Originally posted on CWR blog by Brad Jersak
|Art by Delphine Lebourgeois|
Originally posted on CWR blog by Brad Jersak
|Art by Delphine Lebourgeois|
Editor's note: Graham Ware interviewed Brad Jersak on the Rethinking Hell podcast (listen here). The following is the written correspondence version of the interview (not a transcript) so it includes some questions and answers not covered on the podcast. Graham also asked additional follow-up questions on the podcast not recorded here.
Right now, you wear many hats vocationally. Instead of me reading your CV, maybe you could sum up what it is you currently do vocationally (besides being the author of 13 books)?
After being discipled in Moravian Brethren tradition, and attending an evangelical bible college and seminary, you have had some changes in your theological convictions, presumably not just on the issue of hell. Can you perhaps share how those changes came about and perhaps where you sit now? Not because we're enslaved to labels and affiliations, but just to get a sense of where you're coming from as you approach a theological topic.
Actually, my ancient heritage included Moravian Brethren, but in terms of actual upbringing:
I've just finished reading At Home With Andre and Simone Weil. This heart-felt little work allows readers a personal glimpse into the family life and history of the sibling wonders, Andre and Simone Weil. Andre has been called the twentieth century’s ‘Einstein of mathematics’ and Simone is well known for her meteoric life as a philosopher-activist-mystic. Written by surviving family member and award-winning author, Sylvie Weil, At Home offers snippets of the genius, quirks, love, and obsessions of the Weil clan.
Most especially, we feel the tension of how Sylvie herself experiences the oft-bitter privilege of her role as Simone’s look-alike niece—a sort of living relic with the burden and weirdness that her memory imposes. The author accomplishes all of this, weaving humorous, tender and sometimes painful anecdotes in her beautifully Jewish way. I savored At Home over the course of days, each chapter gifting me with new feelings and surprises. The first word that came to me was 'delicious!' But then also ‘excruciating’ and in the end, 'astonishing.'
"Your moralism is killing you."Wow! That hit me like a ton of bricks. And the line has stuck with me ever since. "Your moralism is killing you." Sometimes it takes the perspective of an outsider to get to the heart of the matter. Orthodoxy has its own issues to contend with, but as far as I'm concerned Archbishop Lazar's diagnosis of the chief malady within evangelicalism is right on target. Our moralism is killing us. But Jesus wants to save us!
"If our faith is primarily a mantra to drive away punishment, our faith isn’t really a faith, it is a fear. We feign faith in order to keep from being punished. When we do that it usually manifests itself as a kind of harsh and brutal moralism. Because in this system it is psychologically comforting to see ourselves as better than other people. Thus trying to hype up our ego leads us to a kind of moralism where we have to denigrate others in order to make ourselves feel better." -Archbishop LazarAlright, that's all I wanted to share with you, but if you are interested in more of this conversation you can view theSymposium on Deep Structural Fear with my friends Brad Jersak, Ron Dart and Archbishop Lazar. It will be well worth your time.
After my review of Meg Tilly’s work, entitled “A Spirituality of Courage and Hope,” she graciously responded to some questions that I hadn’t seen others pursue. Herein is the interview, along with a review of Porcupine written by my son, Dominic, who is 11 years old, and a powerful sample of prose/memory from Meg that she’s lent us from her blog site (www.officialmegtilly.com).
Porcupine – Review by Dominic Jersak (11)
Porcupine is a book about a 12 year old girl and her siblings. Their father was killed by ‘friendly fire’ in a war. Their mother eventually drove her family to the other side of Canada to live with her grandmother. There are many small events in this book that tie it together to make it a great book.
The morals and some strong themes of Porcupine were courage, being helpful, and forgiveness.
TEXT OF THE INTERVIEW WITH THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
Source - NEDERLANDS DAGBLAD
Aug. 12, 2006 / Wim Houtman - Editor
The Church is Not Inclusive
Since February 2003, Rowan Williams has been Archbishop of Canterbury, the highest leader of the Anglican Church. He is unlikely to have expected to preside over a split in the Church. He doesn't want that, but the controversies seem to spiral out of his control. How does he see the future and what makes him tick, what does he believe in?"
Ratanak means precious stone or gem in the Khmer language. In this case Ratanak was the name of a little girl who, in late 1989, lay in a hospital in north west Cambodia. As her mother looked on, the doctors tried to save her life. There was no medication or medical equipment available to save her. This event inspired Brian McConaghy, a decorated member of the RCMP, to create the Ratanak Foundation, : a relief and development organization dedicated to bringing spiritual hope to the Khmer people by assisting Cambodia rebuild the social and medical services which would have saved the life of the little girl named Ratanak.
A Conversation with Dr. Tony Campolo About the War In Iraq, the War on Terror, and Loving Our Enemies
Dr. Tony Campolo is known around the world for his outspoken views on religious, cultural, social, and political matters. A sociologist by trade, he is also a popular speaker and teacher and has been featured on television programs like Nightline, Crossfire, Politically Incorrect, The Charlie Rose Show, and CNN News. The author of twenty-eight books, Dr. Campolo’s most recent titles include Adventures in Missing the Point (with Brian McLaren), Revolution and Renewal: How Churches Are Saving Our Cities, and Let Me Tell You a Story: Life Lessons From Unexpected Places and Unlikely People. Despite these lofty credentials, Dr. Campolo was kind enough to grant us an exclusive interview for this issue of Clarion.
Clarion: What is your opinion on the war in Iraq?
Tony Campolo: There are two ways of looking at this question. There are some Christians who are pacifists. I would fall under that category. We build our case on the fact that historians do not argue, that for the first three hundred years of the Christian faith, the church was pacifist. It wasn’t until the time of Constantine that Christians really entered into the military. Secondly, I think an honest reading of the Sermon on the Mount and the other teachings of Jesus in the gospels would lead one to a pacifist position. The other position that Christians take is what is called the “just war” theory. This was developed by St. Augustine and refined, perhaps, by Calvin.
Clarion: Do you think it is possible to have a “just war” today?
Tony Campolo: Yes, it is possible to have a just war if you use those standards, and most Christians would hold to a just war theory. But I’m fairly convinced that the war in Iraq does not meet the requirements of a just war.
I say this in part because the first characteristic of a just war is that all possibilities of avoiding conflict have been exhausted. In the case of Iraq, the US went to war while everyone else was trying to negotiate. The pretext of the war was that America had absolute proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The evidence is quite clear now that those weapons probably did not exist. I think that giving the UN team more time, believing the UN research team that no weapons existed, would have been a wise course of action to take.
Another justification of a just war is that the good that is achieved will outdo the evil that is done. This obviously does not measure up in the case of Iraq. You can talk about 7,000 people that Saddam Hussein slaughtered (put to death for being political enemies). I’m sure there were lots of other people killed. But when you talk about atrocities, they’ve uncovered the graves of at least this many people. On the other hand, some have estimated that more than that many Iraqis have already been killed and wounded as a result of this war, with more Iraqi citizens dying every day. More than a thousand US soldiers have died, and the end of death is not in sight.
Beyond that, the goals of establishing a democracy were ill conceived, because I’m not sure a democracy is viable in Iraq. There are 1.5 million Christians in Iraq. But the overwhelming majority of people in Iraq are Shi’ites. If there is a democratically elected government in Iraq, the Shi’ites will dominate, and we will have a Shi’ite regime. The freedom Christians have had in Iraq to evangelize and create new churches will be severely curtailed under a Shi’ite regime.
Clarion: Why do you think America was so eager to go to war?
Tony Campolo: The former Secretary of the Treasury, John O’Neill, has pointed out that from the first day of his presidency, George Bush talked about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. [Editor’s note: O’Neill did so in the book The Price of Loyalty by Ron Suskind.] I don’t judge people’s motives, but it’s obvious from what O’Neill has said that from the very first cabinet meeting, this is what the presidency was after.
Clarion: Why would the removal of Saddam Hussein be so important to them?
Tony Campolo: I have some suspicions; I contend that oil had a great deal to do with it. The things that raise these suspicion in me about our motives as a nation is that during the first week of the war, the president immediately gave over all rights to develop the oil industry in Iraq to Haliburton, a company that still is financially contributing to Vice President Dick Cheney. A further problem was that there was not competitive bidding, which is against US law. More importantly, with massive unemployment in Iraq, one has to ask why the Iraqis were not given the opportunity to rebuild their oil industry. After World War Two, the United States gave lots of money to Germany and France to rebuild their infrastructure. We did not send Americans over to do it. There is every indication that the Iraqis could rebuild their oil industry, seeing as they built it in the first place and rebuilt it after the first Gulf War. Bechtel, a major contributor to the Bush election campaign, was given contracts to rebuild the infrastructure of Iraq. There is suspicion that these contracts were politically motivated. The Bible says to avoid the appearance of evil. I have to tell you, this is not avoiding the appearance of evil. When all is said and done, as one of my students who visited Iraq recently has said, ‘Saddam Hussein is a horrendous tyrant. But if a man is brutalizing his family, you don’t burn down his house with his family inside to get rid of him.'
Clarion: So you’re saying it would have been better if the US simply got rid of Hussein instead of declaring war on the entire country of Iraq?
Tony Campolo: When faced with a similar situation in Yugoslavia, the US was able to secure a verdict from the UN and the world court that this man—Milosovich—should be indicted for war crimes. That created the condition of going in and taking him alone. That course of action was rejected by the US.
You’ve got all these arguments: weapons of mass destruction, the removal of Saddam Hussein, going over there to create a democracy. When you begin to raise all of these questions, you find one big question behind them all: Should the US be moving into all nations where there is tyranny? Should we be going into Burma, for instance? Does the US have that responsibility? Take Red China as a case in point. Should we go in there? Or should we just invade smaller countries? And if we do, can we still call ourselves idealists?
Clarion: So you’re saying Saddam Hussein had the bad luck of sitting on one of the world’s largest oil reserves?
Tony Campolo: Yes, I am. But that’s merely speculation.
Another tenet: The US is under condemnation by the UN for using cluster bombs. And my students who were in Iraq saw the effects of these in the hospitals. How can you drop a cluster bomb in a populated community and call yourself a just nation?
What we are facing right now—and this does not make the US press or even the Canadian press—is that there have already been twenty-two suicides among troops in Iraq and three hundred attempted suicides. This rate far exceeds the suicide rate in Vietnam. The Navy has a psychiatric team that is expecting almost twenty percent of the US soldiers who go to Iraq will have psychiatric problems upon returning home. They contend that this is largely due to the fact that they expected to be received as liberators but instead find themselves being received as occupiers in a hostile nation.
We should note that in between the first and second Iraq wars, there was an embargo that really caused great suffering to the Iraqi people. It is estimated by the UN that half a million children died as a result of that embargo. You have to be extremely naïve to think that when you kill half a million children in a nation of seventeen million your soldiers will be welcomed as heroes when they march into town.
I feel the American people have been deceived and are still being deceived. I think everything about that war has the mark of a propaganda machine, such as the ‘rescuing’ of a young woman (Jessica Lynch) in a hospital that was shown to be a complete farce. She says it didn’t happen that way. ‘I was a coward,’ she says. ‘I was crying, I didn’t shoot my gun at anyone. I was in an accident due to my own stupidity. To call me a hero because of that is ludicrous.’ I fear for a nation that does not tell the truth to its people, because democracy in the United States depends on the truth.
Clarion: I often struggle with this, not knowing what to think about situations like America’s involvement in Iraq, because I don’t believe I have reliable information.
Tony Campolo: During times of war, you certainly don’t have to tell everyone everything, but to deliberately make up lies, that’s unnecessary. Let me say beyond this that I basically believe that George Bush is a good man, a Christian man trying to do the right thing. I can’t say as much for the forces behind the throne, who I believe are calling most of the shots.
Clarion: Who might these forces be? The Saudis? Big Oil?
Tony Campolo: I don’t know about the Saudis. In fact, one of the reasons we went to war was because of the Saudis. The Saudi government is increasingly unstable and unreliable. If any government has ties with Al Qaeda, it’s them. You have to remember that Bush has promoted this war because of 9/11, but there weren’t any Iraqis on the planes. There were Saudis and Egyptians. Secret documents found with Saddam Hussein said he had no connections with Al Qaeda and instructed his followers not to have anything to do with the organization. On the other hand, there are members of the Saudi royal family suspected of having helped fund Al Qaeda. The Saudi government is in a very precarious position. If it were to fall into unfriendly hands, the US economy would be doomed. That’s where the oil theory comes in. The US economy is almost totally dependent on Saudi oil right now. Thus, seizing Iraq’s oil fields is a form of insurance. There is every indication that there will be a radical Muslim takeover of the Saudi royal family, in which case the US would really be left out in the cold. So there are my speculations.
The ultimate question is, did we do what Jesus would do? And I think that question is one that people have to answer for themselves. I don’t think we did, but others will think otherwise. I have to say that my heart goes out to these soldiers over there who live in constant fear, many of whom have given their lives in a cause that is becoming increasingly ambiguous.
Clarion: What do you think of the ‘war on terror’? Can it be won?
Tony Campolo: That’s a good question. It can be won, but you can’t win the war on terror by killing terrorists just as you can’t win the war against malaria by killing mosquitoes. You get rid of malaria by getting rid of swamps that breed mosquitoes. In the same way, you get rid of terrorism by removing the conditions that breed terrorists.
You have an educated elite emerging in the Arab world that is angry over the humiliation of their people at the hands of the West. They find themselves powerless and pushed around. Tony Blair, on one occasion, said all the problems in the world right now can be traced back to Palestine and Israel, and I think he may be right. The United States provides one-third of all its foreign aid in any given year to Israel, most of which is used to build up a gigantic military. Thus, Israel is in a position to do what it wills in the Middle East. The inability to stand up to Israel, backed by the US, where the Palestinians are left with no negotiating power whatsoever, leaves them in a state of hopelessness. That’s what creates a suicide bomber, someone who sees there are no other alternatives. The suicide bombers have as much in their statements before going to death.
Clarion: So the situation in Israel, this is one of the conditions that breeds terrorist attacks against the US?
Tony Campolo: That’s one of them, but it’s the overall sense of being inundated by western commercial, political, and industrial interests. The Arabs see Israel as a surrogate nation used by the US to maintain its power in the Middle East. You have to grasp the fact that we overthrew the democratically elected government in Iran to make way for the Shah. We have been the primary buttress for the ruling family in Saudi Arabia, which is despised by much of the Arab world. Along with the English, we are responsible for creating the State of Israel. It is the western nations that actually created the national boundaries of all the nations that exist in the Middle East. It’s the West who created all of these nations after World War One when the Ottoman Empire fell and England divided up the territory.
I don’t want to get much more into the Middle East situation except to say the following: The Jews have suffered enough. They are the victims of anti-Semitism in every western nation. They justifiably believe they can have no freedom or dignity unless they can have a land of their own in which they are the rulers, and I agree.
Clarion: But what about the Palestinians, can’t they make the same claim?
Tony Campolo: The Jews should have a secure land with secure borders. They shouldn’t have to worry that their children will be killed on the way to school due to terrorists. Whatever may have been the justification for creating the state of Israel in 1948—and that can be debated—the Palestinians are asking what right a group of people in New York had to create a new nation in which the Palestinians became second-class citizens. But whatever the reasons, I would have to say that the nation exists now, and I violently oppose that kind of thinking among the Arabs, that the solution to the problem is to drive the Jews into the sea. We must stand behind the people of Israel and defend their right to exist as a nation.
Clarion: And the Palestinians?
Tony Campolo: Having said that, if we believe the Jews are entitled to a land of own, should not the Arab people who lived in the Holy Land have a land of their own, too? This was the original intention of the UN when the State of Israel was created, an intention that I think the Palestinians foolishly rejected. It has been said of Yasser Arafat that ‘he has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ There have been many opportunities for a separate Palestinian state to exist in ways the State of Israel would have supported. Most of those proposals were rejected by the Palestinians. Things have changed now. The Palestinians are willing to accept the State of Israel, but they want a negotiated settlement. However, the Israeli government is imposing a settlement by building a wall along what they want to be the border. Leading ideologists in the American Jewish community, people like Thomas Freedman, would say the survival of Israel—in the long run—depends on the nation making friends with Arabs. The United States could be there for Israel for 50 years at the most.
Clarion: What do you mean?
Tony Campolo: The United States isn’t always going to be the powerful nation it is today. Nations rise and nations fall. You can put it off to one hundred years if you want. But the US economy is facing a national debt of over seven trillion dollars! We simply cannot support what is going on in the Middle East right now. Military spending is exhausting us. We can’t always be there. Even if the US is behind Israel, consider the fact that there are Arab peoples living within Israel who are multiplying at a rate that is much greater than the rate at which the Israelis are multiplying. Demographically, twenty-five years from now, there will be more Arabs in Israel than Jews. Either Israel has to deny these people the right to vote or they will be taken over by an Arab majority. In fact, the most extreme Arabs right now do not want a settlement. They’re the ones doing the bombing. No one is asking why they’re so willing to wait. But Arabs have a great capacity to wait. As I said, it’s only a matter of time before the number of Arabs exceeds the number of Jews in Israel. Incidentally, this is exactly what happened after the Crusades, as Friedman points out. After the First Crusade, the Christians took back the Holy Land, but over time, the Arab population grew, so that the Christians had to retreat. If there’s anything the Arabs remember, it’s the Crusades. They learned why they lost the Holy Land, and they learned how they got it back. And history will repeat itself. That’s why these extremists torpedo every plan that comes along that proposes two states. They want a one-state solution. ”Let Israel own all the land, and let us outbreed them,” they say. This is obviously what has happened in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank over the last twenty-five years. The refugees that were once a smaller number now have grown into the millions. And the children that are raised in these places are taught to hate Jews. It is a fact that the schools teach hatred and a twisted view of history that makes the Jews and the Americans the incarnation of Satan. What are the consequences of that? Millions and millions of children growing up with that kind of thinking within the nation of Israel. The time has come for spiritual leaders who are moderates, in the Jewish community, the Muslim community, and the Christian community—please remember fifteen percent of all Palestinians are Christians—to come together and find some common ground between the Torah, the New Testament, and the Koran that will mean peace.
Clarion: Seeing as our magazine is a ‘journal of spirituality and justice,’ I’d like to ask you to define justice. For example, what does justice look like in the case of someone like Saddam Hussein? And how are we to balance loving our enemies with holding them accountable for their actions?
Tony Campolo: I’ll put it this way: What if the United States obeyed the teachings of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12: to love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you, overcome evil with good, feed your enemy if he is hungry, for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head? Paul suggests that the way to get rid of an enemy is to do the good that Jesus would do. I contend that if, over the last ten years, instead of an embargo we had fed the people of Iraq, we provided them with they medicine they needed to prevent their children from dying, and helped them economically so they were economically allied with us, I think that such loving commitment would have done more to bring down Saddam Hussein than the embargo. If we had done the good that God requires of us, then we would have overcome evil with good. The question that the church has to answer is, ‘Do we really believe the Apostle Paul? Do we really believe that evil can be overcome with good? Do we really believe that doing such good will ultimately destroy our enemy by heaping coals of fire on his head?’ I believe in the Bible, and I am willing to tell those who are in places of leadership what the Bible requires of them, whether they listen or not. In my case, I let it be known what the Bible teaches to President Clinton. I did not have the same opportunity with President Bush. I hope there are others who at least speak the Scriptures to him on this matter.
Kevin spoke to Dr. Campolo in Kona, Hawaii on January 29, 2004.
Kevin Miller is a freelance author, editor, and educator from
Abbotsford, BC. To learn more about Kevin and his work, please visit
Dr. Tony Campolo is professor emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University in St. Davids, Penn. Founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education (EAPE), Dr. Campolo has provided the leadership to create, nurture and support programs for “at-risk” children in cities across the United States and Canada and has helped establish schools and universities in several developing countries. He is a graduate of Eastern University and earned a Ph.D. from Temple University. He is also an ordained minister in the American Baptist denomination. Dr. Campolo is married to Peggy (Davidson) Campolo. They have two children and four grandchildren. For more information on Dr. Campolo, please visit www.tonycampolo.org.
Brad Jersak: The government, the media, and the church tend to try to use fear to manipulate, control, and leverage people. I believe using fear on people is an inappropriate thing to do. I’d like to hear your comments on that.
Tony Campolo: Well, it is inappropriate. It’s very effective though. Take the last election in the United States. It was really won by the fact that one candidate was able to reassure that he could provide more protection than the other candidate. Who can alleviate our fears most effectively was the issue.
Steve Stockman is a chaplain at Queens University in Belfast. He’s noted in North America for his work on U2 entitled, “Walk On.” He taught at Regent College in the summer of 2006, where we found him for this interview. He also does social justice work, leading Irish student teams to Capetown, South Africa into the townships (i) building with Habitat for humanity, (ii) AIDS work, (iii) fair trade, and (iv) reconciliation work.
CLARION: As someone who has researched and written on U2, what do you make of the way Bono is modeling spirituality and justice?
Back 2 the Blues delivers.
"I love blues because it is the most human, vocally-based music I know of. It tends to be very honest, because it "tells it like it is" rather than posing or pretending that life is "cool", nothing hurts, people always treat other people fairly, etc..." Glenn Kaiser
A lot of good things could be said about the various bands who played at the “Back 2 the Blues” festival, Aug 12-14 (www.back2blues.com). Back 2 the Blues is a weekend of listening to well practiced, amateur and professional bands, with great blues names like “White Moses and the Fury”, “Breaking the Bondage Blues” and even more well known artists such as Larry Howard and Darrel Mansfield. This year was great and everyone snapped out of the weariness of all day, sun and tunes when Glenn Kaiser stepped onto the stage to do his warm up with vocals and steel guitar. This patron saint of Christian hard core music, with his matured twenty-five years of music and ministry, was definitely the cream on top of everything and everyone in the crowd knew it.
Lane Walker of Just Neighbours interviewed Glenn Kaiser at the Back 2 the Blues festival. He “tells it like it is” when it comes to delivering music and ministering, not just in words but in deeds:...
“Back 2 the Blues” is the only “Gospel Blues” festival west of Chicago and was originally inspired, started and sustained by a few ordinary people. Murry Moore, Glen Warner, Lando and Rob from House of James (www.houseofjames.com) all had a vision for a Christian concert that caters specifically to Gospel and Blues - together! Their desire is to give Christians an experience of great music and encouragement in the faith through the ministry of tenured and aspiring musicians and Back 2 the Blues delivers. I will definitely mark my calendar for this event next year.
Lane: You have often said that you like the blues because it is a particular form of music which connects to the issues in life which are common such as suffering and struggles. Can you comment about that?
Kaiser: A lot of people in the church focus so much on heaven that they have forgotten hell, temptation, the devil and the fact that Christians have old nature and we make stupid choices. They have also forgotten that God has called us to reflect our Lord Jesus in very specific ways, such as in Matthew 25, as we did it to the least of these my brethren you did it unto me. The ones that you did "not" do it to, “the least of these”, those whom we consider least in our culture and society, that's how much we love Jesus, no more no less. Gal. 5, the fruit of the Spirit and I Corinthians 13, the chapter on love, are the ways that we are supposed to reflect God's character and I think that sometimes we think that God is only reflected when we sing. But I gotta tell ya, I've been a singer all my life, singing is easy, being forgiving, being merciful, stopping my routine in the day to reach out and help the broken person is what love is about. Is not just singing the message of the gospel, it's living the message of the gospel.
Lane: Tell us about the way you live personally and how you express the gospel.
Kaiser: Wendy and I have always lived in one room, take for example your average bedroom, that's it, that's where we live, we don't have a house, we don't have an apartment, we have a bedroom! It is a 10 story hotel that we live out of. We live full-time in community there, we share our food, our finances, our honorariums from our concerts and money that comes in from record sales all goes into a common fund and helps to pay the bills and finances the ministry, it doesn't come to me personally.
We are constantly reaching out to the outer community, such as the hundred seniors that we take care of, who live within the top three floors of our building . We also have a 380 bed shelter three blocks away. In our apartments we have 18 families, mostly single moms with kids who came through our shelter programs and God has really worked through their lives. We work with inner-city kids through both our Boys Club and Girls Club. The bottom line is there is a lot of ministry to broken and messed up people. We don't live in a pretty or nice area, we live about four blocks from a very wealthy area, but our area is called uptown and its poor. There are a couple of rival gangs that have no problem fighting it out for turf (I guess we are the biggest gang so we do get a little bit of respect from those guys). The politics in Chicago as you know is infamous, and it's the truth, we're on the radar because the city sends us people to help. The city has run out of resources and so we are in a very unique situation.
Lane : Tell us about your community, Jesus people USA and its relationship to the church.
Kaiser: I was 18 years old when we started Jesus people USA in the Milwaukee area of Chicago in 1973. We were a little different than some of the Jesus People houses, ministries and movement because we made it a point to reach out to the traditional church from day one. We have always had in our community, friends, pastors and leaders within the Baptist, Lutheran, Anglican . . . go down the list. We didn't accept everyone's teaching or doctrine because we would constantly go back to the Scriptures. But we didn't throw them out of the door either, we kept asking them to come back, come and teach us, speak to us. First of all, not only do we have a high view of real fellowship, real community, we have a high view of the whole church, the whole body of Christ and when somebody treats me like dirt, my job is to forgive 'em and love 'em not to dis' them or say you hurt my feelings and you got to be respecting and loving me. When we do this we are forgetting our own responsibility to express love and forgiveness and compassion for them. The issue for us from day one was you may throw us out, you may not invite us in, but we're still going to call you our brother or sister. One phrase from the Evangelical Covenant Church, which we as a community joined 14 years ago, was a quote from the Psalms " I am a friend of all those who fear thee ". And I am a friend of all those who reverence, really and truly respect, Jesus Christ as their Lord. Where as a lot of people wanted to be independent of the "traditional church", we always wanted to have more commitment, we wanted to have more relationship we really believe in the body of Christ and we really believe in accountability, its not just a word, it's saved my neck. I'm on a pastoral team of nine, and all of us really and truly do love one another, pray with each other and confess our sins and minister to one another. We've really tried to live that example out in the whole of community and we have that relationship with the Covenant denomination.
Lane: Can you tell us how living in community helps or makes it difficult to develop spiritually?
Kaiser: For one thing, when you're living close together day in and day out, not just seeing each other simply one hour a week, the iron is going to sharpen the iron, there's going to be some friction, some sparks, there's going to be some shaking, some unsettling moments and you can't just run and go home 'cuz you are home! Our "live in" membership within our community is huge (about 325 adults and 200 children) and we are constantly fellowshipping, working together, praying together or asking forgiveness and help from one another. When it comes to community, and I want to be clear about this, I don't think God has called everyone to live like Jesus People USA, in the inner-city like we do in Chicago. God has not called everyone to do the exact same stuff in the exact same way, i.e. methodology, in the body of Christ. But God has called all of us to be more interactive then independent and there is an awful lot of folks who just don't get along with other people and aren't willing to pay the price. The truth is if we can't forgive each other and love each other as Christians, in the local church, if we find ourselves dissatisfied and always angry and jumping from church to church, a bit like a flea from dog to dog, you know, wherever you go, there you are! And if I keep feeling disenfranchised maybe the problem is with me? So if you can't love your brother in Christ, whom you might truly disagree with, if you won't forgive the person who has truly and legitimately hurt you, you're going to have a hard time walking with unbelievers, who act like... unbelievers!
Lane: How do you see communities needing the church?
Kaiser: Proverbs 11:1 says "a false balance is an abomination to the Lord and a just weight is his delight." Who among us as individual Christians or where as individual churches, who has got all the answers? Who is perfectly balanced? Who is righteous and pure in all of their judgments? Who doesn't make mistakes? In First Corinthians 13 it says that "we know only in part", and I think that simple biblical humility would help individual Christians and local churches and even denominations. In the Evangelical Covenant Church, 90 percent of the time you will hear people quoting Luther, Augustine, mother Teresa and in another moment John Perkins, they're quoting Mandela, go down the list, there's a breadth and understanding, and I think a level of humility that it takes of the whole church, not just our little grain of sand on the beach, to make a difference in society.
Lane: Can you tell us about your involvement in the pro-life movement and some of what it was like being involved in rescue ?
Kaiser: Years and years of conviction from reading Scripture about caring for the poor, caring for the marginalized and trying to apply it in every way possible, obviously you will bang into people who are pregnant out of wedlock who are considering abortion. I'll tell you real specifically how it came down; there's a little girl named Heidi Kaiser, who we named, who we adopted, whose mom (not from pressure from us, but from some gentle talk and a lot of prayer) showed up in our room one night and said, " Glen and Wendy if you will raise this child I'll go ahead and have the baby". She had been involved in dope for ever, she's still messed up today, she's not walking with the Lord. She's a sad lady, but the bottom line is that she went through with it and had the child, we named her, brought her home from hospital and adopted her and she is now 22 years old. The bottom line is it's one thing to talk about pro-life, it's another thing to do something about it! Yeah, I went to jail a couple of times for blocking abortion clinic doors for "X" amount of hours before the cops hauled us off. Basically I spent a lot of time praying there asking for forgiveness.
Because the problem is that we don't do enough, none of us does enough, but we don't do enough for anything. I mean there's always poor people, Jesus said the poor you shall always have with you, and you can do good to them " whenever you want to ". When do you want to? When are we going to want to? When is it going to be beyond survival? I gotta tell you part of the conviction and call in my life in community, is that instead of simply working like a maniac, to pay the bills, and having no time and no energy left to really reach out and serve anybody, that's not my call. And I don't believe God has called anybody to simply pay somebody else to do their ministering for them. I happen to be called and gifted as a pastor and evangelist, what about somebody who doesn't believe they have those spiritual gifts? Well, the Scriptures say that the Holy Spirit is giving gifts to all of us, question is what are they and what are you doing about it? Romans 12 says use them and that means work. It's not always exciting and fruitful, we don't always see visible results and the bottom line is God calls us to love in action, not simply in talk. I think when you love in action then your words have meaning, until then what is it worth? It's just information, the devil can quote scriptures, he is still the devil. What makes us any different than the world, simply because we believe Jesus died for us, end of story? That's the beginning of the story!
Lane: Tell us about your experience of racism.
Kaiser: My best friend from the third grade up until the end of high school was African-American. I grew up very poor in northern Wisconsin, I am not black but I have a serious kinship to black culture in society, I understand being poor and I understand people looking down their noses at you because you're wearing threadbare hand-me-down clothes, eating peanut butter because government food stamps were keeping you alive, that and hunting and fishing, and I understand what it's like simply because people get sick. Like my dad who had a series of diseases and had no money to pay for the operations, we lost everything because a business partner of his ran off with the money in the till and nobody ever found him. The bottom line is that out of nowhere we were dirt poor and overnight people looked at us differently, simply because of our economic basis. Now you can do the same thing with colour of a person's skin, that's an issue. Perhaps their First Nations, Asian, Hispanic, whatever, they're of a different tribe, a different tongue, different ethnicity, whatever, Jesus shed his blood equally for everyone, everyone!
Lane: Does your community get involved in gang-related activities and crime/violence prevention?
Kaiser: On occasion. I'll tell you how it happens… they come to us. We've been livin' where we’re livin' for so long so that if someone has a fire in their apartment and they need help, they come to Jesus People. If somebody needs food or clothing they know where to come. If somebody needs a place to stay, housing, if somebody gets killed, on occasion we get called to do the funeral because they don't know anybody else and we'll do it for free. And they don't know anybody else who will do it with some level of integrity, 'cuz these guys don't hangout with Christians or church people. So the bottom line is we have involvement, I think it's because of our longevity and the fact that we don't look or feel (if you know what I mean) like "Church people".
Lane: talk a little about the tendency in the inner-city is for the White middle class people to leave for the suburbs...
Kaiser: the Exodus out of the inner-city is a great question. The reasons are fear, because of property values, because we don't want our kids to somehow get swallowed up by these " people", because of prejudice and racism on some scale. Let's get down to it, if you're afraid for your kids or your grandkids, you often make some pretty severe changes, which means selling out, getting as much money as you can and going to the burbs. If you had asked me this question five or six years ago, I don't know if I would say what I am about to say, but I can say now, it's changing. For example, one of the things that we don't talk a lot about is that we are part of the Willow Creek Association (a mega church) and they sent a lot of people to Jesus people, to our shelter to serve food to the poor. More and more and more, the larger, wealthier white suburban churches have been convicted of the need to do something. If not to open a center, then work with someone who is living and working daily in the inner-city, such as Jesus People USA, and we've been seeing more and more of that. We have youth groups from all over the United States and Canada, some are pretty traditional and of course here we are with earrings and tattoos and every kind of culture and subculture represented in our fellowship and church, we live where we live, in the inner-city and you can't dress it up, it is what it is and these groups come in groups of 10 or 20 and they will work for a week straight as an urban mission experience. We have so many bookings it is hard to keep even 7-8 months down the road a free week open for people who want to bring their group down. People come from all over the U.S. and Canada to do that and we are just one urban ministry that is receiving groups. Why is that? People are starting to wake up and realize that these a larger cities with all their crime and all their unemployment and all their poverty and all their mix and melting pot of racism and that not only the cities need help from the church, but they realize their kids and the elders team and the parents come along and they get ministered to. And they comeback over and over again, so believe me, the attitude is really beginning to change.
Lane: Thank you Glenn and thank you guys for holding this event, I can't wait to get "Back 2 the Blues" next year!!"
For further info on Back 2 the Blues contact: www.back2theblues.com