Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Pentecost 2020

Today’s sermon (10 min) with full transcript below

50 days after the events of Easter, religion changed forever.

In the cross of Christ, god had identified with the brown body that was murdered by state violence and had vindicated the victim who cried out ‘it is finished’ – let this scapegoating mechanism be exposed for what it is. Jesus unmasked the unjust nature of the powers the be.

The nature of god’s presence in the world was trans-formed as well. The temple curtain was torn in two and the glory of god was exposed to come out from man-made structures and institutions to find its home in the new body of Christ – the people of god.

The event of Pentecost was radically illuminating, thus the symbolism of the tongues of fire. God’s spirit had come to all flesh. This is the decentering of God’s power to the margins, the democratization of religion.

The church is essentially Pentecostal.

I’m not talking about the gift of tongues only, the miracle of Pentecost is not in the speaking but in the hearing. People heard the message of God’s love in ways that they could understand (as if in their own native tongue).

God was communicating through ordinary women and men – not just those with religious titles or theological education. God was pleased to speak through the children of God by pouring out Holy Spirit power on all flesh  in a fulfillment of Joel 2 that daughters and sons dream dreams and prophesy.

Pentecost is my favorite day of the church calendar. Not just because of its liturgical flare or because it is ‘the birth-day of the church’. Pentecost is my favorite because it holds the very DNA of the church being contextual in its message – speaking in ways that people of different tribes and nations can hear and receive that good news of God’s work in the world.

As Methodist we take this very seriously. God’s presence in each person means that they are vector of God’s ongoing work in the world and their experience is a valid location for revelation and reflection.  We added to the inherited Anglican triad of scripture, tradition, and reason the fourth component of our Wesleyan quadrilateral: experience.

We let that experience inform, form, and transform our mission and ministry. That is part of why the historical commitment to the abolition of slavery was spearheaded by Methodist around the globe.

We expect to experience the things that we believe and we believe people’s experiences.

This is especially true for liberal Methodists. To our religious commitment we also add a layer of prioritizing the inherent worth and value of every individual. Every life matters.

When we see an atrocity repeated over and over again of certain demographic of our population – in this case, unarmed black men – being victimized and disproportionally targeted we cry out in lament at the injustice built into the legacy of racism in the country. We rail against the nature of our whiteness in being complicit with the historical policies that police black bodies differently.

We can not stand idly by at the systemic nature of racism in America and it makes us sick to learn about the experiences of whole communities of color being targeted for different treatment for the last 400 years (actually over 500 years in the legacy of colonialism).

We teach our kids to sing “Red and Yellow, Black and White”, all are precious in Jesus’ sight.

The Bible says that if one part of the body suffers, that we all suffer. Jesus said that if even one sparrow falls to the ground, the God’s concern is there. Well more than one part of our body is hurting and we are experiencing the convulsions of that sickness.

Dr. King famously said, ““In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

We can keep silent no longer. We must speak up and stand with our sisters and brothers who are hurting. On this Pentecost Sunday we must also embrace our prophetic voice and speak in tongues that are not our own so that all may hear the message of God’s love and justice in ways that they can hear it. Not just in the langue that we are comfortable speaking but in a langue foreign to ourselves so that the dignity and worth of every soul can hear and receive it in ways that matter to those who hear our utterances.

Black lives matter. Every black life matters. Red lives matter. Brown lives matter. And if that is not true then we can not say that every life matters. So we raise our collective voice to say that we will stand against the systems of injustice and marginalization that have been put in place in order to expose the continuing scapegoat mechanism that plagues our country and unmask the powers that be which perpetuate the ongoing persecution of our sisters and brothers who bear the image of God (imago dei) and on who’s tinted flesh god’s Holy Spirit has been poured out.

The importance of every single life and every single person and community is infinite value and worth to the God we cry out to.

Hear the prophet Amos speak to us again today:

14 Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
15 Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

16 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord:

“In all the squares there shall be wailing,
and in all the streets they shall say, ‘Alas! Alas!’
They shall call the farmers to mourning
and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation,
17 and in all vineyards there shall be wailing,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord.


18 Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
Why would you have the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, and not light,
19     as if a man fled from a lion,
and a bear met him,
or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall,
and a serpent bit him.
20 Is not the day of the Lord darkness, and not light,
and gloom with no brightness in it?

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.


3 Kinds of Christianity

The coronavirus has exposed 3 kinds of Christianity:
1) Jesus motivated activity
2) Church attenders
3) Christian Nationalist

These three groups seem to follow the bell curve trend that nearly anything you study in human society tracks with.

The smaller tail at one end of the spectrum is people whose faith compels them and thus propels them into acts of service.

The second, and the largest, group are obedient citizens who are doing their part by social distancing but if they were to be honest just want things to get back to normal. They really miss going to church and all that comes with that.

Neither of those groups is my concern here.

The third group is ‘Christian Nationalist’. Some call this Christianism – I call it Frankenstein Christianity.  You can see how to get there in 5 easy steps.

I was first made aware of this phenomenon when Sarah Palin said that:

Waterboarding was how we baptize terrorists.

You can’t imagine Jesus saying something like that.

Watch this video and let me know what you think.

Palm Sunday Sermon

a 6 minute sermon about Palm Sunday – a very dangerous story.

Transcript below the video. I talk about the financial, military, political, and religious layers of the narrative. It is a well known script that we rehearse every year.

If I were to tell you a story about a little girl named Liberty and the story was set in Philadelphia in 1776, you would probably have a head start on what was going on in the story.

Or similarly, if I told you a story about a police officer in Ferguson Missouri in 2014 you might have a clue as to what that story was going to be about.

Today we are celebrating Palm Sunday and it is a story that has layers and layers of the buried meaning that we have to dig through as a 21st-century audience if we want to uncover.

Palm Sunday is doubly distracting because there’s not only is there a cute little colt that Jesus rides in on but there are actual children waving palm fronds. Don’t be deceived however–this story is saturated with dangerous ingredients.

Jesus rides in to town and makes his triumphal entry in what appears to be an unassuming and non- threatening sort of a way. But just keep in mind,  there had to be more going on in the story then first appears because he will not make it out of this week alive. Whatever he was up to was perceived by the authorities to be such a threat that he would be terminated before the week’s end.

So what exactly what’s going on that was so threatening and dangerous? I just want to pull on three threads that are woven into the fabric of the story for our time together this morning.

The first thing we need to do is look at what was going on and the other side of town. It is not difficult to imagine the profound contrast of the Roman appointed ruler riding in to town on an actual stallion with actual soldiers in an actual military parade complete with trumpets.

Jesus was no military general and that was no war-horse with battle armor. So what we call the triumphal entry was really more of a low budget pantomime or charade. It would have looked more  like a satire or lampoon than an actual threat.

But let’s keep digging.

What were those palm leaves about anyway? Well it turns out that they were a very subversive dog-whistle of sorts that harkened back to it time when the Jewish people were not occupied by a military oppressor and actually had their own currency. Archaeologists and Biblical scholars pointer coins that had Palm fronds on them as a sign of independence and liberation.

Let’s be honest, compared to the swords of the Roman centurions, those palm branches were no threat to anyone. Especially in the hands of little children you wouldn’t think that they were to be feared. But here is the thing: they were a reminder of a time when the people were free and the nation was sovereign. These palm branches we’re not just subversive but a secret-song to incite revolt. Even in the hands of little children they were full of violence.

It is in to this powder-keg that Jesus, named for his ancestor Joshua whose name means ‘salvation’, comes riding into town with the crowds shouting, ”Hosanna – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This can easily be heard as a cry for liberation, a freedom song that people who have been under the heavy boot of military occupation and both political and religious oppression sing when they are longing to throw off the yoke of their oppressor.

So we have talked about an economic layer with the coins, the military layer with the swords in contrast to the palm branches, a political layer, and even a historical layer with his Jewish ancestry and even illusions to a messianic expectation of deliverance, salvation, and liberation.

What is the religious layer?

When Jesus rides in, what he offers to ushers in is not just a new kingdom to replace the old Kingdom. It’s not a simple switch from Caesar’s reign to God’s reign. What Jesus is ushering in is an invitation to an entirely different way of being in the world. This is the tragic thing that gets lost in the shifting sands of history.

Jesus’ is vision of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) isn’t a Caesar style Kingdom or empire at all! It is a counter kingdom, and un-kingdom, an upside down inside out insurrection of the established order and the status quo. It’s not a revolution or a military coup just so that Jesus can sit on Caesar’s throne–it is instead a vision of an entirely different way of relating to the divine order, your neighbor, and your enemy alike.

Whether the rulers knew it or even the people lining the parade route that day knew it – what road into town that day was of vision of a different way of being in the world: call it a revolution of love, a divine economy, or the kin-dom where all of God’s children can flourish and prosper without fear.

This is the sub-plot of our yearly drama. Every year on this Sunday we rehearse the pageantry of the palms and we have our children process as we enact the narrative of the Prince of Peace humbling riding in on an unassuming donkey.

That is all fun. Just don’t be under the impression that it is tame, or cute, or non-threatening. Embedded in the narrative is a menacing sub-plot. It is an invitation for you and I to imagine the world being a different way. It is chance for us to rehearse a different way of being in the world.

Underneath the well-rehearsed script of the familiar play is imbedded a subversive invitation to wake from our slumber, break out of our routine, and begin to participate in the inbreaking kin-dom of connection and care that undermines the assumed and entrenched ruts of this world in order to rupture the concrete reality of our daily existence.

We are in an unprecedented time in our society. We are caught up in a global pause of social isolation.

Our question for this Palm Sunday is this: when we hit the ‘play’ button again, how do we want things to be different? Can we imagine the world a different way? Maybe ‘getting things back to normal’ isn’t our only option. Maybe there is a different way of being in the world.







Lessons from Luke (ImBible Study)

Reading the Bible through a progressive lens is so much fun!  I recorded a video about what we have been learning by reading through the Gospel of Mark.

Join us this Wednesday at 7pm for a lively (and irreverent) time of reading the gospel.

It is not your average Bible study!  Join the zoom here:

The 4 layers of our ‘surplus of meaning’ and 3 surprises from the Gospel of Luke.

We ask the text 4 Layers of Questions:

  1. What would the original audience have heard?
  2. What has the text come to mean in history?
  3. What do we do with the text now? (application)
  4. What is the most the this text can mean? (future horizon)

Three themes that emerged in Luke:

  1. Jesus uses ‘Dog Whistles’
  2. the Bible reads differently for those on top or the underside
  3. Parables are not allegory

Why Us vs Them

I am preparing to lead a 3-month book discussion of The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch for the adult Sunday school at my church.

My plan is to pair the chapter in the book with a different book, school of thought, or historical movement. Some of these include The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen, The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas, and the Anabaptist tradition.

Here are the 7 conversations that I hope will come up in the next 3 months:

  1. The church is supposed to be an alternative way of life – a prophetic and subversive witness to the world – that critiques the ways of the world and provides an alternative way of being in the world. She works best as a minority position within the larger culture and is not designed to be in charge or in control of culture.
  2. Neither the Republican or Democratic party can fix the problem of society. The Democrat and Republican parties are two sides of the same flawed coin. They are not the solution to the problem – they are manifestations of the problem.
  3. The church is not a middle way between these two camps (compromise) but it supposed to be a third way (alternative) to their ways. What we call ‘the church’ is so saturated with both Empire and consumerism that it is completely impotent to confront the ‘powers-that-be’ – which crucified the Prince of Peace (as a scapegoat) – and these powers continue to make life worse for most of humanity.
  4. The American ‘church’ is in bed with the systems of this world that reinforce racism, sexism, poverty, and militarism – 3 of those 4 things Martin Luther King Jr. called the ‘triplets of evil’.
  5. There is a way of living, which Jesus modeled for us and taught about, that leads out of the muck-and-mire we find ourselves in and opens up the hopes and potential of a different way of being in the world. That is the good news of the gospel (evangel).
  6. The church has the potential (capacity) to be the most beautiful and profound vehicle (venue) for unleashing human flourishing and peace. She does this by resisting evil, acting in love, and advocating for those who are vulnerable or on the margins.
  7. The kingdom (or kin-dom) of God is actually within reach but the church has compromised and been corrupted by being in alliance with Empire and the systems of this world. What we call ‘church’ is a shadow of what is supposed to be. Us vs. Them thinking is a symptom of that disease.

Here is a quick video (5 min) to introduce the topics:

Let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

Conflict Case Study

Conflict Case Study: 2nd Amendment, Abortion, Voting, Police

This is a follow-up to last week’s Conflict Culture.

5 elements to each:

1) Individualism

2) Remnant Structure

3) Technology

4) Intensity/Amplification

5) Trigger

2nd Amendment

  1. Individual: gun owner
  2. Remnant: militia language and muskets
  3. Technology: Assault rifles and militarization
  4. Heat: 24-hour coverage of mass shootings
  5. Trigger: ‘don’t politicize’ in wake of shooting vs. government taking guns


  1. Individual: choice of woman v. unborn child
  2. Remnant: essential understandings of gender, sexuality, and
  3. Technology: sonogram, pregnancy tests, in vetro fertilization, sperm banks
  4. Heat: echo-chamber media (not able to see other side)
  5. Trigger: Roe v Wade, appointment of Supreme Court justices

Policing Strategies

  1. Individual: unarmed black men v. a ‘good’ cop
  2. Remnant: policing practices originated in Jim Crow South
  3. Technology: cell phone videos, body cams, riot gear, militarization
  4. Heat: echo-chamber media (not able to see other side)
  5. Trigger: access to national media provides constant new stories


  1. Individual: popular vote v what does one vote matter?
  2. Remnant: electoral college and gerrymandering
  3. Technology: Russian bots, Facebook, Citizens United, PACs
  4. Heat: Argument Culture, Echo Chamber, Social Media
  5. Trigger: Hanging ‘chads’ in Gore v Bush, Popular Vote


What issue would you like to explore with this 5-part tool?

Constant State of Emergency

The events of September 11th, 2001 has transformed our society in powerful ways.

One of the lingering effects has been the constant state of emergency. Certain policies were put into place in the days following 9/11 and they continue without any sign of being reconsidered or retracted.

We live in a perpetual state of emergency.

It is why so many of us feel exhausted, agitated, suspicious, and resigned.

The ‘patriot act’ has become a surveillance society. Torture has become ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’. We are still in two wars with no end in sight. The current administration seems to pick fights with our formerly friendly neighbors and allies.

I wrote the below several years ago but the news this week prompted me to edit it and re-post it.  I hope you find it helpful.

“Sovereign is he who decides on the exception” is a sentence by Carl Schmitt that introduces ‘political theology’. That word ‘exception’ is a key to understanding what is going on in our nation right now.

In the last four centuries ‘sovereignty’ has shifted from:

  • God
  • to the King
  • to the Nation
  • and now the State.

In that same work, Schmitt also says that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”‘

The State* now has both the ceremony (pledge of allegiance – national anthem at all sporting events, etc.) and the power (exclusive claim to foreign and domestic violence).

 The State, and those who defend it – whether police or military – have the power of exception. It is important to understand it that:

  1.  The playing field is not level. It is slanted.
  2.  The rules do not apply equally. There is an exception.

Citizens who are upset are not permitted to be violent. They must protest in an orderly and civilized manner.

The police/riot-squad/ military are seemingly allowed to escalate and utilize violence because they have the exception of the state behind them.

We are not all playing by the same rules. Citizens have an asymmetrical relationship with the State when it comes to violence.

It is vital here to understand the insight of Max Weber when he talks about the State’s monopoly on violence. The link explains that:

“Weber describes the state as any organization that succeeds in holding the exclusive right to use, threaten, or authorize physical force against residents of its territory. Such a monopoly, according to Weber, must occur via a process of legitimation.”

Violence is a one-sided relationship. The State – and those who act on its behalf – may behave in violent ways because it will always be construed as exceptional.

Bonnie Honig, in Emergency Politics, says “The state of exception is that paradoxical situation in which the law is legally suspended by sovereign power.”

The problem is that we now live in a permanent state of emergency.

September 11, 2001 ushered in a state of perpetual exception. This applies to racial profiling, police brutality, State surveillance of its citizenry in the NSA – to name only a few.

When people are scared they willingly sacrifice their freedom and privacy in exchange for safety. The State benefits from a frightened population and people are more willing to accept the exceptional violence and excessive forced used by law enforcement. They are more likely to turn a ‘blind-eye’ or call them ‘isolated incidents’ and claim that they are being ‘blown out of proportion’.

A population is more willing to view as exceptional the excessive tactics and escalation of violence precisely because we now live in a permanent state of exception (or emergency).

What do we do now, however, when communities are not sure they are being protected by the police and in fact need protection from the police?

In his eighth thesis on the philosophy of history, Walter Benjamin says:

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency.” (1968)

I hear people asking about the current protests, “What are they hoping to accomplish?”

One thing they could accomplish is to create a real sense of emergency that will call into question in the larger American conscience a question about the permanent state of exception that has crept in over the past decades. The supposed ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on drugs’ are but two examples of this.

None of us want to live in a police state.
No one I know wants to live in a state of fear.
That it why we must question the exceptional violence and emergency politics that have become too normalized and quietly accepted in our society.

The people are raising their voice in protest of this exceptional violence.


* I will be capitalizing ‘State’ to illustrate its elevated and exceptional status.

** I know four people in law enforcement and they are all amazing, loving, kind, people. My concern is about a larger mechanism in our society.

For a powerful response to Schmitt, see Paul Kahn’s Political Theology: Four New Chapters On the Concept Of Sovereignty 

Video: Fragmented & Fractured

Here is a follow up video for the blog post (2 weeks ago)

You can read the full blog at [this link] and either comment here or there. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Next up: There is no neutral anymore

Christianism: 5 Steps

Yesterday’s post on Christianism is Frankenstein Christianity is here as a 6 min video

Step 1: Formalize
Step 2: Hierarchy/Authority
Step 3: Military Power/ Violence
Step 4: In/Out Boundary
Step 5: Membership not based on faithfulness/fidelity

You now have an ‘Ism’.  This “floating signifier” is untethered from its anchor teaching and model.

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