Friday, November 21, 2008

Nov. 16 Sermon: Politics of Domination

Sermon Scriptures:
Deuteronomy 24: 16-22
Leviticus 25: 8-22

Politics of Domination:

One could be schizophrenic if you applied all the biblical injunctions regarding power and domination. To me, it is one of the clearest examples of humankind’s projection of values onto God.

How could an “unchanging God” advocate the slaughter of the Canaanites and the provisions for Sojourners found in Deut. 24: 16-22?

This is a problem with prooftexting with scripture. If we’d like to advocate systems of dominance such as patriarchy, slavery, and invasion with clear and concise scripture, they are there for the taking: Ephesians 6:5 “Slaves, obey your masters.”

This is why taking a “narrative approach” with the Bible as sacred scripture is an important witness for us to advocate. A “narrative approach” to scripture recognizes the over-arching trajectory of the Scriptures.

It takes into account that there is a scriptural “movement toward love and compassion” even though the individual verses are sometimes filled with blood, severed limbs, and the bashed skulls of infants.

The abolitionists had to appeal to the “Spirit of the Bible” in their theological disputes with the preachers of the slave-holders. They didn’t have that many scriptures to go on.

The Spirit of the Bible advocates a Politics of compassion even though the individual scriptures sometimes advocate a politics of dominance.

Notice that the Politics of Dominance occur when participants are high on the ego strength level, low on the relational level.

Perpetrators of the politics of dominance are not necessarily acting out of malice and sadism, but because they focus so much on their own needs, interests, and desires.

In the case of Israel’s conquest of Canaan accounted for in Joshua, the people moving into the promised land where so focused on their own sense of promise, their own needs and interests, and desires, that they perpetrated a politics of dominance on the inhabitants of the land.

Interestingly, the account in Joshua is seemingly an exaggeration, because we get to the accounts of the Judges, and the people are still existing alongside the Canaanites, even though Joshua tells us that the Israelites were faithful in carrying out the commands of God in Deut. 20: 16-18.
There are still Canaanites around after Joshua.

Reading between the lines, we see what actually happens when the Hebrew people land in Canaan is syncretism. That’s what the ethnic purists in the Bible lambast the people for throughout the prophets and historical books. It’s the problem with Solomon.

So—a politics of domination is discouraged in a nuanced way in the Bible. The domination of debt and landlessness is assuaged by the commands by God to observe a Jubilee year in Leviticus 25.

Despite advocating an annihilation of the Canaanites in Deut, God also advocates for the “aliens in your midst,” and the “sojourners (immigrants, migrants, transients) by leaving food on the vine and in the olive tree for those unfortunate people to have for food.

If God was so interested in setting up a pure society of ex-slave Hebrews, why would these instructions for mercy be included? It is part of the arc of the story of scripture that confounds the proof-texters of hatred: God undeniably calls toward a society of compassion and peace.

Executing a person for their own sins is an improvement over executing a person’s whole family for the sin of one in the family. Holding life as a sacred gift always redeemable by a God who turns murderers into saints is another step in the direction of compassion.

Though it is not spelled out in the letter of scripture, with the exception of The Bible telling us that it is God's will that no one perish but that all come to faith (2 Peter 3:9). But it seems clear that the absence of capital punishment is where the “Spirit of the Bible” leads.

We have all encountered a politics of dominance in our relationships—you have all met people who dominate a conversation, who insist on their own way, who seem unyielding or even blind to the concerns of others.

We must be agents of reconciliation—we must recognize the string wills of these people in our midst and help them come to an understanding of the value of others.
What the dominating personalities in our midst need is to be drawn toward intimacy with others an to have more concern for them.

Trying to force people into this point of view doesn’t work. Coercion is the operating method of the politics of domination, and will only reinforce that in their hearts. Instead, we must give them opportunities for broken hearts.

This is how the Politics of Compassion practiced by the martyrs exposed the politics of domination practiced by Rome. It was by the steady, willing, loving witness of those who died in the arenas of the politics of domination.

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