Thursday, November 30, 2006

He Said What?

I have to say, I didn't expect this out of a Lipscomb University professor. In the Big Three of colleges commonly associated with the churches of Christ, Lipscomb is the smallest but I was under the impression that it was far from the most liberal. Associate Professor Lee Camp of the College of Bible and Ministry is quoted (emphasis necessary -- I don't trust reporters as a rule) as making some, uh, interesting statements at a recent interfaith meeting in Nashville:

To live peacefully with Muslims and Jews, Christians must put aside the notion that their faith requires the creation of a Christian kingdom on Earth, a Lipscomb University theologian told an interfaith gathering at the university.

"We are not going to get very far in our relationship with Jews or Muslims if we do not let go of this idea," Lipscomb professor Lee Camp said at Tuesday's conference.

The unusual gathering of several dozen clergy and lay people was devoted to resolving religious conflict in Nashville and around the world.

"We need to forsake the Christendom model," Camp said. "The most basic Christian commitment … is that we say we believe in the Lordship of Jesus. But, if we claim that, how can a Muslim or Jew trust us, if we say Jesus is the Lord of all Lords?"


First, Christians must examine their "sins of omission," he said — such as not taking the time to learn about other religions. Then they must look at their "sins of commission."

"We have such short historical (memory) spans as white Christians," he said. "There is a history of anti-Semitism, the violence and bloodshed of the crusades and cultural imperialism. We have to deal with the reality of what Christians have done, which in some cases has been to kill people."

Camp described himself as a conservative Christian but conceded his opinions may be viewed as "radical" by other evangelical Christians.

Christians must shed the idea that they need to promulgate a worldwide Christianity, he said.

"If I hold to a model of Jesus … what I've committed to in my baptism is loving my enemy," Lee said. "I'm committed to not killing you, but to serving and honoring you. It's an exclusive commitment to the way of Christ, not to the exclusive authority of Christ."

"Radical", Dr. Camp? Ya' think?

Now, there are a lot of folks whose lives have been changed for the positive by Dr. Camp's book Mere Discipleship, and not having a full transcript available I'm going to suspend judgement as to what he actually said as opposed to how he was quoted. "Christian Bible Professor At Local Arch-Conservative School Throws In The Towel, Accepts Dhimmitude" is such a more interesting subtext than "Religious Leaders Say 'Can't We All Just Get Along" that I can understand why a reporter with a built-in viewpoint would promote Camp's statements to the level of faux pas/career suicide. But it's worth addressing the points raised in the quotes until someone coughs up a transcript.

First, the God of the Muslims is not the God of Abraham and Jacob, the God of David and the Father of the Christ. Our God is not distant and unknowable, he interacts with his people all through the Bible. Allah does not "equal" the Christian God, unless there is a pair of thrones in Heaven, and I somehow believe that since Judaism and Christianity were Mohammed's source texts, somebody would have spilled the beans somewhere in the 66 books of the canonical Bible or the other non-canonical works. I don't seem to recall God mentioning his buddy Allah (who was aloof but good with deserts) when he spoke to Job about laying out the seas during creation in Job 38. The Muslim concept of God is simply not the same God that speaks through the Bible.

Second, I'm curious as to the utility of Jesus if he's not the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. I can understand why having a sweatshirt or bumper-sticker mentality about being on the "King's Team" would be off-putting in a Michigan vs. Michgan State kind of way, this isn't a football game with cheerleaders. But if Jesus is not the Son of God, then his sacrifice would seem to be insufficient to cover the sins of the world, which leaves Christianity with precious little to offer. If the "Good News" is just another flavor of "Religion-ix" to be downloaded and offered as a Moral Operating System, count me out. A fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam is that you can know your eternal resting place before you die, what's more you can know God himself through the Holy Spirit and the Bible, at least as much as our limited consciousness can grasp. You don't have to strap on thirty pounds of Semtex and ball bearings to earn the favor of your Lord by killing yourself and the nearby infidels. The price for you was already paid. Where is the hope, other than for earthly praise by other Christians, if Jesus isn't Lord? If he can't lay down his life and through his own authority pick it up again, then the hope of eternal life, the message we offer to others, is robbed of its power. I'm sure there are missionaries all over the world smacking themselves in the foreheads when this is published and promulgated all over the world.

As for the historical depradations of white Christians, you know what Dr. Camp? I personally don't bear any culpability or responsibility for that, in fact, I categorically reject it. My surname is French, it's entirely possible that one of my ancestors stood (or fell) with Charles Martel at Tours in 732 when the Muslim invaders were forced back to Iberia. My mother's family name has Germanic roots, maybe one of my far-back progenitors was an Austrian fighting for his very life and watching his family slowly starve at the Siege of Vienna in 1529. I don't bear any ill will toward the descendants of the jihad-fueled military expansionists that threatened Europe for 900 years -- they weren't there. This is not a matter of forgiving as much as we're forgiven, I don't see that as biblical. What this is a matter of is using history as pretext.

It was White Christians who powered the Renaissance, who developed the tools of logical inquiry and free reasoning to their current apex (some would say apogee, looking down the road) in Western Civilization, and curiously it was an echo of the Islamic rejection of the same Hellenistic ideas that make Paul's writings so clear and cogent, in the form of Averroes' writings that helped promulgate the very concept of rational analysis in Western religous philosophy. Dr. Camp's statement about "what Christians have done", while incomplete (again, we're waiting on a transcript), rings of a typical leftist apology for our society being more affluent and free than theirs. While this may not be his intent, the simple truth is that when the Islamic world had the opportunity to embrace tradition or reason, it chose tradition -- in the 1200s. The resultant stall in cultural development and embrace of tribalism and ignorance over education has long-lasting effects to this very day, none of which were the result of Americans, Christians or Westerners.

While it's important that we recongnize what Christians have done in the past, having a discussion with a Muslim about which religion has been the most violent or aggressive is patently beside the point. If you want to discuss what some people have done in the name of my God, then we're not discussing my God or his Son, are we? It's a continuation of the anti-rational thread that runs so spectacularly through the more extremist versions of Islam and is still latently present in feelings of inadequacy and failure that run through the Arab world. It's up to me as a Christian to be Jesus to people, real living people that aren't at the Siege of Vienna or the Battle of Tours or the Sack of Jerusalem during the Crusades. In day-to-day interactions, I don't see where the history of either religion comes into play. Either I'm a living example of the love of Christ to people I interact with, or I'm not. I fail to see why wearing a T-shirt that says SORRY FOR THE CRUSADES will make me more credible.

The one thing that Dr. Camp says that I admit to some conflict about is the role of Christians in conflict. The chances of my presented with forced conversion to Islam or death are at this point very slim, but given that specific choice I regretfully (because I love my family and my life, to be painfully honest) find that I have to choose death. Short of that specific eventuality, I don't believe that Christianity compels me to, for example, serve others by exposing myself in the open for the benefit of a sniper who is having trouble shooting me. I don't believe that Christianity compels me to be defenseless against senseless violence, I have a responsibility to my family and to raise my children. I'm their protector, I'm supposed to lay down my life for my wife but I don't read that as being defenseless. Peter tried (inexpertly, I might add) to decapitate Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus undoubtedly knew he had a sword but he didn't compel Peter to disarm himself, or even criticize Peter overmuch for the act itself. I'm humbled by the examples of the early church martyrs, but then they were executed for being Chrisitans. Is it the same when a Muslim extremist tries to kill Americans for being Americans? Having read the blogs of some admirers of Dr. Camp, they would laugh at the idea that being a Christian and being an American are the same, or even related.

I wrestle with this one, but when it comes down to it I don't feel that as a Christian it's my duty to submit to random violence simply because I happen to be in a shopping mall when someone decides to open fire. I'm not going to reason with the guy with the AK, I'm going to shoot him twice in the center of mass and once in the head or pelvis and repeat as necessary. It may be a sin of commission to use violence in Dr. Camp's formulation, but it's a glaring sin of omission to see oppression or violence to others and not act if you have the power. It may be sublime and may be seen by others as more moral or Christ-like to do everything short of violence to resolve a threatening situation, but I'm sorry, I just don't see it that way. There is a sacrifice involved in even legitimate violence, post-shooting syndrome is well-known and often discussed in law enforcement circles.

And finally, I guess we can just pack up the missionaries if we're supposed to "shed the idea" of a "worldwide Christianity", as the reporter paraphrases Dr. Camp. Again, this is a characterization not a quote and I hold it suspect, but it's sure depressing to people like me who support worldwide missionaries.


Well, it seems that as I originally suspected, the fault is apparently on the Tennessean's end. Here is the statement from Lipscomb University:

On November 28, 2006, Lipscomb University held a historic meeting for the city of Nashville and the surrounding community. The Institute for Conflict Management invited individuals with differing religious beliefs to come to campus and participate in a dialogue. That purpose is consistent with one mission of this institution: to proclaim our faith and values to a broader community. For those engaged in the day long endeavor, the program was enthusiastically endorsed.

As is often the case in dealing with difficult questions, misunderstandings or misinterpretations can occur. By now many of you have read the Tennessean article or heard various news reports purporting to summarize comments by Dr. Lee Camp. Having been a participant in that seminar and heard Professor Camp’s statements, I can assure you the article printed in the Tennessean did not accurately reflect the substance of Dr. Camp’s presentation or his personal beliefs.

As a point of clarification, Dr. Camp has provided the following summary statement of his presentation and beliefs.

“On Tuesday, Lipscomb University’s Institute for Conflict Management hosted an “Invitation to Dialogue: Conversations on Religious Conflict.” The full-day program included a variety of speakers, and from a broad range of backgrounds: Jewish, Islamic, and Buddhist, as well as Catholic and Protestant. My assignment for the day was to articulate the “Theological Ground for Peaceful Co-Existence.” Due to a front-page story in The Tennessean that mis-characterized my lecture and beliefs, numerous questions have been raised regarding what I believe, and what I said. Many have expressed feelings of dismay in response to the story, feelings I also shared when I read the report. Brief news stories can seldom do justice to substantive conversations.

“The dialogue prior to my lecture had been most encouraging and refreshing: numerous speakers had insisted that Jews, Muslims, and Christians must not pretend that our differences are insignificant. Moreover, we can acknowledge the seriousness of the differences, while honoring one another. Such conversation encouraged me, precisely because I have long disagreed with those who say that Jews, Muslims, and Christians are all “saying the same thing.” Serious adherents of their respective faiths know this is not the case.

“In my lecture, I too insisted that we must not discard what is most important to us. I am a Christian who holds, without apology, to the Lordship of Jesus. I cannot accept any strategy of “conflict resolution” that asks me to set aside that particular claim. I believe and teach that Jesus is Lord of Lords and King of Kings.

“This exclusive claim of the authority of Christ thus presents a problem for “conflict management.” I went on to ask these questions: How can the Jew or Muslim trust us Christians if we hold onto the exclusive Lordship of Jesus? Given that I refuse to deny the Lordship of Jesus, what can I or other Christians possibly contribute to peace-making, whether global or local?

“Here is my answer: Because I profess that Jesus is Lord of Lords, I have committed myself to loving both neighbor and enemy. Because I profess that Jesus is King of Kings, I have committed myself to serving and honoring all people. Because I profess that Jesus is the ultimate authority to which all other authorities must submit, that authority requires of me to extend gracious, generous hospitality to the stranger, the pilgrim, and those who do not see the world as I see it.

“This, of course, is not how the authority of Christ has always been practiced. In serious dialog with Jews and Muslims, we American Christians, who tend to have very short historical attention spans, must acknowledge the sins of Christian history. The claim of the Lordship of Jesus has often been divorced from Jesus’ call to be merciful to those with whom we differ. In fact, the claim has often served as a battle-cry, an imperialistic profession used to destroy Jews and Muslims. In view of this history, Jews and Muslims have good reasons for not trusting those who wear the name Christian.

“Because I profess Jesus as Lord, I must let go of any strategy that seeks to violently impose “Jesus is Lord” upon another. I believe and profess “Jesus is Lord,” and am compelled by Jesus’ Lordship to share this Good News world-wide. But if such sharing treats others in a way contrary to the teachings of Jesus, I have thereby denied my profession. I choose not only to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord,” but to live Jesus as Lord, among all—believer or unbeliever, Catholic or Protestant, Muslim or Jew.”

Lee C. Camp
Assoc. Professor of Theology & Ethics
Lipscomb University
29 November 2006

Upon learning of the article in the Tennessean, we reviewed Dr. Camp’s actual comments and sought perspectives from conference attendees. This e-mail from Charles McGowan, a prominent religious leader, was consistent with other comments we received:

“The Tennessean did Lipscomb and Dr. Lee Camp a great disservice in how they reported his remarks. He absolutely did not say what the paper reported him to have said. … I commend Lipscomb University for this bold step and for creating a table to which we would invite Muslims and Jews. It is, however, a risky place and one that requires much grace and wisdom which I believe God will give us if we humbly seek His face.”

As an administration, we believe that continuing this dialogue is essential to fulfilling the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called and for which Christ died. The ministry of reconciliation is not without risk and is sometimes difficult. As we participate in this dialogue, I encourage each of us to practice the principles of
Matthew 18 as we engage in community with each other.

L. Randolph Lowry III
President, Lipscomb University

Well, that's better. I'll still differ with Dr. Camp with regard to the importance of history, I know more than most and quite frankly sitting across the table at Starbucks is me and me alone, not my ancestors and not their actions. If there is a Muslim or Jew across the table from me, then it's them, not their ancestors and not their actions. Either I'm credible as a Christian or I'm not. The rest is baggage I don't choose to bring to the table, if others care to use that as a lens through which to see me, then that's their vision problem, not mine.

UPDATE: Thanks for the link, Bill Hobbs!


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Troy M. Stirman said...

Darren- I can almost guarantee you that Lipscomb's administration office and development office are getting flooded with calls and letters from irate alumni (who weren't even there but 'heard' someone talking about it who may/may not have been there). We get this kind of backlash all the time. The real test will be what the 'brotherhood' will say about it in papers such as The Christian Chronicle- I can almost guarantee you that the editor will publish something about it and there will be a few selected "letters to the Editor" included in the next edition. (Most of them taking Camp to task for what he didn't say.) It's sad to see our own turn on us when things are misrepresented, only to then repackage the information for all to witness via email and internet postings and thus perpetuate the (erroneous information) cycle.


Scott Starr said...

Read Camp's response HERE