Friday, October 5, 2007

Installation of Chaplain to the Institute

Last Sunday evening the Chaplain to the Institute was installed. Several have said that they did not know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised. Those who did not know what to expect and were disappointed have not talked with me. If you would like to view the proceedings you may do so at

At the Chaplain's Seminar on October 1, speakers dealt with the challenge of Samuel Huntington's clash of cultures thesis. Dr. Richard Hughes of Messiah College offered this conclusion:

Ironically, no one has made that case any more strongly than Samuel Huntington who cites approvingly the Venetian nationalist demagogue in Michael Didbin’s novel, Dead Lagoon. “There can be no true friends without true enemies,” the Venetian says. “Unless we hate what we are not, we cannot love what we are. These are the old truths we are painfully rediscovering after a century and more of sentimental cant.” In response to this affirmation, Samuel Huntington comments, “The unfortunate truth in these old truths cannot be ignored by statesmen and scholars. For people seeking identity and reinventing ethnicity, enemies are essential.”
Maybe so, but if there is any chance that Christian leaders might lead us toward peace and not toward war and conflict, those are precisely the assumptions they must challenge. Put another way, so long as Christian leaders assume that the imperial vision is both normative and true to life, and so long as they assume that the biblical vision of the kingdom of God is finally unworkable and irrelevant, there is no chance that they will offer leadership any different from the standard imperial leadership that has driven the world for centuries.
The truth is, Christian leaders of tomorrow must embrace a new paradigm for thinking about war and peace—a paradigm that is at the very same time an ancient paradigm, embraced both by Jesus and the early church.

Let me offer just one example of what that paradigm might mean. David Lipscomb was a religious leader in the American South from the Civil War through the early twentieth century. After the Civil War, he reflected on his own role during that conflict. “In the beginning of the late strife that so fearfully desolated our country, much was said about ‘our enemies.’ I protested constantly that I had not a single enemy, and was not an enemy to a single man North of the Ohio River.” Lipscomb’s statement stands in stark contrast with Samuel P. Huntington’s assumption that “there can be no true friends without true enemies” and that, when all is said and done, “enemies are essential.”
And when, in 1896, the United States employed the Monroe Doctrine to threaten war against Great Britain, Lipscomb offered leadership on other grounds. He wrote, “When the leading lights among politicians begin to advocate war in defense of the Monroe doctrine, it is high time . . . to commence preaching peace on earth and good will among men in defense of the doctrine of the Sermon on the Mount.”
You may object that what I have said in this presentation is far too visionary to be workable. But religious leaders are not called to embrace and sanction imperial assumptions. They are called, instead, to offer a vision grounded in their religious traditions. And deep in the Christian tradition lays a vision for peace on earth and good will among all humankind—a vision that has rarely been tried. This is the vision I commend to Christian leaders of the future, and a vision I commend to you today as we celebrate the installation of Robert M. Randolph as the first Chaplain of MIT.

Dr. Ronald B. Sobel, Senior Rabbi Emeritus from Temple Emanu-El in New York City and Suheil Laher, Muslim Chaplain also offered their perspectives. Excerpts will appear here in the coming weeks.