The Bible and Justice

[music playing]>>DEAN THOMAS STEGMAN,
S.J.: All right, our second session is on a topic
that I think is going to be of great interest to all of us– “The Bible and Justice.” When I first asked our
presenter to do this, I was thinking of the
Bible and social justice. And she immediately
responded that justice needed to be more broadly
construed than that, and she was absolutely correct. Our presenter is Carol
Dempsey, a Dominican sister from Caldwell,
New Jersey, who is professor of biblical studies
at the University of Portland. That’s Portland, Oregon,
not Portland, Maine. You have to do these
things around– when you’re inside
Route 128, you have to orient
people more broadly. I’ve learned that,
as a Midwesterner. Carol holds an M.A. from Saint
Louis University and a Ph.D. from The Catholic
University of America. She is an award-winning author
of eight books, most recently The Bible and Literature,
published by Orbis in 2015. She’s also the editor
of 10 other books. She serves on the editorial
board for the Wisdom Commentary Series published by
Liturgical Press; for the Theology and Dialogue
Series, published by Orbis; and for the Catholic
Biblical Quarterly. A former vice president of
the National College Theology Society and recipient
of the University of Portland’s Outstanding
Scholarship Award, Carol has published numerous articles
in the areas of prophets, biblical theology, ecology,
biblical ethics, and gender studies. She’s an international lecturer
for both scholarly and pastoral audiences. A co-editor for The Paulist
Biblical Commentary, Carol also wrote the article on
“The Prophetic Literature,” and the commentaries on the
Prophets Isaiah and Habakkuk for the Commentary. And I will also
briefly introduce our respondent,
Dr. Andrew Davis, who’s an associate
professor of Old Testament here at the School of
Theology and Ministry, and was tasked with
the commentary on Job for The Paulist
Biblical Commentary. No easy task, right? Please welcome
Sister Carol Dempsey. [applause]>>CAROL DEMPSEY,
O.P.: Thank you, Tom. First of all, I am
delighted to be invited to be a part of this
conference and to spend this time with you. Now, before I
begin on justice, I want to affirm the
wonderful presentation that my colleague and my
co-editor on the Paulist Commentary, Dick
Clifford, presented to us. And I agree with everything
that Dick has put forward, but my starting
point today is going to be a little bit different,
because I will be looking at the biblical texts through
a contemporary hermeneutical lens. Now, when I was asked to
do the topic on justice, I said, it needs to be
ecological as well as social, which is true. But as I began to do
the material on justice, I said, wow, where do we begin? You know, there’s so much. And between the social injustice
that we’re dealing with and the injustice
that’s happening to the planet,
climate injustice, you know, it’s unbelievable. And I don’t have enough time
to do both of them well. So I ended up
saying, well, I will deal with some of the planet
material toward the end. But I do think we have very
pressing social justice issues as well, too. And it’s all related. But it’s just an issue of time. So I’m going to invite you
to think with me today, to reflect with me,
to ponder with me, to look at the Scriptures
in a different way in the context of our world. Some of this will
be happily received, and others may make us squirm. But that’s okay. So we go forward. So if we want to talk about
“The Bible and Justice” today, we have to begin with
the present world. What are the issues
facing in our world today that cry out for justice? And I’ve put some of them
up there on PowerPoint, and I want us to look at them. We have the rise of
dictatorships and authoritarian governments, the undermining
and enchaining of democracy, forced migration
because of oppressive governments, climate change,
discrimination of all kinds. We have racism and sexism, the
abuse of power and control, classism, tax
reforms that benefit the wealthy, human and non-human
trafficking, the harvesting of human and non-human
organs for trade on illegal and
clandestine markets, unjust labor laws for
the working class, discrimination on
account of gender, religion, sexual
orientation, nationality, physical ability, education,
age, race, ethnicity. We have the commodification
of human and non-human life, loss of biosphere and
biodiversity, climate change, and a whole host of ecological
issues related to it. We have the excruciating pain
when institutions are protected and deemed more important than
the victims who have suffered horrific abuse by and within
various institutions whose leaders are too cowardly,
too proud, too arrogant to take the kinds of
responsibility that can lead to true
transformation instead of mandating with hopes that the
blistering wounds will go away. We have global poverty,
global hunger, countless rapes of women and men globally,
domestic violence and abuse, bullying, gassing of one’s
own people in certain nations. We have “tender
care” facilities, infants pulled from
their mothers breasts, and children ripped
from their parents’ arms as a deterrence to illegal
immigration, when the system itself is broken and biased
against certain races, ethnic backgrounds,
countries of origin, and cultures of those who would
seek proper immigration status, but who would be denied
because of discrimination on the part of certain
governments and their leaders. Wow. And the list goes
on, doesn’t it? We’re aware of this. It breaks our hearts, and
it also brings us to tears. And we, as a Church,
have responded in so many different ways
to all of these injustices that we confront. And we have so many more
injustices to deal with and to respond to. So the need for
justice and the work to be done, well, we certainly
have many areas locally, globally, and what one
might say, glocally. Now we have a view of
our world situation. Now we have to have
a view of our Bible. The Bible, as we know it,
is a cultural document and a political
artifact that has been shaped by many
people’s political, social, economic, and theological
perspectives, and world views. The Bible can shape
culture, and culture can shape our understanding
of the biblical text. Hence there’s a dialectic
between culture and the Bible, and the Bible and culture,
which necessitates a hermeneutical approach to
the text that complements an exegetical understanding
of the text, and both of which must be a part of the
ongoing interpretive process. People in diverse social
locations throughout the globe will hear the biblical
text in different ways. People of different faith
persuasions, denominations, traditions, and
people of no faith will hear the biblical
text in different ways. What is essential is that we
hear the text in an informed way and that we have an informed
understanding of the text, which implies that
one knows something about the cultures,
the theologies, the worldviews embedded in
the biblical text and that, to the best of our ability,
we need the knowledge to be knowledgeable
about the many approaches and lenses available to us
that can help shed light on the biblical text
and the myriad of ways that it can be heard
and understood today. So how can the vision contained
within this ancient document, a vision that transcends
its own time and cultures, help to inform and
transform our global world today that, in my mind,
is in crisis and chaos, but not without hope? We need to bring the
Bible into the world today and not leave it
in its ancient times, or on dusty shelves,
or just in the hands of a select group of people. The Bible can continue to
be an influential document, particularly for
generations of people today who either take the
Bible literally and follow it religiously or have
no religious tradition and live disconnected from
religious institutions. We live in a world of growing
secularism on the one hand and a growing evangelical
fundamentalism on the other. The various faith
traditions have sometimes interpreted biblical
texts, and who gets privileged in the various
readings and interpretations has sometimes led to some
of the forms of oppression we experience today. And I will talk about that. So “The Bible and Justice”– what we need to do to
read It as global citizens in a world aching and
crying out for justice. Okay, we have to remember, we
as Catholics, we as Christians, have a global mission. And the prophets of the
day had a global mission. And I’m going to look
at a lot of the texts of the Old Testament,
the Hebrew Scriptures, because that’s
where sometimes we have some of the
problematic areas that we have with regard to justice
and how we hear these texts. So we need to read
the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. We need to ask the
following questions: How does the biblical text
and its concern for justice give us a vision for justice
appropriate for our world today, that is dealing
with tremendous violence in the areas of politics,
family, church, government, social and professional
relationships, economics, health care, schools,
telecommunications? And that list goes on too. How does the biblical
text impede our struggle for justice? And how does its
underlying message contribute to the injustices
we are facing today that we must deal
with if we are going to move toward a
world of justice, and peace, and integrity
for all of Creation? How does our global
world situation speak to the biblical text? And how does the biblical
text speak to our global world situation? In other words, if we are to
speak of the Bible and justice, then we need to have a
dynamic dialectic going on between text and world. We could no longer
read the biblical text in what one of my Old Testament
colleagues, Susanne Scholz, says is a “privatized,
personalized, and spiritualized
manner, especially when,” as she reminds me all the time,
that “the world is burning up.” Now, the other
situation that we need to be aware of in
our country right now is the rise of the influence of
the Evangelical Christian Right that does read,
adhere to, and preach the biblical text from a
fundamentalist and literalist perspective. And we, as Catholic Christians,
have to deal with this as well, and be in dialogue with our
Christian brothers and sisters of other denominations
and persuasions. And we need to preach– and the people from
the Christian Right, who are our Christian
brothers and sisters, often have a fundamentalist,
literalist perspective. In her book entitled The
Bible As Political Artifact, Susanne Scholz provides us
with an excellent overview of the Christian Right. And some of her
main points are, it is inherently a U.S.
American phenomena, with its own particular history
in the American sociopolitical and religious infrastructure,
that reaches back to the later 19th and early 20th
century battles over Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. The Christian Right’s
response to gender, family, and sexuality is well
articulated, and well publicized, and put forth
as the Christian position on gender, family,
and sexuality. The Christian Right
is firmly anchored in traditional
Christian doctrine. Now, I’m going to
come all back to this and see the implications for us. It recognizes,
within Christianity, the urge to be a political agent
in political, social, cultural, and economic life,
and its effects are being felt in our
U.S. culture today. It was very interesting. When I was in Barnes
& Noble selecting a book that my nephew, who is
currently serving in our United States Armed Forces, had
asked me to pick up for him– and I picked up a book that
was discussing our positions of our current vice president. And it traced, with remarkable
insight, Vice President Pence, his journey from Catholicism
to the Christian Right. Okay? And I don’t know if
you’ve known that, but that was a real
journey for him– from Catholicism to
the Christian Right– and right now he is one of
the most influential speakers for the Christian
Right in our nation’s policy-making decisions today. It’s The Shadow President. It’s a fantastic study,
and I was astounded. I read the book practically
standing in Barnes & Noble. [laughter] So in conservative
American Christianity today, the Bible is the
actual or inspired Word of God, the final
authority on all matters. A central feature of the
Christian Right’s discourse on gender, family,
and sexuality, is the sincere commitment, which
proponents relate their Bible readings to the
contemporary gender practices in American culture,
church, and society today. They consider a
discussion about gender depictions not merely an
exercise in academics, but as a matter directly
related to today’s society and ecclesiastical life. To them, the Bible
connects to today’s world, because the Bible is the
single and most authoritative guide to evangelical
Christian faith. Now, those who are
Evangelical Christian Right do read the Bible in a
privatized, personalized, and spiritual manner. A number of years ago, Catholic
theologian Terrence Tilley gave a paper at the
College Theology Society. It was entitled “Here
Come The Evangelicals.” He later published it
in the journal Horizons. What he unpacks in
this paper and article are the influences of the
Christian Right on Catholicism, especially since we
have more and more younger Catholics searching
for faith, searching for God, and using the Bible as
a primary tool for faith seeking understanding. And this was a
topic of discussion that we had in a
panel presentation at the recent Catholic
Biblical Association Conference that we had in July. Okay? So we, as Catholics, know
that we have both Scripture and Tradition, but we have to
be cognizant these days of how Tradition has been and still
is, to some extent, some extent, a little frozen in time. Biblical scholars have a lot
of tools available to them for the interpretation
of biblical texts, but too often historical
critical method has been the dominant one to
the exclusion of the newer hermeneutical
methods that hold up the text for ongoing critical
and theological reflection. Yes, the historical critical
method is absolutely important. But we have to hear it and
use it in relationship, I think, to other
methods as well. And we have many, many methods
available to us, you know, and the wonderful document,
“The Interpretation of the Bible in the
Church,” outlines so many of these
methods that we do have. Okay. So for Catholics, the
role of the community has always had a place in
biblical interpretation, and Aquinas reminds us
that biblical text has multiple meanings, contrary
to thinking that the text only has one meaning. In the course of the
Bible’s formation, the writings of which it
consists were, in many cases, reworked and reinterpreted
so as to make them respond to new
situations previously unknown. And I’m commenting on that
document, “The Biblical Interpretation of
the Church Today.” And it goes on to
say, in this document, “Sacred Scripture is in
dialogue with the community of believers.” That’s important. And we are that
community and believers, and that’s why I’m talking
about the community of believers as a global community. It has come from their
traditions and faith. Its texts have been developed
in relation to these traditions and have contributed
reciprocibly to the development
of the traditions. It follows that the
interpretation of Scripture takes place in the
heart of the Church. The interpretation
of Scripture takes place in the heart of
the Church of which we are all a part in its
plurality, and its unity, within its tradition
of faith, okay? And so we, as Church, come
from many different social locations, many
parts of the globe, different genders,
different orientations. All of this is going to
come into our understanding of the texts today. “Dialogue in Scripture,”
the article goes on to say, “in its entirely,
which means ‘dialogue’ with the understanding of the
faith prevailing in earlier times must be matched by a
dialogue with a generation today.” And as I was on the plane,
I was reading the material that is just coming out
from the Vatican now, with the meeting
that our bishops have had with the younger Catholics. And it’s been a wonderful,
wonderful meeting, but there’s a
recognition that, yes, we all have to listen better. But what was working in
the past is not necessarily working anymore today. I have these younger Catholics. Many of them Catholics,
and Christians, and non-Christians
sitting in my classroom when I teach biblical studies. And they are the ones that
are pressing the questions. They are the ones
who are holding up this text for hermeneutical,
critical reflection. And I’m teaching a course
in Prophets right now. And boy, oh, boy, are
they confronting the text and confronting me as we
look at this text together. Okay? And how do we hear
this text today? So if we talk about
the Bible and justice, then we have to hear
the text in new ways. We have to bring the text
into the contemporary world, and we have to bring the
contemporary into our hearing of the biblical text. If we don’t, then our
hearing and reading of the biblical text, and our
praxis that will flow from it will be nothing more than
a disconnected, disjointed exercise that can compound
our work for justice, or not speak to it at
all, or even worse, sanction our own conscious
and unconscious attitudes of discrimination
toward race, and gender, and other areas of life
that are crying out for justice, especially
when issues of power, and control, and hierarchy,
and patriarchy come into play. So where are we going? Where’s the roadmap? So here and now we’re
going to explore a general understanding
of the concept of justice in the Bible. What were some of the influences
on the concept of justice in the Old Testament? One of the influences
that we have– and we’re going to come back to
this– is Lex Talionis. Okay, it was considered
a humane law– “an eye for an eye and
a tooth for a tooth.” So that meant, if
you stole my cow, I could not demand your
life, I could ask for a cow. But if you took a life,
then I could ask for a life. We have the Deuteronomic
theology and theory of retribution that we
find in Deuteronomy 28. Very simply, if you’re
good, God will reward you. If you’re bad, God’s
going to punish you. Okay? And so we see this. We see punitive acts being done
in the name of justice, okay? We have the divine warrior
motif, the use of power to liberate, but often at
the oppression of others, because that is what the
ancient people understood about war and battles. Justice defined. As a biblical concept,
we have mishpat. Justice is concerned
with right relationship. Right relationship is
concerned with the common good for all communities
of life on the planet. All communities. The starting point for justice
must be the intrinsic goodness of all that exists. The intrinsic goodness, okay? Justice is a quality of God, and
we hear this in Isaiah 30:18. “Therefore the Lord waits
to be gracious to you. Therefore, he will
rise up to show mercy to you, for the Lord
is a God of justice. Blessed are all those
who wait for him.” It’s an ethical attitude of God. “I know that the Lord
maintains the cause of the needy and executes
justice for the poor.” And we have to ask
ourselves, who are the needy, and who are the poor? And we’re not just talking
about the economic needy and the economic poor. Who are the disenfranchised? Who are the ones on the margins? “Happy are those whose help is
the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the name of the
Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the
sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith
forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who
gives food for the hungry.” Who is oppressed today? And why? Justice is a mandate to
the Israelite community. “Thus says the Lord– act with
justice and righteousness, and deliver from the
hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or
violence to the alien, the orphan, the widow, or
shed blood in this place.” “Do no violence to the alien,
the orphan, orphan, the widow, or shed blood in this place.” Interesting when we hear
that today, isn’t it? That’s a quality of ethical
living and leadership. “A shoot shall come
from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall
grow out of its roots. The Spirit of the Lord
shall rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom
and understanding, Spirit of counsel, of might,
the Spirit of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord.” Fear of the Lord
understood as awe and love. “His delight shall be
in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge
by what he sees or decide by what his ears hear. But with righteousness,
he shall judge the poor and decide with the equity
for the meek of the earth. He shall strike the earth
with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his
lips, he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be
the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the
belt around his loins.” “He shall judge the poor.” Are not those people who are
enchained in their own need for power, control, greed? Are they not the poor as well? We have to ask ourselves
those questions, okay? And notice, the power is going
to be in the power of the Word. The power of the Word. Speaking truth to power. Interesting. Justice as the cornerstone
to the life and mission of the Prophets. “I hate, I despise
your festivals. I take no delight in
your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your
burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will
not accept them. And the offerings of well-being
of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the
noise of your songs; I will not listen to the
melody of your harps. But let justice roll
down like waters, and righteousness like
an ever-flowing stream.” So what does it mean
to be prophetic today? We have to understand
that the Prophets had an ethical mission– to liberate Creation
from the pain and suffering to the
victims of injustice as well as the
perpetrators of injustice. And that’s why we see table
fellowship in the New Testament oftentimes. Jesus ate with everybody,
and a lot of times, he wasn’t a good table guest,
because he put a lot of people on notice. We have to expose, as the
Prophets did, what is hidden. And we have to deal
with the question of God that we hear in these
texts, particularly in the prophetic texts. New Testament scholar
Sandra Schneiders said, “The central question
for the 21st century is the God question. I say, how we
understand God is how we are going to live our
lives and practice justice.” How we understand God is going
to be how we live our lives and how we practice justice. The prophets identified
the roots of injustice and those of us who
are baptized Catholics are called to be prophets. It’s part of our
baptismal vocation. Those of us who are
Christian are also called to be prophetic. Those of us who are Jewish
are called to be prophetic. Those of other
non-Christian faiths or no faith at all, those
of us who are purely secular are also called to be prophetic,
because the Spirit of life, the Spirit of love, the
Spirit that people of faith call “the divine Spirit,” in
which we all have been imbued and felt at the moment
we took our first breath, is a prophetic Spirit. That divine presence,
that divine Spirit, whom some call God, Allah,
or no name, or any name, we can imagine, or
give to the name, or define it is
that breath of life. We swim in the mysterium
tremendum, whose breath permeates and flows in
the midst of all life in the entire cosmos. So all of Creation is
prophetic, and we humans are just a small part of this
huge picture and experience. But we are called to
be prophetic to expose the injustices, to work for
justice, and to give hope. From this perspective,
let us now explore a few biblical texts
to read with the text and against the text, in a
global context, as we discover today our prophetic vocation,
a vocation at the heart of Israel’s prophets, at the
heart of Jesus’s ministry, and which must be the
center of our lives, since justice is a constitutive
message of the Gospel. Exploring the biblical text. So the first text that I want
to talk about that I do not– you know, put the text up
there because we’re so familiar with this– is the
Cain and Abel story. We’re all familiar with the
Cain and Abel story, yes? Okay. All right. So what we have going on
in this particular story is that we have a
choice being made here. And the choice is not
for Cain’s offerings. It’s for Abel’s offerings. And then Cain
becomes crestfallen. Okay? And God says to
Cain in the text, the way the biblical
writer situates it, “ou can master sin, Cain; you
will do well if you master this;” it’ll be okay. But Cain becomes very
jealous of his brother, and he takes his brother’s life. And God, in God’s munificence,
doesn’t condemn Cain right away. He says, “What did you do, Cain? What did you do?” He’s trying. What we see in
the biblical text, this God is trying
to have Cain come to some sort of responsibility. But Cain gives the
flippant answer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Okay? And then we get the
chastisement, okay? And Cain will be dispelled from
the land, and Cain says to God, “hat’s too much.” So God says, “Okay,
we’ll put a mark on Cain, and everyone will know
that Cain is someone who has committed an injustice.” Now, according to the books
of Lex Talionis and justice, what should God have
demanded of Cain? His life. And yet God doesn’t, okay? God doesn’t. So we get justice
tempered with compassion. Justice tempered with
compassion in that story. That’s a beautiful story. It’s a beautiful story. And I’ll tell you a short
story, because I have a lot I want to cover with you. And Beth is my colleague, was
at the University of Portland and studying here. But this is before Beth
came to the University. I taught a student in
my class, and her name was the name of a person that
we gave and continue to give an annual scholarship to. And our wonderful student, when
we were hosting the College Theology Society
Conference, was helping us to work that conference at
the University of Portland. And this wonderful
student of ours one night was in her room,
and a student who had been living in the vicinity,
not from our country, came in, and assaulted her,
and murdered her. That rocked our campus
like you cannot believe, because on the one hand,
you had students who knew the assaulter, and
on the other hand, you had students
who knew the victim. And this was one of the
students that I had taught. And eventually, this assaulter,
unbeknownst to another student who had graduated, married
one of the students, or former students. And the person was eventually
extradited from the country in which he had fled. And the trial came up, and
the Johnson family were there. And Edie Johnson, the
mother, and her father– her father wanted– and this
is when Oregon had the death penalty– the father wanted
the death penalty. The mother did not
want the death penalty. And the mother
confronted the assaulter and said, “Two wrongs don’t
make a right, I forgive you, and I want you to
be served justice, but I’m not
requiring your life.” Wow. That also split
that marriage, okay? So that’s a
real-life story here. Cain and Abel– justice with
compassion, a living story that you have. Now let me read you some
statistics, and let me read you something else. This is why we have to address
these issues in our world today and hear these texts. 29 states have the
death penalty– Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas,
California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana,
Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri,
Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio,
Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wyoming. 21 states have abolished it– Alaska, Connecticut,
Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois,
Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York,
North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington,
Western Virginia, Wisconsin, and recently Oregon. Pope Francis has said
that the death penalty violates human dignity, but let
me share a statement with you from Robert Albert
Mohler, Jr, who is the president of the Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary. The views expressed in this
column now are from Mohler. And he states,
“The death penalty has been used as
part of human society for millennia, understood to
be the ultimate punishment for the most serious crimes. But should Christians support
the death penalty, especially in the light of what is
going on in our world today? This is not an easy
yes or no answer. On the one hand,
the Bible clearly calls for capital
punishment in the case of intentional murder.” Oh, yeah, made you
look up, doesn’t it? Clearly calls us. This is his reading
of the biblical text. “In Genesis 9:6, God told
Noah that the penalty for intentional murder
should be death. Whoever sheds the
blood of a man by man should his blood
be shed, for God has made man in his own image. The death penalty was
explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual
human being in his own image, and thus an act of
intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity
and the very image of God.” Shocking, isn’t it? Okay? All right. And it goes on. “On the other hand, the Bible
raises a very high requirement for the evidence in a
case of capital murder.” And he says, capital
punishment and capital murder should be used only
on rare occasions. But essentially, he says,
it’s okay to continue to agree with this. And so we see the intersection
of an understanding of the biblical text from
a Christian perspective and also in relationship
to our political situation that we have today. And Helen Prejean
we had come speak to all of the lawyers in Oregon. And it was after her
presentation, her moving presentation, that Oregon
took the death penalty off the books. And so he says, “Christians
should take leadership to help our fellow citizens
understand what is at stake. God affirmed the death
penalty for murder as he made his image of
human dignity clear to Noah. Our job is to make it
clear to our neighbors.” How we understand
God today and how we understand God in
this biblical text without a hermeneutical
lens is going to affect how we act
with justice today. All right? Okay. So it would seem that this
Christian perspective– the death penalty is
permissible in Christianity, according to the way
some Christians read the biblical text. So here it is, a
clear example where religion and politics intersect
with regard to justice. And as the death penalty, you
know, when we look at this, so what’s just? One Christian says no,
one Christian says yes. So how are we to
understand and dialogue with these different Christian
perspectives, of which we’re called to do? Now we have the oppression
of the Israelites. And we know what that story is. The Israelites are
oppressed by the pharaoh. And it is forced labor for
the sake of the pharaoh to be able to build Ramses
and Pithom, his own cities. All right? In our global world today,
an estimated 20.9 million are victims of forced
labor, a type of enslavement that captures labor and
sexual exploitation. Forced labor is most like
historic American slavery– coerced, often physically,
and without pay. All other categories of slavery
are a subset of forced labor and can include domestic
servitude, child labor, bonded labor, and forced sex. State authorities,
businesses, and individuals force coercive labor
practices upon people in order to profit or
gain from their work. And we’ve seen this
globally in what we call sweatshops, in human
trafficking that we have, okay? So we have to look at this. So how do we hear the
Exodus story in relationship to forced labor globally today? And who is responsible, among
our own U.S. corporations at home and abroad? And with the Gospel
mandate of justice, what are we doing about it
to expose the injustice? And what products
are we boycotting? And how are we, in word and
deed, speaking truth to power? So how does the Exodus story
find a home in our hearts, in our praxis today? Then we see the woman
who’s caught in adultery, and in the interest
of time, I’m not going to go through
this story, because I want to watch my time here. What we see here, with this
woman caught in adultery, describes in the Pharisees,
bring a woman to Jesus. They state the case that with
regard to the Law of Moses, and that calls her to be stoned. But there is no mention
of the man in the story. It’s only the woman. And Jesus confronts
the leaders of his day, and he puts them on notice. And then he talks with the
woman, and asks her a question, and then proceeds to say
that he does not condemn her, as the other men, whom Jesus
confronted, had condemned her. Jesus does not
play by the books, and he doesn’t uphold the
law that’s on the books. Interesting, isn’t it? How do we hear these
texts in a global context? You know what’s
interesting is when I was doing the
research for this paper, India’s top court has ruled that
adultery is no longer a crime. India striking down a 158-year,
colonial-era law, which it said has treated women
as male property. Interesting. All right. And more than 60
countries around the world have done away with laws
that made adultery a crime. So many evangelical
Christians who live by the Ten Commandments,
and the religious law, and civil law, and
in some countries and in other countries,
is it not on the grounds that a woman is not the
property of her husband? So how are we to understand
this ancient law concerning adultery today? Wow. That’s interesting in
terms of the globe. Although adultery is a
misdemeanor in most states, with laws against
it, some, including Michigan and Wisconsin, they
categorize it as a felony. Punishments vary
widely by state. In Maryland, the punishment
is a mere $10 fine. But in Massachusetts,
an adulterer could face up to
three years in jail. Has an ancient religious law
intersected with civil law? And in some cases,
what about those places that no longer view it a crime? So how do we seek justice in
the midst of this as well too? It is not easy. How are we to view adultery
today locally, nationally, globally? And how is justice to be
served even for women today? And I have students sitting
in my classroom from India. And they are Christian,
and they’re Catholic. So they have one
teaching on one hand, and they have the law
in their own country now on the other hand. Question’s a global one,
and global Christians and non-Christians
are reading our Bible. Now, the Plagues and
the Exodus Story. We know about these Plagues. So how are we to
understand these Plagues? From the Israelite
perspective, yes, God is the God of
liberation, and Israel is freed through the Plagues. And the pharaoh says,
oh, get out of the land, especially when we get
to that last plague. And the Israelites
take the goods and run. But if you’re an
Egyptian today– and I have students in my
class who are Egyptian– how do they hear that text? And in light of the
ecological questions, both the suffering of
the land and the animals are made to suffer
because of these Plagues. The Egyptian cows get
boiled, the Israelite cows don’t get any boils. We understand,
metaphorically, that, yes, to do something with the food
chain is to punish the people. However, we have to
ask the question, what did the cows do that
they deserved to die? What did the fish do
in the Nile River? These are the same questions
that we have to ask today from an ecological perspective. Our planet is suffering
at whose hands? At whose hands? Alright? Okay. And then we have to ask the
question, What kind of a God are we celebrating here? And whose God is this God? Is it only the God
of the Jewish people? Is it only the God of
the Christian people? Or is this Elohim, the
God of the nations? And if it’s the God of everyone
who created all of life, then how are we to understand
this, when some people are harmed and other people are not,
when some aspects of Creation are harmed and other aspects of
Creation and the natural world are not? These are the deeper questions. In the end, are the Israelites
really freed from bondage? Are they? We have to ask
that question too. Now, this is very uncomfortable. It’s the God of the Empire. It’s the God of the nations. And John Dominic Crossan has
written a book about Jesus against Rome, Then and
Now, about the Empire. However, when we look at this– and I’ll just read a
little bit of this, so you can see, again,
in the interest of time, because I’m running out of time. “The oracle concerning Babylon
that Isaiah, son of Amoz, saw. On a bare hill, raise a
signal, cry aloud to them, wave the hand for them to
enter the gates of the nobles. I myself have commanded
my consecrated ones, have summoned my warriors,
my proudly exalting ones to execute my anger.” Who’s speaking this? God through the prophet, okay? And it comes on. “The Lord and the weapons
of his indignation to destroy all the earth. Wail, for the day
of the Lord is near. It will come like destruction
from the Almighty!” And it continues on. “See, the day the Lord
comes cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make
the earth a desolation, to destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of the heavens
and their constellations will not give their light. The sun will be
dark at its rising, and the moon will
not shed its light.” And it goes on. So what image do we
have of this God? This God that we find
so often in the Prophets reflects the Empire, reflects
the violence of the day. And when we are in empires,
we have an image of a God who has to be stronger
than the strongest leader, than the strongest pharaoh,
than the strongest king, asserting justice. But that justice is assertive
violently and punitively. So how do we understand
justice today when we, as an
American people, are an empire among other empires? And what’s the language
our leaders are using? And how do we
understand all of this? And how are we going
to achieve justice? These are the deeper questions. Oh, it goes on and on and on. Now we have justice
and gender relations. This is an interesting one. And what we see
with this story– and I’ll just talk
about it a little bit– is the story of Hosea 2. And in Hosea 2, we’re
familiar with this. Okay, what you get here is
Gomer is unfaithful to Hosea. And Israel is unfaithful to God. Covenant is tied to marriage,
the metaphoric covenant, at this particular
time in Hosea. And what you get here
is this language. “Therefore, I will hedge
her up with thorns, and I will build a
wall against her, so that she cannot
find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers
but shan’t now overtake them. And she shall seek them
but shall not find them. Then she said, I will go and
return to my first husband,” et cetera, et cetera. “Therefore, I will
take back my grain in its time, my wine
and season, and I will take away my
wool and my flax, and I will uncover
her nakedness. Now I will uncover her shame
in the sight of all her lovers. And no one shall rescue
her out of my hand.” It continues on here. It continues on. Then we get to this
wonderful part: “I’ll allure her, bring her
back into the wilderness, speak to her heart.” It’s great. I mean, the renewal of
Covenant is absolutely great. But how do we understand
this metaphor in relationship to either a wife or a husband
who experiences infidelity? How do we hear this in
relationship to domestic abuse? I am going to punish
you, but then I’ll renew the covenant with you. I’ll take you back. My students go wild with this. How do we hear this? How do we hear these metaphors? Yes, yes, yes, on one
level, the metaphor works in the ancient world. But on another level, what did
the women in the ancient world think about this metaphor? And how do women hear
this metaphor today? And you know what? We hear about Hosea
and the infidelity that was done to him. I wonder, in a patriarchal,
hierarchical world, what kind of husband was Hosea? I just wonder about this. That’s all. I just wonder. Then we have the hope. And I’m going to jump ahead. We have the hope here,
and we have the vision of the new leadership. We see this in Isaiah 1-9. And one of the things that
we have in Isaiah 1-9, the second part of it, “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.” Wow, isn’t that beautiful? When we have good governance,
when we have good leadership, we will have justice
and peace in the land. And the knowledge– the
earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. What is our understanding of
this sacred presence today? And if anything,
the Prophets show us that violence in
trying to achieve peace is not the way to go,
because in the ancient world, it was not successful. And yet we still use that
same kind of violence today, thinking it’s going
to be successful. But it’s not. And I’m almost out
of time, right? Right. Okay. So we have all of
this, all right? So I will just jump to the end. Justice is more than
a matter of laws, even more than a virtue
that should be practiced. Justice is a divine
imperative that has, as its goal, the full
flourishing of all of Creation. For the human community
today, this sense of justice begins with human
beings recognizing the intrinsic goodness
of all of Creation, with humankind as part of
Creation’s biodiversity and not its dominant species. If justice is to
operate on a higher level than the law
itself, then it has to flow from a
heart transformed, that, having been changed
from stone to flesh, is not only vulnerable,
but also receptive to the unanswered
needs and unjust pain currently present in Creation. Such a heart can do nothing
less than welcome everyone and everything as it is and as
it works to confront injustice in the face of
ever-growing anguish that is becoming more and more
pervasive for the human and non-human life. Justice demands a hospitality
of heart and a robust spirit. I live in Oregon. And if you know
anything about Oregon, one of the issues that has
a tremendous suicide rate is our transgender
community because of the way they are being treated. And right now what are
we hearing on the news? A hospitality of
heart for everyone. What does that mean for
our Christian vocation to be prophetic? And what does that
mean for us as Church? What does that mean? What does that mean? Okay. Who are the
disenfranchised among us? And then we get Micah. All right. But I want to get to
this one last part here of Ephraem of Syria,
one of the Church Fathers. Perhaps one of the most
significant references to a compassionate
heart is found in the writings of
Ephraem of Syria when asked by one of his
brothers what compassion is. And he says, “it’s a heart on
fire for the whole of Creation, for humanity, for the birds,
for the animals, for the demons, and for all that exists. At the recollection and
at the sight of them, such a person’s eyes
overflow with tears owing to vehemence
of a compassion which grips his or her heart. As a result of his
or her deep mercy, his or her heart shrinks and
cannot bear to hear or look on any injury or the slightest
suffering of anything in Creation.” Okay. And I’m going to
have to end there. I have so much more, but we’ll
have to come back for Part 2. [laughter] Thank you. [applause]>>PROFESSOR ANDREW DAVIS:
Thank you, Professor Dempsey, for that challenging
and provocative talk. I want to leave
plenty of time that we have for questions and
for comments, because I know there will be quite a few. Let me just make two
brief remarks based on Professor Dempsey’s lecture. Number one, what I thought
that her lecture did so well and what I think the
Bible, one of the most important contributions to
our thinking about justice is the way it makes
justice concrete for us. And I think that there
is a way in which we can talk about
justice and it begins to feel like this
abstraction, that justice is this platonic form that
exists way up in the heavens and that it’s beyond our reach. But what the Bible shows
us again and again, and what Professor
Dempsey’s lecture has shown for us tonight is
that biblical justice is always concrete. It’s always here
on the ground, it’s always a part of relationships
and everyday situations. And I think the
litany of examples that Professor Dempsey
began with is very biblical, in a way. And I think the biblical
prophets would very much view the world in that way,
because they saw justice as something that was
embedded in the very fabric of our lives. And I think it’s also– I appreciate very
much your avoidance of just social justice,
because in a way, social justice is, I think,
too narrow of a vision, that justice in the
Bible is more than just a social phenomenon. It’s highly
interpersonal, and so I can’t advocate for the
widow, the orphan, the alien if, in my personal
life, my family life, I’m a total tyrant. There can’t be this
discrepancy between the justice that we profess on a social
level and the injustice we’re willing to tolerate
on a personal, ecclesial, or ecological level. So I appreciate you
highlighting for that, for us, Professor Dempsey. The thing I wanted
to add maybe– from the perspective
of the Book of Job, which is a book that
I know and love. The second point I want to make
is the Bible’s own willingness to address these hard
questions about justice. And I think that the
Bible’s own willingness to engage these questions and
to ask provocative questions, I think, to us, is a mandate
to do the sort of work that Professor Dempsey
is doing in her lecture– to ask the hard
questions about justice and even divine justice. And I’m thinking specifically
of Abraham in Genesis, Chapter 18, when God is announcing his
plan for Sodom and Gomorrah. And Abraham has the
temerity to ask God, “Shall not the God of
justice do justice? Shall not the judge of all
the world act with justice?” And it’s a provocative
question, I think, that Abraham is
willing to ask when he hears his plan to destroy the
innocent along with the guilty. And I think that it’s
an invitation to us to look around our world
and ask the same question. “Shall not the judge of all
the world act with justice?” And I’d also add the
Book of Job, as I said, to this as another
biblical example that’s willing to ask hard questions. The word that Professor
Dempsey highlighted, “mishpat,” is basically the
rubric under which Job’s entire book takes place. Job has a mishpat that
he wants to take to God. He has a question about justice,
and this is a pervasive concept throughout the entire book. And so all of Job’s
questioning of God’s justice is built around this
idea of mishpat. And God’s answer is
also, in some ways, built around this
idea of mishpat and has a very strong
ecological thrust to it. But I would just leave
those two comments– the embeddedness of justice in
the Bible, its concreteness, and also the Bible’s willingness
to ask the hard questions that Professor Dempsey
has invited to us to reflect on this evening. So with that in mind, I’d like
to open the floor to questions and comments on the talk. So just as the last
session– thank you. [applause]>>FR. STEGMAN: Just as at the last
session, if you raise your hand and wait till the
microphone comes to you. So we have time for
about 10 minutes here. Wait for the mic.>>PARTICIPANT: One
of the things that struck me about Pope Francis’s
encyclical on the environment is he was very good at
connecting this social concern to personal lifestyle and
the personal holiness. How do you think we
can take these greater issues of social justice,
globalism, and our interaction with the society, and relate
it to our own personal sanctification and holiness? How can we make
these principles more of a lifestyle, in a way of our
following God on a daily level?>>SR. DEMPSEY: OK. Where the social and the
ecological connect, all right? And I think, in
terms of holiness– and that’s your question. Again, I’ll reflect
on my social location, where I am, my geographic
location, I should say, which is Oregon. And how do we do this socially? It comes down to a choice. It’s a choice. What are our
ecological choices that are going to affect the social
well-being of all Creation? And so I also come from
a Dominican community. And my Dominican community
has a real commitment to justice for the earth. And so we periodically get
questions from my congregation. What is our intake of meat? What are we doing for recycling? What are we doing with our land? We have Genesis Farm, and
Miriam Therese MacGillis is the founder of Genesis Farm. And so we have a lot of
locally grown products, and the same thing
that we have in Oregon. I shop locally grown,
and I’m on a campus where our former president
said, “We will not give in to the commodification
of water anymore.” And bottled water is gone. So it comes down to the
choices that we make. We have the students that went
in and turned all the lights off every night, every day,
until the University got it. All the computers off. In terms of our
carbon footprint, where are our investments? Carbon footprint. So we can do a
whole lot that says, the earth is not for
utilitarian purposes. We will have what we need
and only take what we need. There’s a lot we can do. When I was over in
Germany in May, my gosh, everybody was riding bicycles. I come back to the States. Oregon has a lot of bikes,
but we have a lot of cars too.>>DR. DAVIS: Sure, I was
going to say, to add to that, the thing that most struck me
about “Laudato Si'” actually, is the correlation Pope Francis
draws between economic justice and environmental justice, and
the fact that environmental degradation is not borne
equally across the planet, and that it’s no coincidence
that communities that suffer most from economic injustice
are also the ones that are made to bear the brunt of
environmental degradation. And I think that correlation
that Pope Francis draws between economic and
environmental injustice is one you would absolutely
find in the biblical Prophets.>>FR. STEGMAN: Get one
more question in. Professor Groome.>>PROFESSOR THOMAS
GROOME: Thank you. Thank you, Professor Dempsey,
for a marvelous presentation. I’m sitting here
wondering, since we all can read the text
to our own advantage and from our own perspective,
and we tend to do so, what’s the canon
within the Canon that might guide us a little more
right than simply reading from the perspective
of our own biases, and prejudices, and valid
commitments as well? What’s the canon
within the Canon? If one group can read
the text to approve of capital punishment, the
other can read the text to disapprove of it. Where do we stand?>>SR. DEMPSEY:
That’s the question. That is really the
hermeneutical question. We have a historical
background and understanding of these texts, and
yet its interpretation is a process of interpretation,
And the history that we have is reconstructed history,
for the most part. And so what’s the
canon within the canon? I don’t know how, in honesty,
to answer that question, because the text is meant to be
in dialogue with the community. And the community
is going to hear the text in different ways. And that’s a hard
question to ask. But we are not– our theology, we
have to remember, is not just sola Scriptura. Okay? But we’re going to
have to listen to this and ask those questions. As I say to my students,
I say, the experience does not begin with the
text, the experience begins with the experience
of that Sacred Presence. How do we understand
that Sacred Presence? That’s the beginning. It’s a spirituality. It’s a place of spirituality. It’s our encounter with
that Sacred Presence that will inform our
understanding of the text as well. And I often say, when
was the last time that you did something
so egregious, and came face to
face with your God, and you met the God
of punitive judgment, or did you meet the
face of compassion? And that’s why that God
question is so important. And that’s why spirituality
is so important. And that’s why our
encounter with the Sacred is so important.>>DR. DAVIS: I
think that’s great. That was a great note to end on. I think that’s a really
beautiful way of concluding.>>FR. STEGMAN: Good. When Andrew speaks
I usually listen, so let’s express appreciation
both to Carol and to Andrew. Thank you.>>SR. DEMPSEY: Thank
you for having me. [applause] [music playing]

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