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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Rosa Parks and Christian Ethics

As many have now mentioned, Rosa Parks the civil rights campaigner who refused to give up her seat for a white man has died. Let's not forget that it wasn't just some simple act of a woman simply tired with all the racism but that she certainly had her moments as radical social thinker and doer.

On Parableman these comments are made:
I just have one question. I know she's an icon, and she's really respected for standing up for something that really was a good cause, but can a Christian really condone what she did? I can't see how. God can use immoral acts for his will. This certainly isn't as bad as some of the horrendous acts God has chosen to work through for good. I just can't see how it can be morally justified given what the Bible says about how we should relate governments that persecute Christians. How should it be any different for governments that allow people to mistreat whole ethnic groups? Jesus even says to give someone your shirt if they ask for your coat and to go an extra mile when a soldier asks you to carry his gear for a mile. So why can it be morally justified to refuse to give someone your seat when he asks, given a Christian ethic? That's something I've never understood about Christians' support of this woman's actions. It seems to me to be contrary to the direct teaching of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the general thrust of Christian ethics.

Ok, fair enough. if the odd verse from the Bible is taken then this indeed would not match up to thse verses (although her activism throughout her life might match up to other parts no doubt). But if the above approach is taken would it not suggest that it is limited to say the least in terms of constructing ethical practice for today? Indeed why should we listen to an ancient book and expect it to answer questions for today? Can people not possibly think for themselves without resorting to an ancient book to somehow apply to the modern day? Why bother?

This reminded me of that entertaining discussion on Intelligent Design, Creation and other related things raging on Benjamin Myers' blog between Benjamin and Ken Ristau. Assuming that you are a believer it seems that if you severely limit yourself if you stick with biblical statements. Put another way what do you do with passages such as Romans 1.26-32: do all those people (including disobedient to parents, boastful, gays [probably], sexual perversion) really deserve to die? Or is it really right that God should destroy those nations in Deut. 7.1-2? And the rest. If it says God is creator then it says these things too. Are all of equal relevance? It seems if Christianty wants to say something useful it may in fact need to rely on theological thinking (no certainty there I know)?

4 Comments:

Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I am appalled that anyone would say Rosa Parks disobeyed God by refusing to give up her seat to a white man.

I am no biblical literalist, but even if I were …

I'd point to Acts 5:29, "We must obey God rather than men" — when Peter and John had been forbidden by the legal authorities to proclaim Jesus.

Or Romans 7:6, "we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old letter of the law."

Sometimes a lesser law comes into conflict with a greater law. Hence the Jews decided it was OK to circumcize a male child on the Sabbath Day (John 7:23). The law of circumcision was deemed of greater significance (since circumcision is the sign of the covenant) than the Sabbath law.
Q

October 26, 2005

 
Blogger J. B. Hood said...

1) There's more than one principle at stake here, and more than one relevant biblical passage. For example, the whole slavery thing--okay, they had slaves in the Bible, but they also had rights--i.e., you had to set them free if you hit them and they knocked out a tooth.

2) MLK used the Bible about as much as you possibly can; he was still labeled a trouble-maker and a "chaotic, disobedient soul" by his opponents. But at that point, who's really violating the Spirit of the Law? Who really needed to lay down their rights for others? It was his resistant white, Christian audience.

3) Per Q's last point, the old question, "Do you lie to the Nazis about the Jews you are hiding, or do you tell the truth" question comes into play; as does Jesus' repeated insistence that some things are more important than Sabbath and holiness regulations.

4) In a nutshell, if it's not strictly for personal gain or personal acts of vengeance, etc., then I suppose you can anchor your actions in concerns for justice, criticisms of injustice (Jesus and the prophets; James, et al), and the like--which is of course what MLK did. Was Bonhoeffer violating Jesus' non-violent ethic when scheming against Hitler? Or was he laying down his life so that others might live?

My guess--many times it's black and white; many times it's not so clear. Do you tell people to stick to the household ethic in Paul and similar quietist guidelines? Or do the concerns for justice outweigh the other, at a particular moment, place, and time? (Particularly when the resistance to integration is hurting whites as much as blacks--you are not doing them any favors by taking it on the chin and saying, "yes massah".)

October 27, 2005

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Re:using old books to settle modern issues:

Isn't there chronological snobbery at work here? Surely the question is not how old something is, but how true or apposite it is. Whichever assumption is at work here (either: the necessity of progress; or: the priority of going with the historical/cultural flow; or: the primacy of fashion; or: ancient principles for ancient practice/modern principles for modern practice) seems incorrect, and in the last case also circular?

October 31, 2005

 
Blogger Tim said...

Norman Geisler's latest book 'Love Your Neighbor: Thinking Wisely About Right and Wrong' has a great definition of biblical civil disobedience: when the law of the state violates the law of God then adherance to God is honorable. Rosa Parks stance was a perfect example of this bravery. Great book by Geisler filled with this type of wisdom.

http://www.amazon.com/Love-Your-Neighbor-Thinking-Wisely/dp/1581349459

August 30, 2007

 

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