Stringfellow: The Powers in the Midst of Creation

Readers of my books will know that my theology of the powers has been strongly influenced by the works of William Stringfellow. On April 21-23, I will be co-facilitating this upcoming conference on “The Powers in the Midst of Creation” with Bill Wylie-Kellerman, a foremost scholar of Stringfellow who has written extensively on the powers. This retreat marks the 50th anniversary of  Stringfellow’s groundbreaking book, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land. It will take place at Kirkridge Retreat Center outside Bangor, Pennsylvania. Register here.

In Bill Wylie-Kellerman’s words: “I don’t know how he (Stringfellow) did it, but what he writes is always right on time. Prophetic even in the sense of prescience. We hope for a conversation discerning the times.”

Dates: Friday, April 21 at 4pm to Sunday, April 23 at 1pm

Facilitators: Bill Wylie-Kellermann and Sharon Delgado

Cost: $350  The cost includes the programming, overnight accommodations, and meals Friday dinner through Sunday lunch.

“The work of the demonic powers in the Fall is the undoing of Creation.” – William Stringfellow, An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land,

This year marks the 50th anniversary of William Stringfellow’s An Ethic for Christians, his most important and influential book. Stringfellow, theologian, attorney, and regular Kirkridge leader of biblical retreats, wrote to and from a particular moment, so this book served as a primer for protest and resistance to militarism and nuclear weapons in the 70’s and 80’s. It also was a seminal theological work in bringing the “principalities and powers” back into the arena of Christian social ethics. His was a reading which brought them down to earth from spiritual outer space, presaging and setting in motion so much further biblical work of recent decades.

Led by Bill Wylie-Kellermann and Sharon Delgado, two pastors whose lives and ministries have been deeply discerned and formed by Bill Stringfellow’s witness, our common conversation will likewise implicate our lives and work. We will gather in the week of his birth (April 26, 1928) but also auspiciously on Earth Day weekend. Within our query of where Stringfellow’s insights lead us in our present moment, we will include the question of how the powers figure into the assault upon Earth, and how they may be engaged.

Facilitators Bios:

Bill Wylie-Kellermann is a nonviolent community activist, writer, and United Methodist pastor living in Wawiatanong/Detroit. He is also is part of the Community at Kirkridge. Bill was a friend of William Stringfellow’s and has done several books on him, including A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans, 1994), William Stringfellow: Essential Writings, (Orbis, 2013), Principalities in Particular: A Practical Theology of the Powers that Be (Fortress, 2017). He was married to Denise Griebler on Advent’s Joy Sunday, 2013. They have five grandchildren.

Sharon Delgado is a retired United Methodist pastor, author, and longtime activist, whose introduction to William Stringfellow’s writings in the 1980s shaped her theology and ministry deeply. Sharon addresses spiritual communities and secular audiences on issues related to corporate globalization, climate change, economic and environmental justice, and peacemaking, while pointing in the direction of hope in action. She has had many articles published on these themes and is author of The Cross in the Midst of Creation (2022), Shaking the Gates of Hell (Second Edition, 2020), and Love in a Time of Climate Change. Sharon lives in rural Northern California with her husband Guarionex Delgado, near their children and grandchildren.

Registration deadline April 10.  Register here.

3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous

Third Post in a Blog Series on the Christian Right

This series of posts on The Christian Right includes excerpts from my new book, The Cross in the Midst of Creation: Following Jesus, Engaging the Powers, Transforming the World. If you Contact me with the words “free chapter,” I will send you a free chapter of the book.

US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous

Congressional hearings on the Capitol insurrection have included the actions of Secret Service staff on January 6th and their actions leading up to and following those events. Yesterday’s hearing brought up the Secret Service’s role in forcibly clearing peaceful demonstrators from Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020.

On June 1, 2020, then-president Donald Trump walked from the White House through nearby Lafayette Park to Saint John’s Church, accompanied by an entourage of senior administration officials. Just minutes before, federal police had used tear gas to clear peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors from the park and churchyard, along with clergy and laity from other churches who had come out to bring them water and snacks. After the police drove them out, the president posed on the church steps for a photograph of him holding up the Bible, surrounded by his entourage. “We have a great country,” he said. “Greatest country in the world.”

The photo op apparently backfired. The media scrutinized this use of the Bible “as a prop” designed to gain religious sanction for Trump’s policies. Many Christians denounced it, including the Right Reverend Mariann Budde, Episcopal bishop of the diocese that includes Saint John’s Church. Some called it fascist. But among his base, which includes over half of white US Christians, many approved of this display as a symbol of God and country. Several influential leaders aligned with the Christian Right affirmed his actions, including Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham; Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress; David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network; president of the Congress of Christian Leaders Johnnie Moore; and Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.

These divergent views about this incident at Saint John’s Church highlight the theological and political divisions among US Christians that parallel the extreme social divisions in US society. The demonstrators, with support from churchgoers, were passionately but peacefully taking a stand for racial justice in the face of white supremacy and systemic racism. The authorities were asserting their dominant role through violence, then using the Bible, a sacred symbol, to indicate divine approval for their actions.

This staged event was done crudely, but such linking of God and country has been part of US civil religion since the beginning of the colonization of the Americas and throughout our nation’s history up to this present time. Religious language and symbols, including the Bible and the cross, have been used to enact the Doctrine of Discovery, which proclaimed God’s blessing on colonization, to initiate and support the slave trade, to promote the idea of “American exceptionalism,” to sanctify Manifest Destiny while clearing Western lands of most native inhabitants, to justify long-standing persecution of Jews and Muslims, to authorize the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps during World War II, to call for a crusade after the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center, to fuel anti-immigrant sentiment and to justify separating immigrant children from their parents.

As mentioned in my post Christian Nationalism, religious symbols including the Bible and cross were even used as religious justification for storming the Capitol. Following the events of January 6, 2021, Bishop Mariann Budde, mentioned above, said they reflected “the most heretical, blasphemous forms of Christianity.” Linking it to nation’s history, she added, “This has been part of our nativist, racist Christian past from the beginning. What has been different in the Trump presidency has been the legitimization of it.”

Using religious symbols or language in these ways misleads people, misrepresents God, and fosters moral confusion. This is an example of harm caused by civil religion that links patriotism, white supremacy, and domination backed by violence with claims of God’s blessing upon the United States as a chosen (Christian) nation. This form of religious nationalism is pervasive. It is taught, practiced, and reinforced by the dominant institutions of our society, which results in the shaping of our attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs as US Americans.

By exploring these attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs and how they manifest in our personal lives, relationships, institutions, and systems, we create space around them and make possible a change of perspective leading to both personal and systemic transformation. For as Walter Wink points out, we must go further than repenting of our conscious collaboration with the powers. We must “be freed from our unconscious enthrallment as well.”

Six months before the insurrection, following the presidential photo op, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde witnessed to what that freedom from enthrallment to the powers might look like in community: “We of the Diocese of Washington follow Jesus in his Way of love. We aspire to be people of peace and advocates of justice. In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation. In faithfulness to our Savior who lived a life of nonviolence and sacrificial love, we align ourselves with those seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and countless others through the sacred act of peaceful protest.” To those who seek to follow Jesus and live by the Spirit, her words ring true.

In this blog series on The Christian Right, which includes excerpts from The Cross in the Midst of Creation, my goal is to bring clarity to this discussion. The other blog posts in this series will be:

  1. Christian Nationalism
  2. Two Crosses: Divided Christianity 
  3. US Civil Religion: Heretical and Blasphemous (This post)
  4. The Christian Right’s Authoritarian God
  5. The Anti-Imperial Wisdom of God

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Contact Sharon below to request a free PDF chapter of The Cross in the Midst of Creation, to request a presentation, or to order bulk copies of her books.

A Call to Resist

Occupy Wall Street 053

Chris Hedges has again issued a call to conversion, a call to leave behind the moral inertia that the global system of corporate domination instills in its subjects, a call to rise up for the sake of life.  He says, “It is time to build radical mass movements that defy all formal centers of power and make concessions to none.” He goes so far as to say, “Resistance to tyranny saves our souls.”  Read the article here:  We, the Vast Underclass, Must Rise Up Against Global Mafia – or Die.

In this article, Hedges likens the global system of unrestrained free-market capitalism to the doomed ship Pequod in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  He writes, “We are sailing on a maniacal voyage of self-destruction, and no one in a position of authority, even if he or she sees what lies ahead, is willing or able to stop it. Those on the Pequod who had a conscience, including Starbuck, did not have the courage to defy Ahab. The ship and its crew were doomed by habit, cowardice and hubris. Melville’s warning must become ours. Rise up or die.”

This is a call to conversion because Chris Hedges warns not only of the economic, social, and environmental results of corporate domination, but also of the spiritual effects:  “habit, cowardice and hubris.”  He also points a way forward:  “Rebel. Even if you fail, even if we all fail, we will have asserted against the corporate forces of exploitation and death our ultimate dignity as human beings. We will have defended what is sacred.”

I, too, issue this call in Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.  In the excerpt below, “The Spiritual Effects of the Powers:  A Paralyzed Conscience,” I address the inner, spiritual effects of the Powers, the political, economic, and military institutions that make up the system of global capitalism, and I point to resistance as a way to respond as fully human beings:

“The negative external effects of the Powers at work in the world today are not too difficult to see: environmental destruction, growing inequity, violence, and so on. But the internal effects are what prevent most people from effectively engaging the Powers. These internal effects are apathy and moral confusion.

“At some level we all know that if we do not take responsibility, our children or grandchildren will have to deal with the consequences of our inaction. For instance, at some level everyone must know that society’s addiction to fossil fuels is unsustainable. But people feel powerless to stop, hopeless about significantly changing what seems to be the inevitable course of events.

“The demons of anxiety, apathy, denial, despair, rage, helplessness, and hopelessness are pervasive in our culture. They are the other side of the colorful media images of seemingly endless choices of products and entertainment opportunities. People try to lock out the reality that threatens the future, and the Powers are quite willing to help. In fact, that is what they require of human beings: to become less than fully human and to leave the Powers in control.

“How can we live humanly, enmeshed as we are in a global system that is creating misery, destroying life, and threatening the future? In times when social sin and institutional evil are pervasive, the only way to remain human is to resist.

“Resistance can take many forms. Resistance grounded in faith begins with spiritual struggle. In the words of Jim Douglass, from his book Resistance and Contemplation, ‘In solitude, in the depth of aloneness, lie the resources for resistance to injustice. Resistance arises first from a perception of suffering and from the assumption of one’s own responsibility to seek the transformation of a murderous system into a human society. . . . In the age of genocide, to be human is to resist.’”