Douglass Blvd Christian Church

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Filtering by Category: Pacifism

True Colors Film Screening

Our friends at the True Colors Ministry of Highland Baptist Church are screening the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin this Sunday, February 5th.  If the Super Bowl just isn't your cup of tea, or you're simply looking for an interesting and stimulating activity on Sunday, this is definitely the place to be!  For more information, contact Maurice Bojangles-Blanchard at 

Sermon Podcast: "The Gates of Hell"

Rev. Derek Penwell preaches on Matthew 16 13–21, in which Simon Peter first articulates the disciples' belief that Jesus is "the Messiah, Son of the Living God."

In this passage, it's clear that Jesus sees a church playing offense--marching on the gates of Hell. After establishing that he's uncomfortable with martial metaphors for the reign of God, Rev. Penwell asks what weapons are we to use? The answer is in the passage following today's gospel, Matthew 16:21: "From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

Suffering, sacrifice, and death are the weapons of Christians. That is, as Christians we must be prepared to stand beside the oppressed and marginalized and receive the same blows they do.

It's all we've got. It's enough.

Click the link below for the sermon audio or just subscribe to our podcast in iTunes and you won't miss a single sermon…  

"The Gates of Hell" by Rev. Penwell

I'm a Minister

I’m a minister.  Which is to say, I work as a minister in a church.  Historically, I’ve found myself reluctant to offer that bit of information in casual conversation, not because ministry occupies a position inherently more shameful than a host of other vocational options, but because when people find out that I’m a minister they either want me to answer their questions about I watch TBN, or they want to impart some theological nugget they’ve mined from The Prayer of Jabez or The Left Behind series.  Please don’t misunderstand—I like questions.  In fact I entered the ministry because of some of the questions I had about life and its ultimate meaning.  My problem lies not in questions in themselves, but in questions about whether or not I believe that the World Council of Churches, Democratic politicians, and certain cartoon characters on prime time television form a shady cabal intent on ushering in the anti-Christ and a one-world government—complete with standard issue UPC codes emblazoned on everyone’s forehead, or whether I’ve finally come to my senses and realized that mega-churches are the goal of God’s reign here on earth.

The fact is I like being a minister, in large part, because of the conversations that attach to a life spent following such a strange, quixotic, compelling character as Jesus.  The conversations, however, that seem to me to be important to have center on questions of justice, non-violence, grace, faithfulness, friendship, and devotion, rather than the sort of mass-produced fare provided by a popular religious culture that asks nothing more of Christians than that they act nice, refrain from swearing in public, and support any military action proposed by the American government as, ipso facto, God’s will.

To put a finer point on it, I like being a minister at Douglass Boulevard Christian Church.  I’m blessed to belong to a community of faith that takes seriously our call to live out the example of Jesus in the best way we know how.  DBCC is a community unafraid to take a chance on following Jesus down a dark alley.  I like that.  I like the sense of adventure I find at DBCC, as well as the adventurous thoughts I have when I think about what we can do together.

I guess this is all a long way of saying that my thoughts about ministry have evolved since coming to Douglass.  Many of the things I do don’t even feel particularly like work.  In fact, now when I’m asked what I do, I tell people I’m a minister at this really great church that seeks justice for the marginalized, that provides embrace for those who’ve been excluded, that looks into the eyes of the forgotten and says, “You’re welcome here.”  Though we’re not perfect, we are constantly looking for ways to grow and be better.

I’m a minister.  I just thought you should know.

Violence and the Naïve

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. . . . They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6, 9).

So we Christians do not oppose nuclear weapons because they threaten to destroy ‘mother earth,’ but because the God we serve would not have one life unjustly killed even if such a killing would insure the survival of the human species (Stanley Hauerwas, Sanctify Them in Truth: Holiness Exemplified, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998: 192).

In The Brothers Karamozov, Alyosha Karamozov and his brother, Ivan, have a conversation in which Alyosha, a postulant at the monastery, seeks to understand Ivan’s seemingly entrenched agnosticism. Ivan, in explaining his philosophy turns to the question of theodicy (i.e., the goodness of God put to the question of human suffering) to demonstrate his understanding of the universe as essentially unjust. He cannot get his mind past the very basic question of God’s righteousness in the face of wanton suffering, especially the suffering of children who are presumably innocent.

Ivan gives a series of accounts in which children are the object of profound suffering. One story that is particularly horrifying recounts the tragedy of a five-year-old girl who is tortured by her parents for dirtying her bed. Her mother makes her eat her own excrement and locks her in an outhouse every night, even in the dead of winter. Ivan wonders how the mother can sleep at night while her daughter beats her chest and cries out to “gentle Jesus” for help.

He then puts a question to young Alyosha:

‘Let’s assume that you were called upon to build the edifice of human destiny so that men would finally be happy and would find peace and tranquility. If you knew that, in order to attain this, you would have to torture just one single creature, let’s say the little girl who beat her chest so desperately in the outhouse, and that on her unavenged tears you could build that edifice, would you agree to do it?” Tell me and don’t lie!’

‘No, I would not,’ Alyosha said softly. (The Brothers Karamozov, 296)

In a world that casually assumes the fact of violence as woven into the fabric of the universe, Alyosha’s reticence is puzzling. We think, “If you had a chance to bring happiness and peace and tranquility to all humanity, and all it would cost is the suffering and torture of one innocent creature, and you didn’t do it, you would be stupid.” Of course, we try to limit “civilian casualties” and “collateral damage,” but we all know that peace (progress, democracy, justice, a new world order, etc.) come with a cost. Only the most hopelessly naive think that peace occurs without a few “civilian casualties.” Only the most credulous believe that the happiness of the world can be secured without a little “collateral damage.” No pain, no gain.

And yet, maybe there is something to be said for a guileless vision of the world in which the structures of happiness and peace and tranquility will no longer be built on the back of the suffering caused by our relentless pursuit of peace by violent means. Maybe there exists a way of looking at the world in which no violence, no matter how well intended, can ensure the reconciliation of enemies. Maybe there survives a way of construing the world that depends no longer on the blood of children to make the world a safer place, but insists on relying on God to secure our future.

Nah. You’d have to be pretty stupid to look for a world like that.

Forgive us Christians who are a bit skeptical about the world’s ability to pick and choose which innocents have to die to secure peace. We have a good memory. We remember a time when those in power got together to secure peace by killing an innocent man.

Well, on second thought, maybe you can build a peaceful world on the back of the suffering of one innocent man. I suppose it depends on the man.

Prophetic Language

"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious" (Isaiah 11:6-10).

I admit that this passage from Isaiah sounds a bit fanciful given the current state of our world. We're much more apt more apt to take sides as the wolf and the lamb face off. We're more comfortable with policy decisions that help us avoid the terrible truth that the leopard and the kid lie down together only when one feasts on the bones of the other. Our world is situated such that only dewy-eyed romantics and ungrounded idealists ever really believe that a little child will actually lead this unlikely menagerie-especially when we see the cold, hard facts.

And the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the wolf and the lamb actually living together, we main-line Protestants are the least likely to share the same space in peace. Speaking about the relative lack of mixed-race congregations, Nancy T. Ammerman said, "Mainline folks, for all their talk about diversity, lag significantly behind." The charge, of course, is that we who are the putative gatekeepers of the "true faith" are much better at talking the talk, than walking the walk. And no doubt this is true. The numbers apparently don't lie.

Implied in that indictment against main-liners, however, is the notion that somehow talking the talk isn't that important. But I would like to suggest to you that it is impossible finally to walk the walk, if nobody has told us where to go. Somebody has to hold forth a bold vision of what we believe life will look like under the reign of God when it is fully revealed. Somebody has to talk bigger than we are, or we'll have nowhere to reach. Somebody has to talk about wolves and lambs and leopards and kids, or people will begin to think that their animosity toward one another is normal, natural. Somebody has to talk about how God doesn't think that the hostility that exists between the strong and the weak, between the haves and have-nots, between the powerful and powerless is either normal or natural.

But just because we haven't gotten it right yet, doesn't mean that we shouldn't stand up and talk about what right is. Just because it sounds simple or naive to announce a rapprochement between the lion and the ox doesn't mean that we shouldn't hold that in front of us as God's view of reality. Just because bears still kill cows when they inhabit the same space, doesn't mean that we shouldn't press on toward a vision in which they graze the same fields in peace.

We can, of course, never be excused from trying to get it right. Living with a vision requires no less. What we can be excused from is thinking that it's somehow our responsibility to get it right. Because when the reign of God is finally realized, it won't be because we made it happen. It will be because we left ourselves open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and to a vision of what God believes life is really like. Lord knows, somebody better keep talking that talk.