Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



The Virus of War

We need to be careful about this language of a war against the virus. In the last 30 years war has migrated in meaning it has become too easily appropriated for anything we are concerned about.

We could talk about varieties that have global implications like the war on terror, to more seasonal and trivial instances like the so-called war on Christmas, and everything in between.  We could talk about the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on women, and so many other instances of war migrating in dangerous ways.

There are two primary reasons for concern:

  • First, whenever war is invoked emergency measures are implemented and we are in danger of losing our rights at citizens. I will talk about emergency politics below.
  • Second, because of global capitalism and our pervasive consumer society the victory in these wars is somehow always linked shopping.

You will remember the now famous exhortation by then President George W. Bush after the events of September 11 to not let the terrorists win by … going shopping.

A brilliant article came out this week about the impending call “return to normal”. We would be wise to pay attention to how that phrase is going to be used–not everyone means the same thing when they use the same words.

American politicians have become very comfortable invoking the war analogy but it really got my attention this past weekend when the Prime Minister of Canada used to the phrase. As a dual citizen between Canada and the US it always gets my attention when something that I had thought was unique to the American military mentality shows up north of the border.

Then yesterday during the extended media circus of a Covid 19 press conference, the current President of the United States repeatedly claimed that the powers of his office were total.

This is the danger of our exceptional times–exceptions get made that are nearly impossible to retract later. They get codified and instantiated, which sets the precedent, which then moves from being a fluid situation due to an emergency to a solidified expectation that is written in stone. 

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

I write about Emergency Politics every so often. It is far more ominous than its news coverage. Here is a snippet for those who are new:

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

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 measures.

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).

Gulli [in this article ] reports, “At the end of his critique of the state of exception, Giorgio Agamben addresses the question of contingency, which is very important in all of his work, when, with a reference to Benjamin, he speaks of “the urgency of the state of exception ‘in which we live’” (2005)

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 bring this up in the hopes that our current crisis might help 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.

We must question the exceptional State and its emergency politics that have become too normalized and quietly accepted in our society.

I Voted For the First Time Last Week

Seven days ago I voted for the very first time.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to puncture the seal – cross that threshold – and break my long string of abstaining.

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

  • In High-school my family moved from the Chicagoland area to Saskatchewan, Canada. After High-school I stayed in Canada to play football when my family moved to NY and I became a dual citizen.

When you come of age outside your culture of origin, you see some stuff within that culture a little differently. Voting (and politics in general) was one of them. I didn’t see its impact locally like I would have if I was a farmer or a school teacher, I saw it through the media circus. Loyalty and responsibility take on a different meaning when you have dual belonging.

  • When I got filled with Holy Spirit and called to ministry I was initiated in a very dualistic form of evangelical charismatic christianity. It was spiritual in contrast to physical. Church in contrast to world. Supernatural in contrast to natural.

I was a zealous young man and so I took it further than most. Many would quote the verse “we are in the world but not of the world”. I would take it further and quote 2 Timothy 2:4 “”No good soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  I followed the Lutheran idea of ‘two kingdoms’ (kingdom of God and kingdom of this world) all the way down.

  • When I became Ordained I not only opted out of Social Security (which ministers are allowed to do in their first two years of filing taxes) but I registered with the Government as an objector.

I am a registered objector. I indicated that what remaining taxes I did pay, I did not want them going to pay for wars … and this was before W was in office (!). I would tell people “I am not political. I am focused on the spiritual realm not the physical. The government takes care of people in this way, I take care of people in a different way. Plus, I don’t want my loyalties in the natural realm to limit my ministry to people in the supernatural.”  It actually worked quite well for me for a time. I was very vocal about my opting out of the system and in my congregation was a eclectic mix of New England Democrats and pre- Fox News Republicans.

Here is why I was thinking about voting for the first time: 

  •  I no longer subscribe to the dualism of natural – supernatural, physical – spiritual, or church – world. I have shed my understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms.  I read Jesus’ admonition about “In the world but not of the world” differently now … and all it took was an introduction to Biblical scholarship and some Roman political history. 
  • Randy Woodley was my mentor in seminary and he would ask me to explain my politics to him and then challenge me that it was incoherent and inconsistent. I play my conversations with him over and over in my head. Once you study colonial history (or even 20th century history) you realize that to be silent in the face of systemic oppression and repressive legislation is to become complicit with the injustice and suffering that the God you claim to serve is so opposed to.
  • I read Martin Luther Kings “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”  and realized that I was one of those white ministers he was talking about being disappointed in and let down by.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; …Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  •  The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld (and Halliburton) parley into two wars under the false guise of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ haunts me when I think of how a different administration might have proceeded differently.
  • As one getting their PhD in Religious Education I have become all too aware of the impact of economic and bureaucratic decisions on children’s education. I don’t see how you can know what I know now and not do something so little that can make such a big change for so many.
  • I live in California where we don’t just vote for candidates (which I was still leery about) but we also vote on propositions. Some of these propositions directly impact school budgets and it would be gross neglect to stay silent on them when our public schools are in such desperate shape.
  • The Paul Ryan budget was and is immoral and unimaginable. I was still siting on the fence about voting – even with the whole Tea Party and Occupy movement thing – until Romney’s selection for his Vice Presidential running mate. I have watched the union stuggles in Wisconsin and Chicago, I have listened to the disgusting rhetoric of this latest financial crisis and continueing bailouts of Wall Street and too-big-fail banks… but when Romney picked Ryan … and I had just recorded that interview with Randy Woodley … I was horrified.

 Why I was still hesitating: 

I read Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ and can not shake the nauseating reality of just how broken our democratic system is. Both candidates are owned by big business and the election (thanks to the Citizens United decision) is a sham.

It seems to me that to participate in a process this corrupt is to somehow be complicit with the immorality and to sanction or validate these compromised actors.

I have gone this long and there is just something in my identity, something about the way that I imagine myself and tell my story that can not conceive of crossing that line – of breaking the seal and entering into this realm. It was the strangest thing to think about.

 In the end: 

Smiley and West is my second favorite podcast in the world (next to the one I am on). No, President Obama did not do so many things that he said he would do the first time (like close Guantanamo) but … he also did some stuff (like health care reform) that was much needed (although I question the for-profit nature of our insurance companies).

I’m still leery about endorsing professional politicians, but in the end I just didn’t know how I can have learned what I have learned about education in the country and not do something that would so greatly impact the young people – and disproportionately young people of color.

After all, I would hate to have the problem of Christopher Reeve that I spoke so harshly against.

 I am interested in any thoughts on my journey and process.  Comments? Questions?  

The Church of N. America will always be (mostly) like it is now

Before I headed out into the woods for a week, I had posted this over at HBC. It triggered a good discussion and today when I was reading a thing about Joel Osteen’s individualism I was reminded of it.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

 The church of N. America will always be (mostly) like it is today.  When those who think as individuals read a text that is communal, there is always going to be an issue. 

I know that there is a real danger in painting in broad stokes and speaking in generalities. I normally steer clear of such dangers but once in a while you find something that allows you to wade out onto the normally thin ice with a certain measure of confidence.

I recently finished a term paper on Alisdair MacIntrye’s opus After Virtue which is his attempt to reclaim the Aristotelian notion of character formation within community (to oversimplify a bit). In preparation for writing the paper I went back over some classics like John Rawls and Michael Sandel (the communitarian) and others.

It just so happens that I have also been reading a lot of post-colonial critique during this year and I have a growing suspicion that I wanted to throw out there:

We have individuals (products of the enlightenment) reading a text that was written in a communal framework (a product of a communal society).  That provides a fundamental discrepancy that will never be resolved. It will always provide a disjointed experience and thought process that lacks continuity.

Let’s not pretend that we can think another way. We are heirs of the enlightenment – this is our operating system. We can download a new program like ‘christianity’ but it is operating within the individualist code. Talking with my friends who are from non-European descent (Native American, Pacific Islands or certain Asian communities)  it is clear that there is no simple conversion that an individual can undergo and simply start thinking in communal terms. We are cultural creatures and this is our culture.

It shows up when we read the Bible. It shows up when we talk of government (democracy) economy (consumerism), status, value, worth, choice, success, identity, rights, laws,leadership and … well nearly every other aspect of Western society.

The famous example of Philippians 2:12 admonishing us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is but a drop in the pond. It’s not just that the English language doesn’t have a plural ‘you’ (unless one counts the ya’all of the Southern US) but it is bigger than that. It is that we think in individual ‘you’s and there is no way around it.

This will always be an issue. So even when somebody talks about character formation, spiritual community, or some ideal of communitarian discipleship (be it Hauerwas, the Radical Orthodox, or any other innovative group) in the end, the church of N.America will always look mostly like it does now. The reason is that this individualism we think in is not all that compatible with the communal thrust of our very scriptures – and that is irreconcilable at some level. It can not be resolved because we can no more stop thinking as individuals than that Bible can stop encouraging community.

My 200th post is to thank my International Readers!

According to WordPress, this is my 200th post. Of course that is a somewhat arbitrary number since I started on an I-web blog for 2 years, then moved to Blogger for 2 years and have only recently moved to WordPress.

WordPress is constantly making upgrades and I just wanted to tell you about my favorite feature at WordPress. Recently they have added a map on the dashboard that tells you where your readers are coming from. I love maps anyway but this is my new favorite map!

So far today I have had visitors from Canada, Russia, Italy, Sudan and Denmark.  I find that so encouraging! I have had the pleasure of visiting 17 countries in my travels and I love talking with people from around the world. When I found out that folks from all these countries were coming to help me navigate between the everyday and theology – I was ecstatic!

Just this week I have had visitors from Nigeria, United Kingdom, Canada, Republic of Korea, India, Spain, Australia, Portugal, Turkey, Mongolia, Italy, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Mexico, Egypt, Sweden, Denmark, Sudan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Estonia, Cambodia, United Arab Emirates, Latvia, Austria, France, Germany, and Norway. I find this absolutely astounding.

I always knew that there was some level of international readership but this new dashboard feature has really opened my eyes to just how wide a conversation like this  (emerging-Bible-church-theology) can reach in our internet culture. I am so excited to post with this new knowledge and expand the scope even more.

I am honored to be a part of the bigger conversation and look forward to comparing notes with you all over the next 200 posts.  – Bo Sanders

53 in the past month:
Canada FlagCanada
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea
Germany FlagGermany
Australia FlagAustralia
Sweden FlagSweden
Denmark FlagDenmark
Brazil FlagBrazil
Philippines FlagPhilippines
India FlagIndia
Greece FlagGreece
Italy FlagItaly
Saudi Arabia FlagSaudi Arabia
Malaysia FlagMalaysia
Indonesia FlagIndonesia
Bulgaria FlagBulgaria
Spain FlagSpain
Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of FlagMacedonia
Turkey FlagTurkey
Egypt FlagEgypt
United Arab Emirates FlagUnited Arab Emirates
Mongolia FlagMongolia
Algeria FlagAlgeria
Mexico FlagMexico
Portugal FlagPortugal
Russian Federation FlagRussian Federation
Thailand FlagThailand
Malta FlagMalta
South Africa FlagSouth Africa
Hong Kong FlagHong Kong
Tanzania, United Republic of FlagUnited Republic of Tanzania
Netherlands FlagNetherlands
France FlagFrance
Sudan FlagSudan
Cambodia FlagCambodia
Latvia FlagLatvia
Austria FlagAustria
Estonia FlagEstonia
Norway FlagNorway
Sri Lanka FlagSri Lanka
Colombia FlagColombia
Japan FlagJapan
Poland FlagPoland
Serbia FlagSerbia
Romania FlagRomania
Bangladesh FlagBangladesh
Moldova, Republic of FlagMoldova
New Zealand FlagNew Zealand
Viet Nam FlagViet Nam
Iceland FlagIceland
Taiwan, Province of China FlagTaiwan
Yemen FlagYemen
Finland FlagFinland


Four is greater than Two: Good Friday repentance

So often when I hear two groups arguing, I think to myself  “the problem isn’t what we think about this subject, it is how we are thinking about it.”  If you have read posts here for any time at all you will know that I am not a big fan of dualism in general. I invest great amounts of energy examining binaries and pulling apart overly simplistic dichotomies.

In the past I have utilized a Venn diagram to illuminate the overlap between two groups that are ‘given’ as the options. Lately, I have focused more on the 4th and 5th area.
So in American politics, when ‘republican’ and ‘democrat’ are given to me as opposites, you simply illustrate the overlapping values of the two (3rd space) and then point out those who are ‘neither’ (4th space) like Green folks and anarchists. Then draw a circle around the whole system and point out folks outside the system (5th space) like Canadians.

This semester my two classes are ‘Political Liberalism and It’s Critics’ and ‘Globalization’. It has given me lots of practice in picking up on patterns and thinking in different shaped categories.

Example 1: when a subject like ‘Norms’ is discussed – in sexual identity or sexual practices for instance – often a basic “for & against” structure is presented for any isolated topic. But as the discussion develops you can actually see that this is not a linear ‘far left – far right’ spectrum configuration – even if it is presented as such!

You quickly see that there are least 4 positions even ON a spectrum: if the far left position is “there are no norms” and the far right position is that norms are “intrinsic / originate outside the system” and implement themselves, you can imagine that a center-left position would be an emergent perspective (norms arise from below in the population and then ascend) and a center-right position of top-down Hierarchy where norms are seen to be passed down from the authorities. Recognizing those four positions facilitates a radically different conversation than just outlining two.

Example 2: when the subject is ‘Law’ or court rulings, we need to rise above elementary ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ binaries.  There are actually 4 positions in practice.

  • Agree & Obey
  • Agree & Disobey
  • Disagree but Obey
  • Disagree and Disobey

It is essential to admit that in any population there will be great variety, disparity, and diversity – so we do a terrible disservice to the matter when we reduce the matter down to basic dichotomies.

The reason I bring this up is because I am very concerned about the round-and-round cul-de-sac conversations that I hear over and over again in the church. I am growing convince that as contemporary Christians, the issue is increasingly not what we think but how we think about it.

The issues of abortion, homosexuality, biblical inerrancy, the creeds/ orthodoxy, environmentalism, and women in ministry are just 6 examples of matters where the dualisms are killing us.

One of the best things that could happen this Good Friday would be for those who take the Christian story seriously to die to – not what we think – but how we think about it. My dream would be for a heart of repentance: to decide in our hearts to swear off inherited dualisms and pledge to, as a community, look for and develop better ways of framing the issues that matter to us most.

Challenge: This Friday, repent of either/or thinking and die to the dualism of us/them for/against right/wrong in/out thinking.  Ask your small group to hold you accountable and maybe even join you in a new life (Easter) of the mind.

disclaimer: some of you will finish this post and think ‘it was so remedial it was barely worth reading’ and others will think ‘that is crazy talk – you are either right (on God’s side) or you are plain wrong – there is no middle ground.’ But we have to start somewhere, and this is the world we live in.


the 99 and the Tebow: success, Billy Graham and Canada

I blog both here at at Homebrewed Christianity. Sometimes after a post rotates off the front page over then I re-post it here for ongoing conversation.

Several weeks ago I had fun looking at the difference between Tim Tebow’s* faith and what his zealous (mostly evangelical & charismatic) fans do with it. I took some flack from asserting that Jesus was not intervening to help him win close games.
Since then he has lost 3 games. The choir has gone shockingly quiet. It appears – and this may come as a surprise – that Americans worship success more than any ‘god’. In fact, one might wonder if success is America’s god.

It always piques my imagination when politicians say ‘May God bless America” at the end of their speeches … I try to pay attention to how they say it and what they might be expecting that blessing to look like.

 There are two elements to this that really attract my attention:

  • Part of the reason this sticks out to me so sharply is that I have dual-citizenship with Canada. I went to High school and started Bible College there. When I see Tebow bowed on the sideline praying in the 4th quarter, I smile as I think of the completely different religious and political atmosphere in Canada. Almost every Canadian I know – even the believers – I can hear saying “Easy big guy, don’t make too much of a display”.

American zeal is a phenomenon. I have a theory that it is actually embedded in the DNA of this country courtesy of those original Calvinists who brought with them the concept of “signs of divine benevolence”. This little mechanism says
‘while we can’t know who is elect unto salvation or damnation – certainly we say that a good tree will bear good fruit. So, while no can know for sure if they are “in” certainly God graces the chosen with “signs of divine benevolence”. Continue reading “the 99 and the Tebow: success, Billy Graham and Canada”

Blog at

Up ↑