc. that reach across the divides that have often characterized those congregations that have supported Trump. The curricula for churches that seek to provide inclusive outreach over civic, racial, gender identity divides etc., in search of common cause in social justice are already developed. People who care and help their congregations enable education and discussions for bridging civic divides within our nation.
That’s it for now, everybody who is so inclined , please speak up .
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