Welcome Back to the Blogosphere, Jay Phelan

Having recommended Jared Burkholder’s recently revived The Hermeneutic Circle last week, let me puff one more new-old blog: Jay Phelan’s Additional Markings.

Jay Phelan
Jay’s photo at the First Covenant Minneapolis site

Formerly president and dean of North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, Jay retired from a faculty position there and settled here in Minnesota, where he is currently serving as a scholar in residence at First Covenant Church in Minneapolis. Jon’s varied interests range from eschatology to Jewish-Christian dialogue to the works of Wendell Berry. Widely read, Jay writes a column for Pietisten called A Pietist’s Bookshelf; the newest installment looks at Kate Bowler’s memoir of being diagnosed with terminal cancer with our fellow Covenanter Dominique Gilliard’s Rethinking Incarceration. “This may seem like an odd pairing of books,” Jay admits. “And yet, both books consider how theology, especially poor theology poorly used, impacts human life in very practical and sometimes very painful ways.”

Given his eclectic interests, it’s hard to predict just what Jay might write about now that he has revived his blog, Additional Markings(A previous incarnation ran until 2015, as a continuation of Jay’s column for The Covenant Companion — a denominational publication that still publishes some of his pieces, like this one on poetry.) Titled in tribute to Dag Hammarskjöld, Jay says that his blog will — in the spirit of that diplomat and spiritual writer

address matters of politics, ethics, religion and literature in a spirit of compassion, hope and prophetic directness. It intends to encourage, irritate, challenge, and question. Since the blogger’s interests are broad and diffuse it is likely to focus on just about anything subject to spiritual, theological, and human reflection.

But Saturday’s debut post suggests one concern that especially preoccupies Jay these days: another version of “poor theology poorly used.” Sketching a history of “Christian nationalism” and warning that their antipathy to LGBT people tempts such believers (e.g., Franklin Graham) to ally with Putin’s Russia, Jay concludes:

But my deepest concern is with the corruption of the Church. Christian nationalism is an oxymoron.  As one of my former colleagues liked to say, when Christians say “we” we mean the church—not we Americans or we Russians.  Not only is Christian Nationalism accelerating the unraveling of the Evangelical movement, it has put the church in bed with some of the most hateful, cynical, vicious and amoral people and forces in both the United States and Russia. And all this for the power to mistreat gay, lesbian and transgender people—and whoever else the Christian Nationalists decide needs correcting. This attempt to use coercive power is an abomination, has always been an abomination and has always left the church without faith, hope, and love. In the midst of his suffering God told Paul “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:9). Paul in his powerlessness bore witness to God’s love all the way to the gallows. In Revelation, that great book of conflict with the state, the saints do not take up arms, nor do they try to seize power. Rather they bear witness and suffer martyrdom—their power, like Paul’s, is confirmed in weakness. Christian Nationalists like Graham, Falwell, Brown, and Pence have by seeking state power severely damaged the church of Jesus Christ in the United States. But by the “weakness” of love, generosity, compassion and hope, Jesus followers may remain strong and bear witness to the Good News of God’s reconciling love in spite of it all.

(For my own response to some of this, see yesterday’s post at The Anxious Bench: “…even as Trump continues to take advantage of Christian nationalism, let me suggest what a Christian patriotism might look like under a president whose love of self trumps any love of country.”)