Sunday, May 20, 2012

Christian soldiers & Walter Wink

Walter Wink

Among trials and temptations of the week --- isolating at the last minute four credible hymns among the hundreds in the Episcopal "Hymnal 1982" that can be banged out on the organ this morning with minimal embarrassment.

Our turbulent priest, the vicar emeritus, believes that God speaks hymnodically only through "Hymnal 1982" and, having already been handed a couple of setbacks, it seemed wise not to distress him further by falling back on old gospel favorites.

Yes, we're having company this morning. But no, there will be no incense; and no, we won't be pushing the free-standing altar aside so officiants can use old glory, the marble altar with slippery steps waiting to cause hip-breaking accidents and now serving primarily as a reredos.

I was sorely tempted by "Onward, Christian Soldiers," Sabine Baring-Gould's and Arthur Sullivan's 1869/1871 exhuberant marching song for the church militant. It's fun and easy to play and many like to sing it, but considering the recent death of Walter Wink, at age 76 of complications from dementia, inappropriate.

Wink, advocate of constructive nonviolence and liberal theologian and thinker, was ordained a United Methodist minister but spent much of his career teaching at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, affiliated with The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Richard Beck, of "Experimental Theology," remembers Wink gratefully this morning and offers links that can be followed elsewhere. Wink's classic 1979 essay on Homosexuality and the Bible can be found here.

Needless to say, Wink was not popular within the church militant in part because he had little patience with the concept of Christian soldiers. His thinking on that topic is reflected in writings about what he called the myth of redemptive violence.  His contention that there is no such thing as a biblical sex ethic ruffled feathers, too.

In honor of Wink, I've been thinking this week about redemptive violence in connection with bullying, which has been attracting increased interest lately, especially in relation to schools. Kyle Munson has an interesting piece in this morning's Register about the fallout in Sioux City of the documentary "Bully." The school district allowed the film's producers full access during production, which has resulted in a good deal of dirty laundry being publicly aired. In several instances, the district's pioneering anti-bullying program hasn't worked.

I wonder if the failures of anti-bullying efforts among youngsters should surprise anyone when we fail to deal with pervasive bullying among adults. How much of the political discourse during this election year could be categorized as verbal bullying? Or how about talk radio? Or how about Sunday morning sermons and the rantings of TV and online preachers? All of it involves outrage, some real but most manufactured in order to manipulate for a cause --- redemptive violence. Is in any wonder that all of the violence filters down to kids who express it in less pointed but equally destructive ways?

Wink was not a pacifist --- a believer in non-resistance. He preferred the term "nonviolent," which for him involved actively confronting injustice in the context of love --- what he believed that guy Jesus was all about. The Jesus message was not about mere eternity, Wink taught, but about becoming more fully and generously human  here --- and now.

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